Fragonard meets Richter

British Art Fair news edited by Alex Leith

Simon Casson went to the National Gallery, aged ten, and stood in front of a Titian. He hasn’t been the same since.

That formative experience in his childhood – he went on to study at the RA and St Martin’s, and become an internationally renowned painter who is collected by the likes of King Charles and Charles Saatchi – is recalled every time that he approaches a painting.

There’s always a beautifully reproduced Old Master figure gracing the background of his work – if not a Titian, perhaps a Rubens, or a Gainsborough, or a Gentileschi. Sometimes there are several of them in the same frame.

But it’s what happens next that makes a Casson unmistakably a Casson. ‘He paints like an angel, but lets the devil in,’ writes critic Andrew Lambirth. His figures are defaced and debased with finger-smeared brushstrokes of paint, the ancient besmirched by the modern. It’s as if his right hand was controlled by Rubens, his left by De Kooning or Kiefer. Formal… meet Haphazard. Fragonard… meet Richter. The results are electric.

This is the latest of a long run of Simon Casson shows at Long and Ryle, dating back to 1998. It’s entitled Downdacious, Somerset dialect for ‘audacious’: Casson lives in the West Country with his wife, three daughters and a clutch of chickens, and often uses the local vernacular to name his shows and pieces. Works in this exhibition include Gammikin, Leek Windle and Doomshaws.

Long and Ryle, November 23 to December 21.

British Art Fair Website

Long & Ryle Gallery

Simon Casson | Downdacious Catalogue

Alex Leith is the editor of the British Art News. Now based in East Sussex, after stints in Bologna, London and Barcelona, he is the founding editor of ROSA Magazine (Review of Sussex Arts); he is also the Chair of the Critics’ Circle Art & Architecture section. He has been a professional writer for 30 years, contributing to newspapers such as The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent, as well as running a publishing company (Viva Magazines) and authoring several books.

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