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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

London Monopoly (7): Whitehall

In my travels around the London Monopoly board I have now turned the first corner on the board and arrived at the first property in the pink set - Whitehall. Now it begins to get really interesting.
The view from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall. In the distance is the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament are. It is popularly known as Big Ben but that is actually the name of the bell itself.
Whitehall is one of the most famous streets in the United Kingdom. Off to right at the far end is Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Also, at the end of Whitehall is The Cenotaph, where the National Day of Remembrance is held for the servicemen who died in two World Wars.
The area was previously occupied by the Palace of Whitehall, destroyed by fire in 1698.
Now the whole road is lined with government Ministry buildings and the term 'Whitehall' has become a euphemism or metonym for 'Government'.
The Cenotaph, Whitehall, during a ceremony of Remembrance.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stephenson's adventure, first published in 1886, is probably the finest children's book ever written. Although usually seen as 'a boy's book' it is so well written it is suitable for girls as well and adults too for that matter. The three-dimensional characters, suspenseful plot and beautifully written language which flows with rhythm and cadence make it a memorable work which, if read by a child of, say, twelve or older will stay with them for life.

Our modern-day concept of pirates is based on Long-John Silver, Blind Pew, Black Dog, Israel Hands and the other creations of Stephenson. Most pirate adventures on screen or on the page rely on the devices created by Stephenson. For example the idea of buried treasure and a secret map with 'X' marking the spot, the notion of betrayal, redemption and good versus evil are all strong elements in his writing.

Jim Hawkins, the cabin boy, who is at the heart of the story is someone that every young boy wants to emulate. The Hispaniola is possibly the most famous ship that never existed!
An interesting side-note is that Stephenson spent his honeymoon in the Napa Valley, California and used descriptions of the scenery which he wrote at the time  to describe Treasure Island. Also, after the book had been published he spent a month by the Manasquan River in Brielle, New Jersey and visited an island in the river then known as Osborn Island and now known as Nienstedt Island. He referred to it as Treasure Island and the name was popular for while.
I hope that, if you have never read this book, you are now tempted to read it. If so you are in for a treat. When I told the story to seven-year-old Sonny he wouldn't let me stop so don't deprive yourself or any children in your care! 
I won't give any more details of the plot except to say that the story opens when mysterious men come looking for a retired 'sea dog' who is living in the inn run by Jim Hawkins' parents on the south coast of England. They ransack his room looking for something but they can't find it. They leave angrily threatening to return.........

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Thomas Kincade

Dear reader: You may wonder why this post is not in my Painting of the Month or My Heroes series. This article is merely my personal opinion (so he can't sue me. Anyway he should worry!). Intrigued? Read on.....
Candlelight Cottage, Thomas Kinkade
Firstly here are some definitions, from around the internet, of the word 'Kitsch', just to give you a flavour of where I am going with this:
  • Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but appreciated in an ironic way.
  • Kitsch is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value.
  • Sentimentality or vulgar, often pretentious bad taste, especially in the arts.
  • Tawdry, vulgarized, or pretentious art, literature, etc., usually with popular or sentimental appeal
And my favourite:
  • Low art posing as high art.
If you are a collector or admirer of Thomas Kinkade you may have stopped reading by now, (about 1,000 people visit this blog every week). If you are still here, please read on.
It is not my intention to offend anyone!
I am not saying Kinkade lacks technical ability but that alone would make him suitable to be an illustrator - not an artist. Common elements of his pictures include:

  • Garish loud colours.
  • Buildings intensely lit from inside.
  • Sentimentality.
  • And never, ever, any people in his landscapes. 
His output is industrial, like that of Jeff Koons and, obviously very many people collect and admire his works.
Not me, I'm afraid.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Quiz Questions (20): Self-Portraits

At last the long-promised very difficult quiz. You've been getting away with easy stuff up until now. No more Mr Nice Guy!
This tricky quiz is devious, difficult and daunting. But please have a guess at the answers; I promise not to laugh. Much.
So. Whose self-portraits are these?
(1) Whose self-portrait is this?
(2) Whose self-portrait is this?

(3) Whose self-portrait is this?

(4) Whose self-portrait is this?

(5) Whose self-portrait is this?
(6) Whose self-portrait is this?
The answers are now posted in the comments.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Painting of the Month (27): David Hockney

The Road Across the Wolds by David Hockney, 1997
David Hockney was born in Yorkshire, England in 1937. He lived for many years in Los Angeles but now has returned to his native country and county.
There is a major Hockney retrospective in London at the moment and now is a good time to re-evaluate his work.
Finding fame in the 1960's he did not follow the path of the then avant-garde artists such as Mark Rothko (colour-field painting) or any kind of abstract art. He has always painted what is described as 'representative' art. That means he paints a picture of something and one can tell what it is meant to be!
His most famous picture is probably 'A Bigger Splash', 1966.
His style is still recognisable today but the subject matter has changed; now he concentrates on landscapes. I like this picture because of the intensity of colour. This means it is not realistic because the light in Yorkshire is not generally like that of the south of France and lacks the intensity implied in this picture. If you find this painting a little simplistic, or even childlike, remember that Pablo Picasso once said that it took him a lifetime to learn to paint like a child!
What gives away the sophistication on show here is the clever way that the design of the picture leads the viewer's eye from the foreground though various zig-zags deep into the far distance.
I really enjoy the variety of greens on show and the way he has used green's 'complementaries' of red and orange. This has the effect of rendering the colours utilised seem even more intense.
If you like this painting you can see more of his work here.
PS: At first you only notice the large house in the foreground, but if you linger longer you will see about eight different groups of buildings!
Coming soon: a tirade against Thomas Kinkade. 
Check him out and be warned!