The final workshop of Drawn to the Page took place at Towner Art Gallery on the 17th of June. We were very fortunate to have the inspiration of Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship, which contains the work of English artist designers in the years 1922-42. The exhibition tells the story of ‘the significant relationships and working collaborations between Ravilious and an important group of friends and affiliates.’ It is a rich chronological documentation of ‘key moments when the work and careers of these artists coincided, overlapped or was particularly pertinent to the others, such as their time at the Royal College of Art, the 1927 St George’s exhibition, their time spent at Furlongs and Newhaven in Sussex, and their various roles in the Second World War’ (http://www.townereastbourne.org.uk).
To begin the workshop, we explored the Ravilious exhibition, picking up different strands of the artists’ stories and responding to the wide variety of media displayed. Some writers became read about the friendships between Ravilious, his RCA teacher, Paul Nash and peers, collaborators and students such as Edward Bawden and Tirzah Garwood. Others focussed on more visual material, the prints and paintings produced by this innovative group of artist designers. We all made notes of our responses, before meeting back at the Junction Box.
Writers had been asked to choose five words to sum up their feelings, experiences and thoughts. Most of us found the wealth of material hard to summarise, but responses such as ‘bending landscape, etching soil and sky’ and ‘intertwined, composed, fleeting, soft, lifted’ captured the intricacy and subtlety of much of the work. Our first exercise, ‘Inhabiting Space,’ considered the delicacy and detail of Ravilious and Bawden’s paintings and prints. We considered Isobel Dixon’s poem ‘Providence’ (http://www.physicgarden.org.uk/sweet-basil/) as a powerful evocation of sensory experience. Then we each chose an image in the exhibition and stepped into it in our imaginations. To pull our readers into this world, we used all our senses, focussing on physical detail as the artists had done; for example: What does wind in bare branches sound like? What does chalk feel or taste like? Some writers worked with a single print or painting, while others moved between several images, creating the raw material for a story, or a poem.
The Pattern of Friendship contains a moving video about Ravilious and Bawden’s commission to decorate the refreshment room at Morley College. The building was demolished by a bomb during the Second World War, but drawings and photographs of the artists’ work remain (http://vauxhallhistory.org/loves-labours-lost-the-morley-college-murals-of-eric-ravilious-and-edward-bawden/). The murals take the form of open stages showcasing a variety of dramatic characters; Ravilious painted the open rooms of a boarding house, peopled by his friends.
After the break we began a second writing exercise, ‘All the World’s a Stage.’ Each writer started off with the outline of an imaginary boarding house with six empty rooms. They wrote down the short description of a character and an item of furniture to each room, and then passed it to their left. Once the rooms were full, we considered what might be missing – a person or an object. Some of us wrote about the thing that had been lost from the point of view of one of the characters in the house, including dialogue, description, action and/or internal thoughts. Others returned to the Ravilious show or visited the Becky Beasley exhibition Ous – a response to the work of Ravilious, exploring Beasley’s ‘ongoing interest in specific qualities raised by his practice: space, flatness, light, abstraction and nature, as well as his creative friendships’ (http://www.townereastbourne.org.uk).
A strong community of practice has formed between writers during Drawn to the Page, a testament to the writers who have travelled to galleries along the South Coast each month, the workshop facilitators, the De La Warr Pavilion, Jerwood Gallery and Towner Art Gallery which have hosted the events, New Writing South which has administered it so ably and the Arts Council whose financial support made the project sustainable. All participants would especially like to thank Wendy Ann Greenhalgh, who initiated, facilitated and managed the project. Without her dedication and commitment, Drawn to the Page would not have been possible.