Archive for category Publisher: Halsgrove

Peter Heard’s Paintings of a West Country Life

The jacket blurb announces that, “Peter Heard is perhaps England’s most famous living naïve artist”. I have to admit that I didn’t know that, but I’m happy to take it on trust.

I do think, though, that there’s much more to Peter’s work than just naivety. As well as the standard trappings of the genre – figures and buildings in particular – his paintings have a graphic quality that’s both subtle and sophisticated. The front cover, which you can see here, is a case in point. Every element has been extremely carefully placed; none is on the golden section and the only concession to conventionality is having the just-visible horizon below the centre line. Is the too-small house a neat graphic trick or naivety? Surely, if it were the latter, it would be too large?

I’ve deliberately laboured this point because it’s what makes me think about the book and it is, after all, the job of art to make you think. If you’re response to a painting is, “Oh. Yeah.”, that’s Nature’s way of telling you not to buy it. Going inside the book, the painting Village Postie has all the classic naïve elements: the dome-shaped hills, almost (but subtly not quite) childlike representation of the house, the Postman Pat styling of the van and the uncompromising, outward-looking postman himself. And then. And then you get to the colours, which are what balance the image. They’re apparently bright and uncompromising, but look again: there’s a great deal of shading and balancing that pulls the painting together.

This is a fascinating and challenging book that pushes a great many boundaries. The accompanying text by Michael Woods is designed to complement rather than explain the paintings, and that’s as it should be. Beside Two For the Pot, I much prefer having the recipe for Somerset Rabbit than an explanation of who the gamekeeper is and how he works.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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James Chambury – colour, light & shade

To say that James Chambury’s work is reminiscent of almost every landscape painter of the twentieth century, from Edward Seago and Frank Wootton to Edward Wesson and James Fletcher-Watson, is unfair as it implies that it has a derivative quality, which it emphatically does not. What it means is that there is a clearly definable tradition of English landscape painting that has developed in the last hundred years and which has flourished in the hands of some very capable exponents.

James Chambury is one of a long line of commercial artists who, in middle-life, found a fine art voice. Not all of these also found an audience, but James’s move to Essex in 1967 gave him the wealth of the East Anglian landscapes that form the bulk of his work and he was able to exhibit regularly from 1971 onwards.

James’s name may not be widely familiar in the world of art, and this book may perhaps be seen as something of a footnote to the landscape tradition, though it is an extensive and informative one. The number and quality of the illustrations is generous and the only real lack is that of dates, which would have made it possible to trace the development of James’s style in oil, watercolour, pastel and pen & ink.

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Barry Herniman’s Travelling Sketchbook

Barry Herniman is perhaps best known to practising artists for some relatively elementary manuals from Search Press, so it’s nice to have this substantial look at his “real” work.

Artists’ sketchbooks can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand you catch them unawares, as if they’ve just got up and are taking in the milk. On the other, you can get half-finished work that means a lot to them but isn’t unlike discovering someone else’s shopping list in your supermarket trolley. This book, I’m pleased to say, provides a nice balance between finished work and reproduced sketchbook pages and the latter, into the bargain, have been selected so that they do actually have meaning for the non-involved reader. These pages often have handwritten notes, but unfortunately these are quite difficult to read (they appear to have been photographed rather than scanned), although there are also printed captions where Barry explains what he was doing or what he liked about the scene reproduced.

This kind of book is always illustration-led and you wouldn’t necessarily expect (and you don’t get) any explanation of how or, for the most part, why the painting was done. Most of the work was done in Britain and Ireland, but there’s also a final section of Europe and Beyond that records wider travels, including some rather excellent Vermont maples. Introductory material includes an entertaining autobiographical section and some short notes on Barry’s working methods on location.

Given Barry’s popularity as a writer about painting, this should please fans who want to look at his work in more detail as well as collectors and armchair travellers.

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Brian Ryder – Painting Atmospheric Landscapes: Norfolk & beyond || Adrian Hill

Brian Ryder will be familiar to amateur painters mostly through his instructional books and, especially his first, Beyond Realism, which paved the way for what has become almost a flood on non-representational painting.

Those who are familiar with Brian’s work through this route will get something of a surprise here because he turns out to be quite an impressionist landscape painter in both oils and pen & wash. If I say that Brian’s style is conventional, I’m really referring to his paint application methods. Compositionally, there’s no doubt that he’s a fan of big skies (no bad thing in Norfolk!) and he combines these with loosely painted and often compressed foregrounds that serve mainly as context.

As a record of a county, this is a beautiful collection of work but it also, with the “and beyond” that takes us to other counties and countries, showcases the artist as well. For the practising artist, it’s pure inspiration, but be prepared for a strong sense of, “if only” because this is definitely an aspirational style!

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A Picture of Cornwall || Ray Balkwill

As the jacket blurb so succinctly puts it, “Cornwall is artist country”. With such a variety of landscapes and both north and south-facing coasts that give contrasting effects of light, the county does indeed have much to offer and attract the painter.

This is, of course, not a book primarily aimed at the amateur artist, but rather at the art tourist or maybe just the carriage-trade souvenir market in general. It’s certainly a welcome antidote to the usual sort of lucky-charm-piskie tat!

However, we’re not interested in that and the relevance here is not just the fact that this is written by and contains quite lot of the work of Ray Balkwill, but that it also features a huge number of other artists who are associated with or have worked in the county. They include Ken Howard, John Raynes, John Brenton, Amanda Hoskin and more and they have a huge variety of styles that Ray has done well to seat comfortably together. Visually, this is a feast, with illustrations filling many of the 144 pages and a text that sets the locations in context without intruding more than it needs to.

Ray Balkwill has gained many fans as both an author and an artist and his choice of other painters has a significant level of interest and authority that should make this appeal to his fellow practitioners. On top of that, there’s the landscape and topographical interest that gives the publisher a deserved winner.

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Alan Cotton – Giving Life a Shape || Jenny Pery

This is something more than just, “A few of the artist’s paintings and a bit about them”. Jenny Pery is an experienced writer and she has woven a neat and intriguing account of Alan Cotton’s life as he prepares for his latest exhibition. In many ways, it could be said to be a documentary in book form and the approach works supremely well.

If you haven’t come across Alan Cotton before, although comparisons are nasty things, I’d say that, if you like the work of John Piper and Kyffin Williams you’ll feel at home here. At 176 pages, this is a substantial tome and the extended text doesn’t detract from the number of illustrations, which feature landscapes from Snowdonia to Cyprus and Devon to Provence.

As a feature on an artist’s work in progress, this is hard to beat and the illustrations are, without exception, well handled. As a documentary, it’s an innovative approach that brings both the man and his work to life in a way that couldn’t be achieved by concentrating on only a single aspect.

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Tony Garner’s Enchanted Light – pastels of the Norfolk Broads || Adrian Hill

The calm, flat landscapes of Norfolk seem ideally suited to the medium of pastel and Tony Garner explores both the broad vistas and intimate corners of this enchanting county.

Generally speaking, pastels fall into one of two categories, the very loose or the very tight and Tony’s fall into the detailed end of the latter; some of his work has the appearance of some Victorian watercolours.

If you want to explore the county of Norfolk or the possibilities of the medium of pastel, this is a book that’s certainly worth an extended look. Personally, I have the feeling that some of Tony’s work is a little grandstanding – it’s perhaps a trifle over-dramatic and some of the colour choices are a little adventurous, shall we say. However, that doesn’t, in the end, detract from a book that has considerable appeal on many levels.

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Charles Dixon and the Golden Age of Maritime Painting || Stuart Boyd

Charles Dixon is one of the world’s foremost maritime artists. His work is highly sought-after and can be found in many national museums and galleries as well as corporate and private collections. His paintings feature just about every kind of maritime subject from yachts to liners, steam and sailing ships and working boats of every kind as well as dramatic naval battles.

As well as being a comprehensive and readable account of Charles Dixon’s life and work, this is also the first book to illustrate a significant number of his paintings and these represent the full scope of his work. This is quite a substantial volume and is of value not just to those interested specifically in Charles Dixon’s work, but also to anyone who follows maritime art or who wants to paint the subject themselves. The sheer variety of what’s on offer means that this book can act pretty much as a single source of reference for that.

Stuart Boyd has written extensively on maritime art and has a particular passion for the work of Charles Dixon.

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John Yardley: as I see it || Steve Hall

This new collection of John’s work covers largely the last couple of years and therefore includes much that has not been seen in print before. The subtitle refers to John’s own assertion that he paints what is in front of him, usually from life rather than sketches, this being the key to the immediacy of his work and the predominance of his use of light and colour, with form often taking a back seat. The selection is John’s own, assisted by his wife Brenda, with an introduction by Steve Hall that provides a brief narrative of John’s life and career to date.

It’s easy to see why John’s work is so popular with other painters, with his simplification of form and his use of light and colour to suggest atmosphere, all very painterly qualities, and this collection will not disappoint. Given that the work is recent, however, and that there should therefore not be issues with the photography, it’s a pity that some of the images are a little less than sharp. It’s only slight, though, and the book is splendid value.

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Letting Off Steam || David Weston

There’s an old adage that every small boy wants to grow up to be an engine driver. Actually, I suspect that applies more to the age of steam when locomotives were complex, fire-breathing beasts that needed a huge mix of skills to handle and which were almost like living creatures – one false move and they’d have your hand off, no messing. Bit like swans, really. Or was that your leg?

Well, anyway, that little bit of slapstick is a way of letting you know that I’m a sucker for a bit of steam and that this book pushes so many buttons I’m finding it very difficult to be objective. In fact, hang on a minute, I’ve never claimed to be objective, so let’s not even bother. Where I’m trying to get to is to say that the thing about this book is that it’s not one for the rivet counters, but that it captures to absolute perfection the emotional state of just watching a steam engine, whether going full chat up an incline, sitting quietly in a siding, or just rotting in a scrapyard, tears of rust staining its noble flanks.

Look, if you don’t know what I’m taking about, please move away now, because this isn’t a book for you. I don’t mean that unkindly, but the simple fact is that you’ll be wasting your twenty quid and, while we’re on the subject, ONLY TWENTY QUID?, they’re practically giving this away.

I’ve reviewed David Weston’s books before and I’ve liked his ability to create the atmosphere of a landscape, often as you’d like it to be rather than faithfully as it is and now that he’s turned to a subject he clearly understands and loves deeply, I can see what he’s doing. What you get here is the romance of steam without it being romanticised. These locos don’t always shine, sometimes they’re grimy and not in a pretty way, either. They’re, well, they’re . . . steamy.

It’s quite possible that the purists will hate this. There’s a lot of detail not there, sometimes it’s more about the location and the light and shade than it is about the configuration of the wheels, but it’s a wonderful thing to handle and the reproduction is superb.

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