Caulfield, Hume and Lowry at Tate Britain: Still, Contemporary and Modern Life, Painted.

ImageWhattaday…and we wondered why we were tired!?

This Saturday was an Art Day if there ever was one and, along with Paper at Saatchi, reawakened my appreciation for art – although it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

First stop was the Royal Academy’s graduate show, which I left feeling as if I had an IQ of around six, maybe seven, devoid of any creative understanding – perhaps even as if I’d been lobotomised, the right-hand side of my brain removed. It’s odd, at my art school the importance of the viewing experience was always key; self-indulgent, inaccessible work was simply not accepted, so I came out with the view that the moment between work and viewer is as important as the nature of the work itself. However, the RA show was like being presented with a plate of plastic food – tempting, and you want to digest it, but you simply can’t.

I refuse to believe that any artwork should require its audience to read a four-page script before they can possibly comprehend it, and I also refuse to believe that the alumni of the RA are so intellectually superior and their ideas so complex that the rest of us civvies must be told how to appreciate the work.

However, one artist whose studio I very nearly missed but who became the silver lining for me was Sarah Shoughi whose immaculately cast resin and lead pieces are seductively simple, yet minutely detailed all at once. The entire RA show was minimalist, but Shoughi’s is minimalism which in fact requires great technical skill, material knowledge and attention to detail – or put crudely, just more effort than the monotone paintings and laserjet prints which dominate the rest of the school.

ImageFrom the RA to the Tate Britain which might be a building site from the outside, but is looking utterly stunning inside. Both Gary Hume and Patrick Caulfield’s shows are satisfyingly bitesize, so we still had enough energy for a little Lowry afterwards. Hume will never be a great love of mine, I think I need more grit to get my teeth into, but the show is sharp, tidy and just really pleasing to the eye. Caulfield meanwhile was a very pleasant surprise; he really was a sublime painter, and his later works display not only his Pop Art (granted, he hated that label) style but his skill in terms of realist or figurative style. From the 1970s he started to incorporate an ‘alien style’, and the clash of bold block colours and soft painterly strokes really does show each style at its best.

Initially images such as Study of Roses appear to be an early Caulfield with a printed rose stuck on top, glinting with a syrupy PVA shine, however it is in fact Caulfield showcasing his artistic range, and highlighting every new addition with varnish – bringing realism into an artificial environment, before flipping it back to a glossy magazine image.

ImageCaulfield’s work plays on the eye and is quietly intelligent without ever requiring too much analysis – there is a lot to be said for art that needs deciphering (and can be successfully deciphered), but also a lot to be said for easy art.  Paintings such as After Lunch provide an “aha!” moment followed by a smile, it’s very simple but still emotive.

ImageImageLowry’s show is a whole different experience: dismal Lancashire, the struggles of ordinary people in thick scraggy oils, ultramarines and coppers jumping out from a haze of grey. I grew up with a Lowry print hanging in the living room, my Mum always identifying Lowry by his characters’ “very big feet”, I remember never really agreeing and instead just noticing their stooped poses and identically frustrated expressions.

ImageLowry’s vast crowds, endless miniscule people, and seemingly unending patience come to light in this show; however paintings like The Lake and Blitz are also on show, and display his lesser-known penchant for painting incredible landscapes.

Before visiting Tate Britain I thought it odd to have Hume, Caulfield and Lowry on at once – the first two clearly complement one another, yet Lowry seemed mismatched.  However, the three roll smoothly in succession: Caulfield’s flatly planed still lifes followed by Hume’s vast 2D representations of every aspect of contemporary life, and finally Lowry’s intricate paintings which rely on structured lines and simplified bodies to convey the dark tones of industrial modernisation.

I’ll be going back to Lowry again for sure and, if she agrees, taking the mother along with me so that she too can see a few hundred more “very big feet”.

Hume and Caulfield are on show at Tate Britain until 1st September, Lowry until 20th October 2013

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