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Between angst-ing over displaying work, and struggling to stretch tracing paper mounts… I went to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich and see this exhibition. It is underground, which means all light is electric, or borrowed. I know they can’t move the main collection from the ground floor above, and that putting so many priceless artworks underground was a good thing for insurance purposes. However, I really struggle with artificial light. The building’s surfaces in this part of the building are also generally finished in dark shades. This means that you can’t be sure of any of the colours you see, and even the sculptures shapes are deadened by the general shadiness of the exhibition – a great shame given the monumental task of gathering these works together and safely from a place like St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage!

Anyway, it wasn’t a wasted trip. I’d seen the finished Bacons in the main collection, but in this show you can see how he progressed to his most successful paintings, and what it was about form and colour that engaged him. The exhibition seems to have collected examples of the main artworks that obsessed Bacon, which made it really easy to see how he found his way.

Treats for me personally? Actually, not the Bacons. I loved the Michelangelo ‘Crouching Boy’, and a tiny Rodin female writhing nude. It was also a revelation to see two superficially similar Velázquez portraits and see from their differences just how lifelike they must have been. I was also delighted to ‘discover’ Chaim Soutine. They have a couple of wonderful paintings by him, and I can’t believe I never knew his work before. He has a crazy loose way of painting that somehow feels incredibly close to life.

On top of these, I was thoroughly distracted by Bacon’s bust of the poet/engraver William Blake! He looked nothing like I imagined, with a strong, bullish head, and a bulging determined gaze. I wasn’t expecting to find him as a figure close to the heart of an artist known for his raddled personal life. I’ve always seen Blake as a person with an intense and unusual but sincere, confident personal value system, and Bacon seemed an unlikely fan. I could see how the shape and strength of Blake’s head and shoulders must have appealed to Bacon though, like Blake’s powerfully unique personal artistic language.

So, my eyes ached, but it was worth going. I forgot to make a detailed note of the artworks’ descriptions, and didn’t buy a catalogue, so here are some screenshots of a few of the pieces I really enjoyed, courtesy of Artfund’s video review of this exhibition, with apologies for the sketchy attributions.