Tag Archives: #art

Art Impressions Over The Last Two Years

There have been five exhibitions I’ve viewed over the last two years that have made a distinct impact on me, and it’s about time I write about them. All evoked emotions within that I didn’t always expect and I’d like to articulate and acknowledge that fact.

Three exhibitions in 2018 all have a definite French flavour: Impressionists in London-French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 (Tate Britain); Monet & Architecture (National Gallery); Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece (British Museum). I realise today that my love of the Impressionists (especially Monet) & Rodin stems from my first visits to Paris with my fiancée/husband Rob. I recall my first visit to the Pompidou, a vast chasm to traverse, and not being particularly keen on what I’d viewed, except for a fun Henry Moore sculpture on the roof. My feet were killing me, I was tired, hungry and grumpy, and I was led into a small annexe. My eyes fell upon the Impressionists and it was love at first sight, I was totally enchanted. I understood these “dotty” pictures of colour (Pointillism) and was transfixed by works of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro etc. My mood lifted immediately and I remained in the annexe for some time, taking it all in. Another place we visited was Rodin’s home now a museum, where I encountered his wonderful sculptures including The Thinker and The Kiss. Once again I was enthralled and couldn’t help but notice the distinct “classical” fundamental basis of Rodin’s work. The similarity to the art, architecture and sculpture I was studying at degree level with Classical Studies was uncanny. So the chance to see my French favourites within defined contexts was too good an opportunity to miss.

Stepping into the “Impressionists in London” I was surprised to discover the historical backdrop to their “exile”. In 1870 France unwisely declared war on Prussia, Napoleon deposed, three month siege of Paris, a popular uprising (Paris Commune) and a brutal government response. No wonder artists left in droves desperate to avoid the war, conscription, famine and political reprisals if you were deemed “on the wrong side”. Apparently and I quote “these artists faced no entrance restrictions: anyone, regardless of nationality, could come and stay indefinitely, including political exiles”. How different Britain approaches the idea of “refugees” today! My dismay at this thought mingled with the knowledge of the conflict backdrop, and I viewed the exhibition with a deep feeling of melancholy that I hadn’t expected. There were a few gruesome paintings depicting the ravages of war and some views (I think early photo’s) of a decimated Paris, which was very sad to see. These acted almost like picture bookends to the remainder of the exhibition which displayed portraits, scenic views and depictions of “society life”. I loved the paintings showing the countryside around London (Pissarro-The Avenue Sydenham 1871 & Saint Anne’s Church Kew 1892, Hampton Court Green 1891), the portraits (Tissot-Empress Eugenie & Prince Imperial 1874-75) and the elements of Victorian society life (Tissot-Hush 1875, London Visitors 1873, The Ball on Shipboard 1874). Of course London featured prominently as well particularly the Thames, Westminster and fog (or should I say smog from pollution). Monet’s House’s of Parliament series cover all these bases well and I also appreciated the lovely subtlety of Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Silver-Cremorne Lights 1872. I viewed these more endearing paintings with an added appreciation, having been made aware of the tumultuous circumstances that brought the artists to London in the first place.

The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot     The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot

The “Monet & Architecture” exhibition brought together paintings the artist made of   buildings in London, Venice and various parts of France. It was thrilling to view so many works that have rarely been seen, never mind all together. Although the Thames and the Venetian canals were well documented, other less well known delights were on display. I was captivated by the Cliffs at Varengeville 1875, The Ball-Shaped Tree Argenteuil 1876, Antibes, Morning 1888 and Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers 1874. All had that unmistakeable Monet “touch” of dancing colour and a wonderful play on the light. I much enjoyed seeing the architecture within the larger context of its more natural framework. It was somehow soothing and definitely was nourishment to the soul, especially in these dark politically troubled days in Britain.

Sailing Boat at Petit Gennevilliers 1874 Monet Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers

“Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece” was terrific and explained exactly WHY the Frenchman’s work had that “classic” feel. Throughout his life Rodin looked toward the ancient sculptures for inspiration, buying them from dealers, studying them and then making his own interpretation of the various forms. Suddenly all the headless torso models and limb fragments made sense, and the flow of movement and dynamics of form become easier to understand. Pallas With The Parthenon shows a beauty (Athena) the deity of sculpture seemingly wearing the Parthenon like a crown. The Age of Bronze looks incredibly lifelike and uncannily similar to an ancient Greek boy carrying a spear. Being able to view The Kiss and The Thinker up close and from various angles was a very moving experience. In fact seeing The Thinker in various sizes including a miniature version on the Gates of Hell, reinforced the idea of motifs being reused in various guises, just like on the Parthenon marbles. It also made you question the context in how you viewed a piece, as Rodin seemed to play with the emotion, gender and meaning of his classical muses. Seeing the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum clearly had a profound effect on Rodin, who until then had relied on photo’s and plaster copies at the Louvre as reference points. To see Rodin’s work alongside the classical masterpieces that inspired him was magical for me.

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin.jpg                                  The Thinker Rodin

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin               Two Thinkers Rodin

In 2017 I viewed an unexpected delight at the National Portrait Gallery The Encounter Drawings From Leonardo to Rembrandt. I thought I’d go along to see it as I’m a member of the NPG but had no great expectations. It was absolutely fantastic and I was somewhat awestruck. Here I was face to face with exquisite portraiture of extreme clarity produced with a deftness of touch that at times used nothing more than simple charcoal on paper. Pictures that were intimate, so delicate in form and nature (the oldest artist was born around 1394) that I marvelled they still existed. Paper was a relatively new and expensive medium to use during the artists lifetimes, and it was prepared with washes to produce different effects, before charcoals, chalk and inks were used to draw the picture. I just couldn’t get over the idea I was viewing something created as much as 550 years ago (Study of a Young Man by Pisanello (c.1434-8). Mind-blowing is all I can say. I marvelled at two Metalpoint drawings Woman Wearing A Hood by Domenico Ghirlandaio (c1485-90) and Boy With Curly Hair by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1460). The latter one made me think of a photograph negative due to the way the paper had been prepared. It was near black but then the boys form seemed to come through in shafts of silver to beautiful effect. Young Man In A Hat, Probably A Self Portrait by Peter Oliver (c.1620) made me think of Shakespeare in style. And Young Man Wearing A Cloak by Francois Clouet (c.1560) and Francesco Salviati Young Man Looking to his Left (c.1540) were simply gorgeous with photographic type clarity.

Young Man Looking To His Left                        Under the Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Young Man Looking To His Left   Under The Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Finally the Hokusai beyond the Great Wave exhibition at the British Museum was possibly the most emotional and biggest highlight for me. I’ve known Under the Wave off Kanagawa commonly known as the Great Wave picture since I was nine years old, when I spotted it in an encyclopaedia section describing volcanoes/earthquakes and the possible after effects including tsunamis. The chance to see the real Great Wave picture was amazing and I viewed the exhibition twice. It was incredibly busy the first time, much quieter for the second which allowed me the chance to soak up the experience better. What overwhelmed me was the amazing intricacy of Hokusai’s work and that of Japanese woodblock art in general. After producing detailed drawings, these were painstakingly carved onto woodblocks, a different one for each main colour, and together the woodblocks would be used to print the overall picture. Eventually the woodblocks would wear out, the original picture form was usually destroyed during the carving process, and the mass produced product that sold for a nominal sum wasn’t usually of the highest quality. So the fact these pictures still exist in any number is quite miraculous. The nature, flora and fauna pictures were beautiful, the landscapes sublime, mesmerising and evocative, and then I came upon the Great Wave. Compared to my encyclopaedia motif (large postage stamp size) this was huge, and yet I found it oddly small for such a gargantuan iconic symbol. Of course I seen details I’d never noticed before, three boats not two, Mount Fuji so small in comparison to the stormy sea and monumental wave with fronds of foam. It appeared to emphasise how mother nature can destroy both her own creations as well as manmade ones.  As I stood taking in this iconic scene I was silent, aware of the beauty, intricate detail, simple colours and the powerful statement being made by this fragile artwork about our own tenuous hold on life, and the tears rolled down my face.

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RSC Summer Party at the RA Summer Exhibition

The Royal Society of Chemistry summer party was held at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on July 20th this year. As my husband Rob is acting Head of the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences at Keele University, we had the pleasure of an invite to this select event. The dress code of “black tie and decorations!!!” meant we were dressed formally for the occasion, which turned out to be great fun. We were on our own most of the time amusing ourselves, but it was nice to bump into a handful of Rob’s science acquaintances as well.

Having been to see the Summer Exhibition before, Rob knew my tolerance/opinions of the art works involved can be limited to say the least. On entering the first room Rob said “I’ll be interested to see what you think of these”. He smiled as I looked around, drew breath and said as I eyed my first two pieces “I like these, I GET them”. I was looking at the Mick Moon pieces 95 At Sea and 97 Dusk, quirkily made I thought in muted colours with a simple yet beautifully expansive design due to the faintest of details. Then I spotted 88 Untitled (Violin) a massive piece of bold coloured acrylic on aluminium by Sir Michael Craig-Martin. This violin seemed bigger in size than a double bass and I thought “violin on steroids with a psychedelic dress sense”. I loved the colours and the clean elegant lines and it certainly grabbed the attention, as did the selling price of £120,000.

We managed to see about half of the exhibition because my attention was distracted by the lovely food buffet provided. Prosecco flowed all night and dainty canapés did the rounds first. As I was examining the artwork in another room I spotted someone with a small bowl of curry! That was it; culture was forgotten as I sought satisfaction in culinary appreciation instead. I unearthed small bowls of vegetable rice with succulent white fish, mini chicken and full sized vegetable kebabs, gorgeous herby prawns, walnut & apple salad and mini buckets of parsnip and sweet potato chips. These were devoured with vigour and thoroughly enjoyed by us; though I’m glad I didn’t come face to face with the duck/blue cheese dish someone waxed lyrical about as we left the venue.

Having had 3 glasses of Prosecco I switched to the delightful non-alcoholic elderflower and raspberry option and returned to the artwork. Unusually Rob stayed on the Prosecco though white/red wines were available too.  Further exploration of the exhibition yielded more praise than grumble from me and my all round favourite (from what I viewed) was 274 Heligan by Christine Woodward. A nicely sized acrylic piece of what seemed a beautiful garden (or mountain foliage) with gorgeous greens and yellow hues, with swathes of navy blue and light purples that are almost shimmering on a bright summer’s day. Positioned in the middle of a vast array of other pictures on the right wall of a room, my eyes alighted on it almost immediately and I was transfixed.  At £500 it seemed a bargain to me. Another stunner was 138 Calton Hill 3 by Jock McFadyen where an enormous moon hung over a small settlement on a hill, a scene I found very evocative and quite moving. Multiple classical references in 835 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (After Piranesi) by Emily Allchurch was extremely clever and 544 Yellow Mimosa, July 23 2015 by Donald Sultan simple colourful beauty. My attention was caught by the date which was my Mammy’s birthday.

Just as I came upon two lovely sculptures that appealed to me, a waitress appeared carrying a tray of desserts. This included dinky meringues, tiny mouth watering lemon sorbet cones and delightful milk chocolate lollipops with fudge and salt. Of course I had to try them all (more than once) as I closely studied the sculptures. 770 Venus De’ Medici by Yinka Shonibare was a good looking shapely fibreglass gal with an all over Dutch wax pattern (I thought tattoos but better class) and a hand-coloured globe head! I spotted the globe first as I adore anything with maps but was surprised to see it was attached to a female body. It was sort of radical yet establishment as well and I thought it was terrific, and by far the most expensive item that caught my eye at £162,000. 909 Living Doll by Cathie Pilkington was elegant, graceful and classy and made me think of the little mermaid in Copenhagen.

Whenever I’ve been to the Summer Exhibition before, I’ve made a tally of the items I’ve liked just for fun. This year notched up 35 pieces to catch my attention, ranging from £250 to £162,000, which together totalled £784,195. And I only viewed a fraction of the displays, so I wonder if my appreciation of art is increasing?

In closing this was a lovely evening and I’ve enjoyed revisiting my favourites online where all the display pieces can be viewed at http://www.roy.ac/Explore, until at least 20th August.

              Enjoying RSC summer party at Royal Academy

 

The American Dream Pop to the Present Exhibition

This exhibition held at London’s British Museum contains prints from the Pop Art 60s euphoric period, up to today’s offerings which seem to reflect more dark and disturbing times.

I loved the vibrant colours exuded from the Pop Art works that reflected a somewhat enhanced version of real life, and portrayed issues such as Hollywood (Andy Warhol “Marilyn” 1967), consumerism and political subversion. Two colossal displays of shimmering colour immortalised two main aspects of 60s America pre-occupation, the space race and Vietnam. Robert Rauschenberg’s “Sky Garden” (1969) showing a Saturn V5 rocket to the moon with surrounding symbology such as Aldrin’s footprint, was clearly influenced by the American space program. The depiction of a huge weapon used in Vietnam incorporated a mix of images, involving war horrors and an idealised sense of utopia for the everyday American lifestyle. It seems the confused moral issue here was perpetuating the myth that the US lifestyle was somehow perfect, whilst the government was trying to obliterate Vietnam! Another example of this underlying political subversion within art could be seen in the hilarious depiction of President Johnson and Chairman Mao as drag queens (Jim Dine “Drag-“Johnson and Mao” 1967), especially when it emphasised the uncanny facial similarities between the two men.

A small room within the exhibition screened video of the times in American history, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Obama, with depictions of an idealised family life with all mod cons, Vietnam protests etc. These were juxtaposed with examples of art work from the exhibition displayed on another wall. I was intrigued by a Luther King speech accompanied by a beautiful Negro silhouette head and what I thought was an oddly placed but pretty cage (Kara Walker “Restraint” 2009). The cage turned out to be a form of punishment used on slaves that prevented them from talking, swallowing or sleeping, not so pretty after all.

Jasper Johns” Flags” 1973 print of two vivid American flags hung side by side had a surprising tonal grey graphite version as well. Whilst made in 1973, the darker one seemed much more contemporary and oddly prophetic considering America today. As my husband and I moved through the exhibition we both felt that the displays became far more abstract, dark and quite disturbing.  Meaning became more obscure and despondency came over both of us that hadn’t been evident at the start. As I observed several geometric prints in the latter modern section, I deliberately quelled the voice in my head saying “ok it’s a square so what? A five year old could do that”. Instead I tried to interpret what the artist was trying to convey with the black outline of a shape with white interior. Could it be symbolically depicting conformity in society with no heart or soul, or a stark emptiness despite the bold solid looking exterior!

I’ve always said that America lost its innocence with the Kennedy assassinations. The process began with the JFK murder in 1963 and ended with the loss of King and RFK in 1968. The country has yet to recover from this assault on its national psyche. A more cynical, less trustful and hopeful nation took its place. Obama’s inauguration seemed to offer a ray of hopeful optimism that sadly did not deliver. Now the world watches as the days of President Trump take hold. This exhibition for me conveys that lost 60s exuberance and belief in a bright future and catalogues the journey toward today’s unknown and worryingly dark times.

The American Dream   Exhibition