The impressive, fabulous grid of drawings that hits visitors to the exhibition as they enter.
It was such a privilege last Saturday, to attend the public opening of Basil Beattie's exhibition When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades, at Midlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The exhibition runs until 12th June and I heartily recommend it to all people interested in painting and the development of visual art in this country.
I completely agree with Mel Gooding's remark at the end of his conversation with Basil that it says something about the cultural state existing in this country today that a show of this magnitude by one of our great painters has taken so long to come about. I have followed Basil Beattie's work since I was a student, not always closely, but he is one of the painters that I have long admired and a go to for affirmation that painting with gesture and guts and interesting imagery is still a worth while thing to strive for.
When I am visiting a major exhibition of a painter I admire, I like to walk through the galleries quite quickly to start with, to gain an understanding of the sequence. I then go round again more slowly and meander backwards and forwards, looking at the work, noting formal points of interest, the use of motifs, colour and how the works communicate with each other in the space. While I do this, I sometimes jot down words or phrases that spring to mind about the works; it helps me to connect the works I am looking at with my knowledge of art history and experience. Then I read the accompanying texts and make note of dates when the paintings were made; I don't like my opinion of the works to be influenced by the texts until I have done this but I am happy to have my thoughts altered and expanded upon once I have had a chance to form my own connections. When I say connections, I mean that I like to work out where the artist may have responded to works from the past, how the works connect with artists working today, how the artists' work has developed over time and the philosophical and psychological connections that may exist. I am not an expert on philosophy; I wish I was, its connections to art are strong, lets face it, because art is about life. I am constantly trying to improve my knowledge of philosophy but I can never remember what I have read!
Anyway, a few of the words I jotted down are as follows:
And here are some of Basil's own words, spoken during the conversation with Mel Gooding (that I have taken from MIMA'S web site):
“I always try to make the next painting not like the last one, I’m often asked if I make several paintings at once – I don’t. I have to turn all the last ones to the wall in order to grasp the identity of the specific painting I’m working on.”
“The art of painting… leads you to thoughts and ideas that you may not have had if you didn’t start painting. You have to know how to deal with them. A lot of people know exactly what they want to paint so they have to get it right. In my case I recognise it when I see it, when I feel it. It may be that I’ve got the bare bones but I have to put the flesh on and that’s a very different matter. It may be that it becomes something else during that period.”
“When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades is a look through one's artistic life over the last 30 years. I’m expecting surprises, in terms of juxtapositions because there will be combinations of paintings that I won’t have seen before and it will be interesting to play around with that opportunity. I’m looking forward to the show in terms of learning more about what I’ve been doing. I mean, if it gives any value to anybody it will be value to me.”
I am not attempting to critique this exhibition but to try and give a flavour of what it feels like to be within it. I hope that this tempts lots of you reading this to visit!
Basil Beattie (right), in deep discussion. I didn't dare to approach him!
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