Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Art at the Priory January 2013

Exploring painting #2

Diana Hand  The green post
Another step in painting process - find myself fascinated by the iconic shapes of railings on Newmarket Heath. Horses are shown by mere suggestion of paint strokes. This quick oil sketch originates from a photo taken during the September workshop with the Society of Equestrian Artists.  Series to be continued.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

How it should be done - Samuel Peploe at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Today an unexpected window occurred during a stressing rainy afternoon in Edinburgh,  and I took opportunity to visit Samuel John Peploe's paintings at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art .  This link is to the excellent FT review, but I will add to it by saying how fascinated I was by the free loose use of paint to create lively images.  Peploe is known mostly for his still life paintings.  He said "There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what not - colours, form, relations - I can never see the mystery coming to an end".  He often spent days arranging the composition of a still life, feeling it and knowing it, then painted very rapidly.

Peploe was influenced by Manet, and Manet was a painter of tone rather than colour.  This is a distinction I have always found difficult to grasp. For colour has tone.  Tone need not have colour.  Perhaps I will understand this by experimenting.   Meanwhile I enjoyed looking at the apples, flowers and fruit, painted with brief spontaneous strokes of colour.

Another thing Peploe learnt from Manet - to start with the lights, and then add the darks and half tones while paint is still wet.

Samuel John Peploe  the Black Bottle  c. 1905

Samuel John Peploe Still life, Pears and Graspes c. 1930 (detail)
Samuel John Peploe  Peonies early 1902

Monday, 26 November 2012

Exploring painting

This is the drawing for the study

Another painting in the "Newmarket" series.  This is getting a bit freer!  On the way towards abstraction.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Where the Wild Things Play

Horses in Wasteland   Diana Hand
 I am delighted to see that Edinburgh Printmakers have selected my image of "Horses in Wasteland" as inspiration for the story telling and art workshops
Where the Wild Things Play   by Owen Pilgrim on 15th December.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Katerina Seda community artist

Spotted this feature about Czech artist, Katerina Seda in Frieze magazine, and in particular this photograph which appealed to the textile artist in me.  The scarf design is based on a situation in a Czech town.  A large factory plant has been built right in the middle of the town and this means that all the inhabitants have to make long detours to make journeys which previously took a few minutes. This is such a meaningful way to make a design.

Efterklang and Piramida

I was intrigued by this flier from the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.  The Danish group, Efterklang, had travelled to Svalbard and spent 9 days at the abandoned Russian town of Piramida.  They have partly used recordings and ideas from that trip in this new work.  I am fascinated by the Arctic and in particular Svalbard.  I have made prints based on drawings from this place.  

Mads, Casper and Rasmus

Victor Pasmore and Susie Leiper at Open Eye Gallery Edinburgh

 I passed by the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh last week and by chance saw the work of these two wonderful artists.  Pasmore's abstract prints are sublime and Susie Leiper's Chinese watercolours and calligraphy also marvellous.

Susie Leiper

Screenprints by Victor Pasmore(1908-1998

Monday, 22 October 2012


Spotted these beautiful shadows at Edinburgh Print Studio gallery last week.

Starting to paint

Trying oil paint for almost the first time - in recent memory, that is  Fortunately I had kept my materials from art school and inherited some more from my artistic mum.  So here goes.... There is such a mystique about this kind of painting, but it is just another method, after all.  By all accounts the easiest.  Well ...
Colours look a bit different here from reality, and strangely, the first attempt looks better than the second one, which I thought is working better.  Neither is complete as yet.

Some of the kit
Sketches on the gallops

A tonal drawing from one of my Newmarket photos

First attempt - studio context

Equestrian art weekend

A great weekend in Suffolk with 
the Society of Equestrian Artists

Working from the model at Munnings house
Another model!

Suffolk Punch colt

On the gallops at Newmarket


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat

Perfect spring moment #1

Perfect spring moment #2

Perfect spring moment #3

Tai chi demonstration

Perfect spring moment #4

Glorious days at Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat in Balquidder, Central Scotland at the end of May.  The retreat was focussed on tai chi and meditaion and was led by martial arts master Dharmamudra.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge in Glasgow

Perfect afternoon in Glasgow Green - what's that in the distance?
Before the deluge
Ready steady run!  The deluge
Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge (exact replica including size) in Glasgow Green yesterday.

Thursday, 3 May 2012



I have recently had the good fortune to read this magical book by Kathleen Jamie.  Jamie writes about her journeys to remote areas of Scotland, such as St. Kilda, and accompanies research parties to help and observe.  She also travels to Northern Europe, in this book to Bergen, to visit the Whale Museum.

She is interested in Scottish archaeology, and also in the history of whaling, so often melancholy and abusive and so entrenched in our consciousness.  She finds many monuments to the whale, frequently in the shape of huge jaw bones shaped into a massive arch, or even the odd eardrum or vertebra.

Jamie combines erudition with a profound appreciation of the everyday and the overlooked.  Sometimes this combination is disconcerting.  I think:  is she an expert or a dilettante?  how can she find time for all these journeys?  She wears her learning lightly, however, and I have to take her as I find her, a delightful and entrancing writer who expands my mind and soul.  A further reflection - Jamie is a philosophy graduate.  I see her writing has philosophy made material.

Pressure off!

How do I know when the pressure has eased a little?  I find myself able to relax and have a laugh with Grazia. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Captain Scott's Last Expedition

Bunks in the cabin

A most interesting exhibition describing and showing in great detail the Antarctic exploration of 100 years ago, and the disaster that befell Captain Scott and four of the expedition members on their return from the Pole.  Although I had been brought up with this story in my DNA, I really knew very little about what really happened.  Here the background and the story was explained, with many artefacts and maps to help.

A full scale floor map of the famous hut was marked out on the floor, and a model of the equally famous mess table had been made and donated to the exhibition. All the members, officers and men, were described in some detail, and the expedition photographer took marvellous pictures of the whole event, from unloading supplies and building the hut to all the everyday life arrangements such as catering and washing. 

Scott's last expedition has become part of polar mythology.  Only this week I was reading about young Norwegian scientists whose dream it was to visit and to work there.  The hut is looked after by New Zealand, and recently it has been dampproofed and protected so that it remains a perfect time capsule of life a century ago, complete with gloves and clothes and cooking ingredients.

The scientific research that was a major part of the expedition's raison d'etre has proved very valuable.  Scott raised the finance and support for the expedition himself and passionately believed in it.  The story was most inspiring with a strong sense of humanity.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Damien Hirst's mid-life retrospective

Spin painting

Damien Hirst has a mid-life retrospective at Tate Modern this summer.  I was staying just across the river and could not resist wandering across.  I had not seen his work in the original before (except for the diamond skull).  My main impression was how very confident the work was. He seems to have been riding a wave throughout, relying on his ideas and intuitions rather than using or falling back on skill.  Famously, he employs other people for the latter.  But although this lack of physical engagement, and also the massive output, creates for me a certain vacuity and lack of substance, there was also a sense of movement and energy which was exciting because the work truly felt like a dynamic part of life rather a fossilized art work.  I got the feeling that Hirst was too impatient to make anything much himself.  Not his forte.

His very first spot painting, together with other student work, was shown in the first room.  From the word go, it was all about simplicity and impact of the ordinary made dramatic.  A row of brightly painted enamel saucepans hanging up - check.  A set of cardboxes all different sizes and also brightly painted, as a corner installation - check.  Untidy first spot painting discovered in Hirst's garage - check.

Much of his slightly later work was a deconstruction of the perfection and impersonality of minimalism (Judd, for example).  Hence the glass cabinet containing rotting meat and breeding flies and dissected and preserved carcasses of dead animals.  I liked the huge cabinets of drugs and medicines - these concerned not only Hirst's obsession with life and death, but also represented sort of anatomical diagrams, as they were arranged according to different body parts.

Later pieces (by which time artist had become extremely wealthy) tend to use much more opulent materials.  I loved the vast cabinet filled with shelves of manufactured diamonds glittering fabulously against a mirrored or gold background.  I did not visit the diamond skull, with its mockery of desire and wealth, again.  Once was enough.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Lucian Freud exhibition in London

This week I also went to see this exhibition. I had never seen an original Freud before as far as I can recollect.  This show was almost entirely of human portraits and most of the  pictures had an intensity and almost harshness that I found a bit unsympathetic.  Brilliant virtuosity but something almost brutal as well.  This quality was conspicuously lacking in the portraits of his mother, in particular one large painting completed when she was very old and frail.  This painting was absolutely still, gentle and luminous and so different to his other work.  

I also enjoyed looking at the way he paints animals,  brilliant too but with additional warmth and with love.  Furniture, rooms, plants and textiles come in for less intense scrutiny and are the better for it, IMHO.  Who am I to say, however? 

The exhibition was extremely crowded but not so much that it was impossible to see all the work.  I had hoped to see more animal painting but this was not to be.  Just a jack russell and his whippets. Very nice, though..

Different kinds of intelligence

Please do watch this fascinating and entertaining video based on the work of educationalist Ken Robinson.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Happy Valley #2 Unnatural Histories

By chance I saw an excellent programme, "Unnatural Histories",  on BBC4 this week.  It was part of a series about the myth of wilderness, and this one, the first, featured Serengeti National Park in Kenya. I was interested because of my current fascination with East Africa and the colonial period 100 years ago. At that time the grasslands of Africa were deserted because a recent plague of a cattle disease, rinderpest, which had decimated the herds during the 1890s and caused native people to leave the areas, although the lands had been home to Bantu, Masai and other tribes for many years. 

The incoming European settlers saw the grasslands as a kind of pristine paradise, and an antidote to the effects of industrialisation and overpopulation in their home countries. At first these lands were exploited by white hunters (such as Theodore Roosevelt), but by the 1930s awareness was growing of the need to protect the Serengeti as a National Park. Many famous campaigners, such as Armand and Michaela Denis, led this movement, and eventually in the 1950s the park, dividing animals and people,  became a reality, although not without much disagreement on the issue of boundaries between local and central administrators. 

Because of natural phenomena, this plan was not the threat to the wild life as had been feared. But the world is always changing, and modern analysis shows that the Serengeti has in history constantly altered from grassland to forestry according to prevailing climatic conditions, and may do so again.  Man has always been a factor in the grasslands, managing the lands by burning off scrub to obtain fresh grazing.  There is no such thing as a pristine wilderness, claims the programme, and the safari myth is a part of that fabrication.  This was extraordinarily interesting as it also puts late nineteenth and twentieth century African history in a much wider perspective.  Although it has its own mythology, it was only a tiny blip of about 70 years in a much longer narrative.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Von Hagen in the Natural History Museum and at Easter

Drawing in the exhibition
Octopus in "Animals Inside Out"
Capillaries in horse's head in "Animals Inside Out"

Von Hagen made a programme, transmitted on Easter Day,  about creating a contemporary crucifixion using his particular plasticination process.  It was a moving programme, particularly as the joiner he employed to go out into the forest and make the cross was probably using almost exactly the same process used in Roman times.  Also, von Hagen himself is a charming and humorous,  if dark, character, but he also suffers  from poor health.  He has Parkinsons disease and it is restricting his activities more and more.  At one point he told the story of the rose grower who has to retreat from whole nurseries of beautiful roses to, eventually, just a single bloom in a vase.  Von Hagen points out that it is a process of living  that one has to learn to  release not only the physical faculties, but also knowledge and skills.  A poignant process for him as he is such a vital character.

This week I have been in the Natural History Museum in London and I visited the exhibition about animal anatomy created by his team.  It includes a dissected elephant, as well sea creatures such as the octopus above, and many other mammals such as horses, giraffes, camels, rabbits, cats and pigs.  I particularly found it interesting as a way of understanding the musculature of the shoulders and hindquarters in the horses, and how it is attached to the bones.  All the mammals have the same basic muscle pattern but it varies slightly accordingly to their body shape.  I have returned to my studio reinspired to explore sculpture.

Once upon a time in Anatolia

This film was so different from most contemporary work, as it gradually unfolds the characters of an ordinary group of people in a remote area of Turkey,  without resort to cliches and stereotypes. Instead each character is shown as having evident faults and virtues and confusions.   In the words of Nigel Andrews, film critic for the Financial Times:

"It says, shockingly, marvellously, messianically, that a living community, or family or human being, is by essence dysfunctional.  If something or someone does'nt work, it is in a state of grace, progress or evolution.  If it does work, it has merely completed its job and is probably dead".

This was a long film and action developed slowly.  At first I thought, "not more villians and cops doing the Pulp Fiction thing of combining the mundane with mindless violence", but it was far more complex than that,  as each character developed and became more sympathetic, and as the scene shifted from hillside to village and into the town, so the atmosphere altered. The explosion of violence that I expected constantly never occurred.  Instead each man reentered his life altered by the night's experiences. As Andrews comments, that is the constant process of change that is life.

The director of the film is Nuri Bilge Ceylan.  This film was joint winner of Cannes Grand Prix, 2011.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Beryl Markham and the Happy Valley

Strangely drawn to Kenya of 100 years ago, I watched again the film "Out of Africa", discovered by chance and purchased on impulse recently in the DVD bargain box at Morrisons. I found this tale of love and loss in an era of imperial certainty compelling to watch. But it was also good film making and great acting and screenplay. The film would be nothing without this, and the writing of Karen Blixen.

Now I can explore further the characters, courtesy of Wikipedia. I bought the auto-biography by Beryl Markham, "West with the Night", a poetic and evocative account of the Kenya of those times, written (some say, ghosted) by Markham late in life describing her early life as a child in the bush, then as a young racehorse trainer, and then as a pilot. The writing is very clear and direct and immediate and her feeling for the country, for horses and, of course, for flying is brilliantly conveyed. She does not touch on the emotional aspect of her life, which, by all accounts, was very lively and included an affair with Blixen's lover, Fynch Hatton. As well as many others. An extraordinary women and a beautiful book about a long lost era.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Saturday, 24 March 2012

"How I learned to look and listen"

Excellent and fascinating article by Jonathan Jones this week, in which he describes the "end of the art criticism" by the expert. As recently as 2006 he was, he says, writing with "an aggressive, cocksure, dismissive voice, determined to prove that my opinion was worth more than my readers" ... but "criticism in the age of social media has to be much more playful and giving"

Now he writes an almost daily blog for the Guardian (see my previous post). It is excellent, by the way. I have huge respect for Jones, I think he is one of the best around, and his change of attitude proves it. He says that his views are flexible because he writes frequently, and the format is informal. His writing and the discussions (which once even reached 500 responses to one post) comprise the text together.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Jonathan Jones blog

Anyone interested in art and ideas might like Jones' daily blog on the Guardian website. He says that the comments are just as much part of the text as his blog. Very cool.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ted x Observer Dovecot Studios 2012

Alan Davie tapestry

Today at Dovecot, Edinburgh for the annual Ted x event.

Many excellent speakers speaking about their
inspiring work with, particularly, under-privileged young people around the world. Speakers included crime officers (Karen McCluskey from Strathclyde police, famous for her work with gang culture), musicians (Rosemary Malden who works in Soweto with young musicians, and Plan B, AKA Ben Drew, who is passionately advocating understanding for deprived young people in UK and beyond.) Further speakers included surgeons working with facial disfigurement and Daniel Kish, who uses vibrations to help blind people navigate. And there were many others.

Grangemouth refinery weaving

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Walk in the park

Gentle stroll to village this morning, amazed by 3 separate groups of cyclists whizzing past 30 at a time, each group with its distinct soundtrack. Sometimes just silent effort except for the swish of tyres, sometimes whoops and shouts, and most remarkably, one group all chatting gently to one another, generating a sound like a river or a flock of birds.

Then a man with large camera vaulted over the fence into the park, and on the way back from the shops I observed him pursuing a solitary but extremely lively red squirrel around the playground in his attempt to get a good photo. All in the good local cause of demonstrating the rare wildlife that inhabits these parts.

My last encounter was with a dear friend and his son. This friend now has a form of dementia which limits his life greatly. I had not seen him for many months, so was immensely glad to have the chance to shake his hand and have a chat.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Shame the movie

TonightI saw Steve McQueen's latest film, "Shame", about a dysfunctional "sex addict" (played to brilliant and moving effect by Michael Fassbender) in New York. His "addiction" means he is unable to form relationships, even with his own sister (Carey Mulligan).

From the very first frame I knew this was going to be an excellent film, made with the acute eye of an artist. In one way it is a portrait, even a love song, of New York, of the back streets, the deserted riverside and sleazy bars. No punches are pulled in the raw depiction of the underworld of the city. And not much is spared in the depiction of the main character's uneasy relationship with his life.

His obsessive private life coexists alongside the false bonhomie and hypocrisy of office life. Sometimes these worlds meet, as when his married boss has a disastrous fling with the vulnerable sister. I see the film as a comment on the vacuity and loneliness of life in consumer society. There is a brilliant sequence as a desperate Fassbender runs at night past the shops of New York to the strains of the Goldberg Variations.

This film is not entertainment, thank goodness. Instead it is a work of art, touching on some deep and painful truths.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

In between 2D and 3D

still from Light Years Projects

Autumn 2010 - 3D 2D: Object and Illusion in Print - an interesting exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers from the Centre for Fine Print Research in Bristol. Some of the work focussed on the 3D printer. This technology can simulate 3D shapes (from 2D material?) and then build actual 3D pieces. Others, such as Jeremy Gardiner, translate paintings into digital video format, in collaboration with digital artist, Anthony Head. On show here was a piece entitled "Light Years Projects", "a combination of landscape painting and 3D graphics .. to create evocative and immersive environments". Paintings reimagined from all angles, brought to life and recreated in many different textures and colours.

At the Royal Academy, London this week was another exhibition from a very different period. "
Building the Revolution" is an exploration of Russian constructivist art from the early 1920s. At this time artists were inventing a new aesthetic language based on basic neutral geometric elements free from traditional associations. These elements, being mathematically precise, could, it was assumed, be used in engineering and architectural applications.

El Lissitsky Sketch for Proun 6B (1919-21)

It is difficult to grasp, but they were using traditional media such as drawing and painting to express the transition between the idea and application. Lissitsky called these in-between works "prouns". Popova's paintings are similarly explorations of basic spatial relations. I can see parallels between the methods of the constructivists and that of the Bristol artists. What would the early Soviet artists have done with our technology? What will future artists be able to do?

Popova Spatial Force Construction (1920-1921)

Friday, 13 January 2012

How difficult can it be to write?

Well, Thomas Mann observed that "a writer is a man for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others".

Ryszard Kapuscinki quotes this remark in his book Travels with Herodotus (p. 218)

Dragon dictation and other wonders

Downloading wondrous apps, in particular the Dragon app which enables you to speak into your appliance, whether phone or tablet, and have the text printed on screen. Presumably ready for print, transfer to document or e mail.

Another glory is the
Dark London app to accompany Dickens exhibition currently at Museum of London. Dickens was apparently an insomniac and often wandered around London for much of the night. What he saw, heard and experienced formed the inspiration of much of his writing. The app includes an excerpt from his famous "Night Walks", as well as a copy of the 1862 map of London overlaid (or underlaid) on map of contemporary London, so that it is possible to switch between the two.

The artist and photographer William Raban has made a video of contemporary London at night, shown at the exhibition. The film is accompanied by readings from the Dickens text. Quite a lot remains unchanged, in particular the number of people sleeping rough.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Life long learning

"As the notion of a stable body of knowledge is receding, a new definition of education could be: everything you need to know and understand which is not on a laptop - mostly connections, context, coincidence, coherence. The electronic speed of evolution implies that moments for educational intensity are no longer limited to youth but will be essential at regular intervals. At Strelka, in Moscow, we are experimenting with a new typology of education: a one-year dedicated focus on premonitory subjects that are on the horizon, but have not yet taken centre-stage, a one-year hiatus of reflection, accessible to anyone..." OMA progress, Barbican, London

I have nothing to say, and I am saying it

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" John Cage

Quoted in recent Gerhard Richter exhibition at Tate Modern, London.

Much to say about this exhibitiion by the multi faceted and highly intelligent painter, Richter, who questions the nature of paint and its processes, as well as confronting his own daemons, both personal and political.

But that is all I have to say!

How to build a universe... or a love of chaos

"It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. .. However.. I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe - and I am dead serious when I say this - do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born, the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb and deal with the new."

Philip K. Dick (1978)