Thursday, 31 May 2012

May Challenge

This month's challenge was set by my friend Peter Ward and was a real little tester. The photograph is produced first and my final effort after it. The major difficulties were in tackling the very wide contrast range and making decisions about colour. After trying a variety of colour approaches I plumped for a fairly straightforward rendition wishing I had the courage to attempt a more impressionistic piece. Maybe I'll have another go now that I've posted this.

Owl - Photograph

Owl - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Monday, 28 May 2012

Working from Sketches

When travelling, I make sketches and notes and some may remember I posted some pages from my watercolour sketch book on my return from Venice. One of the sketches was of this interesting church in Cannaregio.

I decided it was about time I tried to work something up from that sketch. The result is here. I did try to retain some of the freshness of the sketch but pay a little more regard to the value relationships. I'm not sure I've got those quite right as some of the shadows aren't strong enough. However, it still has some feeling of light so I can't complain too much.

Madonna dell Orto - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Monday, 21 May 2012

Gallery Trip 2

One of the most eagerly awaited shows this year has been the Lucian Freud - Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. This was my other main objective this week. I can say little other than it blew me away. To see the wonderful, passionate, dense and intense images from the brushes of this hugely talented painter was a huge pleasure. Other than occasional showings of small numbers of images I've not seen so many Freuds in one place since the show at the Hayward Gallery in 1998.

In his introduction to the catalogue for the Hayward exhibition, Robert Hughes compares the chosen artistic path of Freud with other contemporaries whose work was more reflective of the mass media of the day. A comparison that, for some, was a reason to demean the works of Freud. Hughes, however, takes a different view, "Painting is, one might say, exactly what mass visual media are not: a way of specific engagement, not of general seduction". "Everywhere, and at all times, there is world to be re-formed by the darting subtlety and persistent slowness of the painter's eye".

The selection below are drawn from the exhibition and are broadly in chronological order. It was a deliberate decision of mine to leave out many of the more explicit pictures, for no other reason than I know that some followers find that sort of work challenging. That doesn't reflect my own view.

Freud's subject matter often involved his wives, children, friends and often invited interpretation of an autobiographical narrative. This is never more true than in Hotel Bedroom.

Girl in Beret - Lucian Freud

Girl with a White Dog - Lucian Freud

Girl in Bed - Lucian Freud

Hotel Bedroom - Lucian Freud

For artists interested in technical matters, there is a decided shift in style takes place when it is clear that Freud has moved from using sable brushes with their soft, fine application of pigment and capacity to render the finest detail and begin applying his paint with the much more robust bristle brushes. With that change texture becomes much more significant in his practice and is used particularly in his presentation of human flesh.

The portrait is the essential core of Freud's work and his portraits are like no one else's. He eschews many of the more traditional portraitist's techniques. This is no more apparent than with the way he depicts eyes. As my friend Graham remarked when viewing the exhibition there is little eye contact for the viewer, in the majority of cases the gaze of the sitter is elsewhere. Freud's interest seems to be in the relationship between flesh and paint, "As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does".

Self Portrait - Lucian Freud

Self Portrait - Lucian Freud

Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) - Lucian Freud

Two Irishmen - Lucian Freud

David Hockney - Lucian Freud

The Brigadier - Lucian Freud

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping - Lucian Freud

Friday, 18 May 2012

Gallery Trip 1

There is little doubt that one of the major figures in modern art is the prolific Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso. As such his influence can be seen in the works of many artists worldwide, not least here in Britain. The influence he exercised on British artists is the subject of an exhibition currently showing at Tate Britain.

This week I had the opportunity to travel to London and visit some of the current shows and this one was on my list.

It is fascinating to study the works of different artists in juxtaposition to one another and pose questions about their relationships. 

Weeping Woman - Picasso

Three Dancers - Picasso

Girl in a Chemise - Picasso

Duncan Grant spent a significant amount of time in Paris before the First World War and came into contact with collectors of Picasso's work and met the artist himself. He adopted themes from African art like the decorative patterns in the image below. African art was a particular inspiration for Picasso and others used it as a stepping off point for their work.

The Tub - Duncan Grant

Whilst Lewis would go on to criticise Picasso for his limited subject matter, the cubist influence is apparent in works that would become the beginnings of Vorticism.

Workshop - Wyndham Lewis

Nicholson developed a style based on Cubism after visiting Paris and being exposed to Picasso's work in that genre.

First Abstract Painting - Ben Nicholson

Moore and Picasso have many areas of overlap in their areas of interest, not least the relationship between European Classicism and so called Primitive Art.

Reclining Figure - Henry Moore

Bacon said that he decided to abandon a career in interior design after seeing a Picasso exhibition in Paris. He said the representation of the body in these works opened him up to the possibilities of painting.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion - Francis Bacon

The wonderful Guernica was a constant reference for Sutherland who used it as inspiration in different aspects of his work.

Crucifixion - Graham Sutherland

The last picture here is one that has had a long lasting impact on my consciousness. I first became familiar with it when I saw a reproduction of it hanging in the home of a school friend's parents. It was the first abstract image that made any sense to my youthful gaze. As with all these images there is no substitute for viewing them in the flesh. That's why I love taking the opportunity to visit exhibitions like this. Now for a visit to the Lucian Freuds at the National Portrait Gallery.

Enamel Saucepan - Picasso

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Loosening Up

Regular readers will have picked up on the difficulty I have in loosening up my images so today's post is a recent attempt to attack a subject without tightening up. Some of you will also recall that I've been looking at the work of artists like Alvaro Castagnet and Jean Haines recently. They both have admirable loose styles which are very different from one another but both very impressive and attractive.

The subject I chose for this study was based on my recent sketches produced in Venice. A familiar view at the face of St. Mark's Basilica. a very ornate piece of architecture. There is so much detail that it would be a very lengthy task indeed to try and get a realistic representation. It became difficult to resist the temptation to put in more detail so I took that as a hint that I should stop work. 

St. Mark's - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9 "

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

April Challenge

Here are the results of the last month's challenge effort with my friend Peter Ward. You can find Peter's version at . There are lots of other reasons to visit his blog. His reviews of materials are of interest to anyone who loves to paint.

This month's subject was one that I set, largely as an exercise in drawing. These chairs are so difficult to get right and I spent a large number of attempts trying to get the proportions and angles somewhere near right. I was almost tempted to invest in a draughtsman's board with the whole range of rules and protractors. Frustrating indeed. My concentration on the drawing aspect overtook a more balanced approach to producing the picture. Consequently, planning the paintwork wasn't sufficiently well done with the resultant image being overworked and less that satisfactory. 

Adirondack Chairs - Photograph

Adirondack Chairs - Watercolour on Not paper 11" x 9"

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Venice - Part2

Some further pages from my Venice sketchbook. As I said in my previous post the weather in Venice during my stay was changeable in that it varied between rain and fine sunshine so panting opportunities had to be taken when they came up. This was one reason why I abandoned the oils early in the week. Using them meant carrying a much bigger load of equipment whilst the watercolour sketchbook is light as is the accompanying paint box. Using them meant I could move about rapidly and get down some images and notes that I can use for painting now that I'm home. Before leaving the subject of oil paint, I made the mistake of taking Underpainting White as a quick drying alternative to my more usual whites. The mistake was not trying it out prior to leaving. I found it very difficult to work and whilst it did dry quickly it didn't provide the sort of result that I like. Try before risking spoiling a week with unfamiliar materials will be my watchwords in future.

On the Salute steps - Watercolour on Not paper

Pescaria - Watercolour on Not paper

Fondamento Barbariga - Watercolour on Not paper

San Marco - Watercolour on Not paper

Madonna dell Orto - Watercolour on Not paper

I could write a lot more about my trip but I'm running out of time before a trip to Ireland for a music festival so I'll have to save my further thoughts till I return.