Museum on Tour, 4 October 2017: A hectic month coming up

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

We have a busy month coming up as a number of the projects we’ve been working on this year really get into their stride.

The ‘Poppies: WAVE’ installation on the Hoe has had amazing feedback since it went on display in the summer. Our ‘Plymouth Remembers’ programme inspired by it includes a range of events this month from family activities to guided walks to photography tutorials – all of which are free. We’re hoping to announce one more special event as part of this programme soon which we’re very excited about – watch this space!

Photograph of the Hoe Naval War Memorial, Plymouth

The ‘We The People Are The Work’ exhibition opened at the end of September to coincide with the Plymouth Art Weekender and remains on display throughout October.

Photograph of the 'We The People Are The Work' launch on 22 September 2017 at Peninsula Arts, Plymouth

Our commission at the Council House by artist Peter Liversidge takes the form of a sign painting ‘factory’ where people get placards made. You can find out a little more about it in our video clip.

It’s been great to see the photographs everyone’s been posting online of themselves with their signs and the different slogans they’ve chosen. We’ll be sharing collages of them on our social media channels throughout the exhibition.

Placards from the Peter Liversidge 'Sign Paintings for Plymouth' commission for 'We The People Are The Work' 2017, Plymouth

Elsewhere, our family events will be keeping some of our staff really busy. Half term and the annual Big Draw celebration means we have a series of workshops planned, including making banners, creating moving images and devising flick book animations. Many of our sessions are artist-led which means attendees get the chance to tap into a range of specialist skills while they’re having some holiday fun.

Our new brochure is out and contains all our Museum On Tour information until the end of the year. Thousands of copies are currently being distributed around the city so pick one up from your local library, the Tourist Information Centre, the Council House and a range of other venues.

Photographs of the Sep-Dec 2017 Museum On Tour brochure in Plymouth

Now our programme until the end of 2017 is confirmed we’re turning our attention to 2018 when there are a number of important anniversaries connected to Plymouth taking place. We’re one of the partners for the Atlantic Project, a contemporary art festival currently being developed for next autumn. We’ve also just made an announcement about the 2018 Plymouth History Festival. The dates for the festival have been confirmed as 5 May to 3 June and people are being asked to send their event information through by 15 December.

We’ll have more Museum On Tour updates in November. In the meantime, we’ll look forward to hopefully seeing you at one or more of our offsite events over the next few weeks.

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Behind the Scenes, 27 September 2017: Engaging communities with creativity

by Fiona Evans, Vital Sparks Producer

It was in September four years ago when Vital Sparks was launched to help communities run their own creative projects.

The scheme is a partnership between Plymouth Culture and Plymouth City Council and is funded by Arts Council England. The idea was to use art to grow confidence and vigour in neighbourhoods that were tired of being told what they wanted. Bringing folk together to get murals painted, community gardens planted and yarn bombs knitted. Creating opportunities for people to get together and be creative.

Photograph of a Vital Sparks funded creative session

The project has always had a bursary scheme at its centre and the average grant is about £2,600. The funding is complemented by the offering of support to new fledgling projects as and when they need it, so some of my time is spent visiting projects, or calling them to see how they’re getting on. Sometimes projects don’t need any help. At other times I have been kept busy writing funding bids, press releases, risk assessments……the list goes on. I’ve also found signposting new community groups to other more established Vital Sparks funded projects to be significant as they can share their learning. This has enabled us to create a network which I think is a great idea.

Photograph of the Barne Barton Rangers Vital Sparks supported project

You’d think that giving money away would be easy but it’s surprising how much work is attached to handing out grants. I’m lucky because being based in the same building as the Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives staff means I have the benefit of working with a Business Support Team who make sure all our grants get paid. Things can get a bit complicated when groups don’t have a bank account! There are instances in the past when I’ve driven my Vital Sparks bursary recipients to the local Credit Union to set one up or had to find other ways to ensure they receive their funding.  

Every day is different with Vital Sparks. At the moment, for example, I’m lending support to a variety of projects including a growing piece of work called Lesbian Voices. Through ‘Pride In Plymouth’ Jo Lewis has recently secured a grant of £46,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I first came across Jo when she was a writer on a previous project of ours called ‘In Other Words’. She is seeking out and recording lesbian voices and histories of Plymouth and will be starting to recruit volunteers in November. Vital Sparks has provided some match funding for this exciting project and I can’t wait to see what is created.

Photograph from an Art, Craft and Laughter Vital Sparks funded workshop

The Plymouth Art Weekender has just taken place and some of our projects ran events during it. On one of the days I popped in on Art, Craft and Laughter to see how they were getting on. Set up by Debbie and Charlie Seldon they use art and craft to help tackle mental health issues…..hence the laughter. They provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to experiment and learn. They were taking part in the Art Weekender for the first time. Their feedback will be very useful when we think about encouraging more people to take part next year. 

Photograph from a Fijian craft workshop supported by Vital Sparks

I also went to the School of Creative Arts where a free Fijian workshop funded by Vital Sparks was taking place as part of a bigger cultural festival called ‘Bula’ which culminates with Fiji Day in October. It was the first time this community have run a workshop for the wider public and it was great to see so many people there.

Whilst our current projects keep me more than busy, I am also focusing on a new and exciting phase of work for 2018. The biggest news in the world of Vital Sparks is the new Mayflower Community Fund that we will be managing next year. We are finalising the details at the moment and the scheme is set to launch in January. If you’re interested in doing something in your community to mark Mayflower 400 watch this space! 

Plymouth History Heroes: Robert Borlase Smart

Robert Borlase Smart was born in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1881.

During his early life he attended Plymouth School of Art and Plymouth College of Art. From 1900-01 he attended the Royal College of Art, training as a teacher.

From 1903-1913 he lived in Plymouth and worked as an art critic for the Western Morning News.

In 1913 he moved to St Ives to study seascape painting under the Anglo-Swedish painter Julius Olsson, only for the First World War to temporarily interrupt his plans.

Robert Borlase Smart standing by his work 'Munitions'
Robert Borlase Smart (1881-1947)

At the outbreak of the War, Smart joined the Artist’s Rifles as a volunteer. In 1915 he was employed to make technical drawings for the Machine Gun Training Centre. Then, in July 1916, he saw active service and was stationed on the Somme.

It was a brief posting as he was recalled to Britain in the September to join the Machine Gun Corps. Despite this, the experience had a profound effect on him and he produced almost 40 war drawings – many of which featured scenes from his time in France. Some were purchased by the Imperial War Museum while others are in the collections here in Plymouth.

Smart’s short time at the front meant he had to work mostly from memory, sometimes aided by photographs. This did not diminish the quality of his work however. Like the examples shown in this post, his drawings are subtle yet powerful and clearly show the impact of the conflict.

Morning Hymn of Hate by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘The Morning Hymn of Hate’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
Grandmother prepares to distribute her cough lozenges by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘Grandmother Prepares to Distribute her Cough Lozenges’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In August 1917, Smart applied to become an Officer in the Indian Army. On his application he referred to himself as an artist, a specialist in instruction diagrams for Cavalry, Infantry and Machine Gun Training and a camouflage expert.

Given both his teaching and art qualifications, Smart found his niche as an instructor, particularly relating to camouflage, and he was very well-regarded. In fact, his application to the Indian Army was rejected because he could not be spared!

Lifelong friend, fellow WWI veteran and artist Leonard Fuller described him as someone who should be noted for his ‘boundless enthusiasm, his forthrightness and his helpfulness. These three things governed his life.’

Shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
A shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In autumn 1917, Smart married nineteen year old Irene Godson in Surrey. She was the sister of a friend who had been killed in action. They settled in St Ives. With the exception of 1926 when they lived in Salcombe, he remained there until his death from a heart attack in 1947. During his post-war years he immersed himself in the life of St Ives and contributed greatly to its artistic community.

Today he is usually described as a coastal artist but he also produced a series of highly accomplished industrial and architectural drawings. In addition, his works from the First World War endure as a first-hand record of an artist and soldier’s experience.

You can find out more about Borlase Smart’s life and work on his official website.

As part of our ‘Plymouth Remembers’ programme you can hear a talk by one of our curators about Borlase Smart on 8 November. Find out all the details here.

Museum On Tour, 7 September 2017: We The People Are The Work

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

In 2016 Plymouth was awarded £635,000 from Arts Council England’s ‘Ambition for Excellence’ funding scheme. The money has enabled a number of organisations in the city to come together to establish ‘Horizon’ – a two-year visual arts programme which, amongst other things, will support a series of talent development opportunities for artists and enable four major arts festivals and events to take place.

Two of these major events will be this and next year’s Plymouth Art Weekender (22-24 September). An international public art festival called the ‘Atlantic Project’ is scheduled for 2018 (more about this in the future). First though, we have ‘We The People Are The Work’.

Photograph of The Council House, Armada Way, Plymouth
The Council House, Armada Way, Plymouth

We’ve been collaborating on this project with four other arts venues: Peninsula Arts at the University of Plymouth, The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Arts Centre and KARST. It will take the form of a multi-site exhibition which opens on 22 September. As the Museum and Art Gallery is closed our venue is the Council House. The exhibition has been curated by Simon Morrissey, the director of a Frome-based organisation called ‘Foreground’ which aims to bring new art to new audiences. Simon has been assisted by Plymouth-based producer Vickie Fear.

Six international artists will be showcased in ‘We The People Are The Work’. You can find out more about them all here.

Photograph of UK artist Peter Liversidge. Image by Martyn Hayne
Artist Peter Liversidge photographed by Martyn Hayne

The artist whose work will be displayed at the Council House is Lincoln-born, London-based Peter Liversidge.

Liversidge is an artist who ‘experiments with the idea of what is possible’, and who has always been interested in work that finds itself slightly outside of what is, at first, thought of as ‘fine art’.

All his artworks begin at his kitchen table with him sitting alone writing proposals on a manual typewriter. Some of these come to fruition, others don’t. What they all have in common is their ‘gently persistent questioning of the world around us’.

Over the last ten years Liversidge has worked with organisations in the UK, Germany, Holland, Iceland and the USA. In 2016 he developed a collection of songs and vocalisations inspired by the public’s relationship with Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall. ‘The Bridge (A Choral Piece for Tate Modern)’ was performed in the Hall by a choir of 500 amateur singers.

Photograph of Peter Liversidge's choral performance at Tate Modern called 'The Bridge'
The Bridge (Choral Piece for Tate Modern), June 2016, courtesy of the artist

For this particular commission the audience was just as much a part of the work as the work itself. This has interesting parallels with the ideas and aspirations behind our project, which has seen all six artists involve locally-based communities in the development or production of their artworks.

Liversidge’s ‘Sign Paintings for Plymouth’ brings together the ideas and voices of a range of individuals – many of which often go unheard. These provide the inspiration for a series of placards that you will be able to see being made in the Council House. The signs will be spread around the city, used in a ritual burning in the bonfire on The Hoe on 5 November and in a special Closing Day Party on 18 November. Liversidge will also have a temporary public artwork on the flagpoles on The Hoe in October and November.

Curator Simon Morrissey and artist Peter Liversidge in a workshop session with members of Plymouth's Youth Parliament
Curator Simon Morrissey and artist Peter Liversidge in a workshop session with members of Plymouth’s Youth Parliament

Liversidge has worked with a number of participants including children from Salisbury Road Primary School, the Pioneers Project at Tamar View Community Resource Centre and members of Plymouth’s Youth Parliament.

If you’d like to find out more about him this 2009 article from The Guardian and 2013 ‘In The Studio’ feature from The Independent are interesting reads. You can also hear him give a Lunchtime Talk on Tuesday 7 November at the Plymouth Athenaeum.

Take a look at the website for full details about the exhibition and the wide-ranging programme of events that’s taking place while it’s on display.

‘We The People Are The Work’ runs from 22 September to 18 November.

Plymouth History Heroes: Beryl Cook OBE

With the ‘Our Beryl’ exhibition currently on display at the Council House and receiving brilliant feedback from everyone who visits it, we just had to feature Beryl Cook OBE (1926-2008) as this month’s History Hero!

Photograph of Beryl Cook OBE

Born Beryl Frances Lansley in Egham, Surrey in 1926, she would go on to produce an array of artworks full of larger than life characters that ‘ranged from stout lady bowlers goosing each other to middle-aged men in bikinis being serviced by Miss Whiplash.’ Many of her paintings feature scenes and locations from Plymouth. 

Her work is instantly recognisable and highlights the fascination she had with people. Throughout her career she made no apology for the playfulness of her work: “What excites me is the joy, the animation, the pleasure in life,” she once told the Guardian.

“Beryl took great interest in people and loved to see them performing and enjoying themselves,” says her son John Cook. “From nightlife of all varieties, to the more innocent pursuits of line dancing and sunbathing, a diverse spectrum of human activity can be found in her paintings.”

Despite her strong sense of fun and popularity, Beryl was quite reserved and actually found fame hard to deal with: “She loved to imagine herself as an extrovert though,” says John. “She often painted herself in various guises such as on a motorbike, in a shiny corset, as a cheerleader or even dancing the tango.”

'John and Beryl Do the Tango' by Beryl Cook. Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com

Our exhibition has been co-curated with Beryl’s family and they have a fantastic website where you can find out even more about her.

Visit the Arty Facts page to see a timeline which highlights key moments in her life – including her marriage to John Cook in 1948, her first exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre in 1975 and receiving her OBE in 1995. Her ‘Girls on the Town’ painting was featured on a 1st class postage stamp the same year!

Photograph of the Great British postage stamp featuring 'Girls on the Town' by Beryl Cook, 1995

On the website you can also see a selection of family photos and take a look at some of the obituaries that were published when she sadly passed away in 2008.

You can also read a great personal account written by her son John. His biography covers her early life, marriage, time in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), return to the UK, move to Plymouth in 1968 and artistic career.

Happy reading and don’t forget, the ‘Our Beryl: Beryl Cook at Home’ exhibition runs until the end of Saturday 9 September and is free to visit. Find out more about it here.

 

 

 

 

History Centre Heroes: Benjamin Robert Haydon

Plymouth-born Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was an historical painter, teacher and writer who had a stormy life and career.

Intensely ambitious, he was the only son of another Benjamin Robert Haydon, a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the Reverend Benjamin Cobley, rector of Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge.

Haydon showed a love for study at an early age which was encouraged by his mother. He went to Plympton Grammar School where one of our other famous artists, Sir Joshua Reynolds had also received his education.

In May 1804 Haydon left home full of energy and hope and went to London where he studied at the Royal Academy Schools.

His ambition was to become the greatest historical painter England had ever known and he produced a series of huge canvases featuring biblical and classical subjects. Unfortunately these were out of favour with the public at the time. Haydon was unwilling to compromise his ideals and suffered a series of bankruptcies and imprisonments. Throughout his career he also had many disagreements with his peers and patrons.

The Maid of Saragossa – one of Haydon’s history paintings. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

One of his works entitled ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem’ took him six years to complete during which he refused other work and was effectively without an income. His preference for working on a vast scale was also hampered by an eye defect that apparently enabled him to see only one part of a canvas at a time.

Aside from the difficulties he had with his painting, he was actually a very talented writer who produced a number of diaries, pamphlets, journals and an autobiography.

Overcome by his debts and disappointments Haydon committed suicide on 22 June 1846, shooting himself and then cutting his throat when the bullet failed.

He would have been in his mid-30s when this portrait from our collections by Scottish artist William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844) was painted around 1820.

Portrait of Haydon by William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844), circa 1820. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

His tragic end made him a victim of his own ambition just as much as of the changing tastes of the time.

But, his love for his art was a passion he was never afraid to hide and one critic commented that: ‘His great monument…..is the massive collection of…..writings he left behind…..which give fascinating insights into the contemporary artistic scene…..’

History Centre Heroes: Gilbert and George

The Plymouth Art Weekender takes place at the end of this week (23 to 25 September 2016) and the History Centre will feature an exciting programme of contemporary visual art, so we’re using this week’s blog post to highlight a contemporary artist who hails from Plymouth.

George Passmore was born in Plymouth on 8 January 1942. Today he is best known as one half of Gilbert and George. Together with Gilbert Proesch (b. 17 September 1943 in Italy) he is famous for his distinctive and highly formal appearance and manner and brightly coloured graphic-style photo-based artworks.

Artists Make Faces 2013
We were lucky enough to be able to feature a work by Gilbert and George (the yellow and black work on the left of this image) in our 2013 ‘Artists Make Faces’ exhibition. ‘Exhausted’ (1980) came to us on loan from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Both men studied art in their formative years – George at Dartington College of Art and the Oxford School of Art. They first met on 25 September 1967 while studying sculpture at Saint Martin’s School of Art. They claim they came together because George was the only person who could understand Gilbert’s rather poorly-spoken English at the time. In a 2002 interview with the Daily Telegraph, they said: “it was love at first sight”.

Since 1969 they have lived in the Spitalfields area of East London – a location that has inspired much of their work. According to George: “Nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End.”

Their early work centered around performance and the work that initially established their reputation was created while they were still students. ‘The Singing Sculpture’ was first performed at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery in 1969-1970. Gilbert and George covered their heads and hands in multi-coloured metalised powders and stood on a table while they sang and moved to a recording of Flanagan and Allen’s song “Underneath the Arches”. Sometimes they did this for a day at a time. The suits they wore for the performance became a sort of uniform for them.

Gilbert and George then went on to experiment with video, photography and drawing. In the early 1970s they started producing black-and-white photographic assemblages. In the late 1970s they began to develop gridlike photo combinations. During the early 1980s, they began to add a range of bright colors to their photographs, creating a more stylised and cartoonlike appearance.

The largest series of works created by them is known as the ‘Jack Freak Pictures’ in which the Union Jack and Gilbert and George are the two dominant images – appearing contorted, abstracted, and sometimes complete. The entire series is set in the East End of London as indicated by flags, maps, street signs, graffiti, brickwork and foliage that can be found in the area. The works have been described as ‘among their most iconic and violent’.

Gilbert and George (George is on the left) at a 2009 press conference in Berlin to discuss a solo exhibition of their "Jack Freak Pictures".
Gilbert and George (George is on the left) at a 2009 press conference in Berlin to discuss a solo exhibition of their “Jack Freak Pictures”.

At times they have received criticism, particularly for what people perceive as them glamourising some of the ‘rougher types’ of London’s East End. Some of their work has also attracted media attention because of the inclusion of nudity, depictions of sexual acts and bodily fluids. Some of the titles of their works have also courted controversy: “Naked Shit Pictures” (1994) and “Sonofagod Pictures” (2005).

However, they have also received much acclaim with extensive solo exhibitions in the UK, USA, France, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Russia and China; numerous Honorary Doctorates from academic institutions including Plymouth University; and awards such as the Special International Award, the South Bank Award and the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award. In 1986 they won the Turner Prize which is widely considered to be the UK’s most prestigious contemporary art award. In 2005 they represented the UK at prestigious international art exhibition, the Venice Biennale.

Gilbert and George
The Plymouth University graduation ceremony in 2013 where Honorary Doctorates were presented to Gilbert and George. Image from Culture24 © Alan Stewart.

By placing themselves into their work Gilbert and George are not only the creators of their art but the art themselves. By using images mainly gathered from around their home their work has captured many different facets of the human experience: humour, emotion, rural and urban, sex, religion and patriotism. The works they’ve produced are an important part of Britain’s post-second world war conceptual art.