Tag Archives: Martini

Not so Naif Art

One of the ongoing problems I have with exhibiting in public is the number of people who comment by saying “Oh! it’s naive work”. This is frustrating as they often have no idea what they are talking about and are missing the deliberate, subtle games the works play.

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Rousseau – Classic Naive Art

Naive art

So for those of you who profess to be Naive Art experts, here is a lesson on the established rules of Naif Art  and why my work defies or subverts these conventions.

Naïve art is simple, unaffected and unsophisticated – usually specifically refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy“(taken from the Tate Gallery website).

The last part of the statement is the easiest to dismiss as I spent four years at art college and have a honours degree in the subject. Hardly a case of no formal training. I have studied, researched and practised the art of perspective, colour theory and composition since the age of five and have a complex understanding of the subject.

Naïve art is characterised by childlike simplicity of execution and vision.

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Simone Martini town

As I live on the Umbrian/ Tuscan border in Italy I am surrounded by examples of High Byzantine, Gothic International and Early Renaissance works. These periods are characterised by a rediscovery of realism, perspective and naturalistic painting.

When depicting buildings, vegetation and landscapes the likes of Giotto, Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers played around in a simplistic way. Using these artists as inspiration my work demonstrates the same principles of draftsmanship in my renderings of the Italian countryside.

 

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Winfield – Gubbio

Breaking art rules

This requires a good knowledge of oblique projection, aerial perspective and an ability to interpret the Medieval mindset and style. You need to practice in order to look at a modern scene and visualise it as it would have been seen 700 years ago.

As a one-eyed and colour blind artist I naturally see things from a particular viewpoint. My world is flattened out, like a postcard and has colours that are incredibly muted. Therefore, I explore different ways of deliberately painting three dimensions in flat images. I choose to ignore linear perspective but give depth through overlap, size difference, aerial perspective and tonality.

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Cannan – San Gimignano

Colour blind art

The tenants of Naive art state that colours are unrefined. Whilst my paintings are incredibly bright there is a logic to be had here. Now people with colour vision deficiency (CVD) have certain colours “washed out” from their vision. Knowing this and trying to give CVD viewers a better experience I deliberately use luminous hues and occasionally confuse colours.

For us, red/green, orange/green, pink/grey and the mystical purple are all colours we commonly mix up and we have to take great care when painting with them. Luckily they write the names of the colours on the tubes. Although, if I see a pink sky, why should I paint it grey just because that is the supposed colour.

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Winfield – Assisi

Colourful art

Despite what you might think of colour deficiency we do have some benefits and the sky, especially dawn, dusk and storm clouds give us wonderful experiences. The paintings often reproduce the types of dramatic skies I see with their pinks, purples and pale oranges. Don’t ask us about the two colour rainbow though, very lame, we’re not impressed with them.

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Winfield – IKEA Library

Behind the painting

The  composition uses the principles of golden mean proportions, where ratios and position are carefully calculated to give pleasing relationships. Hey! If it’s good enough for Mother Nature and Vermeer, it’s okay with me.

There are strong diagonals and the vanishing points are all placed so as to draw the eye to particular points. If you divide the pictures up into thirds or fifths you’ll see that certain landmarks and features are placed at these junctures.

If these works should be called anything then Gothic Nouveau, Bosso Nova Byzantine or Faux Early Renaissance would be more appropriate. However, it would be naive to think of them purely as Naif Art.

Assisi – Home to Saints Francis, Ruffino and Clare

watercolor Assisi

Assisi – watercolour and ink, 35 cm x 70 cm. (For Sale)

This Assisi watercolour is a very busy painting filled with lots of detail and colour. Like the town itself, you can easily get lost looking at the buildings, alleyways and churches. The three major cathedrals of St Francis, St Ruffinus and St Clare are all prominently featured, as are five of the medieval gateways.

Dawn sky

DSCN7606The sky is a beautiful sun burst pattern, one commonly seen in the Umbrian dawn. While the picture is divided into three views by two trees, which depict the styles of Giotto and Simone Martini. Both of whose work can be seen in the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco.

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As you walk the streets, what strikes you most is the array of arched doorways and windows. The town is full of arches, some ancient ones, long blocked in, others leading to delicious restaurants and bars, while others lead you down interesting back alleys to new and captivating piazzas.

The International Gothic – A Break from Tradition

The International Gothic or Late Gothic art period covers the 13th – 14th centuries and came during a time of religious upheaval and political change. The Christian church was witnessing the growth of Protestantism with its new fangled ideas and the establishment of City States. These too had their own, personal, political agendas and particular allegiances. Very much like the world of today.

lorenzetti_street2The growth of the merchant class provided a challenge to the financial muscle of the church and Europe’s royalty.

These nouveau riche still wanted art on a more personal level but art that reflected their view of the world. It wasn’t  burdened by outdated dictate and accurately reflected the people of the times. The church’s ideals on how and what art should depict was being intellectually challenged. People wanted frescoes and paintings that illustrated real life. Therefore there was an increase in naturalistic imagery and the showing of everyday life.

Gothic art

Annunciation of Death of the Virgin_Siena,Museo dell opera del DuomoThe artists during this period spent their time rediscovering the ancient ways of showing nature. Perspective, foliage and realistic depiction were once again on the menu. Here current artists played their part in trying to understand how the Greeks and Romans set about doing this.

Suddenly it was possible to paint trees, water, buildings and furniture. Painters could populate their worlds with people and animals, fields and hills. But how?  It is interesting to see the artists development of perspective. Each creating strange views with multiple vanishing points, rooms with weird angles and impossible furniture scattered throughout the pictures.

Social painting

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽdaThese strange, other worlds, with their experiments at three dimensions provide a unique viewpoint into life during the Late Medieval period. They show the lives of the ordinary people in the fields alongside royalty.

You can see palaces, castles and cathedrals but also simple houses, barns and sheds. As much as you can see wars and battles there are farmers sowing crops and peasants tending sheep.

Artistic licence 

Giotto di Bondone, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers in Italy and  Conrad von Soest in Germany and the Limbourg brothers from France all played their part in developing the distinctive style of the International Gothic.

This break with the traditions of the Byzantine paved the way for what would become the greatest advances in art with the arrival of the Renaissance. The steps started by the International Gothic would flourish during the next period and set new standards in artistic representation.  However, I still find the exploration of the 13th and 14th centuries some of the most compelling works on view.

 

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