Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson

I’ve just been to see the Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition at Compton Verney.  It was interesting to see the Alfred Wallis pictures in a new gallery and alongside Ben Nicholson. Many came from Kettles Yard gallery in Cambridge where I had seen them many times.

They are a puzzle for me. They really are not childlike or childish. The actual composition space is very different, it is lived in and fills the frame in a way that children’s pictures simply do not. There is understanding in the detail – the reefing points on sails and the placing of pulley blocks holding up a gaff rigging. But, at the same time the conventions used do follow some of the conventions for describing space that children will follow to show distance. Using the top of the page to represent distance, overlapping, mixing plan and side views, for instance. There is also the complete absence of any aspiration to make pictures realistic which only the very young possess.

It reminded me to look again at a paper written by Maurice Barrett (art adviser Redbridge). In this he explored the sequence of conventions used by children to present space and distance and found parallels with the evolution of western art through to the rennaisance. Anyway it is a really interesting (short) paper so I have added a link to it here mbdrawing

I was very taken with the work from children’s workshops on display at the gallery. It’s often a good idea to find a way to break down the intimidating presence of a blank piece of paper. Here it was done easily by tearing and shaping the paper first. It seemed to provide a lightness of touch and a stronger sense of a composition being placed deliberately on the page than normal. I have also always liked the idea of a working wall – a communal sketchbook. So I took a couple of pictures which you can see below. The exhibition is on until 5th June.

About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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One Response to Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson

  1. Dan says:

    ps Ben Nicholson was born in Denham Buckinghamshire

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