Kate Aspinall is an independent historian, writer, and artist. Based in London, her research looks to the role of drawing in early 20th century British visual culture with a particular emphasis on the intersections between institutional and personal discipline. She is currently working on a monograph, The Paradox of Medium Specificity: Drawing Practice and Twentieth Century Modernism in Britain, and most recently she has written on student networks around David Bomberg for British Art Studies (November 2017) and the role of the drawn mark within Herbert Read’s critical agenda for a special issue of Visual Resources (February 2016). She consulted for the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and served as Trustee for the Association for Art History, representing freelance and independents. She is an Arts Society accredited lecturer and has spoken at Tate, the Courtauld, the Towner and Pallant House, among other galleries.
Selected Announcements, Papers and Publications
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
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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