Presenting 18th-century English drinking glasses

Recently, as research curator at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, I gave a ‘Friday Focus’ talk about the new display of 18th-century English drinking glasses that I have curated. This talk looked at the collector of the glasses, including an aspect of his life in Leamington, and then considered the different types of glasses that were created throughout the 18th century – and the various techniques used to decorate them. Lastly, I looked at why I chose to display the collection as I did:

Background to the collection and collector

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‘The Collector’ by Henry Holland, 1918, LSAG&M

This display highlights a selection of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum’s collection of 160 English drinking glasses from the 18th century. They were purchased from the collector Francis Jahn in 1955 with the help of the National Art Collections Fund and the V&A Purchase Fund.

Jahn, who was born in 1871 and died in 1967, was a collector of oriental art, ceramics and 18th-century glasses. He followed his German father, Louis Jahn, a curator at the Hanley Museum, who built up a vast private collection of 18th-century Staffordshire pottery during his lifetime, which he left to his son. Many of the finest items were later bequeathed by Francis Jahn himself to Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.  Continue reading

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Writing for The British Art Journal

I’m very pleased to have a first article published in The British Art Journal – in the form of a book review of ‘The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe’, edited by Gill Clarke and published by Bristol publishers Sansom & Co.

 

 

 

 

 

How to make the most out of a visit to an art gallery

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‘Impressionist Exhibition’ etching by my grandmother, Jennifer Beales (nee Caplan)

I’ve written an article about how to make the most out of a visit to an art gallery for Art UK’s new website. It includes eleven tips and also offers a fun challenge to readers, helping people to feel more comfortable with being in an art gallery environment and looking at art.

 

It is primarily aimed at people who may find the experience overwhelming, but can hopefully also give more regular gallery goers some fresh ideas for engaging with art.

A link to the article on Art UK is here.

If you fancy getting involved and sharing your recent experiences of being in an art gallery or your thoughts on particular artworks you see there, please let me and Art UK know by tweeting with the hashtag #visit_art

 

 

 

Attending Gilda Williams’ course on How to Write About Art

Yesterday I attended Gilda Williams’ ‘How To Write About Art’ course at the Whitechapel Gallery. It was a brilliant and highly informative day – Gilda gave lots of good advice about ways to develop (and spot) good writing, which she supported with clear examples. She also asked the class to write a short piece about one of the works in the Whitechapel’s current exhibition, ‘Electronic Superhighway (2016 – 1966)’, and encouraged everyone to give each other feedback. My text is below. I chose to focus on Jonas Lund’s contribution, entitled ‘VIP (Viewer Improved Painting’), 2014, consisting of a self optimising digital painting, 50″ monitor TV and a gaze tracking camera. View it on his website page here.

What is your favourite colour? What is your preference, blue or pink? After standing for several seconds in front of Jonas Lund’s work, ‘VIP (Viewer Improved Painting’), 2014, it becomes clear that we are being asked this old and clumsy question. Perhaps it reminds us of similarly black-and-white questions we used to receive from peers in the school playground.

Whether we know the answer now or not, Lund’s ‘VIP’ sets out to tell us. It does this by presenting us with two luxuriously long flat-screen television screens that have been turned on their sides and stick assertively from the wall, jostling for the viewer’s attention. They slowly feed us fuzzy blocks of colour, splodges of dark blue are surprised by splashes of sunburnt pink. The edges of different  blocks blur together in a way that is reminiscent of Rothko’s abstract paintings.

Our eyes naturally dart towards the changes in colour, the areas of movement and energy. As we are fed these colours, the monitor, parked confidently on top of the screens, records which we are drawn to and starts to only show those that we like. Rarely do we see an artwork that takes such pains to please us and offer up its images for our own individual delight. Lund’s work is, after all, entitled ‘VIP’. We expect special treatment.

And yet, a sense of unease pervades this experience. We are aware of being watched, our actions are obviously  recorded by a camera and our personal preferences broadcast on a public screen. Over time it is obvious we are only given a limited number of colours to choose from, so our preferences are manipulated by this robot, just like they were by our friends back at school. Peer pressure has not gone away. Instead, as this artwork suggests through its mechanisms and media, it has exploded with the copious amount of technology and online interactions that surround us every day.

 

 

 

17th-century Netherlandish paintings at Leamington Spa

My role as the Research Curator at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum involves researching into aspects of the permanent collection and interpreting it for different visitors. Recently, the gallery has had an unusual acquisition of twelve 17th-century Netherlandish paintings, which are all on permanent display. I have been studying them in order to create a handout for visitors and give a talk as part of the gallery’s weekly ‘Friday Focus’ events. My 8 page handout is below:

wall handout - final copy

Continue reading

Writing for The Friends of The Wilson Newsletter

Front cover of the Autumn NewsletterThe Wilson Newsletter is a publication produced for (and largely by) The Friends of The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum. When the editor invited me to write a ‘What’s On’ article for the Autumn 2015 issue, I was pleased to have the opportunity to be involved. It enable me to write about and reflect upon a temporary exhibition in The Friends Gallery, entitled ‘Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space’, which I had assisted the curator of fine art with in terms of research and display. A copy of the text is below.

My article in the Autumn issue of the Newsletter

Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space

The Friends Gallery has an area for dynamic temporary displays, the latest being Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space, which opened in July and runs until 8 November. This is an intimate and intriguing exhibition, celebrating a selection of portraits from The Wilson’s collection. It presents oil paintings from the 17th to the 20th century, and includes two works from the founding collection, donated by the Baron de Ferrieres in 1898.

The paintings have shared themes of privacy and contemplation, hinting at the emotional lives of the people portrayed. Thus, the interior spaces that exist in these works are not just the physical spaces that the figures inhabit, but are also the spaces that belong to their minds. This focus on interiority is reflected in the solitary activities depicted, such as reading in Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet’s painting A Woman Reading, about 1630-1650. It is also enhanced through the sensitive use of personal or even spiritual places, such as the cosy domestic sitting room in The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, Seated Reading, about 1935, by Gerald Gardiner, or the interior of the church in Malvern Abbey, Worcestershire, 1892, by Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson.

Parallels can be made between some of these ideas and those of contemporary artist, Bill Viola (b. 1951). In Viola’s film pieces, private moments, devotion and the passing of time are common themes. Viola’s work can be seen on display in the third floor gallery of The Wilson from 3 October 2015 – 7 February 2016 as part of ARTIST ROOMS On Tour.

Gloucestershire newspaper article: Rodin sculpture at The Wilson

My Rodin article in Gloucestershire EchoI was very pleased to write a second article for the local newspaper, Gloucestershire Echo, during my internship in the Collections department at The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum. The Wilson had just put their newly acquired Rodin sculpture on display and I thought this would be a good topic to write about – plus, I had written the gallery label for this artwork, and studied some of Rodin’s later sculptures (and photographs) for my MA dissertation.

This Echo article was published on Saturday 29th August.

Dance Movement E by Auguste Rodin, about 1911, bronze, edition 3 of 11, 430 x 124mm

This striking sculpture, entitled Dance Movement E, captures a full figure in the middle of a lively dance. Designed by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) in about 1911, it was never shown in Rodin’s lifetime, but was cast posthumously in bronze. Dance Movement E was given to the art gallery and museum by PJ Crook, President of the Friends of The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, in May 2014 to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Friends.

My Rodin article in Gloucestershire EchoIt is particularly exciting to have the sculpture here at The Wilson as Rodin has several links with Cheltenham. The artist stayed in the town for five weeks in 1914, visiting the art gallery and museum numerous times during his stay. Then nineteen years later, the curator at the time, Mr Herdman, requested that Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss be shown at the art gallery and museum. It was on display for three years before being transferred to the Tate. The Kiss returned to The Wilson last year as a loan for a temporary exhibition, entitled Embrace.

Rodin rarely took traditional anatomical rules or details into consideration. Instead, he created increasingly abstract sculptures, noting the shapes produced by flexible body parts during specific expressive moments. Critics believed that many of Rodin’s creations were merely studies or unfinished works. In contrast, much of the sculpture produced by Rodin’s contemporaries tended to be highly conservative and a large quantity was commissioned by the French government for heroic public monuments. Among his peers, however, were the Impressionists (Rodin and Monet were born the same year), whose innovations in painting moved away from the constraints of classical imperatives. Rodin also moved away from conventional boundaries and his inventive and ‘modern’ approach is one of the reasons why he is one of the best-known sculptors of the late nineteenth century.

It was Rodin’s novel subject matter as well as his style that made his art stand out and appear radical. For instance, as his sculpture Dance Movement E suggests, Rodin was inspired by modern dance. In particular he was fascinated by Alda Moreno, an acrobat and dancer at the Opéra Comique, Paris, who became his regular model from 1910 to 1913. This subject marks one of his later, and largely private, prolific investigations; indeed, Dance Movement E is one of a series of nine figures that are individually labelled from A to I.

We are delighted that now, over one hundred years on from Rodin’s visit to Cheltenham, we can enjoy another of his sculptures here, as part of the art gallery and museum’s collection. You can see Dance Movement E on display in the Friends Gallery at The Wilson, a venue managed by The Cheltenham Trust.

My 3rd review for Crafts magazine: Kate MccGwire at the RWA

Crafts Magazine, September/October 2015International artists Peter Randall-Page and Kate MccGwire have a wonderful joint exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA). I was very pleased to write a review of it for the Craft Council’s ‘Crafts’ magazine, issue September/October 2015.

This is now the third time that I have written about Kate MccGwire’s work (please see my interview with Kate on IdeasTap, and my blog post about writing for the Young Arnolfini zine); it is also my third review for ‘Crafts’ magazine.

My review in Crafts magazine

My review in Crafts magazine

Rodin sculpture at The Wilson

The Wilson have recently put on display their new Rodin sculpture of a modern dancer. As part of my internship in the Collections department, I wrote the label for this wonderful artwork. Here it is below:

Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)

Dance Movement E, about 1911

Bronze, edition of 11

Rodin was inspired by modern dance. This led him to experiment with attempting to capture the essence of the body in movement. He was particularly fascinated by Alda Moreno, an acrobat and dancer at the Opéra Comique, Paris, who became his regular model from 1910 to 1913.

This interpretation of dance marks one of Rodin’s later, largely private, investigations. Dance Movement E is one of a series of nine, known collectively as Dance Movements and individually labelled A to I. These sculptures were not shown in Rodin’s lifetime, but cast posthumously in bronze.

Rodin rarely took traditional anatomic rules into consideration. Instead, he created increasingly abstract sculptures, noting the shapes produced by flexible body parts at specific expressive moments. His rough treatment of surface detail is also a crucial aspect of his unique style, and adds to the tactile and dynamic qualities of his work. In this way, Rodin strove to introduce innovative uses of natural movement and modelling to sculpture.

Given by P J Crook, President of the Friends of Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, in May 2014 to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Friends.

Noble Fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Nobles Fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Janet Haigh’s ‘The Daphne Tree’, left, and Kirsten Hill-Nixon’s hand felted lion pictures, right, in the Noble Fibres exhibition

I organised and curated this textiles exhibition at Heart Space Studios, Bristol. The show opened as part of the Westbury Park Arts Festival in June.

This exhibition presents humorous, contemplative and academic interpretations of ‘Noble Fibres’ in a variety of textile materials by local artists and Heart Space tutors. Each artist’s definition has in common the assumption that Noble Fibres are natural, pure and even raw materials; this encompasses wool, felt and leather. Wool subtly references Shaun the Sheep, who is out and about in Bristol this summer, including on Coldharbour Road.

One of Kirsten Hill-Nixon's hand felted lion pictures

One of Kirsten Hill-Nixon’s hand felted lion pictures

Metals and cottons can also count as Noble Fibres, as they are not just limited to animal-based substances. However, a prominent motif running through this exhibition is the use and behaviour of animals. This is dealt with in a range of ways, from exploring their function as sources for harvesting the Fibres to their threatening interactions with Noble materials (think of the coat-eating clothes moth!).

Intriguingly, Nobel Fibres have also been taken to mean regal nobility and luxury, which several artists have explored through the use of historically royal colours and symbols, including the symbolic potential of animals.

The textile pieces collectively accentuate the process of making and the notion of ‘noble’ as an honest state of mind and approach to working. Due to this, several of the artworks are experimentations or samples rather than finished products.

Stephanie Wooster's moodpboard for knitting samples

Stephanie Wooster’s mood board for knitting samples

Sustainable craft also forms part of this code of good practice, which is pertinent considering this is Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. The emphasis on honesty is integral to the ethos of Heart Space Studios, which supports making meaningful things ‘with hand, heart and eye’.

Nobles fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Long view of the exhibition at Heart Space Studios, Bristol

Ilsa Fatt's fabric woven necklace, inspired by the Snow Queen, a regal fairytale character

Ilsa Fatt’s fabric woven necklace, inspired by the Snow Queen, a regal fairytale character

Knitted bosoms by Avril Best, in celebration of ‘Knitted Knockers UK’, a group of volunteers who make artificial 100% cotton breasts free of charge for women who have had mastectomies.

Knitted bosoms by Avril Best, in celebration of ‘Knitted Knockers UK’, a group of volunteers who make artificial 100% cotton breasts free of charge for women who have had mastectomies