Twice this week I’ve been wrong footed. I was up at the Barber Institute on Tuesday delivering paintings for submission to the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2011 and ambled upstairs to see the exhibition Court on Canvas. At the top of the stairs I turned left into the exhibition and had a quick look but wasn’t overly impressed. There were black and white photographs of Billie-Jean King, a cheeky tennis poster (you know the one), a range of tennis rackets from throughout the ages, a case full of art deco jewellery featuring tennis motifs etc etc. All well and good but nothing exactly scintillating. So I continued on into the permanent collection, mildly disappointed, enjoying the Howard Hodgkin as always, revisiting the Vuillard, the Bonnard, Sickert, and onto my Frans Hals and Bellini favourites. I paused for a moment to listen to various excellent explanations of paintings to a school party by a young museum officer before turning right into the final room and catching the train home. Imagine my surprise therefore when I found THIS was the main room of superb, fantactic tennis paintings and prints featuring works by Eric Gill, Edward Ravilious, Percy Shakespeare, Paul Nash, Sir John Lavery, Stanley Spencer and E.H.Shephard. I was gobsmacked and spellbound, in equal measures; it’s an ace exhibition and well worth seeing. But nearly missed it.
Blow me if a similar thing didn’t happen yesterday! I met a dear friend at Compton Verney near Stratford to take in the current Stanley Spencer and the English Garden exhibition. We did a couple of rooms of garden paintings before finishing off in the final room to watch the film about his life and career. This film had originally come out in the late 70s when we had both seen the Stanley Spencer exhibition at the Royal Academy as part of our O-level studies. It was quite a long film and what with the wooden floors, visiting school parties, and open plan nature of the gallery adversely affecting the accoustics, barely audible at times. We both stuck it out however and by the end were ready to go for lunch rating the experience overall as very good but not fantastic. As we walked back through the galleries we suddenly spotted a small sign on a door saying ‘exhibition continues’. This only turned out to be the entrance to the main exhibition which we had very nearly missed: two massive rooms of far more major works than those in the previous rooms.
Later I popped into the RSC theatre to see the current Folio exhibition- a response to Shakespeare by staff and student printmakers at the RCA; prints by Norman Ackroyd, Alistair Grant (my old tutor), Joe Tilson, Elizabeth Frink and many others. It was a lovely exhibition and well worth seeing. On the two and a half hour train journey from Worcester to Stratford first thing I had got talking to two ladies about their day trip to Stratford. What are you going to do there, I asked casually. Go on the river, they replied. Well, you could always go into the theatre, I suggested. There followed a pregnant pause. Why would we want to do that? they asked in unison. Well, because it’s the home of Shakespeare theatre, they’ve just spent a trillion pounds rebuilding it, you can get a cup of tea, visit the gift shop, see an exhibition, it’s the RSC’s 50th birthday, lots of reasons, blah, blah, blah, but I suspect my well meaning suggestions were falling on deaf ears.