Saturday, March 18, 2006

Somerset Place, Bath

There is a good essay by Julian Stallabrass, originally published in New Left Review, available on-line at the Courtauld Institute site, ‘Success and Failure of Peter Fuller’. Stallabrass says “for most of his career Fuller was beyond the pale of the art establishment; initially for his materialism, then for the accessibility of his writing, which at points threatened to puncture art's divine, money-spinning mystery, and later for his conservative debunking of the avant-garde. There was however a period in the mid to late eighties when it seemed as though Fuller might actually succeed in his task of turning the tide in favour of a conservative, specifically English art.”

Fuller promoted painters of the School of London and an interest in neo-Romantics like John Piper. Piper was interviewed in the second edition of Fuller’s magazine Modern Painters (Summer 1988). Fuller starts the article with a discussion of the post-war fate of Bath, whose ruins were bombed and painted by Piper, e.g. in Somerset Place, Bath (1942). He sees the possible re-birth of art after Modernism paralleled in the gradual healing of Bath after the horrors visited upon it by insensitive sixties architects. Fuller views Piper as a progressive force and argues that Piper’s work had actually been at its weakest when it tried to accommodate modernism and the influence of contemporary artists like Richard Hamilton (a friend of Piper’s).

It is interesting now to look back at the sort of artists Fuller praised. Later in the same issue of Modern Painters, Fuller reviews and defends the work of two landscape painters, Paul Hempton, who is “not nostalgic”, and Michael Williams, who is “not ashamed” to be a water-colourist. Fuller writes that the current (1988) “remarkable revival” of landscape painting may eventually be recognised as “one of the most significant developments in British art of the current decade”. I think it’s safe to say that this recognition hasn’t happened yet…

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