Ben Nicholson 1894-1982

UK 1985, 52 mins
Director: John Read

+ intro by Steve Foxon, Curator of Non-Fiction, BFI National Archive

An account of the life and work of the English painter Ben Nicholson, with reminiscences from the artist Patrick Heron, who took over Nicholson’s studio in St. Ives; the architect Sir Leslie Martin; the art dealer Andras Kalman; Dr Felicitas Vogler, writer, photographer, and Nicholson’s third wife; and Angela Verren, a close friend in the later years.

There are no stylistic frills to Ben Nicholson: the artist’s portrait is drawn through commentary, camera prowlings over assorted art works, and verbal testimony delivered to the unseen interviewer in largely undemonstrative settings (only the street life seen through Andras Kalman’s window threatens to sidetrack the viewer). Director John Read (son of Sir Herbert Read, who championed Nicholson’s work in the 30s) has had years of experience in television features on arts and artists, and his conventional approach at least leaves Nicholson’s canvasses room to breathe.

The star attraction among the interviewees is undoubtedly the ebullient Patrick Heron, displaying memorabilia left behind in Nicholson’s Cornish studio: pencil stubs; the schoolboy compasses used to draw the obsessive circles; the tattered card once pinned to the studio door, whose design, for Heron, resembles a Nicholson painting in miniature. At first this sounds fanciful, yet the film constantly stresses the nourishment Nicholson found in everyday objects. The bottles, vases and jugs inherited from the artist’s father Sir William Nicholson helped Ben make the leap into non-representational art; the tools of a plumber summoned for a leaking pipe lent their shapes to a large series of paintings. For all its stylistic antiquity, John Read’s film usefully outlines both the intellectual and domestic context of Britain’s most celebrated abstract artist.
Geoff Brown, Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1985

Alfred Wallis – Artist and Mariner
Christopher Mason’s film about the painter Alfred Wallis achieves the same mixture of curiosity and affectionate recall that characterised his earlier art documentary, Duncan Grant at Charleston. The film consists of reminiscences by surviving friends and relatives from Wallis’ native town of St. Ives, counterpointed by visuals showing us the paintings themselves and the real land- and seascapes that inspired them. The simple, deceptively childlike quality of Wallis’ art is stressed throughout: his early works were taken none too seriously by local friends, and it was Ben Nicholson who ‘discovered’ him, accidentally glimpsing Wallis’ paintings through the open door of the painter’s house while strolling through St. Ives with a friend. What comes through in Mason’s film, however, is not only the beguiling simplicity of the paintings – bright colours, unreal perspectives, doll-like human figures – but their very real and lyrical powers of landscape evocation.
Nigel Andrews, Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1973

Barbara Hepworth at the Tate
A record of the famed sculptor’s 1968 Tate retrospective, accompanied by a beguiling and crisply enunciated narration by Hepworth herself, which she describes her techniques and the aims of her work. The exhibition illustrates a broad range of Hepworth’s output, from early wood carvings to her abstract stringed figures of the 1930s and the monumental grandeur of her 1960s pieces.

Director: John Read
Production Companies: Balfour Films, RM Arts, Arts International
Sponsor: Arts Council of Great Britain
Executive Producer: Rodney Wilson
Producer: Anne Balfour-Fraser
Researcher: Barbara Ann Taylor
Script: John Read
Commentary written and spoken by: John Read
Photography: Brian Grainger, Derek Waterman
Rostrum Photography: Ivor Richardson
Stills: Felicitas Vogler, Eileen Tweedy
Editor: Colin Sherman
Sound: Robert Allen, Clive Pendry

Patrick Heron
Felicitas Vogler
Leslie Martin
Andras Kalman
Angela Verren

UK 1985
52 mins

Director: Christopher Mason
Production Company: Mason Bruce Associates
Sponsor: Arts Council of Great Britain
Producer: Christopher Mason
Script: Christopher Mason
Photography: Clive Tickner
Editor: Christopher Mason
Harmonium played by: Ben Nance
Voices recorded by: Roger Slack
Sound: Iain Bruce

UK 1973
22 mins

Director: Bruce Beresford
Production Company: British Film Institute
Sponsor: Arts Council of Great Britain
Photography: Bruce Beresford
Assistant Photographers: Cedric Pheasant, Richard Saunders
Editor: Trevor Craig
Art Consultant: Hugh Evans

UK 1969
12 mins

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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