Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Latest paintings...

Here's some more from the studio.

This one is of the Peak District, near Castleton in Derbyshire.

Farmland, the Peak District (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

The second is of the white sands at Morar.   

If you park the car at this car-park here, you can walk down to the right to the sands following a burn, which flows past sand dunes out to the sea.  

This is the point where you come out of the dunes onto the beach, and the riverwater meets the seawater.

Burn Meets the Sea, Morar (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Last Leg...

I'm now (hopefully) on the last leg of work for the big consignment to London.

Here's a couple of new paintings.

The first is a night scene along the Thames of Tower Bridge - it was freezing, but the water was glittering and there was a moon shining.

Barges by Tower Bridge at Night (Oil, 10 x 10)

The next is a big contrast,  a big, bright,  expansive view out to the Hebrides from the beaches at Morar.  Quite a contrast to urban London.  However, I want my solo show to have lots of contrasts and surprises, as well as the familiar.

Heather on Rocks, Morar (Oil on linen, 20 x 20)

 All the paintings are fuelled by this.  Well, you've got to have some motivation.


Because there's nothing quite like a Tunnocks teacake.  

People of the world, if you've never had one, you're missing out.  I'm sure many artistic tragedies and mishaps would have been avoided if temperamental artists throughout history had just sat down with a cup of tea, cracked open a nice box of teacakes, and had a bit of a sugar rush in the afternoon.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Today's Painting from the Studio...

Catbells through the Trees, Keswick (Oil on linen, 20 x 20)

This painting is of the peak called Catbells, which is across the water from Keswick in the Lake District.

If you walk along the path by the lake to the promentary of land at the end, then you get this view of Catbells through the trees and gorse.

(Keswick is, of course, home to the famous Pencil Museum - 'home of the world's first pencil'.  )

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Skyfall and the Painting in M's Office

Following on from my blogs about the paintings in the new Bond film Skyfall, I've been asked what the painting is in the final scenes where (not giving any spoilers away) Bond receives his new assignment in M's office.

Prominently between the two characters is a painting on the wall.   As you 'read' the scene between the two characters who book-end the shot, you 'read' across the painting.

Here it is close up (rather blurry, sorry)...

It's HMS “Victory” Heavily Engaged at the Battle of Trafalgar, possibly by Thomas Buttersworth (although there are a number of similar versions by both Buttersworth and other marine artists).

Thomas Buttersworth, H.M.S. “Victory” heavily engaged at the battle of Trafalgar, 1825

Anyway, the important thing is that it's the Battle of Trafalgar.  Given that the paintings in the film have been full of significance, what's the meaning of this painting in the context of a James Bond film?

Skyfall uses the metaphor of Bond as an old warship who is past his prime and no longer needed, through the medium of a Turner painting, The Fighting TemeraireTurner's painting, with its sunset and reflections, evokes a feeling of sadness and loss at the passing of an era (here specifically of Britain's naval supremacy), which is in turn applied to middle-aged Bond.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839

Read about the scene in the National Gallery in front of Turner's The Fighting Temeraire here and  here.

So  what about the painting which the film ends with, showing the Battle of Trafalgar?

The story of the battle is that, after a lengthy and frustrating chase across the Atlantic and back, Lord Nelson finally confronted the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. Outnumbered, Nelson thought up an unconventional plan to break the enemy line in two places.  Carnage ensued.  At the height of the battle, a French sharp-shooter, taking aim from the mizzentop of the Redoubtable,  hit the heroic Nelson.  This is the moment captured in the painting.   Nelson was carried, wounded, below decks.  However, he lived to hear that it was a convincing British victory, with the surviving Franco-Spanish ships fleeing to Cadiz.

Skyfall is full of flag-waving Britishness.  It's Bond as a British icon, established for 50 years.  Just as Turner's The Fighting Temeraire was voted 'The Nation's Favourite Painting', so Bond is the nation's favourite spy, in this case overcoming the baddie, Silva, played by a Spanish actor.  The Battle of Trafalgar is the quintessential British victory, with Nelson overcoming the Franco-Spanish fleet by means of a nifty new manoevre, splitting them up and picking them off. 

Bond may initially be likened to the Temeraire being towed to the scrapyard. However, by the end of Skyfall, when he receives his new orders, the story arc is such that Bond has been reborn, rejuvinated.

Now, here's the clever bit with the painting in M's office..

Is this painting therefore telling you how to interpret the battle at Skyfall (the house)?  It's actually the Battle of Trafalgar - where, against the odds, resourcefulness and unconventional tactics lead to a great British victory.  That reading would even suggest that M is a Nelson figure - think of her final scene, and the parallels with Nelson (even down to the kiss).  

But perhaps the most interesting parallel is that when Nelson led HMS Victory to engage the enemy at the Battle of Trafalgar, right behind him was (wait for it) the “Temeraire”.  That's the same Temeraire that Turner painted, and which appears earlier in the film.  But now we see it in its youthful heyday, rejuvinated, reborn, back in the thick of the action, literally right behind British Victory.  

Now there's a mission statement for the next Bond film!

Of course, the reason that there's paintings of ships and sea references at all in M's office is a reference to Dr No of 1962.

Take a look here at M's office.

M's office is full of ship paintings, models, and naval references such as telescopes.  Have a look at the drawings behind Bernard Lee here.

And also behind Sean Connery here.

Fleming himself occasionally referenced M's career in the British Navy, so it's not mere set-decorating by the film-makers.  

The fact that it's a reference in Skyfall which is then extended and developed into the meaning of the film itself is a nice touch for film fans in the franchise's fiftieth anniversary year.

You might also be interested in this blog on the painting in M's office in Skyfall HERE.

Endangered Species

How do you like this?  

Any ideas as to which artist created it?

Here's a clue.  It's just been sold at auction in New York for $1.2 million.

Here's another.  

It sold for $842,500.  And then there's this, a snip at $266,500...

They're prints (ie there's more than one of them).  They're by Andy Warhol. And he's made the classic artist career move of being dead.  Which makes his remaining available work all the more valuable and desirable because it's a finite source.

Andy Warhol at Christie’s, was the first of three single-artist sales of his Photographs, Prints, and Paintings and Works on Paper, organised between Christie's and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.  It raised over $17 million, with a sell-through rates of 91% by lot, thus diffusing another 300 of Warhol's works onto the market.

Many of the lots went well above estimate.  The first one shown is San Francisco Silverspot, from the Endangered Species Series, the second is Endangered Species, Bighorn Ram, and the last one is Dove (all (c) The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Corbis / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London 2011).

So if you want to invest that spare few hundred thousand that you've got lying about, there are worse places to put it that on your wall in the form of an Andy Warhol print (but it has to be the real thing...).

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Today's Painting...

Rockpools, Morar (Oil on linen, 32 x 48)

Here's the photograph that the painting was based on.  You can see the islands of (from left to right) Eigg, Rum and Skye in the distance.

I liked the contrast of the pale turquoise sea, the dark indigo pools, and pale rocks and the zingy limes and oranges of the grasses and seaweeds.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Little Common War Memorial

As this is both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, I'd like to show you this.  

It's the War Memorial at Little Common in Sussex, and my Grandfather, WILLIAM BRIDGLAND, who was a monumental stonemason, helped to make it.

I've been to visit it, and it's right in the middle of the village.  It's surprisingly big, probably about 15 feet tall if I remember.  It was funny to think that he'd been a part of making it, most probably the lettering.

My Grandfather was born in 1887, and was a boy soldier in the Buffs (the Royal East Kent Regiment - the name Bridgland can be traced back through many generations to Kent).  He served in Singapore, Hong Kong and India.  Here he is, aged about 18.

He then went on to fight in the First World War in France, and fought at the Battle of the Somme.  Here he is in his uniform.
One of the key engagements in the battle was the capture of Lesboeufs on 25th September 1916.  During the advance upon the village, the Buffs were on the flank of two Regiments of Guards, amongst whose officers was Harold Macmillan. The Buffs lost 26 men killed wounded or missing.  

The Diaries of Oliver Lyttleton mention that the Germans retaliated by using gas shells.  Although my Grandpa's war records have been lost, my cousin Colin Bridgland has traced a huge amount of family history, and he speculates that it is possibly this particular gas attack in which my Grandpa was injured.

He was invalided back to England and sent to the Summerdown Military Hospital in Eastbourne and later at Hill House in Wadhurst.  Here he is (on the left) in his convalescent uniform, writing the 'Hill House Weekly', presumably in the grounds of the military hospital.

It's quite an affecting photo.  Here are two survivors of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history, setting up a cosy little tent as the pretend office of a home-made newspaper, with the props of a giant inkwell, a flower vase, and a wastepaper basket with scrumpled-up pages. It's pure escapism, almost child-like, but there's quite a bit of humour about it as well.  (I also note that having been gassed was no barrier to carrying on smoking, but I guess if you're going to be sent back to the Front, then that's the least of your problems.)

It was at Summerdown that he met my Grandma, who was staying just a short distance away. (She was companion to the author Noel Streatfield at the Vicarage.)

They were married just a few months later, in Eastbourne in 1917.

After the war, my Grandpa became a monumental stone mason, working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  One of his duties was to help carve the lettering on the panels of the 56,000 names on the Menin Gate War Memorial in Ypres.

He also was involved in the work on a number of war memorials in Sussex, such as at Little Common.  It must have been very sobering to carve name after name on such massive memorials to those who had died, when you yourself had survived.  The one at Little Common (below), which is right in the middle of the village, is a physically massive stone, made of very hard granite, so it must have been a very challenging piece to carve, and physically very difficult, especially for a man who never really recovered his health after the war.

It must have also been very frustrating, as the memorials are built to a prescribed pattern, someone else's design, so as a stonemason you don't have your own artistic input into it, and of course the lettering had to be very precise.  My Grandpa did watercolours and drawings in his spare time, and I was told that he decorated the fireplace at home a la Bloomsbury Group at Charleston House (which isn't far away from Eastbourne).  

The war work dried up, though, and along came the Depression of the thirties.  My Grandpa was then a caretaker at a local school in Eastbourne until he died, aged 53, during the second world war.  So I never met him.

Ironically, despite giving many hundreds of soldiers the dignity of a named final resting place, he didn't have a gravestone of his own until very recently.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Henry Moore Sculpture to be Sold

This is Henry Moore's 1957 bronze sculpture 'Draped Seated Woman'.

Its rather leafy rural setting is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where it's been for the last 15 years.  

However, it was never meant to be there.  Here it is in its intended setting, the rather more urban and less leafy Tower Hamlets in London.

The sculpture is in the news because Tower Hamlets Council, who own the statue, are going to sell it to help plug the gap in their budget cuts.  The sculpture is said to be worth up to £20 million.

Henry Moore sold the statue at well below market value (£6000) to Tower Hamlets in the 1960s, on the condition that it was sited actually in the borough of Tower Hamlets.  He wanted top quality art to be accessible to everyone, even the most socially deprived, and had a number of his works sited on bomb-damaged estates and new towns following WW2.

However, as you can see, for the last decade and a half, the sculpture has been on holiday in the country, nowhere near London's east end.  (There hasn't been much of an outcry about that.)

The decision to sell has had a number of top names, including Olympic opening ceremony designer Danny Boyle, up in arms.  An online petition has attracted 1500 names, who have all of a sudden realised the statue has been missing. There are accusations that its sale is a betrayal of 'working class heritage', that local people haven't been consulted, and that alternatives have been ignored. Several alternative sites had been discussed, including Canary Wharf and Victoria Park, but none were deemed suitable.  The Museum of London had also offered to display the sculpture, and siting it in London's east end Olympic Park has also been mooted. 

However, the council says that insurance, vandalism, and the possibility of being stolen make keeping the work impossible.  I would question that public statues are actually insured, and although thefts do happen (a Hepworth sculpture was stolen from Dulwich Park in 2011, for example)  Draped Woman weighs a tonne and a half.  However, I take their point that with ownership of a work of art comes responsibilities for its upkeep.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park aren't too chuffed with having 'their' statue removed either.  They seem to manage to have lots of multi-million pound artwork strewn around the landscape without any thefts or vandalism, and have sorted out the insurance issues.

Henry Moore sculpture at Yorkshire Sculpture Park - image by Jonty Wilde

 Barbara Hepworth's Family of Man at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Still, these are depressing arguments.  Is that to say there should be no public art whatsoever?  Are we all to be so frightened of vandals and thieves that we should hide away all art that gives us pleasure?  In a financial crisis, is art the first thing to go as being both excess to requirements, and a source of easy money?  Is it right to exploit the generosity of artists? Should public areas be brutalist, functional zones devoid of all ornament?  

Perhaps we should be taking a leaf out of Damien Hirst's book - flying in the face of possible vandalism, metal thieves and public outcry,  he has fearlessly sited his 66 foot tall, 25 ton bronze statue Verity right where every can see it,  outside his restaurant in Ilfracombe.  Read the article here.

There are plenty of Henry Moore sculptures in London already, so obviously not all councils are persuaded by these concerns.  See a map with Henry Moore's other works in London here.  (Blue flags are for outdoor works, red are for indoor.)

Also, it's all very well to say that the work is worth millions (and the council are keen for Christie's to handle the sale as soon as possible), but is it?  Provenance, in the art world, is everything, and here we have a controversial statue with a backstory of being sold against the artist's wishes amidst public outcry.  That would be a just fabulous provenance to have with the work, wouldn't it?  I'm sure the proud new owners who are expected to form out £20 million (plus auction fees) would be delighted.

But the bottom line is, it's Tower Hamlet's asset, and they can do with it as they like, no matter what some dead artist with socialist principles intended.  Probably the 22,000 on the housing waiting list there would agree that a home is preferable to a wonky old statue. It's just a bit sad they can't have both.

It will be interesting to see how the story pans out.  Presumably Tower Hamlets Council will have to splash out a fair bit to get the sculpture back from Yorkshire first....

Read about the latest developments in the new argument about ownership of the statue here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Price of Art

Claude Monet's Nympheas, one of his waterlily paintings done during his final years at his house in Giverny, has sold in New York for $43.7 million.

That's £27 million.  Think what you could buy for that amount of money. could buy a single painting...

Claude Monet, Nympheas (Oil, 1905)

It's not the most expensive painting that's ever been sold - that was Edvard Munch's The Scream, which went for  $120m (£75m) in May 2012.

So what do you do with a £27m painting?

Sit and admire it?
Put it in the bank?
Lend it to a museum?
Resell it?

The art market is a very complicated thing.  Art is largely thought of as something completely aesthetic, done for the higher good, without vulgar worldly concerns of value.  The artist starving in a garret.  However, art is also a commodity, like gold, to be traded in by other parties.  It can be an investment, but an investment that you can appreciate aesthetically as it (hopefully) appreciates in value (although there is a skill to timing re-exposure to the market).  

But unlike gold, it is an asset that comes with responsibilities.  A really famous work of art is an object within an art historical context, without which the story is incomplete, and so needs to be accessed by both scholars and the public.  It is also subject to natural deterioration, so requires proper display conditions and conservation.

Or if you own something - do those considerations go out of the window?  Is the new owner of Nympheas entitled to just chop it up into little bits if they like? It's just an object, and they own it.

When art is so subjective, and even the definition of art is indistinct, who says why one painting is more valuable than another?  What makes Monet's painting worth £27 million?  It's just paint arranged on canvas.  

Of course, it's down to market forces, supply and demand, rarity.  Crucially, it is paint arranged on canvas by the hand of Monet, with the rationale of a genius behind it.  Also, Monet is dead, and being dead is a great career move for an artist.  It means that supply is finite, that each work can then be placed within the story arc of a career, and each work is therefore more precious, more resonant because you can see its part in the whole.

But does having a huge value make the art work better?  Is the best painting in the world the most expensive?  

Of course not.  Only a tiny percentage of paintings are exposed to the world markets in such circumstances, so the relative values of art can't be assessed and put on a sliding scale of monetary worth.  You couldn't chip off the Sistine Chapel frescoes and put them on the market.

Art is what resonates with you.  It's what you connect with, what speaks to you.  Often that's not something you can define, but very often it's something that's beyond price.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Full Studio

Getting ready for one of the biggest consignments of the year means that there isn't much room to move in the studio at the moment.   It's always a challenge to produce a big body of work for a solo show, and it's good to have all the work around you so that you can let the ideas bounce off one another in order to produce a cohesive show.

So at the moment there are an awful lot of canvasses in various states of drying all around!

Here's the mantlepiece in the main studio, all lined up with small paintings on their little easels.

As soon as the paintings are touch dry, they are photographed, labelled and catalogued. Then they'll go off to my framers to be set into their bespoke gilded frames.  

When they come back, they are checked, labelled and wrapped, and are then parcelled up to be consigned to their gallery.   They'll be arriving in London (weather permitting) just before Christmas.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Happy Birthday, Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel celebrates its 500th birthday this year.

The frescoes decorating the chapel, famously painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, are, however, now in danger of becoming damaged due to the huge numbers of people who come to see them.

Frecso is a pretty tough medium.  The paint can't be rubbed off, but plaster can be chipped, damaged or become discoloured, and it is very susceptible to moisture.

Fresco (meaning 'fresh') is a method of decoration where paint is applied to an area of wet plaster.  The plaster draws the paint into the surface, binding the pigment within itself as it dries.  You don't paint onto the surface of dry plaster as the paint would just drop off.

The artist only has applied to the wall as much wet plaster as they can complete painting within a single day before it dries (a section is called a 'giornata', from the Italina 'giorno' meaning day - sometimes you can see these sections if you look closely).

It's a fiendish method, as you can't change your mind, move round your compositions or make changes once it's dried.  The clock is ticking.   (As Michelangelo progressed with the ceiling decoration, he realised that his figures were too small, so as the scheme progressed, he altered his plan and the figures got larger.)  How long you've got to complete your giornata would also depend on climactic conditions such as how hot it was on the day that you were painting.

However, 500 years on, Vatican officials are discussing the problem of deterioration of the frescoes. 

The huge quantity of visitors (around 10,000 each day) is now causing concern with the amount of pollution created, as well as temperature and humidity issues..  Although an air-conditioning system was fitted during restorations to clean the frescoes 1990s, it is no longer up to the job. (I've seen the frescoes in both their restored and unrestored versions, and it literally is night and day - the colours are now absolutely luminous.)

A specialist company has been asked to design a new air-purifying system - but if a solution is not found by next year the Vatican will be forced to begin reducing the number of tourists.

If you've ever been there, you'll know how crowded the Sistine Chapel is.  It comes at the end of a long, long queue to get in to the Vatican through security, a very long tour round the Vatican rooms of probably a couple of hours, and by the time you arrive at the Chapel, it is invariably absolutely jam-packed, and everyone's expectations have reached temper-fraying fever pitch.

You aren't allowed to take photographs, and are meant to be silent, as it is a place of worship.  However, any worship or prayer is well-nigh impossible, and people snap away regardless, because they've invested such a lot of time and effort actually getting there.  It's not like you can just pop in.

So a rationing of availability to visit the Sistine Chapel will mean even more queues for something which will be perceived as an even more desirable 'must-see' tourist destination.  A reduction in numbers will increase its attraction.  And it already takes forever to queue to get into the Vatican, to get round the Vatican, and then to get through the further security to get into St Peters.

I've been to Milan to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper - you have to book tickets months in advance and are only allowed a short timed visit.  In the 80's I visited the Arena Chapel in Padua to see the Giotto frescoes, and you could just walk in.  Now it is all climate controlled and entry is by timed ticket for 15 minutes only.  It was a very clinical experience, and I can't imagine that Giotto himself would be too chuffed with his work being seen in that manner.

I understand the need for such measures, in order to conserve for future generations.  However, it very much takes away from the whole experience, both in terms of art appreciation, and also in terms of the reason for which the object was created, that of spiritual contemplation.  

You can't do either on a timed ticket.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

That Stolen Modigliani Painting in Skyfall

It was back to the cinema again last night, this time to take my son to see the new James Bond film Skyfall ('not enough car chases').  Which gave me the chance to count the number of times that Q's 'Q' Scrabble mug appears, or to look out for famous paintings.

Read about the paintings included in the scene in the National Gallery HERE, and the painting in Mallory's office HERE, and how they inform the plot.

But there's another painting in the film, seen in the Shanghai section of the film. It's where the beautiful Severine uses a stolen painting as bait in an assassination plot, and the prospective purchaser of the picture is shot.

Here is Severine in front of the painting in the apartment, seen from the window of an adjacent building...

Here's the painting...
It's Modigliani's Woman with a Fan painted in 1919.  

And guess what, it really WAS stolen from a gallery in real life - the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, on May 19 2010.  

BBC article here. 

Speculation is that it really did end up in China, too.

So the Bond film uses a real-life stolen painting as the basis of one of Skyfall's subplots. 

This is a device which also was in the first Bond film, Dr No, in 1962, and so it's a way of referencing 50 years of Bond.  Dr No's lair was adorned with Francisco Goya's Portrait of The Duke of Wellington, as a way of expressing the villain's hubristic aspirations (Max Zorin’s desk in A View to A Kill was flanked by Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Napoleon).

Fransisco Goya, Portrait of the Duke of Wellington (1812-14)

The Goya portrait was stolen on 21 August, 1961 from the National Gallery in London, in a theft so notorious that the painting would instantly have been recognisable to the cinema audience. That's the same National Gallery where Skyfall Bond first meets Q.  How clever is that?

Now, how many people are going to actually realise from watching the film that there's a plot all about fencing stolen paintings?  I certainly didn't the first time round, and you also have to get to the end and then rewatch the credits to understand all the references within the title sequence to the themes of Bond coming to terms with the death of his parents, and his own ageing and mortality.  

It's a film that takes itself rather seriously, and obviously wants you to see it more than once, by placing all sorts of references and layers within it - a bit like Stephen Moffat era Dr Who.

Plus it's very much a reflection of  the times - an austerity Britain, post-Jubilympic Bond if you like.  It's all Union Jacks, M as British bulldog, iconic blast-from-the-past that's-what-made-British-car-manufacturing-great Aston Martins, backs-against-the-wall in Churchill's bunker with MI6 being attacked from within.  

And whilst the screen is filled with lots of London landmarks and English icons, when they 'lay a trail of breadcrumbs' for the baddie to follow Bond and M up the A9 to Scotland, they end up very obviously in Glencoe.  Glencoe?! Which gives you a sense of a somewhat fractured UK, where one end of the country doesn't know that at the other end, Glencoe very definately isn't at the end of the A9. 

What a pity there weren't more car chases...

Read more about the hidden meanings in more of the paintings in Skyfall HERE.

Affordable Art Fair, Hampstead Opens

The Affordable Art Fair at Hampstead opens today, down on sunny autumnal Hampstead Heath.

 I'm showing with Duncan Miller Fine Arts, so have a look if you're at the fair!

You can even get in 2 for 1 (or half price if there's just one of you), by going HERE and printing out the page.

It's on until Sunday.  For more information about the fair, go here.