Archive for category Subject: Architecture
I almost passed this by as architecture rather than art, but the idea continued to intrigue me, and I remembered many years ago reading an account of the building of the Houses of Parliament that was fascinating just as a historical document as well as the process of designing and building.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is more than just a collection: it’s an institution. Indeed, the collection itself is almost secondary and doesn’t have the same redolence as, say, the British Museum does. This is, frankly, odd, as it’s much more coherent that its august cousin, aiming to reflect the nature of the nation as well as the Victorian obsession with accumulation: they were magpies.
The building itself was always more than just a showcase or a cabinet of curiosities. The museum’s first director, Henry Cole, conceived it as something for leading artists to design and decorate and, long before Marshall McLuhan, the medium did indeed become part of the message. His express policy was to “assemble a splendid collection of objects representing the application of Fine Arts to manufacture” and he applied this as much to the fabric of the building, begun in 1857, as to the contents. It was the natural successor in art to the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which Cole also had a hand. Many of the objects from that found their way into the V&A’s initial collection.
This book details the fabric and decoration of the South Kensington building, showing details that are difficult to see and drawings that are not often exhibited. It explains the philosophy, practice and pitfalls of the project and tells a comprehensive story.
It is rare that the building that houses a collection becomes part of the collection itself, but such is the case with the V&A and this is a fascinating account of a piece of Victorian art history.
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A lot of demonstrators adopt a persona and Alvaro Castagnet is The Passionate Painter. It’s an apt soubriquet as he is an enthusiastic and emotive practitioner and presenter. The bustling streets of Cuba’s capital are ideally suited to his working method and he captures their vibrancy with great eloquence: “Everywhere there’s a painting to be done .. there’s a painting in every corner.”
Alvaro’s painting style is quite quick and is built up in layers using broad brushstrokes, which gives depth in both tone and perspective. His commentary is less technical than some (“How about that for a brushstroke!”), but it’s easy to see what he’s doing and there is little fine detail that needs careful attention from the viewer – at one point, the “very thin brush” he introduces is about a size 8! It has to be said, I think, that the style of the commentary is something you could grow tired of. On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly forgive Alvaro’s flamboyance because of the virtuosity of his painting and his amazing handling of light, both full sun and shade, which the streets of Havana provide plentifully.
There are five demonstrations and Alvaro shows you how to create an image out of elements that have come from elsewhere rather than simply copying what you see in front of you. As he says, “I always have a vision of what I want to say in the finished painting.”
Alvaro is confident, both as a person and a painter and, as a result, he’s eminently quotable. Here are two more: “Once I’ve got the shape [of a drawing], I know how to fill it in with washes” and “Once you set up the family of hues, you stick to them for homogeneity.” Those are pearls of wisdom I haven’t heard expressed so succinctly anywhere else and they’re worth the price of the film on their own. So, now I’ve told you about them you can save your money, yes? Oh no, because you haven’t seen Alvaro at work, or heard the rest of what he has to say. Believe me, he’s charismatic and inspiring and a great exponent and demonstrator of the art of creating an image. I suspect that, in real life, he wouldn’t be my type at all, but I was captivated in these 95 minutes.
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This is part pf a new series from Blacks called Little Books of Big Ideas. Now, the fact is, I’m automatically suspicious of small books. I’ve nothing against them personally, though I’m not sure I’d want my daughter to marry one. The problem is that they immediately condemn themselves to small illustrations and pages you have to peer at and I don’t think that’s a good thing unless there’s a compelling reason, which is usually that it’s something you want to be able to carry round with you. So, do you need a pocket guide to architects? I don’t have an answer to that, though I did say “architects”, not “architecture”.
I’m not going to pretend to be qualified to judge the list of who’s included, though a look at the contents produces several of the names you’d expect and I can’t immediately spot too many glaring omissions, though the lack of James Stirling and Denys Lasdun might raise an eyebrow or two, given the inclusion of C F A Voysey.
On the whole, I’d have said this is something you’d peruse at home rather than carry in a pocket, so the format is perhaps wilfully perverse. As a potted guide to the history of architecture, it’s quite a handy thing, but there’s not exactly a shortage in this field.
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