tIt was about to be shown in London Saatchi Gallery This weekend is great for so many reasons. There is a keen eye for precision in their artist, George Western; crypto titles like Zeb and Krypton; And heavy use of something you don’t often see at prestigious art fairs: a felt-tip pen. But perhaps the most remarkable fact of all is that in the summer of 2022, all of that business has been thrown into a leapfrog, about to be destroyed forever.
And thanks to the eagle eyes of Western’s downstairs neighbor, Alan Warburton, the artwork has ever survived. Warburton ran out and salvaged more than 100 of Westren’s drawings after he discovered removal men had thrown them away from his flat in Spitalfields, east London. After photos of the artwork were posted on Twitter, the tale of her last-minute refining went viral.
But As The Guardian reported at the timeThe story was bittersweet. Westren passed away last summer at the age of 74. A shy outsider, he endured periods of addiction and homelessness before finding salvation through the delicate geometry and monochromatic patterns of op art. Despite his passion and apparent professionalism, Westren had achieved only minor success during his lifetime, and Warburton, who was struggling to connect with the Westren family, was a little unsure of how to proceed. Realizing that the media spotlight would only last so long, he decided to print and sell copies of the work; The plan was to raise enough money to fund a small exhibition of the originals as a memorial. What happened next was greater than anyone could have imagined.
Largely thanks to the Guardian story, Warburton says, the prints raised more than £50,000 after just two days of sale. Our report also helped spark a wave of interest in Westren: Saatchi contacted about the possibility of showing his work, while ITV featured the story of their discovery in the national news. Westren’s sister and niece came across the report on television, and eventually called Warburton. Little did they know the extent of Western’s artistic output.
“We were surprised — and delighted — to see Alan tell my uncle’s story on the news a year after his death,” says Westren’s niece, Sharon Millington. It took the family some time to come to terms with the story. “It was absolutely not something that could be expected to happen,” says Warburton. “The fact that their Uncle George lived all this other life.”
Warburton offered to turn the works over immediately to the Westren family (“I had to say, ‘I don’t think they belonged to me, they belong to you.’) But his family made sure of him as an artist himself curating a Saatchi program. Warburton says he spent more than three months tinkering with the project Along with my Ph.D., which was challenging and emotional but utterly rewarding.
The artworks on display at Saatchi are clearly indebted to the pioneer of British visual art Bridget Riley, whose 1999 private show in London first ignited Western’s passion for art. Watch them from afar as they go about playing tricks with your mind; Venture close to them and you can see Westren’s very human touch with his primitive crayons, which can sometimes start to run out of ink or veer slightly out of line.
Along with the original artwork, there is a short documentary about Westren. friends and fellow artists from SMART network Charity remembers a kind, eccentric man who helped conquer his own demons through art. “George was a lonely man who spent many hours on his artwork,” says Bill Dennison, a friend of Western’s of 17 years. “He was dedicated to doing the opposite of an office job—the quiet guy’s mess.”
Edward Emsley, who runs the studio Wildwho made the film, says: “George’s story is powerful because it highlights how many people out there are capable of great things but are never really appreciated or discovered while they are alive. I realized we don’t really get to know the people who are alive.” enough around us. We should be more concerned with others and talk more to the people who live around us.”
Sure enough, Warburton’s neighborhood intervention brought a happy ending, and brought the Westren family relief, too.
“Seeing his artwork in such a prestigious setting is just incredible,” says Millington. “I’m sorry George isn’t here to see it. I’m sure he would have been overwhelmed by the global response to his work.”
George Western: On the Straight and the Narrow Saatchi GalleryLondon, until January 25th.