Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Rethinking Civil Society

One of the things I picked up from Peggy Angus when researching her life and work was her belief that art should be useful. She was interested in the subject of patronage, perceiving that artists at different periods in history have been supported by particular groups - the Catholic church, landowners, 19th century industrialists. Looking at art history in this way you realise that the dominant art form of each period reflects the needs and aspirations of patrons as much as anything else.

Looking around her in the 1960s and 1970s she came to the conclusion that the patronage on offer was supporting art that had little appeal outside a small circle of artists, collectors and industry insiders. She made a plea for a much broader kind of Creative Patronage which would see artists paid not only to produce art but also to teach others in all kinds of settings. To this end she established a Creative People's Workshop in Camden, London, which helped groups of older people make art and stage exhibitions.

Her motto of 'Art for Life' is one that has stayed with me, and it informed the way I put together the exhibition that opens at Ferens Art Gallery in August. 'Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change' brings together almost 150 works from the Ingram Collection and Ferens' own collection. It asks visitors to look at the paintings, sculptures and works on paper not in art historical terms but as artefacts that tell us something about their makers and the world they experienced, and about ourselves. I suppose you could say that we're putting the artworks to use, but at the same time we're encouraging people to look more closely at the works themselves.

When he heard about the exhibition, Tim Stanton of the University of York got in touch. He's leading a project called 'Rethinking Civil Society', which looks at the history of civil society and also considers its possible futures. He asked me to write down some thoughts about the role of art in civil society. With the shade of Peggy Angus hovering at my shoulder, I obliged...

If you're interested, you'll find it here...


Thursday, 11 July 2019

An Outbreak of Talent: the Film!

Paul Nash in 1924, photographed by Lance Sieveking
“Ten years ago I was teaching design at the Royal College of Art. I was fortunate in being there during an outbreak of talent, and can remember at least eight men and women who have made names for themselves since then in a variety of different directions: in Painting, Edward Burra; Applied Design, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman, and Eric Ravilious; Textiles, Enid Marx; Pottery, Bradon; also William Chappel in Stage Design and Barbara Ker-Seymer in Photography.”

Paul Nash made these comments in 1935, looking back to his brief period teaching at the RCA (1924-5). Picking up this idea, the Fry Art Gallery held an exhibition several years ago that featured all of the artists named. More recently the Fry organised a symposium on the theme. Meanwhile, film maker Thomas Volker has been busy interviewing various people who know about the artists, and is planning to use the material in a film. Yes, it will be called 'An Outbreak of Talent'.

You can read more about the project here, and watch various clips from the interviews. There may be one or two familiar faces...

An Outbreak of Talent is a film by Thomas Volker.