Living Knowledge blog

8 posts from October 2021

25 October 2021

An interview with Patrick Hughes

Patrick Hughes is a British artist and creator of the reverse perspective illusionist painting technique. His work includes Paradoxymoron, on public display on the Lower Ground Floor at the British Library St Pancras, London site.

Patrick HughesPatrick Hughes © tonyhutchings

If you’ve ever been down to our cloakrooms you will have undoubtedly experienced the unnerving double-take effect of Patrick Hughes’ Paradoxymoron. One of our most popular artworks on public display, it’s a surprising head-turner for children and adults alike. We encourage you see for yourself next time you’re at the Library, or killing time before catching a train from St Pancras. Click here to explore the incredible artworks on display for free in our building.

Paradoxymoron 1996. Oil on board construction. 78 x 138 x 28 cm

We spoke to Patrick about becoming an artist, his ‘reverspective’ work and his links to the British Library.

'I used to work in the Reading Room in the '70s when the British Library was in the British Museum. I have warm feelings about the British Library and impressed that people like Samuel Butler worked there!'

Becoming an artist

Born in Birmingham in 1939, Patrick did not intend to become an artist. His original plan was to become an English teacher, and he spent two years studying English literature at James Graham Day Training College in Leeds.

Click here to listen to Patrick talking about his childhood on British Library Sounds, recorded in 2005 as part of National Life Stories: Artists' Lives.

During his time at College, Patrick became interested in humour and surrealism – his literary passions included the playful German poet, Christian Morgenstern, and the British author, Laurence Sterne. But Patrick was frustrated by being told ‘we don’t do that stuff in English, you should do art, it’s more imaginative.’

Switching to art and led by the interests of his art teachers, Muriel Atkinson and John Jones, Patrick became influenced by the Bauhaus art movement and the artist Paul Klee in particular.

'I was like a child in my work, straightforward and imaginative. I was a geometrical primitive, my style was at once sophisticated and simple.'

He went on to teach at Leeds School of Art before becoming a full-time artist.

Inventing the ‘reverspective’

Patrick with Sticking out room, 1964  Mixed media, 91.5 x 106.5 x 28 cm Photo © patrickhughesPatrick with Sticking-out Room, 1964 Mixed media, 91.5 x 106.5 x 28 cm Photo © patrickhughes

Patrick made his first reverse perspective work, Sticking-out Room in 1964. Dubbed ‘reverspectives’, these works are optical illusions with pictures that appear to move as you do. The creative process involves building a 3D shape in wood, painting it white and measuring and sketching the geometric lines before painting with careful attention to shadows and light.

'It’s a sculptured painting using simple geometry with 90° and 45° angles.'

Despite producing his first ‘reverspective’ in the sixties, Patrick didn’t repeat the technique for almost three decades.


Patrick’s work, Paradoxymoron, exhibited at the British Library, was one of his first reverspectives after his 30-year hiatus.

It shows a series of library book stacks that appear to move with your movements. It took Patrick a couple of months to make at home, with a saw and a pot of glue, in his Belsize Park flat.

'It’s an honour to have my work in the British Library. I’m a booky kind of person and bookshelves are good subjects for my work with perspectives.'

Patrick chose the location to hang the work himself. It can be found just outside the cloakroom, an area where visitors are in motion and get to experience the somewhat alarming sensation of the painting following your movements.

Other examples of Patrick’s work

Now aged 81, Patrick is still painting. He employs several assistants in his London-based studio, and for the last 25 years, his ‘reverspective’ works have been exhibited around the world. His A Study of the Studiolo is on permanent display at the British Academy in London. He has also written books on the themes of paradox and oxymorons and has produced thousands of prints.

Patrick at work Photo © patrickhughes
Patrick at work © patrickhughes

Visit Patrick’s website

Follow Patrick on Instagram

Explore other artworks you can visit for free at the British Library

15 October 2021

Meet the Maker: Eleanor Stuart

In our Meet the Maker blog series, we profile the independent creative businesses behind some of our product ranges in the British Library Shop (both online and at our St Pancras, London site). This month, we meet Eleanor Stuart, who designed our new Book Lovers Christmas jumper, baubles, and greeting cards.

Pop up shop

Eleanor is an illustrator and designer based in East London, who creates bold, fun and colourful designs with the aim of bringing a smile and a bit of joy to people’s lives.

‘I gather inspiration from a wide range of sources and am always collecting ideas and images from galleries, literature, shops and across the internet. I find I can be inspired by anything from Banksy to a random window display I've seen so I'm always on the lookout for something new. I keep an ongoing book of ideas and products I'd love to create so there's always something keeping me busy!’

Drawing pic

The business started back in 2013, with the first collection based on Alice in Wonderland. The British Library Shop was one of Eleanor’s first stockists, with a selection of her plates forming part of an Alice-themed range. Eleanor used the Library’s online collection as inspiration for the range – you can find out more about this in her case study video.

Santa Claus Books Card

Almost a year ago, we met with Eleanor to talk about bespoke book baubles for our 2021 Christmas range, which expanded into Eleanor adapting some of her Christmas card designs to give them a book-lovers spin, and turning these into gift wrap. We liked the initial designs so much we asked Eleanor if she would design our new Christmas jumper too!

‘It was my first time designing a jumper and I loved it. I was lucky that the British Library team gave me quite an open brief for the design but obviously it had to be festive and book themed!’

After ‘a bit of a light bulb moment’ whilst singing Mariah Carey’s classic All I Want for Christmas Is You, Eleanor gave the song a literary twist and the jumper design was born. Made in the UK from cosy knitted acrylic, we love the Book Lovers’ Christmas jumper, and have been delighted with the really positive feedback and great sales since its launch earlier this month.

Books Jumper Lifestyle WEB

‘Being stocked in the British Library shop is particularly special to me because it's one of the first shops I supplied and it made me feel so excited to see my products in a real shop! It's also always meant a lot to me to supply and support such an iconic British institution.’

So what’s next for Eleanor? She has recently moved into a new studio, and, having worked ‘from kitchen tables to windowless self-storage rooms and everything in between’, Eleanor’s delighted to have a beautiful space for her growing business. There’s also the launch of more textiles, mugs and tea towels to look forward to, along with Christmas sacks and stockings. Eleanor would also ‘love to get a dog to bring to the studio if that counts as business planning!’


Eleanor’s advice for anyone starting out with their own business?

‘I would say find a way to just get out there and start doing it, even in a small way. I know when I started it was easy to get bogged down by all the 'what if's' and I realised that I just needed to get my work out there and see what happened and what people thought of it. I started very small doing local craft fairs where people seemed to love my products, then I grew to pop up shops and trade shows and now nearly 10 years on it's a full-time business.’

Browse the British Library Shop’s Eleanor Stuart range

Visit Eleanor’s website

Follow Eleanor on Instagram

10 October 2021

Library Lives: Liz Jolly, British Library Boston Spa and St Pancras

‘When I was growing up, libraries were an escape into a whole world of imagination that I hadn’t known existed before.’

Concluding Libraries Week 2021, and part of our new series Library Lives, we speak to our Chief Librarian of the British Library, Liz Jolly about how libraries have changed and their role in improving people’s lives.

Where was your local library growing up?

My local library was Winchmore Hill public library in the borough of Enfield, Greater London. It was also the place I had my first Saturday job.

What’s your favourite thing to do in a library?

I think libraries are about learning, so my favourite thing is to learn with other people, and with an amazing variety of resources in all formats.

What’s your favourite library in the UK?

Manchester Central Library. I was a student there in the 1980s before university libraries were open at the weekend and I spent many Saturdays there. Actually, I spent many Saturdays there putting my books down and going off shopping in town! But I did also spend some time looking at the amazing domed ceiling and with its quotation, 'Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding'.

Which library would you love to visit?

I’d really like to visit the Oodi, the new Central Library in Helsinki, Finland.

What three words would you choose to sum up being a librarian?

Facilitating, learning and communities.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a train driver.

What don’t people know about libraries?

I suspect that people think about libraries as being all about books. I think that libraries are about learning. The library academic David Lankes has written that ‘the mission of librarians is to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities’, and I think that this sums up what we’re about: far more than thinking just about collections, just about quiet spaces, and just about staff.

Libraries are where all these things interact and are very much about the people and the communities they serve.

What’s your favourite book?

My favourite book, which I’ve recently discovered, is The Street by Ann Petry. This tells the story of a Black single mother in New York in the 1940s.

Who is your favourite fictional librarian?

Serena Laburnam, heroine of The Librarian and the Robbers by Margaret Mahy. She's a fantastic role model. 

What did libraries mean to you growing up?

I grew up in a household that couldn’t afford books, so a library was a place where anyone could have access to books, so it was an escape into a whole world of imagination that I hadn’t known existed before.

As I got older and became interested in societal issues, libraries became somewhere for me that would enable people to learn, both in terms of academic success and learning to ‘be’ - in the Carl Rogers sense. For me they became a key element in creating a more just, fair and equal society.

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

Things have changed dramatically. When I qualified in 1990, libraries were very much seen as places where one went to do quiet, silent, individual study and librarians were gatekeepers of information and knowledge.

I think it was assumed, particularly in the higher education sector where my background is, that people learnt in a certain way, which was silent, individual study. Over the past 30 years I think research has proved that learning happens in multiple ways and that libraries need to reflect that in the way that they are designed, in the spaces that they provide, and in the way that staff interact with their communities.

Interview by Ellen Morgan / Hannah Gabrielle

We spoke to people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website