Image: Detail of Eduardo Paolozzi outside his West End studio, c.1959. Photograph by David Farrell.

Thie exhibition presented works by 22 British artists paired with archival audio recordings that captured their earliest memories of childhood, friends, family, places and events. The oral recordings were excerpts taken from the British Library's extensive National Life Stories archival project which were researched by exhibition curator Michael Bird during a year-long Goodison Fellowship investigating aspects of the 'Artists' Lives' project. Established in 1990, the Artists' Lives archive now contains almost 400 life-story interviews with British artists as well as critics, dealers and gallery directors, providing an unparalleled and rich history of the British art landscape over the course of the 20th century.

The 43 works in the exhibition were on loan from The Ingram Collection, one of the UK's most comprehensive and significant collections of Modern British Art. The artists selected were some of the best known within the Collection: Eileen Agar, Kenneth Armitage, John Bellany, Ralph Brown, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Ken Currie, Mary Fedden, Paul Feiler, Elisabeth Frink, Terry Frost, William Gear, Derrick Greaves, Patrick Heron, Josef Herman, Allen Jones, Bernard Meadows, Brendan Neiland, Eduardo Paolozzi, Leonard Rosoman, Carel Weight and Rosemary Young.

Each artist's life was represented by their work and accompanied by excerpts from their audio interviews. This was a unique opportunity to hear these artists in their own words, illuminating their practice and revealing their personal history. In addition, the exhibition formed an overview of a particular period in British history as artists came to terms with the aftermath of two world wars, and the political, social and cultural changes that followed. Ultimately, 'In Their Own Words' aimed to open up the works to visitors by drawing connections between art and everyday life.

Exhibited works were be grouped around thematic aspects of the artists' lives – from childhood, teachers and influences to earning a living and studio practice – offering a natural parallel with the memories of the artists themselves. These reminiscences ranged from Ralph Brown’s description of seeing the Victorian nude statues in Leeds City Square every day on his way to school and trying, aged 8, to carve a snowman in the shape of a nude woman; to Terry Frost starting to paint portraits in a POW camp after World War II, using colours like Prussian blue and yellow that were left over because no one else wanted to use them, or to the origin of Elisabeth Frink’s 1969 sculpture 'Goggle Head'. 

Together the paintings, sculptures and accompanying audio pieces presented a rich artistic tapestry of the UK, with a particularly vivid social texture. 'In Their Own Words' offered not only a great opportunity to uncover masterpieces by some of the most seminal British artists of the 20th century, but also to discover them as people – voices – in their own right, each one with an engaging life story.

The exhibition was organised by The Ingram Collection and The Lightbox in collaboration with Michael Bird.

20 May 2017 – 30 July 2017


You can listen below to a few audio excerpts from this exhibition:

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)

Eileen Agar discusses her strict upbringing by her mother and French nanny, and her childhood rebellious streak


Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993)

Frink reminisces about her earliest works - 'boring' childhood sketches.


William Gear (1915-1997)

Gear jokes about a classroom art competition in which he won a shilling for drawing a teacher's handbag.