Tag Archives: royal academy

views from the castle, to cornwall

Tuesday 23 October 2012

last weekend the norwich castle open art show 2012 opened to the public and i was privileged to be on the guest list to attend a packed preview evening. i didn’t apply for this open art exhibition (and i was reminded by someone on the evening that if you don’t try, you’ll never know), but it was good to see some artists i know who had paintings selected for this showcase exhibition. so i have decided to show some pictures of their work here (taken at the exhibition preview).

this densely textured landscape oil painting by the artist mary spicer perfectly encapsulates the local farmland views; i felt like i could walk straight into the scene of this painting…

[furrowed field, january, by mary spicer, oil on canvas]

i’m just looking at the chunky, carved-up clods of black earth, treading carefully between the tractor tyre rucks, boots lead-heavy with mud, breathing the damp, cold air on a still winter’s morning, the motionless grey sky, the hazy orb of the sun barely seen through a soft blanket of cloud…

another artist who focuses on the rough, carved-up and deeply-sculpted patterns of ploughed fields in the agricultural landscape is david page

[starston ploughing swirl by david page, oil on canvas]

david page has said this is one of his most ‘abstract’ pieces. in some of his paintings there is a glimpse of an horizon at the very top of the picture plane to situate us in the landscape, but here the focus is squarely on the striated pattern of the ploughed earth, as if these marks are made not by ordinary mankind, recalling crop circles…

i then came across a lovely painting by the artist mike ashley, who i know through the art group i belong to, artworks. when i first saw this painting from a distance i thought it was a snow-covered fieldside (perhaps fields had over-preoccupied my thoughts, given there are quite a few rural landscapes in this exhibition)…

[rising tide by mike ashley, acrylic on board]

another artworks artist, genista dunham, has one of her splendid papier mache vessels on display in the exhibition. ‘incendiary’ is an interesting fusion between the visual narrative and the pentimenti of the process, powerful stories revealed by the emergence of words which belie the humble materials of newspaper and paint …

[incendiary by genista dunham, papier mache]

it was also good to see some work by chris gamble, yet another artworks artist.

[just looking by chris gamble, drawing on paper]

i like the naturally expressive fluidity of chris’s loose drawing style, seemingly light-of-hand & immediate, having just the right amount of gestural detail to be visually enticing. this series of small ‘heads’ are quirky and amusing, reminding me of the work of jean dubuffet. chris gamble won a purchase prize (or was it two prizes?) at the recent Eastern Open art exhibition at King’s Lynn Arts Centre…

another artist in the exhibition, david rock, also relishes in quickly observing and drawing scenes of everyday life, often with a wry sense of humour. here is a drawing and watercolour study of the disorderly array of tv aerials on rooftops disrupting a more scenic view, a pun in the title.

[aerial views, san gimignano by david rock, ink, pastel and watercolour]

david rock is a previous president of RIBA and his architectural practice is evident in his drawing style. david rock was instrumental in the formation of the harleston & waveney art trail collective (together with his wife, Lesley), elected as chairman and then treasurer for a number of years.

it was a lovely surprise to see this painting by anthea eames, an artist who i showed with last year in the six abstract painters group show at the halesworth gallery. it was a pity that this painting was hung so high on the wall, so the textural surface qualities could only be seen from a distance.

[iceni dreaming by anthea eames, norfolk woad, coastal sand, ochres, chalk, gold pigment on panel]

i overheard someone say the show was like the royal academy summer exhibition, the standard response to any mixed exhibition where the walls are chock-full of art and all of it is for sale. all the 2D work is hung traditional salon-style, mixing and matching, but most are not placed too high nor too close to each other, and the walls and dividing partitions are painted in a very light grey, complementing most artists’ work.

from the rather hectic viewpoint of the preview evening there was a wide spectrum of styles and sizes of work, from the miniscule to the mammoth, mostly figurative (or semi-figurative) to some bold abstracts, and mostly paintings, but there were some drawings, photography, mixed-media works and small sculptures too.

it’s always a delight to see a dee nickerson painting, given that they sell so quickly in commercial galleries.

[flock of pigeons by dee nickerson, acrylic on paper]

this painting depicts a small farmhouse and outbuildings, rolling fields and some grazing sheep. it’s a scene into which one wants to explore and travel through at leisure, curiously delighting in the small incidents and tiny details: up and over a gate or fence, down a quiet lane, through a door or into a shed. this painting feels very much like a map of place that may or may not exist in reality. dee nickerson is represented by the southwold gallery (among many others) and will soon have some paintings included in a group exhibition at the fry art gallery.

[liquid dawn I by sue laughlin, oil on canvas]

last year i visited the studio of the painter sue laughlin and i was able to appreciate the spiritual dimension of ancient trees and woodlands in her oil paintings, and how the process of painting in glazes of colour contribute to an atmospheric, sometimes other-worldly aesthetic in her work. sue laughlin, dee nickerson, david page, david rock and mary spicer are all artist members of the art group, HWAT.

it is no surprise that elements of the landscape should feature so strongly across the range of work in this exhibition, reflecting as it does, the work of east anglian artists. vision & reality aims to ‘celebrate the vitality and diversity of the region’s creative talents’, and the exhibition has been largely sponsored by the East Anglia Art Fund, in partnership with Arts Council England & the Norfolk Museums Service. the East Anglia Art Fund is a charitable foundation working to support and enable new exhibitions in Norfolk, notably the high-profile art exhibitions at Norwich Castle museum, in addition to supporting regional artists by providing opportunities to sell their art (such as vision & reality, the Norwich Castle Open Art Show 2012).

according to the exhibition leaflet there were seven hundred and thirty nine entries from three hundred and twelve artists from across norfolk, suffolk, essex & cambridgeshire. the selectors were looking for work inspired by east anglia as a broad theme for the show. did i mention that i didn’t enter any work into this particular show?

the exhibition subtitle, vision & reality, is a quote from the artist cedric morris:

there must always be great understanding between the painter and the thing painted, otherwise there can be no conviction and truth… this might be called ‘vision and reality’, as opposed to realism. reality is knowledge and realism only the appearance of knowledge.

the three esteemed judges on the selection panel for vision & reality were: John LessoreHumphrey Ocean and John Wonnacott – but at the time of advertsing for the open call to artists the selectors had yet to be revealed, making it difficult to judge what kind of work ‘they’ might select, and whether i should ‘go for it’, or not. the judges selected one hundred and forty five works for this exhibition (from one hundred and forty artists) – so well done to all the artists who had work accepted – and commiserations to those that didn’t.

running concurrently with the open exhibition vision & reality, is Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood: A forgotten Friendship. due to the hustle-bustle of the preview, talking to artists (and taking these photographs!) i didn’t get a chance to view this new exhibition in full (in the adjacent gallery), although many paintings caught my immediate attention, particularly the wall of portraits. this exhibition includes loans from many national museums and galleries, including this wonderful christopher wood self-portrait from the collection of kettle’s yard, which i remember from the recent BBC four documentary, the art of cornwall.

cedric morris (born in wales) is most known for establishing the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing (with his partner arthur lett-haines), with its most acclaimed ex-student being the painter lucian freud. early paintings by freud (as seen in the recent BBC tv documentary) show the initial influence of his teacher. compare this early painting by lucian freud of his teacher cedric morris with this equally mesmeric painting by cedric morris of the young lucian freud in the tate collection. the painter maggi hambling was also a student at the school, and she will be participating in a special panel discussion to coincide with the exhibition at castle museum.

whilst cedric morris’s artistic career was a long and distinguished one (later inheriting the title of a baronet), the life of the artist christopher wood (aka ‘kit’) is more tragic, having apparently taken his own life at the age of twenty nine by jumping in front of a train, just as he was becoming more well-known as an artist – too many issues to discuss here. in the early 1920s christopher wood spent time studying in paris, meeting picasso and other influential artists, connections which proved instrumental to his development as an artist. so, a longer visit to the ‘forgotten friendship‘ exhibition will be necessary to find out more about the connection between cedric morris and christopher wood, with their many artistic associations which are subtly entwined within the history of modern british (and european) art.

i like hearing stories about the history of artists in suffolk, how it sometimes takes an outsider (or outsiders) to stir things up a little. suffolk-born painter alfred munnings (who later rose through the artistic establishment ranks to become president of the royal academy in the 1940s), was famously intolerant of ‘modern’ art, and was probably quite scornful of cedric morris’s new school of art, situated as it first was, in dedham (constable country) where munnings lived for most of his adult life. after a fire broke out in the original art school it relocated to a large house near hadleigh. it seems their paths had crossed previously, as cedric morris had once worked alongside alfred munnings at a military horse stables in buckinghamshire during the first world war.

incidentally, i discovered earlier on in the year that there is, still in the making, a film (called summer in february, based on a book of the same name) on the early part of alfred munnings life and the troubled relationship with his first wife, florence carter-wood (who tragically took her own life soon after they were married). you can read a little about that time here. curiously, there is no mention of this in the artist’s biography at the munnings museum (castle house, dedham), probably in respect to his second wife violet, who founded the museum after his death.

alfred munnings stayed for a short while in newlyn (in cornwall) and then lived at lamorna (1911-1914, where he met his first wife, florence). cedric morris also visited newlyn a little later in 1919-1920, which pre-dates what was to become something of an exodus of artists to cornwall from the 1920s right up to the 1960s and 1970s. christopher wood visited st ives in cornwall with the painter ben nicholson in 1928 and it was then that they discovered the paintings of the naive artist, alfred wallis.

now, i am beginning to think that every suffolk artist needs to make a special trip to cornwall at least once in their lifetime…

Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood: A Forgotten Friendship
20th October to 31st December 2012

The Norwich Castle Open Art Show 2012: Vision & Reality
20th October to 9th December 2012

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
NR1 3DD (Sat Nav, nearest car park Castle Mall)

Both exhibitions are open daily: Monday – Saturday 10am to 4.30pm, Sundays 1pm – 4.30pm

in constable country, again

Monday 11 June 2012

last year, i wrote that i planned to make a winter visit to constable country. well, dear reader, i did make a special visit to ‘Constable country’ in early march, which as any British person or Englishman will unhappily remind you if asked, still felt like the depths of winter. it was a bright day, on the cusp between winter and spring, the trees were still bare of leaves but the many surrounding fields were a vibrant shade of green with the sowings of winter wheat.

willy lotts cottage, dedham, constable country

Willy Lott’s cottage, Flatford Mill, March 2012

i was very pleased the two ducks stopped waddling briefly for this photograph by the glassy millpond at flatford mill, but i was disappointed the glare of the sun burnt out the white fluffy clouds. the owners of Flatford Mill (now a field studies centre) must work very hard to preserve this iconic English pastoral scene so that visitors can say how wonderfully it still resembles the famous painting nearly two hundred years later.

here is a small reminder of the painting…

the haywain, national gallery

The Hay Wain, 1821 © National Gallery, London

and here is my ‘impromptu’ contemporary reference to the hay wain

the hay wain, 2011

a toy farm trailer in a farm trailer, round about noon, early september 2011

and so began a very pleasant circular walk around flatford, firstly across a lush green meadow, meeting with some inquisitive sheep…

three sheep in a field, dedham, constable country

[in the (brief) company of wolves]

i had heard that in ‘Constable country’ there are powers in place to minimise unsightly blots on the landscape such as electricity pylons, but it was only a few minutes into our walk (after the brief encounter with the ‘wolves’) when i looked up and saw this…

electricity pylon, flatford, dedham vale, constable country

[an electricity pylon & power lines spanning constable country]

no matter; i was here for the day to walk about and maybe sketch a little, to see some ‘Constable’ scenery…

we passed by and walked around a lovely old woodland, called ‘the grove’ – and we didn’t meet any other walkers along the path. i made a note of this old, weathered tree stump (below, sketched from two angles) as perhaps being an old hawthorn as it was very tightly gnarled and twisted but was also quite small compared to the other trees. these are two very quick sketches. sketching tree forms such as this feels much like gestural life-drawing; you work within the restraints given and you try not to be too ‘precious’ about it.

sketchbook drawings of old, gnarled trees, near flatford, dedham vale, constable country

two more very quick bark/tree sketch studies, in graphite, drawn while standing…

further on, the landscape opened out and i made some notes of the field names (based on the map). the second sketch is a view looking down a hill back towards flatford mill. the third sketch is looking at the wide expanse of dedham vale, with gibbonsgate field, miller’s field and church field.

sketchbook, sketches of fields and hedegrows, flatford, dedham vale, constable country

three sketches, a winter hedgerow and some green fields…

towards the end of the walk we met a dog walker, or rather his two dogs made their keen acquaintances with us – and shortly after that i found this large piece of metal detritus on the perimeter of a ploughed field – a very mangled, flattened tin bucket – and i considered it to be the finest ‘Constable country’ find of the day.

old tin bucket, constable country

a constable country souvenir, a very mangled, flattened tin bucket (verso)

it was a very pleasant, relaxing walk (with afternoon tea taken later on in the day at a delightful Dedham teashop), but it was not possible to walk far and also find time to draw; so, i enjoyed the walking.

it was also nice to take another peek into one of John Constable’s early sketchbooks online (collection of the V&A Museum, London). Constable’s many studies and sketches were invaluable visual resources throughout his career. after Constable moved to London with his wife (and a fast-expanding family) he only returned to Suffolk for a few days or weeks each summer (which would explain the distinct lack of winter landscapes), although he travelled quite extensively throughout England due to painting commissions. on one occasion, while working on his preparatory studies for The Hay Wain, Constable required a sketch of a hay cart, and a young Johnny Dunthorne (the teenage son of a friend back in Suffolk) was duly sent out to make an initial study which Constable could work from and refine back in his Hampstead studio. i can quite understand the artistic frustration of earnestly painting a summer scene in the winter months, and many miles away from its source.

by all accounts, painting the The Hay Wain was an anxious task for Constable, a difficult and slow to resolve painting, hastily completed for The Royal Academy summer exhibition – but that is far from most people’s minds as they gaze into the romantic, pastoral quietude of the scene. i think most painters will empathise with that particular anxiety of making work for art exhibitions. add to that anxiety, that his young wife was expecting their third child (they had seven children together in total), and they were perhaps conscious of outgrowing their new hampstead home, as well as the ever-present difficulty of making an income from art to support his young family.

it was amusing to read that they had to remove a window from the property to deliver the finished painting to Somerset House (the location of the Royal Academy at that time) – although the painting was (probably) not completely finished, as – as was the custom – artists often completed their paintings in situ in the gallery on varnishing days (aware of the competition!). Constable was anxious that this painting would sincerely impart all he felt about nature and the landscape, and that it would make a good impression at a time when the fashion in painting was for the very grand, the mythical, the historical & the dramatic…

I hear little of landscape – and why? The Londoners with all their ingenuity as artists know nothing of the feeling of country life (the essence of landscape) – any more than a hackney coach horse knows of pasture.

John Constable, in a letter to John Fisher (a good friend and patron), dated 1st April 1821, shortly before completion of the painting Landscape, Noon later to become more widely known as The Hay Wain, a title first suggested by John Fisher.

John Constable was born on this day, 11th June, 1776.

see also, in constable country and on thinking, clouds in a sketchbook

on digging, drawing, and discovering a van gogh

Monday 14 June 2010

last week i had a go at scaling up one of my own drawings … this one metre square print-out of a scanned lichen drawing came out quite well but the component parts were quite fiddly to join up with tape.. shown here on the floor with the original drawing in a sketchbook… (the ‘mosaic’ refused to stay up on the wall)…

this is the original drawing, 15cm x 15cm… see more lichen drawings here…

lichen drawings - jazz green

these lichen drawings, though beginning as observational studies, soon become re-imaginings – re-interpreted, flattened, schematic….

here are some more smalll lichen drawings in black pen in a sketchbook, early june 2010…

lichen drawing - sketchbook

lichen ink drawing

lichen drawing -pen on paper

these drawings are perhaps not so far removed from my large rust/decay paintings, as both involve a re-imagining of surface, playing with scale and magnification… i would be quite happy with a microscope today…

a word that comes to mind is geomorphology, which is quite separate from the appropriation of the term landscape (by the English) and notions of the natural environment – words which nearly always imply a concrete vista, a horizon, a sky, a cultural or subjective reconstruct of a landscape made more tangible or meaningful by the viewer, sentimental in the widest sense… but these are just thoughts…

last week i spent a couple of hours digging the garden to plant out peas and french beans, then later that same day came across this framed picture in a charity shop… I had to buy it, even though it cost me my last £5…

Vincent van Gogh - peasant woman digging - black chalk drawing - 1885

Vincent van Gogh, Peasant woman digging, Nueuen, 1885

this drawing is, as far as i can ascertain, ‘actual size’ at about 40 x 50cm although the drawing is cropped slightly to fit within the mount – nevertheless it is delightful to look at, the reproduction being of a very fine quality… and i am certain this is one of the peasant women drawings included in the recent Royal Academy exhibition… Vincent mentions drawing these peasant figures in a letter to Theo in early July 1885:

I’m sorry about what you write about the money, that you’ll be short yourself. Painting is sometimes so damned expensive, and nowadays it just comes down to following one’s own idea at all costs. […] I’ve got a few figures here, a woman with a spade seen from behind, another one bending over to glean ears of corn, another one from the front with her head almost on the ground, digging up carrots.

Vincent van Gogh to brother Theo van Gogh, Monday, 6 July 1885

i might be adding another exhibition to my roster this summer, having received an invitation to exhibit some of my work in a contemporary art show, the broad theme of the exhibition appeals, having some philosophical relevance… details and works to confirm…