In this ground-breaking book, a theory of ’distortion’ - of the way in which the processes of human life are subject to interference, diversion and transformation - is developed by way of the art of one of Britain’s greatest twentieth-century painters and that art’s public reception. Devoted to his native village of Cookham-on-Thames, Stanley Spencer painted not only landscapes and portraits with loving detail but also the ’memory-feelings’ which he felt were a ’sacred’ part of his consciousness. Yet Spencer was also a controversial public figure, with some taking the view that his visionary paintings were ugly distortions of human life, even marks of an immoral nature. Examining how Spencer lived his vision, how he painted it and wrote it, and also how his attempts to communicate that vision were received by his contemporaries and have continued to be interpreted since his death, the author posits distortion as key: an intrinsic aspect both of human creation and of human interaction. What we intend to make, to say, to do and have done, often mutates in the process of being expressed or put into effect: we live amid distortion. Love - the affective appreciation of one another - is then a means by which we accommodate distortion and its consequences in our lives. An illustration, through Stanley Spencer’s story, of significant aspects of a human condition, this book will appeal across disciplines, including to art historians and students of Spencer’s work, as well as to scholars of anthropology with interests in creativity, perception and interpretation.
'This remarkable work may well be the crowning achievement in Nigel Rapport’s already distinguished anthropological and literary oeuvre. Not only does Rapport succeed brilliantly in doing justice to Stanley Spencer’s eccentric life and his religious and distorted ways of seeing; he offers a stunning critique of an anthropology of art that has all too often privileged sociological reductions over in-depth explorations of the quiddity of things, the contingency of events, and the irreducibility of the individual.' Michael Jackson, Harvard Divinity School, USA
Preface. Part I An Introduction to Stanley Spencer, Distortion, and Methodology: The anthropological project; Introducing Stanley Spencer as painter and as public figure; Introducing distortion as a concept; Methodological considerations, and doubts. Part II Stanley Spencer’s Vision: Painting love and redemption: Stanley’s metaphysics; Inspiration and the creative process: ‘definition through passion’; First conversation: ‘what kind of art is Stanley Spencer’s’?; 1932 to 1938: ‘the beatitudes of love’; Distortion and Stanley’s reaction to it; Second conversation: ‘what do Stanley Spencer’s distortions mean?’. Part III A Human Document: Distortion in individual consciousness and in social relations, and love; Third conversation: ‘the Stanley Spencer Gallery as labour of love?’. Bibliography; Indexes.