The Cartwheeling Dean–an old friend returns

The Cartwheeling Dean

I did this painting in 2011, the year of the Royal Wedding, when William married Kate in Westminster Abbey. You may remember after the ceremony, that the Dean of Westminster did a cartwheel down the aisle, after the royal party had left, of course. Just something he did out of pure joy I imagine

The village of Pirbright, not far from where I live, and where I paint from time to time, used to put on an annual scarecrow festival, and the skill and artistry that went into making these scarecrows had to be seen. Tableaux usually of different things, book titles, events etc. In the parish church, a complete tableau of the wedding was created. It was amazing. I didn’t take a picture. I wish I had

Included in the scene, was the cartwheeling dean. I did photograph him and painted him later. I took him to local exhibitions, thinking someone would want him but nobody did. Eventually I sold him online and he went to someone in the north-east, and how strange is that. The man who bought him, wrote to me, and told me that he looked at this painting every morning and it made him smile. It was worth painting him just for that.

However, years later someone in the village is writing a book entitled ” Pirbright in Art”, and artists have been asked to submit paintings of, and around the village. I have sent in a selection, including the cartwheeling dean. It would be nice if he was included. We shall have to see.

Book Illustration… the continuing story

The Three Mice Witches

I referred to the illustrations I have been doing in a previous post. I have enjoyed doing these, and as always when you try something different, you tend to surprise yourself.

John the author, a professional actor, whose tour has been interrupted by lockdown, which as everyone knows has closed theatres throughout the land, produced delightful sketches and memories on social media. Such was the response, that he collected them together into an anthology. I was asked to provide illustrations for the various chapters, just as visual footnotes, which I hope has done justice to the book.

The works of Shakespeare, as with many other well known pieces, crop up often. The Scottish play is no exception. Why is it unlucky to mention that play by name? Theatre folk are notoriously superstitious. Who else would say “break a leg” to someone just going on? I don’t know but must check it out before going further

One view put forward is that Shakespeare used actual spells during the witch’s incantations, by which I mean spells that witches used. I am not able to say whether they worked or not. It has also been pointed out that MacBeth, being a short play, was put on, at times of emergency, such as sickness amongst the cast. It came to be associated with misfortune. That sounds more feasible, but we don’t really know

As you can see the three witch mice are in full incantation. They are wearing their masks or their ‘blinds’, and they are looking convincing. If they are not convincing, they certainly look frightening. I wonder if we shall see them in print. I believe there is interest from two publishers, but of course it will depend on the deal. We shall have to see

Changing tack for the moment, I sold Horses in the Wetlands yesterday to a buyer in America. Always an extra buzz when the sale is international, I’m not sure why. Anyway the picture was picked up at lunchtime, and is probably going through Heathrow as I write this. In a year when real exhibitions were not possible, online sales have proved a godsend . I will leave with a reminder of the image

Horses in the Wetlands

Book Illustrating-a fresh departure

Three Blind Mice

A good friend of ours, a professional actor and director, asked me if I would do some illustrations for a book he was writing. Only once before had I done that sort of work, so I was apprehensive, but still said yes

Covid 19 hit the acting community hard, as theatres were closed. John was on tour for the second year of the Mouse Trap, which had had a very successful first year. The decision to cancel the tour was quick. This all happened as we moved into Lock Down 1, which seems a long time ago now, March/April I think

A gloomy time. We, my wife and I were classed as vulnerable and had to stay in. Food was brought to us by family and friends and where possible in food boxes from businesses that sprang up to cater for the need. Queues at supermarkets became normal, as did senseless shortages caused by panic buying. Our health service was overrun, and staff close to breaking

During this miserable time, social media inter alia provided light relief. People wrote poetry, some painted and so on, and put their offering on Facebook or similar, just for us all to read something light

John was one of those who posted regularly. Poetry, quotations, charming anecdotes from his boyhood in Swansea, and with his gift for characterisation, the people he wrote about came to life. We started to look forward to his readings, as by now he was delivering them in person. As time went on friends suggested that he compiled these readings into a book and so he began to do just that

This is about the time that I started to get involved. We none of us knew where to start. I read his first posting again. It dealt with the cruel blow of the tour closing abruptly. Theatre lights were turned off, technicians and actors said an emotional farewell, or else did what actors always do and went down the pub. The idea came up of Three Blind Mice running through the book as a themed image. If you remember the play, this haunting tune is played from time to time and runs through the background. It was so very apt

I did some sketches and put them up for the team to comment. We had a team by now of talented people all making contributions. I refined the sketches until we were all happy. Thus started a very happy and productive collaboration.

My first finished drawing appears above. This was a bleak time. The theatres are closed and the tour is cancelled. The mice are on the streets and forced to beg. Later on we learn that the mice aren’t really blind, as the glasses and blindfolds slip off, but for now times are hard

Later as we go through lock down, things become more hopeful, and some optimism returns, but anxiety is never far away, as we all know. Now we go into a second lockdown, not as severe as the first, as we learn all the time, but nevertheless worrying. The manuscript is with publishers, and who knows but certainly this charming book will delight many if it is given the chance

In the Style of Aubrey Beardsley

Social Distancing using the style of Aubrey Beardsley

During lockdown we formed a zoom art group within the family, mostly for fun, and yet some of the results were interesting. People who were new to art, were surprised at what they could produce. Old hands like me, who have painted in watercolour for some years, found, when they moved to other media, that they were beginners again. Digital painting was beyond me completely, whereas my grandchildren excelled.

We closed the group for various reasons, although the ground we had covered was amazing. My grandchildren had to devote more time to school work, and as lockdown eased different people were going on holiday

We have started the group up again, with grandparents and friends only. Grandchildren are now even more occupied with studies. How it works, one member of the group sets a task. The current one is to use the style of Aubrey Beardsley, the illustrator, within a scene that is topical. All these tasks make you scratch your head, I can tell you.

My effort is shown above. The topical scene is Social Distancing, some thing we are all familiar with, when queuing for the supermarket or any store.I haven’t been terribly original, as I have borrowed from Beardsley’s many drawings. I have added face masks, which is useful, as it saves you drawing faces. I have added the store front from his picture The Girl in the Red Gown

At the same time, we have to introduce another artist, whose work you were reminded of. I chose Utamaro the c18 Japanese artist who works in line like Beardsley. He, Beardsley was in fact influenced by Japanese art, as were many in the c19, especially the French Impressionists

My submission has gone in. We will see what happens and what the next task will be.

In between time, I am working on the Camargue horses. I have transferred the drawing to watercolour paper, which is the tedious part, and have applied the first wash

Sculpture by Simon Gudgeon in Kew Gardens

Leaf Spirit

Just by way of a change, and for some relief from my paintings, let me show this wonderful sculpture in Kew Gardens where we were yesterday

Not a sculptor whose work I know, although obviously world famous to others, I stood in admiration of this piece for quite a long while. Entitled the Leaf Spirit, it put me in mind of our familiar Green Man, the tree spirit that our ancestors worshipped long before Christianity. Not difficult to see why plant life evokes spiritual awakening in the minds of man

The belief persists. We still touch wood as an invocation to ancient spirits to protect us from harm, especially after saying something boastful, which might anger the gods, whichever one we believe in. Possibly a reflex action today, or do we feel uncomfortable if we haven’t done it

I am inspired to attempt a water colour of this piece. I think it would work. Would Simon Gudgeon feel happy about that or perhaps not. Maybe I will ask him, but not today

Leaf Spirit Profile

Horses in the Snow — the finished painting

Horses in the Snow

For some reason, I couldn’t access my blog until now, so a gap of about 10 days. Something seems to have changed in the format and probably I missed the update. However having taken advice, I have tried something different, and bingo, it seems to work

As you can see, I have finished the painting. I quite like it. The pallette was limited which I like. I used transparent brown with violet blend for the dark horses and cobalt blue with vermillion, which made a sort of pinky brown for the pale ones. The same mix only verging towards grey, worked well for shadows on the snow

The snow on the horses’ backs wasn’t so easy. I used the same blue mix with white gouache stroked across the backs of the horses. I am looking at the original now, and I think it looks convincing. I shall be taking the painting down soon, as I shall soon need the easel for something else

An interesting development this week. It would appear that some exhibitions are starting up again, after some months of lockdown. I have been invited to take part in an exhibition over the Christmas period to be held at Denbies Art Gallery near Dorking. Denbies is a well known wine estate with probaly the largest vineyard in the UK. They also have their own art gallery there. I’ve not shown there before so am quite looking forward to it

I shall need to do some pieces specially for it, and will no doubt show them here as I do them

A Hidden Gem near London: The Dorich House Museum

Dorich House, Kingston

We went here a few days ago. An amazing gallery which I didn’t know existed, which had fallen into disrepair, was rescued by Kingston University, and stands a few feet from the wall around Richmond Park. A distance known as a “deer’s leap”

The house was designed by Dora Gordine, a Latvian sculptor, and completed in 1936. She lived there with her husband the Hon.Richard Hare, a scholar of Russian literature and art.

The house is a splendid example of a studio house of the period. The ground and first floor levels were designed for the production and display of her work. A more modest top floor apartment with a roof terrace overlooking Richmond Park, served the couple’s domestic needs

Richard Hare died in 1966. Dora lived until 1991, after which time the house was acquired and renovated by Kingston University. The house now holds the world’s largest collection of Gordine’s work as well as an important collection of Russian art acquired by Hare and Gordine.

There are some wonderful architectural features in the house. My favourite is the Moon Door

Moon Door, Dorich House

The house is on Kingston Vale next to Richmond Park, and is worth a visit if you are able

Tate Britain : William Blake Exhibition, on until 2 February 2020

The Ancient of Days 1827

Just by way of a change from house portraits, which can become monotonous, not for the painter, as each painting is a trip into the unknown, but for the reader of this blog

There is a wonderful exhibition of William Blake’s work at Tate Britain at the moment which runs until 2nd February next year. The painting above, possibly one of his most well known, was on display, and I took this photograph from the hip, whilst dodging other people who were trying to do the same. You were allowed to photograph, provided you didn’t use flash, but I still felt guilty nonetheless

I knew something about Blake, most of us do, but I still learned a lot. I think I will have to go back again, and do the last two rooms again. There was so much detailed stuff, prints, letters etc that the eyes become very tired. Not just his drawings but also his writings were on display. I managed to miss his manuscript of “Tiger, tiger burning bright” which I was cross with myself about.

He was a London lad, growing up in Soho. he enrolled at the Royal Academy, but like others before him, reacted against its rigid teaching. He was a visionary who shared the ideals of medieval Gothic artists

I had never realised that as a print maker he was way ahead of his time. His innovations allowed him to print in colour, and combine texts and images, a technique which enabled him to create a succession of visionary books. In them, he engaged with the most pressing questions of the day, the slave trade, sexual freedom and revolution.

His radical sentiments could have got him arrested, if only the authorities could have understood his obscure message

Through changing fortunes, he realised a burst of creativity near the end of his life, with such great works as illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. I found his vision of Purgatory, somewhat uplifting and comforting. Whether one believes in the concept or not,( and even some catholics, myself included, tend to kick this belief into the long grass), then Blake’s illustrations are helpful. I shall probably attract criticism for that remark

See the exhibition if you can

Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd in Anglesey

Rex Whistler includes himself in his painting

Last week we were in North Wales, staying in Caernarfon, never sure about the spelling, and spending the week looking at some very good National Trust properties

The house I had wanted to see for a long time was Plas Newydd on Anglesey, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey. This houses the magnificent mural painted by Rex Whistler, unfinished due to his untimely death in 1944 in France.

The mural, painted on canvas and at 56 feet reputed to be the longest in the country, is such a wonderful work that it needs to be seen to be appreciated. I took some pictures, but because of the understandable light level in the viewing chamber, these are poor, and I am still debating whether to include them or not.

Whistler had fallen madly in love with Lady Caroline, daughter of the then Marquess, and there are references in the painting. His self portrait I have included above. There is also a painting of Lady Caroline in the picture too

At the far right of the painting are two trees intertwined, one of which is dying. That one represents Whistler who is dying of unrequited love.

The whole thing is of a fantastical scene of a classical harbour with magnificent buildings and ships with an atmospheric backdrop of mountains based on Snowdonia with dramatic cloud formations

At the time he was in great demand for stage sets and murals in great houses. Many times I have admired his work at Mottisfont in Hampshire, and of course in the restaurant at the Tate

The Plas Newydd mural is staggering and just holds you for hours if necessary. My pictures disappoint so I will not include them. There are websites or go and see the real thing

The Italian Chapel on Orkney

I have been away travelling and sadly haven’t touched any painting or drawing. I would like to mention this wonderful place we visited on our trip round the Northern Isles, which is very much connected to real art.

Interior of Italian Chapel

I had to use a postcard for this shot, as when we were there the building was crowded, so a clear shot of the altar was impossible

The chapel was created by Italian POWS in 1943, who were employed building concrete causeways between the islands, which also acted as sea defences against U-boat infiltration. The Royal navy had already lost HMS Royal Oak with 800 lives to an enemy torpedo whilst apparently safe in Scapa Flow, so this work was of great importance.

The Italians requested a chapel, and two Nissen huts were made available, fixed end to end. A man called Domenico Chiocchetti had already been recognised as an artist, and he led the team of interior decorators. He was assisted by Giuseppi Palumbi , a blacksmith and Domenico Buttapasta, a worker in cement

With no materials other than what they could find, they transformed the interior into this beautiful work of art. They were given access to the wrecks in Scapa Flow, some of which were exposed at low tide, and from these anything useful like brass or other exotic materials were obtained.

In 1944, their work done, the POWS were moved south, not before receoiving an assurance from the authorities in Orkney, that the chapel would be preserved. Domenico Chiocchetti’s home town was Moena, and there are strong links between Orkney and Moena. with visits both ways. In 2014, three stations of the cross were stolen and three replacements were carved in Moena and brought over.

Domenico Chiocchetti came back in 1994, and was involved in some restoration work himself

The chapel is one of Orkney’s most important tourist spots and welcomes 100,000 visitors each year

This is my photograph on a very grey day