Exhibitions: Modigliani (Tate Modern) & Cezanne Portraits (National Portrait Gallery)

I visited both these exhibitions yesterday as preparation/inspiration for the assignment in Unit 4  and thought it might be useful to compare the two exhibitions in one post rather than complete separate posts.

Both exhibitions showed how the artist evolved whilst tackling portraits  – Modigliani in terms of his artistic style with a move from more rounded forms (as in The Cellist, 1909  here and The Beggar of Livorno, 1909) to a more modernist flatter form often with black voids for the eyes (influence of cubism).  Whereas, Cezanne seemed to me to evolve more in the way he applied the paint and his technique rather than his style of depicting the sitter – from using a palette knife with thickly applied paint (as in his Uncle Dominique series, such as Uncle Dominique in a Turban, 1866-7) to using a brush with dabs and a broken application of colour (as in Boy in a Red Waistcoat 1888-90).

Modigliani’s portraits tended to fill the frame with the majority having little or no background to put the sitter into a context (as in Max Jacob c1916-17), whereas Cezanne’s portraits often included a background, giving the viewer more information about the sitter or their environment (as in Gustave Geffroy, 1895-6, where the subject is a writer and is sitting at a desk with papers in a library).  Of course, this may be because Cezanne was more interested in developing his technique in the application of the paint and therefore enjoyed including the interior and other still-life objects in contrast to Modigliani who was trying to capture the essence of the sitter.

Modigliani seems to me to have settled on a certain style to this portraits with often voids for eyes, angular long necks suggesting elegance (especially but not exclusively for the females subjects) , flatter areas of colour, etc,  In contrast, Cezanne seems to be continually changing and adapting his technique.  I assume this was because Modigliani was producing the portraits for clients and Cezanne was just using the sitter as an object to explore the application of paint and colour relationships.

In the Modigliani exhibition a whole room is devoted to the female nude and this brought to the fore my reading of both Ways of Seeing by John Berger and The Nude by Gill Saunders (see previous posts).  Is it the case of an active educated male artist exploiting the lesser-educated passive female worker or should we accept that the female model made an informed decision to pose and earn money.  I think this is something I will struggle with everything I see a nude until I can come to some form of  resolution for myself (if that every happens!).

One thing which did give me an insight when walking round the Cezanne exhibition was even through he was a very accomplished artist, you could often see things wrong in his proportions (such as the size of the head in Portrait of a Man, 1898-1900), or in the positioning of limbs (such as the size and way the legs are attached to the body as in Victor Choquet, 1877).  In a way this teaches me that I need to stop obsessing about little details/imperfections in my own art and step back to look at the success of the overall image.


Exhibition: Paula Rego: The Boy Who Loved the Sea and Other Stories

I visited this exhibition yesterday on the last day at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings.  As indicated in the exhibition title it has paintings, drawings and sculptures based on The Boy Who Loved the Sea and other stories.

Rego has a strong illustrative style to her drawings and paintings which is no surprise when they are based on stories.  However, I found that when the narrative was presented next to the image, as a viewer I had little place to go to find my own narrative or sub-narrative.  As an example, the very first image I viewed was Get Out of Here You and Your Filth, 2013 (link to catalogue containing image on page 25 here) which shows an old women dressed in black (fairly victorian in style) wearing a cross pointing towards a man holding a dress/nightdress against himself.  I read this as a comment on outdated attitudes towards LGTBQ issues, however, on reading the associated text it was actually depicting part of the story where the man is being told off for bringing back an inappropriate present.  This was a prime example of one of the issues raised in Ways of Seeing by John Berger concerning context which I wrote about in a previous post.  Once I had read the text next to this painting I found it very difficult not to read the text against all the paintings, somewhat limiting my enjoyment of the whole exhibition.

The images I found far more interesting in this exhibitions were the series of self-portraits Rego undertook in 2017 after suffering a fall – she shows the cut on her forehead and they have a Francis Bacon feel to them; and, her Depression series which have a real feeling of vulnerability.  For this series she used Lila Names as her model and Lila is quoted as saying she ‘never felt she was really painting me.  It is someone else she sees through me. Either herself or another person.’  These personal drawings were far more powerful for me than the paintings based on the stories.

Exhibition: 1. Roy Voss, The Way Things Are. 2. Emma Hart & Jonathan Baldock, Love Life Act 111

I visited both these exhibitions on 23 October and wrote about them in my learning log.  I was not inspired by the Roy Voss exhibition, for the me the sculpture resembled an architectural model too much and did not fit the space for which it was commissioned.  There was no sense for me of the vastness of space or the pier transcending the boundaries between spaces.

In contrast I really liked the Emma Hart and Jonathan Baldock installation of an oversized Punch and Judy booth.  You felt immersed in the artwork and it was thought-provoking around the issue of domestic violence.  I think it was helped by the multi-media aspect of the installation and the small room partitioned into areas which gave the feeling of intimacy and being part of the scene.


Link to Roy Voss De la Warr Pavilion.

Link to Emma Hart & Jonathan Baldock De La Warr Pavilion


Exhibition: Matisse in the Studio

I went to this exhibition on 5 November as part of an OCA Study Visit with OCA tutor, Clare Wilson.  The exhibition at the Royal Academy was quite small, consisting of 5 rooms.

The exhibition explored the objects Matisse acquired in his studio and then depicted in his paintings.  The objects were displayed alongside the paintings/drawings which made for an interesting experience to see them in their 3-D form and then translated into a 2-D image.  Some of the objects were sculptures modelled by Matisse, others were vases, jugs, tables and textiles collected by Matisse.

It was interesting to see how some objects, quite complex forms, were rendered to a few simple lines in his paintings, which nonetheless captured the essence of the object.  This was particularly the case in a sculpture modelled by Matisse, Small Couching Nude with Arms, 1908, which subsequently appears in Lillacs, 1914.  My drawing completed at the exhibition is shown below.

Link to Lillacs, 1914 here.

Drawing of Matisse, Small Couching Nude with Arms, 1908 and how it was depicted in the painting, Lillacs, 1908

Matisse often used the same objects in multiple paintings.  In the latter part of the exhibition is a room titled, The Studio as a Theatre.  It is here that many of his highly patterned textile paintings with figures were displayed.  It was interesting for me to see how the figures seemed to merge into the textures and patterns of the interior and the textiles, with neither element have a greater importance than its surroundings.

I made a number of drawings at the exhibition in addition to the one above as I had just finished the sculpture exercise of the unit and they sparked my interest.

Taking complex forms and simplifying them was a major learning point for me from visiting this exhibition.

Exhibition: Nexus

This was a photography exhibition by two graduates of the OCA, John Umney and Keith Greenough, and a current student, Sarah-Jane Field, at Oxford House, Bethnal Green.

Oxford House was set up in 1884 as a residential settlement house where graduates and students of Keble College, Oxford, could stay and undertake voluntary work within the local community.  Today, it acts as a community arts centre and building offering affordable office/room hire.

The three photographers explored the relationship between Keble College, the community use of the building and its relationship to other buildings within the local area.

For me, the most successful photographs were by John Umney, which depicted close-up, almost abstract images of Keble College.  One which particularly caught my eye (Keble 4) was a close-up of a lectern, which showed the marks and textures of continuous use; in between two raised panels of the lectern (which was a gold colour) was a recess which had an interesting long black mark which me reminded me of a cityscape.  I also was drawn to Keble 6, which showed a chevron pattern of a worn tiled floor.  Both these images really brought to the fore the patterns/textures created by years of use and made me wonder about the countless people who had used these surfaces.

Of Keith Greenough’s images, St John’s 1, a photograph of a statute at the bottom of a stairway and Library 2, showing an internal view of Bethnal Green library caught my eye.  The former, for the placement of a modern statute at the bottom of a bare and decaying stairway;  the latter, for the juxtaposition of modern technology against a victorian ornate wooden front reception area.

Sarah-Janes’ images were dramatically lit and showed a single ballet dancer within the rooms of Oxford House.  I particularly enjoyed the images of the close-up of the feet, the hands of the dancer and the dark almost black backgrounds in the other images.   Personally, I found it difficult to connect the images and the artist statement which accompanied them, particularly around the influence of the industrial revolution, the increasing role of technology and future teaching practice. In many ways this highlighted for me the role of the artist statement.  I read the artist’s  statement before viewing the images and this set-up, consciously or subconsciously, an expectation.  When I was not able to perceive the intent of the artist in viewing the images, this made them for me less successful.  Others of course,  will be able to link the images better than I with the statement.  Something for me to think about as I progress in my studies and reach the stage of writing an artist statement for my own work.

Link: Exhibition Home page

Exhibition: Paul Nash

I visited this exhibition twice, once as part of an OCA Study Day on 21 January and again at the Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts on 18th August.  Paul Nash has always been a favourite artist of mine, ever since I saw one of his tree drawings as a child.

I wrote about three images in my sketchbook following my second visit.  One of the main things I take from this exhibition is how life experiences are reflected in subsequent artworks.  You can see the emotional trauma Paul Nash experienced in the First War World is included both in his work as a war artist and in subsequent years.

As I progress through this degree I hope that my work will start to have that ‘life experience element’ and become part of my personal voice.


Exhibition: Hockney

I visited this exhibition on 27 May 2017 at Tate Britain.  It was a large retrospective of Hockney’s work, over 12 rooms.  The first room displayed a number of images of different periods to give an overview, the remaining rooms were arranged in chronological order.

I picked three images to write about in my sketchbook, all from his work in the USA during the 1960s.  After viewing the exhibition it is this American work of the 1960’s and early 1970s which I found the strongest and appealing; I think it is the flat colours, strong composition and almost graphic nature of the images.

Hockney varied his style and techniques over the years and this exhibition showed those changes.