Tue, 03 Mar 2015
Grotesques

Goya, at The Courtauld

This small, two room exhibition of Francisco Goya drawings shows his fantastical side. Dozens of small pencil and ink drawings (and some lithographs) are brought together at The Courtauld under the title : The Witches and Old Women Album.

Done for his own amusement, no commissions here, they are uniquely "Goya". Perhaps his most famous drawing in this vein is El sueño de la razón produce monstruos :

This picture has been much discussed and analysed, with it usually considered as meaning that the absence of reason results in bad things happening. I recently came across a contrary view however, by "Spengler" (David Goldman), a conservative, Jewish commentator, who writes :

Francisco Goya's 1799 etching "El sueño de la razón produce monstruos" usually is mistranslated as “the sleep of reason produces monsters.” The word sueño typically (and clearly in this context) means "dream." The mistranslation implies that monsters emerge when reason ceases to be vigilant; what Goya meant, rather, is that "monsters are what reason dreams about."

This is an anti-enlightenment, anti-revolutionary viewpoint, in opposition to the often anti-religious currency common today, and born of the French Revolution. Without Goya around to tell us, it is difficult to know what he meant for certain. However, as human beings, we know that we can produce monsters whether we are reasonable or not (as John Gray would point out).

The drawings on display in this exhibition are of a similar, nightmarish vein. An obsession with age, death and horror. Some quite grotesque, many odd. Quite a strange artist.


Sun, 22 Feb 2015
Sargent in his Studio

This is a photograph of John Singer Sargent in his studio in Paris :

The year is 1884.

If you visit the Artfund website, the photograph has "hot spots" overlaid on top. If you hover over the picture, you can click a "hot spot" and read something about things you can see e.g. the Japanese dolls on the shelf above the fireplace. See them?

The large painting behind him became notorious and the cause (partly at least) of him leaving Paris for London. This painting is called Madame X :

Sargent’s famously controversial painting.

Read why, and more, at the Artfund site.


Wed, 18 Feb 2015
Sargent at the NPG

The John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portait Gallery is very good. So good, I suspect I'll visit again, like I did with the recent Rembrandt show.

On the right, detail from Portraits of M.E.P et De Mlle L.P,, oil on canvas, 1881.

Sargent, an American expat born in Italy, mostly worked in Europe and moved in the highest society circles. He's most well known for his portraits of high society, but also incuding other artists (including Rodin and Monet), writers, poets and actors. Very prolific, he is truly a master painter, very gifted. Beautiful and awe-inspiring work.

On the right, Dr. Pozzi at Home, oil on canvas, 1881.

Samuel Jean Pozzi was a famous Parisian gynecologist, and bit of a dandy, although a skilled surgeon. From wikipedia :

Due to his handsome appearance and cultured demeanor, other pupils nicknamed him The Siren.

Sargent depicts him in his dressing gown but looking very much like a Cardinal of the church. The painting is large, a life size person and towers over you.

Above: Self Portrait, 1906, oil on canvas

One of his most famous paintings is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, which usually hangs at the Tate.

In 1885, while Sargent was on a boating trip on the Thames, he saw what he described as a "paradisiac sight": two little girls lighting paper lanterns at dusk in a garden planted with roses. This vision was the direct inspiration for this picture, painted during the late summer and autumn of 1885 and 1886 in Broadway, Worcestershire.

A beautiful painting and one of the Tate's most popular :


Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, oil on canvas, 1885-6

Last time I was at the Tate, it wasn't hanging (due to the Sargent show preparations probably) and a little girl visiting with her father was very disappointed.


Fri, 30 Jan 2015
Being Human
A Canticle for Leibowitz
By Walter M. Miller

Miller saw war and the dawn of the nuclear age first hand. He signed up to the US Army at the start of the Second World War and took part in bombing missions over Europe, as a tail gunner. Perhaps his role in the destruction of the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino played a part in the genesis of his great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. The bombs that exploded over Japan made the threat of a nuclear armageddon clear.

I've known of this book and how highly it was regarded for a long time. Having finally got round to reading it, It's not what I expected, but much better for that. It deserves its "masterwork" label and its awards.

The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz safeguard and transmit knowledge down the ages like the Medieval monks of the past for us. Not always aware of the meaning of the artifacts in their care, they understand how important it is to keep the flame of knowledge burning, so one day humankind can rebuild the world after the cataclysm of nuclear war (the so-called "Flame Deluge").

The novel is in three parts, each separated by (possibly) hundreds of years as the monks see the world slowly start rebuilding and growing, coming to resemble the world of before finally. Each age shows many changes over the previous but the question at hand is how changed are we?

Miller is good describing the tension between science and religion and it's refreshing to see that both seem to be given a decent hearing. The play of politics, war and human aggrandizement make very uncomfortable bed-fellows with reason and science here though. Miller's religious conviction seems quite clear but not overbearing and his philosophical debate is fascinating and ell written. The latin passages interjected throughout even had me browsing a "Teach Yourself Latin" text book at one point. Such is the life of the church.

Latin is not required to love the book. Moving and poignant, and very memorable.


Thu, 15 Jan 2015
Silver Goblet

This is my version of a Will Kemp Silver Goblet, painted from following a tutorial video.

Silver Goblet
Acrylic on board, 2015.

It is also the first painting of 2015 and I'm fairly happy with the way it turned out. Considering I didn't like it at all until very late in the process, a good result. It also proves, once again, you really need a bit of faith to keep going and see things through sometimes.

I painted this on a wooden MDF board, an Ampersand Artist Panel Smooth Primed from Jackson's Art. A very different surface to what I'm used to: very smooth, almost like formica, even with two layers of coloured ground. The paint moved around a bit more than expected, and my rough, spiky no. 6 filbert brush definitely left brushmarks!

I'll use the board again, but perhaps try a canvas textured version. I'm finding it harder to sit down, and sit still, this year so far. Having said that, I still hope to overcome the January deflation and start something new: either another Kemp tutorial, or perhaps something of my own for a change.


Mon, 12 Jan 2015
Artists and Illustrators 2015

The Mall Galleries have a show :

A good introduction to the show is at the magazine's web site, including a look at the various prize winners.

The winner of the "Readers Choice" award was David Miller :


David Miller, Bass, Mackerel and Sand-eels, oil

Good painting and some excellent pictures elsewhere in the show. I particularly like exhibitions like this with a lot of different artists on display.


Sun, 11 Jan 2015
Laptop Maintenance

My laptop of choice has always been a Thinkpad, firstly as made by IBM and latterly by Lenovo. I own an X220 (and an older X60s, still a wonderful little machine), and even though it's a few years old now it's still a great laptop.

One of the big reasons I'd still buy a Thinkpad is their build quality. Also, if you need to do any maintenance on the system (e.g. upgrade RAM, swap the mSATA SSD), the documentation is very good (much better than Dell's for instance).

People often enthuse about the build quality of Apple laptops, but I'm not willing to spend money with Apple. And even if I was, it doesn't seem such a good idea to replace Mac OSX with Linux. Linux generally runs very well on the Thinkpad.

Currently with Debian "Jessie" (Testing) installed and the i3 tiling window manager. It's very refreshing not having all the desktop clutter around. Not really any desktop at all in fact.


Wed, 07 Jan 2015
In Search of the Dark Ages

In Search of the Dark Ages
by Michael Wood

As usual, Michael Wood is a very worthwhile historian and broadcaster and this book is a good read.

Consisting of a series of essays on pivotal episodes in Dark Age Britain, covering Boudicca, Offa, Alfred and a few others of note, it is not a full or linear history but offers a great introduction to the changing face of Britain between AD 400 and the Domesday Book. I have not seen the original BBC series but it appears to be on Youtube (what would we do without it) so I hope to watch the television programs too (even though the VHS video quality leaves a little to be desired). The book and the series covers Arthur as well, minus all the mythology (little is left actually).

I would recommend everything he's done, including his recent BBC series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons and his essay as part of the Anglo-Saxon Portraits programs (on Penda, King of Mercia, who had quite an unfortunate end, but somehow fitting: his head was cut off and spiked).


Sat, 03 Jan 2015
Museum Artifacts

A few exhibits from the British Museum's early Britain and Europe rooms are listed as having been found via a metal detectorist. In the news today was a story about a new find by a metal "detectorist" of over 5000 Anglo-Saxon coins in a field in Buckinghamshire. It's quite a dream to dig up buried treasure.

One of the most beautiful examples of this was dug up from a field in Norfolk in the late 1950's: the Great Torc shown below :

A torc is a piece of jewellery or decoration worn round the neck and the beauty and complexity of this one is staggering considering it was made sometime in the early first century BC.

The torc is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads. Each thread was 1.9 mm wide. Eight threads were twisted together at a time to make 8 separate ropes of metal. These were then twisted around each other to make the final torc. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds. The hollow ends were then welded onto the ropes.

This is a wonderful example of Celtic design from the British Isles.

In the same room at the museum we find this :

Above is a detail from the Battersea Shield, found in the River Thames in 1857. It has no battle damage and is thought to be more ceremonial than martial, perhaps thrown into the water as a votive offering (iron-age people, including the Celtic-type, had a strong relationship with cross-roads and waterways). No one really knows the reason for it being found here.

Going even further back, we have the Folkton Drums, one of which is shown below.

These are neolithic (dated between 2600-2000 BC) and found on Folkton Wold in 1889. It is not clear what they are but they have been carved into geometric shapes and buried with a child.

The Folkton Drums are apparently unique, but remind me a little of the carved stone balls found in Scotland, also dated to roughly 2500 BC. See more of these at the National Museum of Scotland.


Thu, 01 Jan 2015
Happy New 2015

2014 was not so bad for me generally. Here's to 2015 being a good year here and also for you, your family and everyone you care about. Happy new year!

The picture's a painting I made a few months ago of the famous Monkey Selfie. I didn't show off the picture because I thought it would make a good Christmas present for my 8 year old niece (hence no publicity!). I'd glad to say it was liked! It's just a small painting and almost unplanned, but it's my favourite and the one I'm happiest with so far!