Lydia Corbett/Sylvette David – The Dance of Life Exhibition April 2023

Friday March 17, 2023

Lydia Corbett/Sylvette David.

Private View: Sunday 2nd April 2023, 11.00am – 4.00pm

The Exhibition continues until: Saturday 29th April 2023

To view the exhibition click here

Lydia Corbett

Corbett’s exhibition at the Fosse Gallery, The Dance of Life, in the various works shown, give us a vivid account of the central concerns of the artist’s work and life. In her art, something new is brought into the world. Her art attests to being and becoming, the act of creation, from grief and wartime, the embrace of pain and with it the wisdom that comes from old age.

The exhibition brings together significant examples of paintings from many stages of the artist’s life. The Sylvette self-portraits include many of her strongest works of art. Many portraits refer back to 1954 and her time spent with Picasso in Vallauris. These self-portraits are not a borrowing of his motifs, because she was the muse – for she shared his artistic life and her significance at the time has not been fully acknowledged by the art world. The recent self-portraits recall an earlier self that is still part of her life. They are a compliment to Picasso’s paintings made of Sylvette and continue a dialogue with Picasso. Corbett is revisiting the studio both for herself but as an act of completion.

It seems that whilst innocence might be an aspect of the subject, Corbett’s paintings attest to her wisdom as an artist – an art that emanates from an intense emotional intelligence. In Corbett’s oil paintings and her watercolours, there is a gentleness that reveals; and her paintings are a combination of fragility and strength that gravitate towards the latter; they are primed for life. 

Lydia Corbett - Sylvette with a Fan (Hat) - Acrylic on Board - 18 x 24 Inches
Lydia Corbett – Sylvette with a Fan (Hat) – Acrylic on Board – 18 x 24 Inches

Although it might seem paradoxical to have the presence of both dreaminess and intensity in her works; both come from the same source, the withdrawing or absence of the mind from precise intellectual notions. Such images lead us back to what Gustave Flaubert called the inexpressible comprehension of the unrevealed wholeness of things.

Corbett’s failing eyesight has meant that inner vision has become the guiding light and force behind her work, where immediacy and the act of bringing aspects of her past to the present, remains a source of wonder. Because Corbett’s paintings emanate from her inner vision. This gives her work both its singularity and its permanence. When a transcendent work of art is produced it moves out of the realm of ordinary time.

As an artist, Corbett has already more than sixty years practise of contemplation, and painterly concentration, she has assimilated the subtlety of observation, from the memory of visual sensation, the changing aspects of light and its transitory colours

Munch’s painting The Dance of Life, which was painted around 1900 is a narrative frieze painting about the arch of a life of a woman from girlhood, connubial bliss to old age, with an acceptance of the presence of death.

In Corbett’s artistic practise, beauty is an act of time, not a sensibility. Her self-portraits recalling her younger self, have a gaze which is always elsewhere, the focus is elided to moment of being, as a mirror of consciousness, they show and hide the self in perpetuity which oddly both embraces her pain and becomes a source of protection.

In the Western tradition of twentieth century figurative art, there are characteristics and attitudes that link scattered moments of time; the empirical stance, or observation. In the English tradition, there is the imaginative approach on one hand, and the inclination towards the visionary.  Lydia Corbett’s paintings reflect a tentative, resurgent anguish in the need to discover the essential connection between the human and the divine.

Whilst Corbett is famed for her paintings of cats, I sense, from this exhibition that birds can also be the emissaries between art and being, as much as bearers of human souls, between life and death. This year has begun with a series of bird portraits, amongst them, the native garden birds, The Robin; Starling; and The Song of the Blackbird.

– Lucien Berman