Saturday, 31 May 2014

Henri Matisse: The cut-outs

Inspired by my visit to the Matisse exhibition
I have tried my own cut-out of a still life
The exhibition of Matisse's cut-outs currently on display at Tate Modern occupies a staggering 14 galleries. The friend I was with suggested that starting at the end of the exhibition and working our way towards the beginning might be a good strategy. In this way we were able to walk against the flow of traffic, avoid feeling like being part of a herd and give our full attention to those exhibits that caught our eye.

Matisse devoted the last 17 years of his life to cutting shapes from painted paper and, in spite of health problems impairing his mobility, he was able to produce an enormous amount of work with the help of an assistant. Prior to this visit to Tate Modern my knowledge of Matisse's art was somewhat sketchy. I had thought of him as the artist who produced the Blue Nudes but this exhibition has greatly expanded my awareness of his work.

Outside Tate Modern
Matisse first used paper cut-outs to work out the compositions for his paintings. He would pin the shapes onto a canvas and this meant he was free to rearrange them as he chose. Today we see his shapes glued into their final positions but when Matisse was working on them in his studio he would move pieces around and try out new combinations and 'the tendrils of his plant forms would gently wave as air passed through the studio' which is a charming image and something I would like to have witnessed.

I was also unprepared for the vast size of some of his work. They occupy entire walls and it takes some time to travel past and absorb the intricate shapes and colours: having done that you need to turn around and walk back to take in more details. They appear to be too large for a domestic setting but some of these designs were commissioned for exactly that purpose.

This exhibition is a riot, and celebration, of colour and shape. This is encapsulated in Room 7 – Vence, The Chapel. If I re-visit this exhibition this room will be the one I return to. I gather Matisse regarded himself as an atheist but that didn't stop him from advising on the design for one stained glass window for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence when he was 77 years old. Soon enough he took on the decorative design for the entire chapel, from the windows to the chasuble robes worn by the priests. He ended up turning his studio and later his bedroom into a replica chapel so he was immersed in it all the time. Having revised the design for the window a few times Matisse declared he was hugely satisfied with the end result which is both wildly exuberant and spare at the same time. Vence is now on my wish list when we next make a visit to France so I can see the chapel for myself.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate Modern until 7 September 2014.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Picnic weather

We've been enjoying glorious weather in London the last couple of days and we only need the sun to show itself briefly and the barbecues are fired up including our wee one.

This is a drawing I made years ago of a previous cook-up and I've just noticed that we were cooking fennel and mushrooms on that one which is just the same as we did yesterday. I hope you all have a nice weekend too.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Painting as a form of storytelling

My home, Tierney Road, Streatham, late 1980s
I looked through a portfolio of old work just recently and found this painting of my bedsit in Streatham, south London where I lived happily for nearly eight years through most of the 1980s. It was in the attic of a Victorian house which appealed to the romantic in me, it was about 25 feet long from from front to back. It included this small kitchen and at the other end there was my bed and a small attic window. It was too cold in winter and too hot in summer.

At the time I was unhappy in whichever job I had – I felt I couldn't find my place in the world and this caused me endless anxiety. I would like to be able to tell that version of me to calm down, that I would find my place but that I would need to be patient for about another decade. I can remember feeling dissatisfied with this painting because I thought it was unfinished but all I can see now is an interesting image documenting my home. I remember working on it in the evenings after I'd got home and I used gouache paint on watercolour paper.

It tells me my interests haven't changed over the years – there are books, family photos and pictures on the wall. There is a throw over the sofa that I had forgotten about and the bag near the door has my gym clothes inside. I bought the rug under the table in Fez, Morocco when I was on holiday on a coach tour. We also travelled through Spain and Portugal which was a complete contrast to my ordinary life and also very stimulating. So far from feeling gloomy when I look at this I am reminded that I led a full and interesting life at the time and have done ever since.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, London
Yesterday I finally got around to visiting the Foundling Museum. This has been on my list of places to visit for a long time and I expected to be very moved by the story it had to tell.

The Foundling Hospital owed its existence to the persistence and energy of Thomas Coram. Captain Coram was born in Lyme Regis in Dorset and he spent a lot of his early years at sea and in the American Colonies. Back in London in the 1720s he was shocked to discover how many babies were abandoned and left to live and, more often than not, die on the streets.

Thomas Coram
He began to campaign tirelessly to set up an institution where children such as these could be cared for. Since he did not have any wealthy or aristocratic connections it took him about 17 years to gain enough support and signatures to petition the monarch and in October 1739 he obtained a royal charter from George II. Thomas Coram must have been a very driven man to keep going over all those years. I do wonder how many front doors he had to knock on, gates to open and close and steps to climb, how much of London he trudged around and how many people he had to convince that this was a good idea.

When a baby was accepted for admission a token was included by the parent so that in the event they were able to reclaim their offspring the connection with the child could be proved. These were often marked coins, trinkets, pieces of fabric or verses written on scraps of paper and some of these tokens are on display in the museum. Then the baby was renamed, baptised and shipped out to a foster home in the countryside where they would live until they were about five years old before being returned to live at the hospital. If they survived into their mid-teens they would be educated into a trade or sent into domestic service. Job done. The regime seemed fairly brutal by today's standards but it was actually quite enlightened for the time.

Coram must have eventually come to know wealthy and influential people because William Hogarth the artist was one of the first governors of the hospital and the composer George Frederic Handel also became an important benefactor. In addition to caring for over 25,000 children over several centuries the hospital also developed an important art collection and established the link between art, music and charity which continues to this day. I imagine that contemporary events like Children in Need on television are descendants of Handel's Foundling Hospital Anthem.

The Foundling Hospital's original buildings were demolished in the 1920s and part of the site is now a children's play area called Coram's Fields where adults are not allowed unless accompanied by a child. The original charity continues its work with children under the name of Coram and so the captain's legacy still lives on.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

I'm a slow developer

Dulwich Picture Gallery from the restaurant
I've never quite connected with David Hockney's work. I've found his paintings of Californian swimming pools puzzling and some of his watercolour portraits bordering on dreary. I've sometimes wondered why he is so influential. I think this rather harsh view of his work has a lot to do with my own slow development as an artist. For example I remember that I didn't like eating olives until I was well into my 30s. Now, it seems, I'm only beginning to appreciate David Hockney's work now I am in my 50s.

Last weekend my husband said how interesting he found Hockney's spring landscape drawings that were featured in the Saturday Guardian Review: 19.04.14. I was going to overlook it but I am glad I didn't. I became quite engrossed in studying the marks he made to describe the views as they changed over time. Hockney says in the piece that each drawing took two days to do, so, even though he has had a minor stroke he still has the physical stamina to embark on a series of drawings and follow it through to the end. I found this alone impressive: the only time I have set myself a similar task was when I embarked on my Drawing my way round London project and keeping going to the end was the hardest part.

Last Friday I was invited to go and see the Hockney, Printmaker exhibition currently on show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Until now I'd only associated Hockney with painting and drawing so this show was a bit of an eye opener for me. This exhibition has been timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of his first print and includes over 100 pieces of artwork concentrating on etching and lithography. You can see A Rake's Progress, 1961-63 a set of etchings which draws its inspiration from William Hogarth's series of the same name but uses the young Hockney in New York as the main character. I appreciated the quality of his draughtsmanship in a way I had never before and I enjoyed his sense of humour when I didn't realise he had one!

I've had little experience of etching so I appreciated my companion pointing out the different techniques he had skilfully employed in different pieces. I also admired the quality of paper he'd used although we both thought that one or two of the frames on some of the drawings were rather odd and very distracting. Having got so much from visiting this exhibition I will certainly pay David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring a visit.

Hockney, Printmaker: Dulwich Picture Gallery, 5 February - 11 May 2014
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring: Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street, London W1, 8 May - 12 July 2014