Cotswold Expressionist: Joan Gillespie at Richard Hagen Gallery

Last year we decided that Cotswolds should be our playground. It is not so far from where we live and it is a place of outstanding beauty. All what we dream about England is here: rolling hills, placid sheeps, small mirrors of lakes, castles and the particular architecture of yellow stones like amber in the sun against the blue sky.  Wandering by the beautiful town Broadway, we discovered the Richard Hagen Gallery, an exquisite collection of colour, composition and aesthetics pleasures in the heart of the Cotswolds.

On the window of the Stable Lodge (a typical Cotswold construction, like in the Shrine)… I am stopped by a portrait in strong colours and brushtrokes. What is this? It reminds me of Andre Derain, one of my favorite painters. But this is a portrait, with strong green colours like the famous portrait of Madame Matisse, by her husband… but this is different, the colours are new, vibrant, somehow adapted to the beautiful surroundings.

Inside the mystery is solved: It is a painting by the Scottish artist,  Joan Gillespie, one of the artists exhibiting in the Spring collection 2014 at Richard Hagen Gallery.  Her work  is  inspired by these two giants of expressionism and fauvism: Andre Derain and Henri Matisse, revolutionaries of the color and composition. Indeed, Derain and Matisse became friends around 1905, and despite the age difference (Matisse was 10 years senior), their practices and theories cemented their friendship… While Andre Derain was in London, during the year of 1905-1906, their friendship flourished as evidenced by the letters written by Derain. Both painters coincided in their treatment of color: for them, colour should be an independent element in the artistic composition. As explained by Remi Labrusse and Jackeline Munck (1): For Matisse colour was first of all an experience linked to theoretical thinking only after the event. In the same line of development, Derain put colour through a kind of trial:

“he sought to prove (to himself) that the aesthetics of transposition had the capacity to disturb- in other words to breathe life into -even the most rigorously predetermined, classical compositions… For him, the primary meaning of his painting lay in the speculation that colour, as pure chromatic essence, might possibly reveal a more fundamental and intense level beyond appearances, which derain chose to call the “absolute” (p. 18)

This way of understanding and conceiving colour is expressed in Derain take on London landscapes. Here I am showing my own interpretation of Derain.


After Derain. By Beatriz Acevedo. Acrylic on Canvas

This aim: of approaching colour as an independent, meaningful form, is recreated by Joan Gillespie in her paintings. In the group of paintings presented in Richard Hagen Gallery, she combines urban landscapes, mostly Parisian with intimate portraits of women in very domestic and private settings. In this way, she seems to pay homage to her two inspirations, but giving them a very femenine and particular touch. Although the paintings owe a great deal to these artists, Joan Gillespie brings her very own view on colour and form. The brushstroke is free and powerful and her use of colour is emphatic in the sense of “absolute” (in the Derain’s way).  In Portrait d’une Femme, Joan Gillespie takes us to a very intimate moment of the life of the model, she rests on her arms thinking, dreaming, planning. It is a placid scene, yet, the thick brushtrokes and colour convey a remarkable intensity.

This painting, for example, made me think also about the work of Gabriele Munter, the German expressionist.  Indeed, her Portrait of Marianne Werfkin, with green skin, fierce gaze and red hat, relates to Joan Gillespie approach to colour. However, Gillespie painting is more subtle: here we are gazing at the intimate scene… voyeurs of a private moment. What is really interesting about Munter’s art is her contribution in the re-invention of so-called lesser genres – landscape, still life, portraiture, and interiors- looking for a new expression and a new pictorial language (2) . An imagined dialogue between these two female artists -Munter and Gillespie- with a century between them, reminds us of the power of painting, beyond the representational, toward the expression. In Gillespie paintings, it is possible to appreciate the materiality of the color, the architecture of the canvas, and the capacity to capture a “moment” (either in the bustling city or the domestic setting).

My own approach to colour tends to be “savage” and primeval. Both in watercolour and acrylics, I use pure colours, as if there is not other way. It may be the “latin american” palette, migrating with me to England, but I relate with the search of colour and expreession, and this is because I wanted to write this review. Most importantly, Joan Gillespie’s work encourages me, to keep on searching to experiment and not to be afraid of following the steps of great masters!

DSCF5049 Beetles2 - Version 2scan-1

Original paintings by Beatriz Acevedo

Apart of this fantastic artist, the visitor will enjoy an enticing collection of new artists such as Paul Murray, Jean B. Martin RSW, Frans Wessleman and the magical pottery of Linda Styles… all of them reflecting the exquisite taste of this Gallery. Worth a visit!

(1) Andre Derain: The London Paintings. Catalogue by Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen and Barnaby Wright. Essays by Remi Labrusse and Jackeline Munck, John House and Nancy Ireson. Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing. London.

(2) Gabriele Munter: The Search for Expression 1906-1917.  Catalogue by Barnaby Wright. With essays by Annegret Hoberg and Shulamith Behr. Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing. London.


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