Exploring the work of Bert Isaac – A first glimpse

On 23 October 2017, the School of Art Museum and Galleries at Aberystwyth University received a substantial gift of some 174 artworks by the Welsh painter-printmaker Bert Isaac, who died in 2006. As Professor Robert Meyrick discovered on visiting his home in Abergavenny, his studio was a veritable treasure trove of prints, drawings and paintings, as well as sketchbooks and beautifully designed, hand-bound books that Isaac had produced in the course of a long artistic career dating back to the early 1940s.

What a delight it must have been to be offered this collection by Isaac’s widow Joan and his daughter Susan Pochron! His work fits particularly well with the Museum’s already substantial and nationally important collections, not only because of Isaac’s Welsh origins and the predominance of Welsh landscape themes in his work, but also because of his strong affinities with the Neo-Romantic artists of the 1940s to 1960s, such as Ceri Richards, David Jones, John Elwyn and Graham Sutherland, whose works already feature prominently in the Collection.

Moreover, Isaac was a dedicated teacher of art, and trainer of future art teachers in Cardiff, Swansea and London, where he continued to work in the Art and Design Department of the Institute of Education until the 1980s. In 1999, he was awarded the MBE for services to art education. In his final years, he was especially content in the knowledge that so much of his life’s work would find its ultimate destination in the School of Art Museum and Galleries, whose explicit mission is to make fine works of art readily available for study by future generations of artists and art historians enrolled at Aberystwyth.

I first become aware of Bert Isaac’s work only recently, in two exhibitions in 2016 at MOMA Machynlleth (Romancing Wales: Romanticism in the Welsh landscape since 1770, and Ffiniau: Four Painters in Raymond Wlliams’ Border Country, both curated by Dr Peter Wakelin). Three of his striking semi-abstract landscapes were highlights for me in the School of Art Gallery’s recent exhibition Outside In: Abstracting the Landscape. So I jumped at the opportunity Robert offered me to start work on the cataloguing of these new acquisitions from Isaac’s own studio. Each week, I am spending a few hours happily installed in Robert’s office, examining, measuring and describing the newly-acquired works.

I thought I should share a few favourites with readers of the blog as I proceed, and here is my first instalment of firm favourites: three multi-media drawings in ink, watercolour, gouache, pastel and pencil, all done in 1979 probably within a very short time of each other. They bear striking similarities, not only in their theme of rugged mountainous landscape including decaying quarry workings – one of Isaac’s favourite themes – but in their brilliant, vibrant colour. What might to some seem a rather grim subject – the relics of a vanished industry over-run by the scrubby vegetation of blasted upland heath – is here transformed. And as he grew older, Isaac’s colours were to become ever bolder, fresher and more striking, as I hope to show in a later post.

Judy Batt

(MA Fine Art student)

Bert Isaac Blue ridge 1979
Bert Isaac, Blue ridge, 1979 (mixed media on paper, 215 x 315 mm)
Bert Isaac Old Fence 1979
Bert Isaac, Old Fence, 1979 (mixed media on paper, 235 x 215 mm)
Bert Isaac Estuary View 1979
Bert Isaac, Estuary View, 1979 (mixed media on paper, 212 x 317 mm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exploring the School of Art Collection – 2016

 

As part of the first year art history module Exploring the School of Art Collections, students have the opportunity to write a small piece for this blog. This year the group focused on our photography collection. Each student had the opportunity to choose from a selection of prints from British, American and Italian photographers active in the mid 20th century. They only had one week to undertake some research before presenting their drafts. They all worked very hard on these projects so please take the time to view their efforts.

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Alternative Facts: Interpreting Works from the School of Art Collection: 22 May to 29 September 2017 at the School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University

AltFactsPoster_web_mailThe phrase ‘alternative facts’ is a recent addition to our vocabulary.  It has come to prominence in a political climate in which views and actions are shaped more by emotions than by reliable intelligence.  Reflecting this shift, Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ to be Word of the Year 2016.  And yet, alternative facts are as old as language itself. Continue reading

Matter of Life and Death: An Exhibition of Photographs from the University Collection 16 May – 9 September 2016 at the School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University

Final poster copyMatter of Life and Death was an exhibition of black-and-white photographs from the School of Art collection at Aberystwyth University. About sixty photographs were selected for display by a group of School of Art undergraduates who were enrolled on the module Curating an Exhibition. Continue reading

Who were Edward J. Burrow and Richard Eustace Tickell and why did they record The Vale of Nantgwilt in 1893? by Gerry McGandy

 

Special thanks to Joyce Cummings and Vic of the Cheltenham Local History Society; without their research in local Cheltenham Newspapers this essay would have been much poorer.

The School of Art collection at Aberystwyth houses eleven landscape prints engraved by Edward John Burrow after drawings by Robert Eustace Tickell. Tickell had them printed in a volume entitled ‘The Vale of Nantgwilt – A Submerged Valley‘ in1894 (Fig. 1). Who were Burrow and Tickell and why did they choose to record these pleasant and picturesque if otherwise unremarkable scenes?

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‘Claude and Views of the Picturesque in Great Britain’

This link leads to Nicole Elaine Wade’s website which was the result of her MA research project back in 2015. ‘Views of the Picturesque’ aims to provide a selective interpretation of late eighteenth century landscape prints within the Aberystwyth University School of Art Gallery and Museum Collection.

Claude and Views of the Picturesque in Great Britain

landscape-with-a-goatherd

Landscape With A Goatherd, Richard Earlom after a drawing by Claude Lorrain, 1774

‘Richard Doyle’s Bird’s-Eye Views of Society’

This link leads to the Karen Westendorf’s website about the 19th century illustrator Richard Doyle. It is the result of her MA research project back in 2015. The School of Art holds a series of his illustrations, designed for The Cornhill Magazine in 1861/2. (They are not the original drawings but the printed foldouts as they appeared in the magazine.)

Richard Doyle’s Bird’s-Eye View of Society

richard-doyle-at-home

At Home (example of Richard Doyle’s Bird’s-Eye Views of Society)