Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books on my studio coffee table

This is the first post for my new blog. I already have another where I post a daily self portrait but I intend this one to be about other art related topics, my art reading, and the progress of my work.

"I have discovered the secret of happiness, it is work, either with the hands or the head. The moment I have something to do... I am happy"                                                                (John Burrough.)

I thought I would start by talking about the books I am currently reading as it is so vitally important to my art practice. The quote above I found in wonderful book called

Vetvet Pears - Gardening by the Seasons at Foxglove Spires by Susan Southam.

While at first this does not appear to be an art book as such, I found it quite perfect in design, layout and content and as source material for my research into things botanical.

This illustration gives an idea of the contents.  I took this photo of the book on my studio couch and am using my own flowers as props. I particularly love that old world conservatory look.
Other books currently beside me on the couch...

Sorolla, The Masterworks by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. I bought this book after seeing the amazing Sorolla painting in the show of Spanish masters that came to Brisbane a few months ago. It was his version of a Velasquez Menina. It had the history and tradition and a modern painterliness.
What I love most about this book are the many photographs of Sorolla himself painting and others of the interior of his studio. I glean every detail from these images, from his amazing assortment of studio props to the size of his brushes. There is even a photo of Sorolla actually painting the portrait of King Alfonso XIII in Hussar's uniform at La Granja 1907 outside! The huge canvas is actually set up under the trees in a park. I guess studio lighting can never match the real outside light effects.

This image shows his studio paraphernalia. Very exotic looking. Something I am trying to emulate.

This one shows the length of his brushes!

Another book on the go at the moment is -

A Studio in Montparnasse by Penelope Little. It is subtitled Bessie Davidson: An Australian Artist in Paris. Bessie is not a painter I have had much time for before, but the cover of this book won me over.

Here she is surrounded by her work and some Edwardian appurtenances. She looks quite dowdy with her bun and her cardigan, but she is WORKING. She is a real painter painting, looking at her palette not the camera.
Reading her life story I now have huge admiration for her. An unknown Australian woman in Paris from 1910 - 1965, she recieved the Legion of Honour for her service to art and to France in World War 1. Looking at her work you can trace her influences very clearly, but she has a lovely understanding of light in her best pieces particularly in interiors. You can see where Margaret Olley got her ideas from. Her later works look a bit blocky and cubist and Cezanne-ish, colours more thoughtful. This seems to be happening to me as I get older also ( the colours not the cubes).
Here is a quote from the book...

"What mattered to Bessie was having the freedom to paint. The creative urge that was in her was the guiding force of her life and while she could probably never have been accused of ruthlessness, there was in her the single-mindedness and egotism that characterises the truly creative."

The final book I want to talk about is a novel. I am a great novel reader and there is always some little thing I can take from them for my life as an artist.

Merivel - A man of his time by Rose Tremain. A novel published this year. (I have particularly enjoyed her others of an historical nature such as Restoration and Music and Silence)
I picked this one up as the blurb notes that Merivel "sets off for the French court. But Versailles - all glitter in front and squalor behind". Being the Francophile I am I couldn't resist this and I also looked closely at the author's photo ( absent from my other books of hers) and I remember that her partner is the biographer Richard Holmes whose "Footsteps" changed my life.

A couple of quotes from Merivel.

 "All the way to France I am a-dazzle with unexpected happiness. But when the French coast at last appears I feel an onrush of disappointment. It is not that the little port of Dieppe appears uninviting, for it does not. It is merely that I have been held in an embrace so strong by the journey that I find I have relinquished the will to arrive"  I can relate to this!

Tremain also has her character continually mentioning the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne  and of trying to see himself de pres or "close up"

"not looking only outwards but inwards upon my own demeanor and my own responses, with the eternal aim of acquiring some wisdom about the person that I am or might become."

And later

"What I would fain discover is some Subject such as ... which might absorb all my attention and lead to a Work of Proper Distinction, sufficient to get me some marvellous hearing at the Royal Society, whose Fellows incite in me both admiration and envy in equal measure."

I can relate to this yearning for a great Subject to occupy my mind and my time. The word "fain" is one I haven't heard for a while and I intend to use it!


"And thus, would not my attempt at this Treatise teach me not a little more only about birds or bears and their place in the world, but also about my own place and my own soul, thus enabling me to conduct the last years of my life with greater dignity than heretofore?"

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