Archive for category Author: Various

The Legend of King Arthur – a Pre-Raphaelite Love Story || Alison Smith et al

The Arthurian story is the mythological history of Britain in which a hero triumphs and brings pride and greatness to the nation. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does and almost every age has reinvented the tales for its own time. We all long for that period when our country was great and there is an academic study to be conducted into Golden Ages and how close they are to the current level of decay. It should also be said that all countries and communities have similar longings.

The earliest versions of the Arthurian legend are preserved in Welsh tales, but the story is older. The Celtic tribes of Britain were driven westwards by invasions, most notably the Roman one and, while the main corpus of Arthurian myths is in Wales, elements are to be found in Cornwall (especially the King Mark tales) and Cumbria (inheriting the legend of Govan the Smith who probably became Sir Gawain).

We should say at the outset that there really was a King Arthur. Well, not a King as such, and certainly not of Britain. The most likely figure would be a local ruler, possibly in East Anglia, but also possibly a powerful warrior (the name means The Bear). In the Welsh tales, his companions are Cei (Sir Kay) and Bedwyr (Sir Bedevere). This figure really did have a round table because he lived in a roundhouse, round whose central fire he and his most trusted companions would have sat. He also quite probably got his sword from a stone because it was bronze and therefore cast. It is not impossible to imagine a ceremony around the breaking of the mould and the weapon’s naming by its rightful owner, who would be the only person who could weald it (it being made to measure). Oh and, this being the Bronze Age, it really would have been thrown into a lake, quite possibly by the aforesaid Bedwyr, when Arthur died. There is plenty of archaeological evidence of bronze weapons returned to water . Their reception by the spirit, or lady, of the lake is perfectly credible in terms of the myth.

The full legend of Arthur came to be compiled around the Eleventh Century, probably in response to the Norman invasion. Such a traumatic time needed a heroic legend in response and what is known as the Roman de Brut, or just Brut, is a manuscript attributed simply to Layamon (Layman). It was basically sedition, but the Normans took it sufficiently seriously to pen an answer by Robert Wace, the only difference being that, in the French version, far from returning one day to save his land, Arthur is definitely dead and not coming back, ever.

As a result, the story came to the attention of the French romance writers, such as Chrétien de Troyes, who already had experience with the Charlemagne stories. Arthur gave them new material and their own figure of Lancelot was quickly added to the corpus.

The full story as we know it was assembled by Thomas Malory in the Fifteenth Century and is pretty much the only work of literature to come out of that time, which was troubled by the massive civil war that was the Wars of the Roses. For several hundred years, only the final section, the Morte, was known from the edition printed by William Caxton. It was not until 1934 that the full manuscript was discovered in the library of Winchester College.

All of which massive preamble brings us to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, for which such a romance was tailor-made. Absorbing Malory, the French romances and Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, they set to work with a passion. This really rather magnificent book treats not just of the PRB approach, but also examines the Arthurian myth itself, explaining its many ins and outs and placing it in both geographical and historical context. The interpretations are important because the legend itself is almost less important than what it tells us about the ages that adopted it (in one of the French versions of the Mort, Arthur actually goes to Rome and defeats the Romans!).

Understanding their relationship to the Arthurian story is therefore key to understanding the Pre-Raphaelites themselves and this book is magnificently enlightening in this respect. There are many illustrations, both of well- and lesser-known works and also photographs of locations. Although the reproduction is not perhaps quite up to the quality one has come to expect from Sansom, it is perfectly adequate and it is hard to quibble about just how much you get for a really rather modest outlay.

This is definitely an excellent appraisal of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as a whole through an aspect that is central to understanding them, but also manages to be a really rather good explanation of the Arthurian cycle itself.

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Chinese Brush Painting Through The Seasons

It’s been a long time since there was a book on Chinese painting, but they were once all the rage. This one has been worth the wait and is about as authentic as you can get, being adapted from a series of Chinese originals.

For all that, the approach is accessible for the Western reader and, although the introduction to materials contains some terms that may not be familiar, more obtainable alternatives are suggested. Interestingly, where colour is used, the authors prefer gouache as being more like the heavier pigment used in China itself. Previous, more Western-based books have used transparent watercolour.

The book consists of a series of simple demonstrations and, of course, simplification is very much to the fore. As a result, although each project is covered in no more than three or four pages, there is no sense of foreshortening and the number of steps is perfectly adequate. Chinese art involves working quickly and there simply isn’t that much to do – there’s no room for fiddling when you’re contending with a large, soft brush.

This is a welcome return to the world of Chinese painting which, even if you don’t want to pursue it in much depth, offers palate-cleansing simplification that can only refresh your own work.

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Take Three Colours (compendium)

The idea of this series is a brilliant way of simplifying the painting process, either for the beginner or as a palate-cleanser for someone with more experience who’s become a bit jaded.

With just three brushes and three colours, a team of Search Press’s most successful authors demonstrate projects that show just how much you can do with an absolute minimum of equipment. With little to mess around with, the emphasis is on creativity and making the most of what you have. There’s no chance to over-complicate or get bogged down with an unwieldy palette or too many mixes.

This bind-up is fantastically good value and covers landscapes, seascapes and flowers, with more concentrated subjects such as lakes, rivers, hills and mountains thrown in. Larger books such as this can be difficult to handle, but this falls and stays open nicely and is a pleasure to use.

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Bridget Riley: Working Drawings

Bridget Riley is perhaps the only British Op Artist the general public would recognise, maybe even name. Best known for her often eye-popping geometric works, she has had a long and varied career that has gone through several stages including figurative, Impressionist and Pointillist.

Rather amazingly, this is the first book to collect and illustrate her preparatory work and, therefore, to offer an insight into the way her pieces develop. It includes sketches, outlines and preparatory pieces – as she puts it herself: “Studies are my chief method of exploration and way into my paintings”. Most of the illustrations are uncommented, but the book includes texts from various points in her career that explain Riley’s background and development as well as interviews from 2005, 2011 and a new one, specially commissioned for the book.

There is plenty of material here and the overall sense is of a job well done – that this is a complete survey rather than a first footing. Some of the reproduction does seem a little coarse, although that may be down to what material was available. The colour also seems sometimes a little flat and Thames and Hudson are normally good at getting as effective a result as possible on matt paper. £45 is not a trivial sum, but it is excellent value considering what is included and one should perhaps not quibble.

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Painting & Drawing – techniques and tutorial for the complete beginner

When you’ve produced a series of excellent media-based guides, it makes sense (and will always be irresistible to marketing departments) to put them together in a doorstep volume.

Such is this. I’ve always doubted whether “real” artists buy this sort of thing, as they usually have a favourite medium or two and regard others as interlopers. Friends, however, or those considering having a go, are prime targets.

At twenty quid, this is at the top end of the price range for this kind of book, but the material is recent and, it should be said, first-rate. The ten pound variety is usually recycled from books published long ago and frequently anonymous.

Well, OK, the chapters here are anonymous too, except for acknowledgements at the back, but that’s perhaps inevitable if you’re going to present a coherent whole rather than a blindingly obvious bind-up. The approach works, not least because this isn’t a book to read from cover to cover, so changes of style, presentation and working won’t be immediately obvious. Yes, I am labouring this point, but a compilation is a compilation and should at least be consistent within itself, and this is.

If you want to know about the individual sections, click the publisher link below and look for media-specific titles. The gang’s all there.

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Mastering The Art of Landscapes || Sarah Hoggett & Abigail Edgar

This was part of a series that was originally published a few years ago, but here has a welcome reissue. The style and presentation remain fresh and the colour reproduction shows little sign of age.

The book is a portmanteau and showcases watercolour, oils and drawing media. That may mean you get material you don’t think is relevant to you, although you may also feel that the different approaches that are demonstrated present ideas outside those you would normally expect. Some people can look at a cloud demonstration and see beyond the medium it was painted in, others need very specific information relating to colour mixing and mark-making. Neither group is wrong, you just need to take what you can from what’s presented.

What you do get is a thoroughly eclectic mix of topics, subject and mediums. There are skies, sunsets, rocks, trees, flowers, seascapes, waves and even rainbows. Each of the 30 demonstrations is fully explained and illustrated and the generous page format makes it very easy to follow.

The list of contributing artists is also impressive and includes David Curtis, Trudy Friend, Wendy Jelbert, Ronald Jesty, Ray Balkwill and quite a few more.

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Essential Art: The History of Western Art

This book infringes Henry’s first rule of art books, namely, Will you please make them big enough that we can see the **** illustrations?!

However, rules are made to be broken or, at the very least, if you’re going to break them you’d better have a pretty good reason and, in spite of an initial reservation, this has much to recommend it.

First up, you’re not going to get quite such a comprehensive and copiously illustrated history of art for £12.99 anywhere else. It’s gobsmackingly good value for money and that alone has to silence any cavil; you simply can’t fail to get your money’s worth from it one way or another.

Use this as a desk reference and you’ll quickly get annoyed with it. It’s a fat little thing and you’re either going to have to break the spine or hurt your hands getting at the inside edges of the pages. This is not a book to set open on your knee and read from cover to cover, but I’d contend this is not its purpose. Although it’s billed as a paperback, in fact it has a semi-rigid cover that takes quite happily to being bent around a bit and isn’t going to get dog-eared in your pocket. This is where it starts to shine. Take it out with you on a gallery trip or on holiday and, suddenly, you’ve got a complete reference work that, in any other form, would tip you heavily into excess baggage. If you’re really into the history of art, then you’ll probably have an extensive library and, even then, this will complement it perfectly. If you’re more of a dilettante, then it might be just enough on its own. It has its limitations, of course, but they’re never ones you can’t live with.

The book’s 500 pages are divided historically from early and pre-history to post 1945 and pretty much follow the major schools and developments. Most general histories put all of modern art into one section, but that’s to be expected if they do the same with the Renaissance, frankly, and it does have the advantage of not getting into any currently-running controversies. Playing it safe is a quality to admire in a general book! Each section is colour-coded at the page edges and starts with a timeline, moving on to specific schools and artists, allowing the reader to focus in quickly. If you’re standing in a museum or a gallery, you don’t have to fumble around for long to get to the relevant pages.

The word “essential” is nowadays used to mean something you can’t be without, but its original sense was of getting to the heart of the matter. This little book fulfils both.

Herbert Press 2007
£12.99

http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?t=artbookreview-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&asins=071368786X&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

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