Archive for category Author: Ann Blockley
John Blockley was one of the founders of modern watercolour and his muscular style reflects not just the form of the landscape but its texture.
Relatively little of his work has been seen in print: The Challenge of Watercolour, published in 1979, had the customary few colour plates and 1987’s Watercolour Interpretations was more inclusive, although the quality of reproduction, even by then, was not up to modern standards. John also ran courses and contributed regularly to The Artist magazine. His reputation during his lifetime was considerable but he has, inevitably, faded from view somewhat since his death in 2002.
This beguiling retrospective is therefore important on several fronts. Firstly, it brings John’s work to a new audience. It also plays a part in showing the development of watercolour painting since the 1970s and, in particular, puts the work of John’s daughter Ann in context. Best, though, the superb reproduction makes his work available in all its glory to a wider audience for the first time. Originals are relatively hard to find and a book is as close as many of us will get.
This is really quite a revelation. The richness of John’s use of colour and the vigorous nature of his brushwork at last become apparent. Ann has also included sketches that show her father’s sensitive and perceptive use of line and how he could create form from just a few marks.
I really hope this book does well and gets the attention it deserves. It’s tempting to say that it’s a brave publication sixteen years after the artist’s death, given that his reputation was to such a large extent gleaned from teaching and writing. It certainly should be read by anyone who cares about the practice of watercolour because it shows just what the medium can achieve and why it is by no means a poor relation to the often more seriously-regarded oils.
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This is one of Ann’s most practical books to date and one where she shares many of her working methods. It is not a painting manual in the wider sense, but rather an introduction to her unique style and a jumping-off point for your own creative endeavours. Although Ann has included step-by-step demonstrations, the intention is never that you should copy slavishly with emulation as an end in itself, but rather that, by understanding the technical process, you will learn about the thought process that go into the finished result.
To this end, there is considerable discussion of approaches and interpretation, with simple subjects portrayed in different ways, with no single one being “right”, but merely suitable for the impression you are trying to create. As you work through the projects that are at the heart of the book, you’ll be encouraged to explore further avenues by adding other mediums, varying the palette or even the use of collage – something at which Ann is particularly adept and which can produce amazing results.
At all times, although Ann explains the technical background to what she is doing, the emphasis is on the art, the result and how it relates to the subject. This does not have to be – indeed rarely is – purely representational and a final chapter on Towards Abstraction will expand your horizons even further.
This is every inch a classic Ann Blockley book and will appeal instantly to her many fans. Broadening the scope, however, should add to their number.
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There’s a clear and developing maturity to Ann’s work that has her producing specific and purposeful images that are the result of careful planning rather than the raw experimentation that the title implies. It’s impossible not to make the comparison with her father’s work, but this, I’d maintain, goes far beyond anything he attempted. We aren’t in the realms of abstraction, but the limits of reality are being tested and explored. Ann is at the height of her powers – or if she isn’t, the next five years or so are going to be something very special indeed.
The paintings here use texture, colour, imprinting, collage and, in fact, anything that makes a mark or creates an image. If you’re in any way aware of the joys of free jazz, this is the drumming of Han Bennink – anything and everything happens, but always in perfect control, pitch and rhythm. It’s not just technically impressive, but creatively so as well.
So, I’m going to stick my neck out here. This is a book you have to buy. I don’t care what you give up so that you can have it, it’ll be worth the sacrifice. It’s on another plane.
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Comparisons are horrible things because you inevitably land up belittling one of the elements or damning the other with faint praise. Artists hate them because, they will insist, their style is their own and not derivative or a synthesis of someone else’s.
So, having got all that out of the way, I’m going to make one. However, this is about my reaction to this extraordinary new book and nothing to do with the contents, which, I’m trying to say, are unique. I haven’t been as excited by a new book as much as this since John Blockley’s Watercolour Interpretations of 1987 or perhaps Charles Reid’s Flower Painting in Watercolour, which goes all the way back to 1979. I’ve been a fan of Ann’s work for a long time and own one of her earlier, and largely conventional, flower paintings. I’ve also been impressed at the way she has, in both books and videos, been able to explain her creative process and working methods in a way that the amateur can follow and yet which is much more than just a piece of art instruction.
There have been hints for some time that this book might be what’s coming and Watercolour Textures, her previous book, showed a willingness to experiment with landscape and to create works which were images for their own sake without being enslaved to representation. Here, as the title implies, Ann returns to the subject she’s perhaps best known for and just lets creativity rip. There’s no dispute that these are flower paintings: they’re recognisably flowers and even someone as non-botanical as I am can tell one variety from another, and yet they’re not botanical illustrations or flower portraits in any way. This is a major step forward in Ann’s development as an artist and the establishment is going to have to take notice, as we have some serious work here.
I think it’s fair to say that this is not a book for the beginner, or even for the faint-hearted, but if you’ve been intrigued by the way I’ve reacted to it, go out and buy yourself a copy. As an example of what art can do, it’ll blow your mind. It’ll also stimulate your own creativity in all kinds of new ways. It’s the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen and I’m still wondering whether to lumber it with the title of Best Art Book Ever.
The appearance of this book amply demonstrates the extent to which Anne Blockley has matured as an artist and also serves to emphasise the stature of the authoritative Artists’ Studio series from Harper Collins.
Books on texture tend to concentrate on knotty timber, weathered stone- and brick-work and craggy-featured characters. Where this one differs is that it is much more about the textures of everyday subjects and is also not so much about recording the appearance of texture as actually creating it within your work through the use of colour, contrast and granulation as well as many other effects.
Anne Blockley is very much her father’s daughter and you won’t fail to recognise where she learnt her craft, but she is by no means a clone and has a style which is recognisably her own and also recognisably not that of John Blockley, even when she (with some courage) takes on some of the landscapes that made him famous.
Anne’s work is not gentle, even when her subjects are the flowers and seed-heads that characterise a lot of her work. There’s a ruggedness that tells of life outdoors, rather than confined to the studio and her paintings are more interpretative than representational; she is closer to the former, though, than Shirley Trevena, whose Vibrant Watercolours precedes this in the series. As watercolour, this is a tour de force and is yet more proof that the medium is capable of a lot more than the demure dabblings of debutantes!
As with other volumes in the Artists’ Studio series, this isn’t a step-by-step how-to-do-it book, but rather a look at the way the artist works and a discussion, in their own words, of the way they approach both their subjects and their painting methods. If you want to get to grips with the essence of your subject and you’re prepared to roll your sleeves up, so to speak, this is a book you’ll find it hard to put down.
First published 2007
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