Printmaking autumn blues

Does anybody else get a little dissatisfied – a little disappointed – I am struggling for the right word…at this time of the year? Feeling a little bit aimless, not sure where I am going or what is the actual point of all this? It is partly I think because, other than the odd Workshop, I don’t have any deadlines ahead. In an attempt to give myself a bit of an aiming point I have entered work into a couple of the national competitions – which also carries danger if you are feeling slightly fragile about your work, as rejection is more likely than acceptance! At least I recognise this as a cycle and more to do with the time of the year, the melancholy of heading into autumn and winter without having had a decent summer.
Well, so what have I been doing for the last couple of months artwise? It is a great weakness of mine that I get easily seduced into new skills and screenprinting has been my latest indulgence. I have kept to screenprinting with stencils as I don’t have the equipment necessary to get involved in photo sensitive screens just yet but I have absolutely loved working at this new medium.

Screenprint of fish

Helen Pakeman

screenprint Helen Pakeman

Screenprint Helen Pakeman

There is something delicious about the smoothness of finish you get from screenprint – it is so crisp an edge after the looseness of monoprint. Speaking of which I am revisiting the large portraits of refugees etc which I worked on a few years back. They were quite intense so I needed a break for a period but I do find them engrossing. In fact I have entered a couple of them in the Monoprinting Masters competition run by Royal Society of Painter Printmakers – wish me luck and I will let you know how I get on.

Review of Truth and Memory at The Imperial War Museum

This is a fascinating exhibition featuring some of the most famous images from British war artists in World War I. The pictures so much inform our idea of how trench warfare was that it is difficult to imagine how shocking they must have been to their first audience. Futurism with its subtext of ‘humanity subsumed by the machinery of war’ [IWM text] produced pictures which vibrate with anger and despair and their titles punctuate that purpose with an exclamation mark! Nash’s desolate landscape entitled ‘We are making a bright new world’ or Nevinson’s bleak painting of dead soldiers, ‘Paths of Glory’, are raw with emotion and were even occasionally banned by the ministry as unhelpful propaganda. The relationship between war artists and government has to be an uneasy one – that would make a fascinating dissertation topic…which is a particularly interesting point in the context of the exhibition, which separates in different rooms works of ‘truth’ and works of ‘memory’. I preferred the ‘Truth’ section as it felt more directly from the experience of war but how much is my taste governed by the fact that our contemporary culture values the instant, the immediate rather than the mature and considered reflection of ‘memory’?

I absolutely recommend a visit if you get a chance. It raises all kinds of questions and, as with the best exhibitions, doesn’t provide any of the answers. Personal favourites were a series called ‘Dance of Death’ by Percy Delf Smith. Finishes 8 March.


Venice – la Serenissima

Grateful thanks to my very dear friend Shelley in Seattle who clearly has a hotline to  the Almighty as the sun has come out at last, and what a difference it makes to the colours.  The sea sparkles, the lovely earthy ochres and bricky reds of the buildings sing out, and of course everybody smiles, because the sun is shining.

A few highlights: top of the list would be a visit to the opera held in a private palazzo.  This was intimate opera with only three characters and a four piece chamber group, and you moved rooms for each act.  It was very special, and I cried… surreptiously obviously because I am British and have a certain reputation to retain.  It was La Traviata and if you are curious look up their website

Another memorable visit would have to be to the island of Torcello which is about an hour from Venice in a series of boats, but worth the effort.  Venice was founded there apparently and then moved to where it is now when it outgrew the tiny island.  There is a large church there which is gently crumbling away but which has two entire walls of the most beautiful mosaics, mostly showing a huge Byzantine influence so with that wonderful stylised flow to the garments.  Wonderful!  And finally, did I mention that I have totally fallen in love with Bellini – beautiful sad madonnas.  I shall have to do some research when I get back.  There is so much fizzing round in my head now that I can’t wait to start work.

On a count down now which is sad, but it will be lovely to get home and see Randal again so not all bad!

Blog from Venice

Venice in February, I can report with authority, is very wet. It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here and it has also flooded every day with the tides.  On the up side, there aren’t too many tourists so you can get about.  And, amazingly, it is still beautiful.  I am living here for a fortnight staying with a girlfriend who is a writer, which makes for a very peaceful co-existence.

What to say about Venice that hasn’t already been said?  Similar dilemma to ‘what to draw of Venice that hasn’t already been drawn?’  Some disconnected impressions then: my room is in the eaves above a narrow calle or street and, because there is no traffic noise, I can hear people’s footsteps and neighbourly chat, and the pigeons murmuring on the roof tiles. Most evocative, I can hear church bells which chime the hour and call dwindling congregations to worship.  The sound has a melancholy about it, just slightly out of tune.f

There are churches around every corner, over every bridge and they are large, once imposing spaces, some restored, some quite crumbly.  I went in to our local one on my way home yesterday and it is almost entirely decorated with amazing trompe l’oeil by Veronese.  Names that are hugely protected and cherished at home are just going mouldy on walls in damp buildings here.

More prosaically, apart from around St Marks, there are very few signs and the place really is like a maze so finding your way is quite challenging.  Yesterday’s visit was to the Guggenheim which had some wonderful Brancusi, and a magnificent Jean Arp which has provided me with great inspiration for some carving.

if there is anybody out there of a praying nature, could you please put one up for at least one fine day so I can go and visit some of the islands…

PS I will put some photos up when I get home as I can’t work out how to do it on my iPad.



Summer is here with a vengeance

I have just spent a dispiriting hour trying to remember how to add images etc to my website!  Serves me right for not having posted anything for so long – use it or lose it!

We had a fortnight’s holiday in France at the end of June when it rained and was chilly and cloudy and have come home to this heat wave so I am feeling a little cheated!  Still, I am endeavouring not to complain…

…I spent last Monday in Rabley Drawing Centre helping with the admin for the Sketch2013 competition which Meryl Ainslie runs.  I was lucky enough to be in the same room as the judging panel so could eavesdrop on their conversations as they poured over the 200+ entries and was impressed with how seriously they undertook their examinations of each sketchbook, and the discussions they provoked.  It is a very narrow line between a Sketchbook and an Artist’s Book and quite difficult to agree when/if one slips into the other.  As I have put work in the past into various national competitions, it was quite reassuring to see how closely they scrutinised each entry, because you do sometimes have the suspicion that this may not always be the case!  It does feel this is the season for big art competitions as I keep getting notifications through the post of another irresistible opportunity!  I do find putting work in is quite a good discipline as it makes me complete a piece rather than putting it to one side, with a view to coming back to it later.  But it is a bit of a lottery, and hard not to get your hopes up, only to be dashed when the ‘loser’ letter comes flying on to the doormat!

Currently, I am carving like mad – soapstone, so working with rasps rather than chisels. It is interesting to try 3D for a change; when painting you are producing the illusion of 3D, but it is a very different thing when you are actually trying to reproduce something in the round – there is no place to hide! You find your memory about the shape of things is nothing like as good as you think it is.  I am trying to copy a rubber duck from the bathroom at the moment – real fine art! – and its beak looks decidedly unconvincing…more practice needed!