On our last day in Oxford, we decided to have a drive out to Blenheim Palace and like a lot of places nowadays, we had to book a time slot before going. It was quite busy when we arrived, as the weather was nice, but possibly because of the lack of overseas visitors not too crowded.
As it was supposed to get hotter later in the day, we decided to visit the palace first, although having booked a time slot, we still had to queue for over half an hour. On entering, we listened to a guide who gave us a short introduction to the palace and new restrictions. We then headed for the Winston Churchill exhibition, Unfortunately, the queue for this was quite long so we decided to tour the rooms first.
All the rooms were very impressive with with large portraits of family members and royalty. Although, not all to my taste, one can only appreciate the skill going into painting these.
The first paintings I really liked were a series done of the palace and grounds by John Piper, a very under appreciated artist in my view. I really like the looseness of his work.
The tour takes you from one impressive room to another and none of them were too crowded by visitors. Unfortunately, you don't get to see any of the upstairs rooms, which would give you a more complete picture of the living quarters.
Outside we walked around the extensive grounds, seeing the impressive water features and sculptures, before continuing to see the place Winston Churchill proposed to his future wife and the rose gardens they would sit in.
The whole area is undergoing a 40 million pound makeover and the cascade water feature and lakes are being improved and many repairs taking place,. When finished, the grounds will be even more impressive.
After a pleasant walk, we decided to go back to the palace and see the Churchill exhibition as it was now a lot quieter. As well as learning about his life, I was interested to see the exhibition of his paintings. These were more impressive than I had expected, although I wouldn't have minded having the support he had from several prominent artists of the time, including Walter Sickert amongst them.
A pleasant day out and a change from city life. We even became members for a year, as part of the entrance fee. which means if we visit again we can get in for free. As a short break Oxford has a lot to offer and as more places open up, there will be plenty to keep you occupied.
I leave you with this quote from Winston Churchill that sums up the importance of art in these troubled times. He only had the war to think about!
Deciding to try our luck with a short break in this country, we booked a stay in Oxford, and were interested to see how the changes would effect our stay. Arriving at the hotel there were safety signs everywhere, telling us to wear masks and to use the hand sanitizer. We were greeted by a friendly receptionist who was situated behind a screen also wearing a mask.
After filling in a couple of forms and having our temperature taken, we were given the room key. The room was as normal, with a sign telling us that it had been thoroughly cleaned and that this would be done each day if we wanted. The only big difference was that there was no longer a breakfast buffet. The hotel would provide us with a continental breakfast in a 'grab and go' paper bag. However, the next morning we were also offered cereal and toast which was very much appreciated.
On our visits, we like to see the sights as well as the local art galleries, unfortunately we were a week to early to see the galleries and most of the colleges had closed months ago and were undergoing renovation work.
We did manage to visit the grounds of Magdalene college and were surprised by the size of the grounds, which included a Deer park.
The buildings in the city were very impressive and they had kept the old buildings and not added huge modern that ruined the skyline, which has happened in a lot of cities.
As well as the city centre, we visited the parks, which were superb open spaces, and strolled along the waterways, often stopping to watch the boats and at times admire the people using the punts, although a couple of them looked like they were going to give themselves heart attacks!
One thing that surprised us was the lack of sculptures. In Queen's park there was one that incorporated nesting boxes for Swifts, which seemed to be a good idea. It seems a shame that artworks weren't added into the landscape. especially in a city of educational excellence. It surprised us that the arts weren't celebrated in this way.
Maybe the abundance of figures etc. on the old buildings made up for this, or we weren't looking in the right places! The only time we came across modern artwork was in the new shopping centre, but after a couple of visits we failed to notice any, until on our way out, where one was situated and a sign mentioned the others.
For the last month, during lockdown, I haven't managed to get out to do any sketching, and my favourite haunts, the local cafes have been closed. Also, the weather hasn't been good so I've not been able to visit local beauty spots and I have found that I need more practice on my sketching. This break had allowed me to recapture some of my skill and I enjoyed putting pen to paper so to speak!
Oxford is a beautiful city and a great place for a short stay, with superb architecture, open spaces and other places to visit nearby. People's reaction to the virus was evident although face masks in several places aren't compulsory there yet. The half price meals helped keep our food bill down and we had some enjoyable meals.
Having experienced this type of short holiday, in this country during the present problems, we may well look for another one in a few weeks.
It seems odd writing this now with all that is going on in the world.
In January, looking for some winter sun we managed to book a two week break in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, flying out in February and arriving back mid March. It was lovely place, perfect for a holiday to get away from the greyness of the UK.
As the days passed by, more and more upsetting news arrived via WhatsApp and BBC online news about the severity of the Corona Virus. Obviously, making sure our families were okay, we stayed safe in an area which had not yet been affected. it was a lovey friendly place with a lot to offer holidaymakers and we enjoyed our time there.
I've just read that 7 cruise ships have been allowed to dock there for humanitarian reasons as they have been blocked by USA ports. I fear that this isolation will not last for much longer.
However, back to the reason for my blog.
One of the highlights of the holiday was walking along the Malecon; the coastal promenade and enjoying the artwork, which was on display there.
Located right in the heart of Puerto Vallarta is a place where large scuptures can be found. Puerto Vallarta’s Boardwalk, the Malecon, is a seaside walk of 875 yds. where tradition converges with modernity, creating a magical atmosphere full of culture, art, entertainment and history.
This open space collection of sculptures etc started with the collaboration of talented artists in 1960 and has been added to over the years. It shows how with a little planning resorts can create an area that promotes artwork and helps generate an area. Along with this restaurants and shops thrive as tourists enjoy the walk.
,Also along the walk, were a series of Hearts commissioned and painted by local artists. Again an example of the commitment to the arts and several with important messages about the area or pictures of local people or places.
Although, we went for some Winter sun, we are not sunbathers and enjoyed several trips to the area. Each time we found different areas to explore and different artwork to enjoy.
Whist talking to people at my exhibition in Astley Hall, they mentioned that they were going to see Eric Tucker's paintings in an open day in his house. After his death in 2018, his family discovered more that 400 paintings and 1000's of drawings stacked all over his house. Although close family members knew he painted, they had not realised the extent of his work.
There was a lot of publicity at the time and the work captured the imagination of the public and he became known as 'The Unseen Artist' or 'Warrington's Secret Lowry.' Like many painters who capture the Northern scene, this link to Lowry, seems a little unfair. Although his street scenes had similar themes, they are more detailed with less 'match stick men' caricatures. Much of his work captures close ups of people, often from the clubs and pubs where, he would sit and sketch. One of his early paintings captures a dark industrial scene and you can see links to the work of other artists, but as he matured he found a style completely of his own which, I amongst others, can really appreciate.
Below is this early painting and some of his sketches, where you can see examples of his developing style.
Although some of the characters in his paintings appear caricaturised, you can really feel his affinity with the subject matter,. Without showing a lot of detail on his faces, he really captures the people; giving us a glimpse of their stories.
Considering he was a self taught artist and didn't take an art class until he was 80, his work shows a great maturity and confidence . He is extremely proficient in both oils and watercolours, which are displayed in the work on show. It was also interesting to see his work space and seeing it made me wish Manchester Art Gallery had kept the one they had of Lowry's.
Although, now known as the Unseen Artist, he did try to show his work, selling two paintings from the Tib Street Gallery, before becoming disillusioned with the galleries commission and the fact that they didn't want to take any more off him.
I found it odd to see a label for the Royal Academy Open, in one of the display cases. I am curious and would be interested to know if he was accepted or just entered the exhibition.
I enjoyed his figurative work and street scenes but found his countryside landscapes not as impressive and although excellent, his clown paintings did nothing for me.
A fascinating afternoon viewing the work and I can appreciate why there has been so much interest in his work. It was just a shame that he got no recognition when he was alive.
I was pleased to have my digital drawing accepted for the first Manchester Open art exhibition at Home. In the 80's I had work accepted in the Manchester Academy exhibitions at Manchester Art Gallery , but these exhibitions were ended when the gallery was refurbished. Since then, it has been a shame that there has been no open exhibitions in Manchester.
The fact that there were over two thousand entries, by over a thousand Greater Manchester artists, shows that this type of exhibition has been sorely missed. Just over five hundred works were selected and most were displayed in the large gallery, on the ground floor, with a few of the larger pieces shown on the upper levels.
Arriving early, we decided to eat in the HOME restaurant before the opening at six pm. This proved to be a good idea because the queues eventually stretched around the inside and outside of the building; again showing how popular this event was with the public.
Fortunately, we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before we were allowed in and this gave me time to collect my certificate and a sticker to show I was an accepted artist.
On entering, we had a brief look around before finding my picture, which was situated on the far left wall. Although understandable, due to the large number of exhibits, it was a shame to see how crowded the walls were. There were even gallery helpers guarding floor exhibits, which were displayed in walkways around the gallery!
After posing beside my picture, we moved on to see the rest of the artwork. Every time we looked round, we saw new pieces to interest us.
It was interesting to see the range of artwork, including a full range of figurative and abstract pieces. Notably, on first impression, there were very few landscape paintings. Exhibitions tend to reflect the themes that are popular, as well as the thoughts of the selectors and it appears that this traditional genre is either not highly thought of, as in previous years or maybe I'm being too cynical and it was simply because not many were entered.
I recently read an article by someone who believed that traditional painters of landscapes are the new rebels of the artworld, where unmade beds and pickled sheep are held in high regard. I never really saw myself as a rebel but, hey, I can live with that!
As with all exhibitions I see of this type, some work appealed more than others but as the saying goes; 'There is something for everyone.'
We look forward to going back, when it is less crowded, for another viewing.
Also, I would like to applaud HOME for bringing back an open exhibition for Artists from the Greater Manchester area. Thank you.
I enjoy reading detective novels and recently returned to an author I had read a few years ago, Malcolm Hollingdrake. I had forgotten how he includes artwork and artists in his books. One of the detectives collects paintings mainly from the Northern school of artists. I didn't realise that he either owns or has owned the works he writes about and at the end of each book he features an artist. In one book "Dying Art" the main theme is that of art forgery, and as well as being an interesting story there are many fascinating facts about this practice.
Some of the artists, who specialise in mainly depicting the northern industrial landscape, mentioned in the books include James Lawrence Isherwood, Mary Feddon, Theodore Major, Harold Riley, John Coen, Norman Cornish and of course L.S. Lowry.
I have always been interested in this school of artists and in the late 70's and 80's I was lucky enough to exhibit alongside a couple of them. I was also fortunate to have a full exhibition of my work in an adjacent gallery to an exhibition by the late, great L.S Lowry.
In 1989, Peter Davies wrote a book about this school of art. I was invited to
the launch of the book, which took place at Blackpool Art Gallery. Many of the artists mentioned attended and an exhibition of their work was also opened. Looking back, I wish that I had asked more of them to sign my book, which by the way I have put in a safe place (if only I could remember where), as some copies are selling for up to £200 each.
Like many things that go in a cycle, this style of painting has again become popular in certain areas, with several Cheshire galleries specialising in it. In 2015, Peter published an updated version of the book called " A Northern School Revisited" acknowledging recent artists such as Liam Spencer, Bob Richardson and John Thompson.
It is a shame that there is no northern gallery with a permanent collection of these artworks on show or that a touring exhibition couldn't be organised. The recent film #MrsLowryAndSon shows that there is a great interest in this style and The Lowry Art Gallery in Salford, would be an ideal place for at least an exhibition; possibly in conjunction with Salford Art Gallery. I for one hope that in the near future someone takes the initiative to make this happen.
Our flight home wasn't until the evening, so we decided to stop off at the Space Centre on our way to the airport. We have been to other Science centres in America and seen space vehicles but this one was iconic housing mission control for the first Moon landing.
It was interesting to see all the rockets etc. used in space exploration and be able to go inside some of them, although they would have been too claustrophobic for Sue. Going inside the plane and learning about how they decided on the means to transport the space shuttle showed how people's creativity can overcome such a difficult problem which made it even more impressive.We even touched a piece of Moon rock and a piece of rock from Mars. We are waiting to see what superpower we will get though!
A pleasant surprise was the exhibition of artwork celebrating fifty years of Apollo art. There were a range of artworks in different mediums, many by people associated with the missions, as well as by local artists and even one by Andy Warhol.
Setting off to return to the airport, we realised the problems with having a slightly out of date Satnav, with it sending us on a indirect route; sometimes appearing to go off road. Fortunately, we had time to spare and were soon on our flight home.
A fascinating holiday with lots to see and do. Quite different from other trips we have done to the States as some of the towns were not tourist destinations, and the seaside towns were coming to the end of the holiday season.
We were lucky to avoid the tropical storm, apart from our arrival in Galveston, where we caught the end of it. A thoroughly enjoyable time and the hospitality and friendliness will stay in our thoughts. We saw lots of artwork and although this was not our aim, it did give us an excuse to get out of the heat, as well as another chance to admire Monet's paintings.
All we have to do now is decide where our next adventure will be.
Moving on to Kemah, we found we were in a hotel a little further out than we expected. After settling in, we decided to drive to the boardwalk which proved to be a theme park on the shoreline.
Our first stop was for a drink and fortunately it was a café that displayed lots of local artist's work. This we thought was a good idea and one that more cafes could do.
Again, it was really interesting to see the different styles and topics covered in this area and made the experience whilst we were sat having our drink more enjoyable. It also gave the artists a much needed outlet to display and sell their work.
The theme park was quite quiet during the day, and the heat soon got to us, so returned to the hotel for a shower and rest. That evening, the theme park came alive with music provided by a live band and the atmosphere was electric as families enjoyed the rides.
A different experience for us from the other places we had visited and another chance to unwind as our holiday drew to a close.
Having seen the poster for this exhibition and reading that it was another Digital based series of artworks, I was a bit apprehensive, as these can be very hit and miss. It sometimes seems galleries are looking for the next big thing and the exhibitions don't always work.
In this instance I was pleasantly surprised. The area was blacked out and the displays were impressive with the lighting adding to the ambience. The exhibition featured work by ten International artists and looks at how new technology helps explore the state of us and where we might be in the near future. It starts by showing how Marvel comics have been affected by external influences and shows how the artwork has changed.
The first modern art you see are a series of small glass shapes. These are brightly lit and show various body parts. I feel the exhibition is made more impressive by the setting and although I initially liked them, they now remind me of the souvenirs you can get abroad with pictures of your family inside them. Although the mould of the penis may have a following, as a paperweight, sold on the Christmas markets!
In the next room were some images under the heading The Tide Within Us. These smoky like images were very thought provoking and in a way reminded me of Francis Bacon's work with distorted figures,
As with all conceptual work, I found some artworks were thought provoking and others didn't appeal to me. The abstract image 'Inside the HSV1' was a colourful image, however, I must admit I didn't fancy trying the virtual reality headset in order to see the microscopic world of the Herpes virus! This was partly due to the disclaimer notice and a seat being proved for those who might suffer from disorientation. I have actually felt this after an experience of using a headset to go on a rollercoaster ride in the past.
The video of a man dancing reminded me of several other artworks I had seen before and some of the human organs rendered in a range of materials, I have also seen in other exhibitions.
The video 'Anatomy of Desire' caught our imagination but, after a while, the constantly evolving images started to give us a headache, so we moved on. The other rooms had a range of sculptures and installations which varied in degrees of success.
The most interesting thing for me was watching the robot arm drawing the image of a sitter that had been photographed. The artist Patrick Tresset used a computerised system to capture the image. As we arrived, it was drawing a young woman and next in line was a young girl. After watching for a while I put my name down and came back later. This idea has always fascinated me and I was interested to see the result.
I had to sit for a short series of photographs and then the robot arm proceeded to draw my image. The process took about twenty minutes and I was able to watch the image appear as program made decisions on where to add lines. What made it appear more involved, is that every now and again the arm stopped and the camera looked down at the drawing before the arm started to draw again.
My portrait started to take shape fairly quickly and I could see the likeness straight away. It then had the same problem artist's can have, there was a danger of overworking the image and loosing the likeness. Whether this was because of the program or the fact it was meant to work for the full twenty or so minutes,I don't know. I can see that in future artificial intelligence may be able to make these decisions however at this moment in time I'm not convinced.
After the robot had signed the picture and stopped, I was pleased to see that it had captured a likeness and my portrait was added to the wall of fame for a short spell, until eventually being replaced by future sitters. The friendly ladies, who were in charge of the exhibit, explained that all of the portraits would be sent to the artist for his collection.
A fascinating experience, which was enjoyable to be part of. Whether this will be the future I don't know. It isn't perfect at the moment and looking at the portraits of the two sitters before me, it captured their likeness but an observer would find that it had had problems with getting their age right as making the face fatter or thinner made them older or younger.
An enjoyable afternoon at the gallery and it's surprising how my impressions of an exhibition changed after a few days reflection on it. Although impressive, the term 'Smoke and Mirrors' comes to mind. The dark rooms and lighting by the gallery added to the overall impression and certainly changed the way people looked at the work, which may not have been as successful in different lighting.
After a couple of restful days in Port Aransas, we set off for Galveston. We had seen the bad weather reports about the Tropical Storm Imelda, but everything seemed fine when we left. Having stopped for a break in Alvin, Sue took a turn at driving. As is often the case when Sue drives, the weather soon deteriorated. We thought about turning around but we were two thirds of the way there. Fighting our way through heavy rain, and flooded streets, we finally managed to get to our destination and settled down for the night, hoping the car hadn't been washed away the next morning!
To our surprise we awoke to sunshine, and so after an excellent breakfast cooked by our guest house hosts, set off to explore the City of Galveston. We started with the downtown area.
Here we looked for art galleries, but several of these were still barricaded against the floods that had swept over the area, leaving over a metre deep of water in places. I did manage to get a few pictures through the windows though. Eventually, we found the Third Coast Gallery, where they had just finished mopping out the lower floor. Interestingly, the first exhibition, in there, was of watercolours depicting city scenes, and this was the first time that we had seen this type of landscape on our travels.
After a walk to the coast and a stroll along the beach, we finished the afternoon by doing part of a sculpture trail. Apparently, after Hurricane Ike in 2008, lots of trees were uprooted and the residents decided that local artists could create sculptures from these, as well as a further 8.000 new trees being planted. Guided tours are now organised or visitors can just walk along the streets with a map, showing the houses with the sculptures in their gardens.
The other trees were used for restoration work and a variety of art pieces. This seemed an excellent idea and one that other areas could adapt, recycling what otherwise would just be sent to landfill.