Andrew Graham Dixon's new series The Art of Gothic was on BBC4 last night - now available on i-Player.
Here's AGD getting in to character.
Part of the BBC Gothic Season - well it is near Hallowe'en after all - this is the spooky tale of how the upper and middle classes of 18th century England went a bit bonkers for scary stuff.
Yes, out of the Age of Enlightenment and Reason a monster was
born - a Gothic obsession with monsters, ghouls, ghosts and things that
go bump in the night. From restrained aristocratic beginnings to
pornographic excesses, the Gothic revival came to influence popular art,
architecture and literature. Which led to Hammer-horror type literature (such as the Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk), collapsing piles of stately homes such as Fonthill, and real follies that were built to look half-built.
And then there was Salvator Rosa. Hurrah! You can read more HERE in my blog.
Now Rosa (1615-1673, fact fans), was a Neapolitan painter of bandits, rugged, ravaged landscapes, scurrolous poems and plays and paintings of witches. And, incidently, a landscape painter who painted en plein air a couple of centuries before the Impressionists strode out into the French countryside. Hah!
AGD looked at the example in the National Gallery, Witches at their Incantations of 1646.
It's a quite bonkers little painting, which Rosa considered to be one of his finest (but then, he wasn't exactly the most modest of people), and has all sorts of hellish goings-on - hanged men, babies being sacrificed, spells being cast, skeletons of monsters rising up from the dead. All of these, says AGD, are lit as if by the lighting flashes from a storm. And the whole confection is apparently Rosa saying, "You think this is all going on out there? Well, what a load of far-fetched rubbish."
Although a wow in 1646, Rosa fell out of favour. He was then right slap bang in fashion again during the Gothic, and this painting was just the sort of thrilling thing that society was looking for in the mid 1700s.
And then he went out of fashion again. Oh dear.
AGD also looked at the first Goth - Thomas Chatterton, an irritatingly precocious attention-seeking melancholic chap who forged medieval manuscripts under the guise of a thirteenth century monk - very badly as AGD found out when he went to look at the originals. Lots of tea-stains sloshed about.
Born in Bristol in 1752, here's Junior Chatterton, looking intense and moody. Here, he's on holiday, but he's chosen to spend it indoors, mooning about writing some faux-medieval poetry.
Chatterton's Holiday Afternoon engraved by William Ridgway, after W.B. Morris, pub. 1875
During his summer hols, he wrote political letters, plays, eulogies and satires, determining to take on London literary society. But it all went pear-shaped, his forgeries got a D minus ('Must try harder' - Horace Walpole), and he dramatically killed himself in August 1770 by drinking arsenic, aged 17, three days after being trapped in an open grave in St Pancras. Could happen to anyone. Gothic indeed.
Henry Wallis, the Death of Chatterton, 1856
Anyway, I wasn't hugely enamoured of this latest series by Mr Graham Dixon. I have to say, it didn't really hold my attention, but that has a lot to do purely with the subject. All the Gothic literary and painterly melodrama, the money poured into follies and postured thrill-seeking was never something that really gripped or interested me. It's just all very mannered and unreal. People with money and too much time on their hands were spending that money and time to conjour up something to scare themselves with, when there was plenty of very scary real life stuff happening to less fortunate people right outside their doors. Like poverty. Or disease. Or the French Revolution.
It's always great to be in Liverpool. It's a city that reminds me very much of Glasgow, and after some years of being in flux, with great swathes in decay, knocked down, or about to be demolished, it's gradually coming together again.
This, of course, is the iconic Liver Building.
Down by the Albert Dock, padlocks have been put on the railings, with all sorts of romantic messages. Well, it looks romantic. Who knows what it actually says....
I went down to see the Tate's Dazzle Ship by Carlos Cruz-Diez. I've blogged about it HERE.
Now where could it be...?
No, can't see it. I mean, I know it's meant to be camouflaged, but this is ridiculous. I really can't see it.
Hang on, there's some information about it on a display panel on the side of the Tate....maybe there's a clue here.
Ok...let's look again....there's got to be a big ship here somewhere...
So...ok.... it's that thing there that looks like a giant packet of Refreshers...?? Oh, you've got to be kidding...
Mr Cruz-Diez wasn't kidding. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. I was really disappointed. Call that dazzle?? It's just stripey.
So I had to content myself with other things around the Albert Dock. Like this.
I even popped in to the Tate itself, which had a rather lovely exhibition called Constellations. I didn't quite get the whole concept (although you can read more about it HERE), but the main gist was that no artist (to paraphrase Donne) is an island, and no artwork exists in isolation - one thing triggers another. Anyway, it which featured a really spectacular pastel by the savage messiah himself, Henri Gaudier Brzeska.
Rather wonderfully, you could even take a look at the back of the picture.
I have to say, I went to see the Wild Thing show about Epstein, Gill etc, and don't recall seeing this pastel. But never mind, I've seen it now, and very beautifully sculptural it is too. It has a fauvist Gauguin feel, with bold vibrant colours and an energy of pattern making, and very strong, black, confident outlines to the face, which are quite difficult for a right-handed person to execute in a portrait facing to the right. However, I've also seen similar heads by him facing to the left. It would be interesting to know which was his lead hand sculpting.
A very interesting headline on the front page of the Herald caught my eye this morning.
"Call for Irish-Style Tax Breaks For Artists"
In the article, Douglas Connell, a leading tax lawyer and chairman of
Museums Galleries Scotland (so presumably he should know what he's talking about) says artists should be given special tax exemptions in order to help boost cultural life in Scotland and bring significant economic benefits to Scotland. This would be along the lines of those exemptions available already in Ireland. 'Artists Exemption' was introduced there in 1969 and is now governed by Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Of course, you have to live in Ireland to get it - like this chap, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh.
Mr Connell's argument is that the people involved in creative and artistic activities are on very modest incomes (tell me about) whilst contributing greatly to the artistic and cultural life of Scotland and boosting its economy. 'The Scottish Artists Incentive' would be structured, he suggests in a paper put forward to the Smith Commission, as either an additional deduction from the calculation of income tax, as is the case in Ireland, or it could take the form of a new rate of income tax to be applied to specific types of income. Hallelulah. I'll vote for that.
Keen readers of old political manifestos will remember that this was one of the key pledges contained in the SNP manifesto for the last election. Well, it was key for me, and obviously a pledge which I had a vested interest in, one which would make a huge personal difference to me, my family, and to the lives of all of the people that I know in the creative industries.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen - despite having a majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP were unable to implement it. According to Nicola Sturgeon, who handily called round to my house to talk about it, the problem was (and is) that Holyrood has no tax-raising powers to implement such initiatives, as these powers remain with Westminster. The only way of implementing it was by a clunky and unworkable system of artists paying the tax, then being reimbursed in some form of a rebate or grant.
However, how things change...
There may have been a No vote at the Scottish Referendum, but in many ways, you wouldn't think it. It didn't really matter how you voted, we certainly don't have the status quo any more, either in terms of the UK, or in terms of the set up of our political system. I'm not sure how history will look at this year and the next few years, as a lot of it so far is a nebulous feeling-in-the-air of change, that's yet to shake down concretely into the next quantifiable stage - but it's certainly very interesting times to be living in and part of.
Anyway, back to The Vow. Now it's down to the nitty-gritty of the Smith Commission to flesh out the front page of the Daily Record (who would have thought...). The Commission represents the opportunity to now put a whole lot of ideas on the table for all parties and no parties to discuss, including such forward-thinking tax solutions as this, ideal for small creative countries like Scotland whose great strength lies in the resourcefulness and creativity of its people.
Whether Scotland will be allowed to have such taxes rubber-stamped by the next Westminster government - and goodness knows what on earth the next government will look like, such are the strange grassroots political times that we live in - well, we'll have to wait and see.
It's a long, long time in politics between now and next May. Watch this space.
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on at the moment in the studio.
I'm busy on a consignment of paintings that are going to be off down to London just before Christmas. Here they are, drying around the studio.
It's good to have an eye on them so you can visualise what the show will look like and how it will read together. Thinking about one piece leads you on to thinking about something else - so creating a show is a bit like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Here's one of poppy fields near York, sitting on top of my paints cabinet along with a couple of my sculptures.
These are paintings of (at back l-r) Whitby, Torr Head in Northern Ireland, Keswick. Front - harebells near Portrush, poppies near York.
Not much room to move!! If you'd like to ask anything about the paintings or have any comments, please feel free.
Thought you might like to see one of the results of my labours at the sculpture workshop. It's a large piece - because I invariably seem to make pieces which are incredibly large and unbelievably heavy, and this one is no exception. It's based on field work that I did in Northern Ireland recently, on the Causeway Coast. Here's my photo of White Park Bay, with it long sweep of the strand, looking out (on a clear day) towards Jura (right hand side).
Thecliffs sweeps round like two arms encompassing the bay. So... here's my sculpture.
This is a pair of found armatures welded onto a circle of steel rods. Because hey - I can weld!!!
Here is the circular armature - representing the curve of the bay and the cliffs, with the sweep of the sand and the sea. I've welded it onto supports set into a slice of a 114 year old tree trunk (count those rings). To the left on the ground, you can see a box containing the shards of clear and painted glass which I am going to use to make the sea.
A large sheet of plain green glass in added as a base, and the pieces of painted glass are then fixed into place on top of it using car body filler, which takes about 10 minutes to go off. Chicken wire is fixed into place at the back to receive scrim and plaster.
The painted glass is fixed at an angle to represent the waves sweeping in.
Scrim and plaster have been moulded over the chickenwire, then painted with acrylic paint.
The beaches in that area of Northern Ireland (such as White Rocks Beach) have very characteristic completely black and completely white rocks, hence the colours here.
I left the found armature exposed because I liked the patina, and the fact that they looked like arms. I wanted to give the sense of the land embracing the sea.
Well, there it is. Shards of broken glass and spikes of steel suspended at waist height. Lethal!!