Month: August 2019

Making Week 7: Patchwork Boats

Boat-wise I’m now constructing 41-52. Thanks to a suggestion from Sarah, my neighbour, they are going to hang in the bathroom; bunting stretching from the corners with mobiles hanging from the central light. The bathroom has odd indents and cupboards so there will be five or six strings of boats and, at a rough count, I’ll need about fifty. For the remainder of the hundred I’m going to branch out and make model and patchwork boats.

Many years ago I used to make stripey patchwork quilts from old shirts. A kindly contact in Jermyn Street gave me bags and bags of offcuts – beautiful cottons in an array of wonderful stripes. I have stopped making the stripey quilts but I still have masses of fabric, waiting  for the perfect project. It is ideal for boat sails. The plainer blues also make excellent sky. Each panel will be 6×8 inches so they’ll fit together easily. I’m not sure yet what I’ll make with them but a flotilla of fabric boats seems like a good idea. Unlike most patchwork they are not particularly portable as they need pinning and ironing to get reasonably sharp corners but that doesn’t matter; I can sit on my now-comfortable garden seat (see the Garden Bench Patchwork here) and sew.

Jane

More Life Studies

Again, this was stuff done at Heatherley’s worked at very high speed on A1 cartridge.

The top one, in charcoal and rubbing out with a few lines of compressed charcoal for emphasis was done more to get some sense of depth through overlapping and recession than any attempt at realism, although the right hand figure is definitely the best of the three.

The lower one was intentionally very foreshortened with its enormous left arm and hand. Any success it achieved was due to the combination of red ink applied at will first, followed white opaque acrylic bleeding into it where it was used to correct and firm up the charcoal outline, and charcoal tone again supplemented with rather random rubbing out. In other words it wasn’t quite accidental but there was certainly an element of happy accident involved.

Chris

 

Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour at Pallant House

The most comprehensive and critically important show of Ivon Hitchen’s work for some thirty years runs until 13th October at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. He was painting from the time of the First World War until close to his death in 1979 and over seventy works covering the whole of his career are shown on a chronological basis, supported by an extensive analytical and critical approach to a very well loved artist so often seen primarily as a “semi-abstract”nature or flower painter. Although not actually untrue this view considerably diminishes Hitchens, an outstanding artist  who continued to develop and innovate throughout his long life.

The son of a painter and trained at the Royal Academy Schools after his education at Bedales, Hitchens was very much part of the London art scene in the twenties and thirties, being for example a member of the Seven and Five Group along with Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson. During this formative inter-war period he was exposed to, and gradually assimilated, influences from the major artists of his time. His retreat to the Sussex countryside only took place after his house was destroyed by bombing at the start of the Second World War.

Cezanne and Braque played a vital part in his development of form while his use of pigment was hugely influenced by Matisse, who once stated “with colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft”. Hitchens used abbreviated fields of colour in place of of precise images, often accompanied by the use of a panoramic depictions, often adopting a wide horizontal format from the later 1930s onward.

The exhibition focuses on his use of colour to create space and depth. Of course anyone who has ever been told to paint a landscape knows how distant hills are both bluer and paler than nearby details, and how reds tend to jump out at you from the canvas; but this is something way beyond such elementary concepts. Hitchens’ colour suggests space and articulates his painting within the imagined volumes of the picture plane. The relationships between different areas, shapes and intensities of colour suggest musical or harmonic relationships between the different pigments. Thus, and by the composition of his images, he transcends realism. Nonetheless he almost always began with a particular location, whether clearly recognisable or simply alluded to in the final work.

The show can be bench-marked around three paintings: the “Curved Barn” of 1922, the long horizontal format “Winter Stage” of 1936 and, as an example of his late style, his “Sussex Canal” of 1972.

The “Curved Barn”, above, shows the literary influence of Roger Fry and Clive Bell and the then new concept of “significant form”. Barn, tree and landscape alike are carved into a series of undulating and twisting form while the colours used support these distortions of form and help create an almost theatrical sense of movement. The planes of the painting appear to sometimes fight and sometimes agree with each other, even giving the impression that the obviously static barn would like to spring into action and start moving through its woodland setting.

Winter Stage 1936 Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979 Tate

By 1936 Hitchens had not only absorbed the influence of Braque, Picasso and Matisse but also begun to develop a style and a format that helped him to express a sense of place and develop the “musical” inter-relationships within his painting. “Winter Stage”, painted that year when he was staying at the home of his patrons Mr and Mrs Cecil Harris, represents a view of the grounds from the loggia of their house. Hitchens uses an extended landscape format to connect five different but linked scenes. The painting is best read from left to right. In his Notes on Painting of 1940 Hitchens explained his methods “Using as instruments in one’s orchestra, each to be heard separately yet all in unity, line, form, plane, shape, tone, notan [a Japanese principle of laying light against dark], colour; warm, cool, recession, progression, softness, sharpness, crowdedness, emptiness, up and down, side to side, curves and straights, and any other pairs of opposites, ordering these in transition, opposition, repetition, symmetry and balance’  The painting was recognised as highly significant at the time and purchased by the Contemporary Art Society who presented it to the Tate.

By the 1970’s Hitchens’ work was more abstract, although still grounded in the natural world and continuing  his characteristic long format. In his “Sussex Canal” of 1972, above, his colours are brighter and more primary. Connected planes of colour suggest recession and movement within the natural world despite increasing abstraction.  

This show is an overdue and an excellent exploration of Hitchens’ life and work. It’s well worth spending a couple of hours there if you are within driving distance of Chichester. (https://pallant.org.uk › whats-on › ivon-hitchens-space-through-colour).

Chris

 

 

 

 

J G Ballard’s “Vermilion Sands”, A Trumpian Dystopia?

Although more readers have probably encountered Ballard’s “Empire of the Sun” than his science fiction, the latter genre arguably contains his best and most interesting work of which many peoples’ favourite is “Vermilion Sands”. First published as a whole in 1971 (the image below shows the original cover), the book is a collection of short stories, written over the previous two decades.  All are set in the eponymous fictional beach resort, (which might have certain similarities to Palm Springs), filled with futuristic technologies and weirdly decadent characters of great wealth and very limited merits.

The use of the word “vermilion” in the title, incidentally, is most unlikely to be accidental (Ballard was scientifically trained, had studied medicine at Cambridge and worked for a period as assistant editor of a chemistry magazine), rather referencing the traditional artists’ pigment, made from lethally poisonous mercuric sulphide, whose manufacture and use cost the lives of many involved in the process.

Run down and isolated after an undefined ten year “recess”, the surrounding deserts of red sand are gradually encroaching on the fading buildings and failing lives of the inhabitants, many of whom, including the narrators of every tale,  are in some way “artistic” without having any very great artistic merit. They are abetted in their mediocrity by technologies such as singing plants, poetry-writing machines and light-responsive paints all of which allow previously inert or insensitive materials to respond to the moods and feelings of the humans (or it is sometimes suggested “mutants”) with whom they come into contact, often with disastrous consequences. There are no heroes in these stories, simply a collection of narcissistic and deeply damaged film starlets, singers, trust fund heirs and artists, together with their freakish servants and self-serving suppliers, all of whom are further harmed and often die as a result of their interaction with the strange technologies the stories reveal.

In “Prima Belladonna”, for example, the narrator owns a business, Parker’s Choro-Flora, supplying genetically modified, and highly temperamental singing plants and especially orchids, to customers throughout the world. These require constant tuning like a horde of unruly pianos, using a range of acid and alkaline media applied to their control tanks and taking their lead from the valuable Khan-Arachnid orchid that has  a vocal range of twenty four octaves and is Parker’s prize stock item. When a travelling singer, Jane Ciracylides, with a “good deal of mutant in her”, her golden skin and “insect eyes”, arrives in town she both starts an affair with the narrator and appears on the verge of carrying on another with the orchid. In Ballard’s words “The Arachnid had grown to three times its size. It towered nine feet high out of the shattered lid of its control tank, leaves tumid and inflamed, its calyx as large as a bucket, raging insanely. Arched forward into it, her head thrown back was Jane.” She appears to escape, at the least disappears, and the next day the orchid is found dead. Nothing in these stories ends well.

Ballard has managed to imagine many of the worst effects of digitisation, data transfer and genetic engineering some seventy years before these begin to be generally viable. The real art of course lies in Ballard’s writing and the curiously painterly and surreal quality of his descriptions of settings which seem to mirror Dali or de Chirico. Describing driving through a a particularly sinister piece of desert in “The Screen Game” Ballard writes “The hanging galleries of the reefs were more convoluted and sinister, like the tortured demons of medieval cathedrals. Massive towers of obsidian reared over the roadway like stone gallows, their cornices streaked with iron-red dust. The light seemed duller, unlike the rest of the desert, occasionally flaring into a sepulchral glow as if some subterranean fire-cloud had boiled to the surface of the rocks. The surrounding peaks and spires shut out the desert plain, ….” He continues “Abruptly, around a steep bend the reefs and peaks vanished and the wide expanse of an inland sand-lake lay before us… The tyres cut softly through the cerise sand and soon we were over-running what appeared to be the edge of an immense chessboard of black and white marble squares. More statues appeared, some buried to their heads, others toppled from their plinths by the drifting dunes. Looking out at them this afternoon, I felt, not for the first time, that the whole landscape was compounded of illusion, the hulks of fabulous dreams drifting across it like derelict galleons.”

One couldn’t possibly describe the world of Vermilion Sands as in any way normal or pleasant, but it is deeply fascinating and a most captivating construct. Somehow one just wonders whether this imaginary extension of an entertainment centre for shady people in sunny places may represent the future for a technology obsessed USA in locations such as Donald Trump’s Mar a Lago or Jeffery Epstein’s strange mansion. Whatever, it’s an excellent read, however weird. If you want to buy, try your local independent book shop first, because without your support it may just not be there next time you need it.

Chris

More From Life

Herewith a couple of drawings using printing ink and collaged newspaper as well as charcoals and coloured chalks to add a bit more life to Maria, standing patiently with one foot on a stack of chairs. Nothing special, but they all added to our experience of life drawing and even thinking what a picture might be about.

Chris

 

 

 

Each Month in my Garden: July

July seems a long way away. Partly because it is a long way away but also because I’ve done a lot in the garden this month, which has rather blocked out what happened in July. Luckily I have photos. I have never taken photos of the garden consciously each month and it is interesting how much it changes in character as the year progresses.

So, briefly; the self-seeded evening primroses in the front garden were (and still are) amazing. A colony has established itself and there are already plenty of rosettes forming which will be next year’s flowers. This is undoubtedly due to the hose as the whole area gets well-watered on a regular basis. There is a particularly fine group where the hose doesn’t fit onto the tap properly and drips. Also in the front my new David Austin rose, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ flowered; it will look stunning once it grows round the front door.

I finished the patchwork cover for the extremely-pretty-but-staggeringly-uncomfortable-bench and I now have five seating areas in my very small garden: wooden bench by the kitchen door for elevenses in the sun (shared with a sundial and basil), blue and white round and Provencal rectangular tables for meals in the sun or shade, as required, the summer house for writing, painting, reading, sitting with the cat on my lap and now a delightfully secluded and almost comfortable bench for reading and admiring the flowers.

For the first time the buddleia flowered; I moved its pot into the sun and it is clearly grateful. The blueberries and mulberry are still thinking about whether to fruit. Clearly none of them have read their labels which specified fruiting quite early in their lives. But the Japanese wineberries provided a long harvest of deliciously tart berries which are the perfect accompaniment to my morning porridge. And the long evenings were perfect for suppers in the garden.

Jane

Life Studies at a Lightning Pace

How quick can you be and still produce something vaguely human? We had about ten minutes to do each of these A1 sheets of newsprint from a live model using brush and ink. What they lost in accuracy they may possibly have gained in fluency.

The top one has two reasonable images followed by a really bad one, with rubbish head and shoulders, on the right hand side. No time to make corrections.

The lower one showed the consequences of doing what we were told: overlapping the images to explore space in the picture plane. A very useful exercise even if  a very uneven result.

Chris

 

 

More Drawing, Both Still and From Life.

Since I have a good stock of images from Heatherley’s, have even organised them into physical and online portfolios and am naturally lazy it seems sensible to post them over the coming days. Any improvement is entirely due to the school while the faults remain conspicuously my own.

We started out drawing things that didn’t move and the results here, images of flowers and polystyrene cups, were done in charcoals and coloured chalks on A1 cartridge paper.

Chris