Am really liking the new extension at Tate Britain
Our entry for the Schwitters at Tate Britain was booked for 12.30, so we didn't have to rush in the morning; just as well after the previous day's work.
I remember using a postcard of a Schwitters collage as a starting point for a ceramics module during my foundation course at Basingstoke College of Technology. What interested me about the piece was the movement and direction within it and the tonal qualities across the surface. The colours of his collage and paint pieces must also have influenced me as, if I remember correctly, some of my early struggles with paint used similar colours as some of Schwitters abstract works although he wasn't the only influence on my work. I must try and find some of the old stuff i did now it is all out of storage to confirm this memory, or maybe it is just wishful thinking . . . I'll see if I still have the pieces I am thinking of and take some photos to upload for later on.
Having been classed among the "degenerates" by Hitler Schwitters fled to Norway to avoid persecution. He was interned on the Isle of Man having fled Norway after the German invasion of that country. The artists in this community of internees were given access to materials to work with and put on exhibitions. The documentation about this was fascinating and heart rending. The windows of their living accomodation was painted out with a blue paint or some such substance and the artists were in the habit of scratching designs into it, Schwitters also resorted to tearing up lino from the floor in order to make prints. I love the way that artists always find a way to make work even in really adverse conditions.
Schwitters was a good painter; his portraits are very good, I particularly admire the portrait of Klaus Hinrichsen, the intensity of the sitters' face is fabulous. The landscapes are well painted, but are more like an exercise in painting to keep his eye in; there are so many landscapes painted in this way from around this same time that they did not move me in the same way as the portraits did. The landscapes reminded me of the school of Sickert, although the palette was lighter than Sickert's. They were very accomplished though. Schwitters' more abstract, dark and brooding paintings were very interesting as was his combination of paint and found objects, these again, took me straight back to foundation course I did in Basingstoke. Happy days!
I found the collages the most interesting. The tonal variation of the found pieces Schwitters used, his placing of each piece, the combination of found, cut and torn edges and subtle variations in colour are so well seen and utilised. Add to this the humorous touches made with found imagery and the political statements within some of them and these works provide endless opportunity for study, contemplation and admiration. I will never be bored with looking at a Schwitters collage piece. Schwitters layered up these works, aware that the materials used placed them at a certain time in history and although sometimes certain words and images were deliberately placed to convey a message, mostly they were placed from a formal point of view; for their texture, tone or shape, to enhance the movement within the piece. The later collages were more complex and layered, perhaps a reflection of the more abundant material available, perhaps a metaphor for Schwitters' own experience and longevity.
I think it is Schwitters' endless playfulness, his use of the found, usually mundane object, which he then transformed into an interesting statement that makes him a good artist for study at foundation level and beyond. He opens our eyes to the possibilities of art making that are all around us. He was an established artist before he fled to England via Norway and he was acquainted with many of the established and avante garde artists of the time, who respected his work. The recording of Schwitters reading one of his sound poems, another aspect of his work is both strange and funny, true to its Dadaist roots. It reminds me of an aural version of asemic text; communicating something but without using any established form of communication, which is something my work has brushed up against, although I have not taken it far in that direction.
A 'found' wall painting in my house, during building work
Another poignant part of this exhibition, along with the obvious poverty and hardship suffered by Schwitters, although he never seemed to let this diminish his interest and determination to make work, was the documentation regarding the fate of the Merz barn in the Lake District. Various parties including Tate, had at times expressed an interest in preserving it and then backed out when the cost was deemed too much. It seemed to me so typical of the British attitude to art and life in general! What there is left of the Merz barn is in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.
I really recommend this exhibition and the catalogue is good too. Go see, go buy!