Saturday, August 09, 2008
Shocking isn't it? It's been a month since I last posted and this is all I have to show for it - a tiny sketch done on the plane on the way to London. Every summer, I look forward to the school holidays thinking I'll have loads of time for drawing and for some reason or other it's always my least productive period of the year. Still, one sketch is better than none at all and it's a journey now recorded.
Well, London was fun, not like the last trip when we flew out just before Christmas and came home absolutely exhausted (and collected a 'flu bug along the way)! This time we stayed a little longer so Paul would have time to go to the motor show and I'd have time to do something other than shop. (Ex-pats have a bizarre list of things they 'need', but that's for another post!) Although, as you can see, I did hit the shops but I decided I'd go off my beaten path this time and visit Cornelissen, just off Tottenham Court Road. I've never been there before despite all the years I lived in London but I found that, while it is a lovely shop, apart from stocking the Polychromos pencils I went for, they didn't have a great deal other than supplies for painters.
Something else I very rarely did when I lived in London was visit art exhibitions. So while Paul was enjoying his motor show, I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the controversial BP Portrait Awards. Why it gets such a negative press, I don't know - I thought the space looked beautiful, the portraits were stunning. There were a handful I didn't feel anything for ( I have to agree with Brian Sewell's views on the portrait of Sir Jeremy Isaacs ) but on the whole they were all striking in different ways. In the past, when I visited art exhibitions I found the paintings looked dead, as if the process of framing them and putting them on a wall in a old building somehow drains the life from them, but these modern portraits looked very much alive to me. I did expect on seeing some of the larger paintings 'in the flesh' that their reason for being so large would suddenly make sense to me, but it didn't. Especially Harriet White's Boots No. 7 it simply looked like a rather ordinary photograph (perhaps processed at Boots!) blown up to enormous proportions for no reason at all. In contrast, Tony Noble's large painting of his mother-in-law and her sister was notable because it seemed at first glance to be ordinary but I felt that the looks and poses of the sitters must be loaded with meaning and quite revealing about their relationship.
On the way in, there were equally interesting portraits in the adjoining rooms (like this portrait of Timothy Spall by Stuart Pearson Wright, for instance) and it struck me that very few of these, and especially the ones I liked, actually use the 'rule of thirds'! I've always thought that while it sounds like a great piece of advice, it can make for rather boring, safe compositions. The portrait of Michael Frayn was very impressive (partly because of it's size) and yet it probably shouldn't have worked - he seemed to be cramped within his frame but I thought that only added to the appeal of it. After that, I took a good look at the BP portraits noting where the eyes were in relation to the edge of the canvas. My favourite of all of these was 'Melanie' by Jackie Anderson (I think this really has to be seen in the flesh), but ironically the most memorable portrait of all the exhibits, for me, was a photograph of Tilda Swinton by Paolo Roversi - absolutely stunning and, as I love working small, it seemed so very tiny but that only made it more magical. I don't know if it's something he was going for but there seems to be something reptilian about her here.
Fired up by that, the following day I paid a visit to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy (I think the last time I walked down Piccadilly was in 1980-something!).
It was a lot more crowded here and with so many paintings I found it less enjoyable, a little too overwhelming. I've had some neck problems this year and craning to see the paintings high up on the wall was very uncomfortable - and being long sighted didn't make it any easier! Tracey Emin's room had a warning sign about shocking images only suitable for the over 18's but I found the whole thing rather dull. (Deliberately trying to shock seems like a really pointless, immature occupation.) I have to admit I enjoyed the Architecture Room the most - I love precision and I love small things and the models and drawings were just incredible. I'm in awe of their beauty but also the intelligence needed to create these things. If man is the most superior being on the planet because of his mathematical ability and the ability to use tools then why are these not the greatest works of art?? Even an elephant can paint a wobbly line! ;) I'm (half) joking of course, but there was much food for thought after seeing both these exhibitions and I shall certainly make the effort to see more from now on.
I wasn't going to buy any books this time (no, really!) but a couple of things caught my eye at the National Portrait Gallery. I wanted to look again at all the portraits - seeing them on a computer screen and then in the gallery was quite an eye-opener - and the book on David Hockney looked very interesting. The more I read about him, the more I admire his work and it seems to me, reading this, that he was experimenting with things long before they became mainstream and popular. I didn't know, either, that he was using colour pencils way back in the 70's. The Betty Edward's book on colour...well, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a classic that I should have read years sooner than I did, so I didn't want to miss this, but I'm afraid I still remain unconvinced about the supposed meanings of colour - I don't see how a genuine emotional response can be taught or learned.
I've said it before, I know, but a visit to London is not complete without going to Green & Stone. I went to have a look for Lyra Rembrandt coloured pencils and ended up buying a set. After that, I happened to visit Katherine Tyrrell's blog Making A Mark, as it was she who inspired me to look for them, and noticed her mention a set of greys that they sell separately, so I made not one but two trips there this time (it's strange that the box of greys is only available in a tin and not included with their open stock, it took a while to find them). And a funny thing happened on the way, as I was walking along King's Rd with my heavy bags thinking I should have hopped on a bus, I heard someone calling and there was my brother, on his super-duper bike, having spotted me on his way home from work, offering to take my bags back for me! What a great service, that could catch on! Anyway, in the photo, you can see the Green & Stone watercolour pad that I was eager to get hold of, having bought two smaller ones on my last visit (and taken one to China). But sadly I bought the last one in the shop and the last one they will be selling for a while as the company that makes them has become an early casualty of the recession.
And finally, a photo of one of Mum's cats having a face-off with the resident squirrel! The single woman who owns the garden backing onto Mum's has moved out. Apparently her mother died and she decided to move into her house but she hasn't sold her own and now the garden has become a wilderness. (With house prices in this area - and it could be classed as central London - it's bizarre that she hasn't either rented it out or sold it!) So about a year ago, the squirrel suddenly appeared, and this year there are two. But even more surprising is that a fox now lives in her garden! The other neighbour, next to this house, puts nuts out for the squirrels, so they are often to be seen darting along Mum's back wall. All the cats, being rather fond of their food, are no match for it and have given up trying but it is funny to see them watching, half tempted to try and catch it but half knowing they haven't a hope!
We've been back a while now, but every time I looked at that little sketch I thought it was too pathetic to post. Then, just as I was about to scan it I tried a tortillion on it (I never use them on graphite) and it seems to change it. Not into a brilliant sketch, obviously, but it did change the feel of it. Just goes to show, even the most basic and humble of sketches may have something to teach us!