National Life Stories: Artists' Lives

Materials, studio of Trevor Bell. Photograph © Steve Tanner

Artists' Lives was initiated in 1990 by National Life Stories.

Published date:
Artists' Lives was initiated in 1990 by National Life Stories, the charitable trust based in the oral history section of the British Library, in collaboration with Tate Archive. It's aim is to enable British artists to create a record of their experiences in their own words to complement, enlarge and sometimes challenge accounts by other commentators.
Whilst the recordings in this collection concentrate in depth on each individual's working practice, it is important that they are life stories, rooting the speakers in the society which formed them rather than isolating them solely within the art world.  

The first recordings were made in 1990 in time to include Eileen Agar, who was born in the 19th century, and the on-going project has grown steadily ever since to embrace artists born in different decades and circumstances and whose experience has been widely differing. The majority attended art school and many returned to teach, enabling the project to capture a wealth of material about the shifts in emphasis in British art education as well as unrivalled accounts of individual careers.  Artists' Lives also includes interviews with curators, dealers and critics whose life stories have helped to build a more complete picture of the art world and its interwoven relationships.

To explore the collection in detail, please search the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. The catalogue reference used for all the recordings in the project is C466. Selected interviews from Artists' Lives are available for higher education users on the British Library Sounds website.  A list of artists recorded from 1990-2016 is available. The Henry Moore Institute Essays on Sculpture no.69 (January 2014) available from The Henry Moore Institute is also a good source of information and the journal includes a list of artists recorded up to the publication date.

Artists' Lives Advisory Committee

  • Sir Alan Bowness
  • Dr Penelope Curtis
  • Caroline Cuthbert
  • Adrian Glew
  • Professor Mel Gooding (Chair)
  • Cornelia Grassi
  • Lubaina Himid
  • Lisa Le Feuvre
  • Richard Morphet CBE
  • Clive Phillpot
  • Margaret B. Thornton
  • Dr Andrew Wilson

Project Director: Cathy Courtney

Current interviewers: Frances Cornford, Cathy Courtney, Kirstie Gregory, Andrew Lambirth, Victoria Lane, Ann Sproat, Dr Hester Westley, Dr Jon Wood

Partners and sponsors

See also


National Life Stories

A unique and invaluable record of people’s lives in Britain today

National Life Stories: Artists' Lives

Artists’ lives and work in their own words

National Life Stories: Crafts Lives

Memories and experiences of independent makers working in British studio crafts

National Life Stories: Legal Lives

In-depth interviews with people involved in the legal and criminal justice system



Sound and video recordings from all over the world