Review: Stella Cardew – Jeannie Avent Gallery

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Colour Explosions

There is a good chance that Stella Cardew R.A. is, at 96, the oldest working artist in Southwark. What is without doubt is the fact that she could very well be in the top ten of the most prolific artists in the borough as this exhibition is one year on from her last exhibition that sold out, writes Michael Holland.

When I arrived at the launch of Colour Explosions, Cardew’s exhibition of new artworks, she was already showing people around and discussing the work, revealing her thoughts, ideas, inspirations and the secrets within her paintings that emanate from an abstract art background. She says, ‘My aim in painting is to re-create plainly and beautifully the objects and atmosphere of the world around me on a flat surface to hang on a wall.’ 

For me, with so many exploding colours in the art I did not immediately connect to the ‘plainly’ part of her words but then you realise that Cardew has absolutely painted the world around her – On the wall as you enter the gallery is a portrait of her daughter Emily(Blue Silk Top), then the apple tree in her garden, followed by the vases created by her potter father-in-law many years ago that live in her kitchen, all subjects that she has immediate access to now that she cannot flit about London town as she once did with the cognoscenti of London, Stella tells me with a knowing sparkle in her eye.

At the weekly writing class she attends at Copleston Community Centre, the other members (who were at the exhibition in support) tell of Stella dropping names like Jasper Johns, Yoko Ono and talks of mixing with poets from America’s Beat Generation without a hint of showiness. In fact, they say, Stella quickly hides behind her coy shyness if pressed for more detail.

To be fair, Stella Cardew should be as famous as those she and her two husbands mingled with (the first, John Underwood, a photographer, then the composer Cornelius Cardew), but bringing up her four children, mostly on her own, took precedence, which meant there were years when she did not exhibit.  Nevertheless, she had achieved enough in the world of art to have ARCA after her name(Associate of the Royal College of Art); a great honour.

These days, with children grown and long gone, Stella is constantly sketching and painting so there is always enough work for the exhibition that her followers have come to expect each year.

Colour Explosions is a firestorm of vivacity and action that jumps out from the white walls. You try to make sense of what you’re looking at while also wondering why you are mesmerised by the work. Then she gives you her interpretation of why there’s an angel above the apple tree, or a bird there, and it suddenly all makes sense. 

Stella Cardew tells the gathered crowd why she paints what is readily available to her but also talks of doing more portraits: ’I need sitters,’ she says while scanning her audience for volunteers. I assume she is planning next year’s exhibition.

As I continue to absorb the artworks I go back to what Stella said she makes art for – ‘to hang on a wall.’ I would willingly hang Stella Cardew’s new paintings on my wall.

Most of the pictures at the exhibition are for sale between £200 – £550.

Jeannie Avent Gallery, 14, North Cross Road, SE22 9EU until 17th July

Mon, Fri, weekends 11am – 5pm


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