Walk through life of William Gear

Josh Speer reviews the William Gear exhibition at the Towner Galler
Josh Speer reviews the William Gear exhibition at the Towner Galler

Previous curator of the gallery and unknown pioneer, the Towner’s new exhibition on William Gear is a real gem.

The exhibition works as a biographical walk-through of William Gear, with each stage of his personal and professional life hung up on canvases in different rooms.

William Gear

William Gear

Having an interest in the industrial landscape as a young child, these architectural builds were to become the fixation that starts Gear’s journey. Working during the second world war, Gear lived a life of travel and after becoming a ‘monuments man’, became in charge with protecting some of the most famous works of art in Europe.

Gear didn’t sell work for years and constantly battled against the establishment. Walking through the exhibition you can really feel the struggle of Gear trying to get the recognition he deserved, along with his struggle of witnessing the horrifying conditions attached to war. The maze of lines on the paintings forming a deconstruction of buildings, destroyed to their simplest forms of pillars and points. Gear has freeze framed the action of explosion, just like Cornelia Parker’s installation: Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991).

Staring into these personal works, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Gear, he reminds us the very basic principle of abstraction, and art in general: interpretation. Knowing the life of an artist can help contextualise and ‘read’ a piece of work. However with Gear, there’s a very sad and unknowing narrative. His time of being erased from art history is an unfortunate one, but like all rebirths comes a celebration, and for Gear this is found in the final room of the exhibition. A vibrant and welcoming painting proudly hangs from the wall: Broken Yellow (1967). A breathe of fresh air. The perfect closure to an artist almost forgotten. After years of trying, the Royal Academy accepted two of Gears paintings for the 1960 Summer Show, which were to be two of the first abstract paintings to grace the RA’s walls. Although Gear had reached slight commercial success beforehand, this was the personal achievement he had been striving for: acceptance.

William Gear 1915-1997: The Painter that Britain Forgot is currently running until 27th September 2015 at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. Ticket prices: Adult £7, Concession £6, and £3.50 for Art Fund Members.

By Josh Speer