“In answer to the question as to why I paint in the way I do, employing mostly a hard formalism with an emphasis on geometrical shapes and sombre-toned colours, I would say that in this way I am best able to interpret the particular character of the situation.”
Thanks to a good and knowledgeable friend writing an excellent piece for Art UK, I began to think about why this particular artist gets under your skin. His work is of a particular area – The Potteries, in Staffordshire; his later palette is a monochromatic one, but his early works are hardly ‘colourful’ either. He takes landscapes, both natural and industrial, and distils them almost to abstract forms, yet you feel that you can walk through them and recognise every view and find your way around. His quotation that starts this essay explains, succinctly, why his paintings speak to the viewer.
The Wedgewood Museum in Burslem have five stunning works by this artist. Here, you can get close enough to see his technique in action and it is breathtaking:
Maurice Arthur Wade is not that well known as an artist. There are no photographs of him or his studio in the public domain, no artist monographs and only a minority seem to be fully aware of his work, but anyone who gets the opportunity to see the works in the public domain would surely not fail to fall in love with them. His technique is simple: Wade used a palette knife, a tool that combines delicacy with force and one that can create a depth that you can lose yourself in, willingly.
Look closely at Canal at Longport III: The blacks are not just black; but full of reds, browns, ochres, layers upon layers and the whites are not white yet have the brilliance of newly fallen snow. Shadow and light crash against each other. Telephone poles, sharp lines of the buildings, all come from the edge of that knife. Crystal clear canal water reflecting the icy cold sky smoothed on by this method and bushes tumble against the canvas and make you feel that you would be forced to cut your way through them just to get to the other side. They appear melancholic in nature, but that is not a bad thing. The solitude and peacefulness that emanates from the canvas has to be experienced. And once that has happened, it won’t be forgotten easily.
I’ll never own a Wade oil but I do have something special that is all mine – a sketch, not of a Longton landscape, nor a factory chimney or even a crystal clear canal, but of irises! Only two flower paintings are known to have come from his studio but I love the blowsyness of the petals dancing against the dark background. It sits on a wall next to a lamp that I’ve owned for years but which seemed to have been waiting for this painting to arrive.
Next time you wander past a monochromatic work and think that it is dark and gloomy, look again. There is a whole world to be found within and you can hear Wade tell you: “It is sufficient if one can convey, over and above the evident stillness, the presence of a human sensibility, a real meaning, a glance other than that reflected in the water of the canal-scapes.”