Archive for category Author: Julian Bell

What is Painting? || Julian Bell

This timely reissue, in a revised edition, addresses some fundamental issues relating to what we might call reproductive art. What, for example, asks Bell, makes one painting more “real” than another?, addressing the whole issue of the nature of reality itself and whether we can, in fact, trust artistic expression. A painting is, after all, merely a version of what the artist was looking at. Indeed, I think one could argue that “merely” is the wrong word there and that an interpretation, maybe even an explanation, is what we should expect from an artist. If we want absolute reality, then a trip to the location or a good photograph are more appropriate and accurate reporters.

Interestingly, some of the issues that Bell addresses are also raised in Andrew Marr’s recent A Short Book About Painting, not least the question of what is “bad” art, why does it have an appeal and what, anyway, is the nature and definition of beauty?

The information sheet that came with my copy tells me that “much has changed in the world of art” since this was originally published in 1999 and that the text has been substantially rewritten while retaining the six-chapter structure. I turned to the preface for further information – what’s changed, how has it been addressed and, indeed, why was this necessary? Sadly, Bell is silent on this and the short preface appears to be the original. I would have liked more, and particularly from the author himself. It doesn’t alter the incisive examination of the nature of painting, but some pointers would have been useful, perhaps even essential, especially if some of the basic premises have changed. And, if they haven’t, is revision really necessary at all?

This is, however, a worthwhile analysis of the creative process and is well-argued and thoroughly illustrated. As is common with books where the text is the main event, the paper doesn’t do justice to the reproductions, although having them as aides-mémoire is handy.

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Tom Hammick – wall, window, world || Julian Bell

Serendipity has brought this one out of the pile right after Picturing People and the two sit rather comfortably together.

In Tom Hammicks’s work, figures sit in front of landscapes that range from his native southern England to the maritime provinces of Canada. Once again, these are not conventional portraits and the “figures” can be both human and inanimate, sometimes dominating, sometimes elaborating the scene. Set beside Charlotte Mullins’ work, this emphasises the wide variety of figurative work (in the widest sense) that prevails at the present time. If you can afford both, you’d want to shelve them together.

I’ve quoted the subtitle because it presents an immediate challenge – not unlike the paintings in question. Julian Bell elaborates at the beginning of the introduction: Only Looking. “You look out. A wall stops your vision … there is glass. Beyond the glass, maybe another wall. But sooner or later your eyes reach the horizon … beyond which they cannot go. You know the world goes on … the world is always more than you can see.” This rather elegantly captures the essence of Tom Hammick’s work and certainly explains, for the new viewer, both how to look as well as how to see.

This is a perceptive account of the work of an intriguing and influential painter and teacher whose work asks many questions and often only hints at what may be the answers.

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