Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

15th October 2015

BLOW AND BURRI

Sandra Blow  Vivace

I’ve just returned from 2 weeks writing in Italy which was great – good  to be away from all domestic distractions. Italy is a lovely country but after many visits I usually find myself jaded by the plethora of religious paintings everywhere - but this time it surprised me.

By a happy coincidence I was passing through Florence on the last day of HUMAN, an exhibition by Anthony Gormley, who had installed 105 life size bronze figures at Fort Belvedere above the city. They were scattered, hidden, placed on this vast site perched above the Arno. Some were crouched, some in heaps, some cowering in corners, some on rooftops and battlements or sprawled down steps but the most effective were the 12 figures aslant the parade ground, beginning with the crouched foetal position and by stages aspiring to the upright being.

I could have spent hours there but sadly had a train to catch.

 

I was reminded of artist Sandra Blow when I visited another surprising exhibition in Citta de Castello celebrating the centenary of the work of Alberto Burri who was born there. The abstract works on show left me speechless with emotion. Wanting to see more, I learned that there was an even bigger collection of his work in a tobacco drying factory on the edge of town. Some of his large sculptures were also on show there. Imagine the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern and multiply it by 10 – each identical sized room interlocking. By now I was totally overawed and overwhelmed.

 

Burri was one of the major influences on the 22 year old Sandra Blow who in 1947, fresh out of St Martins School of Art, spent a sabbatical year in Italy which was to impact on her work for the rest of her life. She was introduced to Burri in Rome. They became lovers. He accompanied her on a tour of the country and opened her mind to the possibilities of using different materials and methods to produce art. They stayed in touch until his death in 1995.

 

In January 2006 Michael and I went to see Sandra Blow at her studio in St Ives who by then had become one of the 20th century's leading abstract artists. It was hard to believe that the elfin woman who greeted us at the door; short tunic over slim leggings, sleek dark brown bob topped by a jaunty green hat, was the 80 year old artist. She poured champagne and made eyes at Michael across the kitchen table as I attempted to discuss an exhibition at Castlegate House the following summer.

The floor of her vast studio - which had been a furniture showroom in a previous existence - was littered with corrugated card, transparent polythene sheets, hessian, rope and bits of coloured paper. All came together in a blaze of colour, texture and form in the works on the walls. Dazzled by the scale of it, we chose the work for the summer exhibition together. When I rang her on August 21st  her assistant said she was resting - she’d eaten something for lunch that day which hadn't agreed with her.

I opened The Guardian on August 23rd to read her obituary. She had died the previous day – the last day of her show at the gallery.

* My next newsletter which will be very soon will have exciting news about the publication date of my next book, a pre-publication offer before Christmas and a possible Kelly exhibition in the future.

Just hang on in there.

 

 

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