After the informality of our collective Boogie Doodle, this week’s responses take as their starting points the urbane visions of Eric Ravilious’ High Street, beguiling in their nostalgia and just as bitter-sweet considering our current circumstances. Somewhere out there, some opportunist on Instagram is no doubt augmenting Ravilious’ shop windows with social distancing stickers and ‘Please Wear A Face Mask’ notifications. I don’t know if this is clever or just very depressing.
“Another brilliant challenge! It had me going up to the high street at dawn over a few days to get some nice light and look around – camera in hand. Our suburb Earlwood is a bit of a sleepy hollow coming out of Sydney’s inner west – but I avoid the high street, a thoroughfare to the city, so heavy with traffic and fairly grotty. Earl wood is also a suburb with a large Greek population so there is a bit of Greek colour. I was heading down a few different directions with the snaps and colour and reflections were more predominant but at the end of the day I just slapped a mix together. I hope it gives you a bit of an idea of what makes up Earlwood.”
“I was immediately drawn to the shop full of masks, above. I’ve drawn, painted, stitched and collaged many masks over the years, and I also have quite a few that I’ve collected, stored and waiting for a place to be displayed.For the prompt, I decided to focus on Mexican animal masks, since the animal masks in the shop illustration seemed to be the most prominent element. Masking has a long history in the indigenous culture of the Americas, and animals are commonly used in dances, ritual, and ceremonies, often combined with Christian stories and characters. Masks are vessels in which a powerful energy is stored, an energy than can help cross the boundaries between human and animal, creating a co-existence of spirits in the same body. The technique I used was the Rorschach monoprint–I painted one side and folded the paper in the center and pressed down to create a mirror image. I confess that once I got started with these it was hard to stop.”
“This was right up my street! (Ouch!) I feel like I have stepped back in time and especially with Christmas approaching I remember how lovely it was as a child to gaze into the shop windows and dream of what might appear in your stocking. I also feel very ancient when I recall how we used to save up our bus money to buy sweets and then walk home. There was a small shop right near to where I caught the bus home from junior school called Mr Whips. He was a very kind old man and let me pay for my mum’s birthday present in instalments. It was a green glass ring costing 5 shillings or about 4 weeks bus fare! Those were the days! However it was a life lesson in honesty I never forgot. Eric Ravilious’ wonderful lithographs bring back the mood of those happy times, which perhaps sadly we may not see again for a while.”
“I adore the Eric Ravilious’ illustrations for High Street. There’s something delightfully cosy and reassuring about them at first glance. The shops have a wonderful English charm, they look well-stocked, the customers look comfortably off, and Ravilious’ tremendous skill in lithography ensures that everything is perfectly judged, the overall effect so satisfying.
There are some weird details in some of the illustrations, though. The vision of idyllic pre-war life on the High Street only makes the strange objects in the shop windows even more sinister; those peculiar masks, the diving equipment and the furriers are all more than slightly odd. Is this such an idyllic place after all, or is it, like those alien planets sometimes visited by the Star Trek crew, actually a crazy zombie-cannibal cult masquerading as utopia?
My first attempt at responding to the prompt was to make an image of a fictional shop (from Chimera by Phil Gomm no less!) in the same style. I soon discovered how deceptively simple those illustrations are. My attempt was a flop, and so I decided to abandon trying to ‘do a Ravilious’ and go in a completely different direction. My images are from an imaginary 1920’s German animation called ‘High Street’. It’s set in a remote forest village and the story is probably heavy on horror and phantasmagoria. I think I’m channelling the early silent horror film Der Golem here (and the bridge is straight out of Dr. Caligari); quite a long way from Ravilious’ neat and slightly whimsical scenes. The photos are of some card and plaster models I made a few years ago when I was exploring working in 3D for the first time. I’d been exploring the expressionist architecture of my new home city, Berlin, and also watching plenty of expressionist films, which I think is quite apparent from the resulting images!”
“I love the Ravillious prints as a starting point. His use of colour is so subtle in comparison to the images I have included here. His choice of colour remind me of that era before the war and into the 50’s. My contribution has not really come to fruition in any art form, except some photographs of shop fronts in the area where I live and shop. So this time I feel more like an observer/researcher.The photos show a curious Bohemian area very close to the centre of Bristol where I shop. The architecture of the shop fronts is very reiminiscent of those Victorian ones that Ravillious has depicted in his prints. Many of them have become homes rather than shops yet people are using their front window to say something visually that defines their life now or they have blocked out the world completely such as the corner shop that is totally painted green and a green that says British Rail to me of the 40’s and 50’s model railways. It’s rather sad and neglected.“
“Eric Ravilious’ depictions of high street shops reminded me so strongly of the high street in the small market town I grew up in, they set off a flood of memories.
Although my childhood post-dated Ravilious’ illustrations by some twenty years, much was little changed. Not so many milliners and furriers perhaps, and a few more domestic appliance sales rooms and record shops, but all the fundamentals were the same – butcher, baker, grocer, draper.
It’s these memories I wanted to share with the Kickabout crowd. I am aware many of you are too young to remember life in the 1950s, but I hope this reminiscence can evoke an impression of the high street of my childhood.“
(Pop your headphones on for the best listening experience)
“I responded very strongly to these images, particularly Ravilious’ image of the high-end interiors shop, A Pollard. It says more about me, I suppose, that I detected some shadow at work in these nostalgic images of these well-to-do shops. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the flicker of immediate associations included the animated series, Mr Ben, the production art for Disney’s 101 Dalmations and H. G. Wells’ The Magic Shop. I was struck too by the inter-war period, and it got me thinking about ideas of luxury and leisure time, and how doomed it all was, given what was looming on the horizon, but also about how wonderful it would be to discover a shop like Pollard’s on your high street and the sorts of people it would attract, and the tensions in a small community it might produce. It doesn’t always happen – and it rarely happens when a clock is ticking – but this story just wanted out – and out it came!”
You can find a ‘large print’ PDF version here.
“Drawing Inspiration from the gorgeous high street Illustrations of Eric Ravilious, I drew one of my favorite places to have a drink – or ten – with my friends back in my home turf in shop street, Galway city – a place that is always bustling with the right amount of life.”
“The subject of the high street feels rather pertinent, what with so many businesses being shut for the lockdown currently in effect. I went out and photographed some shop fronts of my local high street for inspiration. Of course, many were closed or had social distancing measures in place. It’s uncanny in a way. Familiar, but not quite right. With some local reference, I attempted to digitally replicate a Ravilious styled shop front.”
“I have been a devotee of Ravilious since my student days. At that time he was regarded as a minor artist, not really rated alongside Nash, Bawden or John Piper and his works were fairly inexpensive (Still beyond my student purse however). Although I love his playful lithographs for the Curwen press and the “High Street’ I am captivated by his watercolours. The reason I am late is I spent too much time trying to unpick his technique. It looks immediate and freely applied – it isn’t! I chose a stretch of Watling Street in Gillingham with a parade of shops photographed I think in the late 1940’s, a year or two after Ravillious died in 1942 as a war artist off Iceland, as I am sure everyone knows. My intention was to apply some of his watercolour techniques to a “High Street” subject. Sadly I ran out of time.”
So after browsing an Eric Ravilious well-to-do high street, we’re next taking a journey into some snowy woods, lovely, dark and deep, with thanks to the artist Francesca Maxwell for our brand new prompt. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed the work here and fancy a go in the sand-pit yourself, have a bash and get in touch.