Tag Archives: Artist’s Career

Developing a WordPress site for Artists

This post was originally meant to go onto my work-in-progress art site (see link below).  It turns out to have been a mistake to use my name for both of these URLs of these sites, because WordPress when it gets tired and emotional doesn’t know which one to put the post in. Still, I thought it might be worthwhile to say a few words about my experience of site development in WordPress as an artist and writer.

The first blog site I ever set up was  about life in Sydney, with a focus on food and the inner west. That site is still live and you can go there easily by putting Elinor Entity into Google. It was set up on Blogger which was then one of the only options. Blogger has developed a lot since then and offers great simplicity and functionality but it doesn’t have the Website quality which you get with a WordPress blog.

So I decided to set up a WordPress site when I started studying art at TAFE. I thought I could use it to put my written work up on. But my teacher never looked at the site and wanted me to hand in written papers which I did, but I put various expanded versions and research comments on things that had interested me on the site anyway.  I am talking about this site which you are on now, annettehamilton.wordpress.com. It was a very steep learning curve and I went through hours and days of struggle to learn how to use it, but once it was set up it was a breeze.

I now have three sites live and two others I am using as practice although both will go live eventually. One is this site, obviously, which has been a delight to develop and use. I used the same template for my Writing Zone site, which I set up to manage my fiction and memoir publications. These WordPress templates are free and don’t require third party hosting or any knowledge of coding although you can of course make some modifications through the templates. Not all the free templates offer the same range of options so check them out carefully. There are hundreds of them, both sites developed by WordPress and by third parties – most of the latter are not free though.

But using free WordPress templates with a WordPress URL is kind of low rent. The real deal is to obtain your own domain name, either through the WordPress set-up process or separately through a domain name provider, and set yourself up with a paid theme and a hosting service. The domain name, the specialist theme, and the hosting service all cost money.

You can do something inbetween by setting up your own domain name through WordPress, and using WordPress themes and WordPress as your host. Or you can buy a dedicated theme. I wanted a Portfolio site so I thought I would be very clever and do that.  I thought I could put all my images up on the site, on grids, and the viewer would be able to click on each one and bring up information about the picture, such as size, medium etc. as well as any other background.

Well that just didn’t happen. I have spent hours and hours trying to make the paid theme I purchased, Qua, work properly. Only now have I realised that the kind of clickable functionality I wanted isn’t available with that theme. It just doesn’t work like that but I couldn’t see this out from the demo. Now I’m stuck with a fairly expensive paid theme which won’t do what I want. Quite often you will be told that you can make things happen by going into CSS or doing some kind of html coding. Well sorry but that’s not in the repertoire of this artist/writer and I’m not going to start paying a specialist to do it.

So I’m stuck with a kind of portfolio site, which sort of/half works but isn’t what I had in mind at all. One of these days, when I don’t want to spend more time painting and writing, I might go back to the drawing board and see if I can set up a better one.

my portfolio site

Another idea is to sign up for an Art Archiving service. Again, it involves expense, in this case an annual fee. But you can put all your paintings on it, and track where they are, whether any have been sold, prices and such.  Plus I think there is a facility for commenting on the paintings. More on this soon.wordpress-art-portfolio-themes1

 

Mr Turner: very Artistic but what about the art?

Turner with mystery painting

Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner, a soi-disant biopic concerning the final fifteen years of the life of Britain’s most famous artist , was released in the UK on 31st October following its premiere at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where it competed in the Palme d’Or. Timothy Spall playing Turner won Best Actor; cinematographer Dick Pope received the Vulcan Award for his outstanding work.

This is without doubt a very artistic film. It drips and oozes its credentials from first to last, with scene after scene composed and shot in homage to famous paintings of the past. Some of these scenes especially the hazy glowing skyscapes on which the camera lingers so peacefully could be Turner paintings. Others are constructed as if we have entered into interiors painted by Dutch or Flemish masters of the previous century.

 

Film Still Dutch style

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775 in London’s Covent Garden and died in 1851. Best known for his romantic land- and seascapes in oils, he also worked in watercolour, producing remarkable works of astonishing scale and detail.  The contemporary art world seems to be increasingly enraptured by Turner. This is strange, considering the turn away from classical and traditional forms and the critique of painting which has dominated our cultural consciousness for decades.

The film is being released to coincide with a major exhibition at Tate Britain, from September 2014 to January 2015, a blockbuster entitled “Late Turner: Painting Set Free”. For those who don’t do their sums, the movie covers almost precisely the period of the works being shown in the exhibition. As the intro explains, the show “celebrates Turner’s astonishing creative flowering in these later years”. The fine work of this period was “controversial and unjustly misunderstood”. So, we might say that the film illuminates the life, while the exhibition illuminates the work. Side-by-side, they should open out, reveal, the reasons for a new appreciation of the remarkable talents of this scion of British art.

Why should it matter? Why do we need to engage with Turner now? There are several clues. The first key is in the sub-text to the exhibition title: Turner’s is “Painting Set Free”. The blurb accompanying the exhibition is at pains to position it as a challenge to the myths and assumptions around his later work, to highlight his “radical and exploratory techniques”, and to connect his perceptions of modernity – the machine age – with the deep historical and mythological themes arising from the cultural traditions of his era.

In this revisionary art history discourse, Turner turns out to be okay, even though he was a painter who did pictures of sea battles, ancient cities and historical narratives – Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus, Dido and Aeneas – as well as the extensive hazy sky-dominated landscapes for which he is best recognized today.

Agrippina Landing with the ashes of GermanicusAggripinia Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus

Just to emphasize the point, one of the few late paintings remaining in private hands, Rome, from Mount Aventine, sold for over thirty million British pounds in December 2014, the highest auction price ever for any pre-20th century British artist.

rome from Mt Aventine

Rome from Mount Aventine

To understand what this all means requires a familiarity with the changes in art historical and critical discourse which has been going on hesitantly in recent times. There has been a slow creeping up of representational painting almost hidden away behind the continuing domination of installation, performance and video art since the turn of the millennium. Because of the vast level of financial investment in contemporary art, especially in Britain and the US, it has been impossible to grasp openly the implications of this shift. The writing has been on the wall for a while though. Julian Spalding in 2012 gave reasons “Why you should sell your Damien Hirsts while you can” and the commercially driven imperatives of the late global art market has been attracting more and more bemused critical attention from the artistic world itself – see Isaac Julien’s film Playtime for instance. Could it be that we have to take painting seriously again?

According to the received wisdom of most of the last century, Turner’s late work was pretty terrible. The decline in its quality was thought to be the result of many factors, notably a fog of poor eyesight, ill health, gloom, and personal disarray. The death of his father, who took care of all the most important but invisible elements of his painting practice – he selected and purchased the pigments, ground them, made up the frames and the canvas supports – was a significant loss. The film makes much of this, by the way. The lack of representational accuracy, the domination of his palette by an extremely unsubtle use of chrome yellow (which so disturbed the young Queen Victoria, a scene also featuring in the movie), his vague and hazy outlines, seemingly confused compositions and bizarre methods of working – being strapped to a ship’s mast in a snowstorm for instance – were all seen to explain the strange and disturbing quality of his late work.

steamer in a snowstorm

Snowstorm: Steamboat at a Harbour’s Mouth

Because he was a much appreciated figure in the art world of the time, in no small part due to the enthusiastic support of critic and aesthete John Ruskin, he continued to be hung in the annual Academy exhibitions, albeit in a back room or annexe. His art still sold, due largely to his name and to the patronage of high-born figures such as the Third Earl of Egremont whose lavish family seat in Surrey was the site of many visits and exhibitions. Nevertheless, the late Turner was until recently a rather sad footnote to a brilliant artistic career.

Now, though, we are asked to revalue this work. Late Turner turns out to be a father of Impressionism. His very vagueness and haziness are to be seen as part of a deliberate strategy of radical innovation, a means of overcoming the stringent, boring and traditional practices of British art in order to usher in a new kind of vision consonant with our current understanding of what good painting could be. His late style, the energetic brushwork, the lack of details and the modern subject matter of some works of this period surprised his supporters and lent abundant material to his critics who compared his pictures to lobster salad, soapsuds and whitewash. We moderns however can see beyond this strait-laced view and embrace the late Turner as one of our own.

The British critics so far love the film. Without didacticism or any clear plot or narrative strategy, the points for revaluing late Turner are made clear in scene after scene. Mike Leigh of course is another favoured son of British art. His films are unique in their approach and resonance, built on character rather than narrative and characterized by an almost total lack of screenplay. The actors go beyond Stansilavski, especially those playing the main characters, Turner, Mrs Booth and Hannah the housemaid. The film is very long, at 150 minutes, but never drags or loses the viewer’s attention, in spite of the lack of story arc which is typical of a Mike Leigh film but very unusual in mainstream popular cinema. Given the general public and critical enthusiasm, it seems picayune to complain about the way it depicts Turner as an artist.

If the viewer knows nothing about painting or the practices of plein air work or the use of pigments in oil and water or the physicality involved in working on a large scale in a studio at an easel it all seems so very easy. Turner rushes about with a little leather satchel and produces a pencil from it, drawing something or other in a little notebook. He holds the pencil near its end. He never seems to need to sharpen it. We never get to actually see what he puts in the notebook, or how it relates to the picture he ultimately paints from it. Although he worked astonishingly well in watercolours as well as oils it is impossible to tell what medium he is using at any one time, although when he asks Mrs Booth the landlady at Margate (with whom he finally shacks up) for a bowl of water we must assume those sea views are being painted or sketched in watercolours. When he stands grumpily and half-bent over at an easel scrabbling into the canvas surface with a thick stubby brush we might imagine this is an oil-painting but then he starts spitting on it. Why? Would an artist spit into oil-colour? Surely not. So this must be one of his watercolours, but if so why would he be working at an easel? We are given occasional glimpses of half-finished canvases but they are obscured and the glimpses are transient. We do see some of the finished works – are we to assume these are in fact the very works themselves, or copies of them? – and we see him daubing onto a canvas while the picture is already hung in the annual Academy exhibition. Actually we see a lot of painters daubing away on what seem to be finished works. This would be very strange. Finished paintings were meant to be dried and then varnished before entry, and certainly retouching them in the exhibition itself would be most peculiar.

The publicity for the film makes much of the fact that the actor Timothy Spall went to great trouble to get his painting and drawing right, taking art lessons for two years. If so, his art teacher has a lot to answer for.

I was, in short, astonished that an artistic film about an artist would take so much artistic licence with the art itself. I then came across an excellent piece in the Guardian by Andrew Wilton, “A brush with Mr Turner: why can’t films about painters get the painting right?” (The Guardian, Monday 27 October 2014). Wilton is a world expert on Turner. He is on the Turner House Trust and was consulted by Mike Leigh and his team, but already they had decided what they were doing with the film and any advice Wilton may have given them was apparently superfluous. Wilton called it a “deeply moving and beautiful fim” but, modestly, commented that “it’s not quite the Turner I know”. He gave his reasons, which are simply stated and based on the art itself. For example, Turner’s sketchbooks are full of tiny water colours full of topographical and atmospheric detail, showing delicate and subtle observation. His oils, for example the famous “Steamer in a Snowstorm” (exhibited 1842) were painted with great care, although you’d never know it from the way the act of painting is shown in the film. As Wilton comments, Spall’s depiction of Turner’s painting practice is full of smears and spits and swiping, which is what modernism has asked us to believe, because we are meant to see this film as a demonstration that Turner, great British artist, was after all a modernist, like we are today, and not one of those boring traditionalist representational painters who worried about technique and composition. Wilton also addresses the myth that Turner was some kind of abstractionist. Although the Tate show claims to do otherwise, it reinforces it, casting Turner as a rival to the American abstract expressionists. Wilton is so right: this draws us away from the real quality of Turner’s art.

Wilton’s comments infuriated many readers. It is a real education to go through all 106 of them. The great majority pour scorn on Wilton for failing to recognize that this is a “film”, not a “documentary”, which means apparently it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether it gets the details of the art right or not. According to this logic, Turner could have been painting Jackson Pollocks for all it would matter to the viewers. As one said, “why can’t art snobs appreciate artistic licence?” and compared the problem to that of World War 2 movies using the wrong tanks. A few commentators tried to bring the issue round to the key question, namely the fact that how you put paint on canvas makes a difference to the results you get. But the majority thought these arguments smacked of elitism. If you know how art is produced you are an “expert” and so you should shut up about “movies” because you make it less fun for others. So art critics are not allowed to be film critics, because they don’t understand that “screenwriters on non-documentaries” can put in and leave out what they please.

There is a problem, though. What people see in a film, especially one which claims to be about a real historical artist and how he made his actual artworks (ones now worth millions of dollars) is likely to be what they understand to be the truth of it. This is not the place to discuss the contentious problem of historical truth in cinema, but it certainly warrants some more consideration than the viewing public is willing to give in this case. It seems, rather, that what they like is the depiction of an artist who is ugly, unattractive, badly dressed, poorly spoken, gross and often vulgar, having it off with the unfortunate eczematic housemaid at random intervals, enjoying himself with his landlady and generally behaving just like an early nineteenth century Bad Boy might be expected to behave. Yes, that is the artist we like to see today, and if it means we think he spent his time spitting all over his canvases, that just adds spice to the mix.

 

 

 

Elisabeth Cummings: Slow Art

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 [Photograph:  Annette Hamilton 2012]

 Elisabeth Cummings (b. 1934) is not well-known among the general art-going public.  She has been devoted to her art practice, mostly painting, for over fifty years.  Few of her works appear in any public gallery collections in Australia.  Based in Sydney and its bushland outskirts, she has travelled and painted in outback towns and in remote Western and Southern Australia.  In 1996 she was given a survey exhibition by the Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery, but at that time she had only one painting in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW, while one work in the National Gallery of Australia had been transferred to Artbank. Nothing had changed six years later.  Recently her work has been receiving more recognition.  Several smaller public collections hold paintings, and she is increasingly sought by avid collectors. She has won a number of prizes, and recognition of her importance as an Australian landscape painter has grown.  The 2002 Art Collector Magazine list placed her in the 50 most collectible Australian artists.

In 2012 she received a major survey exhibition at the S. H. Ervin Gallery titled Luminous: The Landscapes of Elisabeth Cummings.  One of her largest works, Edge of the Simpson Desert, was a highlight of the show.

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Edge of the Simpson Desert, 2011.  Oil on canvas, 175 x 301 Private Collection

 This is hardly conventional landscape art.  It is edgy, figurative only in places, filled with spaces and lines which demand patient scrutiny before the forms reveal themselves. It is something like Slow Food.  Hers is a slow art: slow to be painted, and calling for close engagement and patient appreciation from the viewer.  She works with the local, and paints where she is.  Whether travelling through the remote deserts or sitting on her verandah in her studio at Wedderburn, or inside with the light pouring on the mud-brick walls, her faithful black dog at her feet, Cummings is resolutely there in the moment.

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Inside the Studio.  Photograph: Annette Hamilton 2012

 She has been called The Invisible Woman of Australian Art (Frost 2002).  But she doesn’t really care about visibility, or profile, or her “career”.  Now in her late seventies, she continues to work and live as she has always done.  She paints, and teaches these days in the occasional workshop (see for example Champion 2012).  She hates being interviewed especially about her personal life.  One journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald insisted on an interview while she was confined to a wheelchair following an operation on her right ankle. He tried to force her to reveal elements of her emotional life, on the grounds that this is  “the fundamental raison d’etre of any artist”. She found this an absurd proposition, and managed to be so unpleasant to him that he left with his irrelevant curiosity unsatisfied (personal communication, and see Meacham 2012).  Cummings is the last person to want to be a celebrity, although she has many close friends in the art world and always has invitations and events to participate in, if she wants to.  But she likes a quiet life, and loves her “bit of bush”, even while mourning the fact that it is being encroached on by the endless march of suburbia.

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Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald has been one of the few vocal supporters.  In Art Essays, January 21 2012, he pleaded that a new show from the National Gallery of Australia of landscapes to be held at the Royal Academy London should include those artists who are making an outstanding contribution to Australian landscape art today, the foremost of whom is Cummings.  He deplores the short-sightedness of Australian public collections.

“While galleries have been queuing up to buy works by a handful of fashionable artists, they have treated landscape painting as if it were a purely historical phenomenon.” (McDonald 2012)

Cummings herself has nothing to say about the “fashionable” contemporary arts. Her positive frame of mind does not dwell on endless comparisons or bother to condemn the fetishization of certain forms of current art-making and the implicit rejection of the unfashionable genres.

An excellent video interview in Wedderburn, with Peter Pinson, puts a frame around many elements of her life and art (Pinson 2012).  Her father was an architect (as is her son now) and her family supported her interest in art as a profession – unusual for a woman in those days.  She attended the National Art School in Sydney, and won a Travelling Scholarship in 1958 which allowed her to spend time in Europe, staying in a villa with friends near Florence.  In 1961 she studied under Oskar Kokoschka, a late German expressionist associated with Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.  Kokoschka established his “School of Seeing” at the Internationale Sommerakademie für Bildende Kunst in Salzburg, thus re-establishing his ties with the Austrian milieu in which he began his career, and Cummings was able to spend time there exploring the highly distinctive, and disturbing, post war European sensibility.

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Oskar Kokoschka.  Bodegon with Affair and Rabbit.  161 x 118.  1914.   www.wikipaintings.org

Cummings is often referred to as “reclusive” (Frost 2002).  Her Wedderburn studio is the site of an artists’ community established in the early 1970s.  Two of its founders died in 2013, Roy Jackson of cancer in July,  John Peart in October, a sudden and wholly unexpected death at the age of only 67. Other artists who have worked and lived there include Joan Brassil, Sy Archer and David Fairbairn.  A strong community living on land donated by art lovers Barbara and Nick Romalis in the 1970s, the Wedderburn artists’ “colony” continues to offer a refuge and resource almost unique in contemporary Australia.

In the bushfires of 1994 Cummings lost her studio, a blow which might have stopped a lesser person.  But she soon built a bigger and better structure which served as both studio and home.  The house and bushland around often apear in her work,  as though the whole life-space is part of a continuous still-life.

Her large oils are notable for their heavily worked surfaces and colouring surprises.  They offer secrets:  spend enough time with them, and there is the reveal. The forms of the natural world appear through the scraping and marks on her surfaces.  Her palettes seem tasty.  Some, especially those reflecting the bushland around Wedderburn, are full of delicious soft pales and shadowy greens and browns. Others, in remote and outback places, are bright and hot, like a hit of chili and vinegar.

She isn’t immediate, or obvious.  Comparing her visual impact with another little known but successful Australian landscape painter, Jason Benjamin, we see two aspects of the Australian heritage.

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Jason Benjamin.  This is Love.  Oil, 434 x 291.  www. Artistsandart.org

Benjamin works on a vast scale with immediately recognisable subjects, in a style securely located in European classicism (albeit with a strange surrealist quality).  Cummings, on the other hand, hovers between the gestural demands of post-war European modernism and the meditative mysteries of the Australian vision imprinted with an Asian sensibility.  There is Ian Fairweather in her slippery calligraphic marks, and Fred Williams in her itchy surfaces.

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Ian Fairweather.  Outside the Walls of Peking, 1935.  Oil and pencil on board, 49 x 57 cm.  Private collection, Perth.

Cummings has long been represented by King Street Galleries, now in William Street Sydney.  She feels strong loyalty to the gallery, which has supported her work with well-mounted shows for decades (personal communication, February 2012). She has exhibited in some competitions and group shows, but most of her professional output has been sold through the gallery. Current listings at King Street have some of her recent works available, for instance Sir John Gorge Mornington, 2013, oil on canvas, 135 x 150;  $48,000.  The recent oils are quiet reflections on landscapes visited in the past.  A beautifully delicate work, The Pink Outcrop, 213, 105 x 130, presents a lyrical pastel shaded landscape, tender and responsive.  It sold for $35,000.

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Photograph: King Street Galleries.

Her works from the middle 2000s show a strong sense of line and composition.  Studio in the Bush (2006), 115 c 130, is a striking work based on her perception of the context of her life-space at Wedderburn. Journey Through the Studio (2004), 150 x 300, likewise offers a stunning meditation on the process of inhabiting the artist’s world, with its red and orange cadmium hues, the outline painting of a dog in the foreground, and the heavy dark wood-stove at the lower right.  A strangely disturbing painting, it repays long scrutiny and engagement.

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Journey Through the Studio (2004), 150 x 300. Photograph:  King Street Gallery

Cummings also works in prints and etchings.  Her 2009 Hill End Glimpses is an artful tracery with several images seemingly hidden in the surface busyness.  A woman stands, washing her hair.  Two dogs trot along in the foreground.  A large bird perches on a fence.  Another woman lies reclining, perhaps in her sleeping bag.  The square dark building with its enigmatic figure at the opening could be anything: a shed, or a house, or a storeroom.  These are the painters, on their plein air excursion, taking the measure of the town of Hill End, made famous by the paintings of Russell Drysdale, John Olsen and others (see Australian Government, Hill End painters, n.d).

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Hill End Glimpses. 2009. Etching, set of 25.  Image: King Street Gallery.

Arkaroola Landscape (coloured etching, 2005) uses a limited, traditional desert yellow to great effect. This remarkable piece was not hung in the Wynne Prize to which it was submitted that year, but towered over the other works in the Salon des Réfusés (McDonald 2012). Flinder’s Farm depicts the overwhelming quality of the semi-desert landscape and the futility of human efforts to farm there.

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Flinder’s Farm.  Coloured Etching 2009.  Photograph: King Street Galleries

 She speaks more about her etching and print-making in an interview, during a residency at COFA and work with Cicada Press (Butler, 2012).

She is always seeking new inspiration.  Recently she has spent periods in India, working with children in a remote village, offering informal art training.  She seems to accept no limitations: age, physical health, the effects of arthritis, the death of her close friends – she dwells in an intensely felt but manageable world, living through her own time and in her own places, which you can share through her art, if you so choose.  What a privilege that is.

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Real Still Life in the Studio.  Photograph: Annette Hamilton 2012.

 

References

Australian Government.  Australian Stories.  Hill End painters – Donald Friend, Russell Drysdale, John Olsen, Margaret Olley and their legacy.

http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/hill-end-painters

[Accessed 22nd February 2014].

Butler, Angela.  Interview: Elisabeth Cummings. November 27, 2012.

http://cicadapress.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-elisabeth-cummings/

Champion, Stephanie.  Pushing the boundaries with Elisabeth Cummings. http://www.bluebanksia.com/artworkshop-reviews/168-review-elisabeth-cummings.html) [Accessed 22nd February 2014).

Frost, Andrew.  Elisabeth Cummings: The Invisible Woman of Australian Art.  Art Collector.  Issue 22, October-December 2002.

http://www.artcollector.net.au/ElisabethCummingsTheInvisibleWomanofAustralianArt. [Accessed 20 February 2014].

McDonald, John. Elizabeth Cummings. Art Essays, January 21 2012.

http://johnmcdonald.net.au/2012/elisabeth-cummings/#sthash.14IbTk1z.dpuf [Accessed 22 February 2014].

Meachem, Steve.  Landscapes and private views.  Sydney Morning Herald, January 4, 2012.  http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/landscapes-and-private-views-20120104-1pl1i.html

[Accessed 22nd February 2014).

Pinson, Peter.  Peter Pinson Interviews Elisabeth Cummings. Wedderburn, February 2013. http://www.cultconv.com/Conversations/Cummings_Elisabeth/HTML5/testimonybrowser.html [Accessed 21st February 2014].