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Ceci n’est pas une pomme

October 6, 2011 1 comment

Everyone’s favourite little bit of surrealism.

ceci n'est pas une pomme by Rene MagritteI came across this picture when I was at college. Magritte inviting us to reconsider what we take to be real, making a distinction between the representation and the object, pulling aside the veil to reveal the elements and structure of what surrounds us.

I was so taken by this picture that I got an apple, wrote ‘Ceci n’est pas une pomme aussi’ on a piece of paper, fixed the apple to it and photographed it, to recreate the message in the medium of film. Sadly, I couldn’t get the depth of field quite right so my lecturer was spared my misguided attempts at profundity.

I understand that ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ may be slightly better know than its fruity counterpart but ‘pomme’ will always have a special place in my heart – and I think it’s a better/nicer painting. I also love the sound of this sentence in French.

Categories: art

William Blake – God Creating the Universe

August 13, 2011 1 comment

After my first conception of how God looked, it was a long time before I perceived of Him as having human form. I knew that, apparently, he created us in His image but I found it difficult to get my head round the fact that that meant his physical form was that of ours. I could only think of him in spiritual, uncorporeal form. The ‘man with a long beard’ idea of God seemed a bit spurious.

God Creating the Universe by William BlakeThen I saw Blake’s painting. This representation did Him justice and made me feel comfortable with the bearded man image of the Almighty.

I like that in this painting, Creation is depicted as thoughtful, meticulous physical work: work that, paradoxically for The Divine Creator, is carried out with the assistance of a scientific instrument.

I also like the gaudy colours in this painting. They hark back to what you’re more likely to find in medeival painting, rather than the more harmonious ones of the rennaisance. Of course, William Blake had developed an entirely unique method of engraving and print reproduction that may have been employed in the production of this image.

In the development of western culture in art, literature and commentary, William Blake is a giant.

Categories: art

Alasdair Gray

June 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Alasdair Gray represents much  of what I love about Scotland and makes me proud to be Scottish. There’s little point in attempting to categorise him as either an artist or a writer. He’s a top rank of one of each, and that makes him something else entirely: something rare; something from another era, or something rare yet eternal. He’s also fiercely political. Whatever passion it is that drives him is powerful and has been sustained throughout his long and fruitful life.

Alasdair GrayHis  books cover, among other subjects, social observation, sexual fantasy and historical fiction. He also indulges his political convictions directly in books about Scottish Independence. We all know of Lanark, his  part fiction, part autobiography oscillating between crystal clear realism and nightmare surrealism. We should have all read it. Lanark was my introduction to Alasdair Gray. It was unlike anything else I had read or have read since and though his other books are also excellent in degrees, none quite equalled Lanark’s bold and visionary stature.

An aspect of Lanark which I couldn’t overlook was the book’s illustrations, which I now see are based on Hobbe’s Leviathan, and its packaging. His artistic vision permeated every aspect of the book, and whilst my enthusiasm for his books levelled out (at a pretty high level), my enthusiasm for his art steadily increased with each new item I saw.

I’m so grateful that Alasdair Gray took the time to produce ‘A Life in Pictures’ which catalogues most of his artistic output. This book not only presents a fantastic collection of art – from student drawings to posters, book illustrations, paintings, murals and ceilings – but thoroughly endeared me to Alasdair Gray the man, the artist, the polymath, the Scot.

Categories: art, books

Still Life with Mandolin by Pablo Picasso

June 3, 2011 Leave a comment

This isn’t one of Picasso’s best known paintings. It’s not even one of his best paintings. However, this painting is significant for me as I remember the day – I must have been about 10yrs old – when my Mum and Dad brought a framed print of this picture home to take pride of place above the fireplace in our newly-decorated sitting room.

Still life with Mandolin by Pablo PicassoI remember being a bit puzzled by it. To my young mind it was obviously a guitar, or something, with some folk sitting around listening, but I didn’t understand what made this bunch of scattered blocks of colour and shapes  worthy of wall space in our new sitting room. I think now it must have been chosen to match our curtains or cushion covers.

In my late-twenties I did feel a powerful attraction to Picasso’s work and devoured catalogues of his paintings and read biographies about him. Genius is not a word to be used lightly but I’m certain that if it can be rightly applied, it should be applied to the great Spaniard. It’s the controversial, and the innovative, and the prolificness which I believe earn him that distinction. The hand of a master is already evident in the teenage paintings he produced to support his application to art academy. His breathtaking and fearless output in the decades that followed consolidated his legend.

Anyway, that framed print that my Mum and Dad bought all those years ago; I have it now. It hung for a while in my kitchen, above the dining table, but it now languishes in the attic gathering dust. What we need to do is buy some curtains or cushion covers that’ll make it match.

Categories: art

Blegvad

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

LeviathaanI’m sure that if I knew Peter Blegvad I’d find him quite annoying. He draws, writes, plays the guitar; all of them well, and each of these activities is underpinned by a cunning intellect.  He holds (or held) the world record for the longest palindrome. He incorporated this palindrome into the lyrics of one of his songs.

I’ve never listened to any of his music. I know him through his Leviathan cartoons. A featureless baby, Levi, and his spirit guide, virgil-like cat contemplate the huge questions of philosophy and the tiny matters of of our fickle race.

I came upon Leviathan by accident. I don’t know what made me stop at the ‘humour’ section (a section I normally avoid) and pick out that book. I’m glad that I did.

Categories: art, books

Giacometti

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was at college we had a ‘field trip’ to Edinburgh’s Modern Art Gallery. I think we were in the core of the postmodernism part of our studies. I’d yet to acknowledge that visual art had any bearing on my life. I wasn’t aware of anything having ‘spoken’ to me yet. I hadn’t been making any effort to listen. I was a bit of a book snob back then.

Giacometti Woman with her throat cutAmong the many striking pieces on display at the gallery I came across this little bronze cast sculpture. It is a little sculpture. You could hold it in your hands; it’s about the size of a kitten. I looked at it for ages, long after the others had moved on, and I returned to it before we left.

What got me was its savagery. Apart from the violated, grotesque and degraded, splayed out form of a woman, although you can’t see it too clearly in this picture, the slit in her throat is clearly a lacerated trachea.

A very powerful piece. It got me in the gut in a way that no piece of art had done before and I realised then the power of art to communicate in a way that words can’t.

 

Categories: art

Hogarth

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Watercolour painting by Paul HogarthThat’s Paul Hogarth, the twentieth century watercolourist and illustrator, not William Hogarth, the eighteenth century painter and engraver.

I’ve mentioned before that I was drawn to the works of Graham Greene by a series of his books with Hogarth illustrations on the cover. A few years after enjoying those books and covers I came across a great coffee table book of Hogarth’s paintings he’d done on some journey round Europe and the Mediterranean. I love how he captures vivid colours and light. Not usually what you’d expect from paintings done in watercolour. And I liked the people he dropped into his places.

Anyway, my wife got me the painting above for my birthday and it now has pride of place in our hall. Despite my rubbish photograph, you can see that water has crept onto the paper from the bottom and carried some of the paint as it seeped upwards. I’m not sure if that made it affordable, or if my wife went hugely extravagant for that particular birthday.

The painting arrived with a note from the dealer saying that the picture had been used as the frontispiece for a French edition of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories titled ‘La Main Brune’ – ‘The Brown Hand’. So, naturally, I tracked this on Ebay and was absolutely delighted to eventually buy the book from a dealer in Montparnasse for a very reasonable price.

La Main Brune with Hogarth picture on coverWhen the book arrived from France I was thrilled to see that the reproduction of the painting was made after the water damage had taken place.  Odd though that the publishers removed Hogarth’s signature from the painting.

Categories: art, books