A brand new exhibition of the permanent collection awaits visitors when The Fry Art Gallery reopens on Sunday the 2nd of April 2017, along with, of course, the new temporary show of works by George Chapman in the Gibson Room.
Amongst the more eye-grabbing highlights are the return of John Bellany’s vibrant Woman of the North Sea and two of John Aldridge’s more magisterial oils, Builders at Work, Brick House, Great Bardfield and February Afternoon. Alongside Woman of the North Sea is another vivaciously coloured Bellany, the large watercolour, Self Portrait, Kinlochbervie. While the Woman’s schematic features hint at myth, the artist’s swiftly but more closely modelled face in the Self Portrait is very much alive in the moment – as are the smattering of water blotches suggesting a day of sunshine and showers. John Aldridge’s February Afternoon was last seen in the Gallery’s 2013 Aldridge exhibition and once again it commands attention with its powerful combination of calm and clarity, of warm brick and cold light, horizontal walls and vertical trees, evergreens and bare, deciduous branches.
The display gives plenty of room for Bawden and Ravilious, both established favourites such as Tea at Furlongs and less familiar work. There’s a prominent position for Bawden’s giant linocut of Lindsell church enchanted by strong moonlight, and this is matched in size by his 1958 architectural fantasy, Brighton Pier. After the dramatic intervention of Michael Rothenstein’s coloured wood constructions in the Gallery last year – who needed Rauschenberg’s combines at the Tate – for 2017 Rothenstein returns with an experimental linocut, Radcliffe Camera from the Old Bodleian, Oxford. The hang rhymes the Radcliffe Camera’s wonky dome with Bawden’s more assertive St Pauls which is placed nearby.
Amongst the more immediately compelling pictures are plenty of opportunities for subtle discovery. Near the entrance, Sheila Robinson experiments with a cardboard cut in The Melon Cart, Istanbul. The result contrasts a cloudy and rather uneven background with the sprightly orange and blue cart which is executed with surprising detail, right down to the folk-art side panels. On the back wall of the Gallery is Welsh Coast, a characteristic and rather lovely small oil by the underrated John Bolam which was painted in 1960, ten years before he became Head of Cambridge School of Art. Its vigorous brushwork, strong tonal contrasts and ambiguous landscape are reminiscent of John Piper’s neo-Romanticism, but there is also a contemporary clarity, even a touch of minimalism, in the central white and grey chapel. Opposite are a pair of watercolours from the joint trip to Sicily made by Bawden and Edward Hoyle in August 1951. Hoyle’s picture Enna, Sicily – a view of the hill town to which the two artists fled from the heat and dust of Palermo – is a mysterious evocation of a steep alley, the thick-walled, white washed houses populated by strangely static figures, all turned towards the viewer.
There’s much more than this short and partial tour can do justice to: it’s a hang to visit and, if possible, return.