Walking with Rodin.

When he was talking about his sculpture “The Walking Man,” Rodin comes up with the wonderful quote: “It is not my Walking Man in himself that interests me, but rather the thought of how far he has come, and how far he has yet to cover.”

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“The Burghers of Calais” being paraded before the public.

This quote I feel applies both to the recent British Museum exhibition “Rodin and the art of ancient Greece,” which examines the influence of the sculptures from antiquity, in particular the Parthenon, on Rodin, and also Rodin’s own philosophy that enjoyed the effect that time has on sculptures (the lack of limbs, heads and general knocks that they have taken over the millennia), and makes a feature of it in his own work.

The Elgin marbles in the British Museum never really grabbed my attention before, but this exhibition made me have a truly great respect and admiration for the sculpture created by Pheidias. The man was a genius in how he could transform and manipulate the cold hard and heavy marble into living flesh, and to make it look as if it weighed hardly anything.

090818 r2Apart from the drawing at the top of Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais”, for which I found a convenient seat, it was too crowded in the exhibition to be able to draw anything comfortably, so I took myself off to the Parthenon Gallery within the British Museum to view the remnants that didn’t make it to the exhibition, and here I managed to draw this horses head, originally one of four that was pulling a god’s chariot from out of the waves.

 

Finding Adam Dant at The Map House.

Finding The Map House is easy if you have a map. I thought I would try my hand at cartography and draw you one:
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OK – not very good, but it should get you there.

I’ve always been interested in maps, whether they are modern day Google maps, Ordnance Survey maps, or ancient maps way back before the globe, when they thought that the world was flat, and if you sailed too far west you would fall off the edge.

Adam Dant’s exhibition “Maps of London & Beyond” was only on for a couple of weeks or so, and I went along on the last day. The maps are social, satirical, and very observantly drawn with a bunch of history thrown in for good measure. Drawn painstakingly in pen and ink with watercolour tinting these are very witty documents.

260718 - Map House 3The Maps and views he depicts are so detailed and full of tiny observations of everyday life, it is evident that he has been to “St James’s Square,” “Sloane Square,” or wherever, spending time with a sketchbook, and keeping his eyes open. Wonderful.

Other maps are themed, such as “Shoreditch 3000” showing the archaeology of the area, looking back from the year 3000. “Museum of the Deep” details all the shipwrecks in the Thames estuary – it is a crowded place!

My favourites were one called “Argotopolis” which shows the topology of London slang, and another called “London Enraged” which maps out all the riots and upheavals in London throughout history ranging from Boudica in AD 60, to the Brixton riots of 1981, 1985, and 1995.

260718 - Map House 2The Map House itself is fascinating enough. It is not a wide frontage onto the street, and you enter as though into a ship’s cabin of a room, but it reaches back a long way with various staircases going up and down onto different decks. It is like being on a sailing ship. With walls adorned with maps and charts, you can easily imagine yourself at sea. All you need is a ship’s wheel to steer, and a parrot on your shoulder. Well worth a visit, even if the Adam Dant exhibition is sadly now finished.

Last Paintings. Howard Hodgkin R.I.P.

 

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Grosvenor Hill, London W1

I got lost looking for the Gagosian Gallery which is presently showing the Last Paintings of Howard Hodgkin.

Well, not exactly lost. I did manage to find Grosvenor Hill OK, but then proceeded to walk straight past the gallery without a second glance.

Eventually, by retracing my steps, and by process of elimination, it had to be the big modern building on the corner.

Stupid!

 

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Gagosian Gallery, London W1

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Meet Jock. He’s a hot water bottle.

280118 - JockI was inspired to draw / paint this after visiting the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at Tate Britain last weekend. She had cast quite a few “Torso’s” by filling up hot water bottles with various materials, plaster, resin etc. and then, presumably, removing the outer rubber “skin”. It’s alright Jock – I wouldn’t dream of doing that to you!

I must admit, if you did lop off the head, arms and legs of somebody (please don’t try this at home, or anywhere else for that matter!), then yes – you can see the resemblance to the inflated insides of a hot water bottle.

Rachel Whiteread likes turning your mind inside-out and back-to-front with casts of stairs, windows, sheds, baths, bookshelves (I liked these!), and rather infamously a complete terraced house (sadly now demolished under rather controversial circumstances). It is the voids, the spaces inbetween that she captures so well.

The papier-mâché shed end exhibited here took me back to seeing the inside-out shed installed in the grounds of Houghton Hall in Norfolk that which we visited last year. In particular, I liked the cast detail of the bolt from the inside of the shed door, especially as a caterpillar was crawling up the side (bottom left of the right hand picture). It made it seem so real!

280118 - RW TBLastly, I have to share this with you. This is Rachel Whiteread’s “Untitled (One Hundred Spaces)” from 1995, which filled one of the main Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. Each of the 100 pieces is a cast in various coloured resins of the underside of a found chair. Really beautiful!

Embracing Yorkshire weather

We’ve been up in North Yorkshire for the last few days, and the weather has been wonderful in it’s contrasting forms, from bright sun on a frosty morn, to heavy snow showers.

The 3 images above, although totally different from each other are also related, in that they are all images of fleeting moments in time, and none of them exist anymore. I am also not responsible for any of them, although I do make a guest appearance in one of them.

The picture of shadows on the left, elongated by the low sun and downward slope of the hill was taken by my wife, Jane, on a walk towards the river Nidd in Darley. Can shadows be art? Why not – you have shadow puppets on stage performing, and as so often in Richard Long’s work, the photograph is the only record of the artwork that is left.

The leaves in the snow have been arranged like a roulade. It is in fact a large collapsed snowball that had been made by hands unknown on the Stray in Harrogate. The snowball was rolled under trees and the leaves that were on the ground stuck to the snowball as it was trundled around making this pattern when broken open. Is that an animal looking at me?

Lastly, we have the snow sculptures sat happily on the parapet of a Harrogate railway bridge as dusk settled around us. Hail, the unknown artists!

Somebody who has a fine feel for depicting the weather is Katharine Holmes. She was a near contemporary of mine at Newcastle University, who lives and works in Yorkshire. There was an exhibition of her work at Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery that we went to see whilst we were there. She has an assured style; a handling of oil, and acrylics that gives her paintings a real innate and naturalistic feel whatever the weather, wherever the place. I loved her sketchbooks on display, with the ink drawings occasionally reminding me of some of the work of former Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly.

A Bomberg hits Chichester

Chichester seemed a good place to go for a mini break, before Christmas chaos sets in. I had my eye on the David Bomberg exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery there, with the added lure of Paula Rego’s sketchbooks on show at the same place as a choice dessert. The drive down in bright winter sunshine produced long shadows across the South Downs, and the watercolours of Eric Ravilious leapt to life in front of us. It was a good precursor of what was to come, I hoped.

I didn’t know much about Bomberg before this exhibition, apart from the futuristic geometric patterns and shapes of his early work, which to be honest, didn’t really inspire me. Was it worth coming all this way?

101217 - Bomberg1I was unaware of how his work transformed during his life, from the depictions of Barges and Bargees at work, (there is a really nice watercolour on display here), to when he went abroad to Jerusalem where the cityscapes really lightened up his palette. A moonlit scene really captured my attention, with Bomberg using the white of the canvas to capture the tranquil light. Moving on to Spain there are some dramatic landscapes matched only by his dramatic brushwork. His pictures of the Ronda Bridge were a good example of this. In the last room there are some poignant portraits especially his last self-portrait painted when his health was declining. I think he knew this was the end of his life, and this painting was a great way to end it. They say his talent hasn’t been fully appreciated up until now, and I hope this exhibition will help him to become much more widely accepted as the great artist he undoubtedly was.

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Around Chichester I looked for a some subjects that I could use to draw and tie in with this blog. It was difficult. The photograph at the top I took the next morning. It was of a heap of mud (wow!), covered in frost. It had been turned over by farm machinery giving it geometric forms which I thought could represent Bomberg’s early work. (You have to use your imagination here!) Similarly, the drawing above was of some large potato crates stacked up high in a farmyard behind some trees, this was again thinking about the geometry of his work, although it would have to be abstracted a lot more to get to anything like resembling his 1913 work “Ju-Jitsu.” Lastly, below is a sketch of Chichester’s harbour with it’s saltmarshes viewed from the marina, the nearest I could find to the canals with the Bomberg barges on.

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I should have mentioned earlier, that the dessert after the main course was also very good. Paula Rego’s sketches were intimate little windows into an artist’s thought processes, as she wrestled with ideas; the compositions and characters that would populate her more finished work. A drawing of some dancers and their movement within it has given me fresh hope of resolving the difficulties I am facing with my troubled drawing of the half marathon runners – I must get back on to it.

JJ at the RA

Last weekend we visited the vast retrospective exhibition of Jasper Johns at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

“One hopes for something resembling truth, some sense of life, even of grace, to flicker, at least, in the work” – Jasper Johns 2006. Part of this quote has been used as a subtitle for the exhibition “Something resembling truth.”

It’s been said about his work, the American flags, targets and numbers amongst them, that as he didn’t have to design them, he could move beyond that in his paintings, as these were images that the mind already knew, it gave him room to work on other deeper levels. It certainly made you want to take a closer look at his work, to explore the surfaces and textures of the paintings, and to see what has got entrenched in them, as he worked. This in turn affects what you get out of them by looking.

261117 - JJ1“I am interested in the idea of sight, in the use of the eye, I am interested in how we see and why we see the way we do.” – Jasper Johns 1969. This is not just the mechanics of seeing that he is talking about, but also at the psychological level. I must admit, it took me 10 minutes looking at various versions of the American flags to realise that the number of stars varied in them. Doh! This is probably because I had it in my head that I already knew what the Stars and Stripes looked like, so I didn’t actually have to take in what I was looking at – not a straight copy – but a lot more besides. That thick textured encaustic medium that he uses, it seems to be so versatile in it’s uses. Wonderful – perhaps I ought to investigate it.

I’ve included above a little drawing I did a couple of years ago. It is not a copy of anything that Jasper Johns did (you’d probably already guessed that), but it is the closest I have. Perhaps you could view it as a take on one of his Target paintings if you wanted, or an eye, or the centre of a sunflower, or lots of bubbles on the surface of some water. Whatever you want really, I will leave it up to you to see what you want. Your eye will see it differently to mine. The only thing I would say is that I won’t be repeating the exercise – It was so very tedious to do, but once started I forced myself to finish.

This retrospective is a big exhibition with so many great things to take in. I loved the large cast aluminium “Numbers” from 2007, that not only has the various textures of the repetitive numbers, and their backgrounds, but also within the sheen you can see newspaper text coming through. So much to look at, oh and there is the impression of a foot at the top of the picture – the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham has left his mark.

Then there is the series of cross-hatching paintings called “Between the Clock and the Bed” with the obvious reference to Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name, and the pictorial cross hatching used on the bedspread. This examines the passage of time from birth to death with you stuck somewhere in between the two. (As a complete aside, I googled inbetween as I wasn’t sure whether to put that, or in-between, or in between, and this was number 1 in the charts: “You grow old and die anyway. And then there is everything you have to endure in between/inbetween: grief, loneliness, sickness” – that was courtesy of http://www.ellstackexchange.com. Munch (and Johns?) would have loved that!)

Nearby there was a much smaller pastel drawing, basically solid black with the name TENNYSON spelt out at the bottom. Although the exhibition doesn’t mention it, this for me again links Johns with Munch, echoing the lithographs “Self-portrait with skeleton arm” or even more strikingly the portrait of “August Strindberg”, or “STINDBERG” as Munch had originally misspelt it, before correcting it at a later stage. Jasper Johns’ picture doesn’t depict anyone, instead he leaves it in the mind of the viewer to either come up with their own image, or perhaps to conjure up some of Tennyson’s poetry from the great storehouse of their memory.

261117 - JJ2I would wind up this review of a great exhibition (which I have merely touched upon), by sharing my thoughts on a series of states of the Aquatint called “Regrets” (16 of them in total) on display in the last room, which come from an old photograph of Lucien Freud commissioned by Francis Bacon. Wonderful as they are and great to see the progression, I must return to earlier rooms to see some works that depict the cosmos above us, a late Untitled painting from 2016 clearly depicts the Big Dipper or Ursa Major if you prefer. The only reason for taking you back here is for the selfish reason to finish up with 2 further sketches of my own from 2015. The first was drawn rapidly on a freezing clear morning before dawn which showed a magnificent line up of the Moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter all in a row. You can’t get much better than that, and you have to take the opportunity to sketch them when you can. I make no apologies for the roughness of this, it just shows the immediacy of the spectacle.

The second sketch drawn a few days later shows as it says the moon trying to break through some cloud. A failure it suggests (try again), but I can’t remember if that referred to the drawing (probably), or the moon (unlikely), or both. I think I will leave that up to you to decide. It could be that “one hopes for something, resembling truth, some sense of life, even of grace, to flicker, at least, in the work.”

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