I have written before about the innovative and attractively modern Art Gallery in Walsall built to house a collection of diverse and powerful range of pictures and sculptures. It is an interesting space – though I suspect rather under used.
The latest exhibition (running until 31st May) is Jacob Epstein: Illustrations to the Old Testament.
I love Epstein’s work – his work was never really properly regarded until his very last months. He was always regarded as something of an outsider to the mainstream art world with many regarding his work as both shocking and disgusting.
In 1932 he exhibited over fifty illustrations to the Old Testament at the Redfern Gallery in London. These works were viewed in the light of a growing prejudice in Europe. Although Epstein had rejected his Jewish religion of birth his work had always related to the basic concerns of humanity such as birth, death, fertility, and how people relate to the spiritual and transcendental dimension of life. The Old Testament engages with these themes in the growing political arena of the 1930’s.
This energy and beauty and power find expression in these drawings. There is an intensity and power to speak to our modern condition. Our prejudices are challenged and we are asked to think about what gives us life and vision.
William Gaunt offers this comment:
“Epstein throws himself sympathetically into the spirit of this primitive people, sensual, emotional, tortured, and intense.” The Studio Volume 103, 1932.
Cyril Connolly offers this comment in response to the many critics of the work:
“The importance of Mr Epstein is in a world of art where the masterpieces of Greece and Rome have unconsciously influenced everyone….. he alone has been able to stand absolutely outside and derive not from the Hellencic but from the Semitic culture heavy, primitive, oriental, lowering and uncouth, yet essentially part of our birthright…..For this reason no one is better equipped to rescue the Old Testament from the Anglican Church, to scrape off the accretions of Anglo- Hellenic good taste that generations of Etonian Bishops have allowed to accumulate….” The Architectural Review LXXI, 1932.
You decide. But there are some important challenges to us. First I am reminded that we human beings are deeply limited in our perceptions and prejudice is never very far away from our thoughts and actions. Second – it is often on the margins that creativity thrives. We need to try and listen (and look) at different voices if our imaginations are expanded and enlarged.
And don’t forget to pay a visit to the Gallery.