Reviews

“Fore-edge paintings, with their origins rooted in the lavish libraries of the elite, speak to a bygone era where opulence and privilege were paramount. Drawing inspiration from the techniques of esteemed early 19th-century watercolor artists such as David Cox, Varley, and Prout, the creations of the modern artist Pen De’Grof, pay homage to this rich artistic tradition. While his finished works may seamlessly blend with the originals of yesteryears, they bear a subtle yet unmistakable mark—a distinctive small red cross adorning the bottom left-hand corner, serving as both a nod to tradition, a signature of authenticity and an aid to the expert, to avoid any confusion with earlier works by Edwards of Halifax or Miss C. B. Currie.

Delving deeper into the historical context, fore-edge paintings emerged as a means for the affluent to flaunt their status, often commissioning depictions of their estates, pastimes, or pursuits. Yet, beneath the veneer of luxury lay a stark reality—the same elite wielded power to dispossess and disenfranchise the rural populace, usurping land and livelihoods through nefarious means such as enclosure acts and oppressive laws.

It’s within this dichotomy of splendor and exploitation that De’Grof finds resonance with the power of art as a conduit for justice and equity. In reimagining this exquisite art form, He chose to shift the focus from the privileged few to the marginalized and downtrodden, offering a poignant reminder of the injustices perpetuated by systems of power and privilege. Each painting serves as a testament to resilience and resistance, immortalizing the struggles of those sidelined by history—a silent but steadfast rebuke to the inequalities that persist.”

David Rhys Hogan, Art Critic.


Beneath the Gilt, A Thorn

As an art critic, I am rarely enthralled by mere technical mastery. Yet, here I stand, captivated by the meticulous deception of Pen De’Grof’s fore-edge paintings. His brushstrokes imitate the harmony of style of old watercolour masters, like David Cox, with such exquisite mimicry that even the sharpest eye could mistake them for unearthed relics from a bygone era. His dedication to historical authenticity is both admirable and unnerving.

But then, the veil parts. The Gilded Edge tell not just pastoral idylls, but subversive narratives. The genteel manor is dwarfed by the toil of unseen labourers. The bustling market reveals not just merchants, but also the grinding poverty beneath their wares. He is playing a dangerous game, an artist, inserting thorns into the rose garden of the art market.

Yes, the technique is flawless. The materials, the methods, and the very soul of the 19th century were captured with uncanny precision. This alone merits praise, for few contemporary artists possess such a command of a bygone aesthetic. But his genius lies not in replicating the past, but in subtly reshaping it.

He paints narratives that the original patrons would have deemed distasteful, even subversive. He reminds us that the wealth of these gilded pages often came at the cost of blood and sweat, of lives uprooted and silenced. And he does so with a brushstroke so delicate, so harmonious with the established canon, that the subversive message seeps in almost unnoticed, like a slow-acting poison.

This, I find both audacious and unsettling. The art market, after all, thrives on an unspoken pact between artist and collector. The artist creates beauty, while the collector provides the financial oxygen that sustains this ecosystem. He, however, appears to relish blurring the lines, planting seeds of unease within the very system that enables his art to exist.

Is this a stroke of genius, or a reckless gamble? Can art truly thrive on dissent, on questioning the very foundation of its own validation? I cannot offer a definitive answer. But I can assure you, his work has ignited a doubt within me that echoes the very tensions he weaves into his paintings.

Perhaps, this is his true masterpiece – not the individual canvas beneath the gold, but the collective unease he engenders within the gilded halls of the art world. He forces us to confront the uncomfortable truths hidden beneath the surface, to question the very value we ascribe to beauty.

Adrian Charrington – Antiquarian Review.

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