Century of Images Exhibition, 1995
Tate Gallery, St Ives

Comments by Mike Tooby, the Curator of the Tate Gallery, St Ives, about Michael Strang's contribution.

When planning an historical display such as 'Porthmeor Beach : A Century of Images', one is conscious of how such a subject can generate virtually an entire history of landscape and abstract painting and sculpture within British and even international art.

From the outset, the Gallery had seen it as an opportunity to set the modernist artists, who occupy the centre ground of the picture we usually present, in the context of the generation of academic and late Impressionist artists from the late 19th and early 20th century. This could allow direct comparisons between different approaches, and set out ways of thinking about artists outside modernism, such as the respected figure, Borlase Smart. A vivid example in the exhibition was Julius Olsson's empty horizons and shimmering sands with the wave forms of Tony O'Malley - three generations apart, utterly different painting languages, but the same subject viewed from the same studio.

So when we considered how to reflect current practice in our accompanying projects and contextual activities, an equally diverse range offered itself. We decided to embrace photography, in the shape of Andy Hughes' images of the beach made following his stint as the Gallery's first artist-in-residence; and John Aiken's monumental project in granite which responded to his understanding of the history and topography of the 'Island' at the far end of the beach. Alongside we asked Robert Jones and Michael Strang to, in essence, continue their enthusiasm for using the beach as a subject and so relate to that tradition of painterly observation represented by such as Olsson and Smart.

In many artist's careers enforced activity can create unexpected directions. Such enforcement can be created through someone else's interest in a particular aspect of work not normally valued by the artist, the requirements of a project, or simply straitened circumstances which go with a particular period of work. In Michael Strang's case, the proposal was a kind of mixture of all three. I suggested that we exhibit the small scale studies which he normally keeps back for private reference while working on in the studio; that we only show those done 'on the spot' on the Beach; and that every fortnight or so we took out 'old' ones and replaced them with 'new' ones, leaving a few to record passing time.

It forced what I now view as a flourish: swift studies, in a manner which was brief compared to the effort Strang habitually invests in larger scale work, and so energetically worked on that they are counted in hundreds. It remains to be seen whether this body of work will be an anomaly or a path which will lead to new vistas in Strang's work.

Mike Tooby
Curator, Tate Gallery, St Ives
 

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