Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery is delighted to be acquiring a group of works by international artist and activist Conrad Atkinson for its collection, thanks to grants from Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and local donations.

The works comprise:  Wordsworth’s Suit and Socks (2003), three Ceramic Landmines (1996) and a photo collage Sellafield Happens…no danger to the public (1990) and they will further strengthen the contemporary art collections at Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

Conrad Atkinson acquisitions
Conrad Atkinson acquisitions (L-R) Ceramic Landmines, Wordsworth’s Suit, Sellafield Happens

Conrad Atkinson (b. 1940) is one of the most important international artists of his generation, noted for his unflinching and often provocative approach to social and political themes.  He has a reputation as an activist, and this has always informed his work, making it a good fit for Nottingham Castle, which has its own history of protest and rebellion.  His works will have many applications within temporary displays both at Nottingham Castle and at sister site Newstead Abbey, home to another radical thinker, the great Romantic poet George Gordon, the 6th Lord Byron (1788-1824).

For each piece of work, Atkinson selects the materials best suited to express his ideas at a particular time and so the works acquired by the Castle include ceramics, photography, collage and textiles.  This will provide an overview of his artistic practice over several decades, and will in particular demonstrate his thoughts and ideas about nature and landscape.

Atkinson was born in Cleator Moor, a small mining village on the west coast of Cumbria, which was a centre for the mining of coal and iron ore. This was, to Atkinson, a world away from the Lake District of popular imagination, known for its connection with the ‘Romantic’ poets and landscape artists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Since the late 1960s Atkinson’s art has been concerned, therefore, with the problems and hardships experienced by the people of Cleator Moor, thwarted by unemployment, depopulation and illnesses arising from working in local industries such as the iron ore mines.

Councillor Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said: “We are very grateful to Art Fund, along with the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and to the generous donations from visitors to the Castle which have made it possible for us to purchase these important works of art. These acquisitions will enhance our collections and allow us to explore contemporary rebellious acts and activities that have taken place.”


Notes to editors:

Funding: Art Fund has awarded £8,100 towards the purchase of the work, with an additional £13,500 coming from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. The remainder was covered by donations from visitors to the Castle.  For over 110 years, Art Fund has supported museums and galleries, and helped them to buy and display great works of art for everyone to enjoy. The ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund supports the purchase of a wide range of material for the permanent collections of non-nationally funded organisations in England and Wales.

Conrad Atkinson: Conrad Atkinson has an impressive pedigree in terms of his artistic training (Liverpool College of Art, Royal Academy School), his teaching (the Slade, London and the University of California – Professor of Art and Chair, Dept of Art and Art History; currently Professor Emeritus), his residencies and collaborations (The Courtauld Institute, Dove Cottage and Wordsworth Museum) and his work, which is in a number of public and private collections. He has an extensive history of group and solo exhibitions, both in the UK and internationally, and his work has been published widely.

The works acquired:

Wordsworth’s Suit and Socks (2003) are embroidered with insects and flowers native to the Cumbrian landscape. The garments are accompanied by an imaginary and creative account of how Wordsworth came by this suit, linked to Conrad Atkinson’s own life, an American restaurant visited by the artist and Cleator Moor iron ore mine in Cumbria, where he was brought up. Both the suit and accompanying text also refer to the current threat to the specific daffodils that inspired Wordsworth’s famous poem, due to hybrids produced in recent years by genetic modification.

Ceramic Landmines (1996) are also linked to Atkinson’s ideas about landscape. Atkinson has been involved in anti-landmine campaigns since the 1990s, working with landmine experts in Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and with the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (Vietnam Veterans Trust).

The ceramic landmines refer to the traditional imagery of hand-painted and transfer-printed ceramics (the willow pattern for example) and factory ceramics. As Atkinson no doubt intended, these ceramics have the power to shock; they look like interesting objects and the familiarity of their imagery draws you in, before you realise that they mimic something manufactured to kill and maim, as well as destroying the landscape.

Sellafield happens… danger to the public…lessons have been learned (1990) is a photo collage with spray paint. The subject of a miner’s hand, marked by years of work, is a powerful image that Atkinson has returned to a number of times throughout his career and links to his own family history. He explained the concept behind this work as follows: ‘The hand is the hand of an ex iron ore miner and Sellafield worker when the mines closed. The hand is disfigured because a bogey ran over it… Imbricated in the hand but difficult to see is an image of Sellafield. It is hand-coloured to reflect the redness of most things in Cleator Moor from the Iron Ore, the earth, the streets, the logs from the mines…the men’s clothes on the way home from work looking like red silk.’