Jul 9, 2011

Brooks Unveils Impressionist Revolution

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Revolution is the subject of an expansive new exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, but there’s not a battle scene in site. 

The works of Impressionists like Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Forain, Cézanne, Cassatt, Sargent, Hassam and Beaux come alive at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. (Photos: Courtesy of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)

“Monet to Cézanne/Cassatt to Sargent: The Impressionist Revolution” will survey the works of some 40 painters, both French and American, who defied the conventions of their time and led art into a new era.

“(Impressionists) wanted to celebrate the modern world, what it was, the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Stanton Thomas, the Brooks’ curator of European and decorative arts.

If that sounds all too familiar in the modern art of today, Thomas said it’s necessary to consider the popular schools of art pre-Impressionism. To that end, the exhibition, which includes about 100 paintings, opens with a gallery of European salon paintings featuring very academic compositions: royalty and nobility, religious and mythological works, and other set subjects painted in smooth, glassy surfaces of color.

The Impressionists instead focused on the world around and everyday people living ordinary lives.

Claude Monet’s “Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil,” shows a simple waterscape with small boats barely visible against a bank illuminated by orange and gold, autumnal trees – the kind of scene peasants might have enjoyed while fishing.

“This is one of the more important pieces,” said Thomas. “It’s 1873 and it’s one of the paintings (Monet) would have done on his boat. He had a special boat fitted up so he could be on the water and fully capture the movement of the water and the air and the wind.

“In organizing the show, landscapes are the things that are quintessentially Impressionist. They’re about light and air and spontaneity and about capturing that impression of what nature is and all its changes.”

But people were also important subjects for the Impressionists, though they were often nameless.

Edgar Degas’ “Study of Two Dancers” is a simple charcoal drawing of two incomplete figures in motion, both bending at the waist with partially covered faces. Rather than telling a story or expressing an emotion, the piece is simply a snapshot of life, which the artist clearly considered worthy of his time.

That sentiment quickly influenced American painters studying in France like Theodore Robinson, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, all of whom are included in the exhibition. In one of Robinson’s pieces, a woman sits reading by a grassy country lane, almost blending into the greenery and dappled sunlight around her.

“(Robinson) eventually bought a house next door to Monet and worked with him,” said Thomas. “Then he came back to the United States and taught people to paint in the Impressionists mode. There’s this very important link between France and the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

There’s also an important link between the Brooks’ exhibition and another Impressionist exhibition focusing on Jean-Louis Forain, already showing at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The Dixon loaned 15 paintings from its permanent collection to the Brooks, and the two museums have collaborated to make tickets to either exhibition good for both.

The majority of the paintings are on loan from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. About 25 are from the Brooks’ permanent collection. The Brooks’ exhibition ends with a look at post-Impressionism, which includes one of the most recognizable works of the era, Monet’s “Houses of Parliament in Fog.”


Riverside: Exhibit studies life, work of artist O'Neill

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The first O'Neill retrospective exhibition at an art institution since O'Neill's passing in 2007, "Washes and Layers" examines the legacy of a local master of watercolor. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1924, O'Neill moved to Riverside in the late 1960s after getting his bachelor's degree in architecture . An architect by profession, O'Neill worked freelance throughout much of his life and completed architectural work for Riverside Community College, amongst myriad other local sites. Architecture was often the focus of O'Neill's paintings.

"Washes and Layers" features 22 original watercolors from seven local collectors. Riverside artist Joanna Mersereau is among the collectors and is a former wife as well as a long-time traveling partner of O'Neill's.

Other collectors include Security Bank of California, City National Bank and Provident Bank, for whom O'Neill often executed commissioned works.

O'Neill's oeuvre was broad; though he focused on architecture and landscape paintings, he also completed still lifes, sports paintings and even portraits on rare occasions. A pupil of local watercolorist Milford Zornes, O'Neill worked in the California Style of watercolor painting that Zornes made popular in the 1920s.

The California Style movement, which first gained notoriety because of its economic practicality, often consisted of painting directly over pencil lines, the use of broad, transparent washes, and allowing the white of the paper to show through to define shapes within one's work.

O'Neill spent a large amount of time, from approximately the 1970s until 1993, working in Mexico and Guatemala. There, alongside Mersereau, he principally painted historic buildings, most notably missions and cathedrals. O'Neill also traveled to Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain to produce new work.

O'Neill also ventured on art escapades with Zornes to Cuba and Ireland, the home of his ancestors. "Washes and Layers" highlights many of O'Neill's international works, alongside some of his well-known works of historic downtown Riverside.


The world’s most expensive paintings

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How do canvas panels covered with pigment acquire price tags of more than $100 million? Who buys them – and why? On the eve of his new TV show about the world’s most expensive paintings, Alastair Sooke explains how art became the ultimate status symbol.

Detail from Bacon's 'Triptych' ($86.3m)
Going, going, gone: sold at auction, detail from Bacon's 'Triptych' ($86.3m)

'Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting,” Andy Warhol once said. “I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”

The relationship between art and money has always fascinated me. Paintings may exalt the soul, but they are also luxury objects. Whatever other value it may have, art is a commodity, coveted and traded by the rich and powerful, for status and prestige.

Paintings accrue value as if by magic. With the wave of a brush, something with no practical purpose – a cheap scrap of canvas, covered with pigment – can suddenly become supremely expensive. Abracadabra!

But how, exactly, is it done? And what is it about art that enchants the super-rich? Recently I set out to answer these questions while filming a television documentary that will be broadcast on BBC One tomorrow evening.

Making the programme, The World’s Most Expensive Paintings, wasn’t easy: the art world is notoriously secretive, simmering with hidden agendas, arcane politics and overblown egos. People who collect expensive art tend to guard their privacy. They couldn’t care less about appearing on telly.

Despite this, I tracked down several important players: two billionaire collectors, including the owner of Christie’s, François Pinault; a renowned auctioneer, Christopher Burge; and one of New York’s most successful art dealers, who has been in the business for 50 years.

I also met Jeffrey Archer, the novelist, who has collected art for decades. “Let’s face it,” he says, “if you get into this mad world, it’s like drugs: you have to have another fix. It’s just awful. I’m afraid collectors are all stupid and mad.” Last month, he offered around a 10th of his collection at an auction at Christie’s that made £5.1 million. The highlight was an 1878 view of the Seine near Vétheuil by Monet, which went for £3 million.

But, by his own admission, Archer generally cannot afford the “major” Impressionists, even though he is currently 583rd in Britain’s Rich List, with an estimated fortune of £120 million.

To acquire the world’s most expensive paintings, you need to be worth billions, not millions.

The 10 most expensive paintings ever sold at auction range from Mark Rothko’s White Center (1950), which went for $72.8 million in 2007, to the most expensive of all: Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932), which fetched a record price of almost $106.5 million last year. Whoever bought it (rumoured to be a Georgian oligarch) has lent it to the Tate Modern for two years.

There are reports that other paintings have sold privately for more than the Picasso. For instance, Ronald S Lauder, the heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune, is said to have paid $135 million in 2006 for Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), which hangs in his Neue Galerie in New York.

The canvas, embellished with silver and gold, practically screams “money”. It would be hard to imagine a painting more infatuated with high society (Adele Bloch-Bauer was the wife of a Jewish sugar merchant) though Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), which went for $87.9 million at Christie’s in New York in 2006, isn’t far behind. However, private transactions are impossible to verify.

Can anyone justify spending more than $100 million on a single painting? I can barely imagine the mindset required to “win” at an auction. When I asked the Canadian billionaire David Thomson what his strategy had been while bidding over the telephone with his father Ken for Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents (circa 1610), which was offered at auction in 2002, he gave me a steely look and said: “To triumph.” They did – at a cost of $76.5 million.

The Rubens is stupendous. It is also the only Old Master in the top 10, because the world’s leading museums acquired the finest examples long ago and they haven’t returned to the market since.

In general, the super-rich tend to compete over blue-chip Impressionist and Modern pictures — i.e. art that is old enough to bear the imprimatur of historical approval, but not so old that the supply of the best material has entirely dwindled.

“The people that I work with are surrounded by quality in their lives, so why would it stop in their art collecting?” says Tania Pos, an art adviser who, on behalf of an anonymous client, bought the seventh-most expensive painting ever sold at auction: a picture of waterlilies by Monet that went for almost $80.4 million at Christie’s in London in 2008. “They wish to have the very best — whether it’s their home, their car or their planes. It’s just the way they live their lives.”

A painting’s monetary value doesn’t necessarily reflect its aesthetic worth. According to auction lore, brown paintings don’t sell well, female nudes trump pictures of men and a painting’s dimensions should fit inside an elevator on Park Avenue, New York. And of course there is no guarantee that a painting that once sold for a huge sum will hold its value: look at the overinflated prices paid for contemporary artists such as Julian Schnabel and David Salle during the Eighties.

The wealthy buy art for complex reasons. Take Rothko’s White Center. To find out why someone was prepared to pay almost $73 million for it, I met Arne Glimcher, the New York art dealer who used to represent Rothko’s estate. “White Center is a wonderful painting,” he told me. “But all kinds of things converge for a painting to bring that sum of money, such as provenance and rarity. The painting hadn’t been on the market for years.”

In 1960, White Center was bought for $10,000 by David Rockefeller, a scion of one of the wealthiest dynasties in America. For almost half a century, it hung in his office on the 56th floor of the Rockefeller Center. It even became known informally as the “Rockefeller Rothko”.

In 2007, when it came up for auction, this provenance proved irresistible to another clan of oil billionaires: the Qatari royal family, who are rumoured to have bought it. In effect, they paid a premium for the glamour of the Rockefeller name. Yet for Glimcher, the Rockefeller connection is a sideshow.

“The whole thing about art and money is ridiculous,” he says. “The value of a painting at auction is not necessarily the value of a painting. It’s the value of two people bidding against each other because they really want the painting. Those are impetuous moments, and money becomes meaningless. It has nothing to do with art.”

Of course, Glimcher profits from the “ridiculous” relationship between money and art. But Christopher Burge, Christie’s most experienced auctioneer, who had a cameo in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street and has sold four of the paintings in the top 10, has similar views. In 1990, Burge brought his hammer down on Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890), which sold in less than three minutes for $82.5 million, a world record at the time.

“There was sustained applause for five minutes,” he recalls. “And my feeling was one of great distaste. I seriously thought about walking off, because they weren’t applauding for Van Gogh, and they weren’t applauding the work of art. They were applauding for money.” Later, I asked Burge whether he enjoyed dealing with Christie’s wealthy clients. “Some of them are very spoilt,” he told me. “They treat me like a jumped-up butler, or a seal bouncing balls on his nose.”

Kate Ganz, a New York dealer, has experience on the other side of the fence. Her father Victor made a fortune in the costume jewellery business and amassed an important collection of 20th-century art with his wife Sally.

“Right after my mother died – she died second – we were inundated by teams of people from Sotheby’s and Christie’s descending on the house,” Ganz recalls. “That was fairly uncomfortable, but that’s their job. Now it’s all computerised – they have on their computers the 50 most important collectors in the world, how old they are, when they’re going to die, and who’s going to inherit what. As my mother used to say: 'The vultures are circling’.”

In 1997, Ganz and her siblings decided to auction most of their parents’ collection. The sales raised more than $205 million. The star lot was Le Rêve, a 1932 painting by Picasso, which Kate’s father had bought for $7,000 in the early Forties (it went for $48.4 million on the night). A portrait of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, it belongs to the same series as the record-breaking Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.

In 2006, Le Rêve hit the headlines when its new owner, the Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, agreed to sell it on privately for what would have been a record $139 million. However, the deal was cancelled after Wynn, who suffers from a degenerative eye disease, accidentally stuck his elbow through the canvas, wiping $54 million off its value.

“That was unfortunate,” says Ganz, with a mischievous smile. “But it fundamentally doesn’t change the picture. It’s still a great painting.” What did she make of the price that Wynn agreed before the accident? “It’s very sad,” she says. “Think what else you could do with that money in this world. It’s ridiculous.”

More than any other artist, Picasso, who created the three most expensive paintings ever sold, has become synonymous with “great art”. In many ways, he is the ultimate luxury brand, the obvious choice for unimaginative multimillionaires who want to hang something recognisable above the fireplace that is guaranteed to show off their wealth and taste.

“The world is so strange,” Ganz says, quietly. “People have so much money now that they’d rather have the trophy of the painting. But it’s hard to explain. If you begin equating art and money, you get into trouble. All the things about art that are moving and special, that make you feel something, have nothing to do with money.”

In my heart, I know that Ganz is right. Extraordinary prices distort the meaning of paintings. When people look at Nude, Green Leaves and Bust now they only see pound signs. But after making The World’s Most Expensive Paintings, my head doesn’t agree. Whether we like it or not, it’s impossible to remove money altogether from the purpose and value of art.

The World’s Most Expensive Paintings will be shown on BBC One at 9pm tomorrow, as part of the BBC’s Art Revealed season


Cocoa Beach artist captivates sea-art collectors

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Humble times.
Piper works on a new painting in his Cocoa Beach studio. To make ends meet, Piper used to sell his massive paintings in the parking lot of his apartment complex. His art now can be seen hanging in and on the outside of local establishments, such as Juice-N-Java. / Photo courtesy of Dave Potter
With his mane of long blond hair, 50-something Rick Piper appears the quintessential Peter Pan surfer-dude painter. In reality, however, the Cocoa Beach artist is more akin with Florida's Highwaymen, because, like the legendary African-American painters, Piper not only portrays a mystical vision of life by the sea, but he also once sold his art by the roadside.

To keep the lights on in the tiny one-bedroom apartment where he once crashed, Piper would plunk his mesmerizing, massive canvases on the parking lot of the building, then grab a lawn chair and wait for the world to stop and maybe buy.

If you were one of the many who years ago did manage to buy one of Piper's works from his "plen air gallery" off State Road A1A, you ought to pat yourself on the back. Piper's works have significantly risen in price as serious collectors discover the addictive nature of his art.

Piper is a big guy who lives life in a big way, and his art reflects that philosophy in color, concept and size. Most of his works are large indeed and even his smaller paintings seem large.

An evangelist preacher's son, Piper spent his youth traveling across the country as his father would move the family from congregation to congregation.

"We'd stay two to three years at each place," Piper said. "Just when you got to know some people, you'd move on."

Melbourne was one of the stopping points in his father's career. Piper settled in Cocoa Beach in part because of a sister who lived there but primarily because of the allure of the place, of the flip-flop lifestyle and the adoration of sand, water and fish.

"I always liked the barrier islands," he said.

Many of his works celebrate the unique joy of island life, he exhibits primarily in Cocoa Beach. A couple of commercial works he executed, including one with tiki artist and fellow Cocoa Beach dude Wayne Coombs, can be seen by drivers on SR A1A.

While he can count on one

hand the number of art courses he has taken, Piper is nevertheless a master of design and color, a natural with a palette.

"I was driven to draw, draw, draw," he says. "It is my way to communicate with the world. My art is my voice."

Fourteen years ago, after a successful career in high-end 3-D computer-aided design, Piper decided to throw his hat into the fine arts ring.

"I had always been dabbling in and out of art," he says. "I started by jumping off the cliff. I felt I had wanted this all my life, but I knew it would take five or six years."

He downscaled from a four-bedroom canal-side home to a modest one-bedroom apartment by the highway.

"For the first two years, I lived by selling off the parking lot," he explains. "I would sell a six-foot canvas for $150 or whatever I could get to pay the rent."

Fortunately, those days are long gone, as Piper developed an effective guerrilla-style of marketing his works.

These days, he sells through five or six one-man shows annually, mostly at Juice-N-Java Café or Coconuts in Cocoa Beach, Rusty's in Port Canaveral or other area venues. This approach to marketing his art has served him well.

"They supply the food and wine, and I bring in the music and the art," he says. "Before the recession, I would sell out. My shows are always a lot of fun."

Internet sales provide another important sales outlet.

"I send a picture of everything I do to my email list," he said. "I don't push anything, but I find that 90 percent of my sales come from that."

By releasing giclees on paper and canvas, Piper also has managed to keep his art affordable for everyone.

Although his work was part of the "Art of Surf Culture" exhibit at Brevard Art Museum, Piper doesn't see himself as a "surf artist." In fact, the guy doesn't even surf. He is impossible to pin down in style, for a Piper painting can be hyper-realistic, such as his recently completed "Sea Eagle" or as equally surrealistic or mystical. "Sea Eagle," which has alighted at Juice-N-Java until a buyer emerges, depicts in a larger-than-life format the raw power of a bird of prey. Nature takes no prisoners, as witnessed by the osprey whisking a squirming catfish to its nest.

The years traveling as the clergyman's kid remain embedded in Piper's psyche and his work. Regardless of subject matter, most of Piper's works have a spiritual edge that adds to the attraction. Take, for example, "On a Night, on a Bike, on a Beach." Piper priced the work to discourage most buyers, simply because he loves the piece, which depicts the night he and his buddy took to the Cocoa Beach shoreline with their Huffy beach bikes. In a crucifixion-like pose, a younger Piper embraces his world from the handlebars of his new bike as an impossibly blue firmament whirls above him.

"You would lean your legs on to the handlebars and the wind would literally blow you down the beach," he said.

Viewing a Piper painting is not a spectator sport, for the artist is able to draw you into the landscape.

"You can really get into his pictures and get lost in his world," said Piper collector Daniel Reiter. "I always admire his magic realism, but besides being aesthetically pleasing, his pictures always give you something to think about."

Mike DeLoach, once Rick's neighbor, became entranced by Piper's works after seeing the artist painting outside his house.

"I fell in love with the colors, shapes and imaginative quality," DeLoach said.

"Spirit Falls," which depicts two very different worlds living together, is the Cocoa Beach collector's favorite.

"The waves crash through and create two worlds, one above and one below," he added.

Cocoa Beach couple Bob and Barbara Scudder have collected Piper's works through the years.

"We have Rick's art in every room of the house," Barbara said.

So, what entrances viewers about a Piper?

His is a world of the imagination. His barrier islands slither and wind like snakes across a canvas, impossible yet real nonetheless.

"The curves remind me of this area, even though this area is dead flat," Piper explains.

Schools of floating mullet seem perfectly at home across the artist's face in his "Fish Face" self-portrait. In the massive "Emergence," an island of dreams is both alluring and foreboding. The sensual "Island Girl," a recent conceptual piece, caresses viewers with her watery tresses. "Shrine of the Gazing Buddha" draws its strength from the waterfall gushing from Buddha's heart. The hypnotic "Buried Crossing" offers a sight familiar to all Brevard beach-goers as we trudge through wind-blown sand to reach our assignation with the shore.

Whatever the subject matter, ultimately Piper's art is just plain sexy, its brilliant colors, curvaceous design and incredible perspective a siren song that cannot be ignored.

The Pied Piper of Cocoa Beach lures us into his world and we are delighted to follow.


Did Joan Mitchell Have the Finest Mind in Modern American Art?

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When artist Joan Mitchell was born in 1925, her father wanted a boy. He let her know that her entire life, leading her to seek psychiatric help. As much as that experience shaped her mind, Joan’s mind already set her apart, and set her on the course to become an artist. As revealed in Patricia Albers’ Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, the first full-length biography of the artist, Mitchell had both synesthesia and an eidetic memory. In other words, Mitchell saw much of the world—letters, sounds, people, and even emotions—as colors, while at the same time remembering every detail of the past as vividly as the present. That unique combination and Mitchell’s drive to become an artist helped her rise within the male-dominated art world of the 1950s. Albers’ sensitive and insightful biography provides a whole new vision of Mitchell and her art and raises fascinating questions about what it meant to be an artist and a woman in 20th century America.

Albers’ revelation of Mitchell’s synesthesia and eidetic memory steals the show initially. Of contemporary artists, David Hockney is also believed to be synesthetic. Artists such as Van Gogh may also have been synesthetic. Mitchell hid her condition during her lifetime, vaguely alluding in interviews to the colors she saw when listening to music, meeting people, or experiencing emotions. But, Albers cautions, “[t]o reduce [Mitchell] to a case is to disregard her painterly intelligence, her professionalism, her years of training and work.” Mitchell’s unique perceptions may have served her art, but it was her devotion to her craft and fierce intelligence and passion that made her who she was.

Mitchell fed her fascinating head furiously. Daughter of the poet Marion Strobel, Joan read voraciously, finding herself drawn, among others, to Wordsworth and Proust—two writers who probed memory in ways that captivated her. Whenever she painted, Mitchell played music—everything from Mozart to the Blues to Charlie Parker to Billie Holiday. The music inspired colors in her imagination that fueled the paintings flowing from her hands. Painting became an ecstatic, religious epiphany. “Mitchell might have had Blue Territory [detail shown above] in mind when she bemoaned to a colleague that art had ‘lost some of its spirituality,” Albers writes, “Not only does Blue Territory conjure a book of hours… but also shines as Mitchell’s Starry Night.” As mind-blowing as thinking about Mitchell’s mind is, Albers manages to keep pace with the dizzying possibilities and helps us follow, too.

Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter adds to the growing literature of how women American artists struggled to find their place—not as a homogenous group but as vibrant individuals. Along with Gail Levin’s Lee Krasner: A Biography and Becoming Judy Chicago and Albers’ own Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti, biographers continue to build a strong case for reevaluating feminism as a whole by reevaluating individual women. “So women had to be really tough, Joan believed,” Albers writes of Mitchell’s brand of 1950s feminism. “[S]he was too proud to protest or complain. Those who did were crybabies and losers.” In the 1970s, feminists looked to Mitchell, only to find her “cranky and contentious,” Albers explains, and suspecting that those women who fought for their rights were unable to win them by talent alone.

Talent got Mitchell into the door of the men’s club of Abstract Expressionism, but it was her spirit that allowed her to thrive there where others failed. When Joan entered the “gladiatorial” atmosphere of the infamous Cedar Tavern—hangout of Pollock, de Kooning, and the rest—she found herself groped as a sex object, like all the other women, but had the guts to grope back. Soon, the men got “a kick out of that blend of moxie and brains that had her swearing like a sailor in one breath,” Albers recounts, “and quoting [T.S.] Eliot in the next.” To paint “like a man,” Mitchell smoked, drank, and had sex like a man, except she faced the horrors of rape and abortions they couldn’t. Mitchell paid a price to enter that boys’ club, which Albers unflinchingly explains.

Joan Mitchell adopted the sobriquet “Lady Painter” with all the acidity and absurdity she could. Knowing that she could paint as well as any man, Mitchell also knew that no man would admit it. Walking around her 1988 retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mitchell gazed upon her works and said with a smirk, “Not bad for a lady painter.” As much as you want to ascribe sadness to such injustice, you can’t help but come away from Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter smiling at Mitchell’s ability to convey her inner life into her art and find pure joy in the colors of the world, even if that world denied her full acceptance. Patricia Albers never lets us forget the wonder that was Joan Mitchell—in every sense of the word.


Together We Paint

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Marilyn Allen walked into Brattleboro's River Gallery School for the first time in 1995. 

She was 50 years old. She'd never taken an art class. She was terrified. 

"I wanted to be an artist all my life, but I was convinced I couldn't paint or draw. I was shut down by my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Cannon. And my family all said, ‘No one in this family can draw a straight line.'" 

She is standing next to the stairs at the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery, home to a new show by the Stone Soup Painters, artists who take Marilyn's oil painting class at the Brattleboro Senior Center. 

The class is part of the River Gallery School's Outreach Program, which Marilyn also teaches at Thompson House, Pine Heights, and The Gathering Place, among other sites. 

She circles the room, darting like a bright minnow from frame to frame, telling the story of each painting, each artist. She speaks swiftly and clearly, quick to laugh at funny moments, in easy awe of what her students discover in their work and the spirit they bring to class. 

Back at the stairs, Marilyn returns to her own story. 

"So I turned 50 and I thought, What am I waiting for? I opened up the Yellow Pages to look for art schools. There was one, River Gallery. So I called and talked to Ric." 

Ric Campman founded the River Gallery School with his wife, Barbara, in 1976. He convinced Marilyn to sign up for a class. 

"I walk in there, and he takes one

look at me, and I know he thought, ‘Oh, gotta be careful with this one. She's so scared, she's going to bolt right out the door!'"

Marilyn laughs at the memory. In that first class, she started to draw a little bit, until Ric suggested she get a palette together and try out some oils. 

"Oils!" Marilyn's voice fills the gallery. Her eyes widen, as she recreates the terror and thrill of Ric's words. "A palette! I was so new to it all, I didn't even really know what that meant. I knew absolutely nothing." 

She stops and looks at the gorgeous, soft landscape painting in front of her. 

"But I knew I loved the smell of an artist's studio. And I loved the colors." 

So, at last, Marilyn became a painter. 

About 10 years later, she was doing administrative work for RGS following her professional career as an English teacher and social worker. She was competent in the job, but she didn't love it, and she hadn't much energy left to do her own painting at her Halifax home. 

She started talking about teaching with Ric. She missed the classroom, after all, and wanted to get back to it. Ric encouraged her to develop an outreach program, first at the Kindle Farm School in Westminster. 

"I don't think I would have done it without him," she says. "But it worked, and when he died in 2006, the program was strong enough to survive." 

Outreach workshops at Thompson House involving Brattleboro Area Hospice, The Gathering Place, and AIDS Project of Southern Vermont soon followed. Not long after, Marilyn asked Irene Alexa, the activities coordinator at the Brattleboro Senior Center, about offering a class at the Gibson-Aiken Center. 

The first year, Marilyn taught her students, ages 50 and up, in the general activities room at Gibson-Aiken. 

"Oh, that was funny," Marilyn says. "We were next to the billiards table, people were rehearsing music, people were on computers, and we were all around one table. And the materials were around the corner in a storage room. But then we moved upstairs to a conference room, and we've really dug in. Irene is so great to us." 

Now a dedicated, boisterous group assembles every Tuesday in that conference room, works-in-progress propped against a large trophy case, drawers filled with supplies. Some people have been coming to the class since it began four years ago. 

"It's pretty incredible," Marilyn says. "They are incredible. Most are new to painting. We have wonderful discussions about the act of seeing -- and this is the part of the journey that really thrills them. Seeing is so complex, and we take it for granted. After a short time painting, they'll say to me, ‘I never SAW before!'" 

Her own voice carries their awe. "I tell them, that's the price tag of being a painter. You see things you never knew existed, because now you are seeing with different eyes. Really asking, what does it look like when the sun is setting? What does a still life look like when you look at two pears, or a dogwood?" 

She knows her students, their talents and artistic obsessions and personalities, by heart. 

She speaks of Lynn, a poet, who can get inside a poem and translate it into visual art. She mentions Manya from the Bronx, who brings flair, whose painting of a lion Marilyn loves. She recalls Martha and Mary and David and Maris and Suzanne and more. 

Together, she says, they see. Together, they talk and tease. No one is terrified, or not for long, because together, with Marilyn, they paint.


Leonardo da Vinci Painting Discovered

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Painting Gains Attribution After Careful Scholarship and Conservation

A lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci has been identified in an American collection and will be exhibited for the first time this November.  Titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) and dating around 1500, the newly discovered masterpiece depicts a half-length figure of Christ facing frontally, holding a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right in blessing.  One of some 15 surviving Leonardo oil paintings, the work will be included in "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan," to be held at the National Gallery in London from November 9, 2011 until February 5, 2012.  The last time a Leonardo painting was discovered was in 1909, when the Benois Madonna, now in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, came to light.

Leonardo's painting of the Salvator Mundi was long known to have existed, but was presumed to have been destroyed.  The composition was documented in two preparatory drawings by Leonardo and more than 20 painted copies by students and followers of the artist, as well as a meticulous 1650 etching made after the original painting by the Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.


The recently rediscovered painting was first recorded in the art collection of King Charles I of England in 1649.  It was sold after his death, returned to the Crown upon the accession of Charles II, and later passed to the collection of the Duke of Buckingham, whose son put it at auction in 1763 following the sale of Buckingham House (now Palace) to the King.  All trace of the work was then lost until 1900, when the picture was acquired by Sir Frederick Cook, but by then the painting had been damaged, disfigured by overpaint, and its authorship by Leonardo forgotten.  Cook's descendants sold the painting at auction in 1958, when it brought 45 pounds Sterling.  

A photograph taken before 1912 records its compromised appearance at that time.  This photograph has recently been circulated in the media, as has another photo [with Christ in a red tunic], incorrectly identified as the (recently rediscovered) work.  In 2005, the painting was acquired from an American estate and brought to a New York art historian and private dealer named Robert Simon for study.  The Salvator Mundi is privately owned and not currently for sale.


After an extensive conservation treatment, the painting was examined by a series of international scholars.  An unequivocal consensus was reached that the Salvator Mundi was the original by Leonardo da Vinci.  Opinions vary slightly in the matter of dating, with some assigning the work to the late 1490's, and others placing it after 1500.

Scholars were convinced of Leonardo's authorship due to the painting's adherence in style to the artist's known paintings; the quality of execution; the relationship of the painting to the two preparatory drawings; its correspondence to Wenceslaus Hollar's etching; its superiority to the numerous versions of the known composition; and the presence of pentimenti, or changes by the artist not found in copies.


'Summer Melody:' A Painting Collection By Artist Wanda Murphy

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"Summer Melody" is an eight-piece collection of acrylic on paper and acrylic on canvas by Wanda Murphy. (Courtesy Photo: R. Couri Hay)
Southampton - A West Virginia native, Wanda Murphy began her career with degrees in marketing and business administration, while art was just a means of relaxation. "I loved to draw, but I only did it to relieve stress," Murphy said. "Then one day someone asked what my dream job was and I said 'artist,' and I decided I should be just that."

After earning a formal art education from Concord University, she held an apprenticeship with Jean Claude Gaugy - a linear expressionist with ties to Henry Moore and Salvador Dali. Now with an impressive resume that includes work as the President of the Appalachian Artists Association and Director of the Awakening Museum, Murphy has had countless successful exhibits from New York to Florida.

Murphy is now a regular staple in Hampton galleries, most notably the Bego Ezair galleries, and her works are distinguished by their bold colors, linear abstractions and contemporary style. She has been showing in the Hamptons since 2006.

Her upcoming exhibit, "Summer Melody" is an eight-piece collection of acrylic on paper and acrylic on canvas. The figurative paintings surrounded by bold, beautiful colors and are a celebration of life. Through her spiritual journey Murphy seeks to explore the struggle between human desires and spiritual evolution. The ethereal figures explore the struggle between human desires and spiritual evolution; explore the intimacy between the dream state and reality, expressing a oneness with divine energy. You see the nurturing female figures are in a state of grace for the light of hope, the light of healing and the light of love. The collection is dedicated to her grandson Logan, diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes in 2006. 

Painting Mao: Stunning Photo of China's Leading Political Artist

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 Inside the studio of the reclusive Ge Xiaoguang, who paints the iconic portrait of Mao Zedong displayed in Tienanmen Square

"It is not just a painting," the University of Chicago art historian Wu Hung told The Los Angeles Times in 2006, speaking of the roughly 300-square-foot portrait of Mao Zedong that has gazed out at Tiananmen Square for decades, virtually unchanged since the 1950s. "It represents Mao himself. People were supposed to worship this image. They wanted to take the artistic and human elements out."

And, Hung added, "Nobody is allowed to ask who did the image. It just magically appears"—replaced with a fresh portrait each year.

Reuters, however, in advance of last week's 90th anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party, impressively managed to gain access to the studio where the artist Ge Xiaoguang paints the giant portrait, which he has been solely responsible for since 1977. Here he is, crafting one of the world's most significant pieces of political art—a painting that, in an era of relatively few true dictatorships, is a stunning reminder of how visual culture and real-world power have always been intertwined. (More on this in Maria Popova's "The Power of Design: Totalitarian Regimes—and Their Brands," her look at Iron Fists, by Atlantic regular Steven Heller.) As Ge told Reuters, echoing the words of Wu Hung, "It is not just piece of art. It represents China's spirit and the emotions of an era."


Jul 6, 2011

Painting Poetry: The Art of Edward Mayes and Alberto Alfonso

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The collaboration between poet, Edward Mayes, and architect and painter, Alberto Alfonso, gives credence to the idea that art happens not on the printed page or on the canvas, but rather in our mind's eye.

For the past 16 months the two have worked together on a unique kind of art; one that functions on a visual and verbal level, then challenges us to create our own personal artistic experience.

I spoke with them about their art, and Alberto had this to say, "It all started when Ed sent me a poem. I immediately felt the need to do a painting. We've been doing at least one a day ever since."

Edward's poems are, by themselves, transcendent. He uses words and phrases in a way that conjures up vivid images one after another. "I get up early to write," Edward says, "sit in a dark room and spend about three hours in deep meditation. It's my Holy Time." 

Edward is a world-renowned poet, the author of six collections including First Language, To Remain, Magnetism, Works and Days, Speed of Life, and Bodysong. His work has been honored with myriad awards and his poems have appeared in prestigious journals such as the American Poetry Review, The New Yorker and Virginia Quarterly Review. "Edward's process is architectural," Alberto says, "his poems are meaty, three-dimensional and spatial. Our processes are very similar."

Edward Mayes and Alberto Alfonso: Painting Poetry

Alberto's paintings are hauntingly beautiful. Layered and complex, they produce a visceral effect. His images are somehow fleeting; infused with an energy that at times strives to break free from the confines of the frame. We feel that if we look away, when we look back they'll be gone. 
An award-winning architect and accomplished artist, Alberto's paintings are permanently installed at Nielsen Media Global Technology Center, the Mission of St. Mary Chapel and Carmel Café. He and Edward exhibited together twice in 2010 at the Tuscan Sun Festival and at the Morean Arts Center in an exhibit called Painting the Poem, Poeming the Painting.

Alberto lives in America and Italy where he keeps a part-time residence in Cortona. Edward and his wife, writer Frances Mayes, also part-time Cortona residents, are Alberto's neighbors. The two artists' work will be featured again this summer at the Tuscan Sun Festival with a new exhibit entitled, From Things About to Disappear, I Turn Away in Time.

The artists are virtuosos in their own rights, but when we juxtapose Edward's poetry with Alberto's paintings, a third kind of art emerges and it takes a moment or two for the mind to grasp the importance and significance of the experience. 

Not intended as a literal translation of word into image or "picture and caption," the collaboration instead gives us a glimpse into the process and thinking and minds of the artists.

It's holistic; the effect is greater than the sum of the parts. Impossible to explain in words, we have to view the paintings and poetry together and let our "Third Eye" fill in the space between. Visualizing the possibilities of that mysterious in-between place, we see what hasn't yet been seen and so become participants in the process. We get to be artists, too.

And how cool is that.



Robert Huang: honorary artist of the Chinese people

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The exquisite paintings of Robert Huang have once again been honored by international credit card companies. Recently two more credit card companies signed a contract with Huang to use his art works as a background on their cards, bringing his on-card collection to a total of six dating back to the first card in 2003.

Huang, the founder of Rosehouse, is famous for his rose oil paintings and other artistic works. He has been called an artist who brings joyful colors to life. His art collections are also becoming well known for their connections with credit cards. In 2008 Japan’s JCB became the first international credit card brand to issue a card using Robert Huang’s rose-themed painting, the first time the company had opted for an artwork by a Chinese painter. 

This year Visa has selected Huang’s “Little Prince’s Rose Garden-III” painting, a work which was part of the collection for the Poly international auction held in Beijing on June 3. “The Little Prince’s Rosehouse” brought a sale price of 400,000RMB, a new record for one of Huang’s works. 


Conceptualising surreal art forms

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Higher powers command: Paint right top corner black!” is an approximate translation of the words of a German Painter, Sigmar Polke. Kerala- based artist Blodsow, says that his statements are related to those revolutionary artists who witnessed vision through a series of veils. His current series of paintings pay tribute to the determining works of Polke, Jonathan Monk and Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama.

It is said that Polke’s basic motive was to challenge the metaphysical nuances of conceptual paintings where Jonathan Monk remade it.

“I believe there is no contextual difference between the figurative sketches and abstract paintings and artists can never be categorised in terms of medium,” explains Boslow.

Interestingly, the artist notes that his work has nothing to do with Polke and Monk. “The strength of a painting comes from its structure, but the work needs a conceptual thinking to make it whole,” smiles the artist. In another work, ‘Her Obsession is not My Obsession’ Blodsow traces out Yayoi Kusama’s mania for polka dots in her walls, furniture sculptures and installations.

He had nothing but praise for the Japanese painter, who thought polka dots were ways to infinity, and says her attributions of feminism, and that minimalism, surrealism and abstract expressionism are exceptional.

Blodsow’s belief in his ability to be a successful visual artist was nourished; it is the rustic beauty of his works that captivates one’s soul. Throughout history, Kerala artists have responded to their political environment with art that has reflected ideological realisms.

Likewise, Blodsow’s art can’t be ignored. He has combined the faces of men in a grid formation, but interestingly, doesn’t want to finish it. To him, a complete portrait does not show the artist’s mentality.

Relying on his feel for colours and designs, the artist has drawn his characters that are close to his heart, but purposely didn’t want to reveal their identities.

Undoubtedly, his distinctive figures blend a wise combination with VIBGYOR tinges that implies 90-degree calculations in accordance to angle. “It took four months to complete these paintings and I started to see my own reflections,” beams Blodsow, a self-learnt artist. “I have lots of inner connections with Jonathan Monk who opined perception of arts as – is it or is it not or can it or can it not be?” Talking on art pieces, Blodsow’s works call for limitations and he says, “Art is plagiarised when lots of research has been done as the p r o c e s s d a m p - ens your creativity and my work speaks for the political statements which I don’t open more about.” 

Inspired by Gopinath’s biomorphic works and Mario Antonio Raj’s sculptures, the artist couldn’t stop talking on their significant contributions to the field of arts. Blodsow has used acrylic and oil colours to his portraits and states, “Though people from different world have same ideas, they can be interpreted in different ways to mark one’s individuality.” Unhappy with art critics, Blodsow claims that none can be a full-fledged critic unless one masters art which is hardly seen. He rues, “Everything has been told years before and now those are being re-channelised and re-formulated.” 


Modern Artist Cy Twombly dies at 83

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Cy Twombly with his painting "1994 Untitled (Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor)," at the Menil Collection in Houston in 2005.

Cy Twombly, who died on July 5 aged 83, was a reclusive American painter whose work was so individual it barely needed a signature.

Although a child could perhaps have produced a single doodle as delicate or as balanced, none could have created the subtle tension and animation of line that Twombly maintained throughout his long career.

Unusually for an artist who emerged in the monumental shadow of Abstract Expressionism, his art remained impervious to fashion. Obsessed by Classical antiquity, he addressed his central theme — the passing of time — in paintings, drawings and sculptures that, if they were not actual palimpsests, beautifully evoked ideas of erasure and loss.

An expatriate living in Rome, for many years Twombly was overlooked by a New York art world obsessed with Pop and minimalism. But gradually his range of classical reference, his jazz-like improvisations and the reductive sense of loss his work engendered won a wide audience. Eventually his best works were valued in the millions of dollars .

Cy Twombly
Works by Cy Twombly at the Gagosian Gallery in Rome, 2007 Photo: EP

Edwin Parker Twombly Jr, who always used his father’s nickname, Cy, was born at Lexington, Virginia, on April 25 1928. Cy Snr had been a major league pitcher and was a swimming coach at Washington and Lee University in Lexington.

After high school, where he became fascinated by Classical history and mythology, the young Cy studied art for a year each at Boston Fine Arts and at Washington and Lee, before enrolling at New York’s Art Students League on a Museum of Virginia scholarship. 

There he met the “protean genius” Robert Rauschenberg, who suggested he attend the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the fount of avant-garde American art. At Black Mountain he was taught by Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, titans of the New York School. 

In 1952 Twombly and Rauschenberg travelled to Morocco and Rome, and on their return to Manhattan shared a Fulton Street loft. They remained lifelong friends. Although their work was totally distinct, Twombly’s abstractions bearing no relation to his friend’s “found” and assembled collages, at their joint show at the Stable Gallery in 1953 they attracted equal scorn. If some critics suggested affinity between Twombly and the graffiti artists, it was to the European “art informal” of Jean Dubuffet and the inscriptions on Classical ruins rather than the spray-can kids that he turned. 

Twombly’s early works were subsequently called the “white paintings”, but it was an artificial distinction arising from the seamlessness of his entire output. Technically and thematically, his stylistic shifts over the years were solely of nuance. There were no dramatic revelations, just a persistent interest in “temps perdu” and a determination to register his mark. 

After serving in the US Army code-breaking division, where he became famous for “automatic drawing” under his bedclothes at night, he enjoyed another show at the Stable Gallery. If its reception was not noticeably warmer (one critic observed: “A bird seems to have passed through the impasto with bitter screams and cream-coloured claw marks”), the show did include Panorama (1955), later considered to be his first masterpiece. 

The work responded to the monolithic energy and lyricism of Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm by reducing it to fluid, white marks on a grey-black ground. Using an earthy mix to slow the paint, and nervy scratchings to accelerate it, Twombly was the first artist to mesh the vocabulary of Pollock’s cursive linear abstraction with the loopier, body-based work of de Kooning and create genuinely original art, 

After heading the art department at the Southern Seminary Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia, Twombly left for Rome in 1957, returning to America only for brief visits. As an American in Rome, he was no more an outsider than he had been as the Southern gentleman in New York or the avant-garde artist in Virginia. 

In Rome, his work began to include deceptively childlike, often partly obscured, place names amongst the hatching in addition to elements that recalled particular places or cultural signposts. He became increasingly interested in Classical allusions that were sometimes heavy-handed, and a work such as The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus played both with the myth itself and Poussin’s idealised painting of it. 

In 1963 he exhibited the nine-panel Discourses on Commodus, in which he used the rise and fall of the emperor as a metaphor for the creativeness and destructiveness of artistic endeavour. The show was panned by a solipsistic New York art world, but even Twombly’s supporters admitted that the show suffered from “a surfeit of prettiness”. His was not an art that demanded large canvases; it was a fragile, introspective art using the manner of American abstraction to muffle emotion. 

In the late Sixties the “white paintings” were replaced by the “grey paintings”, but the interests remained the same. Living in virtual seclusion in a palazzo in Rome, Twombly was able to resist the siren call of fashion. Constantly mixing his media, he drew on paint-covered canvas, painted on drawing paper and began to assemble collages, silk screens, etchings and assorted ambiguous (and invariably untitled) constructions that worried away at his chosen themes. 

Twombly said, in one of his rare recorded utterances, that he had “a feeling for paper rather than for paint”, and no one disputed the precedence of line over colour in his work or that he painted like a draughtsman. His lines recalled Paul Klee’s in their anxious elegance, and he experimented with pencil angles to flatten or sharpen tone. 

Twombly was never afraid of the grand gesture, and Fifty Days at Ilium (1978) was a 10-part work in oil, crayon and pencil on a combined canvas of nine by 85ft that portrayed the tension and violence of Homer’s Iliad through scribbled and scratched metaphors. 

Although many critics queued up to praise the work, there were dissenting voices — among them that of Robert Hughes, who observed that a Classical title does not necessarily portend a Classic work. Rather, he thought, Twombly was closer to Post-Modernism’s “skittering, rather affectless quotation, the shoring of fragments against the ruins”. Hughes nevertheless allowed that Twombly was “still a considerable painter.” 

In the early Eighties Twombly started experimenting with colour — “a rush of wild mauves, greens and cosmetic pinks” — but the works were not considered a success. Rather his best work was “like looking into the endlessly moving depths of an immense body of water” and did not lend itself to outbursts of emotion such as one critic found in Hero and Leander (1982), describing it “as gushily romantic as a teenager’s valentine”. 

Returning to the style of his masterpieces, Twombly enjoyed major retrospectives at the Whitechapel in London in 1988 and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1994. If the Americans were slow to appreciate his work (that it was almost impossible to reproduce successfully scarcely helped), when they finally responded it was with absolute enthusiasm. As graffiti artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat dominated the galleries and headlines of the late Eighties, so Twombly’s shy, long-haul achievement swung into sharp focus. 

Elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, he represented America in the Resident Foreign Artists section of the 1988 Venice Biennale, where his works were described as “almost Monet-like in their atmospheric brushwork and all-over patterns”. He won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Biennale.

Final confirmation both of his originality and importance came in 1995, when the $5 million Cy Twombly Gallery opened in Houston. Although his work was owned by galleries around the world, this was the first permanent collection of an artist whom The Daily Telegraph described as “a rare spirit ... who paints like no one else and who explores a realm of feeling touched only by the greatest poets”. In 2008 there was a retrospective at Tate Modern, and last year he completed an enormous ceiling painting for the Salle des Bronzes in the Louvre. 

A man who shunned publicity, Cy Twombly lived in an enormous palazzo where he collected the art not only of antiquity but also of his contemporaries. He also owned a country house overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea at Gaeta. They were described by a visitor as houses “a connoisseur would swoon over and a thief would leave untouched”. 

He married, in 1959, Tatia Franchetti. She died in 2010, and he is survived by their son and by his longtime partner Nicola Del Roscio. 


Jul 5, 2011

Paintings are a love letter to the hills

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A PROMINENT Malvern artist is using his 75th birthday celebration to continue giving something to the town. 

David Prentice will mark the landmark, which he reaches today, by exhibiting a series of oil paintings of the Malvern Hills in the Riding High gallery, Worcester Road, throughout the month. 

Mr Prentice started painting in Malvern back in 1986 making the drive from his Northamptonshire home. 

This inspired him to move to the town in 1990 and set up a studio at his Malvern Wells home.

“I retired in 1986, which is when I started working on the hills and I had been a fairly abstract painter up until that stage. 

“I describe it as giving up being David Prentice. It’s sort of theatrical and miles away from the subject matter that I was interested in. 

“I came here anytime the weather got interesting and I just started by sitting on the hills.” 

Due to the vast numbers of hours spent exploring the landscape Mr Prentice has developed a close affinity with its striking contours. “I can virtually revolve the hills in my head because I have done an immense amount of work – thousands of drawings. 

“Sometimes I do straight-forward watercolours and then sometimes I just make it up. It’s like taking notes for an exam – once you have it in your head you are free and you can do what you like.”

David has a daily routine of walking and sketching on the hills, which get his creative juices flowing. He has filled three sketchbooks in the last four weeks alone. 

“Every morning I go out for a two or three-mile walk and do a sketch. There’s usually something around to get you going. It’s a way of limbering up in the morning and it gets my eyes working.” 

The sketches take 10 to 20 minutes, but David doesn’t work from them directly – more often than not he invents the image as he works. He says the themes of floating aerial views and travel by foot and car that appear in his current work have featured throughout his career, though he is unsure of where his work will go next. 

“I am sure something will crop up in my perambulations. A lot of what I do is quite autobiographical, where I walk and where I drive and where my children are.” 

Mr Prentice has been a prize-winner in the Sunday Times/Singer and Fried-lander watercolour competition on four occasions, including first prize in 1990, which all featured the hills. This is something he describes as the best part of his career. 

He studied at Moseley School of Art and Crafts and then taught at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts and at Mid-Warwickshire School of Art. He was also a founder of the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham.