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Interview: Jane Hope

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Fields, Cumbria, Jane Hope

Jane Hope is an Oxford based artist who took up art as a child, and has painted ever since.  Growing up in Wiltshire, she was encouraged by her mother, who shared her love of art.  After studying Theology and Philosophy at university, she worked as a neighbourhood Community Worker in Coventry, a Development Worker for Oxfordshire Mind, and brought up tow sons, one of whom is now also a painter.  She now has a studio at the bottom of her garden, and is able to devote more of her time to painting.  She is a member of the Oxford Art Society, and you can read more about her life, and see more of her work, on her website here.
What piece of art by another artist (from past or present) has been most significant to you in your own life and work?

It is difficult to single out one piece of art, because there are many, and I don’t think we are always aware that we are being influenced. Much of it is subtle, subconscious and gradual. However I remember two significant pieces from school, one in the corridor, one in a classroom. I looked at them often and they got under my skin. One was Wood on the Downs by Paul Nash, and the other was Harvest Landscape by Van Gogh. I love trees, especially in the winter, and have used the patterns they make in many of my pictures. In Van Gogh’s painting it is the light and the sense of great distance that has stayed with me.

Who would you recommend as an underrated artist?

Underrated might not be the right word, because he is highly rated by those who know him. I think the Welsh Artist Kyffin Williams is brilliant. I love the boldness and simplicity of his work. He seems to know exactly what he wants to say and says it. He works with a palette knife too, which I like to do. Two other artists working at the moment are Andrew Gifford and Susan Isaac, both of whom produce strong impasto pieces.

Do you have any recommendations for art history books or authors?

I am not very good at this! I studied Art History for A level in 1963 and have not done much since. There are of course some interesting Art History programmes on TV and some of the best are by Andrew Graham Dixon. He has written a biography of Caravaggio called ‘A Life Sacred and Profane’ and gave a very interesting talk on this in Oxford a couple of years ago.

A slightly different aspect of Art History comes in Victoria Finlay’s books on colour and the history of pigments. ‘Colour. A Natural History’ and ‘The Brilliant History of Colour in Art’.

Is there a movement or period you have been most interested in or fascinated by?

When I was studying at school the chiaroscuro work by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and George de la Tour, fascinated me, but it is the Impressionist movement that is probably the most exciting. The way they capture the moment with such a free use of paint is very inspiring.  I was also always excited by Cezanne’s brush strokes and his use of colour.

Impressionism continues today in the many artists who work en plein air, painting on the streets in all weathers. For instance there is Ken Howard, Peter Brown, Fred Cumming, and others (including my son Benjamin Hope!).

Incidentally a major exhibition is coming up soon:

CAPTURING THE MOMENT

27 Plein air artists.

Menier Gallery

October 16th -20th.

Britishpleinairpainters.co.uk


You studied theology and philosophy at University, do you feel that this has had an impact on your work?

The short answer is no!  I studied these subjects because I found them interesting, but my art work is in no way conceptual or intellectual. It is never based on ideas but always springs from what I see. The only thing I would say is that Philosophy taught me clarity of thought, which may help in the problem solving that painting demands.

There is a strong sense of place in all of your works; is this something you specifically strive for, or is it something that naturally finds its way into your creations?

I always work very instinctively, so I don’t strive for a sense of place. I mainly strive to put down what has formed as a picture in my head. Most days of my life I see things that make a picture. Sometimes I paint en plein air, but my usual way of working is to make sketches of what has made an impact in my mind, and to work from these in the studio.

I have a bedroom in the loft of my house that looks towards Boars Hill. In June 2016 I decided to paint this view at least once a week for a whole year. I took paints, boards, brushes, and easel up to the bedroom and produced 75 paintings of the view in different weather, at different times, and from different angles. It was a very exciting project and quite a change from my usual way of working.

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March 6th and 8th Morning, Jane Hope

 

You exhibit with the Oxford Art Society; what role do you think such groups play in supporting artists?

Oxford Art Society is primarily an exhibiting society, so the first role it plays is to give us the opportunity to exhibit in a gallery with good artists, and to sell. It is also a very friendly community of artists, and members have the choice of how much or how little they get involved. Helping with the two annual exhibitions is a great way to get to know other artists and to discover the wide range of styles and working methods there are. It is challenging and stimulating to look at the work of other artists and to learn and grow. I value the OAS hugely and enjoy being a member.

You work in a variety of media, and each has its own special qualities. How do you feel that each choice of tool or material responds to the subject you choose to depict with it?

When I see something I have to paint, I usually see it in one of the mediums I use, (oil or chalk pastel).  Once I have done one version, say in oil, others grow from it and I might develop it in pastel, and then back again to oil.  I often see strong shapes in landscapes which translate into the bold sweeps of impasto laid down with a palette knife. At other times I might want to create more intricate patterns through winter trees, which works well with pastels. I enjoy changing from one medium to another and it is good to follow the way the medium takes me. It is great fun to scribble with pastel after having used brushes on a canvas – and vice versa.
One of your frequent subjects is the Still Life. This genre has been a constant source of debate, and explored by artists for many reasons across the centuries, from the great Dutch artists to Cezanne, and beyond. What draws you to it?

I am drawn to Still Life in the way I am drawn to every subject. I see it and love it and have to paint it! I have an allotment, and a big apple tree in the garden. I walk past the onions I have harvested, or pick up the windfall apples, and see how beautiful they are. I have to paint them.

The other thing about painting Still Life is that it is a really good discipline. It is an excellent way to practice eye to hand techniques, and to think about composition. I have to look very carefully and constantly at the objects I am painting. The subject draws me in and many colours become apparent. I have to decide then how much detail to reproduce, and how much to leave out. It is completely absorbing.

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Apples Galore, Jane Hope

September 2018

LINKS:

https://www.benjaminhope.net/

https://www.peterbrownneac.com

www.kenhoward.co.uk/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyffin_Williams

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Public Art – Broken Chair, Daniel Berset and Louis Geneve, 1997

Broken Chair, Geneva

In this post I’ll look at some of the ideas raised by ‘Broke Chair’, in Geneva.  Public art is a fascinating area to consider, it prompts so many thoughts about audience, purpose, function, even material, and so on.  I may well follow this up with other essays on public artworks, so if this is something that appeals to you, let me know in the comments, and keep an eye out!

This artwork raises questions about the ‘function’ of art, particularly public art, and especially non-narrative art.  This was, unlike most sculptures, created for a very specific and active purpose: to remind those at the UN of the horrendous impact of land mines and cluster bombs in the run up to the signing of two significant agreements, the Otaowa Treaty in 1997 and the Oslo Treaty in 2008.  It was first installed in 1997, and reinstalled in 2007.  Originally commissioned by Paul Vermeulen, co-founder of Handicap International Suisse.  It reaches 12 metres high, and is made from 5.5 tonnes of wood.  Artist Daniel Berset created the idea, while it was constructed by carpenter Louis Geneve.  It is bolted to the ground, and it is clear to see how it is made from numerous pieces of wood.  It serves an essentially commemorative purpose, the torn leg an allegory for the physical destruction these horrific devices cause.  One could compare it to the Cenotaph in London.  Though it does not commemorate a specific conflict, but rather the victims of global conflicts, it acts a warming to future generations: ‘do not let this happen again’, in a similar way.  However, the abstract form the work takes goes some way towards obscuring this reasoning.  It has, predictably and understandable, become one of ‘the sights’ on the Geneva tourist trail.  It has become a fun photo-opportunity for the selfie-driven masses.  Much like the ‘leaning tower of Pisa’, it has become the focus of fun and cutesy, optical illusion shots, people raising their hands to complete the broken leg, or simply demonstrate its great size by their failure to do so.  This is quite understandable, it is a fun thing to do, and the resulting photos are a silly memento of the trip, the more serious photos being saved for poses in front of the UN flags.  But one can’t help but consider whether the work is achieving its awareness-raising function.  An advantage that works like the Cenotaph has is that they are extremely simple to understand – war memorials depicting tombs, brave and injured soldiers, and so on, clearly demand a sombre tone, and one can’t help but consider the issues they depict.  By contrast, the Broken Chair, while having the advantage of being a striking a simple image, demands an imaginative leap (and indeed some prior knowledge) on the part of the viewer.

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This leads one on to a question of audience.  Who is the audience for this work?  Who is supposed to understand it?  Maybe the woman taking photos of her two dogs in front of the work isn’t really the target viewer.  The physical context of the piece is carefully chosen, it stares down the alley of flags, in an almost intimidating fashion.  It holds these collected nations to account; taller than the flags it faces, it represents the universality of the issue, of the threat.  It is greater than any one nation, than, indeed, the idea of nationhood.  It speaks to the universal important of recognising the shared humanity of the world’s inhabitants.  Angrily looking down upon those small, insignificant individuals who will nevertheless make world-changing decisions in the UN, it is raised to a higher purpose.  So perhaps it does not matter that tourist and locals alike have embraced it as a source of humour and pleasure; in taking on one role, it has not necessarily abandoned the other.

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All Saint’s Church, Shorthampton, Oxfordshire

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This fascinating little church makes for an ideal excursion for anyone wanting to escape the Oxford bubble, or simply just explore the beautiful countryside around Oxford.  The tiny hamlet of Shorthampton is easily accessible by road, but perhaps the most pleasing approach is by foot, walking through the beautiful hills and shallow valleys of the surrounding landscape.  We took a train out from Oxford to Charlbury, a pretty little village not far from the city.  From there, you walk out to Shorthampton along footpaths through the fields, with some beautiful views across the Cotswolds and back down into the village.  The fields themselves tell you something of the place’s history, with medieval ridge and furrow visible around Shorthampton.  Shorthampton itself seems now to be little more than a farm and a small collection of houses, with the church’s bellcote prominently rising above the surrounding trees.

It is clear from the outside that the church has been built in several phases.  There seems to have been a chapel on the site since at least the twelfth century, with the first surviving reference to it found in a document dating from 1296.  However the majority of what we now see dates from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  The fourteenth century saw the addition of a new chancel, and the fifteenth century brought about radical changes to the structure.  A new nave altar was added, necessitating the expansion of the church, which was achieved by pushing the south wall of the nave out by about six feet, to the position it is now in.  The roof was, obviously, also altered in this period, with the current arch-braced roof being added.  It’s corbel stone supports are carved with human heads (not so easy to spot in their white-washes state), three representing lay people, and one representing a monk, suggestive of the church’s link with nearby Eynsham Abbey, which owned the land at that time.  There is also a stone representing a priest – the set perhaps together representing the figures of the people who would have occupied the church.  The chancel stuck on the front of the church slightly oddly, dates from 1820-24, as do the porch and bellcote, which were all rebuilt in this period.  The church is enclosed by a drystone wall, in a very pleasing churchyard with commanding views across the Cotswolds.  Its quaint and rural character is only reinforced by the adjoining orchard.

The overall impression from the outside if of an interesting but not particularly beautiful church; endearing rather than especially picturesque.  Remnants of the earlier building phases can be seen throughout, such as the rounded windows in the north wall.  However the interior is both beautiful and intriguing.  The most striking features are the numerous wall-paintings, some of them unfortunately in a very sorry state, but fascinating nonetheless. P1120364 The squint is painted with the Legend of the Clay birds, a story in the young Christ molds himself some birds out of clay, and then turns them into real birds which fly off.  This is an apocryphal story, derived not from the Bible but from various collections of stories about Christ’s childhood, found in the Gospel of St Thomas.  Having studied these stories for my undergraduate thesis, I was delighted to find an image on this scale so close to home.  They are evidence of people’s strong desire to know more about Jesus as a person.  The Bible has very little to say about Jesus’ upbringing, so people turned to these unofficial stories to fill in the blanks, as typical of the general turn in this period to focusing on Christ’s humanity.

The paintings above the nave altar also reveal an interest in Jesus’ human side.  There are two phases of painting here, the later depicting a fairly standard Christ in Majesty, but the earlier seemingly depicting the Agony in the Garden, complete with great red tears of blood, an image which again draws attention to Christ’s humanity, presenting a particularly empathetic image of him.  The Christocentric paintings are completed by the Doom painting over the chancel, showing us Christ’s promise of salvation at the day of Judgement.

The other paintings largely depict various saints, some of whom have local significance.  The local saint Frideswide of Oxford, whose relics are housed in Oxford Cathedral (within Christ Church), and who caused a spring to appear at nearby Binsey (see a forthcoming blog post), is depicted on the north wall.  This same wall features an image of an archbishop, who is likely to be St Edmund of Abingdon. He became one of the first academics at the fledgling University of Oxford, and was later, reluctantly, elected Archbishop of Canterbury.

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St Sitha, or Zita, a thirteenth century saint known for her piety whilst in domestic service, is featured in the reveal of the south window.  To the east of the door is an image of St Loy, or Eligius, a goldsmith turned bishop.  He was patron saint of all metalworkers, including blacksmiths, hence his being depicting shoeing a horse.  The scheme of the west wall seems to have been either St George and the Dragon, or the Archangel Michael fighting the Beast of Revelation, but its current damaged state makes it hard to be certain of the subject.  The saints depicted are for the most part of a quietly pragmatic and humble piety, perhaps chosen as appropriate role models for the congregation of this rural church.

But the wall-paintings are far from the only interesting elements inside the church.  The space itself is dominated by the box pews, added along with the pulpit and reading desk in the 1820-24 works, but possibly replacing similar pews from the late-sixteenth or early-seventeenth century, as suggested by the cuttings in the stonework of P1120375the mould of the chancel arch and the piscine.  There was also at some point a west gallery, probably surviving until at least 1810, and which made use of the original twelfth century door, re-positioning it to give access to the gallery.  Another major original survival is the tub font, which sits opposite the entrance like a cut-off Doric column, doubtless offering a rather intimidating sight to the small babies brought to it for baptism.P1120348

The fifteenth-century elements, mainly the paintings, have not survived so well.  The theological changes brought about by the Reformation lead to the white-washing of the paintings, which were only rediscovered in 1903.  However, instruction were to add texts in their place, hence that which we see over the door, the Creed.  The preference for text continued, as seen in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century cartouche on the west wall, which contains King Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The nineteenth century chancel, far from clashing with the earlier building as such additions often do, allies itself with the church’s quiet simplicity.  Its best feature is the window over the altar, offering a wonderfully peaceful view out across the fields and countryside.

 

 

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It is an altogether charming church, with an overwhelmingly peaceful atmosphere.  There is a real sense of continuity, with the people farming and praying amongst this beautiful landscape for hundreds of years, and this gives the whole place a very reassuring feel.  I always say (because I always feel!) the churches I write about are well worth visiting, but I would particularly recommend Shorthampton if you’re in search of a quiet moment, to put anxious thoughts to rest, or just need a break from the buzz of the city.  I suppose that, of all the churches I have visited, this is the church in which I felt I could come closest to their original purpose.  You can certainly still feel why, all those centuries ago, this spot was chosen for the location of a simple, one-man chapel, and how it has grown and developed with the passing lives of the people who lived, worked, and died, in the surrounding countryside.

The Twin Churches of St Mary and Sts Cyriac and Julietta, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire

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I have recently come to the realisation that a considerable proportion of my spare time is spent exploring churches.  On visiting a new part of the country, my first thought is to discover if there are any notable churches in the region.  Beyond the essential guide Betjeman’s Best British Churches, of which I have the 2011 edition, complete with updates by Richard Surman, it is often surprisingly hard to find, as it were, ‘reviews’ of churches, and recommendations as to which are worth a visit.  Thus I have decided to start writing my own (far humbler than Betjeman’s of course) thoughts and impressions on the churches I visit.  I find it particularly hard to find information on smaller churches on the internet (which, on returning to the car after a successful church visit, and with time for another, one often has recourse to consult), so I hope that these blog posts may serve some small use to those in similar quandaries.

I have decided to commence this series with a review of not one, but two churches.  These are the remarkable twin churches of St Mary the Virgin, and Sts. Cyriac and Julietta, in the small village of Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire.  This village hosts another pair of twins, being home also to two windmills not, alas, adjacent to one another, as with the churches).  Aside from this there is little to suggest the village as the obvious site for two churches, it is a small village, hardly, one would think, ever having been home to enough people to require double churches.  The reason for these two seems to have been related more to altering claims over parishes and changing boundaries, the later St Mary’s seeming to have been built in what was once a separate parish.  St Cyriac may originally date from before the Norman Conquest, while the current building has parts built before 1200.  St Mary’s has had a troubled history, and after falling to ruin was restored in the early twentieth century.  However, a fine tower dating from the twelfth century remained, so this twin church arrangement is certainly a long-standing one (no pun intended).  It was not until an Act of 1667 that the two churches were united under the leadership of a single vicar.  The congregation seems to have shuffled back and forth for some time after, depending on the whim of each vicar, or the state of dilapidation each church found itself in.  This arrangement is not, however, as unusual as it might seem, there being several other instanced of church twinning in Cambridgeshire, and even a case of three churches once having shared the same churchyard at Reepham, in the not so distant Norfolk.

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St Cyriac and St Julietta, from the top of the hill

The two churches sit on the side of a low (perhaps high by the standards of this rather flat county) hill, overlooking the village.  St Cyriac’s occupies the higher position, which is also more central in the churchyard, one of the reasons why it has been supposed to be the older of the two churches.  St Cyriac’s is currently being cared for the The Churches Conservation Trust, although it still occasionally hosts services.  Both these churches are notable for their fantastic octagonal towers, which seem abundant in the local area, the most significant of course being the tower of Ely Cathedral.  St Cyriac’s belltower dates from the fifteenth century, and is particularly impressive.  From the outside you can still see where it was connected to the medieval body of the church, which, having fallen into disrepair, was demolished in order to make way for a new building, commenced in 1806.  The impression of walking into the churchyard, which we entered from the higher ground, is quite astonishing.  The two towers reaching up in their faceted forms, and the bodies of the churches an easy stone’s throw away from one another, is certainly memorable.  The newer body of St Cyriac’s is large, and gives the impression of being oddly flat.  It is cruciform, with stubby transepts, which contrast with the tall and comparatively slender tower.  The church’s history of building and rebuilding is apparent from its outer fabric, and presents the visitor with something of a puzzle to piece together.  20151213_094242.jpgAfter the striking qualities of the exterior, the interior of the church is perhaps a touch underwhelming.  Stripped of its pews, all that remains is a somewhat stark Georgian interior.  A plastered ceiling gives a strange sense of the space being confined and enclosed, despite its generous dimensions.  The acoustics are astonishing, it is perhaps the most echoey church I have ever been in, to the extent that one might imagine it actually interfering with the running of services.  Nevertheless, this was the church which, having been rebuilt from 1806 to 1809, by Charles Humfrey, a Cambridge-based architect, was used for the following hundred years or so, until 1903, when St Mary’s was finally restored.  The bells however remain in St Cyriac’s, as the tower of St Mary’s was not restored until 1965.  The slender columns supporting the ceiling of the church add to, in a bizarre way, the sense of sparsity – if it were an uninterrupted space, perhaps one’s 20151213_094338attention would not be so drawn to the low ceiling.  The entrance of the church is overhung by a gallery, which, understandably, is not open to the public.  From here you step up into the church, but any sense of it opening up is thwarted by the ceiling.  Not meaning to do down this church, it must be noted that it is wonderfully light, even on the dreary and rainy winter day that we visited it.  The sanctuary, small, as typical of the period, is painted with the
Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  The provide an interesting contrast to the rest of the interior, which is largely white, with details painted in duck egg blue and terracotta, a somewhat bizarre choice of colour scheme, the antiquity of which I am unsure of.

Other points of interest inside St Cyriac’s are the Victorian parish bier, placed in the North West corner, used to transport coffins (one imagines not the easiest activity on the steep slope of the churchyard), and the charity cupboard, inlai20151213_094930.jpgd with the initials of the church’s saints, SC and SJ, also Victorian.

While it is thus well worth a look inside St Cyriac, it cannot be denied that most interest is found on the exterior.  The octagonal upper stage of the tower rises from corbel heads of lions, human grotesques, and half-angels, carrying shield or crowns, some of the few sculptures found on either church.  The north-west wall of the tower also holds the clock face.  The face itself is a repair, dating from 1811, but the original mechanism of the clock dates from the late seventeenth century.  As far as I can tell it is no longer attached to a bell. 20151213_105311_HDR.jpg The contrast on the exterior between the medieval tower and the Georgian body of the church is great, and as noted above, you can at various points see traces of the original medieval church.  The squat cruciform church would not, I suspect, meet current tastes for the harmonious integration of new and old, the new not meeting the height of the old, giving the impression of two buildings that just happen to have been stuck together.  Nonetheless, the weirdness of this building is part of its attraction, and I would highly recommend a visit.

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The tower of St Mary, the Virgin

If one church were not enough to please you, Swaffham Prior of course answers this with the adjacent St Mary’s.  Its most striking feature is the twelfth and thirteenth century tower, constructed in flint and fieldstone.  The upper-most level was added in 1964, as
was the stainless steel fleche with ‘Queen of Heaven’ crown.  This addition would seem incongruous anywhere else, but given the long history of alteration and addition at Swaffham Prior, it rather seems to be the continuation of a tradition (even if I must admit it is not to my taste).  This also serves to recall the church’s lost spire.  The porch, now with charismatically crumbling tracery, dates from the fifteenth century, and was identified by Pevsner as originally containing fan vaulting.  Through this one moves into the tower itself, which is truly remarkable.  As an individual with distinctly medieval taste, getting to look up through the tower, its stages open, lit by its narrow Norman windows, was a joy.  My photographs don’t capture it, needless to say this unusual building is best appreciated in person.  The simple construction, that has been used to achieve such a clever design,

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Looking up through the open stages of the tower

is quite wonderful.  From here you progress into the church through a modern glass screen, cleverly inserted into the fabric of the building.  One is again met with a vaguely underwhelming church.  One of my residing memories is of orange, reminding me of the various furniture in my 1990s childhood bedroom.  However, on venturing further inside, one finds much of interest.

 

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Looking up the nave, complete with parquet flooring and rood screen of 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rather stern faces of William and Alice Water of Reach are commemorated in a brass of the early sixteenth century, above a smaller one thought to depict their six sons.  The presumably related Richard Water, also with a wife named Alice, are also commemorated in a brass of a similar date.  The church (I think unusually) has a parquet floor, the culprit behind its orange appearance, made of memel fir, a choice apparently made to reduce the noise of walking about the church.  The current rood screen was gifted to the church in 1909 by the Allix family, local squires, and a family prominent in the history of the two churches, an imposing yet elegant structure.  The height of the church is emphasised by the clerestory windows, which give it a bright atmosphere.  The pews, pleasingly simple, but probably rather uncomfortable for anything by the shortest of services, are those missing from St Cyriac’s.  Clearly there was no need to commission or buy a new set when there was a ready set waiting at a soon to be unused church next door.

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William and Alice Water, of Reach, with their adoring sons below

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Robert Chambers, Gent.

The church also contains two medieval piscinae, and a rather interesting brass commemorating ‘Robert Cambers, Gent.’, of 1638, and a floor marble commemorating Sir John Ellys, tutor at Gonville and Caius, having studied there from 1647.  But perhaps the most interesting element of the interior of St Mary’s (even to this medievalist), are the stained glass windows, designed by the local squire, C.P. Allix.  Those in the North aisle were designed as the village’s First World War Memorial.  There are three in number, two being dedicated to war, and a third to peace.  The modern subject matter is an unusual choice for the ancient art of stained glass, with windows depicting the various industries or exercises of war, including tanks, trenches, submarines, munitions factories, field hospitals, and a Howitzer.  Specific sections also depict the water pipeline laid across Sinai Peninsula during the invasion of Palestine, and the sinking of the Lusitania.  The images are believed to have been drawn from Allix’s personal scrapbook, and the tank image is noted as an exact copy of a photograph in the Imperial War Museum, showing a Mark I tank.  Each section is captioned by a relevant biblical passage, with the text of the Book of Revelation, 14:13, running along the bottom, ‘And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’.  The final window celebrates the happier industries of peace, depicting ploughing, harvesting, and animal husbandry, as well as the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-15).  Along the bottom is Psalm 104:23, ‘Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour, until the evening’.  The windows are arranged progressively, West to East, beginning with the call to arms and various weapons, with the second illustrating (in an arguably rather sterile fashion) the horrors of war, and the final window, depicting peace, the furthest east, appropriately closest to the altar.

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Airship and Mark I Tank from the North Aisle Windows

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Munitions hospital scene, from C. P. Allix’s North Aisle, First World War Memorial Windows

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The Peace Window

Allix’s other set of windows are in the south aisle, featuring more unusual subject matter from his own interests.  The windows were designed to commemorate the vicar of the parish, John Peter Allix, and his son Charles, presumably relations of some sort to C.P.  They predate those of the North aisle, having been dedicated in 1914.  Scenes include the 1771 eruption of Vesuvius, an image of the earth, moon, and starts, seen from space, and Greenland glacier, drawn directly from an illustration in Sir James Geikies The Great Ice Age.  There is also an image of Mount Pilatus, in Switzerland.  Each of the subjects is labelled, within the frame of the image.  The technique of these windows is unusual, creating a striking appearance, particularly in the image of Eart, and of Aurora chasing away night, the former in the form of a lark, the latter an owl.  These remarkable sets of windows are worth a visit in their own right, even if they were not houses in such a fascinating church.

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The Earth, Moon, and Stars, as seen from space, in the South Aisle

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Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

 

All in all these are two of the most interesting churches I have visited; their variety and complicated history of dereliction, restoration, use and reuse, makes them particularly worth a visit.  It is worth noting too that the village itself, even in the rain, was charming, and the walk we took around it also led us in sight of one windmill, and past the other, so it is worth exploring.  About eight miles from Cambridge, we were able to part outside the church gate, at the top of the hill.  There is also a pub for those wishing to quench themselves after the thirsty work of church spotting, although it was closed on the Sunday morning that we visited.  The village is of course accessible by bicycle from Cambridge, and I believe there is also something of a regular bus service.  The two churches now share a vicar with at least two other churches, so I believe St Mary only holds services every few weeks.

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I owe a debt of gratitude to the Churches Conservation Trust, for their marvellous work in general, but also specifically with their highly information leaflet on St Cyriac and St Julietta, and to Elisabeth Everitt, for having written such a comprehensive and useful booklet on the history of St Mary the Virgin.  I would highly recommend reading both of these for further information, the former to be found here, the latter available in the church itself, for a modest and highly reasonable fee.  There are collection boxes in both churches, and should you wish to donate to support the work of the Churches Conservation Trust in general, one can do so here.

Not An Illustration: Livres d’Artiste in the St John’s College Special Collections

St John’s College Library is currently hosting a fantastic exhibition of it’s collection of livres d’artiste, collected for the college by Dr Peter Hacker when he was the college’s Library Fellow.  It’s a great collection of more recent livres d’artiste and some wonderful examples of ‘non-illustrative’ illustrations, curated by Tom Cullimore from St John’s College library.  As part of an opening event for the exhibition I was asked to give a short talk on the background of the livre d’artiste, and some of the key figures in their creation.  If you’re interested in learning more about the exhibition itself, Tom’s written some great pieces about it here: https://stjohnscollegelibrary.wordpress.com/, and you can find out more about the library itself and visiting it here: https://www.sjc.ox.ac.uk/385/Library-and-Archives.html.  It’s well worth seeing if you happen to be in Oxford.  Below is the talk I gave at the opening event.

The livre d’artiste is not a particularly well-known medium in the UK.  As the name would suggest, they originate in France, and indeed arguable in the mind of a single individual, Ambroise Vollard.  The main feature that sets them apart from other artisan book production is the close involvement of a single artist, and the fact that the ‘illustrations’ (as shown by the books here) stand as art works in their own right.  You could find some precedent in Arts and Crafts books such as Morris’ Kelmscott Chaucer, and in some of the prints of Toulous-Lautrec, but the motivations behind creating the modern livres d’artiste were rather different, and the livre d’artiste has developed as a medium in its own right.

Ambroise Vollard was one of the most important art dealers of the twentieth century French art market.  With an eye for painters who would go on to be thought of as ‘significant’, he had a professional relationships with a wide variety

Cezanne, Ambroise Vollard, 1889

Cezanne, Ambroise Vollard, 1889

of artists.  His first major exhibition was of works by Cezanne, for which he supposedly bought almost all of Cezanne’s extant artworks, numbering some 150 works.  He went on to show works by Gauguin and Van Gogh, and was a key early supporter of Picasso, and later Matisse.  While he was clearly a man with an eye for a prudent investment, he did also have a great appreciation for artistic endeavours.  His mercantile success gave him the capital to explore his own interests and idea, primary among which was the idea of a finely crafted book containing works by artists, rather than professional printmakers.  The title of the first such book he produced, Parallelement, reveals something of the artistic ambition that lay behind it.  The book featured a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine, and specifically commissioned works by artist Pierre Bonnard, both prominent figures in avant-garde movements at the time.  This pairing of poet and artists would become the pattern for future livres d’artiste.  Parallelement was striking for the way in which the images and texts were linked and interspersed, with the images being position throughout the text, amongst the poems, rather than being separated or segregated, placing them on an equal footing with the poems.

This interest in how to present text and image was not surprising, this was a period when poets such as Mallarme were exploring how type-setting and presentation of poetry impacted on their interpretation, with Mallarme’s own Un Coup de Des being a key example.  Part of this interest was in how books could or should be presented, and function.  Vollard’s interest was picked up by other figures in the Parisian art market, notably Henry Kahnweiler.  He is best known as the key supporter of Cubism, and also supported Fauve artists such as Andre Derain.  His first ajor production was a collaborative effort between Apollinaire, the poet, and Derain, L’Enchaneur Pourissant, (The Rotting Magician, in 1909.  Kahnweiler went on to public 43 such books, often featuring new writers, giving an even greater sense of collaboration to the finished works.  The livre d’artiste seems thus to have become fairly quickly established as an important medium of artistic production.  Perhaps the best known example of the form is Henri

Henri Matisse, Jazz, 1947

Henri Matisse, Jazz, 1947

Matisse’s Jazz, published by Teriade in 1947, although this is not particularly representative of the form, as many of the images were originally created for other projects, and it is Matisse’s own thoughts, rather than the works of a poet, which accompanied them.  Albert Skira, closely associated with the Surrealists, published Le Chants de Maldoror, with etching by Dali, and also worked with Picasso on numerous occasions.  As this selection of a few names suggests, artists from many different creeds became involved in the creation of these books.

The livre d’artiste still enjoys popularity, and they are still produced, perhaps in part thanks to the early involvement of figures who have become giants in the study of art and literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  While it is perhaps tempting to think of them as collections of art works, and treat the publication of a new book in much the same way that we might a new exhibition, it is important that we consider the uniqueness of the form. The reader or viewer interacts with books in a completely different way to how they would with a hung exhibition, and the act of holding, and turning the pages of a book creates a rather different experience.  This is clearly something their creators were keenly aware of, and the variety of ways in which they were manufactured shows an interest in the nature of them as books.   Whether they were bound, the images printed, or tipped in, left as insets, what type of paper was used, etc, all these were taken into consideration.  Vollard imported paper from Amsterdam (a traditional centre of paper production) for his works.

This reveals some awareness, and desire to convese with, the history of book production.  Kahnweiler also referred to the long history of the printed book, using a typeface based on that created in Aldus Minutius’ press, one of the earliest and most important of the Venetian publishing houses.  The content was in some cases similar too, with classical works such as Homer (as seen in this exhibition) often being popular choices for the textual content of livres d’artiste.  So while commissioning works from the most forward thinking of artists, there is still a sense that these works were part of the tradition of fine book publication.  They certainly lived up to this in terms of cost, usually being expensive and luxurious items.  This suggests another unique aspect of them as books, they have a degree of intimacy, they are to be held and possessed, and looked through at one’s own pace –there is a sense in which it is the will of the viewer that completes the act of creation, through the processes of viewing the books, how they choose to read and look through them.  The multi-sensory nature of book viewing further adds to this feeling of intimacy with the object.  France is a country known for its spectacular output of illuminated manuscripts, and, although used for very different, and secular, purposes, the livre d’artiste can be seen as an exciting continuation of this interaction between image, text, and viewer.

For further reading see the above blog posts, and Eunice Martin. French Livres d’Artiste in Oxford University Collections (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1996)

First Impressions: Zhang Xioagang, Bloodlines: Big Family No. 1, 1996

As today is Chinese New Year, I thought I’d post a piece I’ve written about a piece of Chinese art.  I must confess that this is something of a cheat as a ‘First Impressions’ piece, as I haven’t actually seen this piece myself, but it was written in the same way as my usual pieces, and I think it’s a great piece, by an artist perhaps not so well known to UK audiences.  I’ve been lucky enough to take the course ‘Art in China since 1911’ as part of my undergraduate degree, which is fascinating, and covers so much art that was unfamiliar to me before, but am glad to have discovered.

You can see a picture of this work here… http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/prints-multiples/zhang-xiaogang-big-family-no-1-from-5050380-details.aspx , complete with the record of it selling for what would now seem a ridiculously small price for such a work.

The work is dominated by three figures, that of a man, a woman, and a small baby boy.  The composition is cropped, we do not view all of the figures, we view the man and woman from chest height, with their shoulders cut off at either side, and the baby is viewed from about ankle height.  The baby seems to hover in the air in between and in front of the two other figures, who the title and convention might suggest are his parents.  The baby is differentiated from the other figures by the bright red hue given to his body, while his clothes maintain the monochromatic tones that are used for the other figures and the background.  This use of colour is suggestive of black and white photography, an association strengthened by the poses of the figures, facing the ‘camera’, or the viewer, looking directly out from the painting.  There is some blurring around the edges of the figures, particularly around the woman’s plaits, and in the background, which is just that in that it does not convey any particular sense of space, or a particular setting, acting instead as a generic background for the figures in front, perhaps suggesting the backdrop of a photographer’s studio, or a rendered or painted wall.  The cropping of the figures adds to this sense of them being in an indistinct space, as we do not see points where they would link with it (e.g. where their feet touch the ground).

 

The surface of the painting is interrupted by a series of red lines, which sit wire-like on the surface of the painting, joining over the baby and the figures behind it.  Thus a sense of flatness is created, the depth created by the over-layering of the figures is negated, and we again are given the sense of this being a photograph.  Their clothing is carefully detailed, with precise brushwork to denote crisp collars and neat lapels, while we are given some idea of the man’s profession or status by the pen tucked into his jacket pocket, suggesting that he is a ‘white collar’ worker, while glasses were accepted as a sign of the intellectual, or at least educated, individual.  The figures do not seem to acknowledge one another, except in the woman’s slight lean into the centre, and the slight turn of both figures’ outside eye in towards the centre.  Aside from the baby’s red hue, there are also patched of slightly brighter colour on the other figures, with patches of pinkish tones over their faces and neck, but again, the way in which the colours cut across them, covering the glasses, and her clothes, for instance, suggest that this is supposed to evoke the effect of a fading photograph.  However, its meaning could be multiple, and it could be present to suggest the humanity behind these monochromatic facades.  The eyes of all three figures are picked out in precise lines, contrasting with the blurring of their other features, and are painted in a darker, shinier shade of black, which gives them an unnervingly piercing quality, and which immediately draws the gaze of the viewer.  The baby’s slightly furrowed brows are the only hint of definite expression in the figures, the adults have expressions that are hard to read, deliberately open to interpretation.

 

The title, ‘Bloodlines’, could be a specific reference to the importance of one’s family connections during the Cultural Revolution, be they harmful or helpful, and can also link to the thin red lines across the canvas.  The Bloodlines series is usually large in scale, emphasising the striking and unnerving qualities of the figures.  The red chosen for the child could relate to a number of different ideas, the most obvious being the red of Communism, but red was also traditionally associated with good luck, which coupled with the child’s troubled expression, leads one to wonder the significance of the connection between these two associations.  The inclusion of a single child could bring to mind the one child policy in China, but I think it’s important to recognise the potential for a multiplicity of meaning.

Ruskin Drawing Sale

This year I paid my first visit to the Ruskin Drawing Sale.  Feeling something like a cross between the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and a car-boot sale, this is an annual opportunity for students at the Ruskin to sell works and raise some funds for their degree show, and for art enthusiasts to pick up a piece by up-and-coming young artists.

These photos should hopefully give you a good idea of what it is like; there are drawings pinned all over the walls of the school, up the stairways and on the windowsills, each one being replaced as soon as it is sold by another.

View from the foyer into the sale

View from the foyer into the sale

There are no labels, just a tiny price-tag on each item (sometimes this had fallen off, and was to be found on the floor beneath, leading to an amusing guessing game as to which went with which artwork).  Despite the name, the works on sale are not exclusively drawings, there are also photographs and painted works, the unifying feature is price, with most works for sale in the region of £15-20, with the highest I saw about £60, and others for less than £5.   This results in a very democratic

A selection of handmade jewelery

A selection of handmade jewellery

feel, there’s something for every budget, and it’s presented as suitable for the (ostensibly very small) student budget.  The works are varied, but strangely not so varied as one might expect, perhaps because they’re all studying at the same school, there is some sense of many of them being from a family of related artists.  It runs for two days, and I have to say that I was left with a slight sense of missing out, in that the works were changing all the time, with new ones being added, so I did feel as if I should make several trips in order to be able to get a real sense of the scope.  I didn’t see anything that really jumped out at me, there were some interesting works, and works by artists I’m familiarwith, which always please me, but I came away empty handed, and slightly disappointed. 20141122_144908

 

This piece was sold for a price, plus a drink with the artist!

This piece was sold for a price, plus a drink with the artist!

 

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Another pleasing windowsill display

 

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I particularly like the work of the artist at top left. This shot gives a good sense of the range of work on show

Works out on the tables

Works out on the tables

 

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The view up the staircase

The view up the staircase

People were also selling printed T-shirts, cakes, and there was a henna tattoo stall, which gave it a more fun atmosphere.  It’s an event well worth visiting if you get the chance, it’s a good opportunity to see behind the closed doors of the art school, and it showcases some very talented young artists.