Artwork of the Month: April

This month’s work from our permanent collection has been chosen by Alice Mumford RWA:

‘I was asked to write a piece for Artwork of the Month and scrolling through dozens of postage stamp-sized reproductions from the RWA collection, one jumped out at me – Jack Chalker’s Landscape, Westham House. After a few days I tested this first fleeting judgment, and again it said ‘Stop!’ I knew nothing about Chalker, but I decided to look first and find out later.’

Chalker, Jack, 1918-2014; Landscape, Westham House

Chalker, Jack; Landscape, Westham House; Royal West of England Academy

‘With some paintings, the more time you spend with them, the more they reveal about themselves and their creator. I felt something was communicated to me beyond the initial image of a barn, tree, field and big, billowing sky.

The barn or farm, with its small, arched doorway is a wonderful Suffolk pink, like a Cedric Morris painting. But unlike Morris’s comforting rural scenes, there are more contradictory emotions at work here.

Jack Chalker’s painting draws us in through the point of most contrast; where the shadow of the small shed meets the bright light falling on the bigger building. Once drawn there we want to go into the building. It makes us inquisitive: What’s inside? Is it lived in? Why are there no windows? We approach at eye-level; there is no road, river or path leading to the barn so it makes us feel as though we have just stumbled across this simple dwelling. We are drawn closer, but then the fir trees against the barn with their strong dark uprights seem to act like bars stopping access to the building.

Of course, the title Westham House should give us a clue as to what the building is. If it is a house then surely we have approached from the wrong side. What of the smaller building next to it? It acts as a smaller echo of the bigger gable and again it is mysterious. Can we make out a doorway? Both buildings have an air of aloofness about them.

The pink walls, the large trees and the lush pasture in the foreground make it seem like the quintessential British landscape, but only at first glance. The green pasture is slightly acidic, reminiscent of Graham Sutherland’s greens and against the Suffolk pink it seems to give an air of discord and a warning not to come closer. There is a big tree, possibly an oak, on the left. The foliage is so heavy that it bears down on the little shed. The shadows on the little building, the underside of the tree and the doorway are so dark that they give a suggestion of melancholy.

The sky in Chalker’s painting is the place of freedom, a soaring of spirit, you can fly off in that sky with its wonderful, big generous marks, creamy whites and gentle blues and greys. Here, you feel, he finds freedom from the weights and troubles of the earth.

It is the contradictory messages in the painting that captivate me.’

Landscape, Westham House is on display for the month of April on the upstairs landing.

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