Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Celia Paul Watercolours at Marlborough Fine Art

I've probably mentioned it before, but for me, watercolour painting is difficult. As someone who's wasted more expensive paper than is decent, I feel qualified to have an opinion on the techniqes of the medium.

Today I spent a good 2 hours at an exhibition of watercolours by Celia Paul. I love her technique and her subject matter. The exhibition was interesting in that I don't think I've seen another artist who has focused to such an extent on close family, this artist has spent 35 years painting her mother.

This show focuses on her 5 sisters and mother, however, dotted around the gallery are a few self portraits. Because of the family likeness runnung through the portraits, I get the feeling that this sequence of paintings is about the artists identity within the family. The paintings are wonderful and serious, the technique is vibrant and precise. A good show, highly remommended.
Five Sisters by Celia Paul
Copyright - the Artist/ Photo courtesy Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sorting the Wood from the Trees

The Wood - Photograph by Tim Irving
The Wood - Tim Irving
One of the most frequent questions I get asked (via email), is "My photographs look dull. Can you suggest a  camera or film?". My answer is in most cases is a camera or film wont help, but looking carefully will.

Over the years I've seriously looked at hundreds of thousands of photographs. It's what I do to improve my own work and I love looking. After you've looked at good range of photos over many years, you realise that the most appealing photographs are a combination of a talented photographer and a great printer.

Make no mistake, all of your old favourites by Ansel Adams, Cartier Bresson and the rest, will have been cropped, dodged, burned, toned, spotted and had their contrast adjusted to get the best image out of the negative. Except for amateurs, who pick up their prints from the chemist, there are very few 'Straight Prints'.

So the first step in creating a great photograph is finding it, on the negative. If you're using digital, the same principle applies, you need to find the photograph, it's hidden on your screen. Carefully look at your image, consider how it could be improved. Look carefully, is there a picture within your picture? Then isolate the important part by cropping. Is it too light or dark? Does it need more contrast, or less? Colour or monochrome? Warm or cool? I could go on.

By sorting the wood from the trees, it's possible to make a silk purse from a sows ear. I found the wood above, in the trees, below.

The Trees - Photograph by Tim Irving
The Trees - Tim Irving

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Street Life - Vivian Maier and Jimmy Forsyth

By Vivian Maier

If you haven't heard, Vivian Maier was a Chicago nanny who died in 2009, leaving behind 100,000 negatives that no one but she had ever seen. Her work was discovered by chance, and now the photographs she took are being hailed as some of the best in 20th-century street photography. Of the few images I've seen, I'm impressed.

The story of Vivian reminded me of Jimmy Forsyth who obsesively photographed on the streets of Newcastle in the UK, for 50 years.
By Jimmy Forsyth
Jimmy was originally from Wales but moved to Newcastle in 1953 to work in the ship yards on the Tyne. Within months of starting work he lost an eye in an accident and never worked again. In 1954 Jimmy started taking photographs, and until his death in 2009, aged 95, Jimmy never stopped taking photographs.

All of Jimmy's photographs, and there are over a quater of a million, document working class life and the city he lived in. Mindful of posterity, he captured a world now disapeared, all done on a tiny budget. Jimmy had an innocent, un-trained vision, but within the archive are images of outstanding beauty, like the phototgraph above.

Gallery Rage

You've probably guessed from my tone in previous blog posts that I find visiting major galleries tiresome, a waste of time. The last time I visited the National Gallery, I left down hearted when I should have been up-lifted. The gallery was  noisy and crowded, with the type of people I spend my time avoiding. I spent 15 miserable minutes being elbowed and pushed, before I left.

Major exhibitions are so heavily marketed to the general public that they are ruined for art lovers. I suppose it's a good day out for some. A day in London, visit a gallery, have lunch, visit the gallery shop, buy fridge magnets, look at some paintings. It's terrible state of affairs and it cheapens the experience of viewing something beautiful.

When I left the National the last time, I vowed never to return, unlesss it was by private invitation when the gallery was closed to the public (fat chance). I found the experience apalling and thought it couldn't any worse. But I was wrong, it is worse!

The Gauguin exhibition at the Tate, which ended this week saw record numbers of visitors. Crowds flocked to the artist's first major British exhibition in 50 years. But large numbers left disappointed and angered by the scrum around every painting. Parents with baby buggies, groups of schoolchildren, art students, middle-aged art lovers and hundreds of day trippers all competed for elbow room. Many of them left the building in a state of what one prominent art critic called "gallery rage".

One report said:
"The crowding in front of the paintings on display was so bad, according to angry art fans and critics, that they have vowed never to go to such a big show again. A fraught debate is now expected in the art world over the need for different forms of crowd control for Britain's major art shows."

Crowd control! Ha ha.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Personal Art

My Rotring 600 Mechanical Pencil
I have an hour to kill and rather than doodle with my pencil, I thought it would be more productive to talk about one of my favourite items, namely, the pencil I doodle with, the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil. So I picked up a book and placed the pencil on a drawing, to photograph it. On seeing the drawing for the first time in over a year, I then decided to tell you about the wonderful artist who created the drawing above. But one thing at a time, let me tell you about the pencil and I'll cover the artist later this week.

The Rotring 600 is my piece of personal art. I carry it in a pocket when I'm out and it sits on my desk when I'm in. It is both beautiful and functional. It's machined out of solid brass, it's heavier than most, but not all mechanical pencils, yet feels substantial rather than heavy. It has the same diameter as a traditional pencil making it very comfortable to use for long periods, the knurled grip is a bonus.

I don't how many parts, pistons and springs are in the pencil, but it's mildly complicated. As far as I can see, all parts must be handmade, everything fits and slides together with ease and precision. In fact one of the pleasures of owning this pen is the satisfaction I get from dismantling the top and loading new leads, it's all very satisfying.

The pencil has other, less obvious uses. As a person who has no use, or need for the ubiquitous mobile phone, the pen also comes in handy if I want to avoid eye contact. If I enter a public place, cafe, or tube train on my own, rather than stare at telephone screen, I take out my pencil and perform a little maintenence, one-upmanship guaranteed!

The Rotring 600 design is also available as a fountain pen. I used to own one in black chrome but I didn't find it as useful as the pencil.

My hour is up, I have to get back to work.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Life with Chairman Mao

Still Life with Chairman Mao - Photograph by Tim Irving
Still Life with Chairman Mao - Tim Irving
It used to be a tradition in junior schools that children would bring a flower bulb, a bowl, and soil into class on the last day of school before Christmas. We all planted our bulbs in our labelled bowls, then the teacher would store them in a dark cool place and we would forget about them. Months later when spring had arrived, on the last day of school before Easter, our bowls were returned to us to take home. But now they were magnificent, with spring flowers about to burst into wild shapes, it was exciting. And we proudly showed our families and basked in the praise of what we had grown.

Well it didn't work out that way for me. I spent a Saturday morning in Woolworth's selecting 3 handsome hyacinth bulbs plus a container. On Monday morning as I was getting off the bus (while it still moving), on my way to school that day, I dropped the paper bag containing the bowl and it shattered on the ground. It was a good bowl too. A rich brown, glazed earthenware bowl that cost 5 shillings (5/-). I entered the classroom with 3 hyacinth bulbs and a bag of dirt.

Our teacher tried to rescue the situation by suggesting to another pupil (who had a large bowl, but only 3 small snowdrop bulbs) that I could share her bowl, and with little encouragement she agreed. So together, Helen Cowhill and I planted our bulbs. The teacher put the bowls away and we went home to celebrate Christmas. If you haven't guessed the end of the story you must be as dim as me.

On the last day before Easter all the bowls were placed at the front of the class. The teacher picked up each bowl, read the label on it and called the child to collect their flowers. Before the first name was called (but 3 months too late), It dawned on me that my hyacinths wouldn't be going home with me. I looked across the class at Helen who must have been watching the cogs in my brain click into gear, she had a smile on her face like the Cheshire cat. I wont pretend I was noble or dignified and gave in gracefully, because I didn't. I kicked up a fuss and made myself look silly.

Of course I hold no anymosity, it's all water under the bridge, but for the past few years I've bought a single hyacinth bulb in December. My latest hyacinth growing in water, is in the still life above.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Portrait of a Lad

The Boy in the Snow - Photograph by Tim Irving
Boy in the Snow - Tim Irving
This is the cheeky lad that carried the red head accross the snow. It was getting dark when I took this picture, but the snow creates very soft lighting, which I like. I caught him mid point between 8 days of partying, but he didn't seem any the worse for it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The view from here

A Bench with a View Photograph by  Tim Irving
A Bench with a View - Tim Irving
In the south east of England, all the snow has melted and the sun has shown his face. The mere hint of the sun got me out of the house and I took the photograph of the bench, one hour after lunch today. You'll never know what the view is like from the bench, I'll leave that to your fertile imagination. It's a very quiet spot.


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