Out on a bicycle to the Geedon Gallery, a fine art showroom overlooking beautiful Essex marshland. The Gallery, a converted barn, is situated down a narrow lane leading to the famous Fingringhoe Nature Reserve. Here, otherwise sane middle-aged men will loiter for hours in specially constructed wooden hides, peering through binoculars in the hope of seeing various marshland birds, who almost certainly won’t want to see them.
The gallery, named after nearby Geedon Creek is a mere two miles away (as the bar-tailed godwit flies) from my home just across the River Colne. Alas, there’s no bridge or ferry, so it’s an eight and a half mile cycle ride if you wish to go the Newell way. However, since it was a fine autumn morning I was happy to bike it. The weather was bracing and the wind was gusty but it didn’t half clear those cobwebs out.
In recent days, having had a flu jab, a Covid jab and a nasty hand injury I was still feeling a bit weedy. Rather than taking it easy, however, as I’d been advised to do, I thought I’d drown my malaise in endorphins instead. This turned out to be the right choice.
Regular readers will know by now, that so far as art is concerned, I remain of the opinion that works should ideally be representational. Acceptable subjects might include two kittens in a wellington boot, some dogs playing snooker, while smoking cigars, middle-aged Frenchwomen at their ablutions, or angry-looking stags in misty glens. Anything deviating from these trusted forms should be considered subversive and its creators interrogated, alongside those Arts Council chiefs and BBC mandarins who commissioned them.
The reason I was cycling to the Geedon gallery however, was because I’d been notified of an exhibition of photographic prints, many of them black/white shots from the mid 20th century. Now I’m a sucker for such things and I wasn’t disappointed. Here were some fascinating portraits by a photographer called Andrew Whittuck, who as a young student in the 1960s, photographed the Aberfan disaster, as well as a number of rock stars. There were some rare shots taken in 1967 of two now-deceased Pink Floyd members, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright. There was also a snap of a sulky-looking Mick Jagger sitting with Marianne Faithfull in a railway compartment, en route to Wales to meet the Maharishi. I’d never seen any of these pictures before.
Also snapped by Whittuck was a picture of an unusually well-dressed John Lennon at the Hilton Hotel during the Sgt Pepper era. The fact is that the Beatles were so frequently photographed during their peak, that nowadays we almost take for granted the many existing photos of them. Hitherto unseen ones, therefore, like this shot of Lennon, isolated and out-of-context, do tend to stop you in your tracks.
Similarly, attracting much attention by the gallery’s staircase was Lewis Morley’s now-immortal portrait of a naked Christine Keeler seated, her modesty delicately preserved by a chair-back. A signed print, one of only nine, it bore a suitably hefty price-tag too. But far better and less pricey was Ray Bellisario’s poignant study of Keeler having breakfast on her first day out of prison. By serving her 6-month sentence, Keeler had carried the can for rather more powerful figures. These people did what establishment miscreants always do whenever they’re caught out: throw some other mug under the bus before slithering back to their gentlemen’s clubs. Another surprise here was a small collection of black and white portraits by the journalist Daniel Farson, an early commercial TV presenter and a well-known Soho habituee. I’d seen and read some of Farson’s work but had no idea that he was such a good photographer. His portraits of Jeffery Bernard, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali and Frank Auerbach are really impressive.
There are also pictures of Brigitte Bardot and a young Helen Mirren (by Ray Bellisario) then Vivien Leigh, Robert Carrier and Hermione Gingold (by Angus McBean). I didn’t take in much more of this busy exhibition, because I simply couldn’t tear myself away from those pictures which I’ve already described.
Such pictures serve to remind those of us of a certain age just how much the world has changed during our time. Some things never change, however. Here also were more recent portraits by photographers still very much working today. Nestling among the vintage works was a great recent study by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies, of Suffolk’s own Maggi Hambling in her art studio. Ms Hambling with her defiant stormy-sea eyes was pictured with the inevitable fag on. Long may she continue to smoulder. Back on the bicycle, cycling through the marshlands in bright October sunshine, I was glad I’d attended. The lanes between Fingringoe and Old Heath were simply stunning. Once back in Colchester, however, some of the weekend driving which I encountered became a bit sporty and so I had to pay more attention to the road. As we all must.
PICS: Top, Lennon at the Hilton 1967 by Andrew Whittuck, Bottom Left) Christine Keeler's first meal after leaving prison, by Ray Bellisario. Bottom Right: the artist Maggi Hambling, by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies.
The Geedon Gallery’s Autumn Exhibition “Photographs, Pots And Pieces” runs until Oct 23rd. 11am to 5.30pm daily.