It has been a very mild autumnal day here in East Anglia with the thermometer on my sheltered terrace reading 22°C (72°F) at lunchtime. This mild spell has saved my sunflowers (they were planted out too late – my fault, I forgot them) and they are only now just in full bloom. But what inspiration? We can all see why a certain amazing Dutchman worked so hard to capture their intense yet fleeting vibrancy.
I lived in Holland for a short while and when friends and relatives came to stay I used to love to take them to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I was so inspired I even had a go at copying his sunflowers and made a summer top from the finished silk.
Recently, I found the old top in a box in the loft and was struck by the change in my own style of working. But, I was also reminded of the admiration I had felt for Van Gogh as when you settle to copy a great work of art, even in a very small insignificant way, you notice more of the choices the master has made in creating the original work. Copying is a valuable tool for teaching.
It is not just the colour that is striking as even the sunflower’s outline is unmistakable.
Recently I’ve been pondering the nature of ‘copyright’. On one side of the debate we have the most aggressive legal (though somewhat amoral) approach as practised by patent trolls suing whomever they can in Marshall, Texas (see article) and on the other side, the seemingly limitless lifting and reusing of images, text and music without reference, citations, credits or fees, like a rash all over the Internet.
In the middle of these two extremes are ordinary people living in our everyday world trying to share interesting experiences, sometimes for gain, but often just for the joy of passing on the delightful, the fascinating and the newsworthy. Copying is a human past-time and indeed, copying was part of the training when an apprentice studied painting with a great master. The tradition of copying whether for learning or commercial reward is demonstrated by these various copies of ‘The Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli.
Madonna of the Book – School of Botticelli, Museum of Biblical Art, Dallas, Texas. A copy.
A tapestry copy of Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’
I absolutely appreciate the need for creative/ideas people to make a living from their endeavours if that is their chosen path. And, when you consider all the different types of creative professionals, I think photographers are having the hardest time with the unattributed reproduction of their work on the Internet. It takes skill and time to take professional photographs and often more time and work in post-production. The music industry has finally found a suitable business model in the brave new world of the web by making money from live performance and merchandise, but what about the authors and the visual artists.
It is all a very tricky area. People should get recognition for their work and their ideas, but then for how long? You would think that when the maker/creator dies that would be it – but not so. I am not at all legal so sorry if this is technically adrift, but in the UK the duration of rights for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works is 70 years from the maker’s death. Of course, there is also the notion of ‘fair use’ – not as straightforward as it sounds, and then ultimately all the copyright laws vary from country to country.
So, here’s a little conundrum, my deceased mother painted this oil painting (The Whisper) of Cardinal Ratzinger talking confidentially to another cardinal. She created it from a photograph in a newspaper and I have now photographed the oil painting – it’s making my head spin!
And, finally, my BIG ‘copyright’ gripe, why aren’t we allowed to photograph ‘owned by the nation’ works of art (out of copyright) if they are in a curated, pay for entry, ‘event’ exhibition in a museum/art gallery? It’s all as clear as mud . . . (is that a quotation from somebody, should I reference it??)
Back in May a fellow blogger, Frances Allitt, wrote on her blog Before the Art a piece about the tradition of ‘Vanitas’ depictions in Western Art History. It was illustrated with fine 16th and 17th century oil paintings similar to this example from the collection at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Towards the end of her post she uploaded her own ‘Vanitas’ photograph and invited her readers, us, to have a go too. So I thought I’d try some staging and shots and create my own Vanitas portrait.
Of course some objects in the photograph are particular for my life, and other items displayed are those often found in a formal Vanitas painting. The dying flowers and the spent candle are symbols of the transience of life. The traditional memento mori image is a skull, but I’ve used an alternative image to signify death and corruption, the rotting peach.
I have also included two photographic portraits one of my late mother and one of my great-grandmother. Both pictures were taken when they were young women. In this photo my great-grandmother was 18 years old and already suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. She died when she 36 years old.
The other week I worked up a design by looking through many Japanese woodblock prints and selecting a number of Ukiyo-e images as inspiration for both pattern and colour. The end of the process was a blue and green scarf also currently my banner above.
I liked the finished look and decided to work the pattern in a new colour combination and started from nature’s beautiful pink and yellow combination in this poppy with the added golden detail of the hover flies collecting nectar.
With the poppy in mind I started looking round building a collection of images with pinks, gold and black, starting with work by fine artists. Next I delved into contemporary visual culture from all over – here tea towels, table decorations and masks.
Ah yes, inspiration this time came from another kind of ‘floating’ world, Venice, and their famous carnival and masked balls. Sumptuous colour combinations and fascinating, ornate detail were now the recipe for the day.
In a previous post I mentioned in passing that at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition you could also see a sequence of tapestries by Grayson Perry.
Of course Grayson Perry is well-known for ceramics (his pots) for which he won the Turner Prize in 2003, but these tapestries are a change of medium rather than content. They exhibit a continuation of his challenging often acidic, social commentary in a visual form. I loved them. I had already seen the television programmes ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ that documented his artistic process and I was thrilled to see the finished tapestries. In these works he is visually dissecting the relationship between people’s taste and their class.
The series called ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, is hanging round Room X at the Royal Academy. We see six large tapestries that make a clear reference to Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’- indeed, the protagonist in Perry’s work is called Tim Rakewell. The concept, research, working sketches and the final production of the tapestries form the four part television series.
The size of tapestries (two metres by four metres), their vibrant colour, together with the exquisite detail and totemic elements included for each depiction of the ‘progress’, were both visually stunning and frequently amusing – well they do say the British are obsessed with class. It is quite a few centuries (despite the sincere efforts of William Morris) since tapestry was considered to be ‘the’ medium for conspicuous consumption and that of itself is precisely why this series, in this woven form, is so acute.
Alternatively or additionally the Arts Council Collection has launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. This is Grayson Perry’s first app and gives users the chance to see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility. The digital guide, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available from Apple’s iTunes Store (£1.99).
And, finally, Grayson Perry is to give this year’s Reith Lectures. The lectures will be broadcast in October and November as part of BBC Radio 4’s celebration of arts and culture in 2013.
A few weeks ago I was in Norwich’s City Centre which despite having two covered modern shopping malls still really radiates out from the old market place. It was a sunny, working lunchtime and the market was busy. I took some pictures, but nothing special.
Then The Reluctant Retiree posted about her visit to Warsaw and uploaded this stunning photograph of a pre-war Warsaw.
The contrast between these two images prompted some questions. Firstly, does our familiarity with our own everyday surroundings numb us to their intrinsic charm and energy? Or, are we always wearing our rose-tinted spectacles when viewing images of the past? Or is it much more to do with the art of the photograph and the difference between an image constructed by the professional photographer and the happy snaps of the amateur?
The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.
It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.
I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.
It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.
Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.
As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.
Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.
Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/MonetsLife.JapaneseArt.aspx
Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.
Last week I was reading round some great blogs and noticed some people have really beautiful top banners. They have beautiful photographs capturing a sense of place or images of their own art or pictures of the inspirational work of others. Of course, some people are amazingly savvy about coding and I take my hat off to them, but for folks like me it’s a case of uploading jpegs. Anyway, it has inspired me to make a change.
Usually my creative process starts with a single inspirational photo and in this case I’ve started with this pink hollyhock which I took and uploaded last week.
Then I put together images with a similar feel, colour and tones, a bit like a mood board. And, as the process continues quite often shape and pattern themes develop.
I tend to do this over several days, leaving it, returning to it, making adjustments, adding and erasing.