In the outback
John Bratby turns up in the most unexpected places — that is, his paintings do. 1 am beginning to think of him as the most prolific of English artists, having seen his work on show, during this past year, in at least two galleries in or near London, and of course occupying much wall space in the Royal Academy summer show. It was not, then, any great surprise to walk off the quay at Falmouth and come face to face with the Artist's Quarter Gallery, exhibiting the (still unsold?) works of the ubiquitous Bratby. They hang there cheek by jowl with the pictures of W. Raymond Holmes — who, as it happens, owns the gallery. According to Holmes, it is a difficult business bringing culture to Falmouth, and novelty is needed to tempt tourists and locals away from the seaside wares. Hence the carnival atmosphere of the gallery (a haphazard array of pictures, multi-styled, and assorted knick-knacky sculptures) and I suppose Holmes is to be congratulated for his restraint in not selling fish and chips, too.
Bratby's work has become a cliché for me — the Gulley Jimson style of the 'fifties is still with him, and while the bold slashes of thick paint and bright colour certainly attract attention, the threatening impression is that his pictures have been painted by the mile, sliced off and framed at intervals. Someone ought to sit Bratby down and make him write 100 lines, 'I am not Van Gogh ' — because he's not, you know. But then, compared with W. Raymond Holmes, he may be. Holmes's recipe is to superimpose a net-like grid of irregular diamond shapes, heavily outlined, over pseudo-religious subjects. The grillwork does not manage to hide the limitations of the painting beneath, but then, there are those who disagree. One prominent testimonial, tacked to a post, tells us that the writer, on entering the gallery, had eyes for the work of none but W. Raymond Holmes, and ends with the warning that upon the owner's death, the Tate will be left this patron's collection of Holmes's work. Will the Tate be ready?
If the gallery scene in Falmouth seems somewhat parochial, that doesn't appear to be the case with resident talent. Among the artists who live and work there, Francis Hewlett impresses as being an original and authentic figure. Head of the fine arts department of the Falmouth College of Art, he is split into several other pieces as a working artist and innovator. Hewlett is a painter who has worked through 'shaped paintings' and nudes he had felt obliged to free from the confines of the canvas so that they can stand up on their own (literally), to, finally, sculpture. His is sculpture with a difference — ceramic sculpture. He has produced an interesting collection of representationally oriented pieces — an eye, a boot, an engagement ring that could easily fit the waist (no symbolism intended), a giant hand. Some of the pieces are large enough to require an outdoor setting, and the possibilities seem infinite.
Hewlett thinks that his work is too realistic to be trendy — big enough, but too finely detailed. But his preparation drawings for some new work look promising — giant-sized bare-breasted ladies with hands draped gracefully. The technical problems of glazing his larger pieces give Hewlett a headache or two, but the ones that don't crack are beginning to find an appreciative public. Oh, humble coil pot, how versatile you are—in skilful hands