Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A visit to the Serpentine Gallery

We went to London last week-end and parked the car in Kensington Gardens, almost in front of the Serpentine Gallery, which exhibits modern and contemporary art. The gallery is not far from Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain.

The current exhibition in the main gallery, until 17 September 2011, is an installation titled The Mirror of Judgement by the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. It is a maze made of sheet of cardboards, with a number of world religion symbols placed along the visitor’s path. More details and photographs are available on the page for the exhibition.

The bookshop stocks a fine selection of books on contemporary art, photography, architecture, design, as well as cutting-edge art reviews. I recommend a visit.

Next to the main gallery is the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. The current i(1 July - 16 October 2011) has been designed by Peter Zumthor and is called Hortus Conclusus. The pavilion is totally black with a long garden in the centre. The flowers in the border make a wild arrangement of herbs and flowers. There is a sharp contrast between the pure lines of the black building and the organic and colourful explosion of the garden.

The two things I liked are that quietness of the place, with the table and chairs arranged under the roof, around the garden; and the fact that there is no way to suspect, from the austere outside of the pavilion, the beauty of the inside.

The weather was uncertain and the pavilion was a calm shelter to drink the coffee we bought at the old Renault van parked on the side of the Serpentine Gallery.

The gallery is small and therefore a good way to introduce young children to contemporary art without boring them.

Practical details

Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA
T 020 7402 6075
F 020 7402 4103

Open daily, 10am - 6pm (note that the Serpentine Gallery is closed to the public in the period between exhibitions. The Bookshop remains open at all times).

Admission free

   Technorati Tags    :                 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sketching at Carnon beach (France)

A couple of sketches done on the beach in Carnon (near Montpellier in the South of France).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Copying from nature, not from others

Drawing of lilies by Leonardo da Vinci [Source: Wikimedia ]
“The painter will produce pictures of little excellence if he takes other painters as his authority, but if he learns from natural things he will bear good fruits.”

Leonardo da Vinci (“Leonardo on Painting: Anthology of Writings by Leonardo Da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to His Career as an Artist” (Yale Nota Bene) by Martin Kemp)

Related articles

You will find quotes from other artists on painting from nature in the following articles:



Monday, 8 August 2011

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood wet-white technique

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – July - August 2011. 

The most famous and often-quoted passage is from the autobiography of William Holman Hunt, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In this, Hunt describes the use of transparent glazes over a wet ground and the addition of the resin copal to the paint medium.

"Select a prepared ground originally for its brightness, and renovate if necessary with fresh white when first it comes into the studio; white to be mixed with a very little amber or copal varnish. Let this last coat become of thoroughly stone-like hardness. Upon this surface complete with exactness the outline of the part in hand."

"On the morning for the painting, with fresh white from which all superfluous oil has been extracted by means of absorbent paper, and to which again a small drop of varnish has been added, spread a further coat very evenly with a palette-knife over the part for the day's work, of such consistency that the drawing should faintly shine through. In some cases the thickened white may be applied to the forms needing brilliancy with a brush, by the aid of rectified spirits."

"Over this wet ground, the colour (transparent and semi-transparent) should be laid with light sable brushes, and the touches must be made so tenderly that the ground below shall not be worked up, yet so far enticed to blend with the superimposed tints as to correct the qualities of thinness and staininess which over a dry ground transparent colours used would inevitably exhibit. Painting of this kind cannot be retouched except with an entire loss of luminosity."

Hunt, WH 1905-1906 'Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood'. London: Macmillan & Co Ltd., Vol 1 p276

Claudio and Isabella. (1850) by William Holman Hunt. Oil on mahogany. support: 758 × 426 x 10 mm frame: 997 × 668 × 80 mm. [Source: Wikimedia ]

This reminds me of the fresco technique where the ground is applied on a small surface that the artist can work during his session. I am sure Hunt read Leonardo da Vinci’s advice on colurs: “For those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always first prepare a pure white ground. I say this in regard to colours which are transparent, because those which are not transparent do not benefit from a light ground. An example of this is shown by coloured pieces of glass which, when interposed between the eye and the luminous air, reveal themselves as exceedingly beautiful and this they cannot do when they have behind them a shadowiy air or other darkness.”

Hunt’s technique seems very constrained and dictated the very detailed and delicate approach of some of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It worked very well to get luminous colours that stood the test of time. Pre-Raphaelite paintings in museums look as fresh today as when they were painted. The drawback was less spontaneity in the execution.

Related articles

Friday, 5 August 2011

Splattering watercolour

For the painting “Arriving at the Mark Hopkins San Francisco”, I used a combination of splattering techniques. I already used splattering in a previous watercolour titled Dragon Gate (San Francisco).

I started “Arriving at the Mark Hopkins San Francisco” by executing a detailed drawing of the car, the doorman and the hotel entrance. This is a safety net I want to have before I get more experimental.

An important precaution before you start with this technique: protect the surface you are working on with a plastic sheet or old newspapers. It is impressive how far projections can go…

I splattered the lower part of the paper with masking fluid. To do that, I dipped a masking fluid applicator into the bottle of masking fluid and then slapped my hand on the table, close to the edge of the paper. I wanted both round shapes and elongated drips. I get the round drop by holding the applicator like a pen, but straight when shaking it downwards. To get elongated drip, I hold the loaded applicator like a spade, by the end of the handle.

Before I switched to splattering paint, I cut out a shape in a piece of mount board to mask the taxi. Cardboard works better than paper because the weight prevents it from flying away when you move around. I could have used masking fluids to mask the whole car, but it was quicker to cut out the rough shape in mount board and I had also already masked some parts of the car (the wheel hub cap, the tail lights...)

I created to types of projections:

1) To create the bigger drops, I used a squirrel brush fully loaded with diluted colours. I mixed the colours in a china well palette from watercolour in tube.

2) For finer drops of colours, I used an old toothbrush, running the bristles loaded with colours on the handle of another brush. This fine mist would be great to give texture to a sandy beach or a stone wall. This is like the aerograph of the poor.

Splattering different colours wet on wet yield interesting results, with the colours mixing randomly.

In the foreground, I also painted some loose strokes of colours to give more consistence and interest to the ground.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Signature as insurance certificate

In her book “Life with Picasso” Françoise Gilot remember a visit she made with Picasso to the vaults he had for his paintings, at one of the Parisian bank on the Boulevard des Italiens.

Françoise Gilot noticed that the paintings in the vault were all signed where Picasso kept only unsigned canvases in the atelier.

“I had noticed that he kept only unsigned canvases in the atelier. I asked him about that. "As long as a picture isn't signed," he said, "it's harder to dispose of if it's stolen. And there are other reasons, too. A signature is often an ugly blob that distracts from the composition once it's there. That's why I generally sign a picture only when it's sold. Some of these are paintings that I sold years ago and have bought back. The rest—well, as long as a painting hangs around the atelier unsigned, I feel I can always do something about it if I'm not completely satisfied. But when I've said everything I had to say in it and it's ready to start a life of its own, then I sign it and send it over here."”

So, Picasso used his signature in a conventional and unconventional way:

  • As most artists do, he signed his work when he was completely satisfied with it. The signature acts as a “closure”. An unsigned work can always be re-worked.
  • In Picasso’s case, the signature was also an anti-theft mechanism. Only sold works leaving the studio were signed.
Related resources

If you are in the US (Amazon affiliate link)

Life With Picasso by Françoise Gilot

If you are in the United Kingdom (Amazon affiliate link)

Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot