Michael Andrews has a rightful place among major British artists of the late twentieth century. He was famously a very slow painter, which is why, if you are looking for his work on line, you won't find much: simply because he didn't actually produce a lot. His comprehensive retrospective at the Tate in 2001 included 95 paintings made over 45 years.
Michael Andrews was a student at the Slade and friend of the artists in Swinging London: Lucien Freud, Victor Willing, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff.
He was particularly fascinated by the work of R. B. Kitaj, who as an American was a bit of an outsider, and was the one who identified the " School of London" as such in the introduction to the show "The Human Clay"in which Andrews' work was included.
Although very different, these artists all shared a preoccupation with the human figure and the practice and process of painting. These two issues are present in all of Andrews' works.
I am using the catalogue the Tate show as the basis for this post ( thank you Alex for lending it to me).
His production can be split in four major groups of paintings, to which we need to add his early works and his portraits.
A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over, together with August For The People are his most significant early works, painted in his final year at the Slade and both inspired by poetry. Andrews' work always mantained closed links with literature.
Other beautiful and remarkable paintings from this period are Man in a Landscape ( Digswell Man II), Little Boy Running and Lorenza Mazzetti in Italy.
|Study for The Colony Room, 1962 ( 31x48cm)|
The painting "Late evening on a Summer Day" prefigures his famous parties paintings from the Sixties. As an observer of London social scene, Andrews embarked in a series of works depicting groups of figures in social occasions. He painted the Colony Room, a club in Soho that was a meeting point for people from the literary and artistic cliques.
I have to say that these are my favourite ones. He sourced figures from observation and from all sorts of printed material like magazines, catalogues etc.
The Deer Park ( 214x244cm, title from Norman Mailer) Rimbaud features as the central figures. These works are about human relationships and interactions. Characters are observed from the outside, one can hear the buzz of the evening. Monroe, Bardot and Ian Fleming also appear.
Study of a Head With a Green Turban ( I saw this and other Andrews paintings at the beautiful show The Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison gallery, London, last year)
"The Lord Mayor's Reception in Norwich Castle Keep on the Eve of the Installation of the First Chancellor of the University of East Anglia" was a commission. The picture is painted on top of a collage of photos, there's clearly some social satire involved !
The seed for the following series of works is Good and Bad at Games ( now at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra) where the characters, among which Paula Rego, her parents, Victor Willing, Andrew's wife June, Craigie Aitchison, look like inflated or deflated balloons tethered over a silkscreened background. The painting is a commentary on the mutual influence of people in social interactions, the idea they have of themselves in relation to others.
The new series, 1970/1975 has a balloon as main character. It represents the ego and reflects Andrews interest in Zen philosophy. The human figure is not painted but still present, as a silent observer of the haunting scenes and as the passenger of the balloon, floating over land and water.
|Lights II: The Ship Engulfed 183x135|
A progressive liberation of the self is depicted, a journey of illumination where the artist will ultimately reveal things "as they are".
The series comprises only seven works. Frank Auerbach said that although Andrews did not produce many works, "he only painted masterpieces".
|Lights VII: A Shadow, 182 x 182|
Identity and relationships among members of a community, are the themes of this series ( I think they should be called series rather than group as, like the ones from Lights, are numbered progressively).
Andrews continues to use a technique he had debuted in Lights, the spraying gun, perhaps another way of losing the "self" of the painter.
|School IV: Barracuda Under Skipjack Tuna, 175x175|
|Melanie and Me Swimming 1978-9|
In the late Seventies Andrews started to spend his holidays in Scotland, where he painted the estate of his hosts and went stalking. He was intrigued by the ritual of this ancient activity and produced many works from photographic records.
|Give Me The Rifle...!|
6.30 pm 17th October Glenartney
|The Forest Beat Through a Telescope 35x40|
ROCK OF AGES CLEFT FOR ME
Another very famous series of large paintings stemming from a 1983 trip to Ayers Rock in Australia. Keep it big, keep it simple, be bold said a sign in Andrews studio. The paintings of this sacred place were executed upon his return in England. The title comes from the lyrics of a religious hymn that resonated with the particular interdependence between man and environment Andrews found there.
|Laughter Uluru( Ayers Rock)/The Cathedral, I 228x274|
Landscapes of the Thames, in which paint is manipulated in a way that is akin to the subject: diluted with turps is poured on the canvas on the floor and moved around.
|The Thames at Low Tide, 182x167|
Figures taken from Victorian photographs are added in the final work , The Thames Estuary.
In this period Andrews painted a series of beautiful heads of friends and family.
Michael Andrews died of cancer on the 19th of July 1995, aged 66 years.
Further readings: some very interesting essays on the School of London and what ties them together is in the catalogue of the collection amassed by Elaine and Melvin Merians, a couple of Americans who fell for these painters and owned pieces by all of them.
The eminent architect Colin St. John Wilson was a friend and a collector of Andrews work ( his collection is on display at Pallant House, Chichester, UK). Andrews painted his portrait in 1993/95 and he wrote about sitting for Andrews, as well as for Coldstream, in the book The Artists at Work.