Marlene Dumas, Tate Modern. April 18th 2015.

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I took part in an OCA study day. This was the second study day for me. It was disappointing as a learning experience and I was also disappointed by the exhibition.

It was very difficult to hear what the tutor had to say as we struggled to form a group in the tiny Expresso Bar on Level 3 of Tate Modern. There was little cohesion, as the environment was against the formation of a group, both during the introduction, the tour of the work and at lunch. There was an attempt at some post viewing discussion, but the space (in a noisy resturant) was aginst us. I was glad that I had not travelled to London from Devon simply for this experience.

It would have been helpful to have had some pointers from the tutor, for examples, some questions, about technique, subject, the political messages. It was a very large exhibition. Fortunately it was not too busy.

As a newcomer to the study and practice of painting and drawing, I am ill-equipped to judge technical skills. I was struck by the large scale of the majority of the works and wondered if working on such a large scale makes it easier or more difficult to acheive the end results. Dumas in her monochrome faces uses watercolour and ?pencil. The works are rough, imprecise, un-fussy and I like them for their honesty. But I do not like the feeling they evoked in me. I felt irritated, forced to watch. It may have been the rawness of the images that gave me a voyeristic feeling. There seems to be a political message to much of the work. Something about racism, someting about oppression, something about sexism. It irritated me. My response was “and so?”

The paintings of Dumas’s daughter were intrusive and the one of her daughter with red and blue hands has a demonic feel. I was appalled by the lack of empathy between the artist and her subjects, as communicated through the work. Perhaps she works with photos and 2D sources because she wishes to avoid emotion as she works, but for me, it is the relationship between the artist and the object portrayed which holds interest and depth. Therefore three works stood out amongst all. The portrait of her friend, the black artist, and the two paintings of her sleeping daughter, which, although intrusive, had a tenderness which I did not find anywhere else.

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Estorik Gallery, London. April 17th 2015

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The gallery is in a Georgian building. It is small and intimate. It houses Italian paintings from the first half of the 20th century – the Estorik collection. Estorik was fascinated by Futurist painting and this was the focus of his collection.

He also collected figurative art fro 1890 to the 1950s. I liked the drawing by Emilo Greco titled Head of a Woman, for the use of simple, quick strokes, (see my rough sketch). Although this is a portrait, it is relevant to the drawing exercises I have been doing as it captures shade and tone using lines and minimal hatching. I was interested to see this and another portrait (see photo) as I was due to visit the marlene Dumas exhibition at the Tate modern the following day.

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The Morandi still life etchings, watercolours and oil paintings are beautiful. the detail cross-hatching in the etchings is incredible, and they demonstrate the play of light and shadow on the objects which is central to the study and practice in the first part of Drawing 1. I was interested in the “negative silhouette” effect in Still Life of Vases on a Table (see photo). The oil still life paintings use a muted grey palette. the objects are simple and the background sparse. The works have a flatness which I like, and the brush marks can be seen clearly, especially in Still Life 1946.

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Massimoo Campigli’s Shop Windows 1945, a watercolour over lithograph also flattened the objects, some of which are surreal. I like the framing effect of the window structure and was reminded of an oil painting entitled Pewter Cabinet,  I’d seen in an exhibition of amateur art in Tiverton.

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I was staying at my brother’s and took some photos of some of his ceramics because they reminded me of the shapes in the paintings. Perhaps they are from the same era, I don’t know.

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The highlight of the day was the Modigliani exhibition A Unique Artisic Voice. This displayed “rarely seen drawings dating from the early years of Modigliani’s career, providing a fascinating and revealing insight into the artist’s distillation of a style unmistakable for its purity, simplicity and grace.”

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Modigliani’s Portrait of a Seated Woman 1910 has exactly the three qualities noted above, and once again my attention was drawn to the use of loose hatching to delineate and to emphasise certaing features on the work. The beautiful dark curve of the woman’s right shoulder and the lean of her head, flowing into her dark hair. the darkness and thickness of her hair balanced in the composition by the loose hatched shadow in the right lower corner of the drawing, below the woman’s left elbow.

The sketch below is my attempt to capture something of the sense of it.

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I was reminded of another portarit I had seen in the RWA in Bristol, in the exhibition  of John Ingram’s collection entitled Drawn. This was a portrait of his wife Margaret Greaves. The pose was somewhat similar, but viewed from the side. The model has a limpid gaze. She stares into the distance, trance-like, detached, unreachable. I was struck by a horizontal line painted across the canvas, at the level of the model’s shoulders. To me it signifies something of the cut-offness of the model’s state of mind.

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Jem Southam Study Day

This absorbed me. He was accessible in his discussion of his work and the contemplation behind it. He talked of ideas coming to him, rather than an active searching for ideas. He does not work with the aim of publishing, but publishes some series of work in books which are accompanied by texts, written by other people with whom he collaborates.

He said he wanted to encourage his students at Plymouth University to write more. He talked about the stories which come to him as he works. These are largely based upon his interactions with the history and people associated with the places he photographs. There is a link here with the poem by Alice Oswald, Dart.(2002). She writes about a journey along the River Dart, and about the landscape and people.

I particularly like his series Rocks and Landfalls for the colours, the sculptural nature of the work and for the rawness of the images. These are not comfortable images, but link to the idea of the smallness of man in the face of the power of nature, but also link with the ubiquitous images of war and destruction. Collapse, of the land and of societies and of man-made structures. These images, in all their horror can have an awful beauty sometimes.

The detail in Jem’s photographs is too much to draw or paint, and anyway I do not like precision in drawing or painting. I have heard an artist (Sara Dudman) say that people hang paintings and drwaings on their walls in preference to photographs, because the painting demonstrates the interaction that the artist had with the subject. Jem’s photographs also show this.

He talked about the ‘Prospect – Refuge Theory’ developped by geographer Jay Appleton and developed in The Experience of Landscape. This proposes that landscapes are attractive to human when they offer a sense of refuge or a position from which to survey the surroundings. This originates Man’s primitive instinctive need for safety in an inhospitable environment.

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I took this photo in Turkey and think it demonstrates the concept of refuge in a landscape.

He also stated that ‘landscape is highly contested space’. This is not a concept which is evedential in many of our much-loved lanscapes. It would be interesting to see it depicted. These photos below show the types of barriers people erect to protect their land, often in this area, from goats.

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References

Oswald, A. Dart 2002. London. Faber and Faber

Appleton, J. The Experience of Landscape 1975. London. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

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