Graham Sutherland - 'An Unfinished World'

Curated by 2011 Turner Prize nominee George Shaw.
Modern Art Oxford, Sat December 10th 2011 - Sun March 18th 2012

February 7, 2012
In the best sense Unfinished World feels like a collaboration and breathes vital new life into the role of curator. Turner Prize nominee George Shaw has selected dozens of paintings and drawings by War Artist Graham Sutherland. Shaw, the curator, hails from Coventry where Sutherland’s design adorns a tapestry in Coventry Cathedral. The links between the two artists run deeper than geography. Shaw’s fine detailed portrayal of Coventry, where an aching for lost childhood informs his work, also shows an intricate approach of addressing a subject. This is true in Shaw’s painting of Tile Hill’s social club where the passing of time is demonstrated. Whilst Shaw’s work is not present materially in the exhibition, the concepts behind Shaw’s paintings are represented via the allegorical landscapes of these works on paper by Sutherland that fill the gallery.

The emptiness that Sutherland paints, for example in Dark Hill - Landscape with Hedges and Fields, is also displayed through pastoral landscapes with groups of items clustered together for company yet conveying a sense of loneliness. The collection is stronger for the filter George Shaw applies to this selection. From the centre of the studio the fine details in each work glue together to create an overwhelming whole. This organic whole is forged in the mind from joining the several motifs on display. This is similarly true to the work of George Shaw, particularly his Tile Hill paintings.

Sutherland is also known for painting Winston Churchill’s portrait, reputedly displaying the hero in an image less dynamic than the premier would have preferred. The bravery with which Sutherland strips back imagery to reveal painful but dainty truth resonates through every piece of work in this major retrospective. Sutherland’s style is neo-romantic and abstract - in landscapes that show the influence of Turner. This is Sutherland’s starting point and much more detailed and intimate truth is achieved through each composition. Sutherland left, no doubt, an Unfinished World and it is encouraging to see today’s young brave artists such as Shaw move forward with the same integrity as Sutherland through this genre of painting the world as it is, not as we would have it be.
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