Howard Hodgkin Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery

Figurative Portrait

 

Howard Hodgkin; Absent Friends

National Portrait Gallery

23rd March-18th June

Yesterday I went to the Howard Hodgkin portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would not be my show of choice but a dear friend absolutely loves his work and wanted to take a couple of us to see his work.

She was right to bring us; it was so lovely to go to an exhibition, which was just about colour and feeling. A disregard for representation and shapes and why not? If the colours and patterns of shapes work together and balance, which with Hodgkin they do, then the abstraction is rather refreshing and liberating.

This portrait of Peter Cochrane is the most figurative. I love the bold colour and patterns!

by (Gordon) Howard Eliot Hodgkin, oil on canvas, 1962
Howard Hodgkin, oil on canvas, 1962

 

Most shows zoom through an artist’s life chronologically or within subject matter. Here the show started with one of his later pieces and most abstract. It really helped put the rhythm of the subsequent paintings within a context: Seeing the end to understand the beginning. In his painting Absent Friends, is the title ironic or is it even prosaic of me to think that?

Absent Friends

During the war as a young boy, Hodgkin was an evacuee to New York City thereby having the opportunity to visit MOMA and be in a city not focused and devastated by war. This must have been a huge influence. What sort of an artist he would have been if he’d been an evacuee to Wales like my father?

On returning to England he studied at Camberwell under the tutelage of Coldstream. I love Coldstream’s paintings, not least because I was lucky enough that my dining hall at school was hung with Coldstream paintings, (apparently he partly paid the school fees with paintings).

So as with NYC and Wales… I wonder how my artwork would have differed if it had been Hodgkin’s paintings informing every mealtime rather than Coldstream.

With all of Coldstream’s measuring and observation, what they would have thought of each other.

Reclining woman

 

After Camberwell, Hodgkin went to study in Bath where the tutors were much more open to his ideas. Ironically the examples the NPG showed of his time in bath were his most figurative, some of the most wonderful and powerful portrait drawings in Pencil from around 1953, with a strong use of line and mass. I’m sure Coldtream with all his meticulousness and measuring gave Hodgkin a thorough grounding, to help the leap into abstraction.

Drawings

His philosophy on the abstraction from the figurative portrait is equally applied to his use and deconstruction of the frames. It is very playful.

To choose a favourite would be difficult, though the one that sticks in my mind is probably one of the most figurative. I just found the character leaning over very enchanting and the colours so refreshing. Perhaps it is its figurative nature that makes it memorable to me.

Figurative Portrait

 

If the paintings are about a response to people and memory, I would ask if he either has a very rich visual memory, or are his paintings an emotional response to the memory? – two very different things, and in my mind, the latter easier to access.

I wonder what was going on in his mind? Was he being playful or utterly sincere? I do hope a little playful, as this would give the work some freshness and would take away the pretense of some of the written word!

If you do go and see the exhibition it is a wonderful tour de force in colour and colour combinations, in patterns and juxtaposition of shapes.

Girl in Bed

Ann’s Out & About – The Ashmolean

Our Museum Trip Lunch Reward served on dark Colombian pottery copy

This morning I got up early to set off on my first artistic and cultural adventure of 2017, accompanied by my daughters. We left Broccoli behind as, although she loves our arty escapades, Museums are less welcoming to furry friends.

We drove to Oxford, with Rene Aubrey playing in the background. Driving through the city, waves of nostalgia washed over us – the architecture and familiar street names have inspired some of our greatest literature, most gripping murder mysteries and characters.

We arrived at the Ashmolean in good time. The building was recently renovated and boasts light and airy modern spaces. There is much to see, too much and for this reason we decided to focus on just one floor. We will have to return for the other floors and to revisit our favourite paintings.

A whole room is dedicated to Dutch flower painting. We felt spoilt by the number of paintings and whilst it was a treat to have so many masterful examples of the genre in one room, by the end we were able to be quite picky about what we enjoyed and what we felt was overdone and overwhelming.

Mignon. Flower Painting. Oil on Panel

We concluded that the paintings just marginally under life size did not work, they looked mean and disproportionate rather than merely under life size. There really is no need to paint something as small as a flower under life size, and it doesn’t make visual sense. Obviously this is not a rule that holds true to all subject matter, for a building to be painted life size would be ridiculous!

The lighter backgrounds were fresh and stood out amongst all the dark backgrounds. Why were Dutch flower paintings predominantly painted on dark backgrounds? Fast forward to the delicious Colombian feast we went onto after the Ashmolean. It was served on typical dark Colombian pottery, which Maria considered an effective way of emphasising the colour of the food. It made me think of the Dutch flower painting – perhaps the dark backgrounds were a device to accentuate the colours? Then again, in the days of no artificial lighting, I would have thought it would have been brighter to have lighter images?

My daughters were fascinated and did a great job finding at least one bug in every painting, like an arty Where’s Wally. I wonder, were the bugs there to entertain the artist, the children, or help explain the freshness and aliveness of the flowers!?

From flowers to landscapes, we moved through two rooms dedicated to the landscape sketch, mainly from the Gere Collection. These paintings are always a delight to see, their freshness and purity – no bugs needed, just pure observation. Leighton’s sketches are uncluttered and utterly underworked (very different to his large paintings); Valenciennes’ colours and shapes are crisp and simple, almost modern. Here too we were spoilt by the number of paintings and yet, by the end, similarly judgmental and quick to comment on the lack of accurate perspective. There is a clear difference between exaggerated perspective, which helps give the effect of distance, to forced and misjudged perspective.

Leighton. Villa Malta, Rome. Landscape Sketch. Oil on canvas     Valenciennes. Oil landscape Sketch. Oil on paper

The Constables were at the end of the room and had great impact. I am a huge fan but on closer inspection and after the light sketches of the Roman Campagna, they were disappointing.

The last room we entered was much more eclectic both in terms of timeline and genre. The jamboree of images did have some advantages as it made it very easy to pick out the gems in the crowd! The portrait by Lawrence, on a bone ground was striking and particularly remarkable for its colours and simplicity.

In the same room was the most amazing Hogarth sketch, a small oil painting on canvas. It is phenomenally modern, if it weren’t for the style of dress one would think it was a Walter Sickert. The painting is a sketch for the final episode of Marriage à la Mode; the looseness of the paint and the melting edges are incredible. However, what really brings the painting into the 20th century are the pure colour notes thickly applied, and the use of impasto to guide the storyline.

Hogarth. Oil Sketch for Marriage a la Mode. Oil on Canvas. Alla Prima

The painting feels very free, today we would be astounded by the sureness of touch and paint quality – alla prima at its best. Yet for Hogarth it was just a preliminary sketch!

There is so much more to be said – and this is just the second floor! However, my account would not be complete without indulging in what was the greatest pleasure of our visit: the Van Dyck studies. Two preparatory sketches of bearded men both in ruffs on a grey ground that brings a delicious warm tone to the work.

Van Dyck. Portrait Study of a man with a Beard and Ruff. Oil on canvas

Van Dyck uses a very limited palette, his colours are clean and direct and every brushstroke has a purpose. This is not painting sketchily, nor slowly finding your way round till the end fits in with your visual start. It is instead considered and carefully applied so that, every brushstroke makes sense, in terms of its shape, value, temperature, colour. In these paintings there is nothing to trick us or lure us; no flashy colours, unnecessarily thick paint, or layers of glazes; no dripping paint or splashy backgrounds; just the purest form of honest painting. Every brushstroke is purposeful and none is excessive.

As an aspiring painter, what more could you hope for than the purest distillation of paint, and a lesson to apply to more aspects of our lives than just art!

Back to school

Art Courses in London

The Autumn Term begins 19 September.  We look forward to welcoming back old and new faces.

Few Foundation spaces left, additional courses include:

Beginners Sculpture, Mondays, 7-9pm

Printmaking, Wednesdays, 1-4pm

Urban Landscapes, Saturdays 10am-1pm

Apply online here or for more information email: info@londonfineartstudios.com.  Want to find out more?  Watch this short video about the school.

London Fine Art Studios: An insight

London Fine Art Studios: An insight

London Fine Art Studios: An insight This is us!  We have been busy working with acapmedia to produce a wonderful video about the school.  Thanks to Chris and Aaron of acapmedia for all their work and expertise.  Thanks also to the team at LFAS for their participation.

Check us out here:

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://youtu.be/NBoCL1gGuiw”][/pexyoutube]

We look forward to the release of a second short film produced with acapmedia.  Also with the support of The de Laszlo Foundation.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (Aristotle)

portrait steps alla prima oil painting course

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (Aristotle)

 

Today London Fine Art Studios celebrates a fabulous first year! Three terms of cast drawing, of oil painting, of nudes and portraits have flown by and we are enjoying a buoyant start to the summer courses. To mark the occasion and show that artists can party as hard as they work, we will be found picnic-ing and generally making merry in Battersea Park.

 

Highlights from the year have included an inaugural lecture from Simon Schama at Leighton House Museum; a talk by Alison Smith, Curator at Tate Britain; workshops and artists-in-residence at Dulwich Picture Gallery; filming with ACAPmedia; Griselda Murray Brown, FT Arts Editor, speaking about the synaesthesia of music and art; and so much more!

 

However, most exciting has been the expanding programme of classes to include Advanced Cast drawing, Printmaking & Etching, extended Sculpture schedules and new workshops with international artists. We are still looking forward to Henry Yan’s arrival in September.

 

And yet, though we be young in years, we are rich in experience. As with the Welsh football team, LFAS is greater that the sum of its parts: Ann Witheridge, Founder and Director, brings years of teaching, drawing, painting, exhibiting to bear on her leadership and vision for the Studios; our teachers are also established artists, represented nationally and internationally with creative projects a-plenty under their belts; our art store stocks the best materials from around the globe, offered at affordable prices to our students with a generous lashing of expert advice from Director Scott Pohlschmidt.

 

Then there are the students, hungry to learn, of all ages and backgrounds, with enriching life experiences of their own. The best will draw on the support of their peers as well as the knowledge of their teachers to further their craft; they will make the most of the lectures, partnerships and events that the Studios organise to help further their professional development.

 

Thus, the staff, the students and even the spaces (imagine artist’s paraphernalia and worn wooden floors) provide a unique and enormously productive learning environment.   Add to this a method that has lasted centuries, classical techniques handed down from one European Master to another. Newcomers begin with the Foundation Course, they learn the fundamentals and train their eye to see afresh, they learn what Aristotle knew: the delicate interplay of parts and whole, never fixating on the detail, always stepping away from the easel to see the bigger picture.

 

All this amounts to a carefully considered and honed training for amateur and professional artists, for part-timers and full timers alike. One that is supportive yet challenging, consolidated through tradition and wholly contemporary.

 

I would like to say how much I enjoyed my term at LFAS. The staff is amazing, welcoming, and all around wonderful, the store far too tempting, Chris’ tea some of the best in London, and the general atmosphere inspiring, lovely, and motivating. And as frustrating as it sometimes was (is) to learn a new way of doing something you think you already know how to do, the technique taught as LFAS is exciting, engaging, and expansive. I feel so fortunate to have found LFAS. Many thanks to all of you who make it work so very well.

 

Testimonial of LFAS Student

July Foundation Course began today!

Advanced Cast Drawing

Today we welcomed a new intake of artists to learn the fundamentals of drawing and painting, techniques passed down from the most accomplished European Masters.  It was a joy to share the Studios with these enthusiastic and talented individuals.  We are looking forward to the week ahead!

 

 

Artists in Conversation @ St Paul’s Studios, Talgarth Rd

atelier london artists studios

London Fine Art Studios is excited to attend this event tomorrow, Thursday 19 May at 7pm.

Stacey Gledhill, founder of the Blue Platter Club, brings together James Hayes and Clare Shenstone for an evening of conversation and insight.  James trained in Florence, Clare is a portrait artist who completed her MA at the Royal College in 1979.

A unique opportunity to learn of their professional challenges and landmarks, their influences and what it means to be an artist today.  All this in the exceptional setting of St. Paul’s Studios, Talgarth Road.

Refreshments provided, plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

Tickets £5, email: staceygledhill@gmail.com