The British Library is, currently, showing a show called Making a Mark and is as the name suggests a history of writing. It takes us through, in a series of carefully presented vitrines from the earliest writing to modern computing. I recommend that you go round the wrong way. That way you avoid the crowds as, common to other British Library shows, there is a lot of peering over at documents.
If you start at the beginning though the show starts at the beginning. I have a fondness for Cuneiform so it is always nice to see it again, those small delicate scratches on a little pillow of clay (above left). There is then ancient Chinese oracle bones (above right), bones use for fortune telling. Those centuries old marks still clear and vivid inscribed on the bone.
Of course you have Egyptian Hieroglyphs, a Steele indeed (above left). More interestingly there was a piece (above right) showing the very early changes from hieroglyphs to the modern alphabet. Those marks are the beginning of this, coming up with a system that was taken up by the Phoenicians, the Greeks and finally the Romans. It starts out being read right to left and only once it reaches the Roman's does writing change to the left to right that I am gibbering with.
Slightly more obscure writing also appears including, a slab from South American with pre-Mayan script (above right) and entirely new to me, writing from the mysterious East Island (above left). A slab of hardened wood with these swirling curving glyphs.
Now onto books. The British Library has of course a multitude of glorious glowing wonderful books and it is nice to see them. Incidentally after you have been to this show, do yourself a favour and wonder up to the Treasures of the British Library room. Among those on display include the note book of Florence nightingale, a Qur'an in both Persian and Arabic (the borders deliciously decorated) and Mozart's autograph catalogue of his own works. The last of these is a most interesting document, a few lines of description and the opening few bars. Lost work abound apparently.
Illustrated here are a Thai folding book (above left) that unfurls and one of the first printed books, a Chinese woodblock printed book the Diamond Sutra (above right) with the disturbingly specific date of 11th May 868.
The first printed book, leads onto a display of movable type and what we may think of as printing proper. There is a hand printing press with a variety of typefaces on display and of course early printed books including a copy of the Canterbury Tales produced by William Caxton (above left) the earliest substantial book produced in England and of course a Gutenberg bible (above right).
Another section of display includes exhibits on the mechanics of writing, early fountain pens, ball point pens and quill pens. You would sharpen your Quill pen with your Pen Knife, and suddenly the penny dropped. There were displays about different forms of writing including instructions on hoe wot write (such as the Chinese manual above left) and various end products of this such a the calligraphy of Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo of ancient Japan and more recently the charter from the last couple of years, incorporating the Craft council.
Not just writing on paper, or wood, but on people including a painful looking example of Burmese tattoos and the fierce looking implements with which they were produced (above right) .
There are ancient Greek wax tablets, a wooden paddle with a verse from Qu'ran and then the show shifts into more modern exhibits. One of the most interesting for me was my introduction to the Vai script (above left). This was an entirely new alphabet created in West Africa, around Liberia in the 1830s. This was produced in reaction to the European colonizers and their view that a language that was not written was not worth considering. So they came up with this. I think it is quite beautiful and what an achievement, to create from nothing a whole new alphabet. I love it.
The show carries on with the adaption of script and fonts into the modern age. Futurists adapting Cyrillic for Soviet Ends, the BBC creating their own fonts. The show culminates with this man call El Seed (above right). He creates these lovely curving calligraphy messages of pieces which he places around the world. This one was at the show.
That's it for this week. See you next time.
This is one of my favourite shows of the year. It wasn't on last year due to some international show in the U.S and this time makes a welcome return, but to a new venue, the Mall Galleries. It benefits from the new venue, more space, more light, the work is better spaced out and easier to see. I went for my birthday and was going to buy. WIth that in mind I will take you for a trot through some of the things I like.
I often have a high degree of concurrence with the prize givers in this show so was not surprised to see Angie Gray's effort (above right). An orange Fern like plant, all bristling colour. The standard of draftsmanship and skill in this show is always excellent. What makes the works stand out then is two things, composition and then just an extra level of skill. Many of the works are too crowded, it takes quite a lot of confidence just to present your piece in the middle of the page and leave it to speak for itself.
Some of the credit for the show as a whole must go to Billy Showell who is the President of the SBA and to whom I had a very nice chat while we were trying to persuade their card machine to work. The visit of the Toddler in Chief had caused mobile phone coverage to be curtailed with knock on effect. A solution was found in the end but I also like her work and example of which is above left. It is one of the few where not only are the flowers lovingly rendered in subtle print but they are also presented as part of a scene, with convincing shadow effect. This made it onto the shortlist.
A slightly more maximal look is these two paintings by Marion Perkins (above right). What she is doing here, with the customary high level of skill that you expect in this show, is showing the same plant in three different phases of life, bulb shoot (or bud), flower. The flowers are of course beautiful, richly textured but I like the idea and particularly like the detail of the earth effect beneath the bulb, and the oniony surface of the bulb themselves.
Bee Orchid! This one by Janet Lye (above right). I think it is just stunning. You have a fairly classic pyramid composition, with space all around the plant, and slightly off centre those exquisitely rendered flowers. I really like this and it also made my shortlist for purchase. It was a strong contender and I regret not buying it. It is very easy to be fixated on the flowers but the structure of the leaves and stem really build this piece up. I hope she sells it. I am sure she will.
Moving away from flowers now to other foliage. There is a strong tradition of nuts and seeds. Pine cones are a common subject. Here we have two paintings at once, Laura Barraclough's Crimson Tide (top, above left) and Bay Boletus by Reinhild Raistrick (bottom, above left). Bunches or arrangements of flowers are another trope of this show, and again I don't like them to much. They are often too crowded. I like Barraclough's though, if that is indeed what it is. It is entirely possible I have misunderstood. Anyway, I like the restraint, the dried slightly desiccated look and feel of the flowers. It all seems slightly bedraggled. There is personality here .
Who doesn't like Fungi? Raistrick's picture is a wonderful thing. Again as with all these paintings it looks simple (and indeed that is part of the appeal) but the skill and attention to detail is staggering. Particularly pleasing is the whole gouged out of the cap of the central mushroom so you can see the inside. This is the art paying homage to the scientific beginnings of the whole thing.
Likewise with Rachel Pedder-Smith's Tree Peony Pods (above right) which were my favourite of all the pod seed pictures. Attention to detail, but also a composition which suggest that these have detached from their tree and are falling to earth.
Most of the paintings (most of them are watercolours but there are some people who can do demonic things with coloured pencils) of course produced colourful flowers. There is an obvious aesthetic appeal to doing so and they mark for a nice, stark contrast against the white paper. I applaud therefore someone who goes for something more subtle and pulls it off as Fiona Kane has done (above left). The different shade of white, which just stands out from the paper around it, giving way to the spiky green tops. Of course if you are going to do this then your foliage also has to have detail and you can almost feel the texture in those leaves. Very good.
Again in a slighty different vein we have Michelle Eun Young Song's Monkey Puzzle Branch (bottom, above right) but in fact it is Jessi Neale's blue exploding number that I am particularly drawn to. It is an unusual view and the way it goes off the page is interesting. It had already sold when I saw it and I am not surprised.
As I was weighing up all of these options I discovered two racks of paintings, designated Folio works. They were effectively unframed, and slightly cheaper works by some of the same artists. There were some real treasures in here and it was in fact two of these I went for (above). On the left we have Gael Sellwood. High contrast red and purple flower, in different stages, starkly presented against a white background. The opposite facing of the two flowers is a good composition element.
Then in pen and ink, with just a dash of colour. Rachel Munn's Globe artichoke, writing up out of the bottom of the frame like some terrifying sea monster. That's a good thing by the way. Now I just have to frame them.
Sadly the show finished on 9th June, but keep an eye out for it next year, and go along.
This week I am writing about the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize at the Piano Nobile Gallery in Kings Place. I was tempted there by the presence of work my this man (above). He teaches me art you see. Kings Place is the building where the Guardian Squat. There is a theatre/venue complex there as well as a couple of galleries. It sits across York Way from the new St Pancras development and has a restaurant called the Rotunda which overlooks the Regents canal as it chugs it's way slowly East through Islington.
One of the galleries there is Piano Nobile and it is an odd space in that it is isn't really a space at all. It occupies the mezzanine and the lowest floor of the King's place building (as you can see above). Sharing the space with stairs, elevators, doors to offices and theaters. As well as loos. There is no one around who tends to the gallery. It is like they just decided to hang their art here. Quite a few of the paintings had sold and I vaguely wondered who you buy them off. Visiting it is easy though. The building is basically open all the time so you just wander in and down the stairs. The paintings are hung in various clusters in strategic spots around the place. You could (and indeed I have before) go round the place and not realise these were the wares of a commercial gallery.
Another type of self portrait that I like is one that seems to give you a narrative and you certainly seem to get that from the delightfully named Cherry Pickles (above right). From this we can deduce she likes drinking, smoking and getting her tits out. Its funny though right? Or at least wry. Its kind of anonymous though as her face if pretty much obscured by that hat. The pose is interesting and I like the style of painting. I particularly like the car door, although of course its difficult to focus on it.
would have like to have been able to see it better. This is rather the problem with the handing scheme for this show but I suppose it is a product of space restrictions.
Artist at easel is fairly classic but I don't mind classic if it is done well. I think James Lloyd (above left) has done it well. I like the trailing wires everywhere, the odd frozen pose, particularly the way he holds the brush. The style, which am not sure if there is a word to it, has a roughness to it, matches quite well the muted tone of the composition. He does very much feel both that he is about to move, and that he is about to speak.
There are in this show (and I will feature one of them quite a few paintings of women with children. Only one of a man with a child and that is Titus Agbara (above left). With the empty white space and the floral wreath curving under the figures it does have a remembrance feel to it (like Mendes' picture at the top of the blog). I like the detail with which the setting is depicted, the loving gaze and the way both figures are linked by their white tops. I also like the way the flowers morph into symbols and designs instead of roots, and the way the bricks of the houses do the same. Children, particularly babies are really difficult to paint and he has done his (I assume it's his) really well, with a depth of feeling and character. All of these features avoid this piece becoming cheesy which it could well have done.
Above left we have David Dawson (the top figure in the three) who won the prize itself. It's a perfectly nice painting. It is quite interesting stylistically and there are some nice touches like the highlights to the leg and hand, and the strange highlight on the torso. I include it because it won and although it has grown on me a little since I first saw it, I can't really see what moved the judges to award it first prize. This is of course the problem of all such prizes they are a matter of taste.
Very classic, right down to the wooden palette in her right hand (our left) is Ruth Smith (above right). It is difficult to make a happy self portrait if you do it in the classical style of painting from a mirror (as Smith seems to have done) as a glum miserable face is easier to hold. It is often also people's concentration face. She also seems to have stabbed through her canvas which is interesting. It is the red jumper, her mum's apparently that really intrigues me. It is painted at least so it seams in much more loving detail than the actual person.
Leni Dothan's picture (above left) literally shines at you from across the room as it is back lit. It is a photo of her and her son. I like this allot, the idea, the composition, the way its presented, the intimate family quality to it, the indication of strength. There is a lot you can read into this one. The primary image if you like is photography, which I usually rate less than painting, but this was one of the strongest pieces in the show.
It took me a long time to see all three faces in Joyce Moloney's gothic self portrait. Image within image . It is quite moody and teenage but then I like that in this piece.
There were many other excellent pieces but the one I will leave on is Margaret Scott's piece (above right). The use of the folding over page gives a clear nod to the revealing of identify. The odd stormy background and lines over the face, and the whole tone and feel of the painting make you wonder vaguely at what is going on here. Of all the painters this Scott is the one, whose work having seen, I now most want to meet.
Next week - not sure yet, maybe the British Library.
I was singing that song to myself with the appropriate word substitution, to myself periodically as I ambled around the Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light show at the National Gallery. It is on until 7th July and is well worth going to. It is the perfect show to take us from spring into summer. I tend to repeat myself in this blog but I am hoping no one is reading enough to pay attention but one thing I really appreciate in art museums is when the bring to our (my/your) attention artists who you may not have heard of but really should of.
Sorolla is one such of these. I'd never even heard the name before, let alone seen the art but now I am glad both of these things have been rectified. You may have seen the poster of the women making a sail around the place. It is a good indication of what is on show but there is also more subtly to be had. Sorolla is basically a Spanish impressionist but he strays more into classical style and subjects than his French colleagues.
He is also a family man and his family and home are a central theme to his art. He therefore treads the well worn path of sleeping with and marrying his model but in his case it happens the other way round. He married Clotilde (for that was her name), the daughter of one of his major patrons (smart move) and then she became his muse. As also did his children depicted to stunning effect in the painting above.
His works photographs well but is as is often the case, so much more impressive in person. Not least because his canvases are quite big. This three person portrait is about the size of a medium sized table. I like the way their faces are in half shadow, or in the case of the youngest almost in full shadow. The way his canvas or easel cuts into the picture is also odd and make the scene somehow more interesting.
The most standout of the three though is the middle figure, his eldest daughter who is 14 or so at the time of this painting. The impact in the original is even more startling but you get a sense of it here. The knowing look. It is haunting and challenging, compared to the son's haughty disinterest. It is easy to project a theme of the coming of age onto this picture. And in the background a shadow figure approaching them. Who is that? It is really good and I think my favourite in the whole show. I kept coming back to it.
Sorolla (Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida to give him his full name) also did a self portrait (above right) which I find rather engaging. The expression is an odd one, as though he has just caught site of himself in the mirror and is not entirely pleased with what he sees. All of these pictures have a slightly soft focused, softened edges approached, with the background vague and ephemeral, and other words.
So that then are the Sorollas. What justification for the pater familia being dubbed Spanish Master of Light. Well the case is quite convincing. There are various paintings of his family out and about, in the garden and elsewhere. There is a particularly fine portrait of his wife sitting on a cliff top, toying with a camera. Wind swept by the sea suits Sorolla though as we can see in this painting above left of his wife and daughter promenading along the seafront. Promenading is the same as walking, just you are overdressed. This painting, strolling along the seashore captures a good sense of movement. This is done mainly by the billowing of the diaphanous shawls blowing behind them, and the mother clutching at hers. You can feel the wind blowing off the sea. The positioning of the figures is finely observed. This is very much people moving forward. What I really appreciate here is the subtle different shades of white. The way the shadow are done and particularly the sheer material over the arms. Its very nice. Sea, wind and sun.
He does a similar trick in a picture of his daughter's skipping. One figure is caught mid air, her feet entirely off the ground, with the skipping rope sweeping down behind her. The movement is particularly defined by her shadow, leaping underneath her. Both these (and other pictures) were almost certainly sketched on the spot and then worked up again later, probably with the help of the models.
One though looks like it was entirely painted in-situ (plein air is the awful arty term) and that is the Siesta (above right). The style is much loser and quicker but he has really caught the play of the sun and the shadow, again particularly on the rendering of the dresses and their is a real sense of repose and relaxation. It has more of a dreamy, instant quality. Not describing this very well. It is always nice though to see the more natural paintings next to the more composed
In a similar vein he was commissioned to produce a large set of screens featuring similar scenes for a museum in the U.S. (I forget which one) for which the above right is a preparatory sketch. The above left is similar to the planned painting. Another room shows a scene similar to the one planned for the middle of the panel. It shows two oxen pulling a small sailing ship out of the surf.
Changing tack to the beach. It was, apparently, the custom in the late 19th centuries for boys beneath a certain age (presumably puberty) to swim in the sea naked. Girls of course did not. Sorrola depicts this and in modern times these pictures have,. particularly in the case of the one above left, somewhat different connotations. Museums are oddly coy about such things, and this like in other similar cases, fail to mention it. I find this absence odd. Anyway it again shows Sorolla's masterly use of light and in this case the texture of skin. It very well depicts a joyous abandon.
This is likewise shown in the other seaside picture this one again showing Sorolla's capacity to depict movement. What I particularly like is the reflection of the foremost girl. I also like the different light and shadows on the surface of the water.
The effect is exaggerated or enhanced by the blurry nature of the figures, as though obscured by a heat haze. All these photos are pinched from the National Gallery website and the one above left is a close up of a large piece showing children playing in the sea.
There is a room of large pictures. The bulls pulling the sail ship is there but also what has a shout at being the finest picture in the display, the above, the Sewing of the sail. The sail, furled and ruffled on the floor cuts a white shaft through the picture. The tones are subtle here but the lifted left side is brighter and whiter than the clumped sail on the floor. The figures are in motion here, a skill of Sorolla's that I left the exhibition really. Then lying on the left wall an foliage in a panoply of green and pink, the pink reflecting the shirts of some of the figures. It is a fine piece.
Next week, the British Museum. In the meantime why not have a look at my gallery. Tell me what you think.
Van Gogh is at the Tate Britain. Tate Britain justify his presence there with a tenuous link with London where he lived for about a year. He didn't actually doing any painting here, a few sketches but he met some people, was inspired by others and forged links with impressionist painters who lived here, most notably Pissaro. There are in fact a couple of very nice Pissaro's in the show. The most obvious link is also probably my favourite picture in the show, that is Van Gogh's transcription of Newgate Prison (above), the original being by Dure. I love this painting. I like the different texture of the bricks and the way the lines on the paving stones alternate between vertical and horizontal. That and the slightly comical and goulish faces on the trudging prisoners.
Just a couple of asides. If you are thinking of mocking any Americans for saying Van Go. Well we say Van Goff, and that is not right either. I have it on good authority it is Van Hoch. So there you go. Also prices have really gone up at Tate Britain. The full ticket price is £22. I was very pleased that I have my art pass, which gives you half price tickets.
You will see in this show some Van Gogh you have not seen before. These split into basically two different categories. The first (which I will come back to later) is his earlier paintings. They are more stayed, more muted, more classical than his later work. The second are his sketches, both drawings and watercolours. In addition to this there are much more casual sketches included in letters, some of them in English that he wrote to various people. They are interesting and intriguing artefacts. As indeed are letters written about Van Gogh and sketches other people did of him.
For me though these sketches are more artistically interesting. The figure of the hunched figure head in hands is one Van Gogh returns to again. The one here (above left) is called Grieving Widow which is probably something you could have guessed. The use of different tones is impressive here, particularly the use of white chalk to produce the highlights, which reminds me that I must get some white chalk. It took me a while to notice that almost the entire surface is covered.
The other is a terrible photo, so go and see the original but it is a landscape and you can already see the swirling twisted trees that you see in his paintings. More of which... now.
compassion for his sitters. In fact the painting above left opens the show and it is really nice portrait. The scraping effect on the wall behind her really adds a sort of halo effect to this gentle maternal scholarly figure. I really like it.
The other (above right) is more somber and restrained slightly sad figure. He has done that classic trick of the background on the left hand side being lower than the right. This gives a 3d effect. The Mona Lisa does this most famously. It is used in portraits a lot. Look out for it. This example is a bit extreme perhaps. I like the way she sort of emerges out of the green background. The white flower by her left arm is too strong and is quite distracting.
colour contrast between the face and the rest of the picture and this and the swirling blue background really give the painting its power. Next to it, using a much softer combination of blue and yellow is At Eternities Gate (above right). Here again we see the crouching figure and also the appearance of the wooden chair that makes its way into many of Van Gogh's paintings. incidentally one thing you learn from the show (if you didn't know already) is that Van Gogh was only painting fo 10 years and all his famous paintings, the super colourful ones, were done in the last 3 years of his life.
opposite of all these things. A riot of colour, bold red for the earth in stead of brown, a bright yellow building and these swirling twisted trees, all bent and storm battered. There is an odd dichotomy going on in this picture, the trees look like they are being buffeted by a mighty wind, while the building behind it seems all calm and serene. There is one detail I particularly appreciate. Not all of the shutters are open.
We see this again in the picture above right, which is a painting of the garden and the asylum where Van Gogh committed himself. He did some of his best work in that place, this painting, with its yellowing trees and lonely slouching blue figure, and the prison scene we opened the blog with.
There are other landscapes in the show, many in fact but the stand out star of the show is Starry Night (above). Van Gogh photographs well but looks even better in person. What you don't get from this painting, indeed from a number of them is the sheer luminosity of the paintings, the slickness of the oil. Its big this picture, and the yellows really shine, blending into green, obviously applied to the still wet blue. That's the other thing after a while you realise, there are basically only two colours at work here. A masterpiece of tone, colour and composition.
Having demonstrated he can nail portraits and landscape, the show then goes on to show Van Gogh's mastery of still life. Boots (above), has become one of him many iconic images. Again there is allot done with a very limited palette. The detail is great and the broader brush strokes help bring out the dilapidated state of the boots. There were various other versions by other (British) artists on display but they didn't really compare.
One day Van Gogh saw some apples and was so taken with them that he immediately went away and painted them three times, giving all the paintings away to various friends. One of the results is above right. They are presented to us on this shimmering almost water like surface with the shadow of the basket suggested by just a few marks of blue and red paint. The apples themselves look delicious. This one is much better in person than in photograph and is probably the painting I spent longest looking at.
And of course sunflowers, wilting half dead sunflowers but still magical (above). It is an iconic image and mean that in both senses (because you know I'm a very smug person) in that it literally resembles an icon, both in the gold/yellow background and the texture of the deflowered sunflowers. I think you can see in this image a Japanese influence. Again there is a limited colour allette and there is a more subtle right hand higher than the left side thing. This painting really glows. They have shown it in a room with other yellow flower pictures and it blows them out the water. It was I noticed the only one showing dying flowers.
As intimated, surrounding the Sunflowers like supplicants around the altar were various other yellow flowers by British artists. Of these my favourite of them was the above left by Christopher Wood who, pleasingly is very good at rendering wood. I was going to say something clever about this still life which is not by Van Gogh, although there is one of his in the show of just a plaster torso, but as I have lost the name of the artist I will not.
The final room is very strong, even though there is no Van Gogh in it at all. In that room they are showing on a perptual loop the Kirk Douglas film of Van Gogh but there are also a number of spectacular paintings by British artists, my favourites of which were David Bomberg (above left), I am always pleased to see Bomberg and Francis Bacon (above right), with his violent study for a picture of Van Gogh. Inspired by but completely different and idiosyncratic. Quite a neat way to end the show I thought. In summary, its good, its worth going to.
While your here why not have a look at my gallery page and if you are feeling reckless, maybe by something?
This handsome devil (above) is Mike Nelson who could quite easily pass as a relative of Willy Nelson. In the central hall of Tate Britain is his installation the Asset Strippers. The concept is simple enough. Nelson has bought old and second hand industrial machinery and fittings from auctions and scrap yards and them arranged them, either on their own, or in combination, inside Tate Britain's vaulted central hall.
I can hear the voice of someone I know saying "this isn't art, this is just old machinery in a room". Yes yes, but I have two main qualifications for good art and they are 1) is it a good idea and 2) is it done well?
The answer to both of these questions is yes. An effective starter is the whole exhibition is section of by these large wooden structures. You have to push your way in through these swing doors and some of the arches are blocked of entirely which makes you feel a bit like you are in a 1930's factory floor which is presumably the intention.
pneumatic drill heads and digger troughs like the one you can see above, rusting hulking things. Other machinery is more intricate and I found myself specifically drawn to various loom contraptions or in the case of the one above right ink stained printing machines.
Other lumbering machines lurk around the place, still with their auction labels on them, placed on large cabinets or metal tables. Fly wheels. I spent an enjoyable few minutes wandering around after two elderly men one of whom was explaining the machines to his friend and thus I learnt the word metricated. The machines still have metal shavings caught in the guards and guttering.
Agricultural and construction paraphernalia is also in evidence. Folded over caterpillar tracks are folded over themselves in a large tarnished rectangular metal box (above left) they look like over-sized liquorish. Standing in the centre of the room are four large roundels, some kind of threshing device that you towed behind a tractor. It is raised out on two trestle tables so it come to resemble enormous dream-catchers or wind turbines. I like the way the spikes are in some cases distorted and bent.
Near the northern end of the hall (I entered in from the south), are more assembled, constructed semi rooms if you like (above left and right), mini abandoned workshops. Scattered tools and half empty draws on battered, broken wooden boards. Empty spaces, reminded me of Helen Marten who does something similar but in a more constructed (and in my view more interesting) way. I like the way the two scales peer over everything like two enormous eyes.
Larger devices and constructions appear. Felled telephone polls (above left) on this multi-coloured tarpaulin braced down with this great circular piece of concrete. It takes up pretty much the whole width of the gallery. You can just see to the left the wooden wall which tunnels of a walkway between the two gallery wings.
Other objects loom above you, deliberately elevated presumably to give them more presences like the cement mixer you can just see (above right) and the double electric drills.
It is a boon for photographers this show you can take all kinds of interesting shots of machinery from specific angles, so you can have the multi-tooled head of the lathe looming above you (above left) or the indecipherable control panel of the same machine (above right). This for me was one of the most interesting part of the show, being able to zoom in and out if you like to get the whole but then these odd specific views.
Incidentally I have re-vamped my gallery page. Have a look and tell me what you think. That will do for now. Next week Van Gogh, until then, William Mackenzie signing ...
And those pictures tell you pretty much all you need to know about the Affordable Art Fair. You will see quirky art, colourful art, graphicy art, occasionally good art, and you will see a dog who is better and more expensively dressed than you are (a real dog that is not one of the fine people above). Joyously one of the dogs pooed on the floor. This was apparently not art, it was just a poo. If you have been before (to the show that is, not for a poo) then you will also see people you have seen before. I will try and avoid those in this blog, a rule I shall now immediately break.
Charlie Macpherson (above left) is an oft lusted after favourite whom I'm sure I've blogged about in previous years. I like the concentric nature of his glass, those smaller pieces with the gem like glass set within the smoked glass. What I really covert though is the curved triangular turquoise number in the bottom right. He is represented by the Marine House at Beer (above right) which is always one of the best most attractive stand in the show.
I do like my misty autumnal landscape, and Anna Boss' triumvirate of pictures (above left) with their bleak sincerity really appealed to me. A road leading you in is always a good shout. I think the one in the bottom left is my favourite with it sort of tunnel effect, with the spindly trees reaching to each other.
Antoine Gaussin's "Escape" is a large rectangular piece. What is it? Is it a landscape, some wooden posts rising out of a misty lake? Or is it a series of pots, stacked on an invisible surface. I am not even sure what the medium is, the title did not say but a brief google indicates photography. Any way you have to drop over £5,000 for this evocative, peaceful piece.
Stefan Mas Persson (above left) is another perennial favourite with his raised slightly 3d pieces. The one on the right is a slight departure from what his previous work with its series of different squares. It is interesting and allows your imagination to run riot. Particularly the little white figure walking along the wooden bar.
Completely different is Bui Trong Du's stylised portrait (above right). They are lacquer on wood, these sumptuously clad women on the patterned background. Always with these flowers in different stages of opening. I like the bottom one best with her slightly louche pose on that rich green background.
Glass, sculpture and pottery will occupy the next few entries. I have a weakness for glass and they are often of a high standard in the Affordable Art show. Toni Fairhead (above left) makes the pieces out of recycled glass and copper. It has a sort of crazed glass, almost fan like, shell like organic effect. The triangular wedge is the best of them.
Eryka Issak's glass and metal sculptures (above right) have attracted me before and have caused me to break my now shattered role again. They have a sort of toenail like structure but have good tone, structure and sympathetic colouring. The tear drop void in the blue/turqouise (I like turquoise) works very well.
There are two artists' work on display in the photo above left but it is only one of them, Lindsey Walsh, who drew my attention. If you double click on the picture so as to enlarge it you can see in better detail but basically what you have here is ceramics decorated with slightly abstracted, slightly mythical landscapes or scenes. The shape often echos the scene like the sail shape one on the right depicts a sailing scene. The curved one behind the bowl, which has a seaside townscape particularly appeals. I didn't buy anything this year by Walsh made my shortlist but now, as I write this, I regret not having done so.
Dancing Penguins (above right). Who doesn't like dancing penguins? Well if you don't then the work of Noor Brandt who does a line in cute animals in bronze is not for you. His groups of animals are the best, and the penguins are the stand out stars. Joyous and happy.
Another purchase I regret not making is some of Phil Atrill's glass (Above left). I saw him years ago at the Origin Arts fair in Somerset house. I couldn't quite afford him then but I could now. They are big pieces. Swirling glass coming to a point, stained with strong colour. They are substantial pieces and so it is difficult to see where they would live without the prospect of their inevitable destruction hanging over them.
Paul Jackson (above right) presents us with what I suppose might be considered fairly classic ceramics. Vase shapes decorated in abstract colour. However they are very attractive, very well done and conceived. The soft pastel colours all work well with each other and somehow compliment the shape of the vase. The abstract designs or all interesting and again work well on the shape they inhabit. Restraint is an under-praised quality in an artist. This is an example of someone who knows where to stop.
There is no doubt though the presence of 15 pieces arranged in a grid really enhance each other. They make for a more powerful golden glow. Individual pieces are very attractive in themselves and I suspect they sell very well but the grouping is even more enticing.
A example of a similar thing at work is the column of Volker Kuhn's work (above left). Little 3d scenes set within a frame. Some of them are quite amusing when you exam them up close but again there is no doubt their collective appeal is greater.
Last up we have some scratch abstract work. I found the above left leafing through a folder of work. I recently brought something for such a foray so I do it more now. I like the two blocks of red colour and the barbed wire/tree like line that balances it. I took a photograph of the handwritten label on the back but unfortunately it is unreadable so the artist must remain a mystery to us all.
A similar style but much more figurative are Laura Boswell's linocut (above right). Again it is the scratchy nature of it that appeals to me, and those two balancing fields of colour, the gold and the black. It is a strong piece and again I can see these selling well.
That's it for this week. For the next couple of weeks it will all be about Tate Brtain. In the meantime I have slightly revamped my gallery page. Have a look. Tell me what you think. Buy things. TTFN
Do you like Henry Moore? Do you like Helmets? Do you like Heads? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you would struggle to do better than the current exhibition at the Wallace Collection. It is on until 23rd June I would recommend you go. It is quite a small show so if you find yourself caught in a bout of tedious shopping in Oxford circus you can always escape to the quite of Manchester Square and go see this. The exhibition is centred, as the name would suggest around a number of bronze Helmet Heads that Henry Moore produced. It is housed in the Wallace collection basement exhibition space, below their atrium tea rooms.
Not only the helmet heads though, and some of the helmet heads like this one above left are much more yonic in there feel, a gestating something in side a womb like space. Some of it reminded me of H.R Giger but much less aggressive. I wonder if Moore was one of his influences.
In addition to this there are a number of other small works on display, some of them properly tiny. I really liked these two harp like constructions (above left). It shows one of the other revelations of this show the different textures, sheens and colours you can coax out of bronze. This like Barbara Hepworth's work (who uses the string trick to great effect also) really appeals to me. Your eyes travel up and across the strings.
However the central theme of this exhibition is the inspiration that Moore took from actual Helmets in coming to his final designs. There is convincing evidence that Moore came to the Wallace Collection and literally drew from their considerable accumulation of European armour. What this allows the curators to do is show an actual Helmet from their collection (above left), Moore's preparatory sketches (above centre) and then the final finished Head (above right). It is a smart decision and gives the exhibition an extra dimension. You get some history with your culture and get to see the genesis of an artistic idea.
They do this several times and the comparison is made early and explicitly in one of the first exhibits you come across (above left). Of course apart from the shape, this slighted twisted shape with upwards looking eye holds, the tone of the bronze what adds most of the time to these Helmet Heads is an internal shape, like an abstract spice. Sometimes they are separate and sometime they are integral. They provide more personality than the actual helmets.
Others are more explicitly helmet like (above right), a modernist all encompassing head covering. This is a good example of different bronze. One (left) is dark, while the other (right) is bright and shining.
The first main room though contains things other than Helmet Heads as intimated previously. There is a large over human size plaster statue, that looks like a large version of this odd cocoon like structure that you can see above right. You can see the forms here that develop and morph into the Helmet heads. And then a very shiny bronze sculpture which has resonances of some of the internal structures. Again marvel at the different finishes bronze can achieve.
They are surprisingly complex often using multiple media and show what a good draftsman Moore was. Some of them are just riffs on a motifs like the mummy like structures over a coloured washed background above left). Others are more polished renditions of what Moore envisaged as the final structure and make for excellent pieces of art in themselves (above right).
The show then opens up and ends on a collection of all the Helmet Heads arranged together (above). You can just about see from this photo some of different finishes, in both the external and internal pieces. This central placing of the podiums allows you to circle the sculptures and admire them from all angels. This is one major advantage that sculpture has over painting, it allows for different view points. You can never see the whole thing, only different aspects of it. Smart curators (and the Wallace Collection curators are smart) take full advantage of this.
It is an excellent show. it is a happy and uplifting show. I enjoyed it very much and I think you would too. I will leave you thought with a picture of what I think is my favourite piece from the show. He (I project onto it as a he) is a cheeky little chappy and I've glad I met him. Until next week then....
Some painters their work is much better in person than it is in photographic reproduction, Turner, Dorothea Tanning to name but two. Other painters are much better in reproduction and are frankly disappointing in person. Hockney is a prime example of this, and to this I would add Pierre Bonnard. There is a show of his work at the Tate Modern but attending in person is both expensive (£20!) and a little disappointing. Of the three shows on at the Tate Modern I would recommend you go to 1) Dorothea Tanning and the 2) Franz West, 3) Magical Realism (its free), 4) The viewing platform and look into those flats that lost that privacy case, 5) the currently empty turbine hall and then 6) Bonnard.
He is one of the lesser known impressionists and while his paintings can be a riot of colour I think I can see why and I will attempt to justify this assertion in a few badly chosen and ill reasoned phrases. Here we go.
Take this picture of a tree in blossom. From a distance it is a riot of colour, with a wonderful sense of place and time. Up close though and the edges are blurred, there is no definition and I find it a bit of a mush. You don't even have to get that close. From a distance then Bonnard's picture pack quite an impact but this rapidly depletes as you get closer. What this means for me is that they don't reward contemplation. Once your senses has recovered from the assault of colour there is not much left. It is not quite the dream like quality of Monet, or the crisp violence of Van Gogh. Bonnard sits in some unfortunate halfway house.
Where I think Bonnard is better is in inside contained or restricted. Like for example this red and purple number (above right). It is also with these types of picture that you can play spot the animal. There is often a cheeky dog or cat (or both) hidden somewhere in the scene. It is the fields of colour that are the most effective here, the purple of the table cloth, contrasting the red on the right, the orange on the left, and the blue through the window. The white crockery adds to it to. It is slightly let down by that odd ghostly figure and the scratchy child like foliage.
So basically what I'm saying is outside, weirdly childish with some nice colours (above left)k compared with his more accomplished indoors painting. Probably my favourite in the show is this bath scene. The colours on the wall, the way colours morph from blue to purple with that golden crackle running through it. The patterned floor is also good. The central figure is strange but that works in this context.
Having identified those of his paintings that I prefer I will focus on those. However this leads me onto another general problem I have with Bonnard (listen I just don't like Bonnard much, if you don't agree with that, keep reading while I painfully explain how wrong you are), is that he never really picks a side with colour. He is almost striking, almost pastel, never quite one or the other and like in the nude above left, often the central elements are too similar to the background and it doesn't stand out. All becomes a bit of a mess. There are some nice elements though, the composition is good, and I like the mirror and the green square coming on, stage right.
I also like these almost Victorian indoor scene (above right), the fireplace being my favourite element.
Credit to the curators though, they made a very smart move, and took some paintings out of their frames (above left). They are greatly improved by this, have more of an immediacy to them and Bonnard's more subtle (confused) colour scheme limited by the scene is much more effective. Likewise this picture of the lady in red in front of a red cake (above right). Again the limited colour pallet and again almost Victorian restrained feel makes for a more effective and interesting painting.
Tate have called the show, the colour of Memory. I am not sure why but I will leave you with two paintings that demonstrate and support my biased and selective opinion. They are initially very striking. The mottled red on the picture on the left, and the yellow wall paper on the right are very good. On the picture on the right the greenery contrasts excellent with the yellow. However when you look closely though, its all a bit messy, bit incomplete.
So there you go. Bonnard. Demolished.
this post is likely to be on the brief and nonsensical side. The idea originated with my friend Emily who lives just across the road from said gallery. She attended one of my previous shows back in early 2018 and suggested that I exhibit here. I didn't think much of it at the time but the idea gained traction and was taken up in full force in my father.
The booking went in then in November 2018 and at the same time I embarked on a series of paintings of local scenes especially for the show. These have pretty much occupied my painting time from then until a couple of weeks ago. We claimed the keys on Wednesday night and with the help of Millie, an A level art student who lives next doors to my parents (and has been acting as my Curator) hung up the show. She was very useful. Always have someone with a good eye who is not personally invested in your work to help with such things.
We went for having a large painting in the window to attract people in and immediately the two largest paintings on either side (above left). These were also the most expensive to anchor people's price point. Then paintings were arranged by subject matter. London on the right and Henley on the left. At the back (above right) a quartet of paintings from the north of England, the flower still lives and then off camera the rock still lives.
The gallery is an excellent space as you can see from above. It is light and airy, lit both from windows at the front and back and by skylights. There are also well positioned skylights. There is plenty of hanging space and a pre-installed hanging system with adjustable wires and hooks that simplifies the whole process enormously. There is also a little kitchen with fridge and kettle, and a decent loo. It comes with plenty of furniture.
Its main downfall, and this is often the case with municipal galleries, is its location. It is situation behind the town hall, away from the main foot traffic. You do not then get much in the way of passing trade. This is common and inevitable with such galleries though. If they were well located they would have long been sold as shops. Advertising then is key. I have been promoting this extensively and we have also been using the event as an excuse to reunite with family and friends. Ensuring then a fair flow through of people.
I also contacted the Henley Standard. They seemed interested and asked for a few pictures and there was also a telephone interview. i was expecting perhaps a small mention and was both gratified and pleased to get a near full page spread (see above and the link). This caused at least a few more people to attend.
I was one-upped in fairly short order when my wife was mentioned in the Financial Times, a day later.
My other cunning plan was to have a red dot in place right from the start. So I told my Curator to choose a painting that she could then keep. She choose the one above left. Turns out she drew up in East London and always liked the gas holders. The co-incidences mounted when her dad came in to see the show and said that her mum had proposed to him in the white building at the right near the bridge. An excellent story.
The Thursday was, well nearly dead. Few people came in and we sold nothing. Friday was allot quieter and-we had many visitors including a few dogs (above right). Sold 4 paintings on that day.
My favourite painting and the first to sell was Regent's Canal at Dusk (above left). It is always the way at shows that there are a few paintings you could sell many times over and this was one.
My first painting to sell to someone I didn't already know was the approach to Henley (above right). A gentleman appeared on the bench outside the gallery. I chatted to him and stroked his dog. He re-appeared on the Saturday so I offered him a glass of prosseco. As a result of this he came into the gallery. So did his wife. They had been married in Henley church so they bought the painting. They were lovely paintings.
I have learnt a few things thought. 1) opening on Thursday was pointless we could have hired the gallery a day later and set up on Thursday. 2) Staying open until 1800 is pointless. It pretty much dries up after 1600 - 16:30. It's a long day and exhausting so we have closed at 17:00 everyday. This means we did miss one couple who turned up at 17:10 on Saturday so the lesson here- be more realistic in your opening hours. 3) More big posters, preferably in stand alone form to lead people up from the town.
This means that we will probably start taking down the show at 14:00 on Tuesday. If then you want to see it, come before then. It's been a lot of fun though and I got to meet some lovely people. The best people come either on motor-bikes or with dogs.
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.