a kind of random history of art

Art Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery begins its next major exhibition in a couple of weeks. A Collector’s Eye: Cranach to Pissarro features a selection of work from the Schorr Collection, which private collector David J Lewis assembled covering five centuries of art from 15th-century devotional images to 19th-century French Impressionist landscapes. Old Master artists Rubens, El Greco, Delacroix and Cranach are included alongside Impressionists such as Pissarro and Sisley.

The Walker have produced a video by way of explanation featuring the voice of Lewis:

Some might judge Lewis for his approach to collecting, that he had a few bare walls in his house and decided to fill them. But isn't that what most of us do, especially since through postcards, posters and prints we can all, as the question at the end of the video implies, have our dream art collection (the main difference being that Lewis quite often has the originals)?

I'm an inveterate art card collector and have been for years. When I was at university first time around I plastered the giant notice board in my room with cards, hundreds. It became a talking point. People visited sometimes just to look at them, a kind of random history of art amassed during visits to art galleries and museums and postcard books from discount shops.

It's a tradition I've kept up across the years, though after the length of time it took to dismantle the display at the end of that academic year, not quite as many. But the wall of my room here does still contain a collage, some framed, some simply blue-tacked up. Plenty are trophies from my north-west art gallery visits which means there's certainly a late Victorian bias and barely recognisable to most people.

So I probably have my dream art collection.  Of course, what the Walker is really asking is which paintings I would, like Lewis, to have all to myself, Vincent's Starry Night in the living room, the illustrations from the Globe Theatre recreated on the ceiling, part of Anthony Gormley's Field propping up the recipe cards in the kitchen, an Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun self portrait watching over me while I sleep.

But I genuinely love the images already plastered across these walls.  I even have a wall chart of the Globe Theatre reproduction above the table where I'm typing this.  Whereas a painting contains its own intrinsic history, these reproductions evoke my own personal history instead and I can tell you a story about each of them.  Here then is a taste of the Stuart Ian Burns collection.

Some pop culture.  The original poster for Kevin Smith's film Clerks which seems to opitomise the intersection between filmmaking and working in the service industry, the tagline "A Funny Look at the Over-the-Counter Culture" an exellent demonstration of his Hollywood advertising tries to normalise everything.  The cover to Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' which for various reasons is deeply aspirational for me.

There are lots of images which you might have too.  Edward Hopper's Automat, which I know is a bit of a cliche and another Cameron Crowe reference but I also rotate it with Night Hawks and Klimt's The KissRenoir's The Umbrellas.  The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare which still seems to the most authentic, especially having seen the real canvas a few times and looked him in those deep intelligent eyes.

Plenty of photographs.  There's an anonymous cepia shot of the entrance to a derelict Paris Metro station in a rundown area which is is a constant reminder that everything has a dark side.  Of all the pictures its one of the few which I don't have a story for, I didn't buy it in Paris but at a sale across the park in a nostalgic moment.

I also have an excellent interior of Wilson's Book Store on Renshaw Street in Liverpool in 1952 by Stewart Bale.  I remember the shop from its latter days just before it closed and became part of Rapid Hardware but this shows its hayday, with muted electro lighting and shelves stuffed with the classic Penguins filled with suited couples sharing the pleasure of choosing something to read together.

The image I have of Hamlet on the Gower Monument was taken before it had become weather worn.  It's a tourist postcard made in Hastings which was one of if not the reason that pushed me into finally visiting Stratford Upon Avon a few years ago. What I notice now is that the plinth is different; the image I have is of something rather plain whereas now its granite thing with HAMLET emblazoned on it like a symbol of our faded education system. 

The Pharmacist by Martyn Blundell is on a private view card for an exhibition I couldn't attend at Nottingham University.  It's a graphite on Fabriano paper of a short-haired woman in nothing but her nightie, hunched over her chin resting on the back of her hand, one foot resting on a what might be a bible, a small medical bottle which I assume to be chloroform some kind of medicine.  It has all the symbolic resonance of one those Victorian paintings but with an hint of danger.

Another private view card, this time from a visit to FACT Liverpool in 2004, a still frame of a rickshaw being pushed along the bottom of the ocean from Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba's Towards the Compex, part of the group exhibition At the Still Point of the Turning World which has all the qualities of a dream and was entirely mesmerising projected across a giant scene in the large display area on the ground floor.

Despite being religiously vague I'm still fascinated by Milton's retelling of the Genesis myth in Paradise Lost which might account for why I have Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve (popularly famous for being in the opening titles of Desperate Housewives) tempered from above by William Blake's The Ancient of Days  which depicts Urizen, the embodiment of conventional reason and law. 

But my favourite is still a photograph you may not have seen, Amy Gibbing's Flat Iron Building, displayed at the centre of the wall.  I've seen plenty of shots of the building since but none of them quite seem to catch the measure of its angles and the Broadway street sign in the same way as this show which was given to me in Christmas 2001, especially with the snow nestling across the street lamp.

I can't wait to see if Mr Lewis's collection measures up.


mart said...

Hi Stuart,

Glad you like the postcard and many thanks for the mention.

The drawing you refer to is called the Pharmacist and is from 1995. The Anaesthetist is a larger drawing with 3 figures and is in the collection of the University of Hertfordshire. The Pharmacist is in a private collection.

The drawings are made with graphite on Fabriano paper, no watercolour :)

Best regards,

Martyn Blundell

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Thank you for the correction, Martyn. I've updated as necessary.

mart said...

Cheers Stuart, Great blog, by the way!