Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition at Tate Britain

Tate reopened

Just as an interim, I will mention that we went to this exhibition today. I am still working on Horses in the Snow slowly. It is coming along just fine but taking longer than I thought

It was lovely to go to a gallery again after all these weeks of closure. Social distancing worked well, if anything I preferred it as you could see the pictures. We drove in and traffic was light both ways and parking was easy.

Unbeknown to me, the London Congestion Charge had been extended to cover the week-end as well. It used to be Monday to Friday only which was one of the reasons that we drove up on a Saturday. Thanks to someone tipping me off, I had time to open an account Also you can still park for free outside the gallery at the weekend. No doubt that will alter in due course

The exhibition is excellent for anyone near enough to go. Aubrey Beardsley is an amazing character. He contracted TB at the age of 7, so he knew he would have a short life, and worked to compensate. He left behind something like 1000 drawings

He worked for Oscar Wilde illustrating Wilde’s opera Salome, and also later edited the prestigious Yellow Book. His connection with Wilde proved his undoing sadly. Public anger as Wilde’s court case shocked the nation, spilled over onto Beardsley. His office was broken into by the mob, and he was reluctantly sacked. He moved to Dieppe, and continued his life in France. He died in Menton on the Riviera. at the age of 25, with his mother and sister at his side

He had also produced pornographic work which he later regretted. He did ask his publisher to destroy this work, but it never was, sadly as so often he is associated with pornography. Some of this work is displayed in a separate room, so viewing is optional

The Yellow Book

Wonderful draftsmanship, however you view the man

Whilst writing, my revised website still under the domain name of davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk, has now gone live. It is a tremendous improvement or so I believe, and also meets these new requirements from the likes of Google and others. We hope for great things

The Ostrich Family

Ostrich Family

One lockdown task that I have been getting to grips with, has been sorting out and rationalising my burgeoning collection of reference pictures

About seven or eight years ago, we made a trip to South Africa which was amazing. About a week was spent on safari, followed by a long weekend in Cape Town

This shot, just one of many, shows an ostrich family just ahead of our truck, and being totally disinclined to move out of the way. I think the mother bird was deliberately preventing our vehicle from running over her young. Nobody was worried of course, as this was such a fantastic photo opportunity and went on for quite a long time

A long time ago, I thought I would paint this but never did. Now I have been reminded and have made a start with the drawing. Problems would be with colours, I think. Weather was not particularly good when we were there, with dull skies and proportionately subdued colour. I will have to try and inject a little sunshine somehow, although not sure how

I have done the initial sketch and will come back later

Initial Sketch

Sketching Birds in Ball Point Pen

The Ostrich Family

We had a competition recently inter family based on the work of Alberto Rosso and his drawings using ballpoint pen. The theme was birds

I hadn’t drawn in ballpoint for some while and had forgotten what a satisfying medium it was for sketching. Likewise drawing birds wasn’t something I had attempted. I did several versions, and the first ones were measured and precise which didn’t fit the project at all.

In the end I treated the drawings as doodles, so only doing them by eye and doing without measurements. That seemed to work better. My favourite is the one that I am showing which dates back some years when we had a holiday in South Africa.

We were out in a game reserve, in a truck, and met a family of ostrich going the same way. They just kept walking in front of us and made no attempt to speed up or move out of the way. We took loads of pictures, and I thought one day I might paint them, which I never did do

So I used them as a model for my biro drawing instead and am fairly pleased with the way it turned out. Ballpoint works well with watercolour so I may well paint it another time

On the easel I have just started painting an old favourite Wisley Gardens, a scene through wisteria which looked inviting in the photograph. I will deal with that another time

David Hockney Exhibition at the Lightbox, Woking

David Hockney’s WinterRoad near Kilham

There is a very good exhibition on at the Lightbox in Woking at the moment, entitled David Hockney:His Ways of Working. I hope that I’ve remembered that correctly as I didn’t make a note, although I did manage one or two pictures, shot from the hip, in case I was seen by a wily attendant.

As we know, Hockney throughout his career was fascinated with different media. A superb painter in the traditional sense, not that I liked all of his work, he also embraced new methods of recording art such as ipad drawing, print, fax machine, photography and collage

The exhibition at Woking is not large but it is representative, and as always skillfully displayed. I know the Lightbox is my local art gallery, and it is easy to become partisan, but the Lightbox has come on in leaps and bounds since it was founded both in quality and quantity of local exhibitions

The print shown above for example, is where Hockney utilised his own digital photography and Photoshop, drawing with a stylus on an iPad in front of a computer monitor. As Hockney himself explains “you are drawing directly onto a printing machine. One draws with the colours that a printing machine has, and the printing machine is one that anyone can have.”

Parc des Sources

This is the other painting that intrigued me. Very large for a start and changing the perspective so that the lines of trees met like a triangle. The seated figures are Peter Schlesinger, his lover at the time and Ossie Clark the fashion designer. I think they were having a boy’s weekend in Paris. The empty chair is for him, Hockney. He was standing whilst sketching.

Alongside the painting is Hockney’s drawing showing that he used the grid system for enlarging an image, which is how he produced such a large painting as the one I have shown. Many well-known artists use this system. I do too, but I am not well-known

I am currently using this system to enlarge a small photograph, to twice its size as a drawing, in preparation hopefully for something worth painting. The subject is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I was there a few years ago and took some reference shots, but haven’t got round to doing a painting yet.

That will probably be the subject of my next blog

Erquy in Brittany, using one of my old photographs

Erquy Harbour and Lighthouse

I took this photograph in 1972 when we were on holiday in Brittany. We had hired a villa in the fishing village of Erquy, which was delightful, and I daresay it still is. I was reminded of our visit whilst going through my Pinterest boards and seeing any number of shots of the harbour at Erquy. In fact the same view as mine. I went through my old pictures, which were colour slides in those days, so inconvenient to look at, and found this one, which I decided to paint, and I have made a start on the drawing.

We stayed there for two weeks, and it was delightful,but not everything went smoothly, quite the reverse.

Our little boy, James who was eighteen months old, became ill. Everything he ate came up immediately, and in the middle of one night he became acutely distressed. On examination we found a lump in his groin about the size of a pigeon’s egg. Worrying at the best of times, but on holiday, doubly so.

In the villa, we had a list of useful addresses. A doctor was listed. I had no idea how to get to his house. It was pitch black outside. I looked up the words I might need, and rehearsed what I would say in French. Then I drove off into the night.

I drove into Erquy village, praying all the time. In those days people went to bed at a reasonable hour. Not a street lamp, no moon, nothing. The village was in inky blackness. I picked out a street plan in my headlights. I positioned the car across the road so that the map was illuminated, and thanks be to God, the road where the doctor lived was shown. I copied the map as best as I could and got back into the car, and drove to the address

The doctor’s house was a fine old building, three storeys high. I rang the bell and continued to pray. A window opened on the top floor, and a head appeared. I will always remember that he was wearing a nightcap which was quaint even by the standards of the day.

I launched into my prepared speech in bad French.

“Monsieur le docteur, je suis desolee de vous reveiller. C’est mon petit fils qui est malade. Il a dix-huit mois…………… That’s enough. I went on to describe the symptoms.

That wonderful man told me to wait whilst he got dressed. In a very short time he was down with his bag, and followed me in his car.

My wife, and her elderly aunt who was holidaying with us, seemed amazed to see me come back with the doctor. They thought I would never find anyone. The doctor examined our child and immediately diagnosed a hernia. We were pretty green in those days, and didn’t fully understand the ramifications. It was serious. He needed surgery. The doctor wrote us a letter of introduction to a clinic in St.Brieuc, about two hours drive away. We were to go immediately.

As we left Erquy, the sun was coming up and the daylight helped. We found the clinic as though again by divine guidance. The surgeon greeted us. The good doctor had telephoned ahead. Our little boy was put on the table and the surgeon examined him, and started manipulating the lump. All the time, he was telling us about the operation. He would need immediate surgery and about a week in hospital. We were going home in about three days. Where would we stay? How much would it cost? No credit cards in those days. No EHIC cards then

As he manipulated the lump, came another divine intervention. The lump popped back in. He was strapped up, and we were told the danger was over. The reflux stopped and we could continue with our stay. We were given a prescription for a truss which we bought from a nearby pharmacy. Marvellous marvellous people

We returned to Erquy, and saw the doctor again. Thanked him again profusely and paid him of course.

Three days later we set off for Cherbourg during a violent rainstorm. We had an Austin 1800 in those days, which was a robust enough car, but like all the Leyland cars in those days, including the Mini, it had a design fault. Because of the transverse engine, the HT leads were positioned just inside the grille. If the wind blew the rain head on, water reached the leads and the engine cut out. Halfway to Cherbourg, the engine started to cough, and continued to cough until finally stopping. We were in the middle of the countryside

Maybe we could have bump started the car but there was only me and I had to drive. My wife was pregnant and her aunt had heart trouble! maybe we should have stayed at home.

Again the good Lord smiled on us benignly. Wonderful people from a nearby cottage came out and took my wife, cild and aunt indoors out of the rain. One of the teenage sons of he family went on his moped to the hearest garage, and came back with a mechanic, who stripped down the motor and dried it all off. The car started and the rain had stopped. I just had enough money to pay the mechanic. As I said, no credit cards then They really were good Samaritans

We were on our way to Cherbourg and met no further problems. Phew

So a holiday to remember. I shall enjoy painting Erquy harbour and have already started the drawing

Lightbox Woking Exhibition:the Scottish Colourists

Ben More in Mull by FCB Cadell

Yet another excellent exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking which runs until the 12th of January, entitled Burning Bright : The Scottish Colourists. This brings together the work of Scottish Colourists S.J.Peploe, J.D.Fergusson, G.L.Hunter and F.C.B. Cadell

Not a group I know anything about and apparently not a group that painted together as I understand it, but artists who were placed together in exhibitions by organisers and dealers, possibly because styles and colours went well together. They were never formally a movement and exhibited together only three times

They were drawn together by a love of travel, and by their attraction to the French Post Impressionists especially Matisse and the group known as Les Fauves, the wild beasts, who used colour in an arbitrary and passionate way.

The Colourists grew up in a climate dominated by the Glasgow Boys, whose love of colour had already liberated Scottish art from the strait jacket of academicism

I was drawn especially to the work of Cadell. His Ben More in Mull I have included. I felt I could walk out onto the sands, I love it. Incidentally the painting is not hung crookedly. That was me photographing from the hip

I am also going to include The Black Hat which is a magnificent example of his portrait work, with more than a nod to Singer Sargent, another of my great favourites

Wonderful exhibition too by the Institute of Painters in Watercolour which really needs its own post

The Black Hat by FCB Cadell
The Black Hat Inscription

I will end there

Venice, the Old Fish Market Panorama

The Old Fish Market along the Grand Canal, Preparatory Drawing

I was hoping to add one more painting to my exhibition at the Guildford Institute, but owing to a series of accidents the start date had to be brought forward, so there was no time to finish it. The exhibition starts tomorrow but I am continuing with the painting anyway.

A few months back, I bought some long frames which I quite like using. It means I can paint a panoramic scene like coastline or as in this case, what will be hopefully a long stretch of the Grand Canal. I went back through my old photographs, and found a selection running from the Old Fish Market, which is a wonderful building in itself, and one that I have painted before

This is just part of the total shot but will give a better idea of where I am going with it. I took this picture whilst walking round the villa opposite, and I’m afraid I have forgotten the name, other than it was splendid. In the bottom left hand corner is what looks like an heraldic lion or similar, perched on the balcony. I have included him as a useful bit of foreground to aid the perspective.

I am about to paint and for the moment will just put on the first wash, with my usual Mediterranean sky colour and a neutral base for the buildings and sky for the water. I have masked the lion as you can see.

The buildings opposite are in deep shade which is a pity, although I may be able to relieve that here and there. Otherwise I shall just have to work with what I have got.

We will see where this takes us. The free advertising for Jackson’s is accidental, by the way

The Original before cutting down

The Original Sea Gazers

The comment was made, quite fairly, that I didn’t include the original painting, before it was reduced.

This is it. As I said, I felt the eye ran off the page to the right, and was possibly rather boring anyway. By removing the right hand side, I effectively made more of a central group with the figures and the distant headland.

I found the breakers rather strange here, as they rolled in, roughly the same size each time, so rather monotonous, really

Please feel free to comment, should you want to. Your opinions are important to me

Cutting Down an Old Painting

Sea Gazers in Nice

Sometimes a painting creates no interest whatsoever, even though I might have been pleased with it at the time. Occasionally, and only when I think appropriate, I remove a section of the painting, which perhaps detracts from the overall composition, and reduce the image to a smaller painting. Hopefully an improvement.

So it was with this picture, Sea Gazers in Nice. We were in Nice for New Year, a few years ago. The weather was mild compared with the rest of Europe, which was deep-frozen. We walked along the famous Promenade des Anglais, and watched the sea and watched people watching the sea. This couple were alone with their thoughts and almost mesmerised by the breakers rolling in.

They kindly kept motionless, unaware of me sketching them and taking photographs. Not often that sitters are so obliging. I did the painting some years later, but then I included a long expanse of sea and breakers to the right of the couple. It was a mistake, looking back, as the eye of the viewer went right off the page.

I showed the painting a few times, but it impressed no-one. I prefer this version, so will see if others do

I have used this method only a few times. Occasionally only a central detail from a larger painting, seems to work. The last time I rescued a painting in that way, was to cut a small scene about the size of a postcard, and this worked on its own. The rest wasn’t worth keeping. The reduced painting, of the London Embankment, with a small section of London Eye, I sold, so that was worth doing.

We’ll see what happens to Sea Gazers!

Istanbul Painting: Initial Stages

Crossing the Bosphorus by ferry

This is very much work in progress. I have got as far as putting in the shadows with a mix of Cobalt and Phthalo Blue, the mix I like using in any scene that is southern European or nearby

I have done the sky in the same, and the sea also but over an orange wash which gives it a greenish hue, and as always I hope this works. I have put some more orange here and there into some of the buildings as highlights as the shoreline was getting monotonous. There will be some more shadows yet going in to the buildings and also the boats that are still tied up

The boat mid channel I hope to do in much more detail, as much as my shaky hand will allow, and I want to introduce some red into this boat to bring it forward from the shore. That is the theory anyway.

Annoyingly the camera has picked up the texture of the paper so that it looks as though I am painting on onion skin. I seem to get a better result with the camera on my phone these days so might use that for the finished image.

Since this photograph was taken I have done some more work on the painting. Nothing startling, just deepening the shadows, and deepening the sea colour in the foreground. The shoreline is starting to take on a cubist look, unintentionally but interesting nonetheless.