Alan Sorrell, (Archaeological) Artist and Illustrator

Prof Matthew Johnson and I have just received the fabulous news that we’ve been granted a Small Award from the British Academy to fund a pilot study of the Alan Sorrell archive.

Sorrell (1904-1974) is an artist and illustrator who, during the mid-20th century, produced defining images of many of Britain’s most renowned archaeological sites (e.g., see Sorrell, M. 1981), and in so doing, arguably shaped the institutional and epistemological dimensions of British archaeology.  With a neo-Romantic sensibility and a career that included employment by the former Ministry of Works, he stands at the junction between a series of potent intellectual concerns in the discipline—among others, between art and archaeology; academic and broader public consumption; discipline and imagination; and the scholarly establishment and governmental agency.

Sorrell’s archive is currently on loan by his family to the Society of Antiquaries of London.  Matthew and I will be studying it over the course of this upcoming fall and winter towards various ends, including the production of a small visual exhibition of work. Sorrell interacted with many archaeologists on and off site, and I would be keen to hear from those who may recollect such interactions.

Will keep you posted!

A screen shot of Alan Sorrell's Falling Tower, reprinted on the front cover of Johnson's 2nd edition of Archaeological Theory: An Introduction.

SORRELL, M. (ed.) 1981. Reconstructing the Past, London: Book Club Associates.

Art, Archaeology & Historical Iconographies: Swifter, Higher, Stronger 2010

Ian Kirkpatrick is an artist and designer whose innovative archaeological reconstructions I’ve discussed elsewhere.  (Visit Ian’s blog here, and his website here, for more details.)  Trained as a classical sculptor and painter, he married an archaeologist (me!), but his art has always had inherently archaeological dimensions.  He tends to work with fragments (often reminiscent or directly appropriative of culturally iconic artefacts: greek vases, Haida prints), pulling together what I suppose you might describe as richly-researched historical iconographies.  This piece is an example:

Apotheosis, by Ian Kirkpatrick, 2010. Photo credit: me.

Recently on show at the Link Gallery under the rubric of the Hyde 900 celebrations, it effectively tells the genealogy of what is now the city of Winchester (from Roman times to the present) on shards of cardboard boxes. These boxes themselves come from IKEA — harking back to England’s Scandinavian heritage, and it seems fitting then that his art will soon be going on permanent display in Southampton’s IKEA store.

Ian has also just won a commission through the southeast of England’s Creative Campus Initiative to produce a multi-part art piece in celebration of the “Cultural Olympiad” ( <–This is apparently the only way to refer to the London 2012 Olympics without breaching copyright and subjecting yourself to potential litigation… )  Ian is approaching this project with a similar vision to that which he applied to his Winchester work, although this time he’s built a collaborative dimension into the telling of Olympic history.  Ian describes the breadth and intent of the piece much more cogently on his blog, and he’s keen to collect images and feedback from you.  Please don’t hesitate to connect with him – he has a Facebook group:

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

Or you can contact him directly through email.

I’ve said it before, but I think it’s important that several of the most interesting archaeological visualisers that I know were trained first as artists.  This training often comes to be reflected in their experimental scientific outputs which are not afraid to question the taken-for-granted conventions of archaeological visualisation and, in so doing, challenge practitioners and the broader public to think differently about research on and presentation of the archaeological record. Vasko Démou (another Southampton PhD student, and both an artist and archaeologist) is similarly invested in such work, and I’d love to hear from others with comparable goals.