Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Festive Felicitations!!!


Covid Christmas. Hmmm. It doesn’t sound especially jolly, does it? Although, strangely, Christmas Corona almost does. Anyway… at the time of writing nobody has told us just how festive our festive season is going to be this year, but it doesn’t look like too many people will be photocopying their hindquarters at the office party, or bellowing Good King Wenceslas in the street, or sharing a turkey with persons outside their bubble. Or the slightly extended version thereof, which we might call a Christmas bauble. 

Younger parents will have to deal with switched-on tots worrying about Santa, who is surely older (and rather more rotund) than the grandparents they’re not allowed to see, but for the rest of us there may be less to worry about than usual. A lot more cause for concern generally, yes, but not perhaps in terms of the actual ho-ho-ho-down itself. Think for a moment about the causes of Yuletide stress. These will differ from household to household but with marked similarities. How to feed sixteen people when you only have seven forks. How to keep Brexity Uncle Brian and Greenpeace Gran sober and separate. Where to buy ground almonds or lard. What to do when all the Christmas trees have gone and it’s only the 15th for heaven’s sake!

Actually the last one will, if anything, be more of a problem this year, as people seize on the opportunity to brighten up their all-too-familiar front rooms. By the time you read this, in fact, I predict there won’t be a spruce on the loose anywhere in Bristol, and the fairy lights will be long gone. If the proliferation of lockdown rainbows is anything to go by, this Christmas will see the city transformed into a window wonderland of manically decorated, fiercely lit trees.

Most of the other stuff we worry about is, in the end, to do with logistics. And logistics is about people. You’re used to catering for four. Suddenly it’s fourteen. You’re used to the foibles of your nearest and dearest. Bob doesn’t like sprouts. Roberta will only eat sprouts. Bob insists on Christmas music. Roberta can’t hear herself think! So you somehow have to cultivate a sprouty, but non-sprouty, festive but peaceful vibe. Which is fine, only you’ve got your sister’s family coming along, with their teen who believes Christmas is a capitalist plot, and the new puppy who can chew through a Bag for Life in seconds to get at the chocolate hidden within, and is bound to end up being rushed to doggy A&E for charcoal tablets (if you have a pooch you’ll know).

This year there will be other, perhaps more complicated logistics. Instead of trying to fit twenty people in the house at the same time you’ll see them in Covid-safe dribs and drabs, and after one Christmas dinner with this relative and another with that, it may begin to feel a little like Groundhog Day. But for the kind of people who enjoyed the peace and quiet of lockdown, I think this year’s stripped-down festivities will have a kind of appeal. There won’t be the usual pressure to socialise frenetically at a time of year when you may feel more like hibernating. There will be less night life, and perhaps more day life, which is kind of how it’s been all year. 

I don’t know about you, but during 2020 I’ve been acutely aware of the changing seasons, watching buds opening during the first lockdown and leaves falling during the second. We tend to be fairly relaxed about Christmas at but we’re usually still too busy to get outside much at a time of year which is, in its own way, as magical as Midsummer. So I’m determined to see Covid Christmas as an opportunity, a rare chance to enjoy our Twelve Days outdoors, with a thermos of mulled cider and a minced pie or two.  

I wrote this for my column in the December 2020 edition of The Bristol Magazine.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Laura Knight painting Eileen Mayo (1927)

This film of Laura Knight painting model Eileen Mayo was made by British Pathe in 1927, not long after Knight had been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. I love how the charcoal drawing transforms miraculously into the almost-finished oil. Another painting of Mayo hangs on the wall among numerous other portraits. 

Mayo posed for other artists, notably Dod Procter, and was also an artist in her own right. Sadly for art lovers in the UK, she moved to Australia after World War II.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Eric Ravilious: Newt Pond

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In the papers this weekend... Eric Ravilious, ‘Newt Pond’ 1932 - I wrote a note on this watercolour for @christiesinc: This beautifully preserved watercolour was one of those shown by Eric Ravilious in November 1933, in his inaugural one-man exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery on Charing Cross Road, London. Listed as number eight in the catalogue, it is dated ‘June 32’, making it one of the earliest works in the show. At the time Ravilious was working feverishly alongside his friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden, as the pair strove to fulfil their shared ambition of reinventing the English watercolour tradition. When not teaching in London they retreated with their wives, Tirzah and Charlotte, to the Bawdens’ house in Great Bardfield, Essex. This was a particularly happy time for the two couples, as - so far unencumbered by children - they enjoyed the space and freedom of country living. Ravilious wrote very few letters, suggesting that his attention was focused fully on the here and now, and in particular on the tricky business of painting watercolours. That he experimented widely is clear from the pictures displayed at Zwemmer, which vary in technique from subtle tinted drawings to works painted freely in a bold palette, and in subject from sunlit landscapes to abandoned vehicles. Here we see the distinctive half-hipped barn which stands beside the orchard at Beslyns, a secluded, picturesque settlement close to Great Bardfield where Bawden also liked to work. Ravilious has taken the scene before him and reconfigured it to create a witty design that balances reality and reflection, with a tall tree on the left creating a good vertical anchor and foliage represented in a variety of ways. Particularly delightful are the billows of young leaves bursting from the branches of apple trees. Like the garden trees in Prospect from an Attic (Scarborough Museums Trust), an important work from the same year, these are so full of life they seem to be dancing. Happy days, indeed. . #ericravilious #ravilious #edwardbawden #greatbardfield #essex #pond #newtpond #art #watercolor #watercolour #modernbritishart #countryside #1930s
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Thursday, 21 May 2020

Easy Listening! Dear Old Thomas and Lucky Paul

I know we're not supposed to be thinking about World War One any more but I've never been very good at doing things at the right time... Actually I wrote a version of this podcast a few years ago as the first chapter of a proposed book. No, the book never did get written, but it's been fun revisiting this story... Happy listening!

Paul Nash, The Peacock Path, 1912

John Wheatley, Edward Thomas, 1916

The Artists' Rifles, feat. Frederick Leighton

Paul Nash, Lavengro & Isopel in the Dingle, 1912

William Blake Richmond

Grave of Paul and Margaret Nash, Langley, Bucks

Iver Heath

Boat-gate, Iver Heath

Paul Nash looking spruce, c1918

Paul Nash, Ruined Landscape, Old Battlefield, Vimy, 1917

Margaret Nash, nee Odeh


The Common, Chalfont St Peter

premises of Mrs Grieve, herbalist

Paul Nash, We are Making a New World, 1918

John Nash, The Cornfield, 1918

Monday, 4 May 2020

Easy Listening! Peggy Angus: Mother of Invention

We all need to be a bit flexible in our thinking these days, as we try to figure out what to do and how to get paid for it. Among a host of other subjects, Peggy Angus thought about patronage a lot during her long and productive life. She had some interesting ideas, and she put them into practice. I hope you enjoy listening, and I've attached a few accompanying images below...

The Brinkleys, c1920

Soviet picture book for children

Russian sailor, 1932

Cement Works, 1934

Furlongs, with roving art historian

Portrait of John Piper, late 1930s (National Portrait Gallery)

Potato cut made by NLCS pupil, no date

Tile design, no date

Tile mural, Lansbury Lawrence school

Mural, British section, 1958 Brussels World Fair

Furlongs installation, Towner 2014

Art Room, North London Collegiate School

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Beasties wallpaper

People's Creative Workshop ad

Peggy at Furlongs

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Easy Listening! The Improbable Adventures of Edward Bawden

Welcome to my second podcast, made despite the sonic difficulties caused by sharing a house with a lively dog (woofing) and various humans aged 17 to... never mind (laughter, shrieks, sounds of conflict), and by living in the middle of a city. It's a lot quieter than normal, but not as quiet as a recording studio. Obviously. Anyway, if you would like to have a listen to 'The Improbable Adventures of Edward Bawden', here are some images to go with it...

Edward Bawden, Sahara wallpaper, c1928-30

Judith Schalansky, Atlas of the Remote Islands, 2009

Edward Bawden, Brochure for Imperial Airways, 1934

Edward Bawden, jacket design, 1928

Edward Bawden, Cairo - the Citadel, 1940 (Tate)

Edward Bawden, Mahammed Khalafalla, Omdurman, 1940 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, Scium Basci, Tesfalidet Ghidai: Polizia Africana Italianna, Asmara, 1941 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, The Artist's Tent, Mersah Matruh, 1942 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, Tobruk Harbour, 1942 (IWM)

Survivors from the RMS Laconia, 1942

Edward Bawden, Private Dunning, 1943, (IWM)

Edward Bawden, Palace & Govt Buildings, Hail, Arabia, 1944 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, View of the Tigris, Baghdad, 1943-44 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, A Priest, Yusef, & an Assyrian Officer, 1943-44 (IWM

Edward Bawden, Interior of Shaikh Muzhir al-Gassid's Mudhif, 1944 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, Shaikh Muzhir al-Gassid, 1944 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, Refugees at Udine, Italy, 1945 (IWM)

Edward Bawden, design for Gulliver's Travels, 1965

Edward Bawden, The Baghdad Showboat, 1944 (Govt Art Collection)