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Sunday, 3 November 2019

A Traveller in Space and Time: Michael Ayrton

We were very pleased to welcome Justine Hopkins, after our AGM and a sandwich break, to give a very personal, highly knowledgeable and fascinating insight into Michael Ayrton.
This was a return after a 25 year break to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Amazingly Erik Burnett-Godfree was present at both talks! Coincidentally he has written an article in our SwindonMAG on Michael Ayrton's Roman Window, our famous Michael Ayrton painting in the most recent edition.
Roman window is painted from a hotel bed across the road from this room, and wonderfully described by Ayrton in an the essay from the collection 'Golden Sections' (published Methuen 1957). (Added to the end of this post). As Justine said the painting involves mysterious communication and unspoken drama and is technically fascinating.
Starting at the beginning, Michael Ayrton, left school at 14 in 1935 and began painting to the disappointment of his parents. Earliest paintings show a story behind the picture, often intriguing and  hard to read. He met John Minton at St.John's Wood art college in 1937 and was later to share a studio with him.He was also to work with Minton on stage designs for Gielgud's Macbeth. They both joined the RAF when war was declared, although Ayrton was invalided out, enabling him to continue painting.
After the war, Ayrton went abroad as did many other artists, he was keen to search out all paintings by Piero della Francesca in Italy. He also became fascinated by myths including the myth of Daedalus and Icarus tells the story of a father and a son who used wings to escape from the island of Crete. Icarus has become better-known as the flyer who fell from the sky when the wax that joined his wings was melted by the heat of the sun.
Ayrton also produced many sculptures based on myths, modelling rather than carving , inspired by the Cumaen labyrinth. Ayrton spent much of his career wandering Daedalus's mythological labyrinth. By the mid 1960s he had written, painted, sculpted, and sketched the labyrinth numerous times, culminating in the commission to build the Arkville Maze, the largest masonry labyrinth in the world. 
It was fascinating to hear Justine Hopkins, step granddaughter of Ayrton, reminisced about spending time in Ayrton's rural idyll where he had 15 acres of land and a tithe barn where he retired to pastoral solitude with Henry Moore living nearby and dropping in to compare sculptures..
This hugely talented painter, sculptor, writer, broadcaster and art critic left behind a huge body of work, but sadly died of a heart attack aged 54. What a fascinating insight into a great artist.
Essay from Gold Sections kindly reproduced by Justine Hopkins, please contact me if you'd like a readable jpg

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Friends AGM

The annual AGM is one of those times when one is grateful that anyone has turned up, it's not the easiest event to attract an audience to attend. Bearing this in mind, we do work hard to make it interesting and informative, we look back at the last year's activities, elect committee members and a look forward to the coming year. This year we had a great crowd at the AGM, thank you so much to those who came along.
We started the evening listening to Councillor Dale Heenan, cabinet member for the town centre, explaining future plans for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. When the bid to build a new museum and art gallery on the car park beside the Wyvern Theatre failed, £400000 was set aside to upgrade the current building and improve accessibility. That money hasn't been spent yet because of the difficulty in deciding how it should be spent. Apparently a lift so that the gallery could be accessed by people with mobility issues would cost £300000, three quarters of the budget. In an attempt to enable more people to see the collection, some paintings have been shown in STEAM museum and there are currently 18 located through the sliding glass doors at the Civic Offices. Clicking on the links reveals Sophie Cummings in these locations hanging paintings.Two part time posts have also been created to work in the community and with schools. We were keen to have an update on the announcement in March that there would be a Cultural Quarter created on the site of the Wyvern Theatre complex, going as far as the library and back to the law courts, possibly funded by the sale of the Civic Offices. The Cultural Quarter is in the top 3 projects being undertaken by the council, the other two are the SnowDome and Kimmerfields.
 We were very pleased that Dale came along to reassure us that plans are still in place to build a museum and art gallery fit for the collections. I think it was important as well that Friends were able to ask him questions.
 Moving on from Dale, Curator Sophie Cummings gave an excellent account of her year, and reminded us how the Friends had helped with conservation and reframing of paintings and outlined a wish list of things needed in the coming year including new ceramics cabinets. The present ones have been in use since the gallery was built in the sixties, they are hard to access, have poor lighting and security and aren't up to the job of displaying our increasingly fine collection of ceramics.
 I'll make a separate list of the rest of the fundraising we're hoping to be able to do.
 After Sophie's talk, we continued with voting in the committee, looking at the accounts and then using Mike Bradley's wonderful Power Point presentation went through the Friends' activities like talks, trips and Private Views.
 I will send a copy of the presentation via email to the Friends, and put the AGM papers on the pages of the blog.
I took a couple of photos of the audience just to give an idea of the numbers.
Once again thank you to all who came along.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Lunchtime talk- Touring the Swindon Collection, 60 Years On

Curator Sophie Cummings gave another really insightful lunchtime talk on Friday 18 October on this wonderful exhibition which reminds us how truly fabulous some of the paintings donated by
In 1959, the Swindon Collection of Modern British art began a tour of 16 towns and cities of the United Kingdom.
'From Falmouth to Sunderland, Southend-on-Sea to Bolton, thousands of museum visitors were introduced to paintings by Paul Nash, LS Lowry, Gwen John and Graham Sutherland. This new exhibition celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of this tour, which introduced the people of Britain to Swindon’s remarkable art and established the reputation of the ‘Swindon Collection’.
This exhibition brings together the 44 works of art sent ‘on tour’ in 1959 and presents them alongside some of the most important acquisitions we have made in the decades since. The exhibition explores the history of the collection and the ambitions and challenges of touring so many pictures to so many places'.
There were at least 20 of us assembled to hear the talk. There's always something new to learn about the collection and Sophie always brings it to life with anecdotes and stories. For example there was one painting that didn't return from the tour. There's a photograph on the wall at the far end of the gallery showing what it looked like, it depicts the platform at Swindon station, and as Sophie remarked, considering the quality of the work on tour, that painting would have been the least covetable.
 Here's Sophie talking about Ben Nicholson's 'Composition in Black and White' painted in 1933 and gifted by H.J.P.Bomford in 1946. The photo I have taken is a bit full of reflections. I'll find a substitute soon. I had never before really appreciated this painting, but Sophie's explanation of its qualities made me really look again, and I saw much more in it.
Another Bomford gift is a big favourite with many visitors, seen below, 'Winter in Pendelbury', 1943 is a beautifully captured and composed snowy scene.
What I hadn't noticed before was the pub sign seen below, have a look next time you look at the painting.
The current ceramics exhibition is called 'Time for Tea' and has lots of tea related pieces. I hadn't seen this beautiful jug before, it's by Glyn Colledge, stoneware with painted glazes, purchased in 2014.
The next lunchtime talks are:
22 November - about Time for Tea Ceramics exhibition
20 December - Hit Repeat, Prints from the Swindon Collection