Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Complementary input

A cycle has turned to present us with artists from the first half or so of the last century.  There are several neglected artists in this batch, and some whose work I was intrigued by many years ago, and wondered about since.  Keith Vaughan is one of these artists.  There is a large painting in the Tate's collection: Theseus and the Minotaure (Interior at Minos)  which caught my attention on the day when we saw the Picasso and Modern British Art - another show about that period, and reminded me of the power of his work.
Theseus and the Minotaure (Interior at Minos) 1950
Yesterday we went to see a small but most satisfying retrospective of Vaughan's work at the Pallant House Gallery.  His style and content both attract me, and remind me very much of Matisse's wonderful painting The piano lesson.  I like that mix of self-consciously classic pose with a kind of awkward naturalism, the sculptural feel of the figures, and the abstraction of the landscape with the semi-abstraction of the figures. 
The return of the prodigal son 1950
I was delighted and encouraged to learn that Vaughan was self taught, and interested to read that he was influenced by another favourite of mine: Nicholas de Stael.  The colours of those landscapes are very different, however. 
I very much liked the smaller pieces as well as the large oils.  A lithograph entitled The walled garden especially appealed to me.
The links with other painters that I have been thinking particularly about recently are of course inevitable as they were contemporaries - so there are aspects of Graham Sutherland in Vaughan's work, as well as flashes of Francis Bacon, as pointed out in the notes accompanying The Singer.
The Singer 1946 Southampton City Art Gallery
A couple of reviews can be read here and here, the latter of which points out a link back to Picasso's influence.  Which makes me think that I need to get going on the third volume of John Richardson's biography of Picasso which has been awaiting my attention for a couple of years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More experiments in printmaking

As I like the sea and use it and swimming in several pieces I've made, I decided to try another zinc plate once more with the idea of using large areas of resist.  This time I did not use aquatint, but simply rubbed hard ground on like a crayon.  I was pleased with the result, which I'm going on to use in multiples on another print with drypoint this week. 
Those multiples involve some use of the fade which I liked when I tried it with the collagraph, and here is a piece on black khadi paper with one inked plate at the top, and the two subsequent printings with no re-inking below:
Today I picked up the pieces I'd been working on last Tuesday.  They are monoprints which are bits of fun really, designed to use up six slivers of left over paper:
Just right for bookmarks!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

If it's popular it can't be good art ...? Discuss

David Hockney painting The Road to Thwing, Late Spring.
© David Hockney/Photograph by Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima/Thames & Hudson
Today we braved the crowds which have been packing the Royal Academy's exhibition David Hockney: A bigger picture.  And it certainly was worth it.
I have been a fan of Hockney's work since the 60s, and have avidly followed what he has been exploring.  I find him to be an exciting thinker about visual art, constantly curious and stimulating my own thoughts about how we see.  He has the enthusiastic outlook and energy of Picasso, never failing to excite wonder and observation in me.
There has been an incredible amount of publicity for this exhibition, in book form and in reviews (listed on Hockney's website), and the show has therefore turned out to be the kind of  blockbuster one would expect for a Monet or Van Gogh.
The exhibition starts with a room of landscapes from Hockney's early work, just to prove that he hasn't suddenly 'discovered' landscape.  He has always been interested in looking, and this becomes stunningly obvious when we reach his first paintings from life.  This room is full of joy: seeing, looking, ... the opportunity not only to see the development of growth within a landscape, but also realisation of the joy of intense observation.  The difference between the first Yorkshire landscapes which were painted from memory and the landscapes done from life is exhilarating.
Particular details which struck me included the sculptural qualities of his paintings of hawthorn bushes.  At present around us the blackthorn bushes are in blossom, and from a distance the edges of fields seem to be blocked out with white patches, and yet, when approached close to the intricacy of the lace-like construct of the sprays of blossom flowers is exquisite.
Another aspect which delights me is the attention to the details of roadside plants and those on the ground below the trees and hedgerows.  Hockney is looking everywhere - the ground in many paintings may appear to be 'filled in' in places, but he notices what it is that is growing or lying there, and lets us notice it too.
The charcoal drawings are beautiful.  These are the starting points for the paintings, and remind us of the landscape heritage onto which Hockney builds.  The ipad drawings come out of this great drawing skill that Hockney has always shown.  Anyone who can wield a stick of charcoal like this can work with an ipad - once again it is the looking, seeing, and eye-hand communication that matters.  The ipad is just the tool.  The ipad simply conflates sketchbook and paint, and facilitates enlargement without further work being necessary.  It does not provide any artistic magic - the artist does that.
One of Hockney's Yosemite multi ipad drawings (each one consists of six pieces together)
The most magical moment for me was in the room containing the multi-part ipad drawings of Yosemite park.  It just happened that I was totally alone for several minutes with these tall, close imposing beautiful drawings, and it was awe-inspiring being there with them.  I started thinking about why the feeling was just like being there, and wondered if the fact that they had been drawn small, on the ipad, and then enlarged in scale had something to do with it.  Are sketches done on a comfortable scale for the hand more potent than a re-drawn or re-painted version done with large scale marks? 
David Hockney's intellectual curiosity is another aspect which excites me. The room which contains his explorations of Claude Lorrain's The sermon on the mount from the Frick Museum's collection, is fascinating indeed. This is an interesting link which mentions it amongst many of the other works.
Sometimes critics seem to be suspicious of popularity - as if art can only be good if a small elite can see its worth. But for me I think that an artist's work can be more than individual paintings. I heard someone today say that the trouble was that not one of the paintings was going to stay with her as an outstanding memory. But that is just like our attitude to landscape: it has to be looked at anew each time, noticed, and added to the accumulation of previous noticing. It is the joy of looking which shines out of this exhibition, and the excitement of looking and noting what he sees and how he sees - and trying different ways of noting it - which is so inspiring about Hockney's whole oeuvre.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Printing on 'normal' paper, I was interested to see how this collagraph printed with only one inking.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Almost three wishes

Isn't it something we all do at some time or other?  Wondering what we would ask for if offered three wishes by some passing fairy or pixie.  It's rather like wondering what ten records we would take on our desert island.  I was most fortunate with the latter, as I was invited onto the Zimbabwe radio version of Desert Island Discs in 1985 when I was working there.

But, back to three wishes.  It has struck me more and more recently when going to exhibitions of art done in the early 20th century or earlier, that it is so easy to accept the insights, strengths, and powers of the work from this position of hindsight.  This thought was especially prominent when I saw the Picasso and Modern British Art at Tate Britain.

And so, I have decided on two of my three wishes.

1.  I wish that I had the power to see works of art as they would have been seen by a contemporary of the artist.  I don't want to have the point of view of a conservative onlooker; just with the same perspective as I look at Gavin Turk, Cornelia Parker, or Fiona Rae for instance.  That way I would be truly stretched to understand.

2.  Is the other side of the first wish.  I would like to have an idea of what posterity will make of today's artists who are celebrated now.  I would dearly like to know whether my own opinions will/would stand the test of time.

I could assign my third wish to a desire to know what others think about my own work, but I should resist that.  Although it's always interesting to hear the opinions of others, and those opinions can be helpful - but knowing one's own work enough to be able to know how to react to the views of others is what I should wish for.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Playing around with prints

I have been attracted to printmaking for different reasons.  At first it was an interesting activity to get me out of the house for a whole working day on a regular basis.  It also provides congenial companions as well as a whole area of image making to learn about (and I just love learning - and accumulating even more books on a new subject!).  I am learning about all sorts of methods, and means within the methods, ... but two main aspects attract me most.I am excited by the unpredictability of the results.  Sure, as one gains knowledge, confidence, and experience the gross surprises tend to diminish; but the different elements of inking, paper quality/wetness/colour, and miniscule variations in the plate itself always provide me with happy accidents.  Indeed I look on the great majority of accidents as happy because the second aspect which delights me is the idea of repeats with variation.  I do not want exact duplicates.  I want subtle, or not-so-subtle differences.
Recently I made a collagraph plate with card, and incorporating offcuts from a rejected piece of stitching: the central panel, and the two triangles and bits of triangles at the base.  I then printed onto sheets of Murano coloured pastel paper (which I bought when inspired and enthused by Meabh Warburton's post some time ago - I also used one as a base for my pastel work at West Dean).
So, I scanned the prints, and had a little play around with a bit more repetition.  And I must say, I wish that I had Maebh's skills, because I'd rather like to render the results in tapestry.
I have also been trying some etching on zinc.  We are experimenting with making plates reverse the normal practice of eating away the fine lines, and concentrating instead on the white areas of the print.  Using aquatint, and then drawing with a litho crayon I took plankton as my subject - mostly because Holly, our brilliant teacher said that zinc works really well with blues and greens.
This is one of eight prints I made, using a different mix of green, Prussian blue, and white ink each time.  I scanned them, and then played about a bit, and came up with this - which was inspired by a friend telling me about a recent diving holiday and by my seeing some dolphins on television.
I am not sure what I will do with any of these results of my play - if anything.  But I am certainly enjoying this whole process.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Experiments with polyester litho plates

Both are the first prints using polyester litho plates which had the image printed on with a laser printer.  It is difficult to roll the ink on evenly, and it is very easy to lose areas when using the roller.  However, the top print was inked a la poupee with scrim, and has given an encouraging result.  More trials are needed!  But the polyester plate is such a brilliant alternative to a stone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Looking back to the early 20th Century

Ben Nicholson: Crowned head - the queen 1932
At present I am surrounded by thoughts of work and artists who have been inspirations to me for many years.  Last week we went to two most enjoyable exhibitions: feasts for both eye and brain.  On Wednesday we went to Modern Art Oxford to see Graham Sutherland, An Unfinished World - a show of GS's landscape paintings.  The second exhibition was Picasso and Modern British Art at Tate Britain, in which Sutherland also has works exhibited.
The landscapes being shown in Oxford are dramatic drawings which for me capture that edginess in nature which accommodates both wild geology and agriculture's attempted taming hand.  I first encountered Sutherland's paintings of the Pembroke landscape in Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire in the mid 70s.  They made a great impression on me, especially those which described a distant view along with close-ups of plants, thorns, or twisted trees.
I have hardly come across any Graham Sutherland work since then, and so I was delighted to have the prospect of so many of his landscapes together in one exhibition, and some more of his work in another, both at once. 
The Tate exhibition brings together one of the most influential painters in the world in the 20th Century, and seven British artists who were in different ways influenced - either by Picasso, his work, or the Zeitgeist in which he worked.  The Nicholson at the top of this post is in the Tate exhibition, and for further illustrations and description this blog is great.
I found the Tate exhibition most interesting because of the thinking it spurred: how much of what Picasso was doing was generated because of the changing world he was in?  He was such an energetic, enthusiast: a creator with an insatiable curiosity for seeing and trying and working and working and working, ....  How much of this work directly influenced others around him, and how much was done in parallel?  It does not really matter, but it is fascinating to speculate on and to observe the disparate work of one alongside several.
The exhibition takes the British artists Duncan Grant and Wyndham Lewis, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon, and David Hockney, and shows examples of how they were or might have been influenced.  I came away agog once again at how exciting it must have been to be an artist in the early to mid 20th Century, and how interesting this opportunity is to re-examine these British artists of that period together - with the bonus of Picasso on the side.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

In a previous life

I was an author's editor, a commissioning editor, an art editor, a publisher. These were all some of the diverse aspects of my work which I very much enjoyed over many years. I had two major kinds of relationships which fed and challenged me creatively: my relationship with the book and its contents as a whole, and of course the fundamental relationship with the creator - the author and/or artist.

It was always my ambition that the latter relationship should be a partnership, co-dependent, and co-creative, and so I found it moving to find Gunter Grass's poem, words in farewell to his editor Helmut Frielinghaus at the back of the Review section of today's Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, March 01, 2012