Archive for category Medium: Various

Art Students League of New York on Painting || James L McElhinny

This new volume follows on from The Visual Language of Drawing that appeared a few years ago and drew on the work of a well-established institution to provide a variety of views and approaches to its subject.

This, unsurprisingly, follows the same formula. It’s subtitle, Lessons and Meditations on Mediums, Styles and Methods, might lead you to think it’s a bit abstract and academic, but you’d only be partly right. It’s more discussions than meditations and the thoughts of the instructors of the ASL are worth reading. While we’re deconstructing titles, the word Lessons doesn’t mean that there’s overt instruction here: it’s more of a seminar. If you want your books to get you painting with one hand while you read and follow exercises with the other, this won’t cut it. If, though, you enjoy reading about the practice of painting, you might well find the book hard to put down.

The essays that comprise the content are quite long, hugely varied and thoroughly illustrated – the quality of these is excellent, both in terms of the work presented and the reproduction. Above all, it’s not dull. You might find that the views of artists you’ve never heard of are harder to get to grips with but, equally, you might value the fresh viewpoints that brings. Money paid, choice taken.

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Shorelines: artists on the south coast || Gill Clarke & Steve Marshall

This pleasantly serendipitous book spreads its net wide and its coverage ranges from Thanet in the East to Mousehole in the West – a lot more than the “Dover to Brighton” run that the term often seems to imply.

As several of Sansom’s similar recent offerings have, it accompanies an exhibition (in this case at the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington from 19 September 2015 – 9 January 2016). On the basis of the book, I’d urge you visit if you possibly can as you’ll see a more catholic choice of work and artists than is often possible.

The blurb slightly plays up ( as it’s entitled to do) the role of the coast in art from the seventeenth century to the present. Artists have indeed painted coastal subjects and are attracted both by the air and the light (they like a seaside break as much as the next person), but they’ve also painted buildings, landscapes, portraits in equal profusion.

But I quibble. This is about the coast in art and it’s a nicely-chosen selection that runs from Turner to Kurt Jackson by way of Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Laura Knight. The serendipity comes from the fact that these are artists you can really only anthologise by subject matter and, being necessarily a selection, you can’t easily guess what’s round the next corner or on the next page. If I was one to squeal with delight at every new discovery, I’d have been very annoying while I was reading this!

As well as being thoughtfully curated, the book has insightful essays by the editors that explain their choices and put them in a narrative context. It should also be said that the illustrations are well-reproduced and generously sized. Books of this type sometimes act more like a catalogue for the personal visitor and cram in too many pictures, with the result that many are little bigger than a postage-stamp. Long after the exhibition has closed, this will stand alone and it’s all the better for that.

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Art and the War at Sea 1914-45 || ed Christine Riding

A lot of major art, especially in the twentieth century with the introduction of official war artists, is dedicated to military history. This being a time of anniversaries, there have been several publications devoted to a variety of aspects of it. A further feature is that you get a concentration of work by major artists so that any survey such as this has a wealth of top-quality material to draw on.

The blurb explains that the present book is intended to redress the imbalance in such publications between land-based and maritime war. As the author is Head of Arts and Curator of the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum, you might well respond, “Well they would, wouldn’t they?” I don’t mean that unfairly as this is a substantial undertaking that has been handled authoritatively and has a massive resource available to it. The blurb again suggests that it’s the NMM resources alone that have provided the material for the book.

And what a resource! It includes not just paintings but drawings, photographs and posters that record not just the major engagements but the times in between when sailors relaxed or recuperated. It also doesn’t shy away from moments such as Stitches removed: the man who lost his fingers, reminding us that not everything was about the heroic moments, but also their aftermath. It even references the Dazzle [Camouflage] Ball at the Chelsea Arts Club in 1919. This was a post-conflict letting down of the hair by what we might call High Society, but it also reminds us that the age of total war, as well as a conflict closer to home than many previous ones, affected a wider range of society than simply the armed services.

As well as being authoritative and wonderfully comprehensive, with 150 generously-sized illustrations, it’s also worth noting that this is superbly produced and amply justifies its cover price.

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A Kurt Jackson Bestiary || Kurt Jackson

I seem to have reviewed a lot of Kurt Jackson books lately and it’s always a pleasure. This is not only because I like Kurt’s work, but because they’ve all been beautifully produced and so varied that quantity has not brought repetition. Kurt is an artist who likes to try new subjects and what we might call his voyage of discovery is always as fascinating as the final result. There haven’t been any obvious failures yet, but I can’t help thinking I’d even be enthusing if there were one!

The term “bestiary” implies not a collection of animal portraits but rather the fabulous creatures of mediaeval legend. While you won’t find such things as the Cockatrice here, you will notice that the subjects themselves are artistic interpretations rather than faithful portraits. The cock on the front cover is a good example, capturing as it does the many colours of the feathers and a sense of life and movement rather than a static and unrealistic pose. Looking inside, you’ll find the grey washes that depict the murmurations of Starlings over Marazion and the enigmatic Song Thrush Song, Porthbean, where the subject is invisible and merely contributes to the experience of the scene; the title teases the viewer with the anticipation of what only the artist can hear.

Other subjects are more lifelike: shellfish, butterflies, birds, but they all exist within their surrounds and you quite often have to look for them. Wildlife in the field does its best to camouflage rather than reveal itself.

As a piece of production, this book is a delight to handle. Weighty without being heavy, large enough to hold as well as see and printed on good quality paper, it’s an artefact rather than a product and a joy in its own right.

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Drawing and Painting – materials & techniques for contemporary artists || Kate Wilson

This is a really rather interesting idea, because it takes the standard tools and mediums section that prefaces almost every instructional book and expands it to a thoroughly logical conclusion.

On one level, it’s a guide, albeit a very thorough one, to the tools of the artist’s trade, while at the same time relating them to the creative process. As Kate pertinently says in her introduction, “Mastery of the craft will not make you into a great artist, but having a feel for materials does seem to be a part of the creative process.” Actually, I think she’s underselling herself there because every half-decent artist I’ve ever known just loves getting their hands both literally and figuratively dirty. And you can never get them out of an art shop!

So, if rooting around in the paintbox is your idea of heaven, then this is going to be like a recipe book for a cook. You won’t be able to put it down. There’s more, though, because, apart from the artist profiles that pop up throughout, there’s also a substantial section at the end on “The Bigger Picture” that looks at things like composition, perspective, abstraction and even the Fibonacci series and the golden section (I know, me neither). This is the bit where it all stops being technical and gets creative, but I like the way it doesn’t also get vague and relates the two so that you really do understand how the medium can, if not become the message, at least formulate it.

The other thing is the simply huge variety of contributors and illustrations, mostly well outside the usual run-of-the-mill cast. This provides a sense of true discovery throughout the book.

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The Painting Workbook || Alena Hennessy

The strapline for this is “How to get started and stay inspired”, which suggests that it might be a manual for the beginner. While there is a short materials and techniques section at the beginning, it’s shorter than many and couldn’t, even at a stretch, be described as any kind of primer for someone starting out. However, although it’s what it implies to me, it’s also possible that what’s meant is that the book aims to provide a way of getting over creative block, that “getting started” is about the tyranny of the blank page. To be honest, I’m not sure.

To be fair (which we should be, if we’re also going to be honest), this is an original idea and the main meat of the book is the 52 Project Prompts that the front cover also promises. These are not, except for a small number of instances, worked exercises, merely ideas such as Wash & Drip, Masking Technique or Earth & Sky. Each has a short introductory paragraph and selection of illustrations that you can build on or riff off. No, it’s not earth-shattering, but it’s different (fewer words and more pictures) and it really does make you think.

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Painting Miniatures || Pauline Denyer-Baker

Just to be technical for a minute, in this context, “miniature” derives from the Latin “minimum”, which is the red lead used to decorate manuscript capitals, rather than “minimus”, meaning small. As it happens, miniatures are not done on a large scale, but this relates to the usual size of the said capitals, rather than any specific limitations of dimension.

But let’s not get too bogged down in semantics, as it’s generally agreed now that a miniature painting is about one-sixth life size and about 6.5 x 4.5 inches. Historical miniatures tended to be portraits, again largely an accident brought about by a need for portable likenesses in the days before photography. As with many necessities, a practical form developed into a great art.

The current world of miniatures accepts pretty much any subject, as a glance at the cover of this magnificently comprehensive book will show. If you want to get deeply involved, there are various societies, all with their own more tightly-described rules but, for the more general painter, Pauline takes a fairly relaxed approach that allows you to tread your own path before deciding whether you want to get into the more closely-policed areas. She doesn’t, however, let just anything past and this is important because a proper miniature is always going to be more than just a small painting.

This is, as I said, a comprehensive book and one which both requires and repays considerable study. Miniature painting is not really something for the beginner and basic painting skills are assumed. What you will find, though, are demonstrations and projects in a variety of media and covering a range of subjects. Work through it (unless your tastes are very catholic, you may not find yourself needing every page) and you should find yourself either fully satisfied or ready to take the next stage and one of those specialist societies.

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