Artist Mick Rooney and close friend of Gus Cummins, writes about Cummins' life and work with true insight

" /> Artist Mick Rooney and close friend of Gus Cummins, writes about Cummins' life and work with true insight

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Gus Cummins: Off The Wall By Mick Rooney, RA

The independent charity Jerwood Gallery in Hastings has no particular duty to exhibit artists who reside there. In this instance though, there is a perfect melding of the gallery and Gus Cummins whose base is also in the town.


My friendship with Cummins seems to go back to the year dot. Our paths have run remarkably together, travelling as they have through early education, schools and colleges, family lives, clubs and institutions.


Artists of a certain age may, I suppose, reflect upon their Genesis. Our formative years were bathed in a sort of innocent romance. It began by gaining a place on merit to a Junior Art School and along the way bumping into the frail Stanley Spencer. We ingested rapidly the mantra: Lucky to be an artist. Lucky to be special. Lucky to be untainted and exclusive.


For all those high bound esoteric incantations we spent a deal of time later, feeling down the back of the couch (if we had a couch) for the odd, lost half crown (12. 5p).


Our art world was small and intimate and we could access an older generation of artists. They kindly passed us down the line with introductions. We drank in their pubs. They fed us in their houses and those who had sold their souls to Mammon bought us meals in smart Soho restaurants. There was also the frisson of international exhibitions brought to the UK by the likes of Bryan Robertson, the director of The Whitechapel Art Gallery.


When in the mid-sixties Gus was roped in to help bring paintings past a distinguished line of half frozen artists judging The YC's (The Young Contemporaries) at the dank and dilapidated Round House just then acquired by Arnold Wesker, Bryan Robertson took a shine to Gus who in spite of the cold had on a clinging black T-shirt. Robertson, in a remote camp voice, asked if Gus could walk back again with the picture. The next year Cummins was president of The YC's which was held at Tate Britain. (These incidences are not connected…)


The painting school of The Royal College of Art run by Carel Weight brought in diverse tutors-more for a chat than anything else. Blake, Blow, Spear, Cooke, Hamilton Fraser and DeGrey were our sort of pastors. Up the road, Iris Murdoch attempted to instil philosophy into the sheep. The Friday night hops in the JCR had the best bands and in the crowd Charlie Watts, Julie Christie and Mr. Hockney (not together) drank and danced with the best of them.


Gus Cummins has always immersed himself with both the painted, illusory surface and the more somewhat abstract 3D pieces. We were about seventeen years old when an old Victorian wooden skylight was removed from my flat. Cummins took it away and worked on it with a variety of materials and paint, producing a work of illusion and trompe l'oeil.


Cummins has moved, in his time, not at all effortlessly, from direct painting-observed from life, measured and highly structured, to photographically generated portrait works which are reassembled and transformed on the canvas. These things he sets up with an almost life-threatening resignation as he stands before them teasing and worrying them and himself into submission. Here, I am also thinking of the larger and beyond life, exquisitely observed taxidermied creatures that Charles Darwin would have sold The Beagle for. I am also thinking of a small study of a brace of skulls rendered more or less in black and white that challenge the Spanish predominance  of deep black and death.


His series of works made directly on the spot over a long period of time at St.  Mary's -in-the-Castle, Hastings are in many ways a lasting testament to the highest rendering of perspectival structural imagery of the late Twentieth Century.


Cummins worked amongst the gloom, the damp, the cold and the scaffolding on large boards of stretched paper on which he plotted the most complicated elliptical three point perspective images. My regret was always that the series was not collected complete into the national active. Sadly the works are dispersed.


Having ventured into the hard, tangible world for inspiration, oft times Cummins retreats to a sort of crepuscular, wizards den of a basement: there to tinker with space and light; there to concoct a hanging, floating universe of "things"; more Spanish dark flinging out objects into existence. At other times the tableaux are grounded and anchored in an architectural landscape, laid out for the viewer to wander through.


Gus Cummins frets a good deal about the validity and veracity of his work. All good artists do. And we who are artists and know the process twist our own worry beads in empathy. It is rare for artists to have the opportunity to glean some overview of their work (their Oeuvre). Jerwood Gallery has provided Gus Cummins with the perfect space.  And the artist along with the viewers will together be enlightened and uplifted by the singular vision of Mr. Cummins.

Blog written by Mick Rooney

Image ©Lens & Pixel