From the Archives: Robert Ball

Robert Ball was something of a child prodigy, learning to draw from memory at an early age.

He was a printmaker who produced mainly etchings and engravings and became an associate member of the RBSA in 1943.

Ball was born in Birmingham and began his training in 1930, at the age of twelve, at the Moseley Road Junior School of Art and Crafts.

He was exceptionally talented at drawing and won a number of scholarships and prizes, including a scholarship to study engraving at the Royal College of Art in 1941.

Ball went on to become Principal at the Stroud School of Art from 1953 until 1959, and was a lecturer of painting and drawing at the Gloucestershire College of art from 1954 until 1981. Despite being involved in art schools throughout his life, Ball saw himself as a self-taught artist.

His teacher at Moseley, Mr Wiley, did not teach his pupils to draw from an object; instead he made his pupils sit and visualize an image for ten minutes and then begin to draw what they had imagined.

This method was something Ball used when making his prints. He could take weeks at a time to think about a subject he wanted to draw before he actually started drawing the image.


Robert Ball, Self-Portrait, 1937, etching, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, © The Artist’s Estate, photo credit: the RBSA

The RBSA holds a number of prints by Ball, including his Self-Portrait (1937) etching. This work won the British Institution Scholarship in Engraving, making Ball the youngest ever student winner.

The work demonstrates Ball’s skill as a printmaker and shows the influence of Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn through the deep look of fierce concentration on the artist’s face and through his dishevelled appearance.

Ball’s etchings and engravings show a concern with drawing and craftsmanship through the subject of life in Birmingham. He created a number of prints including scenes from his environment: industry, people at work, figure studies, and portraits.

Printmaking is often overlooked as an artistic medium in favour of painting. However, Ball is considered one of the greatest British printmakers of his generation and his work deserves greater attention.

Chloe Aspden, Undergraduate Archive Volunteer 2016

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