Okay, so ‘Art on Tour’ can’t take credit for this one, but we couldn’t let this fantastic news go unmentioned, as Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is now able to offer another fabulous way for all the art lovers and culture vultures out there to experience the art collection online!
‘Big Hitters’ is an exciting virtual exhibition which brings together just shy of 30 artworks from the collection, which represent some of the most significant names in modern British art. The exhibition is available through Art UK, the online home of the nation’s public art collections, and has been developed with their exciting new curation tool.
The exhibition was curated by the committee of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, a charity dedicated to promoting and fundraising for (you guessed it) Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Linda Kasmaty is the fabulous chair of the Friends, and this is what she had to say about the exhibition:
“When we were asked if the Friends’ committee would like to mount a virtual exhibition, we thought what a fantastic way of getting the collection shown to a wider, online audience… We’re hoping this exhibition will complement the ‘Art on Tour’ initiative which has been a tremendous success, connecting with many people, both those familiar with the Swindon collection, and those who did not know Swindon had such a collection.”
Taking up Linda’s point that ‘Big Hitters’ goes hand-in-hand with Art on Tour’s aims, we decided that the next episode of Art Snaps should focus on artworks chosen by the Friends’ committee for the exhibition. The final choice includes fantastic pieces by Christopher Le Brun, Desmond Morris and Alfred Wallis, and it’s available right here.
When making this selection, we realised that half of the artworks in the exhibition have already been covered in the Art Snaps series and the Spring Festival Talk ‘The Story of Swindon’s Art Collection’… Clearly, great minds think alike!
So, if you’re having a browse through the exhibition and want to know more about a piece of work, here’s a quick directory of what we’ve covered and where:
Gillian Ayres, ‘Florestan’ – Episode 1: A Celebration of Colour
Vanessa Bell, ‘Nude with Poppies’ – Episode 13: The Bloomsbury Group
Claude Francis Barry, ‘Tower Bridge, London: A Wartime Nocturne’ – Episode Six: Highlights from the Civic Offices
Cecil Collins, ‘The Sibyl’ – Episode 5: Spring has Sprung
Lucian Freud, ‘Girl with a Fig Leaf’ – Episode 14: Refugees and British Art
Terry Frost, ‘Grey, Red and Black Verticals’ – Episode 2: Abstract Painting in the 1960s
Sylvia Gosse, ‘The Printer’ – Episode Six: Highlights from the Civic Offices
Duncan Grant, ‘Seated Model’ – Episode 13: The Bloomsbury Group
Maggi Hambling, ‘Descent of the Bull’s Head’ – Episode 7: Staff Picks
Ivon Hitches, ‘Spring in Eden’ – Episode 5: Spring has Sprung
Howard Hodgkin, ‘Gramophone’ – The Story of Swindon’s Art Collection (Spring Festival Talk)
Paul Ayshford Methuen, ‘Port of Bristol’ – The Story of Swindon’s Art Collection (Spring Festival Talk)
Ben Nicholson, ‘Composition in Black and White’ – The Story of Swindon’s Art Collection (Spring Festival Talk)
Christopher Nevinson, ‘Welsh Hills’ – The Story of Swindon’s Art Collection (Spring Festival Talk)
L.S. Lowry ‘Winter in Pendlebury’ – Episode 3: The Bomford Gift
Edward Wadsworth, ‘Bright Intervals’ – Episode 15: Still Life
You can find all these episodes on our YouTube Channel here.
We’ll sign off with a shout out to the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, who do amazing, positive work to support SwindonMAG. Check out their website to find out more about them and their fabulous programme of Zoom talks – www.friendsofsmag.org.
We are beside ourselves with the excitement of launching our Young Artist-in-Residence programme – the first in the Gallery’s 79 year history!
The Young Artist programme aims to celebrate, promote and bring the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art to life! It also provides a unique development opportunity in a professional arts environment for young Swindon artists.
We are DELIGHTED to announce that the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Inaugural Young Artist-in-Residence is…….. JAMES KEEL.
James is an A Level student at New College, Swindon, studying Fine Art, Photography and Media Studies. He has a particular interest in drawing and eventually hopes to use his skills in the creative industries.
James will be working on creative responses to help interpret and explore Swindon’s nationally significant collection. He will also act as a young ambassador for the Gallery, looking to inspire other young people with an interest in art, He hopes to make the Collection more accessible to a wider age-range.
We really look forward to working with him. Welcome to the team James!
Click here to see some of James’ artwork and for more information on James and the Young Artist programme.
This week Art on Tour have been making a bit of a fuss about the Bloomsbury Group, complete with a brand new episode of Art Snaps exploring work by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant from Swindon’s collection.
“Why the Bloomsbury Group” we hear you ask?
Well for one, the simple reason that we love the exciting colours, bold forms and rhythmical quality, which characterises so much work from these artists. Then there’s the art historical reason; the fact that this visual appeal is the result of a revolutionary moment in British art, which sets this small but important group of artists apart from the rest.
The man at the centre of it all was Roger Fry: artist, critic, curator, game-changer, tastemaker, forward-thinker.
If you listen to the Art Snap, you’ll hear about a striking piece in the collection called ‘Studland Bay – A Black Sea Coast’ which Fry painted in 1911. It presents a beautifully balanced composition, simplified forms and bold contrasting colours, which create a great sense of atmosphere without the need of any painstaking detail. For sure, it’s a beautiful and unforgettable piece in the collection.
And yet, it isn’t his work as an artist which makes Fry such an influential figure in British art. In 1910 he staged a seminal exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Galleries in London, which introduced modern art from across the channel into the mainstream of British culture for the first time. He also coined the term “post-impressionism”, which is still largely used to define much French art produced in the late 19th– early 20th century.
He raised the profile of work by those newly named “post-impressionists” Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh as well as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, kick-starting a new kind of art which championed the formal qualities of an artwork.
In his important writing ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’ Fry argued that art should be about line, mass, colour and overall design that evokes an emotional response from the viewer. This was a new approach in British art, and can clearly be identified in Swindon’s work ‘Studland Bay – A Black Sea Coast’.
Fry’s exhibition and ideas also opened up new possibilities for Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who would go on to become the Bloomsbury Group’s two most famous artists. In the following decades, their work became more bold and daring, and works from Swindon’s collection show the ways in which they were breaking through the traditional boundaries of image making.
But we’re not going to give it all away here… oh no. Why not take 10 and listen to our latest Art Snap about this terrific trio, and hear all about what makes them so great? – https://youtu.be/-po_e_b_Y3M. Enjoy!
If, like me, one of your treasured pastimes involves strolling around the vast spaces of art galleries gazing at the nation’s glorious art collections (not to mention sipping coffee in gallery cafes and browsing the gift shops), you might feel you’re missing out on a lot at the moment.
Sadly, I can’t reproduce the experience of visiting a gallery. However, I can do the next best thing and talk about some of the fabulous exhibitions we’re missing out on in Swindon. So Art on Tour’s most recent Art Snaps have focused on exhibitions which are either postponed, or happening right now in closed venues.
Episode 9 ‘Ceramics in Colour’ looks at some of the gorgeous glazes of studio ceramics due to go on show in ‘A Celebration of Colour’ when Swindon Museum and Art Gallery can reopen (dates TBC). Since not much of this collection is available online, it’s great to be able to shout about it in this episode, since the ceramics collection provides a great overview of artists working in clay throughout the 20th Century and today.
Episode 10 ‘Pop and Prosperity’ explores pieces by Richard Hamilton, Michael Craig-Martin and Tom Phillips in Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition of artworks from the 1960s. This is gave me an opportunity to talk about British Pop Art and the mind-boggling art of conceptualism, through pieces from Swindon’s collection.
The most recent addition to the Art Snaps series looks at Swindon-born Railway Artist Hubert Cook. Cook’s fascinating work is inspired by the Swindon’s GWR factory, where he was employed for several years. A selection of paintings, drawings and lithographs are on loan from Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to STEAM Museum, and an accompanying blog about Cook’s work can be found on STEAM’s Object of the Month blog – https://steammuseum.wordpress.com/.
Though it’s not quite the same as actually visiting an art gallery, hopefully these short talks will give you a dose of art history appreciation to keep you going through the gallery-less days of lockdown!
This week we’re thrilled to announce that Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has been featured in the fabulous Great British Art Quiz, which is compiled by The Guardian and ArtUK. Participants are invited to test their knowledge of Swindon’s art collection, through eight fun questions about works by artists of both local and national renown.
The Great British Art Quiz is a fantastic initiative, which includes daily challenges set by museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK. It gives organisations the opportunity to promote their collections during lockdown, and enables the public to access and learn from them in a fun and informal way.
I’ve been learning a lot about brilliant collections throughout the country through the quiz, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to put one together about Swindon’s collection of modern British art.
Since quizzing has become a very popular pastime during lockdown I’m quite partial to putting together a good art history round! But it was great to focus on some significant and well loved pieces from the collection for this one, including Desmond Morris’ Girl Selling Flowers, and Alfred Wallis’ Ship Amid Tall Waves. Some real gems!
This week Art on Tour has been celebrating the fun and fabulous world of Pop Art, through exciting family activities and a brand new Art Snaps podcast. And really, who doesn’t either love or love-to-hate a bit of Pop Art?! Even now, 58 years on since Andy Warhol created Campbell’s Soup Cans, so much of what was created in the ‘50s and ‘60s still looks fresh and vibrant, and provokes such lively conversation.
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s current exhibition Pop and Prosperity celebrates the energy and excitement of art made in post-war Britain through an eclectic selection works from the collection. Most notable perhaps, is Richard Hamilton’s Interior Study (a), which reflects a growing interest in mass media and consumerism.
However, I want to take a moment to think about a great piece of Pop Art from the collection that isn’t included in the exhibition. Created in 1971, Nicholas Monro’s Igloos falls slightly outside the remit of Pop and Prosperity’s focus on the late 1950s and ‘60s. It’s still having it’s time to shine though (sort of, given the current circumstances), as it’s currently on show in Art on Tour’s exhibition at the Civic Offices.
The piece entered Swindon’s collection in 2017, as part of a large donation of works on paper gifted to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in tribute to Meryl Ainslie (Director of the gorgeous Rabley Drawing Centre in Marlborough). There’s a lovely link here, as both Ainslie and Swindon-born Monro have taught at the Swindon School of Art.
Monro’s connections to Swindon don’t end there. His late step-father was the childrens’ TV entertainer Johnny Morris who had worked as Jimmy Bomford’s Estate Manager. Bomford, of course, is the very man who is credited with planting the seeds of Swindon’s collection in the 1940s.
Local connections aside, Igloos is a great piece in Swindon’s collection. It’s seemingly simple in execution, depicting four igloos through thick black outlines against a rusty orange background. I can’t guess what it was that attracted Monro to igloos, or this specific shade of orange, but there is so much about this work which exudes the spirit of Pop Art.
The simple and precise repetition of shapes, and the bold, smooth finish, reflects Pop’s enthusiasm for the mass production of imagery seen in advertising. The screenprint does this too. It was a method of working favoured by pop artists, because it enabled them to reproduce images of the everyday and mundane over and over again. Swindon’s piece is in fact one of 70 of the same image. This audacious and confident repetition threw into question the divide between fine art and low, popular imagery, in an era exploding with visual communication.
But the thing I find most interesting about this image, is the push and pull between flatness and perspectival space. The single background colour enhances the smooth surface of the work, so much so that it is almost characterised by flatness. Almost. The igloos however, provide a sense of perspective, with the closest pushed right up to the picture plane. Monro seems to be playing with our perception, and our expectation of encountering three dimensional space in a two dimensional image.
This interest in the viewer’s perception reflects a new era dominated by technological advances and mass media. It was of interest to other artists too, including one of the most famous British pop artists Richard Hamilton, whose piece Interior Study (a), features in our latest Art Snap about Pop and Prosperity.
In 2017 Swindon Museum and Art Gallery acquired three pieces by Swindon-based artist David Bent through the National Lottery Heritage Funded Creative Wiltshire project. As part of Art on Tour, Mr and Mrs Aerobot and Babybot is currently on display at the Civic Offices. Meanwhile Beach House West of Looe is due to go on display at Pinetrees Community Centre. But with plans delayed as we keep safe during lockdown, we asked David if he’d tell us a bit more about these wonderful pieces, which we’re sadly missing out on at the moment…
Art on Tour: Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to become an artist? Where did it all begin?
David Bent: As a young person I was naturally gifted at drawing and anything from the natural world drew my attention. I particularly liked watching birds and I still have a ‘David Bent book of bird drawings’ that I created when I was 6 years old. When I started at Dover Grammar School my art teacher spotted my natural talent and enthusiasm and introduced me to great historic art through gallery visits and interesting lessons. These inspired me to want to become an artist. He introduced me to life drawing at the local art college at the age of 13. This instilled a discipline for careful observation and technique which lasts with me to this day.
AoT: You’re now well known for driving a new movement in modern Aviation Art. What was it that drove you toward aviation?
DB: My Dad was an aviation enthusiast of his generation. His fist job was at Croydon Airport with Sir Alan Cobham, one of our great aviation pioneers. My father was a committed and skilful model maker who started the Dover model aeroplane club. They flew their aircraft from the historic flying fields behind Dover Castle. My older brother and I spent many happy hours chasing and fetching the models as they circled around the White Cliffs of Dover.
At school we had a Combined Cadet Force and I followed my brother into the Air Cadet section and experienced flight for the first time. My brother joined the Royal Air Force. We went to many air shows throughout the 1960’s, watching dazzling displays by courageous pilots in their amazing flying machines. I saw the very first display by the famous RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team with my dad at Biggin Hill in 1965.
My interest has always been there but didn’t show itself for a long time in my art until I was invited by a friend to the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2003 and the tap suddenly turned itself on.
AoT: The aviation influence is clear in your recent Aerobot Series, though this is quite different to some of your other work. Can you tell us a bit more about these human/robot hybrids?
DB: My art practice over the years has always included painting and drawing, graphic printmaking, photography and collage and I am often running these methods of production alongside each other as I go. I always try to be as inventive and skilful as I can be.
The Aerobots which date from 2006 are linked to photo collage work I was doing at that time (About Looking 1 and 2 , davidbentstudio.com, photography section). I had been sitting on a large database of photo imagery from my past and was experimenting with doubling, turning and juxtaposing them to create new “transformed” images.
When I applied this method to the images I had taken directly at the noses of various aircraft, the Aerobots revealed themselves. They clearly have an anthropomorphic quality with appealing character traits of their own, suggesting that we create machines in our own image within the laws of nature.
AoT: Of course, not all of your work is about aviation. Another work in Swindon’s collection is Beach House West of Looe from your Geometry Series. Can you tell us more about where this was painted?
DB: Some years ago, Carole and I discovered Talland Bay House Hotel and for some years it became our Cornish bolthole escape every now and then. Talland Bay sits between Looe to the East and Polperro to the West. I did sketch book drawings of the coastline, fitting with the work I was doing back in the studio creating my Landscape Geometry collection.
In the languid Cornish atmosphere, I was also dreaming of building a modernist Beach House by the sea where we would live out a Bohemian existence and so quickly designed one in my mind. I married the Landscape Geometry with my modern Beach House fantasy to create the painting.
AoT: What is the significance of geometry for you?
DB: Since it was standardised by the Greek Euclid in about 300 BC geometry has underpinned our understanding of shape, form and the physical laws of nature. Images, which are important for our understanding of things are primarily made from a few basic shapes – triangles, circles and rectangles in various combinations. These are the building blocks of visual language. The ancients knew about this stuff. The belief that God created the Universe according to a Geometric plan has ancient origins and many churches, temples, mosques and pagan sites are built using the principles of sacred geometry.
AoT: It’s great see your work represented by these pieces in Swindon’s collection. Not so long ago, in 2019, you also had an exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Can you tell us a bit about what was on show and why it was important for you to have this exhibition?
DB: My Out of the Box exhibition provided me with an opportunity to accomplish two things.
Address the perception of me as only having an interest in aviation and aerospace and
Showcasing my work in my adopted town of Swindon, where we have lived and worked happily now for 25 years.
Artists rarely label themselves but they often get labelled by others. In my case, Aviation Artist. This is a convenient description but one that rarely sums up the whole. I make no excuses for using aviation as subject matter, it has had a major impact on our civilisation since we took to the skies 100 odd years ago.
Other interests that appear in my work, and which featured in Out of the Box, mostly concern some of the Big Issues that plague our world today, such as inequality, civil rights, War, and the Human condition. Movement 2000 is a good example of this. Over the years I have created “response” works to a number of globally significant incidents such as 9/11, Chernobyl, Tsunamis etc and these were included too.
I was proud to show my work at the Swindon Art Gallery and to have my work represented in the Swindon collection in perpetuity.
AoT: What are you working on at the moment?
DB: Like most of the rest of the world I’m in Lockdown. We have plans for exhibitions at The Tetbury Goodshed and the Battle of Britian Memorial on the south coast. We remain hopeful that both of these will go ahead. Although this is a difficult time I am treating it like a sabbatical and taking the opportunity to shift my focus closer to home for a change.
I have just painted a self portrait, the first in about 25years and a personal painting of Carole and our two cats Danny and Maisy. I am using this pause to think and reflect about the state of the world , my place in it and how I might respond soon, God willing, with a profound and meaningful piece of art to add to my body of work, maybe titled, “lets get back to Abnormal as soon as possible!”
AoT: Thank you David!
We’ll end this one with a quick plug of our exciting David Bent-inspired Art Burst, which can be found under the Art Burst Creative Activities tab! If you’re trying to keep young minds occupied, why not take a look at these fun and informative creative beauties…
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and as we approach two months of lockdown there’s no better time to think about our own mental health, as well as that of others, and consider the ways in which creativity can contribute to good mental wellbeing. So we thought we’d catch up with our friends over at IPSUM!
We originally planned to join them this weekend at the Arts and Wellbeing Festival, Pop-Up Gallery in tow. With plans temporarily disrupted, IPSUM’s Director Julie Mattinson has told us a bit more about the charity, what they normally get up to, and how they’re adapting to lockdown.
Art on Tour: Julie, can you start by telling us a bit about IPSUM and your aims as an organisation?
Julie Mattinson: IPSUM is a mental health charity that focuses on the creative arts, music and talking therapies. Our aim is to compliment the statutory agencies and other charities by offering a creative ‘outlet’ to express difficult feelings and emotions.
We have always believed wholeheartedly in the power of creativity and its benefits to mental wellbeing and we are privileged to see first-hand how using the creative arts can really save lives. As an emotional language, the creativity can help us to express important and often difficult feelings at times when it feels that there are no words available to us.
Our creative services are also complemented by our 1-1 counselling provision. We have a bank of over 30 experienced counsellors who support us on a volunteer basis. IPSUM is privileged to have a very experienced music therapist as well as couples and 1-1 counselling. Our service provision is not only unique to Swindon, but also to the South West.
We offer a person-centred approach so when engaging with individuals, we spend time getting to know them to find out ‘where they are at’, where they want to get to, and how we can best help in line with their individual needs and interests.
AoT: How important is the link between creativity and wellbeing?
JM: Creative Arts can be beneficial to mental health in so many ways, in its simplest form it provides a distraction that can give the brain a much-needed break from any negative thinking, having to concentrate and focus on a new task can act as a healthy form of escapism. Learning any new skill but particularly a creative one can stimulate positive feelings and can help individuals express their emotions when they cannot find the right words.
Artistic creativity and expression work as an effective therapeutic tool because it’s such a powerful medium, which can affect so deeply our sense of identity, culture, heritage and spirituality. In this way people of all ages and circumstances can connect with ‘Self’ and others. Creative Therapy uses this connection to engage the client and encourage them to connect with the world and express themselves, facilitating positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication.
AoT: In what ways do your services help people to get creative?
JM: IPSUM has developed a range of creative therapies to complement its core professional counselling, harnessing the power of creativity and activity to engage with people through its creative arts programmes which include music, arts and crafts, creative writing and poetry, and mediation and mindfulness.
Creating art groups, therapeutic creative writing groups, getting involved in our monthly radio show or engaging with one of our music intervention groups has proven that in the company of others, has many healing properties, and the support that service users offer each other gives them a sense of belonging.
AoT: Can you tell us more about the radio show?
JM: IPSUM has its own Mental Health show on the local radio station Swindon 105.5. The show is created, produced and engineered entirely by our service users, who meet weekly to discuss within a group setting each month show contents. The show is made up of interviews, group discussions, poetry, music, songs and Raps, all created within IPSUM interventions. This not only serves as a platform to learn new skills but allows confidence, self-esteem and social skills to grow.
Our therapeutic writing or creating a piece of music has also served as a coping strategy for many of our clients because it is a powerful way of communicating difficult feelings and emotions in a safe way that doesn’t feel as direct as talking therapies if they are not ready for that yet.
AoT: We’re particularly struck by how this way of working is a unique and beneficial offer for your young service users. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
JM: We have learnt that engaging with teens and students is challenging, and we needed a ‘hook’ to grab their interest, which was the founding rationale behind setting up the digital music studio. We have a fully equipped Music and Art studio which is complemented by a Digital Audio Workstation studio. This is now one of our most popular activities with our younger clients.
We developed a digital audio workstation programmes for all, but specifically for working with young people who have behavioural or emotional difficulties and those recently released from HMP.
The evidence shows that if we reach young people who are most vulnerable, then the impact of this support can improve their self-esteem and encourage them to make healthier life choices. Also, ex-offenders are a high-risk group for reoffending and often there are underlying issues around why they have taken the path that they have, the Studio 1 programme along with our talking therapies can have a real impact on their future.
AoT: Where are you based? And how can people access IPSUM during lockdown?
JM: We are based at 13 Milton Rd Swindon SN1 5JE but also outreach into the community.
Our creative music programmes are primarily based on our premises, in our professional custom-built sound studio. They can also be created in an outreach setting, taking the music and recording equipment into the community to encourage involvement in musical production and performance: in schools and colleges as well as youth clubs, village/church halls, and other local community premises.
We regularly visit the inpatient mental health unit at Sandalwood Court to help alleviate stress and improve mental wellbeing through music jamming and drumming sessions.
IPSUM continues to support our service users through telephone and social media. We are still doing assessments on the telephone, and key working with those that are vulnerable and in need of added support.
We have tutorials and lots of opportunities to get involved on our social media sites and our YouTube channel, and we remain accessible on the telephone – 01793 695405.
AoT: Do you have any advice for how we can look after our mental health during this tough time?
JM: It’s so important that you keep your mind and body healthy. Going for walks, talking to friends and loved ones, watching your favorite programmes and films on TV and getting creative. Try something new or something that maybe you have forgotten you used to enjoy.
Baking, sewing, writing short stories or poems, painting/ drawing, are so therapeutic and a great way to keep our minds active.
Don’t forget to talk about how you are feeling if things start to feel too much there is a lot of support out there including IPSUM.
AoT: Before we went into lockdown, you were planning a big Arts and Wellbeing Festival. Are there any plans for a version of this in the future?
JM: The Arts Festival has been put on hold until October (date to be confirmed) as the plan was to bring the Swindon community together. As not everyone has social media and our desire to support loneliness and isolation, we felt the best plan was to wait until we have clear guidelines from the government to ensure all can get involved.
Is there anything people can get involved with online now?
Yes, here’s our call-out…
We will be part of the Swindon Wellbeing and Art Festival celebrating mental health week, which is to take place until Sat the 23rd of May. But that means we need a little help from you. Our theme for the week is ‘CREATIVITY IN LOCKDOWN’ which we know you all have already been doing and sending us lots of wonderful creativity, but we need even more. If you are stuck for ideas we have 3 mini themes which are ‘NATURE’, ‘EXPRESSION’ and lastly ‘ROOM/JUST A VIEW (what do you wish you could be seeing? Or what is outside your window)’. Absolutely anything you are doing is amazing to see from singing, gardening, art work, baking, poetry, dancing and many more things! You can send them to us on email@example.com or message us across on our social media. We look forward to seeing your creations- The Ipsum Team
I spend a lot of time talking about Swindon’s art collection; the artists, the exhibitions, the techniques. Of course, the main plug is that it’s one of the best collections of modern British art in the UK. Naturally, the question I’m frequently asked in response to this, is something along the lines of “How did this important collection end up in Swindon (of all places!)?”
So when I was given the opportunity to give a talk for the fabulous Swindon Spring Festival this year, I saw it as an opportunity to discuss the bigger story of Swindon’s art collection. This seemed fitting for a festival that has its roots in storytelling (having formerly been the Swindon Festival of Literature), and thinking about the broader history of the collection shines a whole new light on how lucky we are to have it here in Swindon.
Of course, it was impossible to give the talk in person at gorgeous Lower Shaw Farm as initially planned. So instead we’ve released it on YouTube in a somewhat similar style to the Art Snaps. It’s a little bit longer than the podcast though, as it’s a big story to tell…
Through 12 (actually, it was technically 13 in the end) artworks I discuss the way the collection was established and how it has grown; from the first generous donations by Phelps and Bomford, to collaboration with the Tate’s Richard Morphet, grants from numerous organisations, recent exciting projects and significant contemporary gifts.
Without a doubt there’s plenty I’ve missed out in this 30 minute talk, but my overall message is that the collection wouldn’t exist without the generosity and vision of the people and organisations Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has worked with over the years, and we remain very thankful to them!
In honour of VE Day, our most recent Art Snap Podcast features three artworks from Swindon’s collection, in which artists have directly responded to times of conflict.
Two of these reference World War One, with Augustus John drawing on his experiences of being on the Western Front, and Prudence Maltby looking at the legacy of the war 100 years later.
I also look at Swindon-born artist Leslie Cole, who was eployed by the War Artists Advisory Scheme, and was one of their most important Official War Artists in World War Two.
It should never be underestimated just how important this initiative was, as over 400 artists were employed to record social and military life during the war. And not only did this allow some of the greatest British artists of the Twentieth Century to produce some of their most powerful work, but it also gives us a comprehensive view of the complex consequences of war.
The Imperial War Museum owns around 7,000 artworks created in response to World War Two, many of which are available to view through their website. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of my favourite Official War Artists from the collection.
Leslie Cole is always hovering at the top of my list, and this isn’t just because he’s a Swindonian. Cole travelled extensively during his time as an Official War Artist, and left us with an incredible record of the war covering a number of countries and subject matter.
For example, The Interior of an Aircraft in Flight (c.1941-2), shows the bleak and claustrophobic conditions of militray aircraft. Yet the pilot and accompnaying soldier are unbothered by their surroundings, as they’re furiously focused on the tasks at hand.
Cole’s most harrowing images come from his visit to Bergen-Belsen, when it was liberated in 1945. This depiction of the death pits is so unflinching that it is almost difficult to look at, yet it is so important to our understanding of the suffering endured by innocent victims.
When we see images like this, it is no wonder that when Cole returned from the war his portraits, such as Mary (Young Girl with Doll) from Swindon’s collection, are haunted by sadness and isolation.
Another of my favourite war artists is Graham Sutherland, who produced some of his most powerful wartime images closer to home. He responded to scarred landscapes and cityscapes in images such as The City: A Fallen Lift Shaft (1941). Here Sutherland manages to convey great emotion and fragility though his depiction of bomb-damaged buildings against a burning sky.
Swindon’s collection includes two wartime landscapes painted by Sutherland, which show how landscape painting in Britain developed in response to the turmoil of war. Dark Hill – Landscape with Hedges and Fields (1940), shown at the top of the blogpost, presents an ominous mound of fractured forms, which is difficult to separate from his disfigured images of London during the Blitz. It was painted at the beginning of the war, when he was staying in Upton with Kenneth Clark, who was the driving force behind the War Artists Advisory Scheme.
There are so many more stunning, moving and important images by significant Official War Artists. But to save me going on all day, I’ll end with this very apt and cheerful piece by Leila Faithful, VE Day Celebrations outside Buckingham Palace (1945), from the Imperial War Museum. This scene of great colour and animation conveys the excitement generated by the announcement of the end of the war.