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Walter Hoyle: a versatile artist

The Fry Art Gallery’s retrospective of work by Walter Hoyle, Walter Hoyle: a versatile artist has been extended into the autumn of 2020 [the exhibition closed in November 2020 due to national COVID-19 restrictions].  The show is a rare chance to appreciate the full achievement of an artist who was central to the Great Bardfield scene during its 1950s heyday, became an influential teacher in Cambridge and, as a committed Francophile, spent an increasing amount of time in Dieppe.

Walter Hoyle, Cemetery at Enna, Sicily, 1951, watercolour

Hoyle - Enna

Many themes ran throughout Hoyle’s career, including a love of watercolour and of linocut, but the exhibition falls naturally into a chronological sequence.  After examples of his early works, created at the time when Hoyle’s studies at the RCA were interrupted by National Service, come a set of watercolours from a painting trip to Sicily that he made with Edward Bawden, formerly one of his RCA tutors, in 1951.

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Mr and Mrs Ravilious

The story of the artist who sacrifices her own career to support a more famous husband is clichéd, but all too often accurate. There’s something in the clear-eyed take on domestic life in Tirzah Garwood’s early prints, however, that suggests her marriage to Eric Ravilious would offer something richer and more complicated. The Fry Art Gallery’s 2019 exhibition, Mr and Mrs Ravilious, is the first time significant work from across the lives of both Tirzah and Eric has been used to map their artistic life together, and to suggest how we might think about each artist in relation to the other. (Mr and Mrs Ravilious is at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, from 7th April to 27th October 2019, accompanied by a changing series of smaller exhibitions in the Gibson Room.)

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Edward Bawden: from lino to litho

This is the fifth and final post in a series coinciding with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018. Each of the posts looks at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

The prints in Edward Bawden’s series ‘Six London Markets’, which date from 1967, are some of his best known and most popular. There’s a set held at Tate, and I once saw a copy of ‘Covent Garden: Foreign Fruit Market’ on the wall of a Minister (admittedly rather a junior Minister) in the House of Lords.

Covent Garden
Edward Bawden, ‘Covent Garden: Foreign Fruit Market’

Another of the prints, ‘Borough Market’, is currently on show in the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life. It’s a beautiful treatment of enfolded spaces: the canopy of an invitingly lit fruit and veg store juts under the powerful brick and iron of a railway bridge, with both overlooked by the tower of Southwark Cathedral. And, of course, the blocky shapes and flat patches of colour give away that this is one of Bawden’s celebrated linocuts. Except that it isn’t, it’s a lithograph, or at least it’s a ‘lithograph after linocut’. What’s going on? Continue reading “Edward Bawden: from lino to litho”

Edward Bawden’s Late Watercolours

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts to coincide with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018.  Each of the posts will look at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

Early in his career, in the 1930s, Edward Bawden produced a significant body of work in watercolour. Along with Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, he introduced a new, modern style of clean lines and precise brush strokes which banished the prevalent tendency for watery atmospheric effects. The story of these early paintings was recently told in the Mainstone Press’s The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden. The pictures were ‘lost’ in the sense that they were dispersed in private collections, as well as being cast into shadow by Bawden’s later reputation as a printmaker and illustrator. Continue reading “Edward Bawden’s Late Watercolours”

Edward Bawden on Television

This is the third in a series of blog posts to coincide with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018.  Each of the posts will look at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

For a notoriously private man, Edward Bawden doesn’t seem to have minded being in front of a television camera.

In his book Under Moonlight, Silas Clifford-Smith describes the unlikely pairing of the taciturn Bawden with a young and garrulous Alan Whicker, when Whicker was conducting interviews for a BBC story on the Great Bardfield artists. The piece was broadcast ahead of the 1958 ‘open house’ exhibition, the fourth and final time that the professional artists in the village organised a group show based around their homes. Continue reading “Edward Bawden on Television”

Edward Bawden’s Visitors

This is the second in a series of blog posts to coincide with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018.  Each of the posts will look at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

It could be a crush in Brick House when Edward Bawden invited in the public. During the first of the Great Bardfield ‘Open House’ exhibitions in 1951, he wrote to his son Richard of how when ‘a school arrives or a party of WI people I nearly get pushed out of the house by the crush of bosoms’. He continued, ‘The last person to sign the book came from Madrid and others from [the] Falkland Islands, Denmark, France, Malaya and Canada’. The ‘book’, here, was a visitors’ book which Bawden kept during the Bardfield exhibitions, and which now forms part of the Bawden Estate.

As a document of the exhibitions, the visitors’ book is both evocative and revealing. Inside its maroon covers are rows of names in neat, if sometimes challenging, handwriting, interspersed with the occasional inky splodge. At the start, Bawden has diligently written in headings for date, name and address, but it was a habit he later dropped, to the detriment of neatness. Continue reading “Edward Bawden’s Visitors”

Edward Bawden at the Tate

This is the first in a series of blog posts to coincide with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018.  Each of the posts will look at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

There is no evidence as to why Edward Bawden was appointed as a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in 1951. His work in the preparations for the Festival of Britain, alongside, perhaps, a certain down-to-earth reputation, seem to have commended him to someone in Government. At all events, the Tate’s constitution required that four of its Trustees were practising artists and, with the Camden Town painter Henry Lamb retiring, the invitation to Bawden was made. As a result, he served until 1958, his tenure coinciding with those of figures such as Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, John Piper and William Coldstream.

Continue reading “Edward Bawden at the Tate”

‘Edward Bawden at Home’ at the Fry Art Gallery

For the first time, the Fry Art Gallery is to dedicate a full season and all of its gallery space to a single exhibition: Edward Bawden at Home. Opening on the 1st of April 2018 and running until the 28th of October 2018, the show will include around 200 artworks and other items. These will be displayed in the Gallery which Bawden helped to establish and which is just a short walk from the home in Saffron Walden in which he spent his last nineteen years. Continue reading “‘Edward Bawden at Home’ at the Fry Art Gallery”

Benjamin Sullivan on ‘Connections’

What could a leading portrait painter make from the collection at the Fry Art Gallery? That’s the question raised – and answered – by the new exhibition, Connections, which runs at the Gallery from the 9th September to the 29th October 2017.

Connections is curated by Benjamin Sullivan. Benjamin has established himself as a major figurative painter. He has been elected to the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and has work in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy and Parliament House, Edinburgh. As artist in residence at All Souls College, Oxford, he completed The All Souls Triptych, which is now installed at the college. He is the winner of the 2017 BP Portrait Award.

Ben Sullivan - Breech! Cropped
Detail from Benjamin Sullivan – Pencil Study for Breech!

For the Fry Art Gallery Blog, Benjamin has given his reflections on his selection of works for the show and on portraiture at the Fry Art Gallery.

“The North West Essex Art Collection, whilst not being known for its connection with portraiture, nevertheless boasts a fair number of figurative works – some familiar, others less so. Taking the term ‘portrait’ in its broadest sense, my selection draws from a wide variety of styles and media to form the basis of this show.

Detail from John Aldridge – Lucie Weaving a Rug

We start with Sir George Clausen’s gentle portrayal of Reverend Court. Stylistically incongruous compared to the rest of the Collection, this sympathetic work nonetheless demonstrates Clausen’s talent as a portraitist – capturing a young, and what we imagine to be, congenial clergyman. As we move into the 20th century, Court’s presence is nicely complemented by Duffy Ayers sensitive portrait of Kitty Wilson and John Aldridge’s penetrating self portrait of 1946. More works by Aldridge are shown on the opposite wall focused around the commanding domestic interior Lucie Weaving a Rug. Demonstrating a pleasingly free use of oils, this centrepiece is both colourful and restrained; we know this England. The same can be said of Charlotte Bawden’s post impressionistic portrayal of Eric Townsend with its stylistic association to the New English Art Club.

Rowntree - Adam with Pram Cropped
Detail from Kenneth Rowntree – Adam with Pram

A quartet of Ravilious lithographs, completed for the War Artists Advisory Committee, sets a different tone. These stylised figures do not attempt to be naturalistic portraits yet exist convincingly in their environments. Ravilious is present elsewhere in the show in the form of Thomas Hennell’s sparse and revealing pen and ink study. Other fine drawings surround Hennell’s work, revealing the depth of draughtsmanship in the collection. Watercolour is present too, with Kenneth Rowntree’s Adam with Pram making a pleasing appearance, being one of my personal favourites from the Fry Art Gallery. This tender depiction of fatherly love set against the ever present signs of war creates a tension which belies its benign execution. The contrast of loose and precise mark making aid this juxtaposition.

Ginny and Edie at the opening of ‘Connections’

A different use of watercolour is evident in John Bellany’s Self Portrait of 1986. This painting, in Bellany’s inimitable way, reaches for some inner truth in the honest portrayal of its subject. Also on display are a number of my own works, mostly drawings, made over the past few years. Chief amongst these is a pencil study for Breech!; a painting of my wife and daughter that won this year’s BP Portrait Award. The painting is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery.”

Rothenstein at the Frontiers of Printmaking

Michael Rothenstein described his workplace as a ‘studio-laboratory’, and nothing comes through more strongly from the diverse, sometimes startling images on show in the Fry Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Michael Rothenstein: Sustained Invention (27th May to 3rd September 2017) than the artist’s desire to experiment in the print making process.  Complementing the large, major pieces in the exhibition are objects that further evidence Rothenstein’s range: youthful drawings, mature sketchbooks, ceramics, book illustrations and two of his own books on print making technique, Linocuts and Woodcuts from 1962 and 1966’s Frontiers of Print Making.  Both books are fascinating, and Frontiers of Print Making in particular gives an insight into Rothenstein’s thinking as, during the 1960s, he moved away from recognisable imagery and conventional print formats.

Michael Rothenstein, ‘The Bull’ (1956, linocut, detail)

A large, quite dark presence in Sustained Invention is The Bull, a linocut from 1956. In Frontiers of Print Making Rothenstein describes how the particular textures in the image were achieved, but, perhaps more intriguingly, also discusses why he felt this experiment to be a dead end. His initial insight was that printing blocks could be made by building up the surface of the lino quite as legitimately as by cutting it away.  Thus in The Bull sand was added to the lino corresponding to the roadway before inking it up in a dark brown.  This area was then printed again, slightly out of alignment (or ‘off-register’) with a lighter brown.  The aim was to give the road surface ‘movement and density without emphasis’.  On reflection, however, Rothenstein was dissatisfied; not with the results, but with the very concept of this technique. He felt that it had allowed him to gain in printing something of the textual effects of brushstrokes in paint, but as such it was not an effect unique to printmaking.  It was the search for just this uniqueness which then led him to print with found materials, such as wood and man-made metal objects, where the printed texture itself became the subject of the works.

Such a use of found objects was linked with the development of the process Rothenstein called ‘open-block printing’ (a process devised, he says, ‘in the graphic workshop at Great Bardfield’).  In Frontiers of Print Making Rothenstein gives an extensive description of the making of Black, Blue and White, a companion piece to the Fry Art Gallery’s Radial Shakes.  It would be difficult to reconstruct the precise sequence of events from the text, but his primary intention is, perhaps, more to show how thinking about materials and problems can lead to new styles of image making.  He discusses how the final arrangement of different elements was fixed by drawing their position on a register sheet, how separate proofs were taken to allow the use of objects of different heights, and how he had allowed the thin cross-section of tree used in the design to dry and crack, giving the radial pattern which characterises the whole.

Michael Rothenstein, ‘Radial Shakes’ (1965, woodcut, linocut and metal relief plates)

Frontiers of Print Making is, above all, a book encouraging artists and print-makers to think innovatively.  Yet there is also a degree of defensiveness to it, a defensiveness about a tradition that is seen to be under threat.  It was written at a time when screen printing, and in particular screen prints that incorporated news and magazine photographs, had moved quickly from America, and the work of Rauschenberg and Warhol, to international dominance in the world of art-prints.  By advocating experimentation with older forms of relief printing Rothenstein was going against the grain.  In the book he acknowledges the potential of the American-style photo-images, but also notes that their characteristics – what he identifies as a ‘curious stillness’ – can destroy the connection between an artist and the viewer.  He worries that the use of commercial methods will turn art into ‘a public address system’.

Rothenstein is much more positive, however, about the potential to use photo-images as one element in a combine print.  Here the visible human gestures of the artist and the mechanical, reproduced photo-image can play off one another, enhancing the ‘communication’ of the whole.  With these comments Frontiers of Printmaking once again illuminates Rothenstein’s own practice as a print maker since, as Sustained Invention shows, this type of combined print was precisely the direction his own work was to take in the late 1960s and 1970s.