Tue, 21 Oct 2014
The Other Art Fair

I didn't know anything about this until Friday, and was reminded about it when I was in the area on Saturday morning and saw some people queing for it outside the Old Truman Brewery ( "London's revolutionary arts and media quarter" ...) on Brick Lane. I popped over on Sunday to have a look around.

The Other Art Fair is billed as a "platform for emerging artists", and it definitely veers to the newer, contemporary and "street" side of art. That's not to say that there weren't a lot of things I liked.

On the right, a painting from Rowan Newton, a South London artist in a "street" style. Big, colourful and pretty good.

This picture's on wood, there was another version on paper at its side (both for sale, I forget the price).

On the left, Benjamin Murphy at work. What appeared to be bold black and white brush work is actually cut out electrical tape. Looks like it must be a painstaking business putting the pictures together.

His art actually reminds me a little of Charles Burns, a comic artist. Do a Google image search to see what I mean (but warning: some weird stuff e.g. see the The New Yorker strangely enough).

And a whole booth seemingly devoted to Star Wars Stormtrooper art. I'm sure there are plenty of people interested in this sort of thing (I've known a few).

I also liked some of Bridget Davies long watercolours. Some are long as in a metre or so, but look good framed on the wall. Stylish.

Sun, 19 Oct 2014
Constable at the V & A, 2014

The Constable exhibition at the V&A is titled The Making of a Master and shows Constable's growth as an artist and many of his influences down the years.

A lot to see in the show, each room has a theme (common practice now) and some rooms devoted to prints he might have owned, or borrowed to copy. Many prints are "after so-and-so" (e.g. After Rubens). In those days, collecting or looking at prints was the only way one could see a lot of art, second hand. No wonder some (well off) people built special cases for a painting so they could carry it around with them wherever they went.

I've grown to really appreciate the 17th Century Dutch school of landscape painters, artists like Van Ruisdael : Constable learned a lot from them.

Right : A Landscape with a Ruined Castle and a Church, about 1665-70, Jacob van Ruisdael

However, he holds his own (and then some) in such august company. One of the best aspects of the exhibition is being able to stand in front of both the study and the final work. For some of his paintings, the study is large: as large as the final work. Big, momentous oil paintings, as big as Turner's, but otherwise very different.

Constable's The Leaping Horse is over 6 feet long and has an equally large oil "sketch" hanging beside it.

Below : The Leaping Horse 1825
Oil on canvas

And his oil sketches stand out, one of the first artists to try and complete more of the painting out of doors, in front of the subject. As you'd expect, the weather often caused him problems, rain-drops running into the paint in some places.

Below : Willy Lott’s House 1816
Oil on paper laid on on canvas

The Victoria and Albert's a good museum that I don't visit often enough. I couldn't resist some lunch in the very ornate café either!

I bought the Turner exhibition catalogue, a lovely large glossy book showing off some his great late paintings. I spent some time looking at the Constable catalogue book as well but couldn't bring myself to buy it in the end. I think that Constable's paintings, as much as I like them, just seem too dark printed here. I assume the printing was "correct", but it's hard to colour balance art in books versus life. It just didn't seem to do the work so much justice. It was a tough call though.

Tue, 07 Oct 2014
Late Turner at The Tate

Walking around the Tate's Late Turner show, it's hard to believe that he was painting like this so long ago. That's over 150 years ago! It's hardly surprising that so many found his work strange and hard to fathom at the time.

Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of
Germanicus exhibited 1839. Oil on canvas.

There are many large canvas paintings to savour here, with the trademark sweep of light and colour, quite abstract at times but always looking to capture that fleeting moment: the snow storm, the mist and fog, roaring water. Quite an amazing painter although one has to sympathise with the audience at the time, wondering what to make of it all.

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842. Watercolour on paper.

As well as the big pictures, a lot of smaller watercolours and sketches show off his virtuosity in this medium as well, not only the landscapes but the built features such castles, buildings and ruins. Some are beautifully finished and detailed, others more ghostly and atmospheric.

Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842. Oil on canvas.

This is the first of three big exhibitions I was looking forward to. The others are Constable at the V&A, and soon the Rembrandt show at the National Gallery. The Tate's made a very good start.

Sat, 04 Oct 2014
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

I went back to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the second time I've been there. The last time was for an exhibition called Vermeer's Women (I blogged about it) but I didn't have time to have a proper look around the rest of the place. Now I have, I see what I missed.

The museum's been renovated recently and it shows. The rooms are bright, clean and spacious :

There's also a lot to see: the place is big and very ornate. A large collection of ancient world artifacts (Greece, Rome, Minoan, Persia, Egypt etc.), ceramics and pottery, as well as a lot of great art.

On the right: a detail from Pieter Brueguel the Younger's "Village Festival" showing how much has changed in the intervening 450 years!

The museum is a similar style to the British Museum, National Museum of Scotland, Kelvingrove and Hunterian, a big collection of lots of interesting things.

Like the other museums listed, it's free and only about 20 minutes from the station by foot.

Thu, 02 Oct 2014

This doesn't look like much (and it isn't!) except a very quick (under an hour), basic following of another Kemp tutorial.

Now I don't think much of it really, quite muted and washed out, although that's partly the point. But now I place it against the brick-work wall, and think about its place in a frame (perhaps), it's not so bad. It might even look quite good in a basic frame hanging amongst other farmhouse kitchen pictures.

Rather than use a more expensive 30x20-odd cm canvas frame, I used a smaller canvas board. These cheaper boards are a little odd to paint on, the paint not adhering so well really and too easy to push around on the surface. Maybe a poor tooth to the canvas. The acrylic paint is very translucent, almost a watercolour here really.

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb from Willifield Way, by William Ratcliffe. C 1914.

From Tate Britain, a nicely painted picture of London at the start of the last century, just before the big war. Printed beside the painting :

Philanthropist Henrietta Barnett devised Hampstead Garden Suburb, built in 1907, to provide mixed housing in pleasant surroundings in outer London.

William Radcliffe page at The Tate.

How times have changed. I wonder how "mixed" it is now, or how affordable?

Tue, 30 Sep 2014
Glasgow 2014

I couldn't visit the Kelvingrove Museum again last week because, having got a train and then a bus, on getting there I came up to a sign telling me it was closed today "for a private event". This turned out to be some Ryder Cup thing.

The disappointment turned out to have a silver lining however because I decided to walk the 20 minutes over the River Kelvin and up to the university, braving a busy freshers week to have a look at the Hunterian museum and gallery.

What a lucky turn of events in fact! The museum and university was a very interesting find and, with so many fresh faces about, it was easy to have a good look and not stick out.

Glasgow University has some history, going back to the 15th Century, amd some of its buildings certainly have the historic feel, including the cloisters shown to the right.

On the left, the extremely beautiful and ornate staircase leading to the museum. The sun was streaming through the equally ornate windows giving the whole room a slightly magical feel, dust motes and all.

The museum itself is a classic old-style type, like the National Museum in Edinburgh, full of artifacts and curiosities, including a lot of Roman archaeology from digs at the Antonine Wall and medical oddities from William Hunter's collection.

Below: Roman shoes (man, woman,child) from the Bar Hill fort at Kirkintilloch, East Dumbartonshire.

On the other side of the road is the Hunterian Art Gallery, home to a small but good collection of paintings and drawings from the renaissance to modern times.

They have a lovely Chardin. On the right "A Lady Taking Tea", painted in 1735.

From the notes :

When Hunter acquired this painting, he is unlikely to have been aware of its exceptional place within the artist's career. Today Lady taking Tea is considered one of Chardin's greatest achievements. Its simplicity, composition and subtle balance of few colour accents embody the painter's very personal contribution to French genre painting.

The more Chardin I see, the more I appreciate him.

Plus some very good Scottish colourist paintings.

On the right, John Duncan Fergusson, Spring in Glasgow, 1942.

Overall, a very civilised day out and worth another visit.

Thu, 25 Sep 2014
Edinburgh 2014

I'm in Edinburgh just now and doing what I usually do when I'm up here visiting friends and family: check out the galleries and museums!

American Impressionism

The Museum of Modern Art has a good show on American Impressionism. Most of the artists are new to me but they hold their own against the French greats. A few Monet's were also on display, as well as some Mary Cassatt works.

Some very good paintings and very well laid out. I especially liked the twelve small "haystacks" surrounded by a large central painting by John Leslie Breck. Inspired by the Monet classic, it's quite a beautiful sight, especially the lighting and arrangement. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed in the exhibition!

There were a lot of other artists represented here that were also very good. I bought the book and will try and mention more of them here.


The National Portrait Gallery has a Ruskin exhibition. Better known as an art critic and writer, Ruskin was also a good artist, particularly drawings and watercolours of mountains, buildings and even geology.

John Byrne

Also at the Portrait Gallery is a small show of pictures by John Byrne. I'd never heard of him until a few weeks ago when I came across a BBC program on You Tube called What do Artists Do All Day? Liking what I saw, I was looking forward to seeing his work in real life and it was well worth it. Large, colourful and accomplished pictures, many self-portraits.

Tesco Prize

Finally, I saw this small picture at the main National Gallery, part of a Tesco art prize for children. Bethany MacDonald draws a girl dancing. It's a good picture but I liked the way she's drawn the little face and hand poking round the curtain at the back, watching the performance!

This is for the Primary 4 to Primary 7 group, and she goes to the Flora Stevenson Primary School. More here.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014
Scottish Landscape

Another week and another painting exercise to bore people with! Not that I'm actually managing to spend a lot of time painting really. Every little seems to count though.

My latest is another from Will Kemp, this time a course, bought and downloaded.

The finished painting completed a week ago - a Scottish island landscape (click for a larger version) :

This is actually the second of two I did of the subject because I messed up the sky in the first version and started again (since "fixed, see below). The second stage of the painting was an optional addition of some "vibrancy" to the sky (which worked well) but the last stage started by toning it down again, which I screwed up (clouds went badly wrong, "plastic") ...

OK clouds (before my last stage) :

Turn into ... bad clouds ...

They turned much worse as I tried to fix them, the acrylic making the surface turn quite "plastic" as I covered the canvas and lost its traction. I put the entire painting aside in (temporary) disgust ...

I "fixed" the sky in the first version later whilst doing the second version :

Once again, I'm fairly happy with the outcome, although it was a bit up and down. I have to stress "fairly" there however because it didn't turn out as good as I hoped.

I found the hardest part being the clump of houses on the right, the layout and geometry of the roofs and walls. I couldn't get it quite right even though the drawing looked OK. Maybe my brushes were too big? But then Kemp's a believer in using larger brushes! Then again, it's not a photograph and it doesn't matter too much - it's impressionist.

Also, I find it hard not to paint to the tutor rather than the actual subject of the painting, paying more attention to what the teacher's doing than the reference picture. Hard to avoid in this sort of situation really but you don't always need to do everything they need to do really.

Right now it's a positive to follow the course whatever the style because the aim is to learn the basics and feel comfortable with the medium, but it's hard not to stray. In past years (long past!), I was much more of a detail person, so struggle not to jump in and get too involved too soon (as Kemp warns against).

One thing I noticed this time around was how hard it is to calibrate the colour between the computer/tablet screen and my inkjet printer for the reference photo. I used a tablet to display the reference in the end because I just couldn't get proper colours printed. This is very like the problems cinema film colourists face when grading films.

I'm enjoying all of this so far anyway, even though it's frustrating sometimes. When it all comes together it's absolutely great. Art's the incessant search for the sublime, as someone like John Ruskin might have said. Or at least something you can give as a present without embarrassment.

Mon, 15 Sep 2014
Learning to Sit Still

I read a very good short article by the author Tim Parks online in The Guardian the other day. It takes about 5 minutes to read, and is well worth the time. Have a look, it's funny as well :

This is more than medicine.

Parks is an atheist and a sceptic and as an author he lives with words, "in his head" (as he says). He also believes in the rational fruits of science and the scientific method, thinks too much perhaps, maybe the classic over-thinking. He also has a serious problem with chronic pain in his "pelvic floor", something that had been plaguing him for years. In the end, medical science seemed to be doing nothing for him, however much he tried and the diagnosis for his chronic pain seemingly the null result: they can't find anything wrong.

Approaching despair, a serendipitous discovery led him to try healing himself with a relaxation technique (showing some surprising promise), which in turn led him to massage (shiatzu), finally leading him to try meditation. Parks doesn't believe in any "new age", or spirituality, in fact he's dismissive of it all. But by the end of his journey, he's quite a changed person.

His book is called Teach Us To Sit Still and I bought it on the strength of the article.

It really is one of the best and (in the end) most profound books I've read, entertaining as well as philosophical. People will wince (especially men) at some of the medical descriptions (with pictures unfortunately), but it's so well written, and funny, that you keep turning the pages. As becomes fairly plain in the book, Park's seems to "tussle" with himself, a far from relaxed man. The book is his argument with himself as he discovers what it is to relax and "let go".

I've been sitting, trying to do a daily meditation since the start of the year. I've read about the benefits of doing mindfulness meditation but a book like this is fantastic in showing the journey someone might take when doing the practice. As Tim Parks shows, it can be life-changing.

The book is highly rated on Amazon, with a lot of people describing how good a read it is. I completely agree.