Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Life and Work of Peggy Angus: New Book & Exhibition for Summer 2014

I haven't been posting much lately as I've been immersed in an exciting project. Next July, the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne will be hosting the first major exhibition devoted to the life and work of Peggy Angus since her death in 1993. A few years before that Towner held a show of her paintings and those of illustrious friends like Eric Ravilious, and subsequently there have been exhibitions devoted to aspects of her design work, but this time we're exploring every aspect of a remarkable career.

Peggy Angus, John Piper, 1937 (National Portrait Gallery)
Peggy is not as well known today as she should be. Look her up and you'll find a couple of pictures in theNational Portrait Gallery - including one of her friend John Piper - but otherwise her achievements are rather hidden from the public gaze. Born in 1904, she studied at the Royal College of Art alongside Ravilious, Bawden, Enid Marx and co, but took a while to find her vision. Although she painted some wonderful pictures, her true vocation was as a designer of flat patterns - in the 1950s she created the most wonderful tile murals, which were followed by a whole series of memorable wallpaper designs.

Wallpaper samples
from a private collection

Few of the tile murals survive, while the wallpapers - the best of which also resemble murals - were commissioned for private houses. Ditto the floor tiles she designed, and which were printed, fired and installed by Diana Hall. Over the years Peggy's original patrons have, in many cases, left those houses, and the new owners have not always appreciated their inheritance. So the work is slowly disappearing.

Likewise there remains little trace of Peggy's sixty-year tenure at Furlongs, the cottage near Lewes that is well known today to Ravilious fans. Once it was as vibrantly decorated and as charged with associations as nearby Charleston, but on Peggy's death her family and friends chose not to enshrine her life there. What we have instead are photographs and recollections, which I think is as it should be.

To coincide with the exhibition I'm writing a book about Peggy's career, a companion volume to Carolyn Trant's 2005 epic 'Art for Life' - which I highly recommend. The new title will be, first and foremost, a picture book, bringing together Peggy's paintings, tile designs and wallpapers. While many of the paintings have never been published before, the book includes new photos of surviving tile murals and some wallpapered interiors that will make you want to rush out and start cutting lino. We should have plenty of wallpaper designs to show you, along with archive photos, drawings and other fascinating stuff.

Peggy and Dick Freeman, her landlord at Furlongs
Then there is Peggy herself, the boundlessly energetic and mischievous Scottish patriot and socialist who fought for the right to work part-time, to continue teaching after marriage and to take maternity leave. As a teacher she empowered generations of young women, and the list of people whose lives she in some way touched includes not only Ravilious and his circle but also an array of fascinating figures from across the century: modern architects Serge Chermayeff and FRS Yorke, sculptors Alexander Calder and Alison Britton, ceramicist Philippa Threlfall, illustrator and painter Paul Cox, designer Janet Kennedy, not to mention Carolyn herself - a creator of fabulous artist's books... I'm reliably informed that even Grayson Perry visited Furlongs in his youth.

The exhibition will be held at Towner next summer, while the book is to be published by The Antique Collectors Club.

Artwork and designs of Peggy Angus are copyright of her estate.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Angie Lewin at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Angie Lewin, Persephone Shore, collage on driftwood
Angie Lewin has been busy. Her new exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park features paintings, screen prints, wood engravings and - my favourite - a series of collages on pieces of driftwood.

Angie Lewin, Festival Mug and Honesty, watercolour
Angie's watercolour drawings are wonderfully cool and elegant, and she acknowledges her debt to mid-century art and design with those precisely dated mugs. But I think her work really takes off when she balances the delicate tracery of natural forms with the strong colours and bold gestures she employs in her printmaking.

Angie Lewin, Lakeside Teasels, linocut
Some of the newer prints stay closer to natural forms, and they do have a lovely feeling of lightness and gaiety. As ever, it's great to see her explore the architecture and aesthetic possibilities of ordinary plants.
Angie Lewin, Ramsons and Campions, screenprint
But I keep coming back to the driftwood collages. I like their simplicity and boldness, and the fact that the artist has had to think carefully about how to work with an awkwardly shaped, three-dimensional ground. I think she had fun making them.

Angie Lewin, Windswept Shore
Angie Lewin: A Natural Line is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from 16 November to 23 February. I wish it was closer to Bristol!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Paul & John Nash Reunited in 2014 Exhibition

John Nash, The Cornfield, 1918/19 (Tate/artist's estate)
Exciting things are happening at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, where Alison Bevan recently took over as Director. I met her for the first time the other day and she seems exactly the right person to put the RWA on the map.

After the success of its Ravilious show a couple of years ago the venerable institution is pressing ahead with plans for an exhibition of work by Paul Nash and his brother John. Probably titled 'Brothers in Art', it will form part of a wider exhibition exploring the way artists cope with the memory of war. Anyone who is already suffering from 1914 overload will be pleased to know that this is NOT an exhibition of war paintings, but focuses instead on the brothers' landscape paintings, most of them created after the war.

For an art-loving public deprived for too long of John Nash's work - his last significant exhibition was when? - there are well-known treats in store, notably 'The Cornfield'. But curator Gemma Brace has also dug up some rarities by both artists, making this a show no fan of either artist will want to miss.

The show opens on July 19 - info on the RWA website.
And for the back story on the brothers' lives before and during the Great War, have a read of this.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Let's Preserve the Last Ravilious Mural!

A glimpse of the past: Mary Adshead mural at Victoria Pier
Vast numbers of murals were painted by British artists between the wars, but few survive today. Indeed, you get the impression that someone like Rex Whistler was unusual in his predilection for this kind of work, whereas it's really the survival of his murals that is extraordinary. The fate of Eric Ravilious's wall paintings is more typical: one set, his most famous, was destroyed by enemy action during World War II; another fell apart as a badly-prepared wall deteriorated; and another disappeared beneath a layer of plaster.

Rex Whistler: mural at Plas Newydd
Rav's friend Peggy Angus (1904-93) also painted numerous murals in the 1930s, with one surviving at the North London Collegiate School. Post-war she created tile murals based on the repetition, with variations, of tiles designed with elegant simplicity, but even these have succumbed to changing tastes and the clumsiness of demolition crews. I spoke to one artistically-minded college employee who had begged such a crew to save one of Peggy's murals when they knocked down the building it was housed in, but to no avail. 'It's gone,' he said to me sadly, 'Like so much else.'

Peggy Angus tiles at Lansbury Lawrence School
Murals that have survived are a source of tremendous joy and pride, as I found when I visited the Lansbury Lawrence School in Poplar; built for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the school came complete with Peggy Angus tiles, which are as vibrant today as they were then; a framed notice draws parents' and children's attention to 'our special tiles'. A similar pride is shown by children and staff at Greenside Primary School in Hammersmith, where a campaign to restore a Gordon Cullen mural has drawn a range of speakers to the Erno Goldfinger-designed school.

The Greenside Mural, by Gordon Cullen
For years it has been rumoured that the murals painted by Ravilious in the Pavilion of Colwyn Bay's magnificent Victoria Pier might have survived beneath layers of paint and plaster, and recent investigations have shown that this is the case. Ravilious had been commissioned by architect Stanley Adshead, whose 1934 Pavilion replaced an earlier structure that had been destroyed by fire; the architect's artist daughter Mary also painted murals in the Pavilion and told Rav's biographer Helen Binyon:

Not a particularly good photo of Rav's Colwyn Bay murals
Eric painted all around the stage with marine subjects, shells, seaweed, etc. I know that my Father was very pleased with his design, he said that Eric had understood what was wanted and had an architectural sensitivity.

The programme accompanying the opening of the Pavilion announced:

Mr. Eric Ravilious strikes an original note in the decoration of the Tea Room. The theme represents a scene on the bed of the ocean. Pink and green seaweeds float through the ruins of a submerged palace. A bright red anchor suggests a connection with the world above.

To restore this delightful vision would apparently cost £65,000, a lot of money perhaps but an investment that would give the seaside town a unique artistic tourist attraction.

Rav & Tirzah at work in Morecambe.
Another lost Ravilious mural is in the process of being not restored but recreated, or sort-of recreated. In 1933 the artist travelled with his wife (and fellow artist) Tirzah to Morecambe, where they decorated the tea room of the brand new Midland Hotel with bright, breezy wall paintings. These succumbed almost immediately to damp in the walls, but eighty years later artist Jonquil Cook is about to paint what she describes as 'a tribute to' the Ravilious murals; she and assistant Isa Clee-Cadman start work on Monday.

In Colwyn Bay, meanwhile, there is a marvellous opportunity to bring a historic artwork back to life. If anyone out there has a few thousand quid to spare and wants to be persuaded that this is a cause worth contributing to, please get in touch. I'll be happy to convince you.

There's a great article on the 1934 Pavilion and its decoration here. For more information on the campaign to restore Victoria Pier visit the campaign website.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Eric Ravilious: Gilbert White of Selborne

Few British books are as well-loved as Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. As a teacher in the mid-1920s Ravilious had urged his students to read it, and he was delighted by this commission. The title page probably shows White and Thomas Pennant, otherwise the illustrations are all carefully rooted in the text. Below we see a boy stealing a honey-buzzard egg from ‘a tall slender beech’ and ‘considerable falls of snow, which lay deep and uniform on the ground without any drifting, wrapping up the more humble vegetation in perfect security’. The illustration above accompanies the words, ‘A good ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds by their air as well as by their colours and shape; on the ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as in the hand.’ It shows, particularly in the barn owl depicted against the stars, how deeply Ravilious absorbed the vision of his great forerunner, Thomas Bewick.

This is an edited extract from 'Ravilious: Wood Engravings', which will be published by The Mainstone Press at the beginning of November. The book will be launched on November 7th at Pallant House Gallery, where I will give an illustrated talk on Rav's fascinating career as a wood engraver...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Paul Klee: Pure Pleasure

Paul Klee, Der Goldfisch (The Goldfish), 1925
When I was in my late teens my favourite picture was Paul Klee's 'Death and Fire' (see below). I do look at it now and wonder whether I was entirely mentally well at the time, but my enjoyment of Klee's paintings has never diminished. I can think of few artists whose work gives me such simple pleasure. I can stand and stare at those patterns of little squares or trace the lines of a drawing for hours; his picture of a giant gold fish has hung in our bedroom for years and has yet to dull. Scribbled and scratched, the great fish has the menace of Jaws and the gilded poise of some underwater deity.

Paul Klee, Flora auf Sand (Flora on Sand), 1927
Klee struggled for years to find his vision. The child of musician parents he was a talented violinist himself but as a teenager decided to go his own way. By his early twenties he was lamenting his lack of colour sense and despairing of ever becoming a painter. Until he visited Tunis in 1914 (when he was in his mid-30s) Klee was known for his work in black and white; North Africa opened his eyes to the possibilities of colour, and for almost two decades he was prolific and highly inventive. He was a respected teacher too, working at the Bauhaus for ten years, but a combination of illness and persecution by the Nazis in the mid-1930s brought his career to a premature end. He died in 1940, the same year as his father; 'Death and Fire', I now know, was one of his last paintings.

Paul Klee, Alter Klang (Ancient Harmony), 1925
Art historians have lots to say about Klee, not least because he wrote detailed and extremely technical diaries all through his early years of struggle. It was almost as if he had to work out how to be an artist before he could become one, and it is notable that he stopped writing his diary in 1918, when his career was really taking off. Wasn't all that writing a kind of scaffolding, to be discarded once the real work began?

Paul Klee, Kuhlung in einem Garten der heissen Zone (Cooling in a Garden of the Torrid Zone), 1924
I love the modesty of Klee's work, the small scale of his paintings, the strange little line drawings and his media. Watercolour was a favourite, and quite a few of his pictures are on paper, mounted on card - surely an archivist's nightmare. A central figure in the thriving German art scene of the 1920s, Klee nevertheless remained his own man. You can't limit him with Isms. You can't define him as a follower of so and so. The Nazis lumped him in with all the other modern artists they hated, including 17 of his pictures in the 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition, which is perhaps all the more reason to respect him as an individual artist, whose work is difficult to write about in simple English but easy to enjoy.

Paul Klee, 'Florentinisches' Villen Viertel ('Florentine' Residential District), 1926
Klee was evidently a clever and complex man, but I'm not sure that it's helpful to struggle through his writings or the volumes of subsequent commentary in order to appreciate his work. I'd rather know more about the years he spent in his late twenties looking after his young son Felix while his wife taught music. Did domestic duties hold him back, or did the experience of parenting free him in the end? Spending so much time with a child, was he able to rediscover the naivety and sense of fun that fills his work?

Paul Klee, Sie beissen an (They're Biting), 1920
Filled with warmth, humour, the glow of life, a constant hum of music and occasional bursts of wickedness, Paul Klee's paintings are wonderfully human, mysterious and profound. You need no specialist knowledge to enjoy and appreciate them, only a willingness to look and lose yourself in the looking. I still have flashbacks of the 2002 Hayward Gallery show, which I enjoyed so much in part because his pictures had in real life a fragility that gets lost in reproduction. The modest environs of the Hayward suited Klee; I wonder how his work will suit the rather less modest halls of Tate Modern...

Paul Klee, Tod und Feuer (Death and Fire), 1940

FFI: Tate Modern

Friday, 11 October 2013

Popular Painters: Jack Vettriano & Edward Seago

Jack Vettriano, Self-Portrait (artist's copyright)
A couple of years ago I was chatting with the director of a provincial museum. This museum does not have much public funding and so has to charge admission, and he was describing the challenges of persuading people to pay the small sum asked of them. In recent times, he said, only one artist had really drawn the crowds, and that was Jack Vettriano (b.1951). As he mentioned the name he looked to see my reaction, which was not (I have to say) desperately enthusiastic. I had been to the exhibition in question and found it rather soulless. However, I could see that the show's success had been significant, both financially and in terms of increasing awareness of the museum and its architectural and artistic wonders.

Jack Vettriano is that rare creature, a painter whose activities arouse strong feelings in all kinds of people, from his famous collectors and feisty fans to the critics who are shocked and appalled by his success. His current retrospective in Glasgow has attracted some negative write-ups, while his supporters have used the 21st century soapbox of the on-line comments section to air their views.

Jack Vettriano, Along Came a Spider (artist's copyright)
To date I think the best article on him is Lynn Barber's interview from 2004, when Vettriano was in the limelight after 'The Singing Butler' achieved the highest price for a Scottish painting at auction. She was straightforward as usual. 'Anyway,' she wrote, 'the fact that there is all this exciting 'story' in the images makes it easy to ignore the deadly flatness of the technique.

'This is the answer to the question: why don't art critics take Vettriano seriously? Because there is nothing of any interest in the way he paints - Vettriano is to painting what Jeffrey Archer is to prose. Nevertheless, he is very interesting both as a person and as a phenomenon; a self-taught painter who, by depicting his own fantasies, has somehow managed to reach an audience who don't normally take any interest in art. He is also - I was pleased to discover - a very modest, articulate, friendly interviewee.'

Jack Vettriano, The Singing Butler (artist's copyright)
Whatever his weaknesses as a painter, Vettriano does what he does very well. He is so consistent that you can identify one of his pictures instantly, and he has a talent for making images that are slightly mysterious, nostalgic and glamorous (in the 1980s Helmut Newton sense). His men and women remind me of characters from old hard-boiled detective novels and thrillers, or perhaps that's the lighting. The scenes hover between eras from the 1920s to the present, without really belonging anywhere - they are fanciful rather than historical. The kinkier pictures are un-PC but, in the great scheme of things, hardly shocking. Beyond that, what is there to say? Except that struggling art museums HAVE TO attract big crowds, or they will not survive.

I find Vettriano's case intriguing partly because I've just finished writing a book about landscape painter Edward Seago (1910-74), which will be published by Lund Humphries next year. In his lifetime Seago was hugely popular, to the extent that the queues before his exhibitions were reported in the press.

Edward Seago, The Wild Beast Show, 1932 (artist's estate/Portland Gallery)
‘Queue Here for Seago’, announced the Eastern Daily Press on 22 November 1961: 'At 5 o’clock this morning, two old ladies dropped anchor outside Colnaghi’s gallery in Bond Street. By 9 o’clock, when the floodgates opened, the waiting multitude looked like a convention of Top People. Another private view of watercolours by Edward Seago, the Norfolk artist, had begun.

'Having pounced on their prey, the Seago-seekers had to stand at attention for another hour while the embargo printed in red on their invitation cards ran out: "It is regretted that no Drawings can be sold before 10am on the day of the Private View."'

Edward Seago, Winter Landscape, Norfolk , c1960 (artist's estate/Portland Gallery)
Like Vettriano, Seago was hard-working, prolific and an astute businessman - he sent out 5000 personal Christmas cards to collectors every year and exhibited all over the world. He was modest, charming, entertaining and self-centred (a not unusual quality); he was greatly loved but rather unhappy, and his behaviour was at times quite odd - researching his life and work has been fascinating.

His paintings, mostly landscapes in oils and watercolour, were immediately recognisable and often delightful. With the art world going crazy for abstraction and dour post-war introspection, art lovers looking for something enjoyable and uplifting found it in Seago, whose self-avowed mission was to record the fleeting beauties of nature. The Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh were fans, even friends; the critics were not. I doubt there was an artist who outsold Seago in his pomp during the 1950s and 1960s. He handled paint with considerable skill and also wrote entertainingly, penning a number of thoughtful autobiographical books. Not all of his paintings are great, but the best of them can make you pause, look again, relax and give in to the pleasure of looking.

'Edward Seago' will be published by Lund Humphries in June 2014. His estate is represented by The Portland Gallery.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

How We Used to Live

Wonderful stuff from director Paul Kelly. Composed of footage from the British Film Institute's national archive, most of it shot between the 1950s and the 1980s and rarely seen thereafter, 'How We Used to Live' premieres at the London Film Festival on Saturday October 12th.

FFI: Heavenly Films

Monday, 7 October 2013

Ravilious Talk Dates: Pallant House, Richmond, The Fry & Dillington House

Eric Ravilious, Fireworks, 'High Street', 1938
Ravilious fans may be happy to know that I'm giving four illustrated lectures in November and early December. Personally I'm delighted, especially as each talk has a slightly different subject or angle - putting together a slide show for a specific event is great fun.

First, on November 7th, I'm speaking at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, where an exhibition devoted to Ravilious's work as a printmaker is about to open. I know Simon Martin the curator will have gathered a wonderful selection of prints, books and ephemera, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he's put the work together. I'll mostly be talking about wood engravings - and launching the new Mainstone Press book 'Ravilious: Wood Engravings' - but with excursions into lithography and the artist's designs for Wedgwood. Tickets are on sale here.

Eric Ravilious, BBC Talks Pamphlet, 1934
Taking part in a literary festival is always a highlight, and this year I'm giving a talk on 'Eric Ravilious: A Life in Pictures' at Richmond Literary Festival (that's south-west London, in case there's a rival Richmond somewhere else). Tickets for the talk on Saturday 9 November are available from the festival website, where you can of course see all the other treats in store. This lecture will give an overview of Ravilious's life and work, with plenty of pictures - watercolours, wood engravings, ceramic designs, lithos and photos both archive and modern.

I gave a talk on 'Ravilious in Essex' at the Fry Art Gallery - or at a hall nearby - a couple of years ago, and I'm looking forward to going back on Friday November 15th. This time I'll be discussing printmaking and design in a lecture entitled 'Woodcuts & Wedgwood, Shops & Submarines: Ravilious, Designer', and I'll work in plenty of biographical material, archive photos and so on. Some of the pictures I show will no doubt appear on Christmas cards the following month...

On 1st December, finally, the Ravilious roadshow arrives at Dillington House in deepest Somerset, a wonderful place to visit on a wintry Sunday. I have to confess that I didn't realise, until I was asked to give a talk there, what a fantastic arts programme they have at Dillington. In fact my talk is part of a Big Art Weekend, with lots of other events and courses going on; I'll be showing pictures and talking in informal and (I hope) entertaining fashion about 'Eric Ravilious: Master Artist', with watercolours, wood engravings and design work on show.

If you'd like more information about any of these lectures do get in touch. And if you come along, say hello!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Art on the Hill: Art Trail Fun in Bristol

Very excited to be part of the 7th annual Art on the Hill art trail in lovely Windmill Hill. Do come along if you're in Bristol this weekend. Lots of wonderful art to enjoy, obviously, plus you get to see inside people's houses. If you've got kids/other halves who aren't interested you can leave them to amuse themselves in Victoria Park, have a cup of tea at Mrs Brown's Cafe, or go to the pub. Nowhere is more than ten minutes' walk from anywhere else, so you can slow down, relax and generally take it easy.

The sun might even shine.

We're at Venue 26, with paintings and collage by Dayna Stevens, drawings by Charlotte Murray and books by me. I have all the 'Ravilious in Pictures' titles and 'Ravilious: Submarine', plus 'Paul Nash in Pictures'. Come and say hello!

FFI: Art on the Hill

Monday, 30 September 2013

Goldfinger at Greenside

Ravilious: Wood Engravings - Excerpt

Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath 
Country Life, 1937 

Well-known 1930s food writer Ambrose Heath wrote this guide for Country Life, combining seasonal recipes with tips for the country gardener; the illustrations correspond to particular months. In his introduction Heath laments the decline of the smaller country house, noting that 'The domestic problem is, of course, far more serious than it is in the towns.... Where forty years ago a servant would have gladly walked five miles into a village to meet a friend, she will not now cycle even two miles to see the pictures.' Staff shortages and the straitened economic climate have evidently forced housewives to cut back, and Heath offers recipes which are simple and inexpensive compared to the 'Mrs Beeton school of cooking’ - although Potted Pigeons, Gibelotte of Rabbit, Brain Fritters, Eggs in Jelly and Herring's Roe Fingers may sound exotic today. Ravilious was an expert fryer of bacon but sought assistance as he researched the engravings. 'Mrs Beeton has been a help,' he wrote.

This is an excerpt from Ravilious: Wood Engravings, which will be published this autumn by The Mainstone Press.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Ravilious: Printmaker at Pallant House

Robert Gibbings as 'Ganymede', 1931

Following the small but perfectly formed exhibition of Paul Nash prints, books and ephemera from the Clare Neilson Collection, Pallant House Gallery is preparing for an autumn show devoted to Eric Ravilious's work as a printmaker. The museum's De'Longhi Print Room is ideal for this kind of venture, being fairly small and walled with glass display cases, and it will be fascinating to see Rav's wood engravings and lithographs side by side.

On 7th November I'll be giving a talk on Ravilious's work as a wood engraver, in which I will discuss some of the pieces on display in the exhibition. The lecture should be a lot of fun - as with the 'Ravilious in Pictures' books I'll be going behind the scenes of various designs and images to talk about his inspiration, techniques and life.

Submarine Engineer, 'High Street', 1938


During his short life Eric Ravilious (1903-42) was acknowledged as a brilliant wood engraver, at a time when the medium was enjoying a revival. This lecture explores the evolution of a remarkable talent, from his earliest engravings to the marvellous book illustrations, prints and designs that he created at the height of his career. The lecture promises a visual feast of wood engravings, along with ceramic designs such as the Alphabet and the Boat Race Bowl, images from 'High Street' (his 1938 book of shops) and 'The Submarine Series' (1941), as well as archive photos, sketches and work by other relevant artists. All in all an engaging portrait of a supreme craftsman.

FFI: Pallant House Gallery
       The Mainstone Press

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

'Ravilious: Wood Engravings' Out Soon!!

I'm excited! My book on the wood engravings of Eric Ravilious is heading for publication on October 20th, and I can't wait to see it printed, bound and wearing the spectacular jacket shown above. The book has 80 pages, measures approx. 25cm x 19cm, and should retail at £20. Obviously we can't fit all Rav's engravings in a book this size, but we have included at least one that has never been published before, and there are plenty of other treats. I'll post an extract or two over the coming weeks, meanwhile here's the official blurb:

Although a brilliant watercolourist, inventive lithographer and talented designer, Eric Ravilious (1903-42) was above all a wood engraver. It was in this demanding medium that he first found artistic expression in the early 1920s, and over the next two decades produced some of the finest engravings of the age. And what an age it was! Starting shortly before World War One, a succession of talented artists and designers explored a medium whose most famous British proponent, Thomas Bewick, had died almost a century earlier.

In his lifetime Ravilious was acknowledged as a modern master of wood engraving, and for Ravilious: Wood Engravings we have selected illustrations that show the evolution of a remarkable talent. Ravilious thrived on the limitations imposed by the medium, squeezing entire scenes into the tiniest vignette. Some of the engravings have the mysterious quality of his watercolours, while a wry humour animates others, such as his portrait of publisher Robert Gibbings being carried off by a giant cockerel. Running through the book is a sense of the pleasure Ravilious took in his work, which he approached with great skill and a light heart. While staying with his parents in Eastbourne he would cut his blocks with their canary fluttering around his fingers, and subsequently he always whistled when he worked.

When Ravilious died on active service as a war artist in 1942, at the age of 39, he had already achieved remarkable success. His short but spectacular career is described in a full-length introduction, which also sets his achievements in the context of the interwar years. Accompanying each illustration, meanwhile, is an extended caption designed to illuminate the engraving in an informative and entertaining way. In a manner familiar to readers of Ravilious in Pictures, author James Russell sets out to discover the places that inspired Ravilious, explore the remarkable books he illustrated and meet the people he portrayed. Ravilious: Wood Engravings is both a collection of beautiful, surprising pictures and an entertaining portrait of a wonderful artist and his world.

If you would like to order a copy of Ravilious: Wood Engravings, or require any further details, please contact Liz or Tim at The Mainstone Press on 01362 688395 or email

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Northern Sky

The old harbour at Lerwick, Shetland
Last week I visited Shetland for the first time, researching a forthcoming book on artist and designer Peggy Angus. This is an exciting project, which I will post about in more detail soon, but I was in Lerwick to talk with Peggy's daughter Victoria Gibson and other members of the family. Victoria designs fabulous jumpers and other forms of knitwear, which you can order online or buy at the Spiders Web shop in Lerwick. Some designs are available at the Peerie Shop and Cafe, which is run by her daughter Emma, alongside all manner of cards, ceramics and other treats. The coffee is gorgeous...

Like most hopeless romantics I have enjoyed periods of obsessive Nick Drake-ism, and could at one time play this one on the guitar. I've always loved the high, pale skies of the northern summer, though I'm less keen on the dark, low skies of the northern winter. I know you can't have one without the other but as the years go by that winter apartment in the Canaries sounds increasingly appealing...

There wasn't much time for sightseeing, and I missed the Northern Lights - damn! - but I did look at the sky quite a lot, particularly on the ferry. On the way home the captain kindly took us around the island of Bressay to look at the gannet colony on the cliffs of Noss. It was the most beautiful evening imaginable, and as we headed south for Aberdeen we were followed by gannets and fulmars, which cruised along only feet from the observation deck. I couldn't resist trying to take a picture of one, although I don't think I'll be winning any prizes...

Aberdeen, with expensive looking oil company workboat

Leaving Aberdeen, only 12 hours to Shetland

Now, where's the shipping forecast when you need it?

Dawn (ish), southern Shetland

Approaching Lerwick, still pretty early

Looking from Lerwick across to Brassay, but the sky steals the scene - again

Heading home, dusk this time

Can I have that sky painted on my ceiling, please?

Gannet cliffs on left. Sky becoming ridiculous

About a million gannets, but too far away to see

Here are a couple...

They don't have clouds like this in Bristol

Probably a gannet

Now that's definitely one... Next stop, Aberdeen