Charles I: King and Collector: Royal Academy of Arts

The early 1600’s in Britain are best known for the political upheaval surrounding the English Civil War rather than an illustrious arts scene, however the Royal Academy of Arts’ current ‘Charles I: King and Collector’ exhibition certainly questions that. Twelve vast gallery spaces across Burlington House are dedicated to showcasing the kings’ collection, and the walls of each gallery are painted a vivid shade of regal blue or red and act as the perfect backdrop for works by Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, Pieter Bruegel, Andrea Mantegna and Hans Holbein amongst others. These works have been sourced from the Royal Collection, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Frick Collection in New York and various private stores, and reunited for the first time in over four centuries, having been sold off following Charles I execution in 1649. The show flows easily, manages to feel relaxed despite its grandeur, and the works bounce off each other; evident in the opening gallery where a portrait by Van Dyck of Charles I from three different angles is positioned behind a marble sculpture of the kings torso, marrying the two together. The sheer scale of several paintings, four enormous tapestries from the Mortlake workshop and the nine canvases depicting the ‘Triumph of Caesar’ by Mantegna shown side by side in one space is truly staggering. Status affirming images are common, but this exhibition does more than simply portray Charles I as king, and there are numerous family portraits and intimate scenes between himself and his wife Henrietta Maria on display. The final gallery focusses on Van Dyck and Rubens, two artists who owe their careers to Charles I who commissioned several works, including the ceilings of Banqueting House by Rubens which are likely to have been the final images the king saw before being beheaded outside it.

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Edouardo Paolozzi: Whitechapel Gallery

Eduardo Paolozzi is all over London; from the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station to the sculpted head outside The Design Museum, colossal sculptures outside The British Library and on Royal Victoria Dock, and abstract pieces in Kew Gardens and Pimlico amongst others. It seems almost overdue that a London Gallery should dedicate an exhibition to the irreverent artists’ works – and Whitechapel Gallery have filled that void collating over 250 of Paolozzi’s artworks in their current retrospective. The ground floor focusses on his early career in London and Paris and his experimentation with various mediums as industrial bronze sculptures are displayed alongside pop-art inspired collages, screen-prints, tapestries and textiles, and moving film. Despite this diversity constant themes do emerge, evident in his fascination with pattern, layering and texture – and as the ground floor galleries come to an end, an inimitable Paolozzian style full of graphic prints and geometric designs emerges. His evolution as an artist is focussed on in the upper floor galleries which explore later developmental pieces in chrome and a playfulness with reflective surfaces and mirrors. It then goes on to draw out his obsession with the creative process itself, and it is interesting to view similar shapes through both two dimensional sketches and prints and three dimensional sculptures sharing the same space. Hints of the artist as a person – and indeed as a rebel – are also present in ‘Avant Garde?’ where each letter of the term is filled with a colourful cartoon figure, and ‘Jeepers Creepers’ which pokes fun at artistic terminology by featuring a row of plaster clowns each labelled with a different term. Iconic pieces mix with lesser known experiments, and the exhibition closes with the original sketches for the infamous tube mosaics. Get over to east London before 14th May to catch this exhibition and appreciate Paolozzi’s fun, colourful and incredibly innovative contributions to 20th century art!

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Grayson Perry: The Turner Contemporary, Margate

“Southeastern apologies for the late running of this service…” echoes from the tannoy at St Pancras station, but delays aside, the high-speed link to Margate takes just ninety minutes. Once on the coast you can see The Turner Contemporary less than a kilometre away, along the promenade in its stunning sea-front location. The Gallery is completely free and currently exhibiting a retrospective of Grayson Perry’s work from 1980’s to the present day entitled ‘Provincial Punk’ which nicely encapsulates the artists teasing rebellion. Visitors enter into a room filled with free standing plinths showcasing at least fifteen of Perry’s ceramic pots of various sizes, styles and décor; a highlight for me was one shaped like the European Cup called ‘Football Stands For Everything I Hate’ humorously covered in words like ‘pub bores’, ‘bad tattoo’, ‘hair-gel’, ‘cheap fags’ and more. The next room includes additional ceramics including the powerful and provocative ‘Dolls at Dungeness’ made shortly after the attacks on September 11th 2001 and depicts planes in the sky with buildings and children below, and speech bubbles wording ‘help’, ‘go kill yourself for a virgin fuck’ and ‘testosterone addicts’. It also includes etchings, watercolours, collages, early films, and photographs of his most recent 2015 ‘A House for Essex’ project. Not only does it showcase Perry’s talent, it also highlights his intelligence with influences ranging from English 17th century slipware, to global folk pottery, ancient Greece, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, 19th century commemorative plates, his own childhood and much more. The final room is dedicated to three huge tapestries drawn on photo-shop then made with a computer controlled loom. Most notable is ‘The Walthamstow Tapestry’ which parodies the Bayeux Tapestry and successfully intertwines themes ranging from religion, to identity, class, politics and media amongst others. Artistic merit aside, this exhibition provides a thought provoking and wry commentary on contemporary culture.

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Images around Margate
Images around Margate