Gallery of past work

Friday, 22 February 2019

Japanese prints

On Tuesday, I went with my husband to an exhibition of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in Stroud at the Museum in the Park. Ukiyo-e translates as 'Pictures of the Floating world'. These beautiful stylised prints portray an ideal and perfect world where all flaws are removed.

They were created in Japan between 1603 and 1868 in the Edo period. This lasted for around 260 years and was a time of extraordinary isolation in Japan's history. Frontiers were closed to outsiders and the Japanese were not allowed to travel abroad. Commerce was severely controlled and artists had to abide by the regulations of the time laid down by the Shogunate (military dictatorship). As a result, the art developed without any significant external cultural influences. The unique and instantly recognisable art form of woodblock printing resulted, with its extraordinary level of skill.

Hokusai The Great Wave of Kanagawa  pub between 1829 - 1833

As we had anticipated, we enjoyed the landscapes most of all since we had been enticed initially by promise of Hokusai's The Great Wave of Kanagawa. This we had seen previously at Monet's house in Giverny when we'd been returning from a holiday with our family in France. Time on that occasion had been short and the room where the work was displayed was full of other tourists. We were keen to get a closer and more prolonged look.

We were not disappointed. It was a delight to be able to look at the detail of the tiny figures in the boats and in those extraordinary finger-like waves  breaking with such power and, to my mind, some menace. This piece was the first of his series 'Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji and is the work for which he is most famous. It is probably also the Japanese art work which is most famous in the western world.

Hokusai Fine Wind, Clear Sky or Red Fuji c. 1830 - 1833

Beside it was hanging another of his 36 views called Fine Wind, Clear Sky or Red Fuji. We hadn't seen this before and were very impressed by the rich colour and the graphic simplicity of its design. It contrasted strongly with many of the other more detailed prints in the exhibition illustrating folk tales or showing samuri warriors or 'beautiful women'.

There were also many superb prints by Hiroshige who is considered to be the last of the great masters of the tradition. We especially enjoyed his Snows of Kanbara with its limited palette and the small domestic details of those little figures, bent against the cold.

Hiroshige Snows of Kanbara c 1832

It was also most interesting to see the lovely The Plum Garden in Kameido, particularly as we had previously seen it in the Van Gogh Museum last year in a beautifully curated exhibition exploring the links between Van Gogh and Japanese art. We had then seen also Van Gogh's interpretion of this work alongside the print. It was fascinating to make this link again.

Hiroshige The Plum Garden in Kameido

Although I've focused here on a very limited number of the landscapes in this small but well-curated exhibition, there was so much else to enjoy. For those interested and living locally, it continues until 24 March. There is also to be an exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery from 18 May to 8 September, which promises on the Museum website to feature life in the city of Edo (Tokyo) and the printing process itself.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Making unexpected links

Moving on with work for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for the middle of May, I accidentally printed off two copies of an image on organza as well as the single that I had intended on cotton. I was therefore left with three versions on different weights of fabric which set me thinking and overlaying one on the other. I like nothing to go to waste.

The result gave interesting repetitions of the shapes in the original version and gradations of colour to repeat and work on. Quite a lot more playing will be needed to make this usable but I'm fascinated by the subtleties that result from layering one, two and even three sheets of fine fabric in this way.

Funny how accidents can often be the start of new things ...

It made me reconsider a fascinating image seen in January in an exhibition of photographs in the Museum in the Park, Stroud. The images were curated and some taken by the group 31 Studio and featured the unique 19th century (and completly new to us) Platinum Palladium printing process initially using glass negatives. 

31 Studio were among the first photographers in Europe to revive and specialise in this process after the Second World War and the exhibition showed monochrome prints from the early historical archives right through to contemporary photographers and artists. It was fascinating and my husband and I spent a most pleasurable hour looking carefully through all the work on show. We especially enjoyed the huge range of greys generated by the process, since it produces no abosolute blacks or whites. Even the densest of blacks reveals subtleties and variations on close looking. 

The photograph that especially took my eye and that I'm showing in the context of my happy printing accident was one of the Houses of Parliament by Idris Khan in which there had been successive overprinting of the buildings along the banks of  the River Thames. Other examples of his diverse and fascinating work can be found here and here among many other places. 

Idris Khan  The Houses of Parliament, London, 2015

Sadly, this photograph of a photograph (and it behind glass at that) doesn't do justice to the delicate and beautiful subtleties of the image I saw in the exhibition. At the time, I counted at least ten repetitions of Big Ben (the most emotionally loaded and so most noticeable image in the whole) laid one over the other, and moved about and repeated. Closer looking revealed so much other repetition. 

This dense visual layering and repeated imagery is seemingly characteristic of all Khan's work. This quote from artnet, which amused me with its comment on the value of Photoshop, summarises his process.

Khan's work is connected through his intricate process of layering multiple images. He often blankets surfaces with sequential images - either captured through staccato photogaphy or through the frames of a video - until his work is a blurred composite, offering a condensation of time into a single point that fluctuates between representation and abstraction. ' A lot of people in the art world hate to use the word 'Photoshop', like its cheating or easy or something, ' he once eplained of his process. ' I say b------- to that - for me, it's my tool, my paintbrush if you like, and lets me create my own visual language.'

I can only say how much I share his views of the value of Photoshop!

Friday, 8 February 2019

Experimental Drawing: Colour

Here, I posted about an excellent course that I attended at West Dean College with Matthew Harris before Christmas. I mentioned in that post that I had needed 'digestion time' before I posted those results. Then I included black and white drawings made mainly with a cola pen.

During the course, a day or two on from those drawings, we were asked to work with colour, and now I've been considering again today how I responded. I'm posting some croppings from two large A2 sheets of cartridge that developed from ink drawings to include varying amounts of colour.

In these first three from the second sheet I completed, the colour was added using oil pastel as I'd decided that I wanted vibrant colour as a contrast to the freely drawn strong black cola pen marks.

I was also searching to leave visual space in the shape of white areas in contrast to the intense colour and black / white contrast. In the photos above, in the centre in the top row, this was achieved by masking out an area with a chosen cut shape, working over it as if the paper shape wasn't there and then removing it. This gave a very hard clear line that I found very interesting and is a technique I'm sure I will use again.

Below is the first A2 sheet I completed. It was very different and to my eye at the time and since, less dramatically successful. I was more restrained and tighter as I drew. I kept the strength of the colour in check with a wash of dilute acrylic and using brown ink for the drawing before lightly adding oil pastel.

There were several thoughts that enticed me to look again at these two sheets of A2 paper. The first was the need to remind myself that being too careful and controlled can make for less dramatic and perhaps less successful results.

The second was the need to remember to leave those deliberate spaces for the eye to rest that seem to give such clear impact, especially in abstract work.

The last was a nod to railway lines that seems to have appeared in my work quite unconsciously as I looked at and drew from the extraordinary hanging still life that was the focus of the course. This was very interesting to note in the light of current work on The Railway Village in Swindon (mentioned in recent posts). In fact, in the drawing, I was referencing the weave and pattern in a length of hanging fabric.

It's funny how two quite different references seem to feed one into the other quite unconsciously and I only notice them when I'm given time to think!