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Review: A new era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950 (curator’s talk)

Today, at lunchtime, Alice Strang, Senior Curator at the National Gallery Modern (Edinburgh) gave an introductory talk on her newest exhibition: A new era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950.

The thesis of the exhibition is that Scottish artists were responding to the modern influences of European painting fast, through their own work and through courageous and daring exhibitions by SSA and RSA – responding much faster than heretofore thought, and often speedier than their English counterparts.

Samuel John Peploe "Tulips and fruit"

Talk on A New era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950

Beginning with the Scottish Colourists, Alice Strang pointed out that when J D Fergusson moved to Paris in 1907, his painting immediately changed – particularly his colour palette.  He was influenced by painters such as Picasso, whom he met and whose work he saw.  Fergusson was a link for other Scottish painting friends to also come across to Paris and see the new exciting ways of painting for themselves.

In displaying the above slide of Samuel John Peploe, 1912, “Tulips and Fruit” Alice Strang pointed out the influence of the lines filling in the coloured areas in the painting – like Van Gogh, whose work Peploe would have seen.  (I also felt that the strong lines were like woodblock lines within a print).

The Futurists were an influence on Scottish artists, with Stanley Cursiter seeing the first exhibition of Futurist paintings in the UK, in London – and choosing to exhibit two of them, alongside his own painting in the 1913 SSA exhibition.  We were given an opportunity to see the delightful play of light and fragmented viewings so beloved of Cubism, in his picture “Rain on Princes Street”.  (It was especially appropriate to be viewing this within a stone’s throw of Princes Street itself.)

Stanley cursitor

Stanley Cursiter – talk slide – “Rain on Princes Street”

As well as showing how Modernist art movements in France affected styles of painting and sculpture, we were shown how the paintings themselves reflected real places (in Edinburgh) by studying a photograph of a particular street location at the time, then flipping on to the next slide to show the painting of the same location.

Radical Edinburgh

Among the interesting evidences for Scotland being more advanced in its art than previously thought, Alice revealed that the first Edvard Munch exhibition in the UK took place in Edinburgh, in 1931.  In this decade, Edinburgh was awash with educators invested in forwarding new and exciting art styles: Hubert Wellington (Principal of Edinburgh College of Art), Herbert Read (Art Historian and Professor of the Fine Arts at Edinburgh University, 1931-33), and Stanley Cursitor (who was Director of the National Galleries).

Among the many artists featured in the exhibition are names I’ll need to investigate further, I was busy scribbling them down: James Nigel Mcisaac, Tom Pow (inspired by Braque), Thomas W Whalen, William Crosbie, William CrozierWilliam Johnstone, Keith Henderson, Benno Schotz in sculpture and sisters Anna and Doris Zinkeisen.

The one hour talk was generously jampacked with references, intriguing digital slides and local information from the curator as to the size of the actual artworks in comparison to the size they displayed on the screen.  As a starter, it definitely left you wanting more, and I look forward to exploring the exhibition itself, soon.

IMG_3963Funnily enough, with a touch of the sublime to the ridiculous, as I emerged from the dark interior of the Hawthornden Lecture room, right in front, through the glass windows was a view of the funfair which has sprung up in Edinburgh for the duration of the Christmas holidays: a bold yellow and red helter-skelter.  I have a sneaky feeling that the modern artists we’d been hearing about would have loved this circus-like brashness, juxtaposition, colour and movement.

 

And a final note of how life meets art – I was meeting a friend immediately after the lecture, in the Portrait Gallery.  While we were talking, my eye kept wandering to one portrait on the wall of the dining-room.  In writing up this blog post, I’ve just discovered its likely to be this portrait by the painter…. McIsaac, one of my new names to investigate!

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Fly through a book: “Moonshine: Dreamwork Artists after dark!”

The private artworks of 49 Dreamwork animators have been drawn together into a book – at a reasonable price, considering it’s glossy and with colour pictures throughout.  There’s a Flip through view by Parka (an Amazon reviewer) below.  His review is at the bottom of this screen over at Amazon.

You can find a longer blog post on this book, together with a video of interviews with some of its artists, at a blog post earlier today.

There are 49 artists featured in the book – as you can see, the styles vary hugely – this would be a wonderful inspiration book for art education departments and students.

The artists featured are awardwinners at the Annie Awards – annual animation awards – the 2017 list of nominees has just been announced (awards ceremony in February).

Creative Takeaways

If you’re interested in breaking into the animation world (or know someone who is), well worth bookmarking the Annie awards and trying to catch the winners on DVD. Excellence inspires excellence.

Or, just to keep up to date on good films, from general interest – keep an eye on Annie Awardwinners and try to see the films which attract your attention.

Creative prompt: pause the video showthrough of the book at a random page, and use a picture on it as a jumping off point for your own creative making.

Poem: “Snow” by Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was one of Northern Ireland best-known poets, and an exciting radio playwright and producer in the early days of BBC drama.  A friend posted this poem of his today on social media – and it’s too good not to share.  If you have snow today outside your window – well, perhaps this will make even more sense to you, and you can enjoy the poem’s sense of colour, distinctive aloud light, smell and taste.

SNOW BY LOUIS MACNEICE

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

You can hear the poem read aloud (not by its writer) here.

(both poem and reading were found at The Poetry Exchange website).

 

 

Julia Child: Photo portrait of a cook

This is a review of a book review (?!) jampacked with 1950s Paris culture and glamour, culinary groundbreaking history, Julia Child, romance and gorgeous photography.

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The book is “France is a Feast”, and tells the story of Julia Child, with photos by her deeply enamoured husband, Paul Child, who was also an excellent photographer.  The book text is written by Julia’s biographer and nephew, Alex Prud’homme, the photos collected by photography curator Katie Pratt, whose parents were close friends of Paul and Julia Child, so there’s a clear and close link between the writers and their subjects.

A well-written book review makes you want to rush to your local bookshop or library (depending on your budget)

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People who cry in front of paintings

I’m making soup and reading this book: “Pictures & Tears” by James Elkins.  His theory is that “Most of us, I think, have never cried in front of paintings, or even felt anything very strong.” (page ix) so he then examines the ‘unusual’ cases of those who do find artwork moving.

Right off the bat, this book interested me: because I strongly disagree.  I have definitely found paintings moving and that has included tears.  Anecdotally, I find my friends tend to be moved, also, by art – although admittedly many of my friends share my interest in art.  I was intrigued to see what his findings were (he invited fellow art historians and put general inquiries in newspapers and journals – he had 400 replies).

Who is the author?  James Elkins is an art historian and critic – he wrote this book in 2001, but has published many art history books and continues to tour and give lectures, worldwide.  He’s refreshingly readable and understandable.

When the book arrived, it was a gift – part of a range of books all given to me at the same time.  So, of course, it was difficult to settle on one.  In the end, I have read the book in parts, but not totally and not from page one to page 272.  So – here I go.  I’ll let you know the book review, once completed.

Creative Takeaways

In the meantime, Dr Elkins has given some tips to encourage deeper experiences with paintings:

  1. Visit galleries alone
  2. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to see everything, pick one or two rooms and then pick ONE painting/artwork to concentrate on
  3. Minimise distractions.  Pick an artwork in a space where fewer people are passing e.g. in a corner
  4. Take your time.  Look at it.  Stand back. Look again.  Sit down and relax.  Walk away, come back and see it afresh.
  5. Pay full attention, until you are almost absorbed into the picture.
  6. Do your own thinking.  You can read up a bit, take an audio tour – but still think for yourself about the artwork.
  7. Look for people who are really looking.  If they spend time with the same artwork, and will talk to you later, they often have an interesting story to connect with it
  8. Be faithful.  Keep coming back, to look at the same artwork.

 

Having written all that, it strikes me that this could be interesting dating advice, in moderation.  The other person/artwork could certainly not complain of lack of attention….

 

 

 

Poem written for Henry Moore

This day last week, I was in a writing workshop (led by Kate Hastie) on how to make a poem response to artworks (“Ekphrasis”).  In response to this lithograph by Henry Moore, “Upright Motives” – I wrote this:

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For Henry Moore “Upright Motives”

 

Reinterpreting the body with his pen,

Henry watches his model moving about the room

in velvet sunlight

Heads are too complicated,

he boils one down to a piece of broccoli

As the waist is to the mouth

as the rib is to the flag

as the neck is a tree

the knees are tiered like Padi fields

circling round a mountain

 

A lozenge, a curve,

a salsa dancing line to the shoulders

a lightness and brightness

an awkward hip

 

like double basses made by a surrealist,

listed unbuildings

flickering flames

 

Bones like a xylophone

armoured suits

beat a crackle allure

like the bones falling together

into soft places

 

© Heather Gregg, 2017

 

 

A sight for the ears – exhibition tie-in

Edinburgh, Scotland: Last night, I was at the book launch of a pamphlet book of poetry “Seen/Unseen” written in response to the artworks in an exhibition “Hidden Gems” at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh.

There was a brilliant turnout, in part due to the fact that there were 30 poets involved and most of them were there to read their poems.  Kate Hastie mc-ed the event, having curated the book and the writers – all like herself drawn from the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities.  Or, to put it another way, many doing Masters and PhDs in Literature or Writing.  And to put it another way, rather likely to be our next generation of published professional writers.

The poets were responding to artworks such as the picture and sculpture shown (photos from City Art Centre website)

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