Dora Carrington (1893 – 1932)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

As one of the more obscure affiliates of the Bloomsbury Group (see here for a recent post on fellow Bloomsbury artist/Virginia Woolf sibling, Vanessa Bell), Dora Carrington’s relaxed, expansive paintings have mostly eluded the critical gaze so fixed on other members of the collective. Perhaps, in part, this is due to her untimely death at the age of 38 – a result of a self-inflicted gunshot soon after the death of Carrington’s close friend Lytton Strachey, with whom she shared an intense, complex companionship. Regardless of the size of the artist’s output however, an idyllic sense of beauty remains. One skilfully attuned to notions of perspective and proportion.

‘Farm at Watendlath’ – 1921art-everywhere-top-ten-2

Throughout this momentous scene we are continually reminded of our own size in relation to everything else within the picture. So in contrast to the mother & daughter at the centre, we have the gigantic trees towering above them. Yet above the trees too, enormous rolling hills collect. Hills which themselves have a duo of tiny trees nestled in their folds, almost suggesting an equanimity and relative distance between the two couples.

Carrington employs curves here especially well, utilising them regularly to create a continual sense of building from smaller to larger: from the fork in the road at the bottom, to the twisted washing lines behind the farmhouse, to the brick walls gathering up the smaller ford, all the way to stooping drops of the bluffs so prominent at the back.

Regardless of this subtle patterning however, the detail in the painting technique in of itself is something to get lost in. The trees for example are tremendously well realised, with the branches on the left a delicate believable weave, whilst the pitch mass at the right is a revelation,  its small pockets of light dappling and breaking through the threshing blackness. The grass too is equally impressive, with Carrington using adroit washes to evoke grass both lush and waning.

With its heightened perspective looking both down on the viewers and up at the landscape, ‘Farm at Watendlath’ allows oddly, at least for me, an opportunity to imagine what it would be like at the top of the hill staring down at the gazers. The people at the bottom in a sense becoming just like us, staring at something quite unbelievable, yet so familiar and normal from afar.

‘Fairground at Henley Regatta’ – 1921fairground at henley regatta 1921oct13

A slightly askew work that holds value to me more for its skill than its spirit, ‘Fairground at Henley Regatta’ works because of its juxtaposition. With its stately sense of play enshrined within a slight wilderness which seems to encroach on the occasion from all angles.

The side growth for example, with its limbed exotic branches, delicately connects with the faux painted top of the carousel. I love the way in which the fiction of the ride blends with the facts of its environment. As the closer the top leaves of the ride get to the edge of the canvas, the more real they become. Though never pertaining to any reality, the slightly faded way throughout that Carrington suggests detail is to be lauded.

At times it almost feels like a Lowry painting, with the various busied figures all detailed in and amongst themselves.  A crowd gathers for example between two high sheets just before the swings, as to what or why, we’ll never know, but through their subtle placement and inward lean, we believe it. And behind all the commotion is arguably the most beautiful aspect of the painting, with the whispered brushwork of the back hedges executed marvellously. The small hints of a low wintry sun speckling the gaps.

 

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Kuroda Seiki (1866 – 1924)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Noted for bringing theories of Western art to a wider Japanese audience, Kuroda Seiki’s ‘Yoga’ (literally meaning ‘Western-style painting’) approach is one of hushed Impressionism. There is much Manet in his work. Much, of course, of his homeland too. Seiki a painter of life’s hushed moments, capturing a unique held-breath serenity through his busied style.

‘Plum Trees’ – 1924

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In this skewered and freckled work, the trees, bare but for their scrub on top, craft a visual density through their spread amidst the empty grove. Their depiction as one of stick-like brings that urge up and out of the scrubland, with the right of the white tree at the centre seeming almost as a lissom dancer, its right leg far out to meet a stretched hand.

Throughout this work there is a sense of rippling at the surface, with the layered and frantic brushwork, especially in the interesting blends of orange and black in the upper left section, creating a distinct chilliness to the work. Almost as if a wind is rushing from behind the viewer and into the piece itself, pulling back the branches.

Branches which despite being in a work called, ‘Plum Trees’, hold no fruit.  Seiki perhaps then pointing more towards the power of renewal and potential within all things, the sense that soon a blossom will arrive on the bough, and soon after that they will be barren once more and so on. A theme indicative of the majority of Seiki’s later work, with its focus on the temporality of our own existence in the face of nature, or, in a sense, art.

‘Afternoon Nap’ – 1894

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We catch the sleeper in a very intimate, almost elegiac pose. His lips pursed as if amid a light dream, his head resting on one arm with the other gently lying in a slightly awkward position indicative of the temporary occasion.

It’s a solemn, oddly reverential moment when you first see ‘Afternoon Nap’. With such detail on offer we feel as if we really have stumbled upon someone snoozing, taking care to pick apart the details carefully as if not to wake him.

From the bracken he lies on, to the rub of fabric he sleeps within, everything is brilliantly realised by Seiki. The sun especially, which encroaches on the slumberer as the afternoon wanes, interacts magically against the ground. Dappling the subject with pockets of light against his face and the woodland around.

 

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

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