Eric Ravilious is sometimes pigeon-holed into the “very English” category and side-lined as, well, as a side-line. Although he was not quite 40 when he died, his output was prodigious and includes ceramics as well as paintings, drawings and other design work. And yet you have to be a little bit specialist to know of him today. Was this due to his early death? Possibly, for deaths in wartime tend to be obscured by other events, and then comes peace and then a whole post-war generation and movement. The strange thing is that, looking at much of Ravilious’ work, you can’t help thinking of what was around in the early 1950’s and of the Festival of Britain. Those artists, of course, were drawing on what had gone before, but were they consciously influenced by Ravilious or simply by things they saw around them which had themselves felt his touch, if only by proxy?
It is interesting to analyse Ravilious’ viewpoint in some detail. His use of perspective is particularly worthy of study. Tea At Furlongs has no tea, so the title is already telling us something. The colours are muted and the room unfurnished save for a plain chair, whose form is ever-so-slightly distorted. The walls are just off square, as though we’re looking at a photograph taken with a wide-angle lens. What’s significant is the view through the window and the open door, which recede into considerable distance in the same way that Dutch paintings did when their artists were getting the hang of perspective and showing off their prowess. Ravilious isn’t doing that, because it’s a known technique by now; rather, he’s back-referencing and playing with the point of view. The not-there title invites you to ask yourself just what it is you’re looking at and the picture offers clues as well as misdirections, so that you have to look at it for a long time. It’s not simply an image you can absorb and move on. Once you’ve cracked that, the theme turns up again and again, with compositional elements vying and jockeying for position and attention.
The book itself, which is why we’re here, is comprehensive and generously illustrated and will give you all the opportunity you need to study Ravilious’ work in detail and to pose and answer your own questions.
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