Sunday, 14 April 2013
Eric Hesketh Hubbard: art & graft
Eric Hesketh Hubbard was a man of many parts, as the prints you see may suggest. Not only was he a remarkably suave painter, his railway poster designs had the requisite sweep and panache, he published both books and prints, and was good at promoting all of these efforts. The gulf between the way of life he shows in these deceptively simple prints and his own was a big one. While his Romanies and cider-press men travelled the back-roads and heaths of the New Forest, he was sailing across the Atlantic to New York. It sometimes surprises me that he made such workaday woodcuts at all. They were all put out by his Forest Press at Breamore in Hampshire, and in such large numbers, it also surprises me that more haven't come my way.
They have no more in common with the lush woodcuts of the Colour Woodcut Society than they do with the Grosvenor School linocuts in progressive mode. What he did was take the bravura manner and emphatic keyblock of Frank Brangwyn and apply it to the 1920s. Like Brangwyn, he is third force, fertile and with much the same facility, though not so stagey. He avoided fashion like the plague. And perhaps in the end that is part of the appeal. How many artists would set about making a portfolio of old gates in a cathedral close? It isn't chic, but it sure is canny. The other old rogue behind him was Turner. Hesketh Hubbard was nothing if not educated about art and what people wanted.
These are essentially works of translation. Exactly the same thing was said about Yoshijiro Urushibara after he had been working with Frank Brangwyn for a number of years. Unlikely as it sounds, Urushibara took Brangwyn and gave him nuances he could never have found for himself. These prints do something similar. They tone Brangwyn down, and are as likeable as they are blokish. And unlike Brangwyn, they are also deeply English, images of people getting on with things and minding their own business, determindly out of fashion.