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The two best living artists are Frederik Cuming and Bernard Dunstan. I’ll post a tribute to each on my Patreon page, http://patreon/rynoswart

For years I have been watching out for them to be granted the recognition they deserve, in vain. Both men are getting on in years. And the British honour system, with its lords and barons and knights and dames ad OBEs and all its other meaningless dross, will not even deign to purchase one of their pictures, much less honour them. Thank God.

A studio interior by Fred Cuming

The art Mafia: Academia, and even more so, the industries that runs art, have been promoting through their sponsorships the art of shlock. Their motivation is to make the general public; university professors, practising artists, scientists, philosophers, you, me, your mother, your father, your doctor and your plumber, give up on appreciating or, God forbid, loving art. This leaves art and its promotion in their hands.

The Art industry delights in the defeated phrase of the lovers of art and beauty, “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.”

Therefore, by definition, any art that is appreciated or loved by the public, is bad art.

And we are complicit. By not looking for good art, and particularly, by not supporting good artists by buying their work, we doom them to poverty and obscurity and to despair.

For decades, Fred Cuming has taught at the top art schools in the U.K. and has produced work of exquisite beauty and depth and sincerity. You cannot hope to be a good artist if you are not first a good person.

Ingres’ violin

Ingres was one of the finest draughtsmen in history, and a great neo-classical painter. He was also an accomplished violinist.

At the age of 13 he was second violinist in his local orchestra, and later, when he was Director of the French Academy in Rome he played with Franz Liszt on a regular basis.

La grande baigneuse

He was so proficient at his music that a new expression entered the French language, ‘un violon d’Ingres’, meaning a hobby at the level of a second career.

Music took a lot of words from art, such as tone, colour, composition, light and shade, nocturne, harmony, melody line, notes and chords; and applied them to sound, enriching their meaning.

That is where they remained.

Could we artists reclaim our words? Could we get a richer meaning to our old word, line, or tonality?

When I explored various concepts such as harmony in art, I decided to take lessons in the viola. In art “line” usually means outline, but in music it has a melodic quality, weaving in and out through the colours of the orchestra.

In the tired old arguments about whether art should be abstract or realistic, I believe that art should have the qualities of music.

Composition, harmony, chiaroscuro, attack, finish, texture, fields, transitions and edges, these are the elements that fascinate me. When in the end I found the true meaning of, for example, harmony, I found it in the visual world.

From music, I learnt that we can either play a note or a chord, and that in art, likewise, we can paint either a note or a chord or a passage.

The task of the artist? Making visual music.

‘The birth of Venus’ is Botticelli’s most famous painting. But the story behind the painting is as fascinating as the picture itself.

In 1453 a baby girl was born in the village of Portovenere (the port of Venus and long accepted as the birthplace of the Goddess) and as we can tell from the paintings of her, she was a genuine beauty. At the age of 16 she married into the powerful Vespucci family of Florence. It was her husband who introduced her to Botticelli.

Birth of Venus, detail

Although wealthy and powerful, she chose the career of artist’s model and was much in demand by all the great artists of the city, particularly Botticelli. Everybody, including Giuliano de Medici fell in love with her. The prince of Florence was a keen sportsman who loved competing. In 1475, when Simonetta was 22, Giuliano took part at a jousting tournament with a standard he had commissioned Botticelli to create, a portrait of Simonetta Vespucci with the legend ‘La Sans Pareille” (the unequalled one). The poor artist, then 30 years old, was himself head over heels in love with her. Giuliano won the tournament and nominated Simonetta ‘the Queen of Beauty’. A year later, Simonetta was dead, and two years to the day after her death, Giuliano de Medici was assassinated.

Botticelli painted her, often in the nude. The Birth of Venus was only finished some eight years later. Simonetta lived on in Botticelli’s mind. He asked to be buried in the church where her body lay so that he could spend eternity at her feet.

His last wish was granted.

One of the great masters of composition, one of the great colourists, one of the best draughtsmen that ever lived, it is Degas’ perfect brushwork that sets him apart.

That, and his unstinting honesty.

“Why do you make women so ugly,” he was asked.

“Because, Madame, in general, women are ugly.”

Beauty is truth, truth beauty. Degas never idealised. The truth of Degas’ art has more beauty in it than any other painter of the human figure. One of his great aphorisms on the subject of art is:

All great artists have the same style; no style.

Style is a trap for the talentless. Sargent, Rembrandt, Bouguereau, Tiepolo, Titian, Velasquez, Klimt, all paint in simple honesty.

In this simplicity lies their glory.

The dark domain. The underworld, home to mice and moles and snakes and bats, volcanos, roots, vegetable growth, and Pluto.

Greek gods are personifications of natural phenomena; or projections of human consciousness (the self) into aspects of nature.

Venus is you, so is Apollo; wherever your mind chooses to dwell.

Pluto in his cavern sat,

illumined by the sulphrous glow

Feeling now the dread impact

Of Venus and her Cupid’s bow.

Pluto represents the darker aspects of my art and of myself, for what we visualise, that is who we are.

Demeter, goddess of the harvest, and Zeus, had a daughter, Persephone. She was gathering flowers when Pluto burst through a crack in the earth and abducted her.

Demeter, in her agony, neglects the earth and causes all growth to cease. Eventually Zeus persuaded Pluto to return Persephone to her mother, but Pluto managed to have her spend half the year with him in Hades where she is the queen of the underworld.

The part of the year when Persephone is in Hades, is our winter, but to my mind, during that time it is spring in the underworld, and a time of joy.

Dark joy, like serious music.

As a child and as a teenager and as an adult I loved the Air Ace Picture Library and the War Picture Library.

One of my favourite covers from the 60s

I delighted in the well drawn comic strips and the magnificent covers of Spitfires and Hurricanes battling Messerschmidts and Focke-Wulfs. I have searched for the names of the artist for years and yesterday I found a lot of them. But to my shock, they all turned out to be Italian!

These artists had such love for aircraft and pilots that they ignored their history and created glorious tales of heroism and sacrifice.

Many artists of my generation found their inspiration in their work and this is my small thank you to them.

To paraphrase Churchill: “Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been owed to so few.” They just happen to be Italian… Not only Italian, but Venetian. And there were many more.

Alberto Breccia
Raffaele Paparella
Enrique Breccia
Angel Ruiz Pardo
Guido Buzzelli
Ivo Pavone
Amador García Cabrera
Vitor Peon
Kurt Caesar
Jordi Penalva
Renzo Calegari
Carlos Pino
Angel Badia Camps
Garcia Pizarro
Antonio Canale
Renato Polese 
Massimo Carnevale
Hugo Pratt

Paris for sale

I am besotted with beauty.

When I was a young man, in 1980, I walked all the way around the beautiful Opera Garnier, named after its creator. I had no interest in going inside, having no desire to see a modernist Chagall over its original roof painting. I hate Modernist crap.

What I was fascinated by, was the ring of lampposts running around the perimeter, what Garnier called his ring of light.

Each lamppost was a bronze sculpture in the Classic Greek style, a young woman holding a lamp above her head.

One of the original lampposts of the Opera in Paris.

I was entranced. The sculptures, 22 of them, were positioned at a variety of angles on the high walls each more sensual and elegant than the next.

This was when I started my career as a fine artist by saving enough to stay in France for one year, and the caryatids of the Opera were a major inspiration.


Today, when I looked for images of the lamps, I was in for a shock.

These masterpieces are being restored, and in the process they are being sold to pretentious sponsors. 900 individuals and companies paid 1.8 million euros for own their individual artwork.  Paris is being sold and the price is an average of 2000 euros. You will be greeted with the names of the sponsors but you will search in vain for the name of the artists who created them.

Degas was the ultimate master.

He used his own original systems of composition, not old sets of rules and strictures. In fact, he appears to delight in breaking the rules, as in having people walk out or the picture. This is because he was the first and maybe the only master to see that the frame is not a panel, but a window, and that the artist’s universe continues beyond the frame, in brushstrokes and painterly textures.

In “Absinthe”, the two characters are placed well back into the picture plane, and trimmed by the right edge of the frame. A series of table tops lead into the pictorial space

Absinthe, by Edgar Degas

Degas. Absinthe. 1876

The table tops are bare and devoid of cutlery. There are no chairs. The tabletops levitate, float in air, with no legs and nor are they are cantilevered from the wall.
This is composition. This is genius.

In “Jockeys”, the viewer is standing in the middle of the restless horses, turning and stomping around us.
This is composition. This is genius.

In “Snowstorm at sea”, Turner paints from the depths of the storm as if he were a seagull, or lightning itself.
This is composition. This is genius.

In “the Maids of Honour”, Velasquez observes the scene from outside his own body, through the eyes of the King of Spain who we see in the mirror on the far wall.
This is composition. This is genius.

These kinds of compositions are not calculations, nor are they accurate observations. These are visions, artistvision.

It is good to remember Mozart’s remark on genius, “Love, love, love alone, is genius.”

As artists, this is our mission. To see with the eyes of God.

 

 

Charles Bargue is widely known as the founder of the academic approach to drawing. His approach, as set out in his book, Cours de Dessin, (available here) is used most of the academies in Europe and America. The approach is dry and lifeless, even sterile, but hugely efficient.

Naturally gifted artists should avoid this kind of academic training as it will hamper their natural exuberance but in an environment where so much art is a talentless mess, all serious artists should at the very least pay serious consideration to it.

What came as a surprise to me is that in his painting, Bargue was a master of composition, colour, texture, atmosphere and detail.

Bargue. Flute player

Charles Bargue.
The flute player.

Usually we see atmosphere as the contrary of detail, and it takes a master such as Vermeer, Degas, and yes, Bargue, to bring the two opposites together into perfect harmony.

The study for his Chess Players is as loose as an impressionist painting, and the finished painting a tour de force of observation and technical mastery.

The Flute Player displays unbelievable virtuosity and great self discipline. One button on the musician’s coat is a still life in the small, and the music sheet looks as if it can be played from.

How is this done? I know from his drawings that he did a finished study in outline, but where do the subtleties of colour, value and texture come from? There is only one place, the subconscious.

Great artists can see what is unseen. They can visualise a world of the imagination, and they can live in it. Writers, musicians and artists have this gift of visualisation and if we want to encourage it we have to return to real painting.

When I ask my students who they regard as the world’s leading artist, they often have no idea. And most of them have never heard of Brad Holland.

Rhodesia was under sanctions in 1972, not that it bothered anybody.I first encountered the art of Brad Holland in a Playboy magazine, sold from under his counter by a Greek café owner.

As a young artist fresh from conservative South Africa, no TV, movies like Clockwork Orange and the Last Tango in Paris banned, Playboy was an Alladin’s cave of creativity and kinky fun!

Brad Holland. 3rd eye.

Brad Holland. 3rd eye.


I found an interview with Michael Crichton in which he undertook to kill himself at age 30 “because that is when we lose our creative mojo”, and then I came across a monthly feature called the “Ribald Classic”.

These pieces featured erotic stories and poems from centuries back, but it was the illustration that riveted me. Black ink drawing with what seemed to be a broken pen on bad cardboard, nervous, clumsy lines, and passages of tight pattern, often checkerboard. But the drawing..!

It was like seeing my first Klimt, long erotic contours, faces like a more virile Beardsley, and expressive but anatomically logical figure work. These were not illustrations, these visions spring directly from a tortured, delighted imagination. It was art of the highest level. That was what I thought at 27, and it is what I think now.

The next time I saw Brad Holland’s work was in a collection from the New York Times Op Ed Page. He had reinvented himself. Now he was serious political commentator with a style more reminiscent of Rembrandt’s etchings.

In the movie “Nine and a half weeks”, one sequence featured a slide show of paintings that I was convinced were by Brad Holland, although I had never seen any work by him in oils. Any way, this was, as before when I went scrounging for Playboy Magazines at the Greek in the corner shop, my excuse for seeing the movie about 12 times.

Brad Holland thinks of himself as an illustrator. He is not. All his illustration work was for editorial purposes, independently conceived. And all of it is fine art.

You can read Brad Holland’s blog here:
http://www.drawger.com/holland/?article_id=14174