Archive for category Subject: Cornwall
The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).
Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.
You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.
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This book has a dual personality, being both art and social history at the same time. If both subjects interest you, that’s not a problem, but if you’re more into the art, you may find the content going off-topic a bit too much for you. Billing itself as “the first book on Newlyn School paintings (as opposed to individual artist monographs) for some years”, it would appear to fill a welcome niche. Indeed it does, and there are plenty of paintings and drawings as well as supporting photographs that set them in context.
However, what’s really (it seems to me) being offered is a documentation of a way of life that uses an excellent variety of available resources and tells a tale that’s not really been told before, and certainly not in this way. Social histories tend to be heavy on the text and light on the illustrations. By convincing itself that this is art history, the approach allows Mary O’Neill to include a large numbers of portraits and group scenes from many different artists (and including, even, Punch cartoons). The accompanying text adds the story behind the images and sets them in context; an analysis of William Holt Yates Titcombe’s A Mariner’s Sunday School appears against an explanation of the importance of Sunday Schools in the development of literacy. If you want to know the full story, this is excellent. I do, and I find it utterly absorbing.
However, if what you wanted was an overview of the development of the Newlyn School and information about its members, this is harder to dig out and it’s the book’s weakness. It’s a shame to have to say this because, as I said, I like the book, but I’m reviewing it as art – it was sent to me as that and that’s how it bills itself. Social historians, on the other hand, ought to grasp it with both hands. I just hope the publisher markets it to them as well.
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