Modern Gothic at the Catto gallery

Featuring Pam Hawkes and George Underwood, each belonging to a particular strain of European art – one that focuses on the senses and the mind over pure logic and realism, a tradition stretching back to the dark ages via Fuseli, Bruegel and Bosch.

Pam Hawkes

This new collection of work by Pam Hawkes is an absolute treat for her many fans. Let’s call it classic Hawkes. Why? Because it dials up all the elements that make Pam one of the most beloved artists in the UK. Here is a series of paintings that focuses on women wearing halos of flowers, and shrouded in outrageously colourful wraps. They are placed in front of glittering gold-flecked walls, and they frequently stare at the viewer with inscrutable expressions.

These are the elements that make Pam’s work – frequently called ‘modern gothic’ – immediately identifiable. They have sustained a career that began at art school in Birmingham in the 70s before family commitments took priority. In her thirties, Pam resumed her studies, got an MA and began lecturing at schools and universities across the Midlands.

As a full-time painter, Pam developed a style that combines the majesty of Byzantine icons with the mystery of the modern. Yet for all the fantasy, the work is always beautifully composed and technically immaculate. Pam says: ”The characters in my paintings don’t readily give away their stories..It is a seductive world that they seem to hint at, a place of myth-making and mystery. They invite us in at some level to speculate on the idealised memories of their lives and to give a second thought to the half forgotten fables we each collect and carry through our own world.”

George Underwood

There’s a painting in this new collection by George Underwood entitled ‘Dream’. It depicts a half-asleep woman in profile wearing an extravagant headdress. But look again. That’s no head dress. It’s an eagle, sleeping and perfectly peaceful on top of her head. It raises the question: whose dream are we talking about here?

The painting is classic George Underwood. Beautiful, accessible, and utterly fantastical. It competes for your attention with other gems from the new series. There’s ‘Out of Sight’ with its sky and sea full of human eyes. Or how about ‘Easy Going’ in which a knight sits on the back of what appears to be the progeny of a zebra and a giraffe.

It’s all as delirious and entertaining as we’ve come to expect from George, who has been developing his talents since the late 60s. George was a lifelong friend of David Bowie, and experimented with music before focusing on art. He achieved a degree of fame as an illustrator of books and album covers before turning to fine art. Initially George drew inspiration from the Fantastic Realism of Ernst Fuchs, Rudolph Hausner and Eric Brauer, and he used their example as the springboard to create his unique universe. The effect is transforming. As David Bowie wrote in 2014: ‘It’s uncanny how George’s images inhabit their own world so completely. He breathes an icy life force into them.”

On show at the Catto Gallery from 21st March – 8th April.