Steve Whittle: A Review of Recent Works

[Published in the Southend Echo, Friday 14th July 2017, p.35]

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The Spirit of Place

Local artist Steve Whittle, whose work is on show at The Beecroft Gallery until July 22nd, trained at the Central School of Art in the heady days of 1960s London. For much of his career he then balanced being a professional artist with secondary-school teaching, but for the last eight years his focus has been exclusively on making art.

The current exhibition is of recent work primarily, yet it also includes a few early paintings, including minimalist abstracts in which colour squares, precisely angled, shimmer and vibrate on the canvas. Colour is very close to the heart of Whittle’s work, and when I talk to him, he mentions Bridget Riley, Francis Bacon and David Hockney – all exceptional modern colourists.

Whittle’s practice is to regard a single subject closely through a series of different media sometimes over a number of years, and one of the new projects that particularly caught my eye focuses The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall which has stood in Bradwell-on-Sea since the 7th century when St Cedd founded a religious community there.

Asking what had drawn him to this ancient Chapel, Whittle says it’s almost impossible to put into words, he’d felt a primal and immediate connection on his first visit and had to return again and again. That powerful pull has resulted in a number of works, including charcoals, pastels, paintings and collages, all of which portray the extraordinary sense, or spirit, of place – remote, lonely; glorious and powerful – the austere silhouette of the Chapel monumental against the sea and sky.

For Whittle, painting is a process of continually building up and scraping back to reveal colours and layers – in his paintings of St Peter’s the sky is a deep, rich clear jewel-like blue; the chapel has the tactile quality of ancient stone; whilst the grass, despite a perfectly edged lawn, rasps with spear-like texture – as if in recognition that the nature of this remote landscape cannot be truly tamed.

The collages are made of torn pages from high-quality fashion magazines; the detail and texture of these reflect the stonework of the Chapel and on the pieces that form the sky, we can see words, portions of paragraphs and part titles of articles – one, by chance, reads ‘the medieval modernist’. I’m fascinated by these. Fashion, of course, is always now, always modern; magazines are such ephemeral products – read today, thrown away tomorrow. Yet here they serve a history that stretches back almost fourteen centuries. I stand looking, careering back and forth in time.

To the common viewer, these pictures seem a million miles from his early work yet, with gracious subtlety, Steve Whittle suggested I should perhaps look again, for artists build up their vocabulary over the years, a means to visual expression. The serialisation of works built around a single subject, the regular pattern of the torn squares in the collages – both are very much the poetry of that systemic minimalism that had gripped him as a student. Then I saw the red line. I had completely missed it: a precisely drawn red line shimmering and vibrating on the horizon behind the Chapel.

“Recent Works” is a fascinating exhibition that calls for the viewer’s deep engagement; swept up in the vibrancy of colour we are cast into the dramatic perspective of this ancient chapel on the edge of the world made splendid in Steve Whittle’s unique artistic sensibility.

ML Banting
@TheCommonViewer

The Beecroft Art History Group meets 10.30am every last Saturday of the month.

 

 

Art History Mornings at The Beecroft – A Russian Summer (part 1)

Russia might be “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as Churchill put it, but the exhilarating creative power of Russian art from the 1870s through to the 1917 Revolution is one hell of a ride!

Isaac Levitan - Lake - 1900

Image: Isaac Levitan: The Lake (1900)

Saturday 29th July, 10.30 – 12.30pm
From The Wanderers’ awe-inspiring landscapes to the realist genre paintings of Ilya Repin, we’ll explore the 19th-century art of a nation seeing itself for the first time. It’s a picture that Kandinsky will later turn into abstract art, and Diaghilev will translate into the Ballet Russes.

This is the first of two Art History Mornings looking at the art of Russia.

Meetings are held on Saturday mornings in the Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of the Beecroft Gallery.
Each talk costs £10 and includes tea/coffee (biscuits!) and resource materials for independent research.
For further information and to enrol, please contact Mark Banting:
Email: chasingtales@rocketmail.com
@TheCommonViewer
thecommonviewer.wordpress.org

These monthly Saturday morning art history talks are educational yet informal and open to anyone with an interest in art.

 

 

 

 

Art & Coffee Mornings at Southgate Beaumont: Art in England (1)

Art & Coffee Mornings

Southgate Beaumont: 15 Cannon Hill, Old Southgate, London, Enfield, N14 7DJ

Join us for coffee and conversation as we explore paintings through the ages!

St Luke - Lindisfarne Gospels(detail of St Luke from the Lindisfarne Gospels, 8th century, British Library)

Thursday 20th July, 11am
“An Introduction to English Painting (1): The Medieval”
Following in the footsteps of Sir John Rothenstein’s 1965 narrative introduction to the histories of art in England, we turn our eyes back to the medieval – from illumination, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, to wall and panel paintings in Canterbury and beyond.

Thursday 24th August, 11am
“An Introduction to English Painting (2): Westminster Cathedral”
Sir John Rothenstein accords Henry III (1216-1272) as “of all the kings of England the greatest patron of the arts”. Today we’ll explore Henry’s inspirational role, his love of the Gothic and the rebuilding & decoration of Westminster Abbey.

Thursday 21st September, 11am
“An Introduction to English Painting (3): Parish Churches
It’s in parish churches of the 13th-14th centuries that, according to Sir John Rothenstein, “a wholly popular and spontaneous art” flourished, so today we’ll tour England at the time of the Peasants Revolt, taking in local art inspired by the “Vision of Piers Plowman” and the celebrated “Wilton Diptych”.

These informal one-hour Art & Coffee Mornings are run by Mark Banting and open to anyone with an interest in art history and visual culture.
Free for residents of Barchester Care.
Non-residents are kindly asked for £2 on the door.
Coffee & biscuits provided.
For further information or to RSVP please email chasingtales@rocketmail.com
@TheCommonViewer