2019 is an important year for Marlborough artists, husband and wife, Simon Brett and Juliet Wood.
In July, ninety of Juliet’s paintings will form a major retrospective exhibition with new work at the prestigious Bankside Gallery in London. And later this month Simon’s book, The Life and Work of Clifford Webb will be published. Clifford Webb (1894-1972) was one of Britain’s foremost wood engravers and an illustrator of children’s books.
Juliet studied at St Alban’s School of Art and The Slade while Simon trained at St. Martin’s School of Art, where he was taught wood engraving by Clifford Webb. The couple met in the early seventies while they were both teaching art at Marlborough College and have continued to live in Marlborough since then.
Simon moved from painting to wood engraving and left teaching in 1989 as his wood engraving career began to establish itself. Juliet worked for eighteen years at Swindon School of Art and Design, becoming a full-time painter in 1995.
The Life and Work of Clifford Webb is, Simon told marlborough.news, “A tribute to him and a thank you for my career. The first half of the book concentrates on his life and the second on his art. It is packed full of pictures, photos and engravings.”
“Clifford Webb was born into poverty in the East End of London, was apprenticed to a firm of lithographers where he learnt colour separation. He was injured five times in World War One. After the war he went to art school, married into the influential Monckton family, and tried to hide his humble beginnings.”
“Webb’s engravings are mainly landscapes and wildlife together with a lot of illustrations for children’s books. It is possible he used his craft and subject matter as an escape from the traumatic experiences of the war.”
Entitled A Human Touch Juliet’s Bankside Gallery exhibition will run from July 2 to 14. The paintings span a career of over sixty years: “It has been taxing but fascinating to select from a lifetime’s work.”
“The paintings and oil pastels are from different eras, with subjects ranging from beachscapes and musicians to portraits and contemporary life, all inspired by human activity and feeling. The earliest work will be a schoolgirl drawing, the latest may still be wet from the easel!”
Several of the paintings in the exhibition are from the 2013-14 series, Alone and Together, Brunel’s people – a celebration of the people of Swindon based on Juliet’s observations and sketching in a fast food restaurant in the town over a period of ten years.
“I was acutely aware of the diversity of people’s lives… which appeared sometimes unified and sometimes fragmented by the quality of light. It was also unified by the coincidences of colour suggesting possibilities of composition… I was able to observe the ebb and flow of social and visual patterns…each painting has a different theme arising from these patterns.”
In 2017, the White Horse Gallery, Marlborough, hosted an exhibition of Juliet’s paintings entitled Music, Beaches, Family. These paintings are also inspired by human activity and family and several were based on observations on a family holiday in Cornwall.
Vincent Stokes reviewing the exhibition for marlborough.news commented on ‘the unexpected vibrancy of colour’, the ‘carefully crafted composition’ and the ‘celebration of what can be too easily taken for granted.’ His full review can be read here.
Colour is very important in Juliet’s work. Her latest work depicts refugees and survivors of modern day slavery as they embark on a recovery programme – which includes yoga classes – provided by the London-based charity OURMALA.
“These paintings contain the colours of peace and hope: greens, blues, yellows. There is light coming from windows - depicting peace from trauma. A sense of calm is created with the horizontals.”
Simon held his own retrospective exhibition, An Engraver’s Progress: Fifty Years of Wood Engraving, at the Bankside Gallery in 2013. In the eighties, he published ten books under his own Paulinus Press imprint and has made over a thousand engravings for limited edition prints, bookplates and book illustrations.
These include many illustrations for literary classics for The Folio Society and an edition of Shakespeare’s Pericles with the Barbarian Press of British Columbia. This edition aimed to ‘stage the play on the page’ – using ninety-eight images engraved on over a hundred and forty blocks.
Simon has been instrumental in helping to keep alive the craft of wood engraving which he says was beginning to die out in the nineteen seventies. His books, An Engraver’s Globe which highlights the work of over two hundred wood engravers from twenty-eight countries, together with Engraving – How to do it have helped to revive and sustain this very specialised art.
“Wood engraving is a reviving art – we pulled it round and there are enough younger people coming into it to keep it going. It hasn’t got stuck with the people who revived it. In 2020 the Society of Wood Engravers will celebrate its centenary anniversary.”
Simon will be signing copies of his book The Life and Work of Clifford Webb (the cover is shown on the left) at the White Horse Bookshop on April 30.
Juliet’s exhibition will be at the Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1 9JH from July 2-14. Open daily 11am to 6pm – free admission. Late opening with the artist July 11 6-8pm. Last day – afternoon celebration July 14 2-6pm.