Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Simon Schama's The Face of Britain - and selfies

Simon Schama talking about the process of Graham Sutherland painting Sir Winston Churchill

This morning I was at the National Portrait Gallery to hear a briefing from historian Simon Schama about The Face of Britain - which this autumn will comprise a major exhibition, a five part television programme and a book.

Simon Schama

Simon Schama's The Face of Britain 

This involves:

  • five new displays under the overarching title of Simon Schama's The Face of Britain - an exhibition from 16 September 2015 - 4 January 2016, at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Admission free
  • a five-part TV series on BBC2 in Autumn 2015 - with the same title
  • a book of the same title to be published by Viking / Penguin Random House, Hardback £30 on 16 September 2015

The temporary displays of images within the permanent collection will be jointly curated by Simon Schama and the National Portrait Gallery curators ed by Chief Curator Dr Tarnya Cooper.

Rather than taking a chronological approach adopted by the permanent displays, the new temporary displays revolve around five themes:

  • Power - this relates to the three different ways a portrait is considered
    • the way we want to be seen (or others want people to be seen) - see the anecdote about Churchill at the end
    • the job of the artist to endorse this perspective - up to a ppoiint
    • the way the public views it
  • Love - portraits are very often about creating pictures of people you don't want to lose
  • Fame
  • People - This covers people from less elite backgrounds. It's not just about introspection, it's also about scrutiny and inspection - and will include
  • Self - the "self portrait" section will look at how the artist uses the self-portrait for self-promotion and also focus on how people adopt and/or balance out the two ways of looking at yourself: 
    • the narcissist - self-love
    • after Montaigne - unsparing self-knowledge

Each theme will be in one room for each theme - so related portraits on a theme will be seen side by side even if in reality they are separated by centuries.  The overall scheme of things has been informed by Simon Schama’s innovative and challenging exploration of the development, character and meanings of British portraiture

What was possibly the most interesting aspect of the morning was listening to Simon Schama talk. He's extremely knowledgeable and has the ability to keep talking while hardly taking a breath, while jumping around between centuries and anecdotes. It was rather like an academic monologue - interspersed with absolutely fabulous soundbites!
The issue is what happens when we eyeball one another
We should be involved in looking at people 
The function of art is endurance. You want to remember 'that look'. Portraits provide the 'x factor' which the quick 'dumbed down' version of the selfie doesn't do. They're the equivalent of white noise. Portraits deliver the music. 
Directing him for television must be rather interesting!

I loved his story of how the very famous photograph of Churchill by Karsh - described by Schama as the visual equivalent of "we will fight them on the beaches" - was actually the photograph of a man who has just been deprived of his Havana cigar!

The papers have rather pounced on just one comment - about selfies - which he made this morning.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Big Painting Challenge - the artists' blog posts

One of the things about blogs is you get to say what your experience was like as well as showing people what your painting looks like.

That's all the more important when you're painting on BBC1 and your paintings are being criticised in full view of the nation - and your comments get edited down (as do the Judges!)

So here for posterity are all the blog posts I could find  by the artists participating in The Final of The Big Painting Challenge - plus a couple of the other artists who blogged about their experiences.

Paul Bell - The Winner

You can read Paul Bell's posts about how he became the winner on his website's blog

He was also the only artist who managed a blog post about each episode - so well done Paul on that count too!

Claire Parker - Finalist

You can read Claire's post about The Final - Worse things happen at sea - on her website Home is where the blog is.

She writes well and has some interesting blog posts written as a spinoff to her experience - do have a read.

Richard Salter - Finalist

Richard has been painting studio responses to his episodes

Amy Goldring - Finalist

Amy doesn't have a blog but you can read The Big Painting Challenge: An Exclusive Interview with Amy Goldring

Other artists 

You can read interviews and blog posts using the links below. You can
Plus you can read all about Anne Blankson-Hemans and her art in a five page article in the May Edition of The Artist Magazine - now available online and in the shops.

This evening I'm going to a Private View of Daphne Todd's latest exhibition at Messum's in Cork street which opens tomorrow. I have my critique book to hand.... ;)

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Final of The Big Painting Challenge

So, it's over and we now know who won The Big Painting Challenge 2015.

However, like a number of other people, I thought I knew who would win from Episode 1 - and we were all right on the night!

So congratulations and well done to Paul Bell for recovering from the hiatus of Episode 5 and producing a sound performance for the first two challenges of the Final and then creating an impressive painting for the very last challenge. Best wishes to him for his "semi twilight great art career"!  You can see his final painting and still life painting at Tate Britain from now until 12 April 2015 in the Manton Foyer, Tate Britain

The series ended as it had started for the final challenge - painting plein air - in front of the subject within a time limit. It's always a very sound test of those who can observe, design, create a picture and then paint it!

Episode 6: The Final set-up for the Final Painting 
of the River Dart and Port View between Dartmouth and Kingswear in Devon
It's not normally this empty - see below

Paul was always the one to watch and the one who overall produced the best performance across the series as a whole. Notwithstanding a few hiccups along the way - but then that happens to the best of us! It was always his award to lose and all Episode 5 did was prove to us that this was a distinct possibility - which made Episode 6 all the more watchable. :)

So what happened? Let's have a recap of Episode 6 of The Big Painting Challenge

Series recap

Both contestants and judges recapped their experience to date. The contestants highlighted what they'd learned about painting and the judges revealed what they thought about the contestants. What was interesting to me was the different perspectives of the judges. I usually found myself agreeing with both of them!


The topic was Seascapes and the location was Dartmouth in South Devon.

I can understand the attractions of the harbour and the boats and the views - Dartmouth is very pretty. However I'm completely stumped as to why anybody ever thought that Dartmouth's Royal Naval College would provide an inspiration?

Episode 6 - Seascapes: The Challenges

Since this is the final, I'm going to make some of my comments about the artist a little more personal this week.  However all are related to their approach to painting and the particular challenges encountered this week.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who's made a mark? #264

Claude Monet's Poplar Series - five paintings from around the worldIncluded in the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery
My biggest thrill of this last month was going to the Bloggers Evening for a special preview of the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery - which is essentially about the artwork collected and sold by .

All the exhibition is good but one room is exceptional - and that's the one holding five paintings from the

This photo is a tease. Despite some very odd lighting which was a major challenge I have better photos of the series of five paintings - but I'm saving those for the review!

Reviews from others to date confirm my perspective that this is a very definite MUST SEE exhibition.

This is the most significant Impressionist show we’ve seen in this country in 20 years, says an awe-struck Richard Dorment

So now for the other things which caught my eye or caused me to comment during March.


Every year two artists are awarded The Turner Medal - one member from the Royal Watercolour Society and one member of the Royal Instutute of Painterst in Water Colours.

Andy Wood PRI presents Deborah Walker with her Turner Medal
  • Deborah Walker RI was awarded the "Turner Medal" by Andy Wood, President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours - at the Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. Her painting 'Detail' also won two other prizes - the The Escoda Barcelona Award and the Anthony J. Lester Art Critic Award. (BTW Click the pic - Isn't Andy's President's regalia absolutely marvellous!)
  • David Brayne RWS is the RWS recipient of this year's Turner Medal. I wrote about David and his very interesting working methods back in 2007 in this post Royal Watercolour Society - artists and their working methods 
We had a bit of a giggle - or experienced a jaw drop (depending on your perspective) this month when we found about what Nelson Shanks did to his COMMISSIONED portrait painting of Bill Clinton.

Art Competitions

Art Exhibitions

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bigger Picture - the Big Painting Challenge Artists have an Exhibition

I've been really enjoying The Big Painting Challenge  and am looking forward to the Final tomorrow night on BBC1

However that's not the end of it! In April the artists are holding a Joint Exhibition under the title The Bigger Picture - and I've just had my Private View Invitation! :)

The Bigger Picture Exhibition

Here's the details of their exhibition for your diary:

Exhibition Dates: 15th - 26th April 2015

Exhibition Venue: Lauderdale House
Highgate Hill, Waterlow Park, London N6 5HG (tel : 020 8348 8716)

Exhibition Open: Wed-Fri 11am-4pm; Sunday 10am-5pm

There's a special "Meet the Artists" Event on Sunday 26th April between 11 - 5 p.m

Tate Britain exhibition

Two paintings by the winner will also be displayed at Tate Britain between 30 March – 12 April 2015

The Artists

The 10 artists who participated in the The Big Painting Challenge were the "last painters standing" from the 6,000 who applied to be part of this televised art  competition

These are the websites of the artists involved in the series. The first link is to their page on the Bigger Picture website and then their website and social media links after that.

I look at hundreds if thousands of artists website each year and found it very interesting to look at the artwork on their websites and Facebook Pages. I suggest you take a look.

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