COMPTON VERNEY – THE ART OF PERCEPTION – FROM SEURAT TO RILEY
Most major art exhibitions can be found hanging inside the hallowed walls of two or three of the capital cities leading art galleries. As an art lover, for me, this can mean a lot of travelling into London with all the expenses that can incur, an expensive train ticket, long queues at the gallery and a hefty admission ticket. It has in the past put me off visiting some exhibitions, which I would usually have taken the time out to view.
So, it was with much delight that I discovered the highly acclaimed, `The Art of Perception – Seurat to Riley` exhibition was being shown at Compton Verney House, an 18th-century country mansion, less than thirty minutes away from my home.
One of the first exhibitions of its kind in the UK, Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception explores how artists have exploited the ways in which the human eye and mind perceive what we see.
Op art, short for optical art, is a style of visual art that uses optical illusions. Op art works are abstract, with many of the better-known pieces created in black and white. Typically, they give the viewer the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibrating patterns, or of swelling or warping.
Containing over ninety works including painting, sculpture, light works, prints and drawings from public and private collections, the Compton Verney exhibition also features a gallery-sized mural by German abstract artist Lothar Götz, commissioned by Compton Verney.
The journey begins in the 19th century when artists were eagerly experimenting with the new exciting colour theories of the day. They began to use colour in ways that simulated real-world experiences, replicating the colours and movement of nature.
As a student of art history and `part time` artist of no repute, I had always enjoyed and appreciated the `pointillism` of post – impressionist Georges Seurat. I once produced a work of my own, inspired directly by the techniques and application of colour to be found in his famous painting,`A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte` (1884–1886).
His painting of the `Grand Jatte` changed the direction of modern art by prompting Neo-impressionism, and it is recognised as one of the most familiar and iconic works of late 19th-century painting. His intention was to paint small dots or strokes of pure colour that would then mix on the retina of the viewer to achieve the desired colour impression instead of the usual practice of mixing individual pigments.
There were two paintings by Seurat; Morning Walk 1885 and La Luzerne Saint Denis 1886 which sets the standard for this enterprising exhibition. In the first, A woman, silhouetted against the shimmering water, strolls along a riverbank. The red roofs of houses can be made out along the opposite bank. The blending of the colour strokes is remarkable, when viewed up close.
The second, La Luzerne demonstrates Seurat’s use of short, unblended, strongly coloured brushstrokes which has created an intense and vibrant work. Distant farm buildings and houses are seen across a field of alfalfa, peppered throughout by red poppy flowers. It is an absorbing example of the painting technique Seurat developed, called ‘divisionism’ or ‘pointillism’.
I was also familiar with the work of the now 86-year-old English artist Bridget Riley as one of the principal advocates of Op Art. Although her early work was largely metaphorical in a semi-impressionist style, her employment at an advertising agency led to her embracing a style of painting based on the pointillist method and techniques of Seurat and his close friend, Paul Signac.
Riley developed her signature Op Art style consisting of black and white geometric patterns during the early sixties. She began to explore the dynamism of sight, which would sometimes produce a disorienting and perplexing effect on the eye. The great variety of geometric forms produces a sensation of movement or perceived colour. Whenever I stood and looked at her works it always induced a sensation of nausea, similar to seasickness.
The exhibition explores how artists have exploited the ways in which the human eye and mind perceive what we see. It was really fascinating to see how different artists work had evolved throughout the 20th century to help create the mesmerising Op art of today. The exhibition includes over ninety works by twenty – three artists including Georges Seurat, M.C. Escher, Josef Albers, Liz West, Bridget Riley, Peter Sedgley, Daniel Buren and Victor Vasarely.
The work of Victor Vasarely, particularly his work entitled Zebra, created in the 1930s, is considered by some to be one of the earliest examples of the genre. Vasarely eventually went on to produce paintings and sculptures focused essentially around the area of optical illusion.
If Vasarely is the father of Op-Art there is no doubt Bridget Riley could be considered the mother of Op-art, going on to further develop the style and approach of Vasarely.
My exhibition guide Steve Hobbs, was extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject, the artists, genre and every one of the works in the exhibition. The main gallery building is a fabulous blend of old and new architecture.
If you find walking around the galleries hard on the feet, you can pick up and carry around with you one of the small foldable seats, provided for free outside the entrance door of the gallery. A nice practical touch.
The new Op Art exhibition is outstanding and well worth a visit. Do take time to look at each exhibit from various angles and move around whilst looking at them. Some of the art work only reveals its true glory when you walk towards or away from them.
An excellent guide and a further browse around the exhibition at my leisure improved and enriched my understanding of ‘op art’.
Compton Verney fully opened to the public as a major, nationally accredited art gallery in March 2004. The Moores family, of Littlewoods Pools fame have put heart and soul into this exceptional gallery on the Warwickshire and Oxfordshire borders.
Compton Verney houses six permanent collections, focusing on areas currently under-represented in British museums and galleries. The collections are owned by the Compton Verney Collections Settlement. Their special exhibitions programme offers a range of historic and contemporary art shows which appeals to a wide audience.
The house is set in 120 acres of Grade II listed classical parkland, designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the most eminent landscape architect of the eighteenth-century. Restoration of the parkland continues today with an extensive replanting and maintenance programme, designed to enhance Brown’s grassland, planting, ornamental lake, chapel – and the Cedars of Lebanon for which Brown is famous.
Extensive and attractive grounds around a lake that includes an interesting art installation called The Clearing which is a dome made of recycled materials that is also lived in by people who applied to live there! The Clearing is a collaborative artwork by Alex Hartley and Tom James, which sets out to build a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park.
Centred around the geodesic dome on the shores of the lake which artists and craftsmen have built, visitors learn to live in the world affected by the social and climate change. Up to now there have been 14 caretakers who have occupied the dome and a series of sold-out workshops have taught people how to build fires, dig toilets and forage for food! It looks marvellous nestled alongside the lake in this classic Capability Brown landscape.
Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception
PATTERN, POINTILLISM & OP ART
Tue – Sun & bank holidays, 8 July – 1 Oct 2017, 11am – 5pm
Telephone: 01926 645 500
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