Mon, 22 Dec 2014
Nancy Petley-Jones, Artist

Another artist I came across recently, and again via Llewellyn Alexander, is Nancy Petley-Jones. Not as prolific as Pamela Kay but I've been impressed by what I've seen.

I like the sparkling water, muted colours and thin, wintry sunlight she captures on the Thames. Very impressionistic. In fact, reminds me a little of Monet.

Afternoon Light – Southbank, Oil

Towards Westminster

Afternoon Shadows – Southbank

Fri, 19 Dec 2014
Pamela Kay, Artist

I've been meaning to post some short pieces naming some favourite living artists. Here's the first : Pamela Kay.

I first came across her work at the Llewellyn Alexander gallery. She paints a lot of still life and interiors and I like the way she handles colour, light and, particularly, her paint stroke (maybe the texture). Her work is also affordable, not silly money like some ask.

Still Life with Quails Eggs, Oil

Primroses and the Monet Cup, Oil

Interior with Basket of Quince, Oil

I like the Interior with Basket of Quince a lot. It's going for £3250.

The three paintings above are all from the Llewellyn Alexander gallery. Their page also includes prices.

Wed, 10 Dec 2014

Thomas Cromwell
by Tracy Borman

I've almost had enough of the Tudors - but not quite. it's hard to look away sometime, like a public execution. Of course, executions were fairly common around Henry's court. What a great cast as well!

I enjoyed Borman's book about the rise and fall of Henry's great minister but there were parts I found hard going, especially the numerous quotations from contemporary sources and all their variant spellings. It was often tough getting through these and I would have rather she spent more time in her own voice, expounding more background.

I think this period is one of the first where documentary records start getting much better but for someone of Cromwell's background, there are still many gaps unfortunately. He starts life at the bottom (something he is constantly reminded of by his noble born associates), clawing his way to the top by sheer hard work and talent. As well as his own, he has a skill in recognising talent in others. He rode the tiger but it did eventually turn round and devour him.

Cromwell died by the axe, and not the clean sword strike that took Boleyn's head. Judicially murdered essentially, but not before he had committed many others to a similar fate. A lasting legacy though and a fascinating character.

Homo homini lupus.

And of course, greatly looking forward to The Mirror and the Light.

Sun, 07 Dec 2014
A Great Gallery

The Wallace Collection's Great Gallery is a very impressive, sumptuous room full of beautfiul works of art : Frans Hals, Van Dyck, Velasquez, Murillo and the list goes on. I was there on Saturday morning and almost alone in the room.

If you like French art, this is a very good place to be. Not only paintings, but furniture, sculpture, ceramics , even arms and armour (of course there are many Dutch, Flemish, Spanish and Italian works as well).

Here's a timelapse of the re-hanging completed in September :

And here's a video about one of their most famous paintings, Fragonard's The Swing. As Kenneth Clark pointed out, it takes civilisation to produce things like this.

Sun, 23 Nov 2014
Small Glass Study

My latest painting, from a Will Kemp course once again. This is 26x31cm acrylic on canvas :

It's a dark scene, and I was a bit concerned about how dark it was all going to come out. But I'm fairly happy with it in the end. It looks a lot better in real life though - the JPEG image tends to show up some poor colour quantisation in areas (although this highlights bad painting as well!).

Once again, as usual, it was hard gauging the proper hues and values from a print out of the reference, each printer I've tried produces a very different output, itself very different to what you see on your tablet screen. Colour calibration s a real bane of my life!

This is now varnished (with an isolation coat first) and I'm even thinking of a frame.

I did another smaller painting from the same photograph of just the oranges. Good practice while I'm set up for it. A quarter the size and not bad, although quite dark again.

This time about 16x21cm and acrylic on canvas paper.

Wed, 19 Nov 2014
An Ambiguous Utopia

The Dispossessed,
by Ursula Le Guin

A very pleasant surprise, I bought this on a whim and it turned out to be a gem! This is the first Ursula Le Guin I've read but I'll definitely try and pick up others now.

There are two planets, one the moon of the other (or vice versa?). The moon Anarres is a revolutionary, anarchist settlement that broke away from the planet Urras two centuries before. This break-up was so Urras could forestall a revolution. Urras is a planet more like our own: nation states, some capitalist, some authoritarian. inequality, war and private property. In contrast, Anarres has no private property, no government, a language that precludes the possessive case (which implies ownership) and a radical egalitarianism.

Shevek, the protagonist, is a physicist on Anarres working on a grand theory of time and space, with a potential for instantaneous communication. Quite a prize! He has an independent streak and feels unappreciated and increasingly shutdown on the anarchist world. He travels to Urras (the "propertarians!") with the hope of working on his mathematics in a spirit of scientific enquiry with fellow academics. Unfortunately he discovers that the Urrastians have their own agenda. Le Guin tells Shevek's story from childhood, through work and marriage and how he came to such a momentous step as leaving his wife and child, and whole life. The freedoms of Anarres can also stifle the non-conformist. People are people everywhere, good and bad.

Being classed as a science-fiction book, The Dispossessed will not get the audience it deserves, which is a shame because it is well written, sparse and effective, the story moving, intelligent and, in parts, very poignant. There's also a great deadpan humour as the characters grapple with unusual (to them) situations.

The themes are big: the organisation of society and its power structure, the way language impacts how we see the world and the place of the individual within the social fabric.

But don't let that put you off because Le Guin engages these ideas through sympathetic characters, using a fantasy to better explore our own world and society. This is a book I enjoyed a great deal.

I used the title "Ambiguous Utopia". Quoting wikipedia on the book :

When first published, the book included the tagline: "The magnificent epic of an ambiguous utopia!" which was shortened by fans to "An ambiguous utopia" and adopted as a subtitle in certain editions. The major theme of the work is the ambiguity between different notions of utopia. Anarres is not presented as a perfect society, even within the constraints of what might define an anarchist utopia. Bureaucracy, stagnation, and power structures have problematized the revolution, as Shevek comes to realize throughout the course of the novel. Moreover, Le Guin has painted a very stark picture of the natural and environmental constraints on society. Anarres citizens are forced to contend with a relatively sparse and unfruitful world.

Sun, 16 Nov 2014
Forest to Sea

Emily Carr at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Emily Carr was a Canadian painter who worked mainly in the far North West of Canada in British Columbia. Painting in the first decades of the 20th Century, she is known in Canada for documenting the landscape and native peoples such as the Haida.

She has an exhibition at Dulwich just now and I had a look.

I don't think she ever had much money and this is reflected in the common use of paper rather than canvas for her oil paintings. She also often used petrol to thin her oils, another reflection of lack of means. Even so, an artist must create and she seems to have managed to get by with what she had. I especially liked the pictures below.

Indian War Canoe (Alert Bay), 1912 :

Tanoo, Queen Charlotte Island, BC, 1913 :

Since the wonderful Group of Seven show at Dulwich, I keep my eyes open for Canadian art shows.

Fri, 07 Nov 2014
West Wind

A few years ago, the Dulwich Picture Gallery had an exhibition of work by the Canadian Group of Seven artists. It was a brilliant show and one I remember well, not least because I actually went back and bought a large art book about them (which I regularly flick through).

There's another Canadian artist at the gallery just now, Emily Carr. Her work looks interesting and I hope to pop down and have a closer look, but of immediate interest was some commentary about her show and the mention of a film about Tom Thomson called "West Wind".

Tom Thomson was not officially a part of the Group of Seven due to his tragic early death in 1917, but in spirit he was, and they acknowledged his inspiration.

There's some mystery about the circumstances of his death ("accidental drowning").

Right: In the Northland, Tom Thomson, 1915

His painting is beautiful and the film "West Wind" is available on Youtube (see below) and worth 40-odd minutes of your time.

One of the other artists of the group I particularly like is Lawren Harris, whose work seems to have an amazingly powerful inner light, at times almost hallucinogenic.

Right: The Red House, c. 1925.

Lots of wonderful paintings of snow, ice, light and reflection.

Right: Clouds, Lake Superior
Lawren Harris, 1923, oil on canvas

Sat, 01 Nov 2014
Rembrandt, The Late Works

When I was little (10 or so), we had an art book in the house and I used to like looking through it. One picture in particular fascinated me. Little wonder something like this subject would interest a little boy : an anatomy lesson, a dead body with the top of the skull removed and the glistening pink brain on display! The artist: Rembrandt. This was my introduction to this great artist.

I met this painting in real life recently, unexpectedly on display at the National Gallery's Rembrandt: The Late Works.

Jeremy Paxman puts it well in his short video introduction to the exhibition: there is a humanity to Rembrandt's works, a way he manages to capture the real expression and inner life of his subjects, often beautifully.

I didn't always like his work, finding them a bit dark and sombre but the more I've seen, the more I now appreciate and love the work.

Left: Young Woman Sleeping, about 1654.

Right: The Apostle Bartholomew, about 1661

These pictures might sometimes show scenes from the ancient past but they're more than models dressed up. The people are gritty and real, like all of us. A great artist.

Art forger Tom Keating has a program on Rembrandt on Youtube, doing a painting in the style-of. Worth watching. It is quite amazing how much art technique a painter like Rembrandt had and how involved the production.

Mon, 27 Oct 2014
Glass and Paper

I've done another picture based on a Will Kemp tutorial: painting a glass of water. I'd not seen this exercise before but it was referred to in a lesson I downloaded, so I decided to try it before the "real" one.

First version (click for larger) is on "canvas style" oil/acrylic paper :

I wanted to see if I could do better blending on the table top, so this is version 2 (on 140lbs hot pressed watercolour paper) :

The answer was .. not really! It didn't quite work out the way I wanted, but not too bad in the end. I think I prefer version 1 though.

Right now, I'd like to try and get to grips with blending acrylic paint, something hard to do because they dry so quickly. To blend, there (really) needs to be wet paint. There seem to be various ways of dealing with this problem, including drying "retarders", more "open" acrylic paint, "glazing" mediums etc. It all gets a bit much.

So, just now I'm playing around with painting some test spheres in black and white, trying glazing medium, slow-dri blending medium and maybe other things. You don't need to do smooth blends when painting, but it is definitely one of those things I'd like to master for those times they're useful. The alternative is using oils, but that's a whole different can of worms! I think I have a high threshold tolerance for painting test spheres - we'll see.

Another thing that makes a difference to blending (via drying time) is the surface you paint on. I've noticed this after trying oil/acrylic painting canvas paper, watercolour paper, canvas board and proper canvas. Some surfaces absorb the water much more quickly, which means watercolour paper might not be ideal if you want to blend (but adding a gesso surface to it helps I think).

A blend using Watercolour paper (here 140lbs/300gsm, cold-pressed but fine grain) :

That's with plenty wet paint around!

A rougher, textured canvas paper :

People demonstrating how to do acrylic blending (e.g. Youtube) often seem to show the above straight up-and-down rectangular type of example. The easiest to do! You really need to master something a bit harder e.g. spheres ...