David Bomberg: A Sense of Place -Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne – September 2016

David Bomberg(1890 – 1857) who I did not know much about has been hailed as “one of the pioneers of early modernism”.  However this exhibition was interesting because it did not cover his early abstract work (pre-WWI) but covered the work of places where he lived and visited, Palestine, Spain, Cyprus, Cornwall and London.

It was noted that he “moved from abstraction post war as a response to the atrocities of the battlefield and war itself”.

The first phase of his foreign tours was in Palestine 1923-27.  Most of this work is rather stiff although he is beginning to develop the palette of colours that would characterise his later more successful pieces – rich reds, oranges, terracotta – he seems to have responded to the heat of his situations.

Jerusalem, Looking to Mount Scopus 1925 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
Jerusalem, Looking to Mount Scopus 1925 David Bomberg 1890-1957 Purchased 1972 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01683

As he spent more time in Spain 1929 onward his work begins to loosen up.   In Ronda 1935 he starts to “ignore perspectives and removes all notion of depth and distance.   Reacting to his surrounds, his marks on paper and canvas are bold and immediate.”

David Bomberg

Valley of the Hermida, Asturias, 1935

This painting exhibits very strongly directional marks with a rich dark palette, from deep purple via flesh to reds. Much more affecting painting overall.

He often took a very low viewpoint looking up into towering mountains and cliff faces.   The pieces particularly from Spain are very dramatic, hot and physical.

David Bomberg charcoal

Equally his drawings, mostly in charcoal and quite large scale are dynamic, strong and evocative of their situation.

David Bomberg cornwall

This later phase, Cornwall 1946/7 shows Bomberg very freed up with his technique.

St Paul's and River 1945 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
St Paul’s and River 1945 David Bomberg 1890-1957 Purchased 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01964

During WWII as a fire-watcher he used the opportunity to utilise his strong mark making and architectural style to depict the London skyline.

He is quoted:- ” In reaching art towards the immensity of the subject there are moments when, that immensity seems to respond, forming a structure in which vision can emerge…”

Bomberg pioneered an approach free of outmoded ideas of space and time, in which feeling finds its place within the mind. (quoted from exhibition display)

When asked for a definition of painting Bomberg replied that it is “A tone of day or night and the moment to a memorable hour.  It is structure in a texture of colours.”

My Response

I was very moved by Bomberg’s depiction of time and place as he developed his freer style.  Particularly I enjoyed the colour palette that he used in these paintings which strongly evoke the heat and light of their particular settings.

Looking at where he came from stylistically and where he developed onto I respond much more to these located paintings and drawings than much of his other work.

What is interesting, from the evidence of his strong charcoal drawings, is how defined the drawings could be and then how he became abandoned, responsive, emotional in his paintings of place.  The directional strokes, strong flat colours and textural qualities are brought together to produce emotive responses to his subjects.

This selection, I realise, is just part of Bomberg’s work but I was very moved by it and loved his painterly style.  You can identify his influences in those he taught at Borough i.e. Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach.

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