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.