Sutherland @ Modern Art Oxford

The words modern and Oxford don’t often come together in the same sentence, so I was intrigued to see what an exhibition on modern British artist Graham Sutherland at Modern Art Oxford would entail. Among the picturesque architecture, and cobbled back streets of Oxford, MAO offers an alternative to the more traditional Ashmolean.

The exhibition entitled Graham Sutherland – An Unfinished Work is curated by former 2011 Turner prize nominee George Shaw and predominantly focuses on welsh landscapes of the Pembrokeshire countryside. All are studies on paper, of which there are over 80 rarely seen works. The title for this exhibition probably comes from the fact that there are no follow up canvases from the studies on show, only preparatory work. While the mix media studies are insightful, the showing of at least one final piece would have been nice to be able to see in what direction exactly Sutherland was going.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with the muddy browns, greens and greys of pembrokeshire, evolving into a rather juxtaposed palette of greys and blacks when Sutherland becomes a war artist, then a representation of the artists return to Wales in the 1970s. I found the war images the most striking. After all the earthy tones depicted previously, the rubble and destruction in the Devastation Series of 1941 is a far cry from the beauty of the pembrokeshire countryside.

I think it is unfortunate that most critics have chosen to focus on the odd choice of curator over the content inside the exhibition. Both artists painted Britain and had a loose connection to Coventry, and it is clear from the focus on preparatory work that Shaw appreciates Sutherland’s work and the processes behind them. I feel that Shaw presented a good representation of Sutherland’s work and even showed that at times, there was some colour among the greys and browns in the forms of rainbows; landscape painting is a British tradition after all.

Graham Sutherland – An Unfinished Work is open at Modern Art Oxford until March 18

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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