Kettle’s Yard: a reflection

I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK.  Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s.  Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War.  He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This work, called ‘Bird swallows a fish’ by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made a profound impression on me. Very pertinent for our ecological crisis.

Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature.  There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is.  Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either.  Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art.  He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University.  He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’

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Humble collections of stones, arranged carefully, give a peaceful ‘zen-like’ calm to the home.

Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply.  And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are.  So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich.  A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture.  Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty.  This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one.  In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.

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Works of art by famous artists are placed deliberately low on the floor so that the viewer can sit down and contemplate these.
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Light and shadows play a part in how sculptures are placed
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Plants also part of the display- a living natural art
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You are invited to sit on the chairs to contemplate the space and art

Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard

  1. Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
  2. Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
  3. Follow the design through as you walk from space to space.  It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
  4. Remove and hide things seasonally.  This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
  5. Eclectic collections have a charm of their own.  Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.

 

Painting from memory

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I have been away for nearly a month to see my family- my parents are both disabled and my father is blind.  Apart from the time spent in sorting out their problems, I have had time to reflect on my work, my art and what I had forgotten.  I found many things from my childhood, including diaries.  Since a young age, I have been collecting stuff- all sort of things but mainly magazine or newspaper cuttings.  As a child, I used to love pasting these and making sense of the what the drawing looked like, i.e. I didn’t start with an agenda but waited to see what would happen (Louis Kahn, the architect apparently used to ask the brick what the brick wanted to be).  Somehow I had forgotten this childish habit which I had naturally long before I had heard of Louis Kahn or any artist.  Then I saw the work of Jasper Johns as a 12 year old- it left an indelible impression on me. Again, I forgot about him and the electrifying effect that his work had on me.

Sorting out the stuff at my parent’s house, brought back all these memories and inspirations of my childhood that I had pushed aside.  Upon return, I have started painting again and what a joy it is! Due to my own eye problems, I realised I painted in a certain way. While I spend a lot of time thinking about the work and composing it (without too much thought towards what it might become), once I have decided, I paint quickly and deliberately.  I may come back sometimes to a painting and put on some little touches but most of the time, not.  I like to paint on found materials- card, masonite board, old pictures that people have put out as trash.  I like layering different materials- paper, tape and objects; and laying on thick paint with textures, so that the surface is very tactile as well as vibrant.  This particular painting is about events of 1984.  Again, I did not start it that way, I stuck some tickets, paper and magazine cuttings, a map and other stuff I found and then I realised I had created a story about 1984.  Someone saw it and remarked they liked it, even though I did not tell them what the painting was about.  I think art does not need to be explained too much- the viewer has to find an empathy and meaning in it themselves otherwise it does not connect. Thank you, Jasper Johns and Louis Kahn!