Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bartholomew Beal at The Fine Art Society

Image: Independent article
A heap of broken images... well, I wouldn't say broken but certainly stacked up, wrapped in bubble wrap and being generally fussed over. At least, that was the scene of the ground floor of The Fine Art Society when I walked in this morning, which is clearly re-organising.

There's no such kerfuffle in the clean, crypt-like the lower ground floor where Bartholomew Beal's solo exhibition A Heap Of Broken Images is being shown, well-spaced and lit. The title of the exhibition - as for many of the individual pieces - is from TS Eliot's The Waste Land. The figures which populate the gorgeous, tending-to-psychedelic canvases are their focus point. Some stare out to a distant horizon, some are lost in a task. All are the progeny of the lines and allusion of TS Eliot's text. It's to curator Sara Terzi's great credit that she has Beal's copy of Eliot's Selected Poems available for reference (as well as a timelapse montage of photographs showing Beal in his studio, sitting, reading the text as much as he is painting).

Though Beal's paintings are all marvellously accomplished in imagination, draughtsmanship and brushstroke the narrative from the printed text to the images is of equal interest. The links are made through Beal's own margin notes, translating passages, fixing his own reference or even sketching a brisk study. Sybil, yearning for death in the poem's Greek-language prologue is caught in a lovely study of a young woman barely below the surface of water (the refracted light on her cheek is particularly splendid). A lilac hyacinth, referencing the Lilac of The Burial Of The Dead's second line is the more robust of two stems clutched by The Hyacinth Girl.

The men in the paintings are pictured with an existential divide, either lost to the world in a minute task taking all their concentration or staring out into the distance, often strained, with the exception of the wonderful The Drowned Sailor: the apparition of a white-bearded Davy Jones stands , translucent in front of his wreck below a collage of colourful abstraction - Chinese lanterns, or jellyfish.

In a note to accompany the catalogue, Edward Lucie-Smith suggests
Like many avant-garde impulses, his work has its roots in a return to tradition.
Indeed the exhibition has adopted this observation, with accompanying text being rendered in Chicago, the typeface used by Apple computing from the 1980s. It's an unassuming but opulent collection that I enjoyed looking at but that has also inspired me to pick up a long-neglected copy of Eliot's poetry.

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