Tate Britain, London
Until 7 October 2001
Whether capturing the Australian landscape phenomenon of Uluru (Ayers Rock to Andrews), or the colonising tensions of stags stalking in Scottish deer forests, Andrews displays great picture-making talent; whether hovering over an obscured, anonymous but ominous airliner, or standing back from threatening, masked terrorists at Drummond Castle gardens, Andrews is the cautious English bystander. Deeply moving figurative groupings such as ‘The Colony Room’ from his early period may represent an epigraphic Andrews entry into the London milieu of the l960s, but the mood is till box-camera voyeuristic — the outsider caught inside, and stepping back.
In 1962 Andrews' The Deer Park captured a world familiar to Stephen Ward, Christine Keiller, and other participants of a cinematic and apparently Thames Valley-based decadence (with reference also to Velasquez). All Night Long, a year on, captures in a filmic mode that special ambience, but it is more Shepperton Studios, or at best Losey, than Fellini or Visconti. ‘The Colony Room’ still exists, where acolytes bask in the ambient traces of Bacon, Freud, Auerbach and indeed Andrews himself, as well as Bruce Bernard, Henrietta Moraes, and above all the creator of the original mise -en-scene, Julia Belcher, who had opened the place as early as 1948. As Andrews said of parties in general, people “perform. They succeed or fail. They increase in stature or flop. They put themselves to the test.” Those who flopped were often thrown out by Belcher.
Andrews absorbed and participated with an engaging recklessness from 1954 for over a decade, as one of the regulars who immortalised it all in paint. Appropriately, Andrews is himself depicted by Snowdon in his Islington studio, with the Colony Room painting in the background: the artist emphatic; a member of that select, London glossary, Private View (Bryan Robertson, John Russell, Lord Snowdon, l965). As John Russell related in Private View, Michael Andrews led a double life at the easel for a long time. Some of his paintings were ‘straightforward investigations of the motif before him. They took an eternity to produce, and passages of real lyrical beauty alternated with others patently awkward or unsuccessful’. Concurrently with these, Andrews would be working on elaborate figure subjects; half-dream, half-reality, these subjects usually had strong erotic overtones, and their use of space was arbitrary and strange.’
Russell focuses significantly on the Gulbenkian-owned Norfolk garden painting of the artist’s family at tea as an example of the first period. “This was like an annexe to the classic English novel, so subtle was its mingling of irony and affection, and so judicious its choice of social detail.”
All Night Long comes to Tate Britain on loan from the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne Australia. It is in Melbourne too that this English wistfulness, even today, survives, and such ironies and fugitive clashes between l960s modernity and poolside hedonism remain English rather than Californian. Which is why Melbourne perceptively would have acquired it. A brilliant work, an enlightened acquisition, it reveals that second side to which Russell referred, to Andrews’ complex nature, reckless participation, and guilt-ridden withdrawal. This remains the most complete retrospective of Michael Andrews’ work to date.
Andrews’ social documentation (Marilyn Monroe and Ian Fleming are visible in The Deer Park) is no less ephemeral than that of Gainsborough (as in Mr and Mrs Robert Andrews), and will last and enthral generations to come. It was left to Germaine Greer to emphasise (Uluru in mind) the quintessentially English attitudes of Andrews. What is required, following this major exhibition and excellent catalogue, is a full biography to be published that positions Andrews within the English cultural heritage. “I am more of a spectator than I am at most times prepared to admit to myself”, Andrews wrote. Yet surely a spectator in the great English tradition, a bystander, a visual diarist, and one we should increasingly value. Against the short-term crazings of Brit-Art, Arte Povera has survived, as will Andrews: recent ephemera in Britain may have a brief shelf-life.
(See, ‘Uluru - a place without analogy’ review in Studio International, Vol 199, No 1015, 1986–1987, p60, Michael Spens, Archive.)
The Royal Academy is currently thronged with jostling human bodies and body parts. These are not, however, composed of the flesh and blood of the great art going public, but are inanimate bits and figures, all in the name of Auguste Rodin, the great French sculptor, who died in 1917.
A tribute to Eduardo Paolozzi
Robin Spencer, Paolozzi's biographer and editor of his Writings and Interviews, has given us permission to record here the tribute that he delivered at the Memorial Reception to Sir Eduardo, which was held close to his donated collection at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, on the evening of Monday 25 July 2005. It was organised by Timothy Clifford, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland and Richard Calvocoressi, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and other distinguished followers of the artist and his work attended.
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Pallant House Gallery, which opened on 1 July 2006 in the centre of Chichester, is a dramatic conjunction of old and new - dramatic, that is, internally. From the exterior, as approached from the town, a seamless joining has been achieved by the architects with great dexterity and carefully calculated understatement.
Will Maclean: Driftworks
Will Maclean’s exhibition, ‘Driftworks’ at Dundee Contemporary Arts (24 November 2001 – 3 February 2002) is the finest exhibition by a contemporary artist in Scotland that I have seen in the 14 years I have lived there since coming from Australia. It coincides with the publication of the book, Will Maclean: Cardinal Points by Laurel Reuter of the North Dakota Museum of Art.