Saturday 24 March 2012

Tudor House and Southampton City Art Gallery

Tudor House and Garden reopened last year, and I didn't visit until yesterday.  The garden is a tremendous oasis, especially in this week's blazing sunshine.  My "research trip" ended up taking a couple of hours.

The property has so many periods and changes of use (variously between one and three dwellings; domesticity and small industry; falling apart, re-styled and heritage-ized) can't be concealed, but make it a place to have fun with history.  The Tudor garden has been straightened up; the old kitchens have satisfyingly smelly lacquered foods on show; the semi-dramatised audioguide (see the "wand" above) is pleasingly silly; there are medieval clothes to try on in a mirror; the remnants of the Edwardian museum have become an exhibit in themselves; and the Norman ruins of King John's Palace, behind the garden, are crying out for theatrical use.  There's even space for temporary exhibitions.  From March to October it's Susan Cutts' "Cherish":  paper pulp sculpted into gowns and garlands.

Before the Sea City museum opens next month, it's worth shouting about the City Art Gallery's impressively lively programme.  The calm, airy central hall always belies the bristling collection.  There's a grand show of Titanic art by local artists of all types (upstairs and downstairs); a retrospective of British surrealism centred on Roland Penrose, along with Desmond Morris and John Tunnard among others; a show of the use of the colour red in painting from the Renaissance to the 1990s (followed by a small room of work in many colours, with "Vorticist leanings", as if by way of adjustment into the hall again) and  pieces by two painting chimpanzees.

The new museum comes with the exciting prospect of a trip up the clock tower.  A view over the city is hard to come by - unless one arrives on a cruise ship; and the huge area of docks is a mystery to the general public.  The "Waterlitz" travelling performance should celebrate the port when it chugs into Southampton, with what looks, from the publicity material, like the colossal floating figure of a man, block-built of shipping containers, with Stomp-style industrial japery.  Here is a slightly nightmarish preview.  The big day is 16th June.

Monday 19 March 2012

Paul Bommer

It's a while now since I last made pilgrimage to the capital from the provinces (well, Hampshire).

One upcoming reason to make a trip is the  "Umbra Sumus (We Are But Shadows)" exhibition by the rather exemplary illustrator Paul Bommer.  He's one of those artists who is working with a set of inspirations, methods and humour that I share and wish I could do so well; and he seems to churn out the fun "Twitter Ye May" series at an impressive pace.

It's on at 15 Wilkes St, Spitalfields on 28th and 29th April.

Another "he's everything I want to be" figure is Adam Dant, who lectured at Solent last Friday, and whose advice I'm trying to capitalise on for my degree show.

Also in April, the Comica Festival, featuring Tom Gauld and numerous others, is worth a visit - with a group of graduates, I hope.  What's more, my degree show will be in the East Gallery, Brick Lane, in July.  Back to it!

Umbo and Sinus

Roman historians!  This is a project that has been on my list since I started it a few months ago, meaning to experiment with stencils for roughly-brushed shapes without the fragility of collage.  I married it to the theme of classical writers and set about creating lively characters for a chronological series of figures.

I made sketches last year but picked them up at the weekend.  I think the primary difference is that I now do arms in a different way.  If they look beefy it's because my inexactness tends to lead to limp and skinny arms, and I decided that, if I'm going to get it wrong, an excessively big arm is more interesting than an excessively wimpy one.

So here is a background that I hope looks like inlaid marble, with a lineup of the following figures:
  • Polybius
  • Cicero
  • Sallust
  • Livy
  • Paterculus
  • Josephus
  • Plutarch
  • Tacitus
  • Suetonius
  • Appian
  • Dio Cassius
These drawings came after pages of sketching.  The pen-drawing style is hasty, so I am always unsatisfied with the final images.  As a result, I would like to do them all again, slightly bigger, and with space for the later figures, Eusebius of Caesarea, Olympiodorus and Priscus; and to fit in Paterculus' little Trojan horse that I came up with.

I spent some time looking at Roman costume and the make-up of the toga - the umbo and sinus (excellent names for a classicist's two dogs).  HERE and HERE are my two main sources.  Other historians that I came across but left out were Julius CaesarDiodorus Siculus, Dionysius of HalicarnassusPliny the YoungerAmmianus Marcellinus and Zosimus.  Other writers and poets include Seneca, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus, Propertius and Pausanias.  They're such fun to conjure with.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Brass 2

Some scratchy results from lengthy trials with trays of nitric acid, ever increasing in strength.
The brass needed the biggest guillotine I've seen and I cut a small strip for some experiments:

1)  etching in
2)  etching right through
3)  coating the back with varnish
4)  long time in weak acid vs short time in strong acid
5)  narrowness of line drawn with varnish
6)  thinning of the varnish for easier drawing
7)  drawing with varnish in a pipette
8)  best acid mixtures for zinc and brass respectively

There's still scope for exploring the textures resulting from different strengths of acid; methods of mounting the plates.

Inspired by historic pilgrim badges, I tried some linked up drawings, such as the face and the bell.  It's the watchbell on top of the Bargate in Southampton (visible from the printroom window), which is inscribed with "In God is my Hope R.B 1605".

I'm glad that I did this but it has taken up much of this week and I don't want to get bogged down in the process when I should be working on the images and their intellectual content.

Sunday 4 March 2012


Here's a new direction.

At the moment I feel that I've found my new Thing.  The last project benefited hugely from the decision to make an altarpiece.  It got me excited, defined the project and made me work towards a physical product.  That was my Thing for that project.

In my final project I've been foundering for a good method; wondering whether or not I have time to learn any new techniques.  On top of that I hadn't done much background research yet, so I felt rather stuck.  How was I to make the project physical without going over the top and trying to build a model of the old town?

Then I remembered brass-rubbing.  Just as any castle, cathedral or museum is improved immeasurably by the inclusion of a model, hands-on brass rubbing has always been a draw.  Last Saturday I went to Winchester.  Of course, the cathedral is full of monumental brasses; and the city museum has giant copies of coins and a little stack of paper and crayons.  It was simple fun.

During the week I tried out etching deep into zinc plates to make a rubbable image.  The process has everything that I want:  the fun part of etching (HOT BUBBLING ACID) and none of the messing about with ink.  Yesterday I went down to Northam, an industrial part of town, and found a sheet metal company.  The man had an offcut of brass and I followed him through the workshop and up a flight of stairs into a little office to pay.  Now I have a sheet of brass and a list of experiments for Monday:  etching in; etching right through; mounting in on wood with screws or glue; drawing with varnish in a pipette; soldering; polishing...

I am definitely excited.


Brass-rubbing in black on white.  My interactive final show could look like this. (From MBS Brasses)

Brass-rubbing in gold on black. (From Celtic Stitchery's Westminster Abbey collection)

A lovely brass of St. Nicholas, from L├╝beck.  (From the St. Nicholas Center)