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.