John Spurling

Julian Cooper’s rock profiles

Like most ambitious artists, Julian Cooper has been pulled this way and that by seemingly conflicting influences. The son and grandson of Lake District landscape painters — his mother was a sculptor — he fell among abstractionists at his London art college, Goldsmith’s, in the late 1960s. But when I first saw his work in

What my addiction to Chinese painting made me do

My addiction to Chinese landscape painting began in 1965 at the V&A, in a travelling exhibition of the Crawford Collection from America. The catalogue entries were supplied by the doyen of Chinese art historians in Britain, Michael Sullivan, who died aged 97 just a month before the opening of this latest exhibition of Chinese painting

Peter Archer — Notes from an Inland Sea

Peter Archer used to paint landscapes on the Cornish side of the Tamar river. Their most notable features were lovingly observed trees and the tall chimneys of abandoned tin mines. One might have expected that when he moved to a coalmining valley in South Wales, his landscapes would have become blacker and its main features

Deeper into Mervyn Peake

The first two volumes of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy were published in 1946 and 1950, but by 1954, when I was first alerted to them by a school-friend, Peake had entered what his first biographer John Watney called ‘a doldrum period’. Overtaken by a wave of younger writers — Kingsley Amis, John Osborne et al

Back to the sublime

Martin Greenland: Arrangements of Memory Art Space Gallery, 84 St Peter’s Street, London N1, until 10 October ‘In Painting there must be something Great and Extraordinary to surprise, please and instruct, which is what we call the grand Gusto. ’Tis by this that ordinary things are made beautiful and the beautiful sublime and wonderful,’ wrote

Apotheosis of Caro

Anthony Caro’s Chapel of Light Church of St-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg The Barbarians and Clay works Musée des Beaux-Arts, Calais, until 23 February 2009 Paper works and Table sculptures Musée de Gravelines, until 21 February 2009 Steel sculptures Lieu d’Art et d’Action Contemporaine, Dunkirk, until 21 February 2009 There was once a small town called Vence, just

Animal magic

Graham Greene in his ground-breaking essay on Beatrix Potter published in 1933 writes of ‘her great comedies’, her ‘great near-tragedies’ and ‘her Tempest’ (Little Pig Robinson). He calls Peter Rabbit and his cousin Benjamin ‘two epic personalities’ and invokes Dickens, Forster, Cervantes, Rabelais and Henry James as well as Shakespeare. He gets some of his

Big space, small space

Liliane Lijn: Stardust Riflemaker, 79 Beak Street, London W1, until 5 July Liliane Lijn has always made ‘far-out’ sculpture, innovative, adventurous and aesthetically exhilarating. Her imagination fires on three cylinders: light, movement and the use of new and untried materials — untried, that’s to say, in art, though already in use for industrial or scientific

Charcoal mastery

In his foreword to the catalogue of John Hubbard’s Spirit of Trees, Duncan Robinson, the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, invokes John Constable. Indeed if Constable were alive today he might be John Hubbard. Although Hubbard is American, he has lived in Dorset for 45 years and although his paintings are far more abstract than

Uneasy encounters

Now that Georgia is independent again — it was annexed by Russia in 1801 and broke free from the Soviet Union in 1990 — it is keen to reassert its identity and encourage visitors. But there is a PR problem with its three best-known celebrities: in ancient times the murderous Medea and in modern times

Politics of patronage

‘The state is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain,’ wrote the Chinese poet Du Fu in the 8th century AD during a rebellion that temporarily overthrew the Tang Emperor. Four centuries later, ‘Give us back our mountains and rivers!’ was the slogan of Chinese nationalists after the conquest of northern China by the J

Making the day go better

Collecting art is an addiction. Neither its cost nor its supposed value as an investment has much to do with it. If you are rich you buy expensive art by recognised masters and get advice from experts, but if you are poor you follow your own taste among the lesser or little known and probably

Potent venom

‘Everything looks menacing,’ Edward Burra once told the Tate’s director Sir John Rothenstein. ‘I’m always expecting something calamitous to happen.’ This was late in Burra’s career, when his by then well-known and characteristic figure paintings had mostly given way to landscapes and still lifes, though without any diminution in their imaginative power or their peculiar

The Manx factor

Bryan Kneale comes from the Isle of Man and, after winning the Rome Prize from the Royal Academy Schools, was one of the leaders of the British sculptural revolution of the 1950s and 60s. In 1970, against the advice of his friends and fellow-artists, he was the first abstract sculptor to join the Royal Academy.

Important relationships

Fox Talbot invented his ‘photogenic drawing’ process in 1834 and ten years later published The Pencil of Nature, the first book to be illustrated with photographs. There is nothing like Elisabeth Vellacott’s drawings to make you impatient with Fox Talbot’s terms. Photography, which freezes an instant in an instant, is neither nature’s pencil nor any

Rough stuff

The red spot for ‘Sold’ has appeared beside most of Julian Cooper’s mountain paintings at the Art Space Gallery. ‘I’ve always managed to sell work,’ he said in a previous catalogue, ‘since I was a child. That’s the way I was brought up: seeing art not just as a cultural thing, but in practical terms.’

Hepworth’s silent classicism

Barbara Hepworth died in a fire in her St Ives home in 1975 and, although her reputation has not diminished since then, it has hardly risen. Rather, perhaps, it has spread, at least among visitors to her studio and garden in St Ives, where she lived the last 26 years of her life, or to