5 August 2022
What follows is an excerpt, or rather the opening set of paragraphs, from a paper given at the BAMS 2022 Hopeful Modernisms conference entitled ‘Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections’.
David Bomberg (1890-1957) was a painter and draughtsman born to Polish-Jewish parents in Birmingham and raised in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Initially apprenticed as a chromolithographer, Bomberg attended classes at City and Guilds, Westminster Technical School, and the Slade School of Fine Art, from which he was expelled in 1913. Studies of his life and work, generally chronological, biographical, and formalist, consider his work characterised by three distinct phases—Vorticist-inspired geometrical abstraction, topographical landscape painting, looser, expressionistic landscapes and searching self-portraits. Such accounts also consider his legacy as a teacher at the Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) whose idiosyncratic pedagogical approach proved influential, resulting in 1946 in the formation of the Borough Group and subsequently, in 1953, the Borough Bottega. Bomberg’s early, experimental work is undoubtedly canonised and placed neatly within the context of pre-war native avant-gardism, while his mid-career and late work is seen as an apparent disavowal of the modern. It is arguably apparent, however, that such logic has been exhausted, and that it is in fact a project of the modern to judge Bomberg’s work in such terms, as having run counter to the modernist trajectory, for the moderns ‘consider everything that does not march in step with progress archaic, irrational or conservative’.[i] Established art historical approaches to Bomberg then have not only proved fragmentary, but also endlessly repetitive, resulting in unreflexive practice, the reproduction of which acts as a barrier to change, growth and understanding. Continue reading “Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections”