A selection of 20 charcoal drawings of New York City produced by Dennis Creffield during two trips in the mid 1990s. These drawings have never been shown in public before, although other from the series are in the permanent collection of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester and were displayed in their Urban Landscapes exhibition of 2018. All works can be viewed at Waterhouse & Dodd (London).
Dennis Creffield was in New York in 1993, “a city I love,” as he phrased it in a letter to a friend; he was there to draw the great skyscape of Manhattan. While there, he sold New York drawings to one of the Whitney family as well as to the prestigious Ice Collection.
Only recently has a new cache of drawings derived from that (and one subsequent) New York stay come to light. They are both fine works in their own right and oblige us to reconsider a certain orthodoxy about the artist which grew up around his Cathedral drawings, collected by Tate, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the British Museum, to name just a few.
These New York drawings make crystal clear the artist was very much of an artist of the mid-twentieth century and he felt bound to that quintessentially modern city. In the same letter to a friend, quoted earlier, he wrote: “I've gradually moved downtown... to Little Italy - which is where I feel I belong. My mother used to take me to movies when I was a child which all seemed to take places in hotels like this one. I've seen thousands of wonderful paintings.”
When his fellow artist R.B. Kitaj wrote of the wonder of Creffield’s cathedral drawings, he said that they were the best of their kind since Mondrian – and of course the subject of Mondrian’s mature work was Manhattan. Socially, Dennis Creffield may have thought himself timid, but in his art he was fearless – matching himself against Bomberg (his early teacher), Turner, Cezanne and Courbet.
These New York drawings take on Mondrian, restoring the physicality and materiality of both individual buildings and the Manhattan landscape, with a virtuoso orchestration of marks, smudges and lines. One of the artist’s central perceptions was that the true inhabitants of cites are its buildings. It was always the human world to which Creffield was loyal – the world, profane and sacred, made by all of us.
The 1993 trip resulted in a number of drawings, including the three depictions of the Empire State Building included here, which Creffield described as “a lovely building which I was delighted to find is exactly my age.” The trip also prompted Creffield to return to the city to produce a larger body of work on the subject, supported by the generosity of Colin St John Wilson, architect of London's British Library and a great admirer of Creffield's work. St John Wilson’s collection was bequeathed to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester who, consequentially, have a particularly strong group of works by Creffield. A number of their New York drawings by Creffield were included in an exhibition titled Urban Landscapes in October 2018.
We are delighted to present this online exhibition simultaneously on waterhousedodd.com and denniscreffield.org. The drawings are available to view at Waterhouse & Dodd at 16 Savile Row, London W1S 3PL. Although an appointment is not necessary, it is recommended that visitors call or email Jamie Anderson (Jamie@waterhousedodd.com / 0207 734 7800) in advance of any visit.