Kiyoshi Saito

Having accused elements of both Eric Ravillious and Paul Nash of being 'unresolved’, I thought I’d better expand. I suppose it means a problem solved rather than a problem explored. It’s a kind of mastery - akin to what musicians call evenness of tone - the particular limits of which are dictated entirely by the work in question.

It’s an overwhelming sense of pictorial completion that is immensely seductive yet might very well come at the expense of ambition; and can easily lapse into style. In any case, great technique is often suited to only a limited range of subject matter; whereas genuine enquiry is unembarrassed by falling short and therefore - in theory - without such constraint.

Achieving such a sense of resolution in one image does not necessarily promise any wider mastery of image making. In this respect, for example, there’s only one good Ed Ruscha. There are many one hit wonders, (and plenty of artists utterly uninterested in producing a hit).

These woodblock prints by Kiyoshi Saito are brilliantly resolved. They happen have a simple graphic sensibility about them, but that’s not a prerequisite.

Kiyoshi Saito (four).jpg

Woodcuts with snow

Its a shame we have such mild winters as snow is such a relief to an image-maker with a strong graphic sensibility; transforming the familiar over night, masking awkward details and creating free-ranging negative space.

The first of these is by Kiyoshi Saito (who will feature in another post) but I’m afraid I have lost the sources for the other two, but they show you don’t need to be an acknowledged master to benefit from a white out.

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Woodcut with snow (pair).jpg

Paul Nash

I keep coming back to this picture by Paul Nash as it represents a fascinating paradox to me. Despite being singularly unresolved, stiff and unnatural in manner and - to coin a modern phrase - pretty ‘basic’; it is one of my favourite landscapes and a continuing source of inspiration. Perhaps we simply don’t find perfection very instructive.

The painting hangs in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, but was once featured on a poster for Shell. Innocent times of course, but what a brave intersection between art and commerce. No ‘revisions’ I imagine.

The Rye Marshes Paul Nash.jpg
The Rye Marshes Paul Nash (poster small).jpg

Faro Island

I think print of mine compliments the above post.

Incidentally, the sea wall was about a foot high, but I couldn’t find a device to properly illustrate the scale; so everything’s ended up looking a little out of whack. More resolved than the Nash, but not as good. And no client as yet.

Faro Island Marcus Freeman.jpg

Charles Sheeler

What to write about these Charles Sheeler paintings that remain touchstones of perfection for me. I am blind to their limitations, so I cannot expand on those. It’s difficult for me to imagine someone would not enjoy looking at these, yet I know intellectually that must be the case for great swathes of people. Despite all the truisms (beauty is in the eye of the beholder ad nauseum) it takes great intellectual effort to credit for any length of time the knowledge we are not making absolute judgments. We simply find as we see.

Fire

Its generally accepted that painting (little known etching) doesn’t do action well, and that’s certatinly one of the reasons fine art’s visual domination wained as the world sped up. Most examples of artworks featuring flames only emphasise this, the difficulty of capturing that most illusive and fleeting of natural phenomena makes even studies of shifting clouds seem straight forward. Yet, sometimes, as in the below example by Pugin and Rowlandson, the attempt is so wrought with effort - such a clear manifestation of hope over expectation - that we are drawn to the failed heroism evident in the result.

As an aside, it’s odd that in the works of the Futurists - who in their very conscious attempts to capture action arguably failed just as comprehensively - the results tend to exude the hubris of overbearing confidence rather than the charm of human limitations.

Patrick Caulfield

I'll take my life monotonous. I don't think anyone can match Caulfield for economy and atmosphere. I think this is the most evocative of his Jules Laforgue prints, and the only one that is really a landscape. Its also the only one I own.

Russo-Japanese War

Incredible wood block prints of the Naval battles between two emergent empires on the other side of the world at the dawn of the 19th Century..

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Russo Japanese War 2.jpg

Exhibition

I would have loved to have caught this, if it hadn't been four decades before my birth (and in Illinois).

Eric Ravilious

These two watercolours are positively heady with atmosphere. I've heard Ravillious's work described as 'almost supernaturally beautiful’; but at the same time it avoids most of the conventional devices associated with beauty and retains a certain charming - near amateur - awkwardness. Mind you, so did Cezanne (although I'd rather have one of these).

Eric Ravilious

A further illustration of the point above. A charmingly awkward rendering of utilitarian buildings in 'Cement Works'. Look how unresolved the rending of the plume of smoke is. You feel, as Adrian Searle said of Hopper, 'he did not do nature well'; but somehow, as with Nash, it matters less with Ravilious.