Newsletter August 2017
As most of you are aware, there is always a wonderful mix of artistic and creative talent here. The absolute beginners learn quickly with a great learning curve (and many smiles) Those with some experience improve their art, learn new techniques and find ample inspiration from the surroundings here.
Here are another couple of excellent paintings produced this year. These are the work of Marion Younan, whose watercolour paintings are in miniature (no more than 7” high), with amazing attention to detail.
Well, I had a bit of an adventure this summer! I went to visit some friends (Richard and Janet) and we were sitting in their lovely outdoor dining area within their wildlife garden when I felt an insect sting on my chin. It began to swell and the swelling travelled to my mouth, and the skin all over my body became itchy. Richard noted that I had turned ‘from pure white, to bright red, to puce grey’ and he and Janet rushed to find anti histamines.
Emergency Number Tw0
Well, we did joke that it was a very pleasant prison to be stuck in….
Pheona does some art
Somehow, I rarely get time to do art myself, but need someone to ask me to do something. So, I welcomed the opportunity to do these two commissions for the owners of a house which is on the ‘Sentiero Matilde’. This is a long distance walking route, which follows the castles, towers and churches of the famous Countess Matilde di Canossa. One of her symbols is the pomegranate. An original fertility symbol and the seeds represent the blood of Christ. In the mural below, there are two intertwining trees (male and female) with 11 pomegranates. One is missing…. There is also a nice selection of fabulous birds.
The second painting is a copy of a portrait by Botticelli. It could be the Countess… we don’t really know. However, I have even further admiration of Botticelli whose attention to detail is immense. Every hair is painted with a very fine brush… and you can see that he doesn’t exactly shirk from elaborate hairstyles! In fact, I am sure that if you tried to assemble this hairstyle on a real person it would be impossible to keep it in place. (I learned that from trying to replicate the drapery on the head of the ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’, which I found to be impossible!
I have also started a copy of another Caravaggio painting which is called ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’, c. 1601–1602.
It shows the episode that gave rise to the term "Doubting Thomas" which had been frequently represented in Christian art since at least the 5th century, and used to make a variety of theological points. According to St John's Gospel, Thomas the Apostle missed one of Jesus's appearances to the Apostles after His resurrection, and said "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." John 20:25 A week later Jesus appeared and told Thomas to touch Him and stop doubting. Then Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 In the painting, Thomas's face shows surprise as Jesus holds his hand and guides it into the wound.] The absence of a halo emphasizes the corporeality of the risen Christ. The work is in chiaroscuro. (Wikipedia)
These paintings usually take at least a hundred hours so I have still some way to go, but here is the progress so far. You can see how Caravaggio puts the four heads very close together so that all the drama is focused around the central area and we can see the four expressions well...It is so well orchestrated with beautiful spacings between each head. The four hands also follow a fluid line and the hand of Thomas, is unnaturally long, (really long! I had to keep checking it!), to emphasise the subject of the painting. I also like the way the head of Christ is in shadow, in fact, he looks rather beaten up with a broken nose and swollen lip. No romantic image but a man whose hair is dirty and his face shows suffering. Caravaggio himself was no stranger to being beaten up. In contrast, the other three figures are portrayed in great detail.
Then, for some reason, I decided to copy the painting ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ which is a painting by the Italian early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi 1614–20.] This shows the scene of Judith beheading Holofernes, which was a common subject in art since the early Renaissance.
There are two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes. The drawing and painting plan is the same.
The subject takes an episode from the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament, which recounts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by the Israelite heroine Judith. The painting shows the moment when Judith, helped by her maidservant, beheads the general after he has fallen asleep drunk.
The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they perform the act. The delicate face of the maid, who is younger than in most paintings, which is grasped by the oversized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive, most finely represents the effort of the women’s struggle. Although the painting depicts a classic scene from the Bible, Gentileschi drew herself as Judith and her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. Gentileschi's biographer Mary Garrard famously proposed an autobiographical reading of the painting, stating that it functions as "a cathartic expression of the artist's private, and perhaps repressed, rage. (Wikipedia)
Once I started the drawing, I realised that, like Caravaggio, she manages to arrange all the drama with a simple and strong compositional arrangement of the picture space. This is no photo or a copy of models as the strong geometry of the arms shows. These arms are reminiscent of washerwomen, women kneading bread, fisherwomen and farmers. The arms dominate the composition with the heads all being disproportionately small. All the energy is with the pushing and pulling of the arms, and the sense of the battle of wills. Just as in the Caravaggio, I had to check the size of the proportions in my own drawing. Usually the height of a head is the same as a forearm, or an upper arm but not here! Judith’s head is particularly small.
I have not made much progress with this one and sometimes I ask myself which part of my subconscious chose to do it! I started with the yellow dress version, forgot which one I was copying, and then had to change back. I am now thinking I might do a combination of them both as I prefer Judith’s head in the blue-dress painting…. Who knows?