Hepworth – The Conclusion

Barbara Hepworth, as my followers will by now know, is one of my favourite modern artists. I find her sculpture full of power and emotion and I also enjoyed researching the Hepworth Wakefield, David Chipperfield’s award winning gallery. While Hepwort’s sculpture is ubiquitous her paintings are much harder to find as they appear from quite short periods of her life. My painting of the Month is Trio (Surgeons and Theatre Sister) or The Conclusion which was painted in 1948 as part of her Hospital Drawing series.

St Albans, Hepworth, Hospital Drawings,
Barbara Hepworth, Trio (Surgeons and Theatre Sister) or The Conclusion, 1948, Private Collection.

The Hospital Drawings, eighty of them, were all completed between 1947 and 1950, mainly in operating theatres in Exeter and London. The project started as her daughter, Sarah, was being treated for the bone disease, osteomyelitis, which involved being in plaster from head to foot. She befriended the surgeon, Norman Capener, an amateur painter, who gave her access to draw in the theatres.

Her method of etching lines and washing in pastel oil shades echo the starched uniforms of the surgeons and the their staff. She even used a razor blade to score lines in the boards to evoke the work of the scalpel. Many of these drawings and my choice in particular concentrate on the hands. The success of the operation lies with these hands and the tension is inescapable. Look also at the intensity of purpose in the protagonists eyes directing the action, yet at the same time there is a tenderness and delicacy in the artwork.

St Albans Art Gallery was the location where I most recently saw this painting, which will be the subject of another post, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy this delicate and unusual representation from Barbara Hepworth’s work.

Bill Viola and Michelangelo

Bill Viola. I first saw Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005, in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park about five years ago. I have since seen it at The Guggenheim, Bilbao, but this week’s viewing at the Royal Academy in London has restored my faith in the ‘blockbuster exhibition’. 

Fire Woman, 2005, which accompanies it, closes the RA’s retrospective comparison of Bill Viola and Michelangelo. Indeed a stretch of the imagination you might say – High Renaissance master v twentieth century video maker. More of that in future posts as I try to put this comparison in perspective.

Bill Viola, Fire Woman, 2005, and Tristan Ascending, 2005, at the Royal Acadamy until 31st March

It is rare to sit in a London exhibition and enjoy the silence and reverence, viewing the work of a very fine artist. Where Michelangelo may be seen as the epoch of the representational form (three dimensions) on a flat surface then Viola has certainly brought the fourth (temporal) dimension to that same two dimensional plane, with excellence and spirituality.

More importantly if you wish to see this exhibition it has almost run, closing on Sunday. So if you have a soul get to the Royal Academy before Sunday and indulge it.

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent did not win an Oscar or an Academy Award. Somewhat like Van Gogh himself overlooked in its lifetime. We watched this 2017 film last week and were greatly moved by it. The film was a joint U.K. Polish project directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and included in the line up is Adlestrop’s adopted celebrity from Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson. She plays a cafe owner, Adeline Ravoux. Interestingly her co-star Aidan Turner is here as well as the boatman (top right).

Vincent, Van Gogh
Characters from the film Loving Vincent (2017)

Animation has never been like this in film making. You could say this is as close as film gets to traditional painting. The production team recruited over 120 artists to paint over 65000 canvases in the style of Van Gogh. It is fascinating how the scenes merge in and out of known canvases mainly centred on the village of Auvers-sur-Oise.

The storyline focuses on an imaginary investigation into the events surrounding the artists suicide, one year on, by the postman’s son, Armand Roulin. It becomes a typical ‘Midsomer’ with everyone in the frame for murder but settles in the end for…well I can leave that for you to find out by watching.

Armand Moulin played by Douglas Booth talking to the boatman (Aidan Turner) during his investigation into Vincent’s death, Loving Vincent (2017)

Lianne la Havas’s cover of Don Mclean’s Vincent which closes the film is simply stunning and leaves you motionless in your seat while the credits roll.

‘Van Gogh and Britain’ is due to open on the 27th March at the Tate, which will be a must see but this little film is a beautiful preparation. It would always be an enjoyable and interesting debate as to who the greatest ever painter was; but it would be unlikely not to include Vincent Van Gogh as a leading contender.

Do search your film and media provider and look out Loving Vincent.

Adlestrop, poldark
Eleanor Tomlinson portrayed as Adeline Ravoux in Loving Vincent (2017)

Newlyn – Walter Langley

Genre paintings are not normally selected as my Painting of the Month but I was reminded the other day of this glorious scene from the 1880s. Watercolour is also not to be found in my selections normally so this is a ‘double first’.

In a Cornish Fishing Village – Departure of the Fleet for the North, is quite a title for this, full of emotion, watercolour of 1886, to be found in the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. But it is in his complex titles that Langley emphasised the hardships and poverty of the lives of the people of Newlyn. The panoramic scene shows the departing fishing fleet on the horizon as a backscene to the intricately set group on the quayside. Those left behind. Does the central figure with the glass viewing the fleet feel he is in the wrong place? The groups of women feature strongly in Langley’s works; often older sages with young fanciful girls.

The Newlyn colony of artists sprung up around the Cornish fishing village in the late nineteenth century. Most were incomers but they had studied and in many cases lived in Europe. Walter Langley from Birmingham and, the Irishman, Stanhope Forbes, were perhaps the two most accomplished Newlyners but the whole colony created a special British Art with a European flavour. Unlike the abstract emphasis of the St Ives School of the twentieth century the modernism created by the Newlyn group was of social comment through figurative and genre works.

This painting was awarded a gold medal in Chicago and saw Langley as an exponent in portraying the struggle for existence, while also seeing the social impact. Every time I see Langleys paintings I feel like a voyeur to some event I know very little about but at the same time feel drawn into the scene.

If you also sense this look out other Walter Langley works such as Breadwinners, 1896, or the tragic, Among the Missing, Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village, 1884, also to be found in the Penlee Hoùse Gallery.

Newlyn, Walter Langley, Fishing, Art colony, fishing industry
Walter Langley, In a Cornish Fishing Village – Departure of the Fleet for the North, 1886.

Copyright Penlee House Gallery and Museum

Mick Rooney at The Fosse Gallery

The Fosse Gallery in Stow on the Wold is very excited about its March exhibition. There is a terrific buzz of enthusiasm.

Mick Rooney the Royal Academician is showing a new series of works entitled “From Genesis to Nemesis”. I called in last week while I was in Stow and saw the delivery of the five foot high Waiting and Wandering – breathtaking. There is so much going on with this very interesting artist. I have been intrigued by Mick Rooneys work for a few years now and even splashed out on one of his Aviary series.

Rooney, Fosse Gallery, Royal academy, Genesis to nemesis
Waiting and Wandering, Oil on canvas 60” x 40”

So it was with some excitement that I arranged to meet the artist in January as he was completing the preparation for the exhibition. I expected to meet an eccentric working in a sort of Harry Potter world so was very surprised by his level headedness, unbelievable memory and wit leading to a pleasurable couple of hours of loquacious discussion. 

Where did his art and creativity come from – not inherited from his parents or family he was keen to explain. “My parents were very practical and straightforward settling in Surrey in the thirties”; so it was down to others around him to notice he was slightly different. He puts this down to an accident in childhood which seemed to effect his education – this from a man fluent in several languages! But relatives and friends observed the six year old travelling in a different direction than expected and he was lucky enough for their support through art schools and Schools of Art. “A calling” he describes his art, but like other great talents he explains how “I found I was quite good at painting and didn’t need to spend time having to think hard about it as it all appeared to be there”. It is all there in the colour and composition that seems effortless.

Mick Rooney, Fosse Gallery, Royal academy, Genesis to nemesis
They await a sign from the Gods, gouache / tempera on paper, 14.5” x 19}

So what about all these creatures, some mythological, some real, the androgynous humans, the beautiful palette. I was of course keen to understand where the imagery came from. When tackled with the question and after a little thought, he astounded me with his answer. “We all spend our time simply going up the escalator taking it all in, but I found when I got to the top I managed to retain all I had seen on the way up.” His memory is inspirational, and it seems he just opens the door with the paint brush and the images flow out as if they all know there place already.

His memory for these early developments astounded me and I could have sat for hours as his development into a very accomplished artist unravelled before me. What became clear though that here was not a man who simply painted but one who had a thirst for knowledge and experience in a poetic manner. And there is a message. The looks in the animals tells us that as we hurtle towards perdition we cannot solve it ourselves. To survive we and nature must become equal partners. These are deep thoughts with Mick Rooney. Not just once in our discussion did he revert to his profound idea that to “see the six year old – see the man”

Mick Rooney, Fosse Gallery, Royal academy, Genesis to nemesis
Rudderless Ark, tempera on paper, 11.5” x 10.5”

The Fosse Gallery show “From Genesis to Nemesis” opens on 4th March. Do go and see this exhibition of works to inspire your innervision. Maybe you might splash out as well!

Images copyright Mick Rooney RA

Edward Burne Jones

Tate membership brings many benefits and I am grateful to my family for buying me an annual card in a (not very) secret Santa draw last year. We made our first trip to London for a while to visit Tate Modern last week, to test the membership and view the retrospective of Sir Edward Burne Jones.

First to the membership. Everyone warned me that the Private Members Room would be very busy which, arriving late morning, it was. I had also expected it to be a posh London crèche, and it was, so I cannot feel disappointed. I also remembered why I try to avoid London Blockbuster exhibitions – too many exhibits, too many people, too many people standing in front of exhibits discussing their shopping trips or medical ailments and too many mobile phones. All that having been said the exhibition is quite superbly curated. The show is set out in seven rooms tracing the artists life from apprentice to master of large scale ‘exhibition’ and ‘series’ paintings and platforming his talent both as a draughtsman and a designer.

Burne-Jones, The Briar Wood, Tate
Edward Burne Jones, The Briar Wood, 1874-84, The Faringdon Collection.

Sir Edward Burne Jones is an inspiration to all who wish to enjoy success. Not naturally talented and educated away from art schools and academies, he became associated with the Pre Raphaelites and worked very hard to become very good in various media. His main influence was his life long friend and colleague at Oxford University, William Morris. He did much design work which is on show here for the Morris Company. My own preference is his stained glass windows which are to be found all over the world and the exhibition may have been better with more examples.

Burne Jones, stained glass, V&A
Edward Burne Jones, The God of Love and Alceste from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, 1861-64, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Burne Jones’s technical excellence cannot be refuted, especially his later work with its romantic poetic beauty, and he certainly has a huge following arguing his place amongst the great British artists. The problem for me and my objection to the Pre-Raphaelites generally is their rejection of modernity. While the group were rejecting the modernity, striving to return to medieval whimsyness In Britain, across the Channel impressionists, post-impressionists and the avant garde were making great strides forward embracing the modern world, with all its faults, paving the way for the twentieth century.

Tate, golden stairs, Burne jones
The Golden Stairs 1880 Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Tate, London.

What I do like is the poetry of the art. As a great favourite of Sandro Botticelli I see many parallels in Burne Jones. Not just the strength of line and the poetry but also the speed with which both artists lost favour in the times, but to be appreciated later.

On our way home we paid a short visit to see the German fantasist Artist, Martin Eder’s ‘Parasites’, at Damien Hurst’s Newport Street Gallery. Technically very sound but probably not to everyone’s taste.

The Sir Edward Burne Jones show was at the Tate Modern until 24th February so unfortunately closed now.

Botticelli Reimagined

Primavera – Did you enjoy it?

To accompany my Painting of the Month I thought I might change the header image. Botticelli Reimagined is a 2012 imitation of The Birth of Venus by Japanese artist Tomoko Nagao which gave its name to an exhibition at the V&A in 2016. The exhibition was in three parts; a collection of Botticelli paintings, a series of nineteenth century paintings inspired by the Renaissance Master, and numerous twentieth century pastiche copies in many media from tapestry to David Bowie album covers.

I was taken by the Tomoko Nagao version for its banality; its comment on the sky being full  of planes and the sea full of junk.

Botticelli Venus Uffizi Nagao V&A
Yokomo Nagao, Botticelli Reimagined, 2012, Milan

For the purist the original Birth of Venus painted by Botticelli around 1485, below, is also in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence with The Primavera.

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c1485, Uffizi Gallery.

Sandro Botticelli – Primavera

Sandro Botticelli was at one stage one of the most sought after and accomplished artists of the Florentine Renaissance. Then, after centuries of almost total obscurity his stock rose again in the mid nineteenth century to reach the fame his works enjoy today. Whereas his early public works were the numerous Madonnas and Virgins his modern popularity comes from the poetic, so called mythological works of which Primavera or Allegory of Spring, hung in the Uffizi Gallery, is one of the most well known. I have chosen this as my Painting of the Month and the theme of Poetry and Art.

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1482, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Primavera is a wonderfully executed painting with eight main characters in a scene containing some five hundred different plants, including almost two hundred flowers. The exact interpretation of the scene has been lost in time, if it was ever completely clear, so is now open to many interpretations. The main description has Venus, Goddess of love, centre stage in an orange grove, with her blindfolded son Amor firing his arrows. In front of Venus a story unfolds traditionally read from right to left. Zephyrus, the gentle wind, is in fact invading the garden pursuing the nymph, Chlorus, who is transforming into Flora, the Goddess of Spring. Further on we see Venus’s companions, The Three Graces, dancing for her. But look at the central one, who is the target for Amor’s arrow of love, and notice her eyes are fixed on Mercury to the left. And what is Mercury doing in the scene, looking out the picture frame completely?

According to Barbara Deimling in her 2014 work, Sandro Botticelli, we have to know more about the patronage to understand Mercury’s role. The painting was commissioned by the Medici’s for Lorenzo di Francesco and hung in his bed chamber. The answer to the Mercury question may lie in the painting that hung to the left, Pallas and the Centaur. Pallas Athene, Goddess of Wisdom, dressed in Medici adorned garments is seen in the act of arresting the centaur in an enclosed space, that he has invaded, just in the act of firing his arrow (itself an allegorical action). Mercury, The winged messenger maybe carrying a message from Venus to Athene.

Sandro Botticelli, Athene and the Centaur, 1482, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Zephyrus and The centaur are both in the act of hunting innocent nymphs so reading both paintings together the viewer maybe witnessing the victory of chastity over lust, or good over evil. Indeed the victory has been orchestrated by the Medici family as signified by Athene’s dress symbols. These scenes do not appear in any single text together but it is believed that Botticelli’s ideas originate in De Reum Natura, by the Italian poet Lucretius. But wait…just when you thought you understand it Botticelli launches another surprise. Is he attributing the victory to the Medici’s or covertly to Christian belief? Look for an array of Christian symbols in the straight erect trees above the Graces, the random bending trees framing Zephyrus. Do these echo the tradional order and chaos of the last judgement. Probably the most striking symbol is the halo above the Venus – is she really the Virgin Mary. The interchangeability of The Venus and Mary was a common idea in medieval thinking.

Primavera could keep you busy for years understanding the plot, testing the theories, dismissing ideas, but really the painting can be simply enjoyed for its imagery and beauty. No wonder it is such a huge draw in The Uffizi. Enjoy.