TOVE JOHANSEN

In the museum of ceramics in Valencia I saw a few works by Tove Johansen that I thought were striking and original, but apart from the note in the museum I’ve been unable to find out anything about her. The fact that she has the same name as the creator of the Moomin books doesn’t help, but here’s what the museum says about her and some poor photos taken through glass.

Ceramic works by Tove Johansen (Gentofte, Denmark 1932-2009)

Donation: Frida Johansen.

The artist Tove Brigitte Johansen was trained in Argentina at the “Escuela Nacional de Cerámica” in Buenos Aires, founded by the Spanish-born ceramist Fernando Arranz López (1897-1967), who had previously worked in Daniel Zuloaga’s workshop in Segovia. Tove was in charge of collecting numerous works by her teacher that she donated to the Museum of Segovia in 2008. For this reason, she is considered his most outstanding disciple and heir to the Segovian school.

She set up her first workshop in Buenos Aires in 1969 and from there she worked making murals for important firms, installations for public works and creative studio ceramics. Awarded a prize for the first time in 1956, she began an outstanding career as an art and design teacher and as a ceramic artist, being invited to numerous international events.

In 1980 she moved her residence to the United States of America. Her most outstanding public work can be seen in Buenos Aires at the San Patricio Sanatorium, BA (1969), at the General Bel Gran station (1972), at the Atucha Atomic Power Plant (1973), at the Campana Cathedral (1976). In the United States she worked making murals for education institutes in Maryland (1986-1991) Blair High School (Silver Spring, 1986), Gaithersburg Junior High School (1988), Quince Orchard High School (1989), Northwood High School (Kensington 1990 ).

POST-WAR MODERN

The exhibition Post-War Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-65 at the Barbican highlights the diversity of the period, including Lucien Freud’s, John Bratby’s and Jean Cooke’s figurative paintings, Lynn Chadwick’s and Eduardo Paolozzi’ s angular bronzes (above), John Latham’s, Victor Pasmore’s and Gillian Ayres’ total abstraction and the beginnings of psychedelic art.

Looking at the period from a distance the curators are bound to evaluate it differently from the way it was evaluated at the time. The art world always knew that John Bratby, despite his huge commercial success, was a pretty obnoxious character and controlled his wife, Jean Cooke, who was already suspected of being a better artist than he was. Post-War Modern thrusts their domestic relationship to the fore and Cooke’s 1966 self-portrait, Blast Boadicea, removes any doubts about her excellence. Abstraction reached its high-water mark in 1960. Herbert Read’s Concise History of Modern Painting (1959) narrated the progress of art from Impressionist beginnings to supposedly inevitable resolution in Pollock, Rothko and De Kooning. Now we see that art was always more diverse. In relation to the representational works on show, the notes are bound to discuss content and meaning but, following the decline of interest in the formal properties of art, they say surprisingly little about the appearance of non-representational paintings by Victor Pasmore, Mary Martin, Adrian Heath, Anthony Hill and Robert Adams.

The photos of Bert Hardy, Nigel Henderson and Roger Mayne show a ravaged urban environment with children playing in bombsites and rotting Victorian streets. We’re presented with artists dizzied by war and engaged in a search for meaning in a world without secure values. That was all true. But the post-war decades were also years of optimism and reconstruction. Hardy was good at showing people enjoying life at fairgrounds, dance-halls and the seaside. And against the photos of crumbling cities might be also be placed the Festival of Britain, the New Towns and the schools of the 1944 Education Act. There was full employment and wages were rising. People believed in Science. The best food, they thought, was made in factories and didn’t go stale. Britons were excited by the Space Age, Sputnik and planes like the Avro Vulcan. Those on the Left thought the Soviet Union was harnessing Science for Mankind and promised a prosperous and peaceful future – at least until 1956 when it invaded Hungary.

Today, however, we are pessimists. Science represents danger. The environment is going to kill us. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Left envisages not Utopia but only endless struggle. So we see in post-war art (and probably in all art) anxiety and anomie rather than celebration and hope.

What did create anxiety, of course, was the H-Bomb, which Britain adopted in 1957. Post-War Modern mentions Gustav Metzger, the inventor of auto-destructive art, who was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but the way the Bomb overshadowed the Sixties wasn’t fully brought out. Jeff Nuttall called the art of the decade Bomb Culture.

A case of pottery by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie formed an interesting pendant to the exhibition. They weren’t included in earlier reviews of the period – not, for example, in the Barbican’s Transition: The London Arts Scene in the Fifties (2002) or the Tate’s Art & The Sixties: This Was Tomorrow (2004) These refined ceramics were part of the same movement as Victor Pasmore’s abstract paintings. Rie, a Jewish refugee from Vienna, was of an earlier generation of artists associated with the Weiner Werkstätte. In England she became an inspiring but very demanding teacher at Camberwell School of Art. It’s difficult to say much about her pottery because, in contrast with the other leading potter of the period, Bernard Leach, she not only made pots absolutely of her time but also refused to say anything about them.

At Home with the Gaskins

Re-blog from Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

This week art curator Victoria Osborne has been cataloguing Gaskin family photographsready for our next Gas Hall exhibition,Children’s Lives.Here’s a sneak preview!

Designers Arthur and Georgie Gaskin were leading figures in the BirminghamArts & Crafts movement at the turn of the last century. Their elderdaughter Joscelyne, born in 1903, followed in their footsteps: critic RogerFry called the drawings she made aged 7 ‘altogether marvellous’. Therewill be a rare chance to see some of them in next year’s exhibition.

2011

Arthur__joscelyne
2011
Georgiejoscelyne
Joscelyne


Children’s Lives opens on 17 March 2012. Read about the project at theChildren’s Lives blog, or find out more about Arthur, Georgie and Joscelynein the current display in Gallery 19, The Gaskins and their Circle.

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CLAUDIA CLARE (3)

With the caveat that Central Saint Martins (above) haven’t spoken publicly about their reason for refusing to allow Claudia Clare to speak at the university, which I’ve written about earlier, their reason, as I understand it, looks rather thin on examination.

Apparently their reason for the ban is that, because of her gender-critical views, Claudia’s speaking would breach their equal opportunities guidelines. (Gender-critical, for those unfamiliar with this world, means the assertion that sex – being a man or a woman – is based on biology and isn’t altered by one’s gender identity.) I’ve said that, since Claudia wasn’t billed to talk about her gender-critical views, but about her work of art, And the Door Opened, this means she’s being banned not for what she’s saying but for what she thinks.

If that is the case, Central Saint Martins may be skating on thin ice. Claudia and her supporters have drawn my attention to the Forstater case, in which the courts decided that a person couldn’t be sacked for gender-critical views and overturned the ruling of an Employment Tribunal that they could. The court ruled that if those views were cogent and sincerely held they were a philosophical belief akin to a religion and were a “protected characteristic” under equality law. In other words, dismissing someone from their job because of their gender-critical beliefs, would be contrary to equal-opportunities law.

Allowing or not allowing someone to talk on one’s premises is another matter, and as I’m not a lawyer I can’t say whether or not Central Saint Martins is breaking the law by banning Claudia because of the views she holds. But the government has become concerned about the increasing tendency of students in higher education to bully speakers they don’t like and the tendency of university authorities to give in to them and to ban those speakers, as it seems has happened to Claudia, and a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is going through Parliament to extend the Forstater principle and to stop it from happening in the future.

SHOULD HANDWRITING DIE OUT?

Michal Hussain interviewed Colm Tóibín and Sally Gardner on BBC Radio 4 today about the disappearance of handwriting. “Is it time to think the unthinkable and let handwriting die out?” she asked, prompted by exam boards’ trialling exam answers input from computers, instead of being written with a pen on paper. Tóibín said, yes, he worked on a computer but he still liked to make letters with a pen and he thought handwriting shouldn’t go the way of Latin, which he was glad he’d learned at school. (He was born in 1955.)

Like Tóibín I do most of my writing on a keyboard and, like him, I’d be sorry if I couldn’t use a pen as well. I always liked the look of writing and the shape of letters. My father did a beautiful roundhand and tried to teach it to me. Instead I bought a special pen and forced myself to do to italic writing.

I never learned to write like my father.

I bought a special pen and forced myself to do italic writing.

There’s a connection between writing and printing. Edward Johnston, known for his London Transport railway type, taught handwriting at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art at the beginning of the 20th century. He completely changed the way people wrote, reviving the use of a broad-nibbed pen and kicking off a style based on a 16th-century Italian hand. By 1950, italic handwriting was the mark of what was then called “a cultured person”.

Marion Richardson modified the italic hand for children and by 1970 few people wrote in roundhand any more.

As a graphic designer I had to look at letters and the spaces between them as abstract shapes that have to be carefully chosen and arranged. Even if you know nothing about typefaces, you associate the one below with tradition and the bottom one with modernism. They’re Caslon Italic and Helvetica Bold, in case you’re interested.

A font by Arrighi, c.1523, the basis of modern italic writing.

My original membership certificate from the Society of Designer Craftsman was lettered by Hugh Spendlove, who studied calligraphy at the Central, probably with Mervyn Oliver. He also studied pottery there with Dora Billington. Billington had been in Edward Johnston’s lettering class at the RCA and told Spendlove, “The art of writing is the art of life.” She was a fine letterer herself.

Dora Billington studied lettering with Edward Johnston and taught pottery to Hugh Spendlove. She made this dish in the 1930s.

Hugh Spendlove’s lettering.

FIONA MacCARTHY

I have a love/hate relationship with William Morris and I had a love/hate relationship with Fiona MacCarthy’s biography. William Morris was one of those volcanic Victorian personalities – stupendously energetic, deeply moral, highly persuasive, dazzlingly brilliant, massively influential, greatly change-making – like W. E. Gladstone, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Darwin, Henry Cole, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale. The Victorian era threw up people like that. Morris’s energy was legendary. He did six things at once and he wanted to do everything for himself: designing, writing poetry, embroidery, wood-engraving, dyeing, printing, lecturing, preserving old buildings and revolutionary politics. Physically he was remarkable: short and stout, scruffy, loud, rapid in his movements and subject to rages, which Fiona MacCarthy thinks were a form of epilepsy because they were followed by trances and forgetfulness. When he died aged 62, his doctor said he died of being William Morris.

It’s not without significance that his first intention was to go into holy orders, and his life was a moral crusade against ugliness and injustice. He said that he was motivated by a hatred of modern civilisation. In 1861, at the age of 26, he started his company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with great self-confidence and rapidly won decorating and furnishing contracts for ecclesiastical and institutional buildings – one of his earliest jobs was St James’s Palace. By the time of his death in 1896, every house of taste had some Morris wallpaper or Morris furniture in it. He was the dominant influence in the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was at its height from about 1880 to 1914. He was probably a greater inspiration to the early members of the Labour Party than Karl Marx. His approach to design and manufacturing revolutionised the teaching of art in Britain and his influence was felt in the art schools right up until the end of the Second World War.

So Morris was a man of enormous significance in Britain – and, indeed overseas: he was looked up to by design reformers in Europe, America and Japan – and he’s a man whom it’s hard not to love. But he was backward-looking and he encouraged Britain to be backward-looking too. He hated modern society, hated the railways, hated the factory system, hated the city, hated the division of labour and wanted everyone to be a craftsman. His inspiration was a fantasy of the Middle Ages drawn from Chaucer and the Morte d’Arthur. His first reading was The Waverley Novels, which he had completed by the age of seven. He and his Arts and Crafts Followers were, to a large extent, gentlemen with a contempt for trade and commerce. His ideal society, as described in News from Nowhere was a fantasy of tiny craft workshops, no government, no police, no prisons, no religion, no marriage, held together by the force of public opinion in an uncomfortable anticipation of cancel culture. It was written not in his adolescence but towards the end of his life as a mature statement of his creed.

His influence as a designer is impossible to ignore. His wallpaper designs have never been out of print. He is hugely popular, though he was not unique. The revolt against the design excesses of the Great Exhibition of 1851, ornate, overblown and ugly, was actually begun by Henry Cole, the very man who organised the Exhibition. His contemporary, Owen Jones, produced a large illustrated Grammar of Ornament that advocated the flat, simple designs that Morris produced. Every designer in the 19th century read it and they continue to read it in modern editions. Jones’s protege, Christopher Dresser, went further than him and some of his designs from the 1880s are so modern-looking that they appear to have been made in the 1930s. Morris’s superficially attractive craft ideas were not accepted by all designers. Even though he was a Master of the Art Workers Guild, Lewis Foreman Day argued against the Arts and Crafts idea that every artisan should be a designer and every designer an artisan, because designing and making were specialised skills and you could not do either well if you did not concentrate on one or the other.

Graham Wallas, an admirer of Morris and later a founder of the London School of Economics, shot Morris’s economics to pieces: “Once, while I listened to him lecturing, I made a rough calculation that the citizens of his commonwealth, in order to produce by the methods he advocated the quantity of beautiful and delicious things which they were to enjoy, would have to work about two hundred hours a week. It was only the same fact looked at from another point of view which made it impossible for any of Morris’s workmen, or indeed for anyone at all whose income was near the present English average, to buy the products either of Morris’s workshop at Merton or of his Kelmscott Press.”

Fiona MacCarthy has written probably the best biography of Morris. It covers Morris as designer, poet, political activist and man. It’s subtitled “A Life for our Time”. But Morris, in my humble opinion, has nothing to offer our time. After he died, his influence on design in Britain was wholly negative and held up progress for fifty years. The initiative passed rapidly to Germany and Britain became an Arts and Crafts backwater. The design lessons had been learned and were being applied to industry. His socialism was woolly and romantic and had no practical application. His idea of a craft-based economy, which pervaded the crafts in Britain until the 1970s, was reactionary and irrelevant. MacCarthy does well with Morris’s poetry and novels, which are of variably quality, and admits that he wrote verse too easily – 1,000 lines a day was normal for him.

This is an immensely warm and readable biography of a great but flawed individual. MacCarthy’s passion for Morris and her belief in his ideals makes it a good read, though, for myself, I would have preferred a more critical account.

THE 999 CENOTAPH

The 999 Cenotaph project, to put up a monument to health service workers, is part of the current of democratic statue-building that I’ve written about here and here that runs alongside campaigns to remove statues of slave owners.

Most of the statues in our cities were put up before universal suffrage and remain because of inertia and the fact that they’re invisible. The idea that they tell us about our history is laughable: no-one knows who they are in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.

Covid is changing Britain in many ways: more online shopping and online everything; more space on commuter trains; more outdoor exercise; less hugging and kissing; and more statues to ordinary people and public-service workers.

To support the 999 Cenotaph project visit http://www.999cenotaph.org.uk

JONATHAN CHISWELL-JONES

I went to see Jonathan Chiswell-Jones’ pottery at the Artworkers Guild (AWG) yesterday at their beautiful home in Queen Square, the perfect setting for ceramics with allusions to William de Morgan. The building has changed little since the AWG acquired it about a hundred years ago. The name of every member past and present is carefully lettered on the walls and there are portraits of all the guild’s masters. This may give the impression that the AWG is old-fashioned but it’s not and its members produce very up-to-date craft work as you can see here.

Reduced lustre pottery is extraordinarily difficult to make and very few people try it. It requires three firings at different temperatures and precise control of kiln atmosphere to change the decoration (which looks like mud when it’s put on) to gold and silver in a magical alchemical transformation. The method was revived by De Morgan and copied by a few large potteries like Maw & Co. and Pilkington, who did it cheaper and put him out of business. Alan Caiger-Smith rediscovered it by accident in the 1950s trying to produce a red glaze and it took him twenty-six unsuccessful firings to get it.

EARLY LUCIE RIE CERAMICS

The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna in its galleries ‘Vienna 1900’, which charts the emergence of the Vienna Style of the Secession and the Weiner Werkstätte, has these bowls made by Lucie Rie in about 1930 (listed under her single name Lucie Gomperz). They show the fine throwing and simplicity of form and surface for which she became known in England but the strong, dark colours are less familiar.