Anne Wright’s paintings of Calabria, plus works by Liza Brett, Tanya Brett and Henry Brett
By James Brewer
London artist Anne Wright, who has captivated her followers by painting evocative scenes from Greek islands and other fondly-appreciated localities, has turned her attention to the Italian region of Calabria – to one of its small historic towns, to be precise.
A week’s stay in the month of May, at the invitation of a friend whose portrait she once painted, in the hilltop settlement of Belmonte, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, led her to sketch intently, ready to work up the images back in her studio. This has transpired into a marvellous collection of oils on board and canvas that has graced the walls of a distinguished Mayfair gallery. “I was so inspired by the light and the contre-jour [painting against the daylight] possibilities,” she enthuses.
The results – such as the signally-titled Street of Shadows, Dark Light, Rooftops and The Yellow House – echo aspects of the embattled medieval role of the Calabrian stronghold which was long coveted by invaders for its commanding location.
Fortified Belmonte was frequently besieged by French armies, and when the Kingdom of Italy was established was renamed Belmonte Calabro to distinguish it from other towns in the new nation of the same name. Today it stands some 30 miles north of the main airport for Calabria, Lamezia Terme.
Delighting in southern climes and unafraid of the fearsome sun, Anne makes of every humble street and elegant panorama a beautiful encounter, the whole exposition a cascade in oils of delightful snapshots from an all-seeing mental ‘camera’. One forgets that it has taken purposeful brushstrokes to convoke an immutable impression that has the quality without the superficiality of a photographic image.
Anne has an extensive record of exhibiting in London and elsewhere, but the latest show was different, for she invited other gifted members of her immediate circle to present their works alongside hers, at 54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market. Among many notes of congratulation, one visitor wrote in the guest book that this was “a joyous family showing.”
She makes it sound so easy when she says “Basically, I paint what I see in front of me,” but each production conveys atmospheric depth. However solid the architecture in the frame, often a gorgeous sky suggests a story in motion and the prospect that the whole scene is about to be infused with new shadow angles. There is a slightly menacing tranquillity in The Yellow House, while Rooftops (this level is one of her favoured viewpoints) exudes a breath of fresh air beyond the urban intensity.
If this has turned out to be a highly successful venture, we are reminded too of the settings of her earlier journeys – to Greece, especially Santorini, Paris, Malta and Hong Kong. Santorini is a favourite, with Finikia and other picturesque villages represented, and here too is a glimpse of the Cyclades island of Tinos (Street of Steps). In the Algarve, we have a view based on Formosa Parque, “one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal” according to tourist literature.
In the French capital, Anne casts a loving eye on the back gardens of Montmartre as well as the mass of Notre Dame and the environs of the Opera. From Hong Kong, there is a sultry view of Tai-O, an island home to fisher folk who built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats.
The Shepherd Market show disseminated but a modest indication of Anne’s talent in portraiture, but right at the end in the lower gallery was a stunning young female nude, Willow, the consummate skill in skin tones lightening the body with hints of blue, and the entrancing personality of the subject beyond doubt.
Anne, a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, has a style predicated on something of which her admirers might be unaware – that she is a product of an academic pathway: she trained at Nottingham College of Art followed by four years at the Royal Academy Schools, London, winning acclaim for landscape, life and portrait painting. She is a great admirer of masters including van Dyke, Rubens, Rembrandt and Gainsborough.
She has had some 15 solo shows and has exhibited with the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the New English Art Club, the Chelsea Art Society and the Small Paintings Group of which she is president. One of her proudest occasions was a retrospective of half a century of her work at a Chelsea private gallery.
Of another school altogether, Anne’s daughter Liza Brett casts her spell with a freer hand and newer materials. Liza, who studied at Glasgow School of Art and has been a model at the Prince’s Drawing School, favours the medium of oil bar.
Oil bar – which in flexibly-handled stick form produces an oil painting effect directly onto the canvas – has become increasingly popular, with new variants marketed, because its deep pigmentation yields strong colours.
Liza loves the expressive texture produced by the crayon-like marks which can be blended with other oil materials, and she is among those who find it more comfortable to work with than oil pastels which need great care to avoid smudginess.
Liza draws out enigmatic scenarios from portraits of friends and seemingly mundane images (she sometimes uses a golden Indian ink which changes colour when mixed with water). She has a knack of intimating the potential energy of her animate and inanimate subjects, as seen in her twin works Lovely as a Tree, and in others such as Rosie’s Shadow and Purple Red Heat and Ochre and Orange.
Figurative to the ultimate are the bears, cats and an Inuit (a member of the indigenous people of Arctic regions) among sculptures from Tanya Brett, one of the UK’s leading sculptors of animal forms. Some of the figures are palpably hefty, notably in this instance an elephant and a bronze ‘swimming bear,’ and all have what seems to be a life of their own.
Tanya alternates between ceramic and bronze for the pieces, with absolute attention to detail, as is the case with her drawings and paintings, and which is brought out in the high-fired finish.
The smart dining public is familiar with Tanya’s work, for her commissions have included sculpture for the restaurants of Marco Pierre White, for Wheeler’s of St James’s and Wheeler’s at the Kings Arms Inn, West Sussex; and for the Italian Garden of Lord Alistair McAlpine, and The Plantation House, Mustique.
In addition to solo exhibitions with Jonathan Cooper Park Walk Gallery, Tanya has exhibited with Adrian Sassoon at The Armory in New York. Tanya studied Three-Dimensional Design (BA Hons) at the University of Brighton.
Complementing the extravaganza at 54 The Gallery, Henry Brett has a series of pensive studies, small in format but compelling in impact.
As usual, Anne Wright has a packed programme. Her exhibitions for 2017 include ‘NOT The Royal Academy’ until August 19 at the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery, 124-126 The Cut, Waterloo, opposite the Old Vic Theatre. This is a “second chance” show in which a selection of worthy submissions to the Royal Academy summer exhibition that were not selected (the Academy could hardly show all 12,000) are hung in this South Bank gallery and available for sale.
Anne will be at the Chelsea Art Society show from October 24-30 at Chelsea Old Town Hall , King’s Road London SW3; and at ‘Art For Youth- December 13-15 at Mall Galleries, London SW1.
Anne Wright RBA paintings, and works by Liza Brett, Tanya Brett, Henry Brett. Prints, sculpture, drawings. 54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market, London W1. Until July 22, 2017, 10am-6pm daily.