Category Archives: Research & Reflection

R4 – Research, tondo painting and the domestic interior

Michaelangelo’s Doni Tondo is a portrayal in a round composition of the Holy Family, and it demonstrates how this circular format seems to create a sense of intimacy, unity and harmony.  The subject, the family, stand out as almost the only content of the painting.  They take up most of the surface area; around them,  the background is reduced to a monochrome frieze of figures, and the foreground is a dull, tonal area of nondescript grass.  The family themselves by contrast are brightly coloured and sharply in focus.  Similar in composition is a tondo by Ford Maddox-Brown which I saw in the Fitzwilliam Museum, The Last of England, a portrait of a couple looking back from the deck of their passenger ship as they start a new life. The focus is all on the couple, but there is plenty of nautical activity and rolling seas going on in the background in a very toned down way.

I saw Philip Guston’s tondo, Bombardment at the recent RA exhibition, ‘America After the Fall’.  It depicts the aerial bombardment of a civilian population.  Using a tondo format, associated with the Renaissance, Guston has made his painting into a general commentary,  creating a universal rather than a specific image.  The painting seems to me to resemble Michaelangelo’s work in the way the figures are painted flying through the air, as in the Sistine Chapel, their limbs dramatically foreshortened, and in the colours and the way in which the drapery is painted.

I looked at Mark Fairnington‘s work in Part 1.  His series of animal eyes are extremely finely painted but the detail is secondary to the overall effect.  Viewing them again I feel an empathy with each animal.  Each one seems alive, delicate.  The eye is the most vulnerable, sensitive part of any creature, the only organ unprotected.  There seems to be sympathy from the artist for the animal equivalent of the ‘human condition’ .  The small (35cm) tondo format seems to concentrate the viewer’s focus on the central subject, the eye.  Such intense concentration on one element of a painting  is perhaps particularly suited to the tondo format.  I don’t feel I could aspire to such painstaking work, which surely must necessitate physically demanding hours on end poring over each canvas.

Contrast his work with the eyes of Marc Quinn.  They are painted photo realistically in oil, each one depicting an enlarged 1.5m diameter) human İris, with its black central pupil.  But like Fairnington’s eyes, there is a lot more conveyed by the artist than in a photograph; we find a world of depth and richness in these stunningly beautiful irises,  “a kind of microscopic map of an individual’s identity” (  In some of the works, for example Map of Where You Can’t See the Stars’, a world map is superimposed on the iris.

Both artists are painting hyper-realistically; Fairnington describes the eye of his subjects in closely studied detail, and in doing so portrays the spirit of the animal; Quinn takes description in a different direction, superimposing his artificial concept of the eye as identity, as mirror of the soul etc, and its connection to and impact on the world.


I didn’t find any tondi by Roxy Walsh, but I enjoyed looking at her series Lady Watercolourist at Home and Lady Watercolourist Abroad.  These are watercolour on paper (A4-A5) and the immediate thing that I notice is the intensity of pigment. These are no wishy-washy watercolours.  But she retains translucence, presumably by limiting the mixing of too many layers and pigments.  Contrast to these the series Felix Culpa, watercolour on linen, which have very beautiful stain like tints with accents of sharp, bright pigment.

Iain Andrews says his paintings begin with a folk tale or an image from art history, which he then plays with, retelling and embellishing.  In the past he would work from photocopies of an image, cutting, rearranging into a collage to form the starting point for a new painting.  This is a technique I may try in my Part 4. More recently, he pours paint thickly and allows it to dry into wrinkled, crusty surfaces, then teases out forms by adding shadows, until the painting just begins to suggest some thing – becoming both abstract and figurative at the same time.  I like the possibilities of using similar techniques in my own practise.

Henny Acloque – her web site helpfully reveals the development of her work since 2010.  In her 2011 oval format paintings the artist superimposes flat abstract areas of colour onto landscapes after Breughel, Durer and Cranach.  Later, 2013, these develop form, described by contours painted in bright harlequin shapes.  The forms suggest strange other-worldly animals.  The harlequin forms break up and  develop into fairy-story spear-throwers and flying monsters.  Then more recently the paintings are cut into strips and rearranged until all appears fragmented.  Her web site talks about layers of paint and reflective varnish; they would have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

There is a cartoon quality in the harlequin forms – they can be seen as representing the irrational in a realistic setting.


Virginia Verran – the tondo features quite prolifically in her work.  She combines drawing and painting, using watercolour with pen and pencil to make strong marks and recurring motifs expressing her inner world.  Drawings such as Bonner-space (repetition), 2013 and PLINY, 2011-12 convey explosion, bullets, chaos, the hardware of war, as well as more organic motifs.



Other examples of tondo painting:

Pierre Bonnard, Bathers in a Park, 1908.  Oil on canvas 28 inches.

I found this oval painting in The Artist and the Camera, p244.  The oval format is used to contain a very intimate scene of the artist’s family children bathing.  It is a clever composition – an outer oval of dark foliage further encompasses and protects the bathers.  I like how the figures are lit by a warm light from above, and this light is reflected in the pool.  It was interesting in the book to see alongside the painting a collection of photos of the same subject.  In the photos adults are in evidence supervising the play; by omitting them from the painting Bonnard has given the scene an entirely different appeal.

Geraldine Swayne – Fake Ancestor # 5. 8cm diameter, enamel on copper portrait  

Nalini Malani tondi in Vitamin P2, are reverse painted on acrylic sheet, in acrylic, ink and enamel.  I looked up reverse painting and it means applying paint to a transparent substrate ( eg glass, acrylic sheet), reversing the usual sequence of backdrop followed my middle ground and finally detail, so that you paint the detail first and the backdrop last; then viewing the painting from the reverse side.  Apparently the technique dates back to Byzantine times.   Malani’s paintings here have a warm and dreamy quality.  Traditional folk arts like glass painting, shadow play and kaleidoscope influence her work.  Her themes encompass oppression, war, violence and fundamentalism.

The domestic interior

As painted by Charlie Day the domestic interior is seen as a series of single objects painted in isolation, which taken together add up to a picture of his domestic world.  I can see the influence of Richard Diebenkorn who chose single objects in a field of interlocking colours as subject, and painted in an expressive, impasto style.  I had a look at Wayne Thiebaud‘s paintings of collections of everyday objects, arranged them in serried ranks.  His subjects are colourful, sweet and sugary.  Day and Thiebaud may have been influenced by Philip Guston’s late cartoon style work, and his rendering of personal objects.

Tori Day says her work “concerns the overlooked and mundane; things that might otherwise not be celebrated but which carry with them the marks of people’s lives”.  I can see this quite poignantly in her current series ‘Work’, a series of paintings of old carpentry tools painted on reclaimed Georgian floorboards.  She paints them in strong light, against a backdrop which she also includes in her composition, complete with masking tape and bulldog clips. The objects themselves are beautifully rendered with all the traces of their long history.  The strong cast shadows the lighting creates add importance and solidity to the humble objects,  Her palette is subtly colorful, restrained and elegant, which I admire and envy, with my tendency towards bright childish colour.

Tori Day also paints in watercolor;  her ‘CDs’ series, as the name suggests, portray cd cases, mimicking their designs in watercolor, each carefully placed centrally on a vellum surface.  Also on Day’s web site is a collection of watercolours again of everyday, mundane objects painted in isolation apart from their own cast shadows.

Jacquie Utley paints pastel coloured interiors peopled by elegant women in a recent series.   There are also rather pretty flower still lifes.  Despite the surface eye-appeal Utley depicts an intriguing, mysterious atmosphere in her work which Id like to achieve too.

The tondo painting project in Part 4 is concerned with the domestic interior, and my research has shown me that subjects need not be ornamental to be worth painting.  Tori Day in particular seemed to me to depict mundane objects in an extremely engaging way; maybe by looking so intensely almost any subject when painted can be endowed with an importance and can communicate the painter’s response and feelings about it.


Vitamin P2 Pub Phaidon 2011

The Artist and the Camera by Dorothy Kosinski, pub Yale University Press, 1999


David Hockney at Salts Mill


I went to see David Hockney’s work in Saltaire (near his home town of Bradford) today, and I loved his bright colours and the patterns and marks he makes in his backgrounds.  I saw a large four panel folding screen, Carribean Tea Time.  It uses mixed media, combining print and hand-painting with stencil and collage.  In it he plays with perspective; he contended that traditional western perspective places the viewer outside the painting, and he attempts here to pull people in by subverting the rules; he makes objects further back larger rather than smaller, and receding lines (such as the back edge of the table below) longer rather than shorter.  He uses triangles and square shapes to explore his pictorial spaces, and overlapping to create depth.  Also in Caribbean Teaparty foreground objects are hotter in colour temperature (reds, yellows) than background elements (blues, turquoise), an aerial perspective device used to depict distance.


Ther were many works on paper, including prints, drawings and watercolours.  Watercolour isn’t a medium normally associated with large scale work and Hockney solves this problem by combining several smaller paintings in one large image.  Cactus Garden III  2003 is 40×51″ is made of four smaller sheets.  There are many more examples of Hockney’s multi-sheet watercolours here .  The painting below (Four Views of Montcalm Terrace, 2003. Watercolor on four sheets of paper 34 x 48 in. overall) i is especially relevant to my current project, painting interior scenes in watercolour.  These are fresh and unaffected, and look as though they were made quite quickly, maybe originally intended as sketches.  I like the arrangement of the two diagonally opposed pairs, defined by their two limited colour palettes – one painted in blue and green, the other grey and red/brown.  They are also pairs compositionally; the densely painted blue green compositions have quite a static feel with their strong horizontal lines, and the focal element placed firmly in the centre.  The grey/red pair show the terrace in perspective, creating diagonal lines which, together with the rocking chair, and the airy spaces where the white of the paper is allowed to show through, create a more dynamic composition.


R3 – loose paint and monotype

We understand and read faces from the background of our own culture and experience, and that is why it is confusing looking at the faces of people from different cultures – we see strangers, whose faces and identities we struggle to recall in any detail.  I believe this phenomena is also intimately connected with the disruption in communication which occurs between two people, one of whom understands the basics but not the subtleties of the others’ language; we lose the intimate link between face, expression, and the spoken word, that helps us define and learn individual identity.  Yuko Masu expresses this breakdown of understanding in her paintings with a sense of despair and frustration, obliterating, smearing and blurring the heads she cannot read or assimilate the details of.  It’s particularly telling that she exagerrates the differences between western and eastern features – western eyes become as big and round as saucers, the sockets exposed.  Henry Tonks’ portraits are different altogether; they were realistic detailed studies of faces actually disfigured by battle wounds.  I can see there are some superficial resemblances with the distortion of features; but Masu’s faces are disfigured by her inability to comprehend the person in front of her, Tonks’ by unflinching observation of the incomprehensible.


I was interested in Eleanor Moreton‘s watercolour ‘Sisters’ shown in FAD Magazine here (there are other similar ones in the artist’s own web site). The painting has a photographic quality, possibly due to its source, but also because of the monochrome treatment.  I love her metaphor for the process of painting as a ‘dance’ –  intuitive when it’s going well. She describes how she likes painting on a smooth surface, and how at the time she was using brown cardboard as a support for her thinly painted oils.  The series referred to in the course manual, Absent Friends, was of portraits of female writers and singers the artist admired, painted in oil and pastel on birch panels, seen here In all of them you can easily see the smeared brushwork in the thin oil paint, not done to obliterate as Nasu does, but simply as a way of applying the paint..

Kaye Donachie‘s atmospheric portraits of historical female figures appear as if veiled with other layers of light and shade and outline, dissolving into other forms.

I also like very much Laura Lancaster‘s messy portraits, usually whole or three quarter length groups of figures, which seem to have photographic sources as reference.

Kim Edwards‘ monotypes of the Suffolk coast ( )make no concessions to the beauty of that landscape.  Without being picturesque, I would want to express a very different experience from my days of living and sailing there.  Such unrelenting deep, forbidding grey is very rare.  Technically, it’s interesting that the course book says she uses thick oil for monotypes, as I had the impression so far that the paint will need to be quite thin to get a good print.


Annie Kevans‘ series of dictators as children show their sweet faces with a few delicate transparent washes of thinned oil on paper, and a very light touch.  They appear at first glance as monochrome sepia on old, yellowed paper, but looking more closely there are thin tints of pink, green, yellow, and of course black eyes on each one.  The series is provocative in its subject matter, and Kevans admits she made up some of the faces – it doesn’t really matter!  The works are portraits only in a loose sense, really being a composite of existing images, her research and her imagination.

42 more of Kevans’ portraits shown in – mainly female subjects – are similarly painted in thin sepia, but with colourful touches of bright blue and red her and there (I guess added later), like coloured photos.

She has created many more series, all with thought provoking concepts.


Kim Baker makes colourfully decorative, loose swirls of bright paint which seem abstract until you spot the shape of a bird amongst the brushmarks; in her latest (2017) series, Bird in Forest, they are composed in the shape of an oval, on a black background.  We can then interpret the swirls as leaves other forest.  They look as though made in a single brushstroke with a wide brush, loaded with several colours side by side (see also Manet below).  Alli Sharma uses dark backgrounds too, particularly in a series of cartoon-like animal portraits.  These cute furry animals have been made to show a grim and threatening persona by Sharma’s treatment; there is an air of menace which comes through in the human portraits too.


Looking at David Bomberg‘s work I found Circus (Abstract Composition) appealing for its light use of paint, ‘outlines and colour…creating a simple abract composition’ –

In this self portrait: oil paint is used by Bomberg’s in a very sketchy way to describe the subject.  I like the use of startling blue pigment among the gloomy tones to give the painting light, and differentiate the subject from its background.


I looked up Velazquez‘ techniques in the course-suggested book “Techniques of the Great Masters of Art”, p52.  It notes that his earlier paintings show attention to realistic detail, and talks about the care and detail with which many of his paintings were done, about his ‘smooth blended brushwork’ and how he ‘frequently made minor alterations’.  But then it notes that in the 1630s his handling of paint became somewhat freer and cites the light and sketchy gloved hand in the portrait of Phillip IV as an example.  This sort of brushwork was what impressed and influenced Manet.

In the same book, Manet‘s early work is said to have been made using slurred brushstrokes and a wet in wet technique, with colours mixed on the canvas.  In Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863 the figures are painted in thick oils, but the background by contrast was made sketchily, with thin, flat paint added later, around the figures (this approach does draw attention to the figures, which I will remember when I want to achieve that effect in my work).  Zooming into details, I can see the confident brushwork, which looks expressive of form in places, in others speedily executed with simple hatching.

The figures in Concert in the Tuileries, 1862 are also painted speedily, wet in wet, with rich, concise blocks of contrasting tone, and the background is done with thin greens, helping us again to separate background and foreground.

Much looser and unfocused is Manet’s handling of paint in Roadmenders in the Rue de Berne, 1878, in which you can see foreground details using distinct, vigorous brushstrokes, several colours to each stroke, and in the distance thin, opaque hazy blues and greens. According to the writer, ‘…loosely and broadly handled colour creates a sense of immediacy’ (p207).



This web page is about the history of mono printing and recounts various artists’ (Castiglione, Blake, Degas, Gaugin) practises

Many of Degas‘ pastels were done on top of his ghost monoprints.  Moma has some interesting insights into monotypes in general, and particularly compares those of Degas with Maurice Prendergast, Milton Avery and Elizabeth Peyton, here here

According to the book ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page Degas made use of monotypes to depict dramatic tonal contrasts, often mixing his materials.  He had a passion for keepsake photographs of friends and family as well as self portraits.


Gaugin made delicately coloured watercolour monotypes; there is an example in ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121.  : see  for an explanation of his process: placing damp paper over the watercolour or gouache design and pressing with the back of a spoon would loosen the water based medium, transferring the design in reverse on to the paper. See also

Gaugin was also a pioneer in the creation of traced monotype – see ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121, in which the lines are blurred and textures appear where the artist has applied pressure on the back of the paper.  I watched this video explaining trace monotype process, and demonstrating the addition of watercolour and pastel


I looked at the following contemporary artists who he monoprint techniques in their practice.

Therese Oulton makes monoprints combined with oil paint on paper. and

I like the jokey, cartoon-like work of Sam Messer. Although it looks unpolished and scrawly, there is very deep observation, as well as a lot of fun in his images.  I couldn’t find any of his work directly referred to as monotype, but many of his paintings feel as though they may have started life that way.  I added one of his works to my Pinterest board ‘Monotype’ – this painting was sent to me by a supplier when I was looking for Japanese paper.

Charles Amoldi makes abstract monotypes .  In the one I’ve saved on Pinterest here he seems to have carved out abstract shapes from a black background, then maybe added paint and texture in the spaces created.

Kathy Muehlemann makes monotypes depicting natural scenes.  some are here and another in my Monotype Pinterest board.  She achieves dark, mysterious textures, the landscape seeming to evolve out of the process.

I found this an excellent student blog for giving me insights and ideas for monoprinting techniques


The Artist and The Camera, Dorothy Kosinski, pub Yale University Press 1999

Techniques of the Great Masters of Art, pub Chartwell Books Inc, 1989.

Assignment 3 – review


Family Album – an exercise in Not Knowing.

Early on in the project I knew I wanted to make a book and that it would contain paintings of my childhood family.  I was hoping to discover new things about myself and my feelings, at the same time as discovering new ways of painting and making.  But further than that I really didn’t know what I was doing or what I was going to do, and it was at this point I had to find a balance between planning and intuition.

What this work, my Family Album, will mean to others clearly will not be the same as it means to me – others can read into it their own interpretations, but when I step back from it and try to see what I’ve made, I can see quite a difference between what I intended at the outset and what the work eventually became.  Gary Hume says in discussing paintings of his mum which he recently made, that he made an unexpected discovery:   “I thought I was making paintings of my mum, but it turned out quite quickly that it’s all about me.  I haven’t really given her her own identity. It is absolutely my mum from my eyes, from my emotional standpoint.” (

I’ve made a book of paintings about my family that’s also about myself, a book with many layers both physical and of meaning and time.  The book is to be handled, the pages turned, the textures felt, to capture the relationship between sight and touch.

Here is the book I made.

I did a certain amount of planning; making a mock-up of a book, planning the supports and subject matter of each page, trying out staining and printing on various supports.  I had an idea I would layer paintings and incorporate script in a deliberate way.

I looked at other artists books.   Paul Gauguin made a journal incorporating his handwriting, watercolours (often using monotype processes) and woodblock.  I felt the watercolour medium was both bold and colourful and very delicately used in these paintings from his Noa Noa journal. Often his subjects were lightly drawn with line before adding colour wash.  I liked the way he incorporated script, sometimes surrounding, at other times topping and tailing his subject, or layered underneath.

I knew I’d been surprised in the earlier exercises as I worked with my materials and unexpected things happened, and this sense of surprise cropped up again and again as I worked on.  These things threw me and altered my course, into unforeseen directions. I layered paintings in unexpected ways – gluing and stitching supports, layering time – combining portraits and other materials from different eras. I incorporated stitch and collage; I linked portraits with a golden thread; script became unclear, present but confused and faded.  I thought of using papers which have a history.  Sian Bowen uses fragments cut from old wallpapers, letters and documents; I wanted to incorporate old household accounts, humdrum business printouts, poems and letters, but without  altering or destroying the originals.

My materials, processes and the book-form threw many challenges at me, giving rise to difficulties and doubts.  I was encountering the unknown.  Monotype printing and painting on silk, canvas, thin semi-transparent fabric-like papers, and highly absorbent surpports, all was unpredictable despite many sketchbook tryouts.  Processes were equally challenging.  Whether burnishing printed script onto fabrics and thin papers, or staining liquid pigment onto raw textiles, the results were never quite what I’d been aiming for.  The form of my project, a book, (size 25cm high and 17.5cm wide), presented criteria and limitations that I had to work with, each page being one half of a support, the reverse of which was as important as the front.

Selecting subject matter was another area of not knowing.  I had a plethora of material, and had to focus on those things that best expressed my memories and feelings. I also had to allow myself to be led by my materials; it was no good trying to paint a detailed portrait on raw textiles for instance.  Each day I left more sketches, tryouts, photos and old papers lying around in my studio to come back to, and continued working with them in sight.

I became engrossed in the process of printing, drawing and painting these portraits, handling, stitching, embellishing and layering the pages of my growing book, while becoming more deeply immersed in memories, imagination and feeling.  I was reluctant to bring the project to a close, knowing there wouldn’t be a final resolution.  As I advanced towards the final pages I found lost memories, forgotten dreams and new meanings, and a new awareness of the me I became ; and my paintings became less literal and more expressive.


I’ll now go on to explain some of the sketchbook work I did to support this project, how I developed my ideas, and how I painted the portraits



On Not Knowing, by Rebecca Fortnum, 2009

Colour – The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

Visit to Fitzwilliam Museum


A display in two darkened rooms of 150 illuminated manuscripts from prayer books, an alchemical scroll, the Macclesfield Psalter, and the ABC of a 5 year old child.  The images have been sheltered in cherished volumes from medieval and renaissance times, while panel and wall paintings have often been destroyed.

The exhibits on show range from the 6th to the 16th century, and include Byzantine, Armenian, Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts from all over Europe and the Middle East.

The technologies used to produce these beautiful miniature paintings, and the meanings and values ascribed to the paintings were explained in the exhibition.  I picked up a magnifying glass from a table by the entrance to the exhibition.

To view these finely detailed, postcard sized paintings, I had to position myself just inches from them.  The glass and my proximity revealed wonders I’d never expected – I felt as if I had crossed into the paintings, that I had crossed into another world, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, or Harry Potter on Platform 9 3/4.

The detail and colours in these paintings are exquisite, but more than that, they were made in an imaginative, expressive way.  Depending on the subject, colours were used to express moods such as melancholy, grief, joy etc.  Colours – often pinks juxtaposed with greens – were used inventively to describe atmosphere, such as the strange eerie light of dawn.  Colours – azurites and deep vermillions – were used to describe intricate folds of garments, with subtle gradations of dark to light tones. Varieties of gold abounded – gold leaf punched with a stylus, or powdered gold bestowing a textured gleam.

The subjects ranged from religious scenes, soft and sinuous compositions painted with moving realism; to depictions of the science and the wondrous discoveries of the day; to fantastical inventions – alchemists’ scrolls of dragons and amphibious men.  All were painted with feeling, engaging my mind through the intense visual stimulation, and stirring up my emotions.

This intricate, patient, disciplined art is a far cry from what we’re accustomed to think of as modern art today.  Viewing the illuminations, i did come to see that detailed, skilful, patient work and creative, imaginative outcomes aren’t mutually exclusive.  I looked at the work of Mark Fairnington in Part 1 of my course, and when I’m back at home I’m going to try to find some more examples of contemporary practise which combines fine, painstaking detail on a small scale, with a creative, imaginative interpretation of subject.



Fitzwilliam digital resource:

Museum visit – classical fragments

Visit to Antalya Archaeological Museum

This museum has collected together archaeological fragments from the surrounding ancient regions of Pamphylia, Lycia, Cilicia, Psidia – Classical Greek and Roman sites such as Xanthos, Aspendos, Perge, as well as other more ancient settlements.  Uninterrupted history from traces of earliest human settlements to the present is found in this coastal Mediterranean strip and the fertile lands inland.


Some fine Pergeian sarcophagi, elaborately decorated in high relief stone carving, are on display here.  The carvings depict human and mythical creatures, with scenes from myth, legend and life (the twelve labours of Hercules; the Killing of the Nemean Lion and the capture of other animals, Hercules again, this time in combat with the Cretan Bull)


There are more than one hundred 2nd century ad. marble figures from the Roman period of occupation of Asia Minor, mainly from the nearby ancient city of Perge.There is also a rich collection of busts, each a unique  work of art, at the same time being rooted in the distinctive Perge sculpture tradition of sharply delineated contours and details.

The most engaging and ‘human’ of these sculptures is that of a dancer, carved in a whirling motion, the folds of her clothes revealing the contours of her body. Her hands hold the folds of her skirt, and her neck is turned to lead her motion in the dance.  These are effective strategies to express movement in the human figure.  I liked how the clothes and hair were from a type of darker marble, and her body was carved from white marble. Whereas most of the marble statues are static poses, carved to depict power and prosperity, this one seems to be honouring beauty and vitality.


Artists through the ages have used Greek and Roman statuary as source material and inspiration.  I was struck with the similarity of style, pose and gesture between the statue of the dancer above and the work of Sandro Botticelli shown at Botticelli Reimagined, such as his Venus and Warhol’s reimagining of it.



I like the fragmented nature of these statues.  My eye was engaged in filling in the missing elements and constructing my own vision of the pieces I was looking at.  At the same time, the broken fragments speak of passing ages, and of the recurring disruptions and destructions that seem to go hand in hand with human society.  Nothing stays the same; things, whole societies are broken and destroyed; but vestiges, fragments, remain to bear witness to what was; and elements of what was endure, develop and métamorphose into new forms, new cultures.

In other halls there are gold, silver, bronze and ivory aretefacts from the Phyrigian and other much more ancient cultures  – fine statuettes, silver plaques, belts, cauldrons.  Some of the most beautiful are the statuettes and talismans with pure, simple lines.  I took photos of a few objects which appealed to me, but there were many many more.

I was struck by the huge differences between these earlier statuettes and the later grand Pergeian sculptures of the human figure.  What simplicity and eloquence of line in the earlier works.  They express a very fine sense of the imaginary world, achieved through simplification, exagerration and distortion of line and form.  They communicate an appreciation of simple beautiful lines, and express an empathy with the human condition.  Barbara Hepworth had a collection of ancient objects which served as inspiration for her own work, in which she echoes the simplicity of form of the ancient objects.

I saw these and hew work in The Hepworth Wakefield recently.


The later Greek and Roman monumental statues displayed in Antalya express power, wealth, authority, and achieve a fine realism; embedded in the culture of the time,  the mythological subjects are expressions of the human imagination too.  But the sculptures portray them in a realistic human form, their attributes identifying their story and their powers.

I’m looking forward to seeing Marc Quinn’s take on this in the spring. In an exhibition of his new works ‘Drawn from Life’ at the V&A, where he will show a series of fragmentary sculptures based on antique sculptures in the museum, to reveal resonances between historical artefact and contemporary life.  The fragments are said to be  ‘ integrally ambiguous, demonstrating both destruction and the passage of time, whilst showing the potential for completeness.’ (  These works will continue his long conversation with the art of the classical world, which I first came across at Arter Art Space in Istanbul in 2014, where he exhibited The Complete Marbles and Self among other works (see my log here).




Walter Benjamin Archive

Various aspects of Walter Benjamin’s personal archive are examined by the editors of this book.  It’s not an orderly, objective archive, its very personal and it reveals the passions and interests of the man, who was evidently a keen collector.  There are chapters on the photos he took, his collections of Russian toys and postcards, the sayings of his son as a child, games and riddles, scraps of paper he wrote on, notes he took, the graphic appearance of his writing on the page of his notebooks.

Benjamin’s purpose in creating his archives was to record the present moments and physical surroundings in which he lived.  Saying this seems self evident.  But most of us do live as though the everyday will always be the same; we take our surroundings so much for granted and don’t notice or take an interest in much of it.  Reflecting on, recording and collecting the everyday things around him was an important part of his life and work.

He looked back to the past nostalgically as well.  The toys he was interested in weren’t the factory mass-produced ones of his times, but the beautifully hand crafted ones made by people living a way of life that was remote from his and that was disappearing – that of the rural peasantry.  The ancient past also appears in his archives, for example in a collection of postcards of mosaics of the Sybil’s from Siena cathedral.

Benjamin’s archives, whether recording past or present, are, to us, from a lost past world, both in content and form.  The act of hand-writing these days is quite unusual to see.  While traveling the other day I saw a fellow passenger across the aisle writing – putting physical pen to physical paper – in what looked like a journal, and then later marking up a book with her notes.  I was taken aback by how unusual the sight seemed to be nowadays.  Like the pages of Benjamin’s archives, her writing had a graphic, personal appearance on the page, which expressed her decisions and interests, that made a physical, enduring mark, in a way that electronic media doesn’t.

Benjamin’s archiving techniques – collecting excerpts and cuttings, montaging and sticking them in his journals – can equally be used in the work of the visual artist. They can inform the work and / or become a physically integrated part of it.  Collage comes to mind.  Mona Hatoum’s video, Measures of Distance, herecombines in layers a reading out loud of her mothers letters, with facsimiles of those letters interwoven with Hatoum’s video of herself.  In my work, I layered the sung words and the dance of flamenco in part one work.  In part 2 I layered collages of newspaper consumerism with a painting of household collections to express the modern frenzy of accumulating ‘stuff’.

As I continue through this course I’m hoping myself to become more aware of the visual qualities of everyday objects and events around me.  Apart from providing a source of visual inspiration I think this habit developed may ground one more in the present.

Erythraean Sybil – Floor mosaic, Siena Cathedral
Erythraean Sybil – Michaelangelo