I've put together an illustrated talk based on the 'Ravilious in Pictures' series; you can hear/see it at the Yellow-Lighted Book Festival in Nailsworth, Glos on Friday 10 June or in Saffron Walden on 13 July. This date is being arranged by the Fry Art Gallery, venue TBC.
I'll also be signing copies of 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life', volume 3 in the series, at Ben Pentreath's shop in Bloomsbury, on May 11 at 5.30pm.
This is a follow-up to illustrated talks I've given at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne and the St Bride Library in London, and it should be a lot of fun. What I do is select some particularly interesting Ravilious watercolours and go behind the scenes, exploring places, investigating mysteries, telling stories and introducing characters that are relevant to a particular picture.
The aim is to paint a portrait of the artist in words and pictures, and if you've enjoyed any of the books in the 'Ravilious in Pictures' series I think you'll find the talk entertaining and thought-provoking.
I'm planning to take 'Eric Ravilious: A Life in Pictures' to more venues, and will be sending out a brochure in due course. In the meantime, if you'd like to book the talk for a venue or arts group, please get in touch via the Comments, our Facebook page or Twitter.
Friday, 29 April 2011
Thursday, 28 April 2011
|David Hepher, La Francaise, 1985|
|Eric Ravilious, Vicarage, 1935|
|The view today|
Since Ravilious died almost seventy years ago there aren't too many people left who knew him. David was asked to share a few thoughts and memories at the launch of the show 'Ravilious in Essex', which is currently running at the Fry Art Gallery, and he began by admitting that his memories were few; he was only a child when Ravilious died.
|The Old Vicarage (note Wellingtonia)|
They knew one another because Guy Hepher was vicar of St Nicholas church in Castle Hedingham when the Ravilious family lived in the village. They had one of those rare family friendships where each member is friends with their opposite number - Eric with Guy, Tirzah with Evelyn, and David with John, who was his age - and during the very cold winters of the late 1930s Eric and family took refuge at the vicarage - where David remembered them all sweeping snow off the roof of the enormous house (today, the 'Old Vicarage').
|St Nicholas, Castle Hedingham|
|Guy Hepher's Plan of St Nicholas, 1937|
|David Hepher, Study for the Wandsworth Road Estate III, 2007|
Fry Art Gallery
Monday, 25 April 2011
|Ian McKellen: Lowry fan|
The gallery's Head of Displays, Chris Stephens, made an interesting point when he explained that it was difficult to fit Lowry into a wider narrative. He wasn't a follower of any particular movement, nor did he belong to any school. Rather he pursued his own interests and explored his own vision of the world, using his position on the margins of the art world to good effect. He was an outsider, both in the way he chose to live and in terms of where he lived - in the provinces.
|LS Lowry, Street Scene, 1935|
|LS Lowry, A Lake, 1947|
Perhaps I've become too used to the heavily-populated scenes of urban life, but the paintings I woke up this morning thinking about are the empty, spacious, sometimes brooding pictures - landscapes and street scenes and coastal pictures. These may not belong to a school, but they fit within a tradition. The poetic interpretation of place, whether in words or pictures, is one of the great cultural achievements of this country.
|LS Lowry, Derbyshire Landscape, 1954|
Many British artists, poets and writers, who cannot be easily squeezed into any of the available movements, have a place in this sprawling narrative: Emily Bronte and John Fowles, George Borrow and Edward Thomas, Powell and Pressburger, Eric Ravilious, LS Lowry...
This was an inspired programme, led not by an expert but by a fan, and introducing as witnesses Jeffrey Archer and Lowry's milkman. The milkman, who described an incident in which the artist asked him to throw away a milk-splattered canvas, and then lamented the effect of art ownership on the artist's housekeeper, stole the show.
Friday, 22 April 2011
|Eric Ravilious, 'Village Street', 1936|
|Tim Mainstone at the Fry|
|Eric Ravilious, 'Ironbridge at Ewenbridge', 1941/2|
Yet the watercolours are only one part of the experience. Back in the main room are display cases filled with the artist's wood engravings, including book covers and other materials that haven't seen the light of day in a half-century. Best of all are the blocks themselves, ink-black still and showing the sureness of touch that Ravilious displayed whatever the medium... Explore the gallery further and you can compare his designs for Wedgwood with the engravings and watercolours.
|Falcon Square, Castle Hedingham|
Entry to this delightful exhibition is free, but do consult the Fry's website for their opening hours before visiting.
|War Memorial, St Nicholas|
|Hull's Mill 2011|
He evidently perched on a stool close to the ford to paint the mill, and this close the sound of the water thrumming over the weir is loud but soothing, a kind of white noise.
|Eric Ravilious, 'Hull's Mill', 1935|
Some interesting Ravilious locations here. When you visit the Fry, look out for 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life.'
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
|Paul Nash, Wittenham (1935)|
Modernity has not been particularly kind to Nash's special Places. The magical Iver Heath, where he painted gardens and elm trees, is now a short, fast jaunt from the M25 or the M4, and the ancient landscape surrounding Wittenham is dominated today by the power station at Didcot.
Rather than despair at this evidence of Progress, the website's authors suggest that the surrealist in Nash would have enjoyed the juxtaposition of ancient hillforts and modern chimneys. I'm not sure that I agree. He did after all dedicate his 'Shell Guide to Dorset' to 'All those courageous enemies of development to whom we owe what is left of England', and he was not at all happy when Avebury was spruced up for the tourist industry in the late 1930s.
He would have loathed power stations and motorways and those giant warehouses that nowadays spring up almost overnight close to strategic junctions. Although it isn't manmade structures that now block his long-range view of the Clumps from Boars Hill, but fully-grown trees.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Here's another map of Ravilious-related locations, mostly in Sussex. It should be an interesting companion to 'Ravilious in Pictures: Sussex and the Downs', though it is very much a work in progress. I will add locations and info as they occur to me...
Thursday, 7 April 2011
|'No. 29 Bus' by Eric Ravilious (1934)|
Asked in later years for a biographical sketch, Ravilious noted his ‘tendency to paint in sequences (groups of broken down tractors and old cars and buses in fields, the discarded machinery of Essex)’. Here, an antique double-decker faces the sunlit, open countryside, as if about to drive away, yet it is only the shell or skeleton of a bus, standing not on wheels but on four barrels. With its tapering, top-heavy wooden body it could be an eccentric river boat, awaiting a rising tide. The number ‘29’ has been painted on a folded piece of canvas or cardboard and wedged behind the staircase, perhaps as an aid to identification for potential buyers.
This is probably a view looking away from the ‘repair yard for steam engines’ that Tirzah later recalled, where Ravilious also discovered the subjects for ‘Talbot-Darracq’ and ‘Tractor’. Engineer and blacksmith John Thomas Chapman began repairing steam engines and other agricultural machinery in 1870 at a yard on Bell Lane, [in Great Bardfield, Essex] and the business was still going in the 1930s; the bungalows of Durham Close now occupy the site.
Tirzah noted that some of the engines were in working order, ‘Though the bindweed was climbing over them and there was a hen’s nest in one. The door of the shed where they repaired wheels was splashed with a variety of paints and inside were some lovely red wheels.
‘Eric was very excited with the yard,’ she remarked, ‘And set to work drawing the engines and the car, afterwards tinting in watercolour his very careful drawings.’
But why is this bus here, in a country junkyard? It looks like a city vehicle, a double-decker with the distinctive curved stairway of the B-type London buses built by the London General Omnibus Company in Walthamstow before and during World War I. Hundreds of these vehicles were used as ambulances and troop transports on the Western Front, their bodywork painted khaki and windows replaced by wooden panels. After the war some returned to service in the capital, but were quickly replaced by newer models and dispatched to the provinces, until the passage of time caught up with them even in rural districts. Eventually it became quite common to see a B-type bus dismantled in this way, its cab and chassis perhaps put to use in haulage while the body waits to be transformed into a henhouse, shed or, possibly, somebody’s home.
Following the move to Castle Hedingham Ravilious soon found a new junkyard, where he made the wood engraving of ‘The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons’(1935): ‘An area wholly mud given up to every sort of junk, beds and bicycles and cartwheels with ducks and hens and black-faced enormous sheep to liven the scene…’
‘These brutes,’ he added, ‘Run about the place jumping pans and corrugated iron with a beautiful agility and a great deal of clatter.’
This is an extract from 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life', available to order now from The Mainstone Press. You can see B-type buses in slightly better condition at the Imperial War Museum - look out for Old Bill - and at the London Transport Museum.
Tuesday, 5 April 2011
I've started putting together a Google map of interesting locations mentioned in or connected to 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life'. What next - an app?! I thought I might be able to put the map itself here but it's a bit beyond my technical skills, so you can find it here.