Art For Art’s Sake

So what does your run of the mill Art Deco enthusiast hang on the walls of their humble abode? Vintage travel posters? A Chinese reproduction canvas of a Tamara de Lempicka painting?.. or perhaps a framed and mounted period advertisement featuring a stylized sketch of a dashing couple enjoying a glass of a trendy French liqueur! All have their place, and yes, like many others we too have examples of all of these gracing our home. Sometimes however, none of these options seem to fit the bill. Sometimes you find yourself with a very big blank wall requiring eye candy and no budget to commission a suitable piece. Its on these very dangerous, and thankfully very rare occasions I go rummaging and dig out my beret, easel and £1.99 set of acrylic paints!

The project has been a long time coming. I spotted an image online a couple of years ago while googling The Grosvener School of Modern Art. We’ve got some prints by Cyril Power and i was keen to see more of his work when I stumbled on a random image of some birds in flight. It was by Edward (“Ted”) McKnight Kauffer, “one of Europe’s most prolific and influential advertising poster artists during the twenties and thirties”.MD_KaufferEM_Flight_640

The image hit me in the face with a double whammy of admiration and inspiration. Not only was it strikingly original, extremely clever and utterly beautiful, but it looked to my naive eyes that it could easily be copied by an amateur such as myself. I saved the image, logged it on my mental rainy day ‘to do list’ and got on with life.

Cue the completion of our new kitchen. If you look back through some of my previous blogs you’ll see the  lengthy transformation of a huge derelict room into our dream modernist food prep and eating area. An area that came complete with one big blank wall! I could stand it no longer, a trip to The Works stationary emporium was made, and coins exchanged for the biggest budget canvas that they had kicking around.

Phase one included a long length of wood, a pencil and a jpg. I sketched it by eye, not worrying too much about accuracy. With one eye on the Eurovision song contest (A dreadful guilty pleasure the wife and I always watch!) and one on the canvas I was off. Phase 2 included several rolls of masking tape, hole re-enforcers and some sponge brushes borrowed from my 3 year old. Frankly I underestimated the complicated nature of the intersecting lines and it grew ever more mind numbing trying to work out which bit should be which colour. If it wasn’t for the fear of them showing through I would have turned it into a giant paint-by-numbers!

Each stage required the removal of some tape and application of further strips in different areas. The reveal was always a rewarding and exciting moment. Much like on the silver screen with the tense removal of bandages from a beauty queens face after major surgery. Will she look as foxy as she once did? Will the black have leaked under the 50p masking tape ruining the perfectly straight lines? Yes & yes.. she’s still a honey, but nooooo, I knew I should have invested in proper frog tape!

Nevertheless, after a month or so my opus was complete. Some light touching up was required to  improve bleed, but from a distance its not at all bad. I’ll construct a frame of some kind when I get a chance, but for now the naked canvas hangs in the kitchen, adding some drama to the rather plain walls. And here she is…

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An Appreciation of Maurice Man (1921-1997)

Lets put Art Deco to one side for moment or two. A few years back I was browsing 20th Century art on ebay when I stumbled across a rather fetching 1960’s portrait MMphoto1of a young lady. Semi abstract, with use of heavy colours and angular application, I found it simply mesmerising. Several bids were placed, but I duly lost out. Feeling rather put out by this, I hit google on a mission to track down further works by the artist in question, one Maurice Man. At the time four were found to be available for sale by dealers worldwide; one in New York, one in London, and two in a tiny  gallery in Great Malvern, Worcestershire (a small town near the Western border of England). The thing is, and you couldn’t make this up, I just happen to live in Great Malvern. I swiftly applied my shoes and 10 minutes later was stood in font of the pair of portraits. Money was exchanged, and so began my love affair

Girl Reading (1966)
‘Girl Reading’ 1966

with the striking work of this greatly overlooked talent.

Research hasn’t yielded a great deal of information about his life and work. He was born in Northwest London in 1921. Studied at Willesden and St. Martin’s Schools of Art and in Paris at L’Académie de la Grande Chauiére. Primarily a figure and portrait painter, notably of women, his subjects included the actresses Joan Collins, Julie Andrews, Sylvia Syms and Natalie Wood. A magazine article from the mid-1960’s I unearthed, observed him at work, noting his foul temper and a tendency to destroy his work in fits of rage. His medium of choice was oil stick on board or canvas, with a thick coat of varnish to harden it.

Sleeping

I’m no art expert (far from it), but I would cautiously declare that the portraits I’ve

Quiet Nude (1967)
‘Nude Seated by a Window’ 1967

seen range from deeply evocative and sensual, to just plain amateur. Perhaps this inconsistency is one of the main reasons he never gained the recognition I believe he deserved.

The two volume, ‘Dictionary of British Artists Since 1945’ by David Buckman notes that Maurice moved to Hastings in the early 1970s. I can only assume that he took a step away from portrait work at this time, I’ve not managed to find evidence of any works dated post 1970, but that’s not to say none exist.

in 2015, 18 years on from his death, his work still only changes hands for tiny

Blue Nude (1970)
‘Blue Nude’ 1970

sums of money (I picked up one for £11 a year or two back), great for collectors like me, but rather depressing for Maurices’ legacy. Hopefully sooner or later someone of note will fall for his work give him a bit of long overdue publicity. Until then, I’ll just keep filling my walls!

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An Interesting post-script to this article is Kay Lipton, Maurices’ former wife getting in touch. I subsequently discovered, through her fairly racy biography ‘A Life of Art & Passion’, a great deal more about Maurice’s personality. Their relationship was a passionate, youthful & short lived affair in the early 1940’s. Kays’ honest, and sometimes brutal recollections show Maurice to be a fairly complicated and, at times, extremely unpleasant character, later diagnosed as bi-polar. They seperated long before he produced the above works, but it all adds to the mystique of this greatly overlooked artist.