Book review: ‘This is modern art’ Matthew Collings


This really was an entertaining read – much to my surprise! Collings tells the story of Modern Art in an  amusing and witty way and seems to cover just about everything.  Also a good reference book to keep and refer to. (By the way, I didn’t steal this from a library…it came with that bar code on it! 🙂 )

So I learnt more about artists I was familiar with and many that I had not heard of. A useful reference book to dip into for research and inspiration.





Hokusai: beyond the great wave

20170610_160353During my trip back to the UK I had time for a quick visit to London. Of all the exhibitions on at the moment, I could not resist getting tickets for the Hokusai at The British Museum. Yes, he is 18th/19th century but he is work is exquisite and although I am sure the Hodgkin at the National portrait Gallery was interesting, for me this is what I needed to see.

The exhibition was tight on timing, and it was very crowded and rather dark, so much so that it would have been impolite to stand and sketch for any length of time which was a shame. I was also not allowed to take any photographs. I made some notes as I went round in shockingly bad handwriting…..



The leaflet inside and some postcards:



The clouds in one of the many Mount Fuji paintings reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s clouds paintings. A lot of the work was very linear and not tonal. I liked his unexpected touches, for example the white sea foam birds and turning in plover birds. He was inspired by his area, living with the view of Mount Fuji and the birds and flowers. This reminds me to look and paint the beautiful things I have here, in Andalucia. He was also inspired by poems, ghost tales. Some of his work seemed stylised, and then sudden it would be just bursting with life somehow, as below in the ‘Gamecock and Hen’ Gamecock and hen


I am captivated by the expression on their faces. Sometimes you just don’t need to put too much into a painting; I just love the simplicity of this. The cock so proud and challenging and the hen look coquettishly at him, she would flutter her eyelids if she had any. This was one of his later paintings.

There is another Guardian review here also:

This is a quote from there:  ‘There is precious little evidence of a later flowering, “beyond” The Great Wave, in this increasingly baffling exhibition. Hokusai’s late painting of a dragon, done in the traditional way on a silk scroll in 1849, the year of his death, shows he could still ink a decent monster at 90. Yet it is not any more exciting, sensitive or profound than the much earlier dragon painting shown here that he’d created in about 1798. Late style? What late style?’

I disagree. I loved all of his work but the later ones seemed to have more life in them somehow; they seemed to say more to me. My stand out favourite that I would loved to have stolen and taken home with me was the dragon in the smoke above Fuji that this critic is referring to. This is not a good copy but it took my breath away standing in front of it.  I think maybe it is the scale of the dragon against the mountain and the beautiful, again simplicity, of the whiteness of the mountain. Also, I have had to leave a work I am in the middle of  which is a vulture of death coming out of some clouds so I saw this and thought, yes, this is what I am trying to do.  source:

“If heaven will afford me five more years of life, then I’ll manage to become a true artist.” Hokusai.


The artist’s handbook by Ralph Mayer

20170327_145924 (1)This book is like an encyclopedia of all paints, materials, techniques – basically, anything you are not sure about you can look up in here.  I have seen it referred to as the artist’s bible…I don’t feel it is a book you would sit down and read but it is handy to have to look up a type of brush, or pallette knife (I have done both). This is especially useful for students, like myself, who are working without the aid of a teacher to direct questions to on basic techniques.  My only criticism is that is not so much about using acrylics, my chosen medium. A book to keep for life however. 🙂

Nature Morte by Michael Petry

image1 (73)‘Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition’

This book was recommended to me by my tutor. I was delighted with it when it arrived; big glossy photos to pour over and I enjoyed Petry’s writing style very much.

The book is divided into 5 sections: Flora, Food, House & Home, Fauna and Death. And it is indeed very much as the title suggests, modern artists interpretation of the still life genre. The book starts with an introduction and history of the traditional still-life and the symbolism therein.

‘All the violence and death sensationalised on the news/media has prompted so many contemporary artists to turn to ‘nature morte’ and its more nuanced representations and allusions to death’. Although, some of them I would question if they did indeed qualify in this genre. Some in the Food section were a bit nauseating; Cindy Wright’s ‘Nature Morte’, oil on linen shows a bloody, gutted fish coiled up inside a glass bowl. Is is hyper photographically detailed. And  ‘Baconsquare’ shows the uncooked flesh of a pig chopped into squares. As a vegan I suppose I should applaud anything that makes people think twice about eating the flesh of animals and fish… However, I do not feel I would be willing nor able to produce work on this subject.

Per Christian Brown’s photograph, in the Flora section,  ‘You will still be here when I am gone’, is an example of something that I feel is not quite still life, but interesting anyway!  Brown has written on a tree in the woods, and it is meant as a metaphor for man’s limited lifespan and our attempts to mark or mar the natural world.  I thought this was rather clever and I always love happening upon art that has been created out in natural environments. I like the idea of art outside weathering and becoming one with the earth in the end, of being reclaimed by the natural world.

In House and Home, I was drawn to Derek Buckner’s ‘White series’, where the artist has closely observed billowing or crumpled folds of white textiles. I looked for more examples and found the series here:!/page/112815/white-series Simple yet so beautifully described, I take from this that just painting the effect of light on white has more than enough to interest the viewer, with the description of the darker tones and shadows and the way the material folds. I particularly like the one that appears to be a group of people covered in white sheets, only their hands and forearms are visible. It is rather unnerving. Who are these people and why are they covered?! I am pleased to have found this artist and will look at his work again, in particular his cityscapes.

In Fauna, there is a striking and disturbing piece by Javier Pérez entitled ‘Carroña’ (Carrion). Stuffed, black crows are  eating a smashed, red glass chandelier. Somehow, the red glass is like blood and entrails that the crows are greedily feasting upon. Does it mean greed for luxury, beautiful things? And so easily broken and consumed….I do like this idea of replacing one thing, an animal corpse, for another to create such a striking image. it would have worked as a painting too, I think.

The last section, Death, was the most interesting for me and the section that I feel I will take most from to inform my own work, although a lot of work shown was sculpture or installation. I have always liked bones and skulls, and indeed wish I had access to more for my art work. I enjoyed in particular Paul McDervitt’s ‘Mountain Flowers A’, ink on paper. He has made the drawing using standard biro pens, almost in the Manga style. A skull hides beneath beautifully described blue and red flowers. The red is a little like blood at first glance. I also found the image here:

I agree with the author when he says that, ‘death is certain, life is short, and we should enjoy ourselves while we can’, and the’ vanitas’ style of still life reminds us of this.

Overall, ‘Nature Morte’ is a good book to have, to refer to and dip into for inspiration and reference. I have learned that still life can be interpreted in many adventurous and unusual ways.




CAC Málaga: Mark Ryden exhibition

I had to do a fast dash back to the UK recently, however, it did mean I had a night in Málaga on the way and I had time to visit the CAC art gallery. The main exhibition on there featured the ‘God Father of pop surrealism’,and ‘lowbrow art’,  Mark Ryden.


All images below taken with my phone in the gallery.

His name was not familiar to me, however his Michael Jackson album cover was very familiar and it was an amazing surprise to see it there in its full size and glorious colours.


My first impression and notes: At first glance Ryden’s works seems almost whimsical; the figures are beautiful but look again and they are not really real, neither children nor women and some have a slightly bruised, ill look to them. There is so much to take in in each painting; so much imagery. You can spend a long time getting lost in each one. There is often a feeling of evil/death and almost always some meat. This didn’t sit well with me being vegan, however I take it he is making a statement about why is meat considered differently from our own flesh…? There is catholic and masonic iconography, President Lincoln pops up a lot, old toys, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skulls and skeletons. I felt in awe of the skill and detail in the paintings, but also they left me feeling uneasy, disturbed somehow.


‘Snow White’, oil on canvas, 1997


‘Chroma Structure 113’ , 2015, oil on canvas


‘Aurora’, 2015, 9 feet high.

In various interviews I have been reading, it seem that Ryden spends a very long time on his paintings, and this of course shows through in the almost airbrushed look and incredible detail.

‘I paint the same way on an eight-foot canvas as I do on a five-inch miniature. I still use very tiny brushes and noodle every square inch. It took me nearly a year to paint The Parlor.’source:

Whilst I find his work interesting, and  I enjoyed finding out more about him, I have been wondering what I can take from this to inform my own work?  I am not sure that this style of art is a path that I would care to venture down BUT yes, break the rules, make up your own mysterious symbolism, put in things that interest you , paint what is in your mind and not reality…yes, this I can use.

Gallery visit: Peter Brown exhibition, Bath, Somerset

When I was back in the UK I visited an exhibition of Peter Brown’s work in the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Somerset.

I saw this was on in an art magazine and was very pleased to see an exhibition was on at a location I could easily travel to (I LOVE it when that happens!) His oil paintings looked exciting and full of energy, capturing the local area with a style of his own and I was not disappointed. Brown loves painting en plein air in all weathers, indeed a lot of his work describes beautifully the heavy rain that seems to happen rather a lot in Somerset.

This short clip on Youtube shows Brown at work .

I am going to focus on 3 works, which appealed to me and from which I may learn something. All photos are my own, with permission from the gallery.


‘St Michael’s with St Paul, Night’. Oil on canvas. This stood out for me, as it is a night scene and I was surprised how well the large, dark sky actually worked. It offers a strong contrast to the warm glow of the street lighting. I like how the red stop signs stand out; a common motif as he uses pops of red in quite a few other works. The top of the church is floodlit, which draws the eye upwards and balances out the picture. Brown is described as an impressionist painter, although I would say there is quite a lot of realism in his works, but almost as if viewed through thick, slightly distorted glass.


‘Pigeons in the rain, Abbey Churchyard’. Oil on canvas. There was also a smaller version of this, but this one has the recent bicycle tracks through the rain, which I think is just brilliant and tells a story whilst  also drawing you into the painting. I love how he has described the rain falling and the shine and reflections on the pavements and the light coming through the alleyway. This is a colder painting than the previous one, but it has a cheerfulness about it, what with the pigeons pecking for crumbs left from the abandoned tea on the cafe table and the people hanging onto their umbrellas against the elements. The reflections in the rain and the light are the main focus of this work rather than the edifices.


‘Russell Street’. Charcoal on paper. In addition to the works in oil and a few water colours, Brown also had some charcoal sketches in this exhibition. I have to say if I  was going to buy any of them I would want the charcoals. They are breathtakingly executed. I did not know such detail could be described with this medium. (The blue in this is a reflection as I took the photograph). What I said earlier about his work looking real and yet as if viewed through thick, distorted old glass definitely applies to his charcoal work.  The monochrome of these works inspire me to think what I could achieve with just painting using black and white paint.

I will be referring back to Brown when i start of part 4 of this course, which I believe includes town/landscapes.

Below are some notes I made at the time and a few fast sketches to try to understand how Brown works.


Lecture by Gerald Deslandes: European and American Art 1970 – 2015

I was lucky enough yesterday to be invited to attend an art lecture for IB students at the Sotogrande International School, near to where I live.  Here are some notes taken and my thoughts about it. I have added in some images that interested me.

Why has art changed over the years? This has been mainly down to wars, inventions, globalisation, technology and the end of manufacturing – now we have a service economy. Art and artists started to change and become less important than popular culture.

Actual skills of the artist became less important. For example, Andy Warhol had his factory to produce his ideas (that he had taken form elsewhere, ie the soup cans); Carl Andre’s Bricks installation  (he did not make the bricks or even install them himself) and Daniel Burren’s ‘White on white on grey’ did not require any artistic skill. This kind of art is geared towards big companies, art galleries and not for the average home.

Chris Burden’s ‘reasons for the neutron bomb’ 1979, used matchsticks on coins to represent the number of tanks in europe, justifying the need for the bomb. So he is making a political statement here.

(image source:

Joseph Beuys lecture is his artwork, Richard Long’s’ England 1968′ was a line he made by walking, Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral jetty’ was an actual jetty built into a lake in Utah, which is sometimes visible and sometimes below the waterline. This sort of art is very organic and certainly not permanent in any way, subject to the will of the elements. Although, of course, it is recorded at the time in photographs.

(source of image:

Female artists made statements about women and their roles in society. The Guerilla Girls asked where where all the female artists and why were all the women in the Met. museum nudes? (image source: Art to make you think and ask questions…..Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 by Guerrilla Girls

Kara Walker is an African-American artist who race and gender identity in her work. In her work ‘silhouettes’ she addresses racism and slavery through paper cutouts. This is deliberately ironic as she has used a gentle pastime to show something brutal and evil.


Santiago Sierra tattooed people in exchange for money, or drugs, to form an 8 foot line. This makes me feel uncomfortable, I feel it is rather exploitative and raises ethical questions, which I presume was the point of it!.

(image source: cm Line Tattooed on 4 People El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo. Salamanca, Spain. December 2000 2000 by Santiago Sierra born 1966


Deslandes had worked for art galleries and said that he had found time and time again that artist’s wished to limit peoples knowledge of their work, to make it more exclusive. If it became accessible to the masses them it would somehow lose its value.

Anslem Kiefer: ‘The paths of World Wisdom’ is a kind of mind map of all the German philosophers and great thinkers, this may mean we have lost our sense of meaning in the world? (image source: kiefer_a_los-caminos-de-la-sabiduria-del-mundo_la-batalla-de-hermann-560x453


I have not written about all the work that was mentioned, but I do have lots of notes in my sketchpad to refer back to which I think will be very useful for research in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture by this very knowledgeable man.

A lot of the work we looked at today has a statement to make, which may or may not have been relevant to changes happening in the world at the time, or a story to tell, and this has made me think about how my own art work can start from the need to say something, based on my own feelings or beliefs. To think of a story or a statement as preparation and inspiration as well as sketches may well help me to inform my work.