Aside from the courageous and fortunate few who succeed in making art their profession, most of us view art as a supplement to the quotidian, often classed within the realm of leisure. We visit galleries at the weekend, see plays, films and concerts in the evening after work, and catch up on our reading during the morning commute.
The dichotomy of work and play is long-established, as is the appointment of art to the latter group. This is often reflected in an artist’s subject choice; consider Cézanne’s Bathers, Matisse’s The Dance, Klimt’s The Kiss and Renoir’s many depictions of 19th century Parisian recreation. Yet in the NEAC Annual Exhibition 2018 at Mall Galleries (15 - 23rd June), many of the society’s member artists will showcase works which shine a spotlight on the workplace.
“I have always been interested in the spectacle of people working and being creative” says artist, Jason Bowyer PS PPNEAC RP. “I interpret a scene into drawings and then use the emotional gesture of paint and colour to convey my feelings.” The Gardener is a stunning example of this method, in which Bowyer presents the worker through the prism of their work.
Within a cornucopia of foliage and flowers, branches and dappled light, the small grey figure of the gardener can be discerned: a central point around which colour and life emanate. “The Gardener is a tribute to all those who love working with nature and creating their own personal heaven”, says Bowyer.
By using a limited colour palette, Tom Coates Hon PS PPNEAC PPRBA RP creates a similar sense of the worker contextualised in The Toy Maker. The seated figure of the craftsman is only just distinguishable from his surroundings, as the composition is rendered entirely in browns, creams, and cold blues.
Coates’ work explores how we as individuals are forged by our actions. Just as the things we do each day, especially within the world of work, solidify our characters and behaviour, the toy maker emerges from backdrop of his workshop. In Printing Faust, Lorna Vahey NEAC also uses colour to merge worker and work, with touches of ultramarine, violet and amber diffused across printing presses, drying pages, and the clothes of printmakers, as if all the objects in Vahey’s composition derive from the same fabric.
This submergence of a subject in their workplace is taken to an extreme in Tailor’s Workshop - Study, where Mick Kirkbride paints the portrait of tailor Chris Ruoco, solely by depicting the tools of his trade. Objecthood and objectivity are paramount in Kirkbride’s work, whereas high subjectivity is employed in The Fortune Teller by Robert E Wells RBA NEAC.
“As a child I was drawn to the fortune teller’s caravan, situated on the seafront at Whitby”, says Wells. “My mother was scared of the teller and I was never allowed too close, but she always smiled warmly at me and would wave for me to approach. This painting denotes a jumble of memories from that time.”
The image evoked by Wells of a child’s stolen glimpses of a clandestine happening is reflected in the nostalgic obliquity of the finished painting, where lamplight throws imperfect light upon a setting that lies just beyond the viewer’s comprehension. Although three figures can be discerned in the centre of the composition, and the smaller yellow figure might represent the artist as a child, the identity and character of the fortune teller is withheld.
From celebrations of craft to explorations of human character, and visual synecdoche to evocations of childhood selectivity, the NEAC Annual Exhibition showcases wonderful examples of professions in painting, helping to deconstruct the age-old binary of work and play. “I have painted many an artist, from musicians to brick makers”, says Tom Coates Hon PS PPNEAC PPRBA RP; "they all have a place in the world of art.”
The New English Art Club Annual Exhibition will be open at Mall Galleries from 15th - 23rd June.
The exhibition can also be viewed online here.
If you are interested in purchasing any of the works from the exhibition, contact us at email@example.com or on 020 7930 6844.