Unlikely as it seems, there is a theme which joins the Colour Palace, this year’s pavilion at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, with Nahoko Kojima’s ‘Sumi’ that fills the entrance gallery in the main building, and the summer exhibition on Modernist British Painting. The theme is art and architecture made from cutting materials.
The architects Pricegore, working with designer Yinka Ilori, have created a pavilion constructed from coloured and cut metal strips, bringing Nigerian colour, pattern and heat to a tranquil green corner of southeast London, while Hanoko Kojima’s life-size hanging crocodile is created by cutting intricate shapes in one huge sheet of paper, and the exhibition ‘Cutting Edge: Modernist British Painting provides a splendid overview of the swirling, curving, geometric, Art Deco work of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in the 1920′s and 30′s, with prints created from block-print linocut, a technique that had been discarded by many artists as more suitable for school children, not proper artists.
The pavilion shows what can be done on a relatively low budget with imagination and economy of materials, giving the Serpentine Pavilion a run for its money. Children love it – my only complaint is that the narrow bright red staircases and upper gallery are designed for children, not adults – I would have loved to have seen the interior of the pavilion from that slightly higher level. Perhaps I am a child at heart when it comes to Summer Pavilions….
Kojima’s ‘Sima’ hangs, twisting and turning like a crocodile in water. While Kojima is a well-known Japanese paper-cut artist, did her choice of a crocodile reflect the West African influences in the Pavilion and the 7 species of crocodiles that are recorded as being found there, or was it a happy coincidence? Kojima writes that ‘Humans have destroyed many animals, yet every one of the 23 species of crocodile exists today. My work is about a timeless beauty and a celebration of nature.’
And then there is the main exhibition, which somehow does not seem to have received the publicity it deserves – could this be a snobbishness about prints and linocuts from the art correspondents – an artform which the artist and teacher at the Grosvenor School Claude Flight described as ‘an art of the people.’? These are amazing swirling animated works which are almost alive and leap out of the page. Early works include Ethel Spowers ‘Wet Afternoon’ where the colourful umbrellas create an artistic orchestra, William Edward Greengrass’s splendid ‘King’s Horses’ and Edward Wadsworth’s ‘Camouflage Ships, a technique that he persuade the Navy to adopt during the First World War. You can perhaps expect such life when it comes to subjects such as workers wielding sledgehammers (Cybil Andrews) or Jazz Musicians playing (William Edward Greengrass), but these artist brought it to unexpected places such as the Exam Hall (Cyril Power), a Cricket Match (Edith Lawrence), the Crucifixion or Football (Sybil Andrews), ending with posters for London Transport by Andrew-Power. One of the most fascinating illustrations is the District Line ‘Tube Train’ (Cyril Power) with exceptionally well-dressed ladies and gentlemen reflecting the curve of the tunnel and the carriage as they read their newspapers – which today would be mobile phones.
In his day, over 200 years ago, the architect John Soane created a cutting-edge art gallery, the design of which was copied in many galleries around the world – and we forget what an amazing art collection the Gallery has which, if the Government at the time had been more forward-thinking, could have been the formation of the National Gallery. But, I guess, as now, the Government was too busy fighting the French – with the Battle of Waterloo a few years earlier in 1815.