Dr Kate Aspinall is an independent historian, writer, and artist. Based in London, her research looks to the role of drawing in 20th century British visual culture, and she is currently working on a monograph, The Paradox of Medium Specificity: Drawing Practice and Twentieth Century Modernism in Britain. She is an Arts Society lecturer and has spoken at a range of galleries and public institutions, including the Courtauld, Tate, the Towner, Pallant House and the National Gallery, London. She was previously a long-term consultant for the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and a Trustee of the Association for Art History, representing freelance and independent art historians. She has degrees from the University of St Andrews, the Courtauld Institute and the University of East Anglia.
Selected Announcements, Papers and Publications
Visual Artist in Residence Fellowship
Institute for Advanced Study at Central European University
October 2020 to 31 January 2021
I am proud to announce that this autumn I will commence ‘To Tame a Bubble, a Homo Bulla Project’ as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Central European University, Budapest/Vienna.
To Tame a Bubble, a Homo Bulla Project
To Tame a Bubble is a rethinking of the ancient tradition of homo bulla (‘man is a bubble’), where the bubble is a metaphor for the brevity, beauty and fragility of human life. I will make a series of expressionist, mixed-media paintings which re-imagine this humanist tradition from a critical, twenty-first century perspective.
My aims in producing this body of work are twofold: (1) To engage with homo bulla as a recurring motif through European history, connecting artists across time and national borders right up to contemporary philosophy, and (2) To explore how this tradition can be critically updated in light of new conceptions of the (un)isolate-able space of the self (e.g. ethics of new technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic) and new forms of cynicism (e.g. political and climate denials), ultimately investigating what roles cynicism and hope hold for us now.
My project emerges from my technical, emotional and intellectual fascination with how the ideals of European humanism – including the optimism that we could ‘tame’ ourselves – have failed or saved us in light of new socio-political, epidemiological and climatic events. Re-imagining the homo bulla is thus my own memento mori as an individual and also as a world citizen, trying to understand the patrimony of the artistic and intellectual heritage that formed us and to locate where hope remains.
David Bomberg’s Lost Legacy:
A Master Painter and his Students
London Art History Society, London
Postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic
Rescheduled for 1 March 2021, 18:30
Join me in discussing the power of one of the most passionate, pugnacious and underappreciated painters in twentieth-century Britain. Neglected for much of his lifetime, David Bomberg (1890-1957) has only recently been rightfully celebrated with exhibitions at galleries across the country. This hour-long talk explores what it in his painting that touches a nerve today as much as it did for the talented group of artists who studied with him. From Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff to Dennis Creffield, Bomberg’s passion and craft revived the British tradition of expressive naturalism and created a visual language that remains very much alive today.
The School of Thick Paint:
David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic
National Gallery, London
Saturday, 15 February 2020, 11:00 to 16:00
In commemoration of the exhibition Young Bomberg and the Old Masters (27 Nov 2019 – 1 Mar 2020), please join Richard Cork, David Boyd Haycock, Leon Betsworth and myself to discuss Bomberg in the context of artist-led art education.
Click here to download the study day’s programme: NG_15Feb2020
David Bomberg’s School of Thick Paint:
A Master Painter and His Students
Sunday 29 September 2019, 1:30–3:00 pm
To celebrate the newly re-opened Hastings Contemporary and its timely exhibition of Roy Oxlade’s artwork, this hour-long talk explores the relationship between Oxlade’s cohort at the Borough Polytechnic and their teacher David Bomberg, who was one of Britain’s greatest twentieth-century painters and a messianic figure for a generation of artists who span from Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff to Dennis Creffield and Miles Richmond. In this illustrated talk we will immerse ourselves in how the passion and craft Bomberg inspired in his students grew into a visual style that remains very much alive today.
This advanced undergraduate course considers the rapid artistic developments throughout twentieth-century Britain, which culminated in London becoming one of the world’s capitals of art during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ with the rise of Beatlemania, Pop Art and conceptualism among other cultural thrusts. The course moves chronologically from the early years of the twentieth century to the advent of the headline-grabbing ‘Young British Artists’ (YBAs) in the 1990s, focusing on major artistic trends and their significance in the broader cultural history, a period marked by tremendous energy, rebellion and innovation. Drawing on the collections in numerous museums, galleries and art colleges across London, this course will be a mix of classroom discussions and field trips responding to art objects and both primary and secondary textual sources.
Click here for University Listing
British art during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ became an important global brand. This one week course considers the rapid artistic developments throughout this exciting, rebellious and innovative decade, which culminated in London becoming one of the world’s capitals of art. Roughly chronologically we shall explore dominant trends and movements, beginning with mature artistic trends that were achieving an international audience, such as the expressive figuration of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud (sometimes called ‘The School of London’) as well as the abstract Constructionism of Victor Pasmore and Kenneth Martin. We shall then look to art of the burgeoning youth culture, such as New Generation Sculpture, Op, Pop and the rise of conceptual art. This course will not only consider notable painters and sculptors within these groups but will also explore the expanded cultural field as well as the institutions, educators and gallerists who propelled them into the international limelight and helped British post-Second World War and contemporary art gain the prominence and international influence that continues today. Course visits may include several of the following: archives at the RCA, at Tate and Central St Martin’s; the Mayor, Saatchi or Beaux Arts Gallery; the Whitechapel or Hayward Gallery; the Design Museum; Goldsmiths; and an artist’s studio.
STARTS Artist in Residence, Barcelona
ART-ICT co-creation with ‘Project AMORE: A distributional MOdel of Reference to Entities”
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, IRCAM, Paris & H2020 European STARTS initiative
October 2018 through January 2019
I am proud to have taken part with an experimental ART-ICT co-creation initiative, which enables collaborations between artists and tech projects. For the residency I worked closely with the data from a computational linguistics laboratory using deep neural net (DNN) learning (a form or artificial intelligence or ‘AI’) at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. The resulting project Blueprints For An Emergent Personality was a visual inquiry into the nature of a computational system drawing on observation, psychology and imagination.
The Blueprints project asked two primary questions: (1) What could be learnt if one treated a computational system that can learn its own representations from data as we would a developing infant mind? (2) How can we represent non-human personality and how can this representation best combine objective analysis with subjective interpretation? In exploring this I synthesised objective analysis of the errors made by the computational system – a methodical record of the mistakes, analysed by child psychology and development specialists – with my own visual interpretation of these data to create not mere imaginings of the computational system’s potential ‘world view’ but detailed renderings of it, informed not only by the data but also by time spent with the human creators of the system.
The resulting archive (of an 140 page sketchbook), preparatory mixed-media works and a series of large mixed media works on paper created visual representations of the computational system – faces for the machine. They are more than fantasy imaginings: they are faithful renderings of the data and interpretations of that data that point to new ways to conceive artificial intelligence. It is a step toward moving away from the clichéd visual representations of machines – think Hollywood and comic books – and toward a new, subtler understanding of what machines can be in our world as well as what artistic and scientific collaboration could be during the dawn of artificial intelligence.
Primitivism, Realism & Everything in Between
Two-part Art Course at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
18 & 25 July 2018
Join me this July to examine the tensions around the concept of skill in 20th century British art, from the emulation of naïve art by Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson in the 1920s to the desire for expressive freedom among David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and many others in the 1950s and beyond.
Click here to see full calendar and to book a course
Courses are available as single units or as an entire series
‘The Arts Society at 50’
Interview in Article Celebrating Art Society’s Golden Jubilee
Click this link to read my interview in excerpts from in The Arts Society Magazine (Spring 2018): ArtsSocietyMagazineSpring2018
Click this link to read more generally about the history of the Arts Society in ‘Fifty years of fine art for everyone’, Country Life (April 2018): CountryLife11Apr2018
The British Drawing Revival of the 1960-70s
Three-part Art Course at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
6, 13 & 27 June 2018
Join me this June to explore how diverse artists working in Britain participated in a revival of drawing in the 1960s and 70s. From R.B. Kitaj and David Hockney to Frank Auerbach and Barry Flanagan, drawing’s potential, as liberated from preparatory work, was widely explored and appreciated. This series looks at the often overlooked role played by drawing in the rebellious momentum of the British twentieth-century.
Click here to see full calendar and to book a course
Courses are available as single units or as an entire series
Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?
The Colour Revolution in Mid-Century New York City
(Courtauld Institute of Art, 7pm 13 March 2018)
Following World War II, New York took the lead from Paris, Vienna and Berlin in the vanguard of artistic developments – and the focus was on colour. It was here that artists grappled with the lingering effects of art historical meanings for individual hues and encountered innovative technologies that gave colour new possibilities. Consumer culture, led by the rise of colour TV, added a novel vernacular element, leading to collective understandings of colour that have since been normalised across the Western world. Artists’ responses in 1950s and 1960s were as varied as they were explosively creative, investigating not only the properties of colour itself (Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly) but also texture (Josef Albers, Mark Rothko) and its symbolism (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein). This talk will examine some of these developments in colour, situating them within the broader culture and exploring the sometimes perplexing power of these pieces.
Lecture ten of ‘Colour: Theory, Practice, and Meaning in Byzantine and Western Art’, a part of the Showcasing Art History, Series XII 2017-2018.
I am proud to announce my accreditation
as a lecturer for the Arts Society
The Arts Society is a leading arts education charity with a global network of 385 local Societies, which bring people together through a shared curiosity for the arts. Arts Society events cater to 90,000+ members, providing welcoming places – locally, nationally and globally – to hear expert lecturers share their specialist knowledge about the arts
‘The importance of style cults in providing a vernacular charge to fine art achievements in the Britain of the 1960s, as argued for by Tom Crow’s opening provocation, is compelling and raises further questions about how art markets and historians have handled and could handle collective activity, including re-evaluating collective identity…’
Click here to continue reading my full response as well as Crow’s text and replies from other contributors.
David Bomberg’s Teaching and his Pupils
(Pallant House Gallery, 6pm 9 November 2017)
An hour-long talk exploring Bomberg’s teaching and its influence on the practices of canonical figures in British 20th century art, including Dennis Creffield, Gustav Metzger, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, among others. Followed by a complimentary glass of wine. Booking essential.
Commissioned for the major retrospective, ‘Bomberg‘, at Pallant House Gallery
(21 October 2017 – 4 February 2018)
Garden Statue – The Virgin (1911-12) greets the visitor entering ‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’ at Two Temple Place in London (fig.1). It makes for a striking beginning: a weathered, monolithic piece exuding a presence far greater than its material form. The sculpture was commissioned from Eric Gill by Roger Fry for his garden at Durbins his home in Guildford. Illuminated against the sumptuous panelling of Two Temple Place’s Lower Gallery, the wear of its stone makes the figure all the more arresting, as it traces its endurance not only of the elements, but also of everyday family life. This is emphasised by a nearby photograph of Fry’s daughter, Pamela, all unselfconscious adolescent joie de vivre, climbing on the statue’s back. This constellation of factors accentuates what is elsewhere subtle: that this exhibition is not so much a showcase of art objects as it is of relics of greater attempts to live according to one’s creative ideals.
‘Creating Artists’, Review of The London Art Schools: Reforming the Art World, 1960 to Now
Art History, 40:1 (Feb 2017): 200-204
Art History in the Pub, London
Judith Jammers and I are re-launching the London branch of Art History in the Pub with a series of four talks to be held every other month, January through July 2017.
10 July: TBA
Click here for postcard for entire pan-UK series: 2017_ahitp_london
William Coldstream and the Art of Measuring
(Piano Nobile, 4pm 17 December 2016)
William Coldstream’s peculiar method of working – measuring precise relationships using a pencil held at arm’s length – has overshadowed his artistic production. Described and derided by many as “objective”, both the method and the works are both reconsidered in this talk, in which I disentangle the various strands of objectivity and subjectivity in Coldstream’s practice, finding the raw emotion at the heart of his paintings.
Gallery talk in honour of the upcoming exhibition at Piano Nobile ‘William Coldstream | Euan Uglow: Daisies and Nudes’ from 22 November to 28 January.
David Bomberg’s Class at the Borough Polytechnic
(Towner Art Gallery, 3pm 31 July 2016)
David Bomberg famously proclaimed that art could not be taught, and yet he did teach. His approach, often called the search for ‘the spirit in the mass’, became a rallying cry to meld self, subject and art. It went far beyond a mere process of creation to become instead a sense of personal integrity known through artistic expression. For eight years Bomberg’s teaching moulded the artistic consciousness of some of the most dynamic personalities in the rising post-war generation, including Dennis Creffield, Gustav Metzger, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, among many others. His students, alone or in exhibiting collectives, became the visible icons of a ‘school of thick paint’ that challenged the divide between the critical camps of figuration and abstraction. This talk will explore the details of Bomberg’s instruction and the various ways he influenced the practices of canonical figures in British 20th century art.
Paper commissioned for ‘David Bomberg: A Sense of Place‘
(9 July – 11 September 2016)
True and Pure:
Frank Dobson and Eric Gill Drawing From Life
(Review of Daniel Katz exhibition in 3rd Dimension – The PMSA Magazine & Newsletter)
The complicity between sculpture and drawing is inescapable in True and Pure, an exhibition in which the sleek shapes of pieces by Eric Gill and Frank Dobson are arranged amid the elegant domesticity of the Daniel Katz Gallery’s Edwardian town house in Mayfair.
The curation maximises on the echoes between drawing and sculpture, space and displaced space, destabilising the autonomy of the sculptures and enhancing the autonomy of the drawings while maintaining the dignity of each and allowing Dobson’s underappreciated drawings to emerge as the true stars of the show…
The Irresistible Rise of the Independent Art Historian
AAH Bulletin, No. 122 (June 2016)
The new issue of the AAH Bulletin is out. Click below to read my Chair Report:
June 2016: Bulletin 122 F&I report
Click here to scroll through the AAH online directory.
Dennis Creffield in Conversation
(Borough Road Gallery, 7pm, 12 May 2016)
A conversation with Dennis Creffield, a distinguished artist and attendee of Bomberg’s classes from 1947-1951 as well as the youngest elected member of the Borough Group. Bomberg’s approach had a significant, and lasting, impact on Creffield’s practice. Creffield will describe his experience of being taught by Bomberg as a young man. The discussion will look at Bomberg’s approach, the atmosphere and dynamic of this unique pedagogic setting, Bomberg’s legacy, Creffield’s practice and more.
Leader among Equals:
The School of Bomberg and Art School Reform
(Borough Road Gallery, 7pm, 28 April 2016)
Paper commissioned for “Keep the Paint Moving”: David Bomberg and the Art of Radical Teaching (22 April – 2 July 2016) that addresses ways to understand Bomberg’s teachings against and within the rapid changes in art education in mid-twentieth century Britain, considering the claim that Bomberg created an environment set apart from the trends around him. I take the position that the culture of Bomberg’s classes laid bare fundamental concerns; specifically, how belonging to a ‘school’ positions an artist within an art world that is increasingly aware of itself as a consumer economy and yet remains reliant on the romantic myth of an artist as a heroic individualist. Looking at the culture of Bomberg’s classroom and the community of makers that it crystalised, I proffer that there was a school of Bomberg, set apart from conflations with the Borough Group or the pejorative label of ‘Bombergians’. Understanding the dynamics of this and the concurrent reactions against it sheds light on a deeper insecurity about the limits of art education within late modernism.
A Signature of Our Race: Herbert Read and the Line that Links
Medieval Illumination and 1930s British Modernism
(Article in ‘Medieval Modernity: Revisiting the Middle Ages in the 20th century’, special issue of Visual Resources, Vol XXXII, no. 1-2)
In an article in The Burlington Magazine of 1933, British theorist Herbert Read (1893–1968) proposed “a basic linear signature of our race.” His invocation of line as a mark of identity is representative of a wider community of thinkers who linked the British avant-garde with medieval illumination via the watercolors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Theorists and scholars such as Kenneth Clark (1903–1983), William George Constable (1887–1976), and Nikolaus Pevsner (1902–1983) joined Read in identifying drawing as an essential aspect of medieval illumination that had re-emerged in the compositions of the Romantic period as well as those of the Neo-Romantics, including John Piper (1903–1992) and Paul Nash (1889–1946).
Theoretical enthusiasm for this lineage arose not only from aesthetic affinities but also from political utility. Amid concerns over mounting political extremism, notions of medieval art were useful as emblems of British precedent for sustainable and proud work. This paper traces the use of line at the time, most notably by Herbert Read, as a symbolic mark that promoted a balance between individualism and collectivism through its connection to the medieval period. Furthermore, I argue that harnessing the moral connotations of line was possible, and particularly effective, because of culturally available understandings of the drawn line’s distinctive intimacy.
‘Mark of the Times: Charcoal and the Borough Group’
Paper version of Late Opening Tour of
The Elemental Force of Charcoal
(Borough Road Gallery, 23 Oct 2015 – 27 Feb 2016)
Paper placing the drawings within The Elemental Force of Charcoal: Drawing at the Borough in a wider context, with reference to seismic shifts that occurred in arts education and drawing practices of the 20th century, as well as the historical use of charcoal as a medium. It is a written version of a tour presented on 29 January 2016 at the Borough Road Gallery as part of SLAM Fridays .
For more information on the exhibition and to download a pdf of the paper, click here.
Drawing Done with Intellectual Care:
David Sylvester’s Drawing Exhibitions and the Shaping of the Creative Individual
Critic and curator David Sylvester played a pivotal role shaping the intellectual as well as the actual consumption of avant-garde art in the post-Second World War period and yet a key series of exhibitions he curated, focusing on the practice of drawing in the 1950s and early 1960s, has been all but ignored. Drawing for Pictures (Arts Council, 1953), Recent British Drawings (ICA 1954) and Drawing Towards Painting (Arts Council, 1962) all steered public engagement with the eclectic and often private practices of drawing at a volatile moment for art institutional structures in Britain.
Sylvester’s exhibitions place him among the international vanguard for his use of drawing theory as a tool to explore the role of the artistic individual within her practice, a perspective that points toward the role drawing took in process art and conceptualism in the ensuing decades. Many years before Lawrence Alloway’s celebrated essay on Sol LeWitt (Artforum, 1975) inspired an international audience to reappraise drawing in light of conceptualism, Sylvester harnessed drawing to speak to the limitations of modernism and individualism. Sylvester’s analysis arose from the particular socio-cultural sensitivities of 1940s and 1950s Britain about the role and obligations of creativity. This paper re-examines these significant exhibitions in order to consider Sylvester’s, and by extension Britain’s, place at the forefront of the subsequent rise in international exhibitions devoted to drawing practice.
TRT World Showcase
29 December 2015
Discussing Ellsworth Kelly
I am proud to announce my election as the new Chair of the Freelance and Independent Committee of the AAH
To join our mailing list, which is available to both AAH members and non members alike, click here. Please also visit the AAH website to learn more about the Freelance and Independents and how to become an AAH member.
Click here to scroll through the AAH online directory.
Click below to read my first Chair Report:
February 2016: Bulletin 121 F&I pages
‘The Pasmore Report?:
Reflections on the 1960 Coldstream Report and its legacy’
(Art School Educated Conference, Tate Britain, 11-12 September 2014)
The publication of the First Report of the National Advisory Council on Art Education (1960), otherwise known as the first ‘Coldstream Report’, is a graspable moment of displacement in the British art world. It represents a shift between an educational system based on disciplined studies of techniques and crafts to one based on conceptual thinking and design. Its legacy is marked by trauma and confusion that deepened as the decade matured, spilling over into creative outbursts and political revolt. It has become a symbol of oppressive, narrowly defined rigour and prejudiced artistic values. As such, both the report and the painter and educator who leant it his name, William Coldstream, have been blamed and demonised. This paper approaches the report as an image, for it is not only invested with symbolic, representational meaning, but it also is among those victims of iconoclasm – works of art, signs, inscriptions or pictures – that act in the words of theorist Bruno Latour “as a mediation to access something else”. The Report is a window to a set of values for education, but also for the perception of the artist’s relationship to society. Half a century later, it is important to carefully weigh the document itself against the politics and motivations of the diverse committee members who authored it. Using ministerial archival records opened in the late 1990s, this paper reflects on how such a document presents a methodological conundrum in tracing intention and effect, as well as the dangers of conflating it with any one participant.
‘The Aesthetic of Scientific Authority in a Nuclear Age:
Jacob Bronowski and Feliks Topolski’
(British Art in the Nuclear Age, ed. Catherine Jolivette; Ashgate, 2014)
Winner of the Historians of British Art‘s 2014 Multi-Author Book Award
Celebrity historian of science Jacob Bronowski interpreted Polish émigré artist Feliks Topolski’s use of line as an analogy for science’s use of subjective judgment in the ‘Knowledge or Certainty’ segment of Bronowski’s 1973 BBC television series The Ascent of Man. The culmination of Bronowski’s views on the relationship of scientific authority and epistemological method, the episode examines the ethics of interpreting scientific judgement through Topolski’s particular dynamic aesthetic. As a visual embodiment of Bronowski’s ideal epistemological approach, Topolski’s drawings become instructive rather than merely aesthetic – helping a public removed from scientific realities to conceptualise the language and significance of subjective (and thus fallible) judgement as a possible alternative to unreflective technocracy. Through addressing the developing paradoxes for nuclear scientists as authorities in the 1950s and Bronowski’s decades-long engagement with these discussions, it is possible to trace the seeds of that later collaboration, which was formulated around the hotly debated twenty-five year anniversary of the atomic bombings in Japan.
Lee Hallman’s review in Burlington Magazine (May 2015): Burlington Magazine May 2015
Robert Sutton’s review in Art History (Nov 2015): Art History November 2015
Camilla Mørk Røstvik’s review in The British Journal for the History of Science (Dec 2015): British Journal for the History of Science_Dec 2015
Martin Diebel’s review in Sehepunkte, 16:3 (2016): ‘Rezension von: British Art in the Nuclear Age’
Paul Dobraszczyk’s review in Technology and Culture, 57:2 (Apr 2016): Book review_Project_Muse
Attitudes to drawing in Britain, 1918-1964
Doctoral Thesis, University of East Anglia
Numerous artists and theorists in Britain between 1918 and 1964 produced rich bodies of drawing-orientated work, yet these endeavours receive little analysis. In order to account for them as more than isolated anomalies, the nature and importance of drawing during the period needs to be reconsidered – not only within private practices, but also as a concept in the wider cultural field. When engaging with a medium that does not have a fixed identity, and so does not remain stable within a historical narrative, it is not enough to write figures back into history; it is necessary to excavate a history for figures to be written back into. The history of early-twentieth-century Britain must include the full spectrum of significant permutations of the concept of drawing, and this thesis takes steps toward uncovering these permutations and analysing their development in relation to each other.
Available for download via EThOS, British Library