Last year was full of surprises and here's another one for me.
The band Steely Dan had never figured in my listening habits - ever - but over the course of 2020 I now know dozens off by heart. Well, almost, and in a particular order. I have the double album The Very Best of Steely Dan [discogs] and decided to listen to it every time I went out for a run during the various lockdowns. It's a double CD and there are a lot of songs on it. And after a few months of this it is easy to understand why some people love this music. Great songs. Back in the day, I would never have deigned to pick up something like an American "soft rock/jazz/funk" album. Now I am older and somewhat wiser.
I like this pastel painting by Cheryl Culver. It's part of the Mall Galleries Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2021. Lots of very good pastel and pencil works on show; too many to show.
Very sad to hear of the death of John le Carré; I had just bought three of his novels at a charity shop. If I ever see any books of his going cheaply and I have not read them, I always buy.
I was late to come to him as an author, only picking up and reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold a few years ago. Since then, I've read quite a few but am lucky to still have many left to read for the first time. Le Carré is one of those authors that makes you realise the difference in quality between the merely pedestrian and the masterful.
I read his memoir recently, The Pigeon Tunnel, and what an amazing selection of stories from his interesting life. This includes some amusing anecdotes about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton during the making of the film. Le Carré's set pieces were always absolutely beautifully put together and could be mesmerising. Wonderful dialog, believeable characters.
Thank goodness he left us so many books to read! Goodbye David Cornwell.
At the moment, it's raining. It does this a lot in Scotland. This is late autumn if I'm being optimistic but probably fairer to say winter now. With a week of rain and gales stripping the trees much barer of their leaves, it's starting to look like winter again. It's been such a great year that people are already starting to look forward to 2022.
My oil painting energy diminished somewhat over summer, although I did a few and then some larger paintings. Having seen a bad trough of motivation hit a couple of months ago, I managed to pull things together a bit and complete a picture I'm very happy with. I'm about to finish another. It feels like a bit of a slog just now; it's not only writers that get a block. They come and go though, like the gales.
One thing I have discovered this year is that I can easily listen to a podcast whilst painting and not be distracted. I've a lot of podcasts downloaded from the BBC (mostly), including plays, dramas and book readings. These are things I've grabbed over the years but put aside for a "rainy day". Luckily, there have been quite a few rainy days this year.
Some of the things I've listened to include :
- MR James stories, some read by Michael Hordern. I love these classic ghost stories.
- William Gibson's Neuromancer and Burning Chrome. BBC dramatisations, done well.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A BBC dramatisation of the book. I read it years ago but it was half forgotten. Quality.
- Robert Louis Stevenson's The Bottle Imp - a short story dramatised.
- Whisky Galore - BBC dramatisation
- Darkness at Noon - BBC dramatisation of Arthur Koestler's novel about Stalin's Soviet Union
- BBC dramatisation of Dracula in two parts
- Arthur C Clarke's Rendevous with Rama
- I, Claudius - Graves dramatised over six parts.
- Understand - Ted Chiang's short story dramatised. The author of "Arrival", a favourite story of mine.
- The State of the Art - Iain M Banks short story dramatised.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr. A dramatisation by NPR in 15 parts. Great cast, beautifully produced radio. A book I really liked.
There have been others and all have been good: this is what the BBC does so well. Luckily there is a large back catalogue because these are hard times for media producers.
As well as Eliot's Silas Marner and Middlemarch, I still have War and Peace to listen to and that's a great reason to start planning a big painting!
Art show from the Mall Galleries, an online only Figurative Art Fair from the Federation of British Artists. It pains me that I can't see this in real life now, even without the current virus situation (without a long train trip) but virtual is better than nothing. Something for everyone I think, not all "figurative" (very little maybe, oddly). Some terrible, some lovely. Worth a few moments to have a page through the works.
Below is a screen capture from a short YouTube video, an interview with David Hockney. The video's only about 4 minutes long and he's talking about the state of his art and the world. As usual, good sense and humour from him.
I don't think I can get such bright, almost neon, colour in my painting! Mine aren't backlit though.
He speaks of a philosopher he saw talking on television: the news comes on and he's asked how he can be optimistic with news like this? He replies, well, that's television. Bad news sells. So he's asked, what's the good news then? And he replies ... the arrival of spring. Hockney chuckles and it's a typical Hockney observation (about "observation" itself).
he says, of course nobody notices spring arriving usually but in the past, everyone noticed. In 2020, I think many more people started noticing as well. And now it's summer. End in sight of the "crisis"? At least the beginning of the end.
The National Portrait Gallery in London are hosting the BP Portrait Award show online this year and have created a virtual gallery in the web browser. I had a poke around and it works very well, although I think I heard my laptop fans start to spin a bit faster. A "virtual" gallery like this is not bad at all but no substitute for real life. I'll be having a "stroll" around it and checking out the pictures, almost as usual. The painting just in the above frame to the left is the 2020 winner.
I hope the London gallery does the virtual display like this every year. I was very disappointed that 2019 was the last year the BP Portrait Award exhibition would be shown in Edinburgh. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery decided they did not want to host anything sponsored by BP, an oil company. I'm opposed to that decision and feel a loss. I bet a lot of people do. Edinburgh's loss.
Four years ago, the Royal Academy had an exhibition I reported on called Painting the Modern Garden ("Monet to Matisse"). I enjoyed it immensely (I think I went twice): the RA know how to put on a great show. The Monet water lilies in the last room were like being before an altar. Quite magical.
The Academy have just put their film of the exhibition on YouTube. Beautifully produced and full of colour as you would expect. This is worth putting up on a big screen and sitting back to wallow in: much art and beautiful plants.
No visits to the Mall Galleries this year either! This is the gallery I think I miss the most. This year's Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition is on and we've all got the email alert. Great paintings, online only. It really does pay to take some time to have a look through them.
Darren Butcher's painting shown below could be called caricature rather than portrait. Does it matter though? Very well painted anyway and there's an Expressions Two as well. In fact, there are a lot of new artists in the show this year, as well as the usual ones I remember and love.
The portrait below is by Alex Tzavaras. He runs a good YouTube channel called SIMPLIFY Drawing & Painting where he teaches painting technique and does some artist interviews.
It woud be great if the various painting societys and groups could work out a way to take their exhibitions north of the border each year as well somehow.
The Royal Scottish Academy annual exhibition is on just now. In normal circumstances I'd be up there in person. Unfortunately, these are not normal times. Anyway, thank goodness for the internet. These are a few pictures I liked, but there are quite a few others worth seeing.
The above Alan Robb painting is very striking (and large). This is only a detail.
Like the RA Summer Exhibition, it can be a hit or miss affair but there's always something good in it and I won't be alone in missing being there in person. Although there are many good things about viewing art online, it's not the same at all, no matter how good the photograph. I feel a lot of sympathy for the organisers of the show this year, but in particular for the artists. Some would have been looking forward to their first RSA presence. They must be very disappointed.
Geraniums by Ruth Murray.
Ruth Murray has won the Jackson's Painting Prize with this amazing oil painting of a garden greenhouse at night. I wrote about this prize a week or so ago and remember opening this picture to have a closer look and thinking how good it was. Very deserving. You can see some other examples of her work linked on the Jackson's page.
Ruth's web site is here.
At the end of his interview with Tim Marlow, Hockney says that he might be boring others but he's not about to go and bore himself: he'll do what he enjoys doing. This is another great YouTube video from the RA, covering Hockney's 2012 show with his amazing Yorkshire lanscapes, and his 2016 show with all the portraits (and a still life).
I've gone on about how much I loved his colourful landscapes many times before. He is 82 now and currently "stuck" in Normandy due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Luckily he paints and draws, so I hope he's capturing some great spring weather over there.
With the "lockdown" continuing, we can't go to the gallery. If I was still in London, I would definitely have gone to the Royal Academy to see their Picasso and Paper exhibition. The RA have created a virtual exhibition though and they've done an excellent job. Watch on their own site (link above) or on YouTube :
I have to say that I really like some of Lachlan Goudie's work, especially some of his newer stuff. It's bright. colourful and accomplished, whether the landscape, still-life or complicated engineering (see his shipyard work). Some of the gouache sketches he did in the Holy Land were also very good (a BBC film was made). I think that as far as the landscape and still-life work goes, he is very much in the tradition of the Scottish Colourists.
If you visit Goudie's web site (which is not the easiest to use), start with the "gallery" link (bottom) and view his "New Work" to start.
Paintings to draw inspiration from.
This is Lachlan Goudie's "isolation" message via the Scottish Gallery. He's well known from being a judge in the BBC's various Painting Challenge programs but also makes other art related programs (e.g. on Charles Rennie Mackintosh). I like his work. He's also one of the few artists who seems to regularly use gouache paint.
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 1
Tesco were selling fresh blueberries : "100% extra free".
It's nice not to have the constant thrum of traffic on the roads.
Also from Jackson's blog, a post from Lisa Takahashi.
She asked various artists how they're doing during the "lockdown" period. The first asked is Peter Brown, one of my favourites. A lot of art is created in a solitary way anyway, but some does require more space or equipment. Some artists don't have much of a "home studio", so have to make do and packed what they (thought) they needed. It's tough for everyone but I think that an artist has some advantage at the moment; maybe writers as well. Everyone wants to decompress in the sun sometimes though, or feel comfortable popping out to the shops. An online and virtual life doesn't cut it yet.
Jackson's Art Prize
I've bought quite a bit of stuff at Jackson's over the years, and quite a bit recently as well. I never visited a shop when down south but they do a lot of business online. I am not affiliated with them in any way but can vouch for their service, range and quality. They also have a good blog with regular and interesting posts.
As well as all that, they do a painting competition every year and have just announced their shortlist. I like this sort of thing, as well as group or club exhibitions, as it's great to see a wide variety of art on display. Some very good works of art here.
There are many pictures I like, one I've highlighted below :
This sort of outdoor painting is called contre-jour, against daylight. Painting facing towards the sun. I think it is particulary good in urban settings.
I've been enjoying listening to Professor Roger Penrose talking about aspects of his work on YouTube. Not only is he a very clever guy, he's also a good presenter. He's done an amazing amount of interesting and important work in mathematics and physics and is well known for his expertise in exotic things like Black Holes. I remember buying a book of his years ago called The Emperor's New Mind, in which he theorises on the nature of consciousness and its links to quantum mechanics. In book form, over my head; but in talk form, much more accessible.
Penrose saw work by the great Dutch artist M C Escher at an exhibition in Amsterdam in 1954. Struck by how ingenious Escher's "impossible" drawings were, he invented some "impossible" stairs with his father, Lionel Penrose. From a picture on Wikipedia :
Escher loved this and incorporated the idea in a famous drawing of his called Ascending and Descending :
Here's some Penrose :
When Google's AlphaGo AI triumph was news in 2016, I was impressed but not very informed about the board game Go, or the real achievement. AI (and "machine learning") was starting to make a lot more news though, and people started to take notice.DeepMind's artificial intelligence system AlphaGo beat the Korean Go master Lee Seedol 4-1. Go is an extremely popular board game, especially in China, Japan and Korea, and it is considered a much harder game for a computer to play than chess. DeepMind was a British AI company that Google bought in 2014. Few people thought a computer could beat a good human Go player, at least not for a decade.
Watching the documentary film AlphaGo - The Movie on YouTube opened my eyes to the scale of thing. The Korean interest in the AI challenger match was intense: the sort of press scrum you get on the Hollywood red carpet for big film stars. Also quite astonishing how much the Korean Go experts discounted the possibility of losing (any game). I found this film quite riveting. Great to see inside a cutting edge technological start-up as well.
You can watch AlphaGo - The Movie on YouTube. You don't need to understand the game.