Archive for category Publisher: Lund Humphries

Studio Lives || Louise Campbell

It is, I think, permissible to wonder whether so much has been written about art and artists that new approaches have to be manufactured to keep the supply going. The basic thesis here is that artists have studios in which they work and sometimes live, and that these reflect their lives and the ways in which they are seen and interpreted.

It does, however, make for a good read and, if a project is well handled, coming at a subject from an oblique angle can lead to new insights that materially contribute to the aforesaid well-documented field.

Louise Campbell tells a good story, or rather series of stories, that follows the development of the purpose-built studio which was also accommodation from G F Watts through the Arts & Crafts movement, where art and architecture definitely went hand-in-hand, to Modernist collaborations with the Nicholsons and Barbara Hepworth.

The question to be asked is whether this is a book about art or about architecture? I am not sure just how much artists are influenced by where they work, although there is no doubt that a studio built to their own specifications would be comfortable and conducive to the sort of contemplation that can lead to successful work. Some would disagree and suggest that it is actually discomfort that spurs creation and originality, that the mind needs to be shocked rather than caressed into innovation. Back in the day, I ran an architectural bookshop and I can see this as something that would have fitted very well on its shelves.

In less than skilful hands, a project such as this could be a mess. There are too many artists, too many buildings and, perhaps, too many architects to make sense of what is perhaps a rather thin thread. Louise Campbell, however, marshals her material by telling the stories of the artists themselves within a collection of broad outlines that include The Studio As Home and Building For Art. The result is a clear narrative that, aided by the constraints of period and location (it’s entirely British-based), tells a fascinating and coherent story.

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John Ruskin: an idiosyncratic dictionary || Michael Glover

Just how seriously this small volume should be taken is indicated by the rest of the subtitle (“an idiosyncratic dictionary encompassing his passions, his delusions & his prophesies”). There is a portentousness to the structure of the sentence that entirely reflects the man himself, who was in no doubt as to his own greatness, yet has influenced others as diverse as the first Labour Party MPs and Martin Luther King.

This is in some ways a vade mecum, a book to open at random for asides, insights, diversions and, maybe, inspiration. Whether baby language, badgers or railway stations, Ruskin had an Opinion. He promoted the value of physical labour and organised Oxford undergraduates in a scheme for repairing roads, which even involved Oscar Wilde (Glover doesn’t remark that this may have come in handy later, but…)

This is a book to be taken lightly. Although it pokes gentle fun at its subject, it is also aware of his place in history and does not debunk him, being rather an affectionate look at the lighter side of his eccentricities. As well as quotes and anecdotes, there are also entries, such as that rather unexpected one on Martin Luther King, that also enlighten and enhance our vision of John Ruskin on the bi-centenary of his birth.

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Kurt Jackson’s Botanical Landscape

Kurt Jackson is that rare creature, a creator who is as at home with the written word as he is with the paintbrush. Eloquent in both media, this is his account of the natural world as he sees it. If this was a collaboration such as say, Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words, you’d describe it as an illustrated account, or perhaps a curated portrait. As it is, though, the two strands are inseparable and the paintings, drawings, poems and accounts of travels, excursions and experiences are a single piece.

I said that Jackson is a rare creature, and the truth is that this is a unique work and has to be taken as a whole. The words don’t explain the pictures and the pictures don’t illustrate the words; both account for the landscape as it is and as Jackson sees and experiences it. To open the book is to enter a world that is very personal, and yet at once recognisable. As individuals, we’ve all been caught in motorway jams and wondered at the variety of flora that populate the verges. (That’s from a chapter entitled Weeds that makes it clear that these neglected plants are anything but second-class citizens). We’ve also marvelled at the majesty of an oak tree and perhaps wandered through the undergrowth of a woodland, disturbing small creatures as we go.

So, what is the book like? Well, imagine looking out of an all-seeing window and listening to the words of an eloquent writer. Somehow, the two meld and sound becomes vision, vision sound. It’s no accident that Robert Macfarlane contributes a preface. He gets it.

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Mary Newcombe

There is a naïve quality to the work of Mary Newcombe that almost suggests an accidental artist, a “true find” among the rural East Anglian community in which she lived. This could not be further from the truth, but her work does nevertheless mainly stem from her immediate surroundings – the diurnal life of the countryside with its people, animals, flowers, birds and insects. Mary’s daughter Tessa describes her mother as “[feeling] connected to it in the same way that the nature poet John Clare did”, and having the same sense of living with nature rather than looking at it.

The more you look at the many works here, the more you realise that the depth of artistry is profound. These are not portraits or landscapes in the straightforward sense and Mary is most certainly no Alfred Wallis, no happy accident. Composition, structure and colour are all carefully assembled to create a sense of a living landscape viewed from within and not without. Mary is no metropolitan arriving in the country to find inspiration, still less herself.

The book tells the story of Mary’s life and work and also draws heavily on the illustrated diary she was encouraged to start in 1986 by Andras Kalman, who had been exhibiting her work since the early 1970s. It’s a tale worth telling and even more worth reading.

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Eric Ravilious Scrapbooks || Peyton Skipwith & Brian Webb

This varied and delightful book accompanies the same authors’ look at the sketchbooks of Edward Bawden that appeared two years ago. Ravilious and Bawden are, of course, very much in vogue and the counterpoints to their work make for enjoyable and fascinating study.

As with the Bawden volume, this includes preparatory drawings as well as materials the artist collected as what would now be called a “mood board”. As well as having some interest in their own right as historical records, these show the way Ravilious’ mind worked and how his ideas developed into finished pieces. As a designer as well as an artist, it is possible to see how he was using contemporary references to create images that chimed exactly with his own times.

As well as sketches and design clippings there are also newspaper stories, such as the first flight over Everest, the development of the parachute or a photograph (supplied by Bawden) of the English touring cricket team of 1859. Almost anything seems to have been grist to Ravilious’ mill, but the printed borders and figurative photographs he used as motifs and for reference are particularly interesting.

There is no shortage of books on Eric Ravilious and this is perhaps one for the more dedicated follower. However, it provides many delights in its own right as well as insights into the creative mind generally, along with that of its nominated subject.

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Frederick Walker and the Idyllists || Donato Esposito

Admired and collected by Van Gogh and described by Millais as “the greatest artist of the century”, Frederick Walker is today a largely forgotten figure, his career being cut short by his early death in 1875 at the age of 35.

Glancing at the works illustrated reveals what appear to be standard Victorian paintings. Some are narrative, but all are, as the title suggests, idealised. Bucolic charm pervades every page.

There were six artists in Walker’s group: himself, George John Pinwell, John William North, Cecil Gordon Lawson, Robert Walker Macbeth and George Hemming Mason. All except Mason were coeval and most died young. The book is a series of studies that major on each in turn, but which relate them at the same time to the group as a whole. They were a group of friends with a common aim rather than a specific movement and there are certainly no major technical or artistic innovations. They were no iconoclasts or mould-breakers.

That said, there are stylistic links and it is clear that ideas were exchanged. The use of figures is consistent and there is a luminosity to the works that, while common in other Victorian painting, becomes particularly noticeable here.

The Idyllists didn’t change the world, nor did they want to. A monograph on them is more of a footnote rather than a major contribution to art history. Nevertheless, this first study of the group is worthwhile and gives them attention they otherwise would not get. It’s a service to them and, I would argue, to art history as well.

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Howard Hodgkin – Painting India || ed Eleanor Clayton

“I couldn’t work without it”, said Howard Hodgkin of India in 2014. He first visited the country in 1964 and it was a central influence on his work from then on and he made a considerable collection of its art that has featured elsewhere.

This book is, rather surprisingly, the first to consider the influence of India within Hodgkin’s own work and includes illustrations that cover pieces from 1965 right through to 2017. To complement these, it includes unpublished archival material as well as essays by specialists in Indian art and a 2016 interview by Andrew Bonacina, done as the Hepworth Gallery was preparing a major exhibition for 2017, which this book is intended to accompany.

This is an important look at a major aspect of the work of one of a contemporary artist and includes a great deal of authoritative material.

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