Andrew Lambirth

Getting to know them

Andrew Lambirth on the insights and rewards to be gained through watching artists at work

I had intended to devote this article to the subject of artists on film and in particular to a newish archive, the Artists on Film Trust, which was founded seven years ago by Hannah Rothschild and Robert McNab, and affiliated this February to the newly created University of the Arts, London. Under this inelegant umbrella (it used to be The London Institute) are huddled most of the capital’s art schools — Camberwell, Central St Martins, Chelsea and the London College of Communication (formerly the London College of Printing) — because university status is an essential means of self-protection and funding in an increasingly aggressive commercial world. Likewise for the Artists on Film Trust: partnership with a museum would not safeguard its future — education is the way to survive. The first national collection of film dealing exclusively with artists — primarily at work and in conversation — now has its headquarters in the old RAMC barracks buildings on Millbank, the new campus of Chelsea College of Art and Design, handily situated next to Tate Britain.

Both Rothschild and McNab are steeped in arts broadcasting. Rothschild made the highly acclaimed 2001 Omnibus film on Frank Auerbach, working with the artist’s son Jake, and McNab began his 25 years in the business as an assistant to Kenneth Clark. Their plan is to bring together all the recorded film of artists, which is currently dispersed through the archives and libraries of the world, and make it accessible to students and the general public. This process will take time, and not just in terms of transferring material to a digital format ready to be accessed. Although it’s at a turning point in its development, the Trust will need the best part of a decade to become fully operational. McNab estimates that within a year 100 hours of material will become available for viewing, but stresses that public accessibility is currently restricted.

So perhaps it’s not yet the moment to be writing glowingly of this new resource, when it is still something of a twinkle in its organisers’ eyes.

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