Review:The Mediterranean comes to Margate

Malaga street scene by Stephen Alexander

By Richard Lewis

A dazzling exhibition of Mediterranean scenes is currently on view until February 29 at the Margate School of Art at the former Woolworths building in Margate High Street.

Included are a dozen paintings and charcoal drawings made in Cyprus, Venice and Florence by home-grown master, Christopher Alexander.

But an extensive array of paintings by his brilliant son and prodigy, Steven, are the real stars of the show. Steven’s canvases simply radiate the deep richness of light and colour that is so characteristic of Spain, the south of France and Italy – countries that he evokes perfectly in both oil and watercolour.

The exhibition will certainly make the visit to this relatively new venue worthwhile for all lovers of art, sun and colour. In the 1960s the Liverpool poet Brian Patten wrote a poem called Halfway between Heaven and Woolworths, and the Alexander father-son exhibition is without doubt somewhere on this upper plane.

In his accompanying text Steven explains the technique he uses to ‘capture the riot of colour that is so exhilarating in the Mediterranean’. This technique, consisting largely of painting on a red, orange or magenta ground and harnessed to what Ruskin called ‘the truth of impression’, is in full evidence in his beautifully rendered scenes. He infuses both big views and small odd corners of towns or landscapes with the very feel and spirit of the country concerned and is not afraid to take that bold Mediterranean risk with colour.

We are taken from the gorgeous majesty of Ronda in Spain to a small street in Nice bathed in warm honey on one side and the mystery of intense blue and mauve shadow on the other. His view of an old neglected house in some forgotten part of Malaga displays both technical mastery and artistic/compositional genius. This sunlit house with broken blinds, peeling paint and crumbling patches of plaster, touched by purple shadow, conveys the very essence of southern Spain. It is a truly superb picture.

Many people will immediately recognise views of Sorrento and may even remember sitting on the beach terrace of a café in Nerja, or looking down from the heights of Mijas.

But even without any personal connection, scenes will create a resonance, whether it is the sensitively observed charcoal drawings of Cypriot peasant figures by Christopher the father, or the exquisitely wistful water colour of Venice’s waterfront by Steven the son.

This really is the exhibition that will lift our storm battered spirits and, in Steven’s words, ‘brighten the gloom of February’.