Eric ravilious

Nobody paints the sea like Emil Nolde

In April, ten years after opening its gallery on the beach in Hastings, the Jerwood Foundation gifted the building to the local borough council. Thrown in at the deep end without a permanent collection, Hastings Contemporary, as it is now known, has to sink or swim on the strength of its exhibition programme. How to please local audiences while attracting outsiders? For a seaside gallery, nautical themes are an obvious answer: this summer’s offering is Seafaring, a dip into two centuries of maritime art from Théodore Géricault to Cecily Brown. What’s the worst that can happen? Shipwreck. The show opens with three recent canvases by Brown inspired by romantic paintings

The art of the high street

I can no longer remember when it was that high streets did not all look the same. The architectural writer James Maude Richards bemoaned the disappearance of local character from our shops as early as 1938, but even so he could include a plumassier, submarine engineer and shop of model transport in his winsome introduction to the high street. With the exception of some of the specialists, subs included, these were shops that could still be found in many towns beyond London. Eric Ravilious did the illustrations for the book (which, alongside three of the original prints, is on show at the Arc gallery in Winchester from 18 February to

The art of the pillbox

When Oscar Wilde famously claimed: ‘All art is quite useless’, he may not have had artistic subjects in mind. But it’s certainly true that since the Romantic era, artists have had a special affection for the superannuated. An image of an abandoned building with some sort of past, not necessarily glorious, appeals to our emotions, be it Rachel Whiteread’s ‘House’ or Constable’s ‘Hadleigh Castle’. Even ephemera pre-loved by strangers evoke nostalgia when incorporated in the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell or the assemblages of Peter Blake. But what about things that are not just obsolete but have never had any use at all? That’s the curious question prompted by a

Some like it hot | 13 June 2019

‘Playing God is indeed playing with fire,’ observed Ronald Dworkin. ‘But that is what we mortals have done since Prometheus, the patron saint of dangerous discoveries.’ There’s no Prometheus in the RWA’s new exhibition Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692–2019, but there are plenty of flames, some dangerous, some not. The third in the Bristol gallery’s trilogy of shows on elemental themes, following The Power of the Sea (2014) and Air (2017), Fire features the most dramatic of the four elements, and the most fun to paint. Artists love playing with fire. It’s a subject that has held audiences in thrall since medieval worshippers were kept on the

Water, water, everywhere | 28 March 2018

‘Ding, Clash, Dong, BANG, Boom, Rattle, Clash, BANG, Clink, BANG, Dong, BANG, Clatter, BANG BANG BANG!’ is how Charles Dickens transcribes the sound of 1,200 men building the first iron-clad frigate Achilles at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham, in the 1860s. A Chatham boy, Dickens lived to see — and hear — the age of sail turn into the age of steam, when the creak of ropes, the flap of canvas and the ding of bells gave way to the hiss of steam, the chug of motors and the shriek of whistles. As soundscapes go, both strike the modern imagination as more musical than the roar of road traffic. So they

Match made in heaven | 6 July 2017

Tennis is best played with a wooden racket on a shady lawn somewhere close to Dorking. There is no need for trainers, an umpire, or a scoreboard. No need for rules at all. After Wimbledon, the tea-and-jam, grass-stained, Sunday-afternoon scenario from A Room with a View is the only one to emulate. In 1908, when E.M. Forster published his novel, lawn tennis was not yet 50 years old. Although the origins of the game reach back to the 12th century, the version played by Miss Honeychurch and Reverend Beebe and most of us today was said to have been pioneered on a croquet lawn in Edgbaston in 1859. It was

Life’s rich collage

Such is the veneration in this country for the St Ives school of painters, it’s easy to forget that other art colonies existed, let alone thrived, in the mid-20th century: that in Great Bardfield, Essex, perhaps chief among them. The village near Saffron Walden was home to the likes of John Aldridge, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden (1903–89). Maybe it’s going a bit far to say there has been a resurgence of interest in this loosely affiliated group of figurative artists. But it’s certainly a welcome coincidence that, following the success of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s superb Ravilious exhibition last year, comes the publication of Bawden’s scrapbooks

Pure and endless light

There has been extraordinarily little bright sunlight in the far northwest corner of Britain over the past year. Damp, drizzling summer, an endless sequence of howling autumnal gales and downpours, a muddy dismal winter. Then at the beginning of February, by some accounts traditionally a season for good weather in northern Scotland, a series of brilliant sparkling days arrived unannounced. While the rest of the country shivered and dripped, the sun in the north bounced off the sea, the hills were brilliant with deep snow, the night sky was clear and starry, northern lights pulsing on the horizon and the moon bright enough to read by. Enough to turn anyone’s

M.C. Escher: limited, repetitive, but he deserves a place in art history

‘Surely,’ mused the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, ‘it is a bit absurd to draw a few lines and then claim: “This is a house.”’ He made a good point. That is what almost all artists since the days of Lascaux have done: put down some splodges of paint or a line or two and proclaimed, ‘This is a bison’, ‘This is a man’, ‘This is Mona Lisa’. One of the aims of Escher’s work, which is currently displayed in an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, was to undermine such pretensions to represent reality. At first glance, his images often seem meticulously, even aridly factual. ‘Still Life with Mirror, March 1934’

The only art is Essex

When I went to visit Edward Bawden he vigorously denied that there were any modern painters in Essex. That may not have been true then — this was in the 1980s — or even now. What is indisputable, however, is that there have been plenty of artists in the county. They are the subject of two small but delightfully jam-packed exhibitions at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden. Bawden (1903–1989) is at the heart of both of them, even if the second point he made to me — equally emphatically — was that he called himself a designer rather than an artist (‘out of self-defence, mainly’). That distinction, and the

The perfect excuse to get out all the best Ravilious china

A day trip to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne is a summer pleasure, and two concurrent shows are proving a considerable draw, with their focus on design and applied art. Designing the Everyday is in some ways just an excuse to get out all the best Ravilious china and show it with his working drawings, but where’s the harm in that? Ravilious continues to be one of the most popular of 20th-century British artists, and his applied art is not as well known as his pellucid watercolours, so here’s a chance to remedy that. And to put it in context, the surrounding rooms examine work from both earlier and

Paul Johnson’s diary: Boris would make a great PM – but he must strike now

I feel an intense antipathy for Vladimir Putin. No one on the international scene has aroused in me such dislike since Stalin died. Though not a mass killer on the Stalin scale, he has the same indifference to human life. There is a Stalinist streak of gangsterism too: his ‘loyalists’ wear masks as well as carry guns. Putin also resembles Hitler in his use of belligerent minorities to spread his power. Am I becoming paranoid about Putin? I hope not. But I am painfully aware that he would not matter if there was a strong man in Washington. As it is, President Obama is a feeble and cowardly man who