Exhibition: The Impressionists in London

I visited the Impressionists in London exhibition at Tate Britain, both out of general interest in Impressionist art, but also wanting to have a close look at how the Impressionists approached landscape painting in a City.

The exhibition opened by setting the scene as to why French artists moved to London at this point. Following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris commune uprising, the city was in ruins. A number of photographs portrayed the landscape at the time.

By Alphonse J. Liébert (French, 1827–1913) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was an interesting introduction to the exhibition, on the train down to London I had been reading about the ‘picturesque’ and thought that I might see some examples on display. So it came as something of a surprise that the first ‘landscapes’ in the exhibition were of the ruins of the city similar to the one above. Describing one of the photos, of the Suresnes Bridge taken around 1870, the gallery notes stated that “ Parisiens were struck by the beauty of the ruins … here the play of light and reflections of the industrial landscape in the Seine create a poetry which at first diverts attraction from the damage that was done by the Prussians to the suspended bridge of Suresnes”. This did give a lot of context to the influences on the Impressionist painters that moved to London at the time.

In the exhibition I found the work of Camille Pissarro particularly interesting. The gallery notes explained that “During his stay in London 1870-71 Pissarro became interested in the encroachment of the suburbs on rural spaces”.

Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, Camille Pissarro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The gallery contrasts Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, from 1871 with Turners 1844 Rain, Steam and Speed, commenting how Pissarro “Painted a picture of daily life in his new surroundings”. In the context of my studies of landscape I was intrigued by how this ‘picture of daily life’ was used as a subject. It was not what I had traditionally associated with the Impressionists, although there were other paintings in the exhibition that I would have classified as typical impressionist landscapes.  

Kew Green from 1882 was also interesting, withe the gallery notes explaining how it “demonstrates the endurance of Pissarro’s attention in Britain to a landscape in which nature and industry coexist; the picture dominated to the left by the standpipe tower of the old Kew Bridge Pumping Station”.

Kew Green, Camille Pissarro [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The exhibition itself has received some scathing reviews, LUKE (2017) calls it “inaccurate and dishonest” while JONES (2017) states “Unfortunately, I must soberly report that Tate Britain has created the worst show about the impressionists I have ever seen. It comes close to achieving the impossible: making Monet dull”. The main thrust of their complaints is that the show title is misleading as the exhibition contains works by French artists in exile in London, but who would not be classified as Impressionist artists. Indeed a substantial part of the exhibition is given over to work by these artists.

I personally appreciated the opportunity to see the work of Pissarro and Monet, but was less attracted to the work of Tissot and did find the room devoted to Legros’ work less rewarding than the other artists.

However I did learn to rethink my ideas of what landscape is, particularly from seeing the work of Pissarro and how landscape can ‘paint a picture of daily life’.

 

REFERENCES

Jones, J. (2017) Impressionists in London review – how not to tell the origin story of modern art. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/30/impressionists-in-london-review-tate-britain-exhibition (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

Luke, B. (2017) Impressionists in London, exhibition review: Inaccurate and dishonest. At: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/arts/impressionists-in-london-exhibition-review-inaccurate-and-dishonest-a3712261.html (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

 

Exercise 3.2: Postcard Views

Part 1

It was quite a revelation to see the postcards that we had sent from holidays over the past few years. All of the  cards were very much in the ‘picturesque’ category.

Interestingly, most images seem to have been photographed from a very elevated position, aerial photography in some cases. It is almost as if I was selecting images that I wasn’t able to capture myself. They all seem somewhat remote from any sense of identity of the place, especially the scenes of beaches, but even the scene of the theatre at Epidavros.  The postcards do, though, serve a purpose in conveying to the sender, as well as the recipient, an image taken from a viewpoint they were unlikely  to have seen.

The images of bays and beaches also seem remote, again having been photographed from a distance,  this perhaps is intended to beautify the scene. It is considered more picturesque to view from a distance rather than convey an image of crammed together sun loungers and parasols. In this sense  the remoteness is not just from the actual scene but also from the reality of it.

Part 2

I think that Graham Clarke’s comments are very true – to an extent. Certainly when visiting other countries one will always take one’s own views and perspectives and these could well differ greatly from the norms and perspectives of the host country. Some of the landscape views in other countries may have religious or other significance to the people of that country, something that may not be recognised or be able to be conveyed by a photographer from another culture.

What is less obvious to me is Clarke’s statement that “landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure”. Perhaps this may be the case when pursuing the picturesque, but is it always the case? Whilst one is always putting one’s own interpretation of a scene, does that necessarily make one a ‘tourist’or an ‘outsider’. Perhaps to some degree the answer lies with the intention of the photographer, While there will always be an element of interpretation to the scene, some photographers go to great lengths to immerse themselves in the landscape. I am particularly thinking here of the work of Awoiska van der Molen. Describing her work in the Canaries O’HAGAN (2014) describes how she “spent long periods of time there alone, honing not just her craft but the sense of isolation needed to ‘gain access to the stoic nature of the landscape‘,  as she so memorably puts it”.

 

REFERENCES

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Bewitched by blackness: photographing the desolate beauty of the Canaries. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/26/photography-awoiska-van-der-molen-sequester-canary-islands-landscape-nature (Accessed on 26 February 2018)

Andreas Gursky at the Hayward Gallery

I visited the Andreas Gursky exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, a little unsure of what to expect I had seen single images of his work (Montparnasse) as part of other exhibitions, but never a solo display of his work.

I found it fascinating how, in many images, he adopts such a distant viewpoint that the human becomes almost inconsequential. It was interesting to read from the gallery notes how some of the images are constructed. What appears to be a single image may have been taken from multiple viewpoints and then combined so that the final product appears flat and completely in focus across the whole plan with no evidence of receding perspective.

The guidebook for the exhibition explained Gursky’s views on photography and painting. “Across many different works Gursky has borrowed from and made use of compositional structures common to post-war painting, not least the ‘all-over’ decentred composition that the American abstract painter Jackson ollack, and others, pioneered in the late 1940’s and 1950’s”.

“To Gursky – an artist interested in a ‘painterly’, rather than an ‘objective’ view of the world – the main distinction between photography and painting is the fact that ‘the viewer … reads photography as what is presented, whereas painting is about the presentation as such’. Photography, for Gursky, is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his ideas about it”.

I did find one of Gursky’s images resonated with Russian Constructivism/suprematism paintings.

Andreas Gursky, Beijing 2010

 

Lyubov Popova

 

The exhibition has has good reviews, Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian writes “he employs digital technology to both challenge the notion of the photograph and do what great photography has always done, show us the world we live in anew”.

I found myself looking at how Gursky had presented some of the images and how I might have approached the same subject. I first thought of this when I saw his image Cheops 2005

I too have been to Egypt and seen the pyramids (although long before 2005) where I took this image in a much more traditional way.

 

However I also considered how some of Gursky’s images may have influenced my own picture taking. My framing and composition of this image taken on the North Norfok coast

was influenced by having seen Untitled I 

Finally, reading some of the reviews of the exhibition led back to the subject of ‘the sublime’. An article in The Economist (2018) concludes “Critics have described Mr Gursky as an arbiter of something they call the “contemporary sublime”. In the late 18th and 19th century, the Romantic conception of the sublime took nature as it object, capable of inspiring astonishment and awe—“that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended”, according to Edmund Burke. The contemporary sublime instead takes technology and the capitalist-industrial system as its focus. Mr Gursky treats things like stock-exchanges, skyscrapers, a Formula One racing track, the interior of a Prada shop and an Amazon warehouse with the same reverence as a sweeping vista from a mountaintop. “He makes crowds of people look tiny and relentless…like a minute, leisurely colony of ants,” says Alix Ohlin, a writer.

 

REFERENCE

O’Hagan, S. (2018) Andreas Gursky review – godlike visions from the great chronicler of our age. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/20/andreas-gursky-hayward-gallery-godlike-vision (Accessed on 25 February 2018)

The Economist (2018) Andreas Gursky, master of the contemporary sublime. At: https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2018/01/crowds-and-concrete (Accessed on 25 February 2018)

Exercise 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque

What is the ‘picturesque’?

SMITH (2003) describes the picturesque as “the middle ground between the extremes of the beautiful and sublime – evoking a sense of reality of the landscape”. Discussing Gilpin’s notion of ‘picturesque’ in the British Landscape, the Victoria and Albert Museum, describes how 18th century travelers “learned to look at the British countryside as an interesting subject for painting. We see this mind-set in the ‘Claude glass’, which travelers used to reflect actual landscapes as if seen in a painting”.

RABB (2010) states that picturesque “refers to the charm of discovering the landscape in its natural state” and “The artist and the viewer delight in unspoiled panoramas: sunsets behind majestic mountains, an egret taking off from a quiet marsh, a deer bathed in a shaft of light in the woods”. She describes how Gilpin encouraged people to “engage in picturesque travel” – where the traveller endeavoured to “discover beauty created solely by nature”. The National Gallery considers that “As an aesthetic concept applied to painting, it looks back to the ‘classical picturesque’ style seen in the works of Claude and Poussin, and the Romantic picturesque derived from Elsheimer and Salvator Rosa”.

My own view, certainly upon starting this course, is that the term picturesque derives from a traditional form of aesthetic pleasure displayed in an ‘attractive’ landscape. What makes an ‘attractive’ landscape, the framing and composition of the scene will play a great part in defining this, as will the subject matter itself. Generally speaking I would consider the typical Claude Lorraine painting to portray a picturesque landscape.

Landscape with shepherds; Claude Lorrain [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The painting is in the romantic tradition using both linear and ariel perspective to give a sense of depth to the scene. It contains all the elements that I would use to describe picturesque; rolling landscape, stretching into the distance, a calm rural scene.

I think that much of my landscape photography to date has been an attempt to capture and convey images of the picturesque. This was brought home to me last year when on holiday in Corfu. W e were approaching the top of a hill with a spectacular view over the bay below. I had been taking some photos when a tour group arrived at the same point. The tour guide addressed the group in French, which I understood a little of, but it was his final words that stood out “le photo!”, at which point the group dutifully took out their cameras to capture the scene.
I guess I had been indulging in ‘picturesque travel’ up to that point. I had taken other images (some for a previous module for this course) on that holiday, which were not picturesque, but this did bring home to me just how how normal it seemed to be to seek out and photograph the picturesque.

 

REFERENCES

Rabb, L. (2010) 19th Century Landscape – The Pastoral, the Picturesque and the Sublime. At: http://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/19th-century-landscape-the-pastoral-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
Smith, L. (2003) Beautiful, sublime . At: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/beautifulsublime.htm (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
Victoria and Albert Museum, Online Museum, Web Team, webmaster@vam.ac.uk (2013) Topography: Portraits of Places. At: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/british-watercolours-landscape-genre/ (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
National Gallery: Glossary. At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/picturesque (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

Tutor Feedback on Part 2

I was very pleased with the overall comments made by my tutor, particularly that he thinks I have “advanced in your thinking and approach since the last assignment”. There were other positive points too, but I think that you learn most from the ‘area for development’ and it is these that I will concentrate on. The main areas he mentions are:

  • Potential to focus on specific issues for future projects
  • Expand research and practice of collage for future assignments
  • Continue to develop critical reading pertinent to the specific project
  • Reference this in my Learning Log

I will attempt to address these as the course progresses.

I also need to review Assignment 2 and delete a couple of images that might be seen as “repetitious and do not indicate a decisiveness in selection for presentation”.  

John Akomfrah at the Barbican

I visited John Akomfrah’s exhibition Purple at The Curve Gallery in The Barbican. Sean O’Hagan (2017) describes Purple as “an immersive, six-channel video installation that attempts to evoke the incremental effects of climate change on our planet”. It was a fascinating exhibition which O’Hagan goes on to state “eschews a linear narrative for an almost overwhelming montage of imagery and sound”.

As much as I appreciated experiencing this part of the exhibition, my attention was particularly drawn to the first exhibits in the gallery titled Preliminal Rites (2017). These were a series of six photographs which the gallery notes describe as Digital C-type colour print on Kodak Paper 203cm x 152cm

 Preliminal Rites is a series of two triptychs featuring people in period costume in a rural landscape and heavily symbolic setting.

 

 

I studied the images for ages, are they landscape or tableaux? They are certainly in a landscape setting, but are far more than a record of a landscape. There are many symbols in the images, the very prominent clock face indicating the passage of time, the barrels and tyres indicating despoilation of the countryside, the skull a symbol of mortality. The gallery notes said that the triptychs question “our notion of permanence – be it the transience of natural resources or the longevity of human morality – as a momento mori of our precarious times”. I wanted to find out more about the artist’s intention in these images and found on-line John Akomfrah in conversation with Anthony Downey in Art Mag by Deutsche Bank  (2017). Akomfrah describes the work as “a figurative photographic work that uses the language, ideas, icons, and conventions of the historical triptych to speak to modern themes”.

Akomfrah talks of his influences in this work, in particular what he describes as “two of the most famous triptychs in the history of Western painting”. These were  The Portinari Altarpiece (1475) by Hugo van der Goes, 

(Hugo van der Goes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

and the Adoration of the Magi  (1510) by Hieronymus Bosch.

(Hieronymus Bosch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

It is always interesting to consider an artist’s influences and to see the degree to which they may have affected contemporary work. In this instance the landscape setting to the original triptychs is similar to that used by Akomfrah, people assume prominent positions in all of the images as the triptychs tell a story. Akomfrah’s differs in that all three constituent images of his triptychs are the same size whereas those by Bosch and  van der Goes follow the traditional pattern of a large central image with smaller flanking images on either side.

In  Art Mag by Deutsche Bank  (2017) Akomfrah describes how his panels “depict three couples—all of mixed heritage — who originate from different historical epochs: the 1860s, 1890s, and 1920s, respectively. The work is about journeys and journeying, and each couple presents or stages elements of that, as well as their relationships, in a panoramic setting”. He was particularly interested in “how these works explore liminal, in-between states of being, as if the figures in the landscape had been abandoned by time”.

I was fascinated to read in more depth Akomfrah’s approach, it was so much more detailed than the gallery notes at the Barbican. When I first saw the images in The Curve I could see that there was a detailed story being relayed, but I have gained so much more of that from further research. If I get the opportunity to visit The Barbican again before the exhibition ends I will try to see Preliminal Rites again as, following my research, I think I will get more out of it a second time.

 

 

REFERENCES

ArtMag by Deutsche Bank (2017) The Matter of Memory; John Akomfrah in conversation with Anthony Downey. At: http://db-artmag.com/en/99/feature/the-matter-of-memory-john-akomfrah-in-conversation-with-anthony-/ (Accessed on 10 November 2017)

O’HAGAN, S. (2017) John Akomfrah: ‘Progress can cause profound suffering’. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/01/john-akomfrah-purple-climate-change (Accessed on 10 November 2017)

Reflections on Part 2

Looking back on this part of the course my understanding of what is Landscape has increased hugely, whether from background reading or the exercises that I have done. I saw from the work of Watkins and O’Sullivan just how different a result can be obtained depending on your approach to the image – one of mankind in charge of the environment, or one of mankind awed by the environment.
Before trying it out I was a bit sceptical about watching a ‘road movie’ as part of a landscape course, but having completed the exercise I did learn from it, the concept of the road as a metaphor for life’s journey and what can happen alongside is one that is relevant to still images.

Again I was sceptical about reading Edgelands and what could be learnt about Wire and Power. But I am now really interested in this concept of edgelands and what you find there and how it is different to other parts of towns and cities. I am planning to take some photos of the edgelands of the town where I live. During this exercise I also followed up on one of the images mentioned in Power – Agecroft Colliery, Salford 1983 by John Davies. Looking back now on the first exercise I did for this course I was asked to draw what I thought a landscape would look like and I drew a very classical view as exemplified by the style of Claude Lorraine. My definition of landscape has now moved on hugely as a consequence of the first two modules, I may not even have considered Agecroft Colliery as a landscape image at the beginning. But I am now beginning to realise how landscape can be social or environmental commentary.

I found the philosophical consideration of appropriation quite interesting, and this may be even more appropriate for my final assignment. I had been intrigued by Hockney’s comments on landscape and perspective and was interested in looking at a collage landscape for the Transitions Assignment. As I have visited exhibitions over the past couple of months I have been looking out for collage work – I was particularly taken by the work of Romare Bearden in the Soul of a Nation exhibition at Tate Modern and have been researching his work further. For Assignment 4 I have to write a 2,000-word essay or critical review on a subject that relates both to the content of this course and your own photographic practice”. I would like to use this opportunity to investigate further the concept of landscape collage as I think that this would help me with Assignment 6 for the course.

I liked the section on Textworks and Land Art. I was particularly fortunate that the Richard long Exhibition Earth Sky was showing at Houghton Hall at the time I was studying this part of the course. This enabled me to find out more about the work of Long and use this to influence the images I produced for Assignment 2.
Looking back on my Tutor’s comments on Part 1 of the course I think that I have started to use research as a way of developing my creative thinking, as shown in the way I approached the assignment in Part 2 as well as the research I am doing on collage/montage for the final assignment.

I think that I need to do more work on developing in more depth my blog comments and reflect more on reading and my own work. I hope to add more to my blog on my reading and research quite soon.
But I certainly am taking time to research work of other photographers and develop projects, bot through reading, research and visiting exhibitions.

Earth Sky

I visited the Richard Long exhibition at Houghton Hall, indeed I chose a journey around the Hall and grounds as the subject for the second assignment of this course.

I was aware of the work of Richard Long from the History of Art modules I have studied previously, but this was the first opportunity I have had to see a range of Long’s works in a single setting. Apart from the sculptures, a number of Long’s Textworks were on display in one of the galleries and in another gallery there were several of his ‘paintings’.

I had seen photographs of Long’s work, but you do not get to appreciate the scale and beauty of them until you see them in situ. For example BARKHAM (2017) describes Houghton Cross as “Cornish slate exploding out of Houghton Hall’s croquet lawn” and I think that is a very apt description.

One of the exhibits, North South East West was inside the main house. O’FLAHERTY (2017) considered that “It brings the wild irregularity of nature inside, but ordered perfectly, as if by magic.” I found it a fascinating counterpoint to grandeur of the house itself, in the exhibition catalogue, O’NEILL & LONG (2017), the Marquess of Cholmondeley considers that the “slate and flint circle in the middle of the Stone Hall – the very centre of the house – is a dialogue with William Kent’s grandest and most sublime interior”.

One of the more intriguing exhibits was White Deer Circle, where tree stumps that have been uprooted on the estate, are inverted and placed in a circle. It seemed reminiscent of Seahenge (a 4000 year old Bronze Age timber circle found on the North Norfolk Coast). HALLETT (2017) describes it as “simultaneously a harmonious rearrangement of natural features in the landscape, and an outrageous perversion of natural order. The trees, apparently rooted in the air, seem to grow downwards into the ground”.

Apart from being the inspiration for my response to Assignment 2, I found it a fascinating exhibition and a real opportunity to study more closely an artist I had only previously seen in photographs. I was really interested in seeing Long’s use of geometric figures in his designs, particularly lies, circles and crosses. A very ordered, almost scientific, design within a natural setting. I did note though that the very stark designs, Houghton Cross and A Line in Norfolk were in formally arranged settings (the walled Garden and the Rear Lawn) whereas the wilder White Deer Circle was in the much less formal Deer Park. It was clear that the setting had a great influence on Long and where he would place his work.

I was also very pleased to have seen White Water Falls, white pigment tumbling down the black walls of the arched loggias of the Hall’s wings. There is a fascinating video of how Long put together this exhibition at https://www.houghtonhall.com/richard-long-at-houghton/

I particularly like the way Long is shown preparing for, and executing, the waterfall.

 

References

Barkham, P. (2017) Richard Long: ‘I’m proud of being the first person to cross Dartmoor in a straight line’. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/16/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall-interview (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

Hallett, F. (2017) Richard Long: EARTH SKY at Houghton Hall. At: http://www.theartsdesk.com/visual-arts/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

O’Flaherty, M.C. (2017) Earthly delights: Richard Long unveils a series of art installations at Houghton Hall . At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/art/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall/ (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

Realist and Pictorial Landscape

Reading various books on landscape, in particular Liz Wells’ Land Matters has brought home to me just how much my views of landscape were formed from the pictorial condition. In fact it has been quite a revelation discovering work in the realist tradition – it wasn’t that I hadn’t been aware of or seen such work before, I had but I had never classed it as landscape because it didn’t fit my pictorial mindset.

It has made me think again about my photography and what images will be classified as landscape. This will have quite a consequence for my final assignment, Transitions, I would still very much like to try the collage project, but I think that I will change my back-up plan. Instead of looking at traditional, pictorial views, as I have been doing, I have decided to take views of my back garden as a way of conveying the change in the seasons. Fortunately I have quite a large garden so there is plenty of scope for creating suitable images.

Wells, L. (2011) Land matters: Landscape photography, culture and identity. London: I B Tauris & Co Ltd.

 

Boom For Real

I saw this exhibition at The Barbican of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American artist. I didn’t know what to expect of the show as I knew nothing of Basquiat’s work before my visit. While quite a proportion of the exhibition space was of his work, a substantial part also seemed to be about his life, influences and friendships. It is difficult to describe his work- graffiti, scrawls, child-like drawing – came to my mind. It certainly wasn’t the type of art that I would buy if I had the money, but there were a couple of aspects that I found interesting within the exhibition.

Firstly I was interested to see another artist using collage within their work, ever since I first thought about using collage for Assignment 6 of this course, I have started to notice how frequently it is used in modern art. Not to a huge degree in Basquiat’s case, but certainly something he experimented with and it was good for me to study how it had been used.

Secondly, and much more widespread within his work, was the use of text. I had just been reading the section on Richard Long’s Textworks in the Landscape course material, so it was interesting to see the work of an artist who used text extensively. There is a big difference in how the two artist use text, Long uses words and language as the image whereas Basquiat uses text as one part, along with other material, to form an overall image. I saw how he had used single words, sometimes boldly, to influence what a viewer sees in an image, in other cases though he used phrases, short sentences, or a multiplicity of single words for overall effect.

I came away understanding a little more about how text can be used within art and intrigued as to  whether it was something that I could put to use.  

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