Last week, I took the train up to London to visit the Sorolla exhibition and it was truly an inspiration.
There is buzz as I arrive at an art fair. Friendly, full of anticipation and the joy of seeing plenty people after a few months of flying solo in the studio creating new work. Many artists on the circuit know each other and have done for years. Whilst unloading our cars and vans laden heavily with canvases, sculptures and passpartout, there are hugs and kisses abound as everyone says hello and makes their way to their stand - Their home for the next few days.
How the French impressionists are leaving their mark on this artist.
There's no doubt about it, but a trip to Paris, Giverny and the Charvin paint shop is having an impact on my painting. But those French impressionists have been having an impact for years!
I have always adored going to galleries and having a nice mooch about. All through my student days I haunted the National and the Tate, sketchbook in hand, for hours on end. Galleries, whilst attracting huge numbers of visitors, are so vast that you can still find a moment of peace and calm right in the centre of the hustle and bustle of London
During my many years as a teacher, I took students to a variety of galleries including the Uffizzi in Florence and the Dali museum in Figueras. During these trips I always wanted to encourage a life long love of art. I wanted to develop the confidence required to draw in public without worrying, and a feeling that the galleries of the world belong to us all. They aren't just for the elites and the show-offs. But beautiful artwork can be enjoyed by everyone.
So on Wednesday, I decided to give myself a birthday treat and I went to the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National gallery.
With some trepidation and heart full of excitement I went in.
To be frank I got a bit emotional about it all. Michelangelo has that effect on me. Always has.
The initial impact was "Wow".
I'm lucky enough to have seen the vast majority is of Michaelangelo's work in Italy and beyond but there are still some serious gems in this exhibition.
The exhibition itself explores the relationship between heavyweight Michaelangelo and the lesser known Venetian Sebastiano.
There are a whole series of letters between Sebastiano and Michaelangelo - it is very interesting to see the references to the papacy and indeed to Michaelangelo's arch rival Raphael. At first it might seem that Michaelangelo's collaboration with Sebastiano is almost entirely about rivalling Rapheal. One of Sebastiano's letters even references Rapheal's death - "My dearest compare, I believe you have heard poor Rapheal of Urbino has died, something that you must soon be very sorry about, may God forgive him".
Forgive him for what? The story goes that Raphael died, aged 37 from sexual exhaustion! Though this has yet to be fully proven. However his death did provide Michaelangelo with an opportunity to pursue further commissions from the papacy and to recommend his friend Sebastiano.
Unlike Michelangelo, Sebastiano was an oil painter. I believe that his luminescence and beautiful use of colour had been hugely influenced by Michaelangelo's frescoes.
One room largely focused on the Pieta (literally meaning 'pity' and referring to Mary holding Christ's dead body) there is a cast of Michaelangelo's Pieta. Whilst it's not quite the same as seeing the original, you simply can't get close to the original in St Peter's (Rome) so being up close and personal to this cast is great. It was a super opportunity to really see how it's been constructed.
At the opposite end of the Pieta room is Sebastiano's Pieta - a huge oil painting, as Mary looks up to the heavens lamenting the death of her son. What is really interesting is that the back of Sebastiano's Pieta is also visible. And you can see the sketches that both artists drew on the back of the wooden panel. This suggests that perhaps Michaelangelo had allowed Sebastiano to share his studio for a time. The sketches also show the start of some figures later appear on Michaelangelo's Sistine ceiling.
Throughout the exhibition there are many drawings from both artists. Some you may have already seen in the British Museum but there are others from Frankfurt, from Washington, and several from the Queen's own collection.
They are exquisite, delicate, beautiful and I spent much of my time studying them.
My "weak at the knees moment" was the room with the Risen Christ. One statue is an original by Michelangelo which he abandoned due to finding a black vein on Christ's face. I rather liked the black marble vein. It added to the drama. I sat and drew this for some time. The other Statue in this room is a cast of a second risen Christ created by Michelangelo, the juxtaposition of the two statues is extraordinary; one pose is contrapposto like Michelangelo's David the other dynamic. It's interesting to look at both of them; make your own mind up as to which is the better.
As if all this isn't enough, there is a huge 3D recreation of the Borgherini chapel, executed by Sebastiano with some preliminary drawings by Michelangelo. It is, quite simply, breath taking.
By the end of the exhibition I felt it had raised a few questions for me.
It appears at first sight that Sebastiano had learnt great deal from Michaelangelo. He learned about light, colour, successful rendering of twisted figures. Yet Michaelangelo seems to have learnt a lot less from Sebastiano, most notably he didn't learn to oil paint. Was this that Michaelangelo stubbornly did not want to learn how to oil paint? I won't spoil the end of their story, nor the end of the exhibition, but you'll leave with some interesting ideas about the answer!
The exhibition continues until 25th June and I can heartily recommend the visit.
Let the light do the talking.
The story of my most recent oil painting coming to life.
I have been working on a new piece from my Town and Country collection, and I have returned to London. This painting is a well trodden route down Bow Street across Watling street heading towards St Paul's cathedral. On sunny Summer evenings, London's bright young things, still in their work suits, line the street enjoying a refreshing ice cold beverage after a hard day at the office. This particular painting is however a morning view before the crowds gather and the street is quiet.
So how do I create this scene? Firstly a couple of quick sketches in the street if at all possible really helps- the sketches for this particular piece were carried out nearly a year a ago. Often an idea needs to ferment a little in the brain before it is ready. Even with my animals, who never stay still, I have to do a couple of quick sketches as that is where the character comes from. With a scene like this, entirely made from buildings, I have to create the atmosphere of the scene. Otherwise it would be an exercise in linear perspective and painting buildings. The vast majority of the time when I paint I stick to the time honoured tradition of "light over dark" and "thick over thin". Even on my signature linen canvases, with the background showing through, I still use this type of method. My very first layer; french ultramarine mixed with raw umber, or burnt siena, very diluted, and will mark out the scene.
In this particular painting the light coming from the back of the picture is absolutely key to creating the atmosphere. So I had to put in a light wash of a very pale yellow in order to see how the light would bounce off the buildings. This felt very scary to me as I never add an opaque pale colour at the start of the painting but I think it has served me well in this instance.
The next stages are a case of making sure the perspective works, a task I don't particularly enjoy but it is essential. In addition I added the taxi as a little interest to help the eye walk down that road towards St Paul's. I also need to start resolving the problem of the dome, the Dome was very difficult to get right. It didn't feel at all symmetrical! A trick of the eye surely due to the buildings either side not being equidistant.
As the painting progresses there is a chance to start thinking about colour in addition to tone. I have used a very limited pallet here using gold ochre and burnt siena for the warm tones combined with an Old holland favourite of mine -blue violet and kings blue for the cooler tones.
The final stages start holding things all together I am able to add in the highlights and some added detail around the statue and balustrades of St Paul's. I was able to tidy up the taxi and add some glorious reflections on its glossy black paint and glass windows, and I whitened the sky still further to really create that cold morning light as London comes to life from it all too brief slumber.
The last decision is at what point do you walk away from the camvas. I'm still not completely sure that I have walked away from this one! It may put me back in for just an extra couple of highlights once this layer is dry and I'm sure I won't ruin what I've already created. Once the decision really is made and I'm confident with my work, I signed it. Once the signature is there I'm not allowed to touch it again.
After all, I have to let the light do the talking.
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