I have to admit that the Bernard Jacobson Gallery opposite Fortnum & Masons remains one of my favourite new galleries in London. While the building itself is quietly modernist, with ground floor rents in London at a premium, the gallery has just enough fully glazed double height frontage to provide a taster for its exhibitions providing a glimpse down the staircase to the lower floor space with its white-painted industrial atmosphere and the stunning lightwell that allows light to cascade down from several floors above. It’s unlikely that the new galleries being developed in Cork Street will have this atmosphere.
Currently the gallery is showing work of Californian artist, Sam Francis, from the 1950’s to his death in the early 1990’s.
On the ground floor, the large work E V from 1970-1 stands like a sentinel to announce the exhibition, with another two paintings on show and the staircase leading downwards to the lower gallery which provides the overview of his career, with Bright Ring No 1 from 1967-8 flooded with light from above as the main focus while paintings and works of paper are protected from daylight in the main gallery space and the arrangement of paintings draws themes together from his long career.
While perhaps not as well known as his contemporaries Pollock and Rothko, Francis is at the one time both energetic and calm, with more variety and complexity, exploring different ideas along his career. In fact he did not start out as an artist. but served in the Second World War as a fighter pilot, and started studying art while recovering from serious injuries he received during the war, with an international twist that perhaps reflects the variety we see in his work – studying in California and Paris, where he was influenced by the Impressionist artists, followed by periods spent in New York and Japan, where Zen calligraphers also had an influence.
There is a personal link in this exhibition in that Sam Francis and Bernard Jacobson became friends in the 1980’s with a close working relationship between the two.
As an aside, whoever does the Gallery’s hand-list is a star; it is so effective to combine the layout of the exhibition with illustrations and details of the works, all on two sheets of A4.