Two works were intended for the cancelled 2020 Rye Society of Artists Spring Exhibition.
They were to be shown with an explanatory text.
Text and images of the works in the studio can be seen below.
THE MATHIAS CONNECTION
An Unfolding Story
These two works set the scene for an intended series of drawings and paintings inspired by the story of Mathias Hess (1899 - 1967), a German artist who had been a prisoner of war in East Sussex. After his release, he lodged with my grandparents Arthur and Phoebe Crew at Glenthorne, their house in Hollington, Hastings, until his repatriation in 1947.
Arthur had been severely wounded in the First World War, which affected his health for the rest of his life yet he was able to reach out to someone from the recently opposing side, who had been caught up in the later conflict of World War Two.
As a child, I was fascinated by Mathias’s Sussex themed paintings that hung on the walls of Glenthorne. One, a large oil painting of Hastings Castle, had been sent from Karlsruhe to Arthur and Phoebe in 1950 as a ‘thank you’ for taking him in. A just discernible address on the back has enabled me, with the help of the Stadtarchiv in Karlsruhe, to find out more about his life and work through newspaper articles - including exhibition reviews - and the many drawings that have recently been catalogued.
In future works, I aim to tell more of his story, especially in relation to my family and his time in Sussex, which for me symbolises the importance of shared personal and cultural connections.
Third in the series:
Waiting for Mathias
Size: 60 x 60 cms. square
Medium: Oil on board.
Date: July 2020.
Artist: David Crew.
Title: Making the Connection.
Size: 81 x 81 cms. square.
Medium: Oil on board.
Owner: Private collection.
The setting for this painting is an imagined ‘Halt’ on the Zugspitzbahn, the railway line that makes its way from the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen towards the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain.
‘Making the Connection’ is my response to the impending loss of our European Union citizenship and its associated benefits and freedoms, due to the result of the referendum held on 23rd June 2016. I could have made a painting that was angrier and more despairing given my determinedly pro-European position and certainly there is an element of sadness, here represented by the figure looking down the track, wondering perhaps “where do we go from here?”
However, I felt that I also wanted to try and convey the importance of our European historical and cultural connections by recalling some of the inspirational places I have visited. I chose to do this by ‘applying’ stickers to my much travelled suitcase, which I recall was made in Denmark and bought in Brighton.
There are also pictorial references on the suitcase to a station (the Eibsee) on the Zugspitzbahn at bottom left, and at top right to how the landscape would appear were the painting to be extended upwards, green slopes giving way to mountains.
The images on the suitcase tell as much of the story as I felt was necessary in the context of the painting. There may of course be more stickers on the opposite side of the suitcase - the spectator is free to imagine which locations these might represent!
Worlds Series – HOLLÄNDER.
x 36H cms. o/a the frame.
This painting was included in 'View from The Strand' retrospective show at Rye Art Gallery in January 2018.
Folding cards are available from Rye Art Gallery.
This painting is
from a series of four based around the idea of small, contained worlds, in this
case a ship in a bottle. It is
also one of three (at the time of writing*) by the artist related to the operas
and music dramas by the 19th century German composer Richard
Wagner. In this instance, the
relevant story is that of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, ‘Der fliegende Holländer’.
ship-in-the-bottle is owned by the artist and was bought in Cornwall, in
St.Ives. The sails have been
coloured ‘blood red’ as described in the English version of the opera libretto. The German title has also been put beneath
the boat. Similarly from Cornwall
and owned by the artist is the polished green stone lighthouse to the right.
To the far right
stands a folding card with a reproduction of a work by the German artist Caspar
David Friedrich of a woman looking out of a window. Here she represents the character Senta in the opera who is
obsessed with the Flying Dutchman legend.
Top left in the
painting is a representation of a bearded man, the Dutchman. This portrait is based on a picture in
a programme from the Bayreuth Festival of Wagner’s operas. The frame is the artist’s own.
The shelf on
which the bottle is set and the window leadwork, with its distinctive handle,
are to be found in the upstairs studio of Rye Art Gallery, the room usually
known as the Stormont Studio.
The coastal view
through the window is to be seen in Sussex, looking westwards from the
Fairlight ‘Fire Hills’ towards Hastings.
The location of the Scots Pines is not known.
folding card can be glimpsed the figures ‘20th’ which refer to a
date personally important to the artist.
* A large earlier
work used the story of Tristan and Isolde.
A more recent small piece shows
the ravens referred to in the music drama ‘Twilight of the Gods’, ‘Götterdammerung’. Please see "Totemic Tales - The Messengers' on the page showing the 2013 exhibition at Rye Art Gallery.
Title: Free Fall.
Size: 42cm square, o/a the frame
Medium: Oil on board.
Owner: Private Collection.
seeds and pods are shown falling to earth against the background of a
threatening ‘twister’ storm. The
open landscape, wind pump and barn suggest a location in the United States -
perhaps in Kansas? They pick up on
the artist’s interest in north America which he has not however visited
although the ox-blood colour of the barn is also redolent of Sweden, which he
makes the wind visible both as a potentially destructive force – the ‘twister’
– and as a useful one – to drive the wind pump and to disperse the seeds.
The fruits and
seeds however are rather English.
There is bramble, physalis, a Horse Chestnut ‘conker’, a Sycamore wing,
some corn, poppy heads, an empty oak cupule, a Hazelnut husk, a maple leaf of
some kind and three varieties of one of the Artist’s favourite subjects -
fungi. These include a white
mushroom, a golden chanterelle and a puffball. There is also, to the left, the shadowy shape of some exotic
seed pod, of an unknown type.
seeds flourish in the soil where they fall, then the cycle of growth and
fruiting can continue.
The Far Horizon
The Open Road
In 1992, I exhibited my first three works - a drawing and two paintings - inspired by a fair that had come to Rye the previous summer. The transient fantasy world of a Fairground that arrives in town only to depart a week to two later has long held a fascination for me. The drawing was the first of what was eventually to become a series featuring, as I saw it, a fortune teller’s or showman’s caravan. This first caravan was very large , flat sided and made up of steel panels which gave me the idea of using each section for a different image associated with time. Hence the drawing’s title, Caravan of Futures.
It was not until 2006 however that I returned to the caravan/fairground theme. I had bought a die-cast model of an American ‘Airstream’ caravan in a shop in St. Martin’s Lane that specialised in model cars. The shop is no longer there alas but it had provided me with a number of inspirational items over the years. This model ‘Airstream’ resulted in a painting, also called Caravan Of Futures, developed from the earlier drawing. Another painting, called Small Worlds: Airstream, followed. Day and night were the painting’s respective settings. Then a drawing, Scenes From The Open Road took the caravan out on its adventures. The Airstream returned to Rye ‘Town Salts’, where the earlier works had been set, for Fairground Aurora (2008), a painting in which I imagined the fair after it had shut down for the night but with the echoes of the evening's noise and colour still reverberating.
Five years elapsed before I took the caravan, now towed by a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air - another model from the shop in St. Martin’s Lane - out on the road again. (Working from the models, I had to make adjustments as car and caravan are of totally different scales.) The painting Mr. Bradbury Takes His Leave (2013) was a tribute to the American writer Ray Bradbury who had died in 2012. His superbly ‘visual’ writing had had a strong influence on me since my teenage years. His novel ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ features a Fairground full of wonder and terror, that arrives in a small Illinois town one night. This and some of his other novels and short stories are suggested in images seen on the side of a long trailer in the painting. The fair is being packed up as car and caravan leave at the end of the season. Again the setting is Rye ‘Town Salts’, with the eastern end of the High Street seen in the background.
In A Place For The Night (2013), Chevrolet and Airstream are making an overnight stop in Footland Wood near Battle. It is Autumn but by the time the caravan reappears in Destination in a setting inspired by a visit to Cromarty in Scotland one grey and chilly afternoon, Autumn has turned to Winter. Why Cromarty? It was the unexpected sight of a Cigar Store Indian, gazing out from the ground floor of a house in one of the streets, that suggested the town as the ideal setting. Sanctuary is suggested by the shop? bar? club? on the right hand side and is actually based on an Antique shop on Rye’s Strand. The whisky tumbler is perhaps a reference to my Scottish family connections! The car bonnet in the foreground is that of a Pontiac that I had seen in one of Rye’s ‘Rhythm Riot’ vintage car parades, that take place each November. Crowning the bollard is another Indian head mascot, this time taken from a vintage American truck.
The most recent two paintings, Morning In The Sixth Continent and The Far Horizon, from 2016 and 2017 respectively, feature ‘real’ Airstreams. The first is at Dungeness, in a painting that is the most literal of the series. The juxtaposition of the caravan with the black pitch painted dwelling was perfect. I have added only the white flag to the post, to give some movement to an otherwise static composition, and the Cigar Store Indian gazing seawards, referring back to the Cromarty encounter perhaps. The second I see as taking its place at the beginning of the series. The caravan - which is in a yard off of Conduit Hill in Rye - is yet to be given its new purpose and taken once again on to the open road. There are references to time and to what may be encountered in its new life, the Fairground ‘galloper’ for instance, whilst the 12th century carved panel shows a scene from the Norse legend ‘Sigurd’ (who becomes Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring Cycle). Fertile ground for future paintings perhaps?
DC April 2017
Caravan of Futures
Caravan of Futures
Small Worlds: Airstream
To be included in 'View from The Strand' retrospective show at Rye Art Gallery in January 2018.
Mr. Bradbury Takes His Leave
Scenes From The Open Road
A Place For The Night
Morning In The Sixth Continent