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Thursday, April 15, 2010


"Poppy Fields near Argenteuil"
50 x 65 cms

You are an Impressionist painter working directly from the landscape as Monet and Pissaro did.
Your canvas is 50 cms high by 65 cms long. In order to "capture" the variety of small tonal variations you see in the landscape you have decided to work with a small round brush with a roughly 1 cm brushstroke across the surface of your canvas. For every 2 cm x 2 cm you need about 15 brushstrokes to cover that area. If we propose that from the palette to the canvas takes around 1 second of time every 2 x 2 cm of canvas takes around 15 seconds to fill. The size of the canvas means you have 800 squares to fill, (25 squares high multiplied by 32 squares long). 15 seconds multiplied by 800 gives us 12,000 seconds. If we divide 12,000 by 60 we can reduce it to minutes. This is 200 minutes. If we divide by 60 again we can render this into hours. This works out at approximately 3 and a half hours. These figures are, of course, simplistic. This is not intended as a critique of Monet or Pissaro. It is intended as a critique of the mythology surrounding Impressionist painting.
If you started painting at 8 o'clock in the morning you would be finishing at around 11.30. By this time the sun would have moved to well toward its zenith. Every shadow would have changed in direction shape and colour. Even the colours you viewed would have changed as the quality of light changed. What began as a clear day may have turned cloudy. Sunny to grey.
Is it possible to to produce a painting of this size painting directly from the landscape ?


The clue of Impressionist Skies

Anyone who has watched a cloudy sky for extended periods (and who but visual artists do ?) would know that it is a rare day when the sky has not changed fairly substantially in appearance within 15 minutes. The sun moves and alters the relationship of lights and darks within a cloud, winds high in the atmosphere blow clouds across the sky.Clouds change their shape, evaporate or come into being.

You are an impressionist painter working directly from the landscape as say Pissaro and Monet did. To render in paint a cloudy sky as you actually saw it the moment you first looked at it you have less than 15 minutes before the sky's appearance changes substantially.

Is it possible to paint a cloudy sky directly from Nature ?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

MIchelangelo's David-An Analysis-The Sculpture-The Biblical Narrative

We have considered the problems of visual artists working from a literary narrative. Michelangelo’s “ David” is an interesting example of an artist of one time and culture attempting to make work based on the narrative of another.
One of the underlying tensions in Christianity (never resolved) is its co-opting of Jewish narratives found in the Old Testament. This is particularly apparent in David. Drawn from Old Testament sources Michelangelo’s inspiration for David is nevertheless fundamentally Greek and European. The head is pure Greek, the nudity, youth, male body, the use of contraposto to add liveliness, the uncircumcised penis are all European rather than Semitic in origin.
The portrayed moment of the David/Goliath narrative is not the moment of high drama but before the stone is cast (or after, but most probably before) emphasizing not the drama of the narrative but the body.
Reading the actual narrative from the Old Testament underlines the point. Michelangelo’s Greek youth is nowhere to found in this ferocious story of virtuous bravery against duplicitous kings and powerful enemies. One of the repeated motifs of the biblical narrative is circumcision. The rite that separates the tribes of Israel from other Semitic peoples of the time. Not only are the Philistines characterised as “uncircumcised” but Saul the king promises David his daughter in marriage without the need for a dowry if he will bring him the foreskins of 100 Philistines. David and his men (who appear from nowhere) bring 200 foreskins. ( How many parents would be horrified to find their children playing a video game with content like this ?)
The "David" Michelangelo produced has more in common with Greek and European modes of thinking and feeling and used the biblical narrative as an “excuse” to make a sculpture that perhaps satisfied his own or Renaissance taste for a “hero” but owed very little to the original narrative. Michelangelo's treatment of figures however was modified when he viewed the late classical "Laocoon" sculpture, unearthed in Rome the year before he started work on the Sistine Chapel, The "Laocoon" (see "Laocoon and his Sons-A Further Analysis" this blog) showed Michelangelo how to combine more effectively the use of “Greek” means with biblical narrative. This will be the basis of our analysis of the Sistine Chapel.
A small foretaste of this is apparent in Michelangelo’s second treatment of  " David" in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (see photograph below). A moment of high drama, the implication of extreme violence and clothing all emphasize the import of the original narrative.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010



Hello to my descendents.
By the time you read this the dust that was my body will be incorporated back into the universe. If you are reading this you may be curious to know what kind of person I was. That is difficult to describe. I have all the familiar human faults and frailties and no doubt others could describe my character better than I could myself.
However I can tell you some of my personal history. I was part of a family of five children and two parents ( I include two parents because 200 years from now this may not be a given-even now this is changing ). I was the second son of four boys and one girl. We all lived to adulthood and as I grew older I realised that in the lottery of life this in itself is lucky.
My childhood I can now look back on from a distance of 40 years and even though older memories perhaps take on a “golden hue” it was a relatively carefree time. We lived in a small village I wouldn’t describe as in the country but close to the sea and surrounded by nature reserves, golf courses, and to the west, farmland. What seemed at the time vast and empty areas to roam in. Add my parents hands-off parenting style, a group of children of the same or similar age and apart from a child’s normal anxieties you have a childhood more or less made in heaven.
I remember it now mainly in distinctive images and sounds that impressed themselves deeply on my particular sensibility. The honking “V” of geese flying south across a crisp cold sky turning to indigo. Walking through a copse of pine trees, dry brown pine needles crunching underfoot with the distinctive sough of wind in pine tree branches high up. Under a patch of gorse a Stone Chat’s nest, built into a hollow in the ground, with four tiny eggs inside. This was so rare a find that even though we collected birds eggs we left them in the nest.
My father and mother’s parenting style extended to a policy of no pocket money. At the time this seemed unfair and hard. Now I realise it fostered an ingenuity that became part of the warp and weft of childhood. My wife laughs at my memory of 3 or 4 kids swathed in duffle coats, scarves, hats and rubber boots on an icy wind blown winter day pushing an old unused pram along the beach collecting sea coal to sell for pocket money. The beach was known as treacherous and our ages ranged from 10 downwards. I remember this with some fondness. Collecting lost golf balls and selling them, returning drink bottles that then had a small refundable cash payment on them, if we needed money we found a way to get it.
All this may be strangely archaic to you, even the English I write may be like me reading the English of 200 years before my time.
The ancient Greeks visualized an individual’s life as a piece of woven cloth the Fates cut with shears at death. The analogy of warp and weft may hold good for a view larger than any individual life. We only seem able to visualize the more distant future as a golden age with all humanities social, economic and medical problems solved or shivering in a post-apocalyptic winter. Perhaps it may be interesting if I relate some of the strands I see currently developing in this time you may see resolved or still evolving. Currently stem cells are being grown in the hope of replacing diseased human organs. Another strand is the impetus to space travel out into the our Solar System. Another with perhaps unforeseen consequences is the apparent trend toward a rise in global temperature. Yet another the instability generated by underdeveloped nations in Africa and the East. What pressures each will exert on the other as they become part of the fabric of the future is hard for us to see. It also occurs to me that I am writing this for the internet, for us the most modern form of communication. For you perhaps a discarded form. Of interest only to historians, a gigantic frozen archive only accessible with outdated technology...........
To be continued

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Soon; The Problem of David's Penis in the Hands of Michelangelo

What happens when an artist of one culture uses the narrative of another culture as a source for visual work ?