Mon, 30 May 2016
Dancing in the Duveen

On the right, dancers in Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries today.

This is part of the 2016 Tate commission from Pablo Bronstein, a British/Argentinian artist who has an abiding interest in Baroque architecture and dance. He talks about this on the Tate site. His dance work is called Historical Dances in An Antique Setting.

The dancing will happen every day, all day, for six months and what I saw was silent, and a bit eerie. I didn't see any visitors join in but some children seemed to be tempted and there was a bit of bemusement in the audience.

And over in another room, American high school students and teacher sit and talk about a large Stanley Spencer painting, The Resurrection, Cookham. This made for some interesting listening, especially touching Spencer's slightly eccentric theology. Some would say all theology's slightly eccentric however. More about the work here.

And, if you want modern, Tate Britain has modern, which includes some very odd stuff indeed if that's of interest. They are currently proud to welcome back Tracey Emin's bed, specially setup alongside some Francis Bacon.

Below, some modern art. At bottom, Nicholas Pope, Liar Liar :

The word "bemusement" came up earlier ...

Tue, 24 May 2016
Champaigne's Marriage

Above : The Marriage of the Virgin by Philippe de Champaigne (1644).

This is not a painting I would normally draw attention to, or blog about, although I like it. On display as part of The Wallace Collection, it is a bright and colourful picture of the marriage of Mary and Joseph. Actually, not something described in the bible but a story told in later apocryphal writing.

But the arresting image of the girl at the far right, staring straight out at the viewer, always made me stop and wonder. Obviously someone of particular importance to the artist, and in this case, it turns out it is probably his daughter Catherine. Small details like this that pop up on occasion enliven one's interest and remind us of the human being being the art, even if long dead.

Sat, 21 May 2016
Colourful Balloch

Above :Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter. Oil. 1920-1930.

This painting caught my eye at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art last year. A lovely bright and colourful picture of the village of Balloch, at the southern end of Loch Lomond. George Leslie Hunter was a Scottish painter of the early twentieth century, a member of the "Scottish Colourist" group of artists. From the gallery site :

After spending time on the continent, Hunter had lightened his palette in response to the strong Mediterranean light, and his handling of paint had become bolder and more fluent.

The palette and light give the scottish scene a definite south of France feel (he must have been lucky with the weather). For a good overview of Hunter's life and work, I came across a very good blog post at My Daily Art Display.

Sun, 15 May 2016
Cycladic Style

I love browsing around the British Museum, especially some of the old "Greek" stuff they have. Not that "Greece" existed back then and not that you could really call the people making this stuff "Greek" really. Some of the early Aegean "Cycladic" artifacts caught my eye and looked interesting enough to file away as a possible artistic reference. I actually got around to painting one this time.

The result is below. A lot easier to paint than the last one I did, and pretty quick; other than having to wait a few days for some of the jug's body to dry before finishing. I'm happy with the result anyway. As I said, a lot simpler to do than last time, and more successful I think.

Above : Cycladic Jug, 18x13cm, oil.

The museum description is :

High spouted jug with two nipples in relief and dark decoration on a white background. Middle Cycladic , 1800-1550 BC. Perhaps from Melos.

A link to the item itself and, on the right, the real thing.

Thu, 12 May 2016
Angels Dancing

The Middle Ages gets a bad reputation but in many respects this is unfair and completely unwarranted. It turns out that a lot of the criticism and misconception is because later ages just didn't know the debt they owed to some of the great thinkers of the past. In some cases, people had their own axes to grind. James Hannam's book God's Philosophers tries to set the record straight.

In one chapter, Hannam looks at the medieval university and its syllabus, including the trivium (grammar, dialectic and rhetoric) and then the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). The trivium is the origin of our word trivial, but is far from the easy subjects the word means today.

One of the most famous phrases meant to trivialise so much of medieval learning is the question of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

Modern critics of medieval universities have accused them of concentrating too much on useless and obscure logic at the expense of real knowledge. Logic was certainly an important part of the syllabus and it became increasingly complicated through the later Middle Ages. As an intellectual exercise, scholars would invent absurd situations and try to reason their way out of them. Every now and again, the universities would host a special session where students could put their fiendishly difficult questions to a senior professor. No doubt they went to considerable trouble to to come up with the most convoluted riddles they could think of in order to tax the minds of their superiors. The professor gained a chance to show off his mental dexterity by dealing elegantly with whatever his students threw at him. The result was a very rarified form of intellectual entertainment. Questions preserved for posterity include "Should a person born with two heads be baptised as one person or two?" and "Can a bishop who is raised from the dead return to his office?" Even Thomas Aquinas had had to find an answer to the question "Is it better for a crusader to die on the way to the Holy Land or on the way back?" The medieval logical conundrum that everybody knows is "How many angels can dance of the head of a pin?" Sadly, this turns out to be the invention of a seventeenth-century Cambridge academic satirising the admittedly rather abstruse theology of Thomas Aquinas. If a medieval scholar had really asked this, he would have meant it as a joke.

The book isn't long and not hard to read. It is a good reminder that every age has its clever people writing and thinking interesting things, even if they're not as "knowledgeable" as we might be today.

Thu, 05 May 2016
Cadmus Marries Harmony

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony
By Roberto Calasso

These things never happened, but are always.
  Sallust. Of Gods and of the World

But how did it all begin? On a beach in Sidon, Europa is enchanted by a bull.

Calasso's book is one of the most beautifully written, and most poetic prose books I've read. He tells the various intersecting stories of the Greek Olympian Gods in a way that brings a fresh perspective on their lives and loves. These stories of Gods, Goddesses, Titans, Heroes and Humans are from a long lost world before history started.

We shouldn't be to concerned about having lost many of the secrets of the myths, although we must learn to sense their absence, the vastness of what remains undeciphered.

This is a wonderful book but on my second reading, I had forgotten about how impenetrable some of it was. Beautiful to read, but sometimes difficult to understand. With that said, the attempt and the journey through the words are always rewarding though.

I only noticed this second time that the translator is Tim Parks, a British writer living in Italy. I've read and liked him in the past. The poetry of the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony must also be down to Parks' great translation.

Mon, 02 May 2016
Cracked Hanji

This is a photograph of an artwork called Aggregation10-SEO32RED by Chun Kwang-Young from Korea, as seen at the V&A Museum :

Ignoring the reflections on the glass, what I liked was the stark and sombre contrast between the grey and the red. There's something volcanic to it.

The description says that the work is created by wrapping small pieces of styrofoam in Korean Hanji paper, a very common and long used type of paper (they are very proud of). We are told that the cracks and defects :

.. symbolise the difficult history of Korea, but the strong paper reflects the resilience of the Korean people.

A grainy close-up :

The Koreans living in the North certainly need all the strength and resilience they can muster. An interesting and arresting creation (and well displayed).

Mon, 25 Apr 2016
Towards the Galleries
Mall, Towards the Galleries, Oil 20x25cm, April 2016

This painting is from a photograph I took a year or so ago: a bright sunny day on The Mall in London. This was looking towards the Mall Galleries and I liked the dappled light falling through the trees and onto the marble columns. The painting has not turned out as well as I wanted, but that might be the usual state of affairs! Maybe I bit off a bit too much. Having said that, it finished better than it looked when half completed, and I might learn to like it more, which sometimes happens.

Sun, 24 Apr 2016
Sonnets and Shows

It is 400 years ago that Shakespeare died (on April 23rd 1616) and there has been plenty of things to see and do to celebrate the Bard, including at the British Museum. Here, an all-day Sonnetathon from Poet in the City, with actors and performers reading a seelction of sonnets throughout the day in the Great Court.

Great idea, but unfortunately the acoustics did not seem to work too well in the space and I found it fairly hard to hear the words.

I was passing through on my way up the stairs to the left, and to the new Sicily Culture and Conquest exhibition. Hopefully more about this later but initial impression is that it was very good and just the sort of show I like. Definitely more visits to come.

Sun, 17 Apr 2016
Kolymsky Heights

Kolymsky Heights
By Lionel Davidson

"O Raven, Raven! You bring light to the world but will die in the dark. It will end in tears". "Okay", Porter said. He had often heard his mother pronouncing in this way, and common sense told him that people did mainly die in the dark and all things ended in tears.

Jean-Baptiste Porteur, or Johnny Porter, is a Gitksan Indian from British Columbia, a member of the Raven clan. He is a prodigy with language, cautious, taciturn, extremely resourceful and clever. Tricky. A perfect secret agent for a very particular job.

This was an amazingly good read. Well written, exciting and another excellent thriller from Davidson. This is the second book of his I have read, after The Rose of Tibet, and on this form I will be reading many more. Kolymsky Heights is not only exciting, it is full of detail of language, landscape and life in the Artic, especially the natives of Northern and Eastern Russia, people I had never heard of. Like all great novels, you learn a great deal as you enjoy the read. Like Philip Pullman's review: the best thriller I've read.