Painterly photographic echoes of Gerhard Richter and the gilt of Klimt vie with soaring snow white tips of Ben Nevis and rainbows of landscape abstraction at this 79th Annual Exhibition of the Armed Forces Art Society and I can honestly say it was not what I expected. It was infinitely better. There was such a plethora of creative expression from realism to fantasy, portraiture to illustrative pastorals, bronze sculpture and painting on leather. If you think you have a perception of armed forces artists, think again. Go see the exhibition and see for yourself.
I chatted to quite a few of the artists, including etching artist Jennifer Kirby [pictured here] whose inspirational starting point was nature but which morphed as she created the work into gothic illustration resonant of what one might find leafing through a Brothers’ Grimm fantasy novel.
Close by her work is a massive “Preening Hare” which seems to float surreally on a big red cushion in a loose pastel wash of the palest crisp blues. A great work by Theresa Boast.
Gold leaf is used by Tim King in his visual representation of poems by Pauline Steiner. Eve Montgomery’s work follows you around the rooms of the gallery, the one which aroused the most emotion in me was her dark sepia painting of her grandfather, which she said herself was influenced by Richter. If you saw the retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2011 you’ll see the successful consideration immediately in terms of tone, scale and execution.
For me Ed Slater’s works stood out above all as touching and exceptional expressions of sincere emotion. He spent 22 years as a rifleman; the act of painting and incorporation of various natural elements into his work is all part of his “healing” he says. Boards shaped like wings of planes, polished brass spent cartridges, glazed drips and smeared red paint slip and slide, grey figures walk ghostlike with kit bags and rifles across his constructed canvases, staples harshly hold the pieces together. They are truly exceptional pieces of work.
Ken Howard opened the event with his characteristic off-the-wall humour: for him painting was three things “Revelation of the world, Celebration of the world and Communication”, he did go on to say something which another artist had once retorted, but it’s not publishable here!
The winners of the various sponsored awards each came up to collect their prizes, looking at the work that won, it is a further demonstration of the broad range and mix of talent and work that make up the AFAS.