Sarah Nechamkin
Exhibition until December, 31 2013

Where does Sarah Nechamkin’s painting come from? The question, taken literally, appears a little absurd given the obvious answer: from herself. It could hardly be denied, although the riddle remains – where exactly does Sarah Nechamkin come from? What are her roots, her influences, her preferences and artistic origins, her strengths and schools, her thematic world, her cultural background? All these and more, in fact, help us understand the work of this singular artist, and only when answers emerge do we begin to glimpse, albeit vaguely at this stage, the nature of her particular language, her channels of communication.

As a girl Sarah Nechamkin adored painting, a vocation nurtured in her native London. She was born there in 1917 into a protective household which featured a Russian grandmother that sang lullabies in Hebrew, whose melodies and lyrics were doubtless as descriptive as full of passion and colour. Her parents were steeped in art, and her Uncle Boris was a successful portrait painter. Before enrolling at the Chelsea School of Art, where her style underwent its mature development, Sarah received lessons from Nan Youngman, a highly influential name in British art education. Once at Chelsea she received instruction from highly significant artistic figures, awakening not only her imagination but also her ability to reduce forms to their abstract essence and ideal proportions (Henry Moore), acquiring at the same time a thorough grounding in technical and stylistic matters (Graham Sutherland). It was in London, too, that she experienced at the age of six her father’s abandonment of the family, while World War II brought the awful death of her mother during a bombing raid, as well as that of other relatives in Nazi concentration camps.

Sarah NechamkinHer first steps as a professional artist were in graphic design and book illustration. Other jobs included a spell in the publications department of the National Gallery, teaching at Clapton Secondary School for Girls, and working as a nurse in the West London Hospital.

In 1961 she moved to Ibiza, where she was to meet her future husband, devoting her energies to producing a rich vision of the island seen through its landscapes, moonscapes, birds, gardens and orchards, villages (San Agustín, above all) and winding country lanes with their unending mystery. Or rather, she painted that which lies behind all these things. The fact is that Sarah Nechamkin’s pictorial oeuvre radiates her character above all, that biographical baggage of Russian, Jewish and English roots, as well as a cultural inheritance crammed with art, folktales, legends and dreams. It comes as no surprise that she describes herself as an ardent admirer of both Paul Klee and Marc Chagall.
The egg tempera Sarah Nechamkin uses so masterfully in her paintings provides whitish layers which allow us a deeper glimpse into the world. Landscapes appear slowly, as if emerging from a misty day, and her gentle andante pace is precisely that used by the narrator of fairy tales, gradually adding and fitting scenes and episodes into the whole, reining back excitement and surprise to just the right degree. One might almost say that in each of her pictures Sarah Nechamkin is painting a story, a dream, a painting which illustrates an overarching feeling, the one left behind once the story comes to an end. So it hardly matters whether or not her underpinnings of nature and her fidelity to the scene are based on strict observation, because the two are of a very different character: her references are to feelings and her overriding concern is emotions. Sarah Nechamkin, in this sense, does not paint what she sees but what she feels when she sees.

Her bird paintings are somewhat more illustrative, revealing a clear, crisp hand as an artist and designer, matched by the observational and descriptive skills of a true amateur naturalist. How else might a given species be painted – a greenfinch or white wagtail, for example, or a wheatear – other than through rendering in perfect detail the specific traits that allow such birds to be identified?
I have noticed that in almost all her paintings a moon appears above the horizon. It could be the sun at times, but whatever may be the case, a circular orb features in most of her compositions. A symbol, perhaps, harbouring a special kind of magic, a mysterious ‘other’ encoding a profound meaning, reflecting a constant value of faith, like a belief in oneself. This is what Sarah has possessed during the course of her extraordinary career, throughout a long life full of creativity and imagination.