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A new show explores David Bomberg’s influence on a generation of artists

11 May, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

Leslie Mars’ Lake McKerrow in New Zealand

BOROUGH Polytechnic, now known as London South Bank University, may be a long way from Hampstead. Yet they are linked by the fact that the audacious avant-garde artist David Bomberg was a teacher there from 1945 to 1953, as was one of his pupils, Leslie Marr, for a time from 1947.

Both lived in Hampstead: Bomberg, in Haverstock Hill in the early 1950s and Marr not too far away in Steeles Studios, off Steeles Road, from 1948 to 1963.

Though Bomberg died in 1957, aged 66, works of art by both of them went on show on Tuesday at the Waterhouse and Dodd gallery in Albemarle Street, Mayfair, appropriately called Beyond Borough.

The exhibition celebrates the tremendous influence Bomberg – the seventh of 11 children of Polish Jewish immigrant leather worker Abraham and his wife Rebecca – had not only on Marr but a host of other post-war artists, as revealed by the 30 paintings hardly ever seen together before.

The rare exhibition includes the work of Dennis Creffield, Edward Middleditch, Edna Mann, Dorothy Mead, Joe Tilson and the late Hampstead artist Sheila Fell.

And the other compelling fact is that Leslie Marr, equally well known from his past career as a Formula One racing driver, making his debut in the British Grand Prix, is now a remarkable 94.

David Bomberg’s portrait of Austen St Barbe Harrison

And although not, according to the records, the oldest living artist ever to see his work on show, he revealed: “I regret that due to old age and a recent accident I have very little energy.”

He started painting when in the RAF in Palestine during the Second World War and later travelled extensively in Britain, as well as New Zealand, to find landscape subjects, which were exhibited with the Borough Group, including one show at Hampstead’s Everyman Cinema gallery back in 1947. As he explained: “Painting is for me an exploration, and one of the most important maxims for an explorer is ‘No preconception’. This means no reliance on other people’s ideas, teaching, theories. To have been taught by a great teacher is indeed a privilege.

“One should absorb the teaching, taking from it what one feels that one needs, but then one must go one’s own way, or remain forever trapped in one particular system.”

That, of course, was very much Bomberg’s own experience as a student of Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Art where, again, his fellow students – and friends – included Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Isaac Rosenberg and CRW Nevinson.

Pointing out Bomberg’s legacy, Jamie Anderson writes in the introduction of the Beyond Borough catalogue: “It is important to note that two of the finest artists to have emerged from the polytechnic classes are still very much with us and still producing interesting work. It is a particular pleasure to be able to show work from the 1980s and beyond by Dennis Creffield and Leslie Marr.

“Indeed, the paint is still drying on one of the largest exhibits, a 2016 oil of Corndon, in Shropshire, by Marr, whose 95th birthday will be marked by the publication of a major new monograph.”

• Beyond Borough is at Waterhouse and Dodd, 47 Albemarle Street, until June 2. Call 020 7734 7800 or visit www.waterhousedodd.com for more details

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