National Life Stories: Artists' Lives

Materials, studio of Trevor Bell. Photograph copyright Steve Tanner.
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 partnership with Tate Archive and is run in close collaboration with the Henry Moore Institute.

Its 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.

In 2018 a new British Library website was created in response to Artists’ Lives. Voices of art presents nearly 100 audio extracts and over 100 images, many sourced from private family collections. Audio clips from Artists’ Lives are interpreted through a series of essays by writers immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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. Over 200 Artists' Lives are available in full at the British Library Sounds website. A list of artists recorded from 1990 - September 2021 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

  • Dr Penelope Curtis
  • Caroline Cuthbert
  • Adrian Glew
  • Cornelia Grassi
  • Professor Lubaina Himid MBE
  • Lisa Le Feuvre
  • Richard Morphet CBE
  • Clive Phillpot
  • Laurence Sillars
  • Dr Andrew Wilson

Project Director: Cathy Courtney

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

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Image: Materials, studio of Trevor Bell. Photograph © Steve Tanner.

Listen to Trevor Bell's Artists' Lives recording in full on BL Sounds.



Sound and video recordings from all over the world


National Life Stories

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

National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship

This award of £5,000 allows the Goodison Fellow a period of sustained engagement with the oral history collections in order to share the results in public domain.

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