Friday, 20 March 2020

New Lectures!

Given that the world has temporarily ground to a halt I'm doing my best to ignore the present and focus on the future. I feel the greatest sadness for all the artists and curators whose exhibitions have been cancelled or can only be experienced via the internet, and I fear for the survival of institutions I have worked with over the years. People who work in the non-commercial art world tend in my experience to be optimistic and determined, but it is no secret that museums and galleries that aren't part of the Tate or V&A empires have been struggling financially for years. They should be allowed to reopen as soon as humanly possible, or some may never open again. 

Damn, I was supposed to be thinking cheerful thoughts about the future. Oh well, here are a few new lectures to consider if you happen to be in the lecture-booking business...

Andy Warhol goes to Margate?! Photo from SEAS archive
In the first half of the 20th century something extraordinary happened to the British seaside: it became glamourous, exciting... modern. The young and sophisticated stripped off layers of Victorian prudery and cavorted on the sand in the latest daring swimwear. Artists hit the beach in search of new inspiration. And as governments introduced compulsory holidays for workers, people flocked to the seaside in ever-increasing numbers. Drawing on archive photos and advertising materials, as well as work by artists as diverse as LS Lowry, Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth, this exuberant lecture explores a remarkable period in British culture. It is based on an exhibition I have curated for Hastings Contemporary, which is due to open in July.

Within ten years Laura Knight (1936) and Dod Procter (1942) were both elected to the Royal Academy - the first female RAs in a century. Amazingly, they didn't just know each other but had lived and worked side by side in Newlyn, Cornwall. Both had lost their father early in life, both married talented (and supportive) artists, and both challenged convention by painting the female nude. Both of course were hard-working and determined, but otherwise they were very different. While Laura was popular and outgoing, relishing her public role as a Dame of the British Empire, Dod (christened Doris) was clever and caustic. At her peak she was the best there was, but it was Laura who became a national treasure. This lecture tells their stories.

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, the furore surrounding Tate's purchase of Tracy Emin's 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.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Seaside Modern: Art & Life on the Beach

Coming to Hastings this summer, my new exhibition explores an intriguing cultural phenomenon. In the first half of the 20th century, and particularly between the wars, the British seaside was both popular and fashionable. The young and sophisticated stripped off layers of Victorian prudery and cavorted on the sand in the latest daring swimwear. Artists hit the beach in search of new inspiration. And as governments introduced compulsory holidays for workers, people flocked to the seaside in ever-increasing numbers.

This exhibition doesn't only celebrate the best of Modern British, with top notch works by LS Lowry, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, Barbara Hepworth and a host of other stars. It also explores the evolving story of our relationship with the seaside. How were resorts advertised, and how did ads develop as social attitudes changed? What did people wear on the beach, and how did they behave? Look out for rarely seen archive photos as well as posters and other artefacts.

Having spent two weeks of every childhood summer at Sandbanks in Poole I have an enduring love of the seaside. Putting this show together has been an absolute treat.

'Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach' opens at Hastings Contemporary on July 4. I've put together a lecture exploring the themes of the exhibition which I'll explain more about in due course. Roll on summer!

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man

Eric Ravilious, The Vale of the White Horse, 1939
Since researching 'Ravilious in Pictures: Sussex and the Downs' a dozen years ago I've been wanting to curate an exhibition devoted to the artist and the landscape he studied from boyhood. And now I've been given my chance.

'Eric Ravilious: Downland Man' will open at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes, in the autumn of 2020 and we have some fabulous loans lined up. I've come to the realisation that Ravilious wasn't really a landscape painter, let alone a topographical artist. Although he started out emulating the 18th century watercolourists he admired, he developed a vision that had little to do with nature and much more to do with artifice. And he found in the Downs a great deal that was man-made.

But enough of that for now. The Wiltshire Museum is not a wealthy institution and its staff are busily fund-raising so that the exhibition can go ahead as planned. Do have a look at their website if you'd like to find out more...

Monday, 19 August 2019

'Reflection' gets FOUR STARS in The Observer!

John Armstrong, Study for The City, 1952 (Ingram Collection)
After two years of planning and a hectic week hanging 130 assorted paintings, sculptures, works on paper, etc, my exhibition 'Reflection' opened at Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, on Saturday. Subtitled 'British Art in an Age of Change' it brings together 20th and 21st century artworks from the Ingram Collection and the Ferens permanent collection.

Despite being held 200 miles from London the exhibition has had some astonishing press over the weekend. On Saturday it was reviewed in The Financial Times, and was Exhibition of the Week in The Times and The Daily Telegraph, with a 'Don't Miss!' mention in The Guardian. The Sunday Telegraph also awarded it Exhibition of the Week, then Rachel Cooke wrote a generous and thoughtful review in The Observer. The Yorkshire Post featured the show on its front page last Thursday.

Like all regional art institutions, Ferens Art Gallery faces considerable financial pressure at the moment. It doesn't charge an entry fee, even for special exhibitions, and to secure public funding needs as many people as possible to visit. That's why reviews/mentions in the press are so important. The show's open until January so if you're interested and you're able to get to Hull please go along and have a look.

There are some great pubs nearby, by the way, including The Minerva (overlooking the Humber) and The Whalebone (near the city's Banksy) - just in case you need an added incentive.

'Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change' is at Ferens Art Gallery until January 2020.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Rethinking Civil Society

One of the things I picked up from Peggy Angus when researching her life and work was her belief that art should be useful. She was interested in the subject of patronage, perceiving that artists at different periods in history have been supported by particular groups - the Catholic church, landowners, 19th century industrialists. Looking at art history in this way you realise that the dominant art form of each period reflects the needs and aspirations of patrons as much as anything else.

Looking around her in the 1960s and 1970s she came to the conclusion that the patronage on offer was supporting art that had little appeal outside a small circle of artists, collectors and industry insiders. She made a plea for a much broader kind of Creative Patronage which would see artists paid not only to produce art but also to teach others in all kinds of settings. To this end she established a Creative People's Workshop in Camden, London, which helped groups of older people make art and stage exhibitions.

Her motto of 'Art for Life' is one that has stayed with me, and it informed the way I put together the exhibition that opens at Ferens Art Gallery in August. 'Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change' brings together almost 150 works from the Ingram Collection and Ferens' own collection. It asks visitors to look at the paintings, sculptures and works on paper not in art historical terms but as artefacts that tell us something about their makers and the world they experienced, and about ourselves. I suppose you could say that we're putting the artworks to use, but at the same time we're encouraging people to look more closely at the works themselves.

When he heard about the exhibition, Tim Stanton of the University of York got in touch. He's leading a project called 'Rethinking Civil Society', which looks at the history of civil society and also considers its possible futures. He asked me to write down some thoughts about the role of art in civil society. With the shade of Peggy Angus hovering at my shoulder, I obliged...

If you're interested, you'll find it here...


Thursday, 11 July 2019

An Outbreak of Talent: the Film!

Paul Nash in 1924, photographed by Lance Sieveking
“Ten years ago I was teaching design at the Royal College of Art. I was fortunate in being there during an outbreak of talent, and can remember at least eight men and women who have made names for themselves since then in a variety of different directions: in Painting, Edward Burra; Applied Design, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman, and Eric Ravilious; Textiles, Enid Marx; Pottery, Bradon; also William Chappel in Stage Design and Barbara Ker-Seymer in Photography.”

Paul Nash made these comments in 1935, looking back to his brief period teaching at the RCA (1924-5). Picking up this idea, the Fry Art Gallery held an exhibition several years ago that featured all of the artists named. More recently the Fry organised a symposium on the theme. Meanwhile, film maker Thomas Volker has been busy interviewing various people who know about the artists, and is planning to use the material in a film. Yes, it will be called 'An Outbreak of Talent'.

You can read more about the project here, and watch various clips from the interviews. There may be one or two familiar faces...

An Outbreak of Talent is a film by Thomas Volker.

Friday, 7 June 2019

NEWSFLASH!! 'Reflection' at Ferens Art Gallery opens August!

Eric Ravilious, Rye Harbour, 1938 (Ingram Collection)

Can art help with the national identity crisis in the time of Brexit? Opening in August at Ferens Art Gallery, Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change explores over a century of creative achievement by a diverse body of artists whose loves and fears, doubts and dreams mirror our own.

Featuring more than 130 works drawn from the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art and the permanent collection of the Ferens Art Gallery, Reflection presents a dynamic and diverse vision of Britain and British art which asks questions about identity and belonging. What does it mean to be British? How do we define British art? How do we present ourselves to the world?

As well as paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, curator James Russell has selected works created over the last century that employ collage, photography and video – from Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s charcoal on paper Standing male nude (1913) to Victoria Sin’s film Part Three / Cthulhu Through The Looking Glass (2017).

He says “It isn’t the medium or the date of the work that matters, it’s what the artist is saying about the world and their place in it. Works that are by turns troubling and funny, serene and dystopian, straightforward and strange – reflecting the very different views and experiences of the artists.”

Some of the most famous names of modern British art are included; from Stanley Spencer, Henry Moore, John Piper and David Hockney to Bridget Riley, Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink. Frink’s Walking Madonna (1981) is one of several rarely-seen large-scale sculptures, which also includes Meat Porters by Ralph Brown (1959). Alongside exquisite watercolours by Eric Ravilious (Channel Fishers, undated, and Rye Harbour, 1938) and Paul Nash (Elm Trees in Garden Landscape, c.1930), visitors will experience the powerful vision of Peter Howson (such as Resurrection (1999) and Mr Great Heart (1996).

Portraiture is a particular strength of both collections and is well represented in the exhibition, with works by artists such as Wyndham Lewis (Self Portrait, 1932), John Bratby (Self portrait with yellow background, not dated), Bridget Riley (Woman at Tea-table, not dated) and Lucy Jones (Wheelie, 2012).

The seriousness of some works is leavened with humour elsewhere, with light-hearted paintings and drawings by Leonard Rosoman (Fattipufs and Thinnifers, not dated), Edward Ardizzone (General staff of the 3rd Grade, 1944) and Edgar Ainsworth (Blackpool, 1945).

Reflection also includes contemporary artists who address the subjects of identity and belonging in intriguing ways, among them Victoria Sin (Fun Bag, 2015) and Gillian Wearing (Self Portrait as my Uncle, Bryan Gregory, 2003). The inclusion of recent work demonstrates the remarkable vitality of art in Britain, but the exhibition as a whole reminds us that we have endured tough times before. 

James Russell again “Artists have always played a valuable role in expressing feelings and exploring doubts shared – but not necessarily articulated – by the rest of us. Many of the featured artists have found joy in our world, but a few have battled with despair. Some were born in Britain and travelled elsewhere through choice or necessity; others were born elsewhere and travelled here. Some worked a hundred years ago; others are just starting on their careers. Whether working in oils, bronze, pencil, collage, watercolour, printmaking or film, each of these artists has the capacity to help us look at the world afresh or to address difficult feelings – to reflect.

Ingram Collection Curator Jo Baring said “The Ingram Collection is committed to showcasing our museum quality art collection around the UK, increasing public access to and engagement with art. It is a privilege to work with the Ferens, whose permanent collection is of such high quality, and I’m really excited about the show that James is creating. It promises to be both a visual treat and a timely reminder that the issues artists were grappling with in the last century are once again relevant to contemporary audiences.”

Kirsten Simister, Curator of Art, Ferens Art Gallery “The Ingram Collection provides a wonderfully rich window into British modern and contemporary art that creates a natural foil for the Ferens holdings. We’re honoured to work with the Ingram team and freelance curator James Russell to celebrate our joint strengths and aim to bring visitors fresh insight into many of our less familiar and more rarely seen works as part of the exhibition.”

Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change opens at Ferens Art Gallery on August 17.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Symposium - An Outbreak of Talent

Paul Nash photographed by Lance Sieveking, 1924

“Ten years ago I was teaching at the Royal College of Art. I was fortunate to be there during an outbreak of talent, and can remember at least eight men and women who have made names for themselves since then in a variety of different directions; in Painting, Edward Burra; Applied Design, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman, and Eric Ravilious; Textiles, Enid Marx; Pottery, Bradon (sic), also William Chappel in Stage Design and Barbara Ker-Seymer in Photography.” 

Paul Nash writing in Signature magazine, November 1935 

Paul Nash only taught part-time at the Royal College of Art during the academic year 1924/25, but he greatly influenced the careers of some of those whom he mentored. In this Symposium we hope to find out what it was that Nash found in these young artists which caused him him to single them out ten years later.

I'll be talking about Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden... The Symposium is being run by the Fry Art Gallery, but it will be held at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge on 6 July 2019 - info and booking form on the Fry website.