Saturday, 19 April 2014

"Bugger Bognor"

Those were the supposed last words uttered by King George V on his deathbed when his physician suggested he might return to Bognor to continue his convalescence.

So we thought we'd give it a try last Saturday. There must have been a complete pier there in his days, but sadly now it looks as if most of it is missing.

Nevertheless we had a nice fish and chip lunch in a hotel on the seafront - my freshly line-caught cod was especially delicious. Now what have we here? it's the resident fortune teller.

Not wanting to have our futures revealed by Gypsy Lee, even though she purports to help people over troubled waters (I could have done with her powers when my boat became waterlogged) we decided to give her a miss and play a round of golf at the nearby 18 hole mini golf course.

It was a close run contest, but my young friend beat me by a very small margin - well she is closer to the ground after all! So eventually, having savoured most of what the resort had to offer - including a few deck chairs flapping away in the brisk sea breeze .....

.... I said "Bugger Bognor, let's go somewhere else". Looking at the National Trust guide we decided to visit the nearby 'House of Art'. That was how the painter John Constable described Petworth in West Sussex. Petworth probably contains one of the best collections of art in Britain. A real treasure trove of masterpieces - from dazzling portraits by Anthony Van Dyck to golden landscapes by Turner. Here's one of Van Dyke's beautiful portraits.

And a view of the Grand Stairs with a statue in the foreground depicting Silenus nursing the infant Bacchus.

The first version of this room was gutted by fire in 1714 so when the 2nd Earl of Egremont came to rebuild he commissioned Louis Laguerre, the most celebrated mural painter of the time, to decorate the walls with a classical story that alludes to the earlier disaster.
Grinling Gibbons means wood-carving to most of us. He transformed blocks of like wood into miraculously realistic representations of delicate fur, feathers and flower petals. When we went into the Carved Room - created in 1690 by the proud Duke to show off Grinling Gibbons carvings, the most intricate designs were everywhere. Here's an example of his work.

Everywhere we looked were paintings and carvings by old masters. I've never seen so many all in one place. Knowing that the original Holbein Portrait of King Henry VIII in this classic pose had been destroyed it was nice to see this depiction of the King at the age of 46. He looks younger and his widely planted legs have been artificially elongated to make him appear even more swaggeringly impressive.

As you can see. the portrait is surrounded by more Grinling Gibbons carvings. Before leaving Petworth we took a brief stroll around the park. Designed by Capability Brown it's a supreme example of his 'natural' style. This is the rotunda, nestling comfortably in the spring sunshine.

The other day as I was painting I heard an enormous noise that sounded like a collection of gunshots right outside my window. Looking out I saw a great big tree had fallen from the woodland opposite and had completely blocked the road. Together with my neighbour Guy, we armed ourselves with secaters and started to cut away at the smaller branches so we could clear at least one side of the road. Eventually with other neighbours directing the traffic, cars managed to get through with the occasional idiot going past at high speed. Although we rang the police to help direct the traffic, they never came. But Wokingham council were pretty speedy and within half an hour two lorries arrived. One of the men laughed as he saw my little secaters and quickly attacked the tree with his chain saw.

On Monday evening my young friend and I went to the Hexagon in Reading to see Alice in Wonderland - the pantomime. Paul and Debbie were topping the bill - as The King of Hearts and the White Rabbit.

We had great seats in the stalls. The costumes were fabulous, and the singers very good. The children in the audience thoroughly enjoyed the show - especially the ventriloquist. All in all a very colourful evening.

My wooden jigsaw of the painting 'Spitfire over Henley' is almost covering my dining room table and is proving quite difficult - but that's how I like it. I ordered a 1,000 piece puzzle and intend to frame it when completed. Almost as soon as I finished the actual painting it sold so it's never hung on my walls.

Now I'm back to work on miniature portraits.

I have a new computer. Being equipped with the latest version of Microsoft - Windows 8 it's going to take a lot of getting used to, as it's completely different to my previous Windows XP. And as I'd lost the original Paint Shop Pro CD I needed to buy the latest version. And that's even more complicated! Luckily I have an expert computer Guru to guide and teach me. She goes by the name of MYF. The computer has lots of storage - in fact I'm very excited to own a machine thats
capacity is measured in terabytes! The very word sounds menacing but in fact is a thousand billion bytes, or a thousand gigabytes. And it's amazing to realise that the average toaster today contains more electronics than the Apollo spaceship had that went to the moon 40 years ago. In fact my iPhone is so advanced compared to the computer used in the Apollo's guidance system that it's hard to believe they came from the same planet. So here starts a big learning curve as I tackle the future with a two terabyte monster machine.

Throughout the centuries and in many countries, performances telling the story of the crucifixion of Christ have been acted out on Good Friday as part of traditional Easter celebrations. However this year, in Oxford, the organisers of the event were told that new rules meant that a crucifixion needed a council license. The vicar said the church had contacted the police earlier this month to inform them the Passion play was going ahead as in previous years but were told they would be committing an offence if they did not get a formal licence to hold a public event. However, with just days to go before the performance, this was declined. So the church had to cancel it at short notice. Apparently an 'official' at the local Labour council refused to rubber stamp the event. Why? Because the worker in question did not know that a Passion play is a religious affair and just assumed it was an obscene sex production! Julian Allison, licensing team leader at Oxford City Council apologised. Hopefully with a great amount of grovelling.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A tale of three techniques.

Work wise it's been a really interesting week. Normally, whatever painting or drawing I'm working on I carry on till it's completed. But as oil paints take varying times to dry I was able to leave the oil portrait I'm doing right now to start the first of three new pencil drawings. (I have a very restricted corner to work in when I use an easel which resulted in a little accident on Tuesday. As I moved my chair back the legs caught in the legs of the easel and brought the whole painting crashing down on my chest - paint side up! Luckily I was wearing an apron so didn't get too much paint on me, and as a lot of the painting was reasonably dry it didn't do too much damage. When I win the lottery I'll get a proper studio! Fat chance!) Then at the end of the week I got back to the large watercolour portrait I'm doing for my cousin Paul. So three entirely techniques in one week.

Talking of painting techniques, my young friend and I drove through Epping forest yesterday morning to visit an artist friend of mine. Trevor Wayman was our Art Director in Hong Kong when I lived in Asia. Since returning to England Trevor has been incredibly prolific in the art field - from art directing the definitive illustrated book about Queen Mary's dolls house in Windsor Castle to producing an amazing 'pop-up' book on Hong Kong. He also art directed the beautiful book on the Queen's carriages in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. Here, for example. Is the Gold State Coach.

But yesterday we were treated to see Trev's personal collection of paintings, models, and most romantic, inventive and beautiful Valentine tributes to his wife Laura. We saw over a dozen coach and horse models he'd fashioned out of tinplate. This one Laura considers a bit too macabre as it is an intricate portent of the future ( very distant, we hope). It's his hearse.

And just look at the detail inside - the coffin is made with highly polished wood and even Trev's initials are worked in silver on the lid. Amazing! Everywhere we went there were examples of his artistry - from replicas of ships his ancestors have served in to beautiful and highly detailed old Irish shop fronts. But most intriguing - and romantic - of all, are the little boxes he makes for Laura on Valentine's day. He's now made over 30 of them.

Here are some of the most intriguing - on one side of this example is a heart, and when it spins around you see the other side is a globe of the world with the message "I think the world of you"

Here's another. When the little pump is squeezed the heart expands and contracts with the words "You are my heart-throb"

Lovely, aren't they? And Trev's even made a tiny little jigsaw with the entreaty "Without you my heart would be in pieces"

They say an elephant never forgets. So Trev made an elephant with big red heart- shaped ears, with the words "You're unforgettable"

I could go on and on but I'll just show you a couple more - starting with a heart-winged bee. Wish all the bees in the world spread love all around the world on their backs like this one.

How about a little box of matches - just for two? Here it is and what else could he say but "we're perfectly matched"

As for the man himself, here is Trevor together with Laura - the love of his life. Laura made us a delicious lunch. (Her home-made peach and sultana chutney is to die for!)

But just before we leave them I must show you another example of Trevor's art. It took him 14 years to make and is a fully comprehensive model of the house they live in. It's an heirloom for their children and, apart from the outside - brick by brick - everything contained within every room has been crafted and made to scale. Every pot, pan, book, chair, desk, lamp, plate etc. is an exact tiny replica - even the kitchen sink! And all the walls come apart to show the inside.

Apparently I've been a member of Phyllis Court- Henley's Country Club - for 30 years this week, so an invitation popped through my letterbox yesterday inviting me and a companion to a free dinner anywhere in the club with wine of our choice and a bottle of champagne. We'll take up the offer soon.