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.

Sonia Delaunay

I’ve just found out that there’s an exhibition of Sonia Delaunay’s work at Tate Modern this year.

Sonia Delaunay

EY Tate Modern

It’s running from 5th April to 9th August, which is not a very wide window of opportunity for those of us who live outside London, but I expect I’ll find an opportunity of getting down there at some point within the four months. I will relish the chance to have a good look at some of her work, because I think I’ve only ever seen it in reproduction until now. I love her bold geometric patterns and use of colour, and there’s nothing like seeing pictures for real.

I will be down in London later this month. Although I’m going to be very busy, I hope to make the time to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. There are over 70 of his portraits in the show, and I’m sure it will be well worth seeing. When I think of all the wonderful exhibitions that are on in London I could kick my youthful self. I spent five years in London when I was in my 20s and despite professing a vague interest in art, I hardly ever went to galleries. But now that it’s really expensive and inconvenient to get down there, I really want to go. I suppose that’s life for you… and people who live in large cities often say that they don’t take advantage of what’s available.

Apart from a strict instruction to go to lots of exhibitions, what else would I tell my youthful self, I wonder? Maybe to lay off the carbs and ignore all the rubbish about low-fat dieting? Or to do a bit more stitching? Yes, I think, both of those instructions, if followed through, would have made life easier and more pleasant…..

I’m going to spend part of the afternoon doing a bit more whitework. Progress is glacial, but if there’s anything to show for it, I’ll report back in a few days.

Gee’s Bend quilters

Some months ago I wrote a blog about an unexpected gift I’d received – an Amazon voucher. I spent this on two items: a book about Amish quilting, and another about the Gee’s Bend quilters. I won’t review the first book –  it’s interesting enough but a bit of a disappointment mostly because it was a very battered second-hand copy. I generally find when buying second-hand books through Amazon that the description of the book’s condition tends to be pretty accurate, but not in this case. The book in allegedly ‘good’ condition, was in bad shape.

Gee's Bend quiltsHowever, the other book ‘Gee’s Bend: the Architecture of the Quilt‘ was brand new, and very reasonably priced for such an impressive production. It’s an oversized book; a coffee-table book, I suppose, but this feature means that the photographs are relatively large and informative. It’s a stunning book and I’m very pleased to have it in my collection. The story of the Gee’s Bend community and the ‘discovery’ of the quilts by the art world are recorded in detail, and  a very absorbing story it is too. The artists who created these wonderful artefacts lived in conditions of dire poverty, with very few resources to hand. Despite, or maybe because of, these constraints, they succeeded in producing this rich body of work. The artists have been compared, rightly as it seems to me, with Klee and Matisse, although these guys are, obviously, Europeans, and the Gee’s Bend work seem to be firmly rooted in the design traditions of Africa.

There’s quite a lot of text in this book, which suits me as I like to read as well as to see. Some of the chapters have been contributed by a few of the younger quilters. Here’s a excerpt from Mary Lee Bendolph’s chapter: ‘The materials I use is mostly old material: pants, shirts, dresses, corduroy, jean pants. I take it and make quilts. Sometimes I use new material, but mostly I just use old cloth. People loved their pants or dresses, and they have worn out or just don’t fit anymore. I make quilts out of it because I hate throwing away things, because somebody can use things that people throw away. People are so wasteful now. It hurts me to see people waste up things. Because everything you throw away, it can be used and make something beautiful out of it. It makes me feel good when I take old clothes and make something beautiful. And old clothes have spirit in them. They also have love.’ Well, yes, Mary Lee, quite right. Although I think most of us would struggle to make something as beautiful as these women produced out of such worn and basic materials.

It’s a lovely book, and it’s become one of the most treasured items in my little textiles library. If you’re looking for something to spend a gift voucher on, then this could be an excellent choice.


What’s insomnia got to do with anything? Well, it does have something to do with my unprecedentedly long silence on this blog. Apologies if it looks like I’m wandering off-piste, but it is relevant because chronic insomnia has had me in its grip for the last couple of weeks and I’ve found it very difficult to find the energy to do more than I absolutely have to. I’ve had insomnia for years on and off, dating back to when I had children when I lost the ability to just drop off to sleep without effort, but it’s been much worse recently.

However, I think I may finally have found something useful. A friend recommended a book by a psychologist, Guy Meadows – ‘The Sleep Book’.sleep-book-physical

The approach described in this book rests upon the simple assumption that there is no point in fighting insomnia, as it’s a battle you are bound to lose. (And I can affirm this from my own experience of lying awake at nights unable to sleep). The therapy recommended in this book is, essentially, mindfulness. This is a very fashionable therapy about which I have, frankly, felt somewhat sceptical, perhaps because it is so fashionable. However, my inability to sleep had become such a critical problem that I was prepared to give anything a go. So I’ve done the exercises assiduously for the past two or three weeks, and I do believe it’s paying off. I’ve had a couple of better nights; although they have not been unbroken and I’ve lain awake for periods, I’ve not felt the usual sense of panic, the racing heartbeat etc, and I think I may be coming to terms with it.

From the point of view of this blog and any creative work, I’ve simply been too tired and demoralised recently. However, if I get a bit more good sleep perhaps I’ll find my way out of the labyrinth and will be able to concentrate more on the things that make life worthwhile. I’ve been doing quite a lot of knitting as it doesn’t require much effort, and the systematic element of following a pattern is, to me at least, very soothing.

And finally, to end, a bit of welcome art news. The National Portrait Gallery in London will be staging an exhibition in 2015 of John Singer Sargent’s portraits – from 12th February to 25th May. I love his paintings and I’m looking forward to the exhibition very much. Hope I can get to see it more than once; there are 70 portraits in it which will be too much for one viewing I think.

More soon, I hope. I’ve been doing a bit of drawing in recent days and will share that with you. Before I go, I’ve noticed there have been a lot of visitors to the blog recently. Sorry there’s been nothing new for you to read. In my new capacity (I hope) as a well-rested and alert person, I intend to write more regularly.


Another day, another art gallery…..

Oops, it’s a week since I last posted. What happened to the week? Where did the time go? I usually feel like this at the end of a week, but today even more so. There were a few rather featureless days early in the week when I was just plugging away at work. But life improved towards the end of the week. My husband had a business meeting in Newcastle on Friday, so I decided to go with him and we elaborated the plan to include an overnight stay and a meal out. While he was at the meeting on Friday morning I wandered off to the excellent Newcastle retail offer and had a good time shopping for winter boots. An odd purchase on such a warm and beautiful day, but the boot shop assistant remarked that boots are selling out fast despite the gorgeous weather. So there you are – if you want new boots this winter this may be the time to get them. It’s not like me to be so well-organised – I’d usually be the one traipsing in after they’d sold out – so I was pleased. Now I suppose I must throw out the old ones which are bashed about, and one of which has a large hole in the toe. (Why is this woman wittering on about boots? I hear you ask).

To get to the point, then,  on Friday afternoon, it was off to yet another art gallery. Husband is also a keen art hound and, as regards Newcastle, he is ahead of me in that he has recently visited this gallery. It’s called the Laing, and it’s near the City Centre (here’s a photo). Laing Art Gallery NewcastleWell, it was great. There was an exhibition of paintings related to the First World War. Nothing truly remarkable, but a thought-provoking CWR Nevinson, ‘Restless Times’ featuring Rodin’s thinker and an assault upon thinking and values.Restless Times Nevinson Very striking.

There was also an exhibition curated by Jeremy Deller entitled ‘All That is Solid Melts Into Air’. This exhibition was put together around the theme of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on popular culture. All the cities of Northern England still bear the scars of the Industrial Revolution, although some more than others. In Lancashire the old mills are a continual reminder of the way of life of many of our forebears (including my own, many of whom were mill workers). In the coal-mining areas the tangible evidence tends to be less obvious because much of the land has been reclaimed, and quite right too. This is a touring exhibition that started in Manchester and which I think has already been to Coventry and Nottingham. I think Newcastle may be its last venue so unless you happen to be there I guess you’re not going to see it. I’m pleased I caught it.

The week ahead contains yet more work (it’s a constant, unfortunately), but there’ll be time for other things too. I’ve spent much of today in the garden in gorgeous autumn sunshine, soaking it up before winter comes. When the sun gets lower and the light more slanty as it does in the autumn here, the green is especially lovely. And, because there’s been a lot of rain (as usual) it really is a lovely saturated green. Wish I could capture it in a photo. Perhaps I’ll have a go if we get another day like this…..

Folk Art/Matisse

Well, yesterday was my Folk Art/Matisse day out in London. I’ve actually been in London since Tuesday, which partly explains why I’ve been a bit late with this week’s blogging. Yesterday I met my friend Laura (like myself, a keen art hound) outside Tate Britain as we’d decided to go to the Folk Art first, and then on to the Matisse at Tate Modern if we had the energy. I’d been looking forward to the Folk Art in particular, as I’d heard that there were some textile exhibits, and it’s been very favourably reviewed. British Folk Art Tate BritainBut, sad to say, I was disappointed. The exhibition comprises a motley collection of objects, some more interesting than others, but I felt it lacked coherence. In a very mixed exhibition like this, I feel the curators need to provide guidance in the form of a strong and coherent narrative. This exhibition seemed to me to lack any such narrative, and so it remained just a weird rag tag group of stuff assembled, mostly, from provincial museums. Perhaps fortunately it’s a relatively small exhibition so it didn’t take long, and we had sufficient remaining energy to contemplate the trip to Tate Britain.

That trip, between the two Tates, was one of the highlights of the day. There’s a fairly frequent boat service, and the trip takes only 13 minutes, although I wouldn’t have minded if it had taken a good deal longer. It’s a lovely way to see some of the most famous touristy landmarks in London. Arriving at Tate Modern we were gripped by a need to sit down and have lunch in the ground floor cafe, and very nice too. After a Caesar salad, a pot of English Breakfast tea and an absorbing and lengthy chat, I felt just about ready to take on Matisse.Matisse Cut Outs Tate Modern

While I think I more or less get the point about Matisse, he’s never been one of my favourite painters, so I wasn’t completely enthused by the prospect of the cut-outs exhibition. I was even less enthused when I saw the vast numbers of people going into the exhibition and glimpsed the crowded first room. But, refreshed by the very nice lunch, we decided we were up for the experience and in we plunged. Well, it was outstanding, and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. The exhibition finishes next week, which is such a pity, as I’d love to go again. The first room featured Matisse’s first experiments in cut paper, which were on a modest scale. As you progress around the rooms the exhibits get larger and bolder, and themes (of colour and shape in particular) start to emerge. The exhibits are bold and full of movement, vigour and life. A poignant element of the show is that Matisse himself was failing physically when he created some of the later pieces. They were achieved with the help of assistants because Matisse by this stage was infirm and in a wheelchair. His assistants painted papers in gouache in colours chosen by Matisse. Once he had cut out shapes, the assistants climbed stepladders with tacks and hammers and tacked the shapes into position as directed by Matisse. It notes in the small leaflet handed out to all visitors that Matisse had ‘extraordinary creative energy’ in his final years. Quite so. This exhibition is full of life and energy and is very uplifting. Quite a contrast to the mostly dreary folk art we saw in the morning.

Laura bought the exhibition catalogue which looked like a very good piece of work. I’m trying hard not to buy catalogues when I go to exhibitions, partly to save cash and also to try not to add to the book problem (too many) we’ve got in the house. But I hope I’ll retain the impression of this exhibition without the catalogue. It was so inspiring – it made you want to pick up your scissors and start cutting out shapes straight away. And who knows, one day I might just have a go.

This was a memorable day out. The contrast between the two exhibitions could hardly have been greater. If you’re in London in the next few days, and you haven’t seen the Matisse, I can thoroughly recommend it. As you can see from the illustration of the final weekend poster above, Tate Modern is, intriguingly, offering an all-nighter opportunity. So if you fancy seeing it at 4 in the morning, it looks like you’ll be able to do it.

I’ve got a backlog of things to write about on the blog, and I’ll try to get round to clearing it over the next couple of weeks. Trouble is, as ever, there are just too many things I want to do. And a whole heap of less alluring things that I need to do, notably weed removal, house cleaning, tidying, bits of work etc. The immediate task is soup, so I’ll just go and get on with that…..  More soon.

David Prentice

I was sorry to read last week that David Prentice, the artist, had died. I was rummaging around in The Guardian one morning and there was his obituary. He was one of the best contemporary artists of the British landscape. I love his paintings, although I have only ever seen them in reproduction (but I do possess a rather good catalogue from one of his exhibitions). Here’s an example of his work:David Prentice: Above Llanberis Lake

This watercolour painting is entitled ‘Above Llanberis Lake’. I know that, obviously, it’s of Llanberis Lake, but it reminds me a lot of Ullswater in the Lake District which has the same wonderful shade of purplish blue when seen, as here, from above. I think one of David Prentice’s great strengths was the ability to convey the impression of light, and this is a remarkably fine example. Just imagine being able to paint like that….

And here’s another:Belle Vue Climb Malvern by David Prentice

This is an example of one of David Prentice’s favourite subjects: the Malvern Hills in middle England. I think it’s wonderful. If I could have afforded to buy one of his paintings I would surely have done so.

I’ve not posted here for almost a week. I’m keeping rather too busy on the work front at the moment, so there will be something of a skeleton service on the blog. But I’ll try to write a bit more before the end of the week….


Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

Well, I’m pleased to report that I did manage to make the trip to Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, although not without getting lost near the M25 at Leatherhead. What a vile thing it is (the M25, not Leatherhead) but, sad to say, it’s very useful for getting round in the South East. Ditchling is a little village on the edge of the South Downs, about 8 miles outside Brighton. If any of you are familiar with Sussex you’ll know that, despite being so close to London and so heavily populated like almost everywhere in the South East, it remains gorgeously, sumptuously, beautiful. Ditchling, the village, is a little gem, full of delightful traditional English cottages, with hollyhocks and other cottage garden flowers adorning their sweet little gardens. I suspect, however, that the museum may not be an altogether good development for the village. The museum website points out that it has no parking, and suggests using the (free) village hall car park. When I got there at around 10.30 in the morning, the village hall car park was full. The village has charming but narrow lanes and parking is obviously a problem. This will presumably get to be an even bigger problem if the museum becomes more popular.

The museum is a lovely building comprising an extensive modern addition to an existing traditional building. As you can see in the photo below, it’s a modern interpretation of a traditional barn (at least I think that’s what it is).Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The day I visited was extremely hot, by English standards, but the building is cool and very pleasant inside. The collection on display is quite small, but that’s sometimes preferable to a massive and overwhelming show. I spent time going round it slowly, then went outside to sit in the shade, then back in for a second look. Various artists and craftspeople lived in and around Ditchling during the 20th century and the collection is of their work. The most famous artist, by far, associated with Ditchling is Eric Gill. Here’s a lovely piece of his work that’s on display:Eric Gill

Anyone who’s read the warts-and-all biography of Gill by Fiona MacCarthy will know that he was a decidedly odd and somewhat unsavoury character. However, the man was multi-talented and his best work is remarkable. But many less well-known artists are represented in the museum. I was especially struck by the work of Ethel Mairet who used natural dyes in her workshop in Ditchling. In 1915 she published a book: ‘Natural Dyes: Being a Book of Recipes and Other Information Useful to the Dyer’. This is, amazingly, still in print. One of the displays at the museum claims the book is available on Kindle but I can’t find it, so I’ve ordered a print copy. If it’s useful, I’ll let you know in a future post.

The other set of exhibits that really resonated with me was the painting by Louis Ginnett of his daughter as a little girl, and, most of all, the letters to that same daughter which he wrote from the front during the First World War. One or two of these are exhibited under glass, but in the museum’s library there’s a set of photocopies of the full set of letters. They are heart-rending. Fortunately, Ginnett survived the experience and went home to his family at the end of the war. Here’s the painting:Louis Ginnett

So, in summary, well worth a visit if you’re visiting Sussex. The staff are pleasant and helpful, there’s a high-quality shop although the range of objects for sale is quite small, and I had a really excellent cup of tea. The cakes looked good, but I don’t eat cake so can’t review that aspect.



Planning a day out…

I’ll be away for a few days after today in various parts of England for various reasons, some to do with work and some to do with leisure. I’ve got a couple of days free when I can pretty much please myself what I do and as I’ll be in Sussex for a couple of days I’m planning a day out to Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft in the South Downs near Brighton. I’ve read about this place, but never been, and I’m really excited at the prospect of going. Click on the link or the image  to see some of what I’ll be seeing …..Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

Of course, I’ll be writing a post about it when I get back, sometime next week.


Jean-Paul Gaultier at the Barbican

Passing through London last week, I visited the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican. My husband, who gets some pretty good ideas from time to time, suggested it might be a good outing with our daughter who just happened to be at a loose end in London that afternoon. This is not a cheap outing for three people, with tickets at £14.50 each, but it turned out to be well worth the cost as it was a memorable exhibition.

I expect most of you are familiar with J-P’s work, some of which is very well known, e.g. Madonna’s corsets and some of Kylie’s stage outfits. (See example of corsetry in photo below). Jean-Paul GaultierI first became aware of him years ago when he was co-presenting ‘Eurotrash’ on Channel 4; he has a most charming and beguiling personality which worked very well on television. What I hadn’t realised until I went to this exhibition is that he’s also a serious and very influential artist. I just loved this show. You actually get quite a lot of frock for your £14.50; we were in there for around an hour and 40 minutes and if I’d been on my own I might well have spent even longer.

So, what are the highlights? For me:

  • The huge range of styles and influences. It’s not just about corsets although there is a lot of corsetry in the show. There are some lovely dresses, suits, kilts and jackets. Some of them look eminently wearable, although you’d have to be brave/impervious to comment to wear some of the garments outdoors.
  • The sheer ingenuity of the concepts. For example, one of my favourite pieces was a woman’s evening dress made entirely out of men’s silk ties. This was beautiful, stylish, imaginative and even wearable.
  • J-P’s eclectic approach to style, design and models. Although he’s dressed many famous, stick-thin, models, he’s also taken a more broad-minded approach to size and appearance, designing, for example, for Beth Ditto and for unusual, non-standard, models. Given that most of us are not supermodels, this inclusive approach is very welcome.
  • The beautiful manufacture and finish of the couture garments. I spent ages looking at how the garments had been put together, and the ornamental finishes achieved. It’s a good opportunity to look at couture up close and to appreciate the vast amount of work and skill that goes into these garments. Anyone who is interested in stitching would get a lot out of this show.

Any downsides? Not really, although I would have really appreciated the opportunity to look at a sample of garments on the inside, in order to look at the back of the work, the seams and construction. I should think fashion students and anyone interested in garment construction would get something out of this. But this is a minor point; it’s a fabulous show, and if you get the chance to go, I recommend it.