JAMES TOWER

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I caught up with the centenary exhibition of James Tower’s work at the Victoria Gallery, Bath, by chance after seeing a tweet and went to see it at the weekend. There’s a good collection of his ceramics, which I knew about, and his paintings, drawings and sculpture, which I didn’t.

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His shapes and marks show the influence of his childhood by the sea on the Isle of Sheppey. “This is a landscape of long silent marshes,” he said, “Where the sky seems to dominate the grey-green distance. There are few trees or hills. The forms that engage the eye are the small ones of the beach and the tidal wave. Shells, particularly the bivalves, oyster, mussel and razor shell. The flattened fish of the estuary, plaice, flounder and ray.”

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He studied at the Royal Academy and the Slade, then, training to be a teacher at the Institute of Education in 1949, he came under the influence of the potter William Newland and decided that ceramics offered a better means of artistic expression. He attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts part-time under Dora Billington, which gave him excellent technical instruction, though it was, in his view, aesthetically conservative.

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The Central encouraged a wide range of ceramic expression at the time. The artist-potters, Margaret Hine and Maggie Angus Berkowitz, were Tower’s contemporaries, while more traditional tableware was being made by John Solly, Innes Reich and Doreen Lambert. Tower regarded clay as a medium of exploration and was never a potter, though he later ran the pottery department at Corsham.

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His worked derived from vernacular European pottery and Picasso’s ceramics, which were so startling when they were first shown in Britain, but he quickly went beyond both, creating intriguing conversations between monochrome surface and organic form.

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SLADE POSTGRADUATE SHOW, 2018

I caught the postgraduate degree show just before it closed on Saturday and I’ve picked out a few artists that I liked. My selection doesn’t pretend to be representative and it’s influenced by the ideas I formed on the open day last year, where I saw more easel painters than I expected. There weren’t so many among this years’ graduates, and Rodrigo Arteaga‘s installation (below) is more typical of the graduating students of 2018.

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Rodrigo Artega

Antonia Showering referenced Gaugin and Munch in her ambiguous, painterly images.

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Antonia Showering

Elisa Carutti‘s quasi-abstraction recalled Bacon, more in her brush work than her subject matter, though the tortuous forms suggest Bacon as well.

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Elisa Carutti

Yijia Yang made a grid of quirky, faux naive drawings that don’t indicate fully what she does in her paintings .

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SLADE SCHOOL OF ART OPEN DAY


After stewarding at London Potters yesterday, I went to the Slade open day. I was interested to see how much easel painting is being done. A student told that this is still its strength. There’s a sculpture studio and a good range of printing equipment. There’s also the option to specialise in media and there are good photo labs. But one still felt the ghost of Henry Tonks.

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