Regular readers of this blog will be aware that if there was a television series that consisted of Andrew Graham Dixon reading the back of a cereal packet to camera, I would be eagerly watching every minute of it.
So, given my fondness for Dutch art, it was with great excitement that I tuned in to the three part series The High Art of the Low Countries on BBC4 with Mr AGD.
In these programmes, Andrew Graham Dixon tours the Low Countries, exploring
how history has influenced the area's art, architecture and culture.
In the second programme, I was thrilled that AGD visited the Jan Six house in Amsterdam, and discussed the wonderful portrait by Rembrandt of his friend, the first Jan Six.
I was lucky enough to see this painting in a visit through my University in 1983 (the house is normally closed to the public), which I wrote about in my blog here. I was very struck by the gesture of Jan Six's hand being thrust into his glove, as if caught in the moment before turning to leave, and rendered in quick, impressionistic darts of paint which said everything about the personality of the sitter and captured the immediacy of the momentary act.
Moving from the Golden Age of Rembrandt to the modern age, the general thrust of the third programme was that following
a brief period of decline, the entrepreneurial and industrious region
of the Low Countries rose again to become a cultural leader in the
modern age. Despite its small and almost insignificant size it produced
important forward-thinking artists like Van Gogh, Mondrian, Magritte and
Delvaux, who changed the face of art forever.
Vincent Van Gogh was originally a missionary in Belgium before he found his true religious vocation as a painter. Nature was at the centre of this new faith, exemplified by his early painting The Potato Eaters, which he considered to be 'one of the best things I have done' throughout his life.
With its dark brown potatoey colours, and almost characatured, potatoey faces of the sitters, never has paint more accurately summed up a life of earthy toil.
Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (Oil on canvas, 1885)
Van Gogh was 'forging a new religion for the common man with images of divine beauty'. In his paintings of sunflowers he was painting, according to AGD, his sense of himself (he signed the vase with his Christian name). The whole cycle of life and death, with the buds of the flowers, the full-blown sunflowers and the dying seed head containing the new life, is all in one painting.
Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (Oil on canvas 1888)
Van Gogh spoke of the paint itself in very sensual terms, using food metaphors like that of the garlicky mayonnaise that is common in Holland. (In fact, he apparently did, in some less lucid moments, actually eat his paint, never a good thing considering the poisons that it contained, such as arsenic and heavy metals.)
There is a feeling in the sunflower paintings (as there is also in Joan Eardley's late work) of a great sense of urgency, that there is but a brief time in which to create - indeed, two years after he painted the sunflowers, Van Gogh was dead, aged 37.
But the crux of the meaning of the sunflowers is that they are used as a metaphor for self, that nature is a conduit by which you can communicate something about what it is to be human. And in Van Gogh's case, something which is fragile, mutable and passing, something which, like food itself, can be consumed. Perhaps Vincent himself felt eaten up and consumed by the weight of his mission of serving as a conduit between nature and art, the enormity of all of nature waiting to find a voice that is you. No wonder it blew his mind.
Nature also blew the mind of Mondrian. Here he is in 1907, painting a low tonal, mystical landscape.
Piet Mondrian, Trres by the Gein at Moonrise (Oil on canvas, 1907)
and here he is after seeing the paintings of Van Gogh.
Piet Mondrian, Evening, The Red Tree (Oil on canvas, 1908)
It is as if Van Gogh has lit a match that has set fire to his world.
Mondrian was a member of the Theosophists, who believed that there was a spiritual life beyond the visual appearance. He therefore moved towards distilling the visual appearance of things to release the spiritual within, creating a cathedral of nature.
The thing that struck me most forcibly about my trip to the Netherlands in 1983 was that when I saw the landscape, Mondrian made sense. Mondrian's work was a logical progression towards expressing landscape in terms of the horizontal and the vertical, and in Holland, that's all you had - flat landscape punctuated by the odd vertical of a church spire of a row of trees. Mondrian, says AGD, took control, seeing the pattern and structure of the world, distilling, purifying and reducing.
1914 found Mondrian cooped up in Domburg in north west Holland, spending day after day sketching the sea and sky in charcoal. It inspired
Mondrian's transition to his abstract grid paintings.
Here's the beach at Domburg.
Piet Mondrian, Pier and Ocean (Oil on canvas 1915)
It was only when I saw this painting again during this programme that I thought "Ah - I get it!", and also its resonance of the rows ofcrosses of first world war graves.
The simplicity of the image, the stripping it down to a sense of just a cross, refers back to the simple church interior paintings of Pieter Saenredam, three hundred years earlier.
Pieter Janszoon Saenredam, Interior of the Church of St Bavo in Haarlem (Oil on panel, c1660)
Mondrian then went to the most grid-like place on earth to live, New York, and merged the essential underlying grid of nature with the jazz-age vibrancy of colour.
Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie (Oil on canvas, 1942)
In this programme we even got to see inside the De Stijl house of 1924, unfortunately situated in right next to a busy road in downtown Utrecht, but still very very exciting.
Rietveld Schröder House
photo: Ernst Moritz
Here's the funky interior, where every window and door, as AGD demonstrated, forms a new piece of 'art'.
Photo: Ernst Moritz
However, when Andrew opened the door to the toilet, it was just a normal toilet - not a funky square red and black toilet with a blue seat. Nor was the stove or the door furniture designed along De Stijl lines - it just looked like B&Q. I can't help thinking that if Charles Rennie Mackintosh had been designing that house, he'd have paid a bit more attention to that sort of detail.
It was at this point that the programme sort of fell into a bit of a dip, because AGD started talking about Belgium. Sorry Belgian readers - but it was as if he was told that he was contractually obliged to talk about Belgium for the last part of the programme, and was trying to find something interesting and cohesive to say.
This seemed to involve referencing Tintin and Andy Warhol (who wasn't to my recollection Dutch or Belgian), a quick discussion on Magritte, and then a long piece about Paul Delvaux.
I couldn't quite connect with AGD's argument. Delvaux's paintings seem to be elusive in their meaning, and the protagonists in them are enigmatic and indecipherably expressionless, despite the oddness of the narrative setting in which they find themselves. They are oddly free of emotion because you can't really connect with what they're all about.
Paul Delvaux, Sleeping Venus (Oil on canvas, 1944)
I felt that the programme had similarly run of emotional steam by this point.
However, the final scenes took us to a vault in Holland where the state had sponsored the making of art by giving grants to artists. It had stockpiled 50,000 works, of varying levels of competence, before the money ran put in the 1980s. The art is under lock and key. We were shown a state which encourages art, but doesn't necessarily want to be challenged by it.
It was a great series. If it's repeated again, I'd watch it again quite happily. AGD speaks knowledgeably and with great insight and passion about his subjects. He takes you on a journey that feels like the natural and obvious progression of things. And he can do a piece to camera whilst riding a bicycle. You can't ask more of a man than that.
Well, gosh, I'll leave that to you to decide - but according to those lovely living sculptures Gilbert and George in this BBC ARTICLE, it's a big 'yes'.
"We admire Margaret Thatcher
greatly." says George (above left), "She did a lot for art. Socialism wants everyone to be equal. We
want to be different."
And by golly, George and Gilbert are certainly that.
They have their clothes on in this one.
My favourite soundbite from the Ant and Dec of art was during the BBC documentary Imagine, when Gilbert was talking about how their neighbour Tracey Emin was always pushing invites to the previews of her shows through their front door in Spitalfields. "Luckily, ve haff a goot shrredder." said Gilbert, drily.(He's actually Italian, but I'm very bad on accents.)
Anyway, I'll leave you to read the BBC article on Mrs T as the grit to the cultural oyster and leave you to make up your own mind.
Back in July, I talked about the fleshy paintings of Jenny Savile and Chaim Soutine.
In my blog here I talked about dirt-poor, angry-young-man-about-post-World-War-One-Paris Mr Soutine, and his modus operandi of painting an animal carcass that he'd bought from the slaughterhouse. His neighbours objected to the long drawn-out painting process when the blood that he was throwing over the carcass in his studio to keep it looking fresh dripped through their ceilings.
Here's Soutine, painting in 1916 by his friend, Modigliani.
Canny American art collector
Dr Albert C Barnes bought 52 of Soutine's work in a bargain-basement
career-making job lot, paying the penniless artist in cash between $15-30 per
painting (depending on which one of Barne's letters you believe).
knowing full well that he was creating a market in an artist, was now
sitting on a small fortune, with keen interest from dealers. Soutine on the other hand, grabbed the money, ran into the street, hailed a taxi, and drove 200 miles to the South of France.
Barnes was a clever businessman and a chemist, and having made his fortune from a highly successful drug formula, was similarly looking for the formula for a successful artist as an investment. In his letters, Barnes often asked about the constituents of the perfect piece of art, as if art could similarly be reduced to a formula. Obviously he thought he'd found it with Soutine and his eviscerated carcasses. And it looks like he was right.
February 2006, an oil painting from this series 'Le Boeuf Écorché'
(1924) sold for a record £7.8 million ($13.8 million) at Christies in
London. Now it's available on a stamp.
Perhaps not something you'd like to lick the back of.
Meanwhile, Norway has issued a series of Edvard Munch 150th anniversary stamps.
The USA has just issued a series of stamps showing work by Modern Masters.
Whilst Canada is expressing its deep cultural heritage by putting Rush on its stamps.
I've been working on the same sculpture at Art School now for a year, and still haven't finished it.
Apart from weighing nearly the same as a small battleship, the casting process and the number of constituent parts has meant that it's been a very, very long, drawn-out affair - so different from putting paint on a canvas.
So far, for this one sculpture, I've made seven parts in clay, built 13 clay walls, poured 13 plaster jackets to creat moulds, waited till the plaster has fully set, removed the clay from the 13 plaster moulds once that's set, soaked the moulds, mixed the concrete, laid in copper elements, cast 7 concrete pieces, waited several weeks till the concrete set, chipped off 12 plaster jackets (number 13 still ongoing), and glued together 2 broken pieces of sculpture and put in 4 metal rods. And that's all work that you won't see or have a clue about when you see the final sculpture.
It's an epic. And I still don't know if it's all going to fit together and look like the idea that's been in my head for a year. It could still be a complete two-ton disaster.
And when you take the cast concrete pieces out of the plaster, they have a life of their own - the material has done things in the mould you just haven't anticipated and looks nothing like you expected.
So unlike painting, where I have control of the colour, the brush-stroke and so on, with sculpture you kind of have to give yourself up to the materials and let the way that the materials behave and the mistakes and chance elements along the way become part of the story of the piece. It's a bit like being pregnant, where instead of owning your own body, it suddenly becomes a democracy.
Here's the base, looking rather like the mummy Horta from the original Star Trek series episode The Devil in the Dark.
Set phasers to stun!!
chipping a very reluctant giant concrete tortoise out of hibernation. It's also
Herculite rather than softer casting plaster (due to the weight of the
concrete), so it's tough stuff.
It took two strapping young men to (very kindly) lift the base part of it for me when I moved it from the Art School earlier this week - hence the heavy-duty trolley. It's preeeeettttty heavy.
Perhaps I should just start thinking of things on a much smaller scale, made out of something like tissue paper....
I'm going to be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol next week, and I have one free invite to the Private View on Thursday 25th April.
If you'd like the invite - which also lets you and a friend in for FREE throughout the duration of the fair (which runs until Sunday 28th), then drop me a line with your postal address to
judith at jibridgland.com.
and I'll send it off to you ASAP. First come, first served!
The Affordable Art Fair in Bristol is the only one in the UK outside London. It's a great fair, held in Brunel's Old Station at Temple Meads. I'm going to have an exciting selection of work on Stand E11 with the Lime Tree Gallery.
Caswell Bay, Gower Peninsula (Oil, 10 x 10)
Autumn Sunlight, Hampstead Heath (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)
Sun and Clouds, the Mumbles (Oil, 10 x 10)
For more information about the Affordable Art Fair, please click here.
A very big thank you to everyone who came along to The Cornish Landscape preview on Saturday. There was an amazing turnout despite the terrible rainy weather in Bristol that day, and it was also great to meet with the other artists, Euan McGregor and Peter Wileman.
Here's a few pictures of the show...
The Lime Tree Gallery
My paintings (l-r) - Sea Thrift at Carn Gloose, Cape Cornwall, Sennen Cove and Portheras Cove
Lower Left - Calm Sea at Dawn, St Ives
Top - Setting Sun, Lanyon Quoit
Lower Right - Weather Coming in over Little Trevalagan
The artist Euan McGregor (second from left) with his paintings
Gallery Director Sue Dean with the mini Cornish pasties.
Behind is my painting Land's End
Signing a purchase!
If you missed the preview, then the show continues until 14th May.
I'm just off down to Bristol for The Cornish Landscape exhibition preview which is on Saturday.
I'm not only looking forward to meeting my fellow exhibitors, Peter Wileman and Euan McGregor, but also seeing the show hanging together in the gallery for the first time. That's always an exciting part.
The preview day looks like being really special, as there will be lots going on - as well as Cornish-themed catering, there's going to be short talks by each of the artist (mine is at 2pm), and a rather exciting prize draw. Everyone who purchases one of my pictures on the day of the preview will be eligable to enter the draw for this little painting.
Poppies and Big Clouds, Poldhu (Oil, 5 x 7)
It's a sweet little oil of a patch of wild flowers and bright red waxy poppies right at the edge of the beach at Poldhu. The painting looks back towards the rolling hills that overlook the cove.
The draw for the painting will take place at 5pm at the end of the preview.
So if you're in the Bristol area on Saturday, then please feel free to come along to the Lime Tree Gallery. We'd love to see you there!
There's a new Joan Eardley exhibition opening today at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. It's to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her death, at the age of only 42, and also the publication of a new book about her and her life.
The book, by Christopher Andreae, has resulted recently in some lurid tabloid-style headlines in the normally reserved Herald newspaper ("Female Artists Love Letters to the Wife of Scots Sheriff" - how's that for a double-whammy of sexism?) taking the 'outing' of Eardley, through its publication of previously unseen letters, as the main thrust of the book.
Given how the world has moved on in the half century since her death (although not, apparently, the headline writers of the Herald), and how her reputation as a major Scottish artist has quite rightly sky-rocketed in that time, I think its fair to say that no-one really gives a hoot about such 'revelations'.
Eardley is mostly remembered as a landscape painter, whose work was veering towards pure abstraction in an emotional response to the landscape around Catterline in north-east Scotland where she lived in her final years.
Here's Fishing Nets 1, of 1963, the year she died. At this point, she would have known she was gravely ill.
It's painted on board, which she would put on an easel outside on the shoreline, painting directly in front of nature in all weathers. She would use of bits of board, household paint, and the surface would get covered in sand and bits of grass. That was all part of the 'moment' of creating the painting, giving it an authenticity of place and time.
The paint is applied in energetic, confident, controlled strokes, with a way that tells you she had seen the motif that she was painting a thousand times and knew it so well that she didn't have to get caught up in an exact representation. The paint is very sensual, knowing, she is in charge, but there is also a tremendous urgency about it. It is scored into, drawn on, pattern-making.
Have a look at the square format. The fishing net is right at the centre, if you draw diagonals across. It gives a great dynamicism to the painting, and a monumentality to the central image.
And the more you look at it, the fishing nets form an almost Christ-like motif. It has parallels with Peter Lanyon's painting of St Just in Cornwall. This was an area he had lived in all his life, which he felt passionate about. It's about the tin-mining stretching out under the sea and the sacrifices the miners made, about the relationship of land and sea. In the representation of the land there is also that same Christ-like reference.
Peter Lanyon, St Just (Oil on canvas 1953)
I went to the opening of the Eardley show with my son, and his favourite painting was a tiny landscape of the Bay at Catterline.
Bay at Catterline (Oil on panel, 1958)
whilst mine was a tiny painting of haystacks.
Stacks (Oil on board, 1957)
Eardley is also known for her paintings of Glasgow children who lived in the Townhead area of Glasgow around her studio. Her favourite models were the Samson children, whom she would draw in pastel on pieces of paper saved from parcel wrappings, or bits of glass paper from Fishers where she also bought her paints (which she ground herself, often at the same time as she was making pieces for the children). She was very unprecious about the materials she used to draw on and the frames she used, which were often second hand. She was the original recycler.
I saw this little picture years ago in Cyril Gerber's gallery, where is didn't cost particularly much, and was in a rather ropy frame, if I remember correctly. I loved the intensity of the colour, but the fact it was constructed out of chopped up bits of paper bothered and annoyed me.
Tenement (1950, chalk on paper collage)
Now it's in a spanky gilded frame and costs many thousands of pounds, but it still annoyed me when I saw it again yesterday.
Also costing many thousands of pounds are images like this.
Pink Jumper (1959, pastel on glass paper)
It's an ordinary sheet of sandpaper, so as with so much of her work, it's a conservationists nightmare. The sandpaper takes the pastel easily and greedily, and the colour fills the tooth until there are large, intense flat areas of colour. She's then drawn in the detail with a very fine, presumably very hard, sharp, black crayon.
If you were around in Glasgow in the 1950s and 60s (as I was - the 60s that is), then it was a familiar sight to see chalk drawings on the sides of the tenements, which were made of sandstone, and had a similar surface. Children chalked on the walls up as high as they could reach, and I'm sure that this sketch references that.
Eardley rattled off masses of these little pictures, giving lots of them to the Samson children, who took them home, where they were promptly used to light the fire.
Now, my son really disliked these 'pictures of clown children'. As a child himself, he just didn't get what she was banging on about in these paintings with their cross-eyed, haystacked-haired, narrow-shouldered, red-cheeked urchins, and felt that they were in fact rather making fun of the children, going beyond keepin'-it-real and going into caricature, which made him feel a bit uncomfortable. However, having spoken to members of the Samson family, they never felt that in any way themselves, for Joan never spoke down to them, and they doted on her and the love and attention she gave them.
The commercial truth is that the pieces of paper that once were thought only fit to light a tenement fire are now worth tens of thousands.
If you're in Edinburgh, get along to the Scottish Gallery and see this important show, which runs until April 27th.