Monday, 20 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Six

Missed the Big Painting Challenge Final as I wanted to watch Ireland’s brilliant win over England in the Six Nations rugby match on ITV Hub last night. Days as good as that don’t come around too often. That meant I watched TBPC on iPlayer early this morning and I did well managing to avoid knowing the final outcome. There were four artists left and we had our own wee Ulster girl in the Big Painting Final but I wasn’t holding out much hope for Jennifer even with her new silver shaded hairstyle.

The four Finalists with their mentors
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The first challenge was portraiture and it had the artists wondering who their individual sitters were, so half expecting it to be their mentors Pascal and Diana and the presenters Mariella and Richard it was a huge BBC Surprise Surprise when a parent of each of the finalists walked through the door and proper gunked them. I think I would have lost all concentration but it did seem to settle the finalists and all four produced their best work of the series. They all got remarkable likeness and if I had to choose a favourite it was David’s 2.0 version of his father. 

The Portraitures of a Parent
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It was quite ironic that their mentors were hands off and unable to offer them tips or guide them in the final. Free from Pascal’s imposing shadow David made his own decisions. You could see his orange-clad mentor chomping at the bit in the background just dying to step in and direct/confuse him and Suman who had reverted back to her safe and tentative style of Programme Three. Suman ran David a close second, with Alan next. For all that it was Jennifer who took the biggest step forward in terms of personal progression and while I don’t like her style I have to admit she painted a well observed and recognisable picture of her mother. She couldn’t have done that six weeks ago! Daphne was rather cutting when she congratulated her on making ‘a perfectly normal human being’ – by implication not another bloody alien! 

The judges weren’t on hand to offer critique on these family member portraits. 

I didn’t think much of Pascal’s white boiler suit, mop, sponge and decorating brush tips for David and Suman. Yes, it might help them loosen up but this wasn’t the time or place for such a mad exercise. Suman who is usually keen to please didn’t incorporate any of Pascal’s odd team talk into her final painting. And David ignored him fearing he’d produce a wacky Jackson Pollack. Diana’s advice was more timely for her painters as both Alan and Jennifer used her tips in their final pieces.

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Who in the BBC thought it was a cracking idea to have the artists rocking, painting and getting seasick on a river boat? The wind was knocking over canvasses a la Hastings and all it needed was a bit more puff to render this Showstopper pointless. Why didn’t they paint from where Canaletto stood if this was to be based on his riverfront at Greenwich with the Royal Naval Hospital, and the Queen’s House in the centre? I assume the wee Venetian man was at his easel on the opposite bank! While the sun did make a fleeting appearance it looked to be quite an overcast day so they didn’t have to worry too much about shadows and the sun in their eyes. 

I sighed when I saw Jennifer lay down hair extensions on the canvas. Why? She was reverting back to the old Jen or maybe taking confidence from the knowledge that the only two times she triumphed over Suman was when she used these hairy ‘stencils’? Did she not think that her new found card painting style from last week was more suited to this straight edged architectural task in front of her? I knew then she had no chance.

Not sure how either David or Suman painted their canvasses
with the awkward angle they were at to their subject
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David and Suman were painting beside each other and it was interesting to see how alike their paintings were. David’s wide landscaped painting was closer to the original Canaletto and I loved his sense of space. His dirty river Thames looked more believable than Suman’s, but her more zoomed in painting had more warmth and personality. This was going to be a close contest. Alan trailed behind the frontrunners yet again. His painting was rather flat with no foreground boat interest and little greenery. His drippy painting even suggested it might have been raining (it wasn’t).

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Suman got the nod from the three judges and deserved to lift the trophy. From very timid beginnings she made consistent progress and her confidence seemed to develop week by week as she took on board Pascal’s words. She’s a braver artist than David and more likely to break new ground and that’s what maybe swung it in her direction. She was a lovely person as well and you couldn’t help but warm to her! I felt sorry for David early on in the series as he was fighting both himself and Pascal. Being older he was definitely more stuck in his ways and not in awe of Pascal and his arty-farty ideas the way the younger Suman was. Alan needs a huge boost of confidence. He does need to loosen up and find a bolder style. He’ll take away a lot from these six weeks. As for Jennifer. She’ll do OK. The programme wasn’t right for her. She was lucky to survive the first two weeks but hey she did Northern Ireland and her mother proud. She oozes personality, has a lot of confidence and can talk the hind leg off a donkey! Will be looking out for her and her work in the future.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Movement in dance

This is one way to do it!
Capturing movement - watercolour the best medium

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Five

Five painters left! The stakes are getting higher. This week’s two tasks were stinkers and called for a completely different mindset from previous weeks and from the look on the artists faces some were beaten before they even started. Catching movement is a simple enough exercise in photography where you can slow down the shutter speed but in on-the-spot painting it’s a whole different kettle of piranhas – you’re depending on blurring the freeze-frame of the image you referenced in your head. 

Worried artists : Jennifer, David and Alan
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The artists first challenge was to paint a solo ballerina dancing a series of four movements that she would repeat over the two hour duration (minus a few rest breaks). They could work in whatever medium they wanted to capture her graceful movements and make sure she was anatomically and proportionally fit! The bottom line for the painters was they could not afford to draw a still-life image. Yet so many did!
First Challenge: Top Left Suman : Top Right Alan
Bottom Left Jennifer : Middle David : Bottom Right Jimmy
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Suman had an immediate setback. She had chosen to work in charcoal but the paper was different from her usual brand and didn’t respond as she expected. That would have been a good time to have had an artistic tantrum, but she carried on in her usual happy-go-lucky manner. Unfortunately her drawing/painting was static, a snapshot of what she had seen. Alan did give his dancers a vague sense of motion with one disappearing off the canvas but it was all too dark and cumbersome for me. Jennifer did rightly with her wispy, squiggly marks. She showed good observation but she too didn’t achieve the required movement! David I thought did an OK job with the ballerina but went mad on his rave techno background. What is it with him and purple. He didn’t have much movement but then who did! Wait, Jimmy did!!!! He used watercolour to express movement and did a decent job. But there’s a big gigantic and enormous BUT! Jimmy must have been in another room painting a rumba dancer strutting her stuff as Jimmy had the poor girl twist pirouetting (it’s a new ballet move) to the Dance of the Overweight Sugar Plum Fairy. His dancer would never have been able to stand demi-pointe on tippy-toes… Blimey, Jimmy has never heard of Kim Kardashian. Where has he been living?

This was a good exercise in movement. Human learned from it – David not so much!
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If the first task caused the artists’ brain farts the Showstopper would multiply the difficulty level several times over. But they were better prepared this time as the mentors tips on tackling movement paid dividends to those who had ears to hear and the nerve to put them into practice. Suman might have laughed initially but did find value in Pascal’s exercise of trying to capture a crowd of 100 people with just one vertical stroke of the brush. In the other camp Jennifer benefited hugely from Diana’s idea of moving paint around with a card and would incorporate it into her second piece.

Jennifer's new trick: moving paint around with a piece of card
So what’s the craic then? Just paint four dancers arabesquing, attitude-ing, croisé-ing, grand jeté-ing, plié-ing and pirouetting (thanks google) to the beautiful sound of Swan Lake. Jimmy, take note! Swan Lake! The dancers flitted on and off the stage leaving the artists floundering on how best to represent what they had been visibly moved by. They needed to think about the choreography of the dance and portray it in such a way as to allow their audience to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. I was speaking to a learned artist friend about this last week and he said a painting should be a question, and not an answer, a journey and not a destination. Always leave something unsaid for people to interact with.

Showstopper work: Top left David : Top Right Jennifer : Middle Suman
Bottom left Jimmy : Bottom right Alan
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Suman got movement almost spot on with her flow of dancers in her painting, except for one tiny dancer at the front (as Lachlan pointed out). Her randomness in the direction of figures gave her painting a wildness and energetic vitality. Her differing size of brush strokes, colour and tonal values showed she had taken on board Pascal’s advice. My only question would be Swan Lake and ballet is anything but random, the dancers have to be disciplined to be in the right place at the right time and perform the right moves on cue! David’s piece hinted at that and its uniformity and ‘oneness’ depicted a set pattern with their touching tutus. I’m not sure whether that was intentional. On the down side he didn’t get anywhere near the same movement as Suman. The judges liked Jennifer’s work and I am pleased for her. She has knuckled down, taken advice and learnt new techniques and this piece showed how far she has come in these five weeks. For me she showed the nimbleness of ballet more than the others with her delicate use of colour. Poor Alan and Jimmy failed on many levels. No movement, poor composition and a lack of imagination for starters. Alan’s curtains got a slating while Jimmy’s dancers were badly observed. They’re both in danger of leaving. 

Human goes through to the final while Alan has to mosey home to Glasgow
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Not surprisingly Suman got the immunity card and must be considered favourite to take the crown next week. I hoped Jennifer would run her close though now that I have seen that the next task involves architectural observation I think that might be a step too far for her.  Health and safety will be a huge issue for her next week as Jennifer does not do straight lines! 

Alan stayed and Jimmy had to trek back to Glasgow and find out who Kim Kasdashian is. Hope he recovers soon...  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Four

It’s OK painting flowers, violent waves in seascapes and exotic wildlife in the zoo, the hardest task in painting is to capture a likeness and personality of a person sitting in front of you. Because the face aids recognition for the viewer the artist has to get not only all the wrinkles, the dimples and the freckles to help identify them but also the right skin tone and personal expression. It’s not easy! 

I feared for the seven artists left for Portrait Week. Two of them will be leaving so the pressure is on. The venue for the two tasks is the National Portrait Gallery in London. I have been at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the V&A but oddly enough never here despite it being sited on Trafalgar Square. I have stood on its steps with Kris, Grace and Wai Moi and ventured inside to use its toilets but I don’t think I have walked around the galleries. Now if it had rained I might have been inquisitive enough. I have no idea why I’m such a cultural nomark!

Was reading online last week that Jennifer has a first class honours from the Art College in Belfast and has led art residency programmes here in Northern Ireland which hardly makes her an amateur. Does she tick the box ‘single mother’? ‘Irish’? and Ruaridh, (who also has a degree in Fine Art), ‘deaf’? and ‘Scottish’? So why are they on the show when there are probably hundreds of more deserving and truly amateur artists out there watching in TVLand? Going to art college should never disqualify you from entering a competition like this however! Very few students in graphic design/ceramics/product design/textiles/photography courses get anywhere near a paintbrush or a chance to work in oils and acrylics. I know I only picked up a paintbrush, for the first time since A Levels, a few weeks ago! But going to Art College and getting a degree from a Fine Art course should raise at least some eyebrows at the BBC. If the programme does come back for another series I hope they would adopt a more informed approach to selection.

Blimey have just read that Camilla dishes out art advice on her YouTube Painting Channel! 

Self Portraits (click to see bigger)
Ruaridh's self portrait (click to see bigger)
So what happened this week? The first challenge is a two-hour self-portrait using a medium sized mirror beside the art easel. How daunting is that! I felt sorry for the Scots,  Jimmy and Ruaridh as they wore glasses and as I suspected both were rather hesitant to include them in the finished canvas. Pascal leaned on Ruaridh to include them while Jimmy, a self-acclaimed portrait artist ran scared and found other things to touch up. It has to be said it didn’t really look like him without them. Alan did well with a very limited, almost monochrome palette which meant it looked more like a sketch than a painting.  David achieved a great likeness  despite a wonky eye, and for me did the best in this task. Ruaridh I felt did the least convincing male self-portrait. His neck was ridiculed by Lachlan as being spam-like. Charming. I felt his proportions were out. And what of the three women left? Suman painted well but didn’t get a good likeness, Angela had red cheeks and grew a moustache, while Jennifer for a reasonably attractive young lass painted herself dog ugly as if seared by a nuclear explosion. Oops is that politically correct and fair to dogs? Daphne summed it up best: “In terms of us knowing it was you it’s failed really abysmally and the proportions are just dire”

Sitters Baroness Floella Benjamin and Angela Rippon CBE
The five-hour Showstopper meant the artists had two sitters. I had heard of BBC newsreader Angela Rippon CBE but Baroness Floella Benjamin was unknown to me. I googled her while watching the show and discovered she was a jill of all trades: actress, author, television presenter, singer, businesswoman and politician who somehow had escaped my attention all these years. Sad to say I missed Play School in 1976!!! And all of her Jackanory appearances.

The portraiture showstopper was all about resemblance and making the painting look like the person. It was also about composition and how much of the sitter you should include to capture their elegance. 

Sitter portraits (click to see bigger)
So who caught something of the sitters? For some unexplained reason David thought this was the ideal time to use a palette knife for the first time. Lachlan I thought was being mischievous when he said he didn’t recognise Angela Rippon in David’s painting at all. I think the BBC should book him into Supersavers immediately! Thankfully Daphne disagreed with her fellow judge and that started a debate about what makes a good portrait. Lachlan did see more of a likeness of the ex-newsreader in Suman’s effort though like me he saw Anthea Turner too. Ruaridh’s painting looked as if Angela needed to go on a Slimming World course. The best likenesses for me were in Floella’s camp. Alan surprised me with his work - great likeness just made her about ten years older than she actually was. Jimmy did quite a good graphic representation of the baroness and included a few symbolic features. Jennifer for the first time in the series listened to the judges advice, was less abstract and demonstrated that she could observe and draw. What a difference! While I wouldn’t have marked her as highly as the others she did deserve to stay in the process for that progress alone. Angela made Floella look quite gaunt and sick and she and Ruaridh were the two asked to pack their bags and leave. I thought David was the best this week but it was Suman for the second week running who picked up the immunity card from the public.

Have I spotted a winner yet? The smart money would probably be on Suman as she’s on a roll, David is technically good while Jennifer would be a dark horse but she’s marmite. She needs to think less about selling herself and her ideas and more about what the brief is. I don’t think Alan and Jimmy have any chance. 

Next week’s task appeared to be all about movement as the closing credits showed ballerinas dancing across the floor.

Bono Pastel

Bono - U2