Monday, March 19, 2018

The Artist is Present (week 4 of the NPG Citylit course)

What really impressed me today was the depth of knowledge and ability to think on his feet of our Course leader for the CityLit Course at The National Portrait Gallery.

As always Leslie Primo was there with notes for today's paintings but unbeknown to him part of the gallery was not available until 11:00 (half an hour after the start of the session).

So Leslie just adjusted and spoke with us about some other interesting works -  namely Anne of Denmark (by John de Critz the Elder) - which I liked and King James I of England and VI of Scotland by Daniel Mytens (which I'm less inclined to admire).

These two were again non-native painters from the 'low' countries who worked in England.

King James I of England 

Anne of Denmark

The reason for the great detail in the portrait of Anne was explained to us as follows :-

Tapestry was more highly valued than painting at the time of the commission and the artist captured detail of the carpet, chair and her clothes to the point  where it could almost pass for material rather than paint  -to me I thought there was a connection with the work of Klimt, perhaps because of the full length and somewhat flat-sh style used?

Job ben Solomon - a slave who was freed

The next picture we looked at connected with last weeks pictures and theme of slavery -it was a William Hoare painting of a a Muslim cleric Job Ben Solomon who was captured and enslaved in America (It's the Koran around his neck)   he was subsequently given his freedom by a result of funds raised by the  'Public' in England.

The painting by Hoare an English artist had clearly set himself a challenge in capturing the dignity and also the skin tones of the sitter - for me he met the challenge well.

After the interruption to Leslie's plans we returned to look art the works he had scheduled, mainly works around the Victorian era - here I fond the works less engaging being more (to me) rooted in 'reportage' and propaganda .

 The biggest culprits being  an imagined (or made up) portrayal of  Queen Victoria bestowing a bible in 'The Secret of England's Greatness' (1863) by Thomas Jones Barker, almost as saccharine is the tableau style work showing an almost spectral saint like  Florence Nightingale in the work by Jerry Barrett called The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari.

The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari

What we were seeing in some of these works was almost a collage of Newspaper images colourised and some work better than others, another of Jerry Barrett's is the painting of Victoria visiting the war wounded has had little care in the scale and direction of view of many of the extras behind the Queen and her family.

Queen Victoria's First Visit to her Wounded Soldiers (1856) - for me the extras don't work 

The highlight for me this week though was undoubtedly Dame Laura Knight's self portrait - I'd seen this before (pre the course)  and thought it was great but having spent some time looking at it with the group I realise now some of what is going on (and like it even more for the extra 'layers').

Leslie explained the 'Artist is Present' (and of course mention was made of Marina)  phrase and also mentioned Yoko Ono's 'cut piece' (it's not only formal art he knows about!).

But here the artist is present at many levels and this was a ground breaking work when it appeared at the time of the suffragettes struggle for 'The Vote'.

But is's witty and skilful too

The Artist truly is present - Dame Laura Knight's taboo busting self portrait of 1913 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Kant and Egalitarianism

Last Ethical outing at CityLit

Well when Ariel introduced us to the CityLit course on Moral Philosophy 10 weeks or so ago he did mention it wouldn't be easy and it didn't feel like it was - it was undoubtedly too short to give the individual topics the time and space their particular angle warranted (even Ayn Rand's  Objectivism  felt was worth more time).

The overwhelming good (for me) was that it gave me the opportunity to see that 'things' could be judged and that perhaps consistency of such judgements was something worth aspiring to.

John Rawls (nice little video of the man here)  who was one of the modern philosophers we considered all to briefly in our final session was to all intents and purposes a Kant-ian Egalitarian (and a favoured thinker by former  US president   Bill Clinton) but it seems one can be of the Kantian persuasion but non Egalitarian in your leanings as was the other modern philosopher under our  fading' spotlight Robert Nozick (favoured by Neo-Cons) - he as far as I can see made some incisive points on freedom in his review of Distributive Justice - but I feel my heart is not with him.

I (like many of us) reckon the state is not the best judge on allocating resources to solve problems but the alternative of 'no- state' offers what might be eben more perilous for the weak and disenfranchised.

So a challenge for me is to consider appropriately what are 'Moral' questions and then   make use of the school of Moral Philosophy which might throw light on what we should do - I am also (and hope to remain) cognisant of the dangers of appearing to be 'Moralistic' - I am now even more conscious of my own shortcomings (without aspiring to be at a level of a Socrates).

Is our planet the most important thing?
Perhaps we should worry that many can not afford £400,000
for a roof above their head?

Do we care about fairness - and if we do how do we define fairness - I liked the thought experiment Rawls's describes in the  'Veil of Ignorance ' but also can not totally reject the ideas of Rand (or for that matter Nietzsche).

Utility is attractive in the abstract but perhaps can be less compelling in 'real life' - when viewed against allocations to ones 'flesh and blood'  anyway something of value I hope has been gleaned by me from looking at my own views on morals..

Should we be taxed to support the homeless and destitute or does that make us all slaves to the state? 

Friday, March 16, 2018


I suppose I'm getting a bit hooked on these 'phone' panoramas - so let's get yesterdays one  out of the way (from a quick Tate Modern visit).

Panoramas - I love 'em 
In fact yesterday was the last part of Moral Philosophy (more on that in the next day or two) - sufficient to say that some light relief and a change of direction  was needed.

Having taken journey to St Paul's trip across the wobbly bridge and the strains of Leonard Cohen penned Hallelujah being played on the accordion started a  lifting of spirits.

St Paul's -A source of awe 
A  busker performs

Once inside the Tate Modern I looked at works I was familiar with and new ones too.

I'd become acquainted with work of US artist Richard Tuttle both at Tate Modern a few years back - this new work was on (to me) a more human scale and nice to look around it - although the full 360 degree was not possible.

System VI - White Traffic by Richard Tuttle (2011)

Amongst the other work I was excited to see was that of Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga which was very striking - having found out a little about it I guess it could be related in some ways to 'Action paintings' - I really like it (interesting too that he spent some time as a Buddhist Monk).

An abstract that is not obviously from Japan
The Tate is very well curated and the work of Eduardo Paolozzi really works well with the Russian artist Viktor Pivovarov nearby.

Work from a favourite of mine The Scottish-Italian artist  Paolozzi - City of the Circle and the Square 

Part of Viktor's Apartment 22 collection

Also great to see again the work I'd visited with James (on another CityLit course)  a few months back and eavesdrop on a guide explaining the connection with immigrant labour.

Los Moscos (again)

Also took a look again at two significant (dear we say Iconic?) pieces-

Fountain and Cadeau.

On a pedestal 

Any old iron (y)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Slavery and more at The National Portrait Gallery

Yesterday and at the National Gallery again - and we saw some examples of Portraits which were connected with Britain's involvement in the slave trade -Leslie the course leader reminded the group how England faced two ways on Slavery amassing large amounts of money but in some ways being  disapproving of the practice.

 The first portrait of  Lord Chief of Justice (William Murray) who ruled against the right of recapture of a black slave. This painting was by John Singleton Copley an Anglo American artist.

Lord Chief Justice

 My favourite of the paintings  was probably the portrait of Erasmus Darwin (related to Charles Darwin) by Joseph Wright of Derby (I like the reflection of the sitter's hand in the table) - this painter is one of my favourite English Painters.

Erasmus Darwin (Physician)  by Joseph Wright of Derby - look at the reflected hand

 I also liked the painting of Mary Lloyd by George Romney - the Gallery has hung this on the other side of an arch from a rather mannered self portrait by the Swiss (female) artist Angelica Kauffman.

and Mary Lloyd  by George Romney

A self portrait by Angelica Kaufman 

 The painting by Haydon is less successful as art but a useful documentation regarding the feeling amongst abolitionists particularly Quakers.

Haydon struggled with this work and it could have been one of the difficulties and  a contributory factor around his taking of his own life

Visitors take a look at a meeting of The Anti Slavery Society Convention - 1841 by Haydon 

And a panorama of a wet Trafalgar square by me..

A synthesised view