Ravilious & Co. Part 1 – Poor Memory

Eric Ravilious, Drift Boat, 1941, Museums Sheffield

Some vernacular wisdom gleaned from my Mum (a retired teacher) is that you have to tell someone something 3 times before it will sink in. This advice makes me picture a magician tapping a coin three times on a container until the coin vanishes, later to be revealed within. It came to mind recently too after I visited the exhibition Ravilious & Co. at Sheffield Millennium Galleries.

I hadn’t heard of Eric Ravilious before (or so I thought) and only went to the exhibition to pass the time when in Sheffield for an unrelated reason. I’m glad that I did; it was an enjoyable show. There was a lot to look at in the densely packed hang of over 400 pieces including paintings, drawings, engravings, ceramics, books and wallpaper by Ravilious and his associates; chronicling their impact on British visual culture during the 1930s. I was most enamoured by the work of Tirzah Garwood – which spanned figurative wood engravings and patterned paper and textile designs – and of Eric Ravilious himself. Ravilious’ designs for murals at Morley college struck me in particular. They depicted life in a boarding house with the front of the represented building cut away, to reveal interior furnishings and activities of residents.

But back to tapping thrice.

The day after I visited Sheffield I looked at the online journal Corridor8 to read a review by Jack Welsh of an event I had attended the month before. Artist Jenny Steele – whose recent work references ‘Seaside Moderne’ architecture – launched her solo exhibition ‘This Building For Hope’ at Morecambe’s Midland Hotel with a symposium that included a building tour. Jenny is a talented artist and Jack a talented writer; I wanted to use his reflections to help me reflect back on my own experiences. But what his write-up made me realise is how little of what I’d been told at the symposium had actually sunk in. Jack’s article opens with a quote from Garwood who, Jack writes: “painted the lost Ravilious mural alongside husband Eric Ravilious.” The mural he is referring to is one that was painted at the Midland Hotel in 1933. It deteriorated – thus was lost – but was rekindled in a 2013 homage that now dominates the hotel’s rotunda cafe. This mural provided a central element of our tour. It turned out, I’d been told about Ravilious and Garwood only weeks before.

Jenny Steele, The Fountain- North Beach, Screenprint on card, print on metal, 2017.

That was tap two, so what about the first?

Well, when I looked at Garwood’s work in Sheffield it brought to mind the book papers used by Persephone books. The association was confirmed when – in the gallery bookshop – I noticed Garwood’s autobiography, published by Persephone. Still (I believed) I hadn’t actually heard of Garwood before Morecambe, even if I might have seen her designs. But then last week when I was sorting out old papers for recycling, I found a copy of the Persephone biannually magazine. On the front cover a painted portrait of Garwood and inside a preview of said book that I now remember reading. Accompanying the previous was a photograph of the artist on a ladder painting the Midland mural with Ravilious.