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Leading Contemporary Figurative Painter John Wonnacott Exhibits at Agnew's

LONDON.- Agnew’s presents its fifth solo exhibition of the work of leading contemporary figurative painter John Wonnacott, A Tale of Two Houses. The show will comprise an entirely new body of the artist’s work and demonstrate his recent focus on fresh themes. A Tale of Two Houses sees Wonnacott stepping away from his more familiar subject matter of family, local friends and the Essex coastal landscape, and firmly establishes his interest in the formal and lyrical aspects of dance, choreography and the filmmaking process. The exhibition will also include recent drawings, including three made during his spell in hospital in 2010 following major heart surgery, as well as several small still life paintings from the previous year. The artist’s carefully-arranged depictions of meats, cheeses and wine seem wittily prescient given his subsequent “brush with mortality”, which may have resulted from a selfconfessed “fifty-year diet of alcohol and cholesterol.”

Wonnacott’s ‘dance’ paintings form one focus of A Tale of Two Houses, and depict ballet dancers in rehearsal against the richly baroque backdrop of an interior at Tring Park in Hertfordshire. Inspired by the vocation of his son Jack, currently in training as a professional classical dancer, Wonnacott embarked upon this series with the intention of exploring the parallels between musical rhythm – as conveyed by the movements of his dancing figures and the artist’s rhythms of brushwork and colour. The subject of dance in relation to painting is further explored in the exhibition catalogue, in a fascinating conversation between the artist and the preeminent philosopher A. C. Grayling, in which Wonnacott describes his role in the making of the ‘dance’ paintings as that of “choreographer”.

A Tale of Two Houses also sees Wonnacott observing the making of producer Stephen Evans’ forthcoming film First Night (whose other films include The Madness of King George) – starring Richard E. Grant and Sarah Brightman – which follows an amateur production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte and the exploits of its cast. Manderston, a great Edwardian house in the Scottish Borders, acts as a stage set for both Evans and Wonnacott, and the artist’s resulting series of compositions – in which images of booms, cranes, cameras and scaffolding dominate the landscape – appears to emphasise the enduring theatricality of Manderston’s formal gardens, classical facades and ornate interiors. The nature of Wonnacott’s craft meant that, unlike a filmmaker, he was unable to follow themes, characters or changing light conditions through ‘linear’ time, but had to compact all of his responses to scenes at Manderston into single images. Beginning with a simple landscape, Wonnacott would proceed to incorporate aspects of the film company’s industrious chaos, thus animating and energising the original setting he had created.

The accompanying exhibition catalogue contains a selection of short essays written by Wonnacott on the relevance of perspective, dance and film to his craft. The catalogue’s transcript of extracts from Wonnacott’s conversations with A. C. Grayling answers the artist’s plea “to have my own confusions examined by what I consider the clearest mind currently broadcasting and writing in Britain” and, for Wonnacott, “are a reminder of the longer conversation that I will treasure and feed off for years to come.” –

John Wonnacott was born in London in 1940. Between 1958 and 1963 he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and now lives in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, which has been his home for more than forty years. During his career Wonnacott has received several notable commissions, including a portrait of John Major and a group portrait of the Royal Family. The latter, completed in 2000 to mark the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother, was the first painted depiction of the Royal Princes. Wonnacott’s work has been exhibited worldwide, at galleries such as Hirschl & Adler in New York and London’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate.

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