Tuesday, 19 November 2019

REVIEW : William Blake at Tate Britain

REVIEW : William Blake
Tate Britain
Until February 2020

Despite having brought Tate's William Blake Newton T shirt and Doc Martens Blake's House of Death inspired shoes I didn't buy the exhibition's catalogue to Tate's vast, all embracing exposition of Blake's work, I'll come back to this matter.

William Blake Newton 1795–c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper,  460 x 600

To celebrate my visit I was wearing two of my favourite works by him Newton and the House of Death so couldn't resist having my picture taken with both works along with the thought 'What would Blake think of me wearing his images?' I'd like to think he'd approved as was an innovator in art in his day so we wearing his work, spreading the word.

William Blake The House of Death 1795–c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper 485 x 610 mm

Blake's work was all here from his early works as a copying artist and engraver thru to his final works - illuminated drawings and engravings. So much to see. The exhibition was packed (3pm Friday afternoon) had to queue to see many of the works, joining a line shuffling past a linear display of his work. The speed of the line was dictated by time taken by those who required deep contemplative views of the works on display. This was not a serious issue as there was so much to see while one waited to reach your piece in the series.

The series I had wanted to see was Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence it had some of the shorter queues as rather than all being displayed lineally they were displayed like on open book in the round - it worked well. They had the highlight of Songs of Innocence there The Tyger famed for its opening lines

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 

Sadly they didn't have the pages I wanted to see on display, more of that later.

I didn't realise just how gifted he was as an artist, copier and engraver. His engraving of Hogarth's 1731 A Scene from the popular play ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ which I know from Tate Britain was wonderful.

A Scene from the popular play ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ William Hogarth original 1731
He was probably paid about £53 for his beautiful commissioned engraving, according to its exhibition plaque. At the same time a tradesman or shopkeeper might have had an income of £80-150 a year and middle class professional earned £200-500 per year so depending on his productivity he might well have had a middle class professional income. His work was a wonderful rendition of the original but it raised a question....

A Scene from the popular play ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ William Blake engraving  1790
I was struck by the question why didn't Hogarth, a good businessman and a master engraver himself, make an engraving of this picture of this popular play sixty years earlier ?

A paper by Marvin A. Carlson [1] argues Hogarth's reluctance to make an engraving of this painting can be found in the satire within the paintings such as the satyr, the lustfull drunken woodland god depicted above the Duke of Bolton, serving iconographically to suggest the satire of both the painting and the play portraying, and reinforcing the Duke of Bolton's lascivious attention on his, then lover, the white-gowned actress Lavinia Fenton playing Polly Peachum. The finger of the satyr's carelessly dropped hand clearly indicates the Duke as the source of his licentiousness. Such pointed satire would be much appreciated in a painting done for a particular patron, but it would have been dangerous in a widely distributed engraving while all the principals were alive and in positions of wealth and influence.

The Little Black Boy

The work I would have loved to have seen on display but sadly wasn't was from Songs of Innocence The Little Black Boy  A christian poem - a dialog between a black mother and her son -  the words of the son speak of the hardship of being black 'But I am black as if bereav'd of light' and his mother's response encouraging him to endure and of love of God, the poem closes with the little boy speaking of the equality of black and white children before God. An anti-slavery poem written in 1787 twenty years before the slave trade was abolished.

As the page wasn't on display I went to the room in the upper level of the Turner Gallery which normally houses Blake's work including a version of The Little Black Boy page. Tate's page was not on display instead there was an excellent little exhibition to compliment The Blake Exhibition - Ancients and Moderns: Legacies of William Blake.  The display showed Blake's influence on British artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the display included works by Sammuel Palmer, Paul Nash and others tackling mystical and religious themes and ideas, but no Little Black Boy....

So I have created my own images....

The Little Black Boy Page from
William Blake (1789) Songs of Innocence
In the three pages' images you can see his work as the engraver, hand finishing the engraving to create an individual, unique work not just simply a page of poetry but a beautiful work of art helping the reader understand and interpret poem.

Songs of Innocence of Experience on sale for 9.99 at Tate's shop
I didn't buy the catalog or the book as I wanted to have The Black Boy set amongst Blake's work to show he was an engraver, an artist, a free thinking individual who believed in humanity, a visionary,  a man ahead of his time.

My take away was just how prolific Blake was -  his mind and hand roamed far and wide producing so many extraordinary images and ideas, many unfathomable, often idiosyncratic but all engaging to one degree or another  - brilliant exhibition, fully recommended!

......one last point I mentioned at the dinner after the last What's Happening in Black British History workshop that I was going to see Tate's William Blake exhibition I was  reminded that Jim Morrison's Doors was named after a work inspired by Blake -  Aludus Huxley's 'Doors of Perception' which takes its title from a phrase  from  Blakes 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell....

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. 
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern" 

[1] Marvin A. Carlson A Fresh Look at Hogarth's "Beggar's Opera" Educational Theatre Journal
Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1975), pp. 30-39 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

REVIEW : David Cobley "All By Himself"

David Cobley All By Himself
The Mall Gallery
10am to 5pm (closes at 1pm on final day)
10 September 2019 to 15 September 2019
Main Gallery 
Admission Free

All By Himself monograph cover
I first came across David Cobley back in 2011 watching Show me the Monet on  BBC 2 TV, its Guardian review was really withering, calling it ‘a format that looked tired after 10 minutes’ and referred to David not by name but as ‘an  unknown artist who values his paintings at £100,000’, that painting All By Myself  is now a play on the title of this major retrospective at the Mall Gallery All by Himself  to which I have the great pleasure of attending its Private View.

I was so looking forward to seeing more of that ‘unknown artist' who regularly exhibits  at the Royal Academy Summer school and has two portraits in the National Portrait Gallery: the celebrated Liverpool comedian, Sir Ken Dodd, (2005) and the Nobel prize winning developmental biologist,  Sir Martin John Evans (2011) , along with a host of other celebrated sitters his work, now selling for many tens of thousands.

It was that £100,000 piece  that stood out for me, it was captivating, ticking all the boxes the Show me the Monet hanging committee were looking for in a work namely ‘originality, technique and emotional impact’ for me David’s work had it all and more.

David’s work is special, particularly his portraits, he has a way with the human face not only extracting the personality but the emotions of the sitter. He looks into their soul quite, unlike any other painter I know,  he has the power of Velasquez, the stillness of Vermeer and the sympathy of Leonardo. He has reinvented portraiture for me.

Summer '71 oil on board 95 x 61.5 cm
Doubt oil on linen 168 x 168 cm
There were many delights on show at All By Myself  from its  very entrance with Summer 71  a very early three quarter length self-portrait in which a confident, 17 year old David looks out at the world, in an open neck white shirt with dark trousers,  his righthand in his trouser  pocket and left arm loosely at his side the epitomy of youthful self-assurance tinged with innocence  A telling contrast to the much later and larger Doubt (1995) self-portrait, completed when David would have been 41. Twenty-seven years after Summer 71 David is not looking out, he is look down, we are below looking up at him, that aura of youthful confidence has given way to a tired introspection that comes with age, perhaps hinted at in the works title.

Bandwagon To Oblivion oil on linen  117 x 213.5 cm
David knows how to capture the human condition be it in in portraiture or in the nude he knows how to capture emotions, feelings. On a purely personal basis I prefer the portraits to the nudes as the faces he portrays tell stories of lived lives, of their happiness, ambition, hope, despair, sadness the ups and downs of the human condition, David’s work expresses and exposes it all.

Two works really demonstrated this for me: How We All Are (2013) and Bandwagon to Oblivion (1992). Here we have Norman Rockwell graphic realism commenting on America life with its vivid colours and compositions colliding with the densely populated human dramas found in the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder or Hieronymus Bosch. Stunning!

Here We All Are [£59,000.00] (2013) oil on linen 200 x 225 cm

The standout work in the Exhbition was the work that which introduced me to David – All By Myself (1998) – still with its £100,000 price tag. Described in the exhibition's packed monograph as
a therapeutic and cathartic picture of a singular subject, himself, but in a plethora of styles by a multiplicity of celebrated artists.
All By Myself  [£100,000] (1995)  oil on linen 121 x 121
It is 80 self- portraits in styles of canonical artists and one self-portrait in his own idiosyncratic, enigmatic style at its centre making 81 portraits in total arranged in a square, 9 image by 9 image format. When I first saw the work I struggled to find: Durer, Chardin, Arcimboldo, Leonardo, de Kooning, Bacon, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Magritte, David, Dali, (12) with a glass  of wine and the assistance of two other Cobley enthusiasts I was able to identify a further eight: Bacon, Klimt, Hockney, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hokusai, Warhol, Escher, Munch. 20 out 80 ! Even then, there were a few we were not fully sure of and where was Rubens, Michelangelo, Rembrandt? Much debate without full agreement those old masters and others wait to be identified by the more knowledgeable. Be great to hear from you if you can name other artists,  please send me its co-ordinates  based on a 9 by 9 grid, bottom left hand corner (1,1)  top right hand is (9,9) so David at the centre is (5,5) and (I’ll give you one of mine!) Picasso (7,2). Look forward to hearing from you.

I thoroughly enjoyed David Cobley's All By Himself  this free exhibition , I recommend it unreservedly, but hurry it closes 15th Sept at 1pm!

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)