Gallerist Paul Hedge considers his top contenders.
Originally published in Common Thread, Vol. 1
When I opened Hales gallery back in 1992, all of the excitement in London was around the young artists emerging from the British art schools. Confidence in the scene grew over the decades: Tate Modern debuted, new regional museums arrived, the art world matured and London’s streets became the place to start a commercial gallery. As any scene evolves, in my opinion, it always remains a good idea, to consider what’s been neglected or passed over. Eight years ago, Hales began to look at many dedicated older artists who were making exceptional work but were afforded a lower profile than they deserved. Many have now been integrated into our exhibitions programme and show regularly alongside younger artists. I’ve found the experience of working alongside them just as rewarding as I have working with artists of my own generation and younger.
One of the thrilling things is that often, when visiting a studio, I get the opportunity to see a whole career of an artist laid out before me. I have the pleasure of rethinking and making sense of it in a contemporary setting before presenting the work to a new generation. Here are a few of the artists that I have been working with who deserve a second look.
Frank Bowling b. 1936, Bartica, Guyana
Frank arrived in Britain from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the 1950s and struck up a friendship with Francis Bacon whilst studying at the Royal College of Art—along with David Hockney and Ron Kitaj. He moved to New York City in 1966, living in the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and working in a roomy loft on Broadway in Soho. This was when the New York art world was at its zenith and a young Bowling was keen to engage with every aspect of it.
Frank wrote for and co-edited Arts magazine, hung out with many artists including Larry Rivers and Jules Olitski, took advice from the critic Clement Greenberg and even dated Rita Reinhart (Ad Reinhart’s widow). He was living in a way his artist friends back in London could only dream of.
Much of Bowling’s early work in New York culminated in a solo show of giant map paintings at the Whitney Museum in 1971. This was highly unusual at the time as Frank wasn’t an American citizen and nor was it commonplace to see the work of young black artists in museums. He worked with the Tibor de Nagy gallery and his work was garnering attention. Bowling returned to London in 1975 to look after his young children, but always kept a studio in New York. Somehow, his work slipped between the cracks of this dual city life and after such a promising beginning, he struggled for the next few decades.
I was introduced to Frank by the young sculptor Thomas J. Price and we immediately hit it off. His abstract paintings are full of ambition and energy and at the age of 80, his career has re-ignited. His monumental paintings are entering public collections around the world, and will be featured in a number of important international museum shows in 2017.
Stuart Brisley b. 1933, Haslemere, United Kingdom
The radical performances of artist Stuart Brisley have been on my radar ever since my own art school days in the early 1980s. It was impossible to ignore them! They were in your face politically and visceral in their materiality. Brisley was one of the national service generation whose military training was conducted in the first, gloomy years of shattered post-war Britain. The influence of the struggle and brutality of the war is evident in the filthy hessian, tar and blackened wooden constructions and paintings of the late 50s and early 60s. But by 1966, Brisley was performing at the legendary Middle Earth, the experimental venue in London.
In the 1970s, Brisley made a string of important works—he began using film, photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, sound, and of course performance. It is, I suppose, understandable that once only the smartest collectors embraced the prospect of owning a Brisley work. Whilst the art world could always see how important Brisley was, it took a few more decades for private collectors to buy into the ideas that he expressed in such a plethora of new media.
Basil Beattie RA b. 1935, Hartlepool, United Kingdom
Much has been made of the role of Michael Craig Martin and Jon Thomson’s influence on the YBA generation coming out of Goldsmiths College in the 1980s and 90s. I was there and it’s all true! They were hugely inspiring to many of us students but there were many more,—often quieter—characters, of whom Basil was one. His own route was through the Schools of the Royal Academy of Arts, from 1957 to 1961, then known for its rigorous figurative painting. But Beattie soon abandoned the figurative art of his training for the freedom of large colour field paintings (in the late 60s and 70s) and then what Beattie calls “a sort of symbolism” (1980s to present). The very large 1986 painting ‘Legend’ began a series of wonderful works where the physicality of paint was explored as a kind of pictorial notation. Other outstanding works from this period include Present Bound (1990) and Witness V (1992), both owned by the Tate.
In Britain, Beattie’s work has been shown extensively over the years, but less so in the rest of the world. This is something that needs to change! Beattie’s paintings would have a natural affinity with America or even Germany. His recent solo shows at Jerwood and MIMA have put this possibility firmly back on the table.
Paul Hedge is the co-owner of Hales Gallery, which runs a regular exhibition programme in Shoreditch, London, and a by appointment viewing room in Lower East Side, New York.