LECTURES / THE ARTS SOCIETY

On this page you will find a brief outline of the lectures I am offering for the Arts Society, arts festivals, etc. Each one is based around a Powerpoint presentation of high quality images, featuring artworks, archive photos, ephemera and my own photos. The lectures listed below can be combined or extended to create a Study Day; just get in touch and we can discuss what you need. I am sometimes available at short notice, so if you have a cancellation I may be able to help. For further information, Arts Society members can look me up on the Directory. Otherwise, please get in touch via the email on my Profile page.  

As well as lecturing for The Arts Society, I have given illustrated talks and run study days for museums, arts organisations and festivals including The Victoria & Albert Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Pallant House, Towner, Royal Watercolour Society, Friends of Leeds Art Gallery, National Maritime Museum, Nottingham Contemporary, RWA Bristol, Hatchards, Blenheim Literature Festival, The Art Fund, Salisbury Museum, Ways with Words & Canterbury Festival.


A GARDEN LIKE NO OTHER: EDWARD JAMES & LAS POZAS
In the depths of the Mexican jungle lies an enchanted valley in which strange ruins tower over waterfalls and pools. It seems like the remains of a lost civilisation, but the arches and stairways were built only in the last century by Edward James, a rich English eccentric and Surrealist. Ranging around the world and across the 20th century, this colourful lecture tells the story of Edward James and Las Pozas, introducing along the way an array of intriguing characters, and exploring the wider theme of the modern artist-gardener.

THE SHOCK OF THE NEW: A SCANDALOUS HISTORY OF MODERN ART
When Matisse, Cezanne and co. were first shown in London in 1910, critics and public reacted with horror, setting the trend for the next hundred years. In an entertaining survey this lecture returns to the scene of some memorable scandals, from Salvador Dali's appearance in a diving suit in 1936 to Alfred Munnings' infamous attack on Picasso and, of course, That Bed. Enlivened with archive photos and satirical newspaper cartoons, this lecture explores a history of resistance to modern art - while at the same time introducing the work of modern artists in an unusual and approachable way. 

A FORGOTTEN GOLDEN AGE? PAINTING IN BRITAIN, 1900-1950
For a long time, British art of the early 20th century has been perceived as provincial and insufficiently modern. Not any more. Drawing on my extensive experience as curator and author, this lecture explores a fascinating period, from the wanderers Gwen and Augustus John, through the Bloomsbury Group and on to that little-known period between the wars. We visit Stanley Spencer's memorial chapel at Burghclere, follow Eric Ravilious into the Downs and meet forgotten stars like Frances Hodgkins. A colourful, eye-opening tour through a golden age of painting.

A BIGGER SPLASH: THE MAKING OF HOCKNEY'S MASTERPIECE
David Hockney's celebrated painting of a California swimming pool has been with us for fifty years but has lost neither its freshness, nor its strangeness. In this wide-ranging lecture we will explore the making of this bright yet haunting picture. How was it that a young artist from Yorkshire ended up in California? What influences did he draw on? How were these swimming pool paintings received back in London? The quest to answer these simple questions will take us not only into Hockney's life and career but to unexpected times and places, so that we end up looking at this tantalizing painting in a quite different way. 


EDWARD BAWDEN: ARTIST & ADVENTURER
In a long and illustrious career Edward Bawden (1903-89) achieved renown as a painter, designer, illustrator and teacher, yet he remains an elusive figure. Today he is remembered for his spectacular linocuts and humorous illustrations, yet he was once feted as an innovative modern painter. During the 1930s he barely left his home in Great Bardfield, Essex, but in 1940 embarked on a remarkable career as a war artist, travelling solo around the Middle East. Post-war he made prints on an epic scale while illustrating numerous books with his habitual skill and humour, and today he is seen as a key 20th century figure by artists like Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton. As curator of a forthcoming Bawden exhibition (summer 2018), I draw on in-depth research, archive material and more. 

 
LOVER, TEACHER, MUSE – OR RIVAL? COUPLES IN MODERN BRITISH ART
Who does the housework? Who gets the glory? Successful artists tend to be driven and, dare one say it, egotistical, so what happens when two of them set up home together? Focusing on 20th century British art, this colourful lecture explores the lives and careers of notable artist couples, including Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, and Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden. It will quickly become clear that, where artists are concerned, there are few rules. Love inspires creativity but so, sometimes, does the fading of love. One artist may begin in the ascendant only to see the other achieve greater success. The private lives of artist couples are often startling and never dull, and the paintings and sculpture on show here are glorious.



ERIC RAVILIOUS: A LIFE IN PICTURES
Eric Ravilious was only 39 when he died on active service as a war artist in 1942, yet he had already achieved amazing things. A brilliant wood engraver and designer, he is best known today for his haunting watercolours in which lighthouses, white horses, empty rooms and downland paths become marvels. In my popular series Ravilious in Pictures, I have explored many of these paintings in depth, teasing out stories and characters hidden in the wings. This entertaining illustrated talk illuminates the life and work of a playful, enigmatic artist, in watercolour & other media.


PAUL NASH: A LIFE IN PICTURES
Based on my book Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream, this lecture tells the story of Paul Nash's life through a selection of his finest paintings, supported by photographs and other material. From his own writing we learn that Nash was witty, playful and passionate. Investigating paintings like 'Event on the Downs' we discover a world of love and struggle and realise that he was both clever and emotionally driven. A war artist in both World Wars, Nash defied chronic illness to paint until the last day of his life.


PAUL AND JOHN NASH: BROTHERS IN ART
Growing up together in the shadow of their mother's illness, Paul and John Nash emerged as artists at the same time, exhibiting their work in a joint exhibition in 1913. The following year they both enlisted in the Artists' Rifles, and both served on the Western Front before working together as war artists. Both subsequently explored wood engraving and book illustration, but otherwise their art moved in different directions and, while remaining close, they each sought to distance themselves from the tag of 'the Nash brothers'. It could be the plot of a novel, but every word of this intriguing, personal story of brotherly love, strife and competition is true!



EDWARD SEAGO: FROM THE CIRCUS TO SANDRINGHAM
My book on 20th century British landscape painter Edward Seago is out in June 2014. Like LS Lowry, Seago was immensely popular but disdained by critics; today the best of his landscapes look fantastic, while his life story is full of interest. A prolific author, he overcame childhood illness before running away with the circus. He also mixed in aristocratic circles, making friends among the Royal family; a colourful wartime career and a trip to Antarctica aboard the Royal Yacht add to this fascinating account. Seago is much loved by artists, and here we explore a number of his finest paintings in detail.



GEORGIA O'KEEFFE IN NEW MEXICO
This colourful lecture explores the relationship between an extraordinary American painter and the picturesque state of New Mexico. Having visited the mountain art colony of Taos for the first time in 1929, she moved to New Mexico after World War II. Fascinated by mountains and desert, adobe churches and sun-bleached bones, and above all by the brilliant light and vast skies of the Land of Enchantment, O’Keeffe painted constantly. She was a fearless explorer, setting off alone into the empty landscape in a battered old car, and a tremendous character. This lecture brings to life one of America’s greatest artists, and one of its most beautiful places.


ART AND LIFE IN SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
A mixture of art talk and travelog, this lecture is based on two decades' personal experience of a unique art colony. Nowhere else in the USA have Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures grown side by side as they have here, and this diversity, along with the glorious light of the high desert, has attracted artists since the early years of the railroad in the 19th century. The history of this still-thriving colony is rich, strange and full of remarkable characters, including British visitors like DH Lawrence and famous American artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe; it's inspiring, funny and occasionally scandalous. 



LAUGHTER AND LOSS: BRITISH WAR ARTISTS OF WORLD WAR TWO

When Kenneth Clark set up the War Artists scheme in 1939 he hoped to employ British artists and keep them safe. In this wide-ranging lecture we follow the fortunes of those chosen, from Eric Ravilious and Edward Ardizzone to Laura Knight and Paul Nash. We will see how the experience of war inspired different artists, examine some of the striking artworks created during the conflict, and commemorate the lives of those who did not come home. This lecture can be amended, or expanded as a study day, to compare the experience of artists in World War One and Two - just let me know!


HIDDEN TREASURES OF BOOK ILLUSTRATION
By their very nature, book illustrations tend to be hidden, and the work of even well-known artists is rarely seen. In a broad survey we enter the secret world of the illustrated book, focusing mainly on popular titles such as Alice in Wonderland and Gilbert White's Selborne - showing the diverse ways in which artists have responded to the text. We look at wood engravings, line drawings, pochoir illustrations and lithographs by a diverse range of artists, including John Tenniel and EH Shepard, Barnett Freedman and Eric Ravilious, Kathleen Hale and Quentin Blake. A visual and literary treat.





'Thank  you so much for coming to talk to us at Sidmouth last week.  Several people have remarked on how interesting they found your lecture about a painter  they hadn't known about before, and felt that  that is just "what NADFAS is all about".  It certainly made me want to go to your exhibition at Dulwich later on.  Thank you for such an interesting morning.' Elisabeth Neather, Sidmouth DFAS

‘Thank you so much for a wonderful day on Saturday... We have had lots of positive feedback.’ Jo Banham, Victoria and Albert Museum

'Thank you for your wonderful illustrated lecture at the Bankside Gallery on Thursday.' Isla Hackney, Royal Watercolour Society


‘Vigorous applause from a packed audience was evidence enough of the calibre of the museum lecture last Thursday by James Russell…’ Wiltshire Gazette & Herald

‘Alfriston put yet more gloss on its artistic credentials with a sell-out talk celebrating the work of Eric Ravilious.’ Sussex Express

‘Thank you for such a great talk on Saturday, and for signing the books. People thoroughly enjoyed it and we've had great feedback...’ Sara Cooper, Towner Gallery

‘Thanks again for the talk, it was a great start to our proposed autumn series of lectures.’ David Oelman, Fry Art Gallery

‘Like many other people, apparently, I could have gone on listening to you for a lot longer! Thank you so much for making the effort to come all this way.’ Catherine Bingham, Rye Arts Festival

 

2 comments:

  1. Hi There
    just back from seeing the Bon Hiver exhibition at the Towner in Eastbourne including the Downs in winter by ER. My favorite artist and I enjoyed the splendid Ravilious guided walk last year from the gallery to the sites of many of his paintings,
    I am always moved by the strange sense from "Chalk paths" that hangs above my fire place and how this captures the Downs for me -but where is it? Or is it a composite of many places - I have been running the South downs for many years and there is nowhere I know that has such steep escarpments.
    I noticed that in "The Ley" he had decided to actually paint the building much shorter than it actually is and I think some of his other paintings are not as they first seem, so maybe Chalk Paths is indeed a representation of the feeling rather than the sight?? your view would be welcomed.

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  2. Thanks Martin - I love 'Downs in Winter'. You're spot on about ER changing what he saw to create his own design and mood. He often portrayed a scene as if he were hovering a little way off the ground, and rarely painted exactly what he saw - much of the work was done from memory, after a start made on site, and this gave him the freedom to experiment.

    I believe that 'Chalk Paths' is based on Beddingham Hill and I've seen old pictures that seem to confirm this; however, the picture seems - as you suggest - to reflect a mood more than anything else, perhaps relating to Edward Thomas's remark about chalk roads: 'The long white roads are a temptation. What quests they propose!'

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