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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Month

March 2018

Baking with Kafka : Tom Gauld

… a delight … 

zombie apocalypse skeleton

Baking with Kafka is a delight – full of whimsical musings on reading, writing and how to get a publishing deal after a skeleton apocalypse.

I can’t really do justice to the range over topics Tom covers with his clean, flat drawings and economical writing style so here’s some titles of his cartoons to give you a flavour :

  • War and Peace Clickbait
  • Keyboard Shortcuts for Novelists
  • JG Ballard’s Books for Children were not a Success
  • Dystopian Road signs.

Highly recommended.

Tom Gauld grew up in Scotland and now lives with his family in London. His work is regularly published in the The Guardian, The New York Times and New Scientist. To learn more about him, click here for his website. You can also go to the Guardian website’s profile of him for his latest cartoons for the newspaper.

But really, Tom‘s latest hardback needs to be bought.

Baking with Kafka, Comics by Tom Gauld was published by Canongate Books in September 2017.

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Breezy Day, Ridley, Kent : Thomas Hennell

… a moment of vision …

watercolour British countryside war artist

“We look, in landscape painting, not primarily for a rationalised statement, nor for a description of fact but for the moment of vision,” wrote Thomas Hennell.
Sometimes referred as an English Van Gogh, Thomas Hennell was deeply religious and suffered a breakdown which put him in a mental institution for a couple of years. Writing and watercolours helped him recover. His work records rural scenes, often populated with craftsmen and Thomas eventually became an Official War Artist in World War II. Whilst in Indonesia in 1945, he was captured by nationalist fighters in and presumably killed.
He was lionised by contemporaries: “We [Bawden and Ravilious] regarded him as a man
of genius.”

This scene is probably at Ridley in Kent, close to Orchard Cottage, where Hennell lived between 1935-43. Knowing his story, it is impossible to un-know it and this wonderfully delicate sketch of the British Countryside takes on a fragile and elegiac intensity.

Most of the information in this post has been gleaned from the lovely little tribute website created by art dealer, Michael Sims, thomashennell.com

Breezy Day, Ridley, Kent, c.1941, by Thomas Hennell, (1903-45) (Whereabouts unknown; image from Michael Sims simfineart.com)

Ravilious & Co : Compton Verney

… a fascinating exhibition …

horse design westbury england

This marvellous show traces the story of a dynamic group of British artist/designers from the first half of the 20th century. Taking a collective approach, the two major gallery spaces of Compton Verney are absolutely crammed full of paintings and woodcuts, fabric prints, book covers, ceramics and wallpapers, and the curators are able to create a wonderful sense of how this close network of artists interacted with one another. Leading with Eric Ravilious, the exhibition also includes the Nash brothers, Enid Marx, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman, Helen Binyon and many others. It’s definitely worth a visit – and taking your time to enjoy the creativity.

Here are a few of my absolute favourites to give you a flavour of what’s on offer …

  1. You are greeted by Eric Ravilious‘ Wedgwood Boat Race Bowl, 1938. A beautiful piece celebrating this most English tradition. Don’t forget to look at the design inside and around the sides to find this gorgeous mermaid with her honour guard of oars.Boat race mermaid guard wedgwood
  2. In the same room is RaviliousWestbury Horse, 1939, in watercolour and pencil (see above). Here one can really see his pattern making in action with the round horse against the voluminous hills set in contrast to the grey patchwork of the fields and train track.
  3. There is also some gorgeous paper ephemera including this Ravilious fishy sketch on an envelope … ( I now hope to address all my letters like this) …envelope fish watercolour inks
  4. … and this Peepshow called In Winter and In Summer created by Barnett Freedman in 1932 for Shell.shell oil diorama peep show
  5. There’s also the frankly disturbing set of wood engravings by Tirzah Garwood called The Relations. Here’s  The Husband, 1929, a marvellous piece of creeping anxiety. If you gaze at it for a moment ,you’ll understand what I mean. marrow coat wood

I think the gentleman in the trench coat has mistaken marrows for guns. What do you reckon?

Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship. English Artist Designers 1922-1942 at Compton Verney runs from 17 March until 10 June 2018 (Tue – Sun 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. In fact two or three visits. Plan at least 2 hours to look around and then have some cake.

Instead of an exhibition catalogue, the accompanying book is a brilliant new biography, Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship by Andy Friend, which was published last April by Thames & Hudson.

This is the final leg of the exhibition’s tour and was originally staged at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, May –September 2017 and then at the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield, October 2017 – January 2018.

If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space, permanent exhibitions and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a lovely cafe, an adventure playground for children, and boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

Thornhill : Pam Smy

Congratulations to Pam Smy – Thornhill has been for illustration.

Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

… perfectly paced and other worldly …

halloween ghost thornhill

This is a perfectly paced ghost story about a girl living next to a derelict orphanage.

Pam Smy carefully weaves together the stories of two girls in a beguiling mix of diary and illustration. The ghost, Mary, writes heartbreaking entries of her bleak childhood in the diary which is discovered years later by the lonely Ella, whose story is told entirely through unscripted illustrations. With no narrator to help, we are left to piece together the gaps in each story.

Pam then intersperses the diary entries and cartoon narrative with heavy black pages to represent sleep. The cumulative effect of these blanks, combined with the silent illustrations, recreates the detachedness of a lonely childhood and gives the reader delightful pause to think about and guess (deliciously) what might happen next.

The whole effect is intriguing, creepy and otherworldly by turn and builds to…

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Madame Trudaine : Jacques-Louis David

… against a bloody background …

french revolution portrait

I always think of Jacques-Louis David as a history painter and so the delicacy of his portraits take me by surprise.

Painted in 1791-2, this striking young woman is most likely Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton (1769-1802), the wife of Charles-Louis Trudaine, who was a friend of the artist. The Trudaine family belonged to the liberal “haute bourgeoisie” and they were  initially favourable to the Revolution. Marie-Louise is wearing simple clothes suitable for someone of her political leanings; and her blue sash, white shirt and the red background makeup the new Tricolour flag of France. The portrait was never finished as the Trudaines quarrelled with David over his support for the increasingly violent Terror.

David‘s characteristic “scumbling” of the red background – a technique he used for these portraits – adds a clamour of hysteria to this already nervous, defiant young woman, with her arms folded awkwardly across her body and her half turn towards the viewer. The Trudaine brothers went to the scaffold soon after this. Marie-Louise died ten years later when she was 33 years old. Alas, I can’t find anymore details about her but it can’t have been a very happy life.

David was an ardent supporter the Terror. He organized revolutionary fetes and ceremonials to replace the Catholic festivals and painted many key images of the period such as the pietà of the Revolution, The Death of Marat. David was a member of the Assembly, however, he too was eventually imprisoned. When the artist was released, a couple of years later, David stayed away from direct politics but did become a favourite painter of Napolean.

Portrait of Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton1891-2, (Louvre) by Jacques-Louis David  (1748 – 1825).

The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens

… a fascinating book to curl up with … 

ghost supernatural spooks halloween

The Ghost is a thoroughly fascinating book which traces the development of ghosts from warnings from the afterlife, through escapees from purgatory and then the devil’s playthings and finally to delicious, terrifying entertainment purely from the imagination. This history is complemented by the shifts in the images of ghosts from skeleton to a shrouded, bare footed figure to the cotton sheet.

There are old favourites such as the well known Ghost of a Flea by William Blake and new favourites including the beautiful and eerie three works by Paul Nash. Susan reminded of the extraordinary spiritualist painter Georgiana Houghton and introduced me to writer and essayist Vernon Lee (Violet Paget).

The book is furnished with detailed references should you wish to follow up a line of enquiry, a thoughtful selection of colour plates and a great bibliography.

Highly recommended.

Susan Owens studied English at Oxford and European art at the Courtauld, gaining her PhD from the University of London. She was Assistant Curator at University College London and then worked for the Royal Collection as Assistant Curator of the Print Room at Windsor Castle. From 2007 to 2013 she was Curator of Paintings at the V & A, where she was responsible for oils, watercolours and drawings from 1800 to the present day. She is now a freelance curator, writer and art historian, who publishes and
lectures widely on British Art.

Cover design moment : The alluring cover design is by Anvi Patel and I think she strikes the right balance between spooky – the chalky wisps and wonky lettering – and academic – the old style font. You can see more of her work here. The lovely typesetting carries on through the book with elegant lay outs and wisps for section breaks.

The Ghost A Cultural History by Susan Owens was published by Tate Publishing in October 2017.

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