Exhibition of new paintings by Clare Woods and sculptures by Des Hughes opens at Pallant House Gallery

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Exhibition of new paintings by Clare Woods and sculptures by Des Hughes opens at Pallant House Gallery
Des Hughes, Greasy Pole, 2016, Plaster & Pigment © The Artist.

CHICHESTER.- This spring Pallant House Gallery presents an exhibition of new paintings by Clare Woods and sculptures by Des Hughes created in response to key Modern British artworks in the Gallery’s collection. The exhibition is the first time the Gallery has commissioned an in-depth engagement with the art collection itself, rather than the domestic architecture of the Queen Anne townhouse. It is also the first time that contemporary artists Clare Woods and Des Hughes, partners for over 25 years, have exhibited together. In addition, Clare Woods has created a monumental painting, Lady Midnight (2015), as the latest contemporary commission for the 18th century stairwell.

Clare Woods (b. 1972) and Des Hughes (b. 1970) both have a deep interest in the works of Modern British artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, Eduardo Paolozzi and Walter Sickert, all of whom are represented in Pallant House Gallery’s permanent collection. The title of the exhibition, The Sleepers, takes its inspiration from a Henry Moore drawing that was part of the Hussey Bequest; Two Sleepers (1941) depicts a couple lying asleep in the London Underground during the Blitz and reflects Hughes longstanding interest in Moore’s reclining figures. Another starting point for the exhibition is the memorial effigy to the Earl and Countess of Arundel in Chichester Cathedral, reflecting the artists’ shared fascination with ancient tombs.

Woods and Hughes first met as students at Bath School of Art in 1990 and have been partners for over 25 years. However up until a year ago they had never shared a studio space together; the exhibition at Pallant House Gallery reflects their closer working practice. Both have an interest in sculpture, with Hughes exploring the materials, methods and traditions of sculpture often with a black sense of humour. He has created a new brass and steel sculpture for the exhibition which follows on from his current solo exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield, 'Lay Back and Wait', a response to the Moore reclining figure at Castleford School in Yorkshire. Hughes continues and extends his study of Moore's reclining figure motif in this commission. The new works are inspired by Moore and Hepworth's pierced form sculptures and respond to flint stones found during a holiday to Happisburgh in Norfolk in the early 1930s. Hughes collected found pieces of flint which he has cast in such a way to mimic the qualities of the stone whilst always subverting the imitation by revealing the material, either by polishing or scratching the surface of the bronze. These ‘deceptive bronzes’ represent a humorous post-modern response to the Modernist credo of 'truth to materials'.

Although Woods now works as a painter, she considers her paintings physical objects. She works flat on aluminium panels in oil and enamel, masking areas of paint to create layers and crisp linear forms. This exhibition will not be the first time that Woods has worked in dialogue with artworks in Pallant House Gallery’s collection. In 2011 she painted an unsettling image called Dead Spring based on a twisted tree root, the title borrowed from one of her favourite paintings in the collection by Paul Nash. A postcard of Nash’s Dead Spring (1929) is pinned on Woods’ studio wall, amidst a mass of images that provide inspiration for her work. These found images include pictures of Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel (which were exhibited at the Gallery in 2014), an Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture and a Sutherland head form.

The artists’ shared interest in medieval tomb sculptures is reflected in the new installation. Both artists have responded to Chichester Cathedral’s memorial effigy to the Earl and Countess of Arundel – which was made famous by Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb, written as a contemplation of time, mortality and the nature of earthly love: “Side by side their faces blurred, the earl and countess lie in stone.” The effigies’ hands rest lightly upon one another, inspiring Woods’ ‘The Sleepers’ (2016) and a new sculpture by Hughes that explores the idea of entwined figures.

Alongside the exhibition Woods has produced a large oil painting for the stairwell of the Gallery’s 18th century townhouse. This is the latest in Pallant House Gallery’s programme of contemporary commissions for the stairwell that, since 2006, has included Susie MacMurray, Nina Saunders, Spencer Finch, Bouke de Vries and Michael Petry. The starting point for Lady Midnight (2016) was a found black and white photograph of a surrealist dancer and is a development from recent projects undertaken by Woods including a monumental wall painting for the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Woods is drawn drawn to the idea that ‘when you look at a bronze by Arp or Brancusi you have to move around it, spend time with it, you have to think about the weight in a way that is completely different to ‘flat’ imagery; a concept that poses questions and difficulties for a painter’.

Bringing the work of Woods and Hughes together in the domestic rooms of the Queen Anne townhouse provides an opportunity to explore the creative relationship between an artistic couple. As the Gallery’s first commission to ask artists to create a dialogue with the permanent collection, the exhibition will reveal the continuing relevance of sculptors and painters such as Moore, Hepworth and Sutherland to contemporary artistic practice.

A complementary display of works from the Gallery’s collection will include those works which Woods and Hughes chose to respond to, including Eduardo Paolozzi’s Contemplative Object (1951), Henry Moore’s Suckling Child (1930) and Two Sleepers (1941), as well as works by Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland.

Simon Martin, Artistic Director at Pallant House Gallery said: "Working with Clare Woods and Des Hughes has provided an exciting opportunity for Pallant House Gallery to commission completely new work that is in a deep and meaningful dialogue with some of the most important Modern British artworks in our collection. Not only does the exhibition demonstrate how much the collection is valued by artists, it also shows its continuing relevance to contemporary society. The new paintings and sculptures that Clare and Des have produced represent a significant moment in their work and it is a pleasure for us to be showing them together for the first time at the Gallery.”

A new monograph on Clare Woods published by ART/ BOOKS, including a contribution by Simon Martin, coincides with the opening of the exhibition and will be available in the Pallant Bookshop.

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