Where most see a thriving metropolis marked by the bold colors of double-decker buses, the gimmick of palace guards and the looming presence of Big Ben and countless monuments, acclaimed British painter John Virtue sees a black-and-white city of geometric shapes and textures clouded by layers of once invisible darkness.
This original view of London is now on display in the exhibits “London: John Virtue” and “John Virtue: New Small Paintings of the Thames” at the Yale Center for British Art and the Jonathan Edwards College Master’s House, respectively, as part of a joint collaboration with the artist. Both exhibits feature works created while Virtue was the associate artist of the National Gallery from 2003 to 2005 and afterwards. But while the YCBA’s exhibit features wall-sized paintings created from just a few vantage points, as well as the many sketches that inspired the paintings, JE’s is composed entirely of images of St. Paul’s Cathedral painted from across the Thames, mostly on a much smaller scale.
“The YCBA is a relatively big deal,” said JE Master Gary Haller, who initiated the collaboration with the center. “The JE Master’s House is a relatively small deal in the art world.”
Despite this disparity, both YCBA Director Amy Meyers and the artist were enthusiastic about the idea of a collaboration when Haller approached them last March at the opening of Virtue’s exhibition at the National Gallery in London, Meyers and Haller said.
Haller said he hopes his exhibition, which is the college’s 26th art exhibit and its first collaboration with the YCBA will increase the likelihood that students, who may not normally look for art, will chance upon the artist’s works.
“I saw it, and I thought, ‘Oh, what is this?'” said Charlie Milner ’09, who came across Virtue’s paintings at a master’s tea with David Rakoff Wednesday. “I thought it was pretty neat.”
Other students who happened to see the exhibit at the master’s house said they also plan to check out the YCBA exhibit in order to see the artist’s work in a broader context of British art.
“Virtue named among his influences J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, who are two great masters of British painting and whose master works are in our collection,” Rachel Berger of the YCBA said. “It’s thrilling to see them through the eyes of a prominent contemporary artist.”
Many of the exhibited paintings depict the same subjects, and they have all been created using similar materials, such as titanium acrylic, black ink and shellac. But viewers said the differences between the paintings can be striking, especially among the larger ones, where the combination of a unique drip pattern in a strategically illuminated building can change the entire feel of a piece.
“It’s interesting how you can make so much from one thing,” said Andy Levine ’08, who saw the YCBA exhibit. “You could have 10 paintings of one place, and they could all have the same thing, but they are still all distinct.”
The exhibit at the YCBA runs through April 23 and at JE through April 30. Two master’s teas related to the exhibit, in addition to the one already given by Virtue, are scheduled for March 23 and April 27.