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Behind the scenes at the RA Schools

A visit to the degree show at the Royal Academy Schools got me thinking about the history of art education for women, and the Royal Academy and the position of women within it.

A working environment

A working environment

The Schools are tucked in behind the grandeur of the main RA building – the studio skylights look like a series of sheds that have been tacked on.

Schools corridor (via)

Inside, the corridor is dark, cluttered and a few centuries old. Most of the statues have bits missing (not always just the naughty bits). This place has seen heavy use since the RA moved to Burlington House in 1868.

The life drawing studio in 2010

The life drawing studio in 2010

The bare bones of the life drawing studio, and the collection of casts, look pretty much as it always has, and tucked in along the hallways are other necessities.

A library is housed in locked bookcases

A library is housed in locked bookcases

Other cases house skeletons

Other cases house skeletons

The Schools were founded in 1768 as part of an institution with a mission: “to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition.” The Royal Academy went on to dominate the art scene of the 18th and 19th centuries, but along the way it somehow lost its women members… first by attrition, and then, says the RA website, “In 1879, the Council of the day came to the conclusion that our original Instrument of Foundation did not allow for women RAs. Eventually, they relented and passed a resolution to make women eligible, but only on the condition of restricted privileges.”

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

For a long time the RA Schools  was the only established art school in Britain. (Why “Schools”? – because when the RA was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order – eg, drawing from casts before moving on to life drawing. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’.)

1808, drawing by gaslight

1808, drawing by gaslight (via)

Other art education was through private schools and tutelage, which is how any women in Britain who aspired to be an artist got training, unless she went abroad to study. In 1860 the RA started admitting women students – almost by mistake. Selection was by submitted drawings, and when L. Herford turned up, what was assumed to be a Lawrence turned out to be a Laura.

By 1862 there were seven women among an intake of about 25 students a year, and before long they outnumbered the male students – who had migrated to Paris, where the drawing instruction was superior (says Stuart Macdonald in The History and Philosophy of Art Education, 1969) . All students at the RA Schools “spent five or more years in tedious imitation” – and women were banned from life drawing until 1893.

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

By the beginning of the 20th century the RA Schools had further competition in the form of the Slade and the Royal College of Art, and the quality of its students declined. Attempts to widen the curriculum to include decorative art got nowhere – it was confined to life-sized painting from the head, and painting and drawing from the nude figure.

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

The course lasted up to 10 years before 1853; it runs for three years now, and there are about 60 students in the Schools at a time, doing this postgraduate course. In 1769, 70 students were admitted; then as now, they do not pay fees.

 

Angelika Kauffmann's paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Angelika Kauffmann’s paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Two women, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser, were among the 36 founding members of the RA, but for a long time (until Annie Swynnerton became an associate in 1922, and Laura Knight a full member in 1936) there were no women academicians. Up to 80 practising artists are elected to be academicians ; these currently include 26 women.

 

Academicians are involved in teaching in the Schools and give lectures as part of the RA’s education programme. In 2011 Tracy Emin and Fiona Rae were the first women to be appointed professors, of drawing and painting respectively.

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin (via)

fiona rae (via)

fiona rae (via)

And now, some work from the current graduates. They’ve had three years with free tuition … but first had to be chosen from some 1000 applicants!

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

 

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater (feel the warmth…) and of 6 Sheet

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

 

Work by Alex Clarke

Work by Alex Clarke

Up the stairs and you’re in the public part of the RA’s grand building … a different place.

ra-stairs

 

When artists become collectors (by Margaret Cooter)

“Like the making of art itself, collecting reminds me of prospecting. Some perceived sparkle makes you start to dig and then a seam can be followed.”

Julian Opie is a British artist I’ve never looked at twice. His flat, graphic style always got the “so what?’ reaction. But reading about his art collection has changed that.

Opie has put together an exhibition* of his collection and his own work – and what strange bedfellows they are – portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries don’t, on the surface, connect with his “sculptures”.

Julian with T-Shirt (2005).  LCD screen with integrated software.  "LCD screens are now so flat and high-resolution that they are quite similar to pantings or prints. Like the portrait in the haunted house that moves its eyes, there is a humour to movement when it's unexpected."

Julian with T-Shirt (2005).
LCD screen with integrated software.
“LCD screens are now so flat and high-resolution that they are quite similar to pantings or prints. Like the portrait in the haunted house that moves its eyes, there is a humour to movement when it’s unexpected.”

In an article** about his show (and collecting habit) he says: “A chance encounter with (and purchase of) a ‘School of Godfrey kneeler’ portrait opened up the whole of 17th- and 18th-century portraiture or me. The painting caught my eye due to its powerful purposefulness and sense of being an object…When I started to investigate where it had come from, however, I began discovering a world of art parallel to, but quite separate from, the contemporary art world. … The list of artists kept growing as I found one who taught another or competed with another. … I began to understand the period in a way I had never done before … numerous brilliant, exciting artists I had never heard of, describing a whole world, evoking a whole scene. “

Cornelis Johnson (1593-1661), Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman (1631). "Johnson is particularly known for placing the head close to the centre of the canvas, lower than most artists would. This has a very odd and endearing effect."

Cornelis Johnson (1593-1661), Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman (1631).
“Johnson is particularly known for placing the head close to the centre of the canvas, lower than most artists would. This has a very odd and endearing effect.”

“It is tempting to see the present as special, but it is also exciting to realise that he past was once today. To me, the art of different periods brings those worlds parallel,” says Opie.

Subsequently he became interested in “ancient art”, buying a small marble Aphrodite and going on to learn more about the whole ancient period, from Roman statuary and portraiture to Tanagra Greek figurines and to all things Egyptian.

A pattern is evolving – stumble on the art, like it, (buy it,) get curious, investigate…  “After the heated frenzy of having found and caught the work there follows a sense of calm. I look forward to having it on view.”

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), Portrait of a Lady "The dashing clothes and posture do more than the rather blank features to evoke the sitter's character and presence. To me, Nattier's pictures are perfect and an epitome of a certain, doomed moment."

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), Portrait of a Lady
“The dashing clothes and posture do more than the rather blank features to evoke the sitter’s character and presence. To me, Nattier’s pictures are perfect and an epitome of a certain, doomed moment.”

How does his collection inform his own art?

“Looking at other artists’ work gives me clues in terms of materials, composition, subject matter, colour – everything really. But it also reflects what my interests are, making me feel connected, giving me confidence. [Compared with ancient artists] artists now don’t really know what they are doing and have to invent or find this sense of obviousness and purpose for themselves.”

It works the other way round, too, Opie says. “Making art is in part a conversation with people about whom you can make certain assumptions of sameness. I assume my viewers are living in the same world as I am, that their picture of themselves and their surroundings is built of much the same material as mine. What art looks like, what images we have already seen, has great bearing on how we see new art. What we see is structured and defined by what we know, and a lot of that h=is to do with art from the past … I have always aimed to make my work with all that in mind, as part of its meaning and promise. If I make something that looks a bit like and 18th-century painting or reminds one of an information screen in an airport, it is because I mean it to.”

At Home with Maria 4 (2011) "The focus in a painting is naturally the face and the eyes. By eliminating these, the viewer is free to take in the pose and costume, to read the space that is suggested, t see the whole as a sign, an invention and yet to feel, I hope, the reality of the image."

At Home with Maria 4 (2011). “The focus in a painting is naturally the face and the eyes. By eliminating these, the viewer is free to take in the pose and costume, to read the space that is suggested, t see the whole as a sign, an invention and yet to feel, I hope, the reality of the image.”

“…because I mean it to”…  Through being informed about the history and context of art at different times, as Opie has done via his own art collection, the “meaning to” becomes something wider, deeper than the technical aspects of producing the work.

Telling the readers of this blog about the joys of learning about areas of art outside their own field of practice is unnecessary – you’ve read this far, after all! – but I can’t help thinking that this sort of interest or knowledge seems to be rather lacking in other parts of the textile-art field. Prove me wrong?

And, tell me … what’s on your walls? How does it  influence the art you make?

Aniela Bathing 4 (2013) Black enamel on white marble, 95x95cm. “A song is about neither words nor music but a perfect relationship between the two, the meaning lying somewhere in between and beyond. Subject matter and materials in a painting have a similar relationship.”

 

 

*’Julian Opie Collected Works’, The Holburne Museum, Bath, 22 May to 14 September; Bowes Museum, Durham, 4 October to January 2015.

**Published in Art Quarterly, Spring 2014; a draft is at julianopie.com. Images and captions in this post are drawn from those in the published article.

 

Artist Textiles, Picasso to Warhol (by Margaret Cooter)

In London until 17 May is an exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum of about 200 textiles designed by artists, including some of the big names – not just Pablo and Andy, but Saul Steinberg, Sonia Delaunay, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Ben Nicholson.

The show has  examples of Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstraction, Surrealism and Pop Art. Nor are the companies that produced the fabrics absent – Ascher scarves (including a 1947 design by Matisse); the New York based company Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics (with scarf designs by Salvador Dali and Manuel Vertes); and Fuller Fabric – their’Modern Master Prints’ series pulled the coup of getting Picasso’s designs.

The museum allowed photography, and you’ll be able to find many pix from the show on the web (some links are at the end of this post).

Furnishing fabric design by Bernard Adeney (head of textiles at Central School, 1930-1947)

Calculations by Picasso – his fabrics could be worn as clothing, but weren’t made in upholstery weight

“Flight” by Irish-born designer Louis Le Brocquy (1916-2012) (see another colourway here)
A border print by Saul Steinberg
Another Picasso print
John Piper had a finger in many artistic pies and in the 50s and 60s produced textile designs, often of buildings and landscapes.
“Desert Rocks” (1947) is by Salvador Dali (two scarves by Dali are shown here)
Marcel Vertes' Radishes, 1945. Vertes was a prolific designer for the Wesley Simpson compnay

Marcel Vertes’ Radishes, c.1945. Vertes was a prolific designer for the Wesley Simpson company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Warhol's Buttons

Andy Warhol’s Buttons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin fabric, c1927

Charlie Chaplin fabric, c1927

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horrockses dresses, much sought after in the 1950s (and a hot vintage item now), still seem “so English” to me, even after living in the UK for several decades. The photo (from here)

horrockses

shows textiles designed by Graham Sutherland, c.1949 (left) and by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1953.

 

To see more artist textiles in the show, you could start with these links –

http://www.harpersbazaar.co.uk/guide/bazaar-art/artist-textiles-picasso-to-warhol-fashion-and-textile-museum

http://melsmithdesigns.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/fashion-textile-museum-artists-textiles.html

http://www.ivyarch.co.uk/2014/03/foliate-heads-and-art-in-ruins-john.html

http://www.theclothesmaiden.com/2014/01/artist-textiles-picasso-to-warhol-2014.html

“Everybody wants to get it done quickly” (by Margaret Cooter)

Nowadays it seems that the books that are being published about quilting in particular, and perhaps other textile arts in general, are along the lines of “Make a Quilt in a Day”. It’s all about speed, about making more and more items – productivity seems to be the sought-after achievement. What’s driving this need for speed?

Quilts from the 1970s – from http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/

Quilts from the 1970s – from http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/

Back in the days of the 1970s quilt revival, not only did we have just a few books setting out how to make our quilts – and if we didn’t want to use the designs they supplied, we worked out designs on graph paper. Now, everyone can do it faster and better by searching out tutorials on the web; furthermore, traditional quilters have electronic programs to work out individual designs, and contemporary quilters can use photos and so much else.

It’s really exciting, this augmented world of possibility – but is it just too exciting? Are quilters (of whatever categories and persuasions) being misled by being pushed into always doing the next new thing, and into the need for instant gratification? Or is it that through this exposure we have accumulated so much in our brain that we want to do, and doing it quicker will mean we succeed in our goal of producing as much as we can?

Sewing-machines-from-the-2000s

Quilting in the 2000s – new materials, new technologies, and no end in sight (via http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/)

We chose our own path and focus, of course, and there will always be a bandwagon effect that makes it hard not to jump on to the newest fad. For many people, though, quilting is a way to escape the frenetic pace of social media, constant information, lack of a work-life balance, and similar modern ills.

In trying to make it easier (and quicker) for ourselves, it’s hard to get away from using other people’s patterns, drawings, photos, instructions – they get us to the point where we can get on with “just making”. No further decisions need be made, the project will not falter or stall because of indecisiveness … only because of diminishing interest or lack of time.

Even for the artist/designer who turns quiltmaker, the many decisions needed to get as far as the “making” stage can sometimes be daunting. Have you had an idea and worked it up on paper or in samples, but not started the actual making because it seems that finishing this huge quilt will take too much time, time that you’d subconsciously allocated to several other projects as yet unvisualised? And could this be because, deep down somewhere, you’re not all that sure that this particular project, despite all your preparation and care, will turn out the way you want it to? Is it too big a risk to make the commitment?

silence-sculpture-derek-melander

“Silence” by Derek Melander (via http://slowtextiles.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/derick-melander-sculpture.html)

For some people, the focus is on production and results. For others, their pleasure comes from the process – they simply love the making. For all of us, we work at different speeds – sometimes we really do need a quilt to be ready tomorrow; for example, a long-planned project to welcome a baby can suddenly jump to the top of the list.

The Slow Textiles movement is embraced by some quilters but it’s definitely not in the mainstream that publishers are feeding with “quilt in a day” books.

Another hopeful sign is Modern Quilts, makers who are taking quilting back to its roots – not just by rediscovering the patterns and techniques that got the resurgence in quilting going in the 1970s, but by using the methods of those times – planning on graph paper and hand quilting among them.

Taking your time when making textile work emphasizes, quite rightly in my opinion, the sense of connection that is always inherent in cloth: connection with the body, with warmth, with continuity, with care. Connection of the maker with the fabric and with the intended use of the new item, and with its users. Connection with old cloth and its history, including the history of its making and of its maker.

Arguably, productivity is over-rated. Less can be more: more care, more satisfaction.

And yet, and yet – the proliferation of books, techniques and supplies means that specialist shops (and teachers)  can make a living out of quilting. The availability of so many patterns and kits means that beginners, or people unsure of colour choices or unwilling to burden themselves with a large stash, can derive the satisfaction of making, and express their need to make something beautiful.

When art is temporary, does it last? (by Margaret Cooter)

Would you like this to happen to your art?

Image

It was done by permission of the artist, Motoi Yamamoto. Yamamoto’s  salt sculptures, which take weeks to install, include Floating Garden (below). It represents the eye of a storm, so perhaps what happened at the end of the show – the perfect storm of preschoolers – was entirely appropriate. Generally, on the last day of his exhibitions, the salt is returned to the sea.

Image

Seeing the photo of the “destruction” of the work led to thoughts about the permanence, or ephemerality, of art works. Why do some artists deliberately make work that isn’t meant to last “forever”?

Linda Florence uses sugar to much the same effect as Yamamoto, sifting it through stencils onto a dance floor – the destruction by dancers is part of the work’s life –

Image

Richard Wright won the Turner Prize in 2009 with his site-specific painting, which used traditional fresco techniques and gold leaf, and took three weeks to make – and probably about 20 minutes to paint over at the end of the exhibition.

Image

The next year the Turner Prize winner was Susan Phillipsz, a sound artist. “Lowlands”  was first shown – or rather, heard – under old bridges along an industrial river in Glasgow. Transferred to a white room in the gallery , it was played on speakers in three corners, requiring the audience to move about to experience the work fully (as with the original installation). It was also caught in a video – hear it, and see the setting, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWeKzTDi-OA, a different experience … but also an ephemeral one.

Image

Some art is ephemeral because of the materials used, or its situation; consider the land art of Andy Goldsworthy, selected leaves on a rock in a river that will get swept away, or an Ice Arch that will melt once the sun rises.

Image

Image

Is ephemeral work all that these artists do? Yamamoto (who is Japanese) calls himself a salt installation artist, and yes, that’s all he does. Florence (who is British) is a designer; her wallpaper, for instance, be seen on the walls of Ted Baker’s New York flagship store and the changing rooms in Selfridges, London. Phillipsz was originally a sculptor and started making sound works in 1998.

Goldsworthy and Wright are artists who deliberately choose to make ephemeral work. Goldsworthy’s practice includes photographic documentation, and arguably the many books of his work belie any ephemerality, not to mention that a digital catalogue has been compiled. Wright (who is currently making a stained glass window for the Tate) is on record as saying, after his Turner Prize win, that he wants to leave nothing behind. Worthy as this sounds, I contend that leaving nothing behind is impossible, in an age of data trails and photos posted on the internet – if indeed it is these traces that are the record of an experience of art, of an individual seeing (or hearing) something that changes their subsequent perceptions.

Anyway, why should we worry if, at the end of the day, children roll about and mess up the art, or it becomes a backdrop for dancers? Is that worse somehow than a tidy sweeping up and disposal when the exhibition period is finished? Is the mere fact of there being an exhibition, with its limited duration, part of the fact of a work being art, and deserving reverence? When the show has closed, the art goes on record and/or disappears from view. Is that very different from it disappearing through an act of destruction?


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