Stanley Spencer is one of the most English of English artists: a quirky original whose odd and engaging vision of the world dominated his life's work.
During the Second World War, Spencer was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to record the war effort in Glasgow's shipyard on the Clyde: "the places and corners of Lithgow's", he wrote afterwards, "moved me in much the same way as I was by rooms in my childhood". "Shipbuilding on the Clyde" is, on one hand, a brilliant social document which more than satisfied his employer's requirements. On the other, like all of his best work, it is a highly personal depiction of the world according to Stanley Spencer.
In Spencer's hands, the Port Glasgow shipyard became a community of brown tweed ants working together towards some unseen but essential end. They have a subterranean feel, with clusters of riveters and riggers cramped in corners and lit by pools of weird artificial light. "I like it here," Spencer wrote to his first wife, Hilda, "being lost in the jungle of human beings, a rabbit in a vast rabbit warren." The mood recalls Breughel, but the vision, as ever, is closer to Blake's.
The nine enormous paintings and numerous drawings which constitute "Shipbuilding on the Clyde" are one of the great sequences of Spencer's distinguished career. Not as moving as his Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, but remarkable nonetheless. They have just gone on show at London's Imperial War Museum. Go and see them.
EYE ON THE NEW
"When Reason Dreams", Victor Pasmore's new suite of three works in etching and aquatint, has just gone on show alongside a single new painting at Marlborough Graphics in Albemarle Street, London W1. Pasmore's vision, at the age of almost 89, is as clear as ever. To 29 MarReuse content