Archive for category Publisher: Bloomsbury

Portraits for NHS Heroes || initiated by Tom Croft

This was published towards the end of 2020 and coming late to this review has had a number of effects. The first is to add perspective, and question whether it was a thing of its moment and whether that moment has passed. The second is to wonder whether what amounts to a retrospective hasn’t enhanced that very viewpoint. This is particularly so as we are in the middle of an even greater wave with almost unbearable pressure on health services and frequent accounts of burnout. Thirdly, I’ve had a chance to mull this over and decide my reaction in what I hope is more than just the emotion of the moment.

You can hardly have missed this. The publisher’s PR department went into overdrive and virtually every major publication contained an extract. It’s a worthy cause and it wears its heart very prominently on its sleeve. There’s nothing wrong with that in essence, but we’re reviewing this as a book in general, not a cause, and a book of paintings in particular.

There’s a degree of self-awareness relating to that in the choice of writers for the forewords – Michael Rosen (writer par excellence, national treasure and Covid survivor himself), Adebanji Alade (everyone’s favourite character sketcher, mine included) and Dr Jim Down (ICU medic and therefore messenger from the front line). You’d want some boxes ticked and they all are. Tom Croft is a self-employed portrait painter who started the online “free portrait for NHS workers” campaign that took off to such an extent that he’d matched 500 artists and subjects in two weeks. This is a collection of some of those.

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer variety of subjects, styles, approaches and treatments. There are small amounts of text, either from the subject or artist (sometimes both) that add just enough depth to make this more than a random snapshot album. It will in future, I think, stand as a record of what will amount to a moment in world and human history. There will be retrospective analyses of this pandemic in coming years and it’s hard not to see this book featuring in them.

From the artistic point of view, it’s up to you to decide what you can (and for what matter want) to learn from a collection of other people’s work. However, if you think this amount of variety is what you need, this book is probably unique on that front.

My only slight criticism, and I feel like a terrible curmudgeon for having it, is that the majority of subjects are doctors, nurses and paramedics – there’s only one administrator. Where are the support staff – porters, cleaners, caterers, without whose background – often unseen – labours none of those on the frontline would be able to function? They were at least as vulnerable, often more so as protective equipment was diverted away from them. Maybe someone feels like filling that void?

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Royal Watercolour Society Watercolour Secrets || Jill Leman

This is the third is a series of surveys of the work of current members of the RWS and it’s possibly the most interesting of them all. The format, as ever, is a two-page spread on each of the featured artists, with a short text written by themselves talking about their work and their approach, and with a good selection of illustrations.

Styles range from representation to abstraction and subjects from landscapes to figures. There are constant surprises and challenges and, while you may not like everything you see, the short digests that are provided mean you can move on quickly. You’re more likely though, I suspect, to linger and even return, because nothing is ever dull and you always have the artist’s own explanation of why they’ve done what they have.

The big names are here: Ken Howard, Alfred Daniels and Jenny Wheatley, for example, and there are many others who will be more or less familiar depending on your interests. Because the arrangement is alphabetical, this isn’t a curated collection, but rather one that presents you with new things in no particular order and thus provides a surprise every time you turn the page.

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The Artist’s Guide to Selling Work (second edition) || Anabelle Ruston

I was very impressed a while back by the companion volumes to this, aimed at craftspeople. The same detail and rigour appear in this volume, which has been updated to take account of the growing importance of the internet and of social networking websites.

Published in association with the Fine Art Trade Guild, this is an authoritative and informative guide that has been written for the creative practitioner rather than the business specialist. There is plenty of basic information, such as the importance of record-keeping and ways in which to do it, as well as suggestions for ways in which you can market your work and how to set your prices. A series of case studies also includes a selection of sample agreements to cover a variety of situations.

The advice given is practical, understandable and above all reliable, making this an essential tool for anyone seeking to make an income from their work on anything other than the most casual basis.

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Printmaking Off The Beaten Track || Richard Noyce

The blurb for this tells me that it’s the author’s third visit “beyond the familiar centres of art production”. You might think that the trope could be getting stretched a bit thin, but the evidence within the pages clearly indicates a rich vein. Grouped loosely by themes: Journeys & Destinations, Conflict & Resolution and Diaspora & Exile, the book is mainly arranged by region and country. This could have the effect of seeming to make connections where they do not exist, but it does generally work and there do seem to be similarities even where there is no immediate collaboration.

The styles and working methods are as varied as you might expect and pretty well every type of printmaking is represented. Subjects are often disturbing, can frequently be political and are always presented in the light of the context Noyce has given us. If you want to view the illustrations as works of art in their own right, you have to take a step backwards, but that’s perhaps also an inevitable part of any compilation and editorial overview.

This is though a beautiful and intriguing, if sometimes disturbing, book. I’m going to have to research the author’s previous two volumes now.

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