Sunday, 30 March 2014

From Life or not From Life… that is the question.

by  Poppy Field  I

Florence is magical. Call me biased, but I would argue that its artistic community is too.

Just last week I was wandering along the Arno when I bumped into my good friend Timothy McGuire. He was putting the finishing touches to a small oil painting following his first day of teaching a plein air course with fellow artist Joseph Altwer.

Timothy McGuire painting the Ponte Santa Trinita
Joe had set himself up on the opposite side of the Ponte Santa Trinita and, with teaching finished for the day, he was all set to develop his own demonstration piece. Well, then I interrupted. Rather than offer a gruff greeting and turn back to his work, Joe handed me a series of brushes and invited me to join in. Poor chap must have assumed I’d trained in painting rather than sculpture! Undeterred, I spent a magical afternoon sabotaging my half of the board whilst chatting with Joe.    

With Joe Altwer, painting the Ponte Santa Trinita

Later that evening, I was delighted to relay this unexpected event as I proudly presented the painting to my friend Amanda Granberg. And that was the end of that.

Or, at least it could have been. Instead, I found myself questioning what motives painters to paint from life. After all, their product is two-dimensional – why not simply refer to a photograph? Luckily, my jaunt to Florence held a professional purpose: to record a series of interviews with artists. Perhaps they could provide answers!

My first interview was with Nelson White. Born in 1932, Nelson is a third generation painter who trained under the esteemed artists Nerina Simi and Pietro Annigoni

 Nelson White for digiQualia

It was therefore unsurprising that, when questioned about painting from life, Nelson’s response held echoes of Simi and Annigoni’s teachings. Simi's father studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme. It was to Gérôme that Nelson referred to when expressing that, potentially, one can paint well from photographs. However, Nelson was also quick to add that Gérôme was experienced in a way that many artists today are not.

Nelson continued on to share his belief that painting from photographs can strip a subject of its emotion. That inevitably, when an artist trained to work from life turns to photography his work will worsen. It seems that this sentiment was shared by Annigoni who spoke of the camera as a barrier. A barrier which would prevent the artist from receiving a direct impression to interpret. 

Bagno La Salute by Nelson White, 2013

However, Maureen Hyde, a principle instructor in the Intensive Drawing Program at The Florence Academy of Art (FAA) pointed out that there are instances when taking photographs is necessary. As I probed further Maureen warned that I was entering dangerous territory. That this is a much debated, ‘big and long topic’. That there is no right or wrong and she could only offer her own understanding. 

With Maureen Hyde for digiQualia
In Maureen’s experience, patrons are not always available to sit for the crucial hours needed to produce a high-quality portrait. It is in these moments that Maureen will take a series of photographs and make some sketches. However, it is to these sketches that she prefers to refer. For, working from life is her ‘ideal, it is when the magic happens.’ Over time Maureen is able to extract enough information to render both depth and profundity. Compared to this, a photograph is no more than a moment of existence to Maureen. 

The Fiddler II by Maureen Hyde, 2010
I also interviewed Robert Bodem, the FAA’s Principle Sculptor Instructor. Although not a painter, Rob certainly has an opinion to share! ‘Those who have too strong views on the matter will do bad work from both.’

La Marionetta by Robert Bodem, 2007
Rob went on to explain that working from both life and from photographs facilitates good results should the artist know how to achieve them. Then, Rob drew a parallel that I had not considered before. When a model is posed in a controlled environment, and an artist records this using sight-size, it is similar to looking at a photograph in the studio. While there may be more to capture when working from life, it does not inevitably mean that the artist is honestly representing life.

So, like Maureen, Rob considers photography as an aid rather than a means to an end. But an aid limited to tell the artist only what he does not already know. 

With Robert Bodem for digiQualia

Rob could not name many professional sculptors who work exclusively from photographs. Although on occasion he has been known to use callipers, Rob prefers to rely on intuition while working from life. Just look at Feline… the languid pose was inspired by the live model stretching out whilst on a break!

Feline by Robert Bodem, 2014
The remaining interviews I conducted are part of an ongoing digiQualia project following four young artists from The Alpine Fellowship. The brainchild of Alan Lawson, this brings together figurative painters and philosophers. Inaugurated last year in the Swiss Alps, last year’s focus was to question ‘the way in which the painter works, and lives, and how the world is revealed’.

The first two of these interviews were a particularly bizarre experience. By chance, it meant questioning my previous flatmate Benjamin Arnold and his girlfriend Jennifer Keltos. Just last year they were helping me find my feet in Florence and I had come back to grill them! 

Benjamin Arnold in his studio for digiQualia

Like Rob, Ben feels uneasy when artists champion ‘fundamental beliefs’. As a young man, with '50 good years of painting ahead', Ben asked why shouldn’t he consider photography his friend? Doing so does not mean turning his back on working from life. It does not mean forgetting all that he has learnt over the last three years at the FAA. Instead, Ben believes that programs such as Photoshop may open up exciting possibilities for representational artists.  

With Jennifer Keltos for digiQualia
Similarly Jen prefers to work from life but reflects that different art suits different techniques. Through the work of her three favourite artists, Andrew Wyeth, Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt, she explained why this is so. Wyeth’s work explores life – so why should he not work from life? She interprets the paintings of Mucha and Klimt as imagined, that is conceived in the mind rather than grounded in reality. Perhaps these artists found photography useful when translating their idea to a tangible image. Perhaps, one day, she may too.

Lavey-Village by Jennifer Keltos, 2013

Though to tell Jamie Coreth to paint from a photograph is to deprive Rudolph of his red nose. When working from life, Jamie is assaulted by a range of visual stimuli that he feels neither words nor a photograph can capture. The changing light and atmospheric conditions, his own feelings and subconscious combine to create an expression based on solely on experience. 

Portrait of Jim Penfold by Jamie Coreth, 2012
When charged with copying a photograph his involvement is lost. Jamie argues that one becomes 'confined to a set of shapes and colours'. He is left with the challenge of making a photograph appear as if it is not what it is. The fun disappears.   

Painting of Lucy by Jamie Coreth, 2014
Last but not least was my interview with Amy Moseley. For Amy, music is of paramount importance. She explained that if one is given only two notes and asked to compose a score, that score has far less possibilities than if one is given a complete scale, or superior still, the full range. Through this metaphor Amy argues that, by painting from a photograph, one’s work can only ever be as good as that photograph, it cannot surpass it.

Amy then recalled the advice of Oscar Wilde - that to observe the subject over a long period of time allows one to see the sitter in all their beauty and ugliness before deciding what to portray. Thus, by painting from life Amy feels that she is able to ‘harness much more life.’

Giovanna by Amy Moseley, 2013
All too soon the interviews were over. So I turned to the camera for one final opinion. Well, to the man behind it. Like the majority of our interviewees, Basilio De San Juan Guerrero trained at the FAA. However, his method of observation is a little less conservative. For the painting below of Teresa Oaxaca they spent the best part of a week together establishing an understanding and rapport. Throughout this process Basilio constantly took photographs – searching for one where Teresa was entirely unguarded. Only then, armed with this and his memory did he begin painting.  

Augury by Basilio De San Juan Guerrero, 2012 
By listening to these artists it has become apparent to me that, as with sculpture, painting from life offers more possibilities than from a photograph. However, art is entirely subjective. There can never be right or wrong, good or bad art. At least not in today’s world where we struggle to even define the term. Beauty is as much in the eye of the beholder as the hand that brandishes the brush. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Introducing Bridgeman Studio. (Fear not Facebook Fans!)

by Poppy Field I

In my last blog, I announced the forthcoming launch of Bridgeman Studio's online platform with the promise to divulge more about it in this week's post. What I hadn't expected was gaining further incentive to share this with you.

For, although not unreasonable, something totally unpredicted happened. 

The link to my last blog about sculptor Brian Booth Craig was removed by Facebook. But, only on The Florence Academy of Art’s  profile… not digiQualia’s, not the Lyme Academy’s, not Brian’s and not mine.

Of course, I understand that nudity can be offensive to some. And I wouldn't dream of questioning Facebook’s community standards.

However, I can only assume that someone reported the link on the FAA's page as inappropriate, and that is something I want to explore. Why did this happen? Grayson Perry has suggested that art has lost the power to shock, so do we have double standards for art viewed online and that seen in the flesh? It is common to visit a Musuem or Gallery, often accompanied by a child, and be confronted by vulgarity. In fact, it is frequently intended in the work of celebrated artists such as Sarah Lucas, Tracy Emin and the Chapman Brothers.

Or, could the phenomenon of cyberbullying be a threat to artists? On the page for an academy that champions figurative art why was only this post targeted?

But, before I get carried away speculating the intent of the complainant, I would like to apologise to the Florence Academy of Art (FAA). Their page was blocked for three days.

If this happens again, the FAA risk having their page deleted permanently. And that would mean so much more than their 9,799 fans losing touch with the work of students and alumni.

Mark Twain advised “Write what you know,” and so I will use my own experiences to illustrate the calamity the removal of the FAA's Facebook page could cause.

This blog, my aspiration to understand what motivates patronage, my need to gain Gallery experience and the topics I focus on at the Courtauld are the direct result of my time spent studying sculpture at the FAA. And why is this relevant you groan? Because of Facebook. It was on my News Feed that I first learnt about the FAA through the drawings of my good friend Ione Hunter Gordon:


When I saw the quality of Ione's work, I simply had to pack up, move to Italy and seek out the training she had. 

If figurative artists can no longer post images of their work on Facebook, how will they promote themselves and gain a fan base?

How will their work encourage so many others aspiring artists to take a leap of faith?

Would artists' courses still be in demand?

But most crucially – how would this impact on their commissions and sales? This is where Bridgeman Studio comes in. Though, heed my warning: this is not an alternative for Facebook and nor is it intended to be.

Rather, Bridgeman Studio is an online platform for contemporary artists, photographers, illustrators and graphic artists. It is the newest addition to Bridgeman Art Library’s extensive portfolio of brands. These include Bridgeman Education, Bridgeman Print on Demand and Bridgeman Footage. 

Established by Harriet Bridgeman C.B.E in 1972, the Bridgeman Art Library is the world’s leading rights-managed specialist in reproducing and licensing art, photography and footage.

Over the past 40 years Bridgeman has built up a global client base with offices in London, New York, Paris and Berlin, representing some of the world’s most prestigious museums and artists for copyright. I was lucky enough to chat to one such artist, Simon Fletcher, earlier this year. If you didn't catch the ensuing blog post just click here!

Represented artists are marketed to this existing international clientèle base of over 30,000. Artists will be invited to create exclusive images for creative commissions. To generate further income Studio Artists will also be eligible for Print on Demand. But, not to worry, the studio team will manage the copyright clearance and reproduction on every licence!

Fear not Facebook fans, accepted artists will also be provided with their own personal, customisable page on the Studio website. Here, they can write a biography, upload images and link to their website and social media channels.

To apply to be a Studio Artist follow this link. You will be asked to upload a selection of low-res images. These, and your online presence, will be reviewed by the Bridgeman Studio team to evaluate your work from a commercial licensing perspective.

If accepted, your images will appear in the Bridgeman Images archives. This is considered to be the leading rights-managed resource for images and footage.

Clients can find artists' images in a variety of ways. My personal favourite is by searching a keyword. Think of these as hashtags on Instagram or twitter. #watermark: all uploaded images will be watermarked with the Bridgeman logo. Only when a client licenses an image will they have access to the un-watermarked version. And artists always retain the copyright.

Of course, such an enterprise can only exist on an annual subscription basis. The cost for an artist to join is GBP £100 (ex. VAT) / €125 (ex. VAT) / US$150. For countries outside the Eurozone or the United States of America artists will be billed in GBP.

If you have read this far then you certainly deserve to know about the Bridgeman Studio Award 2014 Competition!

In partnership with Creative Review, this offers one winner £500, Bridgeman Studio Award 2014 Certificate/Award and 1 year free subscription to the Bridgeman Studio portal. Five runners up will each be given 1 year free subscription to Bridgeman Studio or £100.

Entry is free. Just submit up to five images of original artwork on the theme JOY. The winning piece will be judged on its commercial ability to be licensed on a book cover, as CD / Album Artwork and as a standalone piece of art.

You have until Tuesday 20th May to apply. Good luck!

So, whilst I may not have solved the mystery of Facebook's decision to remove the FAA's link to my last blog, I am delighted that artists will now have an additional platform from which to promote their work. 

As for me, I am heading off to Florence next week to interview Robert Bodem, Maureen Hyde, Jennifer Keltos, Nelson White, Benjamin Arnold, Jamie Coreth and hopefully Ben Fenkse for digiQualia! More about this next time...