Linocut is the modern-day cousin of woodblock printing. An image is carved into the soft lino and inked with a colour that is then pressed onto paper with burnisher, roller or even the back of spoon. A new piece of lino is carved for each colour, and the printer must take care that each coloured section lines up correctly without overlapping. The more colours, the more complicated the process.
While lino had been used by artists, such as Paul Nash and Christopher Nevison, before and during the first world war, it was generally looked down upon as a childish art form, but thanks to Flight’s interwar efforts the Grosvenor School attracted artists from Europe and became an important chapter in the story of British modernism.
This exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery celebrates the short-lived, but energetic group of artists who worked under Flight’s tutelage. They embraced the bold colours and abstract nature of modernism and through everyday themes illustrated a social history of interwar Britain. This was a period when increased leisure time, shorter working days and paid holidays saw people taking on more recreational activities. They headed to the lidos and the theatres, the seaside and the fairground and all are captured here with swirling swings, energetic musicians and families on the beach.
Claude Flight, Speed Trial, c.1932, photo Osborne Samuel Gallery London / © The Estate of Cyril Power. All Rights Reserved,  / Bridgeman Images
The working life is captured here, too. A farmer ploughs a field in which a tangle of seagulls form a criss-crossing pattern of white wings. Cyril Power’s The Tube Train (1930) presents a familiar scene, in which a carriage of commuters on the District Line sit, absorbed in their newspapers. Now, of course, we don’t wear top hats, and those papers have been replaced with phones, but still the passengers sit, keeping themselves to themselves with stony expressions.
Sport is covered here, too. Angular rowers lift a boat above their heads, rugby players tussle in a confusion of stripes and a poster adverting cricket at Lords sees a bowler and batter form an elegant diagonal across a green and white checkerboard. The bold designs that the Grosvenor School created were perfect for advertising, and posters that once graced the underground now fetch huge sums at auction.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery always goes that extra mile and this exhibition is no exception. The bright prints are beautifully arranged and offset by coloured walls. In the last room the curators have had fun wallpapering the gallery with an enlarged linocut scene from the underground and ‘mind the gap’ has been stuck on the floor in yellow letters.
This is the kind of family friendly feel good exhibition that lifts the spirits. These images, with their humour, energy and hopeful palette speak of a very particular time, of the possibilities of the future, and of a present untethered to past.
|What||Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking, Dulwich Picture Gallery review|
|Where||Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Brixton (underground)|
19 Jun 19 – 08 Sep 19, Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00
|Website||Click here for more information|