Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bold, strident and easy to admire, the selection of work by Laura Knight which is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery provides a welcome glimpse into the artist’s character as well as the times she lived in. It is refreshing to wander through the display and become acquainted with a talent who drew and painted for the joy of it. Knight made a solid career from her work but it’s evident that she lived for the act of putting colour and mark on canvas and creating something that only a human can. Although critics might suggest that her success is a product of Knight’s situation, they cannot argue with the loveliness of her work.

The exhibition is small, the NPG makes most of its money from the crowd pleasers like Lucian Freud and the majority of the temporary gallery space is currently taken up by the dated BP Portrait Prize. However there is room for a whirlwind tour of the different stages in Knight’s oeuvre and the different groups of people she painted. Starting out with family, friends and acquaintances she developed her observational portraits whilst spending time in the states. There are some exquisite pastel drawings of black patients at the Johns Hoskins Hospital in Maryland where Knight spent some time getting to know some of the nurses. The nature of the material means these are infused with an immediacy which isn’t achievable through paint.

One of Knight's Johns Hopkins Hospital sketches, 1926.

One of Knight’s Johns Hopkins Hospital sketches, 1926.

Knight was obviously someone who gained peoples trust with ease. She was invited into the private worlds of groups of people who formed their own subcultures at that time. In the NPG show are a section of warm portraits she painted of both the traveller and circus communities. Far from being twee or resembling caricatures these works show a real connection and intuitive understanding of the subjects. Perhaps more difficult for the artist to capture are the military men and women who were part of the British war effort in the 1940s. Knight was invited to paint official works and some of the sitters appear thoroughly unimpressed at being captured on canvas whilst in the midst of their important duties.

The most powerful works in this exhibition were, quite understandably, the sketches and paintings revealing the Nuremburg Trials following the war. Knight was one of the artists who travelled out to Germany to bear witness to and record this life-altering event. A simple charcoal and wash drawing from a trial date in 1946 is powerful in capturing the banality of the greatest war trial in modern history. Some of the men sit with their heads bowed, hands covering shamed faces, but many sit comfortably with legs crossed and heads held high. The image of civility, they resemble vaguely attentive lecture goers. The accompanying painting elevates the tension and brings the true horror of WW2 to life, but for these men I felt like the drawing was more honest. Knight kept a diary of the proceedings and a chilling little sketch of Hermann Göring from this is also on display.

The last room is just luminous. Suzie and the Washbasin painted in Cornwall in 1929 aches to be gazed at and is technically accomplished, as is a later study of Joan Rhodes from 1955. The curator obviously designed this section as the icing on the cake; many of the postcard images for the show are to be found within this space. It’s the perfect end to a whistle stop tour of this great female artist’s work, a real one of a kind talent.

Laura Knight, Suzie and the Washbasin (1929)

Laura Knight, Suzie and the Washbasin (1929)

On display until 13th October 2013.


London is less crowded (everyone and their uncle are away on holiday) and the sun is now out for good. What more of an excuse do you need to become a tourist in your own city? If you’re looking for the best exhibitions to devote a Saturday afternoon to, look no further….

1 – Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me

You’ll have seen this one advertised in the press, these gorgeously slick images of beautiful damaged women sell themselves brilliantly. Aldridge combines all of the elements we can’t get enough of: sexual glamour, barely concealed violence, and the fallen woman who populates film noir, fairytale and modern cinema. On display at Somerset House until 29th September 2013. Adults £6, concessions available.

2 – Recent acquisitions Arcimboldo to Kitaj

A real hidden gem which will get overshadowed by bigger and bolshier exhibitions, this varied display contains 130 prints and drawings acquired by the British Museum over the past five years. This number represents a small fraction of the works on paper that have been added to the collection in that time. Some lovely, curious and important pieces, including highlights from R.B. Kitaj’s estate. On display until 1st September 2013. Free entry.

3 – Michael Landy: Saints Alive

Now that the furore about this exhibition has died down slightly you might avoid the worst of the queues; admissions into the display area are controlled. This quirky artist has reinvented historical saints for the modern age, here at the National Gallery you’ll meet seven of his mobile creations and get to see some of the madcap sketches behind the engineering. On display until 24th November 2013. Free entry.

Miles Aldridge, Home Works #3 (2008).

Miles Aldridge, Home Works #3 (2008).

FreshFaced + WildEyed 2013 at the Photography Gallery

To be chosen as one of the 22 top photography graduates of visual arts BA and MA courses across the UK is staggering if you consider the sheer amount of talent that is spewed out of the arts education system annually. It surely indicates a real eye for a narrative, technical skills, a strong body of work and even stronger things to come. This annual exhibition at the Photographers Gallery is designed to showcase exceptional talent and to give graduates a platform to grow.

The resonating theme this year was political and social unrest and upheaval. It isn’t surprising that this captured the imagination of the judges with a year of conflict and clamouring for change across many parts of the Middle East (two of the entrants work included work in this very area – Julian Bonnin and Harry Mitchell). Similarly, the winners of this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize were Broomberg & Chanarin with War Primer 2, perhaps further indication of a growing need to understand conflict and it’s far reaching repercussions within our wider culture.

Within this impressive exhibition there were standouts for me. Andrei Nacu’s body of images were focused on the lives left behind after conflict in Eastern Europe. Tension and unexpressed, unfathomable powerful emotion lie just under the surface. In one work a man and a woman face each other across either side of a living room sofa, representing opposing sides. The elderly man stands upright as a soldier, his face impassive as a woman who could be his wife or mother gestures in frustration. He is impervious to her actions, completely self-contained.

Another photograph is the view through a window where tower blocks outside are partially obscured by a floral curtain. We are placed in the position of the inhabitant of the flat, gazing out warily at an unknown and unquantifiable enemy. A sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped or contained, is increased by the framing of the shot. War, and its aftermath, seems to be full of waiting. Waiting to die, waiting to live, waiting for the man with the gun, or the hand grenade or the aerial attack, waiting for news of family or friends, for the call to arms, for the end. Nacu’s work doesn’t sensationalise or highlight the violent, very visible aspects of war. It quietly displays the restless despair, the utter waste of time and of huge chunks of people’s lives which have choked.

Andrei Nacu, part of the collection of work entitled 'In the Forsaken Garden Time is a Thief' (2013).  © Andrei Nacu

Andrei Nacu, part of the collection of work entitled ‘In the Forsaken Garden Time is a Thief’ (2013). © Andrei Nacu

Equally powerful was the work of Sunil Shah exploring he and his family’s migration from their home in Uganda in 1972. Shah was a three-year old child when they were expelled from the country by Idi Amin’s aggressively racist regime. His work is a fragmented part-history, part-memory, part-fictionalised narrative illustrating the tension between personal and public memory, between family histories and collective accounts.

Under the guise of documentary photography family photographs sit alongside purposefully detached statements. We are told about a man being hanged, a close friend of a member of Shah’s family, the account all the more powerful for the lack of emotive language. We are left to fill in the bulk of the imagery, to create in our minds the feeling of dislocation, humiliation and loss. Here is a study of the all too common violent upheaval of a group of people being forced to leave their homes, lives and possessions behind, told through one set of subjective eyes. The result is quietly unnerving, a body of work which compels self-reflection and interrogation.

Whilst the exhibition is no longer in existence if you have a curiosity for the medium you could do little better than keeping track of the movements of some of these fresh faced newcomers. It will be interesting to see how far they’ve developed when the new batch comes through post-graduation 2014.

Sunil Shah, part of the collection of work entitled 'Uganda Stories' (2013). © Sunil Shah

Sunil Shah, part of the collection of work entitled ‘Uganda Stories’ (2013). © Sunil Shah

The exhibition was on display from the 9th to the 21st July 2013.