Art gallery visit – Stanley Spencer at Hepworth Wakefield OCA study visit

I decided to go this exhibition, because I’ve never felt drawn to this artist and his work. I was  hoping to learn a new perspective on him, and with tutor Bryan Eccleshall I was not disappointed.

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Scene from the marriage at Cana in Galilee 1935

The first painting that caught my eye was this, with the focal point a mass of shiny tight clad legs. The legs have the greatest difference in tonal values so its a clever device to draw you in. It’s an odd composition, because the more you look at it, the more you see there’s bodies on top of each other, legs appearing from underneath someone else, and newspaper readers whose noses are a few inches from the paper. Its an odd perspective because the furniture looks huge against the humans, and frames the composition. The back shelves are empty, but still a woman is bending down to them, revealing her underwear! The brush marks are hardly visible apart from odd places, it seems quite stylised. The faces look comical and wooden, they remind me of the paintings of Beryl Cooke. The colur palette is muted, with raw umber and olive green repeated through the clothes which ties it together. I like it because theres so much to see in it, once you really look.

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Marriage at Cana 1935

Another odd perspective, as we view from above, like we’re hovering at the top of the room like a spying fly! In another painting, the viewer is behind some fencing, stood in a flower bed looking up towards a house. Here, the faces look flat like early Renaissance face painting. The back figure has an odd shaped head, and the two ladies at the back are so insignificant, they have cropped heads, but their hands point down towards the cake. This looks the focal point, which is tilting to one side like the leaning tower of Pisa. The groom looks down at the bride in quite a bored way as she either gets up or down smoothing her skirts at the back. It’s an odd composition to paint someone half out of a chair, but it really works.

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The Lovers [the dustman] 1934

These figures look really comical – the central  figures have quite mask like faces. The man’s hat merges with the hedge to look a very odd shape indeed. The right lower figure is quite distorted with an arm coming out of the shoulder as if we are looking from a high perspective compared to the rest of the figures. The ellipses on the bins are also distorted, as the foreground one is drawn as if we are hovering over it! The left lower figure has her hands behind her back in a way that is not anatomically possible. The gnome like figures in the upper right are small compared to the rest, and on a slope that looks too steep for the side of the house. I have to admire this, because you have to know perspective really well to twist it like this and not make it look like just bad drawing.

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Sunbathers at Odney 1935

The foreground figures here are in warm red colours, and the ones at the back pale, despite also being in the sun as we can tell from the shadows.

The head of the foreground figure is at a distorted angle like he has a giraffe long neck! The way the next row of figures interact is odd, with a foot stuck under a leg in a pose that could not be sustained for more than a second.  The railings divide the painting in two halves, which I started to realise was a device he uses a lot – like putting a hedge across a picture in the foreground.

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Nude Patricia Preece 1935

I felt this painting really dominated its room. A high level of detail like the veins in the breasts reminded me of Jenny Saville’s work. The very direct stare followed me round the room, which the tutor told me is whats happens if the iris’s are painting centrally. Its a challenging expression, she looks quite fed up but quite feisty. The cropped head made me realise what is the focal point here – the breasts!

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The Boatbuilders yard 1936

There is an odd perspective on the fish tank, looks like the lid has been swivelled slightly so it looks strange and makes you stop to look – could he have made a mistake – no, its just a clever device! All the bricks are differently painted, which makes you think you could identify this very wall. Again, he bisects the painting with the wall. I wonder about the significance of the fish, is it a comment about them being so near yet so far to the freedom of the river? He echoes the colours throughout the painting again which adds a harmony.

At the end, we met for more discussions. The tutor agreed that the artist uses the flat picture plane but then distorts part of it. His use of composition techniques like hedges and ugly sheds being large parts of a painting is unusual and successful. Often he has paintings in two halves which are successful in their own right and also work when put together. Bryan showed us David Inshaw’s ‘Badminton game’ from 1972 which uses a similar eery twist on a landscape.

He also commented about drawings being in a state of flux until we ‘abandon’them – that we shouldn’t hang on to a bad bit of drawing just because it’s ‘done’. Great advice indeed!

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