What is it, or what was it to be modern? What was modernisim? And indeed what is ‘Sussex Modernisim’? Answers may be found by taking the train to Chichester and there, by visiting the Pallant House Gallery, with its current range of exhibitions.
Victor Pasmore: Towards a New Reality is a show that should be seen by anyone interested in the relationship between modern art and design. Pasmore (1908-1988) was an artist that over a life-time progressed from figurative representational painting, to abstract painting, to abstract constructaivist sculptural reliefs, to an involvement with architecture. Yet his experience in architecture, and in particular his involvement in the design of ‘new town’ Peterlee, led to disillusionment, and finally a return to painting. There is much to be learned from Pasmore in terms of composition, form, material, and colour.
Pasmore was part of an unofficial British Constructivist movement, and the gallery also has a small display of work of by his contemporaries. Indeed Palllant House house is one of several galleries that are involved with revealing aspects of what they describe as Sussex Modernisim.
Transferences: Sidney Nolan in Britain is a powerful display of painting. Nolan (1917-1922) draws upon his Australian origins, to capture the country’s landscape and mythology. In a highly experimental approach he often used industrial paint and techniques that somehow capture the tarnishing effect of the human presence. His ambition as an artist was to be ‘naîve, poetic, emotional, innovative and completely experimental’ – guided by the principal expressed by Rimbaud’ – that one must be completely modern.
Currently the gallery has a small display of Lucian Freud’s early work, and an installation on the staircase of the house by artist Pablo Bronstein. These exhibitions are complimented by the gallery’s permanent collection of work by artists such as, Ben Nicholson, and Andy Goldsworthy.
And, there’s the architecture of Pallant House – a large elegant 18th century town house fused with a modern gallery spaces and courtyard; designed by Colin St John Wilson and M J Long – architects of Brighton’s Aldrich Library, and the British Library. The cylindrical glazed terracotta tiles that form the entrance to the gallery borrow from the ‘corduroy wall’ idea used by Finish architect Alvar Aalto, in many of his buildings.
Chichester is a city with a long history. The Roman presence is explained in the new Novium museum; and then – not to be missed – is the magnificent medieval Chichester Cathedral. Take our recommendation – go. You will not be disappointed.