Stephen Perse Foundation Cabinet of Curiosities

The Power of Pigment

The Power of Pigment

We sometimes forget that paintings – and all the ideas and feelings they can conjure up in us – are made of water, ground up earth and oil. The artist is an alchemist who transforms these base materials into searing sunlight and menacing gloom.  It is precisely these qualities of luminosity and density of form that are determined by the kind of pigments an artist uses. A pair of exhibitions that I visited this week in Cambridge both foreground this idea. In The Moving Word: French Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge, a display case is devoted to the medieval palette and the organic or inorganic materials on which paints were then based, such as buckthorn, lead and shells. The illustrated books that were created with them are still full of movement and light today.


The Fitzwilliam Museum is currently showing a large collection of paintings by John Craxton, a self-taught artist who was at his most productive during the second world war. He was deeply influenced by his friend Neo-Romantic artist Graham Sutherland, as well as by Stanley Spencer and Picasso. He was also interested in the use of gold, glass and natural stone in Byzantine mosiacs. As soon as he learnt to paint as a young boy he was grinding his own colours, and later developed his own version of egg tempera, using pure powder pigments and PVA glue. During WW2, he was given some unwanted cans of Ripolin household enamel paint (also used by Picasso) and found that they transformed his art. In his words: “We mixed tube colours with the Ripolin and they have retained a luminosity where other paintings of that period have not…allowing the statement without the brush strokes.”

Craxton 2


Our new library is officially open

Our new library is officially open

Here are some photographs of our opening event of our new library, which took place on Friday 17th January.

Event 1 Event 2 Event 3 Event 4

The theme of the opening exhibition is Jacquetta Hawkes and Deep Time. The writer Robert Macfarlane, who wrote an introduction to Jacquetta Hawkes’ book A Land, gave an inspiring talk on the concept of the quaquaversal, about which you can read more on Tricia Kelleher’s blog.

Curating begins at home

This week I have seen two exhibitions – one physical, one digital – on the theme of home.

The first, now showing at Kettle’s Yard, is drawn from the collection of Victor Skipp, historian and collector, who bequeathed his Suffolk estate to Kettle’s Yard on his death in 2010. Skipp’s house was filled with tribal masks, minimalist art, miniature shrines and aphorisms suspended from beams. Befitting an expert on the Industrial Revolution, Skipp’s home bridges the pre-modern and post-industrial worlds. His idiosyncratic arrangements generate spiralling associations and a mute wonder – there’s no slouching in front of the TV here.

Victor Skipp's Study

The Art of Keeping is a series of photographs taken by Paula Salischiker on the theme of hoarding. She visited a number of hoarders’ homes and documented what happens when throwing things away becomes psychologically impossible; how these houses suffer from a kind of cancer of objects.

Hoarder's shelves

Both these exhibitions are about strange homes: homes that reflect in very obvious ways the inner lives of their inhabitants. This got me thinking about the extent to which our homes reflect our inner selves, and how much we also ensure they conform to norms of social class, good taste and efficiency. The home is partly a place of freedom and disorder, partly a carefully curated stage.


SPF Cabinet of Curiosities