Anthony Earnshaw – The Imp of Surrealism
Surrealism is an art movement which is not yet finished and historical. Our eyes are still surprised by the unexpected images; we are still delighted by the humour and subverted by the ideas.
Anthony Earnshaw, 1924 – 2001, was a self-taught artist from Yorkshire, who studied art later in life, making a successful career as artist, teacher and cartoonist. Prodigiously creative since childhood, he painted and enacted random surrealist activities whilst a working engineer in factories, also embracing socialist and revolutionary principles. As he put it, as a young man, he did not find surrealism, but surrealism found him. There is a lightness of touch and humour to Earnshaw rather than preaching, a ponderous subtlety.
This exhibition is accompanied by a well-produced book which is tribute to the man, a portfolio of his astonishing output and case for his inclusion in the history of British art. It also includes anecdotes from friends and artist colleagues showing his extraordinary character. Some artists stamp and shout, and others are the real thing: down to earth, genuine surrealists.
This is a spare exhibition which leaves you wanting to see more, especially the paintings reproduced in the book. Students of the art of print will marvel at the spare efficiency of his alphabet, each letter individually framed. He made several of these Secret Alphabets, each showing letters created from a point of view, a true artist’s eye noticing odd formations. They are great ideas exquisitely executed.
Earnshaw was a master of juxtaposition, expertly balancing contrasted elements in his works across the many media he worked in, through to his writings. His rye view is evidenced in his assemblages and boxed stagings of multifarious findings – toys, metal, objects, mirrors, and so on, found and arranged into statements and set-ups. Some of the captions are a little heavy handed and take away the ambiguity of the pieces – The Bride with her Bachelors Again: After Marcel Duchamp, 1991 – but are undeniably poetic.
Arranged by Flowers Gallery who are championing Earnshaw’s work, this small touring exhibition is aptly staged in the eccentric space of the Chelsea Arts Club. It’s the sort of irregular informal space where the art must find a place to fit in, and is hung to advantage here.
Tate Modern has just started collecting Earnshaw, perhaps acknowledging that his quiet voice is an essential part of the story of surrealism. This exhibition is a chance to see and even buy pieces from the witty revolutionary.
Anthony Earnshaw, The Imp of Surrealism, is at The Chelsea Arts Club from 6th August to 3rd September 2012.
Admission free, by arrangement with Chelsea Arts Club 0207 376 3311.
Book: Anthony Earnshaw. The Imp of Surrealism, published by RGAP, £24.99.