Archive for category Subject: Townscapes

Painting Urban and Cityscapes || Hashim Akib

Time was, you couldn’t shift books on townscapes for love nor money. Now, we seem to be drowning in them. I’m not sure what has caused the shift; there’s been no great move to cities, no evidence that we’ve suddenly fallen in love with them, no explosion of interest in art (that I’ve detected) among the urban population. The fact is, though, that drawing and sketching in towns has gained popularity quite suddenly and there have been some fascinating books as a result.

This volume is slightly different, in that it concentrates on painting, a slower and more considered process than a few minutes spent with a sketchbook and some pencils. It does, however, retain the same vibrancy that the sketching books labour to maintain. Hashim Akib’s style absolutely lends itself to the subject and his work is permeated by a sense of movement and colour that suits street scenes.

Hashim considers all the aspects of city working, from techniques to composition, perspective and weather. The presentation of the book is as a discussion rather than a series of demonstrations and it’s definitely something to read at leisure rather than work through. There are plenty of illustrations and explanations that will give you ideas as well as clarify the points being made. The medium is largely acrylic, used in impasto, and it is these blocks of colour that mainly give the results the life they exude.

The book sparkles with the confidence of an author who’s on comfortable home ground, making it one of the most worthwhile of these guides around.

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DVD A Simple Approach in Oils || Roger Dellar

Simplicity is a complicated thing. It takes a lot of skill and experience to learn how to extract the essence of a scene without fiddling, over-working and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In the five paintings demonstrated here, Roger works from a basic blocking-out of shapes, a carefully selected palette that reflects the dominant colours and an economy of brushstrokes. His remark, “I’m lazy; I only use a few brushes” is disingenuous – there’s nothing lazy about it and, although he’s not one of those painters who thinks hard before making every mark, each one is deliberately placed. There’s no random working, placing and re-placing. It’s fascinating to see how he works from the general to the specific, with details at first scratched into shapes and blocks before being delineated with colour some time later.

Of the five scenes, three involve water – the other two are in the centres of Chichester and Midhurst. The common factor is that there’s a lot going on – different craft on the water, details, people coming and going or a jumble of buildings. A literal approach, where everything is recorded, would be indigestible, but Roger’s way of building up manages to leave nothing out while at the same time omitting all extraneous matter. That’s what I meant by the complication of simplicity: it’s not just about developing an eye for a picture, but about the means of putting it down on canvas.

It’s also worth noting the palette exposition that starts the film. These are usually a matter of “this is my palette, I put these colours on it”. Roger’s is much more, because he works with such a limited range and he explains here and throughout the film how these are chosen to reflect the scene in front of him. His idea of having two sections of white, one for warm and one for cool colours is a neat one, too. Palette explanations are rarely of more than passing interest, but this is riveting.

After I watched this film, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. I left it overnight. “It has to mature”, I said, and it has. Roger doesn’t instruct, he just explains what he’s doing, so extracting the information is like brewing coffee – it can’t be hurried. I find I have a surprisingly clear memory of almost the whole film and that’s a measure of good explanation – simplicity always leads to comprehension.

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Quick & Lively Urban Sketching || Klaus Meier-Pauken

This relatively short (64 page) book knocks off its subject with commendable alacrity and elan, as is entirely appropriate for a sketch. Working in fast-changing environments is more about observation than technique and requires confidence in your ability and materials.

Although the book is structured as a series of lessons, it doesn’t feel like a tutorial and certainly not a demonstration. Klaus explains – and shows you – what to look for, what to include and, above all, how to achieve a record of your scene quickly and efficiently. In a world overrun with smartphones, he addresses the question of “why sketch at all?” head on – the answer being in the cover blurb: it’s “an act of personal expression”. But, as an artist, you didn’t need to be told that.

Urban sketching is very much of the moment and its literature is a crowded market. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile addition to the canon and one which doesn’t labour the simple point it has to make, which is simplicity.

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Urban Watercolour Sketching || Felix Scheinberger

It used to be that publishing a book on townscapes was the quickest route to a tax loss for over-successful publishers. It was also something that had the hallmarks of a vanity project – look at the popularity of our list, we can do anything! Er, no you can’t.

However, hardly a batch of reviews seems to pass by these days without urban sketching turning up in one form or another and, in these straitened times, I think it’s safe to assume that publishers are looking for everything to be profitable. So, what’s changed? Maybe it’s the perceived glamour of the urban lifestyle, the rise of the metrosexual, the hipster, the cereal café. Whatever it is, there’s some serious and interesting art out there.

As is de rigueur in books of this type, everything is sketched, including the illustrations of materials. The style is loose, rough even, and Felix paints pretty much everything that comes within his purview, so expect buildings, constructions, figures, faces, random ideas, all in a more than slightly cartoon style that’s as vigorous as city life itself. The pages are practically noisy, it’s that street.

If you detect an equivocation here, you’d be right. I’m fascinated by the whole thing, drawn in and yet also slightly repelled by its grossness. I’m not a city dweller, but I have the need for the occasional fix and I get the same rush from these pages as I do from a day in the big smoke. It’s all a bit of a ragbag, bright, loud, confusing and yet also heady. If you’re a city dwelling artist, I think you’d probably love it.

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Sketching People || Lynne Chapman

Urban sketching is very much de nos jours and this vibrant and varied book is a worthy contribution to the literature. It also fits into what seems to be the accepted style of the genre, with quick, busy drawings that attempt to capture the look and the moment rather than create an idealised image or record every detail. As well as the illustrations themselves, the pages are also busy and reflect, I assume deliberately, the noise and bustle of a city street. If I were to suggest that the best place to read this would be a gluten-free organic porridge café, you’d detect my wry smile, wouldn’t you?

Although I’m the last person you’d find in such an establishment (give me a Maccy D’s every time!), I’ll admit to enjoying the books the style produces. I’m not a city boy, so I don’t get worn down by the noise, the rush and the crush on my occasional visits from my rural fastness. Rather, I find it all rather exciting and look on a book like this as the best of all worlds – quiet, relaxing atmosphere at home, but with a window onto a rather thrilling environment. Maybe you feel the same about books on landscape painting?

OK, so I’ve told you nothing about what’s in this book and I’m not going to. If you know the style, it won’t surprise you at all and, anyway, I want to sell you the sizzle, not the sausage.

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DVD The Passionate Painter in Havana Part 2 || Alvaro Castagnet

In the second part of his Cuban adventure, Alvaro turns his attention to the people of its capital city and its vibrant street life.

Much has happened since the first instalment and the rapprochement with the US means that the island’s days of crumbling glory are surely numbered. If this is something that appeals, visit now, or maybe buy these films as a fitting memorial. If you’re a Cuban, however, you might think that much-repaired 1950’s automobiles and flaking stucco are a high price to pay for a romantic dream. Maybe you’d prefer a new car and some anonymous malls.

Alvaro is an enthusiastic demonstrator and a great talker. For some, his style of presentation might grate but, for me, he always manages to stay within the border of being irritating and he’s immensely quotable: “We need to get to know the people … absorb the atmosphere … then we paint”, “It’s a mess with order to it … we need to avoid complexity”. These nuggets of wisdom (and they are nuggets) relate not only to the technical details but to the general approach. There’s one place, in a particularly complex scene near the end of the film, where Alvaro works in silence for a minute or two and it comes as something of a shock. Normally, he’s talking about the scene, what he’s looking at and for and how he’s working with water, brushes and colour. He’s a confident painter and this often masks very considerable skill. His remark that he needs to envision the finished result before he starts is telling. It looks improvised but, like the music that pervades the film, it’s actually very carefully structured.

A word about that music. Alvaro often moves with it and he’s also, he says, painting with it. Certainly, there’s a rhythm to the way he works that the music both drives and points up. I think it’s also worth saying that the way the soundtrack is handled here is worthy of top-flight documentary–making. It’s not, as is usually the case, something that’s added later – and which will either enhance the viewing experience or annoy the hell out of you. In two of the demonstrations, there’s a live band playing and this, the commentary and the wild track (the background noises) are perfectly balanced. When Alvaro speaks, the music fades ever so slightly so that his voice is never muffled, but the sound is always a homogeneous whole. On that score, I’d class this as the best film I’ve seen from APV.

Street life is complex and real life doesn’t always appear in a neatly balanced composition. As he did with the first film, Alvaro assembles his images from their component elements. Figures are moved into a more balanced group, details are highlighted and focus shifted. His loose style means that fine detail is never there: “I’m not interested in making a portrait”. For me, this looseness makes this a slightly less satisfying film than the first part as some of the groups start to look a bit similar – I wish he perhaps wouldn’t strait-jacket them quite so much into a single personal style. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting the artistry, especially in the composition and the handling of complex and often difficult lighting, where Alvaro is pretty much pitch-perfect.

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Place || Kurt Jackson and contributors

If that sounds like a different, and certainly intriguing authorship, this is a different and intriguing book. Kurt Jackson is unusual as a visual artist in that the written word is an important part of his work. He writes well himself and doesn’t adopt the painter’s common maxim that “my art speaks for itself”.

At this point, I think it’s worth quoting what amounts to a manifesto from the information sheet that came with the book: “A dedication to the environment is intrinsic to Kurt Jackson’s art and his politics, with a holistic involvement with his subjects providing a springboard for his formal innovations.” OK, I agree, that sounds about as pseud as it gets, but it also sums up Kurt’s work perfectly and I’d challenge anyone to put it better and avoid sounding as if they were wearing red spectacles and check trousers. If you know anything of Kurt’s work, you’ll know that his involvement with his environment is complete.

The book is a series of interpretations of single-point places around the United Kingdom – that’s to say, individual viewpoints rather than extensive explorations. They’re as varied as Penarth Head, the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Station and Spaghetti Junction. The places are chosen because they’re there, rather than because they necessarily have an attraction for the artist – though, of course, Kurt finds a kind of beauty in all of them. Each painting (sometimes accompanied by small details or sketches) is complemented by a description by a different writer, both friends and colleagues as well as people Kurt simply admires. A template of the letter that went out is included and this makes it clear that the locations were chosen by the writers rather than the artist, a brave and bold move that requires a large degree of confidence and even chutzpah.

If I say that the result is interesting, I mean just that, not as a sort of back-handed compliment. Kurt takes what he’s given and produces some amazing results. Many of the places have a natural beauty, or perhaps a sense of mystery, but some must have been a challenge. He’ll have known that, of course, and it’s a challenge he must have wanted to rise to. The result is an impressive, as well as rare, fusion of the verbal and the visual and there’s a link to readings of the pieces in there as well, if you want it.

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