29 February 2016

Talk and draw - Pope Julius II by Raphael

Were he looking confrontationally out from the painting, Pope Julius II (a warrior pope; "quite an oppressor") would have been overseeing the packing up after the session, with a brief show of work -
As a patron of the arts, commissioning Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and Raphael to paint the ceilings of his private apartments, what would he have made of these attempts to capture the ambiguity of the painting? Is his averted gaze sad, or is he not deigning to notice the viewer? Is he contemplating his life, or his death? (He died in 1513, a year later.)
We were asked to use line only, and to cover the entire sheet (though the person near me who refused a drawing board and worked in her sketchbook insisted "I always work small") -
Some people did two drawings, switching to biro for the second.
I just about managed one, even though I'd arrived early and done lots of blind drawing, getting to know the face and hands (one tightly clutching the chair, the other loosely clutching a cloth) -
"My guy" is all line, but far from being finished ...
Here's that innovative, ambiguous (and difficult to capture) gaze -

28 February 2016

Sewing in 1956

Recently I found a photo of elephants in the (online) archives of the Ames Tribune. It was 1950 and the circus had come to town. Of course I couldn't resist looking at their other archive photos, and while some are truly local (widening of a street), others vividly brought back that era of the 50s, in which my childhood played out, and from which stemmed the stories that I voraciously read, set in a background of the expanding, improving life that we now look back on as The American Dream.

Here is the story of Clemens Sewing Machines, a business 22 years old when the photo was taken - the owner's 4-year-old daughter looks very comfortable with the newest model, and her cousin is itching to start sewing -
The building is gone now, but I hope there are still local sewing machine retailers with the good old-fashioned business values of Clemens, who "offers complete parts and repair service for ANY make of machine"  -

Harold Clemens and son Howard, owners of the stores, outline their policy as "Service First," and low pressure selling.  They believe that the machines speak for themselves without high pressure sales talk.  Residents can get an eye-opener anytime on the versatility of modern automatic and semi-automatic sewing.  Clemens' is always glad to give demonstrations to individuals or groups, and answer questions about any make of sewing machine.

27 February 2016


On a lazy day, if I'm in town mooching around the museums and galleries I like to pop in to the art reference library and flip through some of the magazines. Out comes the camera to make take-home images, names, articles, which I then "research" at leisure. Here are a few of the highlights of yesterday's browsing -
Clicking on the image will enlarge it enough to see what's going on! At the moment my computer is having problems with Save for Web, a function I use with each and every photo that appears on this blog (after cropping etc) - photoshop needs opening up anew every time, and that gets, um, tedious. As a result, taking screen shots, especially composites, is a quicker way - not only do they have a size limit, but with the largest size of thumbnail, only two rows fit on the screen. Hmm, having written that (ie, really thought about it) I can see a way to improve this, to at least get a larger composite. Workarounds, workarounds........
ok, back to the magazine. At top left is an advert for Hermes scarves, quite a nice image (venetian canal with boat, the glamour of emerging from some palazzo or other...) but the reason I took it is because of the image at bottom right, seen earlier - it includes a Hermes scarf, in much the same way that Rauschenberg famously included a quilt in "Bed" (1955). Nadaleena Mirat Brettmann's show is called "Hermes Rags" and each work contains an "original Hermes scarf" as well as acrylic paint and house paint. So, works with an inherent monetary value - unlike the quilt in Rauschenberg's raggedy piece.

At top right is an article on Lauren Seiden - subtitled "a graphite-obsessed artist chases a new thread". Here, beautifully presented on her website, are some laboriously-made graphite pieces -
Her thready works are coated in resin and shaped; once they are dry, she takes the pencil to them -
At lower left in my composite photo is the advert of Matthew Satz's show. Who he, that his gallery pays for a double-page spread? Mind you, it does look good; and he's showing in Miami and Houston at the same time -
"Handsome paintings with lines and marks that are pleasing to a modernist eye," it's said. He has "taught himself to create conceptually-driven art." He is revisiting his tar-and-feathers technique and is also know for his smoke paintings, made by lighting hundreds of matches and capturing their smoke.

Which leave two images from my original compilation. Top right, "Phantom Bodies: the human aura in art" - photogram, Medusa, from the series Home and the World, by Adam Fuss. The tones are produced by the amount of light that gets through the layers of fabric. Bottom right, a painting that reminded me of Adrian Berg's "un-naturally" colourful landscapes.

So there we have it - threee hours of "leisure" spent satisfying my curiosity about not-quite-random contemporary artists. I hope one or other of them inspires you to seek out more of their work (online?) or read about how and why they do what they do.

26 February 2016

Rearrangement in the museum

The recently renovated cast court at the V&A still has some work going on. I was captivated by the contrast of the modern apurtenances of museum-keeping, and the venerable sculptures. And by the seeming chaos of it all! (The photos get quite large if you click on them.)

This is what first caught my eye - the youth in the beautiful hat being subjected to an unexpected indignity -

25 February 2016

Poetry Thursday - A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford

"but if one wanders the circus won't find the park" (via)

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. 
"Individuals form society, conforming through their fears just as elephants parade. For a while, our fears link us, allowing us to be led. But who is leading the way? Becoming lost is inevitable. ... some self-knowledge is in play throughout this awful process. We do know ourselves to a degree. We can recognize how we’ve shaped our experience. Yet this only serves to underline how little control we actually have."

24 February 2016

Automatism and beyond

One of my discoveries during the previous drawing module - unrelated to the topic of automatism - was this work by Susan Weil in the Experimental Drawing book. It was made in 1977 and is a trompe d'oeil tonal study, made interesting (indeed, brought to life) by the movement of the torn sections -
Her website has some bookworks, including a rather spooky juxtaposition of cut-ups of her prints after Rembrandt self-portraits (see them properly here). I was intrigued by the way the different sizes worked together, and how the empty space was important. During the class Mario took a big chunk of time to discuss this with me in the context of the "automatic collage" I was doing -
Two of the four Rembrandt renditions 
Keeping in mind "what would happen if you had more than four faces" I had to try this, and (of course) went for a book format -
Well, that was fun and it certainly got that little idea out of my system. Only two seemed to work at all well -

Distracted by the monochrome/colour interplay, I wasn't paying enough attention to the spacing around the photos, ie the relative sizes of the chunks, And, coming from a fashion magazine, there wasn't much variety in the expressions of the faces.

Another thing that came up in the class was the torn-poster work of French artists Jacques Vigellé and Raymond Haynes in the 1950s (article here, pix here, book here). I had in mind to randomly glue some magazine pages and then pull bits off once the glue had dried, but somehow got deflected into tearing bits from the leftovers of the "faces" and gluing those down in a pretty pattern. Very years-ago-in-textiles-classes! Been there, done that ... but how to move on with it? The camera-as-viewfinder found some more or less interesting sections (maybe) -
 Tracing the torn edges, and then adding in some splatters from the big collage with blue rectangles -
Viewfinder technique on that found some little landscapes -
(spot the intruder)
Another thing I had to get out of my system was a cubomanie done with text. The bits I like best are those two non-text squares -
Quite possibly the squares were too big. Lesson: don't let your choices be determined by the width of the ruler at hand. And to take that lesson further - beware of the materials at hand, in general - yes they can give nice surprises, but as artists we must make choices...

So, I had some bits of tracing paper at hand, which had been part of an installation of "sky boats" once, and were salvaged when I finally discarded most of it. They held various tracings of adjoining letter shapes, unsatisfactorily - a matter of "something almost being read"- 
. I think they work better reassembled into "boats" -

Alongside the ideas raised by the Extended Drawing course, I keep fretting away on "the void", adding areas or a layer of this or that medium as it comes to hand -
shiny graphite "void" seeking obliteration

Jumble trail

A trail of jumble sales - what a great idea! "This is a community event, organised by locals and open to everyone. It's easy to be involved, simply set up a stall in your front garden selling your unwanted items, or pop around the neighbours' gardens to purchase from them."

In October, the first Finsbury Park jumble trail had 80 stalls -
This is a great opportunity to move out/on some of the surplus clothes, books, furniture, bric-a-brac ... or perhaps some of the arty creations. I'll be gathering items...

There may be a jumble trail near you - go to http://www.jumbletrail.com/, register, then enter your postcode. The various jumble trails seem to have facebook pages, but what would I know about that?

23 February 2016

Drawing Tuesday - Wallace Collection

We were back in the quiet rooms of the armour collection - even at half-term, not that many visitors, though I was able to listen in on a lovely conversation between an 11-ish lad and his grandfather, who obviously knew a lot about armour and weapons, but was letting the boy guide the conversation rather than overwhelming him with information.
The twirly bits on the swords fascinate me. Even though I've drawn them several times, I still don't have a real, 3D idea of what's going on. 

So here's another attempt to "get a handle" on the hilt and especially the guard of various swords, starting with blind drawing and moving towards 3D -

Carol too went for the swords - in her new sketchbook; she said the larger size was freeing -

Janet K focused on decoration of a mysterious large object; she might return to do a larger version of Neptune and the sea-dragons -

In her A4 sketchbook Michelle used her Blackwing pencil on a couple of the objects seized from King Kofi Karikari of Asante, Ghana in 1873, the handle of the processional sword, and the gold trophy head -

Najlaa enjoyed the layers of the armour, so like pleating in fabric -

More swords, from Sue M, who heard all about the Puritan sword thanks to a conversation of two curators: it was to be used only for self-defence -

Sue S started with pencil, then used graphite and neocolour on the visor of russetted steel*, which lay on a red background -

Janet B participated from afar, drawing in Dundee's museum.

*In its article on Greenwich armour, Wikipedia says that armour was coloured in three main ways:
bluing, browning, and russeting. Bluing the steel gave it a deep, brilliant blue-black finish. Browning, as the name would suggest, coloured the steel a dark brown, which contrasted vividly with gilding. Finally, russeting imparted a dark-red or purple hue to the steel, which was also typically used in conjunction with gilding. All of these base colours would be applied uniformly to the steel of the armour, and then strips of differently coloured steel would be laid across to create patterns, or etched sections of the armour would be gilded. 

Bloomin' wet

Two pairs of garden photos, to show the joys of the season - a somewhat early one -
The little daffs are a miracle, sprung to life in a neglected windowbox after drying out all summer; the tiny irises are so perky, so brave!

As for the inevitable rain - it does stop sometimes -
Is it time to be out there, planting, now? Or sowing seeds? Or ordering plants?  Gardeners, what would you recommend for a small garden?

22 February 2016

Sketching session with "art in the park" at Barbican

People in motion, from my seat at the cafe window -

 But it was something that stood still that I drew -
The group's collective effort -