Saturday, January 05, 2008

Siena, Art for a City, at the National Gallery, London, and what I though of the exhibition

The exhibition Renaissance Siena, Art for a City. 24 October 2007 to 13 January 2008.

The exhibition includes a few sculptures, some bas reliefs, some drawings and three large frescos. Also medals and mirror frames, and panels from marriage chests. But most of it is painting on wood, either in oil or tempera.
These paintings are not very familiar, no names I readily recognized except Raphael. He is represented with a beautiful small work, part of which by coincidence was reproduced, and increased in size, on the Christmas cards currently being sold at half price in the gallery shop!
What can I learn from these works?
The paint is applied in thin glazes, there are no brush marks to be seen. The colours glow and impress by their luminosity.
Particularly impressive, in its sexual allure and masculine display, is the painting by Luca Signorelli of Two Nude Youths. One has his back to you and shows his beautiful buttocks, lovingly highlighted with reflected light on the underside of the curves.
Several works have inscriptions, and this itself is quite unlike any paintings made today, in that a typical inscription reads, (and I quote this as it appears in the exhibition booklet), "'the flame refreshes her/it and tortures me" encircle a dragon-headed salamander in the middle of a fire'.
Many of the paintings are full of hidden meanings and are definitely narrative. In particular I looked at the series The Story of Patient Griselda, in which the story is illustrated in three parts, but on each of the three panels several episodes are shown, as in a comic strip. The colours used are often symbolic and would be understood by the viewer at the time, in Siena.
I like to paint narrative paintings, I like to include text in my work. Several of my recent works are on wood, which I find a sympathetic support for oil.
There are stories in my paintings. I endeavor to put references, both obvious
and hidden, in the paintings, to modern associations with the human subjects.
For instance in my current painting, the subject is loosely based on the legend of Diana and Acteaon, when Acteaon looks at Diana bathing, and is turned into a stag and devoured by his own hunting dogs. My inspiration was a painting by Cranach at Somerset House earlier in 2007.
I have painted the yellow sign that you can see at Somerset House, warning of a steep drop, and changed it to a human figure and the head of a ravening dog. Acteaon is represented by a male cyclist glancing over his shoulder.
In particular I might consider painting in thinner paint, with less emphasis on the painterly quality of oil paint. I might make less emphasis on the correct physical depiction of the human subject.
Many of the paintings in this exhibition are distorted or have extremely small or excessively large head, hands, feet.
I might increase the amount of textual messages I employ and I might incorporate two or three episodes of a story.
My next work may be a portrait of a male cyclist, who I will paint with his back to me, possibly in shorts and top. The rest of the painting will give a picture of the route, and the difficulties and the encounters which the cyclist might meet in his planned route from one end of Britain to the other.

1 comment:

Edie said...

Well written article.