Bob has been up at the gallery this week to start his work painting the Archive Gallery on Floor 1 of the Garman Ryan Collection. Inspired by the Festival of Britain, the room is very colourful and has a distinct 1950s feel, which sits well with the time period of the Epstein Archive. See the below film for an explanation of the project from the man himself…
The book collection in the Epstein Archive have been sitting on a few shelves in the basement of the gallery for a number of years. A few researchers have studied these books, but it is only now that I have come to catalogue them and some real discoveries have come to light. The books themselves were taken out of the house that Kathleen Garman lived in until her death in 1979. The collection covers 4 generations of the Garman and Garman-Epstein families, dating back to Kathleen’s parents in Wednesbury, books belonging to Theodore Garman and to those given to Kathleen by her grandchildren, Anne and Annabel Freud.
Amongst the collection we have a large selection of Shakespeare, a 1st edition of Bleak House by Charles Dickens and one or two James Bond books for a bit of balance. The books themselves are fascinating as they reveal the reading habits of the family. However, what is really interesting are the inscriptions in many of the books – these little fragments of writing give a unique insight into the world of the family. I would like to share just a few examples of the discoveries that I’ve made today – things are appearing all the time, far too many to write about here, but 2 inscriptions that were found this morning are particularly interesting – not in any great revelatory way, just in their insight into normal life that they give us.
From Esther Garman to her mother Kathleen, inscribed in Dante’s La Divina Comedia.
This book was particularly unusual as it contains some pressed flowers, which are very fragile. We have no may of knowing if the flowers were part of the gift from Esther to her mother, or if they were added later, but this was a really nice find and the flowers are certainly very old indeed. It is always slightly special when we find something new relating to Esther, as Bob and Roberta Smith have taken such an interest in her and her story when creating works of art inspired by the archive. The exciting thing is that there is more information on her in this archive, waiting to be discovered.
From Ralph Gustafson and ‘Ian’ to Sally Ryan, inscribed in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
This is a particuarly great inscription as you can decipher a surprising amount of information from it. Sally Ryan was a friend of Kathleen Garman and she helped create the Garman Ryan Collection that the gallery houses. A few of the books in the archive were Sally’s that may have found their way into Kathleen’s bookshelves through Sally’s will. The above inscription reads:
“To Tammy Ryan
a rummy prize winner, from the defeated
October 22, 1938
Ralph is Ralph Gustafson, a poet and friend of Sally Ryan, Ian is unknown and Tammy was Sally’s nickname. Also included in the picture is a feather that was inside the book. What we can gather from this is that the book was a prize given to Sally after she had beaten Ralph and Ian at rummy, a card game. The time on the inscription suggests that it was written after an evening’s cards had ended, with Sally emerging victorious with her copy of Dostoyevsky as her prize. This book has made the remarkable trip from Silvermine, Connecticut, to Walsall and all because Sally Ryan was a good at cards.
Hello all – there’s been frantic activity in the Epstein Archive over the past few months. I haven’t posted anything in a little while, so we have a lot of ground to cover…
Firstly, some good news. We were delighted to hear that we’ve received funding to extend the project for another 6 months, taking us to September 2011. A huge thank you to the Museums Association and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. This will give us the opportunity to create a lasting legacy for this unique project.
Eppy Daddy Battle Bot
The colossal Eppy Daddy Battle Bot was the product of Bob’s residency at the gallery in September. Bob began constructing Eppy Daddy in his studio in Ramsgate and worked on the painting of it in Walsall. A reimagining of Jacob Epstein as a large robot, Eppy Daddy will be displayed in the foyer of the gallery as part of The Life of the Mind exhibition, which opens on the 21st of January (more info below). Bob states that “Jacob Epstein invented the robot” – a nod to Epstein’s famous sculpture Rock Drill. Eppy Daddy tells the story of Epstein’s career and specifically the trials that he faced particularly with some of his earlier work.
I travelled down to Ramsgate to collect Bob and the sculpture and we made a little road movie. Enjoy.
The Life of the Mind
The opening of The Life of the Mind exhibition fast approaches – 21st of January 2011. For those that don’t know anything about the exhibition, which is being curated by Bob and Roberta Smith, I’ve included a little descriptive blurb below:
Inspired by Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of his then 15 year old daughter Esther in which she seems to be resisting the artist’s gaze, The Life of the Mind seeks to expose the myth of the great male artist who has special insight into the minds of his more frail female subjects. This exhibition will look at predominantly female artists who give form to the interior world. Each artist resists easy interpretation and in Bob’s words, “sticks a sharp pair of scissors into the soft underbelly of male hegemony.”
We have some really amazing artists confirmed already for the show, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Sarah Lucas to name but a few.
From the ideas surrounding Esther Garman that Bob has been developing for much of the residency, Esther’s Law has been born. Esther’s Law is Bob’s vision of truly proportional system of government, where every part of society is fairly represented in parliament, what Bob has referred to as ‘real proportional representation.’ There is much more to follow on this one, so get behind Esther’s Law!
The second episode of Bob’s residency at the gallery. The 3rd will follow soon…enjoy.
Bob was up at the gallery last week for the 1st week of his 4 week residency. During this time, Bob will be making a large work relating to Esther Garman and specifically the Jacob Epstein sculpture of Esther in the Garman Ryan Collection. We filmed Bob’s time in the studio on time lapse and will do the same for the remaining 3 weeks. Therefore, sit back, relax and enjoy episode 1!
After making the ‘See Esther’ film with Neil, I thought more about the process of Epstein making a portrait bust. The bust of Esther with a flower with her rather long neck is an open image of a young woman. It sits in stark contrast to the first bust which is the subject of our film. There is something unsettling in the image and I have begun to think it is the image of a young woman resisting being portrayed by her father. Nowhere in any of the letters from Esther or Theodore am I aware of them referring to their father as anything other than ‘Epstein’. Epstein’s Portrait busts were either of lovers, small children or the Famous. The first Portrait bust of Esther is uncomfortable. Esther stares ahead. Her gaze looks to the middle distance to a space beyond the viewer, beyond the artist.
I am reminded of being a teenager and relatives asking ‘what are you thinking?’ and wanting to shout at them but not being able to. Epstein called the first bust of Esther one of his best. He was right.
The default thing Art Historians say about Epstein’s busts is that he was a genius at being able to explore the psychology of his subjects. I am not sure that this is anything more than myth making. What is great about the 1st bust of Esther in his in ability to capture Esther’s psychological state.
Like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa she remains her own person resisting easy interpretation. Unlike the Mona Lisa there is no enigmatic smile.
Great news about the Tea cup being returned. I think that was left quite far away. Do we have contacts for the returnees? I love this project.
I am concerned we might be wasting peoples time but somehow the whole process seems to echo the feeling of going through the Archive finding things ourselves; it’s very serendipitous and depends a lot on our attitudes as much as what more objectively is there.
Your find this week of the torn notes from Kathleen Garman’s calendar of the dates that Theo and Esther died are amazingly sad. These actual fragments of paper torn by their mother from a rolodex style calendar are easily enough to make you weep. They are the first step to the formation of a show in the archive devoted to those around Epstein who were perhaps the unwitting victims of his incredible single mindedness but also of the casual cruelty inflicted by parents on their children. Or perhaps it’s just that some young people need help and support to get through their twenties. This job of going through the Archive has made me think long and hard about parenthood. I have two children; I know I am guilty of not always being around for them, often because of commitments to do with art.