Symbols of past glory, of empire and and global reach, caravels and carracks still sail in Lisbon, woven in Persian 17th century carpets, painted on Japanese screens or even depicted in pavement cobblestones. All reminders of nearly six centuries of empire, for good or for bad. Seeing these emblematic ships at a moment when the Brexit furore is reaching a crescendo in England made me ponder the parallels of the erstwhile Portuguese and British Empires.Read More
Art and Life
Visiting master embroiderer Alain Dodier in Sainte Valiere, Southern France, was like straying into a medieval scriptorium, save that Alain is very much of our time Nonetheless, as he creates intricate vivid scenes in silk embroidery threads, using Bayeux stitching that harks back to the 11th century, his passion and dedication to historical detail and fidelity reminded me of the slow and painstaking creation of illuminated manuscripts that tell stories of great import to Western culture. His seven-meter panel about the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago de Compostela is one such work.Read More
Art is the most wonderful passport to making friends around the world. Sharing, learning, agreeing, disagreeing - friendships flourish and deepen over time. Many a time, art has been the bridge to making that friendship, just as it has down the ages for so many people.Read More
Camille Claudel lived in Nogent sur Seine as a teenager, and from there, she was launched into her career as a sculptor, her talent carrying her to Auguste Rodin’s studio and into another complex world. The recently-opened Museum in Nogent sur Seine holds an important number of her sculptures, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of late 19th and early 20th century French sculptors.Read More
When you travel to a country so entirely new, different and utterly amazing, how does one even start to translate those experiences into art? This is the conundrum with which I am grappling after a recent trip to Western Australia.Read More
Reading Anne Truitt's Daybook; The Journal of an Artist underlines the subtle use of lines as a metaphor to depict how our lives evolve and change so imperceptibly. The balance and intervals she uses in her drawings, such as her drawing, Remember No. 6 of 1999, teach us all about the elegant possibilities of spareness in art.Read More
A wonderful quote from Sir Anthony Caro, the famed British sculptor, was in the 2/9th June 2012 Spectator: "I believe art is about what it is to be alive". The article was by Ariane Bankes, discussing Caro's current exhibition of sculpture at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Ms. Bankes was writing of Caro's huge and unending curiosity about the world around him, and his use of these interests as the source of his creative work. It reminded me how important it is to be curious about everything around one: as an artist, antennae need to be up as much as possible, eyes and ears open, and a questing attitude cultivated. Not always easy and other things in "life" obtrude, but even then, it seems that later, things not consciously registered at the time come floating back into one's mind.
I realised, the other day, that a day I had spent drawing on the coast was more rewarding than I had thought. I was concentrating on what I was trying to do at the time, but indeed, I was "alive" to many more things around me. The result was a watercolour that came flowing, quite some time after this day's drawing. The different elements of the painting - marshwrack, a contorted dead cedar, eythrinia flowers, a baby alligator, different birds - are those that I was not drawing at the time, but were burned in my memory because of the heightened senses that art was allowing me to have. A lovely gift. Capturing the energies and magical forces of life around one is a never-ending quest for an artist and a passport to living life to the full.
Each year, when I send out the invitations to my Art-Tasting open studio/wine-tasting party, I write a couple of paragraphs about something to do with art. It varies of course according, in a way, to what is going on in my life and thus colouring my optic.
This year, I took Henry Moore's observation, "To be an artist is to believe in life" as the theme.
I wrote : " Henry Moore, best known for his powerful sculptures, saw aspects of life that were grim and depressing during World War II. His drawings of people huddled in the London Underground, sheltering from air raids, are eloquent testimony to life's hardships. Yet his creations are all vigourous and enriching assertions of his belief in life.
The label accompanying the drawing, Tube Shelter Perspective. 1941, said: " This picture was exhibited at the National Gallery in 1941. It was described in the catalogue as 'a terrifying vista of recumbent shapes, pale as all underground life tends to be pale; regimented, as only fear can regiment; helpless yet tense, safe yet listening, uncouth, uprooted, waiting in the tunnel for the dawn to release them. This is not the descriptive journalism of art. It is imaginative poetry of a high order.' "
"In today's complex world, artists can play many roles, all of which celebrate life. Art can calm and heal, bring joy and stimulation, challenge and widen horizons. Believing in life allows not only the artist, but those who see the art, to remember that our time here is fleeting, potentially beautiful and very precious."
Pablo Picasso was of the opinion that "a painter should create that which he experiences".
As one goes along in life, there are plenty of experiences that mark one, positively and negatively. As an artist, there are times when you can "digest" an experience fairly quickly and it will show up in your art in a relatively straightforward fashion. Perhaps the most direct way to depict experiences pictorially is plein air painting or drawing. You are filtering through onto paper or canvas your sensory experiences of an area, urban or rural, coastal or upland, whatever.
When an artist's life goes through major ups or downs, those experiences are more complex, but sooner or later, they do seem to show up in a serious artist's work. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of art arising from life experiences is The Scream which Edvard Munch painted when he was 30 years old.
He had had a very difficult life from childhood. He wrote about his father, "My father was temperamentally nervous and religiously obsessive - to the point of psychoneurosis. From him, I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born." By the time he had moved to Berlin and then to Paris, experimenting with different artistic styles, he was coping with deep anguish and angst. He later said about this painting that, "for several years, I was almost mad. I was stretched to the limit - nature was screaming in my blood. After that, I gave up hope ever of being able to love again."
Picasso spoke very accurately of his art being derived from his experiences. His Blue Period paintings were influenced by the suicide of his friend, Carlos Casagemas. His love affairs with his various mistresses were the source of the amazing work that continued to flow from him during his long and productive life. Borrowed experiences are also sometimes the source of great art. Again, Picasso is a prime example, with Guernica, which was created after the Germans bombed the small town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
Other artists believe in placing "the visible at the service of the invisible", as 19th century Symbolist Odilon Redon said. His inner experiences were channeled into strange pastels and paintings which often had an initial appearance of real subjects, but then then veer into the grotesque and ambiguous.
The Cactus Man (1881) is one of Redon's strange drawings. But there is a consistency that runs through his work, for in 1914, he paints The Cyclops . One can only conjecture at the personal experiences that drive these works of art.
Another type of experience that led to wonderful art is when Henri Matisse was increasingly unwell, towards the end of his life, and was confined to a wheel chair after 1941. So he turned to "painting with scissors" and produced his wonderfully joyous cut outs, his Blue Nudes from 1952 and his limited edition book, Jazz, with its series of colourful cut paper collages, amongst others.
Today's artists have such a wide array of examples of how artists drew on their personal experiences to inspire their art. It makes a very strong case for each of us to believe in ourselves as artists, to listen to our inner voices and follow their inspiration into creating strongly individual art.
As someone who became an artist later in life, it is always a surprise - and delight - when I discover that art is now so entwined with my DNA that it is omnipresent, even in somewhat trying circumstances.
I have just emerged from a sojourn in hospital and as I stay at a nearby hotel with my wonderful husband, I realise, when thinking back over the last three weeks, how art has been quietly sustaining me. As I lay on beds for a MRI or a CAT scan, for instance, I found it easy to lie there quietly and simply design, in my mind's eye, a silverpoint/watercolour piece I keep working on about the Circles of Life, the coincidences and circularities of events as life progresses. I found myself so absorbed in changing the design here and there, or adding new aspects, as I visualised the artwork, that I was always astonished at how fast the time went during the often lengthy tests.
Later, as I lay in bed, overly tethered to tubes and pumps and drips, I again turned to subject matter I want to try and explore in artwork, starting to think of how to depict the subjects and how to design the pieces. It helped greatly to pass the time. Then when I was finally "emancipated" enough to be able to walk a little along the hospital corridors, I studied the art along the walls with great interest.
Since this is the Mayo Clinic and their two-year-old hospital is very much state of the art (with exemplary care, I have to emphasise), I was curious to see what they had selected as artwork for the new facility. In the Clinic proper, there has always been artwork, but often large and more tending to the decorative and local – pleasant but not often such that it stands out. The Hospital is a little different. The entrance hall is graced with a small gallery, showing at present a diversity of works by local and regional artists connected with the Women's Center of Jacksonville. Beyond is a glory of Dale Chihuly's skills: a big and joyous glass chandelier celebrating colour and life. At the end of that entrance corridor, by the elevators, there is the most wonderful wall with a huge, sectioned piece of marble, beautifully striated and stippled in warm golds and browns - Nature at its most wonderful.
Up on the hospital room floors, there are large pieces of art, grouped in threes, some prints, some originals. Here, nature predominated, but in diffuse and almost stylised depictions, in uplifting colour ranges. They were cleverly chosen for they all allow one's own imagination to complement and supplement the images and let one wander and linger in those worlds. Ideal for stressed relatives and half-doped patients, I suspect!
Nonetheless, this presence of art allowed me to feel sustained and "still an artist" - something that I know helps me heal faster and in a more serene fashion. Hurray for art!