For more than ten years my creative output has broken clearly into two parts. The studio work that has resulted in paintings, constructions, prints and works on paper. All carefully worked out and refined, often in quite extensive series of incremental steps. Alongside this has been an extensive series of small scale, rapidly made, landscape drawings and paintings that have filled hundreds of pages of bound sketchbooks.
These two series of work have, at times, hinted at the possibility of coming together and supporting one another. But up until now, although there have been tentative connections in one way or another, I have never really felt a crossover occurring or a serious engagement between the two branches.
However, that situation may be about to change. It’s early days to shout too loudly about it, but maybe, just maybe, things are on a collision course, time will tell. Here, in the most recent studio work there is a genuine landscape image, reminiscent of one of my sketchbook paintings, stands central….and there are more to follow, possibly making use of images such as this woodland watercolour.
After what feels like months of continually having to reinvent what I am doing in the classroom, and way too much time staring into the webcam, there was today just a hint of spring in the air. Reason enough to head of out on the bike before an afternoon of online meetings and prep work for the school days ahead.
The result two of the first en plein air drawings of 2021. Fingers were still a bit cold, but it is a start……..
Like many families around the world, the physical contact with all but my immediate family has been greatly interrupted by the pandemic. I see my wife every day and my studying children regularly. But contact with my own English extended family has had to move online. We have regular family get togethers with up to fourteen of us at a time, aged between teenager and 80+ and spread around the world in various places in the UK, the Netherlands, Prague and Kuala Lumper in Malaysia.
The Zoom meetings have been very fun to do and surprisingly satisfying in terms of them being a replacement for the family meals together in any normal year. We also have family app groups and sub-groups, all-in all, contact remains very good.
But after fourteen months apart I felt that it was time for something else. We are, by most standards, a very creative family. Visual artists, musicians/sound remixer, graphic designers and writers. With many of use taking these interests well beyond a hobby having gained degrees in related areas and gone on to work in these fields.
With this background it was time to stage an online exhibition where we share and take a closer look at each other’s creative output. Added to this is also of course the possibility open the work to a broader public.
Use the link below to visit our digital exhibition space and enjoy the work of:
Five visual artists
One film and soundscape artist
One graphic designer
Be patient…..the exhibition can take a moment or two to load!
(The software works best on a laptop or desktop computer, on mobile devices some elements may work less well)
Most schools in the Netherlands have open days during the mid-winter. Many schools have something of a pitched battle against nearby rival schools in the effort to attract a good number of new pupils for the forthcoming school year. The school where I teach is no different, we must be seen to compete!
Such open days are all well and good, if a little exhausting and long at the end of the teaching week. But with the current lockdowns and need for extreme social distancing the normal packed school with hundreds of children and their parents simply is not an option. As a result, things are moving online. Most schools are frantically putting together a new online presence/digital open day. Films are being shot, interviews recorded, and websites constructed.
As far as the art department is concerned, in my school we were looking for a way to present a collection of pupils’ work. Collections of photographs or films of pieces of work were of course possible but we wanted something a bit more immersive and interactive, and amongst all the other films that were being made, we simply wanted something that stood out as being a bit different.
The need of the situation, as with many other things in education in the last year, has forced me and a colleague to explore the possibilities more than we perhaps have done up until now. The online exhibition possibilities offered my artsteps.com where something that I have known about for a while but have never fully explored up until now because I simply have not fully felt the need to. But now was the time, was this going to be what we needed?
Well, the short answer to that is a resounding yes, absolutely. A week later I have built three online, three dimensional exhibitions of pupils’ work that are going to serve our purposes fantastically well. The links below will take you there and allow you to pass through and view the work.
Of course, it is not as good as walking around an art room in a school taking a closer look for yourself but given the circumstances it really isn’t a bad substitute for our 10- and 11-year-old visitors and their parents.
Having put it all together, what would I say are the pros and cons on offer here?
The learning curve for using the software really is not too step. Invest a little time and you should find your way.
Creating a stylish and well-ordered look to the exhibition is both possible and straight forward.
It is free and everything is online (apart from the photos and films you want to upload) with no software having to be downloaded or installed.
Videos can also be part of your exhibition.
You can design your own rooms.
But above all is just fun to create and fun to visit!
Three-dimensional work is difficult to include. 3D printer designs can be unloaded and included, but documentation of a tradition sculpture can only be done using a film of the object or photographs of it.
I do not seem to be able to get the films to work on mobile devices. Although walking around the spaces to look at the pictures on my iPad works perfectly.
Visiting the exhibitions on a mobile phone is, it seems, possible on some phones and not on others.
The ease with which the software works leaves me thinking of the future possibilities. I see opportunities for asking a group to curate their own exhibitions on selected themes. They could visit the websites museums of the museums of the world gathering the artworks that they need. I have done this before and set poster design assignments as a part of the project, but now I see the additional installation of a 3-dimensional digital exhibition as a fantastic extension of the project.
It is strange how necessity can be the mother of invention, forcing you to explore new possibilities. This has certainly been the case in the past few weeks.
I coach a group of enthusiastic part-time painters. We have been meeting up one evening a week for years, except of course in 2020. In mid-March this year our painting sessions, like so many other things came to an abrupt halt. We were temporarily able to restart for a period of four weeks in the autumn, before once again having to stop again.
I’ve done what has been possible to keep the group active (at least for those who wish to carry on at home), and the group themselves have retained contact via our app group, sharing what they are up to in the area of creativity and artistic interests. It has, all-in all, worked well. The group does still feel like a group and the stream of creative output certainly hasn’t dried up.
In terms of “going online”, like my other area of work in mainstream education, it hasn’t been quite the same. The commitment to an online lesson at a specific time didn’t feel like the way to go. Instead, what seems to have worked best has been a series of group paintings/projects. Anyone who wanted to, could easily contribute, and I worked on grouping things together. Some have been very loose, and in a way, not much more than a collection of paintings and drawings around a theme, while others have been quite structured in their approach.
Looking back complete 2020 set, it is surprising just how productive the group has been, and how well this loose online approach has worked. We are all of course hoping for better things in 2021, but as a record of 2020 it certainly shouldn’t be a year best forgotten by the group as the results below show.
Since the restart of the school year back in August I have been working on a quite extensive art and language project with two of the third year groups (aged 14) that I teach. Essentially it is a design module that focuses on the fonts and typefaces but has involved:
A photography assignment
A black and white, graphic typeface design assignment
A painting assignment exploring more painterly approaches
A poetry assignment
Digital illustration assignment
A page design/layout assignment
Often with such a long drawn out assignment the challenge is to keep the energy going, but in this case, with the diversity of activities, I have never felt that to be a problem.
A brief summary of the art and design activities and a few of the results:
Typeface design made using found objects
Create a coherent font using objects that you find at home. Arrange at least five letters that clearly belong as a set and make use of the same types of objects. The most significant challenge here is to get the pupils beyond the stage of using five pencils lying on the table to spell out a set of easy to create letters. There are so many possibilities but it does require a kind of mental leap to bring the pupils to a point where they start to see the design possibilities.
Typeface design using only black ink
This is the most purely design related step and before we get as far as using the ink we go through a series of design steps that first involve sketch designs of three quite different design ideas. One of these is then chosen and a series of design refinements using different types of letter are made. Finally we arrive at the ink work where a series of five or six letters from there font are inked in using brush and pen work.
After the graphic work of the previous assignment things become considerably looser in this coloured in and painting assignment as the pupils build on and further develop their design work.
To include a significant language element into the assignment I ask the pupils to chooses the names on at least two typeface names (and there are so many to choose from!). These names, be they Broadway, Cairo, Baskerville, Freestyle, etc. are the starting point for the creation for writing a short poem. The names of the letter types have to actually be a part of the poem’s text, and ultimately when the poem is presented for marking the typefaces referred to must be used.
Back at the start of 2020 I made a plan. It was for the group of adult amateur painters that I coach and guide in their creative activities once a week. As a group we also make an occasional trip out to see an art exhibition that I feel would be both interesting and in some way aligned with the group’s own painting activities. Last year we visited the David Hockney and Vincent van Gogh exhibition at the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
My plan, back at the beginning of 2020 was that, as a group we could make a trip to the Drendts Museum in the northern Dutch town of Assen, to see the planned Frida Kahlo exhibition, Viva la Frida!, due in the autumn of 2020. Without telling the group, and as way of introducing them to my plan, I set them a small painting assignment.
I used one of the iconic portrait photographs of Kahlo, enlarged it and cut it into vertical strips, each about 40 cm tall by 2 cm wide. To accompany each strip there was a wooden panel, larger (about a metre tall), but of the same proportions. The task in hand was simple, use the blurry strip of black and white photograph to make a comparable blurry monochrome painted strip on the wooden panel.
To make it a little more technical I asked the group to do this using oil paints but making no use of black when mixing the grey tints that we needed. The purpose here was twofold, firstly to challenge the group to experiment broadly with the mixing of chromatic greys, but secondly to result in more variation across the panels when the final composition was assembled. One would hopefully be a slightly bluey mix of greys, another with more red and another with perhaps a purple edge.
We made a start, and all was going well.
But then along came Covid-19, lockdown and the weekly painting sessions were suspended. The painting was half finished, my painters still didn’t actually know what it was they were painting, but at this stage I told them the whole story and what my plans for the autumn had been. In the meantime the museum in Assen had also had to change their plans. The Kahlo exhibition was cancelled, or rather suspended, and has subsequently been rescheduled for the autumn of 2021……..I’m sure as a group we’ll be going.
Our group reconvened back in September. Meeting as two smaller groups, strict social distancing in place and returned to the business of painting, and getting our Frida Kahlo painting finished.
We almost made it! Four weeks later, we are back in lockdown, hopefully not for as long as last time. We are returning to our sharing of creative work in the app group and working at home on some group projects that I assemble as we progress. Such projects help us all feel that we are still part of a group. Our Frida work is all but finished, we’re just missing a couple of panels from the outer most reaches of the composition, but the work as it currently stands is a satisfying result and good approach work for the exhibition visit next year.
Museums all over the world are shuffling their exhibition programs. They are also undoubtedly counting the costs of the missing visitors, the entrance tickets, the book shop sales, the cafes and restaurants. The museums here in the Netherlands are no different.
Dutch museums are in the process of tentatively reopening their doors. Limited visitors are allowed, and everyone has to pre-book their time of entry. They have also been reorganizing the exhibition programs.
For example, there was to have been this autumn in the Drendtsmuseum in the north of the country, a large-scale exhibition of the work or Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is an artist whose work I have only ever seen in odd snippets here and there. It was a visit that I had been looking forward to making. It seems that I will have to look forward to it a bit longer, it has now been put back a year and is now autumn 2021.
There were other exhibitions that have simply passed by during the lockdown. I thought that this was the case with the Breitner-Israels exhibition in the Kunstmuseum in The Hague. The two top Dutch painters from the late 19th and early 20th century had been put head to head for comparison. The show opened shortly before Corona burst loose on us all. I hadn’t had the chance to visit and guessed my chance had been missed. As compensation to myself I bought the extensive catalogue and enjoyed reading it during the peak lockdown weeks for a bit of cultural distraction.
As it turns out the exhibition has been extended over the summer, so there is still the opportunity to visit. But for me there is a catch; getting to the museum involves a journey of an hour and a half on public transport. The message coming out of government is that public transport should only be used when absolutely necessary……like when I use it to get to my work in education. There’s a potentially interesting discussion to be had here, that being that after three months of no cultural input of this sort, it does feel pretty necessary and vital to recharge my cultural batteries! Is that needy enough?
Since the start of the Covid 19 induced lockdowns around the world I have seen quite a few musical and choir related projects come by on my Facebook feed. Groups of musicians or singers all contributing their bit to the carefully mixed and arranged compositions that those with the digital know how have been able to mix and balance into impressive unity despite the geographical spread of the participants. A classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
I too work with groups of creative enthusiasts, both children and adults and these musically combined performances set me thinking about trying something similar in my field of the visual arts. The group of adults that I support with assignments and ideas seemed to be the most obvious place to give my own fairly modest ideas a try.
They are a very social group of people who miss their chance to paint and share life once a week. The club’s app group has been very active during the lockdown and the project I had in mind would work well using that platform.
The initial idea was quite simple, using the reference point of a seventeenth century Dutch still life we would try and compose our own still life with everyone contributing something that could be digitally added to the group composition. The only guidelines I gave were that the objects could be modern or older if they wished and they had to make a simple shaded drawing using just a pencil.
The drawings started to roll in via the app group and I set about contructing an arrangement that gave them all a chance to be seen. Gradually the enthusiasm for the working together nature of our little project grew, with me posting regular progress up dates.
I’d seen enough to see another, perhaps better possibility, we could move on to a Dutch flower painting as inspiration.
This time I’d provide the vase and the rest of the group the flowers. The drawings streamed in, again just in pencil to help with the overall unity of the image. For the digital assemblage the flower arrangement gave more scope for adjustments and moving things round and in the end it was possible to fill the vase with a huge number of diverse flowers.
A this stage I’m not quite sure what the follow up will be. But I think there has to be one.
I don’t teach any nineteen year olds. Mostly the oldest young people who end up in my classroom are sixteen and occasionally seventeen. I like most teachers try to encourage my pupils to try their hardest and to be ambitious in what they are trying to achieve. My role as a teacher is to help them see what might be possible and to aid them in reaching those goals.
Today I have visited the Bernini and Caravaggio exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I hadn’t anticipated leaving the exhibition reflecting on what teenagers can achieve. But it was a sculpture of Saint Sebastian that in many ways caught my attention the most. It presents the problem of how a sculptor, carving into marble, has to deal with the technical challenge of including the necessary arrows piercing the young man’s body and that of course on top of representing the human figure.
The sculpture was perhaps about 80 cm tall, in terms of ambition and spectacle very modest in comparison to the large scale sculptures by Bernini that can be found in Italy.
So why did this particular cause me to pause and reflect, you may have guessed the reason already. The sculpture was created when Bernini was just nineteen years old. It was of course a different time. The young Bernini would have already had a several years experience of learning the technical strategies and techniques needed to create such an image.
Sculptors like to point out that the sculpture is simply in the block, be that marble, wood or sandstone. Seeing that and subsequently being able to find and reveal it is a tremendous challenge of insight, technical ability and spatial awareness, and in this case all realised by the hands of a nineteen year old. I may show the image to the pupils I teach. Will I dwell on the fact that it was made by such a young man? To be honest, I’m not sure yet!
Below are further images from the exhibition by Bernini, Caravaggio and others.