Museums in Quarantine – Connecting Digitally Through Arts and Culture

Each year since 2014, museums across the world have collaborated in a shared initiative to celebrate their treasures with the public in an online festival known as ‘MuseumWeek.’

MuseumWeek has now grown to include over 60,000 participants from 100+ countries. According to its website, it has become the first virtual, worldwide cultural event on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and VKontakte.

Between 11 May- 17 May this year, many of your much-loved museums have been participating via their social media, at a time when it is vital to connect.

Technology has often had a strange tension between being a blessing and a curse. It has blessed people through the dissemination of information and connecting people in ways that otherwise would not be possible. However, it has also caused uncertainty, where the threat of technology consuming life has pervaded literature and the arts, from dystopian writers such as George Orwell and HG Wells to science fiction films like, but not limited to, Blade Runner (1982) and 2049, Terminator, RoboCop, and Alita: Battle Angel. As we begin to rely increasingly on technology, it is inevitable that we refer to visionaries who have imagined a future that has been absorbed by technology, either willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, for good or bad. I took a while to join any form of social media and was only persuaded to do so in University, as a way to keep in touch.

There is also the issue of trust in images that pervade modern culture, such as the utilization of Photoshop, where images can so easily be manipulated and the lines between fact and fiction blurred. This is a fascinating issue that has been explored in Dr, James Fox’s The Age of The Image, a series that I would recommend watching on BBC iPlayer.

The idea of whether a happy equilibrium could be met between humanity and technology has become heightened in these recent extraordinary times, where imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 has meant people have turned more to social media as a way to connect to others, to culture, the natural world, or whatever they miss from their normal routine.

As an artist, I spend much of my time in my studio creating, and I have seen other artists argue that they have been in lockdown ever since they can remember. However, I also feel acutely the lack of being able to freely move without restriction. I think however that often, and not to become too philosophical, that even as prisoners of war can attest, freedom ultimately lies in your mind.

Times of hardship have often proven to activate the imagination and creativity, reinspiring people to see their surroundings in a whole new light, bringing forth a mental and even spiritual transformation.

Rather than being overcome by inertia, those working at these places of culture have become even more resourceful during the lockdown. As James Fox rightly says, you can’t lockdown, or lock up the imagination. Throughout the lockdown, James has been sharing pieces of art on his Twitter account that he feels will help people come to terms with isolation. You can follow him @doctorjamesfox.

Since joining social media, I have enjoyed following my favourite museums on Instagram and Twitter, when I have not been able to attend in person. Museums such as The Wallace Collection, the V&A, the Louvre, the British Museum, The Museum of Natural History, The Science Museum, The Met, amongst so many others. I also enjoy following other art institutions such as Christie’s or National Trust properties like Waddesdon Manor, as, like the other museums I mentioned, they consistently share their most beloved treasures and stories in a way that engages the viewer and informs them, keeping their minds occupied and relieving boredom. You can even get involved with their accounts by participating in their interactive challenges, such as creating an artwork based on an item in their collection or reenacting a famous painting.

The willingness of the public to engage with these institutions online proves to me that time and again, arts and culture provide a vital means of education, inspiration, and entertainment at any period of time and are a way of understanding current experiences. By seeing stories from the past or how artists have translated their times, whether they have lived through war or peace, can often be a way of inspiring further generations on how to react in our times. Technology can never replace a loved one, but for those struggling with not being able to be physically close to those they love most, social media can be a form of comfort and can help reinforce gratitude and appreciation. Seeing through the eyes of a curator or artist can not only help relieve boredom, but also anxiety, bringing a sense of peace to the viewer.

Even when there is no lockdown, I would recommend following MuseumWeek’s account, or simply your favourite museums and art galleries on social media, either Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or if you are like me, a combination of all three.

Personally, I have enjoyed learning new things about The Wallace Collection, Christie’s, and The National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor, to name a few (a more extensive list is included at the end of this blog). All three actively invite the public to get involved with them through various activities and challenges.

Based in Manchester Square, London, The Wallace Collection is a cornucopia of eclectic and exquisite items housed within beautiful interiors, including armour, sculpture, furniture,  and paintings, collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries. My father and I had actually booked to attend a day’s conference on Indian, Iranian, and Ottoman arms and armour at the museum, which we look forward to attending when possible.

The Wallace Collection’s IG page. 

Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, one of my favourite National Trust properties, if not favourite (it bears a remarkable and convenient resemblance to my beloved uni, Royal Holloway), was founded by The Rothschild family of Jewish bankers, and is a beautiful French Renaissance house, with sumptuous interiors, an exciting sculpture trail, and a lovely history of supporting the local community.

Waddesdon Manor’s IG page.

Waddesdon Manor’s Twitter page, which has a different collection of stories to its other accounts.

Christie’s, located on Kings Street, St James’, also has a wonderful collection of treasures that vary in each auction, from ancient history to the present day.

Christie’s’ Instagram page.

I would always argue that we should never rely on technology and that physical relationships are always superior, however, technology has a surprising way of blessing us in ways that might not previously have been appreciated.

I follow a lot of accounts that focus on my interests (quite a few it seems!), such as history, the natural world, space science, wildlife, design, fashion, interiors, engineering, architecture, art, and even technology itself as a means of design. I honestly believe that you never stop learning and that you can learn from anything and anyone, whether online or offline; it is your attitude that determines whether it is beneficial to you or not.

I think having an appreciation of arts and culture encompasses a cross-section of so many other fields, such as history, fashion, etc and enriches people in such an important way, acting as a vital artery to society itself. It has even been proven to be effective as a form of art therapy for people facing loneliness, whether in lockdown or not, rates of suicide, etc and problems with mental health; feeling a connection to someone, whether you know them or not, whether online or offline, can be very important, and even more so at this time. Even accounts such as the National Geographic or NASA help you to transcend your physical limitations, transporting you to different places in an instant. I will gladly argue that you will find following these accounts very rewarding and enriching, even liberating, whether you are in lockdown or not.

I would also argue that following these places digitally encourages the viewer to want to visit their physical space, if at all possible, and to support them in the physical world. Let us not forget that social media is a free service, and if you can, please support them through a donation or even liking and following their page, as it is a way of showing your appreciation of those people curating such entertaining and educational pieces of content, letting them know that what they do is as valued as any other essential service or area of society.

The themes that MuseumWeek has already covered include #heroesMW, timely after the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and #CultureInQuarantineMW.

Today, on Wednesday 13 May, the theme is #togetherMW, which seems wholly appropriate for the current times.

We can look forward to Thursday’s #MuseumMomentsMW, where museums will recall memories, #climateMW on Friday for climate change (timely after Earth Day on 22 April), #technologyMW, to justify their digital presence, finishing with #dreamsMW.

I have included just a selection of my favourite arts and culture accounts to follow below, for both MuseumWeek and in general:

The Wallace Collection
Instagram – @wallacemuseum
Twitter – @wallacemuseum
Facebook – @wallacemuseum

Instagram – @christiesinc
Twitter – @ChristiesInc
Facebook – @Christies

Waddesdon Manor
Instagram – @waddesdonmanor_nt
Twitter – @WaddesdonManor
Facebook – @WaddesdonManor

The V&A
Instagram – @vamuseum
Twitter – @V_and_A
Facebook – @victoriaandalbertmuseum

Fitzwilliam Museum
Instagram – @fitzmuseum_uk
Twitter – @FitzMuseum_UK
Facebook – @fitzwilliammuseum

The Louvre
Instagram – @thelouvremuseum
Twitter – @MuseeLouvre
Facebook – @museedulouvre

The British Museum
Instagram – @britishmuseum
Twitter – @britishmuseum
Facebook – @britishmuseum

The Natural History Museum
Instagram – @natural_history_museum
Twitter – @NHM_London
Facebook – @naturalhistorymuseum

The Science Museum
Instagram – @sciencemuseum
Twitter – @sciencemuseum
Facebook – @sciencemuseumlondon

The Met
Instagram – @metmuseum
Twitter – @metmuseum
Facebook – @metmuseum

The American Museum of Natural History
Instagram – @amnh
Twitter – @AMNH
Facebook – @naturalhistory

Instagram – @museumweek
Twitter – @MuseumWeek
Facebook – @MuseumWeekOfficial

*Please note, all opinions are my own*

Leonardo da Vinci: ‘A life in drawing,’ The Royal Collection Trust

‘Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.’ Leonardo da Vinci

A rearing horse, c.1503-04. Red chalk, pen and ink.

I recently had the pleasure of attending ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing,’ at Southampton City Art Gallery, which ran from 1 February to 6 May 2019.

To mark 500 years since his death, 144 of the renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection were on display simultaneously at 12 exhibitions across the UK, part of a nationwide event to give the widest ever UK audience the opportunity to see his work.

At his death in 1519, Leonardo bequeathed his drawings and notebooks to his pupil Francesco Melzi. In 1580, the sculptor Pompeo Leoni acquired Leonardo’s drawings from Melzi’s son and mounted them on two albums, one of which was in England by 1630, in the Earl of Arundel’s collection. Within fifty years the album entered the Royal Collection, having been acquired by King Charles II, possibly as a gift. The drawings were removed from the album during Queen Victoria’s reign and mounted individually. In the twentieth century, many were stamped with Edward VII’s cipher. Housed securely in the Queen’s vaults at Windsor Castle for three successive centuries, these intricate drawings reveal an unparalleled insight into Leonardo’s investigations and the workings of his mind.

Arguably one of the world’s most recognisable and revered names in the history of art, Leonardo da Vinci is without a doubt a tour de force of creativity and artistic genius that has surpassed his own era. Leonardo was a polymath and epitomised the ideal of the renaissance man and the French ‘rebirth’, displaying exceptional talent and an effortless ability to adapt and excel in every discipline he set his mind to.

Twelve selected drawings in the exhibition at Southampton City Gallery reflected the range his interest, from sculpture, painting, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, geology, botany and cartography; each exquisite drawing was recorded meticulously in pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metalpoint. All his drawings were executed on paper made from pulped clothing rags.

Studies of an infant, c.1490-92. Metalpoint, pen and ink, on pale pinkish-buff prepared paper. Spontaneous sketches to develop compositions were an important part of artistic practice during the Renaissance. These drawings of a healthy, chubby child, were probably from life.

New information into Leonardo’s techniques and creative processes has been made possible by scientific research using non-invasive techniques including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence. 

Leonardo’s preparatory drawings and sketches were never intended to be seen by the public and he would probably be surprised people would want to see them. Even his writings and descriptions scrawled onto pulped clothing are almost inscrutable, being written in mirror form, from right to left. However it is believed he did this so as to not smudge the ink.

The heart, bronchi and bronchial vessels c.1511-13. Pen and ink on paper. This is actually the heart of an ox, as Leonardo did not have access to human organs after 1511. He was intrigued by the ‘most minute’ branching of the bronchi, describing them in his annotations.

Leonardo da Vinci’s view of the world was expansive, he was never limited and this drove him to excel in many areas of learning. The artist believed adamantly in visual evidence being more persuasive than academic argument, and an image could convey knowledge with more accuracy than words.

Leonardo spent hours studying nature and botanical details whilst in his surroundings in Vinci, Italy. His ability to grasp the principles of art and science, and his insight into the human soul, spirit and body, captured the spirit of the times when great advancements were being made and pioneering technology developed.

The muscle of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot c.1510-11. Black chalk, pen and ink, wash.

Through careful attention to detail, Leonardo deftly blended mathematics and art into ideal proportions. In Vitruvian man, Leonardo demonstrated his deep understanding of proportions and of the workings of the human body as an analogy of the workings of the universe, uncovering both the ideal symmetry and beauty of the human body mirroring that of the universe. His designs for Vitruvian man were inspired by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius and his work on the perfect proportions in architecture and the human body. I like how Leonardo has portrayed the Vitruvian man’s wavy, flowing hair, his expression wild and intense, and his muscular body perfectly poised against the edges of the circle.

Vitruvian man.

Through the ages, the artist has depicted the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Their vision of the world has always been like that of a prophet; their extensive time spent in nature and observing detail has given them a deeper level of spiritual understanding of the universe. The very act of drawing and painting is an extension of divine creativity and spiritual expression made tangible. 

Leonardo’s preference for a subtle rendering of expression, refined use of shading and changes in tone that is not quite visible is reflected in his art, from the slight smile of the Mona Lisa to the transcendent gaze of the Salvator Mundi, with Christ looking directly into the viewer’s soul. Leonardo captured the human body in a way that revealed their spirit, the individual can never quite be grasped, it evades description and understanding.

In the summer of 2019 (24 May to 13 October), all 144 drawings will be gathered together in a single collection at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, followed by a selection of works at The Queen’s Gallery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, in the winter of 2019-2020.

Designs for an equestrian monument c.1517-18. Black chalk.

Walt Disney’s Art of Animation – Disneyland Paris

‘Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience.’ Walt Disney

All artists, in their essence, seek to communicate the spirit or soul of a person or thing, whether that be via paintings, illustrations or animation.

Like many other ‘millennials’, I love Disney films. I love the stories, the fairy tale, the moral, the laughter and the art. The scenes are like works of art, every part of a scene meticulously painted to create a new world for people of all ages to enjoy and admire the craftsmanship involved. The whole film becomes a gorgeous painting to become immersed in.

David Hall’s painting from ‘Alice in Wonderland:’

Coming from a family of creative people, I have been exposed to art since an early age, whether in books, museums, galleries or film. I love to admire it in painting, sculpture, design, architecture or the best source – nature itself.

Painting by production designer Hans Bacher:

I have already visited the original Universal Studios and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, so when I was surprised at my birthday with a trip to Disneyland Paris I was excited to say the least. This was a dream come true!

Some people, who perhaps grow up too fast, may see Disney films as being childish. I see the films as being symbolic. Many of their animations are based on folk tales or fairy tales: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, amongst others, are based on variations of original fairy tales by Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, both of which involve a beautiful princess, a sleeping enchantment and a handsome prince. Many fairy tales are dark stories, almost parables, of good overcoming evil and courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

Fairy tales are intended to be symbolic and if we are open to them, to teach us a moral or lesson. They should teach people of all ages about the dangers of jealousy, deceit, cruelty, greed, corruption and other evils that plague the world we live in. The power of love to save and redeem features heavily in Disney’s films and versions of fairy tales. Without love there is no hope – whether it is the kiss of true love that saves Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, or between sisters Elsa and Anna in Frozen.

Illustrations of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip from The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale inside the castle tower at Disneyland Paris:

It can be argued that what Walt Disney attempted to do was to create a work of art, not simply cartoons. He sought to create characters that could somehow, despite being painted two dimensional figures, elicit both joy and tears of sadness – the first Disney film I watched at the cinema when I was little was Bambi and I still remember crying and holding onto my mother for comfort. I honestly believe that many would find it difficult not to cry whilst watching Bambi, no matter their age. The power of art to harness human emotion and create catharsis is a powerful tool indeed. I admire Walt Disney for his desire to restore a childlike innocence to people of all ages anywhere in the world through his medium of film and in his parks. Animation, like other works of art, should reflect our world and be recognisable in some way, perhaps even encourage us in our relationships or circumstances. They can help children dream, hope, play and imagine. 

Children are always receptive to new things and their curiousity helps them to learn. Play and imagination is proven to be vital to growth and development, their understanding of the world around them and their place in it. A film might not change the world entirely, but it certainly has the power to inspire people.

Half painted scene from Pinnochio:

As a Christian, I see art as a powerful tool to bring hope, love and joy to the world. God is the best creator after all and imagination is a gift, to be utilised for good and not evil. Prince Philippe even seems to put on the full armour of God to fight evil in the Sleeping Beauty film – armed by the fairy godmothers with his supernatural sword of truth, and a shield of virtue which resembles a shield of faith in Ephesians.

A few Disney villains in view:

At Walt Disney Studios in Paris, I visited Art of Disney Animation and listened to a talk on the making of a character and the vision behind their design. Every aspect of a character in a Disney film is symbolic and meaningful, just as a costume is to a film or colour is to a painting. No character’s look or personality is accidental – every aspect, from their anatomy to their movement or expression is to convey a message. So many changes might be made to a character’s design to ensure their believability and importance to a scene and the film overall. Every aspect conveys their narrative and story to make them more believable or relatable.

Paintings from Beauty and The Beast:

Model of the Beast in the studios:

The presenter at the Studios used Mulan’s companion, an anthropomorphic red dragon called Mushu as an example of character development. Mulan might be based on a historical figure in Chinese legend, but she did need a sidekick, or rather guardian and guide, to protect her and for comic effect!

The audience listened attentively to the presenter speaking initially with screenplay writer Chris Sanders, then with Mushu’s supervising animator, Tom Bancroft (his brother, Tony, was the director for Mulan!). The little dragon (not lizard..) even made his own delightful appearance during the talk, interacting directly with the presenter and animators.

In this animation masterclass, Tom explained how Mushu’s character developed as a result of his Eastern (Chinese) heritage. Initially there were to be two reptilian creatures but this was changed to one as they could not take attention from Mulan as the titular character; Mushu then went from having two heads to one and was made smaller in stature. He resembles depictions of Eastern dragons in Chinese art during that time, is benevolent and can breathe fire. I also recently discovered that Mulan’s early story was concurrent with a Scottish tale project that featured a dragon character and when it was cancelled, Mulan inherited the dragon as a sidekick. You can read more of Mushu’s development here.

I couldn’t find an illustration of Mushu so here he is in toy form in the animation studios shop:

Interestingly, I found out that Pocahontas’ sidekick was originally a turkey before they decided a racoon would be more effective alongside her!

The paintings that fill every scene in a Disney film is intended to draw the viewer into that world, creating possibility out of a sheet of paper. It is an illusion that speaks truths and desire, not merely escapist fantasy.

Paintings from Aladdin, Tangled and The Little Mermaid:

This is my version of a lovely scene from Snow White as she begins to sing with the doves at the wishing well. I was able to paint it whilst working on private commissions, so it isn’t yet finished but will be soon! Did you know that Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs consists of over 1, 500,000 individual pen-and-ink drawings and watercolour paintings? I painted this scene in oils on canvas instead of watercolour and ink to give my personal touch; I also painted just Snow White and the flowers in colour:

I love this beautiful painting of Florian serenading Snow White, which I found whilst exploring the Disney Village:

Here is another of my favourite Disney couples, Roger and Jessica Rabbit, from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ filmed in collaboration with Steven Spielberg:

And let’s not forget that Walt Disney’s dreams of inspiring people of all ages with his animations began with a mouse named Mickey!

I am currently working on commissioned oil paintings and ones for exhibition later this year (in my normal style rather than illustrations/animations!), but as they are private I am looking forward to dedicating more blog posts to art extraordinaire Walt Disney and his team. I hope you enjoy the art of Disney as much as I do!

Solo exhibition at Surrey County Council Register Offices

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.” Song of Songs 6:3

As we enter the height of the wedding season this month, I wanted to reveal that I have had an exclusive solo show at the Surrey County Council Register Offices since December 2017.

My artworks are on show for the public at The Mansion, Leatherhead, Artington House, Guildford and Rylston, Weybridge.

These historic buildings present a beautiful backdrop to wedding and birth ceremonies. The Mansion is a Grade II listed 16th century building, with a gorgeous façade of red brick in Flemish bond.

The Council informed me recently that across their offices, they hold an estimated 1,800 ceremonies each year.

The public are welcome to visit the offices to view my artwork, where the Council are promoting me as a Surrey Artist.

A few original oil paintings and limited edition prints are on show for the public in the ceremony rooms and entrance at Artington House, Guildford. Limited edition prints are on display in the ceremony rooms and waiting area at Rylston, Weybridge, and in the spacious waiting room overlooking the garden at The Mansion, Leatherhead. The artwork is available to buy.

This solo exhibition has a special place in my heart as the Surrey County Council awarded me the Surrey Art Award in 2005 for my school project on Vanishing Cultures; this award was a wonderful, unexpected, surprise, as my school entered me into the competition without my knowledge.

I am currently working on a few original paintings of the register offices, which will then be put on permanent display. The original or print may provide a lovely memento to celebrate a wedding or birth.

The first painting I am working on is of the wisteria enveloping the exterior of Artington House in Guildford. The below image shows a section of the painting:

Wisteria at Artington House, Guildford. Oil paint on paper, A3

I am currently balancing a few projects, however once I have completed this painting, I will focus on Rylston and The Mansion.

You are welcome to attend this special solo show; the register offices can be found at the following locations:

Artington House,
42 Portsmouth Road,

View of Artington House from the front.

81 Oatlands Drive,
KT13 9LN
View of Rylston from the garden.

View of the garden at Rylston from the waiting area.

The Mansion,
70 Church Street,
KT22 9DP

Approaching The Mansion.

View of The Mansion’s garden, from the waiting room.

Gallery exhibition at the National Trust’s Leith Hill Place, Surrey

‘Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.’ Song of Songs 2:12

I am thrilled to be exhibiting at the National Trust’s Leith Hill’s inaugural open call gallery exhibition every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, 11am-5pm, from 3rd May to 30th June 2019.

Entitled ‘Awakening,’ the exhibition celebrates the arrival of spring at Leith Hill Place and the beautiful surroundings of Leith Hill, part of the Surrey area of outstanding natural beauty. 

My original framed oil painting, ‘Bluebell Woods at Leith Hill,’ is available for sale, alongside limited edition prints. It is featured at the start of the exhibition. I feel extremely honoured that the National Trust have used my painting to promote the exhibition on their website.

‘Awakening’ exhibition on Leith Hill’s website, featuring my oil painting.

My painting featured at the start of the exhibition; ‘Bluebell Woods at Leith Hill,’ oil on canvas, 85cm x 60cm, plus frame.
View of my Bluebell Woods oil painting from the stairs.
The start of the Awakening exhibition.

58 artists submitted entries, however only 31 were selected for the exhibition. The artists I am displaying my work alongside include printmakers, sculptors, painters, ceramicists and jewellery makers, resulting in a wide variety of art on view at the gallery. The majority of the work is for sale. The exhibition is being held in the drawing room upstairs, with glorious views overlooking the countryside.

Initial view of the exhibition.
A selection of paintings, ceramics, prints and jewellery.
Textiles are also on display, alongside ceramics and drawings.
Prints, illustrations and ceramics.
View from the exhibition, overlooking the garden at Leith Hill Place and the Surrey Hills.

As a member of the National Trust, I feel very honoured to be participating in their first open call exhibition. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring their properties and walks over the years, and have never tired of returning to favourite places. It’s also a delight to discover new ones.

For readers outside the UK who may not be familiar with the organisation, the National Trust was founded in 1895 to look after and conserve special places of historic and environmental interest and heritage throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Leith Hill Place was bequeathed to the National Trust by one of England’s greatest composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in 1945. Vaughan Williams grew up at Leith Hill Place from the age of two until he was twenty, when he left to study at Cambridge. His violin composition, The Lark Rise Ascending, has twice been voted as the nation’s favourite classical piece of music.  He also favoured folk music, and folk singing evenings are regularly held at the house.

Leith Hill Place was home to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ grandparents, Josiah Wedgwood III and Caroline (née Darwin), who moved here in 1847. His great uncle, the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, was Caroline’s brother, and conducted experiments in the grounds.

Josiah Wedgwood III was the grandson of potter, Josiah Wedgwood, who founded the Wedgwood company in 1759, specialising in fine china, porcelain, and luxury accessories. A strong academic and musical influence has remained at the house to this day. 

For nearly 40 years since Vaughan Williams bequeathed Leith Hill Place to the National Trust, the building had been tenanted as a school boarding house. In summer 2013, it was opened to the public for the first time since the 1960s. 

The 16th century palladian style house is only open on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week, as well as Bank Holiday Mondays. The house is closed to the public throughout the week, however there are special workshops for those interested in art, history, music and theatre. 

In the month of June, there are sculpture workshops, folk singing evenings, willow weaving, life drawing classes, architectural talks, baking classes, stone carving and outdoor theatre, to name a few.

With its stunning setting overlooking the Surrey Hills, the gallery exhibition, alongside other events at Leith Hill Place, is set to be a fantastic spring/summer day out in the countryside. Unique to the house, there is a working kitchen, where fresh cakes and scones are baked on the premises, giving a warm welcome to travellers and walkers.

I would also recommend visiting the exhibition downstairs, ‘Minding the Women: reflecting Caroline Wedgwood,’  which has researched the life of Caroline Wedgwood, thought to have been the driving force behind planting the woodland garden on Leith Hill in the mid 1800s. My friend, contemporary printmaker/installation artist and founder of the award winning Ochre Print Studio, Julie Hoyle, is displaying her beautiful prints alongside Leith Hill Place’s current artist in residence,  sculptor Philippa Hall, until 30th June. Julie was artist in residence in the summer of 2018.

Leith Hill Place and its exhibitions are free to visit for National Trust members, however admission charges do apply for non members.

Panchi Sayargyi U Thu Kha, Centenary Art Exhibition – The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

ပန္းခ်ီဆရာၾကီး ဦးသုခ ႏွစ္ ၁၀၀ ျပည့္ ပန္းခ်ီျပပြဲ

I’m honoured to have been invited by my friend, internationally renowned Burmese artist Min Wae Aung, to join him in an art exhibition celebrating the centenary birth year of Saya U Thu Kha (1918-2007), a seminal figure in the arts movement in Myanmar and a teacher of Min Wae.

The exhibition, comprised of international artists, will take place at The Strand Hotel (Ballroom) in Yangon, from 13-15 November 2018.

My work has actually been held at Min Wae’s gallery, the New Treasure Art Gallery in Yangon since the beginning of August 2018 before it is exhibited at The Strand.

Thank you to Min Wae, who provided the biographical information and resources related to this article on Saya U Thu Kha.


Born Muang Thu Kha on 11 November 1918, his family lived in the west end of Yangon and owned a food stall at Scott Market, now renamed Bo Gyoke Market. His parents, U Pu and Daw Mya Hnit had no artists among their ancestors but they were related to those involved in art; his mother was a niece of Daw Mya Shwe, a cousin of Daw Mya May, the wife of a commissioner who strongly supported the art movement and is known as the Mother of Myanmar art.

Whilst under British colonialism in 1910, nationalism and political awareness began to take root in Myanmar, propelling literature and the arts into the 1920s. Various national newspapers hired Myanmar illustrators, increasing public awareness of the art movement. After the country’s first strike, Daw Mya May and her husband U Hla Aung opened a Buddhist Middle school for boys on Pagoda Road in Yangon and one for girls on Canal Street; U Thu Kha attended his great aunt’s Buddhist Middle School for boys when he was of school age. Whilst studying, his growing interest in the arts could not be contained. He broke school rules during 6th grade by covering the school’s freshly painted latrine walls with his drawings which resulted in a harsh caning from his teacher that was so severe the school doctor was called and he spent the next three days to recover. Upon his return, he explained to the teacher that his passion for art compelled him to paint. Seemingly regretful, his teacher immediately wrote a note for Muang Thu Kha giving him permission to attend classes at the Burma Art Club and become a life member until 1928 without paying any fees. It seems this incident had unexpectedly opened a door to his future.

In pre-war years, Muang Thu Kha was the general secretary of the art club of the State High School for four years. He entered the annual competition for art, crafts and technology held at the Jubilee Hall in Shwedagon Pagoda Road, and won gold medals and prizes every year; he also exhibited in artist group shows sponsored by U Ba Nyan at the Burma Art Club. Aside from painting, he was a talented sportsman, playing football, basketball and boxing. His father’s uncle was a famous athlete of the time, U Ba Than (Sando).

He became a teacher in 1938, passing the examination held by the all Burma Education and Information Department. After independence in 1948, he became a member of the newly established Artists and Sculptors Union. He was the in-house illustrator of the English-language version of the New Times of Burma and the weekly Business Review in 1950. In 1952, he participated in an art exhibition held on the premises of the Rangoon Gazette Press on Bo Aung Kyaw Street (now the offices of Myanmar Times), at the Sarpay Beikhman Art Exhibition in 1959 and later at the annual art exhibition held at the Envoy Hall (now the Tatmadaw Hall) by the National Art and Sculpture Council.

In 1963 he was inaugurated as an instructor at the Yangon State School of Fine Arts, later becoming a principle until his retirement in 1984. He was known to be very patient, teaching his students basic skills and anatomy, emphasising their need to draw first in pencil before using colours. Whether they were good or bad, he treated his students as friends, often buying them tea, meals or a bus fare. In 1972, he studied block printing and mosaic in Germany and then toured Egypt. Whilst he was teaching at the SSFA Yangon, he was also taking classes at the Rangoon University Art Club. Until his death, he served as the patron of the Traditional Artists and Artisans association. In 1997 he was awarded an honorary professorship by the Department of Fine Arts.

When his student, Min Wae Aung, opened the New Treasure Art Gallery, U Thu Kha acted as patron, coming there to paint regularly until his very last days. After suffering a brain haemorrhage in 2000, he came three days a week to the gallery, painting every time he came.

Aside from painting, he wrote articles and books on art. One well received publication was his translated book ‘International Methods of Figure Drawing,’ complete with illustrations.

A popular teacher, his students had begun paying homage to him through an annual Homage ceremony to Elder Artists from 1978 until 2006, twenty nine years in total. Initially they went to his house but later changed the venue to the New Treasue Art Gallery after it was established.

Saya U Thu Kha is known to be one of two Burmese artists, the other Saya U Thein Han, to teach art well into their retirement years. Compelled by the desire to further the arts in Myanmar, both artists opened private classes after retiring from teaching.

Many of his students achieved fame, including Min Wae Aung, Thein Shwe Kyi, Win Thaw, Ngwe Kyi, Shwe Min Thar, Zaw Min and Aung Min Thein amongst others.

U Thu Kha passed away in 2007 at the age of 89 and is survived by his wife Daw Khin Ohn and their eleven children. Long may his legacy continue.

My contribution to the exhibition is a 1m oil painting on canvas board, entitled
‘Bluebell Woods’:


St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall – a monastery, a fortress, a family home

‘Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon [the devil] and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.’ Revelation 12:7

Like generations before me, I have become enamoured with a rocky outcrop outside Marazion in Cornwall, better known as St Michael’s Mount.

Rising enigmatically out of the sea’s vapours like a dream or fairytale, St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, only accessible via a narrow cobbled causeway when the tide is out. The islanders are essentially marooned for sixteen out of twenty four hours, lending it an ethereal, elusive quality, with visitors eagerly anticipating the small gap through which to embark on their own pilgrimage to the castle.

The Mount has undergone several transformations. Once a spiritual house of worship and place of pilgrimage, it transitioned into a fortified stronghold before settling into a family home. Throughout the ages, many have been drawn to its natural advantages and access to the high seas, but it has remained impenetrable, its sheer rock face seemingly unassailable, rising above the land around the shore; its church surrounded by a walled castle at the top of the rocky outcrop with a single track leading down to a few fishermen’s huts and an enclosed harbour.

The castle’s rooftop gives commanding views over the open sea and Marazion:

As Marazion local and author of ‘about St Michael’s Mount,’ Michael Sagar-Fenton says, it always looked ‘just right,’ at ease in its natural surroundings.

No written record exists of the Mount’s formative days, it was most likely a rocky promontory before leaving the safe harbour of land to favour the open sea. Its name supposedly derives from its magnificent namesake in Normandy, UNESCO World Heritage site, Mont St Michel.

Where the former is a medieval city and monastery, the latter is a bastion of natural defence, attractive to those looking for a stronghold or a shipwreck’s bounty, the latter being a frequent problem as many a ship or boat would fall victim to an unforgiving south westerly wind around the island.

The Mount’s spiritual heritage hearkens back to the early Celts, when a group of Celtic missionaries, known as The Saints, marked numerous places in Cornwall as places of worship and bestowed upon them sanctified names. Following the saints came the pilgrims and consequently the foundation for the Mount’s future role in the coming years. Penance and absolution were necessary to enter heaven, so extravagant journeys of pilgrimage were made by those who had the resources, supporting the small local community through tithes of fish.

After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror bestowed the county to his half brother, Robert. The latter then gave the local village permission to hold a Thursday market to financially aid Mont St Michel, naming themselves ‘Marghas Yow,’ and a nearby settlement became known as ‘Little Market’ or ‘Marghas Byghan; from these come the derivatives, Market Jew and Marazion.

The ‘Pilgrim’s Steps:’

In 495 came a miraculous apparition, with several fisherman claiming a vision of St Michael standing upon a rocky outcrop on the western side of the island. Thus the island transformed from simply a trading port to a significant location in Christendom.

Sculpture depicting the Mount’s namesake, Michael the Archangel, and his defeat over the devil:

In 1135 the Abbot of Mont St Michel established a Benedictine priory on St Michael’s Mount as a subsidiary of his own. However tributaries were suspended during wartime, which gradually eroded their bond. Links were finally severed during the reign of Henry V, at which point the Mount became an independent institution. It was now property with income attached, no longer a sanctified refuge. Although there are few footnotes in history pertaining to its conquest by enemy forces, its strategic advantages undoubtedly made it attractive to both the monarchy and outsiders. After years of wresting it from the monarchy, Syon Abbey eventually regained control of the Mount.

During this period of unrest, the Mount was undoubtedly transitioning from a spiritual place of worship to a fortified stronghold.

A line of cannons overlook the harbour and open sea, reminders of its military heritage:

Due to its strategic advantages, the island survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the 14th century church remains to this day, the ‘centrepiece of the castle.’ Despite its survival, the faithful clergy were sadly sent away, instead replaced by the Milliton family of Pengersick, who rented it from the monarchy on the condition that they repaired the buildings and pier and supported a garrison of five soldiers.

Stained glass at the castle:

As the tin trade flourished, so did the communities at neighbouring Mousehole, Newlynn, Penzance, Marazion and the village on the Mount. The island was no longer the only significant port, but its fortifications made it the most vital. In July 1588, the beacon on the mount was lit as the Spanish Armada advanced up the  English channel to its forthcoming defeat by Howard and Drake.

Oil painting depicting the first beacon to warn of the Spanish Armada, 1588:

The Spanish invaded Brittany instead, but an embittered raiding party razed Paul, Mousehole, Newlynn and Penzance in revenge. The Mount was too much of a challenge and Marazion was the largest community in the area left standing.

In 1599 many church lands were sold by Elizabeth I into private hands and Robert Cecil, later Earl of Salisbury, bought the Mount. It was a formidable challenge to invading forces, with a new threat rising from the Dutch and North African pirates from Salee and Algiers, who were known to take hostages as slaves.

In 1640 the Mount was sold to Sir Francis Bassett, however two years after their acquisition, they became embroiled in the civil war, with Bassett one of the king’s most faithful soldiers. However, they were forced to pay extortionate fines after Cromwell’s victory (Cornwall was emphatically Royalist) and despite their tin revenues, they parted with the Mount in 1659.

Oil painting depicting the surrender of the Mount after the civil war, 1646:

Unfortunately for the Bassetts, the purchaser, John St Aubyn of Clowance, was a prominent Parliamentarian and was appointed Captain of the Mount by parliament after the war. The family remained custodians for the next three hundred years and still are today. The last garrison departed in 1660 by which time the Mount was in a poor state. However with the end of international and local hostilities and the beginning of the golden age of tin and copper, time and money was at their expense. One of the early improvements was the reowned frieze in the ‘Chevy Chase’ room, the monk’s old refectory and much of the Mount as we know it now originated from this period of renovation, making it more befitting to a country house.

The resplendent banqueting hall in the older part of the castle:

The St Aubyns mostly followed careers in the army and parliament, many distinguishing themselves through military exploits.

Fencing equipment mounted in the entrance hall:

An exception was the fifth baron, known as a patron of the arts, particularly for sponsoring the Cornish artist John Opie. The family’s affection for the arts continued for generations and they still continue to support and encourage living artists.

Examples of their extensive art collection:

The Napoleonic wars led to renewed tension and further fortifications, using the impressive line of cannons to disarm the enemy. At its peak, the island supported 300 people, a school and three pubs. Marazion was declining as a fishing port at this time and both Marazion and the Mount were not previously places the gentry would want to inhabit. However with the ascendancy of the railway, the Mount became a genteel resort for affluent visitors. The island’s business was mainly fishing for pilchards, although many men also doubled as boatmen and estate workers.

The causeway was not properly laid until 1898, before which it was a natural shingle bank, laid by natural confluence of the tides. In the 1950s, the family decided to gift the castle to the National Trust as a means to conserve it for the future. The castle and older parts of the house were opened to the public and the 19th century house, with kitchens and ‘one of the most romantically set dining rooms in the world’ remains private.

Rooftop view of the sub-tropical garden:

Its appeal endures, with artists from Turner to the cartoonist Giles attempting to capture it through its evanescent changes, in sunlight, dusk or moonlight. The Mount is known, justifiably, as the jewel in Cornwall’s crown, an emblem for the whole county. Even mystical straight ley-lines are present, which are said to link places of supernatural power and often high places dedicated to St Michael.

Pre-Christian beliefs also favoured the island as a place of magic and many today find their dreams of fairy stories fulfilled. The Mount also has its own mythology, concerning Jack the Giant Killer, where the giant Cormoran lived in the island.

The Giant’s well, halfway up the Pilgrim’s steps:

This is my charcoal interpretation of the beguiling changing tide at St Michael’s Mount, with Chapel Rock in the foreground:


Discovering Rare Masterpieces & 5000 years of Art at London Art Week, July 2018

‘The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.’ Leonardo da Vinci

Nestled between the streets of Mayfair and St James’, behind the elegant facades of historic London townhouses, lies 40 bespoke galleries, 3 of the world’s most celebrated auction houses and over 5000 years of art.

For traditional fine art dealers, collectors and enthusiasts alike, this affluent district provides a marvellous treasure trove of ancient sculptures, old master paintings, post-Impressionist paintings, drawings and textiles.

Each gallery is a specialist in their field, catering both to prominent museums and art collectors, as well as being open to all members of the public throughout the year. They offer a unique opportunity to peruse, and buy, artworks and masterpieces at leisure and in a private setting, a welcome refuge away from the crowds at larger institutions.

Often operating through word of mouth, each gallery is so specialist in its area and seemingly discreet, that most clients become familiar with their exhibitions not just through publications and extensive scholarship, but also through fine art fairs such as Masterpiece, which is held annually at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The galleries and auction houses also participate in London Art Week, a twice yearly event which acts as a tantalising taster into their acquisitions, exhibitions and research. Visitors are offered free art gallery tours, talks and the opportunity to buy artworks from some of the most distinguished art dealers and curators.

Just as Leonardo Da Vinci adeptly expressed the unique vision an artist has, so do collectors, connoisseurs, dealers and art enthusiasts yearn to see into the soul of the artist and, through years of dedicated research, expertise and passion, bring to light the periods of art history which deserve inclusion in the canon of artistic influence.

Over the course of one week, from 29 June to 6 July, the founders of London Art Week (LAW), take visitors on a free lunchtime walking tour in either Mayfair or St James’, with the itinerary changing each day. I attended the tour on 4th July, lasting just 60 minutes and offering a glimpse into four bespoke art galleries in Mayfair. Some galleries were also exhibiting artworks at Masterpiece, but many of their most historically significant pieces remained at the gallery. I had no previous knowledge of which specific galleries we would visit and I was delighted with the ones chosen by LAW that day, some almost concealed on street view in elegant London townhouses and all within walking distance of one another.

Our first port of call was Lullo – Pampoulides on Cork Street, exhibiting master paintings and sculpture. Established in 2016 by Andrea Lullo and Andreas Pampoulides, each artwork was presented with rigorous scholarship, their aim, according to gallery manager Chiara, to assist art lovers from all ages to engage with art across all periods.

The below oil painting by Antonio Mancini (1852-1930) was the most contemporary painting on display at Lullo – Pampoulides, having been painted in 1910. Entitled ‘Suonatrice di mandola’ or ‘Il costume giapponsese,’ it depicts a woman wearing an antique Japanese costume playing the mandola. The paint thickens in places in an expressive impasto technique, creating a glistening effect. The use of light within the painting illuminates her smiling expression, suggesting her contentment and ease with the viewer:

Both Lullo and Pampoulides are compelled by their passion for art and acquire pieces that especially capture their discerning eye, even if the origins or attribution is unknown. Part of the joy of being an art specialist must be in the pursuit of discovery and unearthing new and historically significant artefacts! The below terracotta sculpture, depicted with the same energy as an Auguste Rodin piece, is awaiting attribution and currently undergoing research. A recent acquisition, it has however been established to be of the esteemed classical composer, Giuseppe Verdi, but sculpted post humously.

A stunning bronze sculpture of Jesus is also a recent acquisition and is under investigation for its attribution.

Directly across the street from Lullo – Pampoulides lies Sam Fogg gallery, his name emblazoned prominently above the large windows. A leading art dealer in late medieval and renaissance textiles, Fogg is committed to redefining the market for medieval art in Europe. Luxurious silks, intricate weaves, patterns and tapestries in incredible colours and condition adorned the walls in a mixture of Christian, Islamic and Indian pieces.

Where some tapestries were evidently historic in their patterns, some were also quite contemporary in their designs, such as this Perugia Towel, with wyverns, griffins and human figures. Dating from 15th or 16th century, the towel originates from Central Italy:

Velvet chasuble back with the Crucifixion from Central Europe, Bohemia, circa 1500:

As a reader of English Literature at University, with modules on Medieval literature, chivalric romances in particular, I was delighted to discover this large tapestry depicting The Marriage of Blanchefleur from the Story of Garin and Begon, originating from Southern Netherlands in 1460-80:

Next we visited Lowell Libson & Johnny Yarker, specialist dealers in British art with an emphasis on watercolours, paintings, sculpture and drawings of the seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Their exhibition, ‘The Spirit & Force of Art: Drawing in Britain 1600-1750‘, was on show from 29 June to 6 July so it is worth researching the galleries to see what and when they will feature a new exhibition. The result of ten years collecting, this unprecedented exhibition celebrated almost 100 British drawings from a period before the foundation of the Royal Academy. It offered a rare opportunity for art collectors and museums to acquire significant works from 1600-1750 that were previously neglected by the art market and both private and institutional collectors. Some of the artworks on display were influenced by the fashionable Dutch and Flemish styles of the sixteenth century, rather than by the Italian imports during the reign of Charles II.

I look forward to visiting Libson Yarker again and perusing further drawings by master court painter, Sir Peter Lely, and renowned 16th century artist Louis Laguerre, whose murals decorate Fetcham Park House, a gorgeous Grade II listed house and wedding venue. There is also a portrait of the English ship, Princess, by Willem Van de Velde the Younger, 1633-1707, that was particularly intricate and beautiful.

Isaac Oliver’s masterpiece in miniature, The Annunciation to the Shepherds:

Jacques Rigaud, The Rotunda at Stowe:

Louis Cheron’s drawing of Mars:

Our last stop on the art tour was Ben Elwes Fine Art, a specialist dealer in Old Master, British, nineteenth and twentieth century paintings, drawings and sculpture. Together with his wife and co-director, Rachel Layton Elwes, who comes from an American academic and museum background, they offer a discreet service, with broad expertise in the market. Their clients include the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the Musee du Louvre and the Met.

Their exhibition for London Art Week featured vibrant Old Master oil paintings on canvas and copper, the latter material delivering a gorgeous intensity of colour.

The below oil on canvas painting by Carlo Dolci is entitled ‘Portrait of a Young Man,’ and was completed between 1627-1633. This portrait, perhaps of a fellow artist, was painted when the artist was just 12 years old, however as Ben pointed out, an artist would often be apprenticed at a professional artist’s studio from the age of six, so this portrait is in fact the culmination of six or seven years of experience:

A portrait of Jesus which captures the highly emotional moment before he was flogged. Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Christ at the Column, Oil on copper:

Ben and Rachel also have a propensity to collect abolitionist art, particularly as a result of Rachel’s study of African American history. Aside from some poignant artefacts such as an original slave collar, there was also a Staffordshire porcelain figure of abolitionist, John Brown, and the below painting by prominent early nineteenth century artist, Henry Hoppner Meyer (1780-1847). Entitled ‘A Young Catechist’, it depicts a young missionary teaching a slave how to pray. The portrait was exhibited at the Society of British Artists in 1827, accompanied by a poem by Charles Lamb.

A corner of the gallery also revealed this treasure, a portrait of a Navajo woman painted in 1916 by Maxwell Armfield:

The tour was now complete, but the founder of London Art Week and our guide, Philippa, urged us to visit Daniel Katz gallery and Ariadne gallery, both situated in a Victorian townhouse just off Berkeley Square. Behind an elegant façade, paintings from antiquity to the twentieth century were on display.

Located on the first and second floors, the exhibition at Daniel Katz placed an emphasis on women in elegance for London Art Week and included paintings by Gustav Klimt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the pre-raphaelite brotherhood.

Oil on canvas portrait of Lady Hillington by Sir Frank Dickser, 1905:

A Japanese Lady, oil on canvas, by William Meritt Chase, circa 1902:

A vibrant study of a Neopolitan girl by John Frederick Lewis, RA (1804-1876), in mixed media: pencil, black chalk and watercolour.

Rounding the corner of the main hall however, was this magnificent oil painting seemingly illuminating the dimly lit corridor. There was no description which added to its enigmatic quality, but the intensity of light exuding from the painting in almost a chiaroscuro effect was astonishing.

This detail of the silk dress emphasises the remarkable glazing technique of the artist to render a translucent and almost sculpture like effect.

Upon walking upstairs to Ariadne Gallery, my friend and I stumbled upon the director’s office where he kindly allowed us to look around the art pieces on display. This clock caught my attention and although we didn’t have time to discuss the piece with the director at the time, its elaborate design reminded me of one of my favourite periods of art history, Baroque.

On the second floor of the townhouse lay Ariadne Galleries, leading specialists in ancient art. Based in New York with their second gallery in Mayfair, the family dealers have established themselves as unique in their field, with an extensive client base stretching from private collectors to prominent institutions. They are also regular exhibitors at Frieze Art Fair, Tefaf and Masterpiece.

Miniature artefacts of antiquity were delicately arranged on plinths, not behind glass as in the British Museum, but on display for buyers and collectors to handle (with care of course). Indeed, the artefacts were not originally intended for arts sake or even solely for burial purposes, but also to be used either in religious rites or everyday use, such as a mirror or cosmetic vessel, the latter of which was intended perhaps to hold perfume. It’s also incredible to fathom that these artworks were created without machinery or complex tools.

The minimalist design of the artefacts bordered on abstraction, void of unnecessary details. The central figure in the below photo reminded me of Alberto Giacommeti’s work and although it might look modern, like other pieces in the gallery, it seems generations of subsequent sculptors and painters such as Picasso have simply been inspired by ancient artworks to create similar styles of art:

Gallery specialist, Alex, pointed out that artists from ancient periods have been largely erased from history, the sole purpose of the work was to signify something symbolic and cultural, larger than the artist themselves. Indeed, the artwork is then admired for its own sake or its religious significance, rather than a study of a particular artists work. This is in stark contrast to artists from the Renaissance onwards, where the artists name has become more important.

Juxtaposed against these ancient works of art were abstract modern paintings by Richard Serra; the contrast of black etching ink, silica and paintstick on handmade white paper evoked a similar, yet contemporary, mystery and primeval quality.

From Mayfair, we then headed to Christie’s on King Street, St James’ London. Founded by James Christie, the auction house has established itself as the greatest and most celebrated market leader in old master paintings, most recently selling Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $450 million. My friend and I had just missed the auction viewing, but will be headed there again for another viewing in the near future!

One particular wish of mine during London Art Week was to see works by Canova, considering we had missed a recent talk on his works. With that in mind, we headed to Robilant and Voena located in Dover Street, where the curators have acquired a vast range of fifteenth century to twenty first: old masters and nineteenth century painting, classic modern, Italian post-war and contemporary art. They have also shown works by another of my favourite artists, Caravaggio.

Luminous oil paintings adorned the walls but I eventually found what I had been seeking, not the subject necessarily, which was of Caroline Bonaparte (apologies to Caroline), but the artist, Antonio Canova; his sculpture, Psyche being revived by Cupid’s kiss, is an emotional and graceful piece capturing the beauty of their love seemingly effortlessly. To render such a tender look in marble for me is astonishing and reflects a similar prowess to another sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

There are many more galleries in Mayfair and St James’ that participate in London Art Week and which I didn’t have time to visit, so I look forward to discovering their artworks soon! I would highly recommend visiting these galleries throughout the year to either peruse or buy, an appointment is not needed. Intimate settings define the galleries on show and offer a welcome private retreat from the crowds at other larger institutions nearby. The owners and gallery specialists look forward to welcoming you soon!

This is my oil on paper rendition of a beautiful ornate pattern which can be found at Sam Fogg’s gallery on a panel of polychrome voided silk velvet from Ottoman Turkey, circa 1460-90:


DC Comics – The Art of Superheroes

“Dreams save us, dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honour and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Superman. Action Comics #775 (2001)

Superheroes have entered contemporary mythology in a way unlike ancient myths, medieval legends and western films. Where the latter were constrained by historical facts and authenticity, the creators of superheroes could give their imagination free reign, inventing characters, costumes, technology, superpowers, heroes, villains and worlds through which they could convey their narratives. Although a product of the culture at a particular time, every element was unique and the colours and graphics have captured the imaginations of many for generations to come.

The writers, always drawing from current events, have been able to make superheroes form the base of our modern mythology and remain consistently relevant to humanity across the ages, bringing hope to society, whether its when confronted by economic decline, war or terrorism, or marking scientific, technological and medical advancements. The characters, their costumes and icons have evolved to reflect the aesthetic of each era. As Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton), creator of Wonder Woman, puts it, superheroes are in fact, our national aspirations.

I recently visited ‘The Art of DC – The Dawn of Superheroes‘ exhibition at The O2 (perfect timing for Father’s Day I might add!), where a century of artistic creation is currently being celebrated, from traditional methods of artwork to synthesizing animation, art and computer technology. The exhibition has been curated by Parisian museum, Art Ludique – Le Musee, the first museum in the world dedicated to contemporary art from comics, animation, manga, movies and videogames. Over 250 original historical comic pages, graphic art, illustration, preparatory charcoal and pen and ink drawings, 280 concept art and numerous costumes and props used in the films are on display.

The first superheroes:

The appearance of superheroes revolutionised the comic genre and the era, influencing art, literature, fashion and television. Created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, Superman made his debut in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938 as a hero from another world, wielding superpowers and symbolising hope, truth and justice admist scientific and medical advancements and the rise of fascism. The success of Superman inspired a young artist named Bob Kane, who, with Bill Finger, created ‘The Bat-Man,’ appearing in Detective Comics the following year. Rather than harbouring superpowers, Batman used his own intelligence and abilities to become a superhero in order to fight crime. Both opposites (an immortal and a human), they set a standard for all forthcoming superheroes and a new genre of contemporary mythology. Both cover artworks below were by Fred Guardineer in the era known as The Golden Age of Comic Books (1930s-50s):

Action Comics #50 cover, pen and inks, July 1942 by Fred Ray:

June 1938 cover:

Superman #14 pen and ink cover by Fred Ray:

Superman was a conveyor of truth and justice, seen here protecting young boys from being arrested after being asked to paint a wall mural:

The influence of Superman in contemporary culture was made indelible in 1961 with Andy Warhol’s reproduction of a scene from the comic ‘Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane’ #74 for a New York department store window. The image quickly became emblematic of Pop Art and was published in the story ‘Super Surprise!’ drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenberger:

Superman storyboard in ink and marker by Walley Veevers (1978):

Since his inception in 1938, Superman’s dual identities have presented the timeless struggle of both an ordinary man and a superhero. Clark’s professional attire acts as a device to hide his powerful physique, whereas Superman’s colourful costume shows off his muscular body. His visual look and heroic pose are similar to heroes from Greek mythology, portrayed in sculpture with chiselled features and impressively muscled bodies. His portrayal set the standard for all future superheroes across the different art forms.

Paint on cel of Clark Kent and Superman for ‘Superman, The Animated Series,’ 1996-2000:

Digital concept art by Jared Purrington:

After Superman’s creation came a darker action hero, Batman, more akin to a city cop than a superhero. Suffering from childhood trauma and a witness to his parents murder, Bruce Wayne uses his vast wealth and resources to fight crime in Gotham city. As Philosophy Professor Thibaut de Saint Maurice explains, he embraces the night to avenge their deaths, using the darkness against those who use this pretext to prey on others. The artwork starkly contrasts to the bright vibrancy of Superman and other heroes, his black suit and use of the dark represents ‘the chiaroscuro of justice.’ He fights villains of Gotham City either alone or alongside other masked vigilantes such as Robin and Batgirl.

Batman the Return #1 cover, January 2011, pen and inks. Artwork by David Finch, inked by Scott Williams:

Pencil drawing of Gotham city, from Batman Returns. Artwork by Marty Kline, 1992:

Detective Comics #61 cover, March 1942, showing Batman and his accomplice Robin. Artwork by Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos:

Batman’s intense physical training transformed him into the modern ideal of the time with a strong, healthy body. His vast resources were utilised in new technology, seen here in this illustration of the Batmobile by Tim Flattery:

When high risk missions need more extreme measures that don’t align with the DC superheroes moral code, they call upon Task Force X, otherwise known as The Suicide Squad. Originally appearing in The Brave and The Bold in 1959 as a more traditional military team defending mankind from monsters, they were reintroduced as The Suicide Squad in Legends #3 in 1987.  This team of criminal antiheroes are expendable villains looking not to be acquitted of their crimes but to simply lessen their sentence. The 2016 film adaptation by David Ayer tells their story, updating its elements for a contemporary audience, such as giving Harley Quinn’s costume a more modern style with colourful and edgy street wear as opposed to a black and white suit:

The contemporary mythology was however incomplete until the creation of Wonder Woman in 1941. Representing ‘the best of all of us,’ according to Thibaut de Saint Maurice, Wonder Woman invites us to make the best of ourselves. Her beauty is taken from ‘the best parts of humanity,’ created for good and not to destroy. For Saint Maurice, it is both essential and inconsequential that she is a woman, as justice, love and peace are qualities of humanity as a whole, hence the words of Louis Aragon from his poem Zadjal de l’avenir (1963): ‘The future of man is woman. She is the colour of his soul.’ Created at the onset of World War II by Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was the fearless maiden who gave up her heritage of peace and happiness to help America fight evil and aggression. As the third pillar of the DC Trinity alongside Superman and Batman, she is motivated by her desire to let peace reign and loving her fellow man. She bridges the gap between the contemporary mythology of superheroes and that of the gods of Olympus because she is an Amazon, part of a tribe of female warriors from Ancient Greece who live together on Paradise Island governed by Queen Hippolyta.

Wonder Woman Cover artwork showing the moment when a man arrives on the beach at Paradise Island:

A concept art painting by Aline Bonetto and Aaron Sims Creative depicting the first meeting between Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor:

A costume illustration of Wonder Woman’s wetsuit, with an added reflection of the costume from the original film:

The first iteration of Wonder Woman in 1940 by Harry Peter, depicted in mixed media and holding her lasso of truth:

The first team of comic book superheroes debuted in All Star Comics #3 in 1940, calling themselves the ‘Justice Society of America.’ Iconic heroes from the Golden Age including The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Dr Fate and The Spectre were united by their shared values of justice and liberty. Their adventures were published until 1951, and then reappeared as the Justice League of America in the February/March issue of The Brave and The Bold in 1960. The team now consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Not confined to comic books, the league has been appearing in animation throughout the decades and recently given live action treatment in Zach Snyder’s new film (although I prefer the blond haired animated version of Aquaman).

Justice League of America #100 cover by Nick Cardy, August 1972:

Cover artworks for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern and Superman:

Similar to mythological heroes of ancient times, members of the League were drawn with powerfully built bodies and other godlike features: The Flash’s winged boots and speed echoes Hermes and Aquaman is king of the underwater city of Atlantis, evoking the majesty of Poseidon.

Hawkman cover:

Aquaman #48 pen and ink cover artworks by Nick Cardy, December 1969 (left) and #57 by Jim Aparo, September 1977 (right)

Mixed media artwork by contemporary comic artist, Alex Ross:

There is far more in the exhibition than I can cover in this blog, but I would highly recommend visiting it as either an art admirer or superhero fan, as it was superbly curated and incredibly educational!

This is my pen drawing of The Daily Planet globe from Superman as a dedication to the DC Comic style:

End Plastic Pollution – Earth Day, 22 April

‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for God founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.’ Psalm 24:1-2

Every 22nd of April, environmental revolutionists and conservationists worldwide gather in solidarity to help protect and restore the health of our natural environment.

Since it was officially recognised in 1970, one billion Earth Day supporters have petitioned world leaders, national governments and local legislations to combat the (often) human made issues that have afflicted our planet.

The event this year addresses a topic that is difficult to ignore: Plastic pollution. According to Earth Day Network, over 300 million tons of fossil fuel created plastic is sold each year and 90% is emptied in landfills or ends up as litter. Chemicals seep into the ocean and soil, severely damaging our environment, wildlife and our own health by contaminating the fish we eat or water we drink.

I chose to use my oil painting, ‘Night Waves,’ to illustrate Earth Day, as over 70% of the earth is made up of water, with 96% consisting of the ocean’s salt water and the rest of arctic ice, groundwater and fresh water. The oceans are similar to rainforests in their biodiversity, they also produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorb more than half of its carbon. It is a precious yet fragile natural resource.

Historically, there has not been much regard for the ocean as a place to protect, and waste disposal has been rife. Disturbing facts seem to get more and more prevalent in recent years in relation to this last frontier of exploration; it is estimated that 4.6 billion tons of plastic are poured into the ocean worldwide per annum, suffocating marine animals which cannot digest it and polluting the environment. According to the National Geographic, one garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.

Plastic is no longer the miracle storage packaging, as its very longevity makes it virtually indestructible and non biodegradable. It is estimated that it takes around 10,000 years for ordinary plastic bags to decompose. Did you know that 4.5 billion coffee cups so far have been found in the ocean and around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, finding their way into the seaIt is estimated that over 100,000 sea mammals die each year from eating plastic.

Who didn’t feel upset at the sight of this sperm whale in Spain, who had been found washed up on shore having suffocated after eating 5 tons of plastic, fishing nets and garbage bags? Or the now famous image of a seahorse clutching onto a cotton bud in Indonesian waters?

The filmmakers of Blue Planet II said there was rarely a moment when they dived and didn’t encounter plastic in the sea. Alarmingly, we may also have been ingesting it in the form of microplastics, tiny beads of plastic that are found in many cosmetic products and when washed away down the sink find themselves in the ocean and into the bodies of sea creatures which we may be ultimately eating. In a recent study, over 83% of tap water samples worldwide was found to be polluted with microplastics.

The race to produce renewable alternatives has begun. DowDuPont scientists are revolutionising plastic bottles by creating a molecular chain that derives from cane sugar rather than petrochemicals. This sweet alternative is sustainable and will never run out, as chemist Paul Fagan says, bio-plastics are like returning to our past, where everything was made from plants. Engineer Toby McCartney is also pioneering a way of using recycled plastic instead of oil as a bidding agent in asphalt, creating longer-lasting roads and decreasing plastic waste. Scientists have also further improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest plastic; originally found in Japan, this enzyme can break down PET, the strong plastic most commonly used in bottles, in just a few days as opposed to hundreds of years.

Until a permanent solution has been found or a new plastic becomes commonplace, there are many quick solutions that can be adopted, such as investing in recyclable materials, refusing plastic cutlery, reusing bags or coffee cups. and using paper straws. A ban on microplastics in cosmetics has already been passed in the UK and cotton buds and plastic straws could be banned next year.

We all depend on a healthy ocean but currently only 2% of our seas are fully protectedYou can sign a government petition here to help end single-use plastics or make a personal pledge for Earth Day.

It’s time to save Nemo!