Category Archives: Oct ’15

On Modern Art – Paul Klee

In my quest to better understand the power of the unconscious mind and it’s relevance to my work, I was guided to On Modern Art by Paul Klee, by Alan Davie who painted intuitively, and who was fascinated by the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

This slim volume was the basis of a lecture Klee gave at the Museum in Jena in 1924, whilst he was lecturing at the Bauhaus in Germany.  In the introduction Herbert Read comments ‘An art like painting is itself a language – a language of form and colour, in which complex  intuitions are expressed.’

Klee defines art work in terms of Measure (Line), Weight (Tonal Value) and Quality (Colour), where Quality is also Weight (colour value and brilliance) and Measure (limits, area, extent), and Weight is also Measure (extent and boundaries), but Measure is simply line.

Klee refers to the scope of the artist’s enquiry ‘Only for the purpose of comparison, only in the exercise of his mobility of mind.  And not to provide a scientific check on the truth of nature.  Only in the sense of freedom.’ p49

He concludes ‘Sometimes I dream of a work of really great breadth, ranging through the whole region of element, object, meaning and style.  This, I fear, will remain a dream, but it is a good thing even now to bear the possibility occasionally in mind.’p54

A simple message, but if the quest eluded Klee, what hope is there for the rest of us!


Rob Smith Lecture

Rob has just embarked on a research led PhD.  He opened his lecture  with some challenging facts about cats and toxoplasmosis, continuing with his work responding to site and collaborations.

He referenced land artist Robert Smithson, famous for his work Spiral Jetty, 1970, and Robert Hobbs, American art historian and curator.  Smithson’s work in a chalk quarry inspired Rob’s collaboration with Charles Danby to discover the actual site of the work Chalk Mirror Displacement 1969, which had been wrongly attributed to Oxted in Yorkshire, when Oxted is in Surrey, a journey they recorded on a dual film.  He referred to Timothy Morton’s work exploring the interconnectedness of object-oriented thought and ecological studies and Rosalind Krauss’s  book Sculpture in the Expanded Field.

He highlighted the fluidity of his work, where different elements are regrouped for each exhibition, and the use of a rotating projector to cast shadows to interfere and blur the edges.  More recently he has set up the collaborative Field Broadcast with Rebecca Birch, where by use of Rob’s software, they are able to broadcast live streaming of events,  blurring the role of artist/curator/fund raiser/technician, evidencing  the  interconnectedness of everything.  His most recent collaboration with professor Neal White of Bournemouth University, who  is the director of Emerge, the Experimental Media Research Group, is part of the Office of Experiments, and uses a feonic speaker and radome panel with seismic data to produce sound.  Rob referenced Morton’s ‘hyper objects’ (objects so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend localisation), made visible through a technical mediator.

Recently Rob has set up the Expanded Studio Project in Cambridgeshire, where artists have been randomly selected to work in pairs with fellow artists from the Primary Studio in Nottingham.  With this in mind he set us collaborative tasks.

To be honest Rob’s practice is way outside my experience, fascinating and mind-blowing all at once.  What I will take away is the idea of collaboration, something that had not occurred to me before.  How it would work and with who, I have no idea, I will just be open to the possibility.


Take Two Ladies


I chanced upon an early BBC Four programme about the English painter Maggi Hambling, born in 1945, an artist I know little about.  Making their Mark: Six Artists on Drawing documented Hambling’s approach to drawing.  Figure drawing from life is a vital part of her daily routine.  ‘Being yourself fully present before this bit of truth, something will happen.’

Drawing is trying to discover the truth at that moment.  She talks of marks and not lines, being made as if for the first time.  She uses a chunky stick of graphite.  She works at great speed controlling the graphite through her eyes, using sensual touch to reveal the truth of the subject.

She feels that the process of making art is as Giacometti said, ‘like a blind man groping in darkness.’  She feels she must ‘battle on’ with the occasional  ‘gifts from God’.

She follows the same rituals every day.  ‘Unaccountably, perhaps for half an hour, something will go right, she has no idea how or why.’

Hambling  is a strong, focused and dedicated artist.  Watching this film has made me realise just how hard it is to make art and how I should not be quite so hard on myself, for not succeeding with every attempt.


By contrast, I saw the documentary of the American fashion icon Iris Apfel, born in 1921.  She has Brooklyn stamped right through her, flamboyant and utterly confident in her taste.  She uses her body as a canvas for her vast collection of clothes and jewellery, which, to the untrained eye, she appears to wear all at  once.

This film is an intimate portrait of her life, her love of fashion and her husband Carl, who died at the age of 100, shortly after the film was made.  Revered by the fashionista, she is a living monument to individuality, carving a unique and colourful niche.


Following from Rob Smith’s lecture this evening we were randomly grouped for a collaborative project.  My group of Tanya and Mwamba were asked to base our work on an image of the Mona Lisa.  In Hastings, East Sussex, I enlarged and copied the image in black and white.  This Tanya then photographed from the screen in New York.  This was then sent to Mwamba in Zambia who suggested using some Zambian fabric known as chitenge, which he emailed a picture of.  I then printed and cut out the fabric image and stuck it to enlarged Mona Lisa, which Tanya rephotographed, all within 20 minutes.Displaying

I really enjoyed the idea of collaboration and would be interested in tackling again.  I didn’t enjoy the time pressure, particularly as it took several minutes to enter the new hangout and, once there, Mwamba had difficulty entering, and we had difficulty with the speech, so there was little time to physically discuss any ideas as a group.

Galleried Out

Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House

Annabel Dover had mentioned in my tutorial that I should see  Peter Lanyon’s Soaring Flight exhibition whilst in London.  I arrived soaked through having walked from the Euston Road, my favourite time to see London being in the early morning, before it rouses.

A number of rooms guide you to the Lanyon gallery.  Matthew Smith’s Lilies in a Jar, 1913, caught my eye for three reasons.

Lilies in a Jar

I am interested in flower paintings by notable artists as they affirm it is OK to paint everyday subjects; I wasn’t familiar with his work; and, following on from our making day, where Caroline had been testing decorative backgrounds against her eggs, I was struck by the decorative background in Smith’s work, which I would normally have considered to be competing with the subject.  The Courtauld quote him as saying that he wanted ‘to create something as living as nature, so that it itself may continue to live.’  Some research and reflection required.

More flowers from a master, an early Picasso Yellow Irises, 1901.

In the same room a young girl with melancholy eyes caught my attention.

Chaim Soutine, Young Woman in a White Blouse, 1923

Such emotion from this Russian artist, a prolific painter of portraits and carcasses, amongst other subjects.

More emotion, this time from the manner in which the paint is applied.  Leon Kossoff painted Christ Church, Spitalfields on many occasions, this version was 1992.  The energy, the urgency and the angst is palpable.

The same energy and use of impasto is also evident in an earlier work, Head of Speedo 1964.

Head of Seedo Dimensions: 21.25 X 21.25 in (53.98 X 53.98 cm) Medium: oil on board Creation Date: 1964 Seedo was the close friend of Kossoff and was one of his regular sitters.:

Frank Auerbach, Head of Leon Kossoff, 1957

Auerbach’s immense energy is woven into this charcoal drawing, where trace evidence of passionate reworking, leaves you in no doubt of his determination to capture the very essence of Kossoff.

Kossoff and Auerbach were students of David Bomberg’s evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic.  Bomberg’s passion and belief in the fundamental importance of form is evident in his students’ work.

Finally I make it to Soaring Flight, an exhibition of Peter Lanyon’s gliding paintings.  Initially I am reminded of the landscapes of Richard Diebenkorn, the use of colour, the perspective, but these works offer more.  Painted from the perspective of the pilot, they are a journey through his emotional responses to the challenge, the thrill, the turbulence, that was finally to tragically take his life in 1964, at the age of 46.

Thermal,1960: ‘the elation of uplift against the possible sudden downfall are all there’.

Thermal, 1960

Cornish born, a member of the Penwith Society of painters in St Ives, which included Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Roger Hilton, he flew off his native West Cornwall coast,  naming the works after gliding terms.

Soaring Flight, 1960 by Peter Lanyon.

Soaring Flight, 1960 photograph: Courtesy of Arts Council Collection

Lanyon took up gliding in 1959.  Already a successful painter, gliding took his work to another level.

These works are Lanyon’s emotional response to the sensation of letting go, to confronting his demons, to just being free.  The Courtauld references ”a sense of breathlessness and attitude of wonder’, akin to seeing a woman naked.’

They are a unique and remarkable body of work, that succinctly convey the viewer into Lanyon’s  almost spiritual world.

Glide Path, 1964

Solo Flight, 1960

Solo Flight, June 1960   Credit: Scottish National Gallery of Art Edinburgh

Tate Modern – Making Traces

That word again, how could I not go.


I have been looking at the work of Lee Krasner and I think this is the first work I have seen in the flesh. Gothic Landscape, 1961 was painted five years after the sudden death of her husband, Jackson Pollock, it is one of a series of gestural paintings, whose emphatic brushstrokes reflected her grief.

Gothic Landscape 1961 Lee Krasner 1908-1984 Purchased 1981

Gothic Landscape 1961 Lee Krasner 1908-1984 Purchased 1981

The next room was dedicated to Rebecca Horn, a deeply committed artist, whose work I don’t yet understand. (Some background to her work

006The House of Pain 2005

Gestural fingertip mark making with crayon marks from her pencil mask.


American artist Amy Silman is another artist I have yet to research. Her canvas Clubfoot 2011, clearly shows the history and subtlety of her mark making, which draws you into her work.


American Mark Bradford’s Riding the Cut Vein 2013 is a huge work, collaged from scraps of posters found in the area depicted, a contemporary take on the work of de la Villegle, which is shown alongside.

014 a closeup of the right hand section.  His paintless process builds layer upon layer of process and material history.

Details from his recent exhibition at the White Cube.

German artist Gerhard Richter, whose work I really like for its tactile sensitivity on a grand scale, had a single room with four of his large scale paint and scrape works, showing the history of marks, movement and gestures.


Unlike to sensation I experienced in the room dedicated to Lanyon’s aerial views, where I felt I was silently gliding with the artist, in Richter’s room, the collective works felt like smothering, rather than uplifting.

The final work that caught my eye in this huge exhibition of nine rooms was a small abstract photograph by American Brett Weston.


He works from nature to capture that that we miss.  I thought this image was Chinese calligraphy, but is in fact tree bark.

A behinds the scenes view of the exhibition

This exhibition was brilliant in its conception and presentation of the various meanings of this word.  There is so much more to be seen than I have mentioned.  So much to reflect on and ideas to be taken into my work.

On the way back to the station I popped into the Bankside, which stands in the shadow of Tate Modern,  and chanced upon this arresting woodcut  Golden Girl 120 x 120cms, by Laura Rosser.


It reminded me of a photo I took in Cornwall a few years ago and how I might transform the image.



Fat Bottomed Lady in Looe

I am not sure I achieved my objective of improving my critiquing skills, but I now have first hand experience of the power of emotion in painting, and the sensitivity that traces can bring to work.  An amazing day.








Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

I wanted to see the watercolours of East Sussex war artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), whose life ended tragically off Iceland.  The work is unmistakably 1930’s-40’s, you can almost sense Foyle, from the Hastings television series, in the Train Landscape, 1940.  The work is charming, modest and muted, ably recording a period in history that is long gone.  The absence of people creating disquiet, rather the peace.

Eric Ravilious, Train Landscape, 1940

Train Going Over a Bridge at Night 1935

By comparison, the work of Cornish painters Roger Hilton, Alan Davie, Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron, brought together by William Gear, as curator 1958-64, though only 20 years later than Ravilious, could have been painted in a different century.

Roger Hilton, November ’64

AlanDavie, SeaGate, 1960

Alan Davie, Sea Gate ’60

I am not familiar with Davie’s work, which appears so at odds with landscape colours of the St Ives painters, but I was captivated by this work, with good reason.  A Scotsman from Stromness, born in 1920, he travelled extensively, finally settling in Treen near Lands End in 1960, until his death last year.   He painted automatically, with the intention of releasing the unconscious and was fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, maintaining that his symbols had meaning.  I will be returning to his work as part of my research question.

By further contrast, there were a number of works by the Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, whose lives I have been researching for some colour work I am experimenting with.

Duncan Grant - The Glade, Firle Park, East Sussex (1943)

Duncan Grant, The Glade Firle Park 1943

Two works caught my attention for because of the subject’s eyes, but for very different reasons.  The first was an unremarkable arable painting of 1889 by Sir George Claussen, Ploughing.

It isn’t evident in the reproduction but the face of the child has a quality that can only be described as out of it’s time.  Painted in a modern style, that is not replicated elsewhere in the work, the eyes cannot be ignored.

The second work was part of Julian Germain’s  photographic exhibition, The Future is Ours, premiered at the Towner.  Here reviewed  in  Wall Street International

The works taken in classrooms from as far away as Yemen and Peru, show children at work.  On one large wall there is a projected work.  It is only after a few minutes that you notice that it is a video, with the pupils motionless, apart from the occasional slight movement.  Once you start to look more closely and move from side to side through the work you become aware that the eyes appear to be following you.  Irrational but thought provoking.

Getting Technical – Colour



Colour swatch of my chosen palette painted on Bockingford Not 140lb  56 x 56 cms

Hansa Yellow Light                  PY1          Daniel Smith (DS)

New Gamboge                            PY150    Winsor & Newton (W&N)

Burnt Sienna                                PR101    W&N

Winsor Red                                   PR254    W&N

Perylene Maroon                       PR175    W&N

Quin Magenta                              PR122    W&N

Opera Pink                                     PR122    W&N

Winsor Violet                               PV23      W&N

French Ultramarine                  PB29       W&N

Winsor Blue Red Shade          PB15       W&N

Winsor Blue Green Shade     PB15       W&N

Antwerp                                           PB27       DS

Cerulean Blue                               PB35       W&N

Winsor Green Blue Shade     PG7          W&N

Viridian                                             PG18       W&N

Alizian Crimson                            PR83       W&N

Phthalo Turquoise                      PB16       W&N

Green Gold                                      PY129    W&N

Olive                                                    PR101 PY65 PB15:6  W&N

Jadeite                                               N/A            DS

The pure colours were painted across the top.  The top colour was then painted in the top of each box below it, with the each of the pure colours across the top, painted in the bottom half of each box.  Some combinations clearly don’t work, others do, and I will be further investigating those that work, to better understand and consider their application to my work going forward.

Principles of Harmony & Contrast of Colours and their Application to the Arts – Michel E Chevreul  First edition in French in 1839

Chevreul, a French chemist, born in 1786, discovered the way in which colour is perceived, which became know as The law of simultaneous contrast.  Simply stated this is the visual phenomenon related to the juxtaposition of two colours.


Reproduced from Georges Roque’s publication Chevreul’s Colour Theory and it’s Consequences for Artists 1, based on his presentation to the Colour Group (GB) in Paris in 2010.

When two colours of similar hue are placed side by side as above, the light colour, top diagram, left and centre, appears lighter in the centre, and the dark colour, centre and right, appears darker in the centre, especially around the borders.  The bottom diagram shows the effect known as ‘Chevreul’s Illusion’, where the stripes seen from a suitable distance resemble channelled grooves, more than flat surfaces.

It becomes interesting when two colours are juxtaposed.   Compte de Buffon 2 had observed in 1743 that after staring at a red dot on a white background for a while, it assumed a green halo.  If we then stare at the white paper an after image of a green dot would be seen. Green and red are complimentary colours.  There is a similar result with  blue/orange and yellow/violet, also complimentary colours.  Chevreul’s research led him to conclude that the juxtaposition of complimentary colours enhance each other, a conclusion readily explored by impressionist painters.

1 Roque, G Chevreul’s Colour Theory and it’s Consequences for Artists, Colour Group (Great Britain) 2011

2 Buffon, « Sur les couleurs accidentelles », Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences, 1743, reprinted in J.-L. Binet and J. Roger (eds.), Un autre Buffon, Paris, Hermann, 1977, pp.138-149.