October 28, 2012 4:04 pm

Joash Woodrow, 108 Fine Art, Harrogate, UK

This exhibition launches a year of shows tracing the development of a reclusive artist
‘Portrait of Jacob Kramer’

‘Portrait of Jacob Kramer’

It is 10 years since Joash Woodrow’s paintings, created in seclusion in his Leeds semi from the 1940s-1990s, were exhibited in public. Immediately apparent was a significant British talent, sharing the intensely expressive figurative language and dense manipulation of paint of Frank Auerbach (a fellow student at the Royal College of Art) and Leon Kossoff, but distinctively individual. It was not at once possible to assess Woodrow fully. Hundreds of canvases stashed over half a century were in varying condition, few dated, none titled; an artistic evolution was unclear.

A decade of research later, 108 Fine Art launches a year of exhibitions defining Woodrow’s chronological development, and including many fresh paintings. The opening show focuses on 1948-60, beginning with stark black and white landscapes – the domed dark “Leeds Corn Exchange” under pale crusty clouds, “The White House” peering between thick tree trunks, the mysterious “White Building and Black Path” – and sombre portraits in blue-grey tones, often of Jewish subjects, such as “Old Man with Beard and Hat” and “Man Looking Down”, according with the mood of 1950s Britain.

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Although rarely leaving Leeds, Woodrow probably saw Tate’s great 1960 Picasso retrospective. How he internalised Picasso’s influence in the mid-60s will be the subject of a show next summer, but already in 1960 there is a new stylisation and simplification of forms, and violent colour. Luminous yellow backcloths, their textural roughness enhanced by hessian or sackcloth supports, enliven the boldly outlined “Portrait of Jacob Kramer” and “The Young Cantor”; a bright geometric face emerges like a diamond-shaped sun from a grey sackcloth ground in “Portrait of Cyril Satorsky”. Female portraits are stunners: long-necked, twisting, red or blonde hair flamboyantly tossed back, or cool and impervious, as in the long-lashed Mary Quant look of “Woman with Cigarette”. All prove Woodrow as much of his times as reclusively independent of them.

Until December 1, www.108fineart.com

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