Stanley Spencer exhibition at Kelvingrove.
LISTINGS: GLASGOW 55 EDINBURGH 56
A Visionary? Comparable to Blake? Stanley Spencer was no more than a smutty version ofJohn Betjeman, argues Andrew Gibbon
Religious heterosexuals are in for a treat: the exhibition of paintings by Stanley Spencer. entitled The Apotheosis ofLove, arrives at Glasgow Art Gallery fresh from a much talked-about run at its birthplace, the Barbican
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Art Gallery in London. Anyone who was splashing about poster paint in an ‘0‘ grade art class during the 605 will remember the Spencer reproductions tacked to the chipboard. He was just the sort ofartist teacher trainees ofthe post-war years adored: technically skilled, figurative. narrative. mystically English and a little bit ‘modern‘ with it (ie frequent use ofpeculiar perspectives and distortions).
Spencer died in 1959 but. since then, there has been a rather desperate critical attempt to remould his reputation — to recast him as a European avant-gardist rather than an English eccentric. The fact that he drew some inspiration from early Italian primitives. like Fra Angelico, has something in common with the Picasso of the 205 and is fastidiously illustrative in the manner of
the mincer along with his rather idiosyncratic view ofthe New Testament. Many ofthese have been borrowed back from various far—flung galleries and - in spite of the organisers‘ high falutin‘ intentions — the ensemble does little to dispel my own image ofStanley Spencer as an intensely creative man in a dirty raincoat; a kind of smutty. artistic version ofJohn Betjeman. I am neither convinced nor amused by St Francis preaching to the assembled poultry in Spencer‘s home village of Cookham in Berkshire. by Christ turning water into wine outside a local hotel. nor by 30s country folk getting it together in Love on the Moors. 'l‘hey are scenes which precisely correspond to what I imagine some sexually frustrated village vicar
Stanley Spencer's The Apotheosis oi Love
depictions. they are merely prurient. llis treatment of nude female flesh is almost necrophiliac.
“A visionary". ‘like Blake‘ — these are the regularly over-stated pronouncements of English critics eager to reinstate Spencer. The adulation is easy to understand: few artists lend themselves so easily to fatuous discussion. What they don‘t want to admit is that their real fascination with Stanley Spencer derives from an interest in his formidable libido. ()feourse. he shared his obsessive. arrogant heterosexuality with Picasso — but then Picasso didn‘t mix it up with religion.
In Nicholas Serota‘s recent re-hang at the Tate. Spencer was the most notable English artist to be
German painters. such as Schad and Dix, of the
This show attempts to realise Spencer‘s planned scheme for a Church of Love. It was to have been decorated with numerous scenes in which the artist‘s personal sexual obsessions are put through
might have dreamt up while listening in to the Home Service Easter playlet. When Spencer gets sexy — he planned chapels to both the wives he had failed to inveigle into a me’nage a trois — the nasty taste in the mouth becomes even more acrid; there is nothing joyous or celebratory about his
dragged from the basement and aired on the gallery walls. Fashion being what it is. I think we can confidently expect the reprieve to be a
The Apotheosis 0 f Lo ve is a! The A r! Gallery & M useum. K el Vin gm ve, from Fri 19 Apr-16 Jun.
I The Save Our Galleries Campaign elicited a strong reaction from the Scottish Arts Council who have responded by criticising stall at the Fruitmarket and 369 gallerieslor misinlorming people and allowing them to be ‘misled and unnecessarily alarmed'. The SAC insists that The Fruitmarketwill continue to be supported by
them and that, when the gallery reopens. its briel will remain the same, that is ‘to show the best at international contemporary art'. The tuture ot 369 is not so clear.
I The Scottish Arts Council has also just announced the appointment of Call Boardman as Project Director lor the Charterior the Arts in Scotland, a body which will oversee the progress of the Scottish arts scene over the next ten
years. The SAC promises lull public involvement in the setting up ol the charter, with seminars, television debates. conlerences and radio phone-ins all planned lor laterthis year. It you would like to make any suggestions to Ms Boardman, aboutthe charter orthe tuture ot Scottish arts. you can write to heratThe Scottish Arts Council. 12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 700.
I The City Art Centre in
Edinburgh has released an artist's impression of what the building will look like when it has been reiurbished. An escalator is to be fitted and two extra tloors will be used for a new cale and large pertormance area. The CAC is planning to expand its education programme and, during the relurbishment. statt are researching and acquiring new works iorthe permanent collection which now includes many recent
54The List 19 April — 2 May 1991
purchases at Scottish contemporary art.
I Aldus Europe Limited. the desktop publishing company, will be marking the olticial opening ottheir Edinburgh ottice with the unveiling of works bylour Scottish artists. Vivien Alexander. Penny Munro. Alyson MacNeill and Hugh Dodd created appropriate piecestor each otAldus‘ departments. The commission marksa general trend among
companies to backthe visual arts in Britain.
V IN PRINT
I Edwin Lutyens. Mary Lutyens (Black Swan, £6.99) A memoir olthe pre-eminent English architect, by his daughter, which concentrates more on the man— his surging passions and private disappointments-than his work. providing a valuable insight into the Edwardian society in which he lived.