WATERCOLOUR – TO 21 AUGUST, 2011

WATERCOLOUR EXHIBITION AT TATE BRITAIN, MILLBANK, LONDON

Lucky enough to win free tickets to see this exhibition, which runs until 21 August 2011. I was not lucky enough to get a free book which goes with the exhibition, and like all art books, costs real money, so I had to do without it.

The exhibition is arranged in rooms which are not numbered but which have titles, for instance we start off in The Natural World, where there is a magnificent study of sea shells and coral by a woman artist, Sarah Stone, painted in 18th century. Quite startling in its modern look and strong vibrant colour.

Some familiar and favourite artists have a good example of their watercolours, for instance John Piper and Edward Burra and of course Cotman. Edward Burra’s strange ‘Mexican Church’ in gouache and ink wash was sombre, loose and very dark and I noticed the colours pink, ochre, green and black. I find some of Burra’s works quite macabre, except for the landscapes and the early cafe and street paintings (which were not shown).

There was a creepy Burne Jones in the Exhibition Watercolour room.

Exploring the Medium was interesting because it showed some artists’ paint boxes, brushes and paints, including those of Turner. I noticed his two brushes had long handles, like those that I use for oil painting. Also shown was Whistler’s box.

By the time I got to the room Watercolour and War, I decided that it was really a very good show. There was strong, interesting and new painting which made me feel like going home and getting out my watercolours and gouache, and even looking through some old work. So – success, you might think! This is what art exhibitions should do, inspire.

The painting of Belsen extermination camp was too painful to look at, by Eric Taylor. Burra, again, had created a work of voluptuous soldiers, called Soldiers at Rye, dated 1941. His soldiers all have very rotund buttocks. Maybe he liked soldiers.

By the end of this exhibition, which as is usual in Tate Britain, is large and demanding, I was expecting to find some modern and Brit Art kinds of works, and I was right. The write-ups about these last works, which I read in one of the catalogue copies helpfully left out on the seats, were long and convoluted. Is there a particular qualification that these authors have to attain so as to make obscure and profound sounding sentences about works that cannot be otherwise justified, I wonder?

In the room Abstraction and Improvisation, there is a HUGE work by Sandra Blow dated 1988, in acrylic and collage. It has a dominating presence, from sheer size and the huge red splodge. A painting by Roger Hilton of 1973 of two dogs had the advantage of being funny,

However, I found Karla Black’s large work ‘Opportunities for Girls, funny. It reminded me of a huge pink squishy bra. It is made of mixed media and dominates the end of the last room, hanging from the ceiling on cords, suspended in air. I made a very quick sketch of it.

Tate Britain, sketch

Sketch from Tate Britain watercolour show

With the modern works was displayed some of Turner’s small sketches, of an abstract nature. According to the notes at the Turner exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery exhibition in 2009, Turner would never have allowed these sketches to be exhibited. They are working notes and memory-joggers, but we have them in this room, as much as to say: “Look, Turner did blobby stuff which has nothing representational apparent, just like the artists showing here today have produced.”

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