Senin, 19 Juli 2010

James Ravilious

Back in April of this year I posted a blog about the quintessentially English artist Eric Ravilious. Yesterday we went to the lovely new Towner Gallery in Eastbourne to see an exhibition of originals by Eric Ravilious which were stunningly good. His watercolours are coupled with a display of photographs by his son James, who became a famous photographer in his own right. These evocative photos of rural life are not least remarkable for the dates they were taken on - at a glance I'd have put them at least 30 years earlier.

Bill Hammond thatching a rick, Westacott, Riddlecombe, Devon, England, 1986

James Ravilious was born at Eastbourne, England, the second son of Eric Ravilious. James studied art at St Martin's School of Art, London, and then taught painting and drawing in London for some years. He married Robin Ravilious (daughter of the glass-engraver Laurence Whistler) in 1970, and in 1972 they moved to Devon to live in a cottage near her family home in Dolton.

Archie Parkhouse with ivy for sheep, Millhams, Dolton, Devon, England, 1975

In the early 1970's James took up photography, having seen its potential in the work of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Now John Lane, director of the arts centre in the neighbouring village of Beaford, invited James to contribute some work to the newly set up Beaford Archive, intended as a photographic record of life in a largely unspoilt, but vulnerable, country area.

Archie Parkhouse with his dog Sally, Millhams, Dolton, Devon, England, 1982

What started as a short-term project grew into a seventeen year obsession. In that time James took over 80,000 black and white images of all aspects of local life: landscape, farming, everyday life in the local towns and villages, and their special occasions. He also borrowed and copied over 5,000 early photographs of the same area.

Jean Pickard leading her flock, Woolridge, Dolton, Devon, England, 1975

The resulting historical span, and detail, he gave to the Archive makes it probably the most intensive record of any rural area in England. But it is more than that. Though never posed, James's pictures are composed with the eye of an artist, and they capture subtle qualities of light - the result of years of experiment with pre-war Leica cameras and uncoated lenses. Above all, they are warmed by his affection and admiration for the people whose lives he recorded. His pictures reveal real life as it was being lived in late 20th century rural England when the country traditions that have been handed down for hundreds, if not thousands, of years were still part of everyday existence.

Oak tree (after Mondrian), Marsland, Devon, England, 1997

James's work has been exhibited in England, France and America; and can be seen in several collections. He published a number of books of his photographs, and contributed to many others. In 1997 he was given Honorary Membership of the Royal Photographic Society in recognition of his contribution to photography. He died of lymphoma in 1999.

English wheat pickers 1989

Dr Paul Bangay visiting a patient, Langtree, Devon, England, 1981

Farmhouse window with apple basket, Langham, Dolton, Devon, England, 1985

The double exhibition of father and son is well worth a visit. The Towner Gallery though modest in size is not short on ambition - a mini Tate Modern for the south coast. Coffee on the first floor outdoor terrace meant overlooking the South Downs, and thence seeing the inspiration for much of Eric Ravilious's work. Lunch outdoors in the sunshine at a restaurant and a walk along the promenade and beach rounded off a great day.

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