Inuit sculpture and Glastonbury paintings at Messums

IT would be hard to imagine more difficult backgrounds or subjects than two of the online exhibitions at Messums Wiltshire – paintings of the Glastonbury Festival, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and sculpture by Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic.

In the early 20th century, many British sculptors were profoundly inspired by objects and sculptures from distant lands that were collectively known as “primitive art.” Among these works were discoveries from the northernmost regions of Canada.

The young Henry Moore was inspired by what he saw in the British Museum’s collection of Oceanic, Native American, African and Mesopotamian objects. He recorded the shapes and figures, transforming them into some of his most powerful early sculptures. It was the truth to material which struck him the most, the “stoniness” of the carved forms, perhaps reminiscent of the 11th century carvings he knew as a boy from the churches of Yorkshire.

The sculptures and carvings in the Messums exhibition are described as the ancestors of the works that inspired the 20th century artists. They open a window into a culture that is now better understood, while their forms still resonate with that “truth to materials”  which inspired Moore.

They are beautiful distillations of forms that speak not only of their subject – bird, bear, fish, hunter – but what it means to be that animal and what it means to be that material.

Thanks to coronavirus, the golden jubilee Glastonbury Festival is notable by its absence, but something of the colour and diversity of this celebration of creativity can be glimpsed in the paintings by festival artist-in-residence Kurt Jackson, which opens on the summer solstice, Saturday 20th June.

Jackson has been artist-in-residence at the festival for 20 years and these paintings on canvas are his unique record of the world’s most famous music festival, painted over the past ten years. They include scenes of massed, ecstatic armies, lost revellers, panoramic landscapes of waving flags, neon and the wood smoke that swirls across the Vale of Avalon after summer solstice.

He says: “I sketch and draw and paint and scribble above the crowds, in the crowds, under peoples feet, in their faces; I aim to immerse myself in the Glastonbury experience and come away with some kind of record on paper showing what I’ve seen, felt and experienced.

Messums Wiltshire has an second online Kurt Jackson exhibition, Time and Tide, the Port Quin paintings.

Pictured: Two of Kurt Jackson’s Glastonbury paintings, and Inuit sculptures of a prowling bear, seal and hunter with bow.