'A Fearsome Beauty: the Art of Arthur Berry’
Surely one of the defining characteristics of a great artist is that their work, created however long ago and under whatever circumstances, speaks to us today about concerns that are still central to our lives. Arthur Berry’s paintings and drawings do just this. He stands with L.S. Lowry and Theodore Major as an artist who, though indelibly attached to his home environment, made from that experience an art that transcends geographical and temporal boundaries to remain relevant and compelling to us today.
At last a publication has appeared that will bring Berry to a broader public Arthur Berry: A Ragged Richness, is an elegant and informative introduction to the artist and his work. Published by the Barewall Gallery, it opens with a touching introduction by Anthony Cosgrove, the main text consisting of a critically acute appraisal of the artist’s life and work by Peter Davies. These two pieces of writing serve as an effective and thought-provoking context in which to savour the many well-chosen examples of Berry’s work.
Berry rejected any notion of gentility and good taste, the curse of so much English art, for that he owes much to the example of Jean Dubuffet, the French artist whose work inspired so many painters in the 1950s, but Berry’s art was always his own. His subject matter was the world around him, the people and architecture of his native Stoke-on-Trent and its environs; his surfaces are rich, crackle with electricity, and are as gorgeous as a piece of abandoned rust-encrusted corrugated iron. Disturbing in its abrasive directness, but shot through with a current of dark humour, his raw, ragged surfaces carry a meaning that, like music, cuts directly into our innermost selves. This capacity is not given to many artists - but Berry has it. Like Lowry and Theodore Major, with whom he shared a passion for the paintings of William Blake and Van Gogh, he saw the world afresh, finding a raw beauty in all its aspects. In troubled times it is to such artists, whose work bears the indelible stamp of the authentic, that we turn.
Michael Howard 2022
Senior Lecturer in Art History at Manchester Metropolitan University, art critic, and author of Lowry: A Visionary Artist.
About Michael Howard
Michael Howard taught for many years at Manchester School of Art. He has published critic studies on Modern British and European art; including books on Goya, Monet, Cézanne, L S Lowry and, most recently, a study of his wife's work – Ghislaine Howard: the Human Touch. He currently working on a study about Wigan artist Theodore Major.