Chocolate teapots in the studio

Way up in the attic of the Royal Academy of Arts in London at the moment is a studio I wanted to visit, although I wasn’t sure if the artist was going to be at home or not.

First possible mistake: I took the frosted glass stairway up. This was disorientating to my aging eyes and I took a step that wasn’t there much to the amusement of the children who nimbly followed me up. I bet the Queen took the lift when she opened the Sackler Wing in 1991. Sensible girl!

The front door was open, and in we went – Matisse in the Studio. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this exhibition; I knew that it tried to marry up Matisse’s work with the various objects that he acquired and he used as props that appeared, and re-appeared, in his paintings and sculpture throughout his life. Immediately I am confronted with a green vase – with it’s hands on hips. What is it I want? I could see it was slightly contorted in it’s hand-blown (mouth-blown / hand-made) state. It wasn’t my eyes, or Matisse’s, or necessarily the way he depicted it – it really was like that. Green vases, all with hands on hips, looked back at me from the walls. Although more of them, they had lost their aggressiveness, I saw through them, and marvelled at the art instead.

The rooms that followed were arranged by themes: The Object as Actor; The Nude in juxtaposition with African Sculpture; The Face with Masks; The Studio as Theatre; and the last room was Signs where the late cut-outs adorn the walls in a triumph of colour and shape overseen by a Chinese calligraphic panel given to Matisse by his wife. You can see the link.

221017 - Matisse's Chocolate Pot

Matisse’s Chocolate Pot

But, having moved around the rooms I sneak back past the green vase, who’s attention had been diverted by other visitors. The star of this show is undoubtedly the Chocolate Pots in the Object is an Actor room, and to mis-quote Bob Dylan: ” There is no actor anywhere better than the Chocolate Pot!” So much so, Matisse has 2 of them! Perhaps one was an understudy for when the principal was ill. A more likely story, is the first was a wedding present from his first marriage, and as that marriage disintegrated the first Mrs Matisse understandably held onto this Chocolate Pot, and Matisse full of bereavement and loss had to replace it. What beautiful objects they are! The wonderful large bulbous pot-belly of the silver supported on 3 tiny legs that don’t look strong enough for the job. The spout to pour the frothy hot chocolate out (you have to imagine the contents), and a lid to flip up and peer in (if you were allowed – hence imagination required). Best of all though is this great wooden appendage of an arm that sticks out perpendicular to the whole contraption. The pot must be hot I guess, and this is to aid the picking up and pouring. Matisse’s depictions of this are manifold. An early predecessor of the cut-outs on the wall next to the pots shows how it got moved about, and eventually, literally, pinned down in position as shown finally in the painting “Still Life with Seashell on Black Marble” on the wall by it’s side. My attention was more drawn to a small insignificant colour chart on show where dowsed with various colours the coffee pot appeared several times upstaging simple sketches of herons that also appear rather bizarrely. What a delight. It is great to see these snippets that show how the artist is really thinking.

221017 - Our Teapot

Our Teapot

This exhibition that focuses on the sources for Matisse’s work, does ultimately depress me when thinking about my own work. In Matisse’s time, it wasn’t that long ago, mass production was not at the forefront of everything. There was not the straight-lined perfection of some machine, but hand produced objects that had character and love already built into them with their imperfections and wonkiness that captured your heart. When I got home I looked at our teapot. I drew our teapot. It wasn’t the same. “About as useless as a chocolate teapot” as the saying goes, but that would be far better than what we have. Perhaps I need to start searching the second-hand shops and auction rooms (and chocolate shops!) for my own objects to train up as actors and appear in my artistic dramas.


Graffiti Artists and defacing

280817 - Graffiti_3Not the usual kind! This graffiti is found scratched on the back of choir stalls in the church of St. Nicholas in Salthouse on the Norfolk coast. No doubt these were drawn during particularly long and onerous sermons defacing what was once smoothly painted woodwork.

Although there is the usual rash of dated initials, some spectacularly from the early 1600’s, the graffiti mainly consists of masted sailing ships, some complete with flags, anchors and rigging. These must hail back to 280817 - Graffiti_1the days when Salthouse was a port and these ships were a regular sight for the choristers to get their inspiration from.

It is amazing that these etched doodles have survived the centuries, withstanding any erroneous, but well meaning, person redecorating, sanding down, and painting over these drawings so that they would be lost to eternity.

The scratched lines of the ships somehow remind me of the skeletal remains of boats and 280817 - Graffiti_2ships you find on Britain’s shorelines and estuaries. Entrenched in the sand and mudflats you see the ribs poking up forlornly to the skies. They are both reminders of the times when these vessels would be out on the open waves. Outlines of something that once was.

I get the feeling that one of my favourite artists, Alfred Wallis, would have loved these images, and I think he would have been entirely at home, if he was amongst these choristers creating this graffiti art.

280817 - Defacing_1Defacing of a different and more literal kind is also evident in the wooden screens of this church, now moved to a more prominent position. Reformation sackers have been here, and literally de-faced, and more besides, the figures of the saints that once adorned these screens. But I like them as they are, wearing the mantles of the historic past in full splendour, and giving you pause for thought at what has been enacted in this church in the past. As Picasso once said, “Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.”

280817 - Defacing_2

Depicting Coldrum Long Barrow

200817 - Coldrum Long Barrow - facing westWonderful walk from Trottiscliffe Country Park on Saturday. This takes in Coldrum Long Barrow, a monument in the care of the National Trust. Drawing the Saracen stones was a delight. They are custodians of such history. What they must have seen down the ages. These Neolithic guys have been here since the third millennium B.C.

The drawing on the left is looking up at the remaining standing stones; what must I assume have been the entrance to the long barrow facing east toward the sunrise. The stones stand up defiant, the only remaining teeth in an worn out mouth.

A venture into coloured pastels and charcoal for the first time in this blog! Below is the same burial mound, but looking across the top, showing the marvellous view you get  towards the east. It is not high up, like the North Downs a mile to the north, but sitting on a natural terrace of chalk and lowly farmland ahead allows for the remaining standing Saracen stones, huddled together, to enjoy a glorious panorama.

200817 - Coldrum Long Barrow - facing east

Drawings at the Farmers Market.

130817 - Tonbridge_Farmers_Market_1

130817 - Tonbridge_Farmers_Market_2

I quickly drew the above 2 sketches this morning at the Tonbridge Farmers Market. You have to be ultra quick with the drawing as people keep shifting around so quick. Why won’t they stay and pose for a while? Perhaps, I don’t want any of my subjects to know they are posing for me, I want to remain an invisible bystander to them. There again, come up and say hello!

At times like these, I do admire the artists who can draw impressions of the moment so quickly. I’m thinking about Turner’s shorthand marks in his sketchbooks (mainly landscapes, I know), or perhaps the Giacometti lithographs of street scenes I’ve seen recently at the Tate.

Ummm. The more I look at it, the top one looks more and more like a black and white Kandinsky. Dream on – if only…

The commute.

270717 - Dawn Clouds - Tonbridge Station

Dawn Clouds at Tonbridge Station

I work in London , and basically have the same train journey everyday. Usually I think that there is nothing of interest to draw at all during this time. Tedium sets in with the monotony of it all. Put the headphones on and listen to music, or a podcast, or bury myself in a book. What around me is virtually always the same, so I don’t usually take my time to actually look at it.

With taking the early train, I get to see the sun coming up at the moment, and witness some glorious skies, as well as enjoying the birds dawn chorus on the walk to the station. This photo was taken on Thursday. Perhaps I ought to be more alert to my surroundings in future.


260717 - Waterloo

Commuters at Waterloo East – 26 July 2017

Ten minutes to wait for the train to come home, and I saw this group of three fellow commuters on the opposite platform. Two on their phones, the girl on the left looking like she is getting some bad news, the lad on the right is probably gaming. The guy in the middle being aloof to it all and just impatient for the train, coat nonchalantly over his arm.

701 BC. Well you have to start somewhere.

This is the first drawing in my sketchbook, and hence it must appear as my first post on this blog. As I feel like I’m starting from scratch, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to something early for inspiration.


Sketch of a detail from The Capture of Lachish, 701BC.

I had half an hour to spare in London’s Bloomsbury, so I went into the British Museum and the Assyrian rooms. Coming across these large carved wall sculptures was amazing, but it wasn’t until I started drawing that I really became aware of what was being depicted. This is 701 BC and there, in the heat of battle, attacking the city walls of Lachish, and ahead of the ranks of the archers appears a wonderful siege engine looking like a toy elephant on wheels! Wow!