Meet Ethel Spowers
What happens if you live in Melbourne in the early part of the twentieth century in an era of pretty conservative art making? How do you learn about what is going on in Europe and other places that are so far away? There is no television, no internet.
Why, one goes to libraries and book stores to find publications that might expand one’s horizons. One such oasis of cosmopolitan culture in Melbourne was found at the Depot Bookshop run by the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria. It was there in 1928 that a young artist named Eveline Syme came across a small booklet called Lino-Cuts, written by Claude Flight.
Claude Flight was the well-known teacher at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London who was the defacto leader of a group of printmakers named for the school. (We recently met Lill Tschudi and Ursula Fookes who both studied there.) Syme and another young artist, Ethel Spowers, would have seen the school advertised in The Studio, the leading British art-periodical also available at the Depot Bookshop. Both women were so taken by the illustrations in Flight's booklet that they traveled to London and enrolled—Spowers arrived in late 1928, and Syme came a few months later, in 1929.
Located in London's Warwick Square, the Grosvenor School was an informal place that offered up random courses. It had a growing reputation due mainly to Flight who was one of its charismatic teachers. He inspired many artists to work in linoleum cuts in multiple colors (one block for each color) and to adopt Flight’s method of using both printing ink and oil paint to achieve particular color effects. Flight promoted the idea of the democratic virtue of linoleum cuts as a cheap commodity in an overpriced art market. (The Grosvenor School closed its doors in 1940.)
Syme wrote about Flight and his style: “Sometimes in his classes it is hard to remember that he is teaching, so complete is the camaraderie between him and his students. He treats them as fellow-artists rather than pupils, discusses with them and suggests to them, never dictates or enforces. At the same time he is so full of enthusiasm for his subject, and his ideas are so clear and reasoned that it is impossible for his students not to be influenced by them."
Today’s artist, Spowers, studied with Flight from 1928 to 1930, went home for a bit, and returned to London in 1931 for a spell. During her time back home in 1930, she mounted a show, Exhibition of Linocuts, at the Everyman Lending Library in Melbourne that featured her prints as well as those by Syme and fellow Aussie Dorrit Black. In turn, the three women all found an outlet at the Modern Art Center established in Sydney by Black in 1931. Spowers also acted as an informal agent for Flight, promoting his work down under. Spowers, sadly, died of cancer at the young age of 56 in 1947.
Meanwhile, in England, influential touring exhibitions, arranged in conjunction with the Redfern Gallery, traveled around promoting the linoleum cuts of the Grosvenor School, and included the work of the Australian women. Linoleum cut prints by the artists of the Grosvenor School were popular until they seemed too colorful and optimistic in the face of the War. They fell off the radar and it wasn’t until the 1970s that there was really any market for them. Now, of course, their prices are sky high.
Leave a Reply.
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.