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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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exhibition

The British Countryside : Are you Rustic or Lyrical?

Another trend I’ve spotted from my favourites reviews of 2017 is the artists and writers’ response to nature.

basic nest architecture poems seren

Are we down in the terrifying muddy ditches of the Cumbrian badlands with Jacob Polley‘s sparkling poems about Jackself : “By head-lice powder, Paraquat / snapdragon’s snap and rat-tat-tat / who’s at the door / of the door of the door / it’s Jackself in his toadskin hat?” ? (Every Creeping Thing in Jackself : Jacob Polley.) And dying, sodden and foolish, from wearing Italian walking gear in a collection of ephemera created by Rebecca Chesney‘s Death by Denim. (Creating the Countryside : Compton Verney) ?

denim

Or are we celebrating the lyricism in nature along with Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane in their stunning The Lost Words – a beguiling mix of illuminated manuscript and spell grimoire? And reflecting how nature can enrich our lives with Alex Preston and Neil Gower in the delightful birder’s book As Kingfishers Catch Fire. ?

Of course it’s both – but the oscillation between the two sides I find do fascinating.

I am also intrigued to find that most of these meditations on nature are through illustration and poetry  – as if the elusive quality of our responses cannot be tied down in prose. As Polly Atkins writes: “All I can do / is believe you will keep on being the warm / vaulting life, ravelled round mine, / although I may never hold you.” (Rabbit in morning in Basic Nest Architecture)

Wishing you all a very happy New Year.

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Quentin Blake : Inside Stories : Compton Verney

… full of inspiration, creativity and generosity …

quentin blake compton verney exhibition illustration

This exuberant exhibition is full of inspiration, creativity and positively glows with Quentin Blake‘s joie-de-vivre and generosity of spirit.

It features a huge range of finished illustrations, working drawings and crossed out snippets showing his process including sketches for Roald Dahl’s The Twits, BFG and Matilda, The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams, and his tremendous series of illustrations to accompany Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. (And the outline Rosen emailed to his publisher entitled: Is this a Book?)

The show includes over 140 original works, as well as some of his artists tools and a couple of short films in which Quentin demonstrates his techniques.

Excellent. Couldn’t stop smiling all the way round.

The exhibition runs until 17 December 2017 (Tue – Fri 11am – 4pm; Weekends – 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. The marvellous The Lost Words exhibition is running at the same time. 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.

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories is a touring exhibition from the brilliant House of Illustration. This charity, based in London, is the UK’s only public gallery dedicated to illustration and the graphic arts was founded by Sir Quentin Blake in 2014. To learn more about their splendid work visit their website here.

Illustration © Quentin Blake

The Lost Words : Compton Verney

… artwork for the stunning book …

robert macfarlane jackie morris

A delightful exhibition to accompany the launch of this wonderful book, the rooms are full of Jackie‘s stunning artwork and Robert‘s delightful poems.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the full page “absence” watercolours – especially for conker  – as their lyrical beauty is slightly muted in the finished book by the inclusion of the alphabet.

Compton Verney‘s curators have once again created an enchanting space for the art to shine with thoughtful backdrops of colour and illustration inspired by the art and the occasional school desk of bird books for children to browse.

The exhibition runs until 17 December 2017 (Tue – Fri 11am – 4pm; Weekends – 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. 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.

The Lost Words : Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

… enchanting spells to conjure up nature …

kingfisher jackie morris

Hailed as one of the most beautiful books of the year, The Lost Words is a delightful collaboration between the very inspiring nature writer, Robert Macfarlane, and a supremely talented illustrator, Jackie Morris. Together they have produced a cross between a medieval illuminated manuscript and spell grimoire. The conceit behind the work is that Robert’s words have to conjure the missing animals and plants back into the world.

Each spell takes up three double page spreads. First there is a spread showing a lack: a shadow, an absence, a washed out line drawing; then comes the spell of conjuration and a full page portrait; and finally another full double page spread showing the living object in its landscape. This creates a beguiling rhythm to the procession of beautiful images across these large pages.

The poems themselves are acrostic, spelling out the plant or creature’s name using the first letter of the lines and have a Anglo-Saxon kenning quality about them. Robert twists and turns words about using alliteration and assonance to create evocative word combinations which really come alive when spoken out loud – rather like the expressive nature poems of Gerald Manly Hopkins. Jackie‘s illustrations are seductively gorgeous, making one want to linger over the pages, searching out the detail and basking in the gold leaf.

The whole book is truly delightful – full of humour, warmth and artistry.  And what’s more, there is an exhibition of their collaboration running at Compton Verney until 17th December. Further details are here.

Robert Macfarlane has established himself as one of the finest landscape writers of recent times. His wonderful book, Landmarks, (Hamish Hamilton, 2015) defends the lost language of the British countryside and is a precursor to this work. His other books include Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places and The Old Ways. I can highly recommend all of these booksHe is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and writes on environmentalism, literature and travel for publications including the Guardian, the Sunday Times and The New York Times.

Jackie Morris has created over forty books, including beloved classics such as Song of the Golden Hare, Tell Me A Dragon, East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Wild Swans – and my personal favourite, Can you see a Little Bear? which will be re-released next Summer. She collaborated with Ted Hughes, and her books have sold more than a million copies worldwide.  Have a look at her website here.

The Lost Words was published by Hamish Hamilton in October 2017 and is my eighteenth review for the British Books Challenge 2017.

 

Imagining the Divine : Ashmolean, Oxford

… fascinating mash-ups between religions …

Imagining the Divine, Art and the Rise of World Religions at the Ashmolean in Oxford is an interesting yet somewhat frustrating exhibition. The idea behind the show is to trace the development and cross- fertilisation of visual representation in the major religions. However the curator has opted to place the five religions in different areas rather than allowing any thematic comparison by mixing the objects up. In addition, the rather sparse labelling meant that cross pollination was often eluded to rather than spelt out. The exhibits themselves are a delight and well worth your time.

persian senmurv textile silk

Always on the look out for the more unusual and quirky exhibits, I was drawn to this silk fragment from the V & A showing the fabulous creature, the sēnmurw. Part bird, part beast, the benevolent sēnmurw is a Zoroastrian figure of Sasanian Persian art. Here it is shown as a dog with a peacock’s tail. This piece comes from the same weaving as two pieces associated with the relics of St Helena at St Leu in Paris, now in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Relics, sometimes brought back to Europe by Crusaders, were often wrapped in precious silks. So the symbols of one religion are passed on to protect those of another.

The show also had a replica of the gorgeous bone Franks Casket from the British Museum. This intricately decorated Anglo-Saxon box’s significance is like catnip to scholars for it mixes up a Christian story with Germanic legends and Roman mythology. This detail of the front panel shows the Germanic Weyland the Smith at his forge on the left juxtaposed with the Adoration of the Magi on the right.

casket weland adoration british musuem

Imagining the Divine, Art and the Rise of World Religions at the Ashmolean, Oxford runs until 18 February 2018. Usual opening times for the Ashmolean are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holidays. For further details about the museum and the exhibition, follow the link here to their own website.

Raphael: The Drawings : Ashmolean, Oxford

… intimate and exhilarating …

Raphael sketch

I don’t know about you but I often prefer sketches to finished paintings. They are more intimate, more approachable and, ultimately, more engaging than a finished work. The fragments, smudges and re-worked lines get me closer to the artist’s creativity than the varnished perfection of an oil or fresco. And I have, I confess, always found Raphael a little too perfect to love.  But I was bowled over by this exhibition. His virtuosity is breathtaking and his experimentation truly exhilarating.

The Ashmolean has brought together a stunning exhibition of 120 sketches. Fifty works come from their own collection, the largest and most important group of Raphael drawings in the world and loans from other international collections including the Louvre, the Uffizi and the Queen’s Private Collection.

There’s also a very good short film running through the different techniques and media used : charcoal, chalks, metal point and ink.

The show is crowded so to avoid shuffling along, try to go at the edge of a day. I would also recommend a tactic which works particularly well at the Ashmolean where visitors want to linger over the detail of every single picture. I walk straight through the exhibition to the last of the three rooms and work backwards. This final room is always the least crowded as gallery fatigue sets in for many people at the end of the second room … when they see the exit sign (and a coffee beckons).

Raphael: The Drawings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford runs until 3 September 2017. The show will now be open on Monday 14 and Monday 21 August (the museum is not usually open on Mondays) as well as being open until 8pm on Friday 25 August and Saturday 2 September. Usual opening times for the Ashmolean are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holidays. For further details about the museum and the exhibition, follow the link here to their own website.

Snowshill Manor

… fascinating collections and beautiful gardens …

Snowshill Cotswolds

Snowshill Manor is rather like a over stuffed toy box.  There are simply too many things, too many rooms, for anyone to take in on a single visit. This is not a criticism but take my advice, don’t try a studious approach and examine every last cabinet and corner, your brain will start to protest and you’ll be there for hours. Instead roam around, ignoring much and stopping only where your fancy wills. Believe me, you’ll thank me after the 21 rooms over 3 floors crammed full of THINGS.

Charles Paget Wade was rich and whimsical.  His eclectic collections are theatrical and fascinating. There’s the gloomy, atmospheric Green Room stuffed with Samurai armour and the attic of A Hundred Wheels, full of carts and bicycles; a small landing full of Dolls’ Houses and Ann’s bedroom of C17th furniture.

Cotswolds Arts and Crafts Garden

One of my favourite architects, Baillie Scott, designed the small and intricate Arts and Crafts style garden which emphasizes garden rooms over sweeping lawns.  As Wade put it : “a delightful garden can be made … by using effects of light and shade, vistas, steps to changing levels, terraces, walls, fountains, running water, an old well head or statue in the right place, the gleam of heraldry or a domed garden temple.” This pretty much describes the formal part and there are also orchards and vegetable plots to prowl around. Wade’s collections spill out over the gardens with a model village, Wolf Cove, set around a pond; agricultural machinery in a byre; and statues, clocks and inscriptions artfully positioned to maximum effect. My favourite garden historian, Tim Mowl, warns it is  “outrageously, loveably twee, a fantasy game of mock medievalry … carefully contrived nookery … ” and, in my view, is therefore the perfect place to spend a Summer’s afternoon.

Snowshill is a National Trust property. For more details about opening times and special events, here’s their website.

Quotations from : Historic Gardens of Gloucestershire by Timothy Mowl. Tempus Publishing, 2002.

Cockneys in Arcadia : Court Barn Museum

… beautiful Arts and Crafts hedgehogs …

hedgehog button

 

My local Arts and Crafts museum, Court Barn, is in its tenth year. To celebrate this anniversary, it is showcasing CR Ashbee‘s work from his time in Campden. This Romantic idealist uprooted his East End craftsmen and brought them to the Cotswolds in search of a simpler, healthier and more fulfilling life. The experiment only lasted six years but some of his men stayed and the craft legacy lives on in the town. This exhibition curated by CR Ashbee experts, Alan Crawford and Mary Greensted, is a beautiful collection of work and includes pieces not seen by the public before. I particularly liked these set of six enamelled hedgehog buttons from a private collection, c1904.

So, if you are in the North Cotswolds, do check out this wonderful little Arts and Crafts museum in Chipping Campden. The exhibition runs until July 9 and the Court Barn’s website for further information is here.

Creating the Countryside: Compton Verney

… fascinating, amusing and thought provoking …

compton verney
Turquoise Bag in a Tree, Hilary Jack, 2016

 

My favourite gallery space, Compton Verney, has a fascinating exhibition running at the moment which would repay a couple of visits as there is so much to think about. Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present explores the way in which we create and imagine the countryside, largely as a pastoral idyll very much removed from muddy reality. The Neo-Classical house of Compton Verney itself is set in a “perfect” landscape created by Capability Brown.

Verity Elson‘s thoughtful curation takes us from Gilpin‘s picturesque with a Claude glass through Frank Newbould‘s wartime lithographs of a mythic England to Sony‘s eerie video game of a Shropshire village c. 1984, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. Wandering around the rooms, it struck me that the most interesting, incisive modern works were by women, including Hilary Jack‘s Turquoise Bag in a Tree, 2016 (photo at the top of the blog).

I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Chesney‘s commentary on the rural idyll with her two works: Snapshot and Death by Denim. The former is a Farrow & Ball paint chart inspired by her time spent in the Brecon Beacons National Park. She has created some great names for shades such as Ewe 38, Twine Blue and Hedge.  The latter is a fictional collection of ephemera based around the tragic death of a lad wearing Italian denim walking gear.

denim
Death by Denim, 2015, Rebecca Chesney

(If like me you are occasionally surrounded by Gore-tex bores, you will get the reference … ) Further details of the artist’s work can be found on her website here.

The exhibition runs until 18 June 2017 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a cafe, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

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