by alexandra harris
i did eng lit at university and have been saddled ever since with a joyce / woolf / ben nicholson / gaudier brzeska / wells coates model of british modernism. all white spaces and restless experiment and really uncomfortable chairs. in opposition to which there seemed to be a provincial reactionary tradition. eric ravilious, cecil beaton, stanley spencer, vaughn williams. this is a book about the fallacy of that division, about how most artists moved across that supposed border or happily straddled it (laszlo moholy-nagy really did provide the photos for a book about oxford written by john betjeman). It is also a book about the importance for inter-war british artists of place, of weather, of archaeology, of gardens, of tea-shops and churches, of 'land' in all its many manifestations, a land that was soon to be placed under a very real threat.
it has become a commonplace of fiction-writing that one cannot be truly universal without being truly local. foolishly i'd never thought about applying it to this period.
after finishing the book i cranked up spotify to listen to some arthur bliss and vowed to overcome my prejudice and buy a book about john piper (it's his wonderful collage of dungeness which is on the book's cover). then i went on holiday and found myself drawing landscapes, which hasn't happened for a while.