Sunday, September 29, 2019

Farrow & Ball paint colours

I was intrigued to read about the British premium house paint company, Farrow & Ball, in the March 18, 2019 issue of the New Yorker. You may be able to access the article here. The author finds amusement in the aspirational nature of the company's fans.

More recently, I was delighted to get my hands on one of their sample booklets of paint colours. While other paint companies offer many hundreds of tints and shades, Farrow & Ball offers a highly-curated 148.

The company claims that the elevated price of their product is due to its very rich pigmentation, and that its depth of colour is incomparable. Should one have difficulty in deciding on just the right colour for one's breakfast room, a consultant is available for $320 an hour.

The names of the various paint colours are often fanciful, and some names imply a certain status. Here are some sample names and their descriptions from a current F & B brochure:

Blazer - a bright red that is named after the colour of the sports blazers worn at St. John's College, Cambridge.

Wevet - a delicate white with a translucent, gossamer feel, this colour is named after the old Dorset term for a spider's web.

Babouche - This cheerful yellow takes its exotic name from the distinctive colour of the leather slippers worn by men in Morocco.

Paean Black - This Georgian inspired red based black is a nod to the colour of old leather hymnals which so often included a song of praise or paean.

Dimpse - This cool grey is named after the quaint West Country dialect for the colour of twilight.

Plummett - A strong grey, named after the lead used by fishermen to weight their lines.

Rectory Red - This sophisticated red is named after the thousands of charming village houses built over the years for the clergy.

If you share my fascination with colour, check out the Farrow & Ball company website for inspiring suggestions of colour pairings, etc.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Redpath Museum @ McGill

Indulged in a bit of time travel earlier this month, and visited the Redpath Museum on the campus of McGill University. Its collections, and its old-fashioned labelling and display cases, truly evoke an earlier era of natural history museums. Indeed, the Redpath is one of the oldest museums in Canada, established in 1882.

This is the scene I remember from childhood visits:
being greeted by the skeleton of a ferocious dinosaur

As a child, I didn't appreciate the beautiful
architectural details of the plaster work, and the way
the decorative motifs echo natural forms of shells and plants.

The impressive front door, seen here from the inside,
is masterfully carved.

Among the items on display are shells, coral, and a giant crab.

A group of university students was busy sketching some of
the animal specimens. 

The mineral collection includes over 20,000 items from all over the world. Exhibits dedicated to hominid evolution, Egyptology, and world cultures fill the upper floor. (I had forgotten about shrunken heads!)

Compared to natural history museums in Ottawa, Toronto, London or New York, the Redpath Museum is modest. It has not been a funding priority for either the university or the government, and it is very much a relic of the Victorian era. And therein lies its charm.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

New work

Many deadlines and calls for entry are crowding my calendar. The time has come to pull out the "starts" and massage them into something I can be happy with.

untitled 1, 16 x 16, collage/paint

A workshop in August with Jane Davies gave me some insight into process. Jane warned the participants not to expect to go home with finished work. We were to consider everything we did to be a "start". Jane counselled us to work with multiple pieces at once, to do one or two things to each piece in rotation, and then to move on. In this way, we could perhaps avoid getting "stuck".

When you think about it, you don't want to practice "getting stuck". Rather like spinning your wheels when your tires are deep in the mud, perseverating in the stuck position just reinforces those pathways in the brain, and leads to frustration / avoidance / grief in the studio.

I've heard similar advice given to writers who are struggling to complete a particular piece of writing:  put aside the task that is not flowing and tackle something else. If the novel isn't going anywhere, write a magazine article or a book review. Then return to the problematic project with a renewed perspective.

untitled 2, 16 x 16, collage/paint

Having come to art through fibre, I am very much a "planner". With my cityscapes, I begin with my photo, which becomes a drawing. I choose a palette of colour to work with and proceed from there. Perhaps a few tweaks with dark/light relationships, elimination of some detail, and the outcome is very much determined from the start. Not much opportunity for "happy accidents".

Painting and collage is, for me, a very different process. Obliteration is a tool available to the painter that is not readily at hand to the textile artist.

Two shows coming up next month, and these two recent pieces will be submitted to one of them. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A year-long series of art films @ Cineplex

Once again, the Canada-wide theatre chain has organized a series of films about visual art. You can learn more about it here. The films and their opening dates are listed below.

September 8 - Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice
September 22 - Gauguin in Tahiti: Paradise Lost
October 7 - The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonder
October 21 - Anne Frank: Parallel Stories
November 3 - Leonardo: The Works
November 24 - Hermitage: The Power of Art
January 19 - Frida: Viva La Vida
February 16 - Lucian Freud: A Self-Portrait
March 22 - Gauguin from the National Gallery, London
April 5 - Easter in Art
July 5 - Frida Kahlo

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Artch: Emerging artists show @ Dominion Square

This weekend, Artch offers a juried, outdoor exhibition of 23 artists, all 35 and under, in Montreal's Dominion Square.

A few of the artists work in fibre, and I was especially taken with the work of Florence Giroux Gravel. She uses coloured thread, stretched with high tension between opposite sides of a frame, to create interesting effects. As the viewer moves, the threads seem to shimmer and shift in colour.

close-up detail of work above

Gravel also has some small compositions
in coloured thread,
stitched into a heavy paper background

I was reminded of the larger, more complex work by Gabriel Dawe that I saw a few years ago at the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Gabriel Dawe, Wonder, 2017

I was also reminded of the way Sheila Hicks makes beautifully-textured work by wrapping yarn around stretcher bars.

Sheila Hicks, Grass Pathway to Work, 2018
linen, wood; 32 1/8 x 51 1/8 in.

Gravel will have a show at the AVE Gallery, 901 rue Lenoir, Montreal, October 24 - November 27, 2019.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Montreal 360

This 4-minute "homage" to Montreal is worth sharing. Over a period of 4 months, Andrew Andreoli made this video celebration of my favourite city using only a camera, a tripod and a computer. No drone, no dolly.

Andrew has just completed his degree in film studies at Concordia University.

(If clicking on the image above doesn't work, please go to youtube and do a search for Montreal 360 Andrew Andreoli.)

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Stars and Hearts

At the beginning of the summer I posted my intention to begin a fun project: making stitched fabric postcards. I do this annually for my Christmas cards, and every year it's something different.

I was inspired by the small heart-themed collages that Jane Davies posted on her blog. You can see some of the images here.

Because I wanted to make Christmas cards, I chose a star motif, rather than a heart, to work with. I enjoyed working with a bright palette.

Isn't it funny how we see little human figures in the 5-pointed stars?
One head, two arms, two legs, dancing....

But I wasn't really happy with the format. Standard size for postcards is 4 x 6, and squares seem better-suited to stars. I reverted to the heart shape, but used Christmasy-colours of green and red, choosing from some of the older printed cottons in my collection.

As I developed these, I gradually introduced a few brighter colours, like lime green and magenta, to give them a bit more life. (I was getting some useful feedback, working on this project at our text'art retreat.)

The colours were getting bolder and bolder, but with less of that Christmas flavour.

Finally, I limited myself to red/pink/magenta hearts on greenish/turquoise backgrounds.

And now I have a nice selection of fabric postcards, some of which will serve for the Christmas season. Others will get a simple frame and be used for gifts, and possibly for sale at the upcoming fall show of the Hudson Artists.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"How Art Works", by Ellen Winner

Have just read How Art Works, published this year by Oxford University Press. The author is a professor of psychology at Boston College, and director of the Arts and Mind Lab. Ellen Winner explores the psychology and philosophy of art in its many forms (music, literature, film...) but I am most interested in what she writes on the topic of visual art.

In Chapter 2, the author describes how Denis Dutton, a philosopher of aesthetics in New Zealand, attempts to answer the question "What is art?"

Dutton proposes that typical works of art, whether musical, literary or visual, have characteristic features:

skill and virtuosity
novelty and creativity
expressive individuality
emotional saturation
direct pleasure
intellectual challenge
imaginative experience
culture of criticism
special focus
existing within art traditions and institutions

Let's look at these one by one, and try to think of examples of art that challenge this definition, by not exhibiting the characteristic. (In these instances, the characteristic is not necessary). Also, let's try to think of examples that demonstrate the characteristic but are decidedly not art. (The characteristic is not sufficient).

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

1. Skill and Virtuosity

Duchamp's readymades (the urinal, for example) were found objects, so they do not display skill or virtuosity. And something like surgery, which does display skill and virtuosity, is not usually thought of as art. So this feature is not necessary or sufficient, but nevertheless is characteristic of most works of art.

Aphrodite of Milos

2. Novelty and Creativity

Many examples of classical art do not display novelty or creativity, so this is not necessary. Neither is it sufficient. Technological innovation might show novelty and creativity, but it isn't art.

Jean-Paul Riopelle, Perspectives, 1956

3. Representation

Much modern art is non-representative, thus representation is not necessary. And maps and graphs are representative, but not art, and so this quality is not sufficient.

You will be relieved to know that I am not going to continue in this vein, but perhaps you would like to consider for yourself whether each of these twelve characteristics is either necessary or sufficient for your definition of art. Despite the exceptions, I think there is merit in Dutton's idea, in that these qualities do form a cluster of traits that help us distinguish "art" from "not art".

And let's remember too that we're not talking about good art vs. bad art, which is an entirely different issue!

Once Winner sets us up by giving us a loose definition of art, she proceeds to draw on various psychological studies designed to shed light on questions such as:

– Are artists born or made? (Both. Innate talent and thousands of hours of practice are both essential.)

– How can that be art if my two-year-old can make something just like that? (Adults, children and artificial intelligence can distinguish paintings made by artists from paintings made by children or animals about two-thirds of the time.)

– Do art lessons or music lessons impart skills that raise scores on standardized tests? (Regrettably, there is very little evidence to support the theory that these skills transfer to academics. High test scorers tend to participate more in art lessons, sports and community activities, so it's more likely a matter of "drive".)

– Will reading fiction make us more empathetic? (No evidence of this, but there have been some positive indications that role-playing in the classroom can help make us more sympathetic to others.)

The author also explores why we value authenticity in art, and devalue copies and forgeries. Also, how much do we value effort in art (i.e., how long did it take you to make that?)

Interesting questions, but evidence-based studies provide few answers.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Life with Picasso", by Françoise Gilot

Last month I posted an item about Françoise Gilot, muse and wife to Picasso. I learned about her through a profile in The New Yorker, in their July 22, 2019 issue. Since then I have read her book, Life with Picasso (McGraw Hill, 1964), and enjoyed it even more than I expected.

Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso

Her co-author, Carlton Lake, wrote the foreword to the book, and was clearly impressed by the consistency and detail of Gilot's memories. The book was published barely ten years after she left Picasso.

When they met, Gilot was a young art student. She relates some of the advice Picasso gave her as a beginning artist. For example,
"You know, we need one tool to do one thing, and we should limit ourselves to that one tool. In that way the hand trains itself. It becomes supple and skillful, and that single tool brings with it a sense of measure that is reflected harmoniously in everything we do. The Chinese taught that for a water-colour or a wash drawing you use a single brush. In that way everything you do takes on the same proportion. Harmony is created in the work as a result of that proportion, and in a much more obvious fashion than if you had used brushes of different sizes. Then, too, forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress than you can't even imagine in advance."
We also learn about some of the aesthetic considerations of Picasso. For example, we see how Picasso celebrated the unexpected in his compositions.

Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror, 1932

"I start with a head and wind up with an egg. Or even if I start with an egg and wind up with a head, I'm always on the way between the two and I'm never happy with either one or the other. What interests me is to set up what you might call the rapports de grand écart – the most unexpected relationship possible between the things I want to speak about, because there is a certain difficulty in establishing the relationships in just that way, and in that difficulty there is an interest, and in that interest there's a certain tension and for me that tension is a lot more important than the stable equilibrium of harmony, which doesn't interest me at all. Reality must be torn apart in every sense of the word. What people forget is that everything is unique. Nature never produces the same thing twice... a small head on a large body, a large head on a small body.... I want to draw the mind in a direction it's not used to and wake it up.... That's why I stress the dissimilarity, for example, between the left eye and the right eye.... So my purpose is to set things in movement, to provoke this movement by contradictory tensions, opposing forces, and in that tension or opposition, to find the moment which seems most interesting to me."

Pablo Picasso, Woman with Guitar, 1913

We read about Picasso's thoughts on Cubism:
"The papier collé was really the important thing...."
and his reflections on how modern painters must navigate their own paths without the benefit of the Academy:
"Beginning with van Gogh, however great we may be, we are all, in a measure, autodidacts –you might almost say primitive painters. Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language.... In a certain sense, there's a liberation but at the same time it's an enormous limitation...."
We learn about the relationships between Picasso and his contemporaries, and about what they thought of each other's work. Gilot recalls the reflections of Matisse on Jackson Pollock:
"I have the impression that I'm incapable of judging painting like that... for the simple reason that one is always unable to judge fairly what follows one's own work. One can judge what has happened before and what comes along at the same time.... But when he gets to the point where he no longer makes any reference to what for me is painting, I can no longer understand him. I can't judge him either. It's completely over my head."

Henri Matisse, The Green Line, 1905

and Matisse's account of how Renoir responded to Matisse's paintings:
"He looked them over with a somewhat disapproving air. Finally he said, 'Well, I must speak the truth. I must say that you're not really a good painter, or even that you're a very bad painter. But there's one thing that prevents me from telling you that. When you put on some black, it stays right there on the canvas. All my life I've been saying that one can't any longer use black without making a hole on the canvas. It's not a color. Now, you speak the language of color. yet you put on black and you make it stick. So, even though I don't like at all what you do, and my inclination would be to tell you you're a bad painter, I suppose you are a painter, after all."

Marc Chagall, La Mariée

An excerpt that I found very amusing was about the mutual regard of Chagall and Picasso. To understand the context, you have to know that it was said during a time when Picasso had let his painting lapse in order to explore lithography, sculpture and ceramics. Picasso is quoted as saying,
"When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is. I'm not crazy about those cocks and asses and flying violinists and all the folklore, but his canvases are really painted, not just thrown together. Some of the last things he's done in Vence convince me that there's never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has."
Gilot recounts how, long after that, Chagall gave her his opinion of Pablo.
"What a genius, that Picasso," he said. "It's a pity he doesn't paint."
Of course we learn all about the squabbles between the artists and a good deal about the irascible, difficult and demanding personality of Picasso. And we are skillfully transported to the artistic community of the mid-century Midi.

I would strongly recommend Françoise Gilot's Life with Picasso for anyone who is interested in the French art scene of the 20th century. A good read.