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Historian gives £100,000 art collection to Walsall New Art Gallery

A 1969 lithography print by David Hockney is one of 200 pieces of art gifted to Walsall New Art Gallery by a Birmingham-based collector.

Graham Sutherland, Tower of Birds, 1975, lithograph. Part of The Clive Beardsmore Gift at Walsall New Art Gallery.

When Clive Beardsmore spent a year working in Walsall alongside the then curator Michael Mosesson in the 1970s, it coincided with the gallery’s most auspicious moment.

In 1973, Lady Kathleen Epstein donated The Garman Ryan Collection which first went on public display in July, 1974.

It is still the central attraction of today’s Walsall New Art Gallery, which opened in 2000.

Now 70 and still working on behalf of families as a professional historical researcher, Clive says: “I remember meeting Lady Epstein and she was a free spirit.”

Kathleen Garman was the lover and later wife of American-born British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), and her life-long friend Sally Ryan (1916-68) a talented sculptor.

The closed, 365-piece collection includes a wide-ranging body of work by Epstein and many significant works by European artists including Van Gogh, Monet, Turner, Corot, Renoir and Constable represented in prints, sketches, drawings, paintings and sculptures.

Four decades on, Clive has remembered that spirit of generosity – and followed Lady Espstein’s example by donating works amassed during his career as a town planner, lecturer, assistant curator, professional historical researcher and occasional artist’s model.

Clive says he decided to offer his own collection – including works by David Hockney, Graham Sutherland and William Gear (it has been insured for £100,000)– to make sure it stayed together.

David Hockney, The Print Collector (Portrait of Felix Man), 1969, lithograph. Part of The Clive Beardsmore Gift at Walsall New Art Gallery.
 

“If I had a wife she would probably wonder what I was doing this for, as do some relatives,” he smiles.

“But I’ve been collecting since 1988, which was the right time – people forget there was a recession then.

“Over the years, I’ve just bought what I like.

“It is easy to buy art, but not always easy to sell it and having already outlived my own father and grandfather I just thought ‘What is going to happen to this stuff if I fall off my perch?’ and I am quite overwhelmed by what Walsall New Art Gallery has done.”

Though Wolverhampton-born and living in Birmingham, which he believes has a rich collection of art already, Clive has always had a soft spot for Walsall and its New Art Gallery in particular.

“I am acutely aware that giving a collection to a gallery is not straightforward, as it can cause them problems in terms of storage, conservation and insurance,” he says.

Clive Beardsmore art collector.
 

“So I’ve also made a financial donation so they can store some of the drawings and paintings in a plan chest.

“The Walsall New Art Gallery wanted more storage space as part of its original submission.”

More than 20 of the pieces received are now being presented as interventions throughout Floors 1 and 2, in the themed context of the Garman Ryan rooms.

They feature works on paper by leading Modern British Artists such as Edward Bawden, John Bratby, Laura Knight, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan – all artists previously not represented in the gallery’s collections.

The Clive Beardsmore Gift – which includes a large pastel male nude by Jean Jay, who died in 2004 aged just 54 – will enable the gallery to expand its holding of Modern British works.

The year-round celebration also includes An Introduction to The Clive Beardsmore Collection (until March 15, 2015) on the Floor 1 corridor.

This exhibition highlights the different facets, and the personal nature of the collection and the relationship between private collector and artist.

William Gear, Landscape Study, 1959, oil on canvas. Part of The Clive Beardsmore Gift at Walsall New Art Gallery.
 

From May 2 to August 23, there will be an in-focus exhibition of works by St Ives Artists from the Clive Beardsmore Gift in the Garman Ryan temporary exhibition space on Floor 2.

An Artwork of the Month series, led by the gallery’s front of house team, will complement the exhibitions.

Another new exhibition called The Raven has been created by artist Darren Banks – after he discovered he had a family connection to sculptor Churton Fairman (1924-1997).

Better known as Mike Raven, one of the original Radio 1 DJs who had helped to pioneer blues music on pirate radio, Fairman began his career as an aspiring ballet dancer and photographer.

He later became a horror film actor, starring alongside the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing before deciding to become a sheep farmer and woodcarver on Bodmin Moor during the 1970s.

Austin Churton Fairman was born in London in 1924, the son of actors Austin Fairman and Hilda Moore.

Following the death of his mother when he was a young child he was brought up by his three aunts, and attended the Aldenham Public School in Hertfordshire.

Fairman went to Magdalen College, Oxford, but his studies were interrupted by the Second World War.

In the 1960s he became a pirate radio DJ on the stations Atlanta and Radio King (which became 390) where he co-presented the Breakfast Show with his second wife, Mandy Kilbey.

Fairman adopted the pseudonym of Mike Raven much like John Peel had changed his name from John Ravenscroft.

In 1967, he joined Radio One and was one of the first broadcasters on its launch day.

The Mike Raven Blues Show, a two-hour slot on Sunday evenings, brought American Deep South Blues to a British audience for the first time, and was influential in the Northern Soul movement of the 1970s.

His interests helped him to become the presenter on the religious series’ Ten Commandments and Songs That Matter for ITV.

Fairman the artist was influenced by leading early 20th century sculptors Epstein and Henry Moore.

In The Deposition from the Cross, Fairman depicts the physical effort of detaching and lowering the dead body of Christ from the cross.

This 1989 wood carving was exhibited in Images of Christ: Religious Iconography in 20th Century British Art at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and at St Paul’s Cathedral, London in 1993 alongside work by Epstein, Moore and Graham Sutherland, known for exploring religious themes in their work.

Fairman’s family wished to donate this work to The New Art Gallery Walsall Permanent Collection in recognition of his life and work.

The Deposition from the Cross is on display for the first time in the Gallery’s Religion room during this exhibition, alongside complementary works on paper by Epstein.

Darren Banks own practice examines the relationship between objects and film, incorporating video and digital elements alongside found objects.

The theatrical tensions between sculpture, film, image and sound help to investigate the haunting of objects by memory and experience. Opened by Banks and Fairman’s widow, Mandy Fairman-Dick, The Raven explores the many facets of Fairman’s life and work, within the context of The New Art Gallery Walsall collections.

The installation features wooden sculptures by Fairman who used Biblical scenes as metaphors for his exploration of sexuality and faith. Banks’ video works take these woodcarvings as a starting point and he uses balletic gestures, radio sounds and effects from horror films to animate and transform them.

The Raven features selected works from The New Art Gallery Walsall collections including works by Jacob Epstein, Lucian Freud, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Geoffrey Ireland, Isabel Rawsthorne, Graham Sutherland and Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven.

The Gallery’s adjacent Religion and Illustration and Symbolism rooms are used as part of this installation.

There is also further work by Banks in the Main Hall on Floor 1, including found documentary footage of Churton Fairman, edited by Banks.

The New Art Gallery Walsall is run and maintained by Walsall Council with financial support from Arts Council England.

It is open from 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday and from noon-4pm on Sundays. Closed Mondays and Bank Holidays. Free admission.

Clive will be in-conversation with collections curator Julie Brown from 2pm on Saturday, March 14, 2015.

Details: thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk

 

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