A regular series of thoughts, ideas and comments on art and design.
[11/5/16] The 1600 hundreds and miniature paintings in India and England.
There may well have been a world wide shortage of medium and large sized boards and canvases in the world around 1600, but I doubt it…so the beautiful miniature paintings created in India and England around that time must have been coincidence and from choice.
Sir Frances Drake by Nicholas Hilliard
The beautiful works of Nicholas Hilliard give us an insight in to the privileged classes of the day, although I must say given the choice today most gentleman of any class would not choose to wear what look like very uncomfortable lace frilled collars and tights.
In fact your average peasant of the day would be wearing comfortable baggy clothing, not unlike the popular clothing of choice of today. Minus the expensive trainers!
Hilliard’s paintings are brilliantly detailed, almost ‘jewel’ like paintings.
Not dissimilar in quality to the Indian miniatures painted many thousands of miles away in a very different continent and with a flatter style, almost as if the painter had trapped his 3D subjects in a large book, closed it, flattened them and opened them up again in to a brilliant 2D colourful world.
Indian Miniature (c) 1600
(11/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[10/5/16] 400 years of peace and only the cuckoo clock, thin men and a range of coloured squares to show for it!
I’m a proud Anglo/Swiss/South African, but I think of myself more as a European than any particular nationality to be completely honest.
When it comes to art Harry Lime’s comments in the film ‘The Third Man’ on the Vienna ferris wheel hit a nerve, as there is some truth there. The best Swiss artists have to be for me Giacometti and Klee, but the national characteristics of the country however diversified it is, don’t lend them selves to great art.
It’s too flaming sensible!
Under the rather cool, calm calculating skin of your average Swiss deep deep down they are rather cool, calm and calculating. Where as Harry Lime pointed out complete chaos over hundreds of years in Italy and they produce Leonardo da Vinci and Enzo Ferrari!….
….then on the other hand more noble prizes per head of population have been won by a Swiss.
I think it must be that the Swiss have Europe’s left hand side of the brain, and the Italians the right hand side. The British of course are too reserved to comment and still think they have an Empire, running 25% of the world, and can play football!
Feel free to change nationalities below depending on your Geo location and/or passport.
Heaven and Hell
Heaven Is Where:
The French are the chefs
The Italians are the lovers
The British are the police
The Germans are the mechanics
And the Swiss make everything run on time
Hell is Where:
The British are the chefs
The Swiss are the lovers
The French are the mechanics
The Italians make everything run on time
And the Germans are the police
(10/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[9/5/16] One painting at a time and the best galleries in the world.
As a painter I’ve never for one minute painted a picture and imagined how it would look in an exhibition. Not amongst my work or as part of an number of other artists work.
It’s just been always one painting on its own, and the work is just one piece of work at a time.
So going to a large gallery and seeing hundreds of paintings in one visit is really in my opinion a bit daft! After probably just six or seven paintings my brain will have ‘switched to sensory over load’ mode and is preparing to move in to full ‘completely switched off’ mode!
My recommendation if you have enough time is to go in to a major gallery and view no more than 3 paintings and then leave and do something completely different.
That way you will get far more from your visit.
Of course if entry to an exhibition or gallery is not free this approach unless you are wealthy is a bit problematic….but the principle is there, paintings are not painted to be part of a tsunami of colour and images, they are there as individual bits of work.
My favourite galleries in the world are:
- Uffizi – Florence (watch out for the unexpected day when it’s closed, think it Monday’s)
- Kenwood House, Highgate, London. (for the Vermeer, and the peace and quiet in central London)
- Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam. (Rembrandt’s Night Watch, worth the visit by itself)
- National gallery – London (too many great paintings in one place, needs to be moved around the country more)
- Walker Gallery – Liverpool, my local one…
- Louvre – Paris (needs to be visited in the spring at least once!)
- Prado – Madrid (as a student I was once not allowed in as I had a paint box with me, streuth!)
- Portrait Gallery. London (had one of my paintings hanging as part of the National Portrait gallery competition in 1984)
- Thyssen home collection on Lake Lugano. (Swiss Italian lakes, the most beautiful location)
- Domby Gallery, Southport. Best small gallery in the UK (might be a bit biased on that one).
(9/5/16) Dom Burkhalter.
[7/5/16] Food as art, nouveau cuisine and TV cookery programs. The four senses the wrong way round….
We watched the BBC Master Chef cookery final yesterday evening and as usual I found the presentation of food as art on a plate as mildly amusing.
The programs presenters repeatedly remind all and sundry that presentation is so important. So their voices (sound) the food image (sight) are key to these popular TV food programs…
….food is really about the aroma (smell) and flavours (taste)…. the other two senses, the ones you cant get on a TV.
So what on earth is it about these programs that makes them so appealing to the general public!?
My conclusion is that it’s the staged drama and cult of today’s ’15 minute celebrity’ that keeps these things on our screens, much like most of the other general popular programs.
Meanwhile in purely practical basic terms I in common with most people would I suspect prefer a large amount a very good food on my plate than a small mount of prettily arranged very good food!
Lastly, while there are still people in the world with not enough food to eat, maybe we should stop ‘playing with our food’ as entertainment.
[6/5/16]Balthus – beautiful, unacceptable art.
I’ve always liked the paintings of Balthus, but recent events around various ‘media celebrities’ have brought in to sharp focus the need to recognise and stop the ‘creeping in’ of any sort of media or art in to areas that are basically morally wrong.
The portrayal of under age children in any form of overtly sexual way however beautiful the painting may be thought of – is unacceptable.
The painting shown here is one that does not cross that line, but there are others from his portfolio of work, that are not OK to show, they were not OK when they were painted and they are not now.
(6/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[5/5/16] Augustus John and Gwen John, sibling rivalry settled.
Augustus John was without doubt the flamboyant famous one in the family, Gwen the quiet one who moved to France for a calmer life.
She is said to have had a relationship with the sculpture Rodin, but without doubt it’s her brother that got the attention when they were alive.
Ironically in my eyes it’s Gwen that had the greater talent, Augustus Johns work shows for me the typical work of an artist that has lots of ability but unfortunately knows it, becoming a bit of self parody.
Gwen on the other hand quietly and unassumingly created excellent understated paintings that have more energy left in them now than her more famous brothers work, which falls foul of the ‘can you pin the date of when it was painted test’ which with Augustus’s paintings can be pinned to the year rather too easily!
Gwen John, Self portrait.
(5/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[4/5/16] The Cruyff turn. Art and Poetry in motion.
Art is not unlike sport in many ways, the forgetting of everyday concerns, an out of body experience and the forgetting of the ‘self’.
There’s also moments of brilliant self expression from a player, and one such case was the moment in an international game that Johan Cruyff the brilliant Dutch footballer showed the ‘Cruyff turn’ to the wider TV watching public for the first time.
The player appears to be crossing the ball across the area and the defender moves to block it.
In the original case both players are facing away from the goal that is being attacked (see picture above and video link below). Cruyff instead of crossing the ball reverses the ball with the inside step of his right foot backwards sending the ball 90 degrees from the expected direction of the cross. The defender has no idea of where the ball is and in the meantime Cruyff has twisted round and is running with the ball in the direction of the goal.
Not so much art in motion but maybe poetry in motion as this paricular sheer brilliance of skill never seen before giving a footballing world wide gasp of appreciation.
Sadly Johan Cruyff died earlier this year but he did, like many artists, leave behind moments of unforgettable brilliance.
(4/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[3/5/16] Graham Sutherland and Winston Churchill and the bonfire of vanities.
Winston Churchill by Graham Sutherland (destroyed)
Winston Churchill was a brilliant war leader, a quite good amateur painter, and a poor peace time leader.
Graham Sutherland was without doubt a very good painter, and his portrait of Winston Churchill was an excellent work of art from an artist at his best.
Sadly for us, Churchill who as a painter himself should have understood artists better, requested that on his death that the painting be destroyed as he disliked it so much. His wife carried out his wish.
Which is a shame at many levels, as we have lost a great painting and at the same time peoples respect for a great war time leader is lessened for the sake of what appears to be just simple vanity!
(3/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[2/5/16] Computers, UI, UX and Movies
You’ve got to love the portrayal of computers in films!
Take Independence Day and the blowing up of the Aliens mother ship.
Amazingly the clever boffins not only managed to find out that the Alien ship oddly was using MacOS/UNIX as their operating system but also apparently they had a spare USB port or network cable that miraculously also fitted and connected to the humans MacBook.
Now assuming all that was by some galactic chance possible, the boffins and coders rushing to the president with the solution hesitated and said ‘wait a minute’ we need the time of a UX expert to implement a loading bar!
This of course was for us ‘the viewer’, in reality if it was possible it would be done via a line command in a terminal window, but hey watching these films of course meant we left all logic at the cinema door entrance anyway, so why worry about it!
Meanwhile the virus merrily loads with a huge loading bar on screen in to the alien ship’s operating system and the ship blows up, just after the hero escapes of course! Great 3D graphics though in the film, mind you back on the screen with the huge chunky loading bar you think they could have at least included that annoying delay at 80% that always happens when you try and upload files!
UI = User Interface
UX = User Experience
(2/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[30/4/16] Monet’s wife on her death bed and when your eyes become cameras.
Monet’s wife Camille on her death bed – 1879 – Monet
You know when you’ve been painting a lot, you sit in a pub and you are looking at the colours in the pint glass and planning how you would paint it instead of getting on with it and drinking it!
Monet famously managed to upset himself a lot when he realised at his wife’s death bed he was analysing the colours across his dead wife’s face and thinking how it would paint it.
No doubt to purge this upsetting emotion he went ahead and painted it.
A very great artist and if you haven’t been and are able to, go and visit his home and garden in Giverny outside of Paris it’s also a great way of meeting a lot of Japanese and Scandinavians if you haven’t already been to those nations and regions….!
(30/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[29/4/16] Fashion, haircuts and the internet
Fashion up until the internet moved at the pace of a person walking down a high street and by the day from a newspaper, and a month from a magazine.
That pace allowed trends to establish themselves and fashion had enough inertia to hang around.
These days an image seen in London can be seen in Sydney, via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest in less than a second. The ripples of fashion that once rippled out and bounced back in eventually different versions, can now not even be seen and fashion has been mashed!
Take the haircut, now these day I have very little choice in this department, but right now I’m certain there is no clear fashion, there’s long, short, swept back etc etc you name it.
Todays super fast communication instead of spreading the cycles of fashion trends, has flattened them in to a world where you get your hair cut as you like, where women wear the dress length they prefer and as much as stores want to present a new fashion to generate more turnover its increasingly being ignored…..a good thing too!
(29/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[28/4/16] Michelangelo. Slaves and ‘work in progress’.
Michelangelo and Da Vinci for me are in a league of their own, a league of two. Not unlike I think Mozart and Beethoven.
The artist Michelangelo is most famous for works like the statue of ‘David’ in Florence and the magnificent ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome.
…..but even as a young teenager who was more interested in basketball and where the next ice cream was coming from it was very obvious to me how brilliant the ‘slave’ sculptures were in Florence. My dad was a tour guide for American tour groups across Europe so as kids we regularly taken across Europe and were very lucky to see many interesting places and the gallery where the David stands in Florence also houses these slave statues that appear as if they are breaking out of the marble that contains them.
Many of the statues are unfinished and you can see the marks of the carvings from the artist as he finds the shapes of the figures within the marble blocks.
Clearly no where as finished and polished as the David but for me far more real and dynamic and show I think that sometimes a great artists best work is not always his most famous, and also not necessarily the work that is considered finished!
(28/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[28/4/16] I heard just today the very sad news via his granddaughter that Patrick George passed away last Saturday, I did not know, but I’m pleased that I could pay my respects to him, and at the right time.
(28/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[27/4/16] Patrick George, English Landscape painter
Hickbush – Tate Gallery – Patrick George
Patrick George along with Euan Uglow were my tutors at the Slade.
Euan Uglow sadly passed away 16 years ago, but Patrick is still with us and must be around 95 now and having seen a recent book and film on him he’s still working!
His very best work over the years for me is the outstanding landscape painting in Britain for the last 100 years.
The focus and intensity and sheer determination to go back to the same spot every year on some paintings translates and is seen in the clearly studied marks and brush work on the canvases, no mark is wasted or unintended in his work.
The life rooms at the Slade in my years were on the top floor spread over four or five rooms. My first two years of the four I spent at the Slade were in those rooms.
I certainly learnt some drawing and painting discipline there. I remember well Patrick’s entrance in to the room while we were painting the life model, he would enter sideways determined to make as little disturbance as possible. His manner was always quiet and understated but everything was said with intelligence and he would try not to influence the young artists in how they worked and you sensed he never stopped learning himself, which has to be a very healthy thing.
One other thing I remember is that he always wore the same clothes, clean of course, I suspect he bought the same black polo neck and brown cords in bulk each year.
He was of course way ahead of his time, Steve Jobs of Apple did the same thing, but with Levis instead of the cords!
Patrick’s paintings capture the English countryside in a way that continues the great traditions of Constable and Turner and with a relevance to our own times.
(27/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[26/4/16] Architecture: Dorchester and Hemel Hempstead. How to get Architecture wrong….
Both these towns need their new buildings to be pulled down and designed and built again for very different reasons.
Why did architects build towns using concrete that stains in the English rain?
They might have looked like some sort of bright brutalist post modernism when they were first built, but they now look like the terrible mascara run faces of modernist architecture.
Hemel Hempstead – blocks of bricks and concrete
We have a well meaning royal prince in Prince Charles who clearly does not understand architecture, it needs to be of its time, good or bad! (Unless it’s as bad as Hemel Hempstead new town).
In Dorchester there is now a newly built ‘old town’ of residential houses that look and feel like a Disney theme park.
You can not build character in to a building it develops overtime influenced by its environment and humans that inhabit it.
Both towns have architecture that is so bad that they need to knock it down and start again!
Dorchester – ‘twee’ architecture that Disney would be proud of….
(26/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[25/4/16] The colour of the sky and the colour of the sea…
Now in case you didn’t know the sky is not blue and neither is the sea, it isn’t green either.
Every colour under the sun (or moon) is in the sea and sky at one time or other.
From the bright white yellows hitting the edge of clouds and the grey mauves that are that clouds shadows, to the deep reds that you can see in a stormy sea.
I remember watching the TV last year when it was the solar eclipse and a reporter walked up to a very brave painter by the sea who had decided to capture the event on canvas and the reporter seeing reds and oranges on his palette announced to the nation on live TV that, if he was painting the sea and sky he’d wasn’t going to need those colours…..
…..sad really as the reporter had clearly never properly looked at either!
Take a look at the colours in the sky and sea in this Monet painting…..
(26/5/16) Dom Burkhalter
[23/4/16] Design: amazing, fantastic, brilliant, perfect …and devalued words.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I’m increasingly weary of hearing people describing ordinary work as ‘amazing’ when it isn’t.
In fact how many times during the course of a day do you hear people now describe something as ‘perfect’ – it appears to be almost compulsory now in a digital agency. If not that, things are ‘brilliant’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘extraordinary’!
The problem is when something really is amazing and brilliant the words have been devalued and people have nothing to say! Literally they go quiet, can’t find the words….they have ‘nowhere to verbally go’!
They will stand in front of a Degas and have nothing to say because they’ve just described the awful hight street coffee they’ve just bought as amazing !
Combing the Hair – Degas.
(23/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[22/4/16] Gainsborough and picture balance.
This is one of my favourite paintings, I like particularly the flat areas of cover describing perfectly the English landscape.
Mr and Mrs Andrews.
Gainsborough has balanced the work with 40% of the painting to the left more or less filled with the English landed gentry and the other 60% filled with the beautiful English landscape.
No prizes to which part of the picture I prefer, but as a whole it’s a work of art with its balance and use of colour that captures the English countryside brilliantly, and when I’m abroad in some sun drenched and barren country side, it’s the idyllic view I will always fondly remember of England.
It is for me this is the greatest of all English landscape paintings.
(22/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[21/4/16] Van Gogh and crossing the road.
History tends to sanitise the real story, I wonder if Van Gogh was alive now and walking down the street towards you muttering to himself covered in paint, would you cross the street to avoid what appeared to be a mad man walking to you?
He was probably a very intense rather scary individual.
The intensity shows itself in his brilliant paintings. The blue self portrait here is magnificent, as are the beautiful paintings of blossoming trees and vast majority of his other work.
I wonder how many gallery owners these days lock the door to the eccentric artists that would probably be too much trouble to work with, but spend all their time shouting the praises of that genius Van Gogh!
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life, but now his work is priceless and greater than most of the art produced in the last 200 years, it would be really good to be able to see his paintings again as if for the first time, with fresh eyes.
(21/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[20/4/16] Which is the best Beatle album cover?
Well like most things to do with art and music this question is very subjective and influenced by many thousands of factors. A lot of people will have Sgt. Pepper as their favourite, designed by Peter Blake who famously only got £200 for the work, but I guess also a fame multiple of about x5 from it!
Then there is Revolver drawn by Klaus Voorman which has to be in the top three of the Beatle album covers. Plus Abbey Road must also find its way in to the top three somehow!….this is starting to sound like the number of vice-presidents in a US Multinational company!….
….but my favourite is the White album, because it’s just that simple white cover with the embossed ‘The Beatles’ on it and just the four black and white photos inside. It was originally called at release ‘The Beatles’ but the public called it the ‘White album’ and that name has stuck.
It of course really should have been just a brilliant one disk album rather than a double as some of the songs are not as strong. I never really could get myself to like Glass Onion, or Rocky Racoon. I guess the success of Sgt. Pepper resulted in the clever flip to the other extreme in the album cover design, but they just couldn’t stop themselves and remove songs to make what would have been the great follow up album.
As a Beatle fan currently living in Liverpool it has many advantages as there’s always some event linked to the Beatles going on and back in 2014 a Beatle fan who only collected the White album showed his collection at the very good FACT cinema and arts centre in Liverpool (see the link below).
(20/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[19/4/16] Dark to light, light to dark and Vuillard.
One of the first things they tell you at Art school is that when painting watercolours you paint from light to dark, so layer after layer of increasingly darker colours. With oil paints on the other-hand it’s dark to light adding layers of increasingly lighter colours.
As an oil painter the next thing they give you is a blank very white canvas, which makes no sense at all! It took a while to realise that painting a dark base colour over a white canvas in oils was a very good move. Now that is not a definite, many artists prefer to work on a white canvas and some put a base colour down that is very bright. I’ve seen recently a painter who used a bright red that in his words gave the canvases a zing, which it did and was interesting for it.
I prefer to use a mixture of colours but predominately blues and purples as those are normally the colours found in shadows where light hits and casts a strong shadow.
Of course the second thing you are taught in art school is that shadows will contain the spectral opposite colour in them of the object that is casting the shadow. So for the sake of argument an orange will have a blueish shadow, these rules of course are very strongly influenced by what is around the objects etc.
Back to backgrounds, and one of my favourite painters, Vuillard would invariably use this light caramel brown colour, that would become the outline of many of the beautiful interior and exterior paintings. Along with Bonnard his good friend creating some of the most beautiful paintings of the last 100 years.
The human eye unconsciously takes in these background colours and I think paintings can feel more ‘real’ to the viewer as they are without knowing seeing far more than they realise when they take in a scene, possibly adding memories of objects and colours from their brain in a mental hyperlink between visual sensations and memories.
This probably explains why colour photos never quite capture a scene, it’s because the human brain is adding all sorts of layers and links to the scene that are unique to the individual viewer and can not be captured in a photograph.
(19/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[18/4/16] Graphic design, TV soaps and killers who don’t swear.
In Eastenders the long running BBC1 Soap opera their graphic department just can’t help themselves.
It’s probably because they’ve entered a world where killers don’t swear. Albert square must be the most dangerous place to live in the world, nobody living there has not murdered someone or does not know someone whose been murdered within a mile of the Queen Victoria pub!
Worse still characters from the story will leave the screen for over 6 months and come back with completely different heads, it’s almost too much to imagine what terrible torture they must have gone through to have their heads swapped! This appears to happen elsewhere as in Salford and a street called Coronation street where they also don’t swear but with northern accents.
You can imagine the leaders of South American drug cartels in taking a trip to Europe warn their minders that they don’t want to go anywhere near that square in the east end of London where the Kray’s must have feared to tread for fear of being murdered without reason…..
….but back to the BBC graphic department that work on the set of Eastenders.
They just can’t stop themselves from writing the most beautiful crafted and clear menus that any London Cafe has ever seen in Ian Beales cafe (the 4 wives, 3 murders and case of mistaken identity family) . These type of resteraunts in reality serve day in day out my favourite meal; The Full English breakfast, but none have ever had a readable menu on a wall.
The same visual error occurs when a BBC drama shows a street protest with placards, they have all been made by a skilled graphic designer, no letters are squeezed in at the end because the writer has miscalculated the spacing, as in the real world!
What the producer needs to do is get the studio onsite doctor to write the menus on the wall as their writing is traditionally unreadable based on any prescription written for the public. That way along with a few swear words, poor design can help make their world feel more real.
(18/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[16/4/16] The Gaudi contradiction.
A great architect and few things more amazing than seeing a cathedral being built while you grow up, as you visit Barcelona maybe once every 10 years over the last 40 years.
I like even more the relatively small street house Casa Batlló but I sometimes wonder if it’s because it stands out so much against the bland more conventional Spanish city centre buildings that surround it. These standard 20th century, brick, concrete and glass buildings with their straight vertical and horizontal lines contrast hugely with Gaudi’s organic shell and bone like curved building.
But what if….
…. on that street all the buildings looked like Gaudi’s building and in the middle was the minimalist concrete and glass 1950s building. I bet there would be crowds gathered standing outs side admiring the purity of line and it’s simple organisation compared to the unpredictable quirky Gaudi buildings!
Humans are strange….they don’t usually like things that stand out and are different, but that they do when they look at architecture. Maybe this is understandable as so many of the buildings we live in now look exactly the same.
(16/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[15/4/16] Henry Moore and Artists that fall out of fashion
It could well be that if a major artist does not have a retrospective every 10 years they run the risk of falling out of the general publics consciousness and become unfashionable.
Henry Moore the great British sculpture seems to be suffering that fate.
I can remember in the 1980s painting at Kenwood house next to the Henry Moore sculpture looking across the lake where the outside concert arena is. I also remember the elderly couple walking up with the gentleman taking an interest in the landscape I was painting. Only for the wife to pull him away saying “careful he might be trying to sell the painting”. Which kept me laughing for the rest of the morning. Ironically that large landscape was the only painting I sold at my degree show. Sold to the government / NHS and bought by Hugh Trevor Ropers brother I remember. The one the thought he’d found Hitlers diaries at roughly the same time as my degree show. No connection but interesting all the same!
The sale paid for that summers holiday…..
Meanwhile back to Henry Moore, I’ve always liked his sculptures but like even more his World War II underground drawings. The drawings in the tunnel, are very haunting and remind me each time I see them of the recent film ‘Atonement’ and it’s sad ending.
I hope Henry Moore and his work stay long in our memory, a truly great artist!
(15/4/16) Dom Burkhalter.
[14/4/16] Banksy and the Internet
Would Banksy’s work be seen and known outside its local neighbourhoods without social media and the internet that spreads the word?
Banksy himself confirms the work is genuine by posting confirmation and image on his own site.
Banksy’s work get very odd reactions we get:
- People trying to cash in by taking whole walls down to keep the work and then try and sell it.
- Local councils painting over them as they are too dim to recognise it.
- The mentally disturbed who damage his work or try and deface it by throwing paint it.
- The downright jealous who try and damage it, because the best they can do is write their name with aerosol can.
….and at the end of the day he remains probably the most influential artist of today.
Though sadly his work is so topical that in 100 years time no one will remember what the ‘argument’ was about!
(14/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[13/4/16] The ability to draw but not having to say versus moderate drawing ability with lots to say.
Paul Cezanne was a great artist, the father of cubism and in his painting of these apples one of the most beautiful paintings ever painted!
But he wasn’t very good at drawing, and you know what it never mattered because of the intensity of his drawing compensated for the lack of ability. No doubt a bit controversial but for me it underlines the difference between those many artists who have great technical skill, but have absolutely nothing to say. Where as there are few artists that have moderate drawing ability but a huge amount to say! In Cezanne he looked at the structure of what he was looking at and in the colours of this still life keeps something alive that died and left us a long time ago.
(13/4/16) Dom Burkhalter.
[12/4/16] The art of looking
One of the first things you learn as an Art Teacher, is to try and get your students to look at what they are drawing!
You would think it would be obvious, but take a class of children to a field full of horses and tell them to draw a horse in front of them and what they will do is spend 5% of their time looking at a horse and 95% of the time looking at the paper they are drawing on. What they will be drawing is a horse basically from memory. They’ve not really understood that you draw what you see in front of you.
I’m not counting of course the percentage of time they will be mucking about trying to get their best friend to walk in a cow pat, or climb trees etc!
The best artists will spend most of their time looking at what they are drawing or painting and just the 5% of their time at the canvas or pallet.
One of my tutors at the Slade was Euan Uglow a very talented painter who spent hours looking at his subject, and the models spent many hours in the same pose. Just look at how much red there is in the lower leg of the model in this painting, for a very obvious reason she’s been in that pose for many hours!
It’s on of the great things about painting, it makes you look fully at things and in the process appreciate and get more from what’s around you.
(12/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[11/4/16] Holbein the greatest ever draughtsman.
Holbein the younger is the greatest draughtsman that ever lived.
Not only is his drawing brilliant but because he was the court artist during Henry VIII’s reign we have now the equivalent of today’s digital photos of what the ‘wheelers and dealers’ of Tudor England looked like. ….and no doubt in many ways capture better how they really were than any digital photo could.
Last year (2015) in the UK the BBC showed the series ‘Wolf Hall’ which was rightly very well received and in Mark Rylance there was some of the best acting that’s appeared on any screen. Amazing how a millisecond more of saying nothing can add weight to the moment!
He plays Thomas Cromwell and in the books by Hilary Mantel she clearly portrays him in a sympathetic manner. But one look of the painting of Thomas Cromwell ‘by/after’ Holbein tells you another story. It’s always very risky to generalise but humans tend to sum people up within the first few seconds of meeting them. In the painting we see a mean looking narrow eyed almost ‘twisted’ face. There is no kind and considerate early renaissance man in this painting. This is a ruthless unpleasant individual who probably like most of his contemporaries fought and thought his way to the top of court politics.
Holbein’s drawings and the quality and weight of the line are unmatched by anyone and that includes all the great Renaissance artists. No doubt he didn’t know any different and was luckier than most but I would imagine it could be quite difficult to keep a steady hand knowing if you don’t capture the likeness correctly the individual has the power to cut your head off! The desire of the sitter to be made to look good, was probably thankfully out weighed by the awe that these drawings had on seeing themselves as others saw them with their peers and family saying no doubt that it was like magic and that the artist had captured the sitter on paper or canvas.
(Which reminds me of the great joke in the film Crocodile Dundee where the aborigine tells Dundee that he can’t take his picture. “Why not?” says Dundee “is it because you fear it will steal your soul”….and the aborigine says no, “it’s because you’ve got the lens cap on!” )
If I could own only one picture it would be a drawing, one by Holbein…..
(11/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[9/4/16] Twigs on Gallery floors
I was lucky enough to visit Venice and Venice Biennale last year. First time we had been and it reminded me a bit of San Diego zoo, but instead of animal enclosures each small building had national artist representatives.
Like most large art exhibitions it becomes sensory over load, but sure enough and with the predictability of rain on the first day of the cricket season in the Dutch (or was it Sweden’s) enclosure / building there was the compulsory twigs and branches on the floor piece. It can’t be the same artist that does this work all around the world, there must be a branch movement of artists that go through woods collecting twigs of all sizes to take to galleries and put in the middle of floors.
It’s tedious rubbish, and it would be better used to keep people warm!
There was also a large work that looked like an explosion on a BBC Dr Who set, and regrettably in the Swiss cage/building a tank full of fluid that must have been done as many times as sunflowers in a vase, only with a fraction of the impact.
(9/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
(8/4/16) The shape of cars
If the most aero dynamic shape for a car is the tear drop shape, then surely all cars will eventually be that shape?!
If that’s the case and it’s hard to see an argument against that, then being a car designer must be one of the most depressing design jobs in the world! As you know what it should look like and what it will look like, but all the steps to it are limited and dictated to you by current fashion.
Decade by decade, like a moving glacier the design for all cars are moving slowly to that tear drop shape.
I guess all that will be left will be to debate the colour.
Car lovers will look back with misty eyes at the boxy Volvo of the 1980s and long for those 90 degree corners!
[08/04/16] Dom Burkhalter
[7/4/16] Renoir, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I like many Renoir paintings, many are without doubt beautiful, on the other hand some are down right awful.
Indeed if I was given one of these bad ones I’d sell it as soon as I could and not just because of the money, but because it looked like it had been painted with cotton wool with all the style and texture of Donald Trumps hair on windy day!
Now, one of my favourite films is the French film Amelie, for many reasons, but I love the way the obsessive painter in the film keeps painting the same Renoir. It has real charm, both the film and the painting he chooses, unlike unfortunately many of the other paintings.
It’s a fact that great artists don’t always paint consistently great paintings, we have to accept that the odd bad one is going to be there and be honest about it, not pretend it’s a masterpiece when it isn’t!
At the same time, I’m sure bad painters too must also every now and then make an exception and produce a good painting!
I saw this link about a Renoir protests a few months ago, if I’d been there I would have joined them, but only to protest about showing the bad ones!
(7/4/16) Dom Burkhalter.
[6/4/16] Henry Tonks, Francis Bacon and Jazz.
Francis Bacon for me is a bit like Jazz music, I want to like it, even feel I should like it, that nagging feeling that I’m missing out because I don’t really like it.
Then last year I saw the paintings by Henry Tonks of World War I scarred victims that have come back from the front and realised these are the source and are the really great paintings and I would be amazed if they hadn’t influenced Bacon’s work. Look at the faces!….search on the Internet for more of these harrowing but brilliantly drawn works of art!
This body of work was highlighted by Simon Schama in his BBC painting series last year, and as soon as I saw it I was convinced of where Bacon got his inspiration from.
So I’ll keep trying to like Bacon, and Jazz for that matter I but know where the original brilliance is!
(6/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[5/4/16] The chair is like a font, a short note.
It’s like a font because people don’t see them, but a badly designed font will be as comfortable on the eye as a chair is on your back!
With most areas good font design is taken for granted but like the terrible actor in your least favourite sitcom it stands out like a sore thumb when done badly or used in the wrong place!
(5/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[4/4/16] The Mona Lisa is a chair
It’s a painting that has become so familiar it has become like a chair, you don’t think twice about it, it’s taken granted and everywhere you turn you are told by all that it’s the greatest painting ever painted. It’s certainly in my opinion painted by the greatest genius that ever lived.
If he had access to today’s technology I doubt things like cancer would still be a around, we’d all be living longer and dying of something different!
The Mona Lisa seems faded these days the colours have deteriorated. They must have sung out when it was first painted. The brilliance that is there can still be seen in the clever visual tricks that da Vinci used in the painting to trigger the viewers brain to filling in the blanks in with their imagination.
He kept the edges of the mouth and eyes blurred this we fill in with our visual expectations giving the picture life that other paintings don’t have, even now in its faded glory. A bit like the Napoleonic flags on display further along Seine at Les Invaildes.
Only the very young seeing the painting for the first time probably in a reproduction will appreciate it or may well wonder what the fuss is about, until they too are told again that its the greatest painting ever painted.
For older generations it’s a painting as familiar as their seating arrangements in their dining rooms and is taken for granted, doesn’t get a second glance – just like the chair!
(4/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[2/4/16] The foundation of all good painting….
….is drawing. You wouldn’t think Jackson Pollock was the obvious example of good drawing, but it is. If he didn’t have good eye hand coordination and the drawing skill, the paint he flicked and poured on the canvases stretched across the floors would not have landed where he wanted it to!
Hours and hours of life drawing classes are probably still the basis of any good artists training. Not that different to Pele, Messi or Cruyff kicking the football against the wall for hours till the skill has become fine tuned and the ball does exactly what the brain wants it to do with the minimum time needed for thought, indeed with out the need to think about it. The great football players will run with the ball as if it’s glued to their feet!
For the artist the brush goes exactly where they want it to go with the level of pressure that they wanted with out any conscious thought, the brain can focus on what they are seeing and be influenced by what they see and all the other thoughts that are swirling in their minds influencing the painting and how it will appear.
If you want to be a painter, draw!
(2/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[1/4/16] Red walls, gold frames and spectral opposites.
The first thing you are taught on an Art foundation course and probably in some of the best schools is to paint a series of squares approx. 2cm x 2cm of various primary and secondary colours and then surround them with a broad line of colour maybe 1cm thick. The exercise is to show for example if you surrounded a primary green with a blue and the same primary green with a red. The green surrounded by the red would appear more green! This was because the red is a spectral opposite to the green and makes the green ‘sing’ out compared to the green square surrounded by blue.
Why on earth do some galleries have colourful walls, some including major national galleries have walls painted in or wallpapers of red! That taking in to account our basic knowledge of foundation school art means the greens in those paintings that hang there will stand out, far more than artist had in mind. Why do galleries do that, is the curator bored?
Then there’s frames, I will where possible only use black or white frames, they are not colours. (Something else the Foundation course taught me).
Why the gold frames all round the world? What’s the spectral opposite of orange/gold, well that’s blue, so the colours in that painting will have stronger blues than the painter saw then when he first stood in front of the canvas. I quite like many of the great ornate frames that you see in galleries but more I suspect because of the quality of the craftsmanship in making the frame than anything it brings to the painting it surrounds!
(1/4/16) Dom Burkhalter
[31/3/16] Was Turner the first Impressionist?
Joseph Turner, Snow_Storm- Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
People like to pigeon hole art, in fact they like things to fit neatly in to a category in just about any part of life!
When it comes to art people are not used to seeing painters painting outside so when I was painting on the edge of the Wirral last year when people passed by you could see them mentally trying to search their memory banks on what was the right response on seeing a painter out doors for nearly all of them it was the first time so there was no precedent. So it would normally be “do you sell those mate”, or because it was Liverpool there would be humour to, and “can you paint my front hall way, it needs doing” etc.
The same goes for periods in Art, with Impressionism many will tell you it started with Delecroux and Manet through to the late post impressionists before Picasso arrived and stirred things up!
Who was the first impressionist? Well I’d say Turner, looking at those seascapes, I don’t see there chocolate box gloss or the sentimentality of Constable. That’s Impressionism that is in the swirl of sea and air.
Move further back and look at Rembrandt’s brilliant portraits and the free brushwork and layers of paint in his paintings, they are closer to the works of many post impressionists than to any other period.
So maybe it would be wise to think of Impressionism as not a style of art that centred around France in the late 1800s and early 1900s and to think of it of a way of painting that’s been with us since the start of when humans picked up a paint brush and squared up to a canvas!
Dom Burkhalter (31/3/16)
[30/3/16] How do you know if you are looking at a great work of art?
It’s simple the great works of art all look as if they could have been painted yesterday, they look fresh and as if they were only few hours from having been completed in the artists studio.
This is not because they’ve just been cleaned, but because the energy that created them is so strong and the quality of work so high that they break free of any timeline and exist in their own timeless space, free of the burden of fashion and style that can pin a work of art in to a cultural cull de sac.
All the very great artists have this, the works of Rembrandt show it in all his major works. The ‘Night Watch’ has this vitality and if you can ignore the costumes the pure life in the paintings make it an image that is as real today as when it was painted.
Botticelli’s ‘Venus’ feels regardless of its Renaissance style as if it to could have been painted just a few weeks ago.
On the other hand any work that you can pin to a particular year or decade you can guarantee is not great, and that in my opinion goes for any work of art or design. A 1960s work clearly from that period or a mural that can be pinned to year somewhere in the 1490s all may well be worthy, even very good, but don’t achieve the level of greatness that the very best art reaches, an art that never tires and never grows old!
Dom Burkhalter (30/3/16)
[29/3/16] When does it stop being a masterpiece? The Emperors Clothes.
Titian: Portrait of Gerolamo
Great art, but if what made it great was the brilliant subtle shades of colour and juxtaposition of tones when it was painted……
…..what is it now?
As the colours and tones over the centuries have changed and at very different rates. That is if only air has touched it and not the hand of some well intentioned restorer.
The line between very great art and good art is a very subtle and fine line. Are we calling this great art because of its drawing or composition alone? The colours and tones are certainly not what they were when first painted!
So are we guilty of standing in front of many paintings and telling all that will hear that its a ‘masterpiece’ when it may well have been at some stage, but is not any more!?
Dom Burkhalter (29/3/16)
[28/3/16] Edward Hopper – Night Hawks
Painted by Hopper in 1942 like most of his paintings the theme is solitude, space, light and shadow.
Most of his paintings had a daylight theme allowing him to show the contrast of light and dark, mostly through light hitting the side of American architecture casting shadows across an American rural or urban landscape. Here he shows the light/dark contrast in the bright yellow bar walls of ‘Phillies’ against the dark of the urban street corner.
Hoppers work gets more popular as each decade passes. I remember seeing a retrospective of his work at the Hayward Gallery, London in the 1980s, and even now sitting next to me in the Domby Gallery, Southport is the catalogue from that exhibition.
His work was based on either a series of sketches taken in to the studio and completed, or painted outdoors in the wide open American countryside. Like Degas he preferred to work in the studio where the rules change and the artist has control of the elements and time. Outside the weather can change at a greater pace than the clock that already moves too quickly, and work can not move at any slower pace without spinning out of control, that or paint a series of Monet-like time essays as per his haystacks or Rouen cathedral works.
Here with Night Hawks, Edward Hopper has given enough space between the characters in the painting to make them feel alone.
Even the couple are not ‘close’ and the space and emptiness echoes out to the empty street. The interior space is empty too, no images on any wall and the big glass windows have no curtains or adverts to break up the empty areas, it could be a film set where all the extras and props have been taken away leaving the story’s characters waiting for the next scene, the next day.
Dom Burkhalter (28/3/16)