29th April to 2nd May 2017
Held at PS45, 45 Preston Street, Exeter
This exhibition showed a selection of Margaret Dean’s major works chosen from her career as a visual artist since she trained at Liverpool College of Art in the late fifties. It was a great time to be an art student and the colleges were hotbeds of rebellion and freedom, simultaneously providing some excellent tuition.
After some years working and teaching in the Liverpool area, in 1973, Margaret had the good fortune to be offered exceptional studio space in Bluehayes House in Devon. The house belonged to an internationally known curator who worked at the Guggenheim and Whitney Galleries in New York, and was often used to clean and restore paintings from major players in the New York School. Her use of that facility was to last for the next twenty years.
With one exception, the work on display dates from that time to the present day. However for those who think they are familiar with Margaret’s work, and novitiates, there are many bold surprises.
Demonstrating the handling of both oil and acrylic paint with skill, the most impressive paintings on show are large in scale, the most successful of which are quite unsettling. For example ‘The Time Machine’ where a surprisingly plastic, classical, tardis rests in immaculately tended parkland for what or Who? The colour register is beautifully handled.
Nearby in ‘The Bar at 15.00 hours’ a dancer rests with her hand behind her on the bar, whilst we are also given a rear view of her in the mirrored wall. The only figure in this room, she wears an eye-mask! The composition is striking and we see more passages of beautifully handled colour in the wall beside her.
‘Bluehayes House’ also makes an appearance here, where the artist can show off her considerable skills as a draughts woman in creating an image of the elegant empty house. A large area of foreground is given to immaculately mown strips of lawn, leading our eyes right up to the subject; sadly there is no one in.
More recently Margaret created an extensive series (sixteen works) of paintings based on the life of the Aviator Amy Johnson. A group of works from this series are on show, and they unravel a narrative of the life of Johnson, including her dreams and aspirations, during her epic flight to Australia in 1930.
These demonstrate the artist’s intellectual curiosity with history and science weaving around a romance. Without the sinister edge of the earlier works, and the absence of figures, these works are warm, inhabited and fantastical all at the same time.
The piece de resistance of the show is ‘Kings Feast’ a large, fabulous, still life. A riot of colour and restless detail, so expressively handled.
Throughout her career Margaret has studied the female figure and a selection of smaller works are on show which demonstrate her understanding of anatomy and her skill in defining the light on her subject.
— Maggie Giraud FRSA