My friend Elisabeth Frink – up there with the greatest

By Sophie Ryder

Liz used to drop her son Lin at my house in Richmond on a Friday night to play loud music with my brother up in the attic. They were best friends and both went to Chelsea Art School.

I had a crush on Lin for years but was never allowed into their den as I was seven years younger than my brother. Lin was so good looking and a lot of Liz’s work was based on him. He was an incredibly talented comic strip illustrator as well as a musician.

When my brother died age 23, I was keen to keep in touch with his friends so I asked if I could go and see Lin in Dorset. It became a regular weekend trip and it was such a special time for me.

It was great to see Liz at work in her studio, an artist who was doing what she wanted to do and was so successful. Liz was very unassuming but at the same time had a special aura.

Apart from her obvious striking head of white curly hair, she was very well-spoken but was not a chatty person, she almost came across as shy. Liz chose her words carefully but I think it was just that she liked to observe people more than to talk, I also think that in later life it actually hurt her to speak because of her illness.

One Saturday morning when Liz went to the market to buy food, I stayed behind to clean the AGA which was caked in oil. Liz came back and was thrilled to see her ‘new’ cooker!

She unpacked a beautiful hand-painted, colourful ceramic bowl that she had bought from a local ceramicist – for £80! And then proceeded to pour the fruit from brown paper bags into it.

There was this beautiful handmade bowl, a work of art, which she immediately turned into something useful by filling it with fruit. I was so impressed and thought to myself that I would like to be able to afford to buy beautiful objects one day.

Like me, Liz worked around the clock but family time was precious. She was so close to her husband Alex and son from a previous marriage, Lin. Alex was also an inspiration for Liz, he was a big strong man. He once walked into the kitchen with his dressing gown, picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, took me outside and threw me in the swimming pool. I was never quite sure why!

Liz made very traditional country food, she was a good cook, lots of casseroles and dishes she could put in the AGA and go back to work.

Liz, Lin and I would go for country walks together with our dogs. One of her big dogs and my lurcher had a fight one day and Lin showed me how to separate big dogs from a fight without getting bitten.

Their dog got his ear bitten and I was so embarrassed and worried for years that the next sculpture of the dog would have a chunk missing out of its ear.

When I finished at the Royal Academy of Arts, age 20, (I was just 17 when I started) Liz told me not to bother going back into education for another three years.

She said: “What do you want to go back to school for? You know what you want to do, and you are already doing it. You don’t follow the trends and you don’t do what your tutors tell you to do anyway, so what’s the point?

“You can just find somewhere to work and start your life.”

Liz put me forward for a residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where I worked for three months, I had such a lovely time and was so grateful to her for putting me forward, as I had no idea she was doing so.

One of my biggest regrets was that Liz had planned to take me with her for Sunday lunch with Henry Moore and then he died two weeks before we were due to go.

At the time I was working at the sculpture park residency on a one and a half times life-size horse and so I called it SON OF YORK after Henry Moore who was born in York.

Liz was actually a visiting tutor at the RA schools for the sculpture students but I was on a painting course so she didn’t tutor me.

She must have used the printmaking facilities at the school because one day I found a huge Goggle Head screen print in the skip with a black cross through it and I rolled it up and kept it for years.

After Liz died I had a ceremonial burning of the print as I didn’t want to show it to anyone since it was a reject of hers.

Picture of Elisabeth Frink and Sophie Ryder
Photo © Sophie Ryder : Harry Scott

After Liz’s untimely death I went to stay with Lin and his family. I walked into the studio and it was eerie, the doors were open and blowing in the wind. Otherwise, the studio was exactly as Liz had left it.

I told Lin he should turn it into a museum to celebrate her life. He said people had asked him but he didn’t feel ready. I felt so sorry for him, they were so close, I really felt his sadness.

Recently a mutual client ours asked my advice on the patination of a Frink horse, I was so pleased to be able to give my opinion and to help restore her War Horse back to its former glory.

I remember once hearing a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour interview with Liz and she seemed a bit disappointed that she was overlooked in the new world of sculpture residencies in sculpture parks.

My conclusion for this was that she was an older, commercially successful figurative artist who made traditional bronzes, they probably couldn’t see a way she could work in a more disposable material and also probably thought that she may not be interested given that she was so recognised.

She was often asked to choose people for competitions, shows and residencies and also judge things.

It’s wonderful that she is being recognised now more than ever for the amazing artist she was. Her work is here to stay, she is up there with the greatest.

She was a wonderful strong woman, mother and artist. Such an inspiration.

Sophie Ryder is an artist: www.sophieryder.com

See the exhibition Elisabeth Frink: Fragility and Power at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal until 29 September 2018. More information at http://www.abbothall.org.uk/elisabethfrink

Image © Sophie Ryder : Harry Scott

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“There’s an intensity to their round-the-clock work” – Patricia MacKinnon-Day on farm women.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s exhibition Tracing the Landscape: Cumbrian Farm Women looks at an often invisible workforce.

Women who make their mark in the male-dominated world of agriculture are the focus of the exhibition.

Artist Patricia MacKinnon-Day spent a year with five farm women, interviewing them about their experiences. The resulting exhibition is a multi-media art installation that explores their lives.

Here Patricia answers questions about the exhibition:

Women Farmers 7

What was the inspiration for the project? 

Tracing the Landscape evolved from a previous project in 2013, Rural Voices, working with 12 Cheshire women farmers. The inspiration evolved after discovering the strength and tenacity of women farmers and whose everyday lives were challenging. I was inspired by how they dealt with isolation, poor resources and economic hardship. Working closely with the Cumbrian farm women for a year gave me the opportunity to probe deeper and produce artworks that aimed to make visible their contribution to agriculture.

Why multimedia?

Tracing the Landscape at Abbot Hall Art Gallery consists of five sheds and a soundscape. Each shed shares a narrative, personal portrait that focuses on the infra-ordinary and the minutia of the farm womens’ everyday life (installed within the sheds are a range of ordinary agricultural and domestic materials, film clips with animation, interviews, photographic / print montages.)

I use the word ‘palimpsest’ to describe these sheds presenting an artistic process of excavating and investigating multiple layers of farm women and farms over a significant time-period. The element of time in Tracing the Landscape is crucial: as the materials examine the historical to the contemporary using a process of researching and embedding myself within their worlds.

How did you secure the trust of the women to let you spend time with them?

When I visited the women farmers I arrived without any pre-conceived ideas about the artwork I was going to make, spending hours, days or even months around the farm with the women simply trying to understand how they worked, and all the routine events going on around.

Making empathetic connections to women is central to my practice and helps develop an intimate knowledge and trust. Empathy is key to my research, as learning how it feels to be part of that community and becoming completely embedded as an artist on site is crucial to the success of the artwork. This process of developing understanding over time helps me to access complex meanings within a place, identify special codes, rules and the symbolic meanings of things: semiotic clues as to what is going on.

What was it that surprised you most about the time you spent with them?

As a city dweller I was previously ignorant of the intensity of their round-the-clock workload and of the everyday physical, emotional and economic demands. The biggest shock was to discover that their input has historically been largely unpaid and unrecorded. I was always humbled by their warmth and welcome even in the midst of crisis and during their relentless work schedule.

Hill farming in particular is a tough life and not financially that stable. Were the women committed to farming or was it the only way they felt they could make a living?

That despite the hardships and challenging lifestyle, they are passionate about their work but made clear to me that it wasn’t a job, but a way of life.

You’ve said the role of women in farming is overlooked but couldn’t you argue that, as women and children have always pitched in when there’s work to do, it’s actually one of the more egalitarian industries?

This exhibition offers a discourse to make visible the farmer’s wife who remains one of the most elusive figures in agrarian history. Women and children are always on hand to contribute to the workings of the farm but this labour has been largely unpaid and unrecorded. Although historians have acknowledged their role no attempt has yet been made to scrutinise in detail the whole range of tasks usually undertaken by them and the value attached to this work.

Does the rest of the country and particularly those who live in cities appreciate farmers’ contribution to our food security?

As a city dweller before beginning this research I envied the tranquil pace of rural life without any knowledge and understanding of the reality of farm production. This exhibition brings to the fore the historic, political, psychological, physical, social and personal endeavours of farm women who bring food to our table. The sheds offer to the viewer narratives that examine the diversity and complexity of their work which includes the battle with supermarket over quality and price.

Tracing the Landscape: Cumbrian Farm Women is on at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, until 9 June 2018.

 

Magical Monet inspires visitors

“An unforgettable experience. I could look at it forever.”

Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect has wowed audiences in Kendal since January – but its last day on display is this Saturday (28 April 2018).

Monet blog

The painting, dated 1891, has been on loan from the National Gallery of Scotland. It will return north of the border at the end of the month.

Reaction from visitors to this painting has been remarkable. We’ve been delighted to bring such an important work to Cumbria and the feedback from audiences has been wonderful. 

Our visitors’ book has been full of emotional comments from people who have struck a bond with the painting.

Comments from visitors include: 

  • “My first Monet experience. I live in Kendal. It’s so good to have this on my doorstep.” 
  • “The most amazing experience to view this beautiful painting in my home town. Thank-you so much.”
  • “To be able to appreciate it in such calm surroundings is wonderful. Up close the brushstrokes and colours are so vivid.”
  • “I moved forward and viewed the work from just a few inches away. The painting had me spellbound. After hours sitting with this painting I seem to be even more aware of the shifting pattern of colour and light in the sky. Thank-you Monet.”
  • “Our students were able to view and sketch the Haystacks uninterrupted and value the artwork while assisting their GCSE coursework. Very privileged. Thank-you.”
  • “In the presence of a master. I was quite nervy. But in a good way.”
  • “What a treat to see Monet’s work in such a peaceful setting and with chairs from which you can enjoy the experience.”
  • “I absolutely love art and this experience has made me love art even more.”

More details about Haystacks: Snow Effect: https://www.abbothall.org.uk/exhibitions/claude-monet

Two-minute-Monet: Facts about the founder of Impressionism

Oscar Claude Monet was born on 14 November 1890 in Paris, France. His mother was a singer, his father a grocer.

From an early age he had a love of drawing – and drew caricatures of his school teachers.

Monet went to Le Harve School of Arts in 1851 and sold caricatures to bring in extra money.

Monet married twice and had two children.

Following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Monet and his family fled to England. Inspired by the art of John Constable, Monet quickly began painting scenes of London including the Houses of Parliament and Hyde Park.

Monet first spotted the village of Giverny from the window of a train and then relocated to this rural haven outside Paris in 1883.

Claude Monet lived in the village of Giverny for 43 years. And it is here he painted his famous Haystacks series of works.

Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1872) led to the naming of a whole movement we now know as Impressionism.

When Monet first moved to Giverny, the village’s population was around 300. Today it’s still at tiny place with some 500 in habitants. However, the village is swelled by tourists who flock to see Monet’s house and gardens which were made open to visitors in 1980.

There are some 2,500 paintings, drawings and pastels attributed to Monet.

He struggled with depression and poverty during his lifetime. He once attempted suicide.

In 1918 Monet donated 12 of his Water Lilies series of paintings to France to celebrate the Armistice.

Monet remains one of the most famous painters in history and his works can be seen in the most prestigious art galleries around the globe.

Monet died from lung cancer at the age of 86 on 5 December 1926. He is buried in the Giverny cemetery.

Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect (1891) is now on show at Abbot Hall, Kendal until 28 April 2018. It is on loan from National Galleries of Scotland.

Monet “would be delighted” his work is coming to Cumbria

Claude Monet, Haystacks: Snow Effect © National Galleries of Scotland
Claude Monet, Haystacks: Snow Effect © National Galleries of Scotland

It was viewed by a million art lovers at the Grand Palais in Paris – and now one of Monet’s most important paintings is coming to Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal. Haystacks: Snow Effect is from a series widely regarded as among the impressionist’s very best. It will go on show at Abbot Hall from Friday 12 January.

The work is loaned from National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, where it is usually on display. Dr Frances Fowle, Senior Curator of French Art at National Galleries of Scotland said: “The painting is one of the most popular in our collection. We get lots of requests to lend it out, but we are very selective. It will go to big monographic shows that focus purely on Monet such as 2010 at the Grand Palais in Paris which had nearly one million visitors.”

The painting has been exhibited in London and internationally but Frances feels it completely appropriate to now go on show in Kendal.

“It’s really apt that the painting is coming to a rural setting like Abbot Hall. I think Monet would be delighted. He was always keen that his work be seen by as many people as possible. It’s satisfying to see it being lent to a smaller community where it will be appreciated by people who may not get the opportunity to travel far to see it.”

The haystacks in this painting stood in a field to the west of Monet’s house in Giverney, France, where his famous water lily gardens were situated. In autumn and the relatively mild winter of 1890, Monet persuaded the local farmer to leave the stacks in his field so he could make a series of paintings. In Haystacks: Snow Effect, the haystacks are almost reduced to shadow in the glowing winter light. There are 25 paintings from Monet’s Haystacks series held at galleries around the globe including Tokyo, Los Angeles, Chicago and Paris.

Dr Fowle added: “The painting is very significant in the development of Monet’s work because it marks his movement from painting as a mainstream impressionist, to the idea of painting in series. The idea of working outdoors, then going back into the studio and re-working the painting so that it speaks to the other works in the series. It’s a pre-curser to the greatest works Monet ever produced.”

You can view Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal from Friday 12 January until 28 April 2018.

LAND | SEA | LIFE at Abbot Hall Art Gallery

On Friday 20 October, Abbot Hall Art Gallery‘s newest exhibition LAND | SEA | LIFE launched. All works on loan for this exhibition, curated by Abbot Hall are from The Ingram Collection, which is recognised as one of this Country’s most significant collections of Modern British Art. Jo Baring, Director of The Ingram Collection officially opened the exhibition at the Private View event the evening before and introduces the exhibition in the below video.


LAND | SEA | LIFE runs until Saturday 17 Feburary 2018. Abbot Hall Art Gallery is open Monday – Saturday from 10.30am – 4pm until March, 10.30am – 5pm March onwards. The Art Gallery is closed for winter maintenance 23 December 2017 – 11 January 2018. Entry for adults costs £7.70. ‘Friends’, Under 16s and students are free.

“I painted my plimsolls yellow” – Painting Pop’s Pile of Post-its

More than 1000 Post-it notes adorn the sixties living room at our Painting Pop exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, each containing a scribbled detail from a defining decade:

First car – Austin A35 – aged 17” – “On a bus in Hull Nov 1963 hearing Kennedy DEAD” – are just two memories left by visitors.

When we encouraged you to write memories on our 1960s timeline we didn’t expect such an enthusiastic response.
We had to buy a pile of Post-its for the outpouring of nostalgia. Some reactions are just a few words – others are short stories – crafted with creativity, humour and fun. It’s a wonder people can squeeze so many thoughts onto one tiny bit of paper.

One short story really caught our attention: “Saw The Beatles filming Magical Mystery Tour on Kent airfield where we were camping for our Duke of Edinburgh Award. George Harrison’s dark green Mini (with tinted windows) parked in a country lane. Headmistress worried about ‘effect’ of Beatlemania on her all-girls’ school!! I won Art Prize – presented by David Hockney at Camberwell School of Art in 1969.”

There are other flirtations with fame among the purple Post-it mountain: “Saw Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and lots of kids getting out of a taxi outside London Zoo.” “Went to Newcastle University – Richard Hamilton my lecturer!” Another: “The Hollies, Freddie and The Dreamers, Swinging Blue Jeans at St Bernadette’s Youth Club Didsbury!”

There’s marriage, romance and football on the brightly coloured jottings. Sometimes in the same post: “Married a football fan on World Cup Final day – he didn’t see any of the game. That’s devotion for you.” Another: “Met future husband in college in Blackpool and married in 1965. Still going strong! First house, 3 bed detached with good sized garden £2500.”

There’s particularly profound pondering: “I remember thinking – I may not get up tomorrow.” While another simply suggests: “Music is important.”

Items in our sixties room evoked memories for you: “My parents bought our first TV – like the one here but in a huge wooden cabinet that took ages to get going.” Whether it be a TV that ‘takes ages to get going’, “Burnley winning the league in 1960″ or “I painted my plimsolls yellow” the Post-it wall has to be seen to be believed.

Come visit and share your thoughts. But be quick – Painting Pop – Paintings from 1960s Britain – will close on Saturday 7 October.