Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Lorenzo Lotto Portraits Exhibition at the National Gallery 05 Nov 2018 to 10 Feb 2019 FREE

Matthias Wivel explaining Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a Lady as Lucretia
I wasn’t a great fan of Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1557), I much preferred his much better known and much celebrated contemporaries: Raphael (1483-1520), Titian (1488-1576) and of course Michelangelo (1475-1564) my all-time favourite artist. So, when I went to see the National Gallery’s Lorenzo Lotto Portraits exhibition which brings together Lotto’s portraits spanning his entire career, I wasn’t expecting much. I could not have been more wrong.

I found Lorenzo Lotto Portraits a profoundly moving, learning and exciting  experience; I was deeply moved by the quality of Lotto’s portraiture, I learned something very new to me about the framing of paintings from the period, and was really excited to see another innovatively curated exhibition from the brilliant Matthias Wivel the National’s curator of its 16th century Italian paintings. 

Twenty-eight of Lotto’s portraits are presented in chronological over four rooms of the National’s ground floor gallery space. Room one explores Lotto’s work from his time in Treviso (1503-06), room two has his portraits from Bergamo (1513-49), room three those from his time in Venice (1525-49) and finally room 4 is dedicated to his late works.

The Portraits

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman with Gloves (liberale da Pinedel)
Each of Lotto’s portrait has a personality I’d never noticed in his work before, in contrast to his contemporaries Lotto was painting the person not the position. Portraits by Titian and Veronese were monumental, designed to show the status and gravitas of the sitter. Lotto on the other hand seems to reach into the person’s soul capturing their humanity. 

Quoting Bernard Berenson the art historian, who in 1895 wrote in the first monograph on Lotto: [he] was the first Italian painter who was sensitive to the varying status of the human soul. Never before or since has anyone brought out on the face more of the inner life….

I would not go so far, I would look to Leonardo for that crown and later there’s Velasquez, Rembrandt and others. I would however agree with Matthias more measured consideration of Lotto’s portraits, to him they ‘feel more direct, less filtered, than those of his contemporaries notably Titian’s more elevated idealised portraiture…..there is sense of understating what makes each sitter tick’

Titian, Self-Portrait, around 60
Titian, Self-Portrait, around 63
I was particularly struck by one of his late works Portrait of an elderly gentleman with gloves (Liberale da Pinedale). Which Matthias pointed out had some of the profound soul-searching depth to be seen in Rembrandt’s portraits. The sitter’s direct steady, contemplative gaze spoke to me putting me mind not just of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits but also penetrating, autobiographical portraits deep in old age by Picasso and Stanley Spencer.

Picasso, Self-Portrait, 90
Stanley Spencer, Self-Portrait, 68

The Curation

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Andrea Odoni, Installation

The curation is wonderfully innovative as it included objects that relate to or are to be found in the portraits on display, making connections outside the frame, really bringing the portraits to life. 

I first saw the National make this type of connection at another exhibition curated by Matthias Wivel the brilliant (to my eye) Sebastiano and Michelangelo (Matthais‘s 60 min analysis of Sebastiano and Michelangelo on YouTube is well worth watching) which had many sculptures and drawings which related to the works on the display, helping to put the works in context. 

Lorenzo Lotto Portraits similarly has objects on display beside the pictures they are depicted in, notably the famous likeness of the Venetian collector Andrea Odoni from the Royal Collection. It has several of the objects Lotto surrounds Odoni with in his portrait.

The actual sculptures as seen in the painting including the headless Venus, a much admired piece from the collection of a Paduan humanist who owned the original is on display as well as the bust of Hadrian, not the plaster cast owned by Odini, the one of display is the actual original  owned by Cardinal Domenico Grimani, one of the great Venetian  collectors of antiquities at the time, all adding interest to  Lotto’s portrait of Odoni.

Picture Covers 

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Bishop Bernardo de’Rossi, Installation
The objects supporting the portrait of Bishop Bernado de’Rossi in room one introduced me to a completely new view of Renaissance portraiture – the portrait as an active, intimate object.  Its label explained that unlike figures of authority personal, family portraits were kept under lock and key making viewing a much more active experience.

Bishop Bernado de’Rossi portrait would originally have had a cover as shown in the picture above. The frame and its cover seemed to have been separated, miraculously  the cover survives and was on show. Its cover was an allegory of the life of de’Roissi and included his crest. 

Lorenzo Lotto, Bishop Thomas Nigris
There is another example of the picture cover in Bishop Thomas Nigris portrait in room 3 which remarkably is still in its original frame. From its frame we can see that it too once had a cover now sadly lost.

Lorenzo Lotto, Bishop Thomas Nigris Detail showing frame cover
The portrait cover as evidenced in these two portraits  adds a whole new layer of meaning to Lotto’s  and other Renaissance portraits – the portrait as an intimate, revered object only to be seen at a specific time my  particular people. 


I came away really impressed by the range and quality of Lotto’s portraits and the concept of portrait covers was a revelation to me. Matthias Wivel’s curation is excellent, really bringing Lotto’s portraits  to life, enhancing the viewing experience. I recommend anyone interested in Renaissance art then there is something here for you in Lorenzo Lotto Portraits and it’s free!  #Recommended 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Light Show on Westminster Abbey's Great West Door's Black Presence

Patrice Warrener's Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) part of the Lumiere London 2018 was a rare opportunity for me to combine three of my passions: Contemporary Art, Gothic Architecture and Black History.

 Contemporary Art 

Stephen B. Whatley (2014) Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Patrice's use of colour minded me of one my favourite contemporary artists Stephen  B. Whatley. Stephen has a distinctive individual, some might say idiosyncratic, colour palate of pastel greens, blues, pinks, reds and yellows which wash into each other in his oil paintings like water colours creating soft, muted edges between colour field forms in which he creates his images for example Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Patrice's colours are similar and images have those beautiful soft edges found in in Stephen's work.

Patrice Warrener's Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2)
West Door of Westminster Abbey
Gothic Architecture 

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens in France 
He re-imagines the facia of Gothic Cathedral in light as it would have been originally - a riot of colour - not the dull, weathered monochrome we are left with today. The Cathedrals of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries were built literally as heaven on earth made manifest in the lavish gilding and colouring; awesome splendour reinforcing the magnificence, the presence and power of God on Earth. Patrice re-creates for us that sense of awe felt by pilgrims as they approached and entered the church. The picture shows how Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens in France might have looked originally, with its riots of colour just like the  Patrice's colour full West Door.

Patrice Warrener's Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2)
West Door of Westminster Abbey - 10 Modern Martyrs

Crowds viewing the Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2)
Black History

Three Modern Black Martyrs
Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum , Martin Luther King Jnr

The Great West Door of Westminster Abbey celebrates modern martyrs of which not one but three are black.  Their statues are in niches two, three  and five reading from the left: Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum and Martin Luther King Jnr.

Niche Two Manche Masemola
Murdered by her parents for wanting to become a Christian.

Niche Three Janani Luwum
Archbishop Luwun was shot as stood up for his people in the face of the tyrant Idi Amin.

Niche Five Martin Luther King Jnr
The great black American civil rights preacher, teacher and leader.

 Further reading/viewing 

The BBC interactive game  
Gives some idea of how Wells Cathedral might have looked.

How cathedrals might have looked 
A blog post on Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens in France

There is good write up on colour in churches here

Patrice Warrener  The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 1)  Westminster Abbey - Lumiere London 2016

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Jon Daniels (1966 to 2017)

Jon Daniels and me at his Afro Supa Hero Exhibition
Liverpool Slavery Museum 26th May 2016
It was with deep sadness I read of the passing of Jon Daniels on Facebook last week.

I first came across Jon at his exhibition for the Children's Museum which I wrote about on this blog. I was deeply impressed by his aesthetic vision and his love of the black presence in comic books. He combined the two in his wonderfully iconic Afro Supa heroes series. I’m proud of the Afro Supa badge on my hold all.

Jon used an individual, almost idiosyncratic colour palette in his designs - his pastel blues , yellows , green within clearly defined forms and shapes where distinctive , characteristic of Jon - his trademark. The redesign of the facia of  Brixton Advice Centre on Railton Road in Brixton was quintessential Jon - combining his design style with a cultural message - I had to record it for my blog.

Jon made a lasting contribution to my John Blanke Project not just in his A4 , black and white, interpretation of John Blanke as the 'trump card' - one of the most distinctive but, also in his advice and guidance. I named the Project’s social media Twitter and Facebook accounts WhoIsJohnBlanke on advice from Jon as he saw the project as asking questions as to who really was John Blanke, this thought process led me to the Project’s strapline - Imagine the black Tudor trumpeter.

I’ll miss Jon, he had such a brilliant, creative mind who used his design ideas in the most inventive and original ways to communicate with us. I and the John Blanke Project are all the better for having met him. I will always miss him.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Pauline Griffith's Umbrellas

Pauline Griffiths
I love art that makes connections and that has purpose but Pauline Griffith’s practice makes finding the links with lived life challenging , equally many of the reasons as to why Pauline does her work are not immediately apparent. Yet despite the absence of an obvious intention or purpose her work has a  subliminally pleasing attraction  perhaps rooted in English idyosyncracity found in artists like Vivienne Westwood, George & Gilbert and the man who paints chewing gum – Ben Wilson - who I've written about elsewhere on this blog.

Pauline Introduces Her Practice

Pauline dismantles old or broken umbrellas with a view to making the fabric into bags while leaving their frames to create an object d’art. I caught her in the grounds of Guys Hospital at the first stage in her artistic work flow.

Pauline and Umbrella Frames
Should Pauline put half the energy and vitality that she puts into the dismantling  those broken umbrellas into the completed  bags they will be works of art which will at once delight and entertain not to mention have a planet saving recycling intrinsic utility

I plan to keep in touch with Pauline to follow her progress – meanwhile don’t throw away that broken umbrella as you maybe throwing a future work of art.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Learnt from Las Vegas, Applied in London and Liverpool

Preparing for my first Image of the Black in London Galleries tour I looked at how the postmodern influence behind  the Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery was rooted in Robert Venturi’s 1972 influential work Learning From Las Vegas.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign,
Betty Willis 1959
His radical ideas from consideration of the famous Las Vegas Strip with its iconic welcome sign gave way to a new way of thinking about urban architecture as he parodied modernism’s minimalism saying Less is a Bore! The Strip inspired him as buildings made their function and presence known through extravagant individual signage on its buildings.

Stardust sign and hotel front,
Las Vegas, 1961
Where modernism was about space Venturi argued postmodernism was about communication. A Mies van der Rohe modernist building had an intrinsic indifference to its history and location, it could be in any urban space, leading to the modern city having a uniform look and feel regardless of location from London to Los Angeles (or Liverpool).

The Mint. Las Vegas 1957 to 1989
Postmodernism was about context with its buildings fitting in a fun, idiosyncratic way within the settings they found themselves, letting the world know who they are. A postmodernist building fits within its environment. With its name etched into the front and the back of the Sainsbury Wing leave the viewer in on doubt what the building is.

St Martins's Street view
rear of Sainsbury Wing
The Sainsbury Wing's eponymous lettering minded me of the lettering I'd seen in the entrance to the British Libaray and of  a newly built care centre in  my home town Liverpool which I'd often stopped to admire.
Sir Colin St John Wilson (1922 – 2007)
British Library June 1998

Liverpool Primary Care Trust 
Edge Hill Health Centre
Taylor Young Practice 2013

To conclude, from prestigious public buildings exemplified by National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing extension and  The British Library  in London to the functional local buildings like the Health Centre in Liverpool Robert Venturi's Learnings From Las Vegas have been applied. The idea he first highlighted in 1960s Las Vegas urban development finds a place in the buildings of the 21st century from Las Vegas to London to  Liverpool.

BTW ONE the National Gallery's eponymous gold sign on the frieze of its portico is very recent postmodern addition after the Sainsbury Wing

Portico of the National Gallery,
Trafalgar Square
BTW TWO This frieze postmodern signage ain't that new......

Pantheon, Rome, 118–128  AD
Santa Marie Novella, Florence, 1456–1470
For my take on the Santa Marie Novella signage see my post Taken Back to My Comparative Roots

BTW THREE The black presence in the Venturi's Sainsbury Wing is to be found in its faux Egyptian columns which parody the classical Corinthian columns and pilasters and remans us of the African influence on the western canonical art to be found in the Sainsbury Wing. A controversial debate intuited with Dr Martin Bernals' Black Athena hypothesis.

Sainsbury Wing Egyptian Columns (detail)

Egyptian Capitals
(see Wikipedia for more on Egyptian Architecture)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Leah Thorn - Older Women Rock

I didn’t get it at first when Ebun said she was going to be part of Leah Thorn’s Older Women Rock (OWR). Thoughts of aging rock chicks  in leathers recalling and lamenting former glory days came to mind .

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Older Women Rock is for me a brilliant example of the sublation of art in the praxis of life  - the reintegration of art into the very way we live our lives*. A brilliant, thought provoking, bloke challenging multi-sensory,  including taste,  multimedia concept, event and idea.

It would be trite to call OWR multi media as yes, it does mix different media: Leah’s poetry with art, fashion, music, curation, photography. But it goes much further, it brings art into life as OWR creates its own vocabulary to reveal, display and explain the lot of the older woman in society today, making making and revealing connections.

Allie Lee vajazzled
OWR makes manifest the older woman not just as the trope of mother, wife, grandmother, carer  or that old lady living alone but, in roles unfamiliar to too many of us:

As a prisoner – one of the fastest growing demographics in prison today is women over 55 (1)

As a mental health sufferer - 28% of women aged 65 years and over suffer form depression (2)

As living in poverty – 14 per cent of women pensioners live in relative poverty, defined as having incomes below 60 per cent median income after housing costs (3)

OWR brings these issues to light through Leah's fun creative, innovative poems expressed by artists in the novel media of clothes and fashions.

I loved the whole OWR concept.

Leah turns her poetry in to art and fashion,  her words inspire artists to create works based on clothing  to which they applique, embroider words and images in response to Leah’s poetry.  OWR works are then central to a series of  panel discussions, fashion shows, cabaret evenings  with, and about, older women.

Claire Angel screen 
I found several of the poems and their subsequent artefacts very challenging  (for me, a bloke!) specifically the poem button, with its opening lines Vulva lost its youthful lustre and vajazzled's I’ll never have a designer vulva the resultant works leave little to the imagination.

While other works make profound comments, encouraging one to think and reflect on other aspects of the older women's life and times, for example on the presence or rather absence of older women on TV and movie screens  with the poem screen's opening line embroidered into the back of  a cream leather jacket: only men grow old on the screen. Throughout OWR there is resistance, subversion  and rejection of the cliched image of 'the older women'.

Leah Thorn
I found Leah's OWR experience – the poems, the fashion, the art -  engaging, entertaining and thought provoking and not just the artworks works were tasty so was the rock.


* For other examples see my post: Gormley’s Bollards - Great Art or Gormless Artefacts
1 British Society of Criminology
2  Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2015
3 Age UK Evidence Review: Poverty in Later Life

Monday, 2 November 2015

Jon Daniels' ICONS on Railton Road

Jon Daniel’s facia redesign for Brixton Advice Centre’s livens up the junction of Shakespeare Road and Railton Road - Brixton’s Poet’s Corner - with his inspirational eye catching facia - ICONS on Railton Road. Testament to how art and design, form and function can work together - the integration of art into everyday life - making it hard to impossible to tell one from the other.

From the brief for the facia Jon’s approach is simple and eloquent - art: celebrate Brixton’s icons and design: create naturally light but private office space.

Jon has paid respect to the building’s history: it has a blue plaque commemorating CLR James lived there and Race To Day edited by Darcus Howe was produced in the there. Their historic presence is acknowledged in Jon’s iconographic art installation which also includes the pianist Winifred Atwell, the writer Farrukh Dhondy, the poet Linton Kwesei Johnson and the activist Olive Morris, each icon having a strong connection with Brixton. Their grainy, much enlarged back and white images add to the drama of the installation.

The materials Jon has used allows the light to flow through the images so the office space is naturally light yet remains quite private from outside preying eyes.

The inspiration for the colours is particularly interesting as the building had just been painted white, its three doors - one on Shakespeare Road, one on the corner and one on Railton Road- each painted a different colour - Blue , Green and Yellow. Those three colours Jon has referenced in his new logo design for BAC including a witty speech bubble as well as using them in the installation.

.....and this is not the first time Jon's work came to my attention. His excellent curation of the exhibition of AFRO SUPA HERO at the V&A Museum of Childhood I really enjoyed and wrote about earlier on this blog.

 For me this is what art is all about something beautiful with purpose - aesthetic, yet practical - art should touch one’s soul, inspire one’s mind while at the same time be a natural part of our everyday lived lives.  Jon’s Brixton’s icons on BAC’s facia are for me testament to how art can enliven not just our physical but also spiritual circumstances.