'It's a self portrait'
So as bit of light relief I thought I'd have a go at recreating one of Hancock's 'Infantilist' masterpieces from 'The Rebel'. 'Only take a couple of hours', I thought. Wrong! It turns out that getting it 'wrong' can take two days. I don't know how forgers have the patience.
Anyway, some of you may recognise the exchange that gives me today's title as a particularly toothsome piece of Galton and Simpson dialogue between the lad himself and the redoubtable Mrs Cravatte, Hancock's long suffering landlady, played by the equally redoubtable Irene Handl, What is less well known is that this purveyor of quintessentiall Englishness in over 100 films and TV programmes was scion of a French aristocrat and an Austrian banker who was also an acclaimed novelist (I've read 'The Sioux' and it was a goodie).
This Saturday, 5th October I'll be at Tavi Arts Market on Bedford Square (in the marquee no less!) with a few old favourites and also previewing a couple of pieces due to appear in the Watermark exhibition. I'm planning on discounting some work and it'll probably be your last chance to get an exclusive picturepalace T shirt featuring 'Stan and Ollie'. Also on the square (although not a Masonic way) will be the Big Draw yurt with free workshops all day
'Andrei Rublev' 2013 Detail Acylic on canvas 36" x 24"
Hope you enjoyed that gratuitous use of an iconic 60s tune to introduce this blog post, all will be made clear in due course. In the meantime here's a detail from another bit of (literally) iconic 60s artistry re-interpreted by your's truly. Almost finished, this is from Tarkovsky's 'Andrei Rublev' . See what I did there, 'iconic' you see, because it's about an icon painter? Never mind.
Bad jokes aside, we come to the title of today's blog post, a film that contains some very good jokes, many of them about art. So I'm going off message for the next in the 'History Painting' series and working from a film about a fictional artist. Prompted by Ben Miller's BBC documentary on Tony Hancock I'm having a crack at the lad himself in 'The Rebel'. Now it might be supposed that a film satirising the excesses and pretensions of the 'Art World' wouldn't be particularly popular amongst artists, this would be incorrect (at least in my experience). I've never met an artist who didn't enjoy it and I've spoken to several who volunteered it as their favourite movie. It's full of quotable lines (as you'd expect from Galton and Simpson), some of which I've used myself on occasion. Probably my favourite comes from the distinctly Daliesque Dennis Price, as leader of the Parisian existentialists, the enigmatic Jim Smith, 'English names are so mysterious don't you think?'
The artwork featured in the film, both' good' and 'bad' (I must admit I've a soft spot for Hancock's 'infantilist' work) was produced by Alistair Grant, later a professor at the Royal College of Art.
In 2002, the London Institute of 'Pataphysics organised an exhibition based around the recreation of all the art works seen the film and presented the exhibition as if it were a retrospective of a real unknown artist called Anthony Hancock. (directly copied from Wikipedia).
Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be an available widescreen release the film so a little aspect ratio jiggery pokery may be on the cards. In the meantime here's a sample from the film, enjoy.
I'm not usually inclined to ask trivia questions in this blog but I'm betting that a few of you will struggle with this one (or feel suitably smug if you get it). So, here goes and no checking the links before giving your answer. What links the most expensive painting in the world, the one time lead singer for Manfred Mann, Bonnie Prince Charlie, a failed experiment in local government and an Oscar winning film that was deemed 'too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting' by the BBC (who commissioned it)?
Give up? The answer is contained in the work of Peter Watkins, a unique filmmaker who rarely gets the recognition it deserves, particularly in the UK. It's Watkins' 1974 production for Norwegian TV, 'Edvard Munch' that provides the latest image in the 'History Painting' series. And if that suggests an overdose of Nordic gloom I managed to find a comparatively sunny image of the scream merchant himself just to confound expectations.
Well, 56 seconds actually, which is as long as it will take to watch this time lapse video of your's truly painting the first pass of 'Goya's Ghosts', next up in the 'History Painting' series. Eagle-eyed viewers will probably also be able to spot 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' dangling from the top left of the screen (there should be decent pictures of all the recent work up on the site soon and probably a bit of a redesign too).
I've not posted a video like this before for a couple of reasons. Firstly because, to my mind at least, there's an almost inevitable guilt by association with the whole 'can you see what it is yet?' school of TV painting. I for one am certainly old enough to remember Rolf Harris on a Saturday night with the dancers of the 'Young Generation' sat around gazing adoringly as he wielded his enormous paintbrush. Ah! the seventies 'It's a Knockout', 'Jim'll Fix It' what happy, innocent days!
The second reason is mainly, laziness. While it would have been technically achievable a while ago it was frankly too much like hard work, too many work arounds and fiddly bits of file conversion etc. However I bought myself a new toy at Christmas, a Blackberry playbook (and yes I've heard all the jokes, so let's not get into that here, it might not be an ipad but it was a third of the price and does everything I want it to, mainly) and I've just got round to downloading the camera upgrade app that makes producing video in general and time lapse in particular a whole lot less of a faff.
Given that I basically just sat the thing on a flat surface and pointed it in vaguely the right direction I'm counting this first example as a qualified success. I'll give some thought to sorting out the angles and the lighting properly for the next one. In the meantime, 'share and enjoy.'
You may remember my attempts to explain the mysteries of Aspect Ratio in my previous post essentially consisted of a link to a, frankly rather dry and confusing Wikipedia article? Well I have taken pity on you, or in other words stumbled across something that does the job better. So here, discovered via the auspices of the rather wonderful Boing Boing (bookmark them, it's worth it) is FilmmakerIQ.com's potted history and lucid explanation of the enigma inside the other thing that is 'The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio'.
Above is a rather fuzzy handheld shot of 'Rembrandt' which I was about to begin when I wrote my previous blog post. I'll post something a bit sharper when I get the time and space to set the tripod up and get a decent shot, for now enjoy.
And so to 'Size Matters ... AKA... Let's Keep Things in Proportion ...'
Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will remember that last time out I offered a somewhat feeble and flippant excuse for why 'The Demi Paradise' was not painted in the correct aspect ratio. I'm not going to defend myself further, other than to repeat that in the case of that particular image the decision to crop the frame was justified (and I'm the artist, so there!). However it does beg the question as to what exactly do I mean by aspect ratio and why does it matter? As to what it is, wikipedia is your friend and has this to say on the subject. That ought to keep you quiet for a few minutes ... finished digesting? Okay, now you know what it is, why do I keep banging on about it to the extent that I have to justify myself when I muck about with it?
I suppose the answer is partly respect for the artistry (or craft if he or she prefers) of the cinematographer whose work I am shamelessly appropriating and re-contextualising. And secondly it is about the aesthetic of the format itself. Traditional painting may have made a vague distinction between what we know today as 'portrait' and 'landscape' formats. There was undoubtedly an adherence by some artists to the 'Golden Ratio' when planning their compositions (and a minor industry seems to have developed in 'decoding' the supposedly 'arcane' meanings of the internal geometry of some artist's work, Henry Lincoln and Nicholas Poussin, I'm looking at you!) however there have never really been any hard and fast rules regarding the proportions of the completed image on which an artist worked. Obviously size mattered when it came to sales, as it still does, and individual commissions would be very much on spec but I don't imagine that Pope Julius II told Michelangelo that his work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling had to 'look the business on a postcard as well as in Cinemascope'.
The point I'm essentially trying to make (in my long winded incoherent way) is that on the whole artists do not and have rarely had to, adhere to the prescriptive framing demanded by the film industry. Consequently my respect for the directors and cinematographers who have to make their ideas fit a particular format is increased by the knowledge of the restrictions they work under (and I'm not even considering other factors such as the budget, the demands of black and white or future TV broadcasts and home video sales here).
'It's lovely Johannes but could you make it much wider to fit the frame the we've already bought for it?' Yes, next up for your delectation will be 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' in aspect ratio 2.35:1 (and glorious colour, yes, colour, from me!).
So, first things first, as you can see I've finally finished the 'Demi Paradise' series. This is the painting that I confidently announced I was starting two years ago in April 2011. If you compare the screen grab from the film with the finished product you will notice one obvious departure from the norm in that I have chosen to crop the image and change the aspect ratio somewhat. I don't normally indulge in such manipulation but in this case the croppage (neologism there maybe?) has been done for sound compositional reasons (and is absolutely not because I ordered the wrong size canvas).
And so onto the matter of History Painting which is (probably) going to be the overall title for the show at the Watermark that I told you about last time (I was toying with the idea of Period Pictures but a quick Google confirmed that that would not necessarily be a good idea!). I've decided to concentrate of subjects from movies featuring historical characters, probably mostly portraits and with colour pieces included, I may even throw in the odd Hollywood or European film or two, just to show I'm not as parochial in my taste as I sometimes appear to be. Of course, I say that now but what's the first piece I decide to work on, Charles Laughton as Rembrandt, enjoy!
But first a word from our sponsors ...
And the word is, please start saving your hard earned pennies now, so that hopefully some of them can then be earned by me! The dates for my first one man show at the Watermark in Ivybridge have been set and I'm happy to say that I've been offered the coveted Christmas slot from Saturday 2nd November 2013 to Saturday 4th January 2014. Which may seem a long way off now but really only gives me about six months to complete a dozen large new pieces of work. This is a challenge that I will attempt to meet. At present the plan is to show both colour and monochrome works on opposite walls (which may of course change) and I'm happy to say I've made a start on the first of them already.
Now, something for nothing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of the great museums of the world and as such has both a superb collection and a publications department that really knows its stuff (note the use of scholarly language in that last sentence). Said publications department produces some of the most lavishly illustrated (and expensive if you're as economically challenged as I am) catalogues around. As these are usually produced in fairly limited runs to accompany exhibitions they tend to fall out of print quite quickly and subsequently go for silly money on Amazon, ebay, abebooks and anywhere else people try to make a fast buck. Now however you can get your digital digits on many of them for free. The museum has released a whole raft of out of print catalogues and scholarly works in digital format available either to read on google books or in may cases as a free pdf download, so stick that on your ipad (or other more reasonably priced device) and enjoy. The link to the free stuff from The Met is here.
Not to be outdone (in fact I think they did it first) The Guggenheim has a similar scheme that makes some of its archive publications available online.
The Museum of Modern Art also has an ebook store but their freebies are currently confined to samples, still better than a kick in the teeth. And it has to be said, better than nothing which is what UK museums and galleries seem to be offering at the moment. If anyone knows any different let me know.
And as a final gift for St Patrick's Day here is a link to another free download, this time for the breakthrough work of one of the most influential (certainly on my early work) contemporary artists around. Cindy Sherman's Complete Untitled Film Stills online or for download as pdf or jpegs. A quick disclaimer here, as far as I know this a legitimate site and it is perfectly legal to download this content, just don't go printing them out and trying to flog them as originals
The big news this week is that Plymouth is entering a bid to become UK City of Culture 2017, So I'm backing the bid. Not because I'm an artist, not because I expect personally to profit from it (which I don't) but because I actually dare to think that it could make a difference to the lives of the people of Plymouth and the local area.
Predictably the sniping from the sidelines has already started, notably in the comments section of The Plymouth Herald. It's an unfortunate fact of life in this country that apparently the only section of the community less open minded, tolerant and essentially blimpish than the editorials in a local paper are those that write to its editor or add comments to its web pages.Now there are probably many things that may reasonably be held against Plymouth as a city, its council as administrators and its infrastructure as a bit of a mess. But having a go at the place for aspiring to improve quality of life for its inhabitants, those that work there and visitors (yes, Plymouth does get tourists) is essentially self loathing writ large. Rant over, let's think positive.
So, what's a practical suggestion that will improve the quality of life for Plymothians and make life easier for commuters and visitors, bring a cultural benefit and improve infrastructure all in one go? Easy. A culture bus. I'm talking about a circular route that would take in all the major cultural venues in the city on one route. The Museum and Art Gallery, Peninsula Arts, Plymouth Arts Centre, The Barbican, The Theatre Royal, The Hoe, Plymouth Pavilions, KARST, Ocean Studios, Flameworks, Royal William Yard and all points in between. Now, for all I know, that route already exists in which case just rebrand whichever number it is and repaint the bus.
It would also be nice if there was some acknowledgement and recognition of the arts and cultural production beyond the confines of the city itself, say using the Gunnislake branch line and Tamar Valley AONB as a starting point to take Plymothians out into the wider landscape rather than treating the city's hinterland as simply a catchment area drawing people in.
I have a confession to make, it's not exactly a secret but it is one of those somewhat nerdy interests/obsessions that one rarely mentions in adult company. It may have something to do with being born in Nottingham, in fact I'm sure it does but it's more than that. When I was five or six I fell in love for the first time, you won't be surprised to hear that it was with a film but given the monochrome nature and national origin of most of my work you might not guess that it was a Hollywood movie and in colour. Not that I knew it was in colour at the time, we only had a black and white telly in those days and in any case, colour broadcasting in the UK was barely in existence at the time. The film was Warner Bros 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood. I am still devoted to it, it remains my favourite film and I still consider it a work of near perfection. It kick-started a twin obsession, with movies in general and with Robin Hood films in particular. Forty something years later the flame hasn't dimmed. I've even used it to academic advantage, my MA thesis was about cinematic representations of masculinity in Robin Hood movies, punningly entitled 'Beaux and Arrows' (you can't blame me for that though, my tutor suggested it).
Whilst Errol Flynn and the deliciously nasty Basil Rathbone still have my primary devotion I've made a point of seeing (not to mention buying) as many different film and TV adaptations of the legend as I can. To the extent that I even own a Russian DVD (without subtitles) of the 1975 Soviet era Arrows of Robin Hood and a Czech copy (don't ask) of the Italian Il Magnifico Robin Hood from 1970. Thus it was that couple of years ago when Sir Ridley Scott was about to premiere his new version of the legend with Russell Crowe in the lead I stuck my hand up and volunteered to write a brief history of Robin Hood in film and TV for whatculture.com.
When the article failed to appear when expected I huffed to myself and got on with other stuff, like starting this business. Journalism's loss is the art world's gain. Well, remember that Russian film in the paragraph above? A couple of days ago somebody on a message board asked if anyone had seen it, I gave them my rather dimly remembered impression of it and they came back to say that my name appeared as the author of an article they'd come across in their search. So, ladies and gentlemen it turns out that I am a published author after all (and have been for over two years), I just never knew about until now. So, if you're still interested after that lengthy preamble here it is ...
Rise and Rise Again: 100 Years of Robin Hood part 1
Rise and Rise Again: 100 Years of Robin Hood part 2
Other than a few changes in part 1 to reflect the later than expected publication date it is pretty much as I wrote it (although the Batman references are very much not from me). There is however a glaring omission from part 2 which is entirely my fault and for which I deserve beating with bowstrings (look out for '50 Sherwoods of Grey' in the shops soon). I unaccountably failed to include Maid Marian and her Merry Men which is work of unalloyed genius and deserves to be considered as such (well OK, that's a bit rich but it really is very good).
Work in progress and other stuff that happens.