Archive for category Subject: History

Graphtastic || Bee Morrison

The history of graphite is the history of the universe. A direct cousin of diamond (whose properties it exactly contrasts), it is a form of carbon. It was first discovered in Cumbria in the 1500’s – accidentally, the story goes – and its suitability for drawing soon realised, but its soft, brittle nature led to it being bound in wooden sleeves. The pencil as we know it was born. The story continues by way of Friedrich Staedtler, Nicolas Conté and the Industrial Revolution to the Cumberland Pencil Company and even the work of a man reputed to be the model for James Bond’s Q.

That the humble pencil should feature names that remain familiar today simply emphasises how it is embedded in our lives and how such a simple technology has changed little since its original development. This is primarily an art book, but Bee takes time out to mention new technologies and that potential wonder product, graphene.

This is an intriguing and personal account written by an artist who, while primarily interested in graphite as a drawing medium, has also become fascinated by its history, which she relates in a gripping narrative that continually prompts the reader to want to know more. It’s no dry scientific tome. The whole thing is helped along by anecdotes and sensitive drawings (in graphite, of course) that illustrate scenes, personalities and artefacts.

It’s also worth mentioning the production. Self-published books often suffer from the lack of two things: an editor and a designer. The result can be an over-written and visually confusing mess. Bee, however, has considerable experience, having produced a number of previous books as well as instructional material. She also has a design background. All of which adds up to a tightly-written narrative with the illustrations all in the right places and sized to match their importance. To have a handwritten text is brave, but Bee writes beautifully and you’ll soon pick her style up, rather like getting attuned to a regional accent, and devouring the pages as quickly as you can turn them.

You might not think that, as an artist, you need to know all of this, but you’ll be awfully glad you found it out.

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Lessons in Classical Drawing || Juliette Aristides

This quite scholarly book looks at drawing techniques through Old Master as well as contemporary examples, combined with a selection of specific lessons covering subjects from measured drawing to line work and the human form.

It’s very much a book to read and absorb rather than something to treat as a practical course and therefore probably best suited to someone who already has some facility and is wanting to study the subject in more, indeed considerable, depth. The range of subjects is comprehensive and the quality of both the work and the reproduction is superb, and it is in fact possible to enjoy the book for that alone and to ignore its use as a learning aid.

That the accompanying DVD is filmed in Florence is just the icing on the cake, really.

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Painting The Warmth Of The Sun: St Ives Artists 1939-1975 || Tom Cross

When this book was first published in 1984, the artists of the St Ives colony were largely disregarded and little was generally known about what is now seen as one of the major movements in the recent history of British art. The change over the intervening 24 years has brought the opening of Tate St Ives and a much wider appreciation of the many artists who made the move to Cornwall.

The result is that what was, on first publication, a pioneering book has now become almost a standard work and one which deserves to be in great demand. Extensive in its coverage and generously illustrated, with a very good amount of colour, Tom Cross’s work in no way betrays its age and sits well beside its sister publication, The Shining Sands, which
covers the period from 1880 – 1930. Together, the two books provide a continuous history of painting and sculpture in the South West from the very beginnings almost to the present day.

Both books are serious histories and this one has the added advantage of interviews and conversations with artists, many of whole are sadly no longer alive. Both should have a place in the library of any serious student or collector of British art.

Halsgrove 1984, revised reissue 2008

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The Shining Sands: Artists in Newlyn and St Ives 1880 – 1930 || Tom Cross

This is a remarkable book that manages to encompass a broad sweep of history which it deals with in considerable depth while maintaining an accessibility that makes it as much for anyone generally interested in art as for the serious student of art history.

Schools of art are as often creations of critics or of their time as they are of physical existence. That the Cornish artists really were a group however, is evinced by a photograph from 1890 of the Newlyn cricket team which includes Frank Bramley, William Wainwright and Stanhope Forbes. This was a lot more than just a number of artists who happened to paint in the same place at the same time. Indeed, looking at the illustrations, it is frequently necessary to refer to the captions to be sure who the particular artist is; subject matter, treatments and styles are remarkably and probably deliberately similar.

The avowed intention of the Newlyn artists was to work from nature and the depict reality in a way that accepted Victorian masters did not. That said, there is a tendency to romanticise the subjects and some very careful composition – did fish sellers and net menders really arrange themselves so neatly on the beach? – but these are essentially narrative paintings that record the lives of the native population as much as they make use of the local light and the landscape.

The artists of the Lamorna valley and St Ives are more noticeably modern in their approach: there are more landscapes and the figurative works tend to have more obvious sitters. This is where Alfred Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight and Ben Nicholson come in.

Tom Cross provides as readable yet detailed history of art movements in Newlyn and St Ives and, for less than £35, you get 100 colour illustrations and another 100 in black and white, all reproduced to Halsgrove’s usual high standard.

Halsgrove 1994, 2nd edition 2008

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