Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year Trifle!

Just putting the finishing touches to the New Year Trifle, ready for tomorrow.  Raspberry and peach!

It was an epic fight, almost to the death, to get the ingredients in the supermarkets today, which is, of course traditional.  Hogmanay shopping isn't complete unless you've been mugged by a granny taking the bread of your basket in the stramash by the till in Morrisons.  For a while I thought it was going to have to be strawberry jelly, meringue nests and squirty cream for pudding, which just isn't right at all.

Following last year's sad demise of the trifle bowl - again, the holiday season wouldn't be complete without copious plate smashing, spontaneous combustion, a reasonable kitchen fire, a suicidal tree and/or a small explosion (all accidental) - this year the trifle has been carefully and reverently arranged in the new trifle bowl all the way from sunny Sheffield.  Not that Sheffield is known for its trifle bowls, but this one is 100 years old and is rather lovely fancy glass, and I got it in the Vintage Table Ware shop in Sharrow Vale, which is one of my favourite places.


This isn't mine - mine's a bit more messy!!

Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone, and enjoy your trifles!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Jude Law in Henry V

Just before Christmas I was back at the Noel Coward Theatre in London for the latest in the Michael Grandage Company Season.  This time it was Shakespeare's Henry V, and this time I had a front row seat.

The woman behind me in the queue for the ladies had seen the poster for the Grandage season and, mistaking the group photograph of the main cast in all five plays for the cast of Henry V, was looking forward to the all-star line-up of Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe and David Walliams. 

Thankfully, none of them were performing that evening as the eponymous king - Henry was in fact played by Jude Law.

  Photo: Johan Persson

As King Henry, Mr Law rocked a slimline leather-jerkin-and-lightly-padded-codpiece ensemble, giving the sense right away that this was a king of athletic action, who had the build to pick up a mighty big sword and get right into the thick of any action necessary.  He wasn't just all about the poetry, although he rocked that as well.

And it was just as well that we had this sense of action to keep us going. The first half, acted out on a ginormous, skelftastic wooden cheeseboard of a set (referencing the round 'wooden O' of Shakespeare's Globe theatre), was somewhat sluggish, despite the pruning of half an hour's worth of text.

However, whereas Grandage's recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream had me pounding a box of Maltesers into dust with frustration at its annoyingly mannered nonsense (and not my own box of Maltesers, it has to be said), here was a back-to-basics Henry without bells or whistles, and all the better for that.  

Grandage had cleverly cast Ashley Zhangazha as the Chorus, dressed in modern day jeans and a Union Jack T-shirt.  He acted as a conduit between the modern audience and the dusty old history play, commentating on and introducing the action, as if he had just skateboarded in off the street, his excitement and involvement making Agincourt seem real and relevant.  The Union flag reference also became clear with the later leek-eating Welsh-Scots-English goings on of the second half.

And it was in the second half that things really got going.

Photo: Johan Persson

The second half is largely the Battle of Agincourt, all blokey bonding against overwhelming odds, and Law is in his element.  

Whereas James McAvoy played MACBETH as a manic human being fighting his way to the top of the pile in a dog-eat-dog world, and David Tennant played RICHARD II as a gender-bending king who truly believed that he was partly divine, here Law plays Henry as a king who is amongst his people, not above them.  

The night before the battle, he puts on a cloak as disguise and moves about the camp to vox-pop the soldiers.  He's one of the lads, and faces the same overwhelming odds and chance of death as they do.  But as King, it is up to him to stand fast and make his inspirational 'we few, we happy few, we band of brothers' speech.  He is the instrument of divine kingship in human form in order to lead his people.

 (c) Michael Grandage Company 2013

(c) Michael Grandage Company 2013

From the front row, you could see that the fight scenes certainly brought out a fair bit of sweating from Mr Law.  It's a genuinely very physical play.

(c) Michael Grandage Company 2013

Whilst the kings played by Tennant and McAvoy embody and play upon aspects of those actors own personalities and physicalities, so Henry plays to the personality of Law. In the closing scenes there is a change of place, and Henry woos Catherine, Princess of France.  It is tender and romantic, and more than a touch Alfie.

(c) Michael Grandage Company 2013

As the chap in the row behind me so rightly observed, there are very few female characters in this blokey play, and whilst the battle scenes require Henry to be a man's man, here, playing opposite Catherine, we see the softer side of his character.  Even the costume he wears is literally softer, with fur around the collar and cuffs of his doublet, which is now of velvet, not leather, and a warmer claret red colour.

After persuading her for a kiss, the line 'Here comes your father!' is a comic gift.

In all, after a slow start, the play is a delight.  Jude Law is a perfect Henry V, playing him as a King who is a man with a job to do, and who does it without flinching, and with a whole lot of backbone.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

A very happy Christmas to everyone.  Thank you so much for all your good wishes and support in 2013.

The wait is over!  


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Safe Arrival

My paintings have all arrived safely in London - phew!

Setting Sun over the Thames, (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

They're now ready for the first big art fair of 2014, the London Art Fair at the Business and Design Centre in Islington, north London.  It runs from 15-19 January, and, as the first fair of the year,  it is the 'barometer' of the art world. 

Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

As well as the fair having an eclectic mix of famous names and cutting edge, the 2014 Fair will feature a collaboration with award-winning gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield.  Here's the Wakefield from the bridge...

 Bridge over the weir leading to The Hepworth Wakefield.
Photograph: Hufton and Crow
It looks better on the inside...

Installation photograph, Hepworth Family Gift Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield.
Photograph: Hufton and Crow

The exhibition, which will focus on Barbara Hepworth and her contemporaries and the development of British Modernism, is very exciting for me.  I'm a big Hepworth fan and have visited the Wakefield/Hepworth Museum/United Nations/St Ives/Yorkshire Sculpture Park/anything Hepworthy on a number of occasions.

This is one of the pieces in the exhibition.

Barbara Hepworth, 'Kneeling Figure', 1932. Rosewood. Courtesy of The Hepworth Wakefield (Wakefield Permanent Art Collection) ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate (photograph: Norman Taylor)

More information about the fair, click HERE.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Sculpture on an Industrial Scale

This is a really interesting little BBC film - it's about a mannequin factory in London, and it's both fascinating and a little bit creepy.


The processes that you see in it, of making clay models, building moulds and casting forms out of fibreglass and papier mache, are pretty much exactly the process that I do at my sculpture class at art school, but on an industrial scale.  

Seeing people making these objects is really interesting. Hands-on workplaces which actually make things, whether it's spoons, aircraft parts, or mannequins, are always hugely fascinating and satisfying.  

I have to say though, I find models in shops rather alarming, and rather too easy to mix up with real people (although I suspect that's just me).  They have a habit of making me jump.  Plus if you've ever seen Eccleston-era Doctor Who, there's always a hint of the Autons...

But where does art and craft end and mere replication begin?  Are the models actually pieces of sculpture?  

It would certainly be a fabulous place to take some really interesting photos...  Have a look at these famous Magnum photos HERE.

Erich Hartmann, Mannequin Factory, Long Island, NYC (1969 - Copyright Magnum)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Very Special Present

One of the pleasures of being an artist is to hear what happens to your paintings after they are sold, especially if that painting has been purchased for a special occasion.

This week, I was very kindly kindly contacted by the purchaser of Paths Meeting, Hampstead Heath, a lovely little autumn painting of one of London's prettiest open spaces.

Paths Meeting, Hampstead Heath (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)

I was told that the painting had been bought as a gift for headmistress Mrs Robyn Allsopp, who is retiring after 35 years of teaching at their school which is situated in Hampstead in north London.  The subject of the picture is therefore a very apt reminder.

Here is a delighted Mrs Allsopp with her retirement present.

It's a real thrill to hear that my painting has been chosen for something so special, and will give such a lot of pleasure.  It's now going to be heading off with Mrs Allsopp to Brisbane, where I hope that it is a lovely reminder of her years in London.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Drying at Last....

Here's another of the final paintings that are beginning to dry nicely (phew), ready to be framed up and shipped off to London next week.

Autumn Trees by Waterfall, Betwys y Coed (Oil on linen 24 x 26)

This is amongst several Welsh paintings that I've done, mostly of south Wales and the Gower peninsula.  However, this one is of a lovely series of waterfalls in spate (thanks to some heavy rain...) on the river which runs through the centre of Betwys y Coed. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Dry - Please Dry!!

Fingers crossed as the last of the paintings for my big London consignment dry.

Thanks to my liberal use of impasto, some areas are refusing to cure.  Obviously, I don't frame them until they are touch-dry (otherwise they'd stick to the insides of the frame), and the temperature in the studio has been a bit chilly.

So I've brought the last magnificent seven back home so they can spend the weekend relaxing in the heat, and, hopefully, drying.

Here's a couple of the reprobates...

Troublemaker....Low Tide, St Ives Bay (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

 Damp - Chalk Figure near Weymouth (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

Now, the Chalk Figure near Weymouth painting is rather interesting.  

Driving past in Dorset this summer, my attention was caught by the rather lovely chalk figure on the hillside.  I love chalk figures - the Long Man at Wilmington in Sussex is one of my favourite, and one that I'm familiar with, but I hadn't seen this one.  So I stopped the car and took a whole series of photos from various points at the edge of the fields.

Later on during my trip round the south coast of England, I was at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.  There I was lucky enough to see Eric Ravilious's painting of exactly the same scene.  

Eric Ravilious, Chalk Figure near Weymouth

It was interesting to see how he had exaggerated the line of the hill, enlarged the figure to make it more dramatic and prominent, and had interpreted the lines of the hedges and field patterns, making them more sinuous.  

I love his chalky-looking work, as it very much reflects the quality of the landscape which he lived in and recorded.  It was really exciting to see the picture, and to think that I'd been to the same spot that he'd painted from.   

You can read more in my blog here.


2014 Calendars

Just a quick post to say that I have two 2014 calendars now available.  Both cost £6.99 including postage and packing.  

This one, with images of Scotland

is available HERE, and this one, with images of England and Wales

is available HERE.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Drawing Materials

As promised, here's a look at my box of drawing meterials which I used for the life drawings.

In there (right to left), you can see 

a large stump of willow charcoal, which is nice for making broad, soft, dark lines (almost a silvery black); 
a large stick of burnt sienna pastel; 
large stick of black pastel, nice for making really dark broad lines and washes; 
large stick of white pastel for highlights.

In the box, you can see yellow ochre pastels, different small sticks of coloured pastel for adding highlights, and conte crayons in various hardnesses.  The conte has a nice waxiness to it, and can give a darker, more stable line than willow charcoal, which rubs away easily and is quite soft and silvery in colour.

I also have watercolour brushes, so that I can loosen up the lines of pastel and charcoal to give a wash, by sweeping a wet brush over the lines.

All these materials are chosen to suit a broad, expressive style where big, quick, gestural mark-making is the order of the day.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Life Drawing in St Ives

When I was down in St Ives recently, I went to life drawing classes at the St Ives School of Painting, which is always a huge pleasure.  The classes are held in the old Porthmeor Studios, which have been refurbished, but which were originally fisherman's net lofts.

You learn not only from your tutor, but through the model, the other students, and the energy created by the class.  A good life drawing class is where everybody is giving - model, students, tutor, setting -  and you put that all that energy into the drawing.

Luckily, we had a great model, and I thought it would be useful to show you the whole series of drawings (even the rubbish ones) so you can see all the drawings from a single class.  

These are mostly 10-minute poses, so you have little time to get down all the main information. It's all about the sense and weight of the pose, what it feels like, rather than detail, so it's very broad, expressive mark-making.  We're not talking HB pencils here.

I'll talk about the materials another time, but for now, here's the drawings.  They are all done on buff-coloured A1 sheets of paper (that's 8 x A4 size).  So they're big.

(The black shapes at the sides of some of the drawings are the clips holding them on to my board.)

Friday, 22 November 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Cultural Icon?

Well, I couldn't let today go by without mentioning the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, which is being billed by the BBC as reflecting all our social history, forming the golden casket of all our collective childhoods, and generally being the most wonderful thing ever to happen on television ever (even when they cancelled it for years).

Here's the original, Doctor I M Foreman* himself, William Hartnell, in the first series with grandaughter Susan (second left) and companions Ian and Barbara.

Whatever happened to Susan...?

Anyway, last night there was a programme about the genesis of the programme, called An Adventure in Time and Space.  Written by Mark Gatiss in his usual somewhat self-indulgent style, it told the story of how Doctor Who came to be made as a children's programme for the BBC back in the wibbly-wobbly black and white days of 1963 (and unfortunately screened for the first time on the same day as President Kennedy was assassinated).  

Doctor Who: An Adventure In Space and Time
William Hartnell (David Bradley) and Carole Ann Ford (Claudia Grant). Photograph: Hal Shinnie/BBC

It didn't make any huge revelations, and was typically Gatiss-moist-eyed about the nostalgia of BBC as a creative powerhouse.  There were a number of lingering shots of the round architectural form of Television Centre that made it look like Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

However, the programme did also show how the BBC (acting as a microcosm for 60s society) was sexist (in its attitude towards female producer Verity Lambert), racist (in its attitudes towards director Waris Hussein), but suprisingly, not ageist.  It put grandfather-figure, William Hartnell, at the centre of its new cutting-edge children's programme.  How's that for a revolutionary forward-thinking idea?  


Hartnell was, of course, only 55, but looked 75, and his own complex character and hard-living lifestyle led to crotchety, unpredictable, idiosyncratic behaviour that made him both charming and exasperating.  Perfect as the template for the alien doctor. 

However, it also led to an inability to remember lines, which led in a strange way to the longevity and success of the programme - in having to replace Hartnell in 1966, the BBC had to invent one of the core concepts of Doctor Who - that of regeneration.  

Thus Doctor Who could continue, rather than just being a footnote in BBC history, and Who could tap in to a whole rich seem of traditional folklore and mythic legends of rebirth and renewal, such as the Green Man and Robin Hood (cf the 80s series Robin of Sherwood, with its change of lead actor).  This mutability means that it can be an ever-changing mirror to reflect and comment on the ever-changing social and political culture in which it exists.  

After An Adventure in Space and Time, there was a showing of the first 4 episodes, An Unearthly Child.  

I'd never seen them before, and they made for very interesting, if slow-paced viewing.  Originally, there was a continued adventure across several 25-minute episodes, like a serial.  These centred around introducing 15 year old Susan Foreman, her grandfather the Doctor, and Susan's teachers Ian and Barbara.  They all get transported back to prehistoric times and are held captive by a tribe who want them to create fire.  

There are some very lengthy discussions about fire, which is seen as a desirable necessity, but also as a threat by some members of the tribe. The holder of the secret of fire is the one who holds the power (fire therefore being a metaphor for the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis - big topical stuff for young minds).

Whilst at times it seemed as though nothing was happening, it was still riveting from an 'I'm actually watching the very first episodes of Doctor Who!!' squee point of view, and also from relief at having plots which were good, plain, involving adventures, not convoluted ego trips for writers (Moffat!! (shakes fist)) .  

The best bit was when Ian put his hand on the Tardis, and felt it hum and vibrate.  "It's alive!" he exclaims.  Oh, yes it is.  And that tiny tactile scene and those two words introduced a massive central idea - that the Tardis is a character, but also a metaphor - it's like Spenser's House of Alma in The Faerie Queene.  And it's like all of us, bigger on the inside.

Steve Hill Doctor Who Image Archive

There was also a lovely piece of dialogue from the Doctor to Ian, "If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"  That's poetry.  

It was surprisingly violent.  However, the scariness of Doctor Who has been a common thread through several generations of children, who can see their deepest fears and untangeable uncertainties about the world around them displayed on screen in visible, nameable ways - a cyberman, a dalek - and then explore the ways that they can overcome them. The Doctor is worth the monsters. 

At one point (episode 4) there is a wrestling scene where two semi-naked cavemen fight together in the firelight.  Which made me wonder was Ken Russell amongst the 10 million viewers in 1963?  Because it reminded me mightily of the firelit wrestling scene in the 1969 film Women in Love between cavemen-like Oliver Reed and hirsute Alan Bates.

Now there's a link I never thought I'd make...

Tomorrow it's The Day of the Doctor.  Most amazing television event ever or huge let-down, like every Who Christmas special since The Christmas Invasion?  

Well, it has Piper and Tennant in it, so it can't be all bad....

* The Tardis is hiding in the junk yard of I M Foreman, 76 Totter's Lane.  Ian then addresses the Doctor as 'Doctor Foreman'.  I M Foreman - I am for man.  Doctor for Man.  The doctor who heals mankind.

The real name of the Doctor is 'hidden in plain sight', and I M Foreman is not only suitably Messianic, but could explain why he's always hanging about planet Earth.  Well, it's as good a theory as any...and by the way yes, I know none of this is actually real.

Sculpture Class....

Back at my sculpture class, it was all going well for my 'wave' piece.  It's a metal armiture in a herculite base, with chicken wire covered in plaster bandage and herculite making up the wave form.

When it dried, I was pretty pleased with the general shape.

However, once I started painting and staining it, it all went a bit wrong.

There's various colours of ink, wax and some aluminium leaf in there. 

It's meant to look reminiscent of a piece of seaweed, and the shape's really pleasing.  But it didn't turn out how I expected at all.  It looked awful.  So I kept on working in it, rubbing it back and waxing.

The problems came with the inside facet of the scupture.  What to do with that?  It was all looking as if this was some sort of piece of army-issue camouflage art.  Yuk.

Then my tutor suggested using the towel that I was leaning on to line the inside.  Suddenly, it all came together...


So next week, making a towel out of latex...

Standing Room Only in the Studio...

Because of all the work for my London show that's currently in the studio all at once, things are getting a little crowded...  and there's still more to paint!

Currently, the paintings are drying before going off to the framers in groups to get set into their bespoke gilded frames.  Then they'll come back to get labelled and wrapped.  After that, they get loaded up into the art carrier's van and then off they go on their 500 mile journey southwards.

The next time I see them, they'll either be hanging in the Business and Design Centre in Islington, or hanging on the walls of the gallery in St James's when I go along to my preview in February.

Monday, 18 November 2013

London Solo Show

Here's a date for your diaries...

The date for the preview of my solo show in London next year is Wednesday 12th February 2014 from 5.30-8pm.  

As usual, it's at Duncan R Miller Fine Arts, in Bury Street, St James's, London.

Everyone welcome!

There will be the usual full-colour catalogue available, so if you'd like a copy and an invitation to the preview, then just drop me a line at the usual address.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Free Pass to Cambridge City Art Fair!

A revamped Cambridge City Art Fair opens on Friday for the weekend, this time handily housed in the town centre (The Guildhall in the Market Square).

I've got a new batch of paintings on Stand 7, the Lime Tree Gallery, so look out for these if you're going!

Across the Sand, Bass Rock (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)

Clifftop Flowers near Carrick-a-Rede (Oil, 10 x 10)

Montbretia by Stormy Sea, Portstewart Oil, 10 x 10)
 Bluebells at Camusdarrach (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)

If you'd like to go, you can download a complimentary 3-day pass to the Fair (worth £10), courtesy of the Lime Tree Gallery.  Just go HERE.

If you do go to the Fair, I'd love to hear your feedback!

Cambridge City Art Fair runs 11am-6pm on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th November, and 11am-4pm on Sunday 17th November. Find out more about the Fair at their website HERE.