This exhibition opens at a time when figurative painting seems to be under siege. Under siege in more ways than one. Not only from photography, as a way of representing what the artist sees, and offering a commentary, but also from an increasingly drastic narrowing of the range of its subject-matter. Rembrandt produced numerous self-portraits. So did Vincent Van Gogh. But not to the point of producing nothing but.
What impresses about this new show of work by Richard Twose, in addition to its high level of painterly skills, is the broad range of subject matter, and the confidence with which all these different categories are handled.
Some images fall into long established categories – for example the still life entitled Sybarite, which is a tribute to the Vanitas still-life paintings produced by various 17th century Dutch masters. Or the elegant portrait of Ken Loach. In each case, the category is given a subtle twist. In Sybarite, look not only at the white plastic telephone perched on a heap of books, but also at the miniature figure of a bull perched on top of a classical pillar that rises into the pictorial space. Is this bull a living creature, or isn’t it?
In other compositions, fantasy reigns. A Bull Leaper is shown flying through the air, in a drastically simplified landscape. In Experiments with Balance, a male figure, bare-footed, perches on the head of a horse, while in the sky a flock of birds flutters by, seemingly trying to draw him away into the heavens. In Storm a figure holding a long strap and perched on a great heap of tumbled chairs seems to try to draw back a companion who is rushing away into the void. This companion, however, is holding the two ends of the strap. He is not bound by it.
Twose is not unaware of contemporary masters, or afraid to suggest comparisons with them. Roger and Philippa, after Hockney, is a tribute to one of David Hockney’s most celebrated paintings, now hanging in Tate Britain: Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, produced in 1970-1 – that is to say nearly half-a-century ago. The implication here is that certain life-styles haven’t changed. The only truly up-tothe-minute in this new version is the laptop, lying open on the floor. The painting, with two different protagonists, is a subtle reminder of how much, and yet how little things have altered.
Altogether what one sees here is the work of an artist who is willing to give his imagination free play, and who has the skills to present those imaginings in full convincing form. He is aware of the legacies of the past, but not intimidated by them.
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