Thu, 19 Nov 2015
Benjamin Hope at The JP Gallery

I noticed a new art gallery on Saturday down on Battersea Rise (Clapham Junction), called the JP Art Gallery. A new artist called Benjamin Hope has his debut solo show here and I popped in to have a look.

Hope mainly works in oil and paints en plein air usually (meaning "outside" basically). Many of his paintings are in and around central London, including parts I know well, like Clapham and Westminster. He was at the gallery and we spoke briefly about his work and technique; I'm always interested in how an artist works.

I really like his paintings, which are generally muted and impressionistic. He captures a weak winter sunlight very well and doesn't fill the frame with to much detail or fuss.

Some of the work I liked most at the gallery does not seem to be displayed on his website, but this selection is fairly representative and pretty good. Coincidentally, I remembered seeing (and liking) the first one (Blackheath) at the Mall Galleries a few months ago.

Almost Spring-like, Blackheath

Looking West Along Queen's Gate Terrace

Hertford College Blossom

St Martin’s Place, Rain at Dusk

Sun, 15 Nov 2015
Casting Doubt

I visited the National Gallery's Goya, The Portraits again on Saturday. On my first visit, I was surprised not to see one of the gallery's own Goya portraits on show, Portrait of Doña Isabel de Porcel :

Francisco de Goya, Doña Isabel de Porcel,Oil on canvas, before 1805

This is a great painting, and one of my favourite paintings from the whole gallery.

However, according to a page on the gallery website, some scholars are casting some doubt as to whether it is an authentic Goya :

Although painted with tremendous flair, the picture’s brushwork – when compared with his other portraits – lacks Goya’s customary subtlety in describing transparencies and textures. The sitter, Isabel de Porcel, is extremely charismatic but we struggle to grasp her psychological state; something in which Goya’s portraits invariably excelled.

Maybe it isn't, but the painting remains accomplished and beautiful. There are a few portraits in the exhibition that I would say are mediocre, and some extremely good. This painting would be among the best.

It is also worth mentioning that art historians have a slightly sketchy record with authentication. See Eric Hebborn for example.

Sat, 14 Nov 2015
John Yardley at Llewellyn Alexander

Above: After the Shower – Venice

Down to Llewellyn Alexander again, unfortunately not missing the rain this morning! I mentioned that I was surprised he did so many watercolours (having thought he was mainly an oil painter), but discovered I was thinking of his son, Bruce Yardley.

John Yardley is a well known watercolour painter and the Llewellyn Alexander gallery has a good selection of his work in their new exhibition.

Below: Into the sun – Honfleur

From (what appear to be) very simple applications of blobs of colour, a few shapes and lines, he conjures up amazing pictures that perfectly capture a moment. A very impressionistic watercolour style, and very impressive results.

Less is sometimes more. Take a look at the rest of the pictures on the website, or better still, pop in and have a look in person.

Tue, 03 Nov 2015
The Martian

I went to see the film of the book, and thought it was excellent (as expected). Like the book, it was funny, intelligent and gave a good (if not always completely accurate) scientific background to the adventure. It left a few things out, but it was clear that they were dropped to keep things going, and didn't harm the story in any way. The film was also very moving; emotion is where it surpassed the book.

A positive, exciting and ultimately uplifting story. At some point, we have to get off this planet, so I say: let's go to Mars!.

Mon, 02 Nov 2015
What's the Point of the Financial System?

This is a question John Kay asks in his recent Google Talk, answering with four things he thinks it should be for e.g.

  • Payment system
  • Wealth management
  • Risk mitigation
  • Capital allocation

An ironic point he makes is that the current structure and incentives in the financial system is such that far from mitigating risk, it massively increases it. A depressing thought is that it will take the next crisis for us to move to properly fix the system.

This 40-odd minute talk is worth your time :

Sun, 01 Nov 2015
The Blockchain - Trust but Verify

There was a BBC radio program a few weeks ago on the Blockchain called FutureProofing. The blockchain is a clever bit of applied encryption that let's people keep an accurate "ledger" of different types of transactions, a ledger that is open, distributed and easy to verify as being true. Its most famous application just now, and the reason it was invented, is its use by bitcoin, the electronic currency.

The Economist magazine has a better explanation of the blockchain and why it's so interesting :

The great chain of being sure about things

All sorts of companies and public bodies suffer from hard-to-maintain and often incompatible databases and the high transaction costs of getting them to talk to each other. This is the problem Ethereum, arguably the most ambitious distributed-ledger project, wants to solve. The brainchild of Vitalik Buterin, a 21-year-old Canadian programming prodigy, Ethereum’s distributed ledger can deal with more data than bitcoin’s can. And it comes with a programming language that allows users to write more sophisticated smart contracts, thus creating invoices that pay themselves when a shipment arrives or share certificates which automatically send their owners dividends if profits reach a certain level. Such cleverness, Mr Buterin hopes, will allow the formation of “decentralised autonomous organisations”—virtual companies that are basically just sets of rules running on Ethereum’s blockchain.