Friday, 25 April 2014

Ravilious in Cambridge

Eric Ravilious, Geraniums and Carnations, 1938, Fry Art Gallery
Rather short notice, I'm afraid, but I'm giving a talk on the life and work of Eric Ravilious at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge on Thursday evening (that's 1 May I believe).

I'll be covering the artist's career as a watercolourist, also bringing in his book illustrations (wood engraving and lithography) and other aspects of his design work. The aim as ever is to make the evening enjoyable and informative.

Have just realised that Art and Life is still on at Kettle's Yard, featuring work by some of my favourite artists, especially Ben and Winifred Nicholson and Christopher Wood. Slight quandary as I've promised to go and see the exhibition when it reaches Dulwich Picture Gallery later in May...

Winifred Nicholson, Summer, 1928, copyright The Trustees of Winifred Nicholson
OK, quandary solved, I'll just go twice.

Meanwhile, if you're in the Cambridge area and you want to see an impressive collection of Ravilious paintings, prints and ceramics, trot along to the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden - but make sure they're open before you go!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Serious Laughter: Jeremy Deller & Banksy in Bristol

Curious scenes at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery the other day. As well as the usual mums with pushchairs and kids wondering out loud when they'd be getting an ice cream, the entrance hall was abuzz with young adults brandishing mobile phones. They were all waving said phones at a gloomy-looking painting of a couple embracing while they too look their phones.

We Sit Starving Amidst our Gold, Jeremy Deller, 2013 Courtesy British Council. Photograph Cristiano Corte. Painted by Stuart Sam Hughes.
So this was the new Banksy painting that had been causing all the fuss (which I'd heard about courtesy of the ever-vigilant Bristol Culture blog). The tale of the painting's semi-miraculous appearance on a boarded-up door, its removal by a crowbar-wielding latter day Robin Hood, Bristol City Council's announcement that it was their boarded-up door and therefore their painting, the Mayor's involvement... All of this came back as I looked at the painting, which didn't seem to be one of Banksy's best but is nonetheless potentially worth a few bob to the cash-strapped local authority.

Quite by chance (if anything is quite by chance) the picture and surrounding furore made rather a good introduction to the main event: Jeremy Deller's 'English Magic' exhibition, which we are lucky enough to have in Bristol until September. It's already been to Venice, where it filled the British Pavilion at the 2013 Biennale, and to the William Morris Gallery in London.

Jeremy Deller: Ooh-oo-hoo ah-ha ha yeah (installation view, British Pavilion, 2013) Courtesy the British Council
I've no doubt the exhibition has divided opinion, given that it includes film of Range Rovers being cubed at the breaker's yard and a painting of Mr Morris dispatching an oligarch's super-yacht to the watery deep, but no one can argue with the artist's desire to share his work with as wide an audience as possible. According to him, no previous British Biennale exhibit has been shown in this country after being displayed in Venice, so this is an intriguing precedent.

On entering the exhibition a younger member of our party, who had been explaining for some time that a visit to the Museum was not his idea of fun, immediately stopped as he took in the on-screen automotive destruction and the off-screen crushed-car-sofa. Being able to sit on the latter to watch the former made the whole thing much more fun than your average museum installation, but unfortunately we got so engrossed in the film, which also features people bouncing on an inflatable Stonehenge and a parade through the City of London, that we missed the second half of the exhibition upstairs.

I got there as a caretaker was solemnly closing the doors, and just caught a glimpse of a giant painting of a hawk before it disappeared.

When I was studying at UEA in the 1990s my tutor Lorna Sage used to talk about Serious Laughter, by which she was referring to writers who approached life's most difficult subjects through humour. I've never met Jeremy Deller but his art is very much in this spirit, earnest in theme but presented simply and with a light touch.

He is particularly good at surprising juxtapositions, as in the room of photographs which feature alternately moments from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tour (1972/3) and news photos from the same days. Importantly, these are not labelled but are listed in a doorway, so that you have to work at making identifications and connections. As a measure of the artist's success, this appealed as much to the younger member mentioned above as it did to me, and he knew as little about Bowie as he did about the IRA.

Cultural references have been a staple of contemporary art for as long as contemporary art has existed, but rare is the artist who can create from those references something that transcends them.

English Magic is on display until 21 September in Bristol and then goes to Turner Contemporary, Margate. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tiles of the Alhambra

Just got back from a short holiday in Almunecar, on the Costa Tropical, which included a day trip to beautiful Granada (a name I've associated for forty-something years with gritty northern TV). I don't usually give travel tips, but here's one for the Alhambra, one of the most sought-after European monument-type destinations. You basically have to book ahead, but the online booking is not very easy. If you should find yourself with an imminent visit to Granada and no ticket, go to the Granada tourist information website and buy one of their tourist cards - I think they're called Bono Turistico - which entitles you to several bus trips, free admission to the alarmingly grand cathedral (and other sights) and a visit to the Nasrid Palaces (the masterpiece of Moorish architecture that forms part of the much bigger Alhambra) at a particular time. These are available even when the Alhambra tickets are sold out, but are more expensive.

I know there are pictures of the Nasrid Palaces all over the internet, but the tiles just knocked me out, especially after researching Peggy Angus. She always said that tiles last well, and these have been on the walls for centuries, and have survived invasion, occupation, attempts by Napoleon's troops to blow the buildings up, etc, etc. Lots of info about the Alhambra and its astonishing decoration here.

Some of the tiles seem to be translucent, but they're just painted

The designs are full of life - this one reverses in and out as you look at it

These tiny tiles are set into the floor - I saw them around Almunecar as well, even in our apartment...

The colours are so strong...

Footnote: Granada was the last Moorish outpost in Spain, which fell to the forces of Ferdinand II and Isabella in 1492. More than 300 years later American writer Washington Irving rented part of the palace, where he collected the material for 'Tales of the Alhambra'.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Peggy Angus at the Printers!

From the website of Antique Collectors' Club:

Born in Chile in 1904 (to Scottish parents), Peggy moved as a child to London. A student of the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, her contemporaries included Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and Helen Binyon. 

Peggy travelled extensively throughout her life, she captured places, people and scenes of everyday life with an intuitive perception. The portraits she painted are highly original; the designs she created for the wallpapers and ceramics that furnished her interiors are uniquely styled. 

Following WWII she began producing patterned tiles, adapting the design skills she had taught in the classroom, and up to the 1950s her colourful and decorative tile murals, commissioned by Carters of Poole, were used in a range of newly constructed buildings. Her success in this area prompted her to experiment with wallpaper design, creating a diverse body of work that carries echoes of an artist and designer whom she admired greatly, William Morris. 

Combining biography with a critical analysis of her work, this richly illustrated book aims both to celebrate Peggy's life and remarkable career and to bring it to the attention of a new generation.

'Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter' is published by Antique Collectors' Club in June.