Tue, 14 Nov 2017
Going Down

The nicely monoschromatic stairway leading down to the National Gallery's Monochrome exhibition.

I wasn't expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised, with a lot to see and like; including a Chardin, Van Eyck and Dürer. Once I'd seen the exhibition, I had a look at the Degas.


Sun, 12 Nov 2017
Burrell in London

When I'm up in Scotland, I often mean to visit the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, but have never managed to get around to it yet, mainly due to the slight difficulty in getting there. Now it's closed for refurbishment until 2020.


Above: Le Foyer de l'Opera, c.1877-82 (pastel on board)

While closed however, the National Gallery in London has managed to borrow the Degas pictures and put on a free show. Degas was a very talented artist and, although usually considered alongside the Impressionists, he went his own way. Famous for his ballet dancers, he can really capture the human form and movement with a few strokes of the pen or brush, and his deep colourful style is also unmatched. Great at oil painting, perhaps even better at pastel painting.

A lovely small exhibition with a chance to see some great work.

Below: The Rehearsal, c. 1874. Oil on canvas

Mon, 06 Nov 2017
Midday Sun

This painting is used to illustrate the ROI Paint Live 2017 Challenge on the Mall Galleries web site just now.

Below: Midday Sun, David Curtis

I love the way he's painted the sunlight here. Great Painting.


Sun, 05 Nov 2017
Cézanne at the NPG

Paul Cézanne has always been an artist I've admired but most of his work I've seen has been his still-life and landscapes, the major part of his work. Apart from a mini-exhibition a few years ago at the Courtauld on his card-players, his paintings of people are not seen so often. The National Portrait Gallery in London has a new exhibition devoted to Cézanne Portraits that rectifies this.

Right: Hortense Fiquet in a Striped Skirt, 1877-78, Oil, 72.5 x 56 cm

The exhibition covers portraits he made throughout his life. The very early ones (pre-1870) are quite different however, and I have to admit that I really didn't like them at all. Dark and heavily painted with a palette knife, the paint was thick and spread around in large areas, almost as if by a trowel. I could see why they might be rejected from the Salon. Luckily, the earlier, uglier paintings are soon replaced by better ones.

Left: Man in a Blue Smock, 1896–97, Oil, 81.5 x 64.8 cm

Once we get into the 1870's, Cézanne finds his style, and thankfully also his brushwork. This brushwork often consists of the short, parallel and diagonal stroke we recognise from his landscapes; a style that distinguishes his art and what makes him so recognisable.

Not all are good and he struggled with figures sometimes, especially faces and expressions (sometimes very doll-like). The show is well worth a visit though. Cézanne is one of the great artists.

A blog post about the show at the NPG site.


Sat, 04 Nov 2017
Winds of War

Look to Windward
By Iain M. Banks

Score: 4/5

I read this a few weeks ago now but not managed to post about it. This was another very good Culture novel; one of the best I've read. Banks seems to get better as he wrote the series.

This book covers pain and loss of war, and the morality of revenge. All told from a very Banks viewpoint, with characters not always all they seem and technology of the "magic" variety (so high it seems like magic, per Arthur C Clarke's famous quote). A wonderful addition to the Culture universe with a beautiful and bittersweet resolution.


Wed, 01 Nov 2017
Goodbye Robert Graves

Goodbye to All That
By Robert Graves

Score: 4/5

An autobiography written at the age of 34 is slightly unusual, although it does not seem to stop the modern celebrity or TV star. Graves had weightier reasons however: surviving the slaughter in the trenches of the First World War.

I read his translations and rewriting of the Greek Myths a long time ago, and have also attempted to get through his White Goddess, but have never read or attempted his most famous works, the I, Claudius novels. Graves always considered himself a poet foremost, and describes his meeting and friendship with Sassoon here. He became very dispirited and somewhat bitter about the war, and who could blame him? This appalling event still casts a long shadow, and can even make me angry today. His background, class, education and whole milieu is from another age, long gone now and worth lamenting, at least in part. An interesting and original thinker and writer.


Sun, 01 Oct 2017
Colour, Scotland and France

I've been up to Edinburgh for a few days recently, popping over to Glasgow as well, and a lot of time spent looking at art. Some of my favourite artists are the so-called Scottish Colourists. They were never a formal art "group" but shared a similar outlook on art in the first third of the 20th Century. Artists like Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, Samuel John Peploe, John Duncan Fergusson and George Lesie Hunter are still well represented in Edinburgh and Glasgow galleries. There was also a recent showing of some Peploe at the Richard Green gallery in Mayfair recently.

A YouTube video of Michael Palin talking to National Gallery curator Caroline Campbell about his favourite paintings at the gallery mentioned some TV work he did on the colourists. It turns out this episode, split into four parts, is also available on YouTube. What a great resource it is :

Bygone Edinburgh, as well as bygone France.

The programme includes an appalling story about Hunter's final end, and the danger of not following safe studio practice with regards to dangerous substances like turpentine. A very sad tale.


Sun, 10 Sep 2017
In The Studio and Out

The August Bank Holiday in the UK is traditionally wet and horrible - except the weather this time was really nice. The Saturday held out well: hot and sunny. This made the revellers at both the Notting Hill Carnival and the South West Four weekender (round my way) very happy. Most years I feel some sympathy for them: wellies required, even if the girls aren't wearing much else. Not this year though.

On Saturday mornings, I normally pop out and have a coffee, and often a croissant, somewhere in the West End before a museum or gallery visit (or even shopping on occasion). One of my favourite places for this is the Waterstones bookshop on Tottenham Court Road. It's a fairly recent arrival and I got into the habit of going for a lunchtime coffee there before my work moved to Wapping. Good bookshop and a lovely, relaxed cafe/bar downstairs (yes, even beer and wine), with great coffee (a favourite coffee is Union Bobolink).

To top it off, the people who work there are helpful, friendly and know their books and make it a pleasure to pop in and have a chat sometimes. It works to encourage the odd book purchase as well and keep the book queue a good size.

After this, I went to the RA for their Matisse show, Matisse in the Studio. I have to admit that Matisse was never a favourite of mine; I like some of his graphic work, drawings and design patterns but I was often lukewarm about him. Certainly colourful and often playful. This show did not change my mind, although a lot was more the bric-a-brac and pieces he had around him from his studio, things that might inspire. I still enjoyed a stroll around the exhibition, especially his bronze sculptures and some of his drawings. A comment in The Guardian suggests that the Matisse on show at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery (Duke Street) might be better.

On the way home, I came across an odd sight: a queue of women outside the Institute of Directors buildings on Pall Mall. Some a lot older than "girls", but all dressed in some sort of cosplay outfit, a cross between a schoolgirl and Goth. I suspect this is a Japanese Manga style or offshoot but also part of the 21st Century eternal childhood. A bit bemusing to everyone passing by!


Sat, 02 Sep 2017
English Pastoral

A slightly different pastoral theme compared to the American writer Philip Roth. This is Pastoral by Frederick Cayley Robinson, painted in 1923 and hanging in the Tate. It caught my eye: a very striking painting. I took a crop of it for the banner of this blog.


Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Uncultured Places

Inversions
By Iain M. Banks

Score: 3/5

I've been enjoying a few Banks books this year, including a re-read of Excession, also reading The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail. All three books were excellent. Inversions is hardly a Culture novel at all: a very Medieval level world with equivalent superstitions, warfare, justice system (rudimentary, including torture) and extremely basic science and medicine. Almost a standard issue murder, plot, intrigue and war waging novel from the European Middle Ages; except that there is something a bit different about the Doctor, and possibly the Bodyguard as well. Hints that they are not quite what they seem, and things that remain only hints right to the end.

I liked the book but was glad it was not much longer. Interest was held by wanting to know who the Doctor really is, and are your suspicions confirmed? I suspect this one would be a disappointment to many of Banks' Culture fans but one I'll give him a pass on.


Mon, 28 Aug 2017
Daughters

At the National Portrait Gallery to see The Encounter exhibition (drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt), I saw the Sargent exhibition book from 2015 on sale. Looking through it, I paused on the page with his amazing portrait The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit from 1882. A beautiful painting and quite unusual in its composition for the time. The Museum of Fine Arts page is a good description of it and its reception.


The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, Oil on Canvas

It reminded me a little of another painting I had seen recently.

Compare with Rupert Alexander's portrait of The Levinsons on display in the BP Portrait Award show this year. A classic style and a very Sargent feel to it. This is a picture with only four of their five daughters.


The Levinsons, Rupert Alexander, 2016, Oil on Canvas

The Encounter was really good; drawing is the absolutely fundamental base to much good painting and there are some excellent examples here. I really hate the way the NPG add a "booking fee" though. It is over 25% of the cost of my ticket!


Wed, 16 Aug 2017
Bring Out the Dead

Dead Souls
By Nikolai Gogol

Score: 4/5

You can download the ebook here.

Nikolai Gogol wrote this before 1842, and before the emancipation of the serfs by Tzar Alexander II. The souls referred to are those of the serfs, chattel of the landowners; bought, sold, mortgaged.

Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov travels around Russia trying to make money with a clever, but slightly odious, scheme he thought up. Visiting landowners, he cajoles them to part with their "dead souls", that is serfs who have died but still exist on the rolls from the last census: thus still attracting taxes. Hopefully enticing people to part with them for nothing or a minimal fee, he hopes to use these names to enable himself to buy an estate in the future, using them as some form of "collateral" for a mortgage. Yes, slightly off, perhaps not quite legal. The law can be "flexible" in Russia though, and this would, in effect, enable a cheap loan and a foot up the greasy pole.

The novel is great fun and often funny. Chichikov's a form of lovable rogue, a thinks of himself as a "gentleman" but not averse to some underhand dealings. His interactions with the various 19th Century Russians he comes across is often lively, as is the sometimes comedy interlude of life from his servants' perspective. Gogol even lets the horses and dogs have an opinion occasionally and is obviously laughing at some of the absurdity of his creation.

This version was translated by D. J. Hogarth in 1916 (according to Wikipedia) and is now in the public domain. It was a good read and the Standard EBooks version is well produced (a good project). The slight disappointment is that the novel is missing the ending, and also a little fragmentary later on. Generally, we get most of it but a shame to lose out on some of the story. We are actually lucky to have what we have: Gogol never finished it, and in fact tried to destroy it!


Sun, 13 Aug 2017
Everything is its Own Reward

In hard times, beauty can seem frivolous - but take it away, and
all you're left with   ......     is hard times.

I first came across Paul Madonna's book Everything is its Own Reward when I picked it up to browse in Gosh Comics, maybe six months ago. A really beautifully produced hardback book of whole page pen and ink drawings of San Francisco and surroundings. I picked it up again at the weekend, remembered looking at it before and once again loved it: so decided to buy it.

Madonna wrote and drew the series All Over Coffee in the San Francisco Chronicle for twelve years. He has a real talent for observing and drawing the urban landscape.

If you click the pictures below you go to his web site store. Click the pictures there to see a larger version.


Sun, 06 Aug 2017
What is Life?

American Pastoral
By Philip Roth

Score: 5/5

Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive

So replies Meredith "Merry" Levov to the teachers assignment that week, "What is Life?". Merry is the daughter of the Swede (so nick-named by a teacher at school) and his beautiful wife Dawn, Miss New Jersey 1949 (she hates being defined by this). In the evening, the parents laugh about their daughter's precocious intelligence but her odd unsentimentality grows in the years to come, an intellectual intensity that explodes later. America changes in the sixties and so does their daughter; and their world comes tumbling down.

Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov.

The Swede has it all and grows up in a post-war America brimming with optimism for the future; an all round athlete, good looking, ex-Marine (a drill instructor no less) but luckily misses the fighting as Japan surrenders. Laid back and comfortable in his own skin, everyone loves him. He even marries a Catholic: From Elizabeth. A shiksa. Dawn Dwyer. He'd done it. The American dream.

This novel is very funny in parts and also very moving. Much is an amazing internal struggle by Seymour Levov to understand the turn his life has taken. Roth writes an elegy almost, to an America that (sometimes literally) blew up, a Newark City that burned in riots and went down hill from there; a middle class that fled but couldn't escape the changes.

Roth beautifully evokes an old mid-20th Century "Americana", a place of growing wealth and huge aspiration. Everything is going so well, until the year 1968 and everything starts to fall apart because of Merry's cataclysmic actions. This is the power of the book; the beauty and wondrous potential so well described, colliding with the terrible fragility and reality of the world as it is. A great book and justly a Pulitzer Prize winner.


Wed, 02 Aug 2017
To Clapham We Go

LARA, with whom I did a weekend painting course a while ago in their Vauxhall studios, are moving: to Clapham. This is where I live so I'll have an easy visit if I do anything like that again. A good move I'd say! A bit more to see and do around Clapham as well.

We found Clapham North to be a gem of a place: it boasts many coffee shops, bars and restaurants and is only a short walk away from both Clapham Picturehouse cinema and the vast green space of Clapham Common.


Mon, 24 Jul 2017
Waiting for Number Three

A comment online was stop interrupting her and let her get on with the third book!

This interview with Hilary Mantel is actually from 2015, so she's had some time since to get on with the third and final book in her great Wolf Hall trilogy. The interview is very good on the process of writing and research she has. Her favourite novel is Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, surprisingly enough; a book I read when I was at school but should revisit I think. A cracking adventure. I've been very lucky with my choice of books this year; long may that continue.


Sat, 22 Jul 2017
Unplayable Music

Hydrogen Sonata
By Iain M. Banks

Score: 5/5

This is Iain Banks' last Culture novel before his premature death in 2013. I've read quite a few of them now and I think this one was one of the best. I think it is my current favourite after Excession and Surface Detail.

The Hydrogen Sonata is the common name for T.C. Villabier's 26th String Specific Sonata for an Instrument Yet to Be Invented, MW 1211. The instrument invented to play it is described as :

the notoriously difficult, temporamental and tonally challenged Antagonistic Undecagonstring - or elevenstring as it was commonly known.

Yes, Banks often injects a bit of fun into his work. Having four arms, as the novel's protagonist has (by choice), seems to help play the piece. She's never managed to but is working on it.

As usual, it is full of amazing futuristic detail, alongside the moral and philosophical digressions he often mixes in. What made this book great for me was the fact that it had a good plot and fast pace, alongside a lot of often explosive and inventive action sequences. The Culture and the AI Minds might be a generally pacific and peaceful civilisation but when required they know how to deal out a bit of death, destruction and general mayhem. I think Banks seems to relish this as well.

A witty, fun and fast paced thriller, set in an amazing post-scarcity world full of wonders. And a great last addition to his work.


Fri, 14 Jul 2017
Not only Oils

Some John Singer Sargent watercolours are on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and well worth a look. Sargent was such a great artist, and these paintings show his mastery of more than just oil painting.

Like many, he loved Venice and painted it regularly; it would have been a lot less crowded back then. As well as Venice, there are lovely paintings of friends, family and landscapes, as well as some work done as part of his stint as a war artist.

There are also a selection of photographs to accompany parts of the exhibition, some showing the great man at work or background detail to his travels. He made a good living from his portrait painting and did a lot of travelling around Europe and the Middle East, always busy recording in paint. As a result, he was very prolific, so we have a lot of work to enjoy.



Below: An unusual panorama painting of Constantinople Sargent did in 1891.



Tue, 04 Jul 2017
BP 2017

It's that time of year: a multitude of great art shows around London making for a very busy set of weekends. Some have to be visited more than once. The BP is free luckily.

The BP Portrait Award 2017 is a good as it always was, and perhaps as good as it gets. It's probably the best and most consistent annual art exhibition around, although it is highly selective so we see the best of the best ("2,580 entries by artists from 87 countries").


Right: A Russian Artist in China by Bao Han, Oil on canvas (link)


Right: Portait of Beyza by Mustafa Ozel, Oil on canvas 9link)

The above two are just two of many I might have decided to display here, but they are ones I particularly liked. For the full list, including the prize winners, see : here.


Sun, 02 Jul 2017
RA Summer Exhibition 2017

The RA Summer Exhibition rolls around in June every year and it is always a huge mix, as much "art and craft" as art sometimes. Who is to say where the dividing line is however? It includes art "installation", video pieces, architectural work and even performance art this year. And a few paintings, drawings and prints of course, the things I prefer. There's plenty I don't like but also some beautiful work as usual.

The Bill Jacklin paintings are great: a detail from one is above. Many of his pictures have a great movement and swirl of people, sometimes battling the elements and sometimes dancing or skating. The swirl of crowds in the big city. If you look closely, the individual is barely delineated, fading into the surrounding air. Fred Cuming also had a few works hanging, some of which were a bit different to the ones I've seen before. I love his atmospheric landscapes and he has a small solo show in the Keepers House, as I've reported before (I had another look yesterday).

There's always a lot to look at, although I sometimes find myself moving through the rooms more quickly than usual. It's a lottery who gets picked and perhaps I found less to like than before. I must check out Not the Royal Academy again. Unlike many "Royal" exhibitions, that one's free.