May 19 2017
2nd Year student and De Laszlo scholar Nnecka Uzoigwe took the opportunity to visit the Fantin Latour Exhibition in Paris. It has now moved to Grenoble until 18th June. I remember taking a train to the Bowes Museum to see an exhibition of his work. It was definitely worth it.
This Spring I was lucky enough to make a day trip to Paris. It’s purpose was to go see, ‘A Fleur de Peau’, the first and rather monumental retrospective of Henri Fantin-Latour since 1982. As a favourite artist of mine the exhibition did not disappoint. Displayed at Musee du Luxembourg were over a hundred paintings and works on paper by Latour, as well a collection of rare private photos and lithographs displayed alongside working drawings, illustrating Fantin’s amazing imagination in translating reality through to mythology and symbolism.
One of the things that surprised me the most, was the feel of optical illusion when viewing his work in person. I spent a lot of time in the exhibition walking back and forth in amazement. Fantin’s paintings are highly detailed but only more so from a distance and when flattened in photos. So this made it hard to photograph certain area’s, when I wanted to take some personal visual notes on his possible processes of application and layering. Up-close a lot of the brush marks were broad and rough and built up in careful layers of thin to thick, which expertly brought to light what could be achieved by simply following the same processes we’ve been learning at the studio.
A couple of notes I took –
Figures sketched in thin wash soft grisaille – then opaque mid tones brushed on showing form and brush marks – thick dry lightest lights then applied – then colourful glazes and thin opaque darks.
Warmth of background shown through leaves and stems.
If a cold background – a warm transparent umber wash applied first – before adding on opaque greens thinly and expressively for the leaves.
Background pre-prepared for still lives – flowers built up in thin colours and darks sketched in in rich glazes – lights dryly and thickly put in.
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May 2 2017
Howard Hodgkin; Absent Friends
National Portrait Gallery
23rd March-18th June
Yesterday I went to the Howard Hodgkin portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would not be my show of choice but a dear friend absolutely loves his work and wanted to take a couple of us to see his work.
She was right to bring us; it was so lovely to go to an exhibition, which was just about colour and feeling. A disregard for representation and shapes and why not? If the colours and patterns of shapes work together and balance, which with Hodgkin they do, then the abstraction is rather refreshing and liberating.
This portrait of Peter Cochrane is the most figurative. I love the bold colour and patterns!
Most shows zoom through an artist’s life chronologically or within subject matter. Here the show started with one of his later pieces and most abstract. It really helped put the rhythm of the subsequent paintings within a context: Seeing the end to understand the beginning. In his painting Absent Friends, is the title ironic or is it even prosaic of me to think that?
During the war as a young boy, Hodgkin was an evacuee to New York City thereby having the opportunity to visit MOMA and be in a city not focused and devastated by war. This must have been a huge influence. What sort of an artist he would have been if he’d been an evacuee to Wales like my father?
On returning to England he studied at Camberwell under the tutelage of Coldstream. I love Coldstream’s paintings, not least because I was lucky enough that my dining hall at school was hung with Coldstream paintings, (apparently he partly paid the school fees with paintings).
So as with NYC and Wales… I wonder how my artwork would have differed if it had been Hodgkin’s paintings informing every mealtime rather than Coldstream.
With all of Coldstream’s measuring and observation, what they would have thought of each other.
After Camberwell, Hodgkin went to study in Bath where the tutors were much more open to his ideas. Ironically the examples the NPG showed of his time in bath were his most figurative, some of the most wonderful and powerful portrait drawings in Pencil from around 1953, with a strong use of line and mass. I’m sure Coldtream with all his meticulousness and measuring gave Hodgkin a thorough grounding, to help the leap into abstraction.
His philosophy on the abstraction from the figurative portrait is equally applied to his use and deconstruction of the frames. It is very playful.
To choose a favourite would be difficult, though the one that sticks in my mind is probably one of the most figurative. I just found the character leaning over very enchanting and the colours so refreshing. Perhaps it is its figurative nature that makes it memorable to me.
If the paintings are about a response to people and memory, I would ask if he either has a very rich visual memory, or are his paintings an emotional response to the memory? – two very different things, and in my mind, the latter easier to access.
I wonder what was going on in his mind? Was he being playful or utterly sincere? I do hope a little playful, as this would give the work some freshness and would take away the pretense of some of the written word!
If you do go and see the exhibition it is a wonderful tour de force in colour and colour combinations, in patterns and juxtaposition of shapes.
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Apr 25 2017
Tim Daost has been studying with us for some years. He has received both the De Laszlo Scholarship and was awarded Artist in Residence at Leighton House Museum. We have been fortunate that he has given a series of lectures at the studios on perspective and most recently on the American Illustrators. Here is a brief synopsis of his fascinating talk.
One of the main reasons I wanted to study traditional drawing and painting techniques was to improve my ability to tell stories visually. I have always loved the way a good illustration can transport you to another world, and admire artists who can use realism in imaginative ways.
Although slightly less famous in the UK, the American Illustrator Norman Rockwell has long been considered a master of visual storytelling by the US public.
The more I practiced traditional figure drawing the more I wondered how Rockwell and his contemporaries became such amazing figurative artists and illustrators. I decided to explore this topic more in a talk I gave at the studio in November 2016.
A large part of the story of American Illustration comes back to the Art Students League in New York City. Every time I found an illustration from the early 20th century with amazing figurative work and researched the artist’s background I discovered that they spent some time at the Art Students League or in Paris at Academie Julian.
Researching a bit about the training at the Art Students League around the 1900s explains how its students became so influential. At the time the League had three incredibly influential teachers: George Bridgman, Robert Henri, and Frank Dumond. All three of these teachers had trained at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts or Academie Julian, some directly under the tutelage of France’s foremost academic artist, William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Here are a few images of students training at the Art Students League – the setup should seem familiar to anyone who studies here at London Fine Art Studios.
One of the longest standing teachers at the Art Students League, George Bridgman, wrote some of the most influential books on figure drawing that are still in wide use today and can be bought at the studio shop Lavender Hill Colours. Here you can see examples of the work from his class.
Robert Henri, another instructor at the League, wrote the highly influential book The Art Spirit.
Frank Dumond, who exhibited at the Paris Salon and won a medal, can be seen in the photos above teaching cast drawing.
It is no surprise that instructors of this calibre were able to turn Norman Rockwell into one of America’s best illustrators by the time he was 20. Rockwell matured as an illustrator at a very fortuitous time, since the technical circumstances of the time made illustration the dominant form of advertisement.
During the 19th century lithography, photography, and printing were making it possible to mass produce black and white images cheaply. Colour printing was a more complicated process, but by 1904 rotary offset lithography made it possible to mass produce colour images. Although colour printing was possible, colour photography was still a challenging process until 1935 when Kodak introduced Kodachrome film. This meant that mass produced colour advertisements required an illustrator from the early 1900s until about 1935.
This opportunity was taken up by many other Art Students League students: Walter Biggs and Howard Pile were all former students at the forefront of American Illustration.
Illustrators from outside the League were also popular; a little research tends to reveal that they also had an academic background. J.C Leyendecker was America’s leading illustrator before Rockwell. He studied under John Vanderpool, the Dutch-American artist and author of the book “The Human Figure” which is still widely used in art schools today. Leyendecker continued his studies at Academie Julian in Paris.
Leyendecker’s images for Saturday Evening Post defined the modern look of Santa (often mis-attributed to a subsequent Coca-Cola campaign that clearly references these images), and his work for Arrow Shirts advertising helped define the fashion sense of the 1920s.
N.C Wyeth is also considered one of America’s greatest illustrators. He trained under Howard Pyle, who was in turn trained by F.A Van der Wellen from the Antwerp Academy of the Arts. It is hard to find exact details on how Pyle was trained, but it is clear the Van der Wellen had his students draw from casts. Pyle also briefly trained at the Art Students League, and it is reasonable to surmise that Pyle trained Wyeth using the classical techniques that he learned from the league and Van der Wellen.
Wyeth completed an incredible 3,000 paintings (an average of 6 per month during his working career) and illustrated 112 books (2 -3 per year) during his career. Maintaining such a pace would require spending no more than 25 – 35 hours per painting.
Apr 19 2017
This term I wanted to understand how to complete a longer more complicated still life. I planned to use a bountiful supply of spring flowers. Due to their short life, they would of course have to be replaced weekly. Here is a collection of images documenting these few weeks.
I started to build up the bouquet of flowers in my composition, a small bunch at a time. This meant I could concentrate on a small section of one or two flowers a session. This allowed time to finish each collection of flowers to the desired amount of finish and detail. The central poppy alone took me two full consecutive days in class.
The most challenging part was designing of the composition. Not all the flowers I chose, worked in the set-up; when in the painting they sometimes clashed with the overall colour harmony, focal point, general feel and texture of the other flowers. So a lot of time was also spent editing in a variety of different flowers and painting over or wiping off what didn’t work.
When adding in the flowers one by one, I had to be aware of keeping a natural flow and structure, to stop a staged feel. Paying special attention to creating natural overlaps and where light and shadows would consequently fall, helped do this. Near the end additional shadows were carefully glazed in, as well as reflected colours on some of the flowers to echo their surrounding environment.
Mar 3 2017
I have just been to see the most exiting exhibition at the perfect time of year!
We are just planning all our landscape painting courses and I have booked some landscape painting trips. I have been getting my pochade boxes ready and Scott has been making lots of perfect panels.
This exhibition makes one long for the season where you can stay outside and paint. It is a beautifully sunny day and the second day of the meteorological (as opposed to astronomical) spring and all the anticipation of the spring and summer freshness is around us!
The exhibition has a great little film, which is utterly unpretentious but totally clear. It is a small and exquisite show that unlike so many others doesn’t have fillers, so the message of the curators is simple and therefore so much more compelling.
In 1874 in Paris a group of artists lead by Degas, Monet and Berthe Morisot (yes a woman!) calling themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, put on an artist led exhibition. By their third exhibition they were to be the Impressionists. They weren’t part of the grand Salon and were not being guided by the rules of convention.
A group of Australian artists across the world followed suit and in 1889 put on their own exhibition in Melbourne. I find it wonderful how soon after the French exhibition this took place. Many artists today, and many curators like to paint an image (excuse the unintentional pun) of artists being independent creators, devising inspiration from their own individual and isolated worlds. And yet the beauty of art is that it has always been an international movement, with ideas and visual trends not isolated but shared both consciously and subconsciously across continents.
The small paintings most attracted me. There is a series painted on cigar boxes roughly 9’x5”. Compositionally they are fantastic. I thought the framing was incredible in these large unapologetically impressive frames (though maria didn’t like them).
The first few by Tom Roberts have an incredibly muted palette, as the catalogue rightly points out, still impressionistic but not French impressionism, rather reminiscent of Whistler. It is one of the reasons I love painting in England. There is ironically so much more beauty in the colour when there is colour harmony and subtlety. It is not garish obvious colour but understated and evocative. His paintings are utterly un-linear, painted in clear value masses of varying greys.
These three paintings are all of London; Trafalgar Square, Fog Thames Embankment, By the Treasury
Arthur Streeton’s small sketches have a little more colour and the brushwork is laid on thick. He plays a lot with colour shifts within the same value planes. The painting sketch of Sandridge is compositionally daring with the dark values on the right and lights on the left, but this imbalance emphasise the subtle colour shifts. I think all these 9×5 are wonderfully painted in mass with subtle value or colour shifts to describe distance, focus or atmosphere.
There is a comment next to Tom Roberts painting of Saplings that the brushwork is rapid. The paintings may be small but it is wrong to think they are therefore rapid or hasty. If you look closely they are incredibly deliberate and cleanly painted. Rapid is definitely the wrong word. In the film the truer word vigour is used to describe the difference between the studio paintings and plein air paintings. I love painting plein air, I think the choices you make as an artist are more instinctual and less contrived, more immediate and reactionary, but that does not mean hasty.
In my opinion the urban paintings don’t translate so well on the larger scale. They are still impressive but the colours become a little cruder and less harmonious, the image a little more drawn and less massed in. Compare Arthurs Streetons Between the lights to his Hoddle Street. Perhaps it is when they are dealing with the urban landscape, they have found it a little harder to reduce the information and give us the balanced colour, so that the colour become muddy and can clash. Compositionally they remain strong.
In the second room there are two paintings by Tom Roberts that have such an English palette, all warm greens and browns. The painting of the Gardiners Creek is so compositionally original and clever, a perfect balance of drawing and atmosphere. The bridge and reflections are boldly placed in strong value contrast to the atmospheric background and distant trees.
The most impressive paintings are Arthur Streetons two large-scale landscapes titled after the Romantic poets Shelly and Wordsworth, the style may be impressionistic but the delivery is utterly bucolic within a romantic vision. The purples moon’s transparent night is so amazing. The simplicity of touch and bold paint application does not mean a lack of drawing skill. The colours are so harmonious, the chroma but not the colour melting away to give the sense of distance and atmosphere. In his painting of Golden Summer the colures are richer, the values stronger and he continues the play of atmospheric perspective, so ingeniously. Look at the sheep on the right, how they are so beautifully drawn in the foreground and melt away into the abstract mass of the grasses as they recede. I find these paintings so inspiring.
In the last room there are two painting of the same view of Coogee Bay by Conder and Roberts. The comment states that the paintings are ‘strikingly different”. The only difference is a slight colour palette; the approach to painting technique and the reliance of values to create form remains the same. They are in fact strikingly similar and show a great camaraderie. I love the idea that these painters were together, painting together, discussing ideas together and putting on exhibitions. I love painting with artist friends. We are so lucky to have friendships that go beyond just the chat, standing in fields together trying to capture colours, mood, atmosphere and so much more.
John Russell is a very different artist. He painted in the South of France and is much more impressionistic and even expressionistic. Some of the colours are startling and wonderful but it is less to my taste and for me seems over stylised and lazy, but perhaps at the time it was considered fresh and groundbreaking.
There is so much more I would like to share about this exhibition but perhaps the best thing (if you haven’t already) would be for you to visit. I think we are going to go next friday evening 10th March. Join us!
I find there is a beauty in the honesty and clarity of the other artists’ work, Roberts, Streeton and Conder. They have experienced and seen the work of the early impressionists and have taken the naturalism from the work and translated and interpreted this to their own native country and palette, thereby creating there own unpretentious and unique style.