CATHERINE YARROW: 'NOT WHAT I WANT'

24 October - 22 November 2012

Including works by:
Catherine Yarrow

A British Surrealist
LONDON | PARIS | NEW YORK

This Autumn we will exhibit, for the first time, drawings, watercolours, monotypes and etchings by the artist Catherine Yarrow (1904-1990).  These represent fragments of an oeuvre whose totality spanned more than 50 years, from her escape in the early 1920’s from what she experienced as the stifling conformity of English life to the excitement and excesses of the art world of Paris, where she spent most of the interwar years.  Before the invading German armies she fled from France via Spain and Portugal to America, returning to England in 1948.  It was only then that, with the exception of a few forays to a much chastened Paris, she felt finally able to accept and settle in her homeland, and to establish a new circle of English friends, admirers and pupils.

In Paris between the wars she was drawn into the circle of the Surrealists via an early acquaintance with the poet Pierre Reverdy.  She was to form a close friendship with Alberto Giacometti, and on occasions met several members associated with the Surrealist movement, including Marcel Duchamp, Isamu Noguchi, Max Ernst and his companion of the late ‘30’s, Leonora Carrington.  The etchings of the mid-30’s are proof of the printmaking skills she was acquiring from studying at Atelier 17, the workshop which the English printmaker, William Stanley Hayter, had established in Paris around 1929.  The watercolours, on the other hand, are evidence of a terrifying episode she lived through around the same time, of a nervous breakdown, treatment and catharsis under the influence of Jungian psychotherapy in a Swiss clinic.  On her own initiative, too, in the early ‘30’s, she had presented herself at the studio of the distinguished Catalan ceramicist, Josep Llorens Artigas, asking to be initiated into the craft of ceramics.  She was to continue to develop these skills during her stay in America, being invited to exhibit her ceramics at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1943 alongside drawings by Max Ernst, before building a whole series of experimental kilns for her own work in her garden in St John’s Wood, London, where she had settled after 1948.

Hayter transferred Atelier 17 to New York in 1940, and it was to prove one of the most congenial meeting places for many of the most serious artists working in the city, Americans and Europeans-in-exile, some of whom were friends from her years in Paris.  Cut off from her tenuous family connections, and from her source of financial support in England, she succeeded in developing a line of leather goods inspired by the art of Native Americans from which she was able to earn a meagre living.  It was that art which – seen in the light of Jungian theories - would facilitate the transition from the social realism in American art of the 1930’s towards the abstraction of motifs and eventually to the flowering of Abstract Expressionism after the war.

Once Yarrow became more confident about her own abilities as an artist, she insisted that her work be not confined to one idiom, and the monotypes from the 1950’s in the exhibition are an example of her versatility and refusal to be pigeon-holed.  Through the years in Paris before the war, in the company of so many brilliant creators, she had been conscious – in her own words - of her lack of the ‘craft’ skills to be that confident painter, printmaker or ceramic artist.  So she had set about to acquire these, and they were finally to come to flower in her settled post-war career, when she made ceramic sculptures, objects and wares, as well as paintings, watercolours and drawings, and prints, until her very last years, holding exhibitions at the Hanover Gallery, the I.C.A. and the Marjorie Parr Gallery in London.

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