Autumn Art Lecture Series 2016: Visualising theatre

Theatre is one of the most ephemeral of art forms, but the visual arts can offer new ways of capturing and understanding the theatrical world. In this year’s Autumn Art Lectures a range of distinguished speakers each explored forms of theatrical representation in art and demonstrated how theatre can be rediscovered through different creative forms. The series covered aspects of art from the Ancient world to the present day, offering unique insights into rarely seen material, from the use of art by an actor as he develops his role to the translation of theatre design into other art forms.

The lectures took place six consecutive Tuesdays from 25 October until 29 November 2016.


Antony Sher, in conversation with Martin White (Emeritus Professor of Theatre at the University of Bristol)

Antony Sher, Laurence Olivier Award winning actor

25 Oct

6.15 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
When Antony Sher played Richard III, he published an account of his work on the part, Year of the King, which he subtitled ‘An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook’. He is a gifted artist, and throughout his long and varied career has used his art to trace and capture his route to finding the essence of a particular role, to record his own and other actors’ work in rehearsal and often to produce more ‘finished’ paintings of the character who finally emerged. Exhibitions of his paintings and drawings have been held at the National Theatre, The London Jewish Cultural Centre, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the Herbert Gallery in Coventry. In this conversation, drawing on examples of his own work, Sir Antony will discuss the relationship between his art and his acting.

Antony Sher was born in Cape Town, but came to London when he was nineteen to train at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1982 he joined the RSC (where he is now an Honorary Associate Artist), since when his roles for the company include the Fool in King Lear, Richard III (for which he won the Laurence Olivier Best Actor Award), Shylock, Leontes, Macbeth, Iago, Prospero, Willy Loman (in Death of a Salesman), Falstaff (which he wrote about in Year of the Fat Knight) and, currently, the title role in King Lear. At the Royal National Theatre his roles include Tamburlaine, Titus Andronicus and the title role in Pam Gems play about the artist Stanley Spencer, for which he won a second Olivier Best Actor Award. In addition to many screen performances he is the author of three plays, four novels and an autobiography, Beside Myself, and is also a highly accomplished artist and illustrator. He was knighted in 2000.

When the Artist and the Actor Collide: Theatrical Portraits

Marcus Risdell, Art and theatre historian and the Garrick Club curator

1 Nov

6.15 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
Artists have long played an important role in the theatre; as scene painter and designer, but also as portraitist. This lecture will introduce specific moments when the artist and actor have collided: from William Hogarth and David Garrick, to Sir Thomas Lawrence and John Philip Kemble, through to the invention of photography. Illustrations from the great theatrical collections will explore how the painters visualised the actors of the past and preserved a glimpse behind the curtains.

Marcus Risdell is an art-historian who has worked in several theatrical portrait collections, including the Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection (now at the Bristol Theatre Collections) and the Garrick Club (where he was for many years its Librarian and Curator). As a practising ethnomusicologist he recently undertook field work in French Polynesia searching for the origins of the Tahitian ukulele. He is also a mountaineer.

Visualising Ancient Greek Drama

Dr Rosie Wyles, Lecturer in Classical History and Literature, University of Kent

8 Nov

6.15 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
Let the vase painters of ancient Greece take you behind the scenes of theatre from over two thousand years ago. The vases discussed capture enticing traces of the performance tradition which gave birth to Western theatre. But all is not as it seems, as far from offering a simple record, these paintings challenge their viewers to reflect on what theatre is. This talk explores the beginnings of the playful relationship between visual art and theatre.

Dr Rosie Wyles is Lecturer of Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent. Her research interests include: Greek and Roman performance arts, theatre costume, reception, and gender. She has published on, amongst others things, costume in Greek tragedy and the Pronomos vase. She is often involved with workshops in connection with theatre productions, including National Theatre's Medea, and has also contributed to two major BBC series on the ancient Greeks.

Oliver Messel: In the Theatre of Design

Thomas Messel, Writer and Furniture Designer

15 Nov

6.15 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
Oliver Messel was England’s most celebrated theatrical designer. He began his career in 1925 designing for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, later branching out into film, opera, interior design, and architecture. Romanticism and wit were hallmarks of Messel’s style. Responsible for more than forty stage and film productions, his designs were famed for their exquisite delicacy, impossible detail, subtlety of colour and inventive use of materials. Thomas Messel’s lecture is based upon the life and work of his uncle Oliver Messel, and is accompanied by images that chronicle a unique and until now largely overlooked oeuvre that continues to influence the worlds of interior design, architecture, fashion and stage.

Thomas Messel is the nephew of Oliver Messel and is one of England’s most eminent furniture designers. He has an international reputation for designing and creating furniture of Classical beauty, winning a number of prestigious design awards over the past thirty years. Thomas was involved in the refurbishment of two of Oliver Messel’s design projects, the Dorchester Hotel and Flaxley Abbey. He lectures frequently in Britain and the USA. ‘Oliver Messel: In the Theatre of Design’, winner of the Spear’s Book Award 2012, is his first book and he is a contributing writer for ‘House and Garden’ magazine.

Drama on stage, desire off stage: The Kabuki theatres of 18th-century Edo, Japan

Dr Rosina Buckland, National Museums Scotland

22 Nov

6.15 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
The handscroll painting entitled ‘Theatres of the East’, held by Edinburgh City Council is a sumptuous, attractive and engaging representation of the theatre district in Edo (today’s Tokyo) in the year 1700. Measuring 13m long, the painting was an expensive and significant commission for its painter, Furuyama Moromasa (fl. early 18thC). Not only does the work provide detailed visual depictions of the theatre interiors, performances, actors, audience and supporting businesses, but also we find full textual information on the actors appearing on stage and the plays being performed. Study of the handscroll has yielded ever greater insights into its content and art historical importance, but in a remarkable discovery the painting turns out to be one of a pair. In her talk, Dr Buckland will explore this fascinating painting, together with the world of Kabuki theatre in the early 18th century and the background to the scroll’s production.

Rosina Buckland read Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge and after graduating worked in Japan as a translator. She received a PhD in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts (New York University) and worked at the British Museum for several years, before taking up the position of curator of the Japanese collections at the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh). Her research area is pictorial art of the early modern era, with a particular interest in literati culture of the late 19th century. She is currently planning the Museum’s new East Asia gallery.

Spirited Affinities

Professor Adrian Heathfield, Professor of Performance and Visual Culture, University of Roehampton

29 Nov

6.30 pm (Please note the later start time), Priory Road Lecture Theatre, The Priory Road Complex, Priory Road, BS8 1TU,
How might we rethink the temporality of performance and the relations that sustain it, given its ongoing incorporation into art institutions, archives, markets and modes of global dissemination? In what ways does the ‘persistence of performance’ challenge our understandings of the material and immaterial, the secular and the spiritual? Looking at examples of recent trans-generational collaboration in contemporary art and dance, this talk reformulated the question of the material investments and affinities of performance artists. Performance’s historical survival is seen in the light of art’s re-attunement to planetary forces and to the powers of the unknown.

Adrian Heathfield writes on, curates and creates performance. His books include Out of Now, a monograph on the Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh and the edited collections Perform, Repeat, Record and Live: Art and Performance. His numerous essays have been translated into seven languages. He currently works on a creative research project – Curating the Ephemeral – funded by the European Union. He is Professor of Performance and Visual Culture at the University of Roehampton, London.