Here’s a list, for those who like lists, of the movies, music, books and exhibitions that have given me the most pleasure in the first half of the year; given me pleasure and, more often than not, stopped me in my tracks.
BOOKS An American Marriage : Tayari Jones Long Bright River : Liz Moore (proof copy – pub Jan 2020)
FILMS Hale County This Morning This Evening : RaMell Ross Foxtrot : Samuel Maoz Dirty God : Sacha Polak [mainly for the extraordinary performance by Vicky Knight]
Blues & Roots Ensemble w. Alice Zawadzki : Pizza Express Jazz Club
Viktoria Mullova : unaccompanied Bach on violin : Sage, Gateshead
Two CDs by writer Willy Vlautin’s band, The Delines Colfax (2014) The Imperial (2019)
Harold Gilman – Beyond Camden Town : Djanogly Gallery, Nottm.
Albert Irvin & Abstract Expressionism : GWA, Bristol
George Shaw – A Corner of a Foreign Field : Holbourne Gallery, Bath
Joan Mitchell : Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris
Don McCullin : Tate Britain
Dave Heath – Dialogues with Solitude : Photographers’ Gallery
Chris Killip – The Last Ships : Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Luigi Ghirri – Cartes et Territoires : Jeu de Paume, Paris
It’s a testimony to my own ignorance that I hadn’t heard of Bert Irvin until, some dozen or more years ago, already in the later years of his life, he was a guest on Michael Berkeley’s Private Passions on Radio 3. What struck me immediately was the generous and cant-free way in which he talked about art, his unforced and clearly genuine enthusiasm for both painting and music, Shostakovich and Thelonious Monk as much an inspiration as Pollock and deKooning.
It so happened that not long after hearing the programme I mentioned Irvin to the writer and sometime artist Trevor Preston, who, it turned out, not only knew him quite well but could furnish me with an address. I duly contacted Irvin, and, as a result, was invited to the opening of an exhibition of new work at his London gallery, Gimpel Fils, where we met and talked. Thereafter, we remained in touch, largely by virtue of an exchange of cards at Christmas – his, each year, a stunning print in his recognisably vibrant style.
Trained at Northampton School of Art and at Goldsmiths in south-east London, where he was later to teach, Irvin was an RAF navigator during WW2, the experience of flying one he shared with the Cornish artist Peter Lanyon. to whose work he felt close, and which may well have influenced – as it did Lanyon – the form and shape of his earlier abstract paintings.
Although he had his first solo exhibitions in 1960, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Irvin’s work began to be more widely known and displayed, corresponding with a move from painting in oils to acrylics and the bolder and more vibrant use of colour that distinguished his later style; this period also saw the beginning of his relationship as a screenprinter with the Advanced Graphics studio in London which endured in the most positive manner until his death. A true formidable artist and a lovely man, it it was an honour for me to have known him to the small degree that I did.
What a terrible week it has been. A week that began with 149 people being flown to their deaths against a mountainside and ended with the deaths of three men who, in their various ways, have brought a great deal, not just to my life, which they each illuminated in a number of ways, but the lives of many others – guitarist John Renbourn, born 1944, poet and Nobel Prize winner Tomas Transtromer, born 1931 and artist Albert Irvin, born 1922.