Friday, 30 March 2012

Happy Easter!

The schools break up today for Easter, so I'm off to be mummy for the next two weeks.

Happy Easter!  See you soon.

Treasures of Heaven

When I was in Paris at Easter last year, I went into Notre Dame.  Whilst I was there, a ceremony took place which had at its centre a large round glass case held by the priests, which a line of people were approaching to venerate, some on their knees.  As I sat and watched, I realised that the object in the case was the Crown of Thorns.

It gave me quite a jolt when I realised what it was I was seeing.  Having studied Fine Art, which is all bound up with the patronage of religion, I've seen a lot of reliquaries and unusual holy objects, from parts of the cross to bits of saints.

I've been to Jerusalem, to the Dome of the Rock, the exact location where Christ is said to have been crucified, and to Bethlehem, supposedly where the stable was.  Bethlehem was rather an underwhelming and unromantic place, but in Jerusalem, you could put your hand into the indentation in the rock where the cross would have been held upright during crucifixtion.  The intense atmosphere of everyone in the confined space of the vaulted room where the rock is was highly charged, and some people actually fainted when they felt the rock.

In Notre Dame, some approached the Crown of Thorns on their knees, and almost passed out when they were in front of it, such was the intensity of the moment.

Whether or not you believe that you can place your hand in the indentation of the stone of the exact spot where Christ was crucified, or that that object in the glass case in front of you in Notre Dame truly is the Crown of Thorns that touched the head of Christ, is not actually the point of a relic.

The potency and power of the object lies in the fact that it is the focus and embodiment of human belief and faith.  As such, it is a direct conduit to heaven, and therein lies its power. Instead of being separated from God, you are by your faith directly connected, just for a moment.

I don't know if you caught the BBC4 programme Treasures of Heaven, in which Andrew Graham Dixon looked at reliquaries, including the Crown of Thorns in Notre Dame.  Unfortunately it's no longer available on i-Player, although you can see more details and a small clip at Treasures of Heaven.  

It's a really interesting little programme, a gem in itself.  However the most memorable and moving moment is also the bit which you will need the strongest stomach for - I'll just say it's a very visceral moment involving an eye.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Favourite Paintings - Van Gogh

Given the beautiful sunny weather at the moment, this is perhaps an easy choice for favourite painting - Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers.

Vincent van Gogh Vase with 12 Sunflowers (version 3) (Oil on canvas 1888)

They're happy and vibrant and full of life-affirming optimism, and I think that's why so many people identify with and love these paintings.

Van Gogh had moved down to Arles in the sunny south of France in 1888, intending to set up a studio in the 'Yellow House' with his friend Paul Gauguin.  In preparation for his arrival, Vincent excitedly painted a series of 11 pictures of sunflowers to decorate the house.  Yellow, the colour of the sun, symbolised happiness, with the sunflower being a Dutch symbol of devotion and loyalty which he felt for his friend.  Also, by including flowers from buds and full blooms through to drooping seed heads in the paintings, it is a reminder of the cycle of life.
The paint is applied thickly, with love for the medium, and in a huge variety of strokes.  As well as the colour being expressive, the marks are too - fluid, lively, quick, with lots of texture.

Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers (detail) (Oil on canvas, 1888)
 Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers (detail) (Oil on canvas, 1888)

Initially, the sunflower paintings followed established painting rules, having a blue background (blue being the complementary of yellow, so that each colour is intensified by being beside each other).  However later paintings in the series have yellow backgrounds, so you have yellow on yellow with yellow, with just a central pop of blue.  It's turning the happiness and the message of the paintings right up to 11.
Vincent spent spent the summer of 1888 in a frenzy of work and waiting. Gauguin finally rolled into town in October, bringing a long roll of rough jute as a present, which both painters used as a substrate to paint on.  (You can trace their paintings they they did together at this time by piecing together the paintings that were cut from this roll of jute.)  
Having waited for months for his arrival, van Gogh must have been quite overwhelmingly fit to burst when his friend turned up.  Gauguin, however,  seems to have been quite arrogant and domineering. Unfortunately, it all ended in tears, with the actuality of the situation being nothing like the artistic idyll which Vincent had built up in his head.   The two artists didn't agree on anything, from domestic arrangements to painting, and van Gogh couldn't cope with Gauguin's overwhelming critical attitude.  
In only 2 months Gauguin was gone, and Vincent was plunged into severe depression.  
Eighteen months later, van Gogh was dead.

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with Two Sunflowers 1887

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Using Acrylics

For some of the work in the 'Great Welsh Journey' show, I've used acrylics as they're great for quick note-taking.

Acrylics are a synthetic paint which can be diluted with water.  They dry quickly, and once dry, they are plastic-like in nature, and are pretty impossible to get off clothes or brushes because you can't dissolve them with a solvent after they harden, so be careful, and always wash your brushes out as soon as you can! 

Acrylics are like a cross between watercolours and oils to use when painting.  They can be used thickly or drawn into like oils, or thinned down with water to use in washes like watercolour.

Here's some close-ups of some of the work from the show.

This is a small painting called Afternoon at Rhossili.  The card has been prepared with a gesso primer and a warm grey acrylic base coat.

Afternoon at Rhossili (Acrylic on card, 6.5 x 10)

When looking from the clifftop at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula, you can see the wide sweep of the bay with the water shining over the wet sand.  To get the effect of the water on the sand, I used the acrylic in washes of creams and then blues, with a lage soft cats tongue watercolour brush and plenty of water.  Coats of colour dry very quickly.  You can also see the warm grey of the base coat showing through.

 Afternoon at Rhossili (detail) (Acrylic on card, 6.5 x 10)

You can also draw into acrylic with the end of the brush or a stick, as you can with oils - this is called 'sgraffito'.  It reveals the colour of the canvas, or a dry layer of underpaint beneath.  The marks at the top are the distant lines of waves, the thicker marks at the bottom are grasses on the cliffs.

 Afternoon at Rhossili (detail) (Acrylic on card, 6.5 x 10)

This is a detail from Clouds over Wolf Castle (pictured in yesterdays blog).  Wolf Castle in a dramatic collections of jagged ruins on the crest of a hill which you can see rising up from the road across from Fishguard to Haverfordwest.  

To get the looseness and airiness of the clouds, I again used a large cats tongue brush, but using white on a dried background of sky blue, so that the colours didn't mix but retained their integrity.  The white was also thicker and more substantial, so didn't apply so thinly over the blue, although still allowing for a very free form of mark-making.

Clouds over Wolf Castle (detail) (Acrylic, 10 x 10)

Lastly, this is Houses at Betwys y Coed, which shows how you can apply acrylics thickly with a palette knife or edge of a piece of card.

Houses at Betwys y Coed (Acrylic, 10 x 10)

This is an area with autumn trees, so the paint here indicates volume and foliage.  I've also drawn into the paint so that the lilac of the base coat shows through (lilac being a complementary colour to the yellows of the foliage of the trees)

Houses at Betwys y Coed (detail) (Acrylic, 10 x 10)

These various ways of applying acrylic build up to form a vocabulary of different marks, which you can use in various combinations as part of a painting.   There's no right way or wrong way of applying the paint.  Find what's right for you.  When it looks right to you, and says what you want it to say, then you've got it right.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Next show heads for Bristol

My next show heads off in a van to Bristol today.

Called 'The Great Welsh Journey', this very special event is a one-off collection of landscape paintings, drawings and postcards from a journey around the Principality.   

 Rainclouds over Llandudno Pier (Mixed Media 29 x 24)

I went on a trip round Wales in September last year, from Llandudno and Anglesey in the north, through Snowdonia (very wet!!), down to Aberyswyth and the coast, Fishguard, across Pembrokeshire, Tenby, Swansea, round and round the Gower Peninsula, and then across to Neath, Merthyr Tydfil and the Black Mountains to Brecon.  All the while, through sunshine and showers,  my trusty camera was on hand!

 Rhossili Bay (Oil on linen, 32 x 48)

It's a really exciting show, as it was a chance to do something a bit different, with a real mixture of work in different media.  I'm hoping it will give a flavour of the excitement of documenting a journey and discovering a place.  As well as oils, I've used acrylics and mixed media drawings to give a sense of this fluid, quick response to a landscape.

 Clouds over Wolf Castle (Acrylic on card, 10 x 10)

The postcards were also very nice to do, as they're almost like postcards to myself about the journey, and their size means that they look really cute.

Bwlch (Oil on postcard, 5 x 7)

The exhibition also includes works by Welsh artists such as Vivienne Williams. There's a 'meet the artists' preview (I'll be there) on Saturday 28 April 11am - 4pm at the Lime Tree Gallery, 84 Hotwell Road, Bristol BS8 4UB. All welcome! 

Monday, 26 March 2012

New View of Mackintosh Building

Earlier this year, the 1960s concrete block of the Newbery Tower at Glasgow School of Art was demolished, gradually nibbled away by a rather intriguing dinosaur-like piece of machinery over the course of a couple of weeks.

(Thanks to Anne Morrison for her photos.)

Whilst it's goodbye to the Textile Department, and to the end of term exhibition in the Newbery Gallery, it does mean that for the first time in 50 years, you can actually see the whole facade of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's masterpiece.

Picture: Jeff J Mitchell

It's a great opportunity to see it before the new buildings opposite once again obfuscate the view.  You can read more here in an article in today's Herald.

There's also what promises to be a very interesting programme on BBC4 on Thursday which includes a discussion on Mackintosh and his influence, and also that of arguably the greater talent of his wife, Margaret MacDonald.  Sex and Sensibility: The Allure of Art Nouveau is on BBC4 on Thursday 29th March at 9pm.  You can see details here.  

You can catch up with episode one of this 3-part series about this lusciously sensual decorative style in Paris on BBC i-player here.

You can also read more in a piece in today's Guardian here called 'Art Nouveau - a Magical Style'.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Favourite Paintings - Rembrandt

When I was 8, we did a project on Holland in Primary School, and our teacher brought in some slides of Dutch paintings which we looked at through a viewfinder which you put up to your eye.  One was Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and the other was Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (on reflection, a rather strange combination of images).  

Seeing coloured images like that was a reasonably uncommon experience in the 60s, in a house with no books and before colour television, so the experience and surprise of seeing these paintings in that small but intimate way had a rather profound effect.  One image was all about colour, the other all about gesture, both were full of emotion.  I loved them both.

Years later, when studying abroad as part of my degree, I had the opportunity to stand in front of Rembrandt's The Jewish Bride in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, one of my must-see artworks.

 Rembrandt van Rijn The Jewish Bride (oil on canvas c.1667)

The title is a speculative one added in the 19th century.   It's a big, dark painting, and yet it seems to glow. You can't take your eyes off it when you stand in front of it is because it is all about texture and colour and gesture and emotion.  It had layers and layers of paint and flickering brushwork that suggests different materials and textiles catching the light, and three dimensionality.  This is the golden sleeve of the man.

It's just paint, and yet it has a reality and a volume about it.  It actually seems to be coming out of the painting towards you, but also has a certain abstract quality about it close-up.

There is also a lovely sense of abstract pattern making in the gesture of the hands.

You can see that it's just paint, you can see the actual brushstrokes, and get the sense of the person making the brushstrokes and creating the artifice of the work; and yet it seems to become actual fabric, and light, and flesh, and touch and life, and also more than that - it becomes a real sense of something human and tender.  And that's quite an astonishing thing to do with paint and canvas.

As Fine Art students, we were also lucky enough to visit the Jan Six house in Amsterdam, which was not open to the public.  One of the paintings there was Rembrandt's portrait of his friend Jan Six.

Rembrandt van Rijn Portrait of Jan Six (Oil on canvas, 1654)

Again, it's a big old dark painting with that punch of orangey red, but the stunning thing, which has stayed with me all these years and which was right at eye level, was not the face, but the gesture of the hand pulling on the gloves.  

It's clearly just paint, and big, expressively loose gestural marks of paint at that, and yet it's the volume and weight and movement of a real hand pulling on a glove.  It is a casual yet hugely informed passage of paint which tells you all you need to know about the character of the sitter and the relationship between the artist and his friend, who allows himself to be preserved for all time in this intimate, informal act of dressing.

If you'd like to read more, there's an interesting essay here musing on the meaning of this gesture. 

Whichever way you look at it, it's just genius.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Glasgow Art Show

The Glasgow Art Show opens tonight, and there is much speculation amongst artists and gallery owners as to what this new fair is going to be like.

The Glasgow Art Fair was a regular feature in a tented village in George Square for 15 years until 2010.  And then, with a funding cut,  it was no more, and it has been sorely missed.  

It's ridiculous that a major arts centre such as Glasgow has had no annual showcase of this nature for its talent and its art businesses.  Not only has it meant a significant loss of income for the city's artists and a financial blow to its galleries already hit by the recession (as well as to the hospitality industry who benefitted from the national and international trade that the fair brought), but it shows a lack of confidence and pride in Glasgow's art sector.

Now the same group that organises the Edinburgh Art Fair is organising an event in the Grand Ballroom at the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow's city centre - which doesn't quite have the same punch or profile as the George Square settting.  Notable by their absence are long-established galleries such as The Scottish Gallery, Open Eye and the Compass.  You can read what the papers have to say about it all here in The Herald article.

I'm going to the opening tonight, so we'll see what it's like!   I have work with the Cotswold-based Wren Gallery on stand A5.  For more information about the fair, go to the Glasgow Art Show website.

Burnt Orange Moorland (Oil on canvas, 24 x 26) will be on stand A5.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Out in the Lakes

Just looking at the photos which I took out in the Lake District.  

The weather wasn't too kind, but it did make for some dramatic clouds over the hills, and lots of nice reflections in the water.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Scottish Colourist Series: FCB Cadell

I went to see the final week of the big Cadell exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh last week.  Born in Edinburgh in 1883, Cadell was the youngest of the group known as the Scottish Colourists, and exhibitions of the work of fellow Colourists Peploe and Fergusson will be held at the Gallery of Modern Art in autumn 2012 and 2013 respectively.

This is the first solo exhibition of Cadell’s work to be held in a public gallery in seventy years - that's a long time to wait. The word that you'd probably use to describe Cadell is 'stylish', with his portrayals of Edinburgh New Town interiors (often his own lavish apartments of shiny floors and minimalist furnishings) and the sophisticated society that occupied them.  Equally stylish, and very much of their time,  are his vibrantly coloured, daringly simplified still lifes and figure studies of the 1920s and his evocative depictions of the island of Iona.

Initially living in Paris, and studying in Munich, a trip to Venice in 1910 seems to have loosened up his technique and turned up his colours.  Could anything be more vibrant, sun-soaked and life-affirming than this picture of St Marks Square with the punchy vermillion of the fluttering Italian flags?

FCB Cadell St Marks Square, Venice (Oil on board, 1910)

In these years before the first world war, Cadell also visited Iona for the first time (which he would return to practically every summer) and began a career as an artist of note.  He developed an elegant palette based on white, cream and black enlivened with highlights of bold colour.

Enlisted during World War 1, Cadell produced the 'Jack and Tommy' series of watercolour drawings, with their pared-down, simple, expressively humourous lines.

He uses the negative space and the colour of the page itself as part of the design of the image.

Building on this, following demob, Cadell's work becomes more art deco and graphic, with a greater interest in pattern-making. He used tightly-cropped compositions, usually approached at an angle, flat application of paint and the use of increasingly brilliant colour for his  interiors, still lifes and figure studies.

 FCB Cadell Portrait of a Lady in Black

FCB Cadell Still Life with Lacquer Screen (Oil on canvas, mid 1920s)

Cadell painted the actual chairs that he owned in his flat a vibrant vermillion, and they feature frequently in his paintings as flat, accenting colour-notes, like  props in a stage-set.  Elegant models are placed leaning enigmatically against the mantle-pieces in his flat, with fan, hat and dress like flat black cut-out shapes, and you get the feeling that this is a small moment of drama from part of the larger theatrical stage-set of Cadell's life.
Each year Cadell returned to paint Iona, with its white sands, turquioise seas and remarkable light.  Usually small and portable in size, his paintings had an absorbant ground, so that the paint has a chalky, dry look to it, with scumbled textural brushwork.  This is one of my favourites, and I had a postcard of this for years on my wall.
 FCB Cadell, Iona Croft (Oil on canvas board 1925) 
With all the reflected light from the white sands and the white walls of the croft, the tones of this painting are predominantly blue, except for the joyous central burst of the red tin roof.  There's something very appealing and cosy about it, very happy; you want to go there.
However, although outwardly successful, Cadell’s financial position, and his health, deteriorated. Despite a post-war recession and a decline in the art market, Cadell still tried to cling on to his lavish lifestyle.   Even with loyal patrons, he was forced to move home three times between 1928 and 1935. His last years were dogged by ill-health and Cadell died in Edinburgh in 1937.

Cadell's work is full of exuberance and life and optimism.  It has a tremendous joy about it.  It shows a delight in paint, and colour and mark-making, in design and the good things in life; from elegant furniture, to a beautiful woman in lovely clothes; the solitude of a quiet interior, the beautiful light on a summer beach; to a single perfect bloom, or a simple red chair.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Thank you!

Thank you very much indeed to everyone who saw my work at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea over the weekend, and to those of you who have since got in touch with me to comment on my work.  Thank you for all your feedback!

Remember, you can always get in touch with me either by leaving a comment here on the blog (you don't have to be a follower in order to do so), or by contacting me by email at

The next art fair at which you can see my work is the Glasgow Art Show, which runs from 23 - 25 March.  I will have paintings on Stand A5, with the Wren Gallery.  

For more details on the fair, go to The Glasgow Art Show 2012 website.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Off to the Lake District

I'm just off to the Lake District for the weekend to take photographs.

The weather isn't looking great - rather wet -  but I'm hoping it will make for some mean and moody pictures!!  

Either that, or you could be seeing a whole new genre of work based around ducks...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dark Clouds over the Beach, Aldeburgh

Here's a last quick word about one of the paintings in my show before it closes tomorrow.

This is Dark Clouds over the Beach, Aldeburgh, Aldeburgh being a little seaside town on the Suffolk Coast by the North Sea.  Composer Benjamin Britten lived there, so this is the coastal scenery that inspired the famous 'Four Sea Interludes' from his opera Peter Grimes.  So Aldeburgh looks how Britten sounds.

 Dark Clouds over the Beach, Aldeburgh (Oil on linen, 20 x 40)

I first went to Aldeburgh because I had a show in a gallery there.  I'd never been to Suffolk, and considering it was so flat, it was never a place that I had thought of visiting in order to paint.

However, being beside the sea is always wonderful, and I quickly found that it was the most amazing place to be, just captivating.  Aldeburgh has the most wonderful long sloping shingle beach with fishing boats pulled up on it.  Walk along the beach and you are having a conversation with the sea and the sky.

I did a series of studies on small 6" x 6" wood panels using collages of sand from the beach, acrylic, tissue and printed papers.  I used a long format, because that's what the experience of being on the beach is like, but each of the squares works as a stand-along picture.

I then scaled up these small textural explorations into the larger double-square format of the 20" x 40" canvas of Dark Clouds over the Beach, Aldeburgh.  I tried to keep the texture and feel and movement of the studies, but just using paint.  

There are no straight lines or horizons as it feels as if everyuthing is constantly moving - plus, if you had a big straight horizon line across the middle of the picture, it would look like a sandwich!

I also did a lot of work at Walberswick, along the coast, where Charles Rennie Mackintosh lived and worked during the first world war.  But that's something for another time.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Favourite Paintings - Hornel

One of my very favourite paintings when I was little was Edward Hornel's Blue Flax. I found the picture, quite small,  in a magazine, cut it out and kept it.

E A Hornel Blue Flax (Oil on canvas 1927)

I think what I liked about it, apart from the colour, was the sense of freedom.  I suppose I was identifying with the children in the picture, who were in an idyllic, sunny, adult-free flower-filled world by the sea.  It was light years away from life in grimy Glasgow in the 60s.

Hornel was one of the group of early 20th century painters known as the Scottish Colourists, and this particular scene was painted at Brighouse Bay near Kircudbright.   The link shows a photo of the actual place today.

Being with a gallery that deals in the Scottish Colourists, and also knowing a picture conservator who restores work like these, I'm lucky enough to see quite a few Hornels close up and be able to handle them.  You can turn the dark canvasses over, and see how he applied the paint and made the marks, using various methods including a knife, and how he used the texture and colours of the canvas by allowing it to show through, alternating the thickness of the paint and types of mark across the surface.  You can also really appreciate how cleverly he composed the pictures, and how he arranged the elements.

Having said all that, he's not really an artist I would choose as a top favourite now - there seem to be great numbers of nearly identical overly-sentimental Hornels featuring rosy-cheeked little girls, and I really don't have any sort of an emotional response to them.  But I hadn't seen all the other paintings back then, only Blue Flax, and I loved it.

Years later, in the 1980s, I was at a meeting in Glasgow City Chambers, and was hanging up my jacket on a coat-stand before going in to the meeting room.  As I did so, I caught a glimpse of blue coloured oil paint on the gloomy wall behind, and, like going through the wardrobe to Narnia,  pushed aside the coats and jackets to see what it was.  

Yes, it was Blue Flax.  I'd only ever seen it before on a tiny, faded picture, and here was the real thing, made flesh, so much bigger.  Unloved, hidden away, behind a coat stand.  It was a very strange moment.

I still have the little picture, in a frame. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Affordable Art Fair, Battersea

The first UK-based Affordable Art Fair of the year kicks off at Battersea Park in London on Thursday.

It has a casual tents-in-a-park setting and a price tag of everything under £4000, and the whole experience is designed to take the stuffiness out of buying art.  You can even take your dog for a walk in the park and then take it to the art fair (it might not appreciate the colours though).

There are now 18 Affordable Art Fairs worldwide, from Rome, Amsterdam and Stockholm to New York, Melbourne, Mexico City, Singapore and soon even Delhi.  They were founded in 1999 by Will Ramsay of Will's Art Warehouse, with the ethos that art is for all, and should be within the reach of everyone's pockets.

The fair at Battersea runs until Sunday, and you can find out more at the Affordable Art Fair website.  You can also read an article in the London Evening Standard, and also one about art collecting for beginners at the Affordable Art Fair in the Huffington Post.

I have work on Stand D1 with Duncan R Miller.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Last week of 'Between Tides'

It's the final week of my exhibition in London. 

It's always a big thrill to have a show in the capital, and it's rather sad that it's nearly over, with no more solo shows until 2013.  That seems such a long time away!

Against all the current economic odds, the show has pretty much been a complete sell-out, which is fantastic news.  Especially popular have been paintings of the west coast of Scotland with the white sands around Morar, the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, and autumn trees at Green Park in London.  

All the work is still on display in the gallery, and there are still a few are available for sale, including this one.

Curve of White Sand, Morar (Oil on linen 24 x 26)

'Curve of White Sand, Morar' was painted at the beach at Camusdarach on the 'Road to the Isles'.  From the amazing pink and white sands, you can see right out to the islands of Rhum, Eigg and Skye.  Because of the pale sands underneath reflecting the light, the sea is the most amazing colours of  green and turquoise as it rolls in over the beach.  It's an amazing place to be, and one which has a great sense of freshness and openness.  There's usually hardly anyone else around on the beach.

It's great to have had such a wonderful response to the show.  Perhaps the Hockney exhibition up the road from the gallery has had a positive influence on people's appreciation of brightly-coloured landscapes!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Bigger Picture - David Hockney Exhibition Part 2

Just as we are coming into spring itself here, so you progress through the seasons in the massive Hockney exhibition.  

I left you earlier in the week half way through the show - now, in Room 7, is the explosion of Hawthorn Blossom with the depiction of what Hockney calls 'Action Week'.

David Hockney Hawthorne Blossom, Woldgate No. 6 2009 (oil on canvas, 60 x 72) 
I wasn't so keen on these pictures, although Hockney obviously found the experience of the hedgerows and lanes bursting forth with frothy, creamy fullness and the whole expulsion of bounty a very... exciting experience.  Instead of delicate forms, the resulting foam-laden branches take on the guise of sea-creatures, writhing about in an agitated manner like some over-inflated Roger Dean stage set.
Room 8 is Trees and Totems, and the mood changes to one of the cycle of life, and to death and decay.  Hockney takes something almost insignificant, a dead tree stump in the woods near Woldgate, and turns it into an iconically massive motif.
David Hockney Winter Timber 2009, oil on 15 canvases (36 x 48" each) 108 x 240"   
There it is on the right side of Winter Timber, right on the golden section, dividing up the painting into parts with two completely different eyelines.  Here are quick, fluid brushtrokes in purple, cadmium yellow, coerillium and viridian.  In further paintings, the truncated form of the 'totem' becomes a motif of the inevitability of death, like Rembrandt's flayed ox.  Given that Hockney himself is not in the first flush of youth, it is quite a potent image.

There are also some lovely, lyrical charcoal drawings in this room, drawn from observation and uncluttered by colour.  Like most of Hockney's work, they have little sky, but a lovely rhythmic balance of light and dark.

 David Hockney 'Cut Trees' 2008

The Arrival of Spring fills room 9 (4 more to go, but I didn't know this at the time as, in the scrum to get in, I hadn't been given my included-in-the-price guidebook).  

In this room are 51 prints from an i-Pad and one large painting.  Hockney uses his i-Pad as an image-making tool, and in planning the final prints as large-scale, so makes adjustments to colour and form that are needed for the change in scale and mdeium from hand-held i-Pad to Royal Academy wall.  It's no wonder this room has a sense of theatricality - Hockney used to design stage sets, and indeed, built a stage-set model of the Royal Academy with miniature print-outs of all the paintings for the planning of the layout of the show.  

Here is Hockney, with his painting The Arrival of Spring, as big as a theatrical backdrop.

But centre stage is the drama of nature, like a technicolour Judy Garland musical.  The pictures are dated, so you follow through the coming of spring from the almost undetectable to the blazing fanfare, in sometimes almost shimmeringly 3D paintings. 

The focus is down on the vegetation, rather than the sky, and all this bursting, undulating, writhing force of nature is strangely contained within their little rectangular boxes.  There are no people in the paintings, although there are cars and road-signs and some ruined buildings.  There are reminders of people, like some post-apocalyptic world where nature has taken over.  This contrasts strangely with the heaving hurly burly of humanity that fills the Royal Academy trying to look at these paintings.  None of them featured in the Hockney's miniature stage-set of the show.

Feeling that the show has reached a certain climax, you do wonder what could possibly be next.  Room 10 is The Sermon on the Mount, which is not my favourite work.  This is a painting by 17th Century French artist Claude Lorraine, which Hockney has digitally 'spring cleaned' and then reinterpreted on a huge scale.  What you are faced with is Christ giving a directive from a massive throbbing red edifice, like Tatlin's Tower, or a giant carrot.

Once you think 'giant carrot', you just can't take it seriously, especially when you are so tired, so hot, and have been jostled to bits by fellow visitors for a couple of hours by now.

Then it's on to films.  Or it would be, if you could get anywhere near them.  The rooms are packed, so you can't just leisurely stroll in, sit down in the middle, and enjoy the multi-screen experience as it is meant to be viewed.  

Hockney strapped small video cameras on to apparatus and drove down country lanes to take films of the countryside and hedgerows from multiple viewpoints, which are then projected onto multiple screens.

Each is a different experience of the same thing, a different bit of time.  There are other films, including one in an office, and some flexible young men and furniture, but I could only see them from a very oblique angle near the doorway.

With the end in sight, and the smell of the gift shop in my nostrils, it was a quick dash through Yosemite at the end, and out into the piles of catalogues.  "This place just gives me a headache,"  sighed the gift shop lady behind the counter, "All the people.  All the heat.  All day."

It's a truly amazing exhibition.  It has to be seen to be believed, and it catapults landscape into the 21st century as a vast multi-media, multi-experience, great cutting-edge visceral roaring thing that is at the very heart of life itself.  

Hockney makes landscape into the most important thing you could ever, ever have a painting about.  Not all of it is great.  Not all of it is stuff you'd want to have in your front room.  But at 74 years old, it's hats off to the sheer human energy and dynamism of this plain-speaking visionary man.

If you're like to watch a 3-minute gallop through the show, then you can watch The Telegraph's art critic Alistair Sooke in this video, which is part of his on-line review of the show.

Telegraph review of David Hockney with video


Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Trip to Morecambe

Last year I was back in Morecambe on several occasions to take photos.  

It has a wonderful seafront, which has been done up in recent years, with lots of playful statues of seabirds (including some by Glasgow sculptor Shona Kinloch) and really nice details of seashells in the paving. 

It's always great to be by the sea.  When the tide is in, you get all the drama of the white-topped waves crashing against the shore, and when the tide is out, you get all the wonderful subtle colours of the wide expanse of sand, with all the purples, lilacs and burnt siennas.  There are lots of beautifully-shaped boats that lie on the mud and provide points of colour.

The sky is very big, and there are the hills of the Lake District in the far distance.  There's also the newly-repoened Midland Hotel, which is an art deco treat, like a classic ocean-going liner.  It has work by Eric Gill, Eric Ravilious, and the most amazing rug in the foyer by Marion Dorn.

Several of my paintings from Morecambe are currently in my London show.  This is Boats at Low Tide, Morecambe, which has a lot of textural impasto paint at the bottom right hand side to give the sense of the rocks.

Boats at Low Tide, Morecambe (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

Because the bay has such a lovely wide sweep, I used my largest size of canvas for this.

Sweep of the Bay, Morecambe (Oil on linen, 32 x 48)

And finally a much smaller painting.

Lone Boat, Morecambe (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)