Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spain (part 10)

study of Picasso's lithograph "El Ensayo"

In Malaga I fell in love with Picasso's lithographs and Picasso reminded me what I love about lithography! He really threw himself into the medium later in his career (from about 1945) and created lots of amazing prints. The variety of materials and mark-making techniques that he incorporated into each image was inspiring and showed his willingness to explore the potential of the medium. I was also inspired by his extensive exploration of a single subject - frequently revisiting the same face, usually his wife or lover, to draw it in a different way often changing his approach in terms of materials or in the degree of abstraction. 

Picasso, "Portrait of Mademoiselle Rosengart"

Sometimes a single image was progressively worked on and altered with lithographs taken through up to 18 states (I believe credit is also due to the outstanding skill of Picasso's printer Fernand Mourlot in Paris)! At the Picasso Foundation there were two temporary exhibitions devoted to Picasso's printmaking ("Cherchez la Femme" and "Belleza Multiple") each presented in small, quiet gallery spaces, which I had practically to myself on the multiple occasions that I visited - In contrast to the larger museums, on this occasion I really enjoyed being able to take my time and give all my attention to a smaller amount of works from a single artist. 

Picasso, "David and Bathsheba (After Lucas Cranach), state 10"

Kel, Marie & Kristian 

At my hostel (just around the corner from Picasso's childhood home) I met the three fantastic, friendly travellers that you see above who I enjoyed sharing my Malaga experience with. Apart from Picasso one of my reasons for visiting Malaga was the unique environment of El Torcal, an otherworldly landscape of unusual limestone formations, situated near Antequera (about an hour away). I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get to El Torcal so I was thrilled when Kristian, from Germany, offered to drive and then managed to navigate us there using only a compass! It turned out to be a beautiful day and walking along in between the tall, neat stacks of rocks I felt like I was exploring some kind of wonderful prehistoric city. 

El Torcal

For me, another worthwhile day trip from Malaga was to Marbella to visit Museo Del Grabado Espanol Contemporaneo (Spanish Contemporary Printmaking Museum) where I saw a fabulous series of Miro etchings. It was great to see all the different elements of the print displayed together  - the image below is the multiple colour print, but it was displayed alongside the black lines printed alone, the black lines printed in relief (so they appear white on black) and a print with just the coloured shapes on their own. I was interested to find that my favourite state was generally the relief print due to the intriguing texture and details that the roller picked up in the etched areas.

Miro,  from the series "Mallorca" 

Miguel Conde, "Cabeza (Head)" series

At M.G.E.C. I was also introduced to the fantastic work of Miguel Conde whose expressive figurative etchings were often printed in a series of wide variations as colour monotypes.

Miguel Conde, "Cabeza (Head)" series

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spain (part 9)

Martin De Vos, "Juicio Final (The Last Judgement)"

The Museo de Bellas Artes in Sevilla was one of the most welcoming and wonderful museums in the time and attention that they offered me. I really enjoyed looking around the museum, originally a convent, with a large collection of painting and sculpture that once belonged to the church. Museum Educator Clara was very friendly, knowledgeable and helped me to recognise some of the recurring themes and symbols in religious art, which increased my understanding of many images as my travels continued. I also had the rare opportunity to visit the conservation area of the museum where I was able to hear the conservators talk about the process of their work and see paintings being cleaned and restored, including extending the canvas of a large crucifixion by Zuburan so that Christ’s hand would not be hidden by the frame. The museum holds a particularly strong collection of paintings by Valdes Leal, Murillo and Zuburan. 

“Sant Tomas de Villanueva Dando Limosna

I was in awe of Murillo’s work, particularly his painting “Sant Tomas de Villanueva Dando Limosna (distributing alms)”, which displays an amazing command of anatomy and light, especially in the kneeling beggar, and an interesting flow of expressions and gazes in the surrounding figures. It was appropriate to see the majority of Murillo's works displayed in the room that was once the convent church, complete with elaborate frescoes.

Of the 19th century paintings I was intrigued by Rafael Martinez Diaz's "Escena de Familia," which I found attractive in light and colour, while eerie in mood. The almost oppressive stillness of the scene is contrasted by the slight movement of the curtain and the subtle, but abundant texture in the surface of the paint - particularly in the background where the air seems to vibrate.

Rafael Martinez Diaz, "Escena de Familia"

Cathedral, Sevilla from La Giralda

The Cathedral in Sevilla was beyond belief, legend has is that the aim was 'to build a Cathedral so large and beautiful that people who saw it would think us mad.' It certainly was enormous in scale and yet so intricate in detail. Highlights for me were the Chapter house, a small beautifully designed elliptical room with an “Immaculate Conception” by Murillo and the tower, La Giralda, which offered an amazing view of the city. Observing the city from such a high vantage point really allowed me to appreciate the buildings and streets as interesting, abstract arrangements of colour and shape. 

Sevilla from La Giralda

When I visited Iglesia San Salvador in the late afternoon the sun was streaming in through the stained glass windows, adding to the glorious effect of the stunning gold and polychrome carved altarpiece. 

Iglesia San Salvador

The Alcazar in Sevilla was my introduction to Mudéjar architecture - the influence of Islamic art and continued work of Moorish craftsmen in the period after the Christian rule conquered the Moorish rule. The unique approach to geometry, pattern and design was extraordinary and evocative, especially this beautiful domed ceiling (below) inspired by the night sky.

Alcazar, Sevilla

Alcazar Jardins, Sevilla

The garden of the Alcazar was glorious and the nearby Park Maria Luisa and Plaza Espana were also truly grandiose outdoor spaces. 

Guadalquivir River

 Across the bridge (on the other side of the river from which Christopher Columbus set sail to discover America) is the Triana district and the Isla de a Cartuja once home to the Cartuja Monastery, then converted to a famous ceramics factory and now is the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo. As you can see below it was a fascinating environment with contemporary artworks constantly juxtaposed against the various histories of the architecture - the characteristic interior of the monastery and strange towering ceramic kilns in the courtyard.

part of the exhibition "Without Reality There is No Utopia"@ CAAC

Zhou Xiaohu, "The Crowd of Bystanders" @ CAAC

A favourite work at CAAC was Zhou Xiaohu's "The Crowd of Bystanders"a clever combination of sculpture and animation - moulding detailed clay scenes based on real events (sometimes with fantasy elements), filming the short claymation narrative in black and white, then firing, colouring and displaying the sculpture and video together. The collection of narratives often sourced from news stories, both everyday and catastrophic events presented side by side, was a humorous, but powerful critique of the media and our role as spectator.

Jessica Diamond, "I Hate Business"

Jessica Diamond's large, confident "Wall Paintings" also resounded with me - funny, but true, I hate business too.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spain (part 8)

Flamenco performers & crowd, Sevilla

In Sevilla I was lucky to experience an intimate, outdoor Flamenco performance and was overwhelmed with the strength, passion and emotion of the art-form. In terms of character and beauty, Sevilla was paradise! I loved walking through narrow streets to observe the colours and textures of the buildings, or along the edge of the river where people were always outdoors exercising (running, biking, skating, tight-rope walking between tree trunks, rock climbing under the old stone bridge, canoeing, rowing and everything in between) or just relaxing in the warm weather and long daylight hours. I found people in Sevilla to be very friendly and even with my linguistic deficiencies I enjoyed meeting some good amigos:

Directly above is Sergio, my room-mate in Sevilla, a fantastic guy from Austin, Texas who was towards the beginning of a whole year travelling around the world - what a great adventure! I had a feeling that this scene reminded me a little of something... I think I might have been inspired by Goya's painting that I saw at the Prado a few days earlier?!

Francisco Goya, "La Maja Vestida (The Clothed Maja)"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spain (part 7)

In the heart of Madrid is the Museo del Prado, the place for studying the masters and another of my favourite museums :) The collection is enormous and particularly strong on the history of Spanish painting including plenty of Velazquez, Goya, and Ribera. I also loved works by Van Dyck and Durer as well as temporary exhibitions "The Young Ribera"and "Chardin." 

José Tapiró y Baró, "The Dancer Parache"

There was a gorgeous, small temporary exhibition "Fortuny and the Splendour of Spanish Watercolours", which I was very excited to see. The subtlety of Tapiró y Baró's painting was extraordinary - my favourite part is how the hessian wrap rests so lightly on the shoulder of the white shirt and how the hessian seems to emerge from/dissolve into the rough texture of the paper. 

Francisco Pradilla, "Queen Joanna the Mad"

There were a number of epic (in scale and story) history paintings at the Prado and Pradilla's was a highlight. This scene shows the distraught Queen who was not able to let go of her beloved husband after he died (to the point of exhuming his coffin). The wind, flame and general atmosphere of the painting is amazing, perhaps most of all I appreciated the composition and how successful it is at making Queen Joanna feel isolated even though she is surrounded by people - her figure and the coffin at the centre is the area of highest tonal contrast in the painting directing our focus to her while giving a sense of her narrow and fragile state of mind.

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (detail of hell)

I found Bosch inspiring for his wild imagination and exquisite attention to detail. It was also fascinating to see this painting as an object rather than just an image - the sides of the triptych act as shutters and are painted on both sides, the work is displayed so that you peek around the back to see the painting on the other side and imagine how it would look if the shutters were closed (below). A really interesting contrast to the bright coloured busy garden & hell scenes, the world during creation appears dark, mysterious and quiet, almost like the calm before the storm...

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (triptych - shutters closed)

Mariano Salvador Maella, "Italian Sketchbook"

A really special exhibition for me was the Prado's "Goya and More" an exhibition of recent acquisitions of works on paper, primarily Spanish drawings. Due to their fragile nature works on paper are rarely on display so I felt very lucky to be able to time my trip for this exhibition. Drawing is my favourite artistic medium because, to me, it is the most direct and personal. I loved seeing the character of marks and use of line and tone employed by each different artist - from the clarity, confidence and dynamism of Ribera's drawing (below) to the soft, sensitive touch of Maella (above).

Jose de Ribera, "Young with a pinwheel and an Old Man Pulling a Cart with a Dead Body"

I noticed that there are some great online resources for the "Goya and More" works on paper exhibition including videos and a catalogue if you're interested.

El Greco, "The Burial of Count Orgaz", Iglesia Santo Tome, Toledo

From Madrid I took a day trip to the beautiful historic city of Toledo, once home to El Greco and a fantastic place to see his work. "The Burial of Count Orgaz" captures El Greco's ability to depict the everyday alongside the heavenly, while his original approach to painting helped me to think about the artist's power to manipulate of light, colour and anatomy as a means of expression.

Like El Greco's work above, many great artworks from Spanish history were commissioned by the church and can be found inside Iglesias (churches), cathedrals, and monasteries. My first visit to a Spanish monastery (Monasterio De Las Descalzas Reales, Madrid) was an interesting experience as it allowed me to grasp a context for the religious paintings and sculptures, which feature so prominently in the major museums. The collection of tapestries inside the monastery, designed by Rubens, was particularly extraordinary and opened my mind to an artistic medium that I have had little exposure to. Monasterio de La Encarnación (Madrid) also had a fascinating collection of painting, sculpture and relics interwoven with a number of royal and religious histories.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spain (part 6)

Shangaan Electro @ CA2M Picnic Sessions

I love CA2M! Also known as Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, a fantastic contemporary art museum in the suburbs of Madrid. I had the privilege of meeting with the very welcoming director, looking at an unusual and fascinating exhibition "Experimental Station"about a favourite interest of mine (art & science), and also attending an outrageous/awesome concert on the rooftop by a visiting South African band Shangaan Electro (check out the video)! 

The artworks of Experimental Station were connected by a playful, curious exploration of science at its most impossible/magical, focusing on the handmade rather than the high-tech. 

Luis Bisbe, "Despectaculo", 2011

In Luis Bisbe's clever and provoking work "Despectaculo" the artist cut a rectangular hole in the wall of the gallery and used the material from the wall to make a chair, creating a frame through which to contemplate the unseen interior of the gallery.

In terms of subject and medium I most connected to the work of Ilana Halperin's beautiful drawings and diaries, which accompany her investigations and efforts to imagine/glimpse geological time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Spain (part 5)

people in the park outside the Prado, Madrid

Sorolla's house

Sorolla's garden

Museo Sorolla, an extraordinary collection of Sorolla’s work presented in his historic house,  gave me a valuable insight into both Sorolla’s life and work. Sorolla’s use of light and colour is particularly inspiring and I was very interested in the strong abstract shapes and compositions underlying many of his figurative works. 

Joaquin Sorolla, “Siesta”

Joaquin Sorolla, “Cordeleros de Avea”

Caixaforum, Madrid

The Caixaforum was a unique and exciting combination of modern ideas in architecture and museum layout. The fantastical “living wall” growing high on the outside of the building created a rich, organic combination of texture and colour, which contrasted with the dark geometric cave-like space where the museum entrance was located. The temporary exhibition, “A Floating World: The Photography of Jacques-Henri Lartigue”, was a celebration of technology, speed, and life in the early 20th century. I really enjoyed the artist’s numerous quotes and diaries, which conveyed the thoughts and ideals that drove him to create photographs, particularly the desire to halt the perpetual flow of time, "ever since I was a young boy, I've suffered from a kind of disease: all the things that amaze me slip away without me being able to store them well enough in my memory" (Lartigue).

Jacques-Henri Lartigue

The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, once a great art school and now a museum,  is also home to the Calciografia Nacional where I had the privilege of meeting a master-printer in the workshop. It was really a treat to look inside the printmaking studio to see the 18th century Spanish wooden presses as well as examples of prints from contemporary artists that are currently being made. One of the highlights of my trip was the opportunity to see and study the extensive collection of Goya’s copper etching plates (“Disparates”, “Los Caprichos”, “Tauromaquia”, “Desastres de la Guerra”), which gave me a different perspective on his creative process and allowed me to study his mark-making technique in the most direct way.

Goya's copper plates

I was also given a tour of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando permanent collection by an extremely kind and knowledgeable guide who placed each painting in the context of art history, helping me to better understand the relationship and aims of movements including Baroque and Neo-Classicism and Mannerism. Mannerism is a captivating style that I previously had little exposure to where elongation and stylisation is often used in scenes of powerful emotion.

Luis de Morales, "Pietà"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spain (part 4)

Before visiting the armoury of the Royal Palace in Madrid, I never imagined that it would be so interesting and exciting! It is hard to fathom the detail, design, care and craftsmanship, that went into every single weapon and suit of armour... and to think that they were made to be worn and used. In a large open room full suits of armour from different eras were displayed on dynamic bronze horses to dramatic effect. While I  was drawing I was approached by a couple of lovely school children, and then swarmed by their whole class! The kids asked all sorts of questions and although there was a significant language barrier I enjoyed being able to engage with them through the drawings. When the security guard became concerned about the large crowd milling about the ancient piece of armour the school teacher simply said "VAMOS!" (let's go) and before I knew it the kids were gone and I had learnt my favourite (and most efficient) Spanish word.

Palacio Real, Madrid

Walking around the Royal Palace was pretty astounding, some things I wrote in my notebook were: "splendour and opulence to the extreme", "enormous fresco by Tiepolo is spectacular!" and "there are even peacocks in the yard... unreal." Each room was decorated in a different character or style depending on the tastes of the King at the time, my favourite was the Rococo style Gasparini room (chamber/dressing room of Carlos III). In response my notebook reads "this room is alive!" The ceiling seemed to be writhing with vines carved in wooden relief, the walls were hand embodied with sliver and gold threads, every inch of the room was decorated in some way and then those decorations were reflected times infinity by an abundance of mirrors. I admit it might have been slightly over the top, but it was very immersive and I was happy to revel in the fantasy of it all. 

Gasparini room, Palacio Real, Madrid

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spain (part 3)

tasty tapas!

some blind drawing from the masters at the fantastic Museo Thyssen Bornemisza

It might be hard to tell, but for the part of the drawing on the left I was looking at Rembrant's "Self Portrait" (1642-3), below. Standing in a room full of portraits from the same era Rembrant's painting really jumped out as it seemed to overflow with life and luminosity captured with incredibly sensitive, and in many places merely suggestive, brushwork.

© Rembrant, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, Madrid

I loved that the Thyssen collection spanned a broad range of time periods and artistic movements from medieval to modern allowing me to consider all sorts of different approaches and ideas in the one day. In much of my recent work I have been interested in finding the surreal and otherworldly within natural forms so it was really intriguing to look at Ernst who sees natural forms within the abstract and haphazard textures of paint created with a decalcomania/monoprint technique.

© Max Ernst, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, Madrid

study of Schiele's self portrait

I went back for a second day to spend time with a couple of great temporary exhibitions at the Thyssen. I really enjoyed Heroines which pulled together historical and contemporary artists working in a range of mediums who all portrayed women as strong, active individuals:

John William Waterhouse, "The Magic Circle"

Frida Kahlo, "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird"

Also on display was a retrospective of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) a French academic painter, with a great eye for light and colour, who tended to portray slightly unusual narrative scenes often focusing on the moment after an event had occurred. 

Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Moorish Bath"