Drawn to Youth
Rachel Campbell Johnston
A flood of runners, fists clenched and feet pounding, comes pouring towards you. Lines of trees and park railings form channels along which they gush: a torrent of heart-pumping, breath-gasping humanity merging and jumbling into a great jostling flow.
Standing as if plunged right amid them, you can almost feel yourself brace as you look. No wonder the pigeons are sent madly scattering. Even the stone bison of the Albert Memorial is roused to new life. As the boys surge round the base of the pedestal upon which for more than 150 years it has stood, a stolidly implacable monument to the New World, it appears suddenly to waken and shake its rough pelt with an impatient snort.
Simon Page has been teaching art to the students at Harrow for some 30 years now. These images capture with a freshness that will always somehow feel current a variety of memories from his time at the school.
It is no accident that this show borrows its title – Physical Energy – from the totemic equestrian statue that stands, at a star-like confluence of pathways, in the middle of London's Kensington Gardens. Cast from a sculpture by the Victorian idealist George Watts, it speaks of his dream that his work should inspire those who saw it to believe in and so embrace a spirit of progress. It is this sense of possibility which Page's work also sets out to capture.
Our word “educate” derives from the Latin ducere: to draw out or lead. Page, quite literally, draws out the energy of youth in his pictures. Anything from a mountain camping trip through a music concert to a maths test might become his subject matter. He captures the atmospheric essence in eloquent sketches. Here is a boy reading, for instance. His shoulders slump. His hair flops forward. His lower lip falls slack. An air of intense concentration is locked into this image. How different this solitary study feels from Murmuration – getting settled: a sea of heads heaving like the surface of water as it gradually calms in the wake of some flurried disturbance.
Page allows line to think for itself. Follow the sweep of the crayon as it flows through languorous limbs, interlinking the teenagers who drowse in the afternoon heat on the banks of a pool. Compare this to the quivering flicker of an etching which shows those very same bathers later in the evening. They hug their shoulders and shiver as they huddle in freezing waters. In the larger paintings, in which the snapshot style spontaneity of the sketch is translated into a more finished picture, colour is introduced to intensify the effects. It burns like the muscles of runners who are pushed to their limits. It explodes like a burst of adrenalin.
These pictures ostensibly speak of the ways in which, when an individual is drawn out, when his energies (whether physical or mental) are channelled, they can discover a fresh power which will carry them forwards into the future. This sense of vivacity is transferred to the viewer. That is what makes these pictures so striking. They are more than just records of bygone memories. They speak, instead, of a living force which drives progress. And as such they are infused with that spirit of irrepressible hope which should underpin every student's education.