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.