31 August 2015
Exhibition of Paintings, Assemblages and Works on Paper by Trevor Tanser
Stamford Arts Centre 17-31 August 2015
Review by John Gilboy
Trevor Tanser, who sadly died in April of this year, was a man of many parts and contradictions. On the one hand he was a dowser interested in earth energies who would use a pendulum and prayers of intent to counter detrimental energies; he was a man fascinated by shamanism and the ancient mysteries of the unseen world; a teacher devoted to the practice and celebration of art and craft in the community: a passionate sailor with a love of speed, fast cars and very loud rock music.
But above all he was a fine painter and sculptor.
Trevor Tanser, Squall at Gunnard's Head, oil
This large exhibition of his work, curated and staged by his wife, the artist Catherine Headley, celebrates his life and work and provides an opportunity for those who have admired his painting, or had the benefit of his teaching, to make a close inspection of his practice and endeavours over many years.
It is a big show, mostly of very small works, and it succeeds because it provides us with the opportunity to witness the experiments and investigations that concerned and intrigued him over many long years of his working life.
Inevitably in an exhibition of this size there are pieces which fail, but the show is better for this, for it demonstrates that the path to excellence is not easy or linear. There are many trials and experiments, blind alleys which need to be explored, ideas to be tested and discarded on the way to producing some very fine work indeed.
It is clear that Tanser was an enquirer, a man deeply interested in finding appropriate ways to interpret and describe the many ideas on painting and sculpture that occupied his mind. One senses that he practiced what he taught, that one should be experimental, brave and adventurous, never content with formulaic or systematic production. His students, a large and devoted band of many years standing, would all testify to this spirit of fun and enquiry, to those qualities that made him into such a successful and much loved teacher.
Tanser worked in many media. You will find drawings, pastels, acrylics, oils, collages and assemblages, and a range of styles moving from his early conventional interpretations of landscape through to semi and wholly abstract paintings and three dimensional pieces.
The assemblages are fascinating and at their best of very high quality. They are beautifully constructed and reflect his passion for wood and craftsmanship, a vestige of his former career as a cabinet maker. The cases are peppered with objects selected from his vast store of old ceramics, drift wood, rope, twine, leather, bead, metal, plant material and bone.
Trevor Tanser, Fragment 15, mixed media
He has a highly tuned eye for shape, size, colour and texture and finds beautiful and wholly satisfactory abstract relationships between disparate and unconnected bits and pieces that he has found and treasured along the way. There is mastery here of a craft practiced by many and failed by most, for it is not easy to make something deeply satisfying out of almost nothing at all.
Trevor Tanser, Field, collage
Similarly his collages have the same exquisite sense of reflection and thoughtfulness. He is obviously very happy when sifting, sorting and gluing, delighting in the serendipitous rhythms and patterns that emanate from the placing of one shape or texture against another.
As with the assemblages he works best with a muted palette. These tiny pieces are lovely in their simplicity, brown against beige, dull greens over old gold with the wispy overlaying of delicate Japanese papers and tissues with fine white threads. They are deeply contemplative and deceptive in their simplicity.
At his best Tanser also expresses himself beautifully in paint. There are many fine small works in which he offers delicious textural and colour compositions, mostly abstract but sometimes suggestive of landscape and sea, with tiny figurative motifs hiding tantalisingly beneath the surface, intensifying our gaze, intriguing our senses. Colour is often brighter and stronger, comfortable as he is with the quixotic juxtaposition of orange and ultramarine, vermillion, cyan and bright lime green.
At his best Tanser is a fine artist. For such a big man, interested as he was in the manly pursuits of sport, speed and rock and roll, his work is highly feminine and unaggressive. He concerns himself with gentleness, order and thoughtfulness, combined with an unrelenting desire to solve complex compositional equations, removing all that is extraneous or unbalancing of the whole. His pieces, although usually small, are often made of a thousand compositional elements, textures and tiny areas of colour held together by painterly cleverness and a deeply critical eye. They need to be closely examined in order that we can be seduced by his wizardry, be appreciative of the time, intelligence and skill that goes into the making of such fine pieces of art.
John Gilboy 23 August 2015
Trevor Tanser: A Celebration of the work of the Artist 17-31 August 2015 Stamford Arts Centre