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A very introspective person but a great artist,
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This review is from: Edward Burra (Hardcover)
This is the catalogue to an exhibition that I attended earlier this year at the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham. Prior to this I was unfamiliar with the artist's work except for reproductions in surveys of 20th century British painting. Burra was a very idiosyncratic artist and Stefan van Raay, Director of Pallant House Gallery who organised the exhibition, suggests that Stanley Spencer is probably the closest British artist. This exhibition and catalogue do an excellent job of describing his life, influences and artistic development in a holistic, integrated manner.
The catalogue has been put together and presented to the very high level that is associated with Pallant House (for example, "Modern British Art at Pallant House Gallery"). There are over 150 illustrations, the majority are coloured (and very faithfully coloured at that) reproductions of his work as well as black and white contemporary photographs illustrating the artist's life and development. There is an illustrated chronology, lists of ballet, opera and theatre productions designed by Burra, details of his solo and group exhibitions, public collections holding his work, a list of books illustrated by the artist, bibliography and an index.
Burra was influenced by Neue Sachlichkeit and Surrealism, and the catalogue contains perceptive essays by Jane Stephenson, Burra's first biographer, on the artist's life and letters, and by Andrew Lambirth on Burra's landscapes, an underrated motif of an underrelated artist. However, the lion's share of the text is written by Simon Martin, Head of Curatorial Services at Pallant House, who addresses Burra's view of modern urban life, his dark side and his stage and screen work.
Burra painted mostly in watercolour because his frail health required that he paint on a flat canvas but his technique is such that it is generally difficult to distinguish between these and his oil paintings. His very distinctive and vibrant colouring might seem to be at variance with his views of the dark side of life at the edge of society.
Much more repressed than Francis Bacon, he was a very different artist and internalised much of his feelings and frustrations. Burra painted landscapes throughout his life with those from the 1930s/1940s having a suggestion of American regionalist painting. However, the landscapes from the end of his life are introspective and calm, suggesting that perhaps he had realised that he had done all that he could in his scenes of urban life.
The exhibition included a rather difficult question and answer video interview with the artist recorded towards the end of his life; however, his answers revealed very little and it was clear that he was not enjoying the experience. This book and the exhibition speaks volumes for the artist and goes a long way to raising his profile to the level that is fully justified by the quality of his work.