John Byrne, one of the best artists Scotland's produced, died today. He was a natural : he had to draw (write,paint) to live.
I was mostly familiar with his painting, drawing and print making and he was very prolific. In addition to this, he was a successful writer and playwright.
Definitely a big Byrne-shaped hole in the Scottish arts scene.
I saw a lot of his work over the years in Edinburgh, and would even occasionally see the man himself around town (or in the Art Shop). A very dapper dresser. He was fond of doing self-portraits, often with a cigarette in his mouth: not very good for his health although he lived to a good age (like another famous artist smoker, David Hockney).
Although I'll miss seeing new art works from him, I look forward to a proper retrospective exhibition.
There is a bit of winter sun around just now in Edinburgh: an occasional bright sun, weakly warming, with clouds and the threat of rain, sleet or snow. Perhaps all three on the same afternoon. It's very cold but this is something you need to get used to during a winter in Scotland. There's often no sun at all and it can be quite dark and dismal all day.
The Scottish Gallery's December exhibition is called Low Winter Sun and celebrates the sort of weather we might get up here at this time of year. Victoria Crowe is the artist and always a welcome sight in the gallery; an artist I like and have admired on this blog.
Some of Crowe's work in the exhibition are monotype prints, and they're good. From Jackson's Art blog :
The blog linked above also describes how to make a monotype print. Even better, Victoria Crowe shows how it is done on the Scottish Gallery's YouTube channel : The Making of Burnished by a Late Sun (YouTube video).
The exhibition is on for a few weeks and I'll visit again.
Almost a followup to the recent post about removing complexity and keeping things simple: a recent post by Julia Evans (a software developer in Canada). She has a video and a transcript of a talk she gave entitled Making Hard Things Easy and makes a case that far too much knowledge is poorly documented and hard to understand. She's primarily talking about technical things, like the Bash Shell or DNS, but the main point is applicable to many other things in normal day to day life and work. This is why we write an "executive summary" on a report. We want to extract the important parts of a (possibly long and involved) document and present them in an easily digested list up front. Fundamentally, it is all about good communication.
"Keep It Simple, Stupid" is often an apt plan in life, not just in your technical endeavours. If something is complicated, it's easier to build badly, or break.. So I will place this "What I Learned Lately" post in the "general" section.
I was looking at the state of the technical back-end of my web site and blog (such as it is), trying to recall how it all fit together: what this or that file (or style) did and where it came from. Most of it is quite simple: the blogging "platform" itself is straightforward (a small CGI script called blosxom), the rest generally static. But I had included some bigger components, a so-called "framework" (Foundation), of which I was only using a tiny portion (barely noticeable really). Also extra fonts, mostly unused but cluttering up the HTML. When you add complexity like this, things can get slower and harder to extend. The final problem was: I barely understood what this extra stuff was or how it worked.
A final thing to note: testing the site to make sure it still worked and looked okay, I came across a lot of my old blog posts. Book reviews, some social comment, galleries and art. It all builds up and is fascinating to read now (to me at least). It's amazing to look back and recall I actually owned a Firefox Smartphone! Unfortunately it didn't work out for the long term. Things are a lot better now of course /s
It's finally open. It's been a long and frustrating wait in many ways, but Scotland's new National Gallery of Art opened its doors to the public for the first time last Saturday. Many delays, some due to the pandemic, and a lot of money spent. But we have something to visit at last and the bottom of the Mound is beginning to look somewhat presentable again (although I have a bit of a complaint: see below).
The new gallery is laid out along the length of the main gallery building, but underneath it. In the photo above, the new extension is all the way at the back, stretching away under the National Gallery building at the far end. Unlike the old spaces for the Scottish collection, the new area doesn't feel so much like a basement now. It's lighter and better laid out.
I like the new gallery and I am very happy that it is finally open. Like many, it was dragging on a bit but you can't argue with the great art work we can finally see again. It makes a big difference to see the paintings in a well lit and more open space. And even though it is hard to integrate with the rest of the gallery space, it's a huge improvement.
The gallery site has a fuller section on Celebrating Scotland's Art.
You can also have a look at a YouTube video which walks you through the space.
I wish they actually cleaned up the mess and litter outside the gallery in real life, rather than just virtually. Council or gallery problem ownership? Also, hooray that the Playfair Steps are also open again.
Every year, the Mall Galleries in London hosts an exhibition of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and the 2023 show finishes on September 30th. Unfortunately, I don't get down to see them anymore, but the gallery always puts them online and it's the next best thing. As always, amazing works of art.
Some awards are given out each year (online). Frankly, they're all excellent but here are two I particularly like. Jenny Aitken's Sundown from Harwich Quay (link) because of the beautiful evening light, and Raymond Leech's Evening Crabbing Session Blakeney (link) because of it's lovely "painterly" execution. Great light as well!
The world is a lot better with good art.
Now that decent summer weather has arrived, perhaps it's time for the bikini?
Right: Community Garden Melbourne: The Morning after the Night Before, 2019-21, Oil on canvas. Leon Morrocco. Detail (link).
I hadn't heard of the Scottish artistic dynasty named "Morrocco" until I moved to Scotland: a little surprising. First Alberto Morrocco (who died in 1998), then his son Leon Morrocco. A sort while later I saw an exhibition by Jack Morrocco, who turned out to be Alberto's nephew. A lot of artistic skill here: all fine artists. One wonders whether it is a genetic foundation for the artistic talent or perhaps genes cause the disposition to put in the practice. Maybe a bit of both.
Leon Morrocco has an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Acadcemy.
He is eighty years old this year and his work is as large and colourful as always. His palette seems to include colours not often used by other artists: pinks and turquoises perhaps. He is in a post-impressionistic vein, with some admixture of the Fauves perhaps. A wonderfully bright artist and a perfect match for sunnier climes. A type of weather that Edinburgh has right now luckily (for a few days at least). Reading a book about the great Scottish Colourist George Leslie Hunter just now, I also see traces of similarity, as well as that of Matisse, whom Hunter loved.
Below: View Through to the Marina, 2015, Oil on canvas. 85x91cm.
Below: Mountain near Cipières, Alpes-Maritimes, 2021, Oil on canvas. 152x157cm.
You can see all the oil paintings, and many gouache, pencil and watercolours, at the RSA site. The exhibition is free, so no excuse.
I have been "active", just not on the blog so much. One thing I need to do better at is complete a post I start!
Now we're well into summer, and a summer that has got quite hot on occasion, even here. Right now, a lovely sunny summer day and about 24°C. It hardly seems any time since Christmas.
I finished a larger painting (my biggest yet) a couple of weeks ago and haven't started another yet. As I posted about a few months ago, I have enjoyed copying an Amedeo Modigliani painting if I am between paintings and feeling stuck on what to do. Pushing a bit of paint around but not thinking about composition or colour helps to re-eneergise me. Modigliani is an instantly recognisable painter who had an unfortunately tragic and short life. I find his works quite easy to copy.
Shown above, a copy I finished yesterday :
Jeanne Hébuterne in yellow sweater, 1918 (link).
My copy is 30x30cm and also in oil.
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.
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.
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!
Almost the end of the year 2021, a year few will look back on with any affection. However, there were a few good things for me in 2021: I painted some decent pictures, I got my flat into better shape, I did more walking and cycling, played tennis. Summer wasn't bad in Edinburgh and it was good sitting in the park in the sun. I got to know a few more people, including their dogs. And perhaps most importantly of all, I managed to stay healthy and active. So, here's to a better 2022.
A new exhibition of Joan Eardley's work has opened at the Scottish Gallery this week, in celebration of her birth a hundred years ago. She died in 1963.
I have a mixed reaction to her work, especially the landscapes. However, I tend to like the paintings and drawings she did of children, often from the slums of Glasgow. These are usually quite rough but have a great "true life" quality to them and are not sentimental. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the gallery yesterday to see so many of these children and tenement style pictures.
The YouTube channel Great Art Explained has three videos about Hieronymus Bosch's masterwork : The Garden Of Earthly Delights. Each video is fifteeen minutes and covers the background to this most strange painting and each of its three panels. The narration and explanation is very good and riveting. It helps that the painting shares these characterisations. It really is a work of art to marvel at for quite a while and the videos put together by James Payne do it proper justice. Brilliant stuff.
Click the picture to watch part one on YouTube :
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 :
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!