By Iain M. Banks
Well, this was the last of Banks' Culture novels I had to read. Now I've read it and really enjoyed it so I'm sad about that.
A quick overview : The story's about a coup in a royal house on a shellworld planet, one of a number in the galaxy created aeons ago for an unknown reason by an unknown race of aliens (there is speculation). The coup takes place in an industrialising but still fairly primitive society on one of the "levels" that exist on the artificial world. This happens during a war with the next level down. We follow a prince of the fallen house and his man-servant as they search for help recovering the throne from the world's manager species, then up the chain to the management's "mentors" and beyond them to the "involved" races. The levels travelled are literal (up the "shells") as well as figurative: civilisational and technological advancement. It might not be a coincidence that an archaeological dig is uncovering something very ancient, unexpected and dangerous on the newly conquered level below.
It is a bit of a tour de force, seeing the fresh wonder of the superior technology as it gets more and more magical. Luckily, the prince has a sister, long ago apprenticed to a Culture ambassador and sent off-world for a higher education. She has many of the usual Special Circumstances agent improvements. It is all a lot of fun following it all.
In a sign of a good book, I would have liked to have known a little about the aftermath of it all. I also missed that the book had a few appendices until I got to the end. In many respects this is one of Banks' best Culture novels and it covers a lot of what's special with them. The unbelievably high technology (post singularity), the odd, interesting and often very flawed, alien species, the dynamics of a post-scarcity economy (no money needed) and the repartee (usually between an intelligent robot and human SC agent).
I will have to read some of them again I think.
A long time ago I bought a new comic magazine called Love and Rockets in my local comic shop and discovered the amazingly talented Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert. This comic was a real watershed in my appreciation of the art of the cartoon strip.
I've recently been looking through some of these and re-reading a few of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories. Palomar is a fictional and old-fashioned Mexican town inhabited by an odd variety of people (some real eccentrics), dysfunctional families and a cast of children and adolescents that can steal the show. A bit of a soap opera with a latino telenovelo feel to it. Often a bit magical or weird. Now I want to re-read a lot more.
Gilbert Hernandez is very good with the women and children. Here, little Casimira is learning what it takes to be "mom" in her house; much to the horror of her sister Guadalupe. Funny, but also a bit sad (I mentioned dysfunctional already). This is from Human Diastrophism in Love and Rockets no. 24 from 1987.
Click on the images for larger versions.
I would like to return to these pages and my love of comics in the future.
The Royal Scottish Academy has its annual exhibition on just now and it is the usual mix. Some very good art and some terrible.
It was nice to see some Philip Braham paintings (see below). He had an exhibition on at the Scottish Gallery in 2021 but it was virtual only due to the pandemic restrictions. An atmospheric landscape painter; his work is similar to the sort of subject I like to attempt myself (less successfully). All his paintings in the exhibition were strong. There is no substitute for seeing a painting in real life. He is now "RSA (Elect)".
Another painting really stood out to me: an amazingly colourful picture of a plant from the Royal Botanic Gardens: The Corpse Flower by Laura Footes (Acrylic on canvas, 150x120cm). Shown below, I thought it had shades of the great Hockney, especially the garden background. Very impressive work you can see on the RSA site.
The show is free and on until June 12th.
I finished book eight of The Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath, a while ago and have been waiting for the last book to be published in paperback in the UK (June I think). In the meantime, the TV series grew in critical acclaim and then recently came to an end (with season six). I finally sat down to watch them all and, in a word, was impressed.
The TV show has been blessed with a good cast, good scripts and a good production. The books work particularly well because the characters work so well: you come to care about them. Happily, this is also the case on the show. There comes a point where your understanding and sympathy for the characters allow their moments of silence or laughter to say everything you need. There is plenty of action and adventure packed in on the screen, and more compressed than the the page, but the quiet moments make a lot of difference. The terrible trials and trauma people go through on the page have been translated to the screen in a very satisfying way, and a way that packs the same emotional wrench I remember from the written words. There's a lot of dross around: it is very refreshing to meet its polar opposite.
Above we can see my copy (on right) of Amedeo Modigliani's 1918 oil painting Black Hair (Young Dark Haired Girl Seated). I did this from a postcard (on left): the original oil painting is 92x60cm, mine is 25x30cm. I like the stylised, doll-like quality of his work. This piece seems very sympathetic to me.
This was also the first time I used a proportional divider tool to get the copy proportions correct. It worked well and is a little less time consuming than using a grid.
I bought the postcard at the Tate's Modigliani exhibition back in 2018. I wrote about the VR studio reproduction they put together.
Well, what a stunning piece if work! Who knew Brentford had such a beautiful covered warehouse? This is a complicated work to paint, with many intricate details. It must have taken quite a while. Once again, this just goes to show how great watercolours can be, something I am reminded of every year when I visit this exhibition online.
A small (8x10") oil study painting done a week ago. The source scene was from last year when the pond at Inverleith Park was mostly frozen. The swans sometimes seem to manage to keep an area clear of ice for themselves, but other birds are reduced to standing around on the ice looking a bit forlorn (if they hang around at all). Back when the pond had water.
As I posted a few days ago, Lorenzo Mattotti certainly knows how to paint exciting, energetic and colourful pictures. Also found in the book Altre forme lo distraevano continuamente are portraits of some colourful and fashionable women. A quirky set. For a change of pace to my usual practice, I thought I'd try copying one.
I decided to dig out my acrylic paints for a change as well. No solvent required (not that they are a big deal to me) and also fast drying. A curse sometimes, but at others a blessing. Small 18x13cm canvas boards.
I've now done four copies, each done quickly. I haven't got the likenesses right (portrait likeness is hard, and a skill I need more practice of) but they came out well I think. I'm happy and had a lot of fun doing them. That's the most important thing to me right now.
Further proof of how amazing and colourful pastels and pencil can be, jump over to the Mall Galleries for
the Pastel Society 2022 exhibition.
These shows are always a reminder to me that any medium can produce great art. Even a graphite pencil.
The pond at Inverleith Park has been drained, which gives a very different view of the city as the sun rises. Nice reflective puddles at least :
Not so good for the park or pond though, or the various animals that like the water. The swans are just about coping. The board-walks at one end are being rebuilt so the water level had to be dropped for the foundation work. Hopefully finished in a month or so ready for spring, and the baby cygnets we hope arrive. We have four surviving from 2021.
Also in the park, an unfortunate casualty of the recent high winds. Always sad to see an old and large tree down and I hope no one (or dog) was nearby when this happened.
Lorenzo Mattotti is an Italian artist and illustrator. I first came across his work through comic art (over thirty years ago) but he also does a lot of book and magazine illustration. I recently bought an art book of his, finding it cheap in a charity shop, and it re-kindled my interest in his art. He has a wonderfully colourful and dynamic style that I think is instantly recognisable. I believe he works mainly in pastel and coloured pencils, a great combination given the results.
One of the draws of the work is (what seemed to me) its inspiration from early 20th Century Expressionist Art, and also particularly the colourful Fauves. Although, in an interview with Dave McKean at Paul Gravett's site, Mattotti himself references the Russian Constructivists.
I already own a few of his books, including : Fires (from 1986), Murmure and Pinocchio.
The book I recently bought is in Italian and titled Altre forme lo distraevano continuamente ("Other forms continually distracted him"), from 1995. It contains some beautiful pictures, including a fair amount of work done for the New Yorker magazine.
A good selection of his art work is on the artnet site.
I really love some of the ilustrations in this new book and decided to do a copy of one. I'll make a separate post about that!
Another small painting with a bit of orange in it. I'm worrying a little that the painting is a bit too "nice" now. Too colourful, too bright? Maybe one for the tourists. Or maybe just paint a really big version and go all in on the sweetness? I have another two similar paintings I should also dig up.
Edinburgh is blessed with many beautiful views, a few can be found close to its own extinct volcano, Arthur's Seat. The picture above shows the view Eastwards over St Margaret's Loch near Holyrood, with the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel on the brow of the hill on the right.
Although Arthur's Seat does not compare to the mountains of the Highlands, let alone the Alps, it is a very impressive and monumental place in Edinburgh. It has a grand scale when you walk around it's base or climb to it's summit. Make sure you dress properly though - especially decent walking or climbing boots.
The new year has got off to a quiet start, as they often do. The pestilence is still hanging around unfortunately but this wave seems to be less pestilential than previous ones. Apparently, this version is much milder if caught, perhaps as bad as a case of the hiccups. Better safe than sorry though: no one wants to risk long hiccups.
I did the small painting shown above using a TV screenshot as a reference (a BBC nature program I think). That was the first of the year and I'm also getting to the end of my next one, hopefully completing it without disaster. I was looking at some of my old pieces I've stuck up on this blog, and see a few clunkers. Maybe I'll look back on this one and think the same? Anyway, here's to a year of few clunkers.