Thursday, 31 October 2013

Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted - Two new exhibitions

It's not often I can say: 'I was at Buckingham Place this morning when ...' but this morning I could. I was at a private view of two new exhibitions that open to the public shortly in the Queen's Gallery.

The first is Castiglione: Lost Genius, the first ever major exhibition of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione's work in the UK. The title of the exhibition is apt; Castiglione (1609-1664) was a brilliant draughtsman and there are 90 of his oil sketches and prints on display, many of them painted in coloured oil directly onto the paper without pencil or charcoal guidelines or preparatory drawings. Several of the pieces are mounted in such a way that you can see front and back of the paper and the bleed through.

Castiglione had a somewhat turbulent and violent life - mostly of his own making it seems - which may be why he's been almost written out of art history. He even looks cross in his own self-portrait:

He was also something of an innovator and can be credited with the invention of the monotype; a printing technique that, as the name suggests, produces a single good print. Any subsequent copies are inferior or 'ghost' copies. There are several of his monotypes on display in the gallery.

We were given a rather splendid and informative walkthrough by senior curator Martin Clayton whose knowledge and passion brought the man to life. Then it was time for tea and pastries before looking at the second exhibition.

The second exhibition - and very much the one that floated my boat - is called Gifted and consists of more than 100 original works on paper, gifted from the Royal Academy of Art to the Queen for the Golden Jubilee. The exhibition boasts work by Tracey Emin, John Hoyland, Humphrey Ocean, Dvid Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, Chris Orr, Zaha Hadid, Gillian Ayres, Lord Foster and many, many more. And none of them have ever been seen by the public before. It's a delicious treasure-trove of 20th century art.

Do go and have a look if you're in London. The exhibitions open tomorrow, November 1st and run until 16th March 2014.

Full details here (Castiglione: Lost Genius) or here (Gifted). One ticket covers both exhibitions (they're housed in different rooms of the same gallery) and there's stuff for the kids too with printmaking and iPad art to create in a resources room.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Pale Blue Dot - Revisited

Carl Sagan's amazing soliloquy from Cosmos set to new music and video by the smart people at The Sagan Series. It quite took my breath away.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Autumn Art Sale

I need to de-clutter so I'm selling off some paintings. All are original acrylic paintings on box canvasses. Price includes packaging and courier collection and delivery. If you're interested in any, mail me at and we'll sort it out. Apologies for the watermarks; so much of my stuff gets used without permission these days that it's become a necessity (see here and here).

The Greendale Chainsaw Massacre (Postman Pat's Bloody Day) - 20" x 16" x 0.75" - £75

Arr! Pod - 20" x 16" x 0.75" - £75

But is it Art?? - 20" x 16" x 0.75" - £50

Bipolar Bears - 20" x 16" x 0.75" - £75

Lord of the Rainbows - (Large!)39" by 27.5" box canvas - £100

April Showers - (Large!) 35" x 27" box canvas - £100

Monday, 21 October 2013

Boys in Blue - Step by Step

Another painting in my Cliché Britain series. This one was a little different. The four previous painting - Meat and Two Veg, Vicars and Tarts, Fisherman's Friends and Teacher's Pet - were all completed in full colour on 50.5 x 40.5cm (20" by 16") box canvases:

However, while painting Teacher's Pet, I found myself wondering if I could do a painting that is monochromatic. The obvious thing to do was something in sepia or shades of grey but no subject (or attendant cliché) jumped out at me. But then the phrase Boys in Blue occurred to me and the painting virtually jumped fully formed into my head. Plus, I had a couple of sketches left over from when I did the prize painting for Constable Colgan's Connectoscope:

So, here's the sketch and first blocking in. I decided to use a smaller 30 x 40cm canvas and to mask off an outer frame (with masking tape - what else?) so that the finished portrait would look something like an old-fashioned photo:

My first idea was to make the helmet comically small, such as those you buy from joke shops. But, as the painting progressed, it became obvious that a full sized helmet would work better and the painting would fit better into the series. So I resized it and began to build up the depth of colour and shading.

I took some liberties with the word 'blue' by adding a touch of quinacridone magenta (which has some blue in it) to the background. It's such a beautiful colour and it helped lift the figure off the canvas. I took off the masking tape at this point and painted in some eyes, buttons and collar numbers.

The final job was to tidy up generally, sort out the asymmetric sideburns, and shrink the helmet badge which, I realised, was way too big. For accuracy there should also be a chin strap ... I'm not sure what to do about that. Sigh. I'll probably just leave it. Any road up - here's the finished painting:

And, yes, I know it bloody looks like me again. Apparently. I must address this with the next painting.

Yet More Internet Thievery

Some time ago, I wrote about how my images turn up all over the internet on sites without my permission, often with no accreditation and NEVER with me actually earning anything from them. The example I talked about was this cartoon of a burglar (seen here being used on a site without my permission).

Just recently I had occasion to Google a two page illustrated spread I did for the QI H Annual a few years ago. The image is owned by them and me and, proud of it as I am, I put a copy on my website to advertise my skills. Upon checking the image today, I've found a staggering number of sites that have just helped themselves. There are even sites that cheekily cut the image up, alter it and offer no credit to me (or QI) at all (in fairness, when I contacted the site this image is lifted from, they removed it immediately).

Or this Geocaching site or this blog or this design site or ... I could post links all evening. Now, as it happens, this image hasn't impacted on me as much as the burglar image did; I was paid to do this one and the copyright lies with myself and QI. However, I've never earned a single penny from the burglar image even though it's now reproduced on hundreds of sites. And that just isn't fair.

These aren't the only two of my images this has happened to. There are lots more.

Back when I wrote the burglar blogpost I threatened to watermark every picture. From now on, that's exactly what I'm doing. I've had enough.
I earn bugger all from art as it is. I refuse to contribute to my further demise by providing free art for all and sundry to help themselves to.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

A Postcard from Norwich

Thursday was another trip away to Norwich to do a Skeptics in the Pub talk. My hotel was very nice and sited right on the river. The talk went well with a lovely crowd. Then, as is my wont, I used Friday morning to go exploring.

Norwich has more than its fair share of interesting buildings. For instance, the two photos above show the imposing Victorian Royal Hotel on Agricutural Hall Plain and the Norwich Castle study Centre. The Study Centre was originally the Shirehall, built in 1821 to replace the original 1789 Shirehall built by Sir John Soane, which in turn was built on the original Shirehall of 1579. There's been a shire house on the site since 1270 and they have all been connected to the castle on the hill behind by way of a tunnel. And talking of the castle ...

The first thing that strikes you about Norwich Castle is how modern, clean and fresh the main building looks, considering the castle is Norman. There is a good reason for this. The original castle was built by William the Conqueror sometime around 1066-1075 to support his attempts to subjugate the East Anglians. The castle was used as a gaol from 1220, with additional buildings constructed on the top of the motte next to the keep. These buildings were demolished and rebuilt between 1789 and 1793 by the aforementioned Sir John Soane, and more alterations were made in 1820. Then, in 1835-1839, Anthony Salvin, with James Watson as mason, renovated the entire fascia using Bath Stone, faithfully reproducing the original ornamentation. The fact that Bath Stone is so soft means that it's picked up a century (or more - some of the stones are much older than others) of graffiti; but none of your spray-painted tags - these are carved into the stone itself.

And this slightly less impressive but nevertheless historical effort ...

Just to the side of the castle, you come across a series of what look like hothouses. Further investigation reveals them to be the high roof of a shopping complex called the Castle Mall.

I walked inside and was struck by how light and airy the mall was. It's a lovely space that looks more like the interior of a cruise liner than a mall. So I took some photos. And was immediately pounced upon by security who informed me that photography isn't allowed. Naturally I asked why and was given some rather wishy-washy excuse about anti-terrorism. I then pointed out that I'm an ex-cop and that they were talking arse-gravy. Firstly, if a terrorist wanted to blow up the shopping centre, they could visit it every day to plot and wouldn't need photos. It's not a restricted premises like, say, Westminster Palace. Secondly, no self-respecting terrorist would provide the police with evidence - in the form of photos - that they'd been extensively casing the joint. However, my logic and experience cut no mustard (that's a Norwich joke) and I was forced to capitulate or leave. Sadly, this ridiculous 'no photography' rule seems to exist just so the jobsworths have something to be jobsworthy about. Having whinged about the incident on Twitter, I heard that it seems to be common practice in shopping malls. Sigh. I was in two minds as to whether to include any of the photos I took in this blogpost. But then seeing that there are 100s of photos of the place online - including on the architects and the bloody mall's own websites! - I figured it will be okay. Terrorists look away now.

I rounded off my trip with a visit to the home of Father Ted and IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan and family where we drank tea, walked his dog and discussed some ideas for possible TV shows. Lovely people. And, all too soon, it was time to head off to the train station and home.

Next trip ... Worthing.

A Postcard from Guildford

On Wednesday, I did an evening Skeptics in the Pub show in Guildford. I didn't get a chance for a prolonged look around because, at only 42 miles from where I live, I drove there and back and didn't need an overnight stay. All I really got to explore is the High Street which is set with granite 'setts' (not cobbles) and boasts a number of really old buildings all ruined, sadly, by their ground floor conversion into anodyne shop fronts.


But it does boast the Gothic madness that is the Guildhall and solid non-nonsense pile that is the old Abbot's Hospital. The Guildhall dates from 1589 and was once visited by Good Queen Bess. It got its current frontage - with balcony and John Aylward clock - in 1683. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot's almshouse, the Abbot's Hospital (or Hospital of the Holy Trinity), dates from 1619 and is a splendid building:

Like Lincoln earlier in the week, it's nice to visit a town that has such pretty streets and well-preserved historical architecture and features. Walking back down the High Street with the sun slowly setting, I grabbed a few more photos. Lovely.

Friday, 18 October 2013

One man's amazing folly - Jim Bishop's homemade castle

Jim Bishop is an extraordinary chap. Despite having no training in architecture, stonemasonry, bricklaying, carpentry, ironworking, glass-cutting, floor-laying or any other skill associated with the building trade, he's built himself a castle.

Jim started construction of Bishop Castle, as it's called, on a plot of land in Southern Colorado, in 1969 and has laid every stone and shaped every plank himself. The building boasts an impressive and cathedral-like Ballroom and a tower over 160ft (49m) tall linked to the rest of the structure by pair of scary-looking aerial walkways. It's now a popular tourist destination with over 600,000 visitors a year and entry is free. Bishop is just happy to let people enjoy it. Weddings are now staged there.

In the mid 1980's, a friend of Bishop's was driving a truck full of discarded stainless steel warming plates from the Pueblo County Hospital to the landfill. He decided that Jim could probably put it to better use and so dropped it off. Bishop spent the winter building a chimney out of the steel, riveting thousands of hammered scales that he cut out of the plates to a metal frame. The resulting dragon is now perched over the Grand Ballroom and the addition of a burner from a hot air balloon (another donation) allows the dragon to genuinely breathe fire.

(Photo Texas Tongs)

There was a time when, all over the UK, people built follies. Many have now become beloved tourist attractions. Sadly, those days are gone with restrictive planning regulations and an army of NIMBY types insisting that nothing be built that is curious, odd or eccentric. At least in much larger countries like America you can still do this kind of thing. And the country is all the richer for people like Jim Bishop.

Official site.