What’s in a Sketch?

I am ashamed to say I fall into the category of those who can’t really appreciate a lot of old art – frescos and religious paintings have never really been my bag. Old drawings, however, are another matter all together. The exhibition of Italian Renaissance Drawings at the British Museum is really something special. The blurb explains that drawing only became popular in the 1400s when paper started to be more widely available. Sketching was seen principally as a way for artists to hone their skills and create studies for larger scale paintings. But, as the exhibition shows, drawings are often more playful, delicate and charismatic than paintings of the same time. Seeing every tiny mark, you get a much better understanding of the skill and study that has gone into them, even the mistakes and corrections are interesting.

For this reason, I think it is easy to feel a stronger connection with them and to really understand how remarkable it is that these delicate, incredibly skillful drawings are staring you right in the face. In 1400, a bloke called Giovannino de’Grassi sat down to draw a cheetah, for instance, and here I am looking at it now. Mind-boggling:

And it isn’t just really old sketches that get me excited – any work from any era where you can see the skill and technique used to create it will usually interest me more than a ‘finished’ perfect painting. For instance, I prefer Degas’ ballerina sketches to his paintings:

Egon Schiele’s sketches, disturbing as they can be, are also very appealing to me:

The wartime artist John Piper’s work often had a sketchlike quality to it that I absolutely love:

So there we have it. A small insight into a beautiful exhibition and a few examples of other sketches I love. Now all I have to do is start doing more of my own sketches. And who knows, maybe someone in the year 3000 will marvel at one of my own doodles…

June 20, 2010. Tags: , , . art, galleries, London, Uncategorized. 1 comment.

A Weekend in Wales

Montgomery Castle

Rhaedr Waterfall

Lake Vyrnwy

A singing walk

Powys Castle

Some Welsh Cheese and Lebanese Wine

BBC Modern Masters - Picasso

If you are wondering what you’ve just been reading and why, then please consult Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief – in part of this book one of the characters (a fist-fighting Jew) creates his own picture book, which is featured in the text – made of simple sketches, it playfully interrupts the text with childlike pictures that are all the more enjoyable for their technical lack of ability. So I thought I’d have a go.

For a more accurate representation of what I saw in Wales and how beautiful it was there are some photos below.

May 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . architecture, art, books, Me, my artwork, travel, Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Mussels in Brussels

Don’t worry, I’m not about to do the blogging equivalent of a holiday slide show. Just thought I’d draw your attention to some fun things I discovered on a recent trip to rockin’ Belgium. Of course, I indulged in all the expected treats of the land: beer, mussels, choccies and chips but I also found some unexpected cultural gems:

Belgian Symbolist Art at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts: From a quick Google I can tell you that broadly speaking symbolism was a reaction against realism, focusing on spirituality, dreams and the power of the imagination. A stroll round the exhibition showed me that in the late nineteenth century these dark, moody paintings and sculptures were the order of the day in Belgium. While I’m not sure I’d want any of them hanging on my walls (think of the nightmares), they were certainly interesting to behold and very atmospheric. Here are a couple of examples:

Felicien Rops, La Buveuse d’absinthe, 1865:

And the very famous Orphee mort, (Ophelia’s Death), 1893, Jean Delville:

Some more Googling tells me that decorative elements of Belgian Symbolism had an influence on the subsequent Art Nouveau movement, bringing me to my next Brussels highlight: the Belgian architect Victor Horta’s house and the various cool Art Nouveau buildings around Brussels including the Music Museum, which reminds me of the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Victor Horta wanted to break free from convention and redesign functional objects to make them beautiful. The interior of his house, which you can just stroll around as if you were his guest, is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

Speaking of individuals with a passion for modernity and creativity, another cool dude I learnt more about from my trip is Benedikt Taschen, a German publisher who puts out books on all things art, film,  fashion and erotica. There’s a lovely Taschen bookshop in the heart of Brussels and I spent a good deal of time browsing the pages of these beautiful books.

Which leads me nicely onto the final thing I have to say about Brussels: they have a surprisingly good shopping scene. Not blinding, in-your-face fashion saturation like London and New York, but small independent boutiques and a refreshing lack of chain stores. (This goes for their cafes and restaurants too: they just don’t do Starbucks, OK?) My favourite shopping find was a boutique store with the unusual name of Mr Ego. Its website describes it as ‘cool attitude shopping’ – I love frenglish. I picked up several nice pieces from this place, and think they will make welcome additions to my Topshopified wardrobe.

So that concludes my Belgian observations. I hope you find them useful for future trips to a land that does indeed go beyond mussels and chips. Incidentally, it is a very easy place to get to for a weekend break thanks to the legendary Eurostar! And even more convenient if, like me, you have lovely friends living out there like Tom and Laura who provided me with free accommodation, a guided tour and invaluable local knowledge.

May 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . architecture, art, books, fashion, travel. Leave a comment.

Some ‘graphic’ art

No I don’t mean anything rude by that. Graphic art is ‘a term applied historically to the art of printmaking and drawing’ (according to Wikipedia). Basically, it’s posters and prints, often used for things like gig posters, display ads and promo flyers.  The reason for my sudden interest in it? I went to a rather good graphic art fair last weekend called ‘Pick Me Up’. I browsed the prints and posters (some a bit generic but mostly top quality), watched artists at work and fantasised about which ones I’d buy if I spent money on art instead of shoes (which I don’t but I really should. A much better investment). This quirky little fair was only on for a week so for those of you who missed it here are some highlights:

1) Erin Petson: I love her sketchy, messy but delicate style. Gorgeous. It says on her website she’s done work for Vogue. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing in mainstream fashion media. (See previous blog post!)

2) Everything is Everything: A video about objects. What happens (or doesn’t happen) when you touch, pick up, throw, put on, drop and jump on everyday things. Intermittently accompanied by some rancid-looking Chinese food. I can’t say any more about it except you should watch it because it is mindlessly hypnotic.

3) The humble art of screen printing: So easily ignored in the age of digital printing but really satisfying to watch the swiping of the paint and the building up of colours. It is still very much alive today at the likes of Print Club London where trendy East Londoners unite to seep paint onto paper.

4) Rob Ryan: Paper cutout artiste  extraordinaire breathes new life into the  humble paper chain and doily with amazingly intricate poster templates which are transposed onto all sorts of medium, including bags, books and mugs. Although as my housemate Jim said ‘It’s a bit girlie, isn’t it?’

5) Big Ideas (don’t get any) by James Houston: The most original Radiohead cover you’ll ever hear, Houston covers ‘Nude’ from In Rainbows using old school technology. What it is doing at a graphic art fair I’ve not idea but it is very clever stuff. I love seeing all that clunky technology put to good use!

May 2, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . art, fashion, London. Leave a comment.

Fembots and Zoids

This post should come with a warning that it  involves a high horse and me getting on it. So read on if you dare…

Flicking through the pages of the well-known fashion mag, Grazia, there are lots of lovely things to behold: pretty people, sexy clothes and outrageous footwear – you know how it goes. (Don’t pretend you don’t, boys). I’m drawn to this eye candyfest as much as the next person

BUT

I’m getting increasingly upset by the number of what I would describe as ‘fembots and zoids’ on the pages, mainly in the ads. What I mean by this is the extent to which the faces and figures are airbrushed and distorted till they resemble no woman on earth. The one that caught my attention as a particularly horrendous example of this is the two headed, flat-faced monstrosity I spied the other day, which could also be described as two ‘beautiful’ women advertising lipstick.

Something about the vacant airbrushed faces upset me more than usual. I think because there are two of them and they’ve been done up to look like clones this is a particularly strong example of the  attack of the ‘fembots’. (Is it me or do they also look a little bit evil?)

What I wonder is how much further the airbrushed zoid look can go before they all merge into one generic computer manipulated image of ‘the perfect woman’ (which would probably look like Kate Moss as she is in every second ad anyway).

In a book of past Vogue covers that I have it is really interesting to see how much more creative editors had to be before the days of airbrushing and even fashion photography. It would be brilliant to see this type of artwork come back into mainstream fashion but I guess that’s a big ask.

Call me a blind optimist but I do believe it is possible, however, that one day we will see an airbrushing backlash which acknowledges the fact that no one really looks like this and nor should they want to!

March 28, 2010. Tags: , , , . art, fashion, feminism. 2 comments.

Chris Ofili…Beyond the Dung

So moving swiftly on from self help books because my sister reckons I sound like a fruit loop… I went to the Chris Ofili exhibition at the Tate Britain with my friend Shenel on Sunday and saw some beautiful, energised paintings. Energised might seem like a strange choice of word but for me it seems like the most appropriate one. Its hard to describe but his paintings were so vibrant and “buzzy” that they sort of pulse off the paper and dazzle you. This guy has no qualms in getting messy with glitter, glue, resin and even elephant dung. Kind of reminded me of being 5 and just playing with pretty colours and sparkly things. (He is, of course, a lot better at this than your average 5 year old.)

The best bit was a beautifully designed wooden room where Ofili’s series of monkey god paintings hang. Each in a different vibrant colour: lime green, neon orange, rose pink and violet – that makes it sound a bit like a Dulex colour chart on acid but I promise you it was far from this. At the end of the room is the big monkey god glittering in gold with a rainbow background. (Jeez, I’m making this sound cheap and tacky but it is clearly the draftsmanship, sensitivity and power behind the work that is impressive. As well as the pretty colours.)

In the monkey room, Ofili said he was trying to create the effect of a temple but without the religious implications and the room did have a spiritual feel to it, probably due to the fact that visitors are in awe of the artworks. Who would of thought that colours+monkeys+wooden panels = mesmorising, soothing and inspiring place… Shenel and I struggled to drag ourselves away because we felt so drawn to the room.

One of the other highlights was seeing some humorous pencil sketches – many of them made up of nothing but miniature faces with big afros which, in a dot-to-dot fashion, mark out a larger image, usually of an attractive woman. This room also had some small, beautiful water colours in it of birds and faces – black background with rainbow colours marking the image. Apparently he does these little paintings in the morning and the evening as a way of freeing his mind. I had a go at one myself and found it a pleasing and soothing experience. Result below.

So in short I loved it (even the dung) and you should go too if you get the chance. Hats off to Mr Ofili and here’s an example of what he does best to finish.

February 21, 2010. Tags: , , , . art, galleries, my artwork. 1 comment.