Edward Bawden and Me

Published: 20/02/2024

The "Edward Bawden and Me" exhibition at the Higgins Bedford brings together work by Edward Bawden and work by forty two artists inspired by items in his archive. This archive or, as he called it, his "remains", was left by Bawden to the Higgins and is a treasure store of inspiration, versatility and creativity. The exhibition is curated by Bawden's friend, the illustrator and printmaker, Chris Brown, who has exhibited a varied range of his and other artists' work all inspired by Bawden.

As you go through  IMG_2053.jpegthe galleries, you see Bawden's work alongside the work inspired by it. A few examples will illustrate how this comes across. Jonny Hannah's The Filmy Fern Tattoo Parlour is a larger than life cat covered in tattoos and was inspired by a drawing Bawden did of a boxing minotaur to advertise the British beef mark, a trademark designed to promote beef. Here the artist captures Bawden's humour and, indeed, his love of cats, something that runs through his work. There are various illustrations in the exhibition done by Bawden to illustrate Aesop's fables. One of these is a design for the fable of the hare and the tortoise. Again his humour is evident especially in the facial expressions of the animals. Lu Mason has used this as inspiration for a rag rug illustrating the same fable, bringing out the humour, strong lines and vibrant colour in Bawden's original.

IMG_2059.jpegAnother example is Bawden's Tree and Cow wallpaper, that was created in the 1920s and can still be bought today. Jane Housham has interpreted this using plastic toys and created a three dimensional version. She was intrigued by Bawden's ingeneous and complex draughtmanship and set out to disrupt his design in a nod to his humour.  As well as a small scale version of her design, there is a larger version at the entrance to the main exhibition galleries. Nicola Bailey's The Tattoed Strongman at the Circus is a wool version of a Bawden advertising drawing for Fortnum & Mason. She took inspiration from Bawden's character and strong colour scheme as she used a Fair Isle knitting technique.  

There are, of course, many more examples of the way Bawden has inspired others. What the exhibition succeeds in doing is bringing out the inventiveness, creativity and humour of Bawden. Somehow seeing Bawden's work alongside that of those he has inspired enhances your appreciation of what he produced over a long and varied career as illustrator, designer and artist. The contrast brings his work to life and encourages you to zoom in on the wonderful details of his art and the impressive creativity of those he has inspired. This is an exhibition to revisit and one where you can take your time to appreciate what is on show.