Tuesday, 9 June 2015

David Bomberg-Was He A Good Artist Or, Just There?

I am not quite certain why I decided to find out more about the artist David Bomberg maybe I was just a bit intrigued by one of his paintings or his life which was different and eventful,
 Or maybe I am annoyed that he shot his toe off and escaped the war where many died.

Studying at the Slade School of Art Bomberg (1890-1957) along with several other artists of note he was part of the establishment from an early age even though he was from a poor background, he was destined to be noticed.

The end of World War One, and a generation would try to overcome the scarring by trying to build a new world. 
David Bomberg would fight in that war and his splintered life would never be the same.
He unlike some of his fellow Slade pupils, would go largely un-noticed until his death.
 He was born in Birmingham but he was moved to St Marks Street London along with his 11 siblings to a Jewish quarter. 
His father Abraham was a gambler who got annoyed at the slightest thing.
Bomberg was always drawing and he become an apprentice lithographer.
 He paid Walter Sickert for lessons and he sat for John Singer Sargent the society artist.
He then had stepped into another world and Sargent helped him to aim for fame and fortune. The Impressionists of the Continent was dismantling tradition and in 1910 Roger Fry's Impressionist exhibition was followed by another which featured Braque and Picasso.
 Henry Tonks became one of his tutors.
Bomberg was funded by the Jewish Education Aid Society after an initial rejection his education began in 1911, at a new dawn of art. Modernity had arrived.
Tonks who would say “I shall resign if this talk of cubism doesn't cease, its killing me”. 

Tonks was a stickler he had also tutored Paul Nash who he had also criticised. 
Christopher Nevinson and Stanley Spenser would study while Tonk's was teaching.
 In 1912 'Island of Joy' became abstract in form, a move away from his past influence. 'Vision of Ezekiel' of 1912 the year of his mothers death paid homage to his Jewish roots. 
This piece of modernism grabbed hold of the revolution and he went geometric and avant-garde. His work was jarring and aggressive and he disturbed the other students.
 He was ousted at 23 years old. 

 'In the Hold'. You would not know this was a set of workers in the hold of a ship without being told. 
A vibrant kaleidoscope of colours violently reacting with his surroundings its an explosion of chaos. No wonder he was thought a misfit.
War broke out and the likes of Wyndham Lewis would BLAST in a manifesto for the avant garde. It was meant to be a clarion call to the nations Vorticist tendencies. Blomberg would not joint the club he was a maverick of one. These visionaries of desire would strip detail away and throw it all up in the chaos of experimentation. Bomberg's expo in the Chenil Gallery saw him proclaiming his ow manifesto.
 I reject everything in painting that is not pure form” he said.
 He titled one painting 'Ju Jitsu'. One work was hung in the street “The Mud-bath” inspired by Brick lane baths it was framed with bunting, but this was an all singing all dancing Union Jack. The three colours of red white and blur was framed within a beige and unceremoniously split by a central black column. It must have looked bizarre in the time of 1914 just as war was declared between Austrian Hungary and Serbia after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

He enlisted in The Royal Engineers and married Alice and then went to fight at The Somme. He got a lesson in double quick step to carnage. His snatched sketches show him studying the conflict but he also wrote poems, that sum up his thoughts in prose.
War is a leveller to art, art is stripped back to raw emotion. To those who fought and those who didn't, but also those that can convey the emotion of death.
I have not read his war poetry but it is well documented how he talks about fattened maggots feeding on the lost. His monochrome sketches done in the boredom before the bomb, he shot himself in the foot. He was withdrawn from the front. He escaped the death that many had, but he gained the title of a coward who would leave his fellows to fight for him.
'Sappers at Work' was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials fund, that made up for the rejection of his poetry by all the publishers. His breakdown seems to show through the brushstrokes. He uses Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St Peter as a metaphor to the 'Death of Peter by Crucifixion' and uses the memorial to show the strife the sappers had in carrying out their deadly death dig below ground, tunnelling away below they laid their deathly mines and blew all to kingdom come.
In 1923 he went to Jerusalem in Palestine where a tenth of the population were Jewish. He was still traumatised and he painted 'Rooftops' in geometric form. These quiet pictures gave way to depictions of Zionist pioneer camps. And just like those world war crater scars the quarrymen build their new developments in the sunshine. In Bomberg's mind.

He was shocked by the Armenian Genocide and he painted the inside of the church that he was smuggled into.
He paints shapes in quick succession and when the earthquake struck chaos ensued, the painting he was doing in a house was shattered moments after he left.
These pictures were never accepted by the art establishment.
His work is housed in the Borough Road Gallery and it houses Sarah Rose's collection.
In 1928 back in London he met Lillian Holt again and they wed. He went to Spain to follow the footsteps of El Greco. His work becomes fast and huddled in the way he paint landscape in contrast to his Palestine pictures. Does he finally leave his shell shock behind. In Ronda children were born and so was a new style where the past and the present was indistinguishable. He paints a bridge over and over again, maybe a metaphor. He was not to know the deaths that would come from civil war on that bridge, people would be tossed over to their death.
He returned to London. And his self portraits continue.
 His double headed portrait of 1937 seems to echo in Francis Bacon. He has two faces are his own reflective past showing his awkwardness and his unsettled thoughts. He would not paint much longer, and London would be under siege. 'Evening in the City of London' is an energetic and quickly charcoaled study from the top of St Brides across from St Paul Cathedral the symbol of the defiance of the blitz. He would not give in.
Bomberg started a art class after the war where he taught two nights a week. His Borough Group were fed his philosophy for the spirit in the man. Miles Richmond would be part of this group but it fell apart soon after its formation in 1947.
Holocaust survivors would daub their emotions in structured chaos of the inner self. The thoughts of crucifixion of Bomberg as the Messiah. Gustav Metzger who arrived as a Kinder transport refugee would make 'Auto-Destructive Art' a film of 1965 using his declaration of an alternative to painting by spraying acid on to canvas.
In 1965 a set up. These burning acid canvas would give way to images of St Paul's. Metzger recently said about Bomberg who taught him “he was poetic and prophetic if nothing he had charisma”.
Bomberg was sacked from his teaching position in 1953 and went to teach in Spain. It never worked out. He always wanted to paint with an economy of means. While the Vorticists held retrospectives his health faltered. Distance does not exist he said as he closed his eyes. He was taken back to London where he died. The arts council held a survey of his career bringing together 72 works. His last self portrait is a tragedy of doom laden rejection. Holding his brushes he did not look in the mirror.
He told his students that great paintings could change the world.

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