BOMBERG, THE NOT-VORTICIST

Painting above is of Ju-Jitsu by David Bomberg, 1913. Painting is © and shown here courtesy of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery. Photo © by VortexMaster 1982.

David Bomberg was a great painter who got to the Slade on merit alone. His background was London East End – the poverty stricken section of London; his family was unable to support him as an artist. His decision to become an artist, with all that it entailed regarding the dubious economic benefits could not have been taken lightly. However, he was highly principled and greatly motivated, and he believed that he would become great if he worked hard. He painted prodigiously and he was trying out new ideas early on, endeavouring to find a voice of his own even whilst as a student at the Slade.

I was clearing out a cupboard the other day and I found some photographs I took at the Tate Gallery in the early 1980′s. I wanted to see Bomberg’s work that was held in the reserve collection, not normally accessible. I had to arrange a special visit that could only occur after my identity had been checked with my college. But it was well worth the wait. It was a real privilege being shown the paintings on my ‘wants’ list by a specialist, in a basement location away from the public galleries. I was writing an essay about Bomberg (no, I haven’t got that!) and so I needed to see the paintings he had worked on prior to the big ones in the public galleries (Mud Bath, 1914, and In the Hold 1914). I was allowed to take pictures on my Canon AE-1 (as long as I didn’t use a flash). Hence the pictures aren’t great, but they are useful to show in order to demonstrate how Bomberg’s work was developing along parallel lines to other soon-to-be-Vorticists.

At the top, I have posted one of the pictures. It is of Ju-Jitsu (1913). As we can see here the work is about one of his favourite subjects – conflict – and is set within a geometrically repeating grid. This technique was later used by Bomberg several times, for example in his monumental In the Hold (1914). It may not work as well as some of his later works, but the effect is startling all the same, especially as we have to remember this was from 1913!

Here is Bathing Scene.

Bathing Scene

Bathing Scene, David Bomberg, Oil, 1913. Painting is © and shown courtesy of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery. The photo © by VortexMaster 1982

I love the name of this one – Bathing Scene. The painting is clearly another fight, and it seems a club is being used in a rather sadistic way. I suggest the scene is from the old testament, where such sadistic events were happening quite often. Bomberg had used biblical incidents before as a subject. But the mode in which this one is painted is rather interesting: it is more Fauvist than British-geometricist. Fauvism was also being tested by other British artists at this time, for example by Lawrence Atkinson. Note the use of a Bomberg ‘trapezoid’ – a table shape that is viewed edge-on, and helps frame the subject, and unifies the image. This trapezoidal shape recurs often in Bomberg’s work.

Not-a-Vorticist

Bomberg was not a signatory of the Vorticist Manifesto later in 1914. Although he knew the other Vorticists, Bomberg refused to be cajoled by Lewis to join the group, being intent on ploughing his own furrow. It seemed to work in his favour: he was invited to hold a one man show at the Chenil Gallery in 1914, while the Vorticists didn’t get their own exhibition sorted out until 1915.

But Bomberg’s personal style was so similar to the Vorticists, that he has to be bracketed with them when discussing the work of the British avant-garde at this time. His style was certainly consistent with Vorticist themes, and were executed in a very similar way. It must be said that Bomberg, the not-Vorticist was perhaps the most dedicated Vorticist painter of them all, even before Vorticism had existed, in 1913! It is obvious that his work from this time contributed greatly to the evolution of the Vorticist aesthetic, and so his work retroactively becomes Vorticist whether he likes it or not.

More about Bomberg here.