Thursday, 23 January 2014

Let's Talk: Simon Fletcher

by Poppy Field I

Have you noticed a recurring motif in these blog posts? Look left.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a picture of me. Surprisingly, the photographer, JR, claims to own ‘the biggest art gallery in the world.’ Well, as just one of the tens of thousands of faces captured in his Inside Out Project I wouldn’t dispute it...

Over the last decade, JR’s full frame portraits have adorned streets worldwide. In 2006 his initially illegal Parisian project Portrait of a Generation gained official recognition. Thus far, JR’s Facebook page has 186,000 likes.


Now, you may say that this blogger is too young to appreciate what life was like prior to such platforms. That she takes it for granted. Well, you would be right. In part. 

I’ve grown up hand-in-hand with the World Wide Web. Honestly, I can barely remember life before instant access to a wider, faceless, virtual community. But I don’t take that for granted.

A long-lost conversation with my much-admired Art teacher, Mr Leighton, springs to mind. At fourteen, I was absentmindedly flicking through artists’ websites awaiting divine intervention, or inspiration. Inevitably, Mr Leighton came to check upon my progress. As I revealed tab after tab after tab of unknown, obscure graduates’ artwork he remained unusually silent. Finally, my teacher reminded me that a visually aesthetic website cannot guarantee an artist’s quality. And vice versa.

Mr. Leighton encouraged me to really see the art before my eyes, rather than just look at a plethora of images. However, he also revealed that, as a young sculptor, he would have relished the opportunity to have had a website of his own.

So, I want to mention Bridgeman Studio – a new online platform just weeks away from launch!

Artists, from illustrators to painters to sculptors, will soon be able to submit their applications. In exchange for an annual fee of £100 artists will have:

But more about that another time.

You might call it formative experience but Mr Leighton’s words resonate in my mind today. In order to fully appreciate platforms such as Bridgeman Studio, that increase an artists’ exposure at the click of a button, it is vital to recognise how artists have previously gained recognition.

Let us consider the success of the painter and landscape artist Simon Fletcher.

As an aspiring artist, I have been fortunate to spend some time with Simon and his charming wife Julie. Over a recent lunch, as we reflected upon Simon’s career, they shared a lifetimes’ worth of invaluable advice with me. I’d like to pass some of it on to you.

Simon recalls his earlier years as an artist in England. Strangers often expressed astonishment that he could support his family through art alone. Sceptical? Don’t be.

‘One cannot simply be a good artist, or have an idea that will provoke sensation or outrage. Business sense is essential.’

In 1982, the Fletchers moved to Southern France. Simon’s expectation of a receptive and appreciative environment for an artist was well placed. Even the warmer climate facilitated his vibrant palette.

However, fantastic technique alone – such as that of van Gogh- cannot guarantee sales. Especially in a poor region like the Midi. 

So, Simon began exhibiting in Germany. But, business sense doesn’t stop with a change of clientele. Simon then questioned the success of some German contemporaries over others. He discovered a recurring trend amongst the more prominent artists: giving seminars, intensive workshops and publishing books. In that place, at that time, these inspired confidence in a client.

Today, Simon has over ten books to his name.  His paintings are published online with The Bridgeman Art Library - the world’s leading specialists in the distribution of fine art, cultural and historical media for reproduction. And so, high quality prints of his work are readily available to an international market of over 30,000.

‘Never stop drawing.’

With a Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook always close to hand, Simon firmly believes in drawing daily. By putting pencil to paper an artist can achieve something of paramount importance ‘for any human being: to learn about the world.’ Simon illustrated this with words; tree; baby; glass. With each spoken an image would instantaneously appear in my mind. ‘Memory recall.’ The majority of us can do that. With perseverance, disicpline and determination we all have the ability to draw well. We just have to keep trying until it looks ‘right’.

Thus, Simon wholeheartedly approves of the hours I spent before live models and in the study of anatomy at The Florence Academy of Art. Reflecting upon his own career Simon revealed that significant success came only after the study of other painters. ‘van Gogh and Gauguin, Rembrandt’s’ self-portraits, Monet, German expressionists and later on Hockney’s drawing and Frank Auerbach’s use of paint to name but a few.’     

‘Cultivate relationships.’

Have you been told ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’? I expect so. Simon is a member of the exclusive Chelsea Arts Club. But that cannot guarantee success, instead artists must diligently nurture their friendships as well as relationships with patrons. Because, ‘the reality of an artist’s life, if they are any good, is a lot of time alone with themselves trying to find inspiration in the face of indifference’.

I’m not suggesting you must immediately scan your address book in search of a proposer and seconder… but do remain sociable. Facebook won’t always cut it.

For many years, Simon and the German sculptor Carl Constantin Weber have been exchanging recipes in their letters.

To be an artist, having wealthy parents or knowing someone’s friend’s second cousin will not suffice in the long run. Like other professions, the art world requires one to give and take in equal measure.  

So, to thank Simon and Julie for their time, I posed as a hand model for Simon's forthcoming book. And I fully intend to continue putting into practise their advice.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

London Art Fair

by Poppy Field I

Fellow Courtauld student Yasmin Siabi and I spent today submerged in Modern British and Contemporary Art at London Art Fair… with VIP access thanks to the generosity of George Stewart-Lockhart! Remember that name – he may just feature in one of our digiQualia interviews.

Yasmin, I don’t want to get overly sentimental but David Spiller, Portland Gallery, hit the nail on the head:

However, my highlight had to be seeing three Mark Demsteaders in Panter & Hall.

I can clearly remember the first time I became aware of Demsteader. I was about 15 years old and still harbouring a childhood crush on my big brother’s best friend. It was at their flat that I noticed a flyer for Demsteader. Being young, and impressionable, I quickly understood that this must be a very important artist. Especially if He had been to the show.

And so began my love affair with figurative art. Five years on I have even had a little training in academic drawing and sculpture at The Florence Academy of Art!

But as current Art History students, Yasmin and I were soon distracted by Nancy Fout’s reinterpretation of Millet’s The Angelus in Pertwee, Anderson & Gold.    

Other artists also explored the canon.

Inspired by comics, the Gorillaz animators and modern technology, Paul Reid has been painting scenes from Greek Mythology. Hung by 108 Fine Art, Reid's classical compositions are large in scale. Such attention to anatomical detail instantly recalls salon style history paintings.

Continuing on, we soon discovered digiQualia favourite Jack Bell Gallery had actually hung their selection in a traditional salon manner. 

Even landscape painter Marco Crivello, Four Square Fine Arts, acknowledged times gone by with a little gold leaf.

Yet, London Art Fair was rife with technical tricks.

Paintings that bent.

Reconstituted marble.

I first encountered this medium in 2012 whilst awaiting an interview. Enzo Guaricci’s marble balloons were installed at the Courtauld as part of the annual East Wing Bienalle. I was far too busy prodding them for any nervous nail-nibbling… but left wondering how marble appeared weightless.

Until today. Cathy Lewis in Anthony Hepworth Gallery confirmed my suspicions. Casting a composite of marble powder and resin creates the illusion of carved stone. Done and dusted. 

To the sculptors out there, Anthony Hepworth also let me in on a trade secret – it is far more economical than bronze casting!

Apparently, organic matter is also acceptable. As demonstrated by Anna Gilespie’s acorn and wooden figures at Beau Arts Bath.

Truth be told, Gilespie doesn't deny bronze.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Location, Location, Location

by Poppy Field I

In my last post, I mentioned some friends sculpting figures for the Dandi March Memorial in Mumbai. Well, they're back and my newsfeed lives to tell the tale…

Scrolling downwards, I soon discovered that another Florence Academy of Art Alumni has been practising art abroad.

Maximiliano Vatovac A.K.A the Plein Air Apprentice.

Max’s mission is to travel the world in search of other, more experienced landscape painters. Immersing himself by sleeping, eating, travelling and painting alongside each mentor, he hopes to gain an insight into his or her everyday cultural experience.

And the conditions certainly can be hostile.

While many of us enjoyed cosy Christmases Max literally navigated a minefield with the ex-Israeli solider turned painter Jacob Benary

For Max, painting the Golan on the Syrian border, to the sound of bombs and machine guns, was perhaps one of this “life changing” trip’s greatest challenges. Although surrounded by atrocity, he reflects that this battlefield was one of the most poignant images painted during his journey in the Middle East. 

Between now and his next adventure, Max will be working on a series of short videos shot whilst on location. So watch this space.

In the meantime I’ve taken to scouring the pages of Trans Artists… dreaming that I might incorporate sculpting abroad with an internship this summer. Whilst I hate to create competition, it would be cruel to keep that gem of a website from you.

Because, one thing I am certain of is the importance of travel. Just look at the work of Mark Coreth - one of my favourite sculptors.

Mark is perhaps best known for the Ice Bear Project. This non-political, non-for-profit arts organisation was conceived after his 2007 trip to Baffin Island. With the threat of climate change my hope of experiencing the Arctic begins to melt away.

In 2009 the first bear was carved from a ten-ton block of ice in Copenhagen to coincide with the UN Climate Summit meeting. As the days passed it began to melt – revealing a bronze skeleton and three informative plaques. Since then this dynamic installation and its haunting presence has been recreated worldwide.

You see, Mark firmly believes that “when travelling and learning it is important to put back more than you gain”.

Mark has also journeyed to Ladakh, Northern India at the invitation of Dr. Rodney Jackson, founder-director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Historically, Snow Leopards have been considered a threat. When one breaks into a pen it might kill dozens of sheep and goats, “a family’s entire life savings.”

And so, Mark joined Jackson on his mission to encourage “village-based young people to monitor ‘their’ snow leopards and other wildlife, and to realize economic benefits from preserving these animals.”

It was not with words, but through art, that Mark met this challenge.

Like my own mother, Mark grew up in Africa where he was exposed to awe-inspiring wildlife from an early age. With his hunter father becoming the chairman of a wildlife trust, the African elephant has always held a particular significance for the Coreth family.

The bronze below was sculpted following a trip to the Meru National Park, Northern Kenya. Here, Mark was able to spend extended periods of time in the Elephants’ presence. As day became dusk he began to distinguish “the small and intricate behaviour patterns” through which Mark captures an animal’s character. 

As a sculptor myself, I couldn’t resist asking about his working method. Mark’s sculptures appear to be more than the product of two-dimensional pencil on paper sketches, as preferred by painters.

Instead, Mark models maquettes in the strangest locations. The vantage point of a small mound for instance. 

Or from the back of an Elephant.

Aside from the threat of predators, poachers or poor weather conditions Mark must also contend with the practicalities of sculpting in situ. He must carry plasticine; materials to make armatures; turn tables to work upon and boxes to safely transport his three-dimensional sketches. These maquettes are vital when Mark returns to his studio in Dorset, referring to memory and experience over photographs.

Silly me. I’d have trotted off into the countryside with some wire and clay hoping for the best. 

So, let me pass on Mark’s wisdom: clay and plaster are water dependent. Wax melts in the sun. Remember Icarus?

His advice? “Good planning and preparation is key; create a back-pack studio taking only what you may need and no more.”

I’d pack thermals.

Or Factor Forty. Location dependant.