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Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden: 'DESIGN'
At the Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden

Review by Borin Van Loon, September 2003

Redolent of twenties, thirties and forties British design, the stylisation and technological limitations of the period inform and suffuse the pieces in this exhibition. Living as we do in a period when visually almost 'anything is possible' with the use of digital creation, manipulation and output, we must essentially see Eric Ravilious as a wood engraver and painter who extended his creativity into industrial design. Both Bawden and Ravilious, who met as students at The Royal College Of Art in the twenties, were steeped in a craft ethic: print making (particularly lino and wood), book illustration and mural painting as well as watercolour landscapes.

Taking the design sensibility we see in the work of Paul Nash and a number of fine artists working at the time, these two men established a benchmark in British industrial and commercial design. If we consider the word 'design' in its broadest terms as revolving around questions of choice above all others, it can be argued that every artefact is in some way 'designed'. Almost any visual creation embodies elements of design. It's just that people don't notice. Spatial choices, form, scale, colour, tone, texture, counter-change, reversal, typography and any number of things they teach you about in art college (or maybe they don't any more) all come into play.

Over and above the technical side, it's the sense of an past era which pervades the work. Overtaken by Pop Art, gee-whizz airbrushing, Postmodernism and all that has come after it, the Fry Gallery devote their efforts to bringing this work back to our attention: they have a permanent Bawden Room as part of the gallery. Ravilious died tragically young (39) in 1941 during a wartime air-sea rescue mission; Bawden with whom he had lived in Saffron Walden at a house which had become a centre for itinerant artists, survived him by fort-six years. Here is world of letterpress 'Radio Times' (when that publication was a notable patron of graphic artists), London Underground posters, Wedgewood pottery artisans and decorators, Ealing comedies and not only 'black', but also 'white'. Strictures of cost and technical limits forced these artists to push monochrome design and illustration to new heights. The luxury of a second ink or a tinted paper was seldom available, particularly during wartime austerity.

Many thanks to Andrew Smith for arranging the visit and the lunch in a wonderful, ancient barn restaurant down the road. Saffron turned out to be an ancient and fascinating town, cursed by fast traffic, but containing buildings of great antiquity and beauty. It just seemed to be so dashed far away!

--Loon News Service

Members of Freelance and The Chartered Society of Designers (East Anglian Region) were treated to a guided tour of the DESIGN show at The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden by the curator Professor Brian Webb.
 

Further information and images about Eric Ravilious from: www.ericravilious.co.uk