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Friday, 26 August 2016

Painting of the Month (65) Sept 2016: Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley was born in London, England in 1931 and is still working at age 85. She was the darling of the London art scene in the 1960s and was largely responsible for the increased popularity of Op Art at that time.
'Fall', Bridget Riley, 1963


Op Art had its origins in the early twentieth century but it was not known by that term then. Freudian theory and Gestalt psychology were both influences but Riley’s main inspirations were the pointillist George Seurat and the abstract painter Jackson Pollack. She saw an exhibition of Jackson's work in London in 1958. The figure-ground concept describes the perception of the difference between foreground and background object figures. You might say it's about optical illusion. The illustration, below, can be seen as either two people face-to-face or a candlestick - leaving one's eye-brain co-ordination to make the decision.
So, Bridget Riley's Op Art depends on this process to draw the viewer in. If you stare at the top picture (click on it to enlarge), you should see some movement. In fact these works can make you feel a little giddy if seen in large scale in a gallery. Psychedelia was the order of the day and Riley used art instead of pills to reveal a new reality in vision.
Figure-Ground example
Two faces or a candlestick?




In the late sixties she started working with colour and her work certainly had a different appeal from then on. I have shown a selection of her work below and, whatever one thinks about modern art, especially Op Art, ('op' is short for optical of course),  She became interested in the visual and emotional response to colour.
I find much of her colour works have a wonderful calming influence and I could easily live with one on my wall.




A 1989 portrait of the artist. I think this a wonderful photo. (by Jane Brown).
I'm listening to the only version of the much-recorded song Mr Bojangles that I really enjoy. It's by the man who wrote it; Jerry Jeff Walker and here you can hear the version I prefer.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

My Heroes (41): Jake Thackray

It's been a few years since my last post in this series so I am going write about and probably introduce you to Jake Thackray.
Jake Thackray 1938 -2002
John Philip 'Jake' Thackray was a true English eccentric who wrote and sang wryly comical and poignant songs. He was also a teacher, poet and journalist and his music is rather hard to pigeon-hole. He was the epitome of 'lugubrious' and can be compared to the French chansonnier singers like Jaques Brel and was a good friend of Georges Brassens.
Jarvis Cocker, Morrissey, Ralph McTell and Jasper Carrot were also influenced by his style. He accompanied his rich baritone voice with his nylon-stringed classical/jazz-style guitar playing. He is very English and may not have much appeal beyond these shores but he was a great talent who died too young, aged 64 in 2002.
He was a modest man who has been called 'The Noel Coward of the North' but he refused to accept that flattering comparison. I feel that he never quite achieved the acclaim he deserved.
My favourite of his songs are 'La-Di-Dah' - see above and Sister Josephine, below:

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Painting of the Month (64) August 2016: Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, 1851
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain, 

My American friends will have to excuse this Brit for writing about what is possibly the most famous of American paintings. Emanuel Leutze, 1816 – 1868, was a German-American ‘History Painter’; History painting was at the summit of the hierarchy of genres, meaning that it was considered the most important because, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, it required all of the skills that were needed for all other types of painting.  This painting was completed  in 1851, around the time that those hierarchies were starting to become less important.  In keeping with the genre, it is of a monumental size, measuring more than 12ft by 21ft., (3.78 by 6.47m). He started to paint the picture in 1849 but it was damaged by a fire in his studio in 1850. It was restored only to be destroyed in Berlin in 1942 by a bombing raid. He did, however, make at least two copies and many other artists have copied and pastiched this painting.
E G Leutze
I think it is a very beautiful picture which has been executed with great skill. There are various inaccuracies and ‘impossibilities’ of which it may seem petty of me to mention. However, it won’t stop me because they are all interesting points. Firstly, the man standing on Washington’s right (who is James Munroe, a future President), is holding the Stars and Stripes flag which did not exist as such until well after this depiction – on the dawning of 26th December 1776. The Delaware is much narrower than depicted here at that crossing point and when it freezes over it tend to be in sheets, not chunks as depicted. The artist used images of the Rhine to create the river, where the ice does form chunks. Incidentally, Washington was leading a surprise attack on the Hessian troops based in Trenton, New Jersey, who were German mercenaries employed by the British; they formed fully 30% of British troops in the War of Independence!
The boats, shown carrying a selection of ‘types’, eg. a Scotsman, a Negro, a Frontiersman etc, are of the wrong kind with sides that are much too low. The light is all wrong, appearing to come from several different directions at once. Also, Washington, reasonably enough, is shown in an heroic pose but would not have been able to stand up like that. None of this matters much- it is a magnificent piece of work which creates real depth by the way in which the background boats are spread into the distance and one can almost reach out to touch the ice-chunks.
I'm listening to Carole King singing her own song, "I Wasn't Born to Follow" made famous by The Byrds but I love her version best!