Posts Tagged ‘painting’

ALBRECHT DURER

2011-03-29

[Picture of St Christopher]Albrecht Dürer blew me away when I was studying art history. OK, you look through his works (and there are a lot out there), and you see great skill, and possibly natural artistic talent — all the usual. What knocked me out about his was that he was born in 1471 and died in 1528.  That’s a long time ago, yet his style is far more modern to my mind.

I’d say he was ahead of his times.  He lived a long time for those days, although young by our standards, so I reckon he lived well. At least he managed to miss getting the plague.

[Durer's mary Praying oil painting]I laughed when I saw his St Christopher from 1521. It was the one in the flyleaf to my Missal as a boy. It was the medal on my mother’s car key ring.  This was a universally known image.  I wondered how many people knew the image, but not the artist.

I saw the St. Jerome in London, but missed out on “The Adoration of The Magi” when I was last at the Uffizi.

What was superb about Durer, from an art history standpoint was that he brings everything together — the trips to Italy that brought together southern and northern styles, the Roman Catholic and the Reformation, the developments in printing and reproduction methods and science and crafts behind making art, the architecture, and the change in patronage from the Church to secular and state.

I loved his books on proportion (something I hold very dear) and on measurement. He was a clever guy.

I also like the fact that his self-publicity was admired by aspiring young chaps like Titian and even Raphael.  He was a real celebrity. Look at his self-portraits, he was a good-looking man. 

Durer was the Johnny Depp of his day.

He was a good and astute businessman, keeping excellent accounts, which has proved to have been of tremendous value to the historian.  If you are looking to study the Renaissance or art, Durer is a fabulous starting point. I really do not “get” why he is not better known today — he’d make an excellent subject for a movie.

§

BENTE MILTENBURG

2011-01-05

[Painting by Miltenburg]Lately I have been reviewing my old graphic works, and trying to figure out where they “fit in” in my life. I don’t suppose I will find that answer, but the question led me to looking at the cross-over between what-I-do-for-a-living and what-else-I-do.

This in turn led me to an artist called Bente Miltenburg. His work resembled what I was doing some year ago.  Obviously, though, he’s a proper artist and his stuff is better.  No question. I make the remark in a spirit of understanding and camaraderie; we must have similarities!

My idea at the time was to try — somehow to get architecture into art, in the sense of beautiful things to enjoy that have no pragmatism.  I am able to admire the beauty of good draughtsmanship in a technical drawing, as much as architectural renderings.  Many an architect whose work I dislike has been rescued in my estimation by their watercolours or other artistic traits (for example, CR Mackintosh).

Bente Miltenberg’s vignettes are of that ilk — views of people-less domestic scenes, rooms in isometric perspective that can (somehow) easily be read as abstract art or as architectural rendering.  A bit like some practical 3D CAD software images — equally and ambivalently true and false, for people but without presence.

I enjoy Bente’s work and would recommend it to all —

§

THE KISS

2008-12-22

[Brassy, rectangular repro of The Kiss by Klimt]Gustav Klimt’s most famous work has to be  “The Kiss”. The first weird thing about this work is that it is square, but it is almost always reproduced rectangularly — and in a variety of garish colours!

Klimt used oil paint and gold leaf on canvas, and did the work around about 1907.  As I said, it is square, but it is also massive, 1800mm each side.  This means that the figures are slightly larger than life size, and the action (the kiss) is slightly above the viewer’s eye level.  It is a shimmering golden thing — and not at all yellow, brassy or as garish as some reproductions would suggest.

[Picture of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt]

For it’s sheer size, the detail is extraordinary, and together with the gold leaf, one cannot help but to draw comparisons with Cimabue.

Yet it is not a religious work, though it uses much of that language and culture.  It is not a classical work, yet it reminds one of Roman mosaics. There is the pagan or Greek flower garlands in the hair, he seems southern European while she seems northern (a redhead with pale skin). Somehow, though, it is still “modern” while being Celtic and having a tribal primitiveness about it. Heck, it even reminds one of the Pre-Raphaelites!

It is far too big to be considered a domestic or private work — therefore it must always have been intended as a large public work of art — but, not being religious or classical, it could only have been intended for the gallery or the corporate foyer.

For being called “The Kiss”, the depiction is such a small percentage of the whole, in fact there is very little flesh on display, very little humanity.  It is an awkward composition, a strange pose, but somehow this painting works.

This is not a violent act, an act of dominance or submission, even though she is kneeling and barefooted.  Her arm around his neck tells that story. This is not the kiss of a relative, a greeting or bidding by a friend or acquaintance.  This is the kiss of a lover — even though it is not on the lips or neck; the hands give that away —  but is it a farewell?  It is parting for ever or for a short while?  Is it, on the other hand the prelude to delicious intimacy?  I personally do not believe that this is an allegorical depiction of betrayal, death or sickness; it is too seductively golden. I once thought it may be of Violetta, that she is sick and dying.  This is the thing with this work — it is difficult to determine from the clues of the background and surrounds.  Is her extremely randomly patterned dress worn off the shoulder, or is this a moment captured — dressing or undressing? I guess Klimt wanted all this to remain a personal interpretation, an ambivalence. I like that one can change one’s mind over the years.

You can make out his robe, the belt banding and his sleeve, but there does seem to be a strange halo surrounding them both that cannot be explained in terms of clothing or fabric, even though it has swirly patterns. The base patterns can be a blanket or a meadow — but the surround seems to be grainy sand. Is it all down to flattened perspectives?

It is memorable, it is remarkable.  It shines, and reflects light onto the faces of the viewers standing in front of its majesty.  This is not a painting as much as an experience.  It lives on after seeing it, burned into the eyes.  It leaves a taste — a trace, a kiss.

It may or may not be typical of the artist, it may or may not have a story or hidden meaning — but none of that matters; the work can stand iconically and recognisably on its own.  Once seen, never forgotten, just like a first kiss, and like the wrapped, golden embrace, it is always a warm and welcome memory.  Wonderful.

I first came across this work in my teens (it was a poster on a girlfriend’s bedroom wall), and I initially didn’t like it; it was too flat, too much, too unbalanced and shapeless, but I recognised it immediately as being of itself, a thing with an identity and personality of its own apart from the artist and its contexts, and that drew me back to it again and again over the years. It’s sui generis. I see it now as the massive golden light source it was intended to be (as opposed to the teatowel or jigsaw puzzle reproduction)! This must really be something to be at in the flesh, what an experience.

§

CIMABUE

2004-12-05

Cimabue was a famous artist.  He lived between about 1240 and 1300 or so in what is now called Italy. I have seen him called Cenni di Pepo (Giovanni) Cimabue, and Bencivieni di Pepo or in modern Italian, Benvenuto di Giuseppe.

He was an Italian painter and creator of mosaics in Firenze and in Tuscany in general.

The thing about him was that he broke with the norm. He tried to paint in a style that was portraying things closer to what they actually and naturally were. In this he was pioneering and in this he has affected all art ever since — so he is incredibly important, historically.  What a guy!

Seriously. Until Cimabue, fine art was pretty “flat” — it was symbolic or stylised.  It did not really attempt to capture a natural likeness or anything like that!

Cimabue used shading to provide an illusion or trick of the eye to make his paintings more lifelike, more real, more three-dimensional. He also tried to get things to be life-like in proportion. His attention to drapery has affected painters ever since

He is considered in arty circles as the last great painter of the Byzantine tradition. He also got really famous — and Dante mentioned Cimabue in his Divine Comedy as being famous, haughty and arrogant!

Back then everyone had apprentices, and Cimabue’s pupil got really famous too — Giotto, who is considered the first great artist of the Italian Renaissance. Lorenzo Ghiberti and later, Giorgio Vasari, tell of the famous legend where Cimabue discovered Giotto as a shepherd drawing on a flat stone,  and offered to train the boy in the artist’s craft suggesting that Cimabue might have had more to him than just arrogance and big-headedness, that he had a charitable side too.

So the change-over from Byzantine to renaissance is captured in these two, Cimabue and Giotto, and in Florence. Mind you, Cimabue is also known to have influenced Duccio.

cimabue_01Just look at some of Cimabue’s surviving work — look at the craftsman’s gold leaf work. This is shimmering stuff. I love this stuff; no-one is smiling, everyone is so glum! Just look at the “real person” expressions — and that’s the point; this is not stylised, this is glum people and a three dimensional throne. Angels are behind the chair.  The halos are wonderful, even going behind the throne (although Mary’s and  the two uppermost angels’ halos are lost in the gold leafwork) — but the angel feathers are things of wonder and beauty, even today! Mind you the baby Jesus looks like he’s ordering another round of drinks for the lads!

cimabue_02In the second, the angels are more distant, and Cimabue seems to have given them microphones for singing praises, but then in the other one, there are angels wearing Christmas socks!

Once again, there’s not much smiling, and there is a problem with scale — but one has to understand that lifelikeness aside, importance play a role too.

You know, I LIKE these paintings; they are Byzantine, they are old, and weird and everyone is glum, but they are painted with care and love.  The composition is wonderfully balanced, the colours distributed well and the proportions pleasing.  They do not upset, challenge or disturb in the way that we are used to in modern art, yet they were pushing the envelope in a really important and earth-shattering way in their day!

I can imagine the average Italian peasant coming across these back then and feeling that bit closer to the Virgin Mary and her baby as a result of the artist’s attempt to relate naturally with the viewer.

At the end of the day, these are (and were intended to be) public works.  They are religious, but they also tell the tale of a mum and her boy (and in the second picture I always think that Jesus is holding a wee baby rattle toy), and that is a very special relationship indeed, and it was done for the first time.  It must have caused Mary such grief to know what was in store for her little soldier, hence her look is glum or sad, but , maybe it’s resignation, maybe it’s defiant strength?

I love the fact that the baby’s feet are shown, but not the mother’s. This is most likely because we have to see the hands and feet of the man who was crucified using big nails hammered through his hands and feet.

I personally think that Cimabue was a bigger influence on my hero, Picasso, and on Michelangelo in his almost mannerist approach to proportion. I like the fact that they are half pictorial and symbolic and half real and natural.

Knowing that Blue as a pigment/ colour was the most expensive, just illustrates how lavish these works were with respect to the mother of God. The gold makes a big statement too, but what must be realised is how difficult and finicky this work was — they didn’t have oil-based paint back then, it was real egg tempera — which means that there was absolutely NO room for making a mistake.  You cannot just paint over a mistake because of it’s transparent quality, and this stuff dries almost as soon as it is applied — to a matt finish.  It cannot be layered nor applied thickly, so it cannot ever give a lush, richness or saturation of colour the way oil or modern acrylics do.  These guys had to actually make everything — the brushes, the panels and all the paints too!

The main difference between the two is two central figures and the back of the throne, which illustrates the effect of sparseness versus crowdedness. Having said that, the crowd scene, especially with the pointed top, make the throne seem as though it is floating in a sea, making this throne stand out more than the second one.

Cimabue apparently means bull-headed, which might refer to how he looked, but could equally refer to his bull-headed approach to painting and mosaics.

If you can see a Cimabue in “real life” or “in the flesh”, then jump at the chance; it’s soul-enriching and entirely worthwhile. His apse mosaic, St. John the Evangelist, is in the Pisa Cathedral, and is well worth a look (although they have ropes and such around it; you are no longer allowed to walk on this stuff).

I adored Cimabue’s work in Assissi — The large Crucifixion scene in the left transept being his masterpiece! I nearly cried when I saw it.  The fresco has turned monochromatic over time (something to do with lead in the pigments used) and is as powerful as anything you can imagine — like a photographic negative! Warhol would be impressed let me tell you.

The two shown here are similar to the Maestà, I saw with my pal Michele Valente in The Ufizzi a few years back.

For me, all art starts with Cimabue — he’s a star in all senses of the word!
§

SWING

2004-08-20

[Picture of sketch for Swing, 1977 dave devine]This is hysterical; back in 1977, I sketched up a picture I called “Swing” in my sketch pad using felt tipped pens for colouring.  I tried various combinations, thicknesses, hues, and so forth until I found something I was satisfied with.

I was trying to get down something that captured what sport meant for me.  I needed the court lines, the markings, the demarcations.  I needed shapes that resembled basket balls, nets, golf clubs, footballs, snooker balls, cues, colours and the like.  I also wanted it to be flat,  but full of implied motion, and have a quality that allows it to be hung any of the four ways and remain sensible.

I also wanted to refer to swing, the jazz music — the rhythms and beats of sport. I needed to refer to staves, clefs, and musical notes and have jazzy colours too!

Anyway.  I have several notebook sketches of “Swing”, and finally, eventually and recently, I painted it on in traditional oils on a large canvas.

It is now hanging in an office in Govan, and has even been filmed by the BBC!

Sadly, I do not have a photograph of the canvas, but I have a snap of my sketch from 1977 (see above).

§

THE EYE

2004-02-13

[Picture of oil on canvas - The Eye]It is never a good idea to talk about old girlfriends.

So I don’t. Additionally, I never play the songs or read the poems relating to these now-mythical creatures.  Not just out of politeness or sensitivity for my wife, but for myself; these people don’t belong in our world.

Hence, I spent a lot of time removing photographs and other artefacts — it’s difficult because I am a natural hoarder, and because some of it is actually to do with me, my past, and all that. So I condensed everything down to a small box of mementos — an old shoe box in each case.  Throwing away the rest of the stuff. I couldn’t just do it all in one go, could I? One day I might open these boxes, or then again (and much more likely), I may just throw them away unopened — when I move house or something.

It’s an altogether peculiar state of affairs, when you think about it.  For example, I was very pleased with some of the portraits I did, especially the ones done with oil on canvas.  It was quite hard to destroy them all, and in fact all that remains is this digital photograph of an eye.

The entire portrait is long gone, it was more Vermeer than Vallejo, even I don’t know why, particularly as it was painted in the mid 1990s.

I came across this simply because it is not in the box (it was on an old back-up CD full of JPGs), and so I thought I would put it up here to stare at me, at us, from the past! Woooo! Creepy or what LOL!

§

VERMEER

2003-07-12

It’s hard to get away from Vermeer!

He’s usually called very cheezy and chocolate-boxy, but he was definitely an important early influence on me.  Then again I do like a box of choccies! Mind you, without Vermeer, I very much doubt that my wife and I would have discovered (and fallen in love with) Ghent, Bruges, Delft and Antwerp.

I was even in a band once, called “Flying Fox” — named as a result of looking up Vermeer in the library at Battlefield one day (Vermeer’s Dad, Reynier Jansz, began dealing in paintings, and his first one was “The Flying Fox” around 1631).

Vermeer was baptised and raised as a Protestant Christian, but he married a Catholic Christian (one fabulously named Digna Baltus), and as a result he faced hardship. At least he was not alone — as a result of the end of the 80 years’ war (the fall of Antwerp), there was a massive relocation of people  north to the then tiny port of Amsterdam, as well as  a massive influx of refugees fleeing from religious persecution Sephardi Jews from Catholic Portugal and Spain, and Calvinists or “Huguenots” from Catholic France.

The thing is that through Vermeer, I discovered the two trends in oil painting — the new secular and the old Catholic Christian religious subjects.

The church did not patronise Vermeer — and the various Protestant Christians were usually dead against religious idolatry!  No wonder poor old Vermeer died poor!

Milk Maid]The first Vermeer that I came across was his Milk-Maid painting. Yes — a milk maid! This is mad; who would buy this painting?  The milk maid surely did not commission Vermeer to paint it!  OK, so Vermeer wasn’t doing “religious” stuff, but — where’s the Greek Myth or other “high subjects”?

And yet, there she is, with her strong arms, and stoutness, centred in frame, flooded with daylight from the high level window (so she’s downstairs in the servants’ quarters).  She’s caught in an action — how amazing!  This is exactly like a camera photo – a snapshot!  She’s in the middle of pouring milk from a jug onto a bowl!  I’d never seen anything like it!

This was also a time when oil paint was being invented and the Dutch were leading the way, but it’s not even like an artist showing off in the vein of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. What on earth is going on here? It cannot be a painting of a lover — could it?  I mean, she’s a bit sturdy, isn’t she?

The only answer I could come up with to explain this painting was that Vermeer needed to paint something, and that was all there was to it! Mind you I would still like to know what the box on the floor is supposed to be. I do not think it’s a rat trap; it’s too nice!

[Painting by Vermeer - The Geographer]rThe next painting I found of Vermeer’s was The Geographer. I was stunned by the similarities with the Milk-Maid — the window location and central subject.

I have always loved this painting; in fact I tried to become the painting!  For years I set up my drawing board at the window, and I often worked in client’s offices at drawing boards located near huge antique windows. I even had curtains on one side of the window in one of my flats — I got the idea from this painting, and a lot of people remarked on it!

[Painting of Woman holding a balance by Vermeer]Obviously I wasn’t surprised when I spotted Woman Holding a Balance

Just look at the window location/ light source.  This time, though, the balance is central and the woman is off to the side. What’s going on here?  She’s got jewellery, and the curtains are partly drawn.  She seems to be figuring out the worth of the pieces — maybe she needs money; she does look pregnant. Her covered head is framed by a religious Christian painting.  I like the idea of a rectangular “halo”, and so (it seems) does Vermeer. I just loved how the wall and shadow make the painting look like it’s been folder in half! Again, this is a moment of action, or of decision — this is a turning point recorded on canvas.

So many of Vermeer’s “genre” paintings have the window to the left and follow the same pattern of an action caught in snap shot.  He seems to have worked almost exclusively indoors too.

But another thing is of note — he followed Leonardo da Vinci’s Law — that nothing is it’s own colour completely, instead everything’s colour is affected by the colour of the thing next to it.

[Painting of Girl with a Wine Glass by Vermeer]In Girl with a Wine Glass, apart from the familiar halving of the back wall down the fold of the middle, the dark shadows of the skirt folds are under-painted with blue to resonate with the blue table cloth, and the result is amazing in real life; a sort of purple shimmer.

In fact the use of blue makes me wonder about the accounts of Vermeer’s lifelong poverty.  Blue was the most expensive colour — and Vermeer uses it a LOT. In fact I have heard it said that no other painter of the time used blue so lavishly as Vermeer. He also had at least a dozen or so children, and they lived in a massive house (they moved in with his wife’s mother), and he remained there till he suddenly died.  To me this suggests an income from some unknown source — perhaps his art dealing was successful or perhaps his in-laws provided some form of trust or pension. Who knows, maybe he taught or ran another business?

Like so many at that time, Vermeer joined a Guild or trade association — The Guild of Saint Luke.  Some historians reckon that because the annual fee was waived in Vermeer’s case, the man was too poor to afford the fee!  Yet how come he was elected head of the guild (and re-elected thereafter)!

Mind you, there was a sudden economic downturn and a collapse of the art market in the early 1670s, and this finished off Vermeer, who died due to the stress of financial pressures at just 43.

He supposedly worked very slowly, even though he used oils.  This could be because he was poor and had to save up for paint, but it is more likely as far as I am concerned because he was waiting for the oil paint to dry.  Vermeer painted layer upon layer of almost transparent paint (even more slow drying as it is oily), and he a used an old decorative technique called Pointillé in whereby patterns are formed on a surface by a means of punched dots that do not cut into the surface being decorated, a bit like embossing I suppose.

There is a theory about the “old masters” methods.  This is because they are so photographic, and because their perspective is so good.  The theory is actually promoted by the famous pop-artist David Hockney. It’s called The Hockney-Falco thesis, and was announced to the world via a television programme called Secret Knowledge in 2001.  there is even a book.

Hockney reckoned that the Old Masters used camera obscura techniques, to project a subject onto the canvas surface,  leaving the task of the painter to simply match and fill in the colours.  It is hard to tell with an artist who worked as slowly as Vermeer.

[Painting by Vermeer called Christ in The House of Mary and Martha]The one I have seen the most is (bizarrely) a religious Vermeer — Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, which is in Edinburgh. It has three figures, in a pyramid or triangular composition, and there are the ochres, umbers and browns as well as the blue, red and white of the fabrics.

[Painting by Vermeer - Girl With the Pearl Earring] [Painting by Vermeer; Guitar Player]r [Painting by Vermeer called Girl Interrupted]

Only 35 paintings are definitely attributed to Vermeer, the best know today might be Girl with the Pearl Earring or Girl Interrupted at Her Music. The most remarkable thing I think is how “photographic” they are — not merely in rendering (as Hockney would suggest), but in the fact that they seem to capture an action, usually indoors, and often at a window.  I see no evidence of religiousness, no evidence of attributes of death or moral allegory, I see no judgement of class or culture.  I do not even see these painting as being “public” art in their intention.

Little is known of Vermeer, but, even with his presidency of the guild, I would say that he was not a “painter” at all — he had no apprentices, school or workshop.  He did not seem to want to be patronised or emplyed by the state or Church.  He had  no known customers. It is entirely my own opinion, and I have held it since the early 1980s, that Vermeer was a talented amateur painter; he did not earn a living from painting, but he loved it, and it was a grand hobby — indoors because he worked at home, in his spare time.

I like my theory a lot.  I like the fact that this chap is considered an Old Master, yet he was outside the loop, he was doing it all from love and need, rather than fame and fortune. What do you think?

§

BORIS VALLEJO

2003-06-08

Aw, man — in the mid 1970s Boris was IT — the guy we all tried to be!

I guess it started with art class at school — we discovered the air-brush machine!  After we inhaled weird gases and spoke funny for an entire afternoon, we actually tried it out and were amazed.  We then did the Roger Dean thing, but when Boris appeared, we were pushed. Really pushed, man.

I got a poster of the cover of a pulp-fiction novel called “The High Couch of Silistra” in Woolworth’s, and hung it in my bedroom as a teenager! Lovely!

After Vallejo came Frazetta and others, but Boris will always have a special place in my heart for cheezy heavy metal/ science fiction/ comic book art that made me draw and paint so many gawgeous female shapes on a zillion biker leather jackets and H-D petrol tanks and Scooby-Doo vans! Oooo the kudos, what can I say!

Ah, the memories (I found the BV is still going strong — see the Buffy one?) Amazing!

§

SKETCHING – CHORDS

2003-05-08

[Pictures of sketch bnooks from 1977)I grew up in a semi-rural location.  It was quiet, mature and terribly boring, so I had little choice but to travel to meet up with my pals — and this meant that I was in a lot of different and pretty diverse groups, bands, teams and gangs.

I had pals in one group that would never — ever, in a million years — get on with pals in other groups.  That was part of the fun!

Mind you, it was not entirely black-and-white, cut-and-dried; I knew a few guys who liked art AND motorcycles, others who liked art AND music, others who liked music AND motorcycles, if you see what I mean.

But largely speaking, there were distinct groups of pals — and I would hang out with the guys who loved album art and who painted motorcycle petrol tanks, then I would see guys who played guitars and drums or the guys who played rugby with me!

Heck I actually had a pal who was incredibly shy, he liked to listen to music and was into hi-fi, but hated musicians and avoided bikers! So it was more about keeping everyone away from each other than anything else!

The result was that I picked up a bit of this and a bit of that.  I played a wee bit of guitar and bass, I did some sketches, I played a wee bit of rugby, I dabbled in hi-fi, did a bit of writing.  I think I did rather well as a talentless will-o-the-wisp, I may not have been any good at any one thing, but it was always fun… and still is to be perfectly honest!  Today, my wife is constantly amazed at the wild diversity of my acquaintances!

Anyway, for myself, I sometimes try to merge one thing with another.  I painted rugby players, I photographed rallies and speedway, and the above are the results of my attempt to blend guitar playing with art!

I discovered some old schoolday sketch pads from 1977, and thought I would embarrass myself by putting them up here on the world-wide web! Hey, why not? They are decades old and of no use apart from this sort of thing — maybe they will spark something in some real artistic soul that wanders across this blog.  You never know.  All I know is that all my life I have been about cross pollination between disparate social groups, why should it stop just because I am unable to get out and about as much!

§