The son of Jewish immigrants from the East End of London, Bomberg is recognised as one of the most exceptional artists in
20th century British art, yet during his lifetime he was often disregarded and died in near obscurity.
David Bomberg: A Sense of Place brings together significant works from the artist, with loans from Ben Uri Gallery, Tate, Museum of London, Pallant House, Daniel Katz Gallery and many private collectors, alongside the works from Towner’s own collection. The exhibition follows Bomberg’s exploration of landscape and presents an overview of the “sense of place” captured in his paintings.
The timing of the exhibition is particularly apt, as Bomberg’s work and artistic practice were changed irrevocably as a result of his experiences during World War One, most notably at the Battle of the Somme, whose centenary commemoration has recently taken place around the world. Bomberg was deeply affected by his time in the trenches and the atrocities which he witnessed and spent the rest of his artistic career trying to find or create order. He became disenchanted with the “machine age” – where once he had drawn inspiration from the promise of progress, he now associated machines with destruction and death – and from the 1920s to the late-1950s Bomberg spent extensive periods of time abroad, notably in Toledo, Ronda and Asturias in Spain, Cyprus and Palestine, as well London and Cornwall, creating a striking body of expressionistic landscape paintings and drawings.
Bomberg was disregarded by the British art establishment until after his death in 1957 when his work dramatically increased in value. It was another three decades before he achieved widespread recognition, when Tate Gallery mounted a major retrospective in 1988.
The exhibition’s curator, Karen Taylor, hopes that Towner’s exhibition will further increase recognition for an artist who was so sadly overlooked during his own lifetime: “Speaking to friends and family, I realise that although Bomberg is now deemed one of the most significant artists in 20th century British art, he is still not a household name – I hope that our exhibition will help to remedy this situation.
“It was while researching this exhibition that I noted the repetition of certain words used to describe Bomberg’s life. ‘Forgotten’, ‘disillusioned’, ‘impoverished’, ‘despair’ and ‘neglect’, and yet David Bomberg kept painting. He had an overwhelming determination to paint and he did this with such conviction and passion that it is difficult to ignore and – I’m sure you will agree – is evident in all the fine paintings in our exhibition.
“What strikes me when looking at the works is that in Bomberg’s desire to convey a sense of place and capture the landscape’s spirit, he evokes his own presence through every animated mark.”
For those keen to find out more about Bomberg or explore his work in more detail, Taylor and her team have arranged for two experts on the artist to speak at the gallery to accompany the exhibition. Artist and historian Kate Aspinall will explore Bomberg’s teaching practise and the art critic and author Richard Cork will discuss Bomberg’s life, art and endeavours.
While the landscapes in David Bomberg: A Sense of Place take the viewer all over the world, the second of Towner’s new exhibitions stays a little closer to home. Featuring work by nearly 70 artists, Towner’s annual open exhibition “East Sussex Open” brings together the best artists from around the Sussex region – from Rye to Eastbourne, to Brighton and Hove. Presented for the first time in Towner’s impressive second floor gallery, the exhibition offers artists and visitors a unique opportunity to present and view works by artists at every level of their career, from new talent to established figures.
The artists in this year’s exhibition were selected by an expert judging panel consisting of Jenni Lomax – the director of Camden Arts Centre, visual artist Melanie Manchot, who has recently presented a major exhibition of new and recent work at Towner, and Brian Cass, Towner’s Head of Exhibitions.
It’s worth noting that artists who have previously exhibited work at East Sussex Open have gone on to be selected for the John Moore’s Painting Prize, the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2013, the BFI Film Festival in the experimental film category and have been shortlisted for the Mark Tanner Sculpture Prize in 2013. Towner’s Executive Director Emma Morris is proud to have discovered and helped to nurture local talent.
“East Sussex Open is an opportunity for our audience to see a truly impressive selection of work by artists from our own county before they make their mark on the national and international stage. Every year the number of entries we receive grows and the standard becomes more impressive. I didn’t envy the judging panel’s task this year, but the exhibition which has resulted from their deliberations is remarkable and demonstrates the extraordinary level of talent which can be found in Sussex.”
The exhibition, which continues until September 25, includes works in a wide range of media, from painting, drawing and photography to sculpture, installation and moving image work.
Installation and moving image work is also central to Towner’s third new exhibition, “Some Are Nights Others Stars”, a major exhibition by five internationally-renowned artists whose works embody contrasting experiences of displacement and loss with the dynamic possibilities of movement and transformation. In interrelated film installations, large-scale sculptural works, paintings and drawings, the exhibition explores contemporary concerns about land, architecture, progress, utopian dreams, inequality, trauma and resistance.
Central to the exhibition, and in its first UK presentation outside London, is Isaac Julien’s three-screen film installation Ten Thousand Waves (2010), inspired by the tragic incident at Morecambe Bay in 2004 in which 23 cockle-pickers lost their lives. Revolving around a protagonist spirit guide Mazu, a mythological sea goddess and protector of fishermen played by
Maggie Cheung, the film is a poetic melding of contemporary Chinese culture with ancient myths; from the remote Fujian landscapes which were home to the drowned immigrants, to the modern highways and skyscrapers of Shanghai.
The work links China’s transition into modernity, with questions about contemporary labour and the movement of people in global capitalism. Ten Thousand Waves was jointly acquired by Towner Art Gallery and Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in March 2016 through the Moving Image Fund, which Art Fund launched last year in partnership with Thomas Dane Gallery, and is one of the first works to be acquired through the fund.
Julien’s themes of displacement, loss, movement and transformation are further explored by Siobhán Hapaska in her site-specific work Intifada (2015-2016). The installation consists of 11 uprooted olive
trees vertically suspended in mid-air, each one with a small motor attached causing them to continuously vibrate, in a state of “shaking off”, to evoke the literal meaning of the work’s title and invite the viewer to physically immerse themselves in the work whose themes allude to rebellion and resistance.
Alongside these works, An Archaeology Project for Future Remembrance (2013) by Tiffany Chung explores a district in Ho Chi Minh City which was razed to the ground to make way for a redevelopment project modelled on the Pudong financial district in Shanghai. A three-channel video work shows an evocative montage of sequences filmed during Chung’s excavations in the rubble of the urban ruins, accompanied by a “future relic” of tiled flooring the artist found on-site and cartographic drawings based on urban-planning maps of the city.
A complex arrangement of interconnecting structures, Ruth Claxton’s installation Specular Spectacular (Cheryl, Jo, Joanne, Elinor, Claire, Anna, Charlotte, Effy) (2013-16) is both a dream-like landscape which might be a model of a utopian city and a technological space derived from the geometrical structure of the classic Windows “pipes” screensaver.
Inspired by the visual iconography of urban and rural East Africa, Michael Armitage’s paintings weave multiple narratives drawn from historical and current news media, internet gossip, and his recollections of Kenya, his country of birth. Painting in oil on Lubugo, a traditional bark cloth, Armitage creates colourful dream-like imagery of colonial and modern vernacular architecture, advertising hoardings, lush vegetation and animal life. Undermining this apparent idyll is his quiet exposition of Kenya’s politics, social inequalities, violence and extreme economic disparities.
The title of the exhibition Some Are Nights Others Stars alludes to the poem Ashes by Serbian poet Vasko Popa which begins in loss and rallies against destructive forces and dehumanisation until we become the dreamer and the dreamt, “both star and night”.