Aidan Quinn profiles some of the artists on show at Beaux Arts Bath during September
The Indian philosopher Krisnamurti said, “When the mind is utterly still without being forced or trained into quiescence, when it is silent because the self is inactive, then there is creation.” In their autumn exhibition The Art of Silence, Beaux Arts brings together a selection of still-life painters, some new to the gallery, others who will be eagerly anticipated by regular visitors. Also on view in is an impressive array of sculpture, including the work of local artist Beth Carter, whose work is to be featured during the month of September at the prestigious Louvre-Lens in northern France.
Despite its long intertwining with the history of art and its currents of wealth, religion, patronage and power, still-life is perhaps overly familiar as a genre amid the tumult of modern life, and is often served cold and hyper-real. There has, to say the least, been an evolution in the art world in terms of medium, subject matter and concept. Our modern digital age makes an artist like Helen Simmonds something of a revolutionary. She paints mainly seasonal flowers and blossoms from her own garden, and her paintings are of a stunning simplicity and restrained delicacy. As she puts it herself, her paintings are an act of hope, and embody an ongoing attempt to lead a kinder, more responsive life, jettisoning all that is superfluous and keeping in focus the critical elements of connection. And oh my how they do just that.
Another favourite with the art cognoscenti and beyond is Nathan Ford. Already well-known for his large-scale panoramic street scenes Nathan’s recent still-life series are the continuation of an idea begun during lockdown; weeds and flowers gathered during a time when daily movement was restricted. The artist has commented that he feels an affinity with these little flowers – blossoming as they do in such an unlikely environment, a stony and windy Welsh hillside near his adopted home. He sees the little still-lifes as a celebration of the natural world. To someone born and raised in South London, you take nature how and where you find it. He would, he remembers, marvel at seed pods that were able to germinate in the oily pools of his Dad’s scrapyard where he served a brief apprenticeship as a panel-beater before going to art school.
Three sculptors Jung described dream animals as frightening, or minatory; how they would appear to the subconscious out-sized or engaging in strange behaviour. This, he claimed, was connected to how we deal with our raison d’être. Walking among Beth Carter’s incredible shape-shifting creatures is akin to wandering in a Jungian dreamscape.
As part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death, Beth’s work is to appear at the Louvre-Lens, as part of the Fantastic Animals exhibition, which begins on 15 September and continues until January 2024. Her minotaur sculpture will take its place alongside work by Salvador Dali, Ingres, Paolo Uccello, Gustave Moreau and many others. Three of Beth’s bronzes are also currently on show in southern France at the invitation of the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins. Picasso spent his last 12 years in Mougins, in a villa named L’Antre du Minotaure (The Minotaur’s lair), next to the exquisite Notre Dame de Vie Chapel. Two of Beth’s giant bronze sculptures are now in the grounds of the Chapel, with a smaller scale minotaur inside, displayed beneath Picasso’s Dying Minotaur drawing.
A long-time Beaux Arts favourite is Anna Gillespie. Anna was trained as a stonemason and her first bronze sculptures were moulded from masking and packing tape originals. One branch of Anna’s work is particularly distinctive to gallery visitors – namely the Gathering Project sculptures, which use natural materials such as beech nuts, acorn cups, twigs and galls – and casting where possible these somewhat ephemeral materials into the more immutable bronze. The act of gathering each autumn the artist considers a meditation; on the beauty of nature and our human place within it. Anna’s public works include the Maid of the Bridge which stands overlooking the River Avon in Bath. This is an example of one of the ‘blown’ series of works, where the robustness of the material contrasts the movement of the pose, with the long bronze fronds sweeping dramatically to one side in the teeth of a tempest.
Surrounded as we often are by a plethora of generic machines, objects and furniture which scarcely draw a second glance, the impact of Paul Mount’s sculpture is immediate. Light plays on every plane, glittering off one, slanting off another, challenging our very consciousness of space. Mount’s work preserves elements of the precision of geometry, but the logic of his work is intuitive and adventurous, favouring asymmetrical balance over predictable form. A love of music and dance, his time in West Africa, a passion for Romanesque art; all are manifest in his sculpture, as is his instinctive feeling for his materials – the brilliance and precision of the stainless-steel pieces, and the subtle elegance of the patinated bronzes. Paul attended the Royal College and lectured at Winchester School of Art. His commissions include the Spirit of Bristol in St. James’s Square Bristol. His work has been shown in Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the US, as well as numerous galleries and sculpture parks in the UK, including Marlborough Fine Art and the New Art Centre. Paul died in 2009, but has left a legacy in sculpture that will be familiar to visitors to Beaux Arts of the last four decades.