Fruits Drawings 15 Years Apart.

Corsican Walnuts drawing 2005
Corsican Walnuts drawing 2005

In 2005 on a summer visit to Corsica I drew a line drawing of walnuts growing on the vine.  The drawing was made with a pencil on sketchbook paper. For 15 years I had not come across a walnut plant or anything like those defined fruits, leaves and branches. This summer, 2018 I saw figs growing rather incongruously in West Wales with a similar fruit and structure. Attracted by the same sun lit ripe fruit image I embarked on a drawing, but this this time I had an iPad and pencil to hand.  I deliberated on what I should draw to reflect this group of fruits: line, shading?

I began by taking a number of smart phone photographs from a range of angles to achieve a useful composition. Not something I considered in corsica with a traditional lead pencil and sketchbook in hand. I began the figs drawing with it in mind to make a line drawing similar to the walnut drawing. First I created a layer in the iPad procreate app for my favoured photographic composition. A second layer became the space for a shading and a third for a line drawing. For the line drawing I selected the 6b pencil and a mix of ‘perfect pencil’ and ‘blunt pencil’ for the shading layer.  I began by line drawing two of the figs to the left and their branches. I then swapped to the shading level and drew the figs to the right. Enjoying reflecting the shapes in both modes I went on to compare each by viewing them side by side by making each’s layer visible. Each had their own quality of image and I went on to completing each I their particular layer.

Drawing in line requires a lightness and variation of weight to create a line depicting the whole object, while shading  demands an overall approach to the object and its volume. Like the Corsican walnuts both drawings include indications of the branch, stem and leaves structure to the plant to suit each technique.  The line drawing with rather extended branch and stem with little detail of the leaves, while the shaded drawing takes the reverse approach, with more detail in the leaves and less attention to the branch and stems.

Fig line drawing
fig shading drawing


fig shading drawing with leaves

For the shaded drawing the leaves were added to give more depth to the fruit on the branch. Both drawings have their discreet qualities. However, out of interest and ‘just to see’ what it might be like to mesh the two I switched both layers to visible and a ‘new’ third drawing is revealed. The shaded drawing now had sharper edges. The more defined edges from the line drawing gives the third composite drawing more presence and the inclusion of the line drawn extended branches give more context to main subject – the figs.

Line andShading Composite Drawing

Click the Line,shading composite above image to view a moving imager capture of the drawings.

Andrew Tift – Walsall New Art Gallery



Sadly I missed the opening of Andrew Tift’s show of portraits a few weeks back, but today I headed over to The New Art Gallery Walsall.  And I am so glad I did. The gallery from top to bottom was totally rewarding. Wonderful to see a show dedicated to an artist’s portraits made over 3 decades. Wonderful also to see a full wall screen of an entrancing dance film by Hetain Patel, Photographs from Pakistan by Mahtab Hussain, Cornelia Parker’s Thirty Pieces of Silver and as always the Garman Ryan collection of gems.

Andrew Tift’s portraits reflect the artist’s life experiences and people’s he has engaged with from his home town of Walsall and the places he has visited including a spell in Japan. Many of the drawings and paintings are from a hyper realist tradition and are framed in conventional rectangles as are many of his influences.  However there is a piece that is not rectangular – Body Shop,  It is a car door, but it is painted and hung vertically. At first unrecognisable as a functional part of a car.  Like a piece of Rauschenberg pop art it reveals itself and goes on to offer more as the painted image, equally out of sync with the shape it is on, and the work of the artist that surrounds it – Japanese men in a sauna. This is from a study visit Andrew made to research Japanese car manufacturing. In 1995, he was sponsored by oil and gas giants BP to create a portrait based solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery titled Sayonara Pet. He focused on the cradle to grave work ethic in the Japanese car manufacturing industry, initially in Sunderland and shortly afterwards in Tokyo. He documented the car workers and their families. The painting in itself feels like a document of the men’s culture outside the work space. It feels like we are being offered the opportunity to share in the artist’s ‘look into’ a moment.  Like much of Andrew Tift’s work the portraits are celebrations of his subjects, but also a document of their lives.

His paintings and drawings are in the main created from series of photographs that he compiles over a focussed time with his sitters. He took over 400 pictures of Kitty Godley in 2006 to help him formulate his triptych of her. She was the daughter of Jacob Epstein and first husband of Lucien Freud who painted  her in 1948/9.  The resultant portrait was the image used in the 80’s on a poster to advertise the collection in the old walsall art gallery and encouraged Andrew to cross the doorway into the hallowed gallery and be inspired to make paintings. He never forgot that image, even though he was surprised how small it was in the real.  He arranged to visit Kitty in her home in Suffolk to make a triptych of black and white portraits which became a BP Portrait prize winner. He also embarked on a single portrait of Kitty in the same pose as for Freud’s portrait over 50 years ago. Its inevitable that comparisons are made between the portraits and how Kitty’s face reflected her life then and now. Andrew’s portrait is not a homage, it is his interpretation and reflection of the woman he met which feels deep and full of admiration of her life.

Woman with White dog and The Bath

Kitty  was born in Wednesbury, a town near Walsall,  as was Andrew’s Wife Anne who posed for two drawings in the Show;  The Bath and Woman with  White dog. The latter is based on the painting by Lucien Freud of Kitty when she was pregnant. Again we are invited to make comparisons across time, but also the fact that the location of both  subjects are the same: the Black Country in the West Midlands. Andrew’s large drawing seems more empathetic of his wife than that of Freud’s.

The catalogue essay, ‘Conversations with the Past by Charlotte Mullins’ 1.  provides valuable insights into Andrew’s motivations and recurring foci on life and death, past and present, and portraiture itself.  She refers to Tift’s  contemplation of his portraits, the dedicated preparation with his sitters and the meditation of the process of drawing. She Refers to Roland Barthes concept of the good/valuable photograph capturing the ‘air’ of the subject.” Barthes cautioned, ‘if the photograph fails to show this ‘air’ then the body moves without a shadow, and once this shadow severed ….. there remains no more than a sterile body.’ 2. Tift strives to capture the ‘air’ in both photographs and paint, for it is ultimately through paint that he brings his sitters to life. The portrait is not complete for Tift without time being folded into its surface as it is painted.’  This is an important differentiation between the photograph and the drawing or painting. The photograph can capture the ‘air’ of the subject, however the skilled work and attention selection of the detail to be made by the painting and drawing artist brings something ‘more’ to the portrait and adds to the ‘air’ of the subject.

His My daughter and My Mother hang next to each other, decades between them, but painted in the same year, 2018. In the catalogue they each sit on a page next to each other with the fold between them, however the invitation to compare is even more apparent in this closer format. One is encouraged to make comparisons, and contemplate the passage of time, and the painter’s perceptions of his relationship with these two females so very close to him that he has presented to us, and himself.

As said above seeing Andrew Tift’s body of work in the New Art Gallery with the Garman Ryan collection that inspired him was a treat. The viewing was beautifully complimented by Hetain Patel’s film, Don’t Look at the Finger;  Photographs from Pakistan by Mahtab  Hussain and Cornelia Parker’s Thirty Pieces of Silver. My visit was helped by the brilliant gallery assistant that brought me up to date with the exhibitions and the recent acquisition of a Frank Auerbach painting from Lucian Freud’s collection made available through the Arts Council Acceptance in lieu scheme.

Below is a slide show from my visit.:  

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  1. Charlotte Mullins, Immortaloise. Cornerhouse publications, home 2018.
  2. 2.Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1980, trans. by Richard Howard. Flamingo 1984. p110

Bahrain Artists in Birmingham @ulafaa

The rise of Maliha @ecstaybash

I dropped by the IPS ( International Production Space in Birmingham School of Art)  that flowed from pieces from Bahrain Artists presented by the Bahrain based Ulafaa Initiative in the foyer.  It is a rewarding show with insights into how young artists are making their voices seen and heard locally and internationally.  I asked the curator Tamadher AlFahal about the show’s origins and she invited me to the talk she was presenting (as part of her PHD) that evening and an open invite to a further panel discussion about the cultural production of the Arab Gulf that is happening on the 19th @ 5pm in the IPS :’AS NOTED/UNNOTICED’ a part of “I AM KHALEEJI”; a series of events and happenings that offers prelude to the contemporary art scene of the Arab Gulf.

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From the discussions  it is clear the art scene “within the Arab Gulf (or GCC) has been through a state of flux. Typically exposed to Western audiences, and the greater art world, as a strongly diluted stereotypical image of the Middle East. The Arab Gulf’s distinctive art identity remains undervalued.

This project addresses the misconceptions of the contemporary art scene in the Gulf, it offers an alternative view that is diverse, unique and vernacular in attempt to understand its complexity and dynamics.  Specifically focusing on shedding light on the Gulf art scene as a distinctive voice within the Middle East. “

Issues of identity, religion, gender are clear in the work on show, but the range of video, photography, graphic and printed artworks are strong in their own right.  There are plays with sign posts (literally) and the two photographic/print based pieces – The rise of Maliha @ecstasybash and My Ghutra is Me @stefanistan deal directly with issues of personal image and identity in clever, creative and insightful ways.  ‘Maliha : a Name meaning having beauty, kindness and strength’ and ‘Ghutra’ the traditional male headress and as one of the subjects told the artist : ‘the eyes are the window on the soul, but first tell me how you wear your ghutra and I will tell you who you are……’ Both pieces are portrait based although the whole portrait is not shown in either works. 

@ecstasybash’ instagram bio is understated : “Photographer , Slightly Artistic, mildly photographic”.  Her website also provides further insight into the inspirations for The rise of Maliha.

The show is also referred to By the Book @ulafaa



Thresholds – its historic Virtual Reality


On leaving the School of Art in Birmingham’s historic city centre I noticed a plaque to my right that had escaped my notice on the many occasions I have descended the stairs down to Margaret street.  The municipal history of the building is there for all to see in the ornate gold stone carved type : “This Building was erected by the Corporation of Birmingham for use as a School of Art, upon land given for that purpose by Grecoe Collmore Esq with funds contributed by Miss Louisea Anne Ryland and MESSers Richard and George Tangyea 1884.”

As I ruminated on the age of municipal and philanthropic  value of the Arts to Birmingham, I crossed to the Waterhall gallery, a part of an equally cultured contribution to Birmingham’s proud city centre – The Museum and Art Gallery.

Sitting on the steps was Pete James the curator of Matt Collingshaw’s Thresholds.  Pete is a mine off knowledge and information on the unique role Birmingham and its scientists and artisans played in the invention of photography. Thresholds captures the amazing moment Fox Talbot made his first Photogenic Drawings in King Edwards School. He and Matt have recreated the space he displayed his first pictures:

The jester and the cat, by Henry Fox Talbot
Fox Talbot’s original motivation


The vr box in the Waterhall Gallery

Behind the large  wooden box in the gallery is a white space with a few empty white cases and tables. A number of people walk around the space with an electronic backpack and headset seemingly seeing and touching invisible objects.  I was kitted up with the gear by the gallery assistants and encouraged to venture into the space. I was immediately ensconced in a 1830’s room with wooden ceilings, paintings, candle chandeliers and Talbot’s first photogenic drawings. Astonishing in their lifelike quality as one moved around them. Even more surprising was the ability to see a cloudy white version of your hand hovering above a picture, which when you turn your hand towards you, appears in front of you to inspect more closely. This is virtual reality.  What would Talbot have thought about this when he first showed his photogenic drawings to amazed friends, students, teachers and scientists? How image making has developed in 200 years, from Birmingham New Street’s School.  The school was demolished in the mid 1800’s and rebuilt as King Edwards opposite another gallery the Barber Institute.

Speaking to Pete I enquired when the term photography was applied to describe this process of capturing images with light. He clarified my question by saying Fox Talbot and Herschel used the word photography to describe the process whereas Talbot used the Photogenic drawing description to describe the objects of the process.  There is much more information in the exhibition, including Stereo images of the original room, the King Edwards building and a film by Ravi Deepres and Michael Clifford on the Camera Obscura.

Pete James captures pictures with smart phone camera

The show is only on for a couple more days in Birmingham before it begins its journey from the birthplace of photography to its next venue Laycock Abbey.

Go see it if you can.  If you can’t, here’s a good illustrative film :

Suitably embarrassing snap

Printed Portraits Opening Day

May 10 th arrives and the 30 Printed Portraits will be revealed to all and those  who feature on the walls of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

In the morning I was attending to final details including briefing the wonderful front of house team and remaking the nameplates with larger type and a Shrieval coat of arms. A gentleman came into the space and after a while focussing on the pictures I asked what he thought.  He had seen the exhibition advertised on the BMAG Whats on listings and had travelled in especially from Telford in Shropshire to see it.

We talked about the how he is semi retired and visits galleries near and far to get a sense of artists work close up. We discussed portraits, photography, art before taking a picture of each other. He asked if he could take my picture in front of the Portrait of Eileen Wright as it is his favourite because of the ‘glint in her eye at her age’, as well as the big buttons on the phone she used to take he 97th birthday call.

Mike had been to the TATE in Liverpool to see the Rossetti Monna Vanna portrait and had taken a celebratory picture. I pointed out that next door in Gallery 17 is a beautiful picture by Rossetti of Beatrix.  He thanked me and went to see it, quickly returning with glee and after one last tour of the portraits made his comment in the book.

As the normal viewing day came to a close  a group of women came into Gallery 16. They viewed the portraits with interest and consideration, sharing their views to each other about the portraits and the subjects. They enthusiastically reflected, and nominated their top three! Top of their favourites  was Eileen Wright.

discussing anita’s portrait
which is your favourite?








I heard later that evening at the private view that as they left the Museum they met Eileen’s daughter and husband on the gallery entrance doorsteps and eulogised about the portrait exhibition and in particular the one of the older lady making her birthday phone call.     Wonderful

Eileen Wright takes 97th Call

Photography for? – John Parsons for DG Rossetti and the verb to ‘GET’

I live and work in Birmingham which amongst other attributes has a wonderful city museum and art gallery with a particularly strong and widespread print collection. I have been ushered in through the ‘strongroom’ doors on a number of occasions to glimpse the collections.  Most recently Victoria Osborne the gallery Fine Art Curator was kind enough to show me the photographs taken by John Parsons of Jane Morris under the direction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his Chelsea garden in 1865.  I first was alerted to these series of posed photographs in the Painting with Light at Tate Britain  in 2016. These photographs were from the V&A collection, but when I mentioned the exhibition to Victoria she offered to show me the Bmag examples from the collection.

One of the series of photographs is of Jane Morris leaning forward. I am not sure as yet, whether the studio photos were made as images in their own right or whether to be used for Rossetti’s paintings of Jane morris or his compositions she clearly featured in, including Reverie.


The only information I can locate is a short letter from Rossetti to Jane morris to establish the time of the session.  It gives little away to the rationale behind the this use of photography.


Copy of a letter written by Rossetti to Mrs. Morris

Sunday Night [4 June 1865].

My dear Janey
The photographer is coming at II on Wednesday. So I’ll expect you as early as you can manage. Love to all at the Hole—
Ever yoursh

D. G. Rossetti

There is a lot more research required to understand what was the motivation for the photographic session.

On the theme of  early use of the new medium of photography by painters Victoria brought to my attention the portrait of the writer and commentator Thomas Carlyle used by Ford Maddox Brown in his painting  ‘Work’.


Clearly this photograph by Charles Thurston Thompson with Carlyle perched on the wood support was destined for the character on the far right of ‘work’.



Commentary on ‘one of the greatest and most radical paintings of the 19thC”

The Verb to ‘GET’ – Carlyle writes to Ford Maddox Brown to accept his request to be photographed using the term to GET.

Carlyle’s writings were known for their lively rhetoric which comes across in the letter he wrote to Brown agreeing to pose for the photograph:’I think it a pity you had not put (or should not still put) some other man than me in your Great Picture. It is certain you could hardly have found among the sons of Adam, at present, any individual who is less in a condition to help you forward with it … I very well remember your amiable request, and the promise I made to you, to ‘sit for some photographs.’ That promise I will keep; and to that we must restrict ourselves, hand of Necessity compelling. Any afternoon I will attend here, at your studio, or where you appoint me, and give your man one hour to get what photographs he will or can of me. If here, the hour must be 3½ pm (my usual hour of quitting work, or to speak justly, the chamber of work); if at any other place, attainable by horseback, it will be altogether equally convenient to me; and the hour may such as enables me to arrive (at a rate of 5 miles per hour we will say!)’ (F. M. Hueffer, ‘Ford Madox Brown: A Record of his Life and Work, p. 163)Again More research again needed to clarify the constructive and valuable adoption of photography by painters and drawing artists in these early days of the medium.