William Gear: The Painter that Britain Forgot (5 stars)

Touring exhibition celebrates 20th century abstract painter’s wrongly overlooked contributions to Modern art

William Gear: The Painter that Britain Forgot

William Gear in his studio, 13 Quai des Grands Augustins, Paris 1949 / The Estate of William Gear

As the title implies, this major retrospective of William Gear, one of Britain’s most accomplished 20th century abstract painters, is long overdue.

Opening on Gear’s earlier works from the late 1940s and tracing the artist’s output during his time in Paris where he worked as part of the avant-garde movement CoBrA, the show immediately establishes what it set out to achieve – this is an artist who is (ironically) unforgettable. Richly textured canvases of vivid colours, sliced into energetic compositions by jagged black lines reverberate on the gallery walls.

As captivating as these works are, in the period that followed Gear had sell his possessions to keep himself afloat financially. This chronologically arranged show demonstrates how his work continued full steam despite adversity with works made during this period such as Mau Mau (1953), a sludgy brown and silvery greys canvas cut like stained glass by black lines. It is one of Gear’s only political works, despite service in WW2 and a stint as a ‘Monuments Man’.

It took until 1960 for the Royal Academy to accept Gear’s works into their Summer Exhibition. ‘My work has a reputation of being rather modern,’ a surprised Gear had said upon hearing the news – this exhibition, exploding with works made well ahead of their time, confirms it.

City Art Centre, Sat 24 Oct–Sun 14 Feb

William Gear 1915-1997: The Painter That Britain Forgot

A review of the work of the long-neglected Scottish abstract artist.

Gear's Contemporaries and Influences

A look at the work of the artists that inspired the 20th century abstract painter William Gear, as well as the work of contemporaries of his such as Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Margaret Mellis, Robin Philipson and Alan Davie.


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