An artist and researcher from the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) will see more than twenty pieces of his art join the Victoria & Albert Museum’s national collection, in recognition of the 250-year anniversary of the circus.

Curtis Tappenden, a senior lecturer and researcher from the School of Further Education at UCA Rochester, will submit 22 live circus drawings to the collection, chosen for their contribution as an historical document and for their importance in the contemporary circus world.

Curtis said: “2018 is quite a momentous year for the concept of the circus, which was invented by British cavalryman, Philip Astley. Now known as the father of modern circus, Astley first performed equestrian tricks in the ring in London in 1768.

“My current interest is in documenting the insular life of the circus and its ‘travelling village’, where it reveals to others an alternative, mysterious and peculiar theatrical community, whose very existence is dependent on efficiency and sharing everything.”

Specialising in live performance drawings using wax pencils, watercolours, brush pens and a variety of other rapid mark makers, Curtis has worked with many circus organisations to document, research and explore the world-famous shows through art.

Curtis adds: “I recently worked with circus impresario, Gerry Cottle to match his ’50 acts in 100 minutes’ show. The aim was to achieve 50 drawings in 100 minutes, but I actually managed 54 drawings to an uproarious cheer!

“There is a longstanding relationship between the visual and performing arts, and wishing to capture the essence of circus. It has been colourfully drawn and painted by past masters such as Toulouse Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Edward Seago, Bernard Buffet and Dame Laura Knight.”

The 22 drawings acquired by the V&A will be included in the online catalogue and are expected to be exhibited in the galleries in due course. Curtis will also be artist in residence at this year’s V&A Performance Festival in London in April, where he will be drawing live circus performances and running circus drawing workshops.

Curtis’ research at UCA forms an ongoing project to document the current life of the British circus through drawings, writings and films, as well as to raise awareness of the travelling community and their theatrical art form.

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Circus collage