Aspects of Print, work by Roy Bizley occupies the relatively small but lovely light and airy exhibition space at the front of Leicester’s Print Workshop and yet it’s a show that delights and deserves more attention than one supposes it may well be getting. It is accompanied by an even smaller display at the nearby LCB Depot that sadly we weren’t able to access on our visit. Roy was a long term contributor to the Fine Art teaching team at the nearby Leicester Poly (now De Montfort University) and was a modest and unassuming character, pretty much loved by all who knew him, and focussed much of his teaching on developing printing talent, a deal of it associated at one time or another with LPW. This show concentrates on prints made in response to visits to Iceland and have a suitably cool palette, offset by small hot colour highlights that gives the images real punch – and show off the printmaker’s consummate abilities in the medium. In fact these prints have quite astonishingly technical competences given that woodcut and lino are integrated to achieve the results. But of course technique is only of value if allied to something to say and images that say it. Here the artist scores top marks, not least in terms of unerring drafting skills and compositional alertness.
Roy Bizley is part of a big story yet to be written about the talent that lurked in provincial art schools through the period from roughly the late fifties to around the turn of the millennium. As the art schools expanded they embraced young talent and a generation of really top class artists like Roy came into them. At 34 when he began work in Leicester Roy was older than some colleagues in both his institution and others (many came in quite fresh from their art school post grad training) but his time there was spent in teaching and also making so that on his death in 1999 he left a large body of compelling work, much of it rarely seen outside (or even inside) the academic realm. Like many of his colleagues (and I could mention many around the country) exhibition opportunities were rare in a time when the premium for official institutions was on young, new artists, when to be visible you needed regular access to the capital and – to be fair – lecturers with long term full time tenure were less compelled to need to ‘hustle’ for shows and thus sales. This show is simply the tip of a very large iceberg, with a vast amount of excellent work sitting beneath, Roy’s other work, his paintings and political prints especially but then a huge volume of other equally exciting artists – I might mention David Willetts in Nottingham or Norman Rowe in Wolverhampton, Martin Rogers in Derby or Doug Kemp in Loughborough…the list is extensive and might be repeated across the North, or the South West as much as the Midlands. Whether much of it is still extant (particularly as regards those artists who have sadly passed) I do not know but if it is it deserves to be seen – and celebrated.
Curiously enough the theme of appraisals, whether they be ‘re-‘ or not was writ large at Leicester’s New Walk Museum & Art Gallery too. Firstly the Lancelot Ribeiro: A Voyage Of Discovery show suggests that he has been criminally neglected over the years. His omission from The Other Story, the Hayward Gallery survey show of British based ‘Afro Asian’ artists in 1989 is odd…was it self exclusion or not? (several other notable artists, Anish Kapoor, Veronica Ryan and Dhruva Mistry amongst them were also absent). But then again his half brother F.N.Souza was included. Leicester has, to its credit, championed his work over the years (with long time Director Patrick Boylan a key supporter) but elsewhere in the UK he achieved relatively little recognition (indeed in later years he fared better in Germany). Whatever – the show here suggests that his output was astonishingly varied with little hints of quite startlingly arresting individuality. A small sculpture from the mid sixties explores the way in which paint can be pushed into three dimensions , late collaged work that looks as if it might have come from a particularly innovative student from last summer’s degree shows given how fresh they are. Overall the strengths of the main bodies of paintings are a surety in line and structure and an exuberant confidence in handling strong, often hot colour in subtle ways.
Across the New Walk Museum as a whole there are plenty of treats in store if you like quality painting. Of course the highlight is the marvellous German Expressionist gallery augmented presently by three wonderful Egon Schiele drawings on loan ahead of a showing at Tate Liverpool. But the display of works by ‘global’ artists includes a canvas by the excellent, sometimes resident of Loughborough, Ghanaian painter Atta Kwami – more fantastic colour exuberance locked into solid structures – and in the recent acquisitions room another equally striking colour canvas by another favourite of mine William Gear. In this latter room one comes full circle with two fine canvasses by Roy Bizley as well. With a new entrance Leicester is leading the pack at a time when many regional museum spaces are under financial and even existential threat. Get there and see some terrific work and lend it support!