Tuesday, 3 November 2015

27 October, 2015 David Jones: Vision and Memory, Pallant Gallery, Chichester ****

To claim that this is “the first major exhibition of David Jones’ work for twenty years” is slightly hubristic and something of a snub to the Museum of Wales Exhibition in 2011. Leaving that aside, what is notable about this exhibition is that it illustrates the astonishing diversity of this man’s talent. Curators Ariane Banks and Paul Hills are to be congratulated on a labour of love which will, we hope, place this major British artist back in the forefront of the national consciousness.

The first room contains two pictures which set the scene for what is to come. A drawing of a lion by the artist when he was eight years old already exhibits fluid draughtsmanship and an ability to capture the lithe forms of animals. Animals appear again and again in his work, no matter what the medium, and always drawn with the same deftness and understanding of form

The second is a portrait of what might seem at first to be an adolescent boy, but is in fact a self-portrait of the artist painted when he was 36. In this boyish, innocent face we can detect not only a wistful longing for a return to an age of innocence but also the deep rooted mental scars born by all those who served on the Western Front in the Great War.

Jones’ two great mentors were Walter Sickert in the early student days at Camberwell and Westminster, and Eric Gill. What quirk of artistic fashion has led to a situation where he has not had parity of esteem with these two? If he had done nothing else but paint he should still be in the pantheon of the greats. The watercolours, especially those from the period spent at Gill’s community Capel-y-ffin in North Wales have echoes of Ravillious and Paul Nash but at the same time are strikingly original with a palette of russets, blues and greens which is instantly recognisable.

It was Gill who fostered Jones’ interest in lettering and calligraphy. The Pallant exhibition has collected a goodly number of these ‘inscriptions’ lovingly painted with a fastidious eye for the beauty and proportionality of letter forms. Also, well-illustrated is Jones’ talent as a graphic artist, engraver and print-maker. It’s hard to think of another artist of this period who managed to excel in so many different media. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was also a poet; In Parenthesis is an extended poem which distils his experiences fighting in the trenches.

The Legend of Tristan and Iseulte

As we have come to expect from the Pallant Gallery this is a carefully-thought-out exhibition which guides one through the work of this extraordinary artist with just the right amount of accompanying text. It is compact, but it packs a punch.

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