Sargy Mann – Let it be felt that the painter was there - Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester


Saturday 9 November 2019 – Sunday23 February 2020

What follows on this page is all of the wall texts from the exhibition and reproductions of all the works in the show plus installation photographs. There are also links to all the audio visual content that was in the gallery and also the essay of the same title that Sargy wrote about Pierre Bonnard and which was the inspiration for the curation of this exhibition. (Other than the first one all quotes are from Sargy Mann)

‘Let it be felt that the painter was there, consciously seeing things in their own particular light.’ Pierre Bonnard

Sargy Mann (29 May 1937 – 5 April 2015) was figurative painter who painted from life.  He was known as a colourist and he was driven by a desire to paint his experience of light and space. This exhibition, which has been developed by working closely with the artist’s family, is the largest public showing of Mann’s work to date. It includes work from different periods of his career, bringing together an extensive collection of paintings and drawings, alongside never before seen archival material, photographs and audio recordings, which reveal fascinating insights into Mann’s working methods.

Mann had a lifelong interest in how we see and experience the world around us. He sought to make paintings that expressed his experience of looking at the world. Affected by failing vision from the age of 36, Mann was required to find new ways of seeing and working. He viewed this as a creative liberation, and it led to new phases in his practice. Mann continued to paint after his total loss of sight in 2005. 

Sargy Mann studied painting at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (now Camberwell College of Arts) where he was taught by Euan Uglow, Frank Auerbach and Dick Lee. He would later go on to teach at Camberwell Art School and Camden Arts Centre until his eyesight deteriorated and he had to stop teaching in 1988. Mann’s creative vision was deeply influenced by the work of the post-impressionist painters Paul Cézanne and Pierre Bonnard. He devoted considerable time to the study of other painters, especially Bonnard, whose quote ‘Let it be felt that the painter was there; consciously looking at the objects in their own particular light…’ is the inspiration for the title of this exhibition.

Gallery 1 

1960 – 1981

‘When I first went to art school in 1960 I met remarkable painter teachers, notably Dick Lee, Euan Uglow and Frank Auerbach who said to me, ‘we will not teach you how to paint, but we can teach you through the practice of painting and drawing to see more, to see better; if you look at the real world in front of you as intensely and as freely from visual preconceptions as you can and try to record as truthfully as you can what that experience is, you will in time see more, see better.’ 

In this room there is a selection of Sargy Mann’s early works. There is work dating from his time at art school, as a student and as a teacher, and there are drawings and paintings from various subjects in or near his different homes in London – indoor still lives, bonfire smoke seen from his house in North London, trees in One Tree Hill in South London, and the park, Warwick Gardens, behind his house on Lyndhurst Grove in Camberwell.

‘During the whole of this first period, I was aware of a tension in my subject matter, to some extent unwelcome, between space and light, and therefore drawing and colour in the paintings I was trying to make as a response.’

Even as a student Mann was interested in the science of vision and how this affected his drawing and painting.  He studied the subject widely and was particularly struck by the work of the perceptual scientists J.J. Gibson and Edwin Land.  His copies of their influential works are on display here.

And there is also a large collection from Mann’s work on the artist Pierre Bonnard and two drawings by Pierre Bonnard himself.

‘During the whole of this first period, I was aware of a tension in my subject matter, to some extent unwelcome, between space and light, and therefore drawing and colour in the paintings I was trying to make as a response.’ 

‘The importance of these large drawings was that when I was making them I gave myself up completely to a spatial experience, and a very fast, and at times violent, way of responding to it, without the constraints of having to think about colour.’ 

Sargy Mann was an expert on the artist Pierre Bonnard whom he loved, admired and studied. In 1984 Mann curated an exhibition of Bonnard drawings and he used this quotation as the title for his catalogue essay.

In the essay Mann writes about Bonnard, that he ‘…was a realist but
his vision was not ours.’ Mann quotes Bonnard writing that, ‘“In clear, cool weather, one often notices a trace of vermilion in the orange-red shadows,”’ and asks ‘Does one? But he [Bonnard] did.’

Mann continues in the essay by quoting the psychologist J.J. Gibson,

‘The environment provides an inexhaustible reservoir of information. Some men spend most of their time looking, others listening, and a few connoisseurs spend their time in smelling, tasting or touching. They never come to an end… looking and listening continue to improve with experience. Higher-order variables can still be discovered, even in old age.’

The artist has the genius to communicate this. If we want to enjoy Bonnard’s drawings to the full, we must first give up the idea that we know how the world actually looks — as Bonnard himself did — then we can share his discoveries which are not versions but visions. In front of these drawings we can, to some extent, become this extraordinary man who found endless unknown delight in everything he saw.’

Gallery 2 – Main Room

1989 – 2015

‘By means of art, and perhaps only by means of art, we can to some extent become someone else, can for a while, perhaps only a fraction of a second, lose ourselves and become someone else. This experience, unattainable other than through the medium of the painting, becomes a new piece of us and we are enlarged.’ 

In this room there are four distinct groups of work.  There are paintings from subjects close to or inside Mann’s home in Lyndhurst Grove, London; paintings from the house in Bungay, Suffolk where he moved with his family in 1990; a painting of a family holiday scene, ‘The Family Breakfast Borgo Pace’, and some of the supporting work which aided its composition; and some late, ‘Little Sitting Room’ paintings with topographical subjects which are a combination of imaginary places and of the interior of Mann’s house in Bungay.

By 1989 Mann was regularly making tape recordings on a small dictaphone to assist with his painting process, a tool that one of his colleagues at Camberwell referred to as an ‘audio sketchbook’.  Extracts from these recordings are available to listen to here alongside the paintings and offer a fascinating insight into the process by which Mann composed his pictures.

Lyndhurst Grove Paintings, 1989-1990

‘During 1989 I made more large paintings on the living room wall … two were about standing on the little first floor landing, looking upstairs and downstairs at the same time, very wide- angle views…and two were of near, urban landscapes, I finished the last of these, Grove Court, in December1989, it had been very difficult.’ 

In the late 1980s, Mann’s eyesight continued to worsen. In 1988 all he had remaining was ‘a very little, blurry, peripheral vision’ in his left eye, (he was registered blind), and he stopped teaching at Camberwell Art School in the summer. Mann found it a struggle to paint from
direct observation and began to rely on short term memory and tape recordings. Working on a large scale, he taped canvas to the living room wall of the family home on Lyndhurst Grove, ‘rather as Bonnard had pinned primed canvas to his studio wall’.

In the gallery it was possible to listen to two extracts from Sargy Mann’s ‘Audio Sketchbook’ recordings both of which can be heard here.

The Landing at Lyndhurst Grove Looking South

The Landing at Lyndhurst Grove Looking West

Bungay Paintings, early 1990s

‘In fact, it took me a long time to begin to understand, to see my new environment. It was trying to learn it which made me fully realise how much seeing and understanding were almost indistinguishable for me… listening to these tapes reminds me that I had no idea where I was going [in the painting] other than that I wanted to discover the fullest, most exciting and rewarding experience of being there and the best way of recording and communicating this – the best, the most expressive coloured design or painting. The tapes record or indicate that journey and all the observations that were part of it and which led to the final solution.’ 

Mann and his young family moved to Bungay, Suffolk, in 1990, and their new home included an additional building that had previously been the studio of a sculptor. With the help of a builder friend, Mann modified and customised the studio and the house, bringing as much natural light into the spaces as possible. The location near the bank of the River Waveney, next to several large willow trees, became the corner of the property that Mann most liked to paint.

The Family at Breakfast Borgo Pace, 2004

‘This is what I wanted to paint, the most enjoyable part of each day, having meals with my family in this small space in this wonderful light.’

In the summers Mann frequently combined family holidays with ‘motif- hunting’ trips abroad, going to places like Italy and France where the brighter light enabled him to see better. He would gather subject matter there for oil paintings which he painted back at home in Suffolk. While on holiday near Urbino in the summer of 2001, which was the first time that the whole family had been on holiday together for some years, Mann made studies of the scene during family mealtimes. On a return visit in summer 2003, Mann continued to gather material and make studies.

‘I knew what I wanted to do: collect subjects, for painting large oils back in Suffolk. I made gouaches and tape recordings and I got [someone] to make photomontages of any subject that I thought might make the cut. …Using my x8 magnifying monocular I would refer to this image for information, back in my studio at home.’

Late Paintings, 2010 to 2014

‘In the paintings I have made since losing all my sight, which is to
say the last ten years, I cover the whole canvas, from my imaginings, and my knowledge of my pigments, and how they behave, and how they look in different combinations, as the painting proceeds and as a result of much discussion… both the colour and the drawing change and develop, often very dramatically. Of course, I would never have chosen to become a blind painter but I have been thrilled to discover that I can make paintings without sight, and that this activity is far more like a continuation of my painting experience than I could possibly have imagined.’

The ‘Little Sitting Room’ paintings were composed partly from memory and imagination, and partly from knowledge of the interior of his home in Bungay which, in its modified form, reminded him of the terrace at Bonnard’s house Ma Roulotte.

In the gallery it was possible to listen to two extracts from Sargy Mann’s ‘Audio Sketchbook’ recordings both of which can be heard here.

Infinity Pool I

Infinity Pool II

 

Gallery 3

2005 – 2006

The film in this room was made by the artist’s son, filmmaker Peter Mann. It documents Sargy Mann’s trip to Cadaqués in 2005 to gather material for a new series of paintings, and also captures the unique moment shortly after this trip when Mann became totally blind. This event is notable in itself and the film gives revealing insights into Mann’s working processes and how he was able to continue painting after losing his sight completely. The paintings in this gallery are among the first Mann made after returning from Cadaqués.

‘From now on there would be no more new seen subjects.’ 

Over the next 18 months Mann worked through the subjects he had gathered in Cadaqués. After this, he was faced with the problem of what to paint next, finding that dreams did not remain vivid for long enough and memories of the distant past were too imprecise.

‘…What I actually did was paint Frances [his wife] again.I sat her in the armchair in my studio and knelt on the floor just in front so that I could touch most of her, then I started to learn the pose from feel.’ 

‘…What I found was that straightaway my brain started turning my understanding of how she was sitting into a drawing as it would be, seen from where my eyes were. My visual cortex has been involved in this process of moving between three dimensions and two dimensions for so long that it still does it even though there is no visual input.’ 

 

 


Deprecated: wp_make_content_images_responsive is deprecated since version 5.5.0! Use wp_filter_content_tags() instead. in /home/sargyman/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 4773
Installation view of room 1.

Installation view of room 1.

A group of paintings from the 1960s and 70s.

Installation view of room 1.

Installation view of room 1.

Installation view of room 1.

Installation view of room 1.

Charcoal drawings made in the 1970’s.

Light and colour study, c.1970

Light and colour study, c.1970

Pastel on paper 8 x 7 ins.

Courtyard with Bonfire, Lemmons, 1974

Courtyard with Bonfire, Lemmons, 1974

Oil on board. 22 x 18 ins

Life Studio Evening Sun, Camden Arts Centre, 1970

Life Studio Evening Sun, Camden Arts Centre, 1970

Oil on canvas. 31.5 x 26.5 ins.

S.F Still Life, 1975

S.F Still Life, 1975

Oil on board. 16 x 31 ins.

Still Life with Reflected Light, 1975

Still Life with Reflected Light, 1975

Oil on board. 20 x 24 ins.

Climbing Rose on Wall, Maida Vale, 1968

Climbing Rose on Wall, Maida Vale, 1968

Oil on board. 28 x 23 ins.

Garden Wall in Sun, 1968

Garden Wall in Sun, 1968

Oil on board. 16 x 20 ins.

Sargy Mann with drawing in Peckermans Wood

Sargy Mann with drawing in Peckermans Wood

Photograph by Frances Mann

Peckermans Wood, with Pissarro’s Bridge, 1978

Peckermans Wood, with Pissarro’s Bridge, 1978

Charcoal on paper. 22 x 30 ins.

Oak on One Tree Hill ( II ), 1978

Oak on One Tree Hill ( II ), 1978

Charcoal on paper. 22 x 30 ins.

Oak on One Tree Hill, 1978

Oak on One Tree Hill, 1978

Charcoal on paper. 26 x 32 ins.

Trees on One Tree Hill, 1978

Trees on One Tree Hill, 1978

Ink on paper. 26 x 32 ins.

Back of Lyndhurst Grove I, 1980

Back of Lyndhurst Grove I, 1980

Charcoal on paper. 22 x 30 ins.

Back of Lyndhurst Grove II, 1980

Back of Lyndhurst Grove II, 1980

Charcoal on paper. 22 x 30 ins.

Poster for Bonnard drawings exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum

Poster for Bonnard drawings exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum

Poster - Regents Park, 1970's

Poster - Regents Park, 1970's

Ink on paper. 24 x 34 ins.

Poster - One Tree Hill

Poster - One Tree Hill

Ink on paper. 24 x 34 ins.

Vitrine

Vitrine

Sargy Mann 'Let it be  felt that the painter was there' Main room, Late Lyndhurst Grove paintings in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, Late Lyndhurst Grove paintings in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, Bungay paintings in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, Bungay paintings in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, The Family at Breakfast, Borgo Pace in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, The Family at Breakfast, Borgo Pace in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, Late paintings in main gallery

Sargy Mann 'Let it be felt that the painter was there' Main room, Late paintings in main gallery

Warwick Gardens, 1990

Warwick Gardens, 1990

54 x 80 ins. Oil on canvas

Landing at Lyndhurst Grove. Looking west

Landing at Lyndhurst Grove. Looking west

56 x 81 ins. Oil on canvas

Landing at Lyndhurst Grove. Looking south, 1990

Landing at Lyndhurst Grove. Looking south, 1990

56 x 56 ins. Oil on canvas

Grove Court, 1989

Grove Court, 1989

55 x 75 ins. Oil on canvas

Stepladder by the River, 1992

Stepladder by the River, 1992

48 x 60 ins. Oil on canvas

Susanna in the Boat, 1994

Susanna in the Boat, 1994

38 x 48 ins. Oil on canvas

My Place, 1992

My Place, 1992

56 x 80 ins. Oil on canvas

The Family at Breakfast, Borgo Pace, 2004

The Family at Breakfast, Borgo Pace, 2004

60 x 78 ins. Oil on canvas

Double Sunlight, Frances on the Stairs, 2004

Double Sunlight, Frances on the Stairs, 2004

48 x 60 ins. Oil on canvas

Infinity Pool I

Infinity Pool I

57 x 80 ins. Oil on canvas

 

Infinity Pool II

Infinity Pool II

74 x 90 ins. Oil on canvas

Figures by a River

Figures by a River

78 x 72 ins. Oil on canvas

 

'Sargy Mann' Film by Peter Mann in gallery 2

'Sargy Mann' Film by Peter Mann in gallery 2

The Point, Morning in gallery 2

The Point, Morning in gallery 2

Frances in the Pink Chair and Bar Across the Bay in gallery 2

Frances in the Pink Chair and Bar Across the Bay in gallery 2