Living with Art, Art about Living

Recently, a second visit to Jim Ede’s house in Cambridge, ‘Kettle’s Yard’, got me thinking about how we live with art and it’s place in our everyday worlds.

Kettle Yard is Jim’s masterpiece. A curator, collector, lecturer and author, Jim Ede knew he would never make great art. But he did know how to put together objects and art that elevate the domestic to another plane altogether.

My second visit revealed so many things and placements that I had missed the first time around, and made me realise what a feat it is to make a home that keeps on giving, wherever you decide to sit that day, whatever the angle of the light, whatever the season.

It is, at once, a much more skilled and admirable job than curating a gallery- that rather sterile and controlled environment. It takes time, patience and curiosity to place as well as Jim Ede did (I say place, because we are not just talking art here, but objects such as pebbles and feathers- at Kettle’s Yard there is no hierarchy).

Of course pre 19th Century, most people’s homes would have had no ‘art’ in them. But Jim shows us that there is beauty everywhere. By taking something and putting it in a particular place you are creating your own art.

At Kettle’s Yard relationships between things are everywhere, the guides and visitors often talk of the ‘conversations’ being held in a room, between objects. A colour, a curve, a sense of translucency. A lemon placed on a pewter plate, opposite a painting with a dash of lemon yellow within it. A minimalist ‘head’ sculpture by Brancusi, placed on the reflective surface of a grand piano.

Jim and his wife Helen were also arranging their home with an eye to hosting visitors- strangers (they invited undergraduates to visit in the early days), acquaintances or friends (in the 20’s and 30’s Jim and Helen were well known for their ‘Open House Sundays’ in their house in London).

This reminded me of that other great husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames, who also held the ‘host relationship’ in high esteem and took great pains to create experiences for guests in their home and design studio.

I must admit my visit this time was informed by recently reading ‘Ways Of Life’ the excellent biography of Jim by Laura Freeman and so was able to pick out certain artists and pieces that had some relevance. Therefore I was aware of the influence of that other famous couple Ben and Winifred Nicholson on the Edes. Jim was inspired by their elevation of everyday objects in their rather shabby accommodation in the 20’s in London.

And that’s the key thing about living with art- it’s about life. About people, relationships, light, laughter, sitting, standing, lying down, shadows, dusk, early mornings alone. All of it. What you place and where you place it, no-one else would.

One of the lovely things that made me smile was the amount of still life paintings or drawings within the house, showing the domestic within the domestic. The art in the house, showing the art of a house. How to look, how to perceive, how to live.

A Winifred Nicholson painting above a Windsor chair.