Monday, 10 October 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: John Piper

John Piper, Beach and Starfish, Seven Sisters, mixed media, 1933-4 (Jerwood Collection)

Like many British artists of his generation Piper was inspired from an early age by places – rather than people – and here he has used the avant-garde medium of collage to bring the venerable British genre of coastal painting up to date. Look carefully and you can see how cleverly he has combined paint and other media, like the fabric of the flag and the seashells borrowed from an old book, to make a familiar scene seem new and strange.

Piper is one of 100 modern British artists featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in a couple of weeks. In fact we're starting the hang this week (touches wood, tries not to think about railway strikes)...

Friday, 7 October 2016

Tirzah Garwood & Peggy Angus in the ODNB

Tirzah Garwood by Duffy Ayers, 1944
Earlier this year I wrote entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on two remarkable women: Peggy Angus and Tirzah Garwood. The former was born in Chile to ex-patriot Scottish parents, then raised in Muswell Hill, London. She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in the early 1920s and there met Eric Ravilious, who in turn met Tirzah when, after graduating from the Royal College, he taught her at the Eastbourne School of Art. When Eric and Tirzah were married in 1930 the two women became friends; though very different in many ways, they shared both artistic talent and a belief in plain speaking.

It was fascinating to try and condense the lives of these two immensely creative, characterful people into a few hundred words, especially given that their lives were so closely intertwined. Inevitably an ODNB entry tends to focus on the facts but I hope some hint of character comes through in the newly published essays. For anyone who's interest is piqued there is good news.

In Peggy's case, I would recommend Carolyn Trant's beautiful limited edition biography 'Art for Life', which is based heavily on interviews with Peggy - though after following the link you may want to seek it out in a library! Alternatively you could get hold of the book I wrote to accompany the 2014 exhibition at Towner - 'Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter'. I was going to say it's a cheaper option, but people seem to be offering copies at the most terrifying prices. Must be out of print...

With Tirzah the options are rather better, as Persephone Books is about to publish her autobiography 'Long Live Great Bardfield' in a trade edition. This hilarious, insightful and sometimes painfully honest book was edited by Eric and Tirzah's daughter Anne Ullmann, and was originally published as a typically gorgeous limited edition by The Fleece Press. Illustrated with Tirzah's witty wood engravings, the new paperback is a must-read for anyone who has even a passing interest in life and culture in interwar England.

What else? Oh yes. By some quirk of timing, Tirzah is the 60,000th person to have their life recorded in the ODNB. I'm not sure if that makes Peggy the 59,999th, or the 60,001st.