Alexander Hollweg (1936–2020) painted for many years from the Nettlecombe estate, home to a creative community of artists, musicians and writers, nestled in rural West Somerset. Here he created art that translates the ordinary and everyday into surprising, often humorous, reflections on modern life. 'Journeys in Art' is the first retrospective of Alexander Hollweg's art and it features paintings and sculpture from across the six decades of his career.
In 1960 Hollweg enrolled at Camberwell School of Art and Craft. The teaching at Camberwell focused on modern art of the pre-war era, particularly on the English version of post-Impressionism favoured by the Camden Town School and on the social realism of the Euston Road School. Hollweg's work was at first heavily influenced by these styles in its everyday subject matter, muted colours and Cézanne-inspired brushwork.
In this study, Hollweg applies paint loosely and leaves sketch marks visible. The style is reminiscent of artists from the Camden Town School, whose work was long influential at Camberwell.
Charabanc and Serious Motoring
In 1971 Hollweg's earliest solo exhibition was held at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. It was his first opportunity to present a cohesive body of work to the public and was a culmination of his experiences as an artist since leaving Camberwell almost a decade before. It was this show which led to his work being exhibited internationally, including in Italy and New York.
Charabanc and Serious Motoring are two of four oversized toy cars created by Hollweg in the late 1960s. All were displayed in his Whitechapel Gallery exhibition. They are uniquely characteristic of Hollweg's art and express his artistic playfulness.
Country Dance was commissioned by Bernard Jacobson as part of a print portfolio to celebrate the bicentenary in 1976 of the birth of John Constable. As Jacobson recently commented: 'Alex captured the tremendous yearning to go back to the land which existed at the time. He depicts a bucolic joyful scene of identifiable artists, writers and landscape gardeners, all of whom have left the city and rediscovered nature.' Perhaps no work expresses more powerfully what Nettlecombe and its community meant to Hollweg.
Alexander and his family (wife Geraldine and children Rebecca and Lucas) moved permanently to Nettlecombe in 1973. There they quickly became central to an artistic community characterised by shared values and common purpose as well as by much discussion and many parties.
In the late 1970s, Hollweg began creating large-scale relief artworks made of wood, wire and paint. The new works often consisted of multiple individual panels which when placed together formed a cohesive whole. They allowed Hollweg to draw together his 2D work (the watercolours) and 3D sculptures.
This ambitious multi-panel work presents a view over the harbour town of Watchet. Its title (meaning 'sea breeze' in French) is derived from a poem by the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Hollweg was seeking to convey the range of sensations felt when standing before a wide view or landscape – 'different associations of light, space, feeling, season, time of day or artistic reference'.
Mr and Mrs Holroyd at Home with Rebecca
People's lives and actions were always powerful inspirations for Hollweg and in the 1980s he sought new ways to make people central to his art. He became an unofficial 'artist in residence' at London theatres including the National Theatre, welcoming the opportunity to draw bodies in action and to observe actors as they expressed emotion.
In the 1990s he also began painting portraits. The writers Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd were longstanding friends of the Hollwegs. They met while Drabble was living at Nettlecombe during the 1970s and 1980s. Hollweg depicts them in a relaxed and informal composition at home in Porlock Weir, a view of which beckons through the windows.
Sarah Cox, Exhibitions and Programme Manager with the South West Heritage Trust
'Alexander Hollweg: Journeys in Art' is on display at The Museum of Somerset in Taunton until 9th March 2024. Admission is free, with donations welcome
'Journeys in Art' has been produced in partnership with The Court Gallery. An associated exhibition is being held at East Quay in Watchet, Somerset. 'People Came For Tea and Stayed Forever' by Sam Francis is open from 20th January to 12th May 2024