Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Breath, Flight and Atmosphere: the Theme of Air in British Culture

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Breath, Flight and Atmosphere

Who this event is for

  • Everyone


Royal West of England Academy, Queen’s Road, Bristol


Coinciding with a major exhibition – Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art, 1768-2017 (17 June–3 September) – the Royal West of England Academy is hosting an interdisciplinary one-day symposium in partnership with Oxford Brookes University.


  • Christiana Payne, Professor of History of Art, Oxford Brookes University
  • Sam Smiles, Professor Emeritus of History of Art, University of Plymouth
  • Stephen Jacobson, Vice-President, Royal West of England Academy

Air is everywhere. The air we breathe is essential to human, plant and animal life; its quality is a fundamental ingredient of our health and that of the planet as a whole. The air above us is a region of wonders and dangers: hot air balloons and aeroplanes, flying creatures and bombing raids, luminous colours and evocative clouds. It is not surprising that artists have often been fascinated by this kind of subject matter. From experiments with air-pumps in the eighteenth century, through the sky paintings of Turner and Constable and the polluted cityscapes of Grimshaw and Lowry, to the wartime perils and the exhilaration of flight in the paintings of Ravilious and Lanyon, British artists have found many varied sources of inspiration in the air.  Contemporary artists tackle similar themes, with an emphasis less on flight, which is no longer a novelty, than on the nature of breath and the connections between air and health.

This one-day symposium complements the exhibition, which includes works by Joseph Wright of Derby, J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer, John Everett Millais, Christopher Nevinson, Eric Ravilious and Peter Lanyon along with work by contemporary artists.

The symposium seeks to create dialogue between practising artists, curators, writers, academics and students from disciplines including history of art, cultural studies, geography, history, literature, environmental humanities and philosophy.

Call for papers

250-word abstracts for 20-minute papers should be sent to Christiana Payne at cjepayne@brookes.ac.uk, to arrive no later than Tuesday 31 January 2017.

Please contact the RWA for further information:
Joel Edwards, Learning and Participation Manager joel.edwards@rwa.org.uk
Royal West of England Academy, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1PX