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This review is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

SPONTANEOUS IGNITION ALISON OLDHAM, Everyone Was Working: Writers and Artists in Postwar St Ives (Tate St Ives, Falmouth College of Arts) £8.99

The first phrase of Alison Oldham's title is an amusingly appropriate quotation from Sven Berlin about the artistic community that gathered in St Ives in the mid-1940s. A `completely spontaneous ignition of ideas and inspiration [Berlin said] flashed through us like lightning', the `us' being artists such as Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, and writers such as David Wright, Norman Levine, and W.S. Graham. Oldham takes on the question of `whether writers' association with visual artists affected the form of their writing as well as its content'. Sceptics of course might say sure, everyone was working, but in separate studios or studies and in non-comparable media; and the mutual energizing came from drinking and socializing, or at most from praising and publishing one another's work.

Mutual encouragement is not trivial. But working inter-relations among artists in different media can indeed be much more significant, as studies of earlier nodes of painterly/writerly activity - Ezra Pound's Vorticist London, Bloomsbury, Gertrude Stein's Cubist Paris, Alfred Stieglitz's New York to name a few - have shown, including analysis of how the writers involved in these groups radically rethought linguistic form by analogy with formal experimentation in the visual media. To give an instance that is instructive in its very specificity. In 1915 the second issue of the Vorticist Blast published a manifesto by Henri Gaudier-Brezska, in which he described his sculptural emotions as deriving `from the arrangement of surfaces . . ...


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