The Hepworth Wakefield is presenting Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt – the first UK major survey exhibition in 15 years of work by one of Britain’s best loved painters. It has been 125 years since Spencer’s birth and to celebrate, the exhibition brings together more than 70 significant works spanning the artist’s entire 45 year-career.
Highlights on display will include a number of Spencer’s rarely-seen self-portraits and important works from private collections that will be publicly exhibited for the first time in decades. Also, on show will be the monumental paintings from the Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, created by during World War II, on loan from the Imperial War Museum and a work from Spencer’s Empire Marketing Board, 1929 series.
The exhibition explores the seemingly conflicting themes that Spencer fused together in his richly detailed paintings, of religion and sexuality, work and leisure, nature and industry, highlighting Spencer’s distinctive view of everyday life. As Spencer himself put it, ‘I am on the side of the angels and dirt’.
The thematic presentation of Spencer’s work within the exhibition is aligned to the artist’s own interpretation of his paintings. It will allow visitors to view bodies of work that he created throughout his life as a whole, such as his landscape paintings, including views of his beloved hometown of Cookham, and of Halifax where he spent his holidays during the late 1920s. It will also showcase his series of portraits of people close to him, including a number of depictions of Spencer’s second wife, Patricia Preece.
A prolific writer, Spencer’s own interpretation of his paintings from his diaries and fragmented autobiography, (without which Spencer claimed no-one could properly understand his work) will be presented alongside his paintings, to offer visitors a unique insight into his life and work. Additional preparatory drawings, including sketches made of the shipbuilders during World War II, never before exhibited early landscape drawings, Spencer’s earliest oil painting of 1907, and rarely seen family photographs, in addition to his writings on artistic inspiration and composition will further reveal Spencer’s view of the world.
The first volume of a new three-part Spencer autobiography will be published by the Spencer Estate and Unicorn Press shortly after the exhibition opens, using Spencer’s own writings to discuss his work in a similarly thematic way.
Stanley Spencer’s grandson, John Spencer said: “A few weeks before Stanley died he was heard to say, ‘Do you think I will be remembered?’. With The Hepworth Wakefield’s comprehensive exhibition Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt, it seems my grandfather is still very much remembered. 2016 feels like the ‘Year of Stanley Spencer’, with exhibitions also taking place in Cookham and Hastings this year. I know my grandfather would be as proud as I am to be able to share this celebration of his life and art.”
The exhibition will also examine the lifelong influence that early Italian paintings by such artists as Botticelli, Fra Angelico and Giotto had on Spencer’s work.
Stanley Spencer fans and collectors include the late David Bowie, who narrated the BBC Omnibus Special about the painter in 2001. Spencer was among Bowie’s favourite British artists. Adam Ant (born Stuart Goddard) spent summer holidays in Cookham and grew up being inspired by the painter, who he calls his “favourite artist of all time”. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns several works by Spencer and considers both Stanley Spencer and Francis Bacon as two of the greatest British painters of the twentieth century as well as British sculptor Anthony Gormley, broadcaster Jon Snow and art historian James Fox, who recently became President of the Friends of Stanley Spencer Gallery.
STANLEY SPENCER: OF ANGELS AND DIRT 24 JUNE – 5 OCTOBER