Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alan Davie at 90

Today (Tuesday 28th September 2010)  is the  90th birthday of one of Britain's most esteemed artists. Alan Davie first made an impact with his unique brand of abstract painting in the late 1940s and the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery first acquired one of his works in 1959 - and not without controversy, but more on that later. A further work was purchased in the 1970s, but after the release of the 2004 Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Print Catalogue, Davie donated a major collection of his print and gouache works to the gallery.

Over the next few days you'll be able to view all of the works in our collection by Davie, get an insight into his print making process, and read the fascinating  debate provoked by the Gallery's 1959 purchase of 'First Movement in Pink'.

UPDATE: Alan Davie Collection now viewable here

First we'll start with a biography of the artist.

Broad Horizons: Alan Davie (1920- )
Alan Davie's experience of the Second World War was unusual. Having left his home town of Grangemouth, Scotland, a year earlier to take an entrance scholarship to study at the Edinburgh College of art, he had been sent to join the Royal Artillery in the middle of the English countryside. Instead of discovering, as many did, the harsh realities of war, Davie discovered nature, drew his fellow gunner-men, and planted a garden. His eyes were opened to a new way of life - one where the quality of ones existence was of the utmost importance. 

Davie turned his back on painting to be a jazz musician after the war, as this seemed a better way to achieve what he wanted from life. Again, it was travel that opened his eyes to new possibilities. In 1948 he finally took up a traveling scholarship awarded at Edinburgh and went with his wife, Bili, who he had married in 1946, to Venice. The city was then hosting the first Biennale since the war. The great art collector Peggy Guggenheim had been given use of a tent originally allocated to Greece, then in civil war. Seeing the Surrealist works of Max Ernst and Joan Miro, and the early mythological paintings of the American artists Pollock, Rothko, Gorky and Matta had a profound effect on Davie: these pictures, steeped in Jungian theory of the universal unconscious, and with mythological names and references, showed Davie new possibilities in the purpose of painting. He re-started work immediately and was instantly well received when within a short space of time he held an exhibition in Venice. By the the time he returned to England, he had already established a reputation as an artist.
Throughout the next few years hes painting was accompanied by work as a goldsmith, silversmith and jeweller. He was inspired by American, Celtic and Syrian goldwork. In 1959 this new direction led him to become a jewellery tutor at Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.
Although never a household name, he has always enjoyed a high level of respect from other artists. From 1951 to 1974 the Davie family spent summer in Cornwall and Davie knew most of the second generation St. Ives group: Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Bryan Winter, Peter Lanyon, and Paul Feile. Davie met Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and others in New York in 1956. By 1959, Davie had held solo shows in New York (1956) and at the Whitechapel in London (1958), been bought by the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate, and heralded by The Times as ‘an artist who bids to be recognized as the most remarkable British painter to have emerged in recent years’ (6th March, 1958).

During the 1960s and '70s Davie explored his new found passion for gliding, completing over 2000 hours of flying. He found 'a sort of mysterious realm away from everyday reality, one very close to natural forces', as he put it, that was analogous to painting.

Alan Davie at work in his studio in the 1950s (left) and his studio in the late 1990s. Photos: copyright of the artist.

Davie is fascinated by the art of other cultures. He sees within them a less materialistic life and a greater emphasis on spirituality. His art making process is not a practice that involves the production of art-objects for public appraisal or consumer demand, but one that seeks to unify the artist with a more spiritual existence.

As his art has developed, Davie has evolved how he uses improvisation within his work. Like Miro’s use of automatic drawing as a design for a painting, Davie’s later works are often more likely to be based on an intuitive sketch than constructed through the painting process directly on the canvas.  In a 1993 interview with Art Review magazine he said of this process:

You can’t deny consciousness completely. You must have rules. Without a system you can perhaps achieve a beautiful chaos which is itself exciting up to a point, but it’s not until we impose restrictions on ourselves that important things begin to happen.[1 (Art Review, May 1993, (vol. XLV) p4.)

The images that Davie use are part of a wider ranging interest in the ‘other’ and the exotic. From his Zen Buddhism, through his Jazz playing and his gliding, Davie seeks experiences and ways of being that are intuitive and in some way ‘freer’.

Art is an intimate meditation process involving some kind of communion with the gods, it’s got nothing to do with communing with the public, as if it was some kind of show business. Art can exist without the public. I’m not interested in what anybody else thinks. I’m in it entirely for myself, and if someone else is on the same wavelength all well and good; if not, then forget it. But art should give people a kind of uplift, an understanding of the mystery of life itself. It should take people out of their mere selves into another realm. What one should get from art is a kind of inspiration and revelation. You should be taken out of yourself and lifted of the ground.”(ibid. p4.)

Davie continues to work in his home in Hertfordshire.
You can view a number of his works by Alan Davie across his career on the Tate website.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Picture of the Week No.34 & New Acquisition

Williangton Stable, S. R. Badmin

I am cheating a bit this week and combining picture of the week with a blog about a new acquisition, but in my defence it’s been a busy airship filled week. This morning I have had a bit of a break from the dirigibles and have accessioned our newest acquisition, a watercolour by Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989). Its subject is the Willington Stable built in the 1530’s by Sir John Gostwick, which along with its companion dovecote, is the only building owned by the National Trust in Bedfordshire.

Badmin’s career was similar to Edward Bawden’s, both blurred the lines of fine and commercial art, by exhibiting watercolours as well as illustrating books and producing posters and adverts for companies such as London Transport and Shell. ‘The Old Stable’ is a lovely example of the kind of topographically precise work Badmin produced as part of the ‘Recording Britain Scheme’. Intended to boost national morale, the scheme was set up by Sir Kenneth Clark as an extension of the Official War Artist Scheme, to celebrate the home front’s natural beauty and architectural heritage.

You can find out more about the Recording Britain Scheme and see more of Badmin’s work on the VandA Website.

If you would like to visit the Willington Stable and Dovecote be quick as it looks like this Sunday is the last opening of the year.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Bedford Borough Council’s flagship arts and heritage facilities Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum has secured an award of £959,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards the planned redevelopment of the facilities, specifically for improvements to buildings and the fit-out of new exhibition spaces. The award will signal the start of the work at the Art Gallery & Museum following confirmation of the Council’s £3.6m investment earlier this year.

Mayor of Bedford Borough, Dave Hodgson, said:

“This is great news for the Borough. The injection of nearly a million pounds, added to the Council’s £3.6 million investment and other generous contributions means that we will be able to start work to turn the exciting plans into a reality. We want to make Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum the place to go for residents to enjoy art and culture, meet friends and bring visitors to the Borough.”

Cllr Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Arts and Leisure, at Bedford Borough Council, added:

“We are delighted with this announcement, and thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for this award, which will allow us to work and pull the facilities together. The art gallery and museum are already home to excellent exhibits - now we plan to display them in a high quality venue which will help make Bedford Town Centre an even more attractive place to visit.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, East of England, said:

“This exciting project will completely transform Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, making the wonderful collections fully accessible to local communities and offering new opportunities for people to learn from and enjoy them. It will help draw together the cultural heritage of Bedford and tell the stories of communities across the town and local area. This redevelopment has the potential to reinvigorate this heritage site, making them a key heritage attraction in the heart of the town.”

The £6.6m Redevelopment Project will involve the complete redesign and redisplay of the galleries in Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum. The revitalised buildings, with new galleries, collection stores, spaces for learning activities and corporate hire, shop and cafĂ© will be an excellent resource for local people and visitors to Bedford right in the heart of the cultural quarter at Castle Lane.

This major grant will enable the Borough Council to progress the project to the next stage, namely to work up detailed building and exhibition designs and place the work out to tender; tenders are then expected back in March 2011, followed by the works starting in May 2011. The works, including the design of new exhibition spaces and displays, are expected to take approximately 18 months with the facilities re-opening in late 2012 or early 2013. Meanwhile Bedford Museum will close on Sunday 17 October, following which all museum artefacts will be carefully packed away and stored off-site in readiness for the works.

Click here to download information about our redevelopment plans

Click here to fill in an online survey about our plans

Please click here to download Frequently Asked Questions regarding the redevelopment.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Picture of the Week No.33 - Edward Bawden

We have been so busy putting up the ‘R100 & R101 Airships at Cardington exhibition’ and admiring our new Paul Catherall prints that we have completely neglected our picture of the week duties! As an apology I offer up Edward Bawden’s ‘The Pagoda, Kew Gardens’ for your viewing pleasure. Bawden was fascinated with Kew Gardens, and like Brighton, he returned to it as a subject throughout his career. What you won’t be able to see from this image is the scale of the picture, it’s over a meter tall which caused Bawden’s assistant to be print it in a unique way…. by stomping on it with his feet. This however wasn’t the strangest way to produce linocuts, some of the sample wallpapers Bawden produced with John Aldrich in the 1930’s were printed by driving a Rolls Royce over the blocks. VP


The Pagoda, Kew Gardens

12 colour linocut, 115 x 66.7 cm
inscribed: The Pagoda, Kew 4/50 Edward Bawden
From his student days at the R.C.A., the landscaping, flora and architecture at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew had fascinated Bawden. He would spend many warm weekends at Kew making numerous sketches. Various aspects of the Gardens were to feature throughout is work from the 1920s, through the advertising material of the 1930s to the large linocuts of the 1960s.
PROVENANCE: Bequeathed by the artist to the Gallery, given via The Fine Art Society, August 1990

R100 & R101 graphics!

We are working hard installing the new exhibition 'R100 & R101 Airships at Cardington' and even though there is a still lot to do (and I mean a lot!) we thought we would give you a quick sneak peak. Yesterday vinyls of the exhibition artwork by Paul Catherall arrived and we are all very happy with them. One stretches the length of the far wall and makes a huge statement as you come in. We hope you will all like them too. VP



Thursday, September 9, 2010

What's On leaflet

Not only does the new leaflet contain all of the fantastic exhibitions, talks, family days and activities to keep the kids happy over half-term, it also looks fab with the new Paul Catherall artwork on the front cover. Pick one up in the museum and keep up to date with all that's happening at Chag&Bm (or frame it!).

Paul Catherall R100 & R101 Artwork

If you've picked up our What's On leaflet in Bedford over the past few days, you may have been taken by the striking design on the cover.....

To celebrate the forthcoming R100 & R101: Airships at Cardington exhibition the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum have commissioned an exclusive artwork from renowned linocut printmaker and illustrator, Paul Catherall.

Paul Catherall has previously been commissioned by such high-profile names as Transport for London, British Airways and the Southbank Centre.

His strong, clear lines and bold colours have depicted such iconic buildings as the Eiffel Tower, St. Paul’s Cathedral, 30 St. Mary’s Axe (otherwise known as the ‘Gherkin’) by Foster + Partners, and Battersea Power Station. Now the sheds at Cardington join that illustrious list.

The work is entirely hand made throughout the drawing, carving, and editioning stages and the final design is printed with highest quality oil based inks on acid-free paper. The dimensions of the works are 76.4 x 56.4cm

The Art Gallery and Museum originally only asked for one design, but inspired by the iconic forms of the airships and the sheds the artist decided to increase the work he produced to three striking variations at no extra cost. The primary image that will feature on the poster for the exhibition depicts the sheds, R100, and R101 in shades of blue. The other two are in stark black and white with different numbers of airships on each, that evoke the paintings of dazzle ships by Edward Wadsworth, one of Catherall’s favourite artists. We love them all, and are thrilled with the outcome. The exhibition is in the process of being put together as we speak and we hope this is going to be a really popular exhibition.
A very limited run of the prints will be available to buy at £375 each, and the exhibition poster will also be available to buy. We are currently in the process of putting together a range of merchandise with the commissioned artwork.

All images copyright of the artist and Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, 2010.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday 1st September
Our curators will be ready and waiting today to answer all your questions about museums and collections, or whatever you want to ask about!
You can ask the Art Gallery & Museum questions via Twitter on @chagandbm or on Facebook, or you can ask them in person at Bedford Gallery from 12-4pm. Head of Collections and Exhibitions, Tom Perrett is tweeting from Berlin so contact him via @tjperrett.Our keepers of Social History, Archaeology and Fine & Decorative Arts are all on hand too.
This event is part of the national 'Ask a curator' day. Visit http://www.askacurator.com/ for more information and follow the #askacurator hashtag to see the international conversation.