An obituary for the artist Adrian Berg stopped me in my tracks the other day, for I’ve loved his paintings ever since seeing a touring exhibition of his work in 1986.
At that time he painted the view from his window over Regent’s Park with all the obsessive, investigative intelligence of his hero Claude Monet, whose ‘series’ paintings of haystacks and cathedrals were Berg’s single most important source of inspiration.
What I admire about Berg’s paintings is the paradoxical combination of repetition and invention, free-flowing pattern and compositional rigour. He was, in addition, an unrepentant colourist at a time when colour was gradually seeping out of contemporary art and ‘issue-based’ work was in the ascendant.
I never met him, but a curator friend remembers how he always travelled with the wherewithal for a stiff drink in his battered rucksack, a habit that evidently did not impair his longevity.
In contrast to this vision grounded in observation of the natural world, I found myself enjoying art of a very different kind at Tate Liverpool last week, where an exhibition of work relating to Alice in Wonderland has just opened.
It’s a vast affair, as full of comic and sinister spectacle as the story that inspired it. At its heart is a core of historical paintings, drawings, photographs and manuscripts relating to Lewis Carroll and his immediate circle of friends. But it then takes you into dark psycho-analytical and linguistic territory, with an exhaustive tour of surrealist and more recent work by such artists as Max Ernst, René Magritte, Kiki Smith, Douglas Gordon and Torsten Lauschmann.
There’s some amazing material here. Did you know that Walt Disney made a film of Alice in Wonderland as early as 1923 and later collaborated with Salvador Dali on an animated film called ‘Destino’, featuring a wistful, Alice-like heroine? For that reason alone, the exhibition is worth a visit. From its conventional beginnings in late Victorian Britain, it just gets curiouser and curiouser.