How this slim hardback arrived at my bedside I know not. Laurie Lee is best known for `Cider with Rosie` a book I have never read. But the book appeared, and its cover photograph invited closer inspection. Inside in short `notes` of a few pages each is some of the best writing about the magic of the English seasons seen through the eyes of an unusually perceptive and imaginative writer of English prose.
Just read this, entitled `A cold Christmas walk in the country` written from memory of his childhood in a now-vanished Gloucestershire:
"Pushing the cold before me like a sheet of tin, I set off up the Christmas road. It is a morning for heroes and exhilarating exile, a time to shock the blood back to life, while I go stamping frost-footed along pathways of iron, over grass that is sharp as wire, past cottages hollowed out like Hallowe`en turnips all seething with lights and steam.
I climb up the valley, breathing hard the sharp air which prickles the nostrils and turns to vapour. To be walking today is to be followed everywhere by private auras of pearly cloud. The wandering cows are exhaling too - pale balloons of unheard conversation. The ploughed fields below me have crusts like bread pudding, delicately sugared with twinkling frost. the distant pastures are slivered, crumpled and bare. Even the light they reflect seems frozen."
Reading this on a kodachrome February morning in the cool blue winter suntrap that is the flat roof of our Tokyo house I thought of a painting I love to gaze at in Sydney`s Art Gallery of New South Wales, called `Spring Frost` by Elioth Gruner.
There is something magical about those frosty white-bright winter mornings in the English countryside when the world seems to stand still and wait in a spell-like silence. Laurie Lee continues:
" Where was this valley last summer? It was not here then. Winter and summer are different places. This beech wood, for instance, so empty now, no more than a fissure of cracks in the sky - where is the huge lazy heaving of those June-thick leaves, reeking of sap and the damp roots of orchids, rustling with foxes and screaming with jays and crammed to the clouds with pigeons? The wood, for the moment, is but the scaffold of summer. It stands stripped to the bruising cold. A dark bird or two sit along the bare branches. None of them move. They might be caged".
Wonderful stuff. Inspiring. Do you long with a kind of sentimental rose-tinted recollection for the salad days of childhood, messing about outdoors with pals in the winter snow? Sledging for dear life, skidding on frozen ponds, snowball fights and red-nosed glee. If you like this writing, buy the book! www.amazon.co.uk/Village-Christmas-English-Penguin-Classics/dp/024124367X/ref=sr_1_1?srs=1648031031&ie=UTF8&qid=1486865485&sr=8-1&keywords=village+christmas
The Tokyo American Club`s Frederick Harris Gallery showcases the works of local and internationally renowned artists with two shows every month featuring everything from painting to ceramics to calligraphy. www.tokyoamericanclub.org/index.php/en/frederick-harris-gallery
So popular has this become that there is now a three year waiting list for applications.
I was fortunate to be selected back in 2014 and finally, after a long wait (but giving me plenty of time to work up a portfolio) the show has launched. Displayed in the B1 space are 44 paintings in oils and acrylics featuring scenes of Japan - cityscapes, travel posters, landscapes, portraits and still life.
The opening reception was well attended with almost 50 guests from Japan and overseas and the paintings have been universally praised. Even better, after only three days nearly a third of them have been sold!
I am thrilled at the response and grateful to the people that have supported me and made this all possible: the Frederick Harris Gallery committee, the friends that rallied round to carry paintings, man the reception desk, send flowers and gifts, and of course my gorgeous wife Nuala who has encouraged me on this new journey every inch of the way.
I hope you will be able to get to see the exhibition before it closes on December 18th. Non-members of TAC can visit the B1 gallery during office hours so don`t worry if you are not a member! firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever come across the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla? I must confess I had never heard of him until I visited Giverny and stumbled across this marvellous exhibition at the Musee des Impressionismes.
In 1906 an exhibition of his work at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris containing no less than 500 of his paintings - critics and the art-loving public alike were astounded at his prodigious output - launched him on the global art stage. This exhibition shows a broad cross section of his work from Paris with some 50 paintings plus preparatory sketches and studies.
Sorolla's rendering of light tends to class him as an impressionist painter. And the way he can conjure the play of sunlight on water does remind you of Monet. But his work encompasses so much more. The virtuoso spontaneity of his brushwork is right up there with Sargent. His portraiture brings to mind Velasquez (whose paintings in the Prado he scrupulously copied as a student). But standing in front of his vast canvases you realise that his style is rather unique. What seems to set them apart is a wonderful freedom of composition and movement combined with an uncanny handling of the effects of light and a boldness with colour. This is most apparent in his paintings of children in the seawater around his home town of Valencia in Spain.
Sorolla painted at great speed, often en plein air, with little advance planning of the composition. He would start with one image and the canvas then developed almost of its own accord. His paintings are thus a race against time, a race to capture the rapidly changing light effects of sunlight, shadow and colour on a summer's day. Look at these canvases up close and there is a whirlwind of dramatic brushwork using bright primary colours, olive greens, mauves, all of the cadmiums. Take a few steps back and the overall effect is startling in its intensity and verisimilitude. Bravura luminosity!
Some of his larger paintings - one or two of which are displayed in the exhibition - measure over 3 metres square. For these studio-based pieces he apparently used a palette the size of a grand piano lid, with brushes 3 foot long to allow him to stand just the right distance away to judge the effect of the paint. The large painting below is simply mesmerising, even with poor quality of my photograph. Look up close: the cloth that is being mended is a few daubs of flake white against an indigo grey. Walk back and it miraculously transforms into a riotous bundle of pure sail. Quite something. Check this guy out online. He is very inspiring.
In the summer of 1977 before going up to Cambridge I hitch-hiked around Europe with a pal from school. A compulsory stop-off point was Paris and I remember doing all the things that arty students would do in those days: wandering through Pere Lachaise cemetery to look at Jim Morrison`s grave, eking out a rudimentary dinner in a seedy Montmartre bistro, admiring the mime artists performing in front of the Centre Pompidou. This seminal piece of modernist architecture had just been opened and whilst many derided its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes we thought it was the quintessence of Cool.
During that visit I don`t think we actually visited the Musee National d`Art Moderne which had been moved there. So it was with a feeling of mingled anticipation and sentimentality for a distant youth that I visited The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum`s new exhibition "Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou: Timeline 1906-1977" www.tobikan.jp/en/exhibition/h28_pompidou.html
This innovative exhibition brilliantly combines works from the more established names of 20th Century Art - Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard, Braque, Chagall, Giacometti - with carefully curated works from lesser known figures in art, sculpture, photography and film, such as Jean Pougny, Maurice de Vlaminck, Robert Delaunay. This period included a veritable cascade of different `isms` in painting genres - fauvism, cubism, surrealism, expressionism, photorealism, etc but the power of this show is its diversity and inclusivity, with no one genre dominating.
The show spans a seventy-one year period encompassing two World Wars. Beginning in 1906, it follows a simple year by year chronology with each year featuring an artist (with accompanying picture and quotation) alongside one of their works from that year. There are of course some marvellous famous works such as Matisse`s `Red Room` and Picasso`s `La Muse`. But equally absorbing are pieces from artists you perhaps have never heard of before. By featuring them alongside their more famous cousins and embedding them in this sweeping historical overview they take on a resonance and power all of their own. And in case you are pining for the atmosphere of the streets of Paris, there is Edith Piaf (1946) singing `La Vie en Rose` and Henri Cartier-Bresson`s gelatin print of `Behind the Gare Saint Lazaire` (1958).
There are some enthralling works. Otto Freundlich`s `My Red Heaven` above - Freundlich was a German painter and political activist of Jewish origin. He spent time in Paris alongside Picasso and Braque and was featured in the infamous Nazi `Degenerate Art` exhibition after which most of the works were destroyed. In and out of captivity in occupied France he was eventually denounced and deported to Madjanek Concentration Camp where he was summarily murdered upon arrival.
Then there there are the vibrant colours of Seraphine Louis, a French worker of the humblest of origins who painted mostly in secret by candlelight and was only `discovered` late in life. `Tree of paradise` has the same emotional intensity and primitivism as aboriginal paintings.
This cemetery looks like a photograph, but it is in fact a huge painting, the oil paint applied with uncanny smoothness to achieve an otherworldly sense of place. The artist is someone I had not previously encountered, the hyperrealist Jean Olivier Hucleux. I am a big fan of the photorealist style and aspire to this in some of my own work. The rendering of the shroud-like cover over the grave is exquisitely done and had me spellbound for some time.
I will leave you with this landscape by Maurice de Vlaminck with its Cezanne-like brushwork and brooding intensity. Actually the reason I choose this was I like the quotation that accompanied the piece:
"I simply considered that by giving me the joy of work and freedom, painting let me live the way I intended to". Bravo!
NB This exhibition has only just opened and will be showing until September 22nd in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum which is based in Ueno Park in the centre of Tokyo.
On a sun-bright Friday in late May I crossed the Mersey on the famous ferry for the first time in about 50 years. I had vague thoughts of visiting the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate but really I just fancied a wee trip in the sunshine. During the course of my mini-break there were two images that struck me - Dazzle, and the Pope. And two comparisons.
Dazzle? Thats the name for the camouflage used on ships in the first world war to confuse the enemy. Unlike other forms of camouflage, dazzle camouflage works not by concealing but by baffling the eye, making it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and direction. Realised in monochrome and colour, each ship’s dazzle pattern was unique in order to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognisable to enemy U-boats and aircraft.
Working to a brief from the WWI Centenary Art Commissions along with the Liverpool Tate the pop artist Sir Peter Blake transformed the Ferry across the Mersey with a psychedelically colourful interpretation. I think he did a great job. It is difficult to find appropriate remembrance for such a horrific war and last year there were plenty of examples, most remarkably the Tower of London`s `blood swept lads and seas of red` with its outpouring of ceramic poppies. `Everybody Razzle Dazzle` proves that you can be respectful but also optimistic at the same time.
Optimistic is not something that can be said for Francis Bacon. I went along to http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/francis-bacon-invisible-rooms .
I have to admit, I struggle with Bacon. There is no denying the intensity of emotion in his canvases but I find him impenetrable and depressing. I want art to lift me up, inspire and ennoble me. This exhibition, which focuses on the `frames` in which he placed his images, again left me cold. With the exception of one painting, the one you see above (sorry about the poor reproduction). This is one of Bacon`s many studies after Velasquez`s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. For some reason Bacon was obsessed with this image and painted it again and again over decades. Many of the studies show his characteristic `scream` treatment, but this one is more muted, and the pose is different: instead of the Pope`s forearms stretched out horizontally on the chair arms (as in the Velasquez original) here they are upraised. A gesture of frustration, of stress? I prefer to see them as a frisson of triumph. `The Pope witnesses a 93rd minute Italian winner in the Euros`. Flippancy aside, I do like this painting. I like the colours, the flesh tones, the contrast between the black background and the ecclesiastical purple.
No wonder Blake was inspired. The Velasquez original is one of the greatest portraits ever painted.
In 2008 Liverpool was named European capital of culture. This may have raised a few eyebrows `down south` but the truth is that the city has long been a patron of the arts. You may or may not be a fan of the medieval symbolism, bright hard palette and penchant for dreamy damsels with big eyes and big hair that characterises the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as they rather self-importantly styled themselves), but what brings The Walker Art Gallery`s exhibition "Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion" http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/exhibitions/preraphaelites alive is its exploration of art patronage in the era of the great Victorian industrialists.
London`s Royal Academy (`RA`) had begun by treating the upstart PRB with contempt. Not so in Liverpool. They had set up their own Academy which put on an exhibition every Autumn, welcoming unsold work from the RA`s more famous Summer Exhibition.
“We are saying that Liverpool was a hugely significant place for the pre-Raphaelites,” said the curator Christopher Newall. “There was a tradition of art collecting that led to great things … but more than that there was a freedom of spirit, an intellectualism, a non-conformism and self-confidence that allowed this style of art to prosper.”
Behind the Liverpool Academy was a veritable slew of wealthy industrialists who embraced the rebellious PRB and started collecting their work with ingenuous abandon. The soap magnate, Lord Lever. The Birkenhead banker, George Rae. The tobacco merchant, John Miller. The ship owner, Frederick Richards Leyland. The brewer, Andrew Barclay Walker, (whose cash founded the Gallery itself). The walls of their mansions were stuffed with PRB work. Self-made men, they came to the world of art with no elitist preconceptions and they warmed to the PRB`s non-conformism. Even today the PRB enjoys a mixed reputation amongst art cognoscenti, but it has mostly been popular with the `man in the street`. In similar vein, these no-nonsense northern capitalists simply liked what they saw - realistic figurative images with vivid colour and a compelling narrative - and promptly bought what they liked.
Yesterday it was announced that British Home Stores was going into bankruptcy, the victim not only of an outdated retailing product but of a series of rapacious owners who had milked the brand at the expense of its customers, its employees and indeed its own survival. MP`s have called this "the unacceptable face of capitalism".
I can`t answer for the business ethics of The Walker`s Victorian Liverpool magnate-art-benefactors, and no doubt there was a touch of self-interest and status-seeking in their patronage, however there is no doubt about the wonderful legacy that they have left us. Is this `enlightened capitalism`? Maybe, maybe not. But for those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy this show, it is most assuredly `acceptable`!
Caravaggio and his time; friends, rivals and enemies is now showing at The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park in Tokyo. The exhibition has been put on to celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Japan, and features eleven Caravaggios and more than forty other paintings by contemporaries and rivals.
Caravaggio is famed for his use of chiarascuro and for bringing naturalistic interpretations to religious and mythological subjects in a brilliantly innovative and daring manner.
The London National Gallery`s Supper at Emmaus holds me spellbound every time I visit. The incredible detail in which the food is depicted, the hypnotising way the basket of fruit seems to balance right on the edge of the table, the three dimensionality created by the disciples` hands and elbows seeming at once to come right out of the canvas at us and recede into the background. Christ has no beard and looks like he is modelled on the local blacksmith. Powerful stuff. Caravaggio painted a second Supper at Emmaus a few years afterwards and it is this second version (from Milan`s Brera Museum) that is featured in Tokyo.
Walking through the exhibition is like walking into the tenebrous depths of a Caravaggio painting; the space is kept dark, the paintings sit on a background of red velvet and are highlighted in the muted illumination from lights both above and below.
A long-lost Caravaggio is being shown to the public for the first time ever here: Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy , it was found in a private collection in 2014 and identified as an original by Mina Gregori a Caravaggio expert.
The Uffizi Gallery`s Bacchus forms the poster image advertising the exhibition. Here is another of Caravaggio`s sultry, full-lipped young men, staring out at you with a languorous indolence and a face that whilst innocent has just an ironic hint of something more. These are paintings that grab your attention, invite you in and don`t easily let you go. Naturalism but with a dreamlike sense of mystery. Go see them if you can before it closes on June 12th!
What is is about vintage tourism posters? With their beautifully drawn images, simple layout and stylish typography they manage to capture the excitement and promise of overseas travel to exotic locations in a way that photography could never do. The National Museum of Modern Art - situated right opposite The Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo`s Chiyoda-ku - is currently showing examples of the genre in a small but well curated exhibition http://www.momat.go.jp/english/am/exhibition/visit_japan/
Japan was closed off to the outside world for 200 years but in the early years of the 20th century - fuelled by the advent of new transportation links such as the South Manchuria Railway (enabling access overland via the trans-Siberian route) - it began not only to accept but to encourage inward leisure tourism. Hence these promotional posters which convey with typical artistic economy the `idea` of Japan, its gardens, seasons, mountains and castles.
Britain has its own distinctive collection of travel posters many of which were created by the railway companies - GWR, LNER, and latterly British Rail - when great swathes of Britain suddenly opened up to the average working man. Impossible to look at these without experiencing nostalgia for the time when a trip to the seaside was a major event...
Over the last year or so I have been doing a series of `travel posters` featuring images of favourite places in Japan. I have tried to avoid the obvious cliches such as Fuji-san, cherry blossom and Tokyo Tower but its not that easy to find or photograph or create suitable compositions. Some examples are shown below and if you are interested the full set will be on exhibition at the Tokyo American Club from November 18th this year.
Japan by its very nature may never be as gaijin-accessible/friendly as some holiday destinations, but what a wonderful place to live, and heartening to see that inbound tourism numbers are finally on a steep rise. Lets hope the government tourism agencies continue to encourage this trend in the lead-up to the Olympics in 2020. So more travel posters, please. After all, Shirakawa-go is SO bracing!
Takashi Murakami made his reputation primarily outside of Japan with an idiosyncratic style combining elements of traditional and modern Japanese culture in a burst of high energy high gloss `superflat` paintings in which manufactured motifs in the guise of smiling flowers, mushrooms and his own pop icon `Mr Dob` jostle for position on crowded canvases. The work is heavily influenced by manga, anime and its associated `otaku` subculture.
Murakami struggled for recognition in Japan partly through his irreverent criticism of the backward-leaning conservatism of the art establishment there.
Over the last decade - working mostly overseas - his output and fame have grown exponentially, with major installations and events in such august surroundings as the Palais de Versailles, the Rockefeller Center and the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. His work has expanded beyong painting and screen prints into large-scale sculptures reminiscent of Jeff Koons and into the whole panoply of commercial merchandising.
This spectacular exhibition in the Mori Art Museum on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Tower in Tokyo is his first in Japan for fourteen years and tellingly chooses a theme inspired by one of Japan`s great recent traumas - the earthquake and tsunami of 3.11.
I do not share the Japanese love of what might be termed `cute-fantasy` and have thus far eschewed the vast majority of Murakami`s work. This show has changed my mind. With examples of his earlier work and informative background on the way in which the 500 Arhats was created it bursts into life with the sheer stonking scale of the thing : at 3 by 100 metres and resplendent in its glossy psychedelic colours (acrylic paint, platinum and gold leaf on top of screen prints on canvas mounted on aluminium frames) it assaults the eyes and demands attention.
This work was created just after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. Murakami wanted to do something to thank Qatar who were swift to provide aid. The trauma felt by all had inspired an outpouring of artistic energy and Murakami wanted to do something significant, something on a massive scale. Arhats are people who have achieved nirvana or spiritual enlightenment and are able to banish evil spirits and Murakami drew heavily on ancient buddhist texts and images to create the figures. In order to bring his vision to reality he invited art students from around the country to join his collective and over 200 did so, working collaboratively in his industrial-scale warehouse-atelier-studio outside of Tokyo.
This film has more background on the creation http://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/10/01/pharrell-visits-takashi-murakami-studio/
The colours reminded me of the vibrancy and reflective impact of stained glass in a Gothic cathedral. It is perhaps no surprise given the original subject matter and the scale of the work that comparisons have been made to Picasso`s Guernica.
The exhibition has lots of other work including his `Mr Dob` and several pieces in which skulls predominate. Mortality meets Buddhism meets Anime meets Superflat. If you get the chance, visit now while the show is still on. I went on a Tuesday and the place was unexpectedly quiet. Nice!