This month’s Artwork from the RWA’s Permanent Collection is ‘Dark Day’ by Carel Weight, chosen by Artist Network Member Holly Brodie:
Slipping below the bottom edge of the canvas, the figures in this painting are marginalised by the landscape. That is not so much to diminish them as to establish their context in a more complex narrative. Carel Weight’s paintings suggest possibilities lying beyond what is immediately visible.
Born in Paddington, London, in 1908, Carel Weight was a prolific painter recognised with accolades such as RWA, RA and CBE, but whose significance in the British painting tradition remains underrated. Before being appointed an Official War Artist in 1945, Weight had already documented a surreal outcome of the Blitz, when a zebra escaped from a bomb-hit London Zoo in 1940. More often, such unlikely scenarios were conjured by an imagination which should earn Weight his place among renowned visionaries like William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Stanley Spencer.
The ‘Alfred Hitchcock of British painting’ was concerned with the undercurrents of human experience – the emotions not obvious to people passing each other on a walk. The theme of isolation recurs. Even when figures appear together, they remain disconnected.
Dark Day appealed to me in several ways, not least of all through its title. Weight relishes the potential of a foreboding atmosphere to draw dramatic tension over a mundane environment and the title points us in the direction of disquiet. In other works, living figures encounter phantoms in suburban settings. Here, the everyday activity of dog-walking is uninterrupted by such fantasies, but we can’t help wondering what might be hiding around the corner, or lurking behind a bush.
Sentimentally, I was also struck by a detail of the painting’s display and purchase – it was bought at the RWA’s 127th Annual Exhibition in 1979, which would have been around the time I was born. Weight is one of a very few artists I give as influences when asked.