Claude at the National Gallery

Since the busy September show I’ve relocated my studio to my garage. Now equipped with lights, a heater, a big desk, shelves, even a rug, it’s surprisingly cosy. Now I have the space, resources and time to make my own work. The only problem is that I don’t know what to focus on next. An anticlimax after the show was always inevitable, and it been great to sell work (even my first paintings!) as for all the encouragement of family and friends, nothing is as validating as complete stranger taking pleasure in your work, and being prepared to part with their hard-earned cash for it. The last year has been like a foundation course for me. The problem of moving on from here is not lack of choice, but too much. Like writer’s block, being stuck seems a selfish and daft exercise when life is short and the spirit is willing. But how can one settle on one theme when there is so much of interest?

That’s enough dithering. My solution is to have a break and take some time to study some other artists, as this is the best way of inspiring me to get myself in gear. So lately I’ve been looking up some monotypes in the British Museum (getting to call up and handle prints by Degas and Maggi Hambling is pretty exciting), taking in Degas’s Ballet show at the Royal Academy, enjoying seeing a mixture of shows around Mayfair (Keith Vaughan at Osborne Samuel gallery, Elizabeth Frink at Beaux Artes) and returning the National Gallery. The school has a great Friday evening class run by the excellent Robert Dukes, who is articulate and dedicated in his teaching as he is in his fine painting. Focusing on just one painting in a relatively quiet gallery is a lovely way to wind down at the end of the week. Regular readers will know that landscapes aren’t really my thing, which is exactly why its a good idea to be forced to sit down and study something I’d normally walk past.

So here’s a couple of hours with the French painter Claude. As it turned out, he had plenty of surprises for me. I thought I was due for straight-forward naturalism, but I found out that this painting, Landscape with Aeneas at Delos, was anything but. Claude seems to have combined three of four different sets of lighting in his work. An even glow covers the scene which contradict his selected shadows, which are strong in tone but oddly unclear in form. Unlike this image from the internet, the painting in real life is more extreme in shadows, so that the stream bank and shaded area to the left is barely discernible. He also takes great pains to create dark and light layers over and over each other to create depth, and then direct spotlights on individual characters. I also loved how objects layered each other, the front pillars lead your eye to the trees and wall behind, and vertical elements are echoed across the right of the picture by the temple and tower beyond, the march pace slowing to the lighthouse.

Drawing it, I was very confused by why the tree on the left seemed to be cut so abruptly by the frame, as if the painting had lost a few inches. But I later had the chance to study Claude’s own copy of his drawing (apparently he always made such recordings so that others couldn’t copy his designs) and see that this spliced tree was a deliberate choice and clearly done to visually balance the scene. I couldn’t resist testing how my own recording of the painting compared to Claude’s own to know how my visual perception relates to a master from over three hundred years ago. And with interesting results. I’ve clearly made my figures too small, and my temple. Claude seems to have re-drawn his bridge too small, but has enlarged his temple, and large trees, and I think where he pays attention to his own painting shows his priorities, emphasising the design that he is proud of.

Meanwhile I’ve started putting together that online shop I’d promised, you can follow the link to the right hand sidebar to reach it. And what better time to show off my new Christmas cards. After enjoying myself with my first linocut a few months ago I invested in an expensive Swiss cutter and some nice lino. What a difference, it was like slicing butter. So smooth that it’s produced an entirely different effect to the craft knife (although I also like its choppy textures). I’ve made a set based on the last year’s night drawings, featuring St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and Christ Church Spitalfields. And here’s a detail print tried on new Japanese paper, which is beautifully crisp -the actually print is about half the size of how it appears on screen!