Thursday 29 November 2018

Two Shows and questions.

Two art exhibitions: raising questions.

Recently in St.Ives, Cornwall, I saw two exhibitions. One was of unusual quilts made by Louise
Donovan, staged in the large Crypt gallery with rent paid to the St.Ives Society who exhibit above
in the Mariners' church. The other was work by the deceased Anthony Green, put together by his
descendants as a pop up exhibition in an empty shop, also paying rent and I believe commission
on sales.
This is the way many artists show their work now. Established art dealers are slow to take on new
artists beyond their tried and tested stables and no longer ever buy work from the artist like those
renowned dealers did in Paris, thereby supporting the Impressionists. The art societies charge to
submit works as do competitions and then also take commission on sales. Commission is usually
40to 50%.

Louise Donovan's works are hand quilted with the stitches going in various patterns, circles,
spirals, undulating rows etc. I was interested to learn that the coloured shapes are first stitched into
an abstract design usually worked out first but sometimes evolving spontaneously.
The most unusual aspect of these quilts is that the motivation is sometimes a response to a
personal experience such as visiting Patmos

or to feeling grief following her father's death

sometimes motivated by political outrage. Thus one quilt was made with the colours responding to
photographs of prisoners clad in orange at Guantanamo Bay,

another from bomb damage photos of Syria.

There is a long history of political quilts such as those made by the Soweto women to tell black
protest narratives in South Africa or by those aiding black slaves to escape in America, However
Louise uses no depiction of people or events so visitors need information to be aware of the
motivating factors. It reminds me of 1980's arguments about whether feminist art was art made by
a feminist or needed feminist content, whether Artists for Peace could paint a pretty landscape or
needed to confront contemporary events.

Annie Albers did weaving to comemorate the tragic loss of Jews in the murder of Nazi holocaust
and these are on show at Tate. Like Louise Donovan's work they are complicated, have been
made with much time and care, they are aesthetically pleasing but sidestep direct comment which
can be grasped without reading the catalogue.

Anthony Green's paintings have been in storage since his death some years ago.This raises the
questions that must occurr to most artists. What happens when you die? Will your husband like
Stanhope Forbes be found burning your canvases? Will a friend race to the tip to rescue pictures
from the widow throwing them out? Will there be an auction or a show? Will the work be left only
online and maybe in local archive centre records? There is no way to control this without fame,
fortune or devoted relatives. If Van Gogh's sister-in-law had not appreciated his work perhaps more
than his art dealer brother Theo who failed to sell more than one painting when Vincent was alive
what a loss to the world that would have been.
I am surprised some entrepreneur does not set up a business to take care that artists at least have
some legacy, some documentation, perhaps a final show and a donation to their local municipal
How do we assess the work of Green?

I gather from the handout that he was a well known artist in
Devon, active in the artistic community. I can see various influences in his work, changes over time
but the dates are not documented. I like some of it. But I have no context to do more than see it as
the work of an artist like so many, diligent, varied, worthwhile but never likely to enter the canon of

art history, remaining a piece of local culture and its storage being a financial burden to someone
unless they sell it, destroy it or give it away.

Mary Fletcher.

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