Images of my mother’s sculptures rediscovered

MY LATE MOTHER (Helen Yamey: 1920-1980) trained as a commercial artist in Cape Town (South Africa) before WW2. In 1948, she came to London to marry my father. In London, she painted and, according to my father, took lessons from the great Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). Around the time when I was born (1952), my mother began making sculptures. The first of these was a terracotta mother and child. Maybe, she was depicting herself with me in her arms.  By the 1960s, she was working in the sculpture studios of St Martins School of Art, which was then near Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. There, she was in the company of artists such as Anthony Caro, William Tucker, Philip King, and William Turnbull. At least one of these now famous artists taught my mother how to weld and solder.

My mother exhibited her works in important art galleries at least twice. In late 1961, she exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in a show called “26 young Sculptors”. In 1962, she exhibited sculptures at the Grabowski Gallery, along side works by Maurice Agis and David Annesley. Although she sold a few of her creations, she did them more for pleasure than for profit.

My mother was a perfectionist. She destroyed much of what she created. However, at some time during the 1960s, she had a series of professional photographs taken of some of her mainly abstract works. These were kept in a yellow Kodak photographic paper box in a drawer in our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. As a teenager, I used to look at them occasionally and wonder what became of some of the creations recorded in these photos.

My mother died in 1980 and my father remarried 11 years later. After remarrying, he and my stepmother moved from our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb to another house (near Primrose Hill). After the move, I used to ask him what had happened to the photographs of my mother’s sculptures and other family photos. Each time I asked, he would say that they were stored somewhere, possibly in the garage of his new home. After a while, I gave up hope of ever seeing these pictures again because it was clear to me that Dad had little or no interest in these photographs and in addition he could not imagine why anyone else would find them interesting. My father died, aged 101 and 6 months, in 2020. What with covid19 and its associated problems, we did not see his widow, my stepmother, again until recently this year (2022).

When, at last, we met her, she arrived carrying a plastic carrier bag, which she handed to me. To my great delight, it contained the box of photographs described above and another filled with family photographs taken mainly in the late 1950s. My stepmother told me that she had found them when she was sorting things in the garage of the house where she and my father had lived.

The photographs of my mother’s sculptures all bear the name of the photographer: Joseph McKenzie, ARPS (95 Blenheim Gardens, Wallington, Surrey). According to Wikipedia, Joseph McKenzie (1929-2015) is regarded as “father of modern Scottish photography”. More relevantly in the context of my mother’s works, he taught photography at the St martins School of Art.

Some of the photographs have notes written on their backs. The handwriting is my mother’s. One of the pictures, that of the mother and child has the words: “my first ever sculpture, terracotta, mother and child, 24””. Some of the other photos have information about the size and the material of the work depicted.

About 10 years before she died, my mother became disillusioned and practically gave up making sculptures. Although she made a few abstract images in pen and ink and a few carvings in alabaster, her abandonment of sculpture making as a full-time activity left a great hole in her life.

I have taken pictures of the photographs, and they can be seen on:

http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/1323344

The fantastic herons

ON SUNNY EASTER Sunday (2022), we took a morning walk along the Thames Path from the Black Lion pub (and the excellent Elderpress Café facing it) to Dukes Meadows, upstream from the pub. Dodging the endless stream of mostly courteous joggers and less polite cyclists, we enjoyed splendid views of the River Thames and the many old buildings lining Chiswick Mall. Several of the buildings were covered with flowering wisteria.

The Fantastic Herons

The river was well-populated with waterfowl including swans; geese of various kinds; ducks; a pair of cormorants resting on a buoy; and several herons. The latter were either standing on the sand and mud at the waterside or in the water close to the bank. Eventually, we reached Dukes Meadows, which consists of fields formerly part of the estate of nearby Chiswick House.

Near the Hammersmith end of the Meadows, we saw a metal sculpture, ‘The Fantastic Herons’, on top of a tall pole. Created by the artist Kevin Herlihy (born 1962) along with pupils from Cavendish Primary School and unveiled in 2004, it depicts three herons standing on a nest. Like most of Herlihy’s creations which often depict animal life, it is made from recycled waste materials. Funded by Singapore Airlines, who held a series of art workshops in the school, it is an appropriate sculpture for the area as herons can often be standing by, or in, the Thames flowing past the Meadows.

Vanishing point

OF JAMAICAN HERITAGE, the artist Barbara Walker was born and brought up in Birmingham where she lives today. During her childhood, she was taken to see museums and galleries. She noticed that in many works (paintings and other images) of western art, Black people play a peripheral role, depicted as servants and so on, serving the ‘white’ people who play a central role in a picture. Recently (April 2022), we visited an exhibition of her works at the Cristea Roberts Gallery in London’s Pall Mall. Called Vanishing Point, this superb display contains artworks, prints, which address the issue that Barbara noted when she was younger.

At first sight, most of the framed prints appear to be large sheets of white paper with a few beautifully drawn details depicting black people or parts of their bodies. Closer examination reveals that there is more to the white spaces than first meets the eye. The white areas are embossed. The black people, who have been drawn, are surrounded by the embossed areas of the print. Together, the drawings and embossed sections of the print can be seen to be a whole picture. Walker has processed an original image to create a new one in which only Black people in the original are easily visible and the rest of the picture forms a ghostly background. Unlike the pictures she saw when a youngster, the Black people in the picture are prominent and the others are barely detectable.

I am not sure exactly how the artist achieved this interesting effect and these powerful images, but I will have a go at explaining, using my experience of having once made etchings in the past. Metal plates are first coated with a photographic material. Then images of an original painting are projected on to it and processed in some way that produces a photographic reproduction on the plate. The artist, then blocks out selected areas on the plate with an acid-resistant material to produce a pattern that includes many details of the original image, including all of the parts of it that contain depictions of Black people or the parts of their bodies in the original painting or image. The plate is then immersed in acid, which eats into all the parts of it, which have not been painted over with the blocking agent. Then, a sheet of dampened paper is placed on the plate and the two are run through a printing press. The pressure exerted by the rollers of the press force the dampened paper into the depressions on the plate caused by the action of the acid. The result is a sheet of paper with embossed indentations. When the paper has dried, the artist then draws on the flat areas, which are in fact silhouettes of the Black people (or details of them) which appeared in the original painting. The rest of the embossed area, containing details and enough outlines of the original image to make it recognisable, is left white. The result is an image in which Black people become the focus of the viewer’s attention.

Barbara Walker’s works on show at Cristea Roberts (until the 23rd of April 2022) are ingenious and extremely engaging. She has employed an interesting technique to make her statement. Rather than reinforcing the fact that Black people were often depicted as being menial as is the case in the recent display of paintings by Hogarth at the Tate Britain, she has found a way of raising their status in artworks that sought to portray them as mere subsidiaries.

Art beneath your feet

MOST VISITORS TO London’s Tate Britain and National Gallery tend to look at the paintings hanging on the walls and sculptures on pedestals. Fewer people look down to see what they are walking on. The floors of the main entrance portico of the National Gallery and of Gallery II at the Tate Britain are well worth examining.

National Gallery, London (UK)

The mosaics on these floors were created by the Russian artist Boris Vasilyevich Anrep (1883-1969). Born in St Petersburg, he studied law at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in that city, graduating in 1905. In 1908, he abandoned law and went to Paris (France) to study art. Between 1910 and 1911, he studied at the Edinburgh School of Art. While in France, Boris met several British artists and intellectuals, many of them members of the Bloomsbury Set. His fascination with mosaics began in about 1904 after seeing the early Christian mosaics in Ravenna (Italy). In 1917, Boris settled in England, where he created many of his mosaics.

The floor of Gallery II at what is now the Tate Britain, but was formerly ‘The Tate Gallery’, was damaged by bombing during a Zeppelin raid in WW1. In 1921, Anrep was commissioned to make a mosaic floor for this gallery. By 1923, it was ready. The dramatic-looking creation consists of scenes representing William Blakes “Proverbs”. Each of the vignettes in the octagonal gallery, which used to house pictures by Blake, includes one of Blake’s proverbs. They are surrounded by a depiction of the flames of Hell.

The floors of the Portico at the national contain a much greater area of mosaics than that of the gallery in Tate Britain. Anrep created the mosaics between 1926 and 1952. Some of them are becoming worn out after having been walked on for so many years since the were put in place. A website (https://artuk.org/discover/artists/anrep-boris-18831969) explained that the mosaics in the National Gallery consist of:

“… four floors on and around the main staircase, executed between 1926 and 1952. The subjects are ‘The Awakening of the Muses’, ‘The Modern Virtues’, ‘The Labours of Life’, and ‘The Pleasures of Life’; portraits of many well-known contemporaries are incorporated in them, for example the philosopher Bertrand Russell representing Lucidity and the film actress Greta Garbo as Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy.”

Sir Winston Churchill is also depicted, as are other well-known personalities (for details, see: https://mikepitts.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/lookdown-boris-anrep/).

The attractive, intriguing mosaics at both the National and the Tate Britain are far less famous than many of the works to which most visitors make a beeline. However, Anrep’s mosaics should not be overlooked. In fact, I believe they are worth lingering over at least as long as one might when viewing, say, a Rembrandt in the National, or a Turner in the Tate.

Incidentally, after Anrep died, his body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, a place which I have described in my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”.

Hepworth and Mondrian in Salisbury

IN THE 1930s, both the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and the painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Hampstead (north London). Hepworth and her two successive husbands lived and worked in the Mall Studios near Parkhill Road. Mondrian lived at 60 Parkhill Road. According to one of Hepworth’s biographers, Eleanor Clayton, writing in “Barbara Hepworth. Art and Life”:

“The beginnings of a friendship between Hepworth and Mondrian can be seen in her letters to Nicholson at the time: ‘so glad Mondrian said nice things about me & work. Goodness U did learn a LOT.’”

Visitors to the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral can see an abstract sculpture at the southeast corner of the grassy space enclosed by them. At first sight, it looks like a sculptural version of a painting that might have been created by Mondrian. It is a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth called “Construction (Crucifixion)”. This bronze artwork was created in 1966, and then donated by the artist to the Cathedral in 1969. It is according to a notice by the sculpture:

“… Hepworth’s response to Christ’s Crucifixion …”

The interpretation of the piece’s symbolism is far from simple, as a website text (https://www.salisbury.anglican.org/news/the-crucifixion) explained:

“What we see are 3 verticals linked by a single horizontal bar, and by 2 other horizontals at different heights.

A large circle, attached to the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines, is painted citrus yellow on one side and blue on the other. At the bottom of the central vertical, we see red on its own beneath the blue side of the circle, and red and white beneath the yellow. On the yellow side, a metal hoop encircles the point of crossing.

Hepworth wrote that she found it ‘very serene and quiet’, but that doesn’t have to guide what we make of this piece. We could see the yellow circle as the sun, the blue circle as the moon, the red paint as blood, the 2 verticals on either side as the crosses of the 2 men crucified with Jesus.

Or we could contemplate its hardness, weight, size (12ft tall and 2-and-a-half tons) and stark simplicity. We could seek to find meaning here, or we could stand before it and try to imagine the experience of meaningless horror and sheer emptiness which brutality of any kind must impose on those who witness it. For us, it need not seem ‘serene and quiet’ as for Hepworth. On the contrary this cross might confront us with the tragic lack of meaning which has so often afflicted humanity since the cross of Christ was first set up.”

Whatever its symbolism, Hepworth’s piece is attractive and looks good surrounded by the gothic architecture of the cloisters. Above all, its appearance immediately brings to mind thoughts about thw works of art created by Mondrian. One website (https://artistscollectingsociety.org/news/barbara-hepworth-sculpture-returns-salisbury-cathedral-permanent-display/) describes the piece as “Construction (Crucifixion): Homage to Mondrian” and then continued as follows:

“The sculpture is thought to explore the duality of Jesus Christ in its use of geometric symbols and features bold colours borrowed from the palette of ACS member Piet Mondrian, referenced in the artwork title.”

I was very pleased to see this work once again in March 2022, soon after publishing my book about Hampstead, past and present, in which I have included a substantial chapter about the modern artists who lived and worked in the area between the two World Wars. There is a good chance that Hepworth’s encounters with Mondrian and his work whilst they were both in Hampstead is reflected in the appearance of this abstract Crucifix, which stands in the cloisters at Salisbury.

PS My book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” is available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).

A magnet for modernists: Hampstead

YESTERDAY, 22nd February 2022, we saw an exhibition at the Pace Gallery in central London’s Hanover Square. The gallery stands facing a conventional sculptural depiction of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), created in bronze by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). I have been reading a great deal about Pitt in a wonderful, recently published biography of King George III by Andrew Roberts. What is being shown in the Pace gallery until the 12th of March 2022 is far from purely representational, as the exhibition’s title, “Creating Abstraction”, suggests.

By Barbara Hepworth

The exhibition contains works by seven female artists: Carla Accardi (1924-2014), Leonor Antunes (b. 1972), Yto Barrada (b. 1971), Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916-2017), Kim Lim (1936-1997), Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Most of these names were new to me apart from Nevelson and Hepworth. The latter interests me greatly not only because one of her sculptures is near the gallery on the southeast corner of John Lewis’s Oxford Street department store, but also because for a while she lived and worked in an area that fascinates me: Hampstead.

There are several of Hepworth’s works on display at Pace. One of them, “Two Forms”, was created in 1934. By then, she had been living and working in Hampstead for about seven years. For the first few years, she was living with her first husband, the sculptor John Skeaping, and then after 1931 with her second, the painter Ben Nicolson. In 1939, she left Hampstead.

Hepworth was not the only ‘modern artist’ living in Hampstead in the 1930s. I have described the active and highly productive artistic scene in the area in my new book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”. I have also explained why it was that artists like Hepworth, her contemporary Henry Moore, and many others were attracted to Hampstead between the two World Wars. Their reasons for congregating in the area differed somewhat from those of earlier artists, such as Constable and Romney, who were attracted to the place many years before. Read my book to discover why Hampstead easily rivalled Montmartre in Paris as a ‘mecca’ for artistic activity. The book is available as a paperback and a Kindle e-book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A great art gallery near the sea

UNTIL WE WENT to Southend (in Essex) in February 2022, it was not the first place to spring to mind when thinking about art galleries. To my mind, Southend was mainly associated with its spectacular pier, which is over one mile in length. Now, to the pier I will add the Beecroft Art Gallery to the good reasons for visiting Southend.

The gallery has been housed in a distinctive 20th century building on Victoria Avenue since 2014. Its current home was formerly Southend’s Central Library. The edifice was designed by Borough Architect R Horwell and opened in 1974. Prior to moving there, the gallery was housed in a large Edwardian house on Station Road in nearby Westcliffe-on-Sea.

The permanent collection of art in the gallery was donated to the town in 1952 by a local collector, a solicitor called Walter Beecroft, who worked in Leigh-on-Sea. His paintings ranged from the 17th century to the late 19th, and a few from the 20th. A selection of these was on display in the first-floor gallery of the Beecroft when we visited. Newer additions, mainly on long-term loan, to the gallery’s collection were hung alongside examples donated by Beecroft.

We went to the Beecroft to see a temporary exhibition of 20th century artists from London’s East End. It was excellently curated. I will write about this in the future. There were also temporary exhibitions of Pakistani wedding outfits and feminism during the covid19 lockdown. The basement of the Beecroft is currently dedicated to the history of jazz.

All in all, the Beecroft Gallery is well worth visiting. The quality of the exhibitions we saw there puts to shame a few of the better-known art galleries in London.

A NEW book about Hampstead in north London

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON WEBSITES:

e.g.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Hampstead is one of the highest places in London. There, the heavens are vast
and wide. Beneath this expanse of sky is an area with an eventful past and a
vibrant present. This book takes a fresh look at the locality and shows that
Hampstead is richly imbued with historical memories and has been home to a
multitude of fascinating and noteworthy people. Many books have been written
about Hampstead. Doubtless, there will be more. This one is different. It looks
at Hampstead from unusual as well as familiar viewpoints and gives the reader
a richer appreciation of what makes the place both delightful and intriguing.
This volume explores a wide variety of subjects, familiar and obscure, as well as
some which have never been described in other books about the locality. Here
is a fresh and at times quirky look at this place on a hill, one of London’s
treasures: a district, which is familiar to many people, yet full of surprises.
Although the bulk of this book is about Hampstead, there are also sections
describing some of its environs.

By reading this book, you can find out why John Constable, Samuel Johnson, Boy George, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Sellers, Henry Moore, Maxim Litvinov, General de Gaulle, Stanley Spencer, Thomas Masaryk, Lee Miller, Agatha Christie, Jim Henson, Ian Flemming, Ernő Goldfinger, and many others, both famous and familiar, were all connected with Hampstead.

The book has several sections:
1. a brief survey of Hampstead’s general history and geography.
2. an introduction to Hampstead’s main thoroughfares with some
reminiscences of the area as it was during my youth.
3. the largest section of the book is a collection of chapters about
various aspects of Hampstead’s past and present. Recently, a friend of mine
bemoaned the fact that Hampstead High Street and Heath Street are lined with
branches of shops and cafés that can be found all over London. He is right. So,
if you wish to capture the true character of Hampstead, you need to stray into
the side streets and explore, which is what I hope this book will stimulate you to
do.
4. The last few sections of the book deal with some places of interest near to
Hampstead: Primrose Hill, North End, Go
lders Green, and Highgate.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE … 7
INTRODUCTION: OH NO, NOT IN HAMPSTEAD … 7
SOME GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY … 13
HEATH AND HIGH STREETS WITH SOME MEMORIES … 25
SATURDAY STROLLS … 25
PERRINS LANE, THE EVERYMAN, AND LOUIS … 34
DISCOVERING HAMPSTEAD … 41
A HOUSE ON HEATH STREET AND THE KIT CAT CLUB … 41
A CHURCH ON HEATH STREET … 45
FLASK WALK AND THE HAMPSTEAD SPA … 46
MORE ABOUT THE SPA … 56
THE VALE OF HEALTH … 60
POETS AND THE VALE OF HEALTH … 70
FRENCH CONNECTIONS AND ST MARYS ON HOLLY WALK … 76
ARTISTS IN HAMPSTEAD: ROMNEY, CONSTABLE, AND OTHERS 84
MODERN ARTISTS AND THE ISOKON … 95
BOLSHEVISM AND HEATH STREET … 109
A SINGER AND A PHILOSOPHER ON BRANCH HILL … 114
JUDGES WALK … 118
WHITESTONE POND … 122
EAST HEATH ROAD AND SOUTH END GREEN … 126
SIR HARRY AND ROSSLYN HILL … 137
PILGRIMS LANE AND MORE ON ROSSLYN HILL … 143
NEW END, CHOLERA, AND GROVE PLACE … 150
FITZJOHNS AVENUE AND SWISS COTTAGE … 155
SHEPHERDS WELL … 171
CHURCH ROW … 174
GRACIE FIELDS, FROGNAL WAY, AND FROGNAL … 179
WEST HEATH ROAD AND PLATTS LANE … 187
WEST HAMPSTEAD … 193
SHOOT UP HILL … 198
PRIMROSE HILL … 201
NORTH END AND GOLDERS GREEN … 211
NORTH END AND GOLDERS HILL PARK … 211
POETS AND GOLDERS GREEN … 228
LIFE AND DEATH ON HOOP LANE … 232
HIGHGATE … 241
CODA … 273
SOME BOOKS CONSULTED … 275
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS … 278
INDEX … 279

Great exhibition at Kew Gardens

Well worth seeing: a visually and philosophically fascinating exhibition by Zadok Ben-David at Kew Gardens until 27th of March 2022. See more at:

https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/zadok-ben-david-natural-reserve.

The artist uses delicate models of the natural world to illustrate that life simultaneously has its dark and light aspects. This innovative exhibition has to be seen to be believed. It makes for an intriguing accompaniment to the lovely botanical gardens.