Friday, September 29, 2006


Yesterday I was part of a small group on a course learning how to enlarge photographs. It was fascinating. Previously we had taken shots in black/white on our SLR cameras and had them developed at local photography shops. I was horrified to find that a lot of my shots had not come out - a blow because I had spent some time on Sunday finding suitable places and people to photograph. I had been to the rugby club and photographed the players, I had been to the town centre and photographed the shoppers and the interior of the cinema and I had been to the small children's playground and asked a couple of parents if I could photograph their children playing there. One said yes and the other said "I would rather not". So I hoped for some good shots except all I could see for about 25% of the reel was blanks. Anyway, I had enough to get on with. With the instructions and enthusiasm from our tutor we all managed to enlarge our photographs and I felt so pleased with mine, I had three at the end of the day. My very first black and white enlargement. Cartier Bresson, watch out!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I have just got back from Berlin after four and a half exhausting days. Luckily we were able to go out to see art galleries, museums and architecture every day. Public transport is fast and frequent, despite it being extremely difficult to work out the routes. We preferred the S-bahn because you get to see the city from an elevated track.
I can recommend the Fat Tire Bike Tours that operate from Alexander Platz. We went on the City Tour and our guide was Enda from British Columbia. He is very funny and has a great line of chatter - keeping us laughing even though the traffic was a bit intense from time to time. It was a long day though, starting off at about 11.30 and wending our weary way back at about 4.30. We stopped off for lunch at a beer-garden in the Tiergarten and I had the best meal of my stay, there. If you get the chance, this is the best way to have an overview of the city. Enda also suggested other places which we could return to, for a closer look or a direct visit, such as the Reichstag dome and the exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie, the exact name of which I forget, but it is free. Unfortunately we did not get to do either of these visits but - next time!

Friday, September 01, 2006


Planning at trip to Berlin, mainly to see the paintings there. I am interested in the Germans, Otto Dix, Kirchner, Georg Grosz etc.
There are a vast number of galleries and museums of course, and the main ones all seem to be under state control, so you can buy a three-day ticket to visit. No free ones like our wonderful National Gallery and Tate. We plan to visit the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for the Contemporary, as it is listed in my Guide Book, and also the Neue National Gallery and the Gemaldegalerie (13th cent to 18th cent).
I hope that Berlin is not too vast, because walking round exhibitions is tiring enough without having the walk for miles between them. I want to spend as little time as possible in the Underground, as I do enough of that in London.
I am trying to work out a brief itineray, because in only four full days, it will be a big rush. Of course we will be visiting the beer cellars too, and trying some German cream torte! Not to mention the sausages and sauerkraut.
On the plan is a bike tour of the city, and although it is not likely in the time, also a bike tour of the Third Reich if possible. History in such an ancient and famous city cannot be ignored by us.
To put an emotional spin on the visit, I have just watched the film about Ann Frank which was on the TV recently. And talked to a fellow allotment holder who said he was in Berlin during the airlift, as he was in the RAF, and he said "We thought we had had it bad but when you saw what was the result of the bombing in Germany, well...."
I shared a room in the YWMCA in Great Russell Street, many years ago when I first left school, with Angelika. She came from Berlin and told me about how hungry they had been, and how glad they were when the food parcels came on the airlift. Angelika, where are you now? You went to Buenos Aires and then returned to Germany, I think. I still have a photo of you and your boyfriend taken in my bed-sit in Tooting.

HH at the Tate Britain

A friend recommended the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the Tate. I thought it would be a small exhibition but in fact it is extremely large. The colours in some of the paintings are delicious. It is very well displayed on colour washed walls, and in some parts of the gallery, only one painting is displayed on a whole vast space. It is, unlike the Oehlen exhibition, arranged chronologically.
Once again there is a filmed interview, though this time you cannot see the interviwer and some of the words are very indistinct, so luckily there is a typescript.
Howerd Hodgkin said he did not want his paintings to be described as beautiful, because he felt he could described no great paintings as "beautiful". He wants his paintings to be described as "good". Well I agree, they are.
But once again, the shapes of the abstracts are not easy for me to appreciate. Almost all of the mid and later ones include dots and splodges, some marks made with a sponge or cork, perhaps. As you probably know, the frames are part of the image and most of the works are paintings on wood, which I think he prefers because he works on them over several years. This is something that a lot of artists do not like to do. I wonder why he has chosen this course? One I belive took him 9 years to complete.
This is only possible if you are not pressed to sell, and have plenty of studio space, of course.
The fact they are all titled gave me cause for thought, because the titles are not as far as I can tell, more than the starting point, or inspiration, for the work. For instance Bombay Sunset. Far removed from Bombay or sunsets. But you have to have a handle, perhaps. If you just number everything, or use the alphabet, this removes your work very far from what is important or noteworthy in most people's lives. We have all seen sunsets. I made the experiment of walking round the second time and not reading the titles. This was very difficult to do. My eye was attracted time and time again to the part of the wall to the left of the painting. Do we really need to relate images to words?
Which comes first, the title or the painting? Even photographs in exhibitions and newspapers all have titles. We can order objects better if we name them, of course.


Because I have neglected visiting Whitechapel for some time, I made the effort to go and see the Albert Oehlen exhibition there. It is called "I will always champion good painting". This is not the kind of work that I find easy to appreciate or get to grips with. There is two levels of the exhibition, plus a room where a filmed interview takes place.
It is not possible to take photographs so I bought a hard-back catalogue where the reproductions are not very good. And two postcards which are 60p each.
The ground floor has 11 oils all similar dimensions, i e large. A lot of these were untitled. Because they are untitled it was difficult later to work out which was which from my notes compared to the catalogue, but on the other hand, when I went to see the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the Tate Britain, I thought the titles were compelely unnecessary. So are we in favour of titles or not? The paintings of Oehlen downstairs are abstract although he has used faintly familiar images in a few of them, for example skulls, a tree, an eye. There has been a great deal written about Oehlen, I have discovered, so there is little point in me writing more. The filmed interview is printed again in the catalogue, so more words, more "art speak", in a wordy art scene. But I think some of the interview is edited out, because I noted that Oehlen said that he had no "painting" classes when he was at art school in Hamburg in the late 1970s, with the tutor being Sigmar Polke. I calculate is he about 54 now. He described his "grey" paintings and the "collage" paintings as being easier to do, because of course the grey ones are all in greys and the collages have some of the work done for him. He said that he had been inspired by Dali when it came to the collages.
The amount that is written about artists such as him and the Brit Art artists suggested to me that they exist partly to provide bread and butter for art journalists.


At last had the chance for a few days away, visiting family. They have moved into a house overlooking the Rive Yare and opposite is a fantastic view of coloured storage silos. The river is tidal here and a great deal of shipping passes by. I found the light on the water and the silos inspired and demanded me to sketch. The silos are vast, and coloured orange, with some rust-streaked white, and one wholely rusty brown. During the day there is a constant coming and going of vehicles, brightly painted, loading the containers for the dock just in front. These containers too are wonderful colours, mostly red when I was there, with the odd blue and turquoise one. In addition there is the coloured blue splashes of barrels. The water of the river reflects these colours. I am sure that the changing light and the levels of the sun would provide each day a different fascinating image, not to mention the mist in the winter, and the snow, which often falls in Norfolk.


The second week at the Summer School we had two different tutors. Also we had M, our model every day for the week. It was a great way of getting to grips with drawing the human form. This drawing was done by covering the large A1 sheet of paper with graphite then drawing the model using a putty rubber. Since all the drawings were put up on the studio wall, I took the opportunity to photograph mine. Later in the week we went up to the South Bank and drew our model in various spaces, for instance near the Hayward Gallery, and also sitting on a wooden pier near the Oxo Tower, where I had earlier in the summer done a watercolour of the City on the opposite bank. This time I drew people sitting on the pier itself, in a very soft compressed charcoal, so it has smudged somewhat. But it is a great place to draw and paint. During this time I decided to carry on with a more structured approach and to apply for a course which will give me three days a week studio space in Kensington and Chelsea.


I took the oportunity to join an excellent Summer School at Wimbledon Art School this August. The first week was a pure experiment for me, as we worked with drawing from a structure of wood, cloth and plastic to produce two-dimensional drawings using pen, chalk, glue, ink and paper collage. I am reproducing here the collage which I completed. At the end we all constructed three-dimensional pieces. Mine, which is in paper, very colourful, is based on drawings done from a balcony in Centre Court, in the town centre. I was looking over the balcony and noticed, below me, a young woman dressed in black, who was moving constantly around her little shop display. She was preening herself, first with the left hand, then the right, caressing her hair, arranging her black flouncy dress. Her whole display was fascinating and I did several sketches of her seen from above, with her little black flip-flops peeping out from under her skirt. She also had an ample bossom, well dsiplayed.