Archive for category Publisher: Halstar

Down An English Lane || Richard Thorn

Billed as “a celebration of rural England”, this utterly charming collection achieves exactly what it sets out to do.

Richard’s watercolour style is very loose and makes extensive use of washes and spattering to create an impression of a scene rather than record it in detail. With only a few exceptions, that impression is of bright sunlight and quiet calm. Figures do not appear and this is more about an idealised than a working landscape. It’s none the worse for that.

Given the subject matter and that Halsgrove is a West Country publisher, I initially assumed that these were the lanes of Devon and Cornwall. Although it’s not explicit anywhere, there are hints in the introductory material that I’m right. Some of the titles give hints to location (“Down Surrey Way” is perhaps further afield), but most don’t and that’s right. Although Richard is painting in specific places, they stand for anywhere and this is as much the creation of an idealised countryside as it is the record of a real one (though it performs the neat trick of being that too).

You’ve probably gathered that I like this a lot. It’s a joyous book that makes you smile and feel that all things are not completely wrong, even if the politics currently are. If you love the English countryside, I think – I hope – you’ll agree. If you want to paint it, there’s plenty of inspiration in Richard’s excellent work.

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The Railway Paintings of Wrenford J Thatcher

It’s funny how early versions of mechanical transport have such an emotional appeal. I’m not talking about the first attempts, but rather the point at which they gained traction (pun intended) and became something more than just than a curiosity. Sure, there were practical railways well before the end of the nineteenth century, but there’s something about the locomotives of the 1920s and 30s that stirs the soul. It’s the same with the cars. Park me beside Mallard or the Napier Railton and I just sit there in awe, even though I’m far too young to have seen them in everyday action. These are refined creations, and yet they owe more to the skill of the blacksmith than to fine-scale engineering (though they’re that too).
In a way that defies explanation, they have soul that even a modern Ferrari or a Eurostar locomotive doesn’t.

This, then, is a recreation of the dying embers of a golden age. Created largely from photographs and the imagination, it’s seen through at least slightly rose-tinted spectacles. These are not the dirty little tramp steamers of mundane mundanity, but rather the magnificent beasts carving their way through some of the more picturesque countryside, or at least the more interesting parts of towns. The representations are realistic enough without being rivet-perfect and you get the sense of action throughout. If I have a reservation (when do I not?) it’s that Wrenford Thatcher, a railwayman himself, perhaps uses a little too much black, giving some images a rather hard outline. I also spotted a couple of instances when the perspective was a tad suspect and one loco, coming round a curve, that appears to be leaning over on its chassis. Nevertheless, this is a fine and enjoyable evocation of what I think we might call an ethos that creates a sense of currency that a photograph can never quite attain.

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Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.

This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.

Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.

This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.

Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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South West Academy – Art – People – Place || Michael Carter

When you see that something was founded “at the turn of the century”, the immediate reaction is to think, “wow, that’s quite old”. In this case, it’s the turn of the 21st century, though even that’s quite a while ago now.

The blurb tells us that the members of the South West Academy “follow in the footsteps of those celebrated groups who, while lacking formal structure, joined together for the purposes of mutual support and fellowship.” It then goes on to attempt a coupling with the Newlyn and St Ives Schools which, I would venture to suggest, had rather more of an artistic cohesion than is evident here.

I’m being more than a little unfair, as this is a nicely-produced survey of a group of more or less disparate artists who are, however, united by a geographical location.

The members of the group are certainly a varied lot – representational and abstract painters, illustrators, sculptors and photographers. Michael Carter, who has compiled the book, is one of these latter and provides the biographies and rather excellent photographic portraits.

This is a pleasant book to handle and includes a rather delightfully eclectic mix of styles and subjects. If I was a little hard on it at the beginning, that was perhaps because it (or its publisher) tries a tad too hard to present it as more of a unity than it is. To do otherwise would be a hard sell, but I’m happy just to let it run and to enjoy it for itself.

South West Academy: Art-People-Place

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John Patchett: Painting From The Heart || Adrian Hill

John Patchett is one of the country’s leading pastellists and his work is characterised by his interpretation of light, whether strong, subtle or contrasting. His treatment of shadows is particularly masterful.

Although much of his painting is now done in East Anglia, where he lives, he has worked around the world and painted both large vistas and quiet corners, where his eye for detail excels.

This celebratory book includes over a hundred paintings that represent the totality of John’s work, with an introductory essay that provides an account of his life from his time at art college to the present.

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St Ives: The Story of Porthmeor Studios || Marion Whybrow

This was a hard book to get an angle on because it’s basically a list of people, both those who have used the studio and those who live in the area. It’s certainly the first book I’ve reviewed that has quite so many (well, in truth, any) biographies of fishermen. I’ve spent a long time with it, trying to get my fingers under the surface of what seems to be a perfect sphere. I can see what it is and I can see how it’s done, but the matter of the title keeps slipping from my grasp.

And then I got it. What, after all, is a studio, other than a building – and one with no specific architectural or vernacular merit at that? Of course – it’s the people. Doh! We all know the artistic history of St Ives, from the Colony to the Tate. We also know that the town was (still is, just about) a fishing port. But what brings it all together? Exactly.

Getting the angle to tell the story of a place that’s defined in this way must have been as hard as finding a way into the finished result, but Marion has hit on the perfect way. Don’t come here looking for reproductions of artworks, though there’s an Alfred Wallis and several Barbara Hepworths. Rather, read the story of the people who worked in and around Porthmeor Studios and follow the subtle build-up of the story of a community that’s more interlinked than you might think.

It’s a tale worth telling and one well-told.

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Cecil Rice: The Colour of Light

This is an intriguing title that points directly to the meat of Cecil Rice’s work. I’ve never come across anyone who paints light so exclusively as a subject. Every painting, of course, is informed by light but here it’s the main subject matter. The physical forms are merely an adjunct that allow it to manifest itself and they are often reduced to almost abstract shapes.

To be honest, in a book that features over 120 illustrations, this can be a bit exhausting. This is a showcase of Cecil’s work and, if it was an exhibition, it would be a substantial one which, I can’t help feeling, would leave you bewildered and maybe not sure what you might want to buy. It’s a case where less is most definitely more. However, this is a book and you can pick it up and put it down at will, and you should. If you’re an admirer of the artist, you’ll be overjoyed to find such an amount of his work in your hand for such a modest price (forty quid’s a lot for a book, but not a lot for 120 good illustrations).

Coming at this from the perspective of this blog, which is aimed at the practising artist, the lack of explanatory captions is noticeable. It’s not a fair criticism, as it’s not the main intention of the book, but it’s worth knowing. You can learn a great deal by looking at the many, many variations and qualities of light that Cecil paints, but you have to work it out for yourself. The introductory text is short and the section on working methods tells us little beyond “I have to have a clear idea of the underlying structure … behind a painting” and that he strives to maintain tonal logic throughout each work. You’d certainly hope so though, to be fair, Cecil didn’t write it, although the blurb does quote author Zoe Cooper as saying “I am always fascinated to learn what makes an artist tick”. Let’s just say that here, she had to pack a lot into a short space.

If you want to learn about painting with light, repeated perusal will provide plenty of examples and inspiration, and you could also have a look at Cecil’s DVD.

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