‘Egg Fight' commissioned by Dublin City Gallery - The Hugh Lane on the occasion of their first centenary, 2008; courtesy of the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and James Cohan Gallery, New York.
2010 marks the centenary of the Byam Shaw School of Art, founded in May 1910 by Rex Vicat Cole (1870-1940) and Byam Shaw (1872-1919). The two Edwardian artists shared a close bond of friendship, as well as a teaching philosophy, based on careful workmanship, the mastery of traditional methods particularly in drawing, and the encouragement of individual creativity. The School has remained a centre for art education ever since, in a continuing history interrupted only by the Second World War.
This exhibition and publication narrate, for the first time, the interwoven life and work of the School's two founders, with a focus on the period around 1910. Byam Shaw's complex, highly-coloured allegories place him as the last of the Pre-Raphaelites, while Rex Vicat Cole's melancholy landscapes provide a haunting elegy for a rural England he treasured in the years before the First World War. Their achievement as painters, designers and teachers, who flourished in the moment just before the major impact of Modernism on British art and art education, long underestimated, can once again be appreciated in our post-Modernist moment. A rich archive of studio photographs and work from the School's early years provides an insight into art training a century ago.
The School's centenary provides an opportunity to celebrate a living tradition, and the exhibition concludes with an important new piece, Egg Fight, by Yinka Shonibare MBE, who studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art between 1984 and 1989. Shonibare, who refers to himself as a 'post-colonial hybrid' is a British artist who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria; he has been preoccupied throughout his career with the legacies of the British Empire, which was at its height in 1910. The witty, fantastical, post-modern, post-colonial work of Yinka Shonibare, emerges in this exhibition as the uncanny mirror image of the pre-Modernist, overtly imperialistic works of the founders of the School at which he studied. Highly coloured, richly textured works invested in questions of the body, ethnicity and sexuality, Byam Shaw's paintings and Yinka Shonibare's sculptural pieces offer a telling commentary on art in London before and after Modernism.
The exhibition is curated by Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, who is also the author of the accompanying book.