Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chapter 13: Artist Study

HANS HOLBEIN (1497/8 - 1543) was born in Germany and worked in Switzerland before religious turmoil caused him to leave for England, which he visited twice.  His first visit was spent with Sir Thomas Moore, later he was drawn into the employ of Thomas Cromwell.  He was not only a very gifted painter, but also worked as an book illustrator who was in touch with Basel's humanist circle, including Erasmus.  He was influenced by the humanists and his work reflects a knowledge of classical literature and philosophy.  His work shows the influence of Renaissance painters and his work, in addition to portraits includes designs for altarpieces, stained glass, jewellery, plate and other precious objects.

The Ambassadors
This painting of The Ambassadors is not only startlingly realistic in terms of the two men portrayed (Jean de Dinteville and Bishop George de Selve) but shows a wonderful array of sumptuous textiles: silk, velvet, fur and the room's firnishings layered with carpets and tapestry curtains.

Henry VIII, c 1536
Henry VIII's portrait manages to capture something of his personality, his strength and power, much of which is conveyed by the gold and jewels with which he is adorned, the richness of the fabrics he wears and the way that that fabric is embellished.  Both his doublet and sleeves are covered with blackwork and these intricate patterns were finely executed by hand in flowing and repeating designs.

Detail from Henry VIII's doublet

Blackwork is a type of counted thread embroidery worked in black (though silver and gold, even red was added) on even weave fabric and was very popular during the Tudor period.  Designs were so intricate and finely stitched that they resembled lace.  Many experts attribute blackwork's arrival in England to Catherine of Aragon, however this form of embroidery was known here before this time.  Catherine was an accomplished needlewoman and she was instrumental in making blackwork extremely popular.  The stitching on collar and cuffs were worked with a reversible stitch because both sides could be on display.  This form of stitching also acted as a form of reinforcement.  The designs are stylized and based on repetitive geometric patterns and plant forms possibly indicating Islamic influence.  Archaeologists have found some evidence of this type of work in North Africa.  Sadly little actual samples survive in England making Holbein's paintings all the more important, a fitting tribute then that blackwork is also known as Holbein stitch.

Sheep by Jenny Chippindale

In my recent times blackwork has been used to interpret a range of subjects: the natural world, buildings, people and things.  As can be seen in the above image worked in 1984 blackwork can produce subtle and very lovely effects.

BRIDGET RILEY (born 1931) has for fifty years been one of the world's leading abstract painters: time, colour and our perception of its fleeting nature lie at the heart of her work.  Though abstract Bridget Riley's paintings are rooted in a childhood of looking at nature.  Art School training in life drawing instilled a sense of structure and since this time she has continued to study the past and this has stimulated and informed her work.

After her time at Hornsey College of Art and until 1966 all Bridget Riley's work was based on a black and white monochrome palette, which she used to investigate many areas of perception, both practical and aesthetic.  These Op Art works have a dazzling quality, full of visual energy.

Study for Shuttle, 1964
 In Study for Shuttle Bridget Riley uses the repeating band which is her most important formal device.  It may be straight or curved, vertical or horizontal.  In this crisp image the repeating band appears to be fragmented by curved tapering lines, the shapes then seemingly reassembled, the black and white lines reconnecting.  The vertical curved columns create a surface which undulates almost like a mountain range, the v-shapes squeezed together in diagonally opposite corners of the painting.

Movement in Squares, 1961
 Movement in Squares is one of Bridget Riley's best known early works.  In the painstakingly drawn alternating black and white shapes she created a sense of movement. It is as if the paper undulates, tension exists between the right and left sides of the painting appearing to squeeze the squares little by little reducing them to no more than columns of narrow rectangles placed on the golden mean .

Where, 1964
In Where a further element comes in to play, that of tone.  Although the circles are being compressed at a constant rate, the tonal sequences change at a different rate.  This sets up vertical forces which carry the eye out only to be drawn in again by an inward movement.

By 1966 Bridget Riley began to broaden her palette, including first grey then red and blue.  She talked about the need to start with simple basic elements in order to have a firm foundation on which to build the complexity and richness of her work.  By her early thirties she was achieving critical acclaim.

Bridget Riley's paintings in the late 1960s and 70s were concerned principally with the visual and emotional response to colour taking her inspiration from a trip to Egypt.  The colours she found there provided her with infinite flexibility which allowed her to explore the potential of vertical stripes.  Later, through a study of Cezanne she became immersed in intersecting verticals and diagonals, colours and contrasts.  With the addition of curves and working with larger areas she created paintings where "flat planes of colour appear to weave in space in compositions of lyrical and exuberant rhythms."  Most recently she has returned to stripes using close harmony of tones and hues spiked with strong contrasts.

Bridget Riley has also created a decorative scheme for the Royal Liverpool Hospital and set designs for Ballet Rambert.

MATTHEW HARRIS is a graduate of the textile course at Goldsmith College and has been working with textiles since 2000.  During the previous ten years he made and exhibited drawings and works on paper.  He uses dyeing, cutting and hand stitching in his work.

Lantern Cloth III (detail)
Above is a detail from one of Mathew Harris' constructed cloths, one of a series of three and inspired by his experiences in Japan where he became interested in printed decorative motifs on kimonos.  There is a further link with Japan through the medium of oriental penmanship and elements of this make their appearance in his work. This piece was exhibited in 2007/8 as part of the Trace Elements body of work and executed in white, grey and black with a range of pink red tones.

Matthew Harris finds the construction of such pieces engrossing: detailed cutting, stitching and dyeing result in a complex arrangement of shapes of varying colours.  These include tones of a beige, ecru, putty spectrum.  Shades can be smudged and faded or brought into prominence, each patched in place with hand stitching showing the careful construction of the piece.  For this same exhibition Matthew Harris include Cartoons for Cloth in which he also used varnished paper which gave an off-white translucency akin to tracing paper.

In his work Matthew Harris aims " to create pieces that explore repetition, pattern and the disrupted or dissonant journey of line and image across and through the surface of cloth."


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  2. Can I purchase the pattern for Jenny Chippindale's "Sheep" or is it considered a one-of-a-kind work of art?