Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

First up, those curious to know the outcome of the wanton littering of my area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with preformed brightly-coloured bovines, here are the details: The first auction to sell off the psychedelic Surrey cows took place last week at Sandown Park. Forty-one of them went – goodness knows where – but a spectacular total of £79,800 was raised. Even by my maths’ appalling standards I make that just under £2000 per cow (or £500 a leg: that’s food for thought…). Many charities will benefit from the sales which can only be a good thing.

img_1987

There’s another auction coming up next month at Hampton Court Palace where the aforementioned Peter Blake design will be up for grabs.

 

 

And now (as goes the catchphrase), for something completely different.

The Department of Education, now thankfully without Michael Gove but sadly still lacking anyone who actually has any notion of teaching and learning has dropped the History of Art from the A level syllabus.

What?!!

To study art from ancient civilisations through to the present day is to put some kind of sense and time line into life as we know it today. Art is about expression but it is also provides valuable social documentation. Have we become so superior in this crazed technological world that we think we don’t need to consult the past? As if eradicating this subject isn’t bad enough, there are others that have suffered the same fate: Archaeology. And Creative Writing. And Media Studies. And Humanities. And Home Economics; Economics with Business Studies; Statisitcs; Critical Thinking…and the list* goes on. It might be easier to list the subjects that will still be available.

This of course is the legacy that Gove left after his departure – sadly his presence will be felt for many years to come unless someone with a bit of vision is allowed to take control. Bearing in mind that students now have to remain in education until they are eighteen, what are the majority going to be studying? Where are all these government promised apprenticeship opportunities that will lead to real jobs? Where is the enhanced programme of vocational studies needed to spur on the creators and innovators of the future? Where are those with practical ability going to hone their skills? Certainly not at Mrs May’s proposed grammar schools.

By expecting that every student will end up at university is madness. Yes, everyone has a right to the same opportunities but if those opportunities are so narrow, so academically focussed then we are not catering to the wider skill base our country will desperately need in the future because a slim majority voted to go it alone.

Some of the students I support struggle big-time with academic subjects. With the best will in the world they will not achieve decent grades. They are being forced to take exams at fifteen/sixteen that will propel them towards A levels when something more appropriate to their needs should be readily available. Alternative programmes are few and far between because without academic recognition, schools are deemed to have failed.

It’s going to be a dismal future world without craftsmen and women, without artisans and trades. I don’t see how it’s going to work. Can anyone out there enlighten me?

*Read the full list of culled subjects here.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I had a free day the other week – nothing planned, the weather was good and I felt like an outing, so I trawled through my Art Pass Guide to find somewhere to go that wasn’t too far away. It didn’t take long for the name Stanley Spencer to jump out. I didn’t know much about him other than he was an artist (slightly eccentric) who’d  had something to do with First World War paintings and who, according to family folklore, had taken tea with Dad’s artist cousin Walter Steggles on numerous occasions. It was time to check him out.

There is now a gallery dedicated to the man in his home town of Cookham in Berkshire so I consulted the map, checked the easiest route – there seemed to be several – and committed it to memory. I don’t have, nor do I want, a Sat Nav. While I know they can be an invaluable piece of kit, they are only as good as the programmer. They can default to the wrong place as we have discovered to our fury while touring in France and then Talking Woman gets increasingly agitated if you manoeuvre an unscheduled U-turn. So armed with a bottle of water, the map and my Art Pass, I set off.

Fortunately my sense of direction is reasonably accurate because when I arrived at Maidenhead, the nearest large town to Cookham, the lack of road signage is unbelievable. In my mind’s eye I had pictured Maidenhead as a leafy, broad-avenued sort of a place, stuffed full of expensive designer shops and delicatessens with willows bending towards the Thames. Possibly people in punts. In reality it is more like how I had imagined Basingstoke to be.

After an endless succession of round-a-bouts with choices to either go west for Reading or east for Slough (quelle horreur!) I ended up in a one-way system enjoying the sights of the multiplex cinema and a concrete shopping centre before thankfully peeling off through a residential area (still no signage) and ending up on the Cookham Road.

image

Cookham, by contrast, is a delight. Not quite a town but too large for a village, Cookham sits sleepily beside the river Thames.

image

There’s a church, a quaint little garage and the house in the high street where Spencer was born in 1891.

image

Just along from this is the tiny converted Methodist Chapel which now holds a permanent exhibition of Spencer’s paintings. It is packed full of them but manages to maintain an effective layout with plenty of information. Upstairs on the mezzanine you can watch a video of his life and works which I thought I’d dip into but I ended up watching it all, it was so interesting.

image

Spencer was quite a character around Cookham. He’d often paint en plein air, lugging his artist’s materials around in his daughter’s old pram. Many of his paintings depict ordinary life around the town and he included actual residents – not always with permission!

img003

Domestic Scenes: At the Chest of Drawers, 1936

The exhibition I saw concentrated on his paintings of the natural world – I liked these – they are striking yet have a naïve quality. His colours are vibrant.

img004

View from Cookham Bridge, 1936

img005

Rock Roses, Old Lodge, Taplow, 1957

He was obsessed with gardens and what went on behind walls and hedges as well as using religious motifs and themes throughout his work. He married an artist, Hilda Carline, and they had two daughters. I was interested to see that one of his girls, Unity, has written an autobiography, providing an insight to living with this man but also who had had a very turbulent and artistic life of her own. Before I knew it, I’d spent two thoroughly enjoyable hours in this tiny space, studying the paintings and dipping into the freely available archive material. It was fascinating. I also discovered that the gallery opened in 1962 and was refurbished in 2007 through donations and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which makes me feel that my purchasing of a weekly lottery ticket isn’t entirely wasted. The gallery is now a charitable trust, staffed by very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers – I’d definitely recommend a visit and will more than likely return as long as I remember to avoid Maidenhead.

While at the gallery I learned that Spencer had been commissioned to create a series of murals at the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burgclere, Hampshire and I was keen to visit.  Spencer had enlisted in the Medical Corps during the First World War and these murals depict personal experiences of everyday life both in hospital and on the front line. The work, inspired by Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua, took him almost six years to complete.

Now, you may remember that my last post covering the Silk Mill outing took the SSF and me into deepest Hampshire, so it seemed the ideal opportunity to call in to Sandham on the way home. Which is what we did: the SSF is very accommodating. So after the Mill, we hunted down this tiny chapel, which wasn’t easy due once again to poor signage. Anyway, we eventually found the place opposite a reasonable looking pub where we stopped for a sandwich before we wandered into the chapel grounds.

image

Sandham is run by the National Trust. Their properties have a formulaic uniformity to them. The volunteers are of a type. The gift shops have a certain layout and although there are often local items available (pots of jam or honey, usually), once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They all sell tartan picnic blankets and small useless wicker hampers emblazoned with the Trust logo. They sell erasers in the shape of green welly boots. You get the picture. Unless you are a Trust Member (I am not), entry fees are expensive. Some are extortionate. Sandham falls into the latter. Occasionally my wonderful Art Pass will cover a Trust property. I always proffer my card to the volunteer cashier (sometimes I’m lucky) but usually it is regarded with snooty disdain and I’m offered the obvious alternative with a smugness that is definitely a Trust requirement – signing up there and then to become a Member. No thanks, I always say, wanting to add that I have no desire to add to their coffers which in turn allows them to turn our beautiful old heritage homes into themed opportunities with borrowed furniture of the time, contract carpeting and a re-enactor in every room. No thanks, if it’s all the same. I’m stared at as if I’ve just insulted their religion, which in a way, I suppose I have. Grudgingly I shelled out my £10 entry fee while being thankful that SSF got in for nothing because she is a member (and I don’t hold this against her. Each to their own).

A small room sporting story boards gives the visitor some brief information about the commissioner and Spencer’s work before you can then watch a short video doing much the same. Then you can get into the chapel itself which, I have to say, does provide more than a gasp factor. The place is naturally lit, the light being constantly regulated by a volunteer opening and closing blinds all day. The art work is truly amazing – the detail and extent of the work is breath-taking. These are all war paintings but not of suffering particularly, but of hope. Spencer apparently felt that toil would move him closer to God, something he strived to do all his life.

Our visit to Sandham probably lasted for a maximum of forty minutes and while I’m delighted to have seen these murals, £10 is still far too expensive. To cap it all, I was warned by Light Regulating Woman not to take photographs, so if you’d like to get an idea of Spencer’s vision, click here for a link to an article in Apollo Magazine.

Ah well, the Cookham Gallery was completely free to me, an Art Fund Member. Guess you can’t win ‘em all!

Incidentally, the photos in this post of Spencer’s paintings have been scanned in from the very excellent guide book I purchased from the gallery in Cookham for the very reasonable sum of £5.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

I expect you’re wondering whether the SSF and I have been on any outings lately, it being school holiday time and all. The short answer is yes, we have, and quite honestly two more contrasting excursions would be difficult to arrange intentionally.

The first involved a gentle drive through the countryside into deepest Hampshire. (Well, actually, just west of Basingstoke but I don’t want to spoil the illusion). SSF elected to drive on the basis that, as my passenger, she’d likely experience motion sickness and also that she knew roughly where we were heading whereas Basingstoke and its environs are undiscovered territory for me. All I’ve known about the place to this point is that we have frequently by-passed it on the M3 on route to the West Country and the fact that it commandeers several exits along the motorway suggests that the town has evolved into a large, urban sprawl. So I was pleasantly surprised as we passed through Old Basing to discover a small, quintessentially English village with very old cottages surrounded by much greenery. There is even an historically important ruin in the form of Basing House, once the largest private house in Tudor England. Sadly closed the day we ambled by, but worth a return visit, I’m sure.

Driving on through glorious farm land and speeding by the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery (crikey – it all happens in Hampshire, doesn’t it), we were headed for Whitchurch, a sleepy little village (and not quite as picturesque as Old Basing, it has to be said), to have a look at their Silk Mill.

image

Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest silk mill in Britain still in its original building. It was built in 1815 and production there, which included weaving for Burberry and Ede and Ravenscroft London’s oldest tailor and robes-maker, continued right up until 1985 when the mill was weaving fabric for legal and academic gowns.

image

After this time, work at the mill slowed and there were plans for buildings on the front lawn which caused a bit of local unrest. The charity, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust stepped in, injected some cash and set about restoring it.

image

The Winding Room

Now, with added Heritage Lottery Funding, the Mill continues to weave fabulous silks still using the original 19th century machinery and is open for all to view. The admission is only £4.50 and for this you watch a short video on the history of silk before being allowed to wander at your will around this magnificent building.

image

image

And herein lays the weakest link. We wandered through the workshops and the winding room before looking through glass to see the silk being woven but weren’t really sure how the process actually worked because there were no volunteers or otherwise to tell us. The place was virtually deserted which was astonishing as in the winding room there were items that could have been easily slipped into a handbag and flogged as authentic at a Surrey antiques fair.

image

Beautiful old reels

There is a quirky little cafe on the first floor with wonderful views over the gardens and the River Test but the counter service was laboured to put it mildly and a bit of confusion ensued over a black coffee and a cappuccino. We patiently waited for this to be sorted, ignored the delicious looking home-made cakes and opted for fruit scones instead. We couldn’t help thinking that a concession (I do not mean Starbucks) might help bring in the punters.

So although we felt that more could be made of the Silk Mill Experience – the Gift Shop was selling silk items but on closer inspection, these were all made in China – we had a good day out wending our way around the by-ways of Hampshire while we planned our next outing.

If we needed to prove that our tastes are nothing if not eclectic then our second trip provides testament. We went to the Saatchi Gallery in West London to view the Rolling Stones Exhibition, aptly entitled Exhibitionism.

image

For anyone who has grown up with The Stones – and that’s probably everyone on the planet – this show is a fun way to spend an hour or so, waltzing through the band’s fifty year career from the early days of obscurity to the stadium tours. There are nine themed galleries at the Saatchi combining over 500 original Stones’ artefacts peppered with cinematic archive and contributions from an array of contemporary artists (Warhol, for instance), musicians, designers and writers.

I particularly enjoyed the reconstruction of their first flat. They lived together in Edith Grove, Chelsea, when they were barely out of their teens and this reconstruction apparently has been created with careful reference to each of the remaining Stones. It was worthy of a Tracey Emin installation and depicts the abject squalor Mick and the boys lived in and where they began writing the songs that have since passed into popular culture.

There is also a room full of mannequins sporting the stage clothes worn on their various tours and what is most striking is how tiny these garments are. SSF observed darkly that the drugs were probably responsible. Close inspection of the clothes reveal the exquisite tailoring, the like of which I remember seeing several years ago at the Valentino retrospective.

Other rooms are filled with instruments from various decades as well as the art work for all the album covers, video footage of concerts and an interview with Martin Scorsese.

The exhibition culminates in another reconstruction – this time a generic example of the band’s dressing room and backstage space after which we are ushered through the ‘stage door’ to watch a video of their last London Hyde Park Gig. We all had to don 3D specs to watch the finale of ‘Satisfaction.’ It was possibly the next best thing to being there.

After all that excitement we stepped, blinking, into the sunshine, crossed the King’s Road and hurried into Peter Jones for a cup of tea.

Back in the real world.

Exhibitionism runs until 4th September at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s Square, Chelsea.

 

Read Full Post »

Here as promised are details of the artworks featured in my last post. Because I drifted around snapping only the pieces that immediately appealed to me without taking much notice at the time  of pricing, this year’s selection has turned out to be rather over the top from a financial point of view.  Apart from a couple. But there is art available at the Royal Academy that wouldn’t break the bank…so if you get the chance to see for yourself, then I’d recommend getting a ticket.

image

“ALL THE FISH IN THE SEA” by David Mach, RA £56,000

 

image

“MIGRATION” by Cathy de Monchaux £35,000

 

image

“GOLDENGROVE” by Christopher le Brun £168,000

 

image

“SATCHEL” and “LIBERTY BODICE” by Valerie Bradbury £500 each

 

image

“VENICE TRIPTYCH” by Ken Howard RA £20,000

 

image

“SPRING GARDEN, UNDER FROST” by Frederick Cuming RA £25,000

 

image

“SNOW IN HYDE PARK” By Ken Howard RA £38,000

 

image

“AVOCADO COCONUT EGG (ACE) by El Anatsui Hon RA Price on application!

 

image

“KOZANJI: WINTER FIRE” by Ian MacKenzie Smith £4,000

Now, since I went to the exhibition and made my selection and with the Olympics about to burst forth, I settled down the other night and watched an interesting documentary about Tom Daley, Britain’s high-diving medal hope. When I next looked at that last painting, above, all I can see now are a pair of blue Speedo’s and some yellow legs behind a wafting scarlet scarf. Funny how perceptions can be changed, isn’t it?

Oh, and if I were to make a choice and money was no object, then from the above selection I’d probably go for Frederick Cuming’s ‘Spring Garden, Under Frost.’ (I like the colours which remind me slightly of a Patrick Procktor painting a friend once owned).  I discounted the bottle top wall-hanging on account of its size and also because I imagine it would need dusting. Ever practical when it comes to housework avoidance, you see!

The Summer Exhibition  runs until 21 August. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

And with ever increasing speed, so the years whizz around. It certainly doesn’t feel like twelve months ago that I visited the Royal Academy in London’s Piccadilly for its annual Summer Exhibition. I returned this week to check out this year’s selection.

As I explained in my post last year, the Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and provides a platform for both well-known and emerging artists to display and sell their work. The work of the hopeful is put through an arduous submission process, the final say being had by a select panel of established Royal Academicians.

I arrived at my allotted time – 1.30pm – and discovered that this was an excellent time to have chosen. The gallery wasn’t crowded! I was able to move easily around the rooms, take pictures without folk getting in the way (or me getting in the way of them), and generally have a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I do, of course, start backwards. I traversed the thirteen rooms in an anti-clockwise manner and I think a few others were doing the same. Perhaps we were all left-handers, I don’t know, but there was no sense of a shuffling queue which so often happens at big events when you are shepherded along in a continuous and aggravated line.

image

Look! Whoopee! A relatively empty gallery!

So once again, I’ve taken snaps of artworks that caught my eye for one reason or another. Most of the exhibits are for sale. I’ll leave the prices and artist’s names out of the description and leave you guessing. See if you can pick out the most and least expensive. As last year, I’ll reveal the answers in my next post.

image

I thought this display of vase-shaped sculptures was rather fun – set against a mirrored background they have been created using foam and coloured pins.

image

This next work has been made using copper wire, bandages, silk and pigment. Set in a black frame it’s about ten feet wide and perhaps eighteen inches high. It is very striking and looks somehow ancient.

image

I’m not really sure what drew me to this oil on canvas other than the size – it’s enormous, commanding a central position in gallery six. I like the depth and choice of colours.

image

These two works are independent of each other but obviously by the same artist. Worked in corroded pewter, I wondered why these specific items had been chosen.

image

This oil triptych caught my eye as it depicts a view I know well.  I like the way the panels are disjointed; how they don’t quite match up.

image

Another oil painting. The colours of a suburban frosty morning appealed for some reason. Odd really, because in reality I don’t like being cold and much prefer the countryside.

image

How very odd – another cold scene – again in oil and depicting Hyde Park. Definitely a Christmas card in the making…

image

This was the most astonishing exhibit I saw. Hung in the small, dimly lit number two gallery this had several people gasping.  Close-ups below (look closely!) will reveal that this has been created using all sorts of different bottle tops and wire closures from everyday products. Amazing.  It puts me in mind of a ceremonial tribal cloak.

image

image

 

You can see in these details how painstaking the making of this piece must have been.

image

This is a watercolour. There’s something about this that I find restful although the colours used would probably suggest otherwise.

image

And lastly, here is the eye-catching piece that greets the visitor on arrival through the gates of Burlington House on Piccadilly. Entitled ‘Spyre’ it is a 16 metre tall Cor-Ten steel kinetic sculpture by Ron Arad who is a Royal Academician architect, designer and sculptor. It moves slowly round, its segments also twisting and turning at varying speeds. On the head there is an ‘eye’ – which is a camera, recording whatever it sees in the courtyard below. This is then beamed onto the huge screen hung behind it on the front of the building. Visitors are filmed entering and walking across the courtyard thereby becoming part of the artwork. If people should object to this, they are guided around the perimeter, out of range of the Spyre’s eye. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch and reminded me of a charmed snake.

So there we have it: this year’s Summer Exhibition which runs until 21 August. Worth a look, definitely. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Read Full Post »

I’m not a great one for self promotion (it’s a terribly British affliction), but I can, nevertheless, unashamedly do it on behalf of others, especially if those others are family. Long standing readers of this blog may recall my arty niece’s Christmas card range. Well, said creative niece, Hattie, and her not much less creative Mama have recently joined forces to produce a range of crafts and illustrations worthy of any bijou home interiors boutique.

A few weeks ago I accompanied my sister on a fabric buying foray. We went to her local town where there is a wonderful arts and crafts shop, stuffed full of everything you could ever need if you are wont to a bit of crafting. Or knitting. Or quilting. Sis has been an avid quilter for many years now – I have some intricate cushion covers to prove it – and now she’s branching out into making all sorts of things – spectacle cases, iPad covers, cosmetic purses to name just a few. We spent a fascinating half hour or so choosing pretty printed cottons and wadding, buying lengths of cloth called fat quarters (a quilting technical term, apparently. You learn something every day, don’t you?). Armed with a weighty bagful, Sis set to and began producing her merchandise, sitting in her kitchen with her trusty sewing machine and copious cups of coffee.

Yesterday she and Hattie took their first leap into the Craft Fair market to test the water. I popped along to lend support and see what they have been up to.

image Here is their stall at start of business. They were in a chilly hall at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.
image These baby padders are adorable…shame I don’t know any babies that could benefit.
image Hattie’s nursery illustrations

image

Hattie has sold her own exclusive designs online for a while now. She produces cards for all occasions, nursery illustrations and sells items such as mugs, spectacle cases and cushion covers printed with her own inimitable style. She is currently working on a fabric range as well as accepting commissions for book illustrations. You can view her merchandise here or check out her website here. She’s a busy bunny!

Their collaboration has spawned “House of Hyder” which has its own  online shop over at Etsy where you can see samples of the whole range. Check out the logo and business cards – designed in house, of course.

 

Read Full Post »

Half term last week and a chance to catch up with a few things such as visiting an exhibition I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern is a look at the work of the American Alexander Calder (1898-1976), widely recognised as the creator of the ‘mobile’ as we know it today. I had an added reason to be curious – Calder is the great grand Uncle of fellow blogger, Robin Cochran.

Now, although the route along the Thames path from Waterloo to Tate Modern is one of my favourite walks, I have to admit to Tate Modern being my least preferred London art gallery. Not because of the work it displays but because it’s always far too busy (alright, I know that’s a good thing) and the coffee shops are a disgrace. The escalators are confusing because they traverse two floors at a time so ending up where you actually want to go is a bit of a lottery. However, the bookshop is fantastic and there is always something interesting going on once you work out the geography. And to be fair, the whole place is having a makeover at the moment which will, by June of this year, include more space and more art: so that’s a good thing too.

Performing Sculpture is on the third floor and once inside the individual gallery, the crowds have dispersed so viewing is a little more comfortable and conducive. We are immediately introduced to Calder’s wire sculptures and the first impression is one of fun. Apparently in 1926 he began constructing his own miniature circus performers using wire, cork and buttons.

image

Simple little dog created from wire, wood and a clothes peg. Fun and effective

He would stage live shows for a small audience of esteemed friends which included Jean Cocteau, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian. I managed to snap a couple of examples before politely being told to refrain from photography which surprised me as usually at Tate Mod they don’t mind.

image

Wire sculpture of tennis player, Helen Wills.

 

image

Tumblers or acrobats. I liked how this wire sculpture cast shadows on the white wall.

image

Fish tank. This was my favourite. Looks so simple but a great idea for the art room, maybe?

 

It was Mondrian who inspired Calder to experiment with moving shapes after Calder saw some coloured cardboard rectangles attached to the wall in Mondrian’s studio. The artist was using them as compositional aids but Calder thought it would be interesting to make them move (Mondrian didn’t share his enthusiasm!) so he began experimenting with shapes and wire, balance and suspension. His metal sculptures are wired together with the precision of an engineer, creating equilibrium and movement. Some parts of one sculpture will move independently from its main body which provides fascination for the viewer. The mobiles float ethereally in the white painted gallery under their own steam, the power of air flow caused by human movement around the exhibits. Each piece is so delicate now that any enforced movement – by blowing on them for instance, is forbidden.

To get an idea of the type of mobiles on display, and because I’m nothing if not law-abiding (I put my camera away before getting to the mobiles gallery), here is a video I discovered on good old You Tube from a Christie’s catalogue a few years ago. Enjoy!

And finally, as I had to refrain from taking pictures, this last one is taken from the mini guide that the Tate provides with your ticket. (Half price, by the way, with the National Art Pass. Marvellous).

image

Black Widow

Called Black Widow it is the last exhibit in the show and hangs forlornly, its pieces moving at odds with each other. I thought this was a rather gloomy end to an otherwise weirdly interesting exhibition that could fire up the creativity for anyone let loose with some wire, flat metal plates and some spray paint. I can see much mileage in these ideas in a school art room because the construction of them would involve a bit of physics – and that would provide a perfect opportunity for cross-curricular activities as well as proving to our short-sighted Department of Education that the recent down-grading of Design and Technology subjects for GCSE is just downright wrong. Rant over. (For now).

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »