Welcome to the first newsletter this year in which we can at last look forward with hope and start to plan the summer and autumn ahead.
Firstly we are delighted to be sending you information about our exhibition eARTh which will take place at the Brewhouse this summer from June 18th to September 12th. Attached is an application form for work to be submitted and details about the exhibition. The theme eARTh is a broad one and covers all natural aspects of the world we live in. Some of us have found ourselves drawn closer to the natural world over the last year, finding inspiration in one of the more unexpected consequences of lockdown. If anyone who wishes to exhibit is unable to download the form please let me know and I will put it in the post.
An Invitation to the Private View will be sent to you nearer the time.
Your committee met recently to work out our programme for the forthcoming months. Of course all events are subject to government requirements but in the hopes that the current roadmap will not change we are looking forward to welcoming you to an outdoor social occasion on Wednesday July 7th, in which we will combine our AGM, with a Picnic & (optional) Painting Day at Bulford Cottage, Staple Fitzpaine.
We hope that this will give us an opportunity to enjoy a social occasion together in lovely surroundings. (Ample shelter available in case of inclement weather!). Further details will be sent nearer the time. In the meantime please save this date!
We are hoping that two of the talks which had to be cancelled at the end of last year will take place this autumn and we will send you these dates as soon as they are confirmed.
A generous Gift
We heard earlier this year from the family of John Foden, a longstanding friend and member of the Trust who sadly died in December 2019. John wished to donate some of his art collection to the Trust after his death and 10 of his artworks have now been received by the Trust, passed on to us by his family. We intend to include some of these works in the eARTh exhibition. We are deeply grateful to John and his family for this generous gift.
Finally we need to tell you about changes at SAGT. After working tirelessly for SAGT over the last 20 years Jeremy will be stepping down as chairperson at our next AGM in July.
It is Jeremy’s energy and vision that has steered the Trust since its beginnings and without him we would certainly not be where we are today, a vibrant community of artists and art lovers with links and partnerships with organisations across Somerset. We are naturally saddened that he will no longer be with us in the same way but recognise that other priorities in his life must take precedence.
Thankfully Jeremy is not leaving us completely and has promised to continue supporting us in the background giving us help and advice. We know this will be reassuring to those members to whom Jeremy has been the steady hand as well as visible presence of the Trust for so many years.
However the position of Chairperson of the Trust is therefore open, and if any member would like to step forward to take up the position and help guide us along the next phase of SAGT’s journey, we would be delighted to welcome you. Please do contact us.
In the meantime your committee will continue until a new chairperson is appointed, as we are permitted to do under our constitution.
With all good wishes, on behalf of the SAGT committee,
Welcome to Spring and welcome to another newsletter.
You will no doubt share the hope that as the current covid situation improves and we all become ‘jab reinforced’, life will get back to normal. If so, this will allow us to proceed with our SAGT programme including our summer exhibition.
Meanwhile as we all try to “Keep calm and carry on”…
In November 1941, Roy Plumley, an out of work actor and radio announcer, wrote to the BBC with an idea for a programme. In January 1942 the first of eight planned programs was broadcast under the title of ‘Desert Island Discs ‘…and the rest is on-going history.
It occurred to me that instead of taking music to a desert island, what if I were to take paintings? Any six paintings I wanted, regardless of constraints. Oh dear, the difficulty I found was not what to take, but what to leave out. In the end I settled upon a Desert Island Gallery. These then are the paintings and my reason for choosing them may interest you.
I have an odd connection with Alfred Wallis. I was born the day he died. It is of course fanciful to suppose that he passed his artistic baton to me, but I like that idea. I also like the fact that Wallis, an impoverished seafarer, was also a true naive artist. Painting with bits of cardboard and house paint, any image produced was always less important than the memory behind it. Swen Berlin, (a real bohemian), who first documented Wallis, told me that Wallis saw painting as a pastime and then saw the chance to make “A few bob” out of Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, the modernist artists who ‘discovered’ him.
I have had many holidays in Cornwall – mainly Porthleven – and no trip to Cornwall passes without a visit to St Ives and a little pilgrimage along Back Street where Wallis lived. In the town one is reminded of him everywhere. The shop in the Tate has more Wallis themed merchandise. Sad then that he died a pauper. Incidentally one of the best places to see Wallis’s work is in Kettles Yard in Cambridge -highly recommended.
For me, any painting by Wallis would be a delight, but ‘Schooner under the Moon’ says a lot about Wallis. He just liked doing things his way, plain and simple. The art world still thinks otherwise.
The first time I saw an illustration of this painting, in an art book in the early 60’s, I liked it. I felt it conveyed more than the image. There is a tension in the painting. The tranquillity is at odds with the spaces in the composition. Of course once one has some knowledge about an artist and the context in which a work is created, other judgments come into play. When I did eventually see this version of ‘Studland Beach’ in the Tate, it did not disappoint. I like it even more now because of the controlled abstraction. (I always worry about total abstraction). It was modern in 1912 and to me, it still seems that way. A painting that keeps getting better.
On my desert island, this painting will remind me of a walk I did across the Sussex Downs from Eastbourne to Winchester. The route cut through Charlestone Farm and was an ideal excuse to exercise the mind and not the legs. Also Studland is an area I know fairly well having been on a rock climbing course in that area. However I know the Square and Compass pub at nearby Worth Maltravers, even better. Happy days and fond memories.
Sidney Nolan was the wild colonial boy of Australian art. He arrived on the Melbourne art scene at the Heide Art colony with little idea of what he wanted to do except paint. After experimenting with European influences Nolan literally saw the Australian light. His free spirited Ned Kelly series proved to be the perfect metaphor for Nolan himself.
In this painting a defiant Kelly turns his back on the world. But he does not ride off into the sunset. He rides out into adventures unknown. Nolan life was itself an adventure until he became a respectable. He died in England with Knighthood and the honour of being a member of the Order of Merit. Of course I preferred the early Nolan!
I have been fortunate to visit Australia several times – my eldest daughter lives there. This painting will remind me of our happy times travelling around visiting art galleries and sipping wine in the sun.
For the past 54 years I have lived in Somerset. It is truly a county of green hills and the Brandon Hills are perhaps the greenest? They are certainly my favourite walking area. It also happens to be area where Rachael Reckitt lived and worked for most of her life.
Some SAGT members may recall the Rachael Reckitt retrospective in 2001 in The County Museum. Her sculptures were shown in tandem at the Rural Life Museum in Street. These two exhibitions recognised the talent of an artist of energy and imagination. Proof of her abilities are on public display in number of West Country churches.
I once spent a delightful afternoon with Rachael Reckitt in her garden, discussing art in general. She was very modest about her abilities and her accomplishments. I found her open to all forms of art, largely she suggested, as a result of her training in the 1930’s at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art under Iain Macnab. Here she learnt lino cuttings and wood engraving. Her view was that a good design was the first requirement for the engraver and a good drawing the first requirement for the artist.
This woodcut depicts a scene still common in the Brandon Hills, -tight hedged lanes and small thatched or stone cottages set deep in a countryside given over to farming; everything connected to the land. A satisfying thought of Somerset.
How could I not choose a David Hockney, the most fêted artist of my generation? What has he not done? Printing, photography, stage design and a whole range of painting styles, (some embracing technology), they all demonstrate his abilities, imagination and work ethic.
Hockney’s colourful life is reflected in his work. It is a visual diary. ‘Nichols Canyon’ is one of his biggest and brightest acrylic painting. It is a departure from dazzling swimming pools and modernist architecture. It is a painting full of confidence. Hackney has immersed himself into a landscape that was then his home. It is a long way from grey Bradford. Now he is in a farmhouse in Normandy, still working and still smoking.
The wonderful thing about a painting like ‘Nichols Canyon’, is that it is that it provides a form of escapism. It triggers memories and one is transported to another place. Perfect on a desert island.
I have chosen this painting, not for conceit, but for the lifetime of memories it holds as I look back to my 20 year old self gazing into the future.
This painting, an oil on cardboard was done on impulse – sort of. I had no art training but had read a number of library books about art and artists. It seemed to me that all real artists painted a self-portrait, so I thought I should do one. Then, one evening, after work, I was wondering what to paint instead of a still life…and here is another one!
For many years I kept this painting in my attic. It seemed pretentious to have it on display. However when I acquired a posh antique guilt frame it seemed fitting (!), that I hang it in my home. At first my wife and children found it mildly amusing. Now no one notices me. Never mind, on my desert island I shall always have someone to talk to.
Welcome to our second Special Edition Newsletter of 2021.
Firstly, a big thank you to all those members who have sent in their membership subscriptions for this year. We are hopeful that in a few months’ time we will be able to put this year’s programme into action.
In her book ‘Wood and Garden’ (1899) that great gardener Gertrude Jekyll wrote ‘There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer’. So this newsletter has a definite early spring theme, with contributions this month from Pat Bazley, Wendy Head and Anna Mullett. The early stirrings of spring bring personal reflections and observations, great paintings and a bit of history.
For many (though not exclusively) younger people, February means Valentine’s Day and is associated with love, though it was not always so. Amongst other things, St Valentine is also the patron saint of epileptics and beekeepers, the latter appropriate as it is often during February that bumble-bees make an appearance in our gardens.
There are actually several St Valentines but the one we celebrate was martyred in Rome on February 14th in the third century AD. According to The Golden Legend of 1260 Valentine was a ‘priest of great authority’ who tried to persuade the then Emperor Claudius II to turn to Christianity. Initially Claudius took a liking to him, but was persuaded by the provost in the city that he was dangerous, this in spite of Valentine having healed the provost’s daughter. Claudius subsequently had Valentine beheaded.
It is said that before he died Valentine wrote to the daughter he had befriended signing it ‘from your Valentine’. However no evidence exists of romantic celebrations on 14th February before the Middle Ages when it is believed the first link between St Valentine and love was made by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375. In his poem called ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ he links the date of February 14th to the idea of love. He describes a group of birds coming together ‘on seynt valentynes day’ to choose a mate. After that the idea caught on.
Who is not enchanted by Monet’s paintings and particularly by this painting of ancient blossom trees which are valued so much for their beauty, and eventual crop? The craggy forms supported for yet another, hopeful, year.
A metaphor perhaps for our upturned lives during these Covid 19, blighted times. And for the support we are all giving, in our individual ways, for those we love, and for those who work ceaselessly for the future, healthy, and productive growth, of the human race.
Something envisioned in a different way, is this striking 20th century painting of a farming man with a spade, in Springtime!
The figure is reminiscent, to me, of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting, entitled ‘Spring’. Painted almost 500 years ago, it shows a community, working together, preparing the soils of Communal Gardens for the sowing of spring seeds, with burly men in the foreground. All working in harmony for the good of their community.
So many artists have painted beautiful representations of Spring. And just as Spring warms the heart and banishes Winter blues these paintings delight our vision. They awaken our memories of what is to come.
And when we are in the depths of winter blues, they show us inevitable progress, with hope of sunshine, warmth, beauty and loveliness, to come. Not of course that winter does not have its own special undeniable drama and beauty, like this oil of a sun-bright, snow filled day at Wellington Park.
At the beginning of 2020 David Hockney moved to the north of France to sit out the Covid crisis and paint his heart out.
This final painting is a joy to see and I offer you a glimpse of Spring to come. Do look him up and be cheered by what you see.
I wish I was an artist, but on some crucial neural pathway there is a “No Through Road” sign, preventing translation from eye to hand. Instead of committing images to paper I fall back on the minutiae of observation, and on touch. It seems that most of us have an affinity to one of the four main elements and of these, mine is earth. One of my earliest memories is of lying on our lawn, scratching at the grass with my finger until it released the smell of itself and the soil beneath.
On the 1st of February we entered Imbolc; Celtic Spring, and for many years I have found these seasons far more meaningful than our more familiar ones. At this moment in the year, even through spells of harsh weather, there is a sense of stirring energy on the ground that will not be supressed. This is when I fondly anticipate, and seek out, three particular flowers.
The sweetest harbinger of spring is the celandine, and I scan those hunkered down clumps of mottled leaves for the first sighting of an emerging stem, with its tight green bud atop. By now the sun is quite high in the sky and when it breaks through, for any length of time, an explosion of satin-shiny petals capture the light in a marvellous, heart-warming golden glow.
In my old garden, from around mid-January, I would search the ground often several times a day, until tiny yellow globes appeared on the surface. It never failed to evoke a smile, knowing that any day those star shaped aconites would also emit a yellow radiance to enliven even a gloomy day.
The last one announces itself a touch more slowly, with a couple of centimetres of grey spiky leaf, enclosing a furled and silken bud. Blink twice and sufficient light will have unwrapped that bud, to reveal a poised and elegant reticulata iris, often in dramatic purple.
For me, every plant has not only its recognisable form but also its unique spirit, which makes the diversity of approaches to botanical art so intriguing.
The twist of a leaf, the curve of a stem, the undulations of a branch are expressive of movement, even in stillness. Just as Matisse’s ‘La Danse’ lies motionless on its background yet its momentum sings in our veins.
I have always loved the feel of plants and find running my fingers over them irresistible: the grainy softness of a catkin, the frothiness of a meadow sweet, the corrugation of an ageing beech leaf all have their own special character and evoke an inner glossary of touch sensation.
At some point each spring I will find an unfrequented spot where I can kneel on the ground and bury my nose in a clump of sun-warmed primroses, inhaling their inimitable perfume and feeling the velvet petals on my skin. As the world re-awakens to a pall of grief that hangs over it, we can still find hope and joy around us, even in the crevices of walls and paving stones that are the backdrop to yet another daily trail around the block.
And welcome to our first “Special Edition Newsletter 2021”.
As our members can probably appreciate, our annual programme is set in the previous year. As we were still under the influence of “Covid-19”, the committee members felt a written format may be appropriate in lieu of our lectures for the first quarter of 2021. This has enabled us to proceed with or without Covid-19 restrictions. So, to start the year off this month, we welcome contributions from a few members, Sandra Spalding, David Smith, and Tami Boden-Ellis and guests with a loose “Scottish” thread. The arts may be celebrated & expressed in many ways and what better way than in music, dance, sculpture, & painting and here you will find a little bit of them all.
As we are in January and “Scotland” is our theme, we could not not have a bit or two about Robert Burns. From Liz Louis, Curator from the Scotland Galleries we understand; ‘There are surprisingly few contemporary portraits of Robert Burns (1759–1796) who is said to have been a rather reluctant sitter. This small picture by Alexander Nasmyth – on permanent display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – is now the best-known portrait of Scotland’s national bard.
Reproduced in almost every conceivable form from postage stamps to shortbread tins, it is now familiar across the world. Here we look at the poet, his portrait, and its painter. While Burns considered emigration, he wrote several of his finest poems: The Twa Dogs, The Cotter’s Saturday Night and To a Mouse all date from 1785. He hoped that by publishing his work, in the now famous Kilmarnock Edition of his poems (1786), he would raise the money to establish himself in Jamaica. But such was the success of the edition that he decided to remain in Scotland, and he was lionised by Edinburgh society.
It was while Burns was in Edinburgh that Nasmyth painted this portrait. Introduced to each other by their mutual acquaintance and patron Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, Burns and Nasmyth became good friends. The portrait was commissioned by the publisher William Creech to be engraved for a new edition of Burns’s poems. As Burns noted:
‘I am getting my phiz done by an eminent engraver, and, if it can be ready in time, I will appear in my book, looking like all other fools to my title page.’
By tradition, Nasmyth’s portrait was painted quickly and left unfinished as the artist was afraid of losing the likeness. While there are few hints of the complexities of Burns’s character, he is depicted as a lively and intelligent young man, set against a landscape background that evokes his Ayrshire roots. Walter Scott, who as a sixteen-year-old had met Burns briefly at an Edinburgh social gathering, later claimed that Nasmyth’s portrait had ‘diminished’ the poet’s features. According to Scott, Burns was ‘strong and robust’ with a certain ‘dignified plainness and simplicity’.
Nasmyth’s image is indeed a rather summary portrayal of Scotland’s most famous son, but this modest work has helped to shape our modern perception of Burns and the qualities of democracy, generosity and honesty that we now associate with his personality and his writing.
Robert Burns was born at Alloway in Ayrshire, the son of a farmer who provided him with an excellent education. On the death of his father in 1784, Burns tried his hand at farming, but met with little success.
Burns and Nasmyth became firm friends, sharing a love of nature as well as an interest in radical politics. On his trips to Edinburgh, Burns was a frequent visitor to Nasmyth’s studio, and they often walked together in the surrounding countryside. In 1828, many years after Burns’s early death, Nasmyth made another portrait of him, this time showing the poet standing against a view of the Auld Brig o’ Doon at Alloway in his native Ayrshire. This more Romantic image is also in the collection of the Portrait Gallery.
Next is the Painting, “Minister on the Loch” by Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)
The Skater is thought to be the Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, skating on Duddingston Loch on the outskirts of Edinburgh 1795. The painting is in the National Gallery of Scotland, well worth a visit.
We learn that there is a Scottish Country Dance called ‘Minister on the Loch’ a Strathspey (3 x 32) for three couples, i.e., 32 bar strathspey danced three times through. Composed by Roy Goldring, this is an extremely popular dance and appears on dance programmes regularly. A demonstration of the dance can be viewed on U-Tube.
Last but not least is the annual celebration of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns, born 25th January 1759 and died 21st July 1796. Burns Night suppers are held in many parts of the world on the 25th of January. The menu consists of Cock-a-leekie soup, Haggis,neeps and tatties, Cranachan or Scottish triffle. The Supper begins with the Selkirk Grace and ‘attreebute tae Robert Burns’: Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit. The Haggis is paraded in behind a Piper and the Address to a Haggis follows. The first verse: Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o’ the puddin’-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace As lang’s my arm.
Burns also composed love poems which were set to music, such as Ae Fond Kiss and My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose. The song that is sung, most often after Ceilidhs, dances, parties, and Hogmanay is, of course, Auld Lang Syne
And the triple link between The Minister on the Loch dance, Scottish dancing in general and Burns is this: In his 17th year, Robert Burns attended a Scottish dance school. The teacher was William Gregg, who was born in 1766 in Ayr. William would have accompanied the lessons on his fiddle and that same fiddle is to this day on display at the Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. (SS) Duke of Wellington statue, Glasgow.
When you think of Glasgow’s rich cultural heritage you think of many things: The School of Art building; the Mackintosh tearoom; the Burrell Collection in Pollock Park; the Gallery of Modern Art; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. But it is perhaps what is outside the Gallery of Modern Art which should attract your attention. For here, on his plinth, is a statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse. And it is this statue which, according to Wikipedia, is “one of Glasgow’s most iconic landmarks” and which Culture Trip says is “testament to the priceless Glaswegian and Scottish sense of humour”.
Designed by the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti and erected in 1844, for his first 140 years the Duke attracted no particular attention. Then one night in the 1980s the Duke acquired a hat – or to be more precise, a traffic cone. It is thought, though there are many theories, that it might have been a student – rather fou after a night on the bevvy – who put it there. The authorities removed the cone, it appeared again. The authorities removed it, it reappeared. This went on, at an alleged cost of £10,000 per year to remove the cones, until the City Council decided to put a stop to it by doubling the height of the plinth. A petition was raised to save the statue as it was, and this acquired 10,000 signatures in 24 hours. The Council backed down.
It was perhaps inevitable that, when Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the statue with cone should make an appearance at the opening ceremony. And, when the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society held its annual Spring Fling for younger dancers in Glasgow in 2018, what else could possibly be the logo for that?
So when you next head to Glasgow, do take in all the wonderful cultural heritage – but also, do walk to the Gallery of Modern Art on Royal Exchange Square, just south of Queen Street Station, and say “hello” to the Duke. Ye cannae miss him – he’s the wan with the cone on his heid!! (DS)
Our concluding contribution is a bit on Joan Eardley (1921 – 1963). We understand from Becky Manson, Curator: The last century had seen some artists in Scotland exploring the theme of identity and one artist was Joan Eardley. Eardley painted both portraits of children in deprived suburban Glasgow and depictions of dramatic landscapes which chart the changes of season celebrate two distinct aspects of Scottish identity: the urban and the rural. Despite her untimely death at the age of 42, Eardley remains one of Scotland’s best loved artists.
Eardley was born in Sussex in 1921 but moved to Scotland with her family in 1939 – taking up residence in Bearsden, a suburb to the northwest of Glasgow. Eardley enrolled at Glasgow School of Art in 1940, graduating in 1943 with a diploma in Drawing and Painting. In the early 1950s, the artist rented a studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow. It was here that Eardley’s interest in documenting the children who played in the back streets of the city began.
In the early 1960s Eardley said: ‘some [children] interest me much more as characters… these ones I encourage – they do not need much encouragement – they do not pose – they come up and say, “will you paint me?” There are always knocks at the door… I try to get them to stand still – it is not possible to get a child to stay still… I watch them moving about and do the best I can’.
Alongside the children of Glasgow, Eardley’s other major inspiration was arguably a small village in Aberdeenshire. She seems to have had a special relationship with Catterline – a coastal village on the North Sea, that the artist first visited in 1951. During a period of illness, Eardley discovered Catterline on a drive with her friend, Anette Soper. That same year, Soper bought a small building on a cliff top, from which she and Eardley could paint. In 1955 Eardley purchased her own cottage there – travelling back and forth between the village and her home in Glasgow until her death in 1963. It is suggested that the seascapes she created during this time are some of the artist’s most personal images, with Eardley herself stating that the more she got to know a particular place, the more she found to paint there. Though Eardley’s final works focused again on urban Glasgow’s children, the artist’s affinity with the rural village’s stormy seas are evident. Following her death, Eardley’s ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline.
Welcome to our second newsletter since the lockdown. Our introduction is slightly different this time as Jeremy has been busy with his Chairman’s report, amongst other things.
Life is continuing in a strange fashion as we all try to adapt to our new situation. Although our movements are restricted, for those with access to the internet there seems to be no lack of suggestions as to how we might spend our time! Otherwise we are enjoying a beautiful Spring with opportunities for many to walk out and enjoy it, also to use the time for painting or writing. Most of the major art galleries and museums are offering ‘virtual tours’ of their collections.
Our newsletter reflects some of these interests; Tami has given us a piece about a great painting enthusiast Winston Churchill and the solace he found in painting, Jeremy has given us a wonderful picture of a hare by C.F.Tunnicliffe with his personal responses to it and I have written about Naum Gabo at Tate St Ives.
As you know, one of the casualties of the present situation is that our exhibition ‘eARTh’ at the Brewhouse has had to be cancelled. Whether we will be able to hold the exhibition this year depends on the Brewhouse and how long present restrictions continue. In the meantime, one of our members Zoe Ainsworth Grigg has offered to make a film of people’s work and publish it on YouTube. If SAGT Members would like to send Zoe a photo of their work (up to 3 pieces) she will make a video together with a short biography. It would be similar to Zoe’s website portfolio, with viewing time a little longer. Zoe can be contacted on email@example.com and her website is https://www.zoeainsworthgriggbooks.com/. Thank you Zoe.
At risk of internet overload I can suggest two art-related links – Philip Mould (of TV’s Fake or Fortune) is offering daily tours of his house on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoqTM4IljJM) giving the background art history on his personal collection. I can also recommend The Open University’s ‘OpenLearn’
Your committee send you our very best wishes and hope that you and your families will continue to keep well and safe.
Painting as a Passion
“Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep painters company to the end of the day.” Winston S. Churchill
Winston Churchill painting at Miami Beach, FL
My mother loved Churchill and read many of his biographies and autobiographies. Many of my visits would find her with one of his books by her bedside. She found comfort and knowledge from him, not to mention giving him full credit for getting her through the war, when growing up in Central London.
I found myself turning to him, ironically, these few weeks for a different reason, only to find a similar thread. I discovered Churchill’s essay on painting a few years ago, 2016, written in 1932, (my edition 2013). I was re-reading it and it spoke differently to me this time. Churchill’s essay Painting as a Pastime is an essay on the joys of painting-
“Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain ….” And he continues, “the constant and common element in all the remedies is Change…. To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least 2 or 3 hobbies and all must be real.”
He speaks of other things before “painting” for about a quarter of the essay to explain the how and whys. One of the things raised happened to be “the library” and having/reading books. One lovely thought was how he views books as friends and acquaintances. And we should always handle our books even if we do not read them or read them completely. They are our acquaintances, if not all our friends.
He later gets into painting and explains how “painting is a companion with whom one may hope to walk a great part of life’s journey. Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.” Churchill speaks of how happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day.
He finds painting astonishing and enriching. He tells us not “how” to paint but how to get enjoyment from doing it. He calls it “new mental food and exercise”. He also warns not to try to be masters or inspire to masterpieces but be content with the “joy ride in a paint box.”
W.S. Churchill View of Chartwell (1938)
Churchill shares his own personal experience and how it was during the long hours in which he had to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the war that painting came to his rescue. And this is where the essay spoke to me in a different way than the previous time. We had not been at “war” then. I felt “this time”, sadly, it might be more appropriate for ourselves.
Churchill goes on to say that like in battle, one needs a plan and to study the achievements of the great captains of the past. This can be applied to painting and when one paints themselves, suddenly you look at previous art differently.
Another point I felt was pertinent; the chief delight that he says comes through trying to paint, is the heightened sense of the observation of Nature. What better time than now.
“Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind, whatever worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen.”
If you have not experienced it for yourself before now, I hope you are tempted to seek it out. What better time than now?
C F Tunnicliffe RA ‘Sitting Hare’ (1949)
I found this old birthday card recently when tidying up. It is a superb drawing of an animal much appreciated by my wife and me. She wears a silver hare badge and responds to hares for their joy, vitality and pugnacity (their boxing). On our late night drive to a farmhouse in the Dordogne last June we caught a hare in the car’s lights sitting transfixed in the middle of a country lane. We were delighted to have such a close up for a few seconds, and took this chance meeting as a welcoming sign, in what turned out to be a very happy family reunion. Tunnicliffe has created a still, alert and attentive sitting hare, half turned towards us. Every line and mark that make up his body, including his whiskers, is lovingly drawn; and the attention to detail within a carefully balanced composition, is such that there is an overall harmony of light and shade, with space for our eyes to move up and down, and so take in the whole as well as the parts. I don’t usually get so excited by engravings but this one thrills me. It causes something within me to match those two ears, so pricked, with some cloud passing behind them.
Naum Gabo at Tate St Ives
Just before the present lockdown came into force I was fortunate to go with a friend on a day trip to St Ives to visit the Tate. St Ives was looking beautiful with blue skies and rough seas. The Tate itself had greatly expanded since I last saw it, now with new galleries which were celebrating St Ives and West Country artists and those whom they influenced and vice versa. The main exhibition marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Realistic Manifesto (1920) in which Naum Gabo together with his brother Antoine laid out his artistic principles.
Naum Gabo (1890-1977) was born in Russia and originally studied engineering before becoming an artist. Known now as a Constructivist he wanted to present a vision of his time and the future, using geometric and mathematical forms which involved movement, kinetic waves and music. In the Manifesto Gabo stated that ‘space and time are the only forms on which life is built and hence must be constructed’, and intended that his works should reveal themselves through their interior space rather than through form and mass.
Gabo’s concepts are easier to understand if you are looking at his artworks. As you enter this beautifully laid out exhibition the first piece you see is his monumental metal Head no 2 (1916). In this work he demonstrates how volume can be achieved through interlocking planes and light and shade without using solid mass. Another art work near the beginning of the exhibition is a replica of his Kinetic Construction Standing Wave (1919-20), a slender metal rod which when you press the button gives an illusion of space as it vibrates. It was quite mesmerising and merited several button pushes!
Like other Constructivist artists Gabo believed that art should be part of everyday living and he made designs
Naum Gabo Head No 2 (1916)
for public buildings, monuments, towers and fountains. Although he used wood and metal and other industrial material he also graduated to plastic which being clear enabled the viewer to see a three dimensional work from a single viewpoint. He designed architecture which would be transparent, animated by the people who would pass through it. He formulated his ideas on a small scale using card which he cut out and glued before making the full-size sculpture. Several of these models, together with his drawings are in the exhibition.
One of the most beautiful artworks in this exhibition is his Linear Construction in
Space no 2 originally conceived in 1949. Made of nylon filaments strung around interlocking planes it is subtle, delicate almost ethereal if that is not too fanciful a word.
Naum Gabo Linear Construction in space no.2
Gabo’s influence was far reaching. He travelled widely and in 1939 having moved to England he came to live in St Ives at the invitation of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, becoming one of the artists who helped establish the town’s international reputation. His influence can be seen in the work of St Ives artists such as John Wells (below).
Gabo believed that art was a force for good and wanted to communicate through his work, in his words, ‘the rhythms and forms of our material and spiritual worlds’. Sadly this wonderful exhibition due to close on May 3rd may not now be seen, one of many casualties in the art world at the moment. On a more positive note the Tate St Ives website states ‘Opens June 1st’ – we can only hope!
We hope you are well and finding things to do. It seems to me that thinking imaginatively and enjoying looking closely are at the basis of art making.
Your committee feels that fortnightly newsletters will help us to keep in touch and encourage us to stay adventurous within the confines of our required isolation. With help, as things currently are, we can achieve that, I believe. Our thanks to Kevin and Damien for this number’s articles. We hope to include illustrations as well.
Please could you let me know by email or phone if you have some news, a joke, story, poem, favourite art work, thought, illustration, that you’d like to share with our readers, and we will find a way and time of using it.
Speaking of news, Zoe Ainsworth-Smith has been accepted for an MA in Illustration at Falmouth University, which could start this June. Congratulations Zoe! She reports that CICCIC are shortly to start running online art courses.
Here’s one thing that made me laugh. There was someone in these social distancing times who wanted to visit her manicurist. What did she do? She put her hand through the letter box and was treated like that!
Stay well and strong. Keep smiling and thinking of others, and join in with our online fun. We hope to send out Newsletter 66 the week after Easter. Happy Easter,
When I retired, over 20 years ago, I had a list of things that I wanted to do. Today that list is longer! However one little goal was achieved early on. It was to design and print my own bookplate.
I could of course purchased a ready-made sticker and simply written my name at the end of the line that said “This book belongs to …” and today it is possible,(for some), to create and print almost anything at the touch of a computer key. But I wanted to do my own thing.
Going into Taunton library and reading the first chapter of a book about printing, I decided that a lino print would suit me fine. I then walked across the road to the art shop and purchased a small square of lino, a cutting tool, a roller and a little tube of printer’s ink. I already had tracing paper and carbon paper – two things needed to get a reverse image. Now all I needed was a design.
I wanted my bookplate to not only show ownership of a book, but also to convey the pleasure one gets when one really gets into a good book and leaves the world behind. I then outlined my design with a picture frame, patterned with police dicing, to reference former career and my continued interest in art.
Any task that involves head, hand and heart gives joy and I really enjoyed the processes of making my bookplate in enthusiastic ignorance. As I was doing so, my neighbour called in and after looking at my effort in silence, he said kindly, “You ought to speak to Ray Cooney. He does that sort of thing, only better”. That is how I met Ray Cooney.
Ray Cooney (1936-2018), was one of the finest copperplate engravers in the country. He was also one of the last craftsman to serve full six year apprenticeship which he did in the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton. The skill he acquired in chart making gave him quiet pleasure and satisfaction. Moreover he was able to continue engraving all his life. Whilst still at work he studied painting and drawing at Somerset College of Art and in retirement used his graphic talent to produce pictorial copperplate engravings, many as commissions for heraldic and illustrative ex-libris bookplates. He did all his work from home in a small printing studio.
Ray was a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptures and Gravers, the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists, and the Somerset Guild of Crafters. He won many awards for his engravings, including a Gold Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. It is little wonder that he received commissions from all over and many of his engravings are held in galleries and private collections around the world.
It was a privilege to meet Ray. He was a modest man who took time to explain patiently to me some me some of intricacies of his craft and for us to happily discuss his approach to art which involved much thought and discussion with clients when necessary. As I was leaving he pulled off some of examples of his work and gave them to me. An act of kindness. Two of his bookplates are illustrated here.
If you fancy having a go at making your own bookplate, there is plenty of information on YouTube. After all some books are like old friends that we would not want to lose.
Finally, do remember, that whilst it may be true that you cannot judge a book by its cover, you are likely to be judged by your own bookmark !
‘Forgotten Masters’. Indian Painting for the East India Company
Many rich British officers of the Company commissioned Indian artists to illustrate Indian life and natural history. They produced exquisite pictures in the traditional techniques of Indian miniatures.
Some albums were made for Indian Courts too.
The Wallace Collection in London now has a large exhibition space in the basement, with many small spaces leading into each other, and recently they showed here a delightful exhibition of these Indian paintings, of plants and animals and human life, many delectable pictures, against walls painted in similar colours, reds, green, golds etc.
Large portraits of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish are without background scenes (though smaller birds have branches to perch on), unlike Audubon’s prints of the birds of America.
These wonderful albums were the last stage in a long tradition of Indian techniques and styles, and I am very glad not to have missed seeing them before the current closure of art galleries.
Common Crane by Shaikh Zain Ud-Din, gouache on paper, c.1780.
There’s a latin tag ‘Ars longa vita brevis’ which means ‘art lasts a long time, life is short’. I mention it not to cheapen life, far from it, but as a reminder to myself that in uncertain and testing times let’s give thanks that we can enjoy art from centuries before us as well as of today. Let’s turn to art to keep us calm and uplifted and nourished.
Then yesterday there was an online message from the Tate: its galleries are closed until May 1 but we are urged to turn to art to lift our spirits, brighten our days and support our mental health. Quite so. My hope is that we can, when possible, make art, look at it, and read or hear about it.
We have had to cancel meetings of the committee and our events until further notice. My apologies for that but those are orders from the Government and its advisers. That means that the following events are not happening as scheduled: Sara Dudman’d talk (March 23) is postponed; our AGM & Anna’s talk (April 16) are postponed; and there is no painting day at Bradford on Tone (May 13).
I was hoping to give you information about our members’ biannual exhibition at The Brewhouse (18 July – 12 September) but the Brewhouse was closed yesterday and we do not know when they will re-open. This year’s theme is eARTh, and we very much hope that we can exhibit.
We shall use newsletters and email messages to keep in touch with you, to share ideas and suggestions, and to stimulate and support each other.
Thank you for accepting the way things are; and for your place in our community that cares for and values each other and the things we seek – long term- for the people of Somerset.
The first Taunton Youth Culture and Arts Festival (Tyca) has begun, thanks to Arts Taunton and some generous funding by sponsors. Young people’s art, sculpture and photography – with prizes – is now on display at CICCIC until 11 November. I hope to get to the PV tonight. If the visual arts are to play a greater part both in the lives of our schools/colleges and of the Deane, initiatives like this need our presence and encouragement. We can promote and cherish younger artists, and invite them to work with SAGT – even join us. Our thanks to Laura Crofts for representing us.
Also coming soon, at the Museum of Somerset, is the Tristram Hillier exhibition, which starts on November 9 and runs into January, and promises to be well worth seeing and even going back to for further helpings. I remember being excited by his landscapes of the South Downs but know little else.
I commend two further happenings: my talk on Mondrian and Ben Nicholson on Saturday 23 November, 11.00 am at Trull Church Community Centre, the last of this year’s talks; and our Christmas Lunch for members and their friends at the Quantock restaurant, Taunton & Bridgwater College on Wednesday 18 December at 12.30. Anna Mullett will send out menus shortly and invite you to book your place.
In my November talk I will focus on an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in 2012 which showed paintings, by Mondrian and Nicholson from the 1930s up to 1943. Their friendship began in Paris when Nicholson visited Mondrian’s studio and ripened over those years. Winifred Nicholson, whom I talked about last year, insisted that Mondrian leave Paris before the Germans arrived, and she brought him safely to England and Hampstead where he stayed for two years with a studio close to the Nicholsons before leaving for America when the bombing of London started. But the two men’s art, related but different, is the heart of the talk.
This year’s tenth Ken Grieb lecture was a success with much laughter and learning. Thank you to those attending and for the many apologies received. We began by remembering Ken and his gift of these talks, Our speaker was Dr. Jan Cox from Clevedon, who specialises in Nordic Art. He talked about Thomas Fearnley (1802-1842) and the Golden Age of Danish Art, someone new to his us. Norwegian by birth, he had an English grandfather and studied in Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm, choosing to be Danish, it seems, and a constant traveller. On the mainland of Europe he studied in Dresden with J.C.Dahl, learning especially to observe nature, and then in Munich where his style was influenced by the local school of landscape painters and by his earlier meeting with Caspar David Friedrich and his way of composing grandiose atmospheric effects.
A bachelor, sketching and painting outdoors by day, Fearnley, naturally merry and gregarious, met other artists in the evenings in the local tavern for food, drink, and song. Cox illustrated this camaraderie and his journeys and their output with extracts from letters and recorded impressions, and showed how his sketches made attractive landscapes, usually with people in them. In Italy (1832-35) his charming pictures of the landscape around the Bay of Naples especially delighted, as did his Lake District paintings of August-September 1837. This tour followed his visit to the Royal Academy where he sketched Turner, perched on a stool, on varnishing day! Fearnley for some years hoped to marry an heiress from Halse – this was the local interest moment – but later did marry another heiress only to succumb to typhus and die at the peak of his considerable powers in his late thirties.
Two further things of note happened that Saturday in Trull: our speaker was excited by the bright colours of the screen in the East room (unknown to us the equipment had been updated) and by our being so close to him, and he and we enjoyed the resulting interplay. Secondly, we received an informal visit from our MP Rebecca Pow and her sister in the interval, gave them a drink and they chatted and learnt about SAGT, then posed for a photo before leaving to see the marvellous Botanic Art in Taunton Library.
Talking about books I’d like to recommend In Camera Snowdon edited by Robin Muir, a Pallant House Gallery catalogue, 2007. Kevin Saunders has lent it to me. It consists of photos of artists, often in their studios, and a commentary or story or brief biographical cameo. Delightful.
Your turn now. Please feel free to recommend to Anna or me a favourite art book with an accompanying few words, which we could then include in future newsletters.
The SAW fortnight is upon us and I wonder what you have seen and liked. The Reflect exhibition in the Brewhouse (venue 25) celebrates 25 years of Somerset Art Weeks with work by invited artists, including at least one of our members, Hilary Adair. I do recommend that, and a visit to Close House, Hatch Beauchamp (35) for sculpture and line drawings in a new space. This year’s free SAW booklet is informative and well produced.
The Brewhouse’s plans to expand are on hold, I understand, while the West Somerset and Taunton Deane Council assesses what cultural project(s) in Taunton to support. There is an important meeting about this on 8 October. You may have signed the online petition in support of the Brewhouse or made your view known some other way. The re-opened Brewhouse has made such a difference to our town’s cultural provision: among its achievements, it has given art a gallery fit for many purposes, brought cinema to Coal Orchard, restored a café, attracted a wide range of people, and given voluntary organisations a role and worthwhile stake in its future. Surely it has to be commended, and now adequately funded and backed to expand?
Ken Grieb, who died on February 11, some months after his 100th birthday last year, was remembered by family and friends, including members of SAGT on September 20. Born in Wales, he served as a Captain in the Royal Engineers in India, returned in 1946 to become a good caring architect who sought to improve the quality of life for residents. He designed London housing estates and the hall of a Poplar primary school (now listed). He married Joyce, owned and altered Hendon Park lodge and coach house – a home he loved. He was appointed chief architect for Islington but found the job too stressful and resigned. He recovered, and then worked for the Housing Department of the Department of the Environment where he developed the idea of ‘gradual renewal’ of an area rather than comprehensive redevelopment. This later became Government policy. I was told that he applied this successfully to a part of Exeter.
He took early retirement and moved to an Arts & Craft house in Wembdon with a view of Steep Holm and Welsh hills. Joyce was able there to support her sick brother. Ken’s many interests included the new Bridgwater Arts Centre and joining Chandos. He did the Guardian concise crossword: when stuck he phoned his friends, ‘Six across?’ he would ask. He went to the opera, saw plays, attended the Preaters’ Friday morning life drawing, and more recently was driven home by Damien Parsons, a friend and fellow London architect, after a class in Pawlett. Damien described Ken’s ‘life’ drawings as ‘distinctive, lively, amusing, rather than naturalistic.’
Ken joined SAGT in its early years and funded the lectures that bear his name, which we hope will continue well into the next decade.This year’s is on Saturday 5 October, at 11.0 in the Trull Church Community Centre. Our Speaker is Dr. Jan Cox and his subject is Thomas Fearnley and the Golden Age of Danish Art. We do hope you can come. It will be the first that Ken has missed. Please encourage others to be there. The cost is £7 for members, £10 for non-members, and £3 for Students.
In addition to his generosity to SAGT, for which we give many thanks, I learnt from Anna Mullett, at the farewell to Ken, of an RIBA article written by a fellow architect Philip Bottomley, which I quote from. He chose Ken, ‘a rather modest retiring chap’, as the person who had left perhaps the biggest impression on him. To illustrate this Bottomley selected two projects that Ken completed.
‘He was deeply committed indeed obsessive about the production of good local authority housing…He attacked each new design with a fresh and open mind and never just took the current dogma off the peg.’ Bottomley then described the Angrave Road scheme in 1950s Shoreditch. In those days inner city houses had to be built at a density of 136 persons to the acre. An obvious way to achieve that was to build high. Not by Ken who knew that most people wanted houses on the ground with gardens, not patios. Ken struggled until he had achieved back to back housing with 60 feet gardens, overcoming building and public health regulations and the ‘scepticism and general disapproval’ of most of his senior colleagues. In the second example, a point or tower block in Camberwell Road, he managed to ‘overcome the drawbacks of many of the current designs’ by ingenious replanning of such things as draughty lift lobbies after another ‘stiff fight’ to meet building regulations. ‘The lobbies together with the completely glazed escape stair enclosure and small play-deck at every third floor produced together a spacial arrangement of considerable delight, a surprising achievement in a high-rise local authority block.’
For those of us who have known Ken in his later years we may have found him, at times, odd, a bit abrasive, even rude or crude, but often amusing. The warmth and affection with which his family and friends remembered him on September 20 will be my lasting impression of this generous and talented man who survived much and gave even more.