Top, from left, Isabel Langtry, David Hare and Nicole Farhi. Below: Susan Tilley, Lucian Freud’s muse, featured in a painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, worth more than £35m, is now a painter in her own right – including a poster portrait of Theresa May, What have we done, what have we lost?
Published: 17 November, 2016
I WAS puzzled at first by the remarkable grizzled bronze sculpture of a brooding crab in the corner of the gallery representing an “endangered species”.
It’s not that I am not an animal lover but I asked myself: But what about humans – haven’t they become an endangered species?
“Yes, yes, but these sculptures are a metaphor for the state of the world,” the artist Nicole Farhi reassured me at the opening of an exhibition on Tuesday evening. The idea of the exhibition had grown out of a talk she gave recently at the new-look Hampstead School of Art in Penrose Gardens, off Kidderpore Avenue.
To Nicole Farhi, her sculptures reflect our chaotic world, as do many of the paintings she has assembled for the exhibition entitled “Chaos” – all of the works, many by eminent artists, oils, watercolours and collages, are being shown for the first time.
Among her sitters at her studio in Hampstead have been the artists Eduardo Paolozzi, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon as well as actors Judi Dench and Bill Nighy.
Artist Tim Furzer, who flew in from New York with a new work for the show. He was also here in the summer to present a painting to Nicole Farhi for her 70th birthday
Nicole Farhi, who looks astonishingly younger than her 70 years, has been a leading fashion designer, but her real love was sculpting, which she abandoned herself to five years ago.
It was from an art school 35 years ago that she entered the world of fashion but there came a time when she needed to express herself differently as an artist, she said.
The exhibits fill the new spacious gallery-cum-café of the Hampstead School of Art, which moved recently round the corner into a new building establishing it as a leading school in the capital.
Nicole Farhi’s night was shared by Isabel Langtry, a driving force behind the move, who announced as the principal to the crowded gallery that there was now a waiting list for the school, which had 900 students.
Inspired by the concept of an exhibition reflecting our chaotic world, Nicole Farhi brought together 14 artists who include Anthony Wishaw, a Royal Academician, Tricia Gillman, a senior lecturer at St Martin’s and John Keane known as a “war” artist – he was the official British War Artist during the Gulf War. Two of his stunning large canvases dominate the gallery – one was so big that a window had to be blocked in to display it.
LAUNCHING the exhibition, Nicole Farhi’s husband Sir David Hare, one of Britain’s leading playwrights, said: “It was very clever of Nicole to name this show Chaos a couple of months before Donald Trump was elected.
“If you live on this planet, you may take one of two views about its nature. Either, it is a paradise, a natural paradise spoilt only by the rapaciousness of mankind – his determination to dig minerals and spoil everything.
“Or my own view – it is a savage, wild and predatory place which is only brought to order by human beings. If, like me, you believe that science, education, medicine, engineering, human rights, the law and the arts have made progress possible, then the election of a priapic... narcissist with nil attention span as the most powerful man in the world is not a good omen.
“In a brilliant essay, Jean Paul Sartre says the anti-semite will always use humour as a way of defusing his offensiveness. ‘Come on,’ says the anti-semite, ‘when I say Jews run the financial system, Jews run the bank, Jews run the media, secretly Jews run the world, you don’t think I mean it, do you? It’s a joke. Where’s your sense of humour?’
“And the people fighting anti-semitism are made to feel flat-footed and dull and clumsy, because they believe that words matter and that such sentiments are not funny.
“Trump works the same trick. ‘Come on, when I said no Muslims are allowed in America, all Mexicans are rapists, all women want to be grabbed, you don’t think I’m serious, do you? Lighten up.’”
He referred to John Keane as a “great war artist”, to sit beside Ravilious and Paul Nash. “And I also know that all the other artists here are aware that chaos lurks beneath order, waiting... to burst forth. Chaos is what we came from, and if Trump, Boris Johnson and Marine Le Pen have their way, it is what we shall rapidly return to. Let’s thank Nicole, let’s thank the artists for the insights into chaos, and for their perverse skill in sometimes making chaos beautiful. Let’s celebrate chaos, but, oh my God, let’s also fear it.”