Curators Professor Robert Meyrick and Dr Harry Heuser of the School of Art recently attended the opening of their latest exhibition An Abiding Standard: The prints of Stanley Anderson at the Royal Academy in London. This is the second RA show that Meyrick has curated both of which form part of a larger series of exhibitions and catalogues raisonné celebrating the work of Royal Academician printmakers.
Today, Stanley Anderson is best known for his series of engravings memorialising England’s vanishing crafts, trades and farming practices. These carefully observed and meticulously executed portraits of traditional occupations provide us with a pictorial record of life and work in mid-twentieth century rural Britain. Presented together with Anderson’s earlier, lesser-known drypoints of urban life, they form a composite image of the artist’s world view. Sceptical of progress, Anderson sought to counter what he saw as the threat of modernity and its effect on the human spirit; the estrangement from nature, the loss of respect for physical work and the lack of a sense of fellowship. His work is characterised by rigour, wit and compassion.
Anderson’s printmaking career, informed by a seven-year apprenticeship as a trade engraver and put on hold during the Great War, was firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. The prints of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, in particular, were an early influence on his work. Anderson rejected the notion of art as a means of self-expression and questioned the insistence on originality. Instead, he believed that it was the artist’s ‘job’ to do justice to the subject through a mastery of medium and technique. ‘None of us can reach perfection’, Anderson once remarked, ‘but this need not deter us from making a sincere effort to do so and thoroughly enjoy the adventure’. The adventure took Anderson to London’s bustling outdoor markets of Billingsgate and Covent Garden, to urban construction sites and scenes of demolition, to Paris on the eve of the Great War and to the medieval cities of France, Spain, Germany and Czechoslovakia. A printmaker’s journey, it was motivated by a faith in an abiding standard.
Anderson’s works are in public collections in Britain and Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1938, was elected a Royal Academician in 1941, and ten years later was awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to the art of engraving.
The publication of a fully illustrated and annotated Catalogue Raisonné of prints coincides with the launch of the exhibition. Written by Robert Meyrick and Harry Heuser, it provides an in-depth assessment of Anderson’s oeuvre.
The exhibition and catalogue have been supported by Punter Southall Limited and the Punter Southall Group.
The exhibition is open at the Royal Academy between 25th February and the 24th of May 2015. A version of the show will travel to Aberystwyth University School of Art Gallery in February 2016.