Richard Diebenkorn

On entering the Diebenkorn exhibition at the RA I realised how much I have missed glorious, unashamed colour in recent exhibitions by Marlene Dumas and Anselm Kiefer.  That isn’t to say I didn’t really enjoy the Kiefer exhibition, I just find that colour, as used by Diebenkorn, Frankenthaler and others from the  Colour-field period, so uplifting after a long winter.

Adrian Searle writing in the Guardian

‘Each painting is like a diary of the act of painting.  Diebenkorn became a delicious colourist.’  ‘Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings occupy a sort of hinterland. They’re a beautiful distraction, paintings to lose your way inside. They’re not quite landscapes, not geometric abstractions and not exactly colour-field painting either. They belong to a time and place but have in them times and places all their own. They’re accumulations of incident within a larger scheme of things. You can see Diebenkorn thinking as he paints, getting lost, turning back, wandering off into the fields, finding the larger view.’

Sausalito - Richard Diebenkorn

Sausalito 1948-49

It is the journey, particularly visible in the Ocean Park work, that holds the viewer’s attention.  Lines and form, lost in the mist of time.  A place to stop and stare.

I agree with Searle that the exhibition could have included more work.

Martin Gayford in the Spectator writes ‘Diebenkorn’s first mature works, dating from the early 1950s, have a slightly familiar look to a British eye. It is hard, in the first room of the show, not to find the words ‘St Ives’.  A contemporary of Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron, working in New Mexico rather than Penwith.’  ‘He made paintings filled with light and space, which also had a certain down-to-earth grittiness. For more than 20 years, from 1966 to ’86, he worked in Ocean Park, a district of southern Santa Monica abutting Venice Beach. This is a sort of Californian Brighton, a seaside town, slightly Bohemian and definitely relaxed.’

‘His art does survive the journey from the West Coast to the Thames, but a little goes a long way and only the best years are really worth savouring.’

Whilst wanting to see more of Diebenkorn’s work, I understand where Gayford is coming from.  The middle room focused on figurative work.   ‘He also produced Matisse-like nudes and a few still lifes — one a nicely angular study of a pair of scissors — but his heart didn’t really seem to be in either genre.’

Ocean Park #54

Ocean Park 54 – 1971

What went unmentioned by the critics were the gems of work painted on cigar boxes, encapsulating the magnificence of the larger works in miniature.  (an excellent article on Diebenkorn, not related to the RA exhibition.

These are particularly inspiring for me, as I grapple with the task of scaling up my work.

Week 21 – Artist Practice


Their Current Projects ‘How to be an Artist’ series gives an insight into differing aspects of the supporting activities of being an artist.  Laura Fowle looks at ‘the balancing act of self promotion’, focusing on her web site and the use of Instagram.  My web site, designed by my son, Jon Barmby at works really well, but it is her suggestion, illustrated by the artist Tanya Ling,  that Instagram is used as a ‘teaser’ to draw in followers that I need to explore.

My son’s friend the Brighton illustrator Lloyd Stratton, uses the resource in a similar way, releasing works in progress to showcase his beautiful pointillist work.  He now has over 3000 followers who regularly purchase his limited runs.

I currently use Instagram for family photos, but with my dual identity I will make this a task for March.  This is proving harder than first thought.  Instagram doesnt seem to allow multiple accounts, that is one copy per device. Um?

Georgia Gendall considers identity and resilience after art college and the importance of a support group once the reassuring blanket of art college is withdrawn.  She is part of the Lifeboat initiative offered by UAL out of which emerged CaW, which ‘explores the proposition that fine art practice per se is a model for resilience (psychologically, socially and culturally). ‘

The Video Trade Secrets 9 stresses the importance of a web presence, but also the idea of collaboration.  I shall let that idea incubate for a while to see if it leads anywhere or nowhere.


Week 20 – Watercolour Painters

Watercolour Painters

Edward Burra 1905-1976

Born in Rye in a house known as Springfield, in 1920 he travelled to Paris, which would change him forever, an unfolding entertainment.  Also drawn to the seedy ports in the South of France, and their Spanish influence.  Disabled from childhood with arthritic hands, he was a man on the outskirts of life.   His art was meticulous and carefully constructed.  He painted from imagination, methodically from left to right as evidenced by his last work.Edward Burra (English, 1905-1976), Landscape, 1976. Pencil and watercolour, 29½ x 51½ in. (75 x 130.8 cm.)

Edward Burra ‘The Snack Bar’, 1930<br />
© The estate of Edward Burra, courtesy Lefevre Fine Art, London

The Snack Bar 1930

In 1933 he visited Harlem, but it was Spain that captivated him.  He loved its rawness and roughness, and was living there in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  It was, not unexpectedly to have a profound effect on his work.

Edward Burra, The Watcher,1937

The Watcher 1937

In the 50s he painted flowers that were sinister.

He used symbolic language in his later work, ghostly figures in Sugarbeet.

Sugarbeet, East Anglia 1973. Watercolour on paper by Edward Burra.

His later landscapes feel like an attempt to connect with something bigger than himself. 

Near Whitby, Yorkshire 1972

Andrew Graham Dixon and his review in the Telegraph ht


Jane Stevenson wrote his biography, Twentieth Century Eye.

Eric Ravilious

English, born in Eastbourne in 1903 – 1942 in action as a war artist.

Norway by Eric Ravilious, 1940

Norway 1940

Tutored by Paul Nash at the RCA, a contemporary of Henry Moore and John Piper.

Ravilious, Eric - Chalk Paths

Chalk Paths 1935

Known for his watercolours of the South Downs.

There is to be a major retrospective at the Dulwich Picture Gallery from April to August, curated by James Russell a Ravilious expert.

Paul Nash

English 1889 – 1946, educated at the Slade.

With thanks to Gerry’s amazing art blog Thats How the Light Gets in,

Paul Nash, Wire, 1918

Paul Nash Wire -1918

And James Russell’s blog on his life and death

Woods on the Downs 1930

Another perspective on his life

Patrick Heron

British 1920-1999.

Ultramarine, red & black vertical

Ultramarine, red & black vertical  5 x 3¾ in. (12.7 x 9.5 cm.)

This is clearly a watercolour but most of his work is oil or silk screen.

Marlene Dumas

Born is South Africa in 1953, now resident in Amsterdam.  She works mainly in inks and oils.

I visited the Image as Burden exhibition at the Tate last week.  I wanted to find her work amazing and unforgettable, but sadly, I didn’t.  In fact with fourteen rooms of challenging images, I found myself extremely low the following day.

Dumas goes where other artists fear to tread.  Laura Cummings writing in the Observer ‘There is a painting in this show of the man who murdered the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, shooting him repeatedly before slashing his throat. It is delicate and pale, materialising in beautiful veils. There is another of Osama bin Laden in the glowing stained-glass hues of a Rouault. Should they be quite so gorgeous, these canvases? Should these men get such lavish treatment?’

‘Her way of painting can appear rhetorical: those vague attenuations around the neck that make you wonder what happened to the rest of this poor person; those coloured auras that seem to emanate from certain faces; those seeping blurs that allow for extraordinary ambiguities in a face – seeing or sightless, unconscious or dead? Shapely masks – chalk white, pale blue, tinged with fading pink or magenta – are superimposed on heads for an immediate sense of misfit or detachment. Her people seem to wear their faces.’

Marlene Dumas retrospective, Tate Modern, London, Britain - 03 Feb 2015

Seven years ago Dumas briefly became the world’s most expensive living female artist.  You would imagine with that exhalted claim to fame would come a degree of self assuredness, but it appears not.

Rachel Cooke writing in the Guardian is impressed by her self-deprecation ‘“When I start work on a painting, it’s total kitsch!” she wails at one point. “When I painted myself pregnant, I couldn’t do the legs, and the blond hair made it look like a bad Klimt!” she cries at another. No other artist I have interviewed has ever come close to making statements like these. Their acceptance of their own brilliance was simply part of the deal.’

The Painter, 1994.

The Painter, 1994. The Museum of Modern Art, New York © Marlene Dumas

This disturbing portrait is of her own daughter, Helena, now 25, was considered too explicit for Tate and Moma outdoor publicity material.  “The nakedness made it impossible, but they also didn’t like that she looked so angry.” said Dumas in an interview with Vogue’s Sophie Rushton.  ‘Of painting her own child, she says, “When I’m painting I do have a distance, it’s not that I’m in this emotional state all the time… although I do use my paintings to work with my own fears and anxieties.” Think of Lucian Freud, she says, who asked his daughters to pose in the nude. “He was very good at what he did – but I’m totally opposite in that sense – he painted his daughters, lying there,” Dumas flings her body back into a splayed pose, “I mean, I wouldn’t paint my daughter like that! I’m still surprised that doesn’t upset people!”‘

Rachel Cooke from the Gaurdian comments ‘On a wall are the latest drawings for her Great Men series, a collection of portraits of gay men (the Tate show will include drawings of Alan Turing, Tennessee Williams and Tchaikovsky). She looks at me looking at them – I’m drawn especially to her young Auden and to her Francis Bacon, both of which seem to capture something of their very essence – and when I turn around, I can’t help but notice that she is wearing quite a daffy smile. Dumas doesn’t, unlike some artists, simply accept compliments as her due; it’s clear that they still have the power to thrill, and on receiving a genuine one she radiates graciousness, relief and a kind of simmering excitement.’

Alastair Smart writing in the Standard, whilst recommending the exhibition comments that it is ‘Not a barrel of laughs.  Dumas is proof that, even in a world awash with imagery, painting can still move.’

‘Dumas’s art does, after 14 rooms, start to look slightly samey. Following a few experiments with collage, she hit upon her signature painting style early on and hasn’t really ever deviated from it.

In fact, in recent years she appears to be an artist whose inspiration has run dry: hence her decision to start depicting celebrities, from Amy Winehouse and Phil Spector to Osama bin Laden.’

The artist would disagree.  In an interview with Sophie Rushton for Vogue ‘There is humour, she says, behind her paintings of Bin Laden and the now-incarcerated Spector, and you only have to hear her speak about them – in a throaty half-Dutch, half-South African accent that frequently dissolves into laughter – to believe that is her intention. “I always quote Beckett,” she says, “‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’ I often choose things that are quite tragic, and I know it’s not funny ha-ha, but there is definitely an element of humour.”  I am not sure I see where she is coming from and certainly not my sense of humour.

Dumas claims not to be political. Smart comments ‘Her work has often been seen through the prism of apartheid in her homeland, as if she were always passing comment. Dumas fundamentally rejects such a reductive outlook, but there’s no doubt the Africa of her youth has infused her art.’

Marlene Dumas, Black Drawings, 1991-1992

Black Drawings 1991-92

Smart continues ‘The artist herself, though, stresses her aim wasn’t political but simply to deploy black ink aesthetically – something she certainly achieves through some loose brushwork and lovely poolings.’

Critic Waldemar Januszczak writing in the Sunday Times and as ZCZFilms in Faceook

‘All the heads have an in-built sense of symbolism. All of them seem to have been through a battle to find the best painterly approach with which to suggest their bigger meanings. A portrait of Dumas’s mother, also called Martha, is as washed out as the Turin Shroud. While a portrait of Moshekwa, an artist friend of Dumas’s, and a rare appearance here by a male face, uses a surprising splodge of Rothko purple across the forehead to smuggle powerful abstract expressionist emotions into the image.

As a display of inventive mark-making, all this is impressive. The suggestive possibilities of paint are treated to an exciting exploration. Here, it’s done with splodges. There, with monochromes. Unfortunately, painting large heads is not enough for Dumas and, having shown how potently she can do it, she spends the rest of the show growing more ambitious in her subject matter, less impressive in her art.’

A face that fits

Sheila de Rosa writing for a-n   ‘Unfortunately I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with Januszczak when he says that this exhibition should have been called ‘How to be Old-Fashioned in a Contemporary Way’ and is a clumsy attempt by deep and ancient human emotions to express themselves with fiddly and ill-fitting conceptual methods.  This is where I humbly suggest that you need to be a practitioner yourself to appreciate exactly what she has achieved in her works and just how accomplished she is, and what a joy they impart.  Marlene Dumas is a breath of fresh air and her work combines both conceptual acuity and visual pleasure which, I submit, is what the visual arts are all about.’

My feeling is that here is an artist with the ability to infuse real, often painful emotion, into her portraits.  This is when she is being  her most authentic.  It is when she tries to develop her ideas that she looses that authenticity and appears to be ‘chasing the money’.

Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7

Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7

Private collection, c/o San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Marlene Dumas

Is she worth £3m, soon expected to increase to £5m at her next auction?  That is a seriously heavy burden for any artist to bear.


Contemporary History  – Julian Stallabrass

Stories of Art – James Elkins

Visual Methodologies – Gillian Rose

Your Creative Brain – Shelley Carson

A Philosophical Enquiry – Edmund Burke

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers – Leonard Koren

Art as a Social System – Niklas Luhmann

Art as Therapy – Alain de Botton

Interviews – Artists V2 Recordings 2010

Living, Thinking, Looking – Siri Hustvedt

Drawing and Painting People, A Fresh Approach – Emily Ball

The Occult Power of Numbers – W Wynn Westcott

Art in Modern Cultures, An Anthology of Critical Texts – edited by Francis Franscina and Jonathan Harris

Richard Diebenkorn The Berkley Years 1953-1966

The Enchanted River Two Hundred Years of the Royal Watercolour Society – Simon Fenwick

Art Speak – Robert Atkins

Kandinsky – Ulrike Becks-Malorny

Susan Sontag on Photography

Interpreting Matisse and Picasso – Elizabeth Cowling

Art Today – Heartney

The Natural Way to Draw – Nicolaides

Ways of Looking – Ossian Ward

Man and His Symbols – Carl G Jung

Coaching the Artist Within – Eric Maisel

The Element – Ken Robinson Ph D

Art & Instinct – Roy Oxlade

Week 11

Pico Iyer – TED Talk

Iyer, a travel writer, argues for going nowhere.

‘Sitting still allows you to process insights.’

‘It is not our experience that makes our live, it’s what we do with it.’

‘It’s the space that allows the imagination to breathe.’

Interestingly, Iyer chose Kyoto to live, with it’s 800 temples.  (Japan is creeping in again.)  He also made reference to Leonard Cohen at his monastic practice at Mount Baldy in California, from which he emerged at the age of 74 to a monumental rebirth in his career.

Since we became free to travel the world, we have chosen to stay still.  In a world where everyone wants ‘exotic’ travel, how reassuring Iyer’s view is.

Alan Johnson MP

I have a lot of time for Alan Johnson.  Commsonsense, pragmatism.  Not qualities associated with many MPs.

He was a judge of the Samuel Johnson prize.  He recommends the following:

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Romany & Tom – Ben Watt

The Thing About December – Donal Ryan

Mr Lynch’s Holiday – Catherine O’Flynn

References during the Reading Critique

(See my post on Lorca)

Leporello books006

Rozanne Hawksley

Born in 1931 in Portsmouth, her work, rich in allegorical references,  charts an odyssey encompassing the universal and intensely personal. Recurrent themes are the fragility of the human condition and the immorality of war.

Et ne non inducas (And lead us not), detail, 1987 – 1989. Photography Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy Ruthin Craft Centre

Alice Neel

American painter born 1900, who died in1984.

Self portrait

Born in 1969 in America, Chantal Joffe is an English artist based in London. Her often large-scale paintings generally depict women and children. In 2006, she received the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award from the Royal Academy. Wikipedia

Artwork: Walking Woman, Black Camisole, Woman With Flowers, more

Education: Royal College of Art, Glasgow School of Art

Robert Adams

Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews by Robert Adams

Siri Hustvedt

Living, Thinking, Looking – essays.

Giorgio Morandi, born in 1890 and died in 1964, was an Italian painter and printmaker who specialized in still life. His paintings are noted for their tonal subtlety in depicting apparently simple subjects, which were limited mainly … Wikipedia

Eileen Gray

Kathleen Eileen Moray Gray,  born in 1878 and died in 1976, was an Irish furniture designer and architect and a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture. Educated at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London Wikipedia

Kathrin Passig is a German writer born in 1970.

William Kentridge born in 1955, is a South African artist best known for his prints, drawings, and animated films. These are constructed by filming a drawing, making erasures and changes, and filming it again. Wikipedia


What Will Come (has already come), 2007 animated film.

Kentridge in action

TED artists

Janet Echelman

Echelman is the epitomy of turning an adversity into a triumph, ‘sharing the rediscovery of wonder.’  When her paints didn’t arrive in India for a training she was running, had to adapt to materials available, fishing nets.  This work developed into huge, technically engineered, sculptures.

Porto - Matosinhos - Praça da Cidade de Salvador.jpg

She Changes, 2005, Porto  –  45m diameter