Cliff Lawrence started the 2024 series of talks, and seventeen members braved unpleasant weather to attend. Cliff’s subject was the use of camera obscura in art. He began by explaining how the camera obscura works, with a pinhole creating an inverted image of the view on the back wall of a darkened space. Cliff explored the use of this device, and subsequent more sophisticated versions, by Canaletto, Vermeer and Joshua Reynolds. There were remarkable comparative images of Canaletto’s Venice paintings and his sketches of the canal side buildings, that Cliff concludes show evidence that Canaletto did use a camera obscura. The case of Vermeer is more contentious and has been examined extensively by several researchers. The conclusion appears to be that, if Vermeer did use the device, the paintings are still brilliant and maybe he was only secretive to prevent rivals from copying his technique. Joshua Reynolds possessed a camera obscura disguised as a large book when it was folded away. He never admitted using it and it’s possible that he did not use it for his society portraits. The discussion amongst members was mainly on the question: “is it cheating”? The general view was that it is not.
Alison Sidney gave the final talk of our 2023 series: The Joy of Acrylics. Alison’s love of acrylics had a dark beginning. As a teenage girl living in Halifax at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, the freedoms of Alison and her friends were severely restricted for three years, and they were mostly confined to home. After struggling with watercolours, Alison made a breakthrough when someone bought her a set of acrylics. The talk was illustrated with examples by Hockney, Lichtenstein, Roland, Barns-Graham and Bridget Riley, whose work was felt by several members to be disturbing. Alison ended with a money saving idea for a stay wet palette.
Judy Appleby and Ian Davison did a double act on the art of whisky. Judy talked about the artistic appeal of large and distinctive industrial forms in dramatic landscape settings, interspersed with Ian explaining how whisky is made. Judy also showed examples of new distilleries that have become a fashion trend employing good and imaginative architects. After reviewing the design aesthetic of whisky bottles and glasses, including The Macallan’s collection of bottles by Lalique, Judy showed the labels by Sir Quentin Blake to adorn the collection of 52 different whiskies representing all of the characters in Macbeth. The session ended with a blind tasting of Highland, Island and Speyside whiskies.
Twenty one members were in the studio to hear Wendy Ranadé’s talk on "Dance!". This was also an introduction to the next competition. Wendy began with the ballet dancers of Degas, the familiar paintings mainly of dancers at rest, but she also showed how Degas had sought to capture movement in his sketches, perhaps the greatest challenge for an artist. Moving through examples by Toulouse Lautrec, Matisse and Kandinsky, Wendy introduced us to the lovely drawings of Douglas Hamilton Fraser. The talk ended with examples of work by three of our members, Alasdair Sibbald, Alan Mason and Wendy herself, based on their visits to Dance City. Alasdair demonstrates astonishing ability by working only from life without any photographs. Alan and Wendy had used photography to good advantage in creating works that captured the vitality and movement of the dancers.
Ian Davison stood in for Kevin Paton who was unable to give his presentation. Ian gave us another chance to be fascinated by his entertaining presentation, first given in Feb.2017, on 'Art Forgers'.
Ian concentrated on ten artists who created work that was then passed off as a valuable original by a famous artist. In most cases, these forgers were very talented artists who found that the art market and gallery owners did not value their own original work. For some the act of forgery was an act of revenge on the art establishment that ignored them.
Others were definitely motivated by money. Of these there were examples of forgers who had been unmasked, served time in prison (commonly about four years), and come back into society with a reputation and able to command high prices for bespoke “forgeries” signed in their own name!
The strangest forger in this talk was Mark Landiss, a not very talented American artist, who disguises himself as a Jesuit priest and tries to donate his work to small museums and public galleries. He was eventually caught out but could not be prosecuted because he had never sold any of his work.
June 23: Sixteen members turned up in a very warm studio to hear Monica Shaw talk about the life and work of Marc Chagall. Born in a rural Russian Jewish community in 1887, Chagall lived to be 97, surviving two world wars, the destruction of his home village and its population, and personal tragedy, yet his paintings are full of optimism. Monica explained that the familiar Chagall image of a couple flying through the air represents Chagall and his first wife, Bella, rising above everyday problems and speeding towards a happy future. They are often accompanied by a rooster, a symbol of fertility, and other images in his complex compositions frequently reference his home village and its traditions. His early work was regarded as surreal but he did not consider himself a surrealist. He experimented with many techniques, notably engraving and lithography in his bible illustrations, sculpture, ceramics and stained glass, as well as stage set and costume design. His biographer Franz Meyer (‘Marc Chagall’, 1964) wrote: ‘Pablo Picasso stood for the triumph of the intellect, Chagall for the glory of the heart.’
May23: Jon Old, formerly a conservator for the Laing Art Gallery and the Bowes Museum, treated members to a fascinating insight into the work of conservators and curators. He explained the challenges and risks involved in packaging, wrapping and transporting paintings, especially when the artist had not allowed enough time for the paint to dry! Then the problems for conservators in trying to make good any damage while liaising with sensitive artists. Jon particularly highlighted the difficulties of dealing with mixed media experiments of artists who like to push the boundaries, with amusing anecdotes from his personal experiences.
April 23 unfortunately Ian Davison was ill. However, with some home coaching Judy was able to make his presentation for him. "Danger! Men (and Women) at Work".
Two great favourites "The Floor Scrapers" by Caillebotte and "A Hind's Daughter" by Guthrie started the slide show with familiar images.
A brief history contrasting the portrayal of workers as the property of the landowner in c18th paintings, with the dramatic, atmospheric images by Wright of Ironworking of the Industrial Revolution.
Ian's research (with reference to Art UK website) brought the work of three artists c20th to our attention. Prunella Clough, Tony Evans and Vladimir Lebedev.
The importance of wartime in documentation of the activities, particularly of women, in the war effort led to some realistic images such as "The Munition Girls" by Stanhope Forbes showing women workers alongside men (for the first time). Other paintings showed women engaged in technical work on Hurricane aircraft, and aircraft repair. Stanley Spencer's "Shipbuilding on the Clyde" triptych brought a new understanding of the sheer effort and awkwardness of the dangerous work of the 'Riveters'.
'The Shipyards or the Pits' was the topic of the final section of Ian's talk. This illustrated the vast scale of shipbuilding contrasting with the frighteningly claustrophobic work of the miners. Of course the Pitmen Painters are well-known in the area for their record of life in the collieries. Lachlan Goudie's amazingly detailed pen and wash images of shipbuilding bring images of work into the c21st.
Hilary Franks spoke with passion about the work of her three chosen artists: Kathe Kollwitz, Paula Rego and Sylvia Sleigh.
The German artist, Kollwitz, was born in 1867 and saw the effects of poverty, hunger and war on the working classes. She produced series of prints, including the revolt of The Weavers and The Peasants War, that could be sold cheaply and distributed widely as a protest against the exploitation of the workers and particularly the harsh conditions imposed on women and children.
Hilary concentrated on Paula Rego’s depictions of abortion, “born from indignation that women are blamed for abortion”, showing that these women are strong and not victims. Her later series of line drawings based on the paintings were used to campaign for abortion rights in her native Portugal.
Sylvia Sleigh was part of a women’s art movement in New York and Hilary selected examples of her paintings of nude men, intended to counter the representation of nude women as objects. There was much lively discussion amongst the eighteen members who attended.
Cliff Lawrence opened the 2023 programme of talks with a fascinating exploration of Pre-historic Art, concentrating on examples from four cave systems in Northern Spain and Southern France. Cliff explained that there are examples in many parts of the world, as far apart as Indonesia and Central America (although none yet discovered in South America or the Middle East), and they share many characteristics. The audience was impressed by the realistic representation of animals, emphasised by Cliff’s illustrations of the real creatures alongside the paintings, with considerable accuracy in body structure, proportions, colouring and sense of movement. The example we show here was one of the oldest pieces, around 32,000 years old. There was a lively discussion as the art raised many questions. Not only why did they paint these works, but who taught the artists, what is the significance of the concentration on animals, why are there no similarly realistic representations of humans? Much food for thought.