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Ivor Weiss, Artist

October 18, 2017
by the gentle author

You only have until this Saturday 21st October to catch this rare retrospective at the Weiss Gallery

The Onlooker, 1968

I went down to Jermyn St in St James’ yesterday to meet Mark Weiss of the Weiss Gallery to hear about his father, the painter Ivor Weiss (1919-1986) who was born in Stepney. The gallery is filled with a vibrant display of large bold paintings that possess a soulfulness and tender humanity. They embody the cultural memory of the Jewish East End, speaking eloquently of a long life and a significant talent.

“My father was one of four children. His parents were both Romanian Jews who came over to London at the end of the nineteenth century. We don’t know the exact dates, we have very little documentation of family history. My father’s father came from quite a well-to-do family in Bucharest. He was one of four or five children and his wife, whose maiden name was Wiseman, came from a very large family of twelve or thirteen. We don’t know when they got married but we do know they lived, as many immigrant Jews did at that time, in Stepney in the East End around Cable St. So my father was born a Cockney in Stepney in 1919.

His father was a Master Furrier and clearly was quite successful, although he was only naturalised in 1929. By that time, he had clearly made some money and was living in 33 Elgin Crescent, Westbourne Grove. My grandfather was a gambler and my father used to say that his mother was in tears at the end of the week because all the money his father had earned had been spent, betting on dogs and horses.

My father enlisted when war broke out in 1939 when he was only twenty years old. As a nice Jewish boy from the East End, he expected to be put into a force that suited him but instead he was enrolled in a Glaswegian regiment which he hated. He ended up in the Royal Corps of Signals and was posted to the North African campaign, ending up in Malta. There his artistic talents were first recognised and he attended an art school, winning a couple of prizes. When he was demobilised he went to Heatherley School of Art in Baker St and then St Martin’s in the Charing Cross Rd, where he met my mother Joan, who was also an art student and a painter. They married very quickly after that in 1949.

My father’s brother was a pilot in the RAF and had been seconded during the war to teach American pilots how to fly fighter planes and he married a Jewish lady in Montgomery, Alabama. There was still rationing after the war in this country and he invited my father over to Alabama to live. So my parents went to start a new life there and opened an art school called the Weiss Gallery. It was not easy for them because they were committed to their school being desegregated. They hated the situation, but they had spent all their money getting out there. I and my brother were born in America and, by 1955, they had saved enough money to return.

My father had an offer to be a stand-in art teacher at Lancing College for six months and then he got a job in a secondary modern in Brightlingsea, Essex, where my sister was born. To supplement his income, he used to teach evening classes. By chance, he was asked by a local lady if he could sell a painting for her, so my father brokered the sale of the picture to a local antique dealer and earned more money than he could make in a month. My parents drifted into art dealing from our home in Brightlingsea and, within a few years, made enough money to buy a big house in Colchester. My father had an intuitive eye, and he had studied Art History and technique, so he was well placed to become an art dealer, and my mother used to do the restoration. They made quite a formidable team and the business grew rapidly.

Yet he still had aspirations for his art and there came a watershed when Mr Weston, of the wealthy family who owned Fortnum & Mason, invited my father to paint for him and his friends in the south of France, but my father said, ‘No, I don’t want to leave my family.’ It was a fork in the road. If he had done that, he might have developed more of a career as a commercial painter. Having made that choice, painting remained a private exercise. He was never that prolific, and painting remained a personal and emotional thing for him. It was difficult, it was not something that came easy – the creation of pictures.

For the rest of his life, he and my mother concentrated on art dealing with him painting privately. But after a series of minor heart attacks, he had triple heart by-pass surgery and it proved the catalyst for him paint Judaic subjects. They are some of his most powerful works, drawing on the traditions he grew up with in the East End among Hassidic Jews.

My father died of a heart attack in 1986, at the time I opened up my gallery in London which we would have run together. His paintings remained hanging in the houses of members of the family and in storage with my mother until she died aged ninety-two this January. So we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to show his work here in the gallery to commemorate his life and my mother’s life. These are quite emotional paintings for us as a family.

I regret that I never asked my father questions about the East End and he never discussed it. Sorting out my mother’s affairs, I could not even find a marriage certificate, and I realised they had never talked about their wedding and I had never asked, and how sad that is. As children, we never questioned our parents about their past. They grew up through the horrors of the Second World War and, the generation before, they endured the First World War. My grandfather served with great distinction, but had a horrendous time and had nightmares about it for the rest of his life. He did not want to talk about it.

My father was remarkable man and one of the things that strikes me, when I think about him, is that he never made enemies – which is a rare thing in this life. He was multi-talented, he taught pottery, he could make enamel jewellery, he could make furniture, all sorts of things.

The Discussion, 1968

Four Drinkers, 1968

Seated cCouple, fifties

The Anchor Inn, Brightlingsea

The Park Bench, 1967

Woman in Pub, 1981

Boredom, 1964

The Waiting Room, 1964

The Last Supper, 1972

The Elders, 1972

Seated Rabbi, 1972

Approaching Storm, 1966

Wivenhoe Creek, 1966

Ivor & Joan Weiss

In the studio in the fifties

Ivor Weiss painting in the eighties

Ivor Weiss (1919-86), Self Portrait mid-eighties

Paintings copyright © Estate of Ivor Weiss

Portrait of an Artist: Ivor Weiss (1919 – 1986) is at Weiss Gallery until this Saturday 21st October with a special Saturday opening 11-5pm

11 Responses leave one →
  1. October 18, 2017

    Hugely expressive work, the landscapes as much as the portraiture. In a very literal sense, The Last Supper and The Elders are icon’ic.

  2. October 18, 2017

    I do like Ivor’s style so refreshingly different, nice pic with the prayer -shawls lots of contrast here. This family was full of talent some in the Hassidic tradition. Joan was a key player here I am sure. Shalom Weiss family. John a bus pass poet – PS It is right & nice this spread is here today

  3. Helen Breen permalink
    October 18, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing these powerful paintings. Interesting how many small art schools and programs were available to these artists as you have referenced in the bios of other artists too.

    Ivor and Joan made a handsome couple, eh?

  4. Annie Medcalf permalink
    October 18, 2017

    I love Ivor’s paintings – they have pathos, style and humour. How lovely to have GA’s permanent record of them. I’m so sorry to miss the exhibition.

  5. October 18, 2017

    These paintings have the raw beauty of an accomplished master. They go right to the soul of the subjects and praise them. They also reveal the generous humanity of the artist.

  6. Paul Shaviv permalink
    October 18, 2017

    Striking and exceptional! Thanks. Is there a catalogue or book on Ivor Weiss?

  7. October 18, 2017

    ‘Blimin’ heck that’s Jesus!’ The response was visceral as I scrolled down the images on my PC – a change from scrolling Spitalfields Life on my phone, you get to see the paintings properly. I was immediately arrested by the image of The Last Supper. Such a fantastic representation of the sorrow of Christ by a Jewish artist. Amazing.

    Some great images here: the woman in the pub, The Rabbi, The Waiting Room, Wivenhoe Creek but the impact of the image of Christ at The Last Supper was/is quite astonishing. Like a mini epiphany.

  8. October 18, 2017

    Actually it is not so much the sorrow of Christ but the shock. A human Christ frozen by the weight of fate. Here is the ‘son of man’ as much as the ‘son of God.’ Apologies for posting twice but what a piece of art. This should be in a church. It’s one of the most human pieces of spiritual art I have ever seen. (Or should that be spiritual pieces of human art?)

  9. October 19, 2017

    What a wonderful and independent art style! Love it.

    Love & Peace

  10. October 20, 2017

    Some truly great stuff there, I am particularly taken with the flat capped men, drinking or just hanging about.

  11. Bob Gladding permalink
    October 21, 2017

    The Gallery told me yesterday they have had a lot of visitors due to Spitalfields Life, and this wonderful show is being extended for a further week.

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