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Conscience and Conflict: Pallant House explores British Artists and the Spanish Civil War

As the year draws to a close, it is only natural to look back on the highs and lows, and to review everything a little. When it comes to exhibitions, I wouldn’t say that 2014 was necessarily the strongest of years in the UK. I was left a little disappointed by a number of exhibitions I attended, especially at the Royal Academy and Tate Britain. However that is not to say that there were not a number of sure hits. My top 5 exhibitions of the year (in no particular order) have to include the Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Modern, Malevich at Tate Modern, Egon Schiele at the Courtauld, and Rembrandt at the National Gallery. But for the final of the 5, one further exhibition has managed to squeeze into my year’s hit-list, just before 2014 expired: Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

As far as modern world history goes, the Spanish Civil War is too often overshadowed by the longer, larger Second World War that followed it. But none can underestimate the significance of this conflict which, in effect, lasted decades beyond the cessation of fighting, and not least because this was one conflict where the Fascists won the war, right on the doorstep of democratic civilisation. And it was this fear – the very real concern that fascism might win at a time when two major fascist dictators were already installed in Germany and Italy, and when a greater world conflict seemed more than likely – that inspired the artistic reaction amongst British Artists that is the focus of this excellent exhibition.

Frank Brangwyn: For the relief of women and children in Spain (1936-7), detail

Frank Brangwyn: For the relief of women and children in Spain (1936-7), detail

Clive Branson, Demonstration in Battersea (1939)

Clive Branson, Demonstration in Battersea (1939)

Merlyn Evans, Distressed Area (1938)

Merlyn Evans, Distressed Area (1938)

Walter Nessler, Premonition (1937)

Walter Nessler, Premonition (1937)

Edward Burra, The Watcher (1937)

Edward Burra, The Watcher (1937)

Stanley William Hayter, Paysage Anthropophage (Man-eating landscape) (1938)

Stanley William Hayter, Paysage Anthropophage (Man-eating landscape) (1938)

For British Artists between 1936-9 were reacting not just to the horrors of the war, often with surreal images (Edward Burra’s brilliant watercolours being a prime example), destroyed landscapes (Merlyn Evans), and distraught victims (Henry Moore and Picasso), but also to the innate frustration that the British Government had adopted a non-interventionist policy. This felt like utter madness when the fascist leaders of Europe were actively intervening in the Fascist cause, and caused artists of Britain to uprise, creating brilliant propaganda posters supporting the Republican Cause and, ultimately, fighting in the war themselves.

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937)

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937)

John Armstrong, Invocation (1938)

John Armstrong, Invocation (1938)

Alastair Morton, Spanish Civil War (1939)

Alastair Morton, Spanish Civil War (1939)

Joan Miro, Aidez L'Espagne (Help Spain) (1937)

Joan Miro, Aidez L’Espagne (Help Spain) (1937)

Henry Moore, Spanish Prisoner (1939)

Henry Moore, Spanish Prisoner (1939)

So this is an exhibition of posters and of paintings, all sharing the high tensions and morbid premonitions of the time. How apt, for example, was Walter Nessler’s Premonition in 1937, in which he imagined London suffering the same bombardment as had destroyed the Basque town of Guernica only weeks before. How right he was, for only 3 years later, his imagined landscape would become a stark reality for Blitzed London. Those tensions are also brilliantly played out in posters such as Brangwyn’s For the Relief of Women and Children in Spain, which uses the catholic imagery of Mary to emphasise the war’s human plight, especially amongst Spanish Children, and of course in Picasso’s Weeping Woman, painted at the same time as the most famous of all reactions to the war, Guernica, and which makes for a sensational focus of this exhibition.

Conscience and Conflict has only 6 weeks to go, but it’s a truly brilliant exhibition, and if you can’t make it your last favourite of 2014, make it your first of 2015. The exhibition closes on 15th February 2015.

Countdown to my new Solo Exhibition | 4 days – ¡Guerra!

With 4 days left to go until my exhibition, I wanted to take you to sunnier climes in exploring some of the collection which will be on display as my work goes on show at The Strand Gallery, albeit not necessarily calmer times. For in painting the first of what was to become a comprehensive series of works based on my most beloved of countries, Spain, I reached back into history for inspiration, and more particularly to one of the most turbulent periods of Spanish history – the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9.

The Spanish Civil War has been somewhat overlooked in the typical school’s history curriculum in favour of the more wide reaching first and second world wars. It was perhaps for this reason that I became so engrossed in the story of the war when I first started reading about it during my post-accident convalescence in 2009. Of course I was well aware that the war had happened, but knew nothing of the shocking details which meant that only a little over 70 years before, the country which today seems such a calm sanctuary of beach tourism and a hotbed of cultural highlights, was ravaged by one of the most severe wars in history. And what made the war even more shocking to my mind was the fact that it had seen one Spaniard turn against another, families literally split in two and generations of friends turn in on one another. Here there was not the kind of national solidarity which comes of an entire nation being invaded by an external aggressor, but a country made cannibal, turning in on itself.

¡Guerra!: The Spanish Civil War (Oil on canvas, 2009 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

¡Guerra!: The Spanish Civil War (Oil on canvas, 2009 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The more I read about the war, the more engrossed I became, and it was only a matter of time before an image started to emerge in my head for a painting depicting the conflict. So taking a 90cm x 90cm canvas, I set about painting what was to initiate an entire series of Spanish paintings, this one showing the country at its lowest ebb. From the Spanish guitar shown split at the painting’s centre as a symbol of Franco’s attack on the Andaluz gypsy culture, and the bombings of the innocent down of Guernica, to the imprint of a soldier’s show trod across an abandoned doll, symbol of the total disregard for innocent lives, even children’s – this painting contains all of the ingredients which made the Spanish Civil War so shocking to me.

And yet despite the somewhat grim tale it portrays, the work remains one of my favourite paintings, and hangs in prime position above my bed, where it has remained since it was first created. Should I sell the work at my forthcoming Strand Gallery show, it will be a hard one to part from.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Nicholas de Lacy-Brown’s new solo exhibition, When (S)pain became the Norm, will be at London’s Strand Gallery from 13 – 18 May 2014. For more details, click here.

Barcelona | Photography Focus: Tragedy beneath tranquility

Many years ago, when I first visited Barcelona, I stumbled upon the idyllic Plaça de Sant Felip Neri in the gothic quarter of the city when I had been visiting the cathedral nearby. I was struck by the beautiful tranquility of the place, created as it was by the gently trickling octagonal fountain across which sunlight was peppered, scattered through the dappled shadows cast by leafy trees in the square’s centre, and the decided absence of tourists, many of whom never find this little tucked away place. Back then I could never have imagined that years later I would be staying in the very stylish Hotel Neri situated on one corner of the square; nor had I any idea that this quiet little square, which has all of the appearance of one of the most serene spots of the city, actually hides the secret of one of the most violent and tragic occurrences of its past.

The only sign that cataclysm once cut through today’s unbroken silence is the deep scarring which can be seen punctuated into the surface of the Oratory of Sant Felip Neri whose entrance stands upon the square. For several metres up from the old pavement, the church’s facade is almost eclipsed by a tide of deep pock marks which comprise the violent scars of one of the most tragic incidences of the Spanish Civil War. On 30th January 1938, Nationalist armies bombed the square. The resulting explosion not only caused catastrophic damage to the fabric of the square (much of which was since rebuilt), but it also resulted in the death of 42 innocent citizens, many of whom were children running for shelter in the Oratory when the raid approached.

DSC02948 DSC02860IMG_4025 DSC03369 DSC02932

It’s therefore something of an irony that this place of uninterrupted tranquility hides such a devastating history; almost as though it has become a living memorial to that moment of great tragedy. And yet despite the sadness which is broken into the fabric of the square, these deep and unforgettable scars are actually incredibly beautiful to look at, their beauty being perhaps manifested in their power to prompt reflection upon a troubled past, and an appreciation of the peaceful present. With the sun still dappling across the square, it remained one of my favourite places in the city – a place to think, and just to admire. And luckily for me, this time round, I had a hotel room looking directly onto it.

It is therefore unsurprising that during my short stay at the Hotel Neri, I collected a good few photographs of this stunning square, which now become the focus of this post. But before I leave you to those shots, here are two more interesting facts about the square: First, it was to this church that Gaudi was headed when he was hit so prematurely by a tram. Secondly, the square was the setting for a lunch between the protagonists of Woody Allen’s brilliant homage to the city, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, when Javier Bardem’s character accidentally plays “footsie” under the table with Vicky rather than Cristina. Clearly a further excuse to take another look at that wonderful film – as if another were needed.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Madrid-Salamanca Part IV: Not so new – Art nouveau and the towers of the Catedral Nueva

Our second full day in Salamanca took us beyond the typical university-cathedral-scallop shell-plaza mayor tourist trail to the more niche offerings of the city – such are the benefits of spending a few days in a city rather than just one, thus enabling an escape from the same old tourist faces you see cropping up at every attraction with the inevitability of a bee seeking honey.

First on the list was the very unique Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco which is an unexpected treasure set within Salamanca’s old city walls. The real stand out is the house, Casa Lis, originally a small private palace built at the beginning of the 20th Century at the request of Don Miguel de Lis, a merchant from Salamanca who was in love with Art Nouveau. The resulting house, designed by architect Don Joaquin Vargas, is a sensational crystal palace formed of multi-coloured stained glass reflected within shiny marble floors creating a kaleidoscope of rainbow luminescence as multicoloured rays of light dance a foxtrot across the palace’s polished interiors. This house rivals the very best of Barcelona, and has the sophisticated stamp of Lalique and Tiffany glass all over it. A particular highlight was undoubtedly the Café Lis, where one can sit back in the owner’s original mahogany furniture overlooking Salamanca’s Tormes River through floor-to-ceiling stained glass, sipping coffee and palmiers to a soothing soundtrack of 20s jazz.

Casa Lis' art nouveau cafe

The Casa Lis

The museum itself contains an impressive collection of decorative arts from the art deco and art nouveau era. This includes a large selection of early 20th century toys, tin toys, wind up toys and the like, characterised ornaments which play on the new social class of the bourgeoisie which emerged in the 20th century, a number of paintings by 19th and 20th century Catalan artists, and some stunning examples of sophisticated art deco figurines, as well as glassware by Laliqu and Emile Gallé.  There was also a comprehensive collection antique dolls, but I did find these to be rather freaky, dressed in their elaborate costumes, all staring out from behind their glass cases with huge glass eyes, some distinctively sinister in their stares. There is no way I would want to find myself amongst all those dolls late at night…

Next door to the Art Nouveau museum was a small exhibition to another event of the 20th Century, but one with cataclysmic results – the Spanish Civil War. The Archivo General de La Guerra Civil Española is Spain’s primary Civil War archive, and it is appropriately hosted by the city of Salamanca, centre of learning and close to the History faculty of the great University which had been a hotpot of anti-war demonstration during the Civil War years, not to mention during the Franco years, when the intellectual advancement and spirited free thinking advocated by the university proved to be a relentless thorn in Franco’s suppressive traditionalist side. The exhibition, largely focusing on civil war propaganda, was a little sparse and hodge-podge, with no central organising themes and no translations for foreign visitors. However I gather that a larger, purpose-built exhibition venue is planned for the future, something to which I look forward with a high degree of excitement. In the meantime, the archive did, rather bizarrely, contain an additional exhibition of the rules and rituals of the Freemasons. This included the recreation of a typical Masonic Lodge, the likes of which had me thinking that I had turned up in a Dan Brown novel. I’m not entirely sure how this exhibition relates to the Civil War, although, since the Freemasons were actively persecuted during Franco’s dictatorship, I’m assuming that the various Masonic articles on show were gathered up by Franco’s men.

Towers of the old cathedral

From 20th century finesse and disaster to a cathedral whose foundations were laid some 900 years before, we headed next to the medieval cathedral towers of Salamanca’s old and new cathedrals, the likes of which are entered separately (and with a separate entrance fee) from the main cathedrals. Surprisingly, the tour of the towers is not just a climb up one big spiral staircase to the top of the bell tower and down again. Rather, the tour comprises a number of exhibitions reflecting various points in the cathedral’s history such as the Lisbon earthquake some 250 years ago which caused huge damage to the fabric of both cathedrals, and a focus on Jeronimo de Perigeaux who was a key figure during the Reconquista and who, as Bishop of Salamanca in 1102, laid the foundations for the construction of Salamanca’s first cathedral.

Cracks in the Cathedral...

The age of these buildings really showed, and I was particularly amused (as well as a little scared, admittedly) by the look of fear in my Partner’s face when we noticed, upon standing on a tiny viewing balcony VERY high up in the Catedral Nueva’s interior, how many huge cracks had formed in the walls of the building and how, at various sections of the balcony, its floor and very construct appeared to slump and sag dangerously downwards. I’m pretty sure that the UK’s health and safety officers would have closed this route off some time ago.

Out alive, and after late lunch on the Plaza Mayor, our final step into Salamanca’s historical past was a visit to the Convento de las Dueñas. Much like the Convento San Esteban visited the previous day, this convent provided sustained calm and an opportunity to slow down and reflect. Its cloisters were smaller than San Estebans, but the stone masonry far more elaborate, with a multitude of cherubs and devils, angels and monsters appearing to come to life, crawling and spiraling out of the villamayor sandstone as they overlooked the cloister and reminded contemplative visitors of mortality, morality and all number of useful life lessons.

Cloister of the Convento de las Dueñas

Elaborate stonemasonry in the Convento de las Dueñas

Salamanca's branch of Zara

Enough of the history – now it was off to the shops for a well-needed dose of contemporary living and an escape from all that frog-based tourist tat. Our souvenir of Salamanca is a beautiful brass astronomy globe which reflects Salamanca as a centre of learning and will fit in perfectly with my vintage-chic theme at home. But even as we wandered from Zara, to Massimo Dutti, to H&M and all the other high street shops, we noticed how the historical character of Salamanca continues to infiltrate into the city’s contemporary life – Salamanca’s chain of Zara is a perfect example, comprising a multi-floored glass box, floating in the shell of a vast old church. But where an altar once stood, a catwalk of mannequins showcasing Zara’s latest collection now stands. Is this a savage misuse of a sacred place or testament to the role of religion in modern day society? I like to think of it as the preservation of history for the greater benefit of contemporary society and future generations. Even as a clothes shop, history looks great. And as a monument to a multi-layered historical and cultural matrix, Salamanca is surely King.

War on film: War Horse v Pan’s Labyrinth

War is in vogue right now – ok, not literally – but dramatisations of the first world war, or “The Great War” as it became known (with no appreciation of the horrors which were to come with the second) are popping up all over our screens. Here in the UK we had the depiction of the trenches in the now Golden-Globe winning period drama, Downton Abbey, where war even encroached upon the aristocrats’ much prized drawing room as the great stately mansion was turned over into a pop-up hospital – perish the thought. Meanwhile, I am chaffing at the bit with excitement as I anticipate the forthcoming television adaptation of Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong – surely one of the best fictional portrayals of war ever written, and the first book (and the last) which has ever made me cry. In the theatres, the West End blockbuster, War Horse, adapted from the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, has been the talk of town, selling equally well when it moved over to Broadway. And now, finally, the WW1 frenzy has moved to our cinemas, as the very same equestrian sensation of War Horse hits our screens thanks to it’s overhaul and adaptation by the one and only, Steven Spielberg.

So, caught up in the excitement, I trotted along to the cinema to see War Horse on the first day of its general release. This was after the popular press spoke of a masterpiece, a tear jerker – by god, even the Duchess of Cambridge had been crying at the Royal premier in London – Speilberg’s best work for years and so on. And indeed I went along with high expectations. After all, wasn’t it Spielberg who directed that emotive, black and white masterpiece that is Schindler’s List and the equally powerful Saving Private Ryan? Sure, Spielberg has had his tacky moments – I’m thinking E.T. on a bicycle riding off as a silhouette in front of the moon, gigantic dinosaurs doing what ever they do in Jurassic Park (I can’t say I’ve ever watched more than about 10 minutes of this franchise) and the plastic shark in Jaws 1 – but with the likes of Schindler he’s directed some pretty stunning, serious masterpieces. But with War Horse Spielberg does not recreate his previous war-themed genius. He certainly does recall his tendency for directing tacky, sensationalised Hollywood tack which makes you cry indeed – from desperation.

Call me a cynic, but this poster says it all. Horse and man, stood together, hair tussled in the wind, the warm glow of a sunset reflecting on their faces which are absorbed in ambient pouting heroism. And from the cliched blockbuster poster follows a film which is overloaded with contrived, cheesy banality and boring, over-acted scenes which stretch the film to it’s full almost three-hour painstaking duration.

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Sunday Supplement: ¡Guerra! The Spanish Civil War

While I gather it’s traditional for blogs to be published on workdays, here at the Daily Norm, we like to provide a complete weekly service. So every weekend I aim to provide the Daily Norm’s loyal readers with a Sunday supplement of a cultural kind (after all, if you’re like me, you’ll head straight to the culture section of the Sunday paper!). For the first few weeks, the Sunday Supplement with provide me with the opportunity to showcase some of my (non-Norm) artwork. While pictures of my paintings have been online in various forms for some time, the Sunday Supplement provides me with an opportunity to discuss the meaning behind the imagery.

This weekend, in conjunction with the Daily Norm’s current Spanish focus, I am showcasing the painting “¡Guerra! The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” from my “España Volver” Collection. Meaning “return to Spain”, I painted the collection in 2009-2010, when a reinvigorated interest in Spain inspired several comprehensive works. It was a “return” because Spain has long been an influence in my work. But with the España Volver collection, my return to Spain as a subject was inspired more specifically by the nation’s social, political and historical landscape. It seems appropriate then to discuss one of my most political of Spanish paintings on this, the day that Spain goes to the polls in a general election.

¡Guerra!: The Spanish Civil War (Oil on canvas, 2009 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

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Norms do… Picasso

Norm with Guitar, Pipe and Newspaper (After Picasso) (2011)

Continuing with the Spanish theme of my current blogs written from the great European peninsula itself, I have decided to focus on one Spaniard who has frequently influenced my own work as an Artist, and countless artists over the last 100 years: Pablo Picasso. The great artist, whose works boast the first, second and third place in the world records for the most expensive art works ever sold, was born very close to where I am currently staying, in Malaga. His works are sometimes divisive, but most universally admired. A few critics bemoan the childlike expression of much of his latter work, but as I have often found, it is in fact much more difficult to paint naively when, like Picasso, it is a natural instinct to paint well. What appear to be haphazard brush strokes are probably the result of many hours or even days of contemplation. The underlying balance which enables us to view a Picasso painting as a satisfied viewer may well have taken an enormous amount of preparation to achieve. In any case, Picasso is not just about eyes found where ears should be, and ears painted somewhere around the sitter’s feet. He was in fact tremendously vital to art history. He took art to new boundaries. He was a key proponent in cubism, and in abstract. He brought us a new, emotionally raw way of portraying lovers, family and other people in his life, opening the doors to the likes of Francis Bacon and his infamously savage, blurred and disfiguring portraits . Moreover, the breadth and variety of Picasso’s career provides us with a significant account of twentieth century history, not least his stunning and deeply poignant portrayal of the Spanish Civil War in Guernica, which continues to stir emotions today as perhaps the boldest declaration against war ever painted.

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Norm Profile: Matador Norm and the beauty of the Corrida

As part of my introduction to the Norms which I’ve painted so far, it is only appropriate, since I write this is sunny Spain, that the first Norm to take the stand is Matador Norm. He’s a popular chap: Used as the principle publicising image of my 2006 solo exhibition “Between Me and My Reflection”, he was one of the first paintings to be sold on the opening night. The buyer (who’s name, of course, I am not at liberty to publicise) is the owner of one of the UK’s most prominent men’s fashion and accessories brands and I was therefore delighted when the sale was made – the buyer obviously has excellent taste! While Norms have always been popular amongst my dedicated art-loving followers, it did not surprise me that Matador Norm had particular appeal. The image, with its warm golden colours, the sparkling costume of the Matador, and a slightly retarded looking bull, all flanked by a curious crowd of spectator norms, combines to illustrate the spectacle of the bullfight which is now synonymous with Spanish culture across the world. Read more