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In the Frame for June 2013: Stanley Lench’s ‘Norman Reid’s Brain’

A mass of black, waving lines with green and blue patterns and patches of bright pink paint, Norman Reid’s Brain is one of Stanley Lench’s more abstract works. The subject of this painting may seem odd, but with a few snippets of information we can begin to understand more about it, and its artist. Stanley Lench worked as an attendant at Tate Britain in the 1970s where Norman Reid was Director until 1979.

Having suffered with mental ill health since his teenage years in the late 1940s, Lench began work at the Tate believing his own artistic career was over. In an interview with his friend David Trowbridge, Lench reveals that actually working at the Tate helped revive his enthusiasm, ‘I started to look at the pictures that when I was 14, influenced me…to become an artist, the Picassos, the Braques, the Chagalls, the Modigliani sculpture and the girl with the long neck.’

Lench painted prolifically in the 1970s, depicting David Hockney, William Blake, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Sitwell and others he admired, deriding those he didn’t in works such as The Two Faced Pig of Art (1978). The treatment of Norman Reid’s Brain doesn’t appear to be overtly negative - the largely warm colour palette and gentle lines evoke a careful serenity. This calm is compromised though, by tension created with the presence of a thumb - is the brain being cradled or clutched? Perhaps Lench felt ambivalent about Norman Reid.

The abstract nature of the composition may be a reference to Reid’s celebrated development of the Tate collection, which included the acquisition of much abstract and conceptual work (to the chagrin of David Hockney, who complained publicly that Reid had rejected the figurative). Despite periods of mental ill health, alcohol addiction and reclusion, Lench’s constant and keen interest in the art world is betrayed through this subtle allusion to his subject’s professional career.

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