Thursday, 11 October 2018

Gawain Again

Three years ago I began working with Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Dan Bugg on a new project: to create a set of prints devoted to 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. Clive loved Simon Armitage's translation of the wily old poem, so it is exciting and rather extraordinary to see that Faber are publishing this new edition of the Armitage text, complete with Clive's illustrations.

Gawain has inspired numerous artists over the years, but none is quite like Clive. He has created his own visual language which reflects both the medieval magic of the old poem and the sophisticated play of the translation. Putting poem and images together is an inspired move by the publisher.

Definitely one for the Christmas wishlist...

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Hokusai and Hiroshige in Bristol

Hokusai, Fine Wind Clear Morning, 1830-32
If you happen to be in Bristol this autumn I recommend a visit to the exhibition of woodblock prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition is in three parts, with the first group of works on display until January. As I understand it, the prints belong to the museum but generally spend their days in storage - the fate of most works on paper in our conservation-sensitive times.

They are, to quote Arthur in the radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, brilliant! I must admit that I tend to pick up books of, say, Hokusai's '36 Views of Mount Fuji', and lose interest fairly rapidly. In reproduction I think you lose the texture and subtlety of the original prints, which are wonderfully delicate. You could imagine them breaking free from their mounts and fluttering off down Park Street like exquisite insects.

Although the influence of these artists on 19th and 20th century European art has always been acknowledged (most notably perhaps by Van Gogh), I'm not sure we quite appreciate how great that influence was. But then Hokusai and his followers also owed a debt to Western art, particularly Dutch painting and print-making, which found its way into Japanese culture during the 17th and 18th centuries via the Dutch trading post at Dejima, Nagasaki.

Masters of Japanese Prints: Hokusai and Hiroshige Landscapes is at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until January.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Artist Couples Exhibition comes to Bristol!

© 1961 estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

For the past three years I've been working with director Alison Bevan and the curatorial staff at the Royal West of England Academy, putting together an unusual kind of exhibition. There's a clue in the title - In Relation: Nine Couples who Transformed Modern British Art

The exhibition brings together some of the most significant artists and designers who worked in C20 Britain, but what really matters here is that we're looking at the subject in a new way. We know that artists are influenced by their illustrious predecessors and by new ideas, but what happens when two artists share their everyday life together? How is the work and career of each one affected by the other?

Because these relationships are often undocumented - you don't write letters to someone you live with - it's easy to overlook them, yet it is clear that in some cases the course of British art in the 20th century was significantly influenced by the romantic entanglements of these artists. This exhibition gives people a chance to look at pictures by, say, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and think about the similarities and differences.

Fans of Eric Ravilious will enjoy 'Painted Dresser', a watercolour that has never been shown publicly before, and there's also an opportunity to view rarely seen work by his wife Tirzah Garwood. There are some cracking loans from Tate and the National Portrait Gallery, including a lovely portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant and the gorgeous double portrait '1933 St Remy' by Ben Nicholson. Two beautiful Barbara Hepworth sculptures, rare early works by Mary Fedden and even a woman's wedding suit made from block-printed fabric by celebrated 1930s designers Barron and Larcher.

The full list of artists is as follows:

Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth; Laura and Harold Knight; Dod and Ernest Procter; Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood; Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun; Rose and Roger Hilton; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan; Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher.

We're hanging next week and the exhibition opens on June 16. If you can't make it or you'd like a souvenier, there's a concise but beautifully produced catalogue. So why not come to Bristol and enjoy a day out in our wonderful city...

A Walk Through Bawden's World

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Edward Bawden at the All Saints Arts Festival

Edward Bawden, The Showboat at Baghdad, 1944
Quick diary date... on 25 May I'm giving my lecture 'Edward Bawden: Artist & Adventurer' at the inaugural All Saints Festival in Maldon, Essex. Is that where the sea salt comes from? I expect I'll find out. Anyway, if you're in the area and want to come along you will just have time to whizz to Dulwich Picture Gallery and see the Bawden exhibition (opens 23 May) beforehand. Or you could go along in a more leisurely manner afterwards...

Other Bawden-related events in the Upcoming Lectures over here >>>>

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A bug's life... photo by Tim Mainstone

Out very soon from the Mainstone Press, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' will take armchair travellers on an extraordinary journey. Edward Bawden grew up wanting to illustrate books, and for sixty years or more he did just that, not only creating designs for dozens of book jackets but also providing sets of illustrations for a remarkable array of titles. Writing the captions for this encyclopaedic volume has been a fascinating (if occasionally Herculean) task. Bawden illustrated literary classics, family favourites and a host of books that I'd never heard of before.

Being Bawden, he treated every job - whether for a railway company or a major international publisher - with the same care and consideration. He spent far too long on his designs for them to be commercially lucrative, but then he was only partly motivated by financial necessity. Chiefly he did this work because he loved it. He was a problem solver and an inventor, and he approached each project with relish. His research was always impeccable, and his designs both novel and apt.

One or two of the books are back in print these days. Some are easily bought. A few of the rarer titles will be on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery next month. In the meantime, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably? The Book Jackets of Edward Bawden' will be available within a matter of days...


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ravilious & Bawden in the Snow

Eric Ravilious, Halstead Road in Snow, 1935, private collection
So far I've resisted posting photos of the current Snowmageddon anywhere, mostly because I live in Bristol and we have about a teacupful. Instead, here are two rather different visions of snowfall. In each case we can see the artist using watercolour in a slightly unusual way.

Writing about 'Halstead Road in Snow' to Helen Binyon, Ravilious noted, 'Scratching the spots all over the drawing was a change, and I enjoyed it.' He managed to do this in such a way that the flakes of falling snow form a rough pattern, as if a diaphanous veil had been held up in front of the scene, yet there is no point at which the pattern becomes too neat. In fact there's a sense of jostling motion, enhanced by the movement suggested by the cycle tracks pulling the viewer's eye into the scene and around the corner.

Edward Bawden, February: 2pm, 1936, private collection
In startling contrast to this gentle scene of lightly falling flakes, Edward Bawden presents a howling blizzard. To appreciate 'February: 2pm' you really have to see it in person, and happily you will be able to do just that at Dulwich Picture Gallery this summer. When I took the dog to the park just now the snow was flying in our faces, battering painfully at exposed skin, and this is the kind of experience one senses Bawden trying to communicate. Across a wintry view of the garden at Brick House he has scrawled violently with crayon and pencil, and scratched with a blade - a good thing he used heavy lettering paper as anything more delicate would surely have been torn.

These differing impressions of winter weather give a good insight in these closely linked but very different artists. Where Ravilious tended towards coolness and control, Bawden was passionate and direct, and while the former often completed his watercolours in a studio, the latter insisted on working on site, returning each day until the picture was finished. Each used colour in a distinctive way, delicate in Eric's case, bold and surprising in Edward's. Each was in awe of the other.

'Edward Bawden' opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. #Bawden2018
'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours' will be published next year by The Hedingham Press.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Eric Ravilious: The Lost Watercolours

Eric Ravilious, Fairey Battle, 1942

As you may have gathered, I'm currently putting together the catalogue raisonne (can't seem to do accents on this!) of Ravilious watercolours. This will form the basis of a book to be published in 2019, 'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours'. The aim is to include every known watercolour, and to that end I'm on a mission to find as many as possible of those that are missing. How do we know some are presently lost? In one or two cases pictures have actually been reported missing or destroyed. The photo of 'Fairey Battle' (above) appeared in a catalogue for an exhibition of war art shortly after World War II, but the painting itself was reportedly destroyed by fire in the 1960s.

Of course it's possible that the watercolour in fact escaped the fire - stranger things have happened - but this one is admittedly a bit of a long shot. Other works are no doubt hanging quietly on people's walls, having perhaps been inherited by people who may like the pictures without necessarily knowing much about them.

Eric Ravilious, Dredgers, 1934

Here's 'Dredgers', a watercolour that merited inclusion in a 1937 Studio magazine special devoted the medium. That was eighty years ago, so the picture has almost certainly changed hands since then. Was it sold through a dealer? Passed on to the original owner's children? Perhaps we'll find out.

Eric Ravilious, Attic Room, 1932

One watercolour that definitely did make it onto the wall of a commercial gallery was 'Attic Room', offered for sale in the 1980s by a London dealer. Judging from the black and white image, it stands somewhere between 'Apples and Walnuts' (Bristol City Art Gallery) and the wonderful 'Attic Bedroom', which hangs in the Fry.

And then there are pictures known only by brief descriptions, such as the 1936 Zwemmer Gallery piece described as a view of cows in a hollow of the Downs, or the watercolour 'Poultry', 'a study of a shed full of white leghorns...' These fragments and snippets are tantalizing, but being by nature absurdly optimistic I'm quite sure that the watercolours they refer to are out there, somewhere.

For more info on the catalogue raisonne project and forthcoming book, please visit the website of the Hedingham Press. Or if you'd like to get in touch please use this email address. All enquiries will of course be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Edward Bawden: Preview

Bawden, Ravilious & More: Busy Times in 2018

Eric Ravilious, Vicarage in Winter, 1935, private collection
I would like to say that it's All Systems Go here in south Bristol, but it's hard to get moving in January, isn't it? It's cold and the sky outside is so lacklustre it's not even properly grey. But it is getting lighter again, and the camping season is not far off...

Meanwhile, lot's going on. We're doing final proofing of the catalogue for 'Edward Bawden', which opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. Designer Lucy Morton has done a fabulous job in bringing together so many disparate works to create a beautiful book which reflects the themes and aspirations of the exhibition perfectly. Bawden loved to create worlds, from tiny gardens populated by even tinier cats to giant maps filled with comic characters; close-ups in the book allow us to look at some of these properly, and of course visitors to the exhibition will be able to explore dozens of miniature worlds in person.

Slightly more work to be done still on my second exhibition of the year. This is 'Lover, Teacher, Muse... or Rival? Nine Artist Couples' and it opens at the Royal West of England Academy in June. It's a bit early for the official announcement, but there will be work by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, the Two Roberts, Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood and several others. It's partly an excuse to put lots of great pictures on the wall, but I hope it will be a thought-provoking show that gets people asking questions about the way artists influence and inspire each other, in sometimes difficult circumstances.

I'm also very busy this year compiling the catalogue raisonne of Eric Ravilious watercolours, to be published in 2019 by The Hedingham Press as 'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours'. There's lots of info about book and publisher on the website, so do have a look. We're currently calling on past and present owners of Ravilious works to come forward with any information they might have about the watercolours and their history - in the strictest confidence, of course. You can reach us via the website or at

And I'll be lecturing quite a lot over the next six months, so please look out for updates on this page. I'll add dates soon.

Happy New Year!