Sven Berlin Polymath
Begrave Gallery 7-30 October 2017
This show is mainly of his later works with one or two earlier pieces. They run through sculpture, paintings, drawings which, apart from the last, all show the same weakness. Sven Berlin was eventually run out of St Ives in his gypsy caravan, seeking a life in the New Forest. He did not fit into the ideology that defined the avant guard. One of his sins was to publish a book on Alfred Wallis, also his publishing of Monarch, which poked fun at the arty celebrities that made up the community in St Ives.
He retained a commitment and practice to traditional pictorial art which included a reference to Augustus John. In a way, he was anti-intellectual. A situation well maintained in St Ives today. Maybe his attempt at bravura was his weakness. In every style and form it hampered him. This does not stop Sven Berlin from becoming a folk hero. His work is diverse.
The colours in Untitled, flowers in a glass bowl, seem to want to be French. Jump for Joy (an acrylic on paper) could be a well-mannered ghost story. He handles his works, though they often fail to arrive at a conclusion, though they have verve. The drawings in this show are his best work. The lines are uninterrupted by painting and his instincts for how paper works with charcoal are surer handed than in his other works.
Sven is as notable for his independent life as for his art, and the stories still abound. But for me he fails to make the grade, not because he lacked the ability, but because he thought he had finished before he actually had, and thereafter stopped trying.
Daniel Nanavati is our European Editor
Volume 32 no 3 Jan/Feb 2018 p 34