Wednesday, 12 February 2014

'UPROAR!' at The Ben Uri Gallery

The 'UPROAR!' exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery celebrates the first 50 years of the London Group of artists over 1913-1963. The title comes from the furore created by Mark Gertler's 'The Creation Of Eve' (opposite). Looking at the painting today it's difficult to imagine why it created so much outrage but it did. It shows God lifting Eve by her hair out of Adam, surrounded by lush grass and huge flowers. Shocking, I know.

The Ben Uri Gallery is just off Abbey Road (yes, Beatles fans, *that* Abbey Road) in what I assume was once a small shop. It's bijou, with the walls hung with paintings upstairs and downstairs in what was probably the storeroom. It's a small space but it's big enough in ambition to take on this exhibition and produce a heavy, glossy programme with all the paintings in the exhibition reproduced alongside short essays. Each artist represented in the exhibition has one painting or other work on display in chronological order, with the later works downstairs. One of my favourites of the later paintings was 'Kitchen Interior' by John Bratby from 1956 that I really wanted to touch to feel the splurges of paint layered on top of paint, ridges of paint behind the glass.

I really liked Duncan Grant's 'Window, South of France' from 1928 that is just that, an open window looking out on a lush and rolling landscape of fields leading down to the sea in the distance. The wall inside the house is covered in wallpaper with rich roses, bringing the garden inside the house, and a vase of poppies reflected in the open window.

This picture doesn't do it justice. The colours are much more vibrant when you see it in front of you with deep reds of the flowers and the greens of the fields are made up of many shades. It's a lovely painting and I'd love it on my living room wall.

It was nice to have Duncan's painting hung next to a small painting of a still life by Vanessa Bell, a bowl of apples a la Cezanne. Other Bloomsberries are represented in the exhibition, including Roger Fry's 'Portrait of Nina Hamnett' from 1917 (below) that I instantly saw was really Suzanne Vega - the resemblance was instantly noticeable to me, possibly because I was seeing Ms Vega that evening at the Barbican.

Another painting that drew my eyes was 'Rue Fontaine de Caylus, Marseilles' by Edward Wadsworth from 1922. It's quite a simple painting in one sense, with washing hung up to dry between the houses on either side of the street. The street descends as it goes deeper into the painting, with a single woman in the street. Who hung up all the washing?

The colour and shapes are what draw me in - sheets and shirts and pants, all hanging out to dry in the breeze. It must have been wet underneath those lines and lines of washing when they were first hung out. Again, I'd be quite happy to have that painting on my wall.

Another painting to name check is 'Self-Portrait' by Claude Rogers from 1938, a painter I've not heard of before. He's dressed in shirt, tie and jacket, looking out at the viewer and he could do with a shave. The interesting thing about it is that it could have been painted yesterday - the hair-cut, the clothes, the attitude, all could be from a hipster now. The only thing that dates it for me is the glasses. I can't find a copy of it online so you'll just have to go an see it for yourself.

All in all, it's a great little exhibition so you can dip your toe into the London Group. It's a brave move by the Ben Uri Gallery and I look forward to seeing what it does next.

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