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BBC broadcasts Professor MacLeod’s depiction of controversial artist Eric Gill

Professor Alison MacLeod

A PROFESSOR from the University of Chichester has spoken of her latest short story about the controversial artist Eric Gill following its broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

In her story, Alison MacLeod, Professor of Contemporary Ficton, draws on Gill’s art, diaries, and public responses to an exhibition at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft in East Sussex, where she was a writer-in-residence.

Professor MacLeod said: “My story is a response to both Eric Gill’s art and to the disturbing revelations of his sexual abuse of two of his daughters.” The Eric Gill: The Body exhibition, hosted last summer, investigated whether knowledge of Gill’s private history affected visitors’ views of his depiction of the human figure. 

It featured more than 80 works loaned from public and private collections, including major sculpture and drawings that had never been publicly exhibited. Professor MacLeod was jointly-appointed to creatively capture and interpret responses to the exhibition and its difficult themes.

Her work, which fuses fact and fiction, imagines Gill in his house in Ditchling, asleep and dreaming about his art and life, and wrestling with his own deep contradictions. The Radio 4 broadcast, which was voiced by Game of Thrones actress Indira Varma, follows on from a series of BBC productions of Professor MacLeod’s work, including her Man Booker Prize-nominated novel Unexploded.

MacLeod has also been nominated for the BBC National Short Story Award and The Sunday Times International Short Story Award.  In 2016, she was joint winner of The British Library Eccles Writer’s Award, and in 2017, she was shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award for Fiction for her collection All The Beloved Ghosts, which was also one of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2017.

“For most of the twentieth century Eric Gill was known for his sculptures and drawings, printmaking, and the iconic typeface that bears his name,” she added. “But Fiona MacCarthy's acclaimed 1989 biography of the artist revealed another side and, since then, it has been difficult for many to approach his art without an awareness of the challenges of his personal history.”

The residency at Ditchling also included former University of Chichester student Bethan Roberts, an MA in Creative Writing graduate, who wrote about the second daughter of Eric Gill. Her story is available on the Ditchling Museum at Art + Craft’s website.

Eric Gill The Body install, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, 2017

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director of the Museum, said: “Art can help us to tackle difficult issues in new and engaging ways. This project provided visitors with a different route into the key question of understanding how our knowledge of Gill’s private life affects our understanding and appreciation of his work.”

The BBC programme featuring the work of Professor Alison MacLeod of is available to hear now at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09m198s.

To find out more about the exhibition ‘Eric Gill: The Body’ at the Ditchling Museum of Art go to www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk. Alternatively, for more about Professor Alison MacLeod and her research at the University of Chichester visit www.chi.ac.uk/staff/professor-alison-macleod.