X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Exhibitions

Who was the real Victor Pasmore?

His career was a thesaurus of all the possibilities open to a 20th-century painter, as this exhibition at the Djanogly Gallery shows

14 January 2017

9:00 AM

14 January 2017

9:00 AM

Victor Pasmore: Towardsa New Reality

Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts,, until 19 February

Victor Pasmore once told me how he greeted Pablo Picasso at Victoria station. The great man had come to Britain in 1950 to attend a communist-sponsored peace congress in Sheffield. In person Pasmore found him surprisingly different from the solemn art-historical giant suggested by books. ‘He did nothing but joke all the time, non-stop, and he was no more a communist than the local fairy.’ Instead, Pasmore felt, ‘Picasso was 100 per cent anarchist.’

Something similar could be said about Pasmore himself, as can be seen from a fine exhibition devoted to his work from the 1930s to the ’60s at the Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham (moving on to Pallant House, Chichester, on 11 March). Few artists made more abrupt stylistic swerves. Consequently, his career was a thesaurus of all the possibilities open to a 20th-century painter, from dingy social realism to millenarian modernism.

Pasmore (1908–98) began, he explained, as a ‘sort of impressionist’, subsequently dabbling briefly with ‘imitation cubist and fauvist pictures’. This flirtation with the avant-garde seemed to lead nowhere, so ‘I gave it up and went back to the old masters.’ In 1937, with two friends, William Coldstream and Claude Rogers, Pasmore founded the hugely influential Euston Road School, dedicated to carefully calibrated depictions of their mid-century British surroundings. But he shied away from that orthodoxy too.

The first pictures in the exhibition, dating from the 1930s, are somewhat in the manner of Sickert or Degas. Next, during and immediately after the war, Pasmore produced swooningly romantic landscapes — then suddenly turned to abstraction. For a while after that he concentrated on geometric sculptural constructions, and at one point designed a whole neighbourhood of a New Town — Peterlee in County Durham — before returning to abstract painting.


Where in all this, you might wonder, was the true Pasmore? Actually, his essential talent is not hard to discern in each transformation — although that does not mean that all his incarnations were equally successful.

To my mind, he was at his peak just as he was about to cross the border between figurative art and abstraction. Some of the paintings he did at that point, in the mid-1940s, are almost too seductively enjoyable. There may be greater 20th-century British paintings than ‘The Quiet River: The Thames at Chiswick’ (1943–4), for example, but there aren’t many in which every dab of paint is so subtly right. And it is, just like Pasmore’s later non-figurative works, an image of nothing much: mist, a hint of pink in the sky, a gleam on the water, a few posts, someone cycling by.

‘Green Landscape with Gate’ (c.1943) depicts just what the title says, a mass of vegetation with a small wooden gate in the middle, and yet you could look at it for ages, as you can a good Jackson Pollock, because of the energy and rhythm of brushstrokes that make up trees and hedge. Pasmore declared that ‘abstract’ wasn’t a good word to describe what he then did. ‘But there isn’t really another one. I call it independent painting: that is, art that is independent like music.’

When he ‘went abstract’ in the late 1940s it caused consternation to erstwhile supporters such as Kenneth Clark, and one can understand why. From painting marvellously in the manner of Whistler and Turner (the latter his hero from boyhood), Pasmore suddenly switched to imitating Paul Klee and cubism — with clunky results and a sharp drop in quality.

As time went on, Pasmore found himself becoming an abstract artist, but he never quite regained the shimmering delicacy of his finest landscapes. On the other hand, his feeling for space and interval, as distinctive as a composer’s sense of melody, is as recognisable as a fingerprint in an abstraction such as ‘Development in Green and Indigo No. 2’ (1965).

The best of the sculptures have it too. And I’d like to see his Apollo Pavilion at Peterlee in the flesh — a model is displayed in the exhibition. This, a functionless structure like a walk-though sculpture in the middle of a housing estate, is almost a parable of the perils of post-war modernism. Naturally, it was immediately vandalised by local teenagers and later almost demolished as an eyesore. The luxuriant graffiti, though, didn’t much bother Pasmore. After a visit in the 1980s, he described the effect as ‘a colourful exhibition of free child’s art’.

Even if every stylistic turn Pasmore took was not equally fertile, it is hard not to admire his boldness. Once he was asked whether the text of the bits of newspaper stuck on his collages was important. No, he replied — but, he added, ‘I try to be instructive’, pointing at a headline glued on one that read simply ‘Liberty!’ Not a bad watchword for any artist.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close