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Through an Artist’s Eye – Felicia Brown and the Spanish Civil War
6th October 2016 @ 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Through An Artist’s Eye
is an artistic and poetic response to the life and work of British artist Felicia Browne, who volunteered in the Republican militia at the start of the Spanish Civil War in the Summer of 1936. Tragically she lost her life on her first mission, aged 32. The project draws on Felicia’s letters and sketches of the period brought to public attention by Professor Tom Buchanan (of Oxford University). Examples of these works are contained in the Felicia Browne archive at Tate Britain. A close friend and fellow artist, Elizabeth Watson, and later her descendants the Sproule family, have been the careful guardians of her letters and her artistic estate. Felicia was the first British combatant to die in the Spanish Civil War, and was also the only British female fighter in this conflict. She was also an alumna of the prestigious Slade School of Art. Our work will introduce audiences to the history, and create a symbolic return to the place of her birth in Thames Ditton with a showing of works there in October.
For details please see the free events programme listed below.
About Us Sonia Boué – visual artist Jenny Rivarola – poet. Commissioned work by artist Katie Taylor. Curator: Sarah Mossop. Academic partner: Professor Tom Buchanan.
Our project is funded by the Arts Council England, and supported by Surrey Council, with additional support from All Saint’s Weston, Cañada Blanch Centre, Instituto Cervantes London, International Memorial Brigades Trust, and Marx Memorial Library. Copies of original works kindly donated by Jim and Deborah Sproule. Jim is the son of artist Elizabeth Watson, close friend of Felicia Browne.
Who was Felicia Browne? Born in 1904 into a well off London family, Felicia Browne went on to rebel against her background to become a unique figure in the history of British involvement in the Spanish Civil War. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, and took a sculpture scholarship in Berlin in 1928, where she witnessed the rise of Nazism. A profoundly disturbing and decisive experience, this led her to join the British Communist Party in London in 1933.
Under surveillance by MI5, in July 1936 Felicia set off with her friend and fellow communist Edith Bone on a car journey via Paris to Spain. Their arrival in Barcelona coincided with the street fighting that marked the start of the Spanish Civil War. After a period of confusion Felicia enrolled in the Republican militia saying she could “fight as well as any man”. She was killed in August 1936 on a mission to blow up a Fascist munitions train near the Aragon front. Ambushed by Fascist fighters, Felicia was fatally wounded while coming to the aid of a fallen comrade. Her body was never recovered, but her drawings were rescued and brought back to England. The Art of Felicia Browne While none of her sculptural works remain Felicia left a great number of drawings, many of which can be seen online at the Tate Britain digital archive. Her drawings of Spanish working people and militias show us that her sketchbook was never far away, even during her final weeks. These works act as reportage on the early moments of the civil war. Her ability to capture any subject with rapid flowing lines reflects her many sessions at the Slade under the tutelage of Henry Tonks. Deeply conflicted about her creative purpose she famously chose activism above her own professional development as an artist – yet her drawings demonstrate her commitment to her craft and her remarkable eye. Our artistic response Objects, Paintings, Poetry and textiles. Jenny Rivarola and Sonia Boué are daughters of Spanish Republican exiles. Arriving at a series of seven key stages
which mark Felicia’s trajectory to Spain they have created paintings with assemblage and poems which guide the viewer on a multi-layered narrative journey. In her work Sonia Boué makes reference to the sketches, and uses Felicia’s materials – graphite and charcoal – on painted surfaces to evoke the energy of her line. Jenny Rivarola draws on the sense of character and drama in Felicia’s writing. Exuberant and learned – Felicia’s own poetic sensibility and erudition have proved inspiring. Jenny’s poetic influences for the work include poet and Republican icon Federico García Lorca. Our exhibition, to be held at the church of All Saints Weston, will feature examples of Felicia’s sketches and excerpts from her letters. Textile artist Katie Taylor works with traces of memory and loss. Her piece for the show draws on the final known photograph of Felicia prior to her departure for Spain.
Taster Event – at All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames: Thursday 6 October 6.30pm – All Saints Church, Market Place, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1JP
Join us as we focus on Felicia Browne’s artistic responses to the Spanish Civil War. The evening will include a talk by Professor Tom Buchanan, poetry readings by Jenny Rivarola and film presentations.