(Blogpost) A Picture of Health: Celebrating Key Workers at Swindon’s Vaccination Centre

Howard Hodgkin, Gramophone, 1964-66, Oil on canvas, ©Estate of Howard Hodgkin

In 1871, the Great Western Railway Hospital in Swindon welcomed their first patient. 150 years later in 2020 and 2021, STEAM Museum welcomed doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and volunteers vaccinating patients against COVID19. As we all know, they’ve been working extremely hard to keep us safe, helping us slowly return to a sense of normality. We couldn’t possibly thank them enough for their hard work during this tough time, but a little infusion of art into their daily routine might make a start!

So, Art on Tour has curated a display of artworks within the break-out space used by the staff and volunteers at the Vaccination Centre. A Picture of Health (supported by sponsorship from Pebley Beach) presents sixteen facsimiles of artworks from Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, which explore health and well-being through themes such as creativity, nature fresh air and exercise.

These include Gramophone by Howard Hodgkin, a vibrant response to listening to music with friends, and Nude with Poppies by Vanessa Ball, an image of rest and relaxation. There are also local scenes, which remind us of the value of nature and local exploration. George Reason’s Polluted Lake is inspired by one of Swindon’s iconic landmarks, whilst F.W. Salvage’s depiction of Coate Water recreates the beauty of a treasured local green space.

F.W. Salvage, A View of Coate Water, Undated (Presented 1970), Oil on canvas, ©F.W. Salvage

We like to think there’s something for everyone, and we hope that providing a positive and enriching space for staff and volunteers to enjoy during their breaks can contribute to their well-being, whilst they look after the well-being of the people of Swindon.

“But, can I view this exhibition?” we hear you ask! Thanks to Art UK’s Curation tool, we are also able to make a digital version of the exhibition available, complete with interpretation for each artwork. You can visit by clicking right here, and get your very own dose of art appreciation!

Plus, if you want to hear even more about some of the artworks on show, you can listen to Episode 30 of Art Snaps, New Year New Me. This ten-minute talk (which was released back in January, hence the title!) explores Tennis by Vicente Do Rego Monteiro, The Chinese Bowl by Ivon Hitchens and Apples II by Sir Lawrence Gowing, all of which feature in A Picture of Health.

Vicente Do Rego Monteiro, Tennis, 1928, Oil on canvas, ©Estate of Vicente Do Rego Monteiro

We hope that soon we’ll be able to deliver some exciting work in person, but for now we hope you enjoy some of this digital content inspired by Swindon’s art collection. Stay safe, stay well, stay positive!

Katie and Mags (Art on Tour)

(Blogpost) Artist in Focus: A Conversation with Janet Boulton

Janet Boulton is a Wiltshire-born artist, whose work is driven by an interest in relationships between the man-made and the natural, windows and reflections, the language of symbols and garden design. Janet has exhibited widely, including two solo exhibitions at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, which were followed by the acquisition of paintings for the Swindon Collection. Janet was kind enough to tell us more about her life, career and paintings in our most recent ‘Artist in Focus’ Q&A.

Janet Boulton, ‘End of Term, Commonweal’, 1962, Oil on board, 163 x 163cm, ©Janet Boulton

Art on Tour: Hi Janet. Perhaps you can set the scene by telling us about your roots in Swindon?

Janet Boulton: I was born in Swindon on September 14th 1936. My parents were farmers and at Home Farm in Blunsdon. In 1940 they moved to Oxleaze Farm in Hannington. From 1940-1945 I attended St Andrews Church School in Blunsdon, and at the end of the war became a weekly boarder at St Catherine’s School for Girls on Bath Road, Swindon. It was during this period I made my first visits to the Museum, long before the Art Gallery was built.

I have quite clear memories of this time – wartime childhood, village life, train from Stanton Fitzwarren to Swindon, walks in the Town Gardens, ‘Trip Week’, etc. My Father was a keen gardener and was it during this period that I saw a wide variety of gardens, the influence of which subsequently emerged when I made a garden here in Abingdon.

Then, from September 1953 to December 1955, I was a student at the Swindon School of Arts & Crafts where I studied for the Intermediate Examination. Although I began the course for the National Diploma at Swindon in January 1956, I moved to London and completed the course in the Painting School at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts.

I was then awarded a David Murray Landscape Painting Scholarship, which allowed me to spend the Autumn of 1958 in Avebury. The drawings I made there are now in the archive at the Swindon Wiltshire History Centre.

AoT: What prompted your return to Swindon after your studies at Camberwell?

JB: In September 1958 until September 1959, I lived in Corsham, and worked for six months at Westinghouse, Chippenham. My involvement with Swindon resumed when I was appointed as a part time art teacher at Commonweal Grammar School in November 1959. I also did a small amount of evening class work at the Art School.

From 1962- 1969 I lived in London with my husband the poet and translator Keith Baines, and during this period I continued as a part-time teacher in various adult institutes and held a number of exhibitions. After this I returned to Swindon, with my daughter Jessica to live at Ridgeway Farm in Wanborough. For three years I taught at Hreod Burna Senior High School and subsequently at the School of Art until July 1977. 

AoT: It was in 1977 that you had your first solo exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Can you tell us about that experience?

JB: It was the late Denys Hodson (then Head of Arts & Recreation at Swindon Borough Council), who was most involved with this exhibition. The content of the exhibition was mainly focused on the pictures of windows I had made from 1970 -77  from the interiors of the Cottage at Ridgeway Farm overlooking the fields towards Liddington Hill, and the art room windows at Hreod Burna School overlooking the playing fields at North Star Avenue (an annex of the art school).

It was arranged that I should give a number of talks too, so at the end of the gallery I showed a selection of works from the Swindon Collection including a Gwen John watercolour and the Wadsworth. I also showed two large works I had made of figures in a classroom during my time at Commonweal. One of these is now in the Swindon Collection, and the other is in the Headmaster’s office at Commonweal.

Janet Boulton, ‘Summer Window, Ridgeway Farm Cottage’, 1975, Oil on board, 152 x 152cm, ©Janet Boulton

AoT: Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has recently acquired three artworks that were shown in ‘Windows and Reflections’. What was the inspiration behind these paintings?

JB: End of Term: Figures in a Classroom was made at Commonweal School in 1961-2. I have always been interested in various aspects of the relationship between the man-made and the natural. Whilst invigilating exams I was able to make small studies of the rows of pupils sitting at desks. The variations in their movements, the curves and angles of the figures contrasting with the regimented horizontals and verticals of the desks made an ideal subject.

The two window paintings show a view from the science room window in Hreod Burna School, and a window of Ridgeway Farm Cottage in the summer of 1975. These two paintings (made roughly a decade after the Commonweal pictures), also subscribe to my interest in the relation between the man-made and natural.  The structural picture-framing characteristic of the window and the view through to open spacious fields, scudding clouds, trees all with their movement and individual characteristics. The reflective quality of glass also lent itself being able to incorporate interior images in the picture.

I tend to paint subjects that are part of my life at the moment, both at home and work. When I painted these, I didn’t have the freedom to travel (which I subsequently did to paint gardens), but I found a subject so rich and varied that it became my main preoccupation for seven years.

Janet Boulton, ‘Science Room Window, Hreod Burna School’, 1974, Oil on board, 152 x 152cm , ©Janet Boulton

AoT: You returned to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for another exhibition ‘Janet Boulton: Watercolours’ in 2017. Why did you chose to focus on watercolours for that show?

JB: In 1977, after my first one-person show at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, I moved to Oxfordshire and eventually settled in Abingdon in 1979. Starting a new life, coupled with less family restraints, coincided with returning to still life subjects and making a garden. My interest in glass (already expressed in some early post-Camberwell paintings of reflections in a triple mirror) developed into setting up still lives of tabletops covered in jam jars and rows of empty cosmetic containers, set before and reflected in mirrors.

When I was teaching at the Swindon School of Art, a student asked me to instruct her in the use of watercolour. Realising how little I knew, set about trying to use them, painting small works of windows, some of which are now in the Swindon Collection. Glass & Check: Crossed Pencils, 1991, was purchased for the collection by the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in 2019.

To paint these pictures I felt that pure watercolour (ie: no added body colour, as distinct from gouache) was the best medium in which to express the fluidity and luminosity of glass and reflections. Since then watercolour has become my main medium.

A film made by Distant Object Productions was aimed at showing the different ways I use watercolour, and attempted to demystify some of the out-of-date misconceptions about watercolour prevalent in the world of art.

Janet Boulton, ‘Glass and Check, Crossed Pencils’, 1991, Watercolour on paper, 86 x 94cm, ©Janet Boulton

AoT: Can you tell us more about how your practice has evolved since the 1977 show?

JB: Changes in my work and life as an artist from 1979 were further marked by being free to take up on a Southern Art’s sponsored residency in a local school. I became a resident artist at Pangbourne College in Berkshire, and had another sponsored residency at the Radcliffe Infirmary Oxford 1986-1988.

My interest garden history and design was sustained by travelling to make long-term studies at Barnsley House in Gloucestershire. I then spent a few weeks of every year from 1983 -2002 in Italy, finally settling to make studies of Villa La Pietra and Boboli Gardens in Florence. This was followed by 16 years study 1993 -2006 of the domain of Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta in Scotland. More recently, in 2010-12, I was a visiting artist at the Cowmead Allotments in Oxford.

In 2006 I was resident artist at the Edinburgh College of Art. The College gave me a huge, spacious studio in which to develop my ideas and make new works based on the work I had made at Little Sparta. Eventually it all came together in the 2009 in the Edinburgh show accompanied by a catalogue Janet Boulton: Remembering Little Sparta, which includes essays by Dr Patrick Eyres, Harry Gilonis and Jessie Sheeler.

This opening up of my practice as an artist was further enriched by setting up a papermaking studio with the lettering artist Pat Russell in Abingdon in 1986 -2006.

AoT: Your garden at Spring Road has become integral to your life and work. Can you tell us more about the ways in which your art practice and the space of the garden bleed into one another?

JB: I started making a garden here in Adingdon in 1980, and it was influenced by a number of existing gardens, most especially Anne Dexter’s in Oxford and Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House. I painted these two gardens over a long period as a means to best understand what it was that went into the making of a beautiful garden.

I was, if anything, aspiring to make a plantspersons garden but contained within a discretely structured design. With hindsight I now understand that when in 1994 I began to place inscriptions into the garden – inspired by Ian Hamilton Finlay’s mode of expression – I was extending my already well established interest in Cubistic treatment of space (a shared interest with Ian Hamilton Finlay) and the inclusion of the occasional word, symbol or graphic device into my pictures.

Also, the ever-present preoccupation with the interaction between the man-made and the natural was taking yet another form of expression. Through the influence of Little Sparta, and already having established a garden, I have been able to make a garden that is a reflection of my own interests – gardens and art history, nostalgia, the human spirit and memorials.

The publication Foreground/Background: Making a Garden is an illustrated account of how the garden developed. A film of the same title was made by Distant Object Productions in September 2014.

AoT: The past year has been tough for all of us. Have you been able to continue working through the pandemic?

JB: Before the pandemic and lockdown restrictions came into place I had already started on two main projects so have been able to continue as planned. I am at present making what may be the last works in the Eye Music Series. The development of these pictures is complex, but these current paintings are inspired by the 12th Century ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome and a 12th Century musical manuscripts of Hildegard of Bingen. At the same time, I am compiling a further publication, Eye Music II 2014-2021, which gives an illustrated account of how this work has developed with essays by the people who were involved.

In between-times I am always working on still life pictures some of which take a number of years to resolve. I have a smaller studio room in the house, where the objects and arrangements can remain undisturbed, gathering a patina of dust over long periods.

I am enjoying keeping the garden going at my age with the help of the gardener Peter Finnegan, and making new inscriptions with Colin Chung at Scorpion Signs. I’m thinking of doing another publication giving an account of keeping a garden at this late stage of my life.

As we all know, painting pictures does require long solitary hours. Being involved with making publications, collaborating with writers, musicians, working with a gardener and sign writer all goes a long way to compensating for greatly missing the stimulation of seeing friends and family.

AoT: Thank you Janet!

For more information about Janet Boulton’s fascinating work, visit janetboulton.co.uk.

(Blog-post) Celebrating LGBT History Month with Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group

LGBT History Month was established in 2004 to help us understand the importance and context of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. It presents a valuable opportunity to celebrate historical figures who explored their sexuality against a backdrop of prejudice and persecution. As custodians of a modern art collection, it prompts us to shine a spotlight on artists who took great steps forward, both in regards to their creativity, and the ways they challenged limiting societal norms. This blog-post celebrates an artist who was at the heart of a creative community which pioneered an open-minded attitude toward sexual identity.

The Bloomsbury Group was established in 1905, with the aim of providing an atmosphere for intellectual discussion and creativity. The group is also celebrated for its progressive standing on  relationships that were considered “unconventional”, at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and viewed as a pathological illness.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed in 1885, and would stay in place for 82 years. The law made homosexual sex illegal in England, creating an atmosphere of ignorance, fear and shame that had a detrimental impact for gay men. The Bloomsbury Group worked to detach themselves from strict Victorian morals, creating a bubble of boundless bohemian love.

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) was introduced to the group shortly after it was founded. A talented, good looking and charismatic figure, Grant had numerous affairs with men, including notable Bloomsbury members Lytton Strachey and David Garnett. He also had a special relationship with Vanessa Bell, with whom he lived, worked and had a child.  For the Bloomsbury Group, relationships were often free from barriers and definition. The constraints of authority were resisted, and sexual identities of all kinds were accepted.

Creativity flourished within the context of this close-knit and convention-challenging community. The likes of Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster wrote some of the most iconic fictional works of the Twentieth Century. Meanwhile, visual artists embraced fresh new visual languages, and broke down time-honoured barriers between high art and craft.

Key members of the Bloomsbury Group are represented in Swindon’s art collection. It includes paintings by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, and a bust of Virginia Woolf by Stephen Tomlin. Two striking pieces by Duncan Grant demonstrate his fresh and modern approach to painting.

‘Seated Model’ (c.1915-16) was painted at 46 Gordon Square (the original home of the Bloomsbury Group) and depicts a female model gazing out of a window. The portrait shows Grant’s flair for handling paint in a free and fluid manner, and his talent for using colour to suggest light and form. A striking stroke of mauve paint suggests the shadows and contours of the sitter’s face, and reflects the colour of her clothes. Meanwhile, soft yellows and oranges within her skin and clothing are repeated in elements of her surroundings, evoking a warm and diffused light.

Duncan Grant, ‘Seated Model’, c.1915-16, Oil on board, 57.1 x 40cm

This approach to painting, which placed emphasis on the formal qualities, was reasonably new to Britain. However, cutting-edge European artists had been exploring the impact of elements such as line, colour, shape, space, rhythm and design on painting for a while. It is likely that Grant would have seen such work during his travels to Europe with economist and Bloomsbury associate Maynard Keynes. Bloomsbury visionary and art critic Roger Fry also played an important role, with his influential exhibitions of work by French artists at the Grafton Galleries in London. Manet and the Post-Impressionists (1910) shocked and appalled British audiences, but had a profound impact on the forward-thinking Bloomsbury artists.

The other painting from Swindon’s collection was made some years later, and demonstrates a different style from ‘Seated Model’. ‘Standing Woman’ is one of several paintings by Grant from the 1920s and ‘30s depicting draped female figures, though it is more simplistic and swiftly painted than many of the others. It is impressive to see that he has depicted a figure of such solidity and monumentality through an incredibly economic handling of paint. This can be identified in the way Grant has used a few rough strokes of grey to represent shadow, and simple black lines to suggest the shape of the body beneath the drapery.

Duncan Grant, ‘Standing Woman’, 1930, Oil on board, 48 x 24cm

‘Standing Woman’ demonstrates Grant’s natural flair for painting, and it is also likely that this was a preparatory painting for a decorative work. Though the famous Omega Workshops (established by Roger Fry in 1913 and run by Grant and Bell until 1919) were no longer in production, the Bloomsbury artists continued to adorn their living spaces with paintings, and create beautiful designs for fabrics and furniture. This indicates another element to the Bloomsbury’s boundary-breaking attitudes: that of the dismantling of the traditional distinction between “high art” and craft (or “low art”). For the Bloomsbury artists, life and art were inseparable.

It is safe to say that the Bloomsbury Group were progressive in a number of ways; in terms of the way they lived, the modern style they embraced and the radical overturning of artistic hierarchies. Though they were a small and secluded cohort, they took huge strides away from the confines of bourgeois culture and Victorian morality, and toward freedom of creativity and sexual identity.

Blog-post by Katie (Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

For more information on the Bloomsbury Group, visit The Charleston Trust.

For more information about artworks from the Bloomsbury Group in Swindon’s collection, watch Episode 13 of Art Snaps.

Happy Birthday to us!

Art on Tour celebrates its One-Year Anniversary by looking back over an unexpected yet eventful year…

Back in January 2020, an ambitious learning and engagement programme was launched at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Dubbed “Art on Tour”, this initiative aims to take more art to more people in more places throughout Swindon, including (but not limited to) schools, colleges community centres, arts venues and businesses. Art on Tour is about removing the walls of the Museum and accessing audiences on a broad and impactful scale. This is an exciting prospect indeed, since only a small portion of Swindon’s impressive art collection can be celebrated at one time in its current home.

Katie Ackrill (Engagement Officer) and Mags Parker (Learning Officer) hit the ground running, by forging partnerships with schools, colleges and venues throughout Swindon. Mags set to developing a schools outreach programme, complete with a pop-up gallery, workshops and student exhibitions. Meanwhile, Katie began planning exhibitions with the likes of the Wyvern Theatre, Central Library, Pebley Beach and Pinetrees Community Centre.

The foundations for a year of fun and creativity were set, and the big launch was imminent. So, when a worldwide health crisis was announced and the country was forced into lockdown, there was more than a little disappointment among the Art on Tour crew. After all, when the purpose of a project is to engage with as many people as you possibly can in one year, a global pandemic does throw a bit of a spanner in the works.

In a bid to make the best of a bad situation, a new phase of the project was born. ‘Art on Tour at Home’ still bears the same mission statement to bring “more art to more people in more places”, but the digital strategy aims to deliver valuable experiences to people within the comfort and safety of their own homes.

To quench the thirst of art enthusiasts everywhere, the Art Snaps Series was created, along with a blog with accompanying articles and Q&As with artists from the Collection (this one!). Meanwhile, from March-September, families were invited to join in with daily art challenges, a Summer Club and Families-in-Residence programme.

Families in Residence Creations

A Youth Programme also developed in new and exciting ways, with Young Artist in Residence, James Keel, and Young Photographer, Rose Russell (both from New College), becoming valuable ambassadors for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Exciting schools resources inspired by Swindon’s collection have also been developed, including a Learning Library and Art Discovery Boxes.

Whilst the majority of that work happened online (bar the Discovery Boxes, which are a fabulous physical resource!) we also launched the Art on Trees trail on October. Visitors to Coate Water, Lydiard Park, Stanton Park and Town Gardens were invited to find ten vibrant banners with artworks from the collection hidden among the greenery. We had such a lovely response to Art on Trees that it’s legacy now lives on in our schools education programme! 

Art on Trees at Lydiard Park

Just before Christmas, we also managed to collaborate with STEAM Museum on an exciting exhibition Through the Window, which combines modern paintings from Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and vintage GWR Posters from STEAM’s collection. At the time of writing STEAM is closed under government guidelines, but Through the Window is ready and waiting for your visit when the museum is able to open once again.

It’s safe to say that over the past year, there has been plenty to keep the Art on Tour team busy. Though they have yet to realise their original vision for the project, overcoming the challenges of the previous year has had its rewards. With more digital content available, knowledge of Swindon’s art collection has reached audiences across the other side of the globe, with one Art Snap enthusiast even commenting that they were listening from Australia!

Now at the end of its first year, Art on Tour looks forward to the next twelve months. Though initially intended as a year-long endeavour, Art on Tour’s funding has been carried into 2021, giving the project another year to flourish, and perhaps even realise its original vision.

To keep up to date with all things Art on Tour, follow us on:

Instagram: @swindongalleryartontour

Facebook: @ArtonTour2020

Twitter: @AoTSwindon

(Guest Blogpost) Contemporary British Painting by Sophie Cummings

Throughout November and December 2020, Art on Tour explored the fascinating and varied world of modern British art, in the hope of shedding some light on its defining groups and movements. We were inspired by the collection at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to create a virtual exhibition on Art UK, which charts the history of British art from the 1880s up until today. Alongside this, we’ve published a series of blogposts that expand on some of the artworks explored in the exhibition.

It has been quite a journey, and we’ve had a lot of fun! Since this is the last post of the series (and the first of 2021!), it’s only fitting that we deviate from the norm and bring something extra special to the table…

So the following piece was written by Sophie Cummings, former Curator at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Sophie worked closely with Contemporary British Painting to expand Swindon’s collection with some of the most fascinating acquisitions of recent years, and we’re thrilled that she was able to tell us about the significance of this work.

Amanda Ansell, Swan, 2008, Oil on canvas, 45 x 60cm

Back in 2013, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was approached by the artist Robert Priseman who wished to present a major collection of contemporary British painting. Swindon is, of course, known for its remarkable collection of modern British art. However, by the start of the 21st century, collecting, especially of contemporary art, had slowed. Priseman contacting Swindon was both generous and timely. It allowed the museum to again start collecting contemporary art, and to highlight some of the important trends emerging in contemporary British painting.

Priseman, born in 1965, is an artist, writer, curator and collector. He co-founded the network “Contemporary British painting” in 2013 with fellow artist Simon Carter, and invited a range of British painters to join them. The group was and is united in their belief in the importance of painting. The group offers opportunities for exhibition, leaning and collaboration, as well as a forum to discuss the role of painting within contemporary art.

Simon Carter, Burnt Gorse, 2011, Acrylic on paper, 66 x 70cm

The gift to Swindon comprised a range of contemporary painters, including Nathan Eastwood, Amanda Ansell, Linda Ingham, Greg Rook, Freya Perdue and Susan Gunn. The paintings encompass precise, socially engaged realism, as well as pure abstraction.

The collection was first exhibited as part of the exhibition, “Present Tense: Contemporary Painting and Photography from the Swindon Collection” in January 2015. This exhibition, one of the gallery’s more controversial displays in recent years, showcased aspects of the collection made since the 1980s and included work by Steven Pippin, Tony Bevan and Eileen Cooper.

One of the works which generated most comment was by Priseman himself. Home was a series of very small paintings depicting buildings associated with murder. Each was labelled only with its address, and presented in elaborately carved frames. The series could be viewed in different ways, depending on the viewer’s knowledge, the information presented alongside the paintings, and the resonance of each painting’s title. Some of the contemporary works of art do address controversial and challenging topics, such as violence, sexuality and grief. However, many of the older works in the collection explore similar themes, which would have felt shocking when they were first displayed.

Robert Priseman, 16 Wardle Brook Avenue (from Home), 2011, Oil on board, 6.7 x 5.1cm

In the years since Present Tense paintings from the Priseman Gift have been incorporated into various exhibitions and displays, and provided a platform for Swindon to collect other examples of contemporary art, including paintings, collage, photography and ceramics. These include important acquisitions by Monster Chetwynd and Nicola Tyson, along with ceramics by Ashraf Hanna, Akiko Hirai and Edmund de Waal.

Readers can learn more about Contemporary British Painting through their website: https://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/. Those interested in Priseman and in realism in contemporary painting in particular might enjoy “Documentary Realism: Painting in the Digital Age” which was published by the Seabrook Press in 2015 and features essays by Robert Priseman, Paul O’Kane and myself.

Blogpost by Sophie Cummings

(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Figuring out the Figurative with The School of London

Hello there! Thank you for joining us. This month we’ve been publishing a series of blogposts celebrating the exciting variety of movements which define modern British art, alongside our virtual exhibition ‘Modern British Art: A Story’. Our previous blogpost considered a big leap taken by some artists in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, who believed the idea behind an artwork was more important than the final product.

Well, today we’re continuing to demonstrate the many conflicting ideas and styles which define modern British art, by looking at a group of artists who, rather than abandoning representational art, sought a way to bring it into the 20th Century.

The School of London was a loose group of London-based artists, who explored figurative painting and drawing in the 1970s and ‘80s. The term was coined by R.B. Kitaj, who aimed to draw attention to artists exploring the human figure at a time when abstract movements dominated the art world. Key artists included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Leon Kossoff, who are among the most important mid-late 20th century British artists.

Lucian Freud, Girl with Fig Leaf, 1948, Etching

In 1976, when minimalism and conceptualism were at the height of fashion, Kitaj organised a major exhibition The Human Clay at the Hayward Gallery, which consisted solely of new figurative art.

Kitaj himself was interested in depicting the human figure and conveying human experience in his art. Sketch of CBD with Auerbach Drawing depicts an anonymous nude, pregnant woman reclining on a chaise-longue designed by Le Corbusier. In the background, a painting by Frank Auerbach, another School of London artist, is depicted with expressive and angular marks. The female figure is skilfully drawn with confident strokes of charcoal; from the bulging belly, to the muscular legs and hand clasping the side of the chair.

R.B. Kitaj, Sketch of CBD with Auerbach Drawing, 1989

If you love this piece, and want to discover pieces by two other, prominent members of the School of London – Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud – take a look at Episode 14 of Art Snaps, Refugees and British Art.

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

(Blogpost) An Art of Ideas: Conceptualism and Land Art

Hello and a very warm, Christmassy welcome to the Art on Tour blogpage! These past few months, we’ve been sharing a series of posts which tell a fascinating story of modern British art, spanning the twentieth century and beyond…

Why? Because Art on Tour is all about sharing Swindon’s fantastic modern and contemporary art collection with more people in more places! Since the times we live in call for a more digital approach, we’ve created an online exhibition, ‘Modern British Art: A Story’.

We’ve also been publishing blogposts which expand a bit more on some of the artists, artworks and movements included in the exhibition, beginning with ‘In Pursuit of a Modern Aesthetic: The London Group’ and most recently ‘Pop and Prosperity’ (scroll down just a teeny bit for that one)!

Now we find ourselves in the 1960s and ‘70s which is arguably one of the most interesting and mind-boggling periods of art. After visual representation was stretched to its limits in the preceding decades, some artists began to feel that the idea behind the artwork was more important than the final outcome. Let’s take a look at some fascinating movements that defined this ethos…

Michael Craig-Martin, The Box That Never Closes, 1967

The term “conceptualism” was coined in 1967 by Sol Lewitt, but as an art movement it continued to come into its own in the 1970s and ‘80s. Conceptual artists tend to place importance on the ideas behind an artwork and our intellectual understanding of it, rather than the final art object.

Conceptualism is at the heart of Michael Craig-Martin’s work, which often questions the way we perceive objects. This early piece, The Box that Never Closes, has the smooth, white finish of a domestic appliance and therefore gives the impression of functionality. However, it does not have a purpose, and even its basic use as a box is denied because it cannot be fully closed.

Even though we understand this, our mind completes the cube by imagining that the lid should close and the shape thus becomes whole. Therefore Craig-Martin comments on the push and pull between actual and imagined looking which is constantly at play, and makes us aware of our own perception as a viewer in an art gallery.

Richard Long, Two Walks, 1972

Land Art evolved from conceptualism’s claim that art should be an idea, rather than an object. It involves making temporary, physical interventions within a landscape, which may take the form of a journey or a creation of an installation from the site’s natural materials. As such, documentation is often the only existing evidence of the work.

Richard Long is a pioneer of landscape art. He started making small interventions in landscapes in the 1960s, and continues to do so today. Two Walks from 1972 is part of a larger body of work Long produced to explore the landscape of Dartmoor, altering his walks to examine the effect on his experience of the place.

This piece presents an Ordnance Survey map of the area, on which the artist has marked two straight lines representing the two walks he took across the flat landscape of Dartmoor. Each is marked with the time it took him. The photograph shows an ancient stone boundary cross named “Bennett’s Cross”, which was located at the point where the walks intersected, and was thus the focal point for this piece of Land Art. 

Fascinating stuff eh? Next up, we’ll be looking at a group of artists who bought something a bit more human to their work. In the meantime, if this post has tickled your fancy, why not take 10 minutes out to watch Episode 17 of Art Snaps, The Great Outdoors? Enjoy!

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Pop and Prosperity

Hi there art lovers! This December we’ve been looking at the ins and outs of British art history, from the 1880s right up to the most recent developments in painting. Today we’ve reached the Swinging Sixties, which means shining a spotlight on Pop Art and Minimalism, as seen in in Swindon’s art collection…

Let’s begin with Pop Art, a vibrant art movement which flourished in Britain and America in the 1960s. Its artists rebelled against traditional art forms and responded to the world around them, which was dominated by consumer-driven culture, mass media and developments in technology. Popular imagery like advertising, product packaging and comic books became sources of inspiration.

Richard Hamilton was one of the key artists to emerge in the first wave of British Pop in the 1950s. His work aimed to break down boundaries between high and low art, and reflected his interest in two innovations of the era – modern technology and mass media culture.

Richard Hamilton, Interior Study (a), 1964, Oil and collage on paper

Swindon’s piece, Interior Study (a), is a collage constructed of imagery from a number of sources. The setting is the house of the daughter of French realist artist Édouard Manet, which was photographed for a magazine. The female figure was cut out of an advertisement for a washing machine, and in her new context admires a TV screen, which has replaced a painting on an easel.

In contrast to this vibrant mash-up of popular imagery, another movement that emerged in this decade advocated a more stripped-back approach…

The term “minimalism” came into use in the 1960s to describe art that was devoid of subject matter and expression. In sculpture, industrial materials were favoured, and painting was reduced down to simple geometric forms such as squares, rectangles and circles. In doing this, minimalist artists sought to alter environments, and find new relationships between an artwork and its surroundings.

Roger Cook. R25, 1964, Acrylic on Canvas

Roger Cook’s R 25 is comprised of six equal boards measuring 10 x 61cm, encased in canvas and painted with monochromatic tones of acrylic. This reflects minimalism’s aim to achieve equality of parts, repetition and neutral surfaces within a work of art. R 25 does not represent a particular subject matter or personal response, but rather considers the relationship between basic forms and their environment.

Cook also plays with the communication between light and dark within the work. By placing various tones next to each other in such a linear fashion, they create the illusion of receding inward or projecting outward. So you see, when it comes to minimalism there’s often more to it than initially meets the eye!

Before you go… If this quick overview of Pop Art and Minimalism has tickled your fancy, why not visit our YouTube Channel and listen to Episode 10 of our Art Snaps series Pop and Prosperity? You can also click here to read a past post about another fabulous piece of Pop Art from Swindon’s art collection. Our final offering for today, is a virtual exhibition Modern British Art: A Story, which is the inspiration behind this series of blogposts exploring the story of Modern British Art through Swindon’s collection!

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Making Waves in St Ives

Welcome to the Art on Tour blog! This is the place where we share interesting news about all things Art on Tour, as well as information about Swindon’s wonderful collection of modern and contemporary British art. Right now, we’re half way through a series of blogposts celebrating Swindon Museum and Art Gallery‘s virtual exhibition ‘Modern British Art: A Story’, which you can view right HERE!

The blogposts are for those of you who want just a little bit more information than the exhibition word count allows. So far, previous posts (below) have covered the Camden Town Group, the Bloomsbury Group, Vorticism, Unit One, the Seven and Five Society, Neo-Romanticism, Surrealism and Realism… Yet, there’s still so much more to explore! This week: The beloved St Ives School…

The term ‘St Ives School’ refers to the artists associated with St Ives from the 1940s-60s, when it was the centre for modern and abstract developments in art. Though notable artists visited the town as early as the 1920s, it was at the outbreak of World War II that Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth settled there. Well-acquainted with modern European movements, and already working in abstract styles, they became the heart of an artistic community that broke new ground in British art (check out The Advance of Abstraction for more on Nicholson). In the 1950s, a number of younger artists who shared their interest in abstraction joined them.  

Terry Frost moved to Cornwall in 1946 and became a key member of the St Ives School. In 1950 he worked as an assistant to Hepworth and took a studio next to Nicholson. Grey, Red and Black Verticals is an abstract painting characterised by bold black and red forms. It is, in part, a celebration of Frost’s love of the colour black. The thick black stripes painted onto a horizontal cream wash evoke a particularly powerful presence.

Terry Frost, Grey, Red and Black Verticals, 1962

Though the title alludes to the formal qualities of the work, it is not completely devoid of narrative reference. Frost asserted that the forms suspended from the top of the canvas were inspired by the three goddesses in Peter Paul Rubens’ painting The Judgement of Paris, at the National Gallery.

Another significant artist associated with the St Ives School is Roger Hilton. November 1955 was painted just before his first Christmas in St Ives, and was inspired by snow laying on muddy fields. The bleak winter landscape is suggested with simple lines and planes of yellow, white, black and brown. Hilton captures a scene with which many of us can relate without being too descriptive, showing a push and pull between abstraction and representation.

Roger Hilton, November 1955, 1955

Artworks such as these were experimental when they were painted in the 1950s, and ’60s, and we often still struggle to understand them today… So ingrained is the need to understand a narrative, or at the very least a sense of pictorial space! It’s important to remember that in an increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing world, artists strove to find new visual languages to express themselves and their surroundings. St Ives was a place where artists could push boundaries like never before. Painting could be as much about colour, shape and line as it could a landscape, person or still life.

Before I sign off, a quick head’s up to look out for our Christmas edition of Art Snaps, which will include more information about Hilton’s November 1955. Of course, do also look out for our next blogpost Pop and Prosperity. Thanks for reading!

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Real or Sur-real?

Do you ever feel a bit perplexed by modern art? Do the many “isms” and “schools” leave you feeling more confused than enlightened? Or do you get all that, but crave more information about the specifics? If your answer to any of these questions is YES, then you’re in the right place!

Here at Art on Tour we’ve been doing some work to detangle the beautiful and befuddling world of modern British art. A virtual exhibition, Modern British Art: A Story, explains the ins and outs of some of British art history’s defining moments through artworks from Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Alongside this, a series of blogposts expand on some of the exciting groups and movements covered in the exhibition.

As is the case today, 20th century art is littered with lots of different ideas running alongside each other, and the movements covered in today’s post are no exception. In fact, Realism and Surrealism pretty much represent opposite ends of the scale…

Desmond Morris, The Mysterious Gift, 1965

Surrealism was an artistic, literary and philosophical movement, which emerged in France in the mid-1920s, and was influenced by developments in theories of the unconscious. Its artists embraced the idea that art did not need to be shaped by reason or aesthetic judgements, and they enjoyed creating artworks and objects which were unexpected, uncanny and unconventional. Surrealism was predominant until around 1945, though some believe that it did not truly end until 1966, when its leader André Breton passed away. Many agree Surrealism still has a profound influence on art today.

Desmond Morris was born in 1928, and emerged as a surrealist painter in the 1950s, exhibiting with the famous Spanish surrealist Joan Miro in London and writing and directing two surrealist films. Now in his 90s, Morris has referred to himself as “the last living Surrealist” and continues to paint in a distinctive surrealist style, characterised by biomorphic forms within ambiguous landscapes.

The Mysterious Gift is an early example of Morris’ surrealism. It presents an unusual still life, with a vessel balanced disconcertingly on a bone-like support. It contains egg-like naturalistic objects and an indistinct bodily form.    

The origins of Realism go back to the mid-19th Century, when artists began to draw their subject matter from the everyday; such as nature, urban scenes or working class labour. Throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries a whole host of other movements erupted throughout Europe, but Realism has always had staying power.

The Euston Road School was a British realist group, which consisted of artists who taught and studied at the School of Painting and Drawing at Euston Road in London. Founded in 1938, its teachers encouraged observation and social relevance, and stood against the spectacle of Surrealism. Though brought to an end by the outbreak of war, The Euston Road School demonstrated a strand of art that went against new developments in abstraction, and advocated direct study from life.

Lawrence Gowing, Portrait of a Youth (Alfie Bass), 1939-41

Lawrence Gowing was a student and friend of one of the school’s founders William Coldstream, whose extremely measured approach to painting the figure became infamous. Portrait of a Youth, which depicts the emerging actor Alfie Bass, demonstrates Gowing’s close observation of his sitter, whom he depicted many times and in several poses. Yet its small size and intimate cropping, combined with the relaxed expression of the sitter, also demonstrate Gowing’s general desire for closer involvement with his subject matter.

Though Realism and Surrealism presented very different visions of the world, they both remain extremely important to artistic practices today. Next time a piece of art catches your eye, it might just be worth asking yourself whether its born of observation, or something a little less conscious…

Don’t forget, if you fancy learning more about Swindon’s collection and the bigger picture (get it?) of modern British art, you can visit the exhibition and/or read the other posts (below) if you haven’t already! You can also hear more about surrealist art in Swindon’s collection by listening to Episode 27 of Art Snaps, A Sense of the Surreal.

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)