Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering Reculver by Robert Preston

In Townsville we have rarely been blessed with visits by art experts and cognoscenti from overseas. However thanks to Ron McBurnie this April turned out to be something of an exception in the event of a visit from UK of Mr Jolyon Drury the Author of Revelation to Revolution: The Legacy of Samuel Palmer, The revival and evolution of pastoral printmaking by Paul Drury and the Goldsmith’s School of the 20th Century.

We were entertained with a fascinating and scholarly presentation regarding his father the distinguished artist-printmaker Paul Drury. It was a great experience to be afforded the unique insights that can only come from a close family member, into the career and character of his father and circle of artists he was part of.

As an overview of the talk has already been provided, my attention to one print in particular namely Paul Drury’s  A Distant View of Reculver  1932, a small and for Drury a rather spare etching depicting a view of the abbey-church towers at Reculver.  It is probably worth mentioning that Reculver-from the Roman name REGULBIUM-is situated on the north Kent coast in the south east of England, facing the north sea and located between Herne Bay and Westgate.  I thought it might be of interest to share the reasons for one small print resonating with me so profoundly.  The image of the towers was for me immediately recognizable, as I had seen them from a similar distance on many occasions over a number of years. 
Paul Drury, unpublished etching, "A Distant View of Reculver"  1932.
Although Drury’s view was made from St Nicholas at Wade, which is several miles inland, and some 4 ¾ miles from Reculver, my view of the towers was from Minnis Bay, Burchington on sea, which is only 3 ½ miles distant.  The towers do however look very similar from both locations, but what is different is the foreground and middle distance.  The prospect from St Nicholas, as depicted so well by Drury, is of flat grassy fields with small stands of trees which extend into the marshlands.  Although St Nicholas is very close to Minnis Bay the view is significantly different.  Seeing Drury’s print not only reminded me of the many wonderful childhood summer holidays spent there but also the fact that the view of Reculver towers as seen from Minnis Bay was also the subject of my very first faltering attempts at plein air painting.  

View of Reculver towers from the direction of Minnis bay

The towers held a great fascination for me, mysteriously silhouetted against a summer sky in the late afternoon, sitting atop a promontory which marked the western extremity of the sweeping curve of the bay like a “full stop”.  To the right a view of the vast expanse of the North Sea, glittering in the sunlight  and the curving beach with its hundreds of black breakwaters surmounted by a sea wall – originally a huge earthen bank covered with grass and wild plants.  To the left there were flat grassy marshlands, punctuated by dykes extending away to the distant railway line (and though unseen) to St Nicholas at Wade the location from which Drury made his print. Skylarks were always to be seen over the marshes with their peculiar dipping flight and wonderful trilling song perhaps “the quintessential sound of an English summer”. 

As a post script I should like to mention that in spite of the fact that I went to Burchington on so many occasions and that Reculver towers were ever present on the western horizon, strangely I never actually got to see them up close until the summer of 2003 – some 4 ½ decades later – whilst on a family visit to the UK from Australia. 

·         Burgess, Jennie (2010) Burchington Kaleidoscope, Birchington Heritage Trust, UK., P65.
·         Wilmot, Tony(n.d.) Richborough and Reculver, English Heritage Guidebooks, UK

·         Kenyan, Gregory, British Wild life Recordings, British Library, bl.UK

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Paul Drury Lecture in Townsville

On Thursday the 20th of April 2017 at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts Townsville (Australia), Jolyon Drury delivered an evening lecture relating to his father Paul Drury and the artists he befriended and worked with during his life. In spite of the presentation night being a week night, more than forty people from the Townsville arts community were in attendance. 
Jolyon’s lecture encompassed the personal, the historical, and the visual world surrounding the artist Paul Drury. As the son of this prominent British artist, Jolyon was able to deliver rare personal insights into the artist’s life and work and link them with unique visual examples (from his own personal collection.)
 He spoke about Paul Drury’s time at Goldsmiths College and the strong and long lasting friendships which arose between artists such as Edward Bouvery-Hoyton, Graham Sutherland, William larkins and Alexander Walker. Jolyon showed rare examples of Drury’s preliminary drawings which due to circumstances were never developed into editioned etchings (Barn Interior Graphite drawing 1923) or important studies made prior to the making of etchings such as those for September, 1928. 

Paul Drury, Barn Interior 1923

Paul Drury Pencil study for "September' 1928

 Information about of Paul’s, father the great British sculptor Alfred Drury was also shared during the lecture.  Jolyon discussed Alfred’s friendship with Paul’s circle of friends as well the undocumented assistance Paul gave to Alfred in regard to the construction of some of his major commissions. Such commitments of time and energy may have greatly impacted on the personal work Paul Drury may have produced during those extended periods. 
The lecture was packed with gems of information that gave us an informative and rare personal insight into the life of an often underrated, but significant 20th Century artist. 
After the lecture ended guests were invited talk with Jolyon individually as well as to view a number of original etchings (from a local private collection) by Paul Drury and other artists with whom he was associated.
A book relating to the lecture and written by Jolyon Drury was also available for purchase for those wanting to know more about this important period of British printmaking.
Revelation to Revolution: The Legacy of Samuel Palmer, The revival and evolution of pastoral printmaking by Paul Drury and the Goldsmith’s School of the 20th Century.

ISBN-10:0-9552148-0-7  ISBN-13:9-780955-214806
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book please email (in Australia) (in the UK)  

Paul Drury, unpublished etching, "A Distant View of Reculver"  1932.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Frederik Landseer Griggs 1876-1938

My interest in the work of F.L. Griggs began a little after I had purchased my first etchings of Samuel Palmer and began to investigate some the artists who had come under his spell.  I first purchased Griggs small etching titled Laneham (1923) and have slowly built up a modest collection of his work. Griggs was many things to different people. For me he was a great draughtsman who possessed a unique poetic vision of English architecture. Sometimes the architecture he drew inspiration from was imaginary and was channelled from the an unspoilt past age; etchings like Saras and Priory Farm are examples of this preoccupation. The marks he drew onto the plates were often quite intricate and like Palmer in many of his plates he has overlayed successive etched layers of marks to create rich dark passages while still allowing small areas of white to glint through.

As well as making magnificent etchings, drawings and watercolours, Griggs was also a flawless printmaking technician who at various times was able to assist and encourage young British printmakers in the making and proving of their plates. On the 30th of November 1926 Paul Drury and Graham Sutherland made a journey to Grigg’s home in Chipping Campden where the elder printmaker assisted them in printing their recent etching plates.  Sutherland wrote later, “It was Griggs as an enthusiast and technician from whom perhaps we gained most. A master printer of the copper plate, with infinite knowledge and patience, he had a palm as delicate as gossamer”  [the side of the palm is often used in the final stages of traditional plate wiping techniques]  (Drury, 2006: 58)
During the latter years of his life Griggs was involved in an ongoing battle to save many of the ancient buildings and land (Dover Hill) in the Chipping Camden area from demolition and developers. He spent much of his own funds to preserve a number of buildings of historic importance.  He died during the great depression when print prices in general had fallen and many artists were struggling to make a living. Unfortunately Griggs did not see a resurgence of interest in his marvellous etchings.

Laneham, etching (1923)
This small etching was part of Print Collectors Club commission members print. Griggs used part of Church Laneham, Nottinghamshire as the subject, one of the church subjects he had previously drawn for Highways and Byways. A delicate light can be observed falling on the walls of the church and a partly shadowed figure can be seen either resting or praying inside the porch of the church.

Sarras, etching. (1926) 
 After a new year’s eve feast with the Campden parish church bell ringers, Griggs began a pencil sketch of Sarras.
“On 2 February 1927 he wrote to his friend Russell Alexander of “visualising Sarras as a walled City with three large churches as the very centre of it. ‘I’ve tried for the utmost beauty of effect in aged Gothic, & outside the town harshness and danger, but beauty even there… My view is that the city itself is hidden & mystical - & all that our highest ideals would paint it.’ The concealment of inner world from outer- the opposition of them- touched the centre of Grigg’s art now. “ (Moore, 1999: 181)
Although Griggs began Sarras early in 1927 he continued to work on the plate until it was finally completed in May 1928. He described the making of the etching as “like a pilgrimage to the place itself… all stoney and difficult” (Moore, 1999: 204)
St Ippolyts, etching. (1927)
Both the Sarras and St Ippolyts etchings relate to each other. The making of each etching overlap in time and both were also made during a very turbulent and stressful period in the artist’s life when he was building his grand home in Chipping Campden. Both etchings are also integrally linked to the visionary imagery that the artist pursued.
In another letter to Alexander Griggs explains, “St Ippolyts is one of the places that pilgrims to Sarras see, & I don’t think it’s very far away. For me it’s in the heart of that lost country- oh God, how lovely it was! There was a wonderful road, difficult to find, it seemed to have no beginning & I, for one never knew the end.”  (Moore, 1999: 200)
 In St Ippolytes Griggs has described the three lambs as symbolic of his three children. It is worth considering that the elderly pilgrim or shepherd  with his burden may be a  symbol of the artist on his journey to his visionary Sarras.

Cockayne, etching. (1936)
This etching  was made two years before the artists death and is an imaginary image of London during Shakespeare’s time. The later  states of the etching include a subtle clouded sky and the massive church tower in the distance. The drawing it is based on is in the collection of the Boston Public Library. In the etching Griggs uses heavier areas of tone and strong shadows. This foces our eye to move up toward the lighter more ethereal areas of the cloud and the church tower at the top of the composition.
Drawing of a Pegola at Crowborough, pen and ink. 1908
During his life Griggs made many illustrations for different books and Journals; the most famous being the Highways and Byways travel series. The drawing above was made for an article in volume 44 of the 1908 edition of  International Studio.  The article was titled International Gardening by the British architect, C.E. Mallows F.R.I.B.A.  and became a continuing feature in future issues. Griggs also continued to produce many drawings for Mallows articles.

International Studio 1908 volume 44. P 182
 The caption beneath the illustration reads, "Pegola at Crowborough designed for Mary Duchess of Sutherland by C.E. Mallows.F.R.I.B.A. From a pen drawing by F.L.E. Griggs.” The article also includes the architectural plans for the stately building but  so far I have not been able to find whether the building was ever constructed.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gerald Brockhurst (1890-1978)

When I first came across the etchings of Gerald Brockhurst  I was surprised that he was British born. I had guessed he was from Germany or a Scandinavian country because of the way his etchings were so precise and focused. I initially responded to the intensity he achieved in many of his etched portraits where the central part of the face contains an extraordinary sense of focus and detail. At that time the only other artist who rivalled Brockhurst’s sense of detail was the US born John Taylor Arms.( 1887-1953) In regard to Brockhurst, Taylor Arms notes that,” a greater control of tools of his craft he cannot covet and a more acute and accurate pair of eyes in not within human capabilities.” (Fletcher,1984:13) 

Amanda No1 ( Marguérite) etching 1920
In the text to the Brockhurst catalogue Raisonne titled “Complex Simplicity”,  the author William Dolan fletcher explains how the perfection and beauty of the artist’s etchings,    
“bespeak Brockhurst’s mastery in laying a superb ground, his unmatched skill in biting the plate, and his precision in using a burin perfectly honed to his demand. Of him it must be said, there are no imitators! He is unique possessing keen eyesight, an uncanny sense of proportion, and decorative line, with total control of the medium at all times”. (Fletcher,1984:13)

The Author suggests that Brockhust was a very private and independent person who from the age of ten fashioned and directed everything about him, from his art, his tools, his skill, his discipline. “All was personal and private and for those who knew him best he could be friend and stranger” (Fletcher,1984:11)
Xenia (Marguérite)etching 1923
 Most of Brockhurst’s etched portraits are predominantly of two women, his first wife Anais Folin  and her sister Marguérite Folin. Three of the etchings from the collection illustrated in this post are of Anais or Marguérite while the last etching of the “Amberley Boy No2”

The Amberley Boy No2, etching 1928

Cambell Fine Art web catalogue suggests that,
“The Amberley Boy, No.2 has always been one of the most sought after of this gifted etcher’s works. This beautifully handled etched portrait of a coy young peasant lad repeats a subject which Gerald Leslie Brockhurst had attempted in 1920 and which exists in only 3 proof impressions. The earlier etching had been abandoned at an early stage after the artist recorded the plate as “spoiled” (it was destroyed in the printing press). Fortunately, no such mishap occurred to this second plate which proved to be one of the most successful of all of G.L.Brockhurst’s portraits of children.                                                                                        (

Young Womanhood (Anais) etching 1931
In "Young Womanhood" the  female figure as well as the landscape behind her are exquisitely beautiful. The eye notices the differences between  the stark emptiness of the sky against the rich tapestry of marks representing the figure and landscape.  This etching as well as "Adolescence" and "Black Silk Dress" are thought to be three of Brockhurst's greatest works. In Complex Simplicity, William Dolan Fletcher states that they... "Stand as epics in the history of printmaking".