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Dorset Expressionism: A Quick Guide


Paul Knee-Jointe's, La Présentation du Professeur [1963].

At the turn of the century, a thick air of malaise had settled over Dorset’s creative culture. Dewlish was in the doldrums, Batcombe becalmed, Minterne Magna moribund and Nottington narcoleptic. Artists in cosmopolitan places as different as Long Critchel, Nettlecombe, and Plush were frustrated: they felt muzzled by the strict bourgeois mores and traditional, academy-sponsored art education that dominated the county’s culture and aesthetics. Something had to change. By 1965, a small group of painters - led by maverick experimentalists like Professor Brian Thrupiece - decided to rebel. They would fight the academy at its own game and with its own weapons. Never had a 0.24-inch stipple brush or a Rowney Georgian 225ml Titanium White Oil Colour been more effectively deployed. [Doubtful - what about Turner? [Ed]]

That the disaffected bohemians rebelled with such wit, humour and vigour was, without doubt, testament to their innate sense of decency; that they did so with such a keen eye on the authorities was sensible if surprising. They knew better than most that The Royal Dorset Constabulary's vice squad [headed by a young and - to those who know him now surprisingly thrusting - Inspector Crimewave] was always on the lookout for the languid, the louche and the horizontal. So it was with a mixture of caution and bravura that the new wave of artists eschewed the stiff, straightforward, formal compositions and complete technical mastery of their teachers and instead loaded their canvases with vivid, clashing shards of colour to depict pared-down and sometimes grossly distorted forms - the age-old method of disguising a complete lack of talent and craft. [Many, like the Professor, were trained in other fields and dabbled in art as much for the satisfaction of meeting women willing to strip-off for a fiver as for the thrill of feeling brush on canvass.] The works that resulted were raw, deeply emotive, and shocking, or as art critic Toby Blunt says "crap".

Historical Context:

Franz Trademarc's Cow with Two Clowns [1966] set a trend in portraits of flat animals with often surprised human observers.

Taking their cue from their turn-of-the-nineteenth-century counterparts in mainland Europe, these artists became known as the Dorset Expressionists: progenitors of an experimental, multifaceted movement bound together by the belief that art should expand the mind, that listening to transistor radios in milk bars was not always wrong and that being unable to draw should be no barrier to artistic success. In demanding freedom for their limited talents, they also sought to challenge the era’s social conservatism and essentially gesellschaft grounding. One particular group in Thorncombe - led by Ernest Marchmain Badminton and his soon to be wife Pamela Ténis Court [known as the Badminton-Court Group*], kicked things off in 1960. Their compatriots in Maiden Newton, spearheaded by Wassily Kandy-Floss, Franz Trademarc, and Godfreda Wright-Münter [real name Godfreda Wilshaw - the nom de pinceau was a reflection of her "striking plainness"], banded together several months later under the collective name of The Attic Shaggers - a collective noun that later inspired the popular skiffle combo of the same name. Both factions created work fueled by emotion, peanut brittle and - as a moral and digestive purgative - liquid paraffin chasers - all allegedly inspired by the subconscious. As their paintings became less representational, they also favoured flattened perspectives and simplified compositions producing images of animals which appeared to have been overcome by steam-rollers. The vibrant, distorted forms that populate many of their better-known canvases would go on to pave the way for late-twentieth-century consumer-abstractionism - more commercial work like the Kellogg hen.

* Not to be confused with the Pimperne-based Insurance Brokers: The Badminton

Court Group

Art today is moving in directions of which our forebears had no inkling and frankly no interest. The little green men with pointy ears are heard galloping through the air as they pluck their gossamer zithers,” Franz Trademarc wrote of this heady moment in his 1965 manifesto The Attic Shaggers: 69 Positions. He continued: “A throbbing excitement can be felt all over and our urges will not be denied - artists and their muses are signalling to one another from all sides: "my turn", "have you finished" and "is there room for a little one in there ”.

Later Perspectives:

Otto Dix-Cracher's Sturminster Marshall Tea Rooms Triptych [1971] captures the self-indulgent hedonism both of the art and the artists who chose to depict it.

The ironic Father and Child [1978] by Käthe Kolditz plays sardonically with ideas of gender stereotyping whilst maintaining a simplicity born of technical inadequacy.

By the 1970s, a revisionist movement rebelled against these freedoms insisting once again that art should have form and that artists should know which end of the brush was the nib. Gussage All Saints master Roland Notso-Pointy and his followers [including Otto Dix-Cratcher] focused on more political themes often related to the horrors of G-plan furniture, Saturday Night at the London Palladium, Topo Gigio and their psychological toll on the depressed spirits of ordinary hard-working spam-fuelled Dorset citizens. Gaunt, despondent, lecherous people fill these works, which were often rendered in stark black-and-white prints whose simplified forms and shadowy palettes emphasized their creators' lack of resources [material and intellectual]. Several members of the movement later followed Professor Thrupiece in eschewing the easel and reaching for the Leica.

By 1985 it was over. Having released artists from the tyranny of the local chemists and its inquisitive assistant, the Polaroid was now giving way to the digital camera. Explaining oneself at Boots was a thing of the past.

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