Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The happiest man?

What a beautiful face, radiating goodness and happiness. This is the French Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard and someone who appears about as well balanced and genuine as it is possible to be. There are claims that he is the happiest man alive, but I suspect that sort of hyperbole would not please him.

He was a pioneer into scientific research into the effect of meditation on the physical brain and emotions. It is suggested he has done more than 10,000 hours meditation himself.  I can't possibly do justice to this man, so do have a look at his blog

There are also a lot of video clips of him speaking on YouTube. In addition he is a brilliant photographer, mostly images of Tibet where he has been for 40 years.
I think he is literally extra-ordinary and radiates love, in the way of so many Buddhists. I hope you want to know more. Have I made you curious?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leonardo - hype or heaven

Unusually, we booked tickets for the National Gallery's Leonardo show as soon as they were available. Yesterday was the day. The plaudits are justified, despite the huge amount of hype. To accumulate a relatively large proportion of his paintings under one roof was an amazing feat by the curators, but be prepared for their small size in general, and that some are unfinished. It is important to focus on the paintings themselves, because we have seen them in so many papers, TV programmes and books, that you have to remember now you are seeing the real thing. It is brilliantly hung, but very crowded, in fact just as bad as any other blockbuster in the basement exhibition space of the National Gallery. (Such huge stairways, such small rooms.) So, be patient, and you will spot the chance to stand as long as you like in front of the iconic, dainty Lady with an Ermine.

The girl, mistress of Leonardo's patron in Milan, Cecilia Gallerani, is holding the ermine (don't let's call it a ferret - Eddy Grundy never had anything like this). It is supposedly a symbol of purity.  These equisite drawings are thought to be sources for the ermine's head and paws. But they are small and very difficult to view. Get the catalogue first and this won't be a problem as the illustrations of drawings are lifesize.

This painting is an extraordinary portrayal of a personality, who was very young but looks quite assured in her position. Apparently and unsurprisingly, she was unloved by Ludivico's intended. But he went on to marry Beatrice and gave Cecilia, or rather his son by her, a grand house. She lived there, married and became something of a poet.

So, the show is a mixture of heaven, hell and hype. But it is an opportunity that will not arise again, so take the time to be patient in the queues waiting to look at drawings not much larger than a postage stamp (the bear) or extraordinary portraits and scenes by a great master.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don't mess with the Gods

One of my favourite myths is that of Apollo and Daphne. The one about a daughter of the river god, Penneus, who never wants to marry. She is pursued by Apollo, who has been shot by Cupid thus falling in love instantly with D. She has been shot by Cupid with an arrow which means she will hate whoever she sees next, poor old Apollo. (Keep up at the back there). He tries to force himself upon her, she prays to her father who changes her into a laurel, in fact a bay tree. From thenceforth Apollo wears a laurel wreath. Some might say this wasn't much of a good turn for Daphne. On the other hand, the leaves of bay never rot and stay glossy, fresh and green (unless we have a fierce winter). It's a strange story, but what I love is the various images it has inspired. And here are just a few...

Pollaiuolo c1470-80, National Gallery

Veronese c1560-65, San Diego Museum of Art

Mosaic in Antioch

Poussin, 1625, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

There are many, many more. Strangely, I could find few contemporary works, but there is this illustrative drawing which is fun for its spontaneity. It is by Paul Thomas

Monday, November 14, 2011

Power of the smile

Quentin Blake is a delightful person, at least I feel sure he must be, judging by his work on show at Compton Verney in Warwickshire. Appropriately the exhibition is called As Large as Life, partly because they are large watercolours.

This short video clip shows his technique.

Each room has a themed series of works that have been commissioned by various health facilities, such as the St Vincent clinic for eating disorders in London or this Fire Eater for a hospital. The following has been taken from the Compton Verney website.

"Friends in the circus series - Ellington Ward in Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow.
This is an older adults’ mental health ward for which Quentin has made a series of pictures on a circus theme. The series of circus characters – jugglers, tightrope-walkers, fire-eaters and clowns – all of an older age group, forms a display which can be seen as celebrating the lifelong persistence of well-practised talents."

These works were commissioned by The Nightingale Project who aim to cheer up mental health facilities. I feel sure these wonderful circus pictures do exactly that.

And the most noticeable thing was the way everyone looking at the pictures was smiling. Hopefully those struggling with the despair of mental illness feel happier when they see these enchanting images.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dabbling day

Today, at last, out came the paintbrushes and off I went to a class with a brilliant teacher, Caroline Chappell. I knew it would be good, because I love her work. No, this is not hers, but my playtime effort with inks, quills, sticks, brushes and bleach. Oh, and Quink!

The smell of Quink brought back vivid memories of schooldays, and the doubtful privilege of being the ink monitor, filling those little ceramic pots inserted into desks. My, how things have changed.

Back to the painting. Lovely colours, a dish of bleach, Christmas baubles and these beads. It felt like a liberated episode of Blue Peter meets what-his-name Hart without the sticky-back plastic and empty washing up liquid bottles.

Brushes were rough from tiny, worn ones to big bristly decorating ones. Everthing was acceptable whether it was sticking glitter or using oil pastels as resist.

And to crown it all, I signed up for the coach trip to Kettle's Yard and Vermeer in Cambridge. So, an absorbing, fun creative time with lots to look forward to. Next week, landscapes with trees.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Pots of pots

Shared interests are the lifeblood of a good relationship and we are lucky (Rob and I) to have many. One is pots. Studio pots and good domestic ones. Here is a beauty.

This is by Jim Malone, one of our greatest living potters, who works in the Japanese and medieval tradition. We were lucky enough to visit him twice when he lived in Ainstable, near Penrith. He told us how he was first inspried by medieval jugs in York Museum and the influence particularly on this earlier work is plain to see. On the second visit he took us round his studio, showing us the woodfired kiln which he fired twice a year. The tremendous physical labour required to stoke a kiln like this for 48 hours without sleep and with the vigilance required is where the skill and strength of the potter is most tested.

On our first visit he welcome us in to his house, gave us a mug of tea and we bought a fine pot for a client and one tea mug for us.

The mug is used daily, but studio pots are for looking at, and from a practical view, useless. The mug gives satisfaction every time it is picked up because it is made just right. The handle works, the balance is right. Most potters want their work to be used, but at the same time the high prices are in the large artworks. And this raises another point; the oft debated distinction, if there is one, between art and craft.

I spotted the pot above in a photo of a selling exhibition of the paintings of Peter Joyce (for another time - lives and works in France, but paintings so remininiscent of West Penwith and St Ives). Without realising who it was by, I said what a fine pot and later discovered it was one of Jim's.

Because I love them, I will blog of some other favourites like De Waal, Spira, Pleydell Bouveries, Bernard Leach and for us, the supreme Shoji Hamada.

Meanwhile, we enjoy what we have and enjoy looking at some and using others.