Defining Faces: 20th Century Portrait Drawings at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is situated in the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus and has collaborated with the National Portrait Gallery in London to create their new exhibition, Defining Faces: 20th Century Portrait Drawings which runs until the 26th August.
The exhibition is co-curated by postgraduate University of Birmingham History of Art students and is comprised of a series of preliminary drawings and sketches of prominent British figures.
I personally enjoy the aesthetics of ink and pencil so the exhibition is a refreshing break from the more traditional paintings exhibited elsewhere in the Barber. It is also fascinating to see the ways in which drawings can progress and to see the working mindset of the artist through these initial sketches. Big names include Oscar Kokoschka and Hans Schwarz, a personal favourite.
Percy Wyndham Lewis' portrait, 'Froanna', 1940. Photograph taken from the Barber website.

Percy Wyndham Lewis’ portrait, ‘Froanna’, 1940. Photograph taken from the Barber website.

An aspect of the exhibition that I was disappointed with was the information accompanying each drawing. Alongside useful biographical information about the depicted figures was rather a lot of art speak that reminded me of a humorous article in the guardian that I read a few months ago.
The captions in Defining Faces included sentences such as this: ‘the artist suggests something of the sitter’s inner world using apparently random lines and shading’. I have two problems with captions like this. The first is that they don’t really say anything, making the captions long-winded and taking important viewing time away from the pictures themselves.
Secondly they tell the viewer what to think. When visiting a gallery a visitor may respect the authority of such captions but I personally think that, save for a few factual details, no extra information, or in fact opinions, should be put alongside an image.
Tom Phillips' portrait of Richard Edward Morphet, 1972/3. Photo taken from the Barber website

Tom Phillips’ portrait of Richard Edward Morphet, 1972/3. Photo taken from the Barber website

To sum, I really enjoyed the concept of the exhibition and it was a nice change to see some drawings and rough workings that are usually hidden away. If you are going to see this exhibition (which I do think you should!) my advice would be to not pay too much attention to the captions. I know that I had more fun once I had tired of reading and instead spent the other half of the exhibition looking at the drawings themselves in detail.

You can find out more information about the exhibition here.


Wychwood Festival


Big Top

I made a fleeting visit to this ‘family friendly summer festival’ for a sunny Friday afternoon and not really knowing what to expect, I had a good look around. Set in the Cheltenham Racecourse surrounded by idyllic rolling hills, the festival offers three live music stages and a host of small arts and crafts tents, food outlets and more.


Bubbles at Wychwood

The festival really lived up to its family-friendly reputation as parents danced alongside their children and even their teenagers. Here are some of my personal highlights.

John O’Connor


Artists and Makers tent with John O’Connor Sculpture

Making my way to the Big Top I was stopped in my tracks by the large figurative sculptures for sale by John O’Connor. Some of them were simple figures standing still which reminded me of Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ (which is perhaps why I liked them – see my earlier post on Antony Gormley). However O’Connor’s sculptures are not as human as Gormley’s figures and carry an air of intrigue. See more of O’Connor’s work here:

Victoria England

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Upcycled Bunnies by Victoria England

Inside the Artists and Makers tent was a stall of unique items made by Victoria England. Mostly producing handbags, all of England’s stock is made from 100% recycled retro and vintage materials. I particularly liked these bunnies!

Not A Full Shilling


Recycled Penny Pendant by Not A Full Shilling

Stuart Andrews calls himself a ‘recycler of old coins and silver cutlery’ and creates these striking pieces. His tent was full of cufflinks, wind chimes, necklaces and more all made from recycled coins and cutlery.


Half Crown Pendant by Not A Full Shilling

 I really enjoyed looking at all the different designs on display and you can even design your own piece. Have a look at their website for more information and unique pieces:

Emily and the Woods

The main reason I went to Wychwood was to see these guys play in the Big Top. Emily and the Woods are a four-piece band headed up by gorgeous vocals from Emily. I should say upfront that I may be a bit biased having grown up through school with the three boys in the band. However, hear me out: they are no average-kind-of-alright-and-I’ll-just-like-them-because-I-know-them kind of band. If you want proof then check out Emily’s beautiful voice here:


Emily and the Woods (sorry for the awful quality)

The crowd loved their set at Wychwood and shouted for another song when the band ran out of time (which the sound man thankfully allowed). We were treated to their brand new song ‘Helios’ which had a more dancey feel and the whole set was just lovely!


But don’t just take my word for it, go and see them for yourself – they’re going on tour later this month!

All in all Wychwood Festival was a great day out. The sun was shining, there was a friendly atmosphere and lots going on. I loved all the little stalls showcasing some beautiful arts and crafts and innovative recycling ideas. Find out more information about the festival here: