Sunday, 29 December 2013

Life drawing at the NPG

This time it was a lovely drop in life class, with a lovely helpful tutor in contrast to last time.

Did you know some people in London will spend their Friday nights in a lecture theatre in the National Portrait Gallery drawing naked people on a stage? And it's free? I love London. 

I put these here for general lolz and amusement, not because I'm proud of them.

5 minute pose

Drawing with the left hand

Long pose. Look, I didn't have my glasses, alright?

Single line drawing, 1 minute pose. 

The one on the left was drawn with a pen and a pencil in each hand, drawing the two sides simultaneously - pretty impossible, but fun. It is my favourite because with the pear shape, though I was looking at the model inadvertently it's turned into a self portrait.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Sinners 2013

Because it's always more fun to criticise than praise, right? How not to do it... 


Man Ray at National Portrait Gallery 
Now, this was a beautiful exhibition, no question - but like every temporary show at the NPG, they squashed it into this tiny, absurdly hot and crowded space at the back. These pictures are small too, so they were surrounded by a million pushy posh old ladies all shoving you with their elbows. Raargh! Exhibition rage!

This was a victim of its own success. A while ago I wrote about how the Print room at the British Museum never advertised its exhibitions and was underappreciated. They clearly were listening to me as they decided to put on a huge crowd-pulling people-pleasing show about SEX and pay for advertising all over the tube network. There were queues out the door, and timed tickets.

Let's not mess about here, this show was p*rn, though beautifully executed, erotic artistic Japanese p*rn. (As my friend said, it's kind of a relief when you see one without cocks.)The room was packed and despite the English reserve, yes yes we're all grownups, it was all a bit uncomfortable. I wish I could have got to see it during the week without the crowds.

Mexico at the Royal Academy
The RA has mostly been great this year - this wasn't bad, but strangely didn't feature many Mexican artists, more artists who had visited Mexico. Em and I kept bursting into giggles as the captions bizarrely kept repeating about each artist "He never returned to Mexico."

A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now

This was an ICA "off-site" exhibition at the Old Selfridges Hotel. Oh my god. Take a fascinating, explosive, imaginative period in pop culture, invite all the major players to take part - squash all this imagination and creativity into 100 boring little glass boxes. Excuse me, vitrines. What a wasted opportunity.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries
I saved the best worst til last!  Holy smoke! This is what people think of when they disdain contemporary art.   It was at the ICA and free, we went in a little group from college. It is a competition for art school graduates (cue much debate about why only art school graduates are legit in the eyes of the art world) and honestly, if this is the best they've got...  46 out of thousands of entries... Lacklustre painting, half-arsed sculpture, lame installations, self-indulgent films. Nothing interesting, nothing engaging, nothing well made.

 (I don't want to pick on anyone in particular, but just to give you a sample, that painting was a detail of a Simpsons cartoon painted straight on the wall with condiments like mustard. Worth  £500 grand of anyone's money, surely.)

It would have been depressing except we made up a game where we had bets on which college the artist graduated from (Goldsmiths...? RCA...? Chelsea...? St Martins...? the Slade...? There is an absolutely outrageous bias towards London art schools -  We whooped when Leeds Uni made a surprise last minute entry.)

Poor. Very poor. Poorer than poor. But sort of hopeful and encouraging for us, too.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Art Shows 2013

End of year lists, don't you hate them? So this is not a top ten, it's more a list of Sinners and Winners, to quote that mad man who used to preach outside Oxford Circus.


Paper at Saatchi gallery - Very inventive, interesting and exciting show. This photo doesn't do justice to Han Feng's floating cities (plus I was pleased to see it was also made with fishing line, cough cough). There I said something positive about Saatchi, so sue me.

Floating City
Han Feng Floating City at the Saatchi Gallery
Elmgreen & Dragset - Tomorrow at the V&A.   This was very cool. An installation tucked away in a V&A, it felt like walking into some forgotten, secret part of the gallery where someone had set up residence. You were greeted by a butler as you walked in. It was slightly odd, in a good way, like gatecrashing someone's private apartment. They'd been given the V&A collection to raid to set up it up, which must have been fun. Books, furniture, statues, pictures... The story behind the installation was a washed up architect being kicked out of his luxury family home by his upstart protege - slightly All About Eve. They also gave away a little film script to give you some backstory.

Memory Palace - another corker at the V&A, the idea was the exhibition as a 3D graphic novel. Hari Kunzru wrote a sci-fi story about a futuristic London where "Recording, writing, collecting and art are outlawed". Different artists were given different parts of the story to illustrate. I wish I could have taken photos.  Here is a link to my favourite bit, Le Gun collective's ambulance (Le Gun are our neighbours at East London Printmakers, I'm very in awe of them.)

George Bellows at the RA 
George Bellows
Beautiful painting and print exhibition of this artist I hadn't heard of, he died at 42 but left behind these vivid pictures of early 20th Century New York, street scenes, boxing matches and children swimming in the Hudson.

Daumier at the RA - I remember Daumier from studying Art History, even 20 years ago he had reputation as a funny cartoonist but I think people are coming around to seeing what a real artist he was. He had that leftwing, firebrand streak, which I like. And apparently he never drew from life, just from memory, which makes me want to cry.

I loved this picture so much, it reminded me of the Fine Art course when we all walk around and look at each other's work in the studio. The sense of camaraderie but slight competition too. The etiquette of looking at someone else's work...

A travers les ateliers - Fichtre!.... Epatant!..... Sapristi!.... Superbe!.... ├ža parle!...

Hmm, I realise the sinners may have to wait until the next post. Just reading this back makes me exhausted - maybe my new year's resolution will be to cut down on the art a bit.

And the rest... 

 Jules de Balincourt "Itinerant Ones" at Victoria Miro
We went to see this as a group with college, I was prepared to hate this fantastically hip and successful French painter based in New York who is my age, but take my hat off to him, he really really can paint and we spent hours looking at them. 

Pop Art at Christies
Like opening a time capsule. Great stuff. Film stars, optimism, cereal boxes, space race, glamour, girls in bikinis.

Isabella Blow, Somerset House
For anyone who doesn't know that clothes can be art. A bit heartbreaking, considering Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow are both no longer with us. Thankfully Philip Treacy is still alive and well.

White Cube Mark Bradford Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank
Another college trip, because he's our tutor's favourite artist. For anyone who thinks that modern art is rubbish, these would blow your mind. Mark Bradford picks up billboard posters and recycles them into these huge pictures which are sort of road maps which he carves into. Would very happily have one of these on my wall. If I lived in an enormous warehouse with the wall space.

The Show is Over Gagosian - the end of painting - painting made with neon, plastic, carpet, steel - what makes a painting?

Becoming Picasso at the Courtauld

Australia at the Royal Academy - it was big, but nothing really registered. It is cavalier to dismiss an entire country's art, I could hear Robert Hughes growling at me in my head. We liked the Aboriginal work better than the Western art - the first settlers who went out and painted managed to make the bush look like a nice English garden in Surrey.

Original Print Fair at the RA This is a selling show but it's lovely to see printmaking heroes' work live and direct

A rare out of London trip - Curiosity at the Turner Contemporary in Margate

Klee at the Hayward "Art does not reproduce the visible - rather, it makes visible."

Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London - a literal time capsule of Elizabethan London.

Guildhall Victoriana - The Art of Revival- modern artists being inspired by the crazy Victorians.

Hauser & Wirth Onnasch Collection - fabulous collection of fabulously wealthy German art collector "Pop Art, Fluxus, Colorfield, Assemblage, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism from the New York School of Art, many of which have never been presented before in London."

He wouldn't miss just one little Rauschenberg, would he?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

New zine

Over the last year I have made a 180 degree turnaround on Peter Blake, from thinking he was a lucky sod who was in the right place at the right time, to realising in fact he's a genius, an amazing artist and popular just because he's really, really good.

I bought his illustrated book of Under Milk Wood, which has been a lifelong project (I'm really hoping the exhibition in Cardiff will travel to London eventually, though he says when the exhibition is over he might carry on working on the pictures afterwards - it really is a lifelong project).

It is beautiful.  and it made me think about Laugharne and all the place we used to visit in Wales. It gave me an idea for a little artist book/comic/zine, which I'm going to make and maybe even try to get someone else to publish.  One of the things I like about his work is the way he mixes it up, with collage, painting, printmaking, photography, bricolage... Whatever works goes in the mix.

This is my first image - it's Dylan Thomas' house in Laugharne seen from the beach, brush & ink.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Drawing day 6 - The other side of the river

and Texting
Very quick - coming to the conclusion that I am not yet Picasso and they need time to produce anything of quality.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Drawing day 4 - Hardhats

This took about 5 minutes. I know, they look like a 5 year old drew them, but I am finding them fun after the hard work in class (a while ago we drew pieces of paper on the floor for 5 hours. Sometimes the tutors like to torture us.)

With added watercolour.

Here is a lady I found on Flickr, I love her cranes book.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Drawing day 4 - Lips

Look, I know this is a poor excuse for a drawing. What can I tell you? I had a beautiful but very busy day. The man opposite me on the tube was asleep with his head tipped right back, which was perfect, but I'd just started when he woke up. Tsk, pesky models waking up at the wrong moment.

Will try and do better tomorrow. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Drawing Day 2 - Sarah Bernhardt

Nipped into the National Portrait Gallery before class to use the loo, and realised I'd found a good source of people to draw.

It's more fun to draw real people but paintings (or in this case, woodcuts) don't mind being looked at. This took about 5 minutes.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Drawing a day - day 1

After the Life Class of Doom, and having some struggles with direction and frustration on the course, I thought what I really need is just to practice. A lot. And not worry about classes or formal learning, but just to draw, and keep drawing, until I get better.

Successful artists (and probably, successful people in every field) are real grafters. They work and work and work at it. They produce shitloads of work. We went to the Tate Britain 'house-warming' and had a wander through the Turner galleries. There are a lot of them. They represent hours and hours of looking. Drawing teaches you how to look.  It also teaches you visual memory, which I really need. 

Inspired by this, and by the printmaker Ann Lewis on Twitter, who posted a beautiful little sketch a day for 'Draw October,' sometimes of Welsh landscapes like the beach or the mountains, sometimes just a little mundane item like a bar of chocolate or a mug on the draining board, I'm going to try and produce a drawing a day. Hopefully it will become a habit.

I went to Paperchase at lunchtime and in my 15 minutes grabbed a coffee at  Cafe Nero, and sat down with my little pad and pen (no 3B pencils, so pen had to suffice.) I drew the woman sitting on the next table .  I wish  drawing wasn't such a suspicious activity in public places, I love drawing people but they get nervous when you stare at them. This took about 3 minutes.

Fortuitously she was on the phone and didn't notice my shifty glances over at her.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Bad teachers

In contrast to this post, sometimes in life you will come across them.

A consequence of my past working life that I hadn't reckoned on is that every time I'm in some kind of classroom/learning situation now, my inner teacher sits in judgement.  This is usually fine because the tutors at the City Lit are uniformly excellent.

Today I came across one (not at the City Lit) who was DOING IT ALL WRONG. Luckily now I'm an adult with teaching experience behind me I can look at this dispassionately and not be affected. It made me cross though, as it was in a class of mainly young teenage students. I so remember being that age and how very easy it is to damage their confidence and self esteem, just when they need it to be boosted.

It is not an auspicious place for me. It is an art college set up by HRH in Shoreditch. I got rejected for a job there before, and it's also around the corner from another book arts class that I dropped out of because the class was way too crowded and I thought they'd booked too many students out of greed.  I kept dragging myself out to this class in the freezing cold after work last winter until I realised that I really wasn't enjoying it and nobody said I had to go anyway...

Tonight was a drop in life drawing session, free for art students. A boy in the lift is chatting to me, he came last week.
"Do they give you guidance...?"  (They often don't at drop in sessions.)
"Sure, if he thinks you can do better, he'll let you know..." Hmm, I think. That's not teaching.
"Where do you study?"
"City Lit."
"Oh, fair play." he says.
"How about you?"
"St Martin's".
"Well done!" I say, thinking, holy shit, I'm out of my depth already. 

 It's a different tutor this week, an older woman. She is relentlessly negative.  She starts off moaning about people turning up late and moans at every latecomer. There is an easy solution to this, I think. Tell the receptionist downstairs that people can't come in late. Or position yourself at the studio door and don't let them in.

Then there is a stream of critical, negative comments as she circumnavigates the studio.  This isn't helpful, I haven't done any life drawing in about 2 years and have forgotten everything I ever knew, and am surrounded by young kids studying art full time.

"If you're not finishing the pose, you must ask yourself why...? What are you doing so that you can't complete it?"

"It's interesting to me, looking at people who perhaps  haven't had much drawing experience... You can tell because they can't tell the difference between illustration and art..."

"Why are you here? You're not here just to add another drawing to your portfolio. Find something in the drawing, maybe the structure or the mood, find an angle. Otherwise, why not just take a photo? What makes it a drawing?" 

This is not teaching. It's as if I'd stood over my 5 year olds, mocking them for not being able to read fluently without giving them the tools or helping them to do it.

Most of the students are here to practice their life drawing skills. Maybe, like me, they don't have the opportunity to do it on their courses. Either bloody teach them or shut the fuck up, I think (but don't say.)

After the first half hour of short poses, I make a run for it at break time. I can't stand the hour and a half of the long pose to go by with her nag, nag, nagging and stream of negativity.

St Martin's boy is outside having a fag. "Are you going already?"
"Yes, she's awful. She's doing my head in."
"Yeah, it's not great. Aw, that's a shame. Can't you just tune her out...?"
"Can't concentrate."
"Come back next week, there'll be a different tutor then."
"Yeah, I'll give it a try. See you next week."

I'll peep around the studio door next week, and make a run for it if I see her. I wish I'd caught her name as some of the classes there look great.

short poses (1 or 3 minutes) trying to tune out nagging harpy woman. 

Most women don't like their big bums but when you are life drawing you can see their appeal.

Friday, 8 November 2013


This is from our sketchbook project, aka "mucking about". Take some source material

And then experiment  with it using different resources - ink, charcoal, photocopy, scalpel, scissors, glue, collage, decollage, felt tips, paint... and with formal elements like scale, colour, texture, line... The challenge was to make it 3D in some way too.

(Apparently, I shun the colour. Everyone else's sketchbooks were beautiful jewel-like colour symphonies. I seem to be channelling my inner 15 year old Goth.)

This is a different way of working for me. It is strange not to start with an idea of what to make but see where the process takes you.  This is what they tell you it is all about. Not the final product, but the process. Like life, innit?