Today I spent the morning invigilating an exhibition at the Otter Gallery at the University of Chichester. The exhibition is called “Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” which has been brought together by Dr Gill Clarke, a visiting Professor at the university. Dr Clarke is also the author of a book ‘Randolph Schwabe, a life in art’ around which this exhibition has been curated.
Schwabe was a prolific diarist and recorded his everyday life and thoughts for over 2 decades, including in his scripts many a unique and subtle comment about the people he met and worked with. In the exhibition introduction, Dr Clarke says “Schwabe’s diaries are candid and witty, providing rich and new material about the practice and spirit of twentieth century British Art, revealing the inter-relationships between familiar figures in the art community and the tensions within.”. The thrust of the exhibition is taken from the diaries and features works from the permanent collection of the Otter Gallery together with work borrowed in from other institutions and private collections, which when seen as a whole provide an insight into how each of the featured artists were connected to one another through Schwabe in one way or another.
This morning I was fortunate enough to be ‘on duty’ while there was a Curator’s talk given for the Friends of Pallant House Gallery. This talk, given by Dr Clarke and assisted by the Otter Gallery curator, Laura Kitchner was absolutely riveting. For a little over an hour, Dr Clarke spoke knowledgeably and eloquently about Schwabe, his family, working life and the various connections he had with the artists and artworks in the exhibition. The exhibition opens with a drawing of Schwabe by Francis Dodd, a well known portrait painter and war artist from the early twentieth century, but one whose work fell out of fashion after the First World War and is followed by works from other artists from the period including Dora Carrington, Eric Ravilious, William Roberts, Mark Gertler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Mackintosh works are 3 designs for textiles on loan from the V&A which have a diary extract alongside them to the effect that Schwabe had spent the morning looking through work by Mackintosh after his death and had managed to find some worth keeping, the rest he threw away! Towards the end of the exhibition, which is hung in a loose timeline, is a work by one of my favourite mid-twentieth century artists, Ivon Hitchens. The work, titled “Autumn Stream” was painted in 1940, possibly after his move from London after being bombed out, to West Sussex where he remained for the rest of his life. Hitchens said of his work “I have a horror of a meaningless smear, but I do try to say clearly and directly by tone and colour what I feel is the essence of the object and I see no point in building up with many little strokes when one will suffice and be more vital.” A caption from Schwabe’s diary accompanying the work recalls a day in 1931 when Schwabe visited Hitchens studio in Adelaide Road, London. “Visited Ivon Hitchens in his studio in Adelaide Road, work very agreeable but without guts. Some of his flower pieces would make admirable decoration for light modern rooms. He (Hitchens) was at Bedales and has that slightly morbid character that all old Bedales men seen to get“.
The exhibition is supported by various books, prints and personal ephemera from Schwabe and his circle, together with ceramics from Bernard Leach. Over the MAC screen showing a series of Schwabe’s sketches on a loop are hung his top hat and malacca cane.
This is an interesting and unusual exhibition, which is brought to life by the diary extracts. It is worth seeing and more so if there is the opportunity to be at a curators talk which last 1 hour. The final talk will be on April 15th from 12.30 to 1.30pm. More information can be obtained by emailing the gallery on firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” is on until 19th April 2016 at the Otter Gallery, Chichester University Bishop Otter Campus, College Lane, Chichester, West Sussex (www.chi.ac.uk) . An excellent book by curator Gill Clarke, is also available to accompany the exhibition.