Sunday, 30 June 2013

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2013 & 'Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan'

Yesterday saw our (now) traditional trip up to London to see this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.  We've been going for several years now and I usually try to do a blog post about it, illustrated with copious photographs taken ninja-style (it's not allowed).

I had every intention of doing the same thing this year, but things didn't quite turn out as planned.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

We drove up to London.  We always seem to do this now.  It's not necessarily quicker (sometimes it is, but it wasn't yesterday...) but it is cheaper than going by train and getting a railcard, for e.g., it would cost us £21.70 each for a railcard (= £43.40).  Yesterday we went up in the Smart Car which probably used about a fiver in petrol.  We parked right close by to the British Museum and paid £37 for parking.  £37 + £5 = £42.  Plus we had the benefit of being in our own space and not having to share it with everyone else = priceless.

We had an extremely quick and easy drive into south London, then things got very gnarly around Nine Elms where roads had seemingly been closed at random with no diversions!  Got a lot of people very confused, that did.  We eventually crossed using Battersea Bridge instead of Waterloo Bridge which was actually quite interesting because it's not a route we usually use and it's always good to see new stuff.

We parked up in a car park in, I think, Museum Street at 4 minutes to midday.  Our plan was to try and get round the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the British Museum's Pompeii & Herculaneum Exhibition and the exhibition of Japanese outsider art at the Wellcome Collection in Euston.  An ambitious timetable, I think you'll agree.

We'd already checked the intertubes to see what was going on in London in case there were any roads that were going to be closed off, etc.  TLH had seen that there was some sort of Triathlon event happening that was going to affect roads but that was way over around Canary Wharf so wouldn't affect us.

As we were walking from Museum Street towards Chinatown, we noticed there were really quite a few side streets in Soho that were being closed off with metal barriers.  There were lots of people with neon yellow safety vests and clipboards.  Something was happening.  Eventually, as we passed another neon yellow-clad group, I scrutinised the lanyard thing around someone's neck and spotted the word 'Pride'.  Hmm.

Research on the 'tubes had completely failed to reveal that the huge annual gay Pride Parade was going to be taking place that afternoon.  Right through the centre of London.  London was going to be full of fabulous.  I hoped we'd be able to see some of it.

I was starving hungry and we couldn't decide where we wanted to eat.  We wandered past Kettner's to see if it had improved any since our last disappointing visit there back in 2010.  Short answer - 'no'.  Saturday lunchtime on a sunny day in June when London is packed with rainbow warriors and the place was completely empty.  And it was open (we checked).

So off to Chinatown we went, to a restaurant that was the first place TLH took me when we first started 'courting'.  It used to be called 'China China' but is now 'Wan Chai Corner'.  It's at 3 Gerrard St, and since we were there last they've started serving dim sum!  Hooray!  I LOVE dim sum and hardly ever have it because there's nowhere near where I live that does it (I should really just buy my own and do it at home, shouldn't I?)  We stuffed ourselves with crispy fried salt & chilli pepper squid; prawn & chive dim sum;  pork, shrimp & peanut dim sum; fish ball noodle soup and lovely, lovely char siu bao (Cantonese barbecued pork filled bun - they're both sweet and savoury!)  I'm going to be hard pushed to want to eat anywhere else next time we're in London.

We then headed off to the Royal Academy.  Due to the forthcoming Pride parade heading along Regent Street, past Piccadilly Circus and into Haymarket, that end of Piccadilly was blocked off to traffic, which meant that at about 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, we were able to walk up the middle of the road:

I hadn't prebooked tickets for the Summer Exhibition this time so there was always the concern that the place would be packed and we'd have to wait for hours to get in but no, bought tickets and went straight in.

As soon as we got through the doors, I realised that taking photos was going to be tricky as there weren't very many visitors.  Plus as I'm now creating art myself instead of just looking at it, I sort of wanted to look at the pieces with my own eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera.  And it's always stressful having to dodge the gallery staff, and the thought of having to do that again this year was, frankly, a bit sigh-inducing.  Still, I'd have a go.

It didn't last very long.  I got into the second room, having taken a couple of shots in the previous one, and had scanned it for staff.  Thinking I was okay, I'd taken one shot, then moved in for a close up when suddenly there was a hand in my viewfinder.  A very cross, short (that's how I missed her, she was tiny) steward practically shouted at me 'No photographs!  And I think you know it...' very bossily.  So I just turned away and sighed internally.   This was going to be hard work today.

I headed into another room and found a totally delightful piece that I really wanted a picture of.  Trouble is it was painted on a button and only about an inch across so would necessitate me going right up close to it in order to get it in focus.  And, yes, there was a gallery steward (not the same one) leaning against the door frame practically opposite.  I would have to wait until he moved on.  I ended up waiting for about 10 minutes before he finally did and I got my shot but I decided that photo would be the last of this trip as I really couldn't be arsed to wait around for the stewards to go walkabout just so I could get a picture, at the risk of me finally getting thrown out if they did keep catching me.

I decided I would compromise a little, though, and marked with an 'x' in the catalogue those pieces that I liked, then I could look them up online and see if the artists had websites with images on them.

There were a few but, out of necessity, I apologise for there not being as many photos in this post as I would normally like to give you, but I hope you understand my reasons now!

Anyway, onto the pictures:

 'Etna', oil by Fred Cuming, RA. (£28,000).

'From the Arabian Nights', oil by Tom Phillips, RA. (£39,000)

'Everything meets here', pencil by Jessie Brennan (£7,200)

 'Study for a battle', giclee print by Cathy de Monchaux (£550).  This, incidentally, is the piece I was going in for the closeup on when the gallery Gauleiter caught me, and I managed to take a photo of the floor grating instead:

This was the final picture I got to take.  It's called "#1 from The Runaways series" by Hannah Battershell (£200).  I loved it.  Click on the link to see more of her button work.

I have to say I found this year's exhibition very much a mixed bag.  I definitely got the feeling there were less pieces overall than usual, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  And I thought there were a lot of prints and etchings which is only to be expected when you find out that one of the curators of this year's exhibition is Norman Ackroyd.  There were quite a few pieces I could quite happily have taken home with me, and quite a few that made me wonder what the hell the curators were thinking.

Some of the others I liked were:

'Venice - Mouth of Italy', ink and watercolour by Adam Dant (£31,200).  This is the artist who did the painting at last year's exhibition of a map of London as a medical textbook illustration that I loved.

'My heart a wounded crow', mezzotint by Sarah Gillespie (£600).  A mixture of the endearing and the Gothic.

'Titania', oil by Miriam Escofet (£13,500).  If I'd had the money, this is the one I would have bought.  Exquisitely painted, with unbelievably fine detail.  I stood in front of this painting the longest.  Her website is just fabulous too - check out her recent work and try not to cry at the sheer beauty and skill of this artist.

 Grayson Perry had an entire room to himself to show his six-tapestry series 'The Vanity of Small Differences' which he created in conjunction with a TV series about the British class system last year.  He's such a clever man.  There's a huge amount of detail in the tapestries and the more you look at them, the more you see:

After the compulsory visit to the gift shop, we decided to schlep our way up to the Euston Road to the Wellcome Collection but first we had to get across Regent Street.  Which was, of course, cordoned off as the parade was passing along, so we stopped, ate some ice-cream and watched a very noisy parade of hugely happy people pass by for about 20 minutes before we could cross the road.

We went to see their current free exhibition 'Souzou - Japanese Outsider Art' which ends today.   My lovely blogging friend Antonia - a woman of great style and taste - recommended this unreservedly.  And it was, indeed, brilliant.

So what, exactly, is 'outsider art'?  The Collection's website describes it best: "‘Outsider Art’ has since become an internationally recognised term, commonly used to describe work made by artists who have received little or no tuition but produce work for the sake of creation alone, without an audience in mind, and who are perceived to inhabit the margins of mainstream society. The artists in this exhibition have been diagnosed with a variety of different cognitive, behavioural and developmental disorders or mental illnesses, and are residents or day attendees of specialist care institutions." None of these pieces would be out of place at the Summer Exhibition, and quite a few of them were a damn site better.

Again, this is another place that won't allow photography, but I bought the book anyway, so I'll take photos of the things that really caught my eye:

This clay piece is about 4 feet high and covered in spikes.  There's something very African about it.

These figurines are made from cloth, sellotape and fabric and are about 12 inches high.  We particularly liked the crab-headed doll (bottom right picture).

These were brilliant - very Chapman Brothers.  Tiny little invented anime figures made from metallic bag ties.  About 2 inches high.

These figures look 2D from the picture, but they're figures that will stand up and are created from card, and based on box construction.  About 6 inches high.

These were terrific.  Created by a guy who works in a printing facility and who collects small amounts of india ink with which he creates his pictures.  These are big, about 3.5 feet across.

Big images in reality, these are made from charcoal which the artist then rubs out.

This fabulously spiky creature is a representation of an Okinawan Lion.

The artist really likes food and has decorated cotton pyjamas with images of his favourite foods - in this case salmon roe sushi rolls and roast chicken!

In many ways, the most traditionally accomplished artist on display also produced the most disturbing artwork.  Large paintings full of sexual imagery that were hard to look at but impossible to ignore.

I then took TLH upstairs to look at the permanent collection of shrunken heads, torture chairs, trepanned skulls, flying phalli (phalluses?) and ancient surgical instruments.  Stopping then for a recuperative bun and tea, we decided that we were all arted and walked out and there was no way we were going to fit in the British Museum's Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition, but seeing as it's on until September, we decided to make it a later date.  London, we love you with all your noise and people and sights and smells but, ooh, you make our feet hurt!

We got back to the car at 5.15 and pulled up onto our driveway at 6.30, which is pretty impressive.  We got back in time to catch the evening's coverage of Glastonbury which confirmed my firmly held opinion that the Rolling Stones really are quite shite.

And on that bombshell....

My first exhibition (sort of)...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've submitted three paintings to the annual Surrey Learners' Exhibition.  This is for all the students on any of the county's adult education art classes and is held at the Harvey Gallery, which is attached to the adult education centre that I go to in Guildford.

The exhibition runs until next Friday, 5 July 2013, is free to enter and if you're about, then you could do worse than pop in and have a look.

Wednesday evening this week was the private showing for all the submitters, so TLH and I nipped along.  I've never been to a private showing before and didn't quite know what to expect - I was hoping we weren't going to be the only people there but it was packed!  I think the freebie glasses of wine are always a good incentive to get people through the door (that's the cynic in me talking) but I wanted to see what my pictures looked like when hung properly.

And here they are:

They look alright, don't they?  What did surprise me, though, was actually how small they looked when hung with other pictures.  When I'm painting them, they seem fairly big to me - the paper I use is A4 sized, as is the frame - but now I might have to reconsider.  I dunno though.  The size they are is very portable, and guaranteed not to take up too much space; more appealing to a potential purchaser if wallspace is a consideration.  I've put a sale price of £50 each on them but I'm not expecting to sell any of them.

I took a few more photos of other pieces that caught my eye:

In October the Cranleigh Art and Crafts Society will be holding one of their twice-yearly exhibitions so I shall submit all the flower paintings I have for that, I think.

In the meantime, I've just finished yet another one.  This time it's a flower that is native to southern California called a Shortspur Seablush:

I think that makes about 7 or 8 flower paintings now!

Still, I'm doing a beetle next.  A big beetle.  An A2 sized on yer actual proper canvas beetle, no less.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ring out Solstice bells!

Happy middle-of-2013, everyone!

It's not very summery here in the UK, is it?  We've had a couple of very warm days this week down here in the South, but I had the heating on only last week.  I read a rather depressing news report a couple of days ago that says the crappy summers and freezing winters we're currently suffering are due to several things, including the Atlantic getting warmer and changes in the Sun's ultraviolet output, the upshot of which is that we're likely to continue having this weather for possibly as long as a decade.  *sigh*.  There's no use complaining about it because there's bugger-all we can do about it, except make sure we're wearing the right kind of clothes for the conditions.

But a few warm days in July and August would be most welcome, Weather Gods.

So, how have things been with you since I last darkened this little corner of the internet?  I'm doing pretty well, thanks for asking.

I've been doing quite a fair bit of running lately, actually.  See, way back in January I set myself the goal this year to run a total of 250 miles.  If you recall, last year I achieved the 100 mile goal I set myself, in fact, got there with a couple of days to spare before the end of 2012, so I decided to push myself a bit harder this year and go for 250.  Then promptly spent a great deal of February and March doing no running at all because of problems with my feet, very nasty colds/flu, and terrible, snowy weather!

I've really had to go for it to make up the shortfall.  Well, *drumroll* I can announce that on Monday this week I passed the 100 mile mark!  That's a whole 6 months quicker than I did it last year!  Weirdly, my speed has barely improved over the entire 2+ years I've now been running, but I'm going much further - I completed my first 10-mile outing recently, although I won't be doing that distance as a matter of course; it took me far too long and nearly crippled me!  But I'm trying to get out 3 times a week and so far I've done 4.3 miles on Monday and 4.5 miles yesterday.  Not sure how far I'll go tomorrow, depends on a lot of things - how much energy I think I've got, what the weather's like, that sort of thing.  There is a great deal of walking involved with my so-called 'running' but at least I'm getting out there and exercising.

Which, combined with the 5:2 Fast Diet, is paying off, weight-wise.  I'm currently 12lbs lighter than I was in February and having to give serious consideration to buying some new, smaller sized knickers as my current ones keep slipping down!  Also new bras need looking at - hooray!

The Lovely Husband is doing the running and fasting as well, and he's benefited enormously.  It turns out that he's a far more natural runner than I, and is now running almost twice as fast as I do, and going for much further distances.  He's enjoying it too, which helps.  He ran his first half-marathon distance the other week, and this past weekend saw him cover 15 miles in one go!  He's also shed almost 40lbs in weight since mid-March which is, frankly, a bit quick really but he was carrying a fair bit of timber and something needed to be done.

So that's the health side of things.  As for the art, I seem to be having a bit of a hiatus at the moment.  I've not painted anything (outside of art class) since the Jewel Beetle of the last post.  It'll come back, of that I'm sure.  I'm just having a bit of a break for the moment.

However, I have submitted three paintings to the annual student learners' summer exhibition at the centre where I have my art classes.  Three of my flower paintings have gone in:

Salvia in meadow, acrylic painting, finished 20.3.13

White Star Flower
White star flower painting finished! 29 March 2013

Pink Cosmos
Purple flower painting finished

I've framed them in white box frames and have put the price at £50 each, which I don't think is unreasonable.  The exhibition runs from 25 June to 5 July and is at the Harvey Gallery, Sydenham Road, Guildford.  If you happen to find yourself in the vicinity, pop along and have a look!  The private view for participants is on Wednesday 26 June and I'm hoping to go along, so will take some photos if I do to share with you all.

And TLH and I are hoping to visit this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in a couple of weekends' time, so watch this space for ninja photo action!!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Jewel Beetle

I've always been fascinated by the amazing variety of insect life on this planet, and the amazing colours that some of them are.

Beetles are no exception.  Some are absolutely exquisitely beautiful and gorgeously colourful, often iridescent and metallic and SHINY!

So I've decided to start doing a series of beetle paintings, starting with Jewel Beetles.  If you've never heard of Jewel Beetles, I'd advise that you go and Google them right now.  I'll wait....

Beautiful, aren't they?  And they come in such a variety of colours.  I went searching on Flickr and came across the most brilliant set of photographs by a Hungarian photographer called Nikola Rahme, who specialises in beetles - I now have access to all the beetle photographs I could possibly want!

I chose the first one - a female Jewel Beetle called Eurythyrea Austriaca - and completed an A5 acrylic of it over a couple of days.  It was interesting to do something more like a zoology textbook illustration rather than something a bit more impressionistic (although mine did turn out that way) and it was bloody fiddly.  Especially the legs.

I'm pretty pleased with how it came out and have now bought myself some metallic acrylic paints to see what the next one will come out like!

Original photo:
Eurythyrea austriaca (Linnaeus, 1767) ♀

My painting:

My littlest niece

My brother takes brilliant photographs, and I've used his photos as inspiration for paintings and drawings several times.

He recently took some lovely black and white, high contrast photos of his littlest daughter, 3-year old Lyra, and I decided that one of them would make a really nice pencil portrait and I hoped I'd make a decent fist of it.  It would be tricky because (a) people are hard to draw; (b) getting a likeness to the actual person being represented is screamingly hard; (c) babies and small children are tricky - their faces are not finished forming yet and, if you're not careful, come out a bit, well, 'blobby'; and (d) smiling people are practically a no-no for portrait artists - portraying a convincing smile is one of the most difficult things.  That's why the Mona Lisa is barely smirking.

The photo I chose of Lyra has all of these problems.  I was really going to have to push myself to get this one to come out right. (small hint - obviously it did otherwise I wouldn't be showing you!!)

For this one I did do a series of photos showing progress, on the off chance that it worked out okay!

I printed off two copies of the photo I wanted to use, one bigger than the other, so I could get the detail right.  This one was done in pencil on A4 acrylic paper.  I started off taping it up, as usual, then began drawing in the basic facial details and trying to get proportions right.  The eraser got used a lot.


Then I started adding more details:


And moved the photos around the board so I could see them better.  In this one I've added the background just by smudging the pencil with my fingertips:


Worked more on the eyes, and the neck, and started working on the hair:


Coming together now, am pleased with progress:


Sometimes viewing from an angle is interesting:


Final version:


I'm extremely proud of this one - I think it's the best picture I've done so far, by a long way.  It gives me hope that I might just be able to draw recognisable people after all - with more practice of course!!