The excellent Mall Galleries is currently showing the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition. It is on until 13:00 on Sunday 22nd September so chances are you have missed it, but let me give you a run down on what was best in the show, at least what appealed to me most, which as our current political leaders have taught us, is the same thing. The prize itself has its own website where some of the exhibitors and their art is shown. Above we have the winners board. Of these I actually really like the one in the bottom left which is a picture of a small yellow plant growing out of the pavement. Primrose Pavement its called and is the work of Aidan Potts. The plant itself and the pavement itself is super detailed whereas the road that forms the upper half of the painting is almost abstract and river like.
I have as you may know a fondness for canals. Third prize, or Iron Mighty by Mark Elsmore as it is otherwise known (above right) fits right into the wheelhouse and there is a sense of weighty claustrophobia that entirely fits the brief. Technically impressive, I can see why it ranked but for me though, it is a little too constrained.
Having in a few sentences dispatched the winners I shall now do the same for the other highlights of the show starting with the excellent portrait of D - Day Veteran Lewis Trinder by Gideon Summerfield (above left). There is an excellent sense of fading heroism about the picture with that wonderful craggy face and the uniform and medals all slowly merging in a brownish red, the whole figure contrasting nicely with the blue and gray background. Maybe its projection by the dark blue shapes make me think of poppies.
One of the things you can do particularly effectively with watercolours is use the imperfections of washes of paint, the dripping of paint and having the white paper peeking through to create striking images. It works especially well in landscapes and Linda Saul has pulled it off marvelously in her work Pendeen Clifftops (above right). The result is a very cold feeling, wintery blustery landscape with a real sense of the craggy eroded nature of the cliffs.
What I also like is when people blend the abstract with the figurative, which is what appears to be happening in David Firmstone's Scottish Harbour (above left). This piece is actually more impressive in person. That emerging and expanding ribbon of water has much more colour depth to it, and much more of a glow to it than the picture suggests. What the painting does do very well is take your brain on a journey from the ordered straight lines of the harbour wall and the boat to the swirling chaose of the water running into the sea.
In watercolours I have a strong preference for pieces where you can see the paint, and the brush marks. It is a medium in which photo-realism works less wells and seems a bit pointless (other than in botanical art but that is a whole separate thing). There is a surreal dreamlike quality that watercolour lends itself well to and I respond well when an artist plays to these strengths, as with Julian Bray's piece (above right) which has an improbably long and unwieldly title. The strong use of orange and pinks, contrasting with the dark blues and grays is very good, as are the oversized flowers in the foreground.
Having now dismissed watercolour as a medium to avoid photorealism, I shall now subvert that point by having two paintings which are nearly there in presentation, but I shall forgive as being excellent and evocative. Firstly we have Aidan Potts again (above left) riffing further on his theme of urban, cheeky flowers. This one lacks the contrast between swirling and realism that the top one has but the colour contrast, between the wall and the flowers, and wall and the pavement is much stronger so it makes for a more eye catching piece.
You don't get much social realism in watercolour, you also don't get much monochrome (although there were a few examples in the show). A striking exemplar of both of these things is Kitchen by Peter Busa (above right). Credit to the curator for hanging it against a dark wall which makes it sing and glow in a way it might not of done otherwise. The different tones in this painting, like the way the coat is rendered is superb as is the attention to detail. There is real drama here to between the two figures.
They are not just spoons. You can't really see it in the photo and it takes a while looking at the painting until you realise but within each of the spoons of Patricia Rozental's I am Spoonfed (above left) is reflected the face of a person, motled and distorted by the surface of the spoon. Some of them are barely visible beneath the tarnish she has put on the spoons. An excellent idea well done.
Mark Entwistle's Primavera II (above right), plays to all of the strengths of watercolour that I was talking about previous. What is particularly impressive here, and is obviously a strength of his as he does it again in Primavera I which is also in the show, is the way he depicts people under water. It is very good. This painting has a nice, intimate, dreamlike quality that really sucked me in. The contrast between the solid dark wood, the pinkness of the skin and then the, frankly very cold looking, blues of the water. Very nice.
I have said it before and I will say it again until you listen is that comedy in art is very difficult to do and very effective when you pull it off. Punch Drunk in Love by Adam De Ville (above left) made me, and most other people at the show, laugh as soon s they saw it. The absurdity of the figures, the swim suit, the colours, their age, the overhyped highlighted tattoos all play off the sweetness and cuteness of the message. It is also very simple, just these two people against a white background, and the more effective for it. I like it.
Much more maximalist and repleat with symbolism is Claire Sparkes piece (above right) which has an unpronounceable German name. I like the way the various elements of the piece reflect and blend into each other. Foreshortening is difficult to day and I therefore really like the way her hand reaches out onto the board. Sometimes though art speaks to you simply because it sparks associations. I am very fond of the the Lewes Chessmen for reasons that are too long and difficult to explain now. This painting reminds me strongly of those chess pieces and therefore I like it, frankly, mainly for that.
Last two, well last three. Two though are by the same artist. They are by Rebecca Kunzi (above left). It is very difficult to see from this photo but they are food stuffs painted on tiny tickets. I particularly appreciate the bottom of the two, which is a picture of two prawns and is called Don't be Shellfish. You don't get nearly enough puns in art, or in life for that matter. Nice idea, done well.
Let us sign off with a celebration. Stephanie Forrest's piece (above right) is one of those pieces that is initially slightly baffling but the coalesces into something else one you know the title. Right so, look at it. Have you done that? It is called Fireworks. Now look at it a again. See? Once you know you can see that she has actually caught really well the smoke and light of a firework display.
The exhibition is on until Sunday. I am posting this on Saturday to partly make up for missing a blog post last week. Go if you can, enjoy it.
I was recently in Glasgow and despite it being August, perpetual and ferocious rain, which was swelling the river Kelvin at an alarming rate caused me to scurry into Kelvingrove Art Gallery. It is one of those high Victoria reddish buildings that are scattered around Glasgow with a sturdy solemnity. I think they have the function of stopping the city being washed away. I am being a bit mean, partly because getting soaked gave me a cold but it is a good gallery and worth a visit in its own right.
So lets get cracking. There is a non-part of the museum which includes dinosaurs, social history etc but the bit I enjoyed most was the pre-history part. Stone axes and so on. However onto the art. There is a fair collection of paintings by John Pringle. There was a particularly good selection of oil sketches in a glass case but the reflection off the glass rather ruined the picture. They were very interesting to see. Of the other paintings on display this one on the top left, the River Saint-Gertrude. It is charming. Charming can be something that some people use as damning with feint praise but I think it is difficult to make something charming. I like my river scenes and the sky and the river are excellent. I like the way he uses horizontal strokes of paint for the water, giving a different texture to the surface of the water. I am coming increasingly to the view that landscapes need a figure to make them really work, context and interest. Not all the time obviously but certainly the figure in this painting gives an idea of scale.
There were a couple of Lowry's on display and I will show you both of them but the first of them (above right) is extraordinary. I have never seen a Lowry without figures, without buildings before. It is just an empty seascape but I love it. Empty and mesmeric. It must have been difficult to overcome the urge to add something to it. The receding dark tones gives a great sense of perspective to the piece.
Constable and Turner sit next to each other in this gallery, the dark super detail and moodyness of Constable landscape and sky, a real autumnal scene. Then sitting next to it the golden light of a Turner ethrealness, a real summer view.
Portraiture now an a symphony in red and gold, firstly mainly red with an actually iconic Rossetti painting (above left) showing his classic red headed, ice maiden. Gold wall, gold frame, golden backdrop making the reds of the hair and shawl stand out from the backdrop. full of symbolism with all those flowers.
Then more red than gold, is Wyndham Lewis' wife Froanna (above right). I really like it when artists riff on one colour, as Lewis has done here with red, all different shades of red. She doesn't look very happy though does she? A feeling that is emphasised by the distorted slightly twisted figure. There make a great pair these two paintings and credit to the curators for putting them next to each other.
Buildings now and a Lowry and more what we come to think of as a Lowry (above left) a scampering of figures. The painting is called VE days and bunting scores across between the streets. There is never any greenery in Lowry paintings, it is all people and buildings, these odd perspectives and those very recognisable figures.
The other one I have failed to record either the name of the painting or the painter but I really like it. It is a large apartment block (above right). There are lots of buildings like this in Glasgow and it has an architectural drawing or painting. In a number of the rooms are different scenes from just solitary cats to a fat man holding court at a party. I like the fact that it is set in winter too.
Before we leave the gold room is a Ben Nicholson Still Life (above left) with is a deconstructed vase. I reminds me again of an architecture design or drawing. The colours are quite restrained and cooling, giving a scientific air to the whole thing. I would not be surprised to find out that there was some complex formula behind the whole thing.
Into the green room, which focuses on the Glasgow Boys. There were various paintings by the various members of that particular groupings but my favourite of them with this bitty barky style was E A Hornel. He seems to specialise in children in fairy type settings and my faovurite of those is the one above right. I particularly like the snow drops.
If you then ascend upstairs then there is a picture gallery running the length of the southern end of the Gallery, from it you can see the main hall (above right) which while I was there was being set up for an afternoon's organ recital. As well as paintings it contains a rather fine stained glass panel (above left).
In said picture gallery there were a number of pictures that peaked my interest. These three pictures of women piqued my interest (above left). They are in clockwise from the top, the Artist's wife by William Hutchinson, A Lady by John Godward and Chritsina Mitchell McNeill by Thomas Duncan. It is the first of these I like, her somehow relaxed and intimate smile. It's a very warm picture and placing her against the folded red curtain makes her stand out.
Pilot and Navigator Confer (above right) by Keith Henderson is an excellent war painting. Often the best war paintings don't actually show any violence. They show either the build up or the aftermath. The ones that actually show action tend to be far to propagandaish. Henderson's one is good. I like the intimacy between the two main figures.
An array of still lives makes for a fine conurbation of painting above left). A combination of classical and more abstract. The top right one and the one below are by S J Peploe, one of the Glasgow boys. The spray of yellow tulips is particularly fine. Intricate and detailed and very eye catching is by Leslie Hunter. The way the curtain pattern reflects the central flower picture works well.
As you circulate around the picture gallery you eventually end up in an impressive end gallery, packed full of Impressionists. Includes Monet, Pissaro, Matisse and various others. It is an eye catching bunch. I could do a whole post on just them, but they are also the kind of thing you could see in any gallery in the world. Instead I shall focus on one of my favourite and slightly lesser known Impressionists, Andre Dorain's Blackfriars Bridge (above right). The bridge itself barely features, instead you have that looming edifice in the foreground. I like that kind of thing and the way it plays against the luminous river is very good.
Is the figure waiting for someone to arrive or trying to muster the courage to go out. It is very good.
I have jumped ahead some what as there is a gallery of Dutch Masters (as well as a gallery of Scottish Colourists none of whom really grabbed me). This one (above left) is unusual for a Dutch Master being all light and interior. The arcs and the way they are rendered gives it an abstract air and the whole edifice dwarfs those tiny figures. It is called A Baptism in Saint Bavo's Haarlem by Pieter Saenredam, who I have to confess is a name new to me.
There is of course much much more to be seen. It is well worth a visit.
I talk a lot here about other people but I thought it was about time I spoke about me. Any suggestion that I have run out of exhibitions to talk about is a lie! It is a contistutional convention to take a break from exhibition reviews and there will be plenty of time to talk about them again.
Anyway the subject for the paiting was the newly refurbished Coal Drops yard at Kings Cross (above).
First off i tend to start with a sketch. In this case a pastel sketch. This tends to help with making a decision as to wether the paiting will work at all and if so what I should change or exclude. In this case it became apparent that the railings in the left foreground werre not going to work and shluld be excluded.
Then onto painting. I am painting on wood. 5 mm ply wood to be precise that i habe treated with 6 layers if gesso. I do not sand the gesso down as I lile the texture it gives. On the first session I block in the main shapes, add some texture and tone. A quick experiment confirmed that the railings would not work.
Then bulid it up. Bassically I work from the top down. Technically I work from the back of the image forward but this usually ends up being top down. I do several passes adding detail each time.
This continues until the major elements are all in place then I jump around the paintinf adding detail and changing things so it is a more balanced composition.
The finisjed version. An imagined left foreground which i like and reflects the boats that are accross the water. Flecks of orange have been added to the foliage and grey to the sky. I was paeticularly pleased with the houseboats in this one. What do you think?
In pleasing consistency one of the fine portraits on display at the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery is a magisterial Frank Bowling (above) whose show I recently wrote about and who also was exhibiting in the summer exhibition. There has been some disparaging reviews of the show in some quarters and while it is smaller than this show has been in the past, I really enjoyed it.
The Bowling portrait for example is excellent. The artist, Tedi Lena has superbly captured his appraising alpha gaze. Lena, got to hang out with Bowling in his studio. That must have been excellent. I particularly like the way the beard is rendered and the look over the top of the glasses.
A little on the prize winners. As always not everyone is going to agree but I can see why they won. Starting with the winner, Imra in her Winter Coat by Charlie Schaffer (above left). It is a good portrait. Soulful, slightly mornfull face, detailed and well rendered coat but I suspect the reason it won is that triangular shape, the whole thing in fact is reminiscent of the Rembrandt self portrait that you can see at Kenwood House. Art judges love this kind of nod.
The Crown by Carl-Martin Sandvold (Above right), is well different. The blurry presentation, well I can see how it is different and interesting but it doesn't work for me. Many people thought the same but you have to role with the judging on this case.
However I have to say the third prize and the youth prize are in my view excellent. I was particularly impressed by Sophia and Carla by Emma Hopkins (above left). It is painted on an interesting surface, possibly polyester, something like that, which gives it this ethreal glow. The composition is very strong and the level of detail on the skin, the fur, everything. I would have given this first place, it won Youth Art Prize, and a deserving winner it is.
I also really like the third prize winner (above right) by Massimiliano Pironti. It is called For Quo Vardis. What you don't quite get from the photo is the glow and the sheen to both the dress and the tiles. Those hands though. Aren't they great. The skill on display is quite breath-taking.
and the empty room beyond. There is a photo-realistic level of detail here with a very nice use of light and shadow. The central figure though, particularly her hair lifts it above photo realisim. She look like she is about to speak, or do something.
Regal. Tina Orsolic Dalessio's The Poet (above left) is regal. A strong meditative pose. IT is a take on those old Victorian portraits showing, almost always white men, at their profession. I like that reference. The sitter is a beautiful woman and the use of light and shadow on the face and neck helps empahsise that. The flashes of sliver, very well rendered, help the painting lift out at you. This would have been my choice for first prize.
Effective use of light and shadow can really lift a painting. Give it an extra depth and dynamism which is an element that the prize winners lack somewhat. These two don't though. Above left we have Aurelio by Ivan Chacon. Aurelio is the painters uncle if I remember correctly. It is very hard to capture someone in a painting mid movement. This Chacon has done superbly, like you are in the middle of a conversation with the sitter.
There are a few self portraits in the show (such as the Crown) but my favourite of them is the one above right by Steven Higginson. There a number of things I like. I like the sofft pastel shading of the paint. I like the effect of the Venetian blind shadows across his face. Most of all I think I like that he looks like Professor Green.
It gives a real felling of heat. You can tell it was hot wherever that it is. I like the details on the tiling too, the scratches and the stains.
Lastly is the distinctly odd Eden (protection) by David J EIchenberg. It is, if I recall correctly. painted on aluminium but the unusual pose, the superb way the gold and silver metal is presented, the way the light is reflected on the sitters jaw and her odd sidewise pose all really appealed to me. Also it reminded me of Billie Eilish.
So go along. It is free, it is on until October and there are many more paintings than the ones I have talked about here.
Natalia Goncharova was a name I'd not heard before I saw the posters for the show of her work at Tate Modern and went along. I enjoyed it. That's the headline. Russian impressionist moving into abstract impressionism that is the other headline. It is on until 8th September if this peeks (peaks?) your interest. She paints in a bold vivid style portraying a range of subject as you can see from the quartet above. Angular still life, amusing parrots, charming blossomed path and then an utterly intriguing pair of wrestlers reduced to fighting coloured monsters. My money is on green. This kind of range can be seen throughout the entire show.
I did have all sorts of notes on the woman herself, but I have lost them. All I can remember is that she was Russian, but must have at some point left Russia otherwise she would have never have got away with the religious paintings we see later. But part of the Russianness can be seen in paintings of peasant women dancing, their slightly luminous garments popping out from that green floor (above left) or working in a garden (above right). Goncharova is good at flowers. I like the way she exaggerates the size and makes them more geometric. I also like the way the ground is depicted, almost like a parquet floor.
As you amble through the show (assuming you do, I wonder how many people who read this will go/ have been) you will come across a self portrait of the lady in question, clutching a bunches of flowers (above left) presumably on the rather sensible basis that if you are good at something you should do it as often as possible. It is a surprisingly straightforward self portrait. Neither portentous, angsty or pretentious in the way that many self portraits are.
It is in this main room at the start of the show that one of my favourite paintings resides. It is a winter scene of people gathering wood, Wenceslas style (above right). She has managed to capture a real feeling of cold, with that oppressive stormy sky, and you can really fell the wind blowing. I especially like the over-large snowflakes. Exaggerating the size of things is a trick that Gonchorva does well and I like it. I also like the way the snow flakes are gathered round the tree, almost like they are ice wintery leaves.
Then into the far room and a selection of stunning paintings, all of them on a religious theme. There is a tendency for religious paintings to be, well dull. These are far from dull. It is a bit of a long shot but you can see from the painting of some saint other other (or possibly Jesus) behind a set of candles (above right) is fantastic . The arc of gold at the back echoing the candle of gold at the front, then this angular white robed figure, centre stage and commanding our attention. It is superb.
There are more in this room, and I think it was my favourite room in the whole show. It was certainly the one I spent the most time in. There was this glowing, iconic (literally) golden triptych with a christ like central figure flanked by two angels (above left). Here the use of different sized canvases is part of the composition and we have the return of what appears to be a theme of contrasting green (the robe of the angel on the left) and red (the wings of the angel on the right). This time my money is on red. I love the way those wings glow, as indeed does that halo.
Darker in texture, all the more so the large (empty? - better for being empty I think) scrolls can pop out at you are these four saintly figures (above right). There is a curious device at work here where their heads are all scrunched up at the top of the painting, like they are actually trapped in the frame. It is almost certainly deliberate but I like the idea that she started from the bottom, ran out of room and swearing to herself just decided to go with it. Of such mistake great art is made. I like particularly the highlights on the clothing that bring them out from the background. I am thinking of going again, just to see this room.
could be smoke rings or just holes in the picture, really caught my attention. It is difficult to explain why but it did. Busier, more colourful, more geometric is a picture of some kind of machine (above right). I forget what. The almost transparent lines, really connect this painting together and give it a feeling of motion. Also, and this is the same for all of her paintings, her colours are never just one block of colour, but muted and toned.
they are either dancing people or some kind of band. There is also a very find large hinged screen, standing opposite of this, made of 5 or 6 panels of a similar composition.
Having battered you with her talent in the final room Goncharova delivers a knockout blow with various prints and patterns including designs for costumes and stage backdrops for ballets (like the above left). Including Stravinsky's Fire Bird. I mean really. They are beautiful designs though and I particularly like the floral ones (above right) which reminded me of Japenese Block prints. The show is on until 8th September so you don't have long if you want to go. You should go, you will like it, or you know there is something wrong with you.
Next week I think I will give an oil company some much needed publicity by talking about their portrait award.
Let us be Frank for a few minutes. Frank Bowling has a picture in the RA. He has a major retrospective of his work at the Tate. He is one of Britain's prominent internationally renowned artists. He is still alive and painting at the age of 83. His work sells for a fortune. Yet not many people have heard of him and the show of his work at Tate Britain got precious little advertisement or promotion. I got given Tate membership for my 40th and it came with a list of current shows. This one wasn't on it. Bowling is also black. It is difficult not to be suspicious and see a link between these two facts. If I was that Tate I would be making a very big deal of this. The show is on until 26th August and you should totally go. Don't worry the show won't be busy. It will be good though as I shall hopefully now demonstrate.
It is the motif on the right that I particularly like with that flower like structure that has a whirlpool quality that draws you into the piece. Although there were nods and similar stylistic points to other artists I had never seen anything quite like these before. Quickly though you are into the next room and Bowling has developed a more singular style and iconography. He has Ghanaian roots and the family home there (depicted above right) and Ghanaian elements features quite heavily. There is a very neat combination of abstraction and figurative elements in these paintings, and again this high colour quality.
In the same room is one of the stars of the early part of the show and possibly my favourite painting of the whole thing. It shows a spiral staircase descending into a kitchen. It is a strangely familiar image and I do wonder if I had seen this painting somewhere before. The rails of the painting are highlighted in gold, the perspective distorted and the figures Baconesque and clownish. It is a powerful image.
From here on in things get a bit more abstract, although the high degree of colour remains, for the most part. The first expression of this abstraction, is a room of maps, swathed in different colour or mixes of colour, visually violent images often and the Africa drenched in red I am sure has another message
For me the more successful ones are the more sombre ones such as the one above, a vast canvas with eh earth merging from dark green in blue and almost black. It is like those images you see of the earth rotating from light into darkness. The one purple line at the end makes it look like an old fashioned photo negative. The deep colour gives it a aquatic more soulful feeling that I respond to.
Similar tonally, do a me tonally, well similar in feel is a mainly gray piece (above right). It feels like a close up of the moon. A mottled grey field, with pits and ridges and that broken swathe of orange arcing across the picture lifts the picture and give the grey more depth. It is possibly my favourite piece in the show, I love seeing more details and imagining it is a different thing. This was also my favourite room in the show.
This develops into a theme called cosmic space. It has the flowing current feel to it. And of course like all good abstract art you see what may or may not be there. So the one the left seems to me to be a wave exploding over rocks, with that golden spray, and the one on the right looks like a stream of muddy water flowing into the water.
Then Bowling gets all lumpy. A bit like Auerbach or a more cheerful Kiefer. Indeed if you pop back to my previous post or along to the Summer Exhibition you will see a very recent example. For me though, as interesting these one are, they are mainly only intellectually interesting. I like the colours but the ridges, as we Auerbach act as a barrier for me and stops me engaging.
This develops into two themes, at least two groups that the show puts them in and it seems to work. One is land and the other, and the one I prefer is water and light. Again, and this probably tells you more about me than the painting I prefer the water and light section of which the above left is an example. I like the subtle blue and greens. Again the lumps are not as intrusive.
Onto the next room and in this room, lots of colour, lots of lumps but for me the two best paintings of the room were these two pale, very indistinct paintings in the corner of the room. Just white and cream and soft yellow washed over each other.
Those lines in the middle really work. They are like scratches through the painting exposing something underneath. Beguiling isn't it. The other (above left) is a mess of blue, red, yellow, white etc, but that reductive description completely undersells this column of paint. The dark blue surrounding the colours gives that center piece a three dimensional feel, like a swirling portal.
Its a great show. It is open for another couple of weeks. Go along. See a less sung British great.
The Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is back, as a coruscating assault on the sense. Once you have made your way into the main building and past the strange robot skeleton (above) you are greeted with the usual coloured walls and large array of paintings, prints, sculptures and things that fit into none of these categories. I have blogged about this extensively in the past but am only going to do one post this year.
There are large number of tips for seeing the Summer exhibition but my own way of doing it is as follows. Resign yourself to the fact that you cannot see everything. Firstly because there is just too much and secondly because not everything is worth seeing. If possible go on a weekday, it is less crowded. Tuesday's are good. Most people work Tuesday. Walk through the show, gently clocking those works that seem good. Either for later inspection or if you feel particularly drawn to them, straight away. Because of the way the show is hung, things are at odd positions, I therefore wander through in a number of different directions, and always notice something different. Finally, I select a few works before hand and try and find them. This is not as easy as it seems. Well the result of this year's trawl is as follows.
I shall start with the architecture. Often my favourite room. It is full of interesting ideas, brought to life with a high degree of skill and attention to detail. The architectural models, the good ones at least, are desirable both as artistic objects but also as concepts and the promise of something bigger. There were many I enjoyed but have decided to limit myself on this blog to just four.
There was a theme in this year's exhibition of environmentalism and sustainability and this was reflected in what was on offer such as Piers Gough's Arterial Road (above left) which is all about roof gardens. The little trees are made I think of wire and copper and look like little earrings or other jewelry. I like also the stacked nature of the building with the green, bronze and then glowing perspex intervening layers.
Suitably Jules Verne Sci-Fi esq in appearance is Katie Cunningham's design for a nuclear submarine reactor removal facility complete with public promenade (above right). It has that space station, battleship feel that appeals to me but I also enjoy the idea that there could be a public space in such a facility. The concept of trotting around above such delicate nuclear work creates a thrill but sadly, I suspect, one that will never come off.
I like London Zoo. I like the aviary that sits beside the canal. I always enjoy the few pigeons that have snuck in there and are hanging out with the exotic birds. I was therefore intrigued to see Lord Foster's proposal for it's re-purposing as a monkey sanctuary (above left). It is a pleasing looking design complete with delicate trees, people and tiny swinging monkeys. The strip across the bottom, where I think the canal would be, contains detailed information about the design which is a nice touch.. I looks like a good design and I found myself wanting it to be built and to go around it.
The next piece is not so much architecture as sculpture. It is made of a series of optic fibers arranged to give carved out interior. It is difficult to capture the shape and its effect properly in photography and I have not really succeeded (above right) but is has almost a cross between a spiritual and disco effect. It is apparently an idea for a seed bank by Thomas Heatherwick.
In a not to dissimilar style but much more steam-punk / dystopian future is Jason Hon Lun Ho's, The Pool of Tears (above right). The tears in this case being the both literal and metaphorical and the theme of climate change made very clear. I like the circularity of it. They way the elements of the picture lead into themselves. Anyway, enough architecture and affiliated ephemera. Onto the proper art.
touchingly and powerfully sets out the effect of Parkinsons. This is done both in the central figure but also the slightly distorted view of the whole thing. There is an excellent second touch. You can just about see in this picture an eye at the end of the corridor, looking through the door at us. There is a whole second picture behind, of a second female figure (presumably the mother) of which only the eye can be seen from the front. A nice innovation.
Triptychs and diptychs work really well. I keep thinking I should do some but I never seem to have an idea I think would work. Above left is a good example of a triptych in what appears to be an increasing abstracted selfie of a smug couple skiing. This assumption is supported by the name of the piece Graduation, its producer being Christopher Oldfield. It had sold, which is not a surprise. I like the blurry effect of the paint and the way that this is applied, the indistinct nature of the subjects and a good choice of dominate colours, blue and scarletty red.
Now these two pictures demonstrate the slight animal obsession that featured in this exhibit. Particular small pictures of animals which were in preponderance as you can see of the above left. The small sheep appeals to me as does the very tiny dachshund. Can you see it? I'll give you a clue, the elephant have looked at it.
Not just animals but birds too and I was particularly enamoured of, is it a wren, some kind of tit? anyway the one centre of the above right and is the work of Matt Collishaw. The muted colourful background is great, as is the slight fackout. The texture makes you think it is an oddly coloured tree whereas in fact you get closer (you have to be quite tall to do that) and then you see it is a nail hanging out of a graffitied wall.
Simpler, more minimal and monumental is this fine figure clutching an empty vase (above right). It is called the scarred one, presumably due to the gold line that diagonally bisects the head. It has a great solidity to it, assisted by it Limestone material. Grey and Gold is always an excellent combination, and you end up wondering what that vase is for. The artist is Benedict Byrne.
The way to really cash in as an artist on the Summer Exhibition is to sell prints. If you produce a good and interesting print you can sell multiple copies. You can come away with quite a lot of money. A print that sold well that I also like is Freja Lijia Bao's - Splendour - A Dream of Eastern Capital-Summer Bamboo (above left). It quite an unwieldy title for what is quite a beautiful piece. Those great towering bamboos striking up out of grey ground, with a classic Crane flying past, all dwarfing the tiny people. It is dreamlike, Bao has fulfilled her own brief.
I like little constructions. This one (above left) is by Stuart Wroe (with the unexciting name of untitled 1). It is a cityscape, presented as though you are looking through a constructed building, at least that how it appears to me. At the bottom are these tiny oil barrels. Every time I look at it I see more tiny details. The dark wood colour appeals to me.
I have managed to capture a number of works in the other picture (above right). There is a Bill Jacklin snowscape in the left hand corer. These two matching sail like sculptures and one horizontal piece. I like them all and they work of Ann Christopher. Simple lines, elegant constructed.
Nice to be in the show but unless you knew they were there I imagine most people would miss them. Also you cannot see the detail, which is a shame because the detail is superb on Alastair's work. Those elements are all painting on by the way, nothing is stuck on the pieces. Hugh was easier to find, excellent and primly displayed with two founders of the RA gazing out of us . I have spent many weeks seeing these two paintings produced so it was thrill to see them in such a show.
Another successful print comes to us courtesy of Cathie Pilkington with her Lady Garden (above left). It is elegant piece and I like the sort of blotchy texture on the background as well as the fir tree geometric construction of the tree, with the female faces hanging off the branches like Christmas baubles (presumably purposely).
Two big paintings now. Big paintings can make quite an impact but then when you get closer they can be disappointing. These did not fall into that trap. Calum McClure's appropriately Fissure in Blue (above left) is wonderfully calming. I like the way there are blocks different blue tones, especially in the water, the way the cliffs stand out and the little sparks of colour in the trees.
The other one is from Michael Porter (above left). It reminds me a little of Michael Andrews. I am not sure exactly what it is, possibly it is a seascape. The neuron like top half of the painting, that bleeds into the dark bottom half. An almost one colour dominant part of a painting is something I've never had the confidence to do. I should, but what you need to do, is as Porter does, is with little pockets to break and subtle tones withing the colour.
You are unlikely to be able to see the art featured in this week's post. Why? Well two reasons, the first is that I am fairly sure the exhibitions they were a part of has finished and second, they are on display in the Korundi Art Gallery in Rovaniemi, Finland. So unless I have readership in those parts (which strikes me as unlikely) then you will have to content yourself with this review. Rovaniemi sits on the Southern edge of the arctic circle. I was there during June so there was 24 hour sunlight, and I mean strong, bright, sunburn levels of sunlight. It was quite something. The countryside round there is fairly special. Why was I there. Well my wife (who you can see above, I'm the idiot with the camera, the pig is part of the art.) was competing in the European Masters Weightlifting Championship. She did quite well. I realise all of this is a very unlikely opening paragraph for a blog about art, but that's life I suppose.
Onto the art. The Korundi art gallery houses a concert hall and is home to the Rovaniemi chamber orchestra. It is also houses changing displays of contemporary art. My Finish is not great (it is limited to "hey" - hello "hey hey" - goodbye and "kiitos"- thankyou) but I don't think they have a permanent exhibition. They had 3 or 4 different shows on when we were there but I have just picked out my favourite from each. The piglet looking into the distorting mirror (above) I enjoyed immensely and is the work of Pekka Jylha (a note on names, many of the artists name have umlauts and other markings which I cannot work out how to produce, I have left them out). It is called What is life anyway, and the answer presented is as good as any.
This rather suggestive scratchy affair (above left) is in fact not pen but oil and charcoal and the work of Stig Baumgartner. I am not sure exactly what it shows with these muscular intertwining forms. I think I can spot a rabbits head in there? I also like the different sized canvases combined together.
Much calmer is this almost monochrome affair by Reino Hietanen (above right). Its a simple composition in some ways, this bisected black line in front of what looks like a wall but doubt spread about this by those orbiting planatoids. This causes you look closer and then you see the splashes on the wall are a city sky line and those scratchy white things are trees. It's nice, I like it.
Susanne Gottberg (above left) another purveyor of calm introspective like paintings. Again simple idea, taken just that little bit further and done well. A lonely rural house pictured in concentric squares. It draws you in, which is presumably the intention, and the washy grass gives a dream like effect.
Tapia Junna (above right, for whom I cannot find an internet link), seems to be a collection of bronze hooves morphing together and this strange alien like conglomeration. It is odd but strangely appealing.
There are also couple of moving sculptures. The first called Continuity by Lauri Astala (above left) is faintly disturbing. It consists of a plastic beach ball like globe, that it is slowly inflated and then deflated again by a 70's looking iron long machine. The whole thing is accompanied by a wheezing sound, making you feel like your in the presences of an aging invalid, but presumably that is the point.
Much more relaxing is the kinetic art of Osmo Valtonen (above right). It reminds me of the kinetic sand art of Mona Hatoum. This one is very soothing though. It functions as a coffee table and the hypnotic swirling of that pendulum as it scythes looping around across the sand. The gentle scraping sound of the sand being parted is all part of the effect.
The gallery continues on the floor above, and indeed the floor above that and this time at least that for me was where the quality was. Toni R. Toivonen's rather magnificent piece dominates the northern first floor gallery (above). The room itself with a nice gentle vaulted, the strong arctic summery light gentle filtered for a calmer feel. A very good setting for this piece. Its wooden tones, sometimes appearing to be a horse, sometimes a womblike structure. Its soft glow is due to the fact it is made of brass and dead animal. I subtle memento-mori.
Then you turn round and dominating the floor of the next gallery along is the super fun dancing bear (Above) being the work of Kimmo Schroderus. It is joyous and lifts the spirits from some of the more somber works. It is consists of stainless steel words wrapped around to form the shape. I cannot remember what the words say but given the piece is called Insulter, probably nothing pleasant.
The Giacommeti like figure standing next to is, gaunt and imperious, sadly my photo of the label is so blurred I cannot identify the name of the artist so apologies for this. Standing elsewhere in the gallery the almost bomb-blasted appearing landscape, rendered I think more appealing by the monochrome palette (above right). It is the work of Mikko Paakkola. I like the scrabby sky and the way in which the foliage stretches and mingles with the sky.
Very different is the work of Alma Heikkila with Trillions become one (above left). I cannot decide if it is an undersea sea, muscles and cockles adhering to the side of some rock, all alternatively fungi marching up the side of a tree. The jut out from the piece, going from white to black and grey (you have to peer closely to see the darker ones. It works better in person. It pleased me much and is high in contention to my favourite piece of the gallery. I like also the swirling charcoal and blue grey surface on which the Trillions sit.
Jouna Karsi also greatly entertained me with floating islands, suspended in the middle of the gallery, flood lit so their shadows for part of the piece. I have given you two above. They are quite different in tone. One, I think my preferred one is the above left and the decaying roller-coaster. The detail is impressive and the way the pieces (like in the house above right) peter into nothingness. I enjoyed it very much and circled them a number of times taking them all in.
Finally a violent colourful piece (above left), with red and orange, and scraps of green and black. I am afraid once more I must disappoint you as to the identity of the artist. The colours are immediately appealing and then you move past that and you see a sort of pastoral scene with flying birds. The tone of the painting fighting with the subject. Nice.
Next week back in the UK. Probably the Summer exhibition.
This show has been touring the country and I have seen several of its incarnations at various galleries I have visited. I never went in though, saving it for the London version at the Queen's Gallery. It is on until August, but it is a popular show so I suggest you book, and as the banner above suggests is celebrates Leonardo 500 (birth or death, I am not quite sure). The exhibition website is work a look, having as it does high quality photos of pretty much all the drawings that are display. These photos below were taken by my grubby mitts as I ambled around the show. Amble with me.
Leonardo is of course a name so often bandied around. However I suspect most people when asked to name his paintings will say Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, er something to do with a Madonna? One of the reason for this is that he wasn't much of a finisher our Leonardo. This exhibition is a treasure trove of wonders but there is a pattern which is 1) get interested in something, 2) get obsessed and draw lots of things and make notes, 3) plan for a book 4) lose interest and move on to something else.
t is of course a manifestation of his scorching curiosity, and of course his scientific rigour. It is then quite something to see these superbly drafted drawings of a horses front leg (above left) with detailed notes above proportion, measurement and so on. Then just across the room you will get an equally detailed drawing of a machine for moulding something, along with the famous and characteristic backwards writing. This is a shook that keeps on giving by the way, the he actually wrote/drew this. The drawings so often have other sidetrack doodlings in them like the one above right which has a profile of a man. Because I am a man of high culture I could not stop thinking of Terry Prachett particularly this which you will have to read for yourself to find out why.
There are of course many people, mostly men (but not all) and mostly in profile. Leonardo seemed to like drawing in profile. Some of his pieces were not of real pieces at all but caricatures, often imaged rather than real, as you can see in this fine picture of an old man (above left). Just look at the absurd level of detail, the structure of the neck and ear, the shading on the face, the construction of the expression. No doubt the drawing has been designed to show these things off. If you are an aspiring artist (and who isn't) then this exhibition is of both humbling and inspiring. If you have pretentions of being a scientist (I used to be one) then it does the same. To be confronted with both is, frankly, a bit much. So in the same row as the old man you get a short treatise on the effect of light and shadow on the face (above left).
Along with this you have drawings of the structure of people (well I say people, unless dealing with matters of reproduction they are always men) like this drawing from various angle and at various poses of the shoulder (above right), including, stripped of its flesh the sheaths of muscle underneath. Artistically this and his work generally reminded me and have inspired me to use white (various kinds at various points, chalk mostly though) as a highlight in drawing.
You do wonder though at the drivers. What prompts him to wake up one morning and go "[insert typical Italian name] fetch me a dead body, it must be muscular mind, I wish to do a study of the leg". Most of us I think it is toast or cereal? Anyway what a fine study it is but I suspect the external leg is somewhat idealised. No one has a leg that well defined.
By the way, this exhibition is a very crany experience. You do a lot of peering at manuscripts, trying to fathom the detail. Trying to read the text before you realise your backwards Renaissance Italian is probably not up to it.
Back to art now, well specifically art now. Scattered throughout the exhibition are various studies. Studies frankly of a quality that would make many final works throw in the towel. There are lots of babies in putti (cherub) form posed for appearance in final painting (such as the top painting in the above left). You also get very detailed studies like this clothed arm (bottom, above left). It is the cloth apparently he is studying, detailed and amazingly, diaphanous. The arm you can see has a very Renaissance religious poise to it.
Studies of full figures also appear, such as this woman pointing (above right) and again the tone and detail on her clothing is very good. There is a personality here to, you can almost hear the woman saying, "look, over there".
Animals appear to. I particularly like it when you get lots of them on the same page. Showing off a little how intricately he can draw maybe such as the cats (above left, but can you also spot the dragon) and the horses (above right). If I were being critical I would say some of the cats were a bit ratty. How he drew quickly above to capture them in those poses or mid movement I have no idea. Of the horses (above right) my favourite is the one rubbing its head along the ground. Such an identifiable horsey movement, wonderfully captured.
The Queen's Gallery is worth visiting just for itself by the way. It is a fine space, and particularly fine is the large red gallery in which probably the majority of the pictures appear. I am finding my use of superlatives a little wearing now so I think I will abandon them for the rest of this post. Many of the pictures I have featured above appear here, along with an obsession that gripped Leonardo in his old age, that of a deluge consuming everything. He drew this several times (above left), all roughly similar, a town being engulfed by wind rain and sea. The swirls remind me of the puffs of air coming out of angels mouths you see on old maps.
There are four rooms in total in this show (of which I suggest you scamper through the first one, it is crowded with people recently arrived, has only one picture and it is of Leonardo, rather than by him). We are into the last of them now. Along with the familiar themes already covered you also get weapons, landscapes (like this dreamlike rock formation - above left) and depiction of plans (like that above right).
You also get maps! I am fond of maps and these are great. Leonardo was various peoples chief engineer and responsible for mapping out various things so you get the detailed and cartographic like this map of a town (above left) and the no doubt accurate but more representative and evocative map of a district of Italy. The lakes presumably (above right). These were among my favourite things in the whole show, and also completely unexpected. They reminded me strongly of maps in fantasy novels, which presumably crib their style from productions such as these.
Its a great show but rather tiring to see. There is just so much of it and your eyes and indeed neck gets tired from craning in to see the fine detail. As always by the end, you find yourself walking past a study for the Last Supper, having tired of profiles of men. I shall leave you with two more, a design for a costume (above left) and a grump looking fellow who appears to have leaves for hair (above right). Only downside to the whole experience, there was an annoying absence of postcards to buy afterwards.
Next week, I haven't decided. Either Lee Krasner or Frank Bowling, or possibly neither of these. Come back and find out.
The British Museum has a show of Munch prints called Love and Angst. It is only on until 21st July so you don't have much time. As you may expect from Munch it is heavy on the Angst, starting as it means to go on with a self portrait print of Munch with a skeletal arm (above). A symbol, and quite a heavy handed one (pun alert) of his mortality. Munch, particularly in this picture looks like a slightly maniacal priest, who ironically the Lutheran influence of he was desperately trying to escape. Its a powerful image though with just that face and that arm, looming out of the darkness.
The show uses the prints to chart Munch's life but more interesting to me at least it also shows the printing techniques he used and his artistic influences. Many of the images are quite striking. Like for example these two heads. Incidentally like many male artists, particularly of the Impressionist type period, Munch had a problem with women. Maybe tortured misogyny is a driver to artistic production in some people who knows. Anyway the display of the two prints, one monochrome, the other slightly coloured, is a good touch (above left). Underneath them is the woodblock (above right), which can be assembled in a jigsaw fashion so that the pieces can be coloured separately to produce the colour version.
In a similar vein you get an example of lino-cut printing with the finished version, a semi naked female torso surrounded by a shimmering halo effect, bordered by this odd red edging emerging from a disturbing skeletal fetal figure (above right) . All sorts of imagery going on here and nearby you get the revers image inscribed on a stone (above left) from which it was printed.
There is a great deal about the influences on Munch; impressionism, Ibsen and so on. What it doesn't mentioned but really struck me as an obvious influence was the art of the Saami people and other indigenous Scandinavian cultures. Maybe it is just an aspect of the printing technique, but the strange almost archetype figures, the swirling clouds, the bone like devices certainly reminded me of this. If you like this that style of art (and also Munch's prints) then can I recommend this.
There seems to be a strong pre-raphelite tinge to particularly these prints, the swirling red hair, draping everywhere. Maybe I am straining to see something that isn't there. I like these two prints despite my rant. The use of black, with the figures emerging out of the darkness. It is the same thing that appeals to me about the self portrait that open the blogs but it really highlights the drama of the pieces.
The man himself appears a few time. He is never happy (actually if you ever do a self portrait it is really hard to one in which you look other than pensive, it is a function of the concentrating on drawing I think). Often very miserable as in this lonely self portrait of him in this scratchy cafe, looking slightly bemused and with only a ghostly faceless figure for company (above left).
Of course there is the scream (above right) and the oft told story of its genesis. Even in black and white it is a powerful image.
The prints are excellent and interesting images, and I am glad I've seen them. There are however in the show two of Munch's paintings (above). They are very good and frankly they blow the prints out of the water. I cam away, pleased I'd seen what I'd seen but wishing the show had just been of his paintings. The two are the Sick Child (above left), a hearfelt rendition of loss and pain, built from his own experiences of the death of his sister. The depiction of tender mortality with these swirling muted colours really hits home. The red on the green, and the haloish whiteness of the pillow. The carer (Munch's aunt), head bowed. It is a wonderful work.
Not quite hitting this work, but still excellent is a portrait of Munch with a woman to whom he was briefly engaged (above right). After they split up he cut the painting in half but it seems to me from the pallid depiction of her that he was never entirely keen on here in the first place. That is not a loving expression of love but one of rage. And who on earth is that greenish gooblin in the background? Is it jealousy incarnate?
The strongest prints are in the final room. There are two sets. One is a similar setting to the scream. Three people, possibly women (above left) peering out over a view one version in black and white, the other this alarming blood red making an appearance.
The other set (above right) has this couple getting closer and closer to a forest. The one shown is the final of the three. They are always in the same pose (he is clothed, she naked or apparently so), just the landscape changes. This is an alarming modern image and one I am sure I have seen in various form in a number of current artists work.
Its good though. Go. You don't have long. Next week I shall be talking about, hmm, Leonardo possibly.
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