Artist’s Blog – Dominic Burkhalter
A regular series of thoughts, ideas and comments on art and design, these reflect Dom’s own personal opinions and theories.
Dominic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
(78) Hans Holbein the Younger and Tudor Photographs
Holbein was a great artist, and the greatest draughtsman of all time in my opinion, with that in mind we can look at his paintings and drawings and be assured that what we are looking at is a very close likeness of the person painted. In that case the painting of Henry VIII shows us the man as he was, a wealthy arrogant thug would be my conclusion based on what I see. Our impressions of people are normally for right or wrong concluded within 10 seconds of meeting them. I think we’ve all met people like Henry VIII and I’m sure all of us our grateful to leave their company as soon as possible.
Wolf Hall (2009) is a historical novel by English author Hilary Mantel and was made in to an impressive BBC TV series starring Mark Rylance. Looking at the portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Holbein and again remembering what Holbein drew was very likely very accurate. (Though it looks like some restoration was done on the painting over the years that has definitely not helped). This is not the character that Mark Rylance portrayed (as good an actor that he is), this is a painting of a mean, cunning and unpleasant individual who could probably deal with Henry VIII up until the point where the king had no more need for him and sent him the way of many others. History and truth – best to trust an artist like Holbein!
(77) Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophy, how I wish I’d read more on this when I was younger, still, never too late and the study of how language, maths and logic plays a part in our wider understanding is very interesting. This area was worked on in great depth by Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein in the early part of the 20th Century and still rumbles on today. He only ever had one book published while he was alive the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in which he put forward a new approach to philosophy, only to come back towards the end of his life with another contradictory one! Some of the quotes from Wittgenstein definitely stir up ideas and there are whole seconds when I understand what is written!
Some favourite quotes below:
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (5.6)
- Variant translations:
- The limits of my language stand for the limits of my world.
- The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.
- Original German: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
Wittgenstein’s Lion. … In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein famously said that “if a lion could speak, we could not understand him”. This seems contradictory, because of course if he is speaking, it seems like we would understand him, but of course we assume the Lion would have thinking that was aligned with our own, same values, same priorities….he would probably not be speaking English at a guess and if he did, he definitely would not be asking when the next bus was!
“To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle ”— that, Wittgenstein once said, was the aim of his philosophy.
….and the last quote, which in philosophical terms is not that original, but hits the nail on the head!
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
(76) Nature – The Best Designer and Our Toes
Da Vinci looked at the birds to see how they flew and more recently designers have realised how nature and evolution have shown us the direction that good design should go.
So many examples….
The spiders web and the modern web of Internet communication.
Fish and efficient shapes to pass through water, submarines.
The arc of the birds wing, mirrored on a plane to give lift.
The sea shell and a turbine engine……
……no coincidence in these patterns of design, nature will dictate the best design and we should take its hints.
Evolution though is not fast moving, If we look down at our feet, we should as a race count our toes, as our ancestors might have found them useful for climbing, fighting or long arithmetic, but our great, great, great, great, great, great grand children probably won’t have them.
(75) Matisse and Hockney Sun and Snaps.
Every time I’ve looked at Henry Matisse’s paintings and artwork it’s reminded me of something, the same for David Hockney’s work. It was only till recently visiting the Liverpool Tate gallery and seeing Matisse’s large collage ‘snail’ painting that I realised what it was.
They remind me of each other.
In fact the large snail work reminds of Hockney’s Polaroid snaps and the scale of his work echoes the jump in scale of Matisses.
Both headed and found the sun to paint in, Matisse the south of France and Hockney California and their paintings reflect the colours of those regions, with water and the sea key to both.
They are both great painters and we are lucky to have Hockney still around with a major respective due in the near future. Which will be great to visit if not no doubt an expensive one! I like the fact he’s experimented too with digital painting on the iPad. Always looking at new ideas, a very good habit to have.
Hockney’s humour and optimism complements well his painting ability which stands alongside the talented Royal College of Art painters of his generation. He helped along with Blake, Hamilton and Kitaj kick painting in to the same limelight that popular music had.
It would be great one day to have a major exhibition of Hockney and Matisse together in the same venue.
(74) Degas, Girls and Horses, Strange Animals.
Having a brother and no sisters meant girls were strange animals, as were horses, stranger still girls seemed to like horses a lot, and when it was the art class at school these strange animals loved to draw the other strange animals. Though of course as with most children’s drawings it meant drawing from a remembered memory of a horse and very likely an illustration of a horse, and not a real one at that.
We lived down in Dorset for our teenage years and my brother and I did have horse riding lessons, this may well have been because our parents wanted us to get a better understanding of girls or horses or both, they never said. All I remember about the lessons was feeling as boys that we were not that welcome amongst a very clique group of horsy girls, the other memory was spending most of the time hanging on with dear life to the saddle, whenever a horse broke in to a canter, never got to a gallop as I doubt I’d be writing this now if I had!. Our Equestrian interests were short lived and we went on to concentrate on football and basketball….with good results.
Edward Degas clearly got to know a lot of girls from the ballet school and horses as well, in fact his ballerina paintings are outstanding, but for me his work showing horses is even greater, possibly because they exist in beautiful landscapes of French racing green.
Degas is said to have sneered at artists that painted outdoors which to this day I find a little odd, as painting in ‘plein air’ is more rewarding for end results on the canvas…
…..horse racing and the race track is always going to be a great subject to paint, the bright silk colours and the charging horses are going to make an interesting painting which ever way you approach it, it’s just a pity that possibly the biggest race in the world each year the Aintree Grand National results in on average 1 to 4 deaths of these noble animals each time it’s run….not sure it’s worth it.
(73) Maths Mosaics and War Speeches. Object Orientated Code.
Arabic and middle eastern tiles can be some of the most beautiful works of art. The patterns have a very strong mathematical feel to them that echoes the early mathematics of the region.
Algebra and complex maths can create amazing shapes and the repeated patterns seen in many mosaic tiles feel like repeated arrays of number shapes.
The tiles of many patterns could be early examples of object orientated programming (OOPs). Regular blocks of reusable code repeated in a wall of patterns.
(72) New York Grids, Musical Staves and Mondrian.
The link between Mondrian’s grid like traffic glue and light paintings at first look if we are honest not obvious, but if you are on top of a skyscraper and are happy to swap green for blue then use there are links, they have more in common with mosaics and the the previous article.
The New York City structure is regularly presented as the inspiration to Mondrian’s work, but quite honestly I’m not sure it’s that relevant. They are great works if minimalist abstract work whatever their inspiration. The balance of colour and white works, and the rhythm of colours echo more links to music than they do architecture and in our modern technology based world again another array of numbers beats a pattern across the canvas.
(71) The Gordon Banks Save and the Arch of the Ball.
In the 1970 World Cup match between England and Brazil Gordon Banks the England goal keeper made what is widely thought of (certainly in England) the greatest ever save.
It was made even more brilliant by the fact it was a save that stopped probably the greatest ever player from scoring….Pele…. he jumped and met the cross from the right with a header placed perfectly to make it difficult for any keeper by heading it downwards creating more complexity in the judgement of the direction of the ball as it includes every chance of an inconsistent bounce off the ground that is then travelling upwards.
Somehow Banks who was nearer the far post at the start of the Brazilian team move got across the goal, dived and flicked the ball over the cross bar. He didn’t just push it horizontally round the post, but flicked it up in a magnificent looping arch over the top of the bar.
For a moment the footballing world stopped and took it all in, for many never to be forgotten as the greatest ever save!
(70) Why do Artists Tilt their Head when Looking at their Paintings?
The answer is a desperate attempt to see the picture or indeed anything else they may be looking at with fresh eyes or a different angle.
It’s the desire to see things again for the first time or afresh.
Many artists will look at their work newly by looking at in a mirror, they may try to snatch a glance at th canvas when it’s not looking, stand on their head, anything to see it clearly again for the first time.
This is not a million miles away from Picasso desire to draw and see things with the innocence of a child, what he meant was to see something as if for the first time, without all the preconceived ideas and experiences that the adult has absorbed over the years.
(69) The London Tube Map
Much has been written of this map and as born and bred Londoner (partly Dorset). I believe I have the right to give my tuppence worth too!
It works because it uses straight lines, the widely known one of today was originally designed by Harry Beck in the 1930s it was felt at the time it had been based on electrical design work, but the designer always denied any influence from that.
The straight lines from point to point give an impression of efficiency of travel, no bendy wasted curves on any journey are shown. As a Londoner we are only too aware that’s not the case, though it is by far the quickest way to travel across London, all be it missing out on the scenes on top of a red London or black taxi.
Other metro and underground maps have shown the curves of the track closer to any real route and station location, but the classic London tube map shows how clever design makes a major difference in communication.
Minimise any visual clutter!
It’s one weakness is the use of colour, but it’s a tough challenge, the number of train lines versus the number of primary and secondary colours.
When all is said and done, to get across London quickly. Get the tube. To understand the tube quickly pick up the brilliant London tube map.
(68) The Greatest Winter Scene Painting and Ice Scraping.
For me it’s a close-run thing between the US winter scenes of George Bellows and the ‘huntsman’ painting by Peter Bruegel.
It’s Bruegel that wins as it’s a brilliant painting and also gives us all a wonderful insight into the medieval period.
In a time when the only air pollution would have come from local house fires in effort to keep warm the clear icy sky covers a cold winter scene that shows the returning huntsmen with their dogs. Heads bowed to keep out the cold wind, they’ve probably taken that same route through all seasons. Mans best friend for company and the reward of a warm fire both their goals.
The days hunting looks to be no more than pheasant each, which won’t spread far for both humans and canine appetites.
They head downhill to where home must be, close to a frozen waterside that shows people skating and no doubt fishing for food. It’s a medieval Northern European scene frozen in time, that because of global warming we seem to be seeing less of, I can remember in the past scraping ice off my car windscreen every day during winters, now maybe it’s once or twice a year!
(67) The Heatherwick Roll up Bridge
There’s probably at this moment only one designer more famous than Thomas Heatherwick and that’s another British designer, Johnny Ives at Apple.
It’s great to have two Brits at the top of the design tree!
Many will be familiar with Ives’s work and they are also probably aware of Heatherwick’s work, but just don’t realise it. They will have seen the new London Red busses, great curved monsters with lots of space and doors, the best bus in the world!
There was as well the beautiful Olympic cauldron with the hundreds of petals that were brought into the London 2012 stadium by each team and rose together to complete the one Olympic flame.
The engineers must have had nerves of steel while watching hoping that they all tilted up in to place to form the United cauldron.
The work I most like of Hearherwick is the rolling bridge, which is in the City of London, such clever simple design that just brings a smile to the face of anyone who has ever tried to design anything.
It curls up like a hedgehog and out like a snake across the space to form a bridge, talking of which I look forward to seeing the landscaped and wooded bridge across the Thames when it’s completed.
(66) Giotto and ‘Room with a View’.
One of my favourite films is the 1980s version of Room with a View based on the original book by E. M. Forster, and one of the many great scenes is the one shown inside the St Croce church in Florence:
“Mr. Emerson shocks everyone by criticizing a fresco by Giotto: “Look at that fat man in blue! He must weigh as much as I do, and he is shooting into the sky like an air-balloon!” Mr. Emerson says exactly what he thinks, without regard for politeness or tact. He does not attempt to feel “what is proper,” but rather speaks his true feelings. “
It sums much my thoughts on Giotto as a painter, I’m quite prepared to accept his importance in terms of Renaissance artistic developement, but I’m not going to find it in me to actually like the paintings. To be honest like Jazz music I’ve tried to like it, but it’s just not there…..still a great film, a must see if you’ve never seen it, that and of course Florence itself!
(65) Michael Jordan and Ballet Dancers…
Art is about escape and rising above the day to day drudgery of life, and it sometimes appears in areas that you would not expect. There have been a few football (or soccer) moments that I’ve mentioned already….but the greatest ever sportsman was a basketball player and a recent one at that.
Michael Jordan was brilliant, no argument just brilliant and he could jump and famously hang in there. There’s a range of sports shoes called Air Jordan for a good reason.
I’ve seen a few ballet performances over the years and I’m sure that the leap of the dancers is supposed to appear elegant, powerful and graceful, all those things wrapped up in dance. They don’t come close to the sheer brilliance of Michael Jordan leaping to the basket defying gravity and scoring! Sometimes as in the video link below it could be blocking an opponents shot. He had strength timing and sheer skill that rose above just sport in to rarer region of sport that crosses in to an art.
(64) Pierre Bonnard. Mediterranean Light, Bathrooms and Reflected Light….
Many if not most of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings are domestic ones, he must have been under his wife’s feet all the time and no doubt like myself getting paint everywhere!
His work from a digital artists eye looks like he’s pumped up the hue values in PhotoShop and set contrast up a few notches, there are no Camden Town rainy grey hues in his paintings.
Light in Northern Europe does not have the intensity of Southern Europe and the colours don’t sing out like the do when you look out over the intense blue of the Mediterranean.
I’ve always liked his bathroom paintings the most, and they always remind me of an art tutors comments that some people thought Impressionism came about from people viewing the world through frosted bathroom windows and all the effects they have on shapes and colours that find their way through them.
(63) Sickert Theatre Painting and Light.
Light and shadow with high contrast are often going to be key ingredients in any painting.
In a theatre they are there in spades for any artist, and you can see why Walter Sickert chose to paint this view of theatre goers.
To sketch these figures must have been a joy, as apart from anything else as with the TV now it’s a time when people may sit very still, so the request for the sitter to ‘sit still’ is less heard.
The light sources come from all directions but the strongest is from below helping to define the facial features clearly with light and dark.
The pictures foundation colour is a red, brown sienna base colour for the shadows on the flesh, giving brilliant overlay colour texture.
The light shinning up also hits the edges of the theatres ornamental facia, giving any painter worth his salt great opportunity to paint something special, and this great English painter does exactly that…
(62) Rothko, and What is Abstract Art About….?
To be honest there are very few abstract artists that I actually like. Rothko is one with the vibrancy of the colours that work well, big and simple, it works with scale, can’t ever imagine these being in a frame 5 cm by 5 cm. They need to over power the viewer with scale and colour.
Which they do….but what is abstract art….
If you look at an isolated small corner of an impressionist painting you could very easily be looking at an abstract painting. Overlay of paint textures and colours in broad brush strokes, the small enlarged corner would have huge areas of colour and depending on the colours on the layers below either drop back or be push forward with the laws of colour.
Abstract art is about the sense of these textures and colours in a very basic and simple way without the perceived requirement of it having to represent anything at all.
(61) Film as ‘Art’…Fast Cars and Paris….
David Leans work along with the Ealing Comedy films are my favourite ‘moving’ pictures, but would I call them ‘art’ I’m not sure, there are probably a few films that I would and this is one: Fast car drive across Paris.
This fast car video through the medium of film not only strays over the speed limit for a built up area, but also in my opinion in to ‘Art’.
If you like Paris, fast cars, early mornings then this ticks all those boxes, but the sheer beauty of Paris and the excitement of witnessing a very dangerous drive touches upon some sort of nerve, that signals it’s ‘art’. Very lucky that no one is killed, the director was arrested, but to this day there is no confirmation of who the driver was. They overlaid the engine sound of a Ferrari over the fast Mercedes that was used, which is a pity as is the ‘cheesy’ ending which probably wasn’t needed, but the whole thing has to be one of my favourite bits of film ever made!
(60) Vermeer and the Musician’s Fingers.
There are about ten absolutely outstanding paintings by Vermeer, the almost photographic realism opening a lens to the world of that time. There a few that I sometimes wonder may not actually be by Vermeer as the perspective or the layout don’t seem quite right….but whatever, the best ones are in the top one hundred paintings ever painted!
As a student I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of Kenwood house in north London, and there in one of the main gallery rooms is the Vermeer of the lady playing the guitar. (Not apparently a mandolin).
It’s just a very very fine painting but the area I always liked looking at were her fingers at the neck of the guitar which he painted in just simple single flat areas of colour, each fingers joints angle having its own shade of colour, beautiful and simply painted.
It’s the same simplicity of highlight that you see on the pearl in the ‘Lady with pearl earring’, one small area of flat colour.
(59) The Sistine Chapel and I Want to Tell you a Story.
Six years work, creating what in effect is a very large cartoon story of Genesis from the Bible. It must have been a huge effort just to get to where you were going to paint each day.
There in the full knowledge that ‘Health and Safety’ was still to be invented and a poor piece of work would not have resulted in a warning from HR but some long lingering death at the hands of a Pope who was probably in reality closer to hell than anyone inhabiting any heaven.
It’s a work of such scale that no tourist standing underneath it probably appreciates it fully, especially as they will almost certainly be surrounded by hundreds of other tourists whispering at a level that when done in unison results in a very bored priest shouting ‘hush’, with then a drop to near no sound at all being heard, only for it to rise again to the same level 15 minutes later and for the same priest to repeat the warning, and the cycle continues through the day until eventually the draw of pasta and pizza pulls the tourists out leaving the chapel empty and quiet.
They must have stood in awe when it was first painted, humans have seen so much in the last 500 years that they’ve lost really what the ceiling means as a work of art, it is for most a tick box to tick on their European tour.
(58) Paul Klee, Egon Schiele and an Alpine Patchwork.
Egon Schiele is said to have been influenced by Gustav Klimt but for me the closest links have to be with Paul Klee. The Swiss-Austrian-German-Alpine patchwork of colours and textures by Schiele virtually morph in to the visually simpler work by Klee…..and then not too many visual leaps to Mondrian’s even more simplified grid paintings.
Beautiful paintings based as with all great work on very strong drawing skills. The tightness and intensity of the line drawing gives the paintings a strength that echoes the solid stone and wood villages that are scattered through the alpine valleys.
(57) Dad’s Army – ‘The Deadly Attachment’.
When film becomes art has been touched on already in these blogs, if and when comedy does is also another good discussion to have.
For me the best examples of British film and TV humour can be seen in the Ealing comedies of the 1950s (The Lavender Hill mob etc). Fawlty Towers in the 1970s and probably the greatest of all has to be the BBC’s 1960s and 1970s comedy series – “Dad’s Army”.
Beautifully written, casting perfect and some of the best episodes and work in either film or TV. For me the greatest episode is the ‘Deadly Attachment’ where the Walmington-on-Sea WWII home guard detachment led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring are given the responsibility of looking after a captured German submarine crew.
Some of the funny lines include ones about parachuting nuns, soggy chips and the “don’t tell him Pike” are now intertwined with the British psyche in the same way as music of the Beatles and the smell of an Indian Curry is now. They have become common reference points in a society where the thousands of channels today of information and entrainment have fragmented our common and shared consciousness.
(56) Monet and Digging the Garden.
Gardening has never been something I’ve thrown my heart and soul in to, as it always appears to amount to a huge quantity of digging holes and then filling them in again.
Much more enjoyable to paint a landscape than to try and alter it!
This painting of Monet’s wife in multiple standing poses is a beautiful painting, with simple flat areas of colours. His preparation for the painting included digging a ditch in the garden where he placed his easel and canvas. The lower painting angle must have been important to him, quite honestly I’m not sure why, may well be to include more of the tree behind to give a darker background and balance to the colours in the foreground. The issue was important enough for him to get his hands dirty, and this painting for me is much better than the later large wide water lily paintings that his garden is more famous for.
In fact I think I prefer the actual gardens themselves to those paintings, which have the air of ‘Renoir wooliness’ that irritates the eye like a grit of sand on a summers day.
(55) The Best ever Autumn or Fall Picture
Two of the nicest words in the English language both describe the same thing, the season between summer and winter, and include my favourite month, September which is when this painting by Camille Pissarro was started.
My most liked painting of this particular season with the dark reds in the painting making the deep fading greens even richer on the canvas.
So many views along Seine inspired great impressionist paintings it must have been difficult not to trip over the legs of artists easels as you walked along the banks of the river in the late 19th Century.
My favourite areas of this painting are the rhythm of the vertical tress and the colours to the right and horizontal light and shadow lines that spread across the path, what a joy they must have been to paint, and that well!
(54) Racing Line Round a Bend…
Drawing and painting is all about eye and hand coordination and the judging of distances etc. This is not too far removed from the judgment of the line to be taken by a driver as they go through and round a bend in the road.
The F1 driver will attempt to take the most efficient line that allows them to save time and accelerate out of a corner hopefully giving them an advantage over their competitors.
F1 has become a little daft over recent years brought home to me a couple of years ago listening to a race on the radio where the roadside team engineer told the driver to “press the overtake button” I could not believe my ears! So much for the skill of the driver and his own pitting of wits against his rivals!
Judging the line is not just an artist obsession it’s a drivers to!
(53) René Magritte, the Empire of Light, and the Longest Day
A great painting amongst many other quirky paintings that Magritte painted in his lifetime.
This painting although meant to confuse and shock with what appears to be a night seen at street level with a daytime sky, just reminds me of a late summer evening in Europe.
The longest day is the 20th June in the Northern Hemisphere, it almost never really gets dark in a city that time of the year with light pollution.
So this picture no longer really shocks the eyes and brain of the user, this is now a normal Summer evening view!
(52) Photoshop and the National Geographic Magazine.
As a lad my father subscribed to the National Geographic magazine, this journal and the fact our father was a tour guide mostly in Western Europe meant that the travel bug bit early and the pleasure of travel lives with us now.
It’s always been a joy to look through the pages of the magazine back then or these days at the doctors or dentists waiting room where along with Readers Digest it appears to be compulsory fixture.
Until….. I was in my 40s and for work was sent to Yokohama and saw many views from many different vantage points, on my return to England by coincidence the next issue of the magazine which I was subscribing to for myself and children had a cover shot of the centre of Yokohama that included in the background the volcano of Mount Fuji which having just been to the city I knew could only be seen as a dot many many miles away.
The magazine cover made it look around 10 miles away!
At the point all the stories of the magazine moving the pyramids to make a better magazine cover on one issue came back to me and quite honestly at that moment I decided never to buy the magazine again.
The world is beautiful enough it does need adjusting in Photoshop.
(51) Picasso Blue and Rose Periods and Negative Shapes.
Picasso was a great artist, when the word great is thrown around for just about everything these days, he truly was, work of quality that shifted the art world and how it was perceived all the way through his lifetime.
It has always slightly amused me to think that he tried so hard to draw and paint with the naivety of a child without all the preconceived ideas of an adult, not something any adult could ever really do as they’d have to have a disconnect to their memories and unconscious which if he’d sat down and had a chat with Carl Jung, he’d realise it was not possible, in fact the reverse was true, it’s way very clear to Jung just how much the conscious mind was influenced by the unconscious.
My favourite period of his work is the blue and rose phase, with many beautiful works, this one is one of my favourites, mostly for the balance, no pun intended between the large male figure and the delicate female figure. Plus the brilliantly drawn negative shapes around her arms.
This tightness of line and colour textures makes it one of the greats by one of the greats.
(50) Velázquez and Windows into the Past.
Like Vermeer’s paintings part of the appeal of this painting by Velázquez is giving us an insight to a historical period and a royal family of the time. We can be certain that what we are seeing is what is pretty darn close to what was there.
In the painting ‘Las Meninas’ he has held up a large mirror to the Royal Court capturing not the head of state directly but those that support it and the young daughter being kept entertained as much as possible so as to not distract the artist. He Velázquez had decided to paint a complicated self-portrait.
I wonder how he sold the idea to King Phillip, to the king’s credit he must have been curious and probably wanted to capture the circle of the court that was not normally seen, but was familiar to him and his wife.
A brilliant composition with the large canvas leaning in and the artist at a pause, thinking, the mirror at the back with the royal couples reflection next to the open door and courtier entering discreetly so as not to distract, but for the painting the light in the doorway creates a great silhouetted figure and the feeling to the paintings viewer that they are getting a privileged insight in to not only the royal court but in our case another period of history empty of smartphone cameras and instant capturing of important moments.
(49) Dotty Seurat and Visual Science.
Seurat’s art painted in the midst of the impressionist period has always felt for me to owe more to science, and more accurately the science of colour.
In the past when you looked close up at a colour TV you could see the combination of coloured RGB dots that combined would give you the pictures that these days we take for granted.
Seurat took a similar approach painting in not braid loose brush strokes but calculated points of colour. The figures along the Seine (yet another great painting based along its banks), have a styslised feel to them, a little unreal almost like painted ceramic statues for ever still frozen in time.
The large scale of the paintings stands over the viewer in the gallery making them feel more than ever that they have entered a different world.
(48) Spectral Opposites and how to Stand out Amongst a Group of Royals.
I am a long way from being an expert in fashion, as I’m sure those close to me will vouch for, but I feel strongly enough about a fashion incident last week to write it in this art and design blog.
People dress in a way that they feel comfortable and probably in the period of fashion that they were happiest in, so my guess is her majesty was most happy in the 1950s.
Mentioned elsewhere in these blogs, the way you make a colour stand out is to surround it by its spectral opposite.
With the queens trooping the colour outfit I think her majesty would have stood out with pale olive green so the bright Kermet the frog green guaranteed not only that she stood out against the British scarlet red, but I suspect that Major Tim Peake on the international space station had to shield his eyes from the glare coming from the royal balcony as he stood to attention!
My guess is that when you get to 90 most people are way past caring about fashion, but there are many trendy people in their later years, I think one of them needs to approach her royal highness discreetly and mention pastels as in the colour not the sweet.
(47) Canaletto, Sharp Thin Black Lines, and Black is Not a Colour….
If your name is Canaletto then being famous for painting canals would seem rather obvious coincidence. Venice is a beautiful city to paint at any time as was London which he also famously painted, and like Vermeer and Velázquez from previous posts gives our modern day eyes an insight in to a time when there were no cameras.
Canaletto’s paintings when looked at closely are very sharply painted, it’s what I think makes feel a little uncomfortable when looking at the paintings as a whole. It’s because close up he’s drawn in paint thousands of very sharp thin lines to define things like Windows and doors, it’s almost just a little to accurate.
He uses black as well which as an art student you are told in some of your very first lessons that along with White are not actually colours, very confusing as I’m still not 100% certain what we are then supposed to call them, but looking at shadows or white walks they are never indeed pure black or white, indeed white will terrify the colours around it and the shadows we see will have a tint of the spectral opposites object’s colour they are being blocked to the source of light by.
(46) Giacometti, Very Thin People….and Yellow Beach Balls.
There is something very powerful about the thin figures that Giacometti sculpted. Maybe it’s because the squashed look of the figure reflects the pressure that the modern man or woman feels ……possibly as they commute every day.
Being that thin would be very useful to squeeze on to a London tube train, it’s certainly the way you feel when you get off!
They remind me as well of the early small military ‘flats’, I would not be surprised if they had not influenced him to, like so many works of art the influences that play their part in a finished work of art are wide and varied. I bet the child hit by a large yellow beach ball, who grows up unconsciously avoids circles yellow in their designs.
(45) Art Caught in Time, David Hockney’s ‘Bigger Splash’…..
I’ve always really liked David Hockney’s and the man himself is clearly a very intelligent chap, plus he has an endearing Yorkshire humour.
He has also embraced new technology using the iPad to paint with his fingers and the grid of Polaroid snaps are great in their own right.
His paintings are some of the most popular works of art of the last 50 years, but I worry that they feel pinned to the 1960s, he’s so closely identified to that decade along with many other Royal College of Art graduates that like his splash in this painting it’s almost frozen in time.
All great art has a timeless quality, being able to pin it to a decade, is not a good sign!
(44) A Colourful and a Stylish Death – Napoleonic Uniforms.
During the Napoleonic wars a period anyone interested in history finds very difficult to not feel fascinated by, the uniforms in particular were spectacular.
Probably more than any the Hussars, the light cavalry of the warring nations was brilliant in how their tunics were colour coded for each regiment, including trim and plumes. This was used to allow the commanders and the soldiers themselves to quickly identify their regiments and comrades in the middle of a smoky battlefield.
These days camouflaged uniforms attempt to hide the soldier, the complete opposite to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Technology these days helps identify a soldier’s location, and no doubt with 100 years it will be drones and robots that decide the course of wars if we choose to still have them.
In the course of the battle of Waterloo many an anxious moment was spent on both sides trying to identify from distance – were the uniforms on the horizon appearing from the north east Prussian or French blue.
Colours that can still be bought from any art shop!
(43) Tintin and other Great Cartoon Drawings…
Herges adventures of Tintin, what a great phrase that is! Like most things that are difficult, to make them look simple is an amazing skill.
So creating a story that has pace and holds the attention of children of all ages is an amazing skill.
The drawings are beautiful and full of humour and the drawing style itself shows a great intensity of line.
My favourite books are the two around the story of Red Rackhams treasure, the trips to the moon, and lastly the Sceptre one based in some Eastern European country which must I would assume be modelled on Albania.
Such skill, and the Spielberg 3D animated version is worthy of the Tintin name, no small achievement in itself!
(42) Cave paintings….and I want to tell you story …
Our ancestors must have come back from a long few days hunting, to sit in a cave, and no doubt as there was no TV and only a fire in the corner to take its place. (I wonder what pictures they saw in the fires shapes?)….they must have on a rainy day got up and told a story with pictures.
No doubt where there was just the one sabre tooth tiger in the woods, when it came to the story there would have been three, like most story telling embellishments get add to it on every telling.
Not so easy when it comes to painting and as Windsor and Newton were still some distance away, no doubt charcoal from the fires mixed with resin from local plants must have been along with whatever was round used to create the wall paintings.
They are great paintings, and in the history of art they are far more important than many artists attempt to tell a story!
(41) Hitler and Churchill – a Draw….
It’s ironic that the two key leaders in the Second World War were both serious amateur painters. Stranger still that ability wise there’s really not much in it. Both had some ability, but neither were strong draughtsman.
History and our world today would be very different if the young Hitler had not twice been refused a place at the Vienna Art school. I’m sure the head of the school if he’d known what the consequences of refusal to the young Adolf would ultimately lead to, would have turned a blind eye and ushered him in to the nearest life drawing room and hopefully left him there for a good few years and indeed offered him a teaching post just to make sure he got nowhere need public politics and the military.
Churchill has a lot to answer for post war for his requested destruction of the Graham Sutherland portrait, but it’s nothing to what Hitler must still be answering for as he spins in hell.
(40) The Best Painting of a Tree. Van Gogh’s Almond Tree.
This of course like most things art related is very subjective, and in this case is seen through Western European eyes.
Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the almond tree branches is certainly not some slick and overworked painting of a tree. It’s full of energy like most of his paintings. Which in this case is probably what makes it as there a few more delicate things than the blossom on this tree and the energy balanced against this fine and glass like tree make it so powerful. The spots of white and red are beautiful in the swirl but disciplined use of paint at the edges of the brittle like branches.
Magnificent painting, where art can get dangerously close to being as beautiful as Mother Nature itself!
(39) The 1600 Hundreds and Miniature Paintings in India and England.
There may well have been a world-wide shortage of medium and large sized boards and canvases in the world around 1600, but I doubt it…so the beautiful miniature paintings created in India and England around that time must have been coincidence and from choice.
The beautiful works of Nicholas Hilliard give us an insight into the privileged classes of the day, although I must say given the choice today most gentleman of any class would not choose to wear what look like very uncomfortable lace frilled collars and tights.
In fact your average peasant of the day would be wearing comfortable baggy clothing, not unlike the popular clothing of choice of today. Minus the expensive trainers!
Hilliard’s paintings are brilliantly detailed, almost ‘jewel’ like paintings.
Not dissimilar in quality to the Indian miniatures painted many thousands of miles away in a very different continent and with a flatter style, almost as if the painter had trapped his 3D subjects in a large book, closed it, flattened them and opened them up again in to a brilliant 2D colourful world.
(38) Four Hundred Years of Peace and only the Cuckoo Clock, Thin Men and a Range of Coloured Squares to Show for it!
I’m a proud Anglo/Swiss/South African, but I think of myself more as a European than any particular nationality to be completely honest.
When it comes to art Harry Lime’s comments in the film ‘The Third Man’ on the Vienna ferris wheel hit a nerve, as there is some truth there. The best Swiss artists have to be for me Giacometti and Klee, but the national characteristics of the country however diversified it is, don’t lend themselves to great art.
It’s too flaming sensible!
Under the rather cool, calm calculating skin of your average Swiss deep, deep, down they are rather cool, calm and calculating. Whereas Harry Lime pointed out complete chaos over hundreds of years in Italy and they produce Leonardo da Vinci and Enzo Ferrari!….
….then on the other hand more noble prizes per head of population have been won by a Swiss.
I think it must be that the Swiss have Europe’s left-hand side of the brain, and the Italians the right-hand side. The British of course are too reserved to comment and still think they have an Empire, running 25% of the world, and can play football!
Feel free to change nationalities below depending on your Geo location and/or passport.
Heaven and Hell
Heaven Is Where:
The French are the chefs
The Italians are the lovers
The British are the police
The Germans are the mechanics
And the Swiss make everything run on time
Hell is Where:
The British are the chefs
The Swiss are the lovers
The French are the mechanics
The Italians make everything run on time
And the Germans are the police
(37) One Painting at a Time and the Best Galleries in the World.
As a painter I’ve never for one minute painted a picture and imagined how it would look in an exhibition. Not amongst my work or as part of a number of another artists work.
It’s just been always one painting on its own, and the work is just one piece of work at a time.
So, going to a large gallery and seeing hundreds of paintings in one visit is really in my opinion a bit daft! After probably just six or seven paintings my brain will have ‘switched to sensory overload’ mode and is preparing to move in to full ‘completely switched off’ mode!
My recommendation if you have enough time is to go into a major gallery and view no more than 3 paintings and then leave and do something completely different.
That way you will get far more from your visit.
Of course, if entry to an exhibition or gallery is not free this approach unless you are wealthy is a bit problematic….but the principle is there, paintings are not painted to be part of a tsunami of colour and images, they are there as individual bits of work.
My favourite galleries in the world are:
- Uffizi – Florence (watch out for the unexpected day when it’s closed, think it Monday’s)
- Kenwood House, Highgate, London. (for the Vermeer, and the peace and quiet in central London)
- Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam. (Rembrandt’s Night Watch, worth the visit by itself)
- National gallery – London (too many great paintings in one place, needs to be moved around the country more)
- Walker Gallery – Liverpool, my local one…
- Louvre – Paris (needs to be visited in the spring at least once!)
- Prado – Madrid (as a student I was once not allowed in as I had a paint box with me, streuth!)
- Portrait Gallery. London (had one of my paintings hanging as part of the National Portrait gallery competition in 1984)
- Thyssen home collection on Lake Lugano. (Swiss Italian lakes, the most beautiful location)
- Domby Gallery, Southport. Best small gallery in the UK (might be a bit biased on that one).
(36) Food as Art, Nouveau Cuisine and TV Cookery Programs. The Four Senses the Wrong Way Around….
We watched a cookery final yesterday evening and as usual I found the presentation of food as art on a plate as mildly amusing.
The programs presenters repeatedly remind all and sundry that presentation is so important. So, their voices (sound) the food image (sight) are key to these popular TV food programs…
….food is really about the aroma (smell) and flavours (taste)…. the other two senses, the ones you can’t get on a TV.
What on earth is it about these programs that makes them so appealing to the general public!?
My conclusion is that it’s the staged drama and cult of today’s ’15-minute celebrity’ that keeps these things on our screens, much like most of the other general popular programs.
Meanwhile in purely practical basic terms I in common with most people would I suspect prefer a large amount a very good food on my plate than a small amount of prettily arranged very good food!
Lastly, while there are still people in the world with not enough food to eat, maybe we should stop ‘playing with our food’ as entertainment.
(35) Balthus – Beautiful, Unacceptable Art.
I’ve always liked the paintings of Balthus, but recent events around various ‘media celebrities’ have brought in to sharp focus the need to recognise and stop the ‘creeping in’ of any sort of media or art into areas that are basically morally wrong.
The portrayal of underage children in any form of overtly sexual way however beautiful the painting may be thought of – is unacceptable.
The painting shown here is one that does not cross that line, but there are others from his portfolio of work, that are not OK to show, they were not OK when they were painted, and they are not now.
(34) Augustus John and Gwen John, a Sibling Rivalry Settled.
Augustus John was without doubt the flamboyant famous one in the family, Gwen the quiet one who moved to France for a calmer life.
She is said to have had a relationship with the sculpture Rodin, but without doubt it’s her brother that got the attention when they were alive.
Ironically in my eyes it’s Gwen that had the greater talent, Augustus Johns work shows for me the typical work of an artist that has lots of ability but unfortunately knows it, becoming a bit of self-parody.
Gwen on the other hand quietly and unassumingly created excellent understated paintings that have more energy left in them now than her more famous brothers work, which falls foul of the ‘can you pin the date of when it was painted test’ which with Augustus’s paintings can be pinned to the year rather too easily!
(33) The Cruyff Turn. Art and Poetry in Motion.
Art is not unlike sport in many ways, the forgetting of everyday concerns, an out of body experience and the forgetting of the ‘self’.
There are also moments of brilliant self-expression from a player, and one such case was the moment in an international game that Johan Cruyff the brilliant Dutch footballer showed the ‘Cruyff turn’ to the wider TV watching public for the first time.
The player appears to be crossing the ball across the area and the defender moves to block it.
In the original case both players are facing away from the goal that is being attacked (see picture above and video link below). Cruyff instead of crossing the ball reverses the ball with the inside step of his right foot backwards sending the ball 90 degrees from the expected direction of the cross. The defender has no idea of where the ball is and, in the meantime, Cruyff has twisted round and is running with the ball in the direction of the goal.
Not so much art in motion but maybe poetry in motion as this particular sheer brilliance of skill never seen before giving a footballing worldwide gasp of appreciation.
Sadly, Johan Cruyff died recently but he did, like many artists, leave behind moments of unforgettable brilliance.
(32) Graham Sutherland and Winston Churchill – the Bonfire of Vanities.
Winston Churchill was a brilliant war leader, a quite good amateur painter, and a poor peace time leader.
Graham Sutherland was without doubt a very good painter, and his portrait of Winston Churchill was an excellent work of art from an artist at his best.
Sadly for us, Churchill who as a painter himself should have understood artists better, requested that on his death that the painting be destroyed as he disliked it so much. His wife carried out his wish.
Which is a shame at many levels, as we have lost a great painting and at the same time peoples respect for a great war time leader is lessened for the sake of what appears to be just simple vanity!
(31) Computers, UI, UX and Movies
You’ve got to love the portrayal of computers in films!
Take Independence Day and the blowing up of the Aliens mother ship.
Amazingly the clever boffins not only managed to find out that the Alien ship oddly was using MacOS/UNIX as their operating system but also apparently, they had a spare USB port or network cable that miraculously also fitted and connected to the humans MacBook.
Now assuming all that was by some galactic chance possible, the boffins and coders rushing to the president with the solution hesitated and said ‘wait a minute’ we need the time of a UX expert to implement a loading bar!
This of course was for us ‘the viewer’, in reality if it was possible it would be done via a line command in a terminal window, but hey watching these films of course meant we left all logic at the cinema door entrance anyway, so why worry about it!
Meanwhile the virus merrily loads with a huge loading bar on screen into the alien ship’s operating system and the ship blows up, just after the hero escapes of course! Great 3D graphics though in the film, mind you back on the screen with the huge chunky loading bar you think they could have at least included that annoying delay at 80% that always happens when you try and upload files!
UI = User Interface
UX = User Experience
(30) Monet’s Wife on her Death Bed and when your Eyes Become Cameras.
You know when you’ve been painting a lot, you sit in a pub and you are looking at the colours in the pint glass and planning how you would paint it instead of getting on with it and drinking it!
Monet famously managed to upset himself a lot when he realised at his wife’s death bed, he was analysing the colours across his dead wife’s face and thinking how it would paint it.
No doubt to purge this upsetting emotion he went ahead and painted it.
A very great artist and if you haven’t been and are able to, go and visit his home and garden in Giverny outside of Paris it’s also a great way of meeting a lot of Japanese and Scandinavians if you haven’t already been to those nations and regions….!
(29) Fashion, Haircuts and the Internet
Fashion up until the internet moved at the pace of a person walking down a high street and by the day from a newspaper, and a month from a magazine.
That pace allowed trends to establish themselves and fashion had enough inertia to hang around.
These days an image seen in London can be seen in Sydney, via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest in less than a second. The ripples of fashion that once rippled out and bounced back in eventually different versions, can now not even be seen and fashion has been mashed!
Take the haircut, now these day I have very little choice in this department, but right now I’m certain there is no clear fashion, there’s long, short, swept back etc etc you name it.
Today’s superfast communication instead of spreading the cycles of fashion trends, has flattened them in to a world where you get your haircut as you like, where women wear the dress length they prefer and as much as stores want to present a new fashion to generate more turnover its increasingly being ignored…..a good thing too!
(28) Michelangelo. Slaves and ‘Work in Progress’.
Michelangelo and Da Vinci for me are in a league of their own, a league of two. Not unlike I think Mozart and Beethoven.
The artist Michelangelo is most famous for works like the statue of ‘David’ in Florence and the magnificent ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome.
…..but even as a young teenager who was more interested in basketball and where the next ice cream was coming from it was very obvious to me how brilliant the ‘slave’ sculptures were in Florence. My dad was a tour guide for American tour groups across Europe so as kids we regularly taken across Europe and were very lucky to see many interesting places and the gallery where the David stands in Florence also houses these slave statues that appear as if they are breaking out of the marble that contains them.
Many of the statues are unfinished and you can see the marks of the carvings from the artist as he finds the shapes of the figures within the marble blocks.
Clearly no where as finished and polished as the David but for me far more real and dynamic and show I think that sometimes a great artists best work is not always his most famous, and also not necessarily the work that is considered finished!
(27) Patrick George, English Landscape Painter
Patrick George along with Euan Uglow were my tutors at the Slade.
Euan Uglow sadly passed away in the year 2000, and Patrick George in 2016.
His very best work over the years for me is the outstanding landscape painting in Britain for the last 100 years.
The focus and intensity and sheer determination to go back to the same spot every year on some paintings translates and is seen in the clearly studied marks and brush work on the canvases, no mark is wasted or unintended in his work.
The life rooms at the Slade in my years were on the top floor spread over four or five rooms. My first two years of the four I spent at the Slade were in those rooms.
I certainly learnt some drawing and painting discipline there. I remember well Patrick’s entrance in to the room while we were painting the life model, he would enter sideways determined to make as little disturbance as possible. His manner was always quiet and understated but everything was said with intelligence and he would try not to influence the young artists in how they worked and you sensed he never stopped learning himself, which has to be a very healthy thing.
One other thing I remember is that he always wore the same clothes, clean of course, I suspect he bought the same black polo neck and brown cords in bulk each year.
He was of course way ahead of his time, Steve Jobs of Apple did the same thing, but with Levis instead of the cords!
Patrick’s paintings capture the English countryside in a way that continues the great traditions of Constable and Turner and with a relevance to our own times.
(26) Architecture: Dorchester and Hemel Hempstead. How to get Architecture Wrong….
Both these towns need their new buildings to be pulled down and designed and built again for very different reasons.
Why did architects build towns using concrete that stains in the English rain?
They might have looked like some sort of bright brutalist post modernism when they were first built, but they now look like the terrible mascara run faces of modernist architecture.
Hemel Hempstead – blocks of bricks and concrete
We have a well meaning royal prince in Prince Charles who clearly does not understand architecture, it needs to be of its time, good or bad! (Unless it’s as bad as Hemel Hempstead new town).
In Dorchester there is now a newly built ‘old town’ of residential houses that look and feel like a Disney theme park.
You can not build character in to a building it develops overtime influenced by its environment and humans that inhabit it.
Both towns have architecture that is so bad that they need to knock it down and start again!
(25) The Colour of the Sky and the Colour of the Sea…
Now in case you didn’t know the sky is not blue and neither is the sea, it isn’t green either.
Every colour under the sun (or moon) is in the sea and sky at one time or other.
From the bright white yellows hitting the edge of clouds and the grey mauves that are that clouds shadows, to the deep reds that you can see in a stormy sea.
I remember watching the TV last year when it was the solar eclipse and a reporter walked up to a very brave painter by the sea who had decided to capture the event on canvas and the reporter seeing reds and oranges on his palette announced to the nation on live TV that, if he was painting the sea and sky he’d wasn’t going to need those colours…..
…..sad really as the reporter had clearly never properly looked at either!
Take a look at the colours in the sky and sea in this Monet painting…..
(24) Design: Amazing, Fantastic, Brilliant, Perfect …and other Devalued Words.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I’m increasingly weary of hearing people describing ordinary work as ‘amazing’ when it isn’t.
In fact how many times during the course of a day do you hear people now describe something as ‘perfect’ – it appears to be almost compulsory now in a digital agency. If not that, things are ‘brilliant’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘extraordinary’!
The problem is when something really is amazing and brilliant the words have been devalued and people have nothing to say! Literally they go quiet, can’t find the words….they have ‘nowhere to verbally go’!
They will stand in front of a Degas and have nothing to say because they’ve just described the awful high street coffee they’ve just bought as ‘amazing’!
(23) Gainsborough and Picture Balance.
This is one of my favourite paintings, I like particularly the flat areas of cover describing perfectly the English landscape.
Gainsborough has balanced the work with 40% of the painting to the left more or less filled with the English landed gentry and the other 60% filled with the beautiful English landscape.
No prizes to which part of the picture I prefer, but as a whole it’s a work of art with its balance and use of colour that captures the English countryside brilliantly, and when I’m abroad in some sun drenched and barren country side, it’s the idyllic view I will always fondly remember of England.
It is for me this is the greatest of all English landscape paintings.
(22) Van Gogh and Crossing the Road.
History tends to sanitise the real story, I wonder if Van Gogh was alive now and walking down the street towards you muttering to himself covered in paint, would you cross the street to avoid what appeared to be a mad man walking to you?
He was probably a very intense rather scary individual.
The intensity shows itself in his brilliant paintings. The blue self portrait here is magnificent, as are the beautiful paintings of blossoming trees and vast majority of his other work.
I wonder how many gallery owners these days lock the door to the eccentric artists that would probably be too much trouble to work with, but spend all their time shouting the praises of that genius Van Gogh!
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life, but now his work is priceless and greater than most of the art produced in the last 200 years, it would be really good to be able to see his paintings again as if for the first time, with fresh eyes.
(21) Which is the Best Beatle Album Cover?
Well like most things to do with art and music this question is very subjective and influenced by many thousands of factors. A lot of people will have Sgt. Pepper as their favourite, designed by Peter Blake who famously only got £200 for the work, but I guess also a fame multiple of about x5 from it!
Then there is Revolver drawn by Klaus Voorman which has to be in the top three of the Beatle album covers. Plus Abbey Road must also find its way in to the top three somehow!….this is starting to sound like the number of vice-presidents in a US Multinational company!….
….but my favourite is the White album, because it’s just that simple white cover with the embossed ‘The Beatles’ on it and just the four black and white photos inside. It was originally called at release ‘The Beatles’ but the public called it the ‘White album’ and that name has stuck.
It of course really should have been just a brilliant one disk album rather than a double as some of the songs are not as strong. I never really could get myself to like Glass Onion, or Rocky Racoon. I guess the success of Sgt. Pepper resulted in the clever flip to the other extreme in the album cover design, but they just couldn’t stop themselves and remove songs to make what would have been the great follow up album.
As a Beatle fan currently who has lived in Liverpool there was always some event linked to the Beatles going on and I remember a Beatle fan who only collected the White album showed his collection at the very good FACT cinema and arts centre in Liverpool, hundreds and hundreds of White Albums lined the walls!
(20) Dark to Light, Light to Dark and Vuillard.
One of the first things they tell you at Art school is that when painting watercolours you paint from light to dark, so layer after layer of increasingly darker colours. With oil paints on the other-hand it’s dark to light adding layers of increasingly lighter colours.
As an oil painter the next thing they give you is a blank very white canvas, which makes no sense at all! It took a while to realise that painting a dark base colour over a white canvas in oils was a very good move. Now that is not a definite, many artists prefer to work on a white canvas and some put a base colour down that is very bright. I’ve seen recently a painter who used a bright red that in his words gave the canvases a zing, which it did and was interesting for it.
I prefer to use a mixture of colours but predominately blues and purples as those are normally the colours found in shadows where light hits and casts a strong shadow.
Of course the second thing you are taught in art school is that shadows will contain the spectral opposite colour in them of the object that is casting the shadow. So for the sake of argument an orange will have a blueish shadow, these rules of course are very strongly influenced by what is around the objects etc.
Back to backgrounds, and one of my favourite painters, Vuillard would invariably use this light caramel brown colour, that would become the outline of many of the beautiful interior and exterior paintings. Along with Bonnard his good friend creating some of the most beautiful paintings of the last 100 years.
The human eye unconsciously takes in these background colours and I think paintings can feel more ‘real’ to the viewer as they are without knowing seeing far more than they realise when they take in a scene, possibly adding memories of objects and colours from their brain in a mental hyperlink between visual sensations and memories.
This probably explains why colour photos never quite capture a scene, it’s because the human brain is adding all sorts of layers and links to the scene that are unique to the individual viewer and can not be captured in a photograph.
(19) Graphic Design, TV Soaps and Killers Who Don’t Swear.
In Eastenders the long running BBC1 Soap opera their graphic department just can’t help themselves.
It’s probably because they’ve entered a world where killers don’t swear. Albert square must be the most dangerous place to live in the world, nobody living there has not murdered someone or does not know someone whose been murdered within a mile of the Queen Victoria pub!
Worse still characters from the story will leave the screen for over 6 months and come back with completely different heads, it’s almost too much to imagine what terrible torture they must have gone through to have their heads swapped! This appears to happen elsewhere as in Salford and a street called Coronation street where they also don’t swear but with northern accents.
You can imagine the leaders of South American drug cartels in taking a trip to Europe warn their minders that they don’t want to go anywhere near that square in the east end of London where the Kray’s must have feared to tread for fear of being murdered without reason…..
….but back to the BBC graphic department that work on the set of Eastenders.
They just can’t stop themselves from writing the most beautiful crafted and clear menus that any London Cafe has ever seen in Ian Beales cafe (the 4 wives, 3 murders and case of mistaken identity family) . These type of restaurants in reality serve day in day out my favourite meal; The Full English breakfast, but none have ever had a readable menu on a wall.
The same visual error occurs when a BBC drama shows a street protest with placards, they have all been made by a skilled graphic designer, no letters are squeezed in at the end because the writer has miscalculated the spacing, as in the real world!
What the producer needs to do is get the studio onsite doctor to write the menus on the wall as their writing is traditionally unreadable based on any prescription written for the public. That way along with a few swear words, poor design can help make their world feel more real.
(18) The Gaudi Contradiction.
A great architect and few things more amazing than seeing a cathedral being built while you grow up, as you visit Barcelona maybe once every 10 years over the last 40 years.
I like even more the relatively small street house Casa Batlló but I sometimes wonder if it’s because it stands out so much against the bland more conventional Spanish city centre buildings that surround it. These standard 20th century, brick, concrete and glass buildings with their straight vertical and horizontal lines contrast hugely with Gaudi’s organic shell and bone like curved building.
But what if….
…. on that street all the buildings looked like Gaudi’s building and in the middle was the minimalist concrete and glass 1950s building. I bet there would be crowds gathered standing outs side admiring the purity of line and it’s simple organisation compared to the unpredictable quirky Gaudi buildings!
Humans are strange….they don’t usually like things that stand out and are different, but that they do when they look at architecture. Maybe this is understandable as so many of the buildings we live in now look exactly the same.
(17) Henry Moore and Artists that Fall out of Fashion
It could well be that if a major artist does not have a retrospective every 10 years they run the risk of falling out of the general publics consciousness and become unfashionable.
Henry Moore the great British sculpture seems to be suffering that fate.
I can remember in the 1980s painting at Kenwood house next to the Henry Moore sculpture looking across the lake where the outside concert arena is. I also remember the elderly couple walking up with the gentleman taking an interest in the landscape I was painting. Only for the wife to pull him away saying “careful he might be trying to sell the painting”. Which kept me laughing for the rest of the morning. Ironically that large landscape was the only painting I sold at my degree show. Sold to the government / NHS and bought by Hugh Trevor Ropers brother I remember. The one the thought he’d found Hitler’s diaries at roughly the same time as my degree show. No connection but interesting all the same!
The sale paid for that summers holiday…..
Meanwhile back to Henry Moore, I’ve always liked his sculptures but like even more his World War II underground drawings. The drawings in the tunnel, are very haunting and remind me each time I see them of the film ‘Atonement’ and it’s sad ending.
I hope Henry Moore and his work stay long in our memory, a truly great artist!
(16) Banksy and the Internet
Would Banksy’s work be seen and known outside its local neighbourhoods without social media and the internet that spreads the word?
Banksy himself confirms the work is genuine by posting confirmation and image on his own site.
Banksy’s work get very odd reactions…you can get:
- People trying to cash in by taking whole walls down to keep the work and then try and sell it.
- Local councils painting over them as they are too dim to recognise it.
- The mentally disturbed who damage his work or try and deface it by throwing paint it.
- The downright jealous who try and damage it, because the best they can do is write their name with aerosol can.
….and at the end of the day he remains probably the most influential artist of today.
Though sadly his work is so topical that in 100 years time no one will remember what the ‘argument’ was about!
(15) The Ability to Draw but not Having Anything to Say versus Moderate Drawing Ability with Lots to Say.
Paul Cezanne was a great artist, the father of cubism and in his painting of these apples one of the most beautiful paintings ever painted!
But he wasn’t very good at drawing, and you know what it never mattered because of the intensity of his drawing compensated for the lack of ability. No doubt a bit controversial but for me it underlines the difference between those many artists who have great technical skill, but have absolutely nothing to say. Where as there are few artists that have moderate drawing ability but a huge amount to say! In Cezanne he looked at the structure of what he was looking at and in the colours of this still life keeps something alive that died and left us a long time ago.
(14) The Art of Looking
One of the first things you learn as an Art Teacher, is to try and get your students to look at what they are drawing!
You would think it would be obvious, but take a class of children to a field full of horses and tell them to draw a horse in front of them and what they will do is spend 5% of their time looking at a horse and 95% of the time looking at the paper they are drawing on. What they will be drawing is a horse basically from memory. They’ve not really understood that you draw what you see in front of you.
I’m not counting of course the percentage of time they will be mucking about trying to get their best friend to walk in a cow pat, or climb trees etc!
The best artists will spend most of their time looking at what they are drawing or painting and just the 5% of their time at the canvas or pallet.
One of my tutors at the Slade was Euan Uglow a very talented painter who spent hours looking at his subject, and the models spent many hours in the same pose. Just look at how much red there is in the lower leg of the model in this painting, for a very obvious reason she’s been in that pose for many hours!
It’s on of the great things about painting, it makes you look fully at things and in the process appreciate and get more from what’s around you.
(13) Holbein the Greatest Ever Draughtsman.
Holbein the younger is the greatest draughtsman that ever lived.
Not only is his drawing brilliant but because he was the court artist during Henry VIII’s reign we have now the equivalent of today’s digital photos of what the ‘wheelers and dealers’ of Tudor England looked like. ….and no doubt in many ways capture better how they really were than any digital photo could.
The BBc’s series ‘Wolf Hall’ which was rightly very well received and in Mark Rylance there was some of the best acting that’s appeared on any screen. Amazing how a millisecond more of saying nothing can add weight to the moment!
He plays Thomas Cromwell and in the books by Hilary Mantel she clearly portrays him in a sympathetic manner. But one look of the painting of Thomas Cromwell ‘by/after’ Holbein tells you another story. It’s always very risky to generalise but humans tend to sum people up within the first few seconds of meeting them. In the painting we see a mean looking narrow eyed almost ‘twisted’ face. There is no kind and considerate early renaissance man in this painting. This is a ruthless unpleasant individual who probably like most of his contemporaries fought and thought his way to the top of court politics.
Holbein’s drawings and the quality and weight of the line are unmatched by anyone and that includes all the great Renaissance artists. No doubt he didn’t know any different and was luckier than most but I would imagine it could be quite difficult to keep a steady hand knowing if you don’t capture the likeness correctly the individual has the power to cut your head off! The desire of the sitter to be made to look good, was probably thankfully out weighed by the awe that these drawings had on seeing themselves as others saw them with their peers and family saying no doubt that it was like magic and that the artist had captured the sitter on paper or canvas.
(Which reminds me of the great joke in the film Crocodile Dundee where the aborigine tells Dundee that he can’t take his picture. “Why not?” says Dundee “is it because you fear it will steal your soul”….and the aborigine says no, “it’s because you’ve got the lens cap on!” )
If I could own only one picture it would be a drawing, one by Holbein…..
(12) Twigs on Gallery Floors
I have been lucky enough to visit Venice and Venice Biennale. It reminded me a bit of San Diego zoo, but instead of animal enclosures each small building had national artist representatives.
Like most large art exhibitions it becomes sensory over load, but sure enough and with the predictability of rain on the first day of the cricket season in the Dutch (or was it Sweden’s) enclosure / building there was the compulsory twigs and branches on the floor piece. It can’t be the same artist that does this work all around the world, there must be a branch movement of artists that go through woods collecting twigs of all sizes to take to galleries and put in the middle of floors.
It’s tedious rubbish, and it would be better used to keep people warm!
There was also a large work that looked like an explosion on a BBC Dr Who set, and regrettably in the Swiss cage/building a tank full of fluid that must have been done as many times as sunflowers in a vase, only with a fraction of the impact.
(11) The Shape of Cars
If the most aero dynamic shape for a car is the tear drop shape, then surely all cars will eventually be that shape?!
If that’s the case and it’s hard to see an argument against that, then being a car designer must be one of the most depressing design jobs in the world! As you know what it should look like and what it will look like, but all the steps to it are limited and dictated to you by current fashion.
Decade by decade, like a moving glacier the design for all cars are moving slowly to that tear drop shape.
I guess all that will be left will be to debate the colour.
Car lovers will look back with misty eyes at the boxy Volvo of the 1980s and long for those 90 degree corners!
(10) Renoir, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
I like many Renoir paintings, many are without doubt beautiful, on the other hand some are downright awful.
Indeed if I was given one of these bad ones I’d sell it as soon as I could and not just because of the money, but because it looked like it had been painted with cotton wool with all the style and texture of Donald Trumps hair on windy day!
Now, one of my favourite films is the French film Amelie, for many reasons, but I love the way the obsessive painter in the film keeps painting the same Renoir. It has real charm, both the film and the painting he chooses, unlike unfortunately many of the other paintings.
It’s a fact that great artists don’t always paint consistently great paintings, we have to accept that the odd bad one is going to be there and be honest about it, not pretend it’s a masterpiece when it isn’t!
At the same time, I’m sure bad painters too must also every now and then make an exception and produce a good painting!
I saw this link about a Renoir protests a few months ago, if I’d been there I would have joined them, but only to protest about showing the bad ones!
(9) Henry Tonks, Francis Bacon and Jazz.
Francis Bacon for me is a bit like Jazz music, I want to like it, even feel I should like it, that nagging feeling that I’m missing out because I don’t really like it.
Then last year I saw the paintings by Henry Tonks of World War I scarred victims that have come back from the front and realised these are the source and are the really great paintings and I would be amazed if they hadn’t influenced Bacon’s work. Look at the faces!….search on the Internet for more of these harrowing but brilliantly drawn works of art!
This body of work was highlighted by Simon Schama in his BBC painting series last year, and as soon as I saw it I was convinced of where Bacon got his inspiration from.
So I’ll keep trying to like Bacon, and Jazz for that matter I but know where the original brilliance is!
(8) The Chair is Like a Font, a Short Note.
It’s like a font because people don’t see them, but a badly designed font will be as comfortable on the eye as a chair is on your back!
With most areas good font design is taken for granted but like the terrible actor in your least favourite sitcom it stands out like a sore thumb when done badly or used in the wrong place!
(7) The Mona Lisa is a ‘Chair‘.
It’s a painting that has become so familiar it has become like a chair, you don’t think twice about it, it’s taken granted and everywhere you turn you are told by all that it’s the greatest painting ever painted. It’s certainly in my opinion painted by the greatest genius that ever lived.
If he had access to today’s technology I doubt things like cancer would still be a around, we’d all be living longer and dying of something different!
The Mona Lisa seems faded these days the colours have deteriorated. They must have sung out when it was first painted. The brilliance that is there can still be seen in the clever visual tricks that da Vinci used in the painting to trigger the viewers brain to filling in the blanks in with their imagination.
He kept the edges of the mouth and eyes blurred this we fill in with our visual expectations giving the picture life that other paintings don’t have, even now in its faded glory. A bit like the Napoleonic flags on display further along Seine at Les Invaildes.
Only the very young seeing the painting for the first time probably in a reproduction will appreciate it or may well wonder what the fuss is about, until they too are told again that its the greatest painting ever painted.
For older generations it’s a painting as familiar as their seating arrangements in their dining rooms and is taken for granted, doesn’t get a second glance – just like the chair!
(6) The Foundation of all Good Painting…
….is drawing. You wouldn’t think Jackson Pollock was the obvious example of good drawing, but it is. If he didn’t have good eye hand coordination and the drawing skill, the paint he flicked and poured on the canvases stretched across the floors would not have landed where he wanted it to!
Hours and hours of life drawing classes are probably still the basis of any good artists training. Not that different to Pele, Messi or Cruyff kicking the football against the wall for hours till the skill has become fine-tuned and the ball does exactly what the brain wants it to do with the minimum time needed for thought, indeed without the need to think about it. The great football players will run with the ball as if it’s glued to their feet!
For the artist the brush goes exactly where they want it to go with the level of pressure that they wanted with out any conscious thought, the brain can focus on what they are seeing and be influenced by what they see and all the other thoughts that are swirling in their minds influencing the painting and how it will appear.
If you want to be a painter, draw!
(5) Red Walls, Gold Frames and Spectral Opposites.
The first thing you are taught on an Art foundation course and probably in some of the best schools is to paint a series of squares approx. 2cm x 2cm of various primary and secondary colours and then surround them with a broad line of colour maybe 1cm thick. The exercise is to show for example if you surrounded a primary green with a blue and the same primary green with a red. The green surrounded by the red would appear greener! This was because the red is a spectral opposite to the green and makes the green ‘sing’ out compared to the green square surrounded by blue.
Why on earth do some galleries have colourful walls, some including major national galleries have walls painted in or wallpapers of red! That taking in to account our basic knowledge of foundation school art means the greens in those paintings that hang there will stand out, far more than artist had in mind. Why do galleries do that, is the curator bored?
Then there’s frames, I will where possible only use black or white frames, they are not colours. (Something else the Foundation course taught me).
Why the gold frames all round the world? What’s the spectral opposite of orange/gold, well that’s blue, so the colours in that painting will have stronger blues than the painter saw then when he first stood in front of the canvas. I quite like many of the great ornate frames that you see in galleries but more I suspect because of the quality of the craftsmanship in making the frame than anything it brings to the painting it surrounds!
(4) Was Turner the First Impressionist?
People like to pigeonhole art, in fact they like things to fit neatly into a category in just about any part of life!
When it comes to art people are not used to seeing painters painting outside so when I was painting on the edge of the Wirral last year when people passed by you could see them mentally trying to search their memory banks on what was the right response on seeing a painter out doors for nearly all of them it was the first time so there was no precedent. So it would normally be “do you sell those mate”, or because it was Liverpool there would be humour to, and “can you paint my front hall way, it needs doing” etc.
The same goes for periods in Art, with Impressionism many will tell you it started with Delecroux and Manet through to the late post impressionists before Picasso arrived and stirred things up!
Who was the first impressionist? Well I’d say Turner, looking at those seascapes, I don’t see their chocolate box gloss or the sentimentality of Constable. That’s Impressionism that is in the swirl of sea and air.
Move further back and look at Rembrandt’s brilliant portraits and the free brushwork and layers of paint in his paintings, they are closer to the works of many post impressionists than to any other period.
So maybe it would be wise to think of Impressionism as not a style of art that centred around France in the late 1800s and early 1900s and to think of it of a way of painting that’s been with us since the start of when humans picked up a paint brush and squared up to a canvas!
(3) How Do You Know if You are Looking at a Great Work of Art?
It’s simple the great works of art all look as if they could have been painted yesterday, they look fresh and as if they were only few hours from having been completed in the artist’s studio.
This is not because they’ve just been cleaned, but because the energy that created them is so strong and the quality of work so high that they break free of any timeline and exist in their own timeless space, free of the burden of fashion and style that can pin a work of art in to a cultural cull de sac.
All the very great artists have this, the works of Rembrandt show it in all his major works. The ‘Night Watch’ has this vitality and if you can ignore the costumes the pure life in the paintings make it an image that is as real today as when it was painted.
Botticelli’s ‘Venus’ feels regardless of its Renaissance style as if it too could have been painted just a few weeks ago.
On the other hand any work that you can pin to a particular year or decade you can guarantee is not great, and that in my opinion goes for any work of art or design. A 1960s work clearly from that period or a mural that can be pinned to year somewhere in the 1490s all may well be worthy, even very good, but don’t achieve the level of greatness that the very best art reaches, an art that never tires and never grows old!
(2) When Does it Stop Being a Masterpiece? The Emperors Clothes.
Great art, but if what made it great was the brilliant subtle shades of colour and juxtaposition of tones when it was painted……
…..what is it now?
As the colours and tones over the centuries have changed and at very different rates. That is if only air has touched it and not the hand of some well intentioned restorer.
The line between very great art and good art is a very subtle and fine line. Are we calling this great art because of its drawing or composition alone? The colours and tones are certainly not what they were when first painted!
So are we guilty of standing in front of many paintings and telling all that will hear that its a ‘masterpiece’ when it may well have been at some stage, but is not any more!?
(1) Edward Hopper – Night Hawks – Light and Dark
Painted by Hopper in 1942 like most of his paintings the theme is solitude, space, light and shadow.
Most of his paintings had a daylight theme allowing him to show the contrast of light and dark, mostly through light hitting the side of American architecture casting shadows across an American rural or urban landscape. Here he shows the light/dark contrast in the bright yellow bar walls of ‘Phillies’ against the dark of the urban street corner.
Hoppers work gets more popular as each decade passes. I remember seeing a retrospective of his work at the Hayward Gallery, London in the 1980s, and even now sitting next to me in the Domby Gallery, Southport is the catalogue from that exhibition.
His work was based on either a series of sketches taken in to the studio and completed, or painted outdoors in the wide open American countryside. Like Degas he preferred to work in the studio where the rules change and the artist has control of the elements and time. Outside the weather can change at a greater pace than the clock that already moves too quickly, and work can not move at any slower pace without spinning out of control, that or paint a series of Monet-like time essays as per his haystacks or Rouen cathedral works.
Here with Night Hawks, Edward Hopper has given enough space between the characters in the painting to make them feel alone.
Even the couple are not ‘close’ and the space and emptiness echoes out to the empty street. The interior space is empty too, no images on any wall and the big glass windows have no curtains or adverts to break up the empty areas, it could be a film set where all the extras and props have been taken away leaving the story’s characters waiting for the next scene, the next day.
See Dominic Burkhalter’s profile as one of the Featured Artists