In my role as a British artist living in Sweden I have organized many exhibitions and I have written many articles and talked on the radio in both England and Sweden in order to promote art and design and to indicate some affinities between the cultural life of the two countries. Between 1952 and 1962, I had magazine articles published in Studio International, The Listener and Art News & Review and, in the Swedish press, my articles were published by Konstperspektiv, Paletten and Konstrevy.
After 9 years of trying, I finally secured exhibitions in London for Evert Lundquist which led to further exhibitions in New York and Chicago and to an international prize at San Paolo. I showed him in the London Group and was instrumental in having him elected to membership. After talking on the radio, writing articles and showing video film and slides to various critics and galleries, Helen Lessore had finally agreed to show him at the Beaux Arts Gallery. She already had a stable apart from the Kitchen Sink School. She had already shown Kossof and Auerbach, but would not show Bomberg, myself, Dorothy Mead or Dennis Creffield.
I had asked Lawrence Alloway (who was then head of the ICA in London) to take Lundquist but he had refused on the grounds that Lundquist seemed too provincial. Then, at the private view of Lundquist's show at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Alloway came up to me and apologized profusely, saying that he considered that Lundquist was a major artist on the international scene. Some fifteen years later when Alloway was curator of the Guggenheim in New York, he invited Lundquist to exhibit there together with another artist, Olle Baertling with whom I had had contact in 1952. At that time I had told the Stockholm critics and art historians that Lundquist and Baertling were the only two in Sweden who I thought could represent Sweden internationally, even though Lundquist was the one I loved and Baertling was the one I hated. Baertling and I had quarrels continuously over a long period.
Finally Alloway invited both of them to America but, in the case of Baertling, this came fifteen years too late because critical opinion in America then thought he was following the American Hard Edge which was similar to the movement in Sweden called 'Concretism.' But this was a twist of history, a falsification, because in fact Baertling was operating parallel with the Hard Edge painters in America. His initial stimulus had come from August Herbin in Paris during the early 1920's.
Previous to this, I had discussions with collectors in Stockholm and with Rothenstein at the Tate which culminated in the presentation of a Lunquist painting to the Tate Gallery. I also had discussions with various collectors in Stockholm and I was promised several paintings. Finally chose one from an architect called Nils Tesch who had collected Lundquist's paintings for some twenty years.
This picture called 'Woman in Red' was presented to the Tate Gallery and so Lundquist became the first living Scandinavian artist to be represented there. The only other Scandinavian artist represented at that time was Edvard Munch whose work had not been acquired until long after his death. (Many years later, Olle Baertling was also represented.) In a talk on BBC Radio 3 (3rd March 1960) Andrew Forge was full of enthusiasm for Lundquist's painting at the Tate which he called 'Girl at a Window.'
The picture by Lundquist which has been hanging in the Tate for the last year or so has attracted a lot of sometimes mystified attention. It is not only the only work by this artist yet seen in England, but it has not been preceded by reproductions or criticism.
Lundquist is 56, that is to say he belongs to the same generation as Giacometti and Victor Pasmore. He has been working consistently since the early thirties but has only recently begun to show outside Sweden - an exhibition of his work has just closed in Paris, and he will be showing in England before the end of the year.
The Tate picture, which is called 'Girl at a Window,' is not easy to read: is the pale, pyramidal form on the left a head or shoulders or a whole figure? And the window, is it the diagonal bar at the bottom of the picture or the pale rectangle at the top left? Impossible to say. But this is not to say that the picture is vague - on the contrary, the forms, the modulations of the colour are oustandingly precise and there is a positive relationship between the forms which is as exact, as physically palpable as the relationship between the walls and the floor and the ceiling of the room. They are there.
A story is told of Courbet at work on a landscape: a visitor commends him upon the realism of the tree-trunk that he is painting. "Oh, is that what it is?" Courbet is said to have answered.
Through all the pictures by Lundquist that I've seen there runs a marvellous harmonisation: the colour operates on a fairly narrow range: russets, golds, earth-reds, rose, green-grays, close in tone. The paint itself is thick. Forms are simplified, but never, mysteriously enough, generalised. And one never senses distortion. In this respect he reminds me of Turner. Every surface is spatial - nothing is unfelt and the sequences of colour fall with a sense of astonishing exactitude.
He treats his subjects (still-lives, the human figure, an occasional scene of action), he treats his subjects with a powerful even-ness. I can think of no other word. A background shape is locked in with a foreground shape, the tones brought close, the edges groped for with powerful and tender gestures, and the two are stated with equality against the surface of the canvas. The thickness, the unhesitatingly material quality of the statement places them on an equal footing.
About his thickness of paint: in Lundquist's work it's always the consequence of drawing, and there's no romantic seperation of material and image such as one finds, for example, in Dubuffet.
There are certain passages in Rembrandt in which, seen from a certain distance, the relationship between imagery, form and paint takes on an extraordinary equilibrium. It is like a release: one is released from the physical and re-introduced to it in the same instant. One is relieved from having to look into the picture, yet this conglomeration of paint, though flat, seems to breathe, to be strung tight with its own weight.
It is this sense of a possibility of parity between image, form and material, with all its implications, which seems to me to be the most valuable goal of modern art. Cubism formulated the intention, then dropped it in a maze of half-solutions. Few painters since have been in a position to pick up this particular thread. The reason why Lundquist seems to me of such exceptional importance is that he has placed the reality of his subject-matter and the reality of his picture as an object on the same level. And he has done this without any artificial fracturing of the different levels on which the picture is read ...
I know of no European artist of Lundquist's generation whose work is as rich, both in its achievement and in its openness for the future.
Forge ended his talk by saying: "I know of no European artist of Lundquist's generation whose work is as rich, both in its achievement and in its openness for the future." And so this recognition is tempered by giving it the limitation "Lundquist's generation" which is the usual trick of critics to protect their opinion - they would not say the same of Picasso or Matisse, for instance. In spite of this appraisal of Lundquist and in spite of the part which I had played in bringing his work to their attention, both Andrew Forge and David Sylvester continued to promote Auerbach in preference to myself, the Borough Group and Bomberg. One or two critics in Sweden (and this has happened quite recently) have even gone so far as to suggest that Lundquist's work has an affinity with Auerbach - as if it was Auerbach, working in England at the same time, who was really taking the lead.
When Lundquist's work was exhibited at the Beaux Arts Gallery (November, 1960) Lawrence Alloway reviewed the exhibition in an article called 'Turner and Contemporary Art' (Weekly Post, 5th November, 1960, p.37). This article shows some appreciation for the approach to painting through the sense of touch, which Lundquist, myself and Bomberg have all had in common, but he seems to be alarmed by the disorientation and confusion that this must inevitably involve and he remains sceptical that the problems which our approach has raised could ever be resolved.
The Beaux Arts Gallery, a centre of David Bomberg-type painting, is showing Evert Lundquist, a Swedish painter working on related ground. He has, in common with Bomberg, a distrust of observation, a desire to suspend visual perception in favour of intimations of weight and density. Instead of surfaces, which is what our eye see, these painters grope for blindly-perceived masses. (De Stael touched on this approach but, compared to Bomberg or Lundquist, allowed for visual data as well.) This notion of painting forms experienced subjectively, not by the trained and seeing eye, is reminiscent of the kind of perception Victor Lowenfeld christened "haptic" (from the Greek word for touch). Lundquist's raised paint surfaces, in which bulky images are embedded, record a tactile rather than a visual perception of objects.
His subjects, however, continue to be those of an old-time visual painter (half-length nudes, cliffs, still life objects, workmen) but obscurely presented, clogged by paint. Instead of using paint to create a visual illusion Lundquist uses it like clay and models the picture. By dramatising the tactile properties of objects at the expense of the visual, he weakens his, and our, power to differentiate objects and space. In his paintings everything is set claustrophobically at one distance. Like Bomberg, he rejects a visual approach to form but without finding anything to replace it that is half as comprehensive or sensitive to the world. As a result these canvas are like the work of a newly-blinded man, disorientated and confused, without the spatial information that he will learn in time from compensating senses. The idea of painting non-visually but rejecting abstraction is worth pursuing and Lundquist shows tenacity and power. Possibly the problem is not resolvable in terms of a visual art. At present, anyhow, too many of Lundquist's pictures seem to be a drama of not seeing properly, rather than being another way of perceiving, equal to the way that is being ousted.
When Alloway says that "the idea of painting non-visually but rejecting abstraction is worth pursuing" and, at the same time, he associates this, through the work of Bomberg and Lundquist, with a "distrust of observation" he does more to confuse the issue than to clarify it.
Neither Bomberg nor I have ever said that we distrusted observation. What we have tried to indicate is that observation is not enough. We rejected the visual only because 'seeing' is dictated to and restricted by 'knowledge.' What we have to deal with is feeling through all the senses and not with illusionistic renderings of received knowledge.
Clearly Alloway prefers De Stael because, as he puts it, De Stael "allowed for visual data." By "visual data" he means the knowledge of things seen and without this knowledge he says that one cannot "see properly." My view is that it is precisely because we have this kind of knowledge that we are prevented from giving the world around us our full attention. He is acknowledging that if there was another way of perceiving then this would be worth pursuing but, since he doubts that there is another way, he is suggesting that this pursuit can only lead to disorientation and confusion. He cannot accept that in these paintings there is evidence that we have found another way. Like so many other critics of this period he thinks that the only alternative to visual illusion is in abstraction. This is not so much a belief as an impasse in the development of analytical thought which has been caused by the critical terminology available. Because Alloway does not understand the terms in which we have discussed our approach to painting he is led to question whether there is any sense in it at all. And so even in this case, where we have an intelligent and well informed man who is disposed to be favourable to the work, nevertheless, there is always a note of scepticism. Because he doubts our intentions he can not genuinely appreciate the values of the paintings or the painters who made them. In his terms, there is no alternative but to seek knowledge of spatial information. But spatial information, in terms of an awareness of space, does not come through the eyes, but through movement and the sense of touch, which does not mean just the physical movement of the eye or the head but the movement of the whole body. This is the basis for our comprehension of actual space and in the virtual space of painting this corresponds to an imagined movement projecting into the space. In the same article, Alloway allows this in Turner and in the late Monet but not in Lundquist: "This engulfing space accompanied Turner's increasing reliance on colour and atmosphere at the expense of linear perspective or modelling. Participation in the space of the picture in terms of swimming or flying rather than walking or standing, is related to Monet's lily-ponds."
With these words, "painting non-visually while rejecting abstraction," Alloway betrays his limits. He swings between the representational in art and what must be his definition of abstraction; which, in his terms, can only mean geometric shapes and forms, as in Muslim art or the throwing around of paint - both these disciplines are decorative but have no relation to so-called reality. His failure is his inability to read the meaningful image when divested of the anecdote and the trappings of everyday seeing. He needs and relies on the visual clues embodied in what I term the mechanics of seeing. In one degree or another, all painting is abstract. But the elements in a painting are not units with independent meanings, so that you cannot split up a painting in the way you can split up a sentence with each word in isolation having independent meaning. The picture is a logical sequence of events played out on the canvas.
Another review of the Beaux Arts exhibition was written by Eric Newton for the Manchester Guardian. Having categorized Lundquist as a expressionist, Newton then compares Lunquist's expressionism with other so-called expressionists. He compares it to the "frankness" of Soutine, the "force" of Bomberg and the "recklessness" of de Kooning. All of these are his terms of praise and, together with his use of the word "density," they are terms which I think have no meaning. At the same time he seems to be afraid of what I consider to be one of the virtues in Lundquist's work, namely "the breadth and impetuosity of the brush-stroke" which cause some of the paintings to "hover on the verge of abstraction."
Evert Lundquist, at the Beaux Arts Gallery in Bruton Place, W1, is a Swedish painter who deserves, and may soon attain an international reputation. Swedish art, crisp, colourful, and charming, has never proved exportable. But Lundquist's first one-man show in London, following an exhibition in Paris earlier in the year, proves that he has solider qualities that one expects from most of his countrymen.
Impetuous and monumental, he applies thick paint with a formidable muscular gesture that lies half way between the frank expressionism of Soutine or the force of Bomberg and the recklessness of de Kooning. But to all his paintings is a veneer behind which lies a delicacy of colour, sometimes muted, sometimes resplendent, always limited to one end or the other of the spectrum.
Like all true expressionists he clings to the particular visual experience that has stimulated him to paint - the nude model, the crowded farmyard, the blacksmith in action, or the bulky oil jar. Barely distinguishable from each other because of the breadth and impetuosity of the brush-stroke, these objects still keep their character and hold his pictures together, giving them a density that no purely abstract painting (and some of them hover on the verge of abstraction) could achieve.
Newton's argument seems to be that, despite verging on abstraction, the objects still keep their character and his pictures hold together because Lundquist "clings to the particular visual experience which stimulated him to paint." He says that this work is expressionist. He fixes it in a category so that it becomes good of its kind - and why is it good? He is saying that it is good because each painting is held together by being recognizable by its subject. In other words he means it is good because it represents something.
There was a group started in the early 30's around Lundquist called the Saltsjo-Duvnas Group. Another member of this group was Staffan Hallstrom and we exhibited many times together until his premature death in a car accident. In fact, this group was not founded so much on any basic principles or common bond, but was more a geographical grouping, as was a parallel group in Gothenburg called the Gothenburg Colorists, who based their ideas largely on Matisse's theories at the time of the Fauves. The most interesting of these painters was Inga Schiole who spent some thirty years in a mental hospital and during that time continued to paint better and better. Even when short of materials he drew with crayon on toilet paper. I tried to sell a painting of his to the Tate who were interested, but the prices were far too high and his dealer at the time refused to lower the prices. Schiole himself was handicapped, not only mentally but also because his dealer had sole control over all he produced.
In March of 1962 I exhibited my paintings and graphic art at the Drian Galleries in London and I invited the Swedish sculptor, Palle Pernevi, to show with me. The reviews of this exhibition are worth quoting because they demonstrate that at least some critics in London had come to recognize the connection between myself and Bomberg and my involvement with the career of Evert Lundquist. However they all seem to be agreed that they find my work "difficult." Dennis Young wrote about the exhibition for Goteborgs Tidning (the Gothenburg evening newspaper). Here is the first half of a copy which I have in English where he discusses my work (in the second half he goes on to discuss Pernevi).
'Holden and Pernevi in London'
The joint exhibition of sculpture by the Swede Palle Pernevi and paintings by the Gothenburg-Englishman Cliff Holden has had a distinctly odd reception here.
Pernevi achieved only the briefest of references in the press yet the Tate Gallery is considering purchasing one of his major works. Holden, even more curiously, has gained reverential comments but has sold best at a big mixed exhibition on the other side of town ('The London Group Exhibition' which is the British 'Salon des Refuses').
Holden, of course, is well known in London galleries as the leader of the celebrated "Bomberg" group (so-called because the painters derive their attitudes from the teachings of David Bomberg, accepted by some critics as the most important painter that Britain has produced this century).
Holden has gained his reputation without ever having had a one-man show in London, however, and the full range of his work has clearly been kept from us by the selection committees of the mixed exhibitions in which he has participated.
The exhibition here under review has thus surprised a number of critics. A previously unsuspected harshness has appeared, a quality of uncompromising, painful struggle with the act of seeing which with some unanimity the critics have labelled "difficult." Holden has become a "difficult" painter. It is true too. He has moved away from the romantic colourful works of ten years ago, with their rich pigment and sonorous Rembrandtesque lighting. Colour and tonal contrasts are harsher and, sometimes, light and paint have evaporated leaving a "clumsy" adumbration of the bare bones of seeing.
Of course, Holden is often linked with Evert Lundquist - whose reputation he has stage-managed here with great earnestness. The coincidence of these two painters, who had unknowingly struggled with similar problems for years before they met, is well known, but it seems to me that Holden is now travelling forward and leaving the province of 'la belle matiere' for Lundquist to cultivate alone.
It is not surprising that few critics can follow him all the way. The rest watch with respect - and some apprehension - as he picks his rough and stoney way to heaven.
Pernevis small notice was maybe due to the competition of several other important exhibitions. Someone suggested art politics, but I do not think so ...
I also received some comment from Peter Stone in a column entitled 'All Sorts of Expressionism' (The Jewish Chronicle, 23rd March, 1962) and this follows a discussion of 'Vanguard American Painting' (an exhibition then on at the Usis Gallery) where he suggests an indirect link between the David Park's 'Green Nude' and Bomberg, saying that Bomberg's "expressionism was founded on sound draughtsmanship and a strong sense of form expressed spontaneously."
A direct link with Bomberg is the Drian Galleries' exhibition of Cliff Holden, who came to him scarcely having held a brush, and paid tribute to him as a teacher in a broadcast. Holden has lived in Sweden, and his work is better known there than here. He is a fine painter of mass and space, with assertive broad brush strokes and a disturbing colour sense. Painting the human figure economically he conveys weight and light and movement with only occasional incoherence.
In the arts page of Topic magazine (17th March, 1962, p. 36) my work was once again mentioned in the context of an article which was mainly concerned with discussing the 'Vanguard American Painting' show, this time when it was on display at the American Embassy.
At the Drian Gallery Cliff Holden shows some obstinately difficult pictures, prickly and uncomfortable, as remote from any facile game with contemporary styles as possible. Out of a dogged determination to take a harder road than his talent demands he has pushed himself out on a limb and made it virtually impossible to appraise him. He is puzzling, talented and uncompromising.
At the same time as the Drian exhibition my work was included in an exhibition organised by the London Group. Andrew Forge wrote an article for Art News and Review (March 1962) in which he mentioned my early involvement with this group.
'New Members of the London Group'
The vitality of the London Group has always been a fluctuating thing, dependent upon the needs that its members have had for the Group at a given time. For instance, when during the late 'forties several artists of calibre, notably Victor Pasmore and David Bomberg were looking urgently for an outlet they were able to give the Group's exhibitions an extraordinary purposefulness and energy: those exhibitions still stand out clearly in one's mind. A few years ago it was said that the Group had had its day - but to judge from the new names that have been added to its membership in the last twelve months it looks as if it is now at the height of a new burst of energy. Eleven new members have been elected and they come from all quarters of the stylistic compass ...
Cliff Holden, Dennis Creffield and Leslie Marr all first exhibited with the London Group in the late 'forties when they were working in close association with David Bomberg: they have in fact a direct historical link with the foundation of the Group, for Bomberg was a founder-member.
Holden, who created the Borough Group just after the war has been in Sweden for much of the last few years. He shows regularly there and enjoys a considerable reputation as a print-maker as well as a painter. His works are in many public collections in Scandinavia. Besides showing at the London Group this month, he also has a one-man show on at the Drian Gallery.
During the 1960's I was instrumental in helping the following artists to exhibit with the London Group; Peter Tillberg, Jimmy McFall, Torsten Bergmark, Olle Carlstrom, Staffan Hallstrom and Evert Lundquist (who was later voted in as an honorary member). Apart from Hallstrom and Lundquist, the show I arranged at the Crane Kalman Gallery in 1963 included myself, Axel Kargel, Inger Schioler and Gustav Sjoo. Here is Dennis Young's review of the show for Goteborgs Tidning:
'Swedish Figurative Art in London'
The exhibition of Swedish figurative painting just ended at the Crane Kalman Gallery in London represents the most important step forward that Swedish art has so far taken in England. It is the first show to be held and it is very pleasing to report that it has been a success for the six painters represented - Evert Lundquist, Cliff Holden, Steffan Hallstrom, Inge Schioler, Axel Kargel and Gustaf Sjoo.
Londoners are already familiar with the work of Lundquist and Holden, both of whom have works in the Tate Gallery, but this show has undoubtedly extended their reputation. Holden of course is an unremitting worker in the cause of Swedish figurative painting. It was through his efforts that Lundquist was originally shown here and he was responsible last year for introducing us to Palle Pernevi, besides being the inspiration behind the Crane Kalman exhibition.
Writing in the catalogue, Andrew Forge, a distinguished British critic who seems to have adopted both Lundquist and Holden (and who himself paints in a similar style) has provided an essay full of insight in which he discusses all six painters and nominates Lundquist's pictures among "the most mysterious and satisfying of our time."
Other critics have enthused equally. The only note of discord has come from those English collectors who found the paintings too expensive. It is perhaps worth dwelling a moment on this fact. Perhaps this would not appear the case in Sweden but here, where Schioler for instance has never exhibited before, ú1000 certainly seems a badly judged price for a small canvas. One of Hallstrom's pictures is, I understand, being considered for the Tate Gallery, but his prices too are high; I hope that this will not be a factor that might motivate his rejection - as was the case with a sculpture by Pernevi last year. One cannot fairly ask painters to betray their Swedish patrons by reducing their prices when they exhibit abroad, but in a country like Sweden where there is a proportionately higher rate of art consumption the consequent high prices are bound to deter foreigners from investing. The success of this exhibition poses a problem.
At the same time as this exhibition has been going it has been especially interesting to find that Lundquist, Holden and Hallstrom are also represented in a much larger exhibition here called the 'London Group'. This is an annual assembly of 'avant garde' art which has taken place regularly since the First World War and which until recently has, more than any other show, represented the radical element in British art as a sort of 'salons des refuses.' Holden exhibits as a member of the group, Hallstrom as a non-member, and Lundquist, uniquely as the first foreigner to be invited to honorary membership. He has responded with three magnificent canvases.
This is not without a certain significance. The London Group during these years has lost a good deal of its old status. The former body of extreme reaction, the Royal Academy, which ten years ago was antagonistic even to Picasso now holds an open door to modernists of many kinds; whilst on the other hand the 'Young Contemporaries Exhibition' has become the focus for extreme experimental works. Add to this the fact that 'avant garde' art sells as never before in the smart galleries of Bond Street and you have explained away the need for a 'salon des refuses.' The London Group therefore has been slowly dying of anaemia. Indeed the way in which some of its most distinguished members send third rate works or even none at all is indicative of nothing if not a death wish.
In such circumstances the invitation to Lundquist might seem a doubtful compliment until one remembers that there are some members who do still take the London Group seriously - and that these nine or ten use paint in some way like Lundquist uses it. They are represented in the exhibition by some 24 of the best pictures there.
They clearly understand the stature of Lundquist, and indeed of Hallstrom. Their influence in the London group becomes increasingly clear and some of them are obviously determined to make it again a place where artists can be independent of the supertax dealers of Bond Street or the deadly homogenie of the Royal Academy. In lending them his prestige Lundquist makes a noble gesture to a country which has long neglected him. One can only hope that it will bear fruit.
By arrangement with Robert Erskine from St. George's Gallery in London, I brought several British graphic exhibitions to Gothenburg and Stockholm. One of these was at Lorensbergs Konstsalong, Gothenburg in 1958 (3rd -17th January) and this exhibition, entitled 'British Graphic Art,' included prints by Gillian Ayres, Michael Ayrton, John Coplans, Patrick Heron, Henry Moore, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and 36 other artists, as well as two of my own prints. I sold prints by Anthony Gross, Graham Sutherland and William Scott to both the King and the National Museum.
By introducing him to many artists, including Moore, Chadwick, Armitage and Butler, I helped the architect Bo Boustedt to collect one of largest and most comprehensive private collections of contemporary sculpture in Europe. He would often make purchases by exchanging photographic equipment (Hasselblad cameras) or his services as a photographer of sculpture. He was responsible making photographs of Moore's sculpture which were then exhibited in New York. We had several meetings with Henry Moore and also with the director of the Museum in Gothenburg. These meetings led to the town acquiring one of the Moore's late three-piece reclining figures for half price. It is placed in Slottskogen which was not Moore's choice. Moore had chosen a place on top of a hill, a little way out of the town, and this would have been a marvelous place for his work. But, after Moore had left, the town authorities decided to place it on flat ground in the middle of the town, because they thought that more people would see it there. However, where the sculpture is now, it is obscured by the trees around it and it is very difficult to find.
I helped Jorgen Fogelquist with his show in London and, at the same time, I toured the Swedish critic, Kristian Romare, around England and introduced him to Armitage, Chadwick, Butler and Henry Moore. I also toured Andrew Forge around Sweden, introducing him to
critics, historians, painters and sculptors. We visited many artist's studios and I arranged lecture engagements, in Stockholm, at the Academy and, in Gothenburg, at the Valands Konstskola and at the Museum.
I spent over two years helping to arrange the Strindberg exhibition at the British Museum which ended in a fiasco. I had intended to cultivate the press long in advance of the opening but, despite all my efforts, the organizers from the Modern Museum and the Swedish Institute in Stockholm failed to let me know what the date of the opening was until it was too late. Hardly anybody knew about the exhibition and there was no response from the critics except for two lines in the Art News and Review magazine. By comparison, I organized a number of shows myself in Gothenburg which were a great success. These shows introduced the British sculptors, Butler, Chadwick and Armitage, to the Swedish public and this led to the Museum in Gothenburg acquiring a small sculpture by Chadwick.
No official in either country thanked me for these activities. In fact the bureaucrats were somewhat upset that a private person should presume to dabble in their sphere. Sweden is a country of bureaucrats, committee men and collective decision making. The individual is something of a disease. As Roland Huntford pointed out in his book The New Totalitarians: "The price of contentment in Sweden is absolute conformity. Personal desires must be tailored to the desires of the group. Mostly this is forthcoming. Where it is not, society imposes uniformity. Methods are civilized, rational and humane, but still remorseless. Difference in the Swedish world has always been something undesirable, half sin, half disease."
In a talk I gave on the BBC Home Service, which was entitled 'An Artist in Sweden' (transmitted at 9.30 - 9.45 am on Thursday, 12th August, 1954), I explained how the Art Club system in Sweden had helped to encourage a widespread interest in art and how this gave artists many more opportunities to sell their work. Some parts of this talk were printed in The Listener magazine (19th August, 1954).
'Swedish Enthusiasm for Painting'
'Swedes certainly like paintings,' said Cliff Holden in a Home Service talk. 'They look at them, they visit picture galleries as the public here goes to the cinema. And appreciation is not confined to the enlightened few, to the odd intellectual who wanders into a Bond Street gallery, but to all types of people who crowd into the galleries so as to make viewing almost uncomfortable. The galleries, too, are not confined to the capital city. Even some small villages boast a gallery and an art club, and some painters claim to sell more in the smaller places.
'But the business of hanging pictures in galleries for people to look at and buy was only a very small part of Swedish art life. There are the clubs. The largest one has a membership of 200,000 and the Stockholms Sparvagars, the equivalent of our London Transport, has 4,000 members. And these clubs exist not to arrange holiday excursions, or to encourage the enjoyment and practice of amateur painting, but to help the workers to purchase their own paintings for their own private enjoyment.
'What has brought about this great interest in the arts? I think part of the answer lies in the forty years of propaganda by a government that believes that the material welfare of its
citizens is not enough, that a healthy state requires a flourishing art life. The King, too, sets a fine example by being one of the biggest patrons of the arts; he not only buys large numbers of paintings, but gives stipends to students to enable them to study and travel abroad.
'In most Swedish houses or flats there are paintings, and in many the walls are completely covered. One of the largest hospitals in Stockholm has all the corridors, stairways, and many of the rooms filled with sculpture, murals, and paintings. They are not always good paintings, but at least they are made of paint and satisfy that famous aphorism by Maurice Denis which so well sums up the aspirations of all art movements from his day to ours: "Remember that a painting - before being a war horse, a naked woman, some anecdote, or what not - is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order."'
A lot of interest was aroused in England by an article which I wrote entitled 'Swedish Art Economy' (printed in Art News and Review, Saturday, 31st August, 1957, p.1, p.4). This resulted, during 1961, in long discussions and correspondence with Lawrence Alloway and Dr. Roland Penrose at the Institute of Contemporary Art and with Ronald Pickvance from the Arts Council, who wanted to know how such a system could be started in Britain. They thought that an initiative of this sort could only be started with capital. They failed to grasp how the Art Clubs had come about in Sweden, which was probably due to there being a greater interest in art amongst the Swedish population (and also, perhaps, a natural aptitude for collective organization).
For the record I think I ought to say that the difference between the art life in England and Sweden is quite considerable in relation to one's contact with other artists. In England it is a very tough scene - the artists are very secretive, both in their practice and in the way they operate in the commercial international art market, but the organizations are very open to outside influence. In fact, one can almost say they are dominated by foreigners. In Sweden it is just the opposite. The artists are very friendly and open but the institutions will not welcome anyone who is not a Swedish artist. For example, the Gothenburg Art Club, had to change the rules in order to admit me as a foreigner and the national organization called the K.R.O. (which is really a kind of national trade union of artists) did not admit foreigners until about fifteen years ago when they changed the rules. The result is, although I have many friends, I have never really been accepted as part of the art or cultural life in Sweden. I am always a foreigner. Among my professional friends I remain the outsider. They are my friends but not my allies. Swedes like Swedish culture, even if they have to dip into the Parisian scene for a little outside stimulus.
One of the endearing characteristics of the Swedish people is that they are very loyal friends. They are very difficult to know at first and it is very difficult to break down the formal barriers but, once that is achieved, they are friends for life.
My first and oldest friend was, of course, the person that brought me here in the first place, who I met in London during the exhibition at the Parsons Gallery when was working in Bertram Mills Circus. He was the painter Torsten Renquist. We had very little in common. I never agreed with his ideas in painting which were somewhat eclectic, but, around 1964, he stopped painting and devoted himself to wood sculpture which I found not only more interesting but unique and authentic. This work related more to his personality.
Among the friends I have made in Sweden, I should mention Torsten Bergmark, who was at one time the editor of the art magazine Paletten and, later, art critic of Dagens Nyheter, the main Stockholm newspaper. Later still he was professor of art history at the Academy. We are about the same age and have a similar background, that is to say we both came from a farming community and Quakerism. He is also a painter but both his painting and his thought and his writings are imbued with that kind of Marxist social realism which can be associated with John Berger, who is in fact one of his friends. Torsten Bergmark once said: "We need you Cliff, you are a catalyst in the Swedish art life." But although I have given so much of my time to promoting Swedish artists in England and while I have had quite a considerable influence, especially in design, nevertheless none of this has ever been acknowledged officially by the art historians.
Then, of course, there was my friendship with Evert Lundquist and his wife, Ebba Reutercrona, and it was through them that I was introduced to Staffan Hallstrom. But, for reasons which I have never been able to fathom, Lundquist would not acknowledge me in print or in conversation as a painter colleague. I am listed and acknowledged in his biography as a critic - at the same time, however, he maintained a very close intimate relationship, sending me innumerable postcards and thanking me for everything that I had done for him over the years. I was always the dear friend, not the dear colleague. It was as though my critical writings were of more importance to him than my actual painting. We did exhibit together several times, but in mixed shows together with several other artists, whereas Staffan Hallstrom and I shared shows together several times.
Folke Edwards is another good friend, despite the fact that we meet rarely and we have never, in over 25 years, agreed about anything. He gained his reputation by organising exhibitions around narcotics and pornography which, in the early years, prevented him from gaining other jobs for which he was well qualified. He became editor of Paletten for some years, then he was art critic for the newspaper Stockholms Tidingen and, finally, he became director of the new culture centre in the Culture House in Stockholm. Now he has achieved the ambition he had some 25 years ago and he is the director of the Museum in Gothenburg.
My oldest friends in Gothenburg are Bengt Abrahamsson and Bernt Eklundh. For many years they worked together on the Gothenburg evening paper GT. I called them "the heavenly twins" because they worked so closely together, Eklundh being the boss at that time, but they were very different in outlook and character. Abrahamsson was an atheist, somewhat sceptical but absolutely honest. Every fact had to be double checked. Eklundh was not only a Christian but a preacher full of enthusiasm and given to lying. That is to say that he rather confused facts with fiction. His interviewing technique was rather unusual. He asked the question and even supplied the answer. However the result was that very often the true facts were more interesting than his fabrications.
Now I would like to consider Question 4.4 which is concerned with my representation in major galleries and museums. I do not need to list the number of galleries and we can avoid spelling out the names. We can refer to various catalogues for a complete list. I have three paintings in the Modern Museum in Stockholm, one in the Tate Gallery and one in the Rutherston Collection in Manchester. My graphic work is represented in the National Museum in Stockholm and in the Modern Museum in Edinburgh. Apart from that, Lisa and I have examples of our work in the Whitworth Museum in Manchester and, in the archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum, we have original drawings and prototype proof prints of textile. But the representation in museums cuts no ice if it is not in conjunction with a popular public image which comes about through the combined activities of the major museums in the world -
the kind of activity which can only be termed a circus, an entertainment. One has the feeling, especially in England, that, while being sustained economically by having part-time teaching jobs (which is a kind of pension from the State to sustain their activity), artists then go on to make works, happenings, circuses or whatever, which are designed specifically for museum display. I have never participated in this kind of activity either on the teaching level or in my product.
In England I never achieved any dealer or any recognition from any official body. Some people say this is because I have been outside England for so long and that people have forgotten about me. But this is not strictly true because people like Hockney, Pasmore and Sutherland could live for thirty years outside England without being affected in this way and Kitaj thrives on a dual nationality. I think it has much more to do with my personality. I have never been a social type and I have tried to make my art with integrity. Whether it was in the sphere of design or large scale murals or in my private work as a painter, there have always been some principles which I would not compromise. In each of these activites I have tried to keep the functions separate, whereas today the popular idea is to lump them together, so that there is a confusion both in the minds of the artist and the public and it all comes out in terms of entertainment.
Something around ninety per cent of art produced in Britain is sold to foreigners. Therefore the British scene is dominated by the needs of an international market. The opposite is the case in Sweden. It is practically impossible to earn a living by teaching because there are so very few art schools (only three or four) and the galleries are oriented towards a Swedish market. Swedes buy Swedish. There is a very different attitude in London, where the so-called 'School of London' is dominated by foreigners.
When I first came to Sweden, I was regarded as something of a curiosity. There were very few foreigners in Sweden at that time and later, as was stated by Torsten Bergmark, I was regarded as something of a catalyst necessary to Sweden in that capacity. But, although I have lived in Sweden now for over 40 years, I am still regarded as a foreigner which is clear from looking at the catalogue of the Modern Museum in Stockholm. It is a very thick catalogue and three-quarters of the pages are devoted to Swedish art but the section at the back is foreign art and that is where I am listed. I have had quite a lot of influence in Sweden both in painting and in design, but I have never had any official recognition. I never had any credit, even though in 1959 we changed the character of Swedish design, and I have never had any major article devoted to my painting in any of the culture or art magazines.
The second part of Question 4.4 asks whether I would have benefited from more early recognition. Yes, I would have benefited by early recognition. On the economic side I would not have been forced to devote so much time to design and decoration and I might have been relieved from periodic depressions of the kind that Bomberg experienced because of the lack of understanding and acceptance of any of our ideas.
Apart from public neglect, I have also suffered at the hands of the Bomberg family. Either through viciousness, lack of understanding or ignorance, they have given out information to the press and in catalogues which is false. For example, that it was my idea that the Borough Group was formed and that I was first President and that it started in 1946 whereas most seemed to think that it was started in 1948 when it was re-formed by Bomberg and when he became President. So there are writings attributed to Bomberg which in fact were my writings, although they were edited and extended somewhat by members of the Group and Bomberg himself. But if these writings are compared with the actual writings of Bomberg, there is an enormous difference in style and wording and, if further proof were needed in this
matter, I have some of the original notations and the draft copies. So the movement which I created with Bomberg's guidance has seemingly been the greatest factor in my failure to build up any recognition for myself (it is rather like Picasso being excluded from any reference to the Cubist movement).
Not one of the books and articles which have been written on the subject has acknowledged my role in organising the Borough Group. Richard Cork's book on Bomberg is no exception. Except for myself, he went out of his way to interview everybody he could, even to the extent of rushing down to Ronda to interview the mayor. What relevance that had to Bomberg's life, I cannot understand. And yet, although he made no effort to communicate with me, he freely quoted, misquoted and quoted out of context from both my writings and my broadcasts.
Leslie Marr to this day insists that he was a founder member of the Borough Group. This is not true because there is documentary evidence that the Borough Group existed three years before he became a member and, of course, he was one of the reasons why the Borough Group finally dissolved. His painting was at that time, and still is, a pastiche of Bomberg. He has never had any understanding of Bomberg and this is evident, not only in his paintings but also in his writings and the interviews he has given even up to this year.
I have exhibited rather widely but no exhibition has been what one would call a prestige exhibition, neither have there been any exhibitions which were commercially successful. Very little has been sold and I do not have a particularly good memory of any single exhibition - only nightmares. Every exhibition has been a waste of money, time, energy (especially nervous energy) and the loss of a lot of pictures which were sold too cheaply. The only positive thing to be said about these exhibitions is that a few of the paintings went to people that cared and possibly understood. In other words, they went to good homes.
In 1945 and 1946 when I worked together with the Metzger brothers on a bomb-site outside the Sir John Cass School of Art, all the stone carvings which I had made were destroyed on orders of the director Bainbridge Copnal, our teacher, who appeared to be jealous of our efforts. He labeled them obscene and encouraged the other students one night to attack them with hammers so that they were completely destroyed. The only one which survived was a very large stone carving, a self portrait, which I had in my studio for many years but then vandals and burglars took that, together with my African sculptures. So there is not a single piece of sculpture existing that I did during those two years. Neither is there a photograph.
I have lost many more paintings by vandalism and theft, both from my studio with ordinary burglaries, and through dealers at galleries like the Leger Gallery, the Redfern Gallery and the St. George's Gallery. Occasionally some of these paintings turn up in auctions, much to my surprise.
Robert Erskine at St. Georges Gallery had a number of prints on sale or return, two of which were sold, but I never received any payment. He also had a set of 50 prints which have never been returned. Once, when I was very short of cash, I sold 40 prints as a package deal to the Obelisk Gallery for ú2 each. A gallery in Gothenburg sold a print to Ingrid Bergman, but I never received the money because shortly afterwards the gallery went bankrupt.
After the Drian exhibition, six paintings were left there on sale or return but they have never been returned and I have never managed to recover them. They are always stacked away under a lot of other storage so, even to this day, it is impossible to get them out and return them to me, according to the gallery director Halima Nalisch.
My last exhibition in Stockholm (1975) was something of a success and one of my paintings was sold to the Modern Museum in Stockholm but, nevertheless, the sales only covered the expenses. There was rather a good critic and many of the other painters were enthusiastic. Several hundred people came to the private view. I had not anticipated selling very much but, because of the response, we decided that, three months later, we would put on another exhibition. This time we decided to orientate the whole exhibition towards selling, both to private individuals and to architects, and the idea was to stimulate interest with architects so that we might receive some commissions from them. The gallery was to be the agent. As this kind of design and decoration had given us our economic stability over the last 20 years or so, we anticipated very good sales but the gallery made a fatal mistake. The private view happened on the first day of a national public holiday, so that all the people had left town. The result was that there were barely 20 or 30 people who came to the private view and we sold very little - two or three private sales and one large piece to a hospital. Although the gallery retained 100 or so pieces for sale or return, nothing more was sold and they lapsed as agents. We did not receive a single commission through their efforts. The fact was they didn't make any effort.
Ironically our biggest public success (and even critical success) in terms of quantity of newspaper coverage, were the exhibitions that we organized under the name Marstrand Designers, first in the Rhosska Museum in Gothenburg (on the invitation of the director Goran Axel-Nilsson) and then at the Konsthallen in Lund during 1962 and, in 1965, at the Varbergs Museum. But these exhibitions were design oriented and displayed curtains and wallpapers both from Sweden and England. There was nothing for sale, so they were really prestige exhibitions which gave us no economic return but which provided a lot of publicity for the manufacturers of our designs.
The exhibition brought in people from long distances away because we advertised that, twice a day, we would give demonstrations of printing and everybody who came would get one of our prints for free. In these demonstrations we made small prints of flowers with our special way of using silk-screen and then we gave them away directly to those who were watching. The public paid an entrance fee of 5 Kr to the Museum so the Museum made the money and we got the publicity.
It was during this exhibition at the Varbergs Museum in 1965 that Maj Nilson left Marstrand Designers. This was because she felt that the publicity which we gained by doing this was not worth the expense of our time and materials.
So the story of our exhibitions is a story of a series of frustrations and disasters and I feel I have never been given the recognition which my work deserved. Success as such has been on a practical level. Instead of commercializing or prostituting my art, I found a market and even created a market for the twin by-products of art - design and decoration.
Even this field had its problems because we were way out and some years before our time, but we had the satisfaction of seeing that our activity functioned and, to some extent, we were paid for our services. It was in this area that we were dealing with the pleasure principle - not entertainment, not magic, but with making a product which gave a direct response to the senses.
As I have said elsewhere, this was our prostitution. We worked to order to give pleasure for money. We worked objectively and scientifically; we analyzed the market and we provided the product that the market required but at the same time we did not follow taste. We were in the forefront in creating taste. We did not follow the fashions of the day, which is what most designers do.
In contrast to my work as a designer, when I work as a creative artist I am not concerned at all with any scientific analysis of public need. I was never concerned with the big, wide public whose only need was a backdrop; a back-ground to give them ease and contentment. 'Art proper' is concerned with ideas. Far from providing people with ease and contentment, 'art proper' will enevitably introduce problems into their lives and, therefore, those who want a quite life should take all the art down from their walls. But as regards the number of people willing to (or capable of) performing that necessary act of engagement (the creative act on the part of the public, which is a necessary condition before meaning can be extracted from the work of art) - for that kind of public people may be few in number and one can be content, as Collingwood has pointed out, even if there are only five or six people in the world who understand your work. Even so small a number can still constitute a public; a public that is vitally necessary because one cannot create alone. By creating one is solving a kind of universal problem deep within oneself and bringing the idea into consciousness so that it might be recognized by people who want to understand. After all, if an Englishman wishes to read Chinese, he must first learn Chinese and there are very few people in England who are prepared for that kind of engagement. It is the same with the public for art - they must learn the non-verbal language of art if they wish to be able to read with understanding.
© Cliff Holden
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