The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery: Episode 2

Beaverbrook Art GalleryDecember 1, 20170 Comments

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery: Episode 2


We’re always trying to find new ways to bring people and art together here at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. In part 2 of this blog series, we are going to share with you another top tip and new way of looking at art.

Strategy #0: Don’t panic! Galleries and museums are places to enjoy yourself. Don’t feel that there is only one right way to experience art; wandering through and stopping for things that catch your eye is a perfectly good way to start!

Strategy #1: looking at the technical approach. Read more here.

Strategy #2: Influence and Inspiration

When a curator plans an exhibition drawn from the permanent collection, they look at how different works can be brought together. They might, for instance, think about grouping certain artworks that draw from the same inspiration (often artists will be inspired by each other’s works, leading to ‘movements’ or themes in art history). Finding connections between works isn’t something that only curators can do. Sometimes these connections are intentionally made between works by the curators; other times, you may find them yourself during a visit.

While planning the installation for the newly renovated International Wing of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Chief Curator Jeffrey Spalding made a specific decision to place an artwork by a contemporary artist in what appears to be the middle of an historical grouping. This example is an excellent opportunity to draw connections between the artists.

“Michael Smith’s landscape paintings investigate the relationship between image and abstraction,” writes to the Michael Gibson Gallery. “Interested in illusions of illuminated space, he explores how light can be both incidental and instrumental in painting.  Using an expressive impasto, Smith creates a visual language that tells a history of moments where atmospheric conditions have made claims on particular places.”

Next to Smith’s work is a fine example of a painting by another artist interested in light and illuminated space. J.M.W. Turner’s The Fountain of Indolence (1834) is in the Gallery’s collection of well-known Masterworks, and is itself a luminous landscape painting. Hanging on the wall adjacent to Michael Smith’s Explosion, the placement of this masterpiece is no coincidence, and it allows us to see how both artists use light in their work despite being from entirely different generations.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was a renowned British painter in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Often known as “the painter of light”, he was famous for works such as the The Fighting Termeraire in the collection of the National Gallery in London, and our Gallery’s own The Fountain of Indolence. Turner’s imagination was inspired by nature; he used light in his works to highlight certain elements. Common subjects of his works were natural disasters, shipwrecks, fires, and the weather (sunlight, storms, rain, and fog). “Turner’s seascapes appear to actively recall the shifting atmospheric changes of light at a particular moment in time evoking a keen meteorologist’s eye for the weather. These works have also influenced me greatly and over the years I have made many works, including an exhibition titled ‘Returning Skies’ to help reference my own understanding of atmosphere and light.

Michael Smith’s work clearly draws on similar inspirations. Adda Mihailescu, Manager of Public Programs says, “This bold, abstracted landscape seems oddly at home in this corner populated by Romantic Art. The painting shares a sense of dramatic energy with its neighbours – there are colour bursts, a hint of horizon, bold brushstrokes, thick impasto jumping off the canvas, a surface beautifully, boldly marked by tools. There are grey and blue patches that echo Constable’s sky from the neighbouring landscape, and bursts of light that evoke Turner’s glow in the painting next to it.”

This description, although specifically about Smith’s works and artistic style, could also easily be describing the mentioned works by Turner or Constable – and this is why when you visit, you’ll be able to see them all hanging in the same area! “Seeing the works side by side in the International Wing is a vivid reminder of the beauty and power of our experiences with art and how they can change the course of lives, and artistic careers,” says Mihailescu.

When you come to Gallery, whether as a first-time or repeat visitor, try taking a look at which artworks seem similar or different, and which artworks are hung near each other. By looking at the works’ influence and inspiration, we can often make more sense out of the decisions that artists make. You may even draw connections from works you see in other areas of the building, or in other museums, on television, or in other media. Find Explosion by Michael Smith, Scene of Woods and Water by John Constable, and The Fountain of Indolence by JMW Turner in the International Wing at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery on your next visit.

And stay tuned for the next installment in this blog, where we look at artworks from an imagery immersion framework.

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