Tate Modern

Just a quick note here about Tate Modern. I was staying nearby last week and dropped in for a quick look. I hadn’t been for ages, and not since they opened the new Switch House. There is a 10th storey viewing gallery from which you can get a very good view of London. Have a look here for more on this. We got the lift up to the 10th floor and spent quite a while on a wet and blustery afternoon looking out over the grey view of grey London. London has changed a lot in the decades I’ve been looking at it. When I first went to live there and to work in the City of London, there were very few high rise buildings. Now the City is full of them, and there’s a view of Canary Wharf and also you can see the Shard which is pretty tall. I guess it’s sensible to build upwards when there is so little space, but I’m pleased I had the opportunity to appreciate the London skyline before it got too crowded with very big concrete things.

So, what about the art, I hear you cry. Well, actually I didn’t look at all that much of it. I do sometimes find that I just get outfaced by the scale of the thing, and if I don’t have something specific to see, I end up wasting time. There were some interesting photos of the Ukraine during the Soviet era, which interested me because they’re good photos, and also because I went to Kiev and Kharkov and some of the surrounding countryside during the Soviet era. I’m sure it’s all very different now…. And I spotted an El Anatsui which I liked very much: El Anatsui

I had my phone with me, and it was charged which is not always the case, so I got my act together and put the photo on Instagram. I’m a bit cautious about social media – still haven’t got onto Facebook and I’m not sure I’m going to – but I do quite approve of Instagram. Not so much for what I put on there, but for being able to follow other people I don’t see very often. One of my daughter’s friends, Justine, is a florist and she puts some beautiful photos of her flowers on Instagram. She’s also set up a lovely website – see it here – so if by any chance you are located in the Peak District and need some wonderful and original flowers, she is the person to go to.

Oops, I’ve wandered off the Tate Modern theme a bit there. Never mind. If you look at this blog a lot and nothing much is happening (which is the case for regrettably long periods) it’s worth having a look at Instagram to see if I’ve posted anything there. Also Pinterest – I’ve been more active there of late, encouraged by the fact that some of the images of my own work are proliferating. They’re proliferating in a rather modest and retiring way – we’re not talking many thousands of repinnings – but one of the Cochineal Dream images from this website has been repinned a lot. It’s a thrill to see it, I must admit.

Making smaller work for sale

Recently, I’ve been putting in a lot of time on making smaller works for sale. I hope to be able to offer these for the shop at the forthcoming Prism exhibition. I’ve also been thinking about setting up an Etsy shop at some point, although I’m not ready to do this yet. If and when I do it I will, of course, provide a link on this website.

I decided that, as I was on a roll with the Klee-themed pieces, I would produce some mini-versions to offer for sale. So far, I’ve produced six and I’ve loved making them. A couple of posts ago I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed the whitework I was doing in the early part of the year, but also that I was glad to get back to colour. These pieces are the result of my engagement with colour. I’ve thought about the application of colour theory a lot since I started doing them but also I’ve just been enjoying placing colours together to see what works. I thought at one stage that my principal interest would always be line, but of late I find I’m drawn time and time again to the sheer joy of putting colours alongside each other. Here’s an example of what I’ve been working on:Brief Dream series

I hope you can see from this how much I’ve liked working with colour. The red and pink juxtaposition is what I was exploring in the Cochineal Dream pieces, and here I’ve added some more elements to this basic idea, including the bright yellow and ochre. Sometimes these odd combinations seem to work.

More on this another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English wood engraving

If you’ve looked at my Pinterest boards you may know that I have a particular affection for wood cuts and wood engraving. I know that I’m not alone in this – lots of people have Pinterest boards on the subject and I do have some followers of this specific board. I’ve just been updating the board with new images by Clifford Webb, Gwen Raverat and others. I’ve got plenty of other artists to explore, thanks to a book I’ve recently been reading on the subject: ‘English Wood Engraving 1900-1950’ by Thomas Dalston, published by Dover Editions. I originally became familiar with some of the Dover editions output when I developed a keen interest in the work of Karl Blossfeldt (if by any chance you don’t know about him, do look him up on Google images) and acquired a Dover editions book of Blossfeldt’s photographs.

The English wood engraving book is a little gem. It was first published in 1950 and then was reissued by Dover last year (2015). Here’s a photo of the cover. English wood engraving

The book contains many fine examples of wood engraving from this period which was obviously something of a golden age for the art in England. Some of the artists’ names are familiar to me, e.g. Clare Leighton, Eric Gill, John Nash and Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and so on. But there are plenty of examples of the work of lesser known artists (lesser known to me, that is). I was very much struck by the stylish work of Robert Gibbings, and that of Tirzah Garwood, for example. The essay that accompanies the images is very readable and full of information that is new to me. I liked the book very much indeed, and I’ll continue to work through the artists’ names looking for images for my Pinterest board.

 

Grundformen

Yes, Grundformen. That’s the German for ‘basic forms’. For Christmas I was given a marvellous book, the English version of ‘Grundformen’ a book of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Here’s the front cover of the book:Grundformen becher

The foreword (by Gunilla Knape) opens as follows: ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher are two of the most influential visual artists of our time. Since the beginning of the 1960s they have documented industrial buildings whose architecture is totally dictated by their function. The Bechers’ passion for these industrial structures has resulted in photographs that are a priceless treasure of cultural and technological history from a vanishing industrial era…. Their subjects evince an unexpected and controlled beauty…’.

If you put ‘Grundformen Becher’ into Google images search, you’ll find many, if not most, of the images from this book so you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about. I was thrilled to bits to receive it, particularly as it’s completely new to me. Apart from a six-year period in my young adulthood spent in the south of England (mostly London), I’ve spent all my life in the north where, I suppose, I’ve absorbed the architecture of the industrial revolution without much noticing it. Some of these forms were present in the background to my childhood, especially the pithead winding gear, several examples of which are shown in this book. As an adult I moved to Lancashire where I’ve been for many years, and where mills predominate. The first industrial form I scrutinised very closely, however, was the gasometer. When I studied drawing at Blackburn college we’d sometimes draw or paint what we could see from the windows on the upper floors of the Victoria building. What we could see was the steep valley sides covered in mostly terraced houses, a surprising amount of green from trees, the tops of the moors, churches and mosques, and some industrial buildings including old textile mills. The feature that drew my eye, again and again, was the gasometer which, as I looked more and more at it, took on its true form as an artefact of great beauty. How pleased I was, therefore, to discover several examples of gasometers in this book, and to realise that other people, i.e. the Beckers, found them as compelling as I do.

The photographs of these massive forms are all in black and white. Most of the objects photographed are very large indeed, as you can see from the occasional house or tree in the background. They are often strikingly beautiful, minimalist and strictly functional in design. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am drawn to geometry, system and line and so the attraction of these forms for me is unsurprising. The forms in this book are presented with only the briefest of description and no commentary. But there is an underlying human element that is hard to ignore. These are not just a collection of geometric forms; they suggest their own underlying narrative history, and in most cases this is a sad history of human exploitation. What would it be like to work in or near such places with their dirt and dust and in the shadow of the massive architectural forms? Some of my earliest memories are of the pit town in the North East where I was born. The things I remember best about it are the pervasive smell and the polluted air and atmosphere. There were no doubt positive human elements in these places – the camaraderie and the sense of community and purposefulness. But there’s no getting away from the fact that mining coal is a desperately difficult and dangerous business. I appreciate the beauty of the engineered forms, but at the same time I can’t avoid reflecting, rather sadly, on what they represent.

HNY to all my readers

Happy New Year to everyone who reads my blog. It’s a good point at which to say thank you for reading. Production of blog posts has been somewhat sporadic of late, to say the least. Fact is, 2015 has been a very difficult year for me, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with the stitching, never mind blogging about it. I’ve referred in previous posts to on-going problems with neck pain, but have not recounted anything like the full story (fear not, I’m not about to recount it now – you’d be bored sick). Yes, the neck pain is a continuing hassle, but at least it goes away for reasonably long periods from time to time. A worse problem is the one of continuous pain in my jaw which I’ve had for the last 18 months. Thinking it was likely to be a dental problem (I get lots of those and I’m used to dentistry) I’ve had huge amounts of dental treatment during 2014 and 2015; unfortunately, none of the many procedures has alleviated the pain one tiny bit. I finally went to see a specialist in November, a maxillo-facial surgeon, and he pronounced the problem to be Atypical Facial Pain (or he said it could possibly be Atypical Neuralgia). These are chronic pain problems that take some shifting, and can plague people for very long periods. Sigh.

It’s taken me a long time to get any perspective on this problem. The fact that I can step back a bit is thanks to the medications prescribed by my GP which, since late September, have ensured with some reliability that I get a reasonable sleep for around 7 hours per night. Previously, I’d been getting by on around 4 hours per night which was making me very crabby indeed. So, thank you doctor and thank you drug companies (not something I’d often say in respect of drug companies, but credit where it’s due, I suppose). Mostly, of course, the problem and its effects are entirely negative, but I can see that feeling weak, ill and vulnerable is actually quite good for a person from time to time. I now, in retrospect, very much appreciate having had a largely pain-free life. I’m in awe of people who cope with acute and chronic pain problems. One of the textile artists I most admire is Emily Barletta and I was reminded recently of something I read about her having suffered much pain and illness from an early age. You can read an interview with her and you can see some of her marvellous artwork, if you’re not already familiar with it, via her website. Her work is wonderfully inventive, surprising, colourful and altogether delightful. If you’re not aware of it, I feel very pleased to be able to put you on to her.

I’ve finished Cochineal Dream III and will post a photo shortly. I can’t seem to take half-way decent photos with flash, and I’ve developed the habit of photographing work outside. There was a brief period of brightness this morning but I was busy doing something else so didn’t grasp the opportunity to photograph outside. And now it’s gloomy outside and will soon be getting dark (it’s 3pm here in the North of England and bad enough. I don’t know how the Scandinavians and others in latitudes even further north cope with this). And it’s rained and rained for what seems like months. The flooding here has been very bad indeed. I’ve not been personally affected because we live on higher ground, but people living near rivers have not been so fortunate.

So, more soon, I hope. Thanks for reading.

Jude Hill – Feel Free

I expect quite a lot of you already know about Jude Hill and follow her Spirit Cloth blog. In case you don’t, you might be interested to know that she has started a project called ‘Feel Free’ which provides all of her teaching material free on her website (previously she used to make a modest charge for her teaching materials). I spent some time last week exploring her Spirit Cloth 101 class, and I think it’s excellent. The text and photos are interspersed with video and audio files and I love to hear Jude’s calm voice describing what she’s doing. I’ve so enjoyed watching and listening to the material. Each time I go back to the site I find there’s more available on it. You may, or may not, like the Spirit Cloth style and ethos – personally I find them very appealing. Access to the ‘Feel Free’ project is genuinely free, but if people want to make a donation in cash they can do so. I’m going to do this, to show my appreciation of what she’s doing, because I have the means to do so. But if you don’t have the means, there’s no pressure or obligation to contribute.

You can also register your email address on the Spirit Cloth blog, so that you get updates. I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s worth doing because the updates are daily (I’m in awe of this, as I find it really difficult to post even twice a week). They tend to ping into my inbox during the afternoon in the UK, and I look forward to them when I’m spending long hours at the computer working. When I was experiencing some glum, dark days a while ago, I found that these daily updates really brightened my day. One day I emailed Jude to tell her how much I appreciated them, and got a reply back straight away. Although my blog audience must be tiny compared to Jude’s – she’s been doing this a long time – I really appreciate it when I hear from readers. I had a lovely message the other day from a reader to tell me that she really liked my embroidered edges which are featured in the gallery. It made my day, and made me feel that the effort I put into the website and blog is actually worth it. So thank you to those readers who drop me a line or leave a comment. It’s much appreciated.

Ravilious

I was in London for a few days last week for work. I had a longstanding arrangement with my art-hound friend Laura to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Saturday to see the exhibition of paintings by Eric Ravilious. Ravilious paintings at DulwichI’d never been before, but had the impression that it was a difficult journey. However, not so. It’s 12 minutes on the train from Victoria to West Dulwich and then you walk for a while, and then you’re there. Easy peasy. It was less easy to get a coffee and something to eat beforehand. We were seated very quickly in the café but then found that whatever we asked for was unobtainable or had just run out. In the end I invited the waiter, a young man of rather harassed appearance, to tell us what was actually available, in an effort to save time. Once we’d negotiated the purchase of two coffees and a biscuit (for a larcenous bill of nearly ten quid) we went in to stand in a long and disorderly queue for tickets. It’s all very badly organised, and by this stage we were beginning to wonder if the trip had been such a good idea. However, once equipped with tickets, the whole experience started to look up. The paintings are remarkable. I know very little about Ravilious except that he died comparatively young, and it emerged that his plane was lost over Iceland during WW2. I’m so pleased I went. Ravilious painted almost exclusively in watercolour, using a dry brush technique, which is amazingly effective combined with his excellent drawing. The colours are attenuated, and the effects are subtle, but the parts all come together into a very convincing whole. As we went round we became more aware of the slight distortions in some of the composition. Together with the almost complete absence of people, the effect is almost surreal. I liked it very much. Some of the more remarkable paintings are of scenes at night. It’s quite an achievement to make night scenes convincing in watercolour, but Ravilious was able to do this. Here’s an example of back gardens lit up by Bonfire Night revelry:Ravilious fireworks

It’s a great painting. And the longer you look at it the odder it seems. So, if you’re anywhere near London and you’ve time to spare, you might find a trip out to Dulwich to be worthwhile. I’d go again, but I think I’d try and find a coffee and a bite to eat elsewhere.

 

 

 

Developing an idea

I thought I’d write today about developing an idea, specifically the idea Layered fabric sample - close upI started with last year that was inspired by my visits to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember this image; this is of work in progress on a sample using blocks of satin stitch to appliqué various ground layers in different fabrics. I’ve taken this idea up again recently and have worked a sample in white, antique white and cream, adding in a bit of lace to the ground work: Whitework - inspired by Paul Klee

As well as exploring the idea in stitch I’ve also been working on it in a sketchbook. This book is around A3 in size, and is filled with Khadi paper. I bought it at the Royal Academy shop where they sell a few artists materials. I’m very much taken with Khadi paper and I thought the large A3 format was very inspiring. So far I’ve mostly used Derwent Inktense pencils, which I have in a very limited range of colours (bought a few in a shop in Northumberland that I happened to come across). NB – have linked to Amazon as there are lots of customer reviews of the product on there. I’ve also used the Inktense blocks – my son bought me a set of 12 for my birthday last year – but on this project so far the pencils have been more useful. I just love the Inktense products. You can use them dry to draw on paper, then add varying amounts of water for different effects. Or wet the paper and then draw, to get an even more intense colour.

I’ve filled several pages so far. Below are a couple of shots of one of the pages I’ve completed. I’ll let you know more about this project as it develops.

Paul Klee inspired drawingInspired by Paul Klee

 

Arty events

There have been quite a few arty events in my life in the recent past. The weekend life drawing course with Rachel Clark was just magical. You can find out more about her work from Rachel’s website, but if you click here you’ll get to the testimonials page for her life drawing classes. Lots of eloquent people have lots to say about how good they are.

That weekend, I got to London on the Friday afternoon and whizzed off to the Royal Academy to give the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition a very quick onceover. I was in there for under an hour but that’s all the time I had to spare. Fortunately, it’s a small exhibition – just three rooms, so even in a brief visit it’s possible to get a feel for the exhibition and what’s in there. Last time I wrote about this I mentioned Cityscape #1 (see image)Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape and about the compositional elements of it. As you go into the first room (which is all about RD’s early work on abstraction) if you look to the right you see into the second room and, framed by the entrance, is Cityscape #1. It looks absolutely great. I spent quite a lot of my time soaking it up from a distance. About three weeks ago, just as I was feeling rather better after being ill (yawn, sorry about this, resolve to shut up about illness) I went back to see the exhibition again with my friend Laura, ace art-seeking friend. She did the turn to the right and immediately spotted Cityscape #1 and loved it. We both felt it was the stand-out picture in the exhibition, although there were many other good things to appreciate.

I also, as planned, went to the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. He was an outstanding painter of people. It’s quite a large exhibition, reflecting the fact, I suppose, that he was just so prolific. This is an exhibition of his friends, and, again, he seemed to have loads of them. It’s wonderful and I can thoroughly recommend it.

Later this week, I will be meeting Laura again to go to the Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern. I’m anticipating another treat. Adrian Searle, reviewing the show in The Guardian, gave it 5 stars and was very obviously impressed. Do have a look at the review, even if you can’t get to the exhibition. I’ll let you know what I think very soon, provided, that is, that I can stop bellyaching about health issues for long enough…. Fingers crossed.

Richard Diebenkorn

As if Sonia Delaunay and John Singer Sargent exhibitions weren’t enough, along comes another treat – the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until just a few days ago, but anyway, I know now, and it’s on till June so I should be able to get to see it at least once. I read in a review that Diebenkorn is not particularly well known on this side of the Atlantic and maybe that’s true, but he’s one of my all-time favourite artists, and I’m thrilled to my marrow at the prospect of seeing his paintings again.Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape

The first time I became properly aware of Diebenkorn was about twenty years ago. I’d had the good fortune to get funding from my university to attend a conference in Hawaii, well in Maui, to be precise. This was a big deal as budgets would not normally stretch that far, and I’m still not quite sure how I talked my way into this megatrip. Spending nine days on Maui was quite an experience, the more so as I knew very well it was not a place I’d ever go at my own expense and so I’m completely sure that I will never go again. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it previously on this blog but I hate and fear flying, so a trip to Maui from Manchester was never going to be an easy ride. It was, essentially, a nightmare. The last straw was when I got on the plane in San Francisco for the final, five-hour, flight to Maui, and found a big bloke sitting in my seat. Turned out we’d both been given the same seat number. He was boorish, and unpleasant, and announced loudly that he had no intention of moving. I was near to tears at this point, but the flight attendant pitched up at just the right moment, took in the scene with one expert glance and told me that she was sure they had a spare seat in first class. And so they did. She whisked me off to first class and gave me a glass of champagne to calm me down. Which it did. I don’t think I’d mind flying nearly so much if I could have champagne and sit in a nice comfortable seat in first class every time….

Anyway, that is not the point of the story. The first leg of the trip back from Maui was the return flight to San Francisco which arrived at 6am. No first class, of course, this time. And then I had a whole day to spare in San Francisco because my flight to London wasn’t until the evening. I was already tired because I hadn’t slept on the flight, but I didn’t much relish the prospect of a day in the airport, so I jumped in a cab and headed for the city. I ate a huge cooked breakfast in a diner, then when it was opening time headed for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And that was basically it for the day. I didn’t go anywhere else; just stayed there till it was time to go back to the airport. And it was fabulous. When I got really tired, I’d retire to the café and drink some more coffee, and talk to someone. I do like it about Americans that they tend to be so easy to talk to. It’s actually a bit like that in the North of England; people don’t think you’re mad if you strike up a conversation.

But what about the art? Well, I struck lucky because there was an exhibition of Diebenkorn’s paintings. I’d seen examples of his work previously in books, but I couldn’t say I was familiar with it. But seeing the paintings was a quite exceptional experience. I say this, because I remember so well, even after the passage of many years, how those paintings made me feel. They really are special. And it felt appropriate to be seeing them in California where Diebenkorn did so much of his painting. This was one of my best ever days out at an art museum, although it was physically a very gruelling experience. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity so I went round and saw the lot; everything they had on show which included not only the Diebenkorn but also an Alexander Calder exhibition. I had so much time on my hands that I even did some drawings while I was in there. By the time I got back on the plane that evening I was about as tired as I’ve ever been, but it was worth it.

The example I’ve included above is Cityscape #1, which is a semi-abstract piece. It’s an interesting title, because so much of the location is green space. An art teacher I had subsequently pointed out how clever the construction of this painting is. It’s intersected about 1/3 of the way from the top by a quite distinct line, and then the 1/3:2/3 split is also followed in the vertical plane. I often think about this painting when I’m puzzled over composition. It’s made more interesting by the use of shadows, and by the bright elements of almost neon colour – for example, the bright pink and turquoise to the extreme left.

If I do get to this exhibition I’ll no doubt be burbling on about it in some future blog post.