Francis West - Voyages

The Piper Gallery's second exhibition is Voyages by Francis West, inspired by his remote upbringing on the lost and rural Moray Firth. These paintings are inspired by a rough yet harmonious landscape, and though the caresses of the brush and the curve of the charcoal are similar, the recollections they evoke are anything but.

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The Piper Gallery is unusual in its quest to find the opposite of the typical artist that decorates a gallery’s walls, with work is that new, exciting and perhaps dangerous in concept, but incredibly and sorely fleeting. It is dedicating its space to artistic legends who have devoted their whole life to their work. Their second exhibition is Voyages by Francis West, inspired by the artist's remote upbringing on the lost and rural Moray Firth - a place where I myself spent much of my childhood, albeit years later. Francis West was born in 1936, but still inspires the colours and movement of his work with eloquence.

The packed gallery offered many a second glance and pondering stare as the work broadened from the seas of Scotland to the shores of France and the beaches of the Mediterranean, which provided a complete contrast yet a complementary one. A coalition ensues with remnants of Picasso and the nudity of the Mediterranean alongside portraits of warped realities and subdued coastline. It was a colourful show and a dramatic one. You could almost smell the salt of the waves in Boat of a Thousand Years and hear the gulls cry in the sunshine in Mediterranee II next to the raucous and twisted giggles of Mediterranee IV. Birth of Venus. All of the paintings and charcoal sketches are similar in the space they share, as they sit in the memory of a golden oldie, and yet are as dissimilar as a moment in time is to one ten years on. From Shooting Fish in 1998 to Tempestas in 2012 you can sense that a life has been well-filled.

The memories evoked by the paintings inspired by the Moray Firth were of particular interest to me, for reasons I mentioned above. The seas of Scotland can be famously rough yet harmoniously tranquil, with many a white sandy beach and rocky shore framing them, but always with an aroused sense of hearty calm. West’s violent pictures portray this accurately and beautifully, and it was a pleasure to be brought back down to highland earth. It’s a world away from the hustle of the streets outside the Piper Gallery’s doors, and quite rightly too.

Francis Wests’ Voyages is inspired by many a landscape, and though the caresses of the brush and the curve of the charcoal remain similar, the recollections they evoke are anything but. Let The Piper Gallery take you on a journey: a mini holiday between espresso, computers, and gossip-filled and exhaustingly voyage-less days (unless you need take the DLR).

Following the success of its debut show Then and Now in June 2012, The Piper Gallery is proud to present Voyages, an exhibition of work by Francis West.  Born in 1936, West spent his childhood in a remote community on the Moray Firth in Scotland often working with his father’s fishing boats. 

Some of his earliest visual memories are of tempestuous Scottish seascapes and the exhibition is formed around a series of voyages, centring on the sea cave in West’s Tempestas where a turbulent wind swells the waves that carry the viewer out to a waiting ship.  This belongs to West’s Palimpsests, a pivotal series of large-scale paintings dating from the early 1990s in which he deconstructed several of his earlier acclaimed expressionist pieces through frenzied over-working that sought to disrupt a sense of formal coherence.  These came to represent West’s search for new, creative challenges.   

Each voyage reflects the artist’s experience of real locations although West frequently employs metaphors of voyaging to explore his practice as an artist.  He has described his lifelong commitment to painting and drawing as a challenging and risky quest.  Although grounded in reality, West’s concepts remain tantalisingly elusive, blurring the boundaries of myth, dream, memory and experience bringing together the flotsam and jetsam of symbolic forms with fragments from poetry and historic painting.  West comments on the emergence of figurative beings in this exchange, saying ‘sometimes I am surprised that these acts of deconstruction will pause around a formation which is reminiscent of a specific memory’.  His often hybrid human-animal personae, reminiscent of Goya and Bacon, are suspended in a state of transition as West submits them to a process of mutation and erasure where they concurrently materialise and dissolve from the viewer’s vision.

This exhibition offers the viewer the opportunity to explore West’s voyages through several different series of work – some, as above, provide the adrenalin of fishing on a rough sea while others, of his recent Méditerranée series, with their limpid washes of pastel blues and aquamarine, afford the calm of sun-drenched beaches.  These works intoxicate viewers, transporting them to the South of France with the reveries of Pierre Bonnard and the poetic pulses of André Gide.  West also invokes a female entourage of enchantresses including characters reminiscent of Venus Rising, goddesses, sirens and Picasso’s Bathers

Other works ensue from trips to the Mojave Desert or, like the Nocturnes, emerge from imagined dreamscapes in West’s Paris studio.  Nocturnes are some of his most radical works, representing an internal voyage to the uncharted recesses of the subconscious.  They depict an imaginary realm of unexplored forests and caverns which establish fertile womb-like habitats of grotesque flora and fauna. 

Gallery Founder and Director Megan Piper says This, our first solo show, gives us the opportunity to explore voyages, a theme pertinent to the ethos of the gallery.  It's exciting to be able to present a lesser-known artist whose recent work is energetic and fresh and whose maturity and experience means that he is able to explore the theme in a way a young artist would never be able to.’

The Piper Gallery

The Piper Gallery, 18 Newman Street
London Greater London United Kingdom W1T 1PE

Opening hours:

Tuesday-Saturday, 10am - 6pm

At other times by appointment

8 hours daily