On Closed Doors – Monte Urban Art Project

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ENEL Cover Monte Santa Maria Tiberina – Watercolour and ink 58 x 54cm (For Sale)

I was recently asked, by the Circolo di Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, to take part in a project to decorate the utility meter doors scattered throughout the ancient town. The remit said that it needed to fit the panel, be relevant to the medieval town and take into account the lock on the door.

Designing door covers

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ENEL panel

In total thirteen artists were asked to join the group and one Sunday a couple of weeks ago we all met up to choose our doors. Mine is the ENEL cover at the top of the stone stairs leading to the Palazzo and the main piazza.

Naturally I decided that I’d do a landscape of the area but I needed to disguise the black plastic door lock. I thought the best way to do this was to give the painting a harvest theme and hide the lock inside a strange, black, fantastical plant. Continuing the Fruita di Bosco the scene with a nectarine and more flowers in a vase, the meaning behind the books remains a mystery.

Urban art project

The access panel is quite large, some 58 x 54 cm and I felt that a landscape just plonked in the middle of the street would seem strange. So I included a terracotta tile window sill, on which the books, vase and nectarine stand, giving the impression you are looking through a window or archway.

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View of Monte

The town is drawn from the same angle at which you look at the panel, so it has the effect of creating a world within a world. A fairground hall or mirrors, with infinite repeated views of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina stretching off into the distance.

The paintings will be printed onto film and the doors covered and hopefully remain in place for a couple of years. If you are interested in seeing them they will be ready for the town’s festa, which runs on the 8,9 and 10th October.

I hope to see you there. 🙂

 

 

Le Mont Saint Michel – Cathedral in the ocean

Mass San Michel

Le Mont Saint Michel Watercolour and ink 28 x 45 cm (For Sale)

The ancient rocky outcrop at the mouth of the river Couesnon has had occupants going back a millennia. Situated some 600 metres off the coast, near the village of Avranches, its 14 metre tidal range made it a highly defensible site.

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Mont Saint Michel, Britany

Monastery building

A monastery was first established here in the 8th century but down the years, Mont Saint Michel has been used as a castle and also prison as well.   Victor Hugo was amongst its many political prisoners kept here.

This image of the towering abbey is based around a painting by the Limbourg brothers around the start of the 15th century. Le Mont Saint Michel featured in the lovely Gothic International manuscript Les tres riches heures du Duc de Berry. The original book measured only 29.4 x 21 cm and can be seen in the Musee Conde in Chantilly.

 

Orvieto Painting – The Wine of Popes

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Orvieto – The wine of the Popes

 

 

A Hundred Years of Dada

“Art needs an operation” – Tristan Tzara

Dada Movement

Cabaret Voltaire

Exactly 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, in 1916 the Dadaist art movement began.  To escape the conflict, refugees, artists, intellectuals, anarchists, political dissidents and pacifists fleeing war torn Europe and gathered  in neutral Switzerland. It was in Zurich, at the Cabaret Voltaire nightclub, that a chaotic gathering gave birth to one of the 20th centuries most influential art styles.

Always destroy

Dada Cabaret Voltaire

Dada Performance

Romanian artist, Marcel Janco captured the evening in a painting that clearly shows the anarchic, chaos and mayhem that stylised the Dadaist approach to art. The scene depicted is a noisy, uncontrolled riot, which reflects perfectly the anti-art standpoint the Dadaists wanted to promote.

Then, as now, six nights a week the Cabaret Voltaire resounded to nonsensical music, wordless poems, tribal masks and primitive art.  It embraced African influences, European folk traditions and constantly explored new ways of creating and celebrating art and culture. The live events brought together visual arts, costume, poetry, music and dance in a way that defied the bourgeois conventions of the day.

Dada Manifesto

Dada Performance

Hugo Ball

The group included such famous names as Hugo Ball, Emmy Hemmings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp Kurt Schwitters and Hans Richter who were at the forefront of the revolutionary art movement. They were joined by the likes of Andre Breton, Phillippe Soupault, Hannah Hoch, Sophie Taeber, Otto Dix and Max Ernst.

Their unbound energy and artistic creativity continued into the mid-nineteen twenties when the group went on to pastures new. Taking on solo projects or became involved in other art groups.

Thought is made in the mouth

Marcel Duchamp

Fountain

However, Dada’s legacy was far reaching and is still felt in the works of art movements, musicians and performers of today. In 2004, Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture “Fountain” was voted the most influential art piece of the 20th century. This was ahead of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, Matisse’s “Red Studio” and Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Diptych”.

Surrealism, Photo collage, Pop Art, Assemblage, Happenings, Punk and Rap music all have their origins in the anti-establishment sentiments of the Dadaist movement. Their strongly held desire to break with tradition and create a new form of expression were picked up by later artists and performers. The rebellious displays and offending images of today all have, at their core, a little of the Dadaists intentions.

Not bad for a drunken, Wednesday evening down the club in 1916.

 

 

Planning Orvieto

Orvieto drawing

Orvieto sketch

I’m working on a painting of Orvieto in the southern part of Umbria. This ancient town stands on top of a tuff outcrop, which are the remains of a long extinct volcano.  This already dramatic sight is made all the more so by the  magnificent duomo that proudly highlights the town.

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They started erecting the cathedral in 1290 and it features frescoes by Fra Angelica and Luca Signorelli‘s masterpiece, “The Last Judgement”, painted around 1449.

For this Signorelli was paid 800 ducats, lodgings and two measures of wine each month.  Now I like that idea, especially as Orvieto is famous for its pale yellow wine, favoured by popes and princes alike.

OrvietoG2The soft tuffa rock beneath Orvieto, makes tunnelling easy and along with a 65 metre well there are numerous caverns, rooms and secret passage  ways. These are also prone to collapsing and from time to time there are the odd landslides . Lets hope the erosion doesn’t cause the same fate as nearby Civita di Bagnoregio, which these days is all but abandoned.

The painting shows off the town’s sheer cliff face with its ramps and walls with the sprawling collection of woodland, olive groves and of course vineyards around the base. We’ve had a couple of days of impressive, stormy weather recently, so the sky will most likely reflect this. Lots of orange, yellow and pinks with rays of light piercing the scene.

 

Wine and Oil Town – Torgiano

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Torgiano – Watercolour and ink, 45cm x 27cm (For Sale)

 

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being invited to exhibit at the ArtinPiazza show in Collazzone. The Torgiano painting was meant to be a part of the body of work I took along but time conspired against me and I didn’t get it finished in time.

Torgiano views

PosterOh well! it’s ready now. Torgiano is a beautiful little town, perched high up on a hill and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The area is famous for its DOC wine and delicious oil and there are museums dedicated to both in the centro storico.

The beautiful little town is pictured from the valley below with its vineyards in the foreground. As f Simone Martini’s work can be seen, just up the road in the Basillica San Francesco in Assisi, the two large trees are stylised representations of his work.

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Collazzone alley

 

Torgiano’s landmarks

The two iconic points of the village are its thirteenth century, Torre di Guardia and the Church of St Bartholomew. The luscious, countryside is typically Umbrian with swathes of trees all around, distant villages and towns on the nearby hills. It is also not far from Deruta, famous for Majolica pottery.

 

Dressing the Part

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Martini’s Altarpiece with predella designs below

Sometimes art requires that you do strange things.

On a recent project with Dr Gaie Burnet, about a lost predella of Simone Martini,

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Peasant with mop staff

I was given the opportunity to try on women’s skirts in the name of art. This was not out of some sexually repressed need to dress as a woman, after all, I’m British and this comes as second nature to us. However it was necessary for me to capture the likeness of medieval peasants for the panel.

And why?

It did come as a surprise to my wife, when I walked into the sitting room to ask her a question, wearing one of her skirts, I did explain it was for artistic integrity. Bags, walking sticks, a dressing gown for a flying monk’s habit, hats and belts all helped in creating the right look for the drawings.

My dogs were somewhat concerned by my behaviour as I darted around, changing clothes and then setting the camera to timed, running across the kitchen to strike a pose. Only to repeat the chaotic process two seconds later. For them balancing, prone on a stool, to imitate the flying saint was the final act of a madman.

Martini in Siena

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Flying monk

 

 

 

In this way and with the absence of my own willing peasant I managed to create a series of pictures that were used in drawing the missing panels from Beato Augustino’s altarpiece, which is now on display in the Palazzo Siena (check). The exercise was an illustration for Dr Burnet’s own work on the painting and how it may have been used for religious instruction and as a way of establishing the Augustinian Order during a time of great change.

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Peasant with cloak

Both Dr Burnet and myself found the process of working together an interesting one and exploring Martini’s works at Assisi and Siena was a wonderful experience. It was fun to see how these great works were not just pretty frescoes illustrating the lives of the saints, bishops and Christ but were being used for political propaganda, very much like today’s elaborate electioneering boards proclaiming one belief over another.

Dissecting the message

While I was able to bring my knowledge of painting, colour and design to the project, for me, it was fascinating to hear the political and religious history around the time the artist was working and discover the messages his patrons were most likely trying to convey. What, on the surface of things, appear to be simple depictions of people are quite often more complex, with much of the true meaning being forgotten over time.

I would thoroughly recommend artists and academics working together on projects like this, as both stand to gain a lot more than they realise about the process of making art. Both from a practical perspective of painting and design but also in terms of understanding what clients were trying to get across when commissioning these great works.

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Beato Augustino flying in

 

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Saint saves baby