Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Skating rink at Somerset House, 7 January 2002   ©Heather James
Art on the Run is signing off for Christmas and would like to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all again in January with more 'Art on the Run.'

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Midwinter Solstice: 21 December

Highbury & Islington Station: 14 October 2010,
drawn just after dusk   ©Heather James
In a couple of days it will be the Winter Solstice and where I live in the northern hemisphere that means it will be the shortest day of the year so I thought you might like to read a ghost story to chime with the time of year. So if you are sitting comfortably I will begin.

The Crier of Claife
It was around the time of the Reformation (in the 16th century). On one stormy winter's night when the wind howled up Lake Windermere (in the Lake District in the north of England) and the waves rolled northwards a party of travellers were staying at the old ferry inn beneath Station Scar. They had postponed their crossing until the next day and sat together in front of the roaring fire telling stories and jokes, the ferryman among them. Outside the bare branches of the young sycamore trees moaned and whistled in the blast while from time to time squalls of rain beat against the windows. The ferry boat was securely tied to the landing stage opposite Crow Holme, a small island nearby.

The sound of a voice suddenly wafted across the lake and the ferryman heard it first as he had an ear open for travellers through long practice. It was a prolonged wailing sound and only just audible above the wind. "Holloa! Boat! Holloa there! Boatman!" The long O's sang through the night across the stormy water, at times merging with the wind, at times rising above it.

"Listen!" the ferryman cried. "Somebody's calling!" The chatter stopped and the room was filled with the sounds of the storm.

"I can't hear anything," someone declared.

"You've drunk too much ale ferryman," said another.

"No, listen! I can hear it again!" the ferryman persisted.

Everyone fell silent and then faintly the sound of a voice was heard.

"You can't go tonight" someone exclaimed as the ferryman drained his mug and rose to his feet.

"There's someone waiting, I'll have to go" he replied "it may be a matter of life or death if there's anyone abroad on a night like this."

He made his way to the door and some of the travellers accompanied him to the boat to see him on his way. Once outside the blast of the wind caught them suddenly. Through the interlaced trees the scudding clouds were dimly lit by the intermittent glow of the moon over the far shore. "Expect me in half an hour" the ferryman called as he cast off and took to the oars.

The ferryman steered by keeping the lights of the inn in line with the hill above. At other times a lantern was kept burning at the landing on Nab End but tonight it had blown out. And still that voice called out: "Boat, boat. Halloa there!" as if the traveller could not discern the vessel was creeping slowly over the water towards him.

"Alright, I'm coming, blast you!" the ferryman cursed as he pulled on the oars his temper growing short. The voice had a mournful note about it which fitted in well with the dismal weather.

At length the ferryman gained the lee of the Nab and came alongside the tiny stone jetty looping a line through one of the iron rings set in the stone work. He stepped ashore peering about in the gloom for his mysterious passenger.

"I'm here," he called. "Hallo are you there?" He walked a few steps up the road, his eyes searching in vain for some sign of his impatient fare beginning to think that the fellow had given up hope of a boat and gone away.

A tall shape suddenly materialised out of the darkness before him. "Ah! There you are. Thought you'd given up sir. Have you across in no time..." But the words froze on his lips and the breath choked in his throat. For a split second the ferryman stood stock still and gazed in horror at the abomination that leered at him in the moonlight.

Then uttering a scream he turned and rushed to the boat and pushed panic stricken into the lake. For what stood at the water's edge, claws upraised to the sky, wailing and shrieking in devilish rage was neither man nor beast but some loathsome creature from the very blackest depths of Hell.

The guests at the inn were becoming impatient for the ferryman was long overdue. Just as they were getting ready to go out and see what had happened there came a sound at the door. The ferryman stood at the threshold and for a second there was a deadly silence.

The fellow was scarcely recognisable as a human being. His face had aged 20 years and his hair had turned completely white. He was unable to speak and he was put to his bed and a priest was called who could do nothing for him.

For three days he lay in bed with a high fever, his face contorting with terror when anyone approached, shrieking aloud at times like a soul in mortal torment and then he died without once becoming lucid enough to relate what had happened at the stone jetty at the Nab.

This story is an extract from Tales and Legends of Windemere by Peter Nock, Orinoco Press

Monday, 16 December 2013

Emilio Greco: Sacred and Profane

The Estorick Collection has chosen this year to exhibit Emilio Greco's work to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 1913. This is the first exhibition at the Estorick Collection to be devoted to sculpture but my attention was drawn straight away to his life drawings. They were very confident and full of life and I felt that they might have been produced just last week. His obvious enjoyment of voluptuous female nudes sets the tone in the first gallery and the accompanying sculptures develop in three dimensions the forms and curves Greco depicts in two dimensions in his drawings.

I was visiting this exhibition along with members from the Islington Art Society and a number of us were very taken with some of the very fine details in his sculptures in particular the eyelashes on one male nude. They appear to be real, fine eyelashes until you look really closely and see they have been made with scratches into the clay before the piece was cast in bronze. This attention to detail along with Greco's awareness of, and artistry in creating solid but alive forms of the human body runs like a thread through the entire exhibition.
Emilio Greco (1913-1995) was born in Catania, Sicily and he began to learn the craft of making sculpture when he was apprenticed as a young teenager to a stone mason and sculptor of funerary monuments. He taught sculpture in Rome, Carrara and Naples and he began receiving recognition for his own work from the 1950s. One of the pieces of work that enhanced his reputation was his design for the Monument to Pinocchio (1953) which is located in Collodi's Pinocchio Park. The design is unlike anything else in this exhibition and was my least favourite exhibit.

Greco was contemporary with Pablo Picasso and you can see Picasso's influence in at least one of his drawings. I really liked this piece and it helped show me that Greco was part of a vibrant European artistic movement where any artist can influence any other. However Greco was also his own man and distinct from other artists and you can see this clearly in the second gallery where there are examples of his sacred work. There are studies for a major project for a set of monumental doors for Orvieto Cathedral which include bas-relief modelling. This project took years to be completed and may well have caused Greco untold anxiety but this sacred work does reveal a depth to this artist which is only hinted at in his smaller nude studies.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

An early Christmas present

I was given an early Christmas present yesterday. Like many people I always appreciate a nice notebook and this one is very nice indeed.

It is one of a series designed by Batik artist Annie Phillips and stationery company Blott. Each design is limited to 3,000 copies so when they've gone, they've gone. The covers incorporate Annie's Batik design artfully hidden by a stencil-cut cover. When you open the cover you see this. Each notebook has 80 pages of lined paper, is 14.5cm x 21cm and is stitched along the spine. Just right for that special project.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Isabella Blow: Fashion galore

Somerset House is an atmospheric setting for an exhibition reviewing the 30 year career of Isabella Blow. I'm not generally interested in high fashion, I regard it much like Formula One racing — a rarefied field inhabited with people who might as well be from another planet.

I do find Isabella Blow intriguing though and I assumed that, because she was of noble lineage, she would also be filthy rich because how else could you maintain the eccentric lifestyle she appeared to enjoy without loads of cash. How wrong was I? Her Wikipedia page reveals that she had a series of odd jobs including working as a cleaner for two years in London and at a shop selling scones which made me warm to her having myself done similar work in the past.

This all changed when she moved to New York to study Ancient Chinese Art. Before long she was introduced to the to the fashion director of the US edition of Vogue, Anna Wintour and employed as her assistant which set her on her path to becoming a stylist and fashion editor in her own right.

Heaven knows what the daily life of a fashion assistant might be like. It makes me think of the film The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep set in the fashion world and said to be loosely based on a certain, very famous fashion magazine. Anyway Isabella obviously thrived in this culture eventually returning to London and establishing herself as a fashion director of Sunday Times Style and Tatler magazine.

This exhibition consists of more than 100 items from her own collection of clothes, hats and shoes. They include garments from fashion designers she launched like Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Julien Macdonald. Isabella had a natural sense of style and an eye for future fashion trends. She discovered Alexander McQueen and bought his entire graduate collection for ₤5,000 paying it off in weekly ₤100 instalments receiving one garment a month in return. This must have been a risky investment but one which clearly paid dividends for both parties. Isabella also discovered models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant and collaborated with various photographers and became a legendary figure and patron on the international fashion scene.

The easiest way for me to appreciate these garments was to look at them as though they were sculptures made from fabric instead of items for wear and then they made sense. I loved Philip Treacy's hats most of all. Some of them resemble helmets made out of wonderful materials which almost completely obscure the face. Others are made from feathers and look as though they might take flight at any moment. One of them had a ship in full sail on top of it. In addition to the garments on display there are family photo albums from when she was a child. One of the films playing on continuous loop has her describing where her desire for beauty came from. She said something like: "We lived in a horrid pink house with a 1970s car port outside it and in the distance was this beautiful house we owned and couldn't afford to live in." There is also an excerpt from an interview with her in around 1996/7 where she exhibits a lively and vivacious side to her that was very attractive.

Towards the end of her life she suffered from severe depression attempting suicide more than once. Her influence in the fashion world was waning, she had had the sadness of infertility to contend with and her parents had divorced when she was young which must have left its mark on her and in addition she also had money worries. To top it all she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she committed suicide in May 2007.

This was such a sad end to an extraordinary life which was clearly not an easy one. Isabella Blow was one of life's individuals and it's hard to imagine any other fashion director commanding the level of public attention or having the same influence on the international scene as she did.

Somerset House
20 November 2013 - 2 March 2014

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Public art 5: Man with open arms

 Bronze statue by Giles Penny 1995
I don't know if this statue has an actual name. There's no explanatory information nearby and I only found out the name of the artist after a quick trawl on the internet.

Anyway, it is sited near One Canada Square or, as it is more commonly known, Canary Wharf. Privately I've always called it 'Exuberance' and the sight of it always makes me smile and feel uplifted. When I worked in the area it used to remind me that there is life outside offices.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Paul Klee: Making Visible

Vase of pink roses ©Heather James
I made this drawing in response to visiting the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern titled Making Visible. The quiet simplicity of his art made a big impression on me and I wanted to try and capture some of that without actually copying any of his work. This was the third image I made during this exercise and the previous two images had different subject matter.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was born near Bern in Switzerland to a German father and a Swiss mother, was given German nationality and lived through turbulent times during his whole life. He was brought up in a musical household and as a young man became a professional violinist. Paul Klee certainly packed a lot into his life which was relatively short but the periods that most interest me are his early life and the 10 year period when he was teaching at the Bauhaus.

His route to studying art was far from straight forward and included being rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Instead of throwing in the towel he studied at a private drawing school and then later on embarked on a six month tour of Italy with his sculptor friend Hermann Haller. On returning to live with his parents in Bern he spent the next four years studying art and experimenting in order to develop his own artistic identity meanwhile supporting himself as an orchestral violinist. It strikes me he must have had a burning desire to explore his interior life as an artist if he was prepared to go to these lengths.

My view from the sofa when I work in the sitting room
In 1906 he married Lily Stumpf and they moved to a small apartment where he had to work in the kitchen or the sitting room since he didn't have a studio. There would be other periods in his life when he also had to work from home and the constraints this must have imposed on him (and his family) didn't seem to affect his output or the quality of his work.

My apologies for skipping the next 15 years including Klee's service in WWI. We meet Klee in 1921 as he joins the faculty of the Bauhaus school.He begins teaching on the preliminary course and in the bookbinding workshop. Then he is appointed master in the metal workshop and following that the stained glass workshop. Several years later he takes on the textile composition class as well as teaching painting classes. I'm impressed by the range of techniques he could turn his hand to as well as teach. Maybe if he was alive now he'd be designing websites, making art installations and films.

Sadly Klee was diagnosed in 1935 with scleroderma, an incurable degenerative illness which meant he was unable to work. In time his strength improved and he was able to paint again at a steady pace. The final gallery (of 17) in this exhibition has about eight works in it which he produced during the last couple of years of his life. I found these to be among the most moving pieces in the exhibition as I felt drawn, as if by a magnet, into their quiet, colourful interiors where I could have stayed for hours.