Where I look at online art

There’s a whole lot of art out there in t’internet. It’s never been easier as an artist to get your work out to a larger audience; not only is it easy to get your work online but there is so much sharing and re-sharing who knows how it will end up. It’s also very easy for the lover of visual things to see stuff to excite and inspire..so today’s post is a roundup of some of my favourites

Personally, I’m a big fan of Pinterest for finding new art to look at; lots of art of different kinds appear in front of me and I can follow up on it or not depending on how it engages me…also it’s a bit Darwinian in that it tends to be the art which is exciting, interesting or engaging which gets shared about which means that most of what I get to see is really rather good, and also because it either shows me stuff from people who have similar tastes in art who have boards I’ve followed, or suggestions based on what else I’ve picked.

The big player  in online art is Deviant Art, and there is lots and lots of good stuff there to see. But quite often I find that I’m not seeing it because there is almost too much art being added all the time! According to the entry on Wikipedia DA receives 140,000 new submissions every day; that’s a hell of a lot of art! For me that’s an almost unworkable amount of art! I can’t look at a fraction of that number daily even if I had the time so to do; I’d get image overload. I do find lots of things on DA which I really like, and generally I make a point of following the artists so I can see more of their stuff…in fact it’s essential for me to do that in order to manage my experience. Where DA really scores is the number of people who selflessly produce stock images, photoshop brushes, textures and other things for other creative people to use in exchange quite often for nothing more than an acknowledgement.

Another site where people publish their own work which I like is Behance, there is much less content than on DA and it’s aimed more at graphic design than fine art- the fact that it’s based on creative portfolios makes it a different sort of thing, and the standard is very high and very professional; in fact a lot of people who put their art there are professional designers. Lots of eye-catching things to see. I also like the website of the Depthcore collective and I’m a daily viewer of Creative Bloq, Dezeen and This is Colossal all of which have great art and design content added daily. Recently I’ve also started using Flipboard and Stumbleupon to see a range of art and design content from around the web.

That’s my own list, there are loads more places out there to see art online – what are your favourites?


Klimt, forget the gold leaf, enjoy the scando-crime landscapes

I’ve always been unconvinced by Klimt.  For a start there’s all that gold leaf..okay frankly it’s mainly all that gold leaf which puts me off, along with the pyscadelic patterns. Every year I have an art calendar in the bathroom (I do a lot of my artistic thinking in the bath), where I can ponder it from the bath and I have to look at the same image for a month so I can take it in properly. I’ve gone for Klimt this year because that way I’ll have a year to consider him properly…thus far after 22 days of looking at his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’m not coming round to liking it..I’m not sure it does her many favours either; paint her…but then slam so much gold leaf round her that it looks like she’s staring out of it. But at least I’m giving him a go.

But a few months ago, before January so before I made my calendar choice, I found he did landscapes too and those really quite took my breath away (and not only because of the total absence of gold leaf).  I’m looking forward to whatever month this year gives me one of those.  Every year Klimt left Vienna and went off to the Attesee to paint for fun – locals called him the ‘Forest Demon’ apparently, which when you look at photos of him and remember that he seldom wore underwear gives one rather pause for thought I think. I’m busy waiting for a major UK gallery to have a Klimt landscape show, I’ll be there in a heartbeat. He did a number of subjects, lakes, forests, flowers..okay the flowers are a bit psychadelic..maybe he’d been consuming mushrooms while painting…but nowhere near as over the top as the portrait commissions. But it was the forests which I really warmed to, and found myself thinking of ScandoCrime.

Yes in true Visupulse blog style I’m taking a huge leap from the Attersee of the 1880s to the televisual Scandavia of the 21st century here, but bear with me.  You’ll see the point in a bit..or maybe you won’t but it’s my blog and I’ll run with this.

I love scando-crime dramas, The Killing, The Bridge (not the knock off American ones), Wallander (Sorry Ken, the Swedish ones with Krister Henricksson not the UK produced ones), love them all. In fact there is going to be a blog post entirely on them soon. Assuming you’ve seen them you may be cottoning onto where I’m headed; think of those endless forests with nobody in them in which either somebody finds a body or is murdered..got that? Okay now take a look at this Klimt birch forest…  The colours are punchier than the gorgeous desaturated ones in scando-crime, but the sense of trees going on for ever with nobody there is the same, the feeling of being hemmed in, the glimpses of sky. It’s only a matter of time before somebody trips over a corpse or gets hacked to bits. They’re not ‘our’ forests, you don’t get the feeling that they’re anywhere in the UK, they’re not Epping or the New Forest, they’re not full of deer and birds…they’re not full of anything else but trees and you, the observer (and possibly the killer and/or victim). They’re not warm friendly forests in which one might take a stroll after Sunday lunch, they’re the primal forests of Northern European folklore, they’re the forests where red riding hood met the wolf, where you might find Rapunzel’s tower, where Hansel and Gretal are kidnapped.

But they’re lovely paintings, the colours on the tree trunks and the forest floor, especially where he’s gone for a very pale light and muted tones. He understands trees, he’s spent a lot of time looking at them and he’s really engaged with them. I think he’s a lot more engaged with them than he is with all the society beauties of Vienna: I think he likes the patterns more which is why the women seem stuck in the middle of them. When he’s doing forests there is only the repetative patterns of the trees. Sure, he’ll take your money to paint your wife but he’ll spend the time (and a lot of your money) doing the patterns rather than them.

Of course there are the strange unearthly women from some the Beethoven Frieze or the works the SS detroyed, and who could have come straight out of the forests….

The 9 Most Annoying Things Every Graphic Designer Does

This was on Creative Bloq the other week…I’m not a professional graphic designer but as I like design, and I’m a very visual person, let’s see how I did 🙂

1. Buys anything that has a nice packaging

According to Sue, I’m guilty as charged on this one. To be fair I don’t buy anything that has a nice package but I find I want to a lot of the time…and I did buy a packet of Kallo breadsticks the other week for no reason other than the fact that I loved the packet illustration – the font of the box is now on my pinboard. Back in the early 80s when we first got together Sue could never fahom how when I went shopping I bought Preto’s ‘basics’ marmalde and corn flakes…but would then counter any financial saving by getting the tissues which came in the prettiest box: I’m still a sucker for a pretty tissue box by the way. So yeah, I’m putting my hands up for it, but then again why not have lots of things in pretty boxes to make your home a prettier place?

2. Critiques the menu design of a restaurant every single time they dine

Not guilty. We don’t dine out very often so don’t really see that many menus. The last place we ate out was Le Manoir and everything at Le Manoir is beyond criticism. That doesn’t mean that I’ve not done the ‘ooh, I love that font’ thing (see number 3, below) when we do eat out though.

3. Downloads every beautiful font they see

Okay, I don’t download them all…but I do download a fair few. I do have a tendency though that when one of the students at work wants a font downloaded and installed to find myself thinking that it looks either nice or fun..then taking a copy of it home to use in a future piece of work…which may or may not actually appear. Though I did once bring a student-picked font home and found exactly the right use for it.

4. Listens to music you’ve never heard of

What music have you heard of? Seriously in a lot of cases this is only because I like the music from my youth..and a lot of people I talk to are younger than that…a lot younger. I also do tend to like singer-songwriters who don’t make mainstream. But I don’t think I exclusively listen to music people have never heard of

5. They make your instagram photos look like trash

Nope, there are loads of people who aren’t even designers who make my instagram photos look like trash! Innocent of all charges

6. Critques every advertisment they see

Innocent again. I’m very generous to the world of print advertisements…unless they’ve got really ropy photoshop in them, like this one, which I seriously hope is intended to not look realistic….please….

7.They will close your website if it’s old school

I don’t manage websites, and I’m not a web designer so not guilty…the fact that I redesigned the bat group website without bothering to ask or tell anybody on the committee because I thought it looked very old-fashioned as it was doesn’t count because I was in charge of that one..

8. Gets mad if they ask you for a high-res photo and you paste it in word

Who doesn’t hate it when people do that? Why does anybody do that anyway?  Really, why?  You must have the picture in the first place, why paste it into a word document and THEN send it It’s not quicker, or easier!. People who do this should be lined up and shot….

9. Prefers beautifully designed front book covers

I wouldn’t buy a book just for the beautifully designed cover….though the cover has made me open a fair few in Waterstones. Probably counts as innocent of the charge? 

Degas – Le Coiffure (and other women in a state of dishabille)

You know this one. 

It’s big..it’s a whole lot bigger than you expect it to be. It’s red…yep, it’s red alright. It’s got a lot of hair, well okay the painting doesn’t have any hair but the woman in it has. It’s La Coiffure by Degas and it’s in the National Gallery. Like a lot of paintings, it’s more impressive in real life than it is in reproduction. The colour really pops out at you and the size is, for me, always a surprise; a sort of fine arts version of “I was expecting somebody taller”, only in reverse. It’s one of the ones I always make sure I see when I’m in the National Gallery, so I thought it would make a good Visupulse topic.

A woman is sitting in a chair while a woman combs her hair, given that outfit that the woman with the comb is wearing you jump to the conclusion that it’s a maid but when you think it through it could easily not be, in fact the blouse with the little bow at the neck does look a bit impractical for a working outfit. So maybe it’s a mother and daughter? But then again all those red curtains somehow suggest something a bit more opulent than a domestic scene – if you can afford all those velvet drapes then surely one could run to a maid to do the brushing? So are they just friends? What exactly is going on here. Obviously it’s not a real scene, it’s posed, Degas didn’t dash into somebody’s home at the right moment and shout “hold it there! just let me get my sketchbook out” and then work it up later. He’s set up the composition, one assumes got a couple of women to model for it, then produced the painting. So the question is actually what do we want to interpret as going on here? And that’s a whole lot more open than if he’d made the context explicit. If you compare it with the painting Haret flettes by Christian Krohg in Oslo, which shows a girl having her hair braided (it’s a delightful painting by the way, worth seeing if you’re in Oslo) you can see how it’s a lot harder to unpick, or de-tangle one might say, the Degas. You’ve got to make your own story out of this one.

I ran the photo past some friends of mine with long hair and they all agreed that it was very reminiscent of what having their hair combed when they were younger was like..right down to the look of discomfort on the girl’s face! Degas has got the reality right here. It’s not a pleasent experience for her, that hand on her forehead seems to be either showing where it hurts or trying to take a bit of the tension off. The woman with the comb seems very relaxed an in the zone, she’s clearly enjoying it or at least enjoying whatever she’s day-dreaming of while she’s doing the brushing. You’ve got to wonder who is in control here, it looks like the woman with the comb really. So it could be a mother/daughter, or it could be a madam/working girl, or it could be a relationship with BDSM overtones – there’s a bit in Sarah Walter’s book Affinity where the heroine is reduced to tears by her maid’s brushing and the maid not only brushes harder but makes the heroine count all 100 strokes. This could easily be a caption for this painting.

There is a theory that Degas was a misogynist, he was definitely a conservative and an anti-semite, but the jury is out on his attitude to women. One of his friends said of him that “Degas enjoyed the company of women! He, who often depicted them with real cruelty, derived great pleasure from being with them, enjoyed their conversation and produced pleasing phrases for them.” (quote in this rather good article); I’m not sure he disliked women per se, but I do find myself beginning to wonder if he rather fantasized about cruelty to them, or at least finding themselves in positions in which they’re the victims.

Which brings me onto another recent Degas experience. I went to Cezanne and the Modern at the Asmolean a while back. In it was a Degas called ‘After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself‘ which I just kept coming back to. It’s first of all the pose, nobody dries themselves like that: I’m not an art historian and I don’t know all the back story to Degas and his works, but that painting is about her bum. Get somebody to shoot that today as a photograph with a model and try to convince anybody it’s about somebody drying themselves, go on, dare you. She’s bending over the arm of a sofa for heaven’s sake, who dries themselves over the arm of a sofa? The other thing was the skin tone, it wasn’t healthy, when you stand next to this large photo and really see it there is a quite nasty tone to it, sort of green…sort of…meat gone bad…sort of…dead. Personally, I think it’s creulty smut with a tasteful label to it. Then again so are a lot of the other Degas bathroom scenes; this one for example.

Though this one seems to have less of a sexual dynamic to it, she’s combing her hair in a way I’ve seen real girls do without any sign of discomfort, and she’s got a rather healthy skin tone too rather than that bruised green of the girl drying herself.

Okay, so I’m not trying to create a “50 Shades of Grey in Oil Pastels” out of Degas here, lots of his stuff is very straight art: think of all those ballerinas, or folks at the races for example, and lots of his pictures of women at their toilette (nobody says that any more, which I think is a shame) are sympathetically drawn and absolutely beautiful. But I do think that there are some of his pictures which go beyond that (and they are still great and visually lovely pictures) to a place where the woman is more victimised.

So, you make your own story out of La Coiffure, you get to decide who they are and what’s going on. Is she about to get her hair put up stylishly, change the slightly frumpy frock for a ball gown and dance the night away…is she getting brushed out after such an evening…or what? I’m not sure quite what story I’m going with, every time I look at it I come up with a different one!

"The Bricks"

The first time I was aware in any sense about this thing called ‘Modern Art’ was in the late 70s when the media furore over Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII erupted…having done some research I can now date this to 1976 when a piece appeared in The Sunday Times newspaper called The Tate drops a costly Brick by Colin Simpson. Now we didn’t take The Sunday Times, my parents were strictly Daily and Sunday Express people, but I remember clearly it being on the news and the subject of a piece on the now (thankfully) defunct current affairs program Nationwide alongside the skateboarding ducks. In this piece a variety of presenters produced various heaps of bricks and then spouted made up jargon about what they’d done..and how we were all invited to laugh along with them. Like most of Nationwide it was pretty much content light. Okay, I’m the first to admit we were, as a family, classic members of the Nationwide demographic. We didn’t have ‘the arts’; we didn’t have classical music, we had Mantovani and James Last; we didn’t have radical thoughts, we didn’t have modernism. So we sat in our living room every evening watching situation comedies and programs like Horizon, getting our news from the Express, and watching Nationwide. I was a very non-alternative teenager, easy-listening rather than popular music, Top of the Pops rather than Whistle Test, Blue Peter rather than Magpie, reading not very challenging books. Actually, I did have an older sister who did the whole summer of love thing (TM, the maharishi, etc etc) who had a lot of very bohemian friends. I sometimes wonder how much pot I may have passively inhaled growing up with her and her friends around! But she died when I was 13 so she wasn’t around during this part of my life. I often wonder if things might have been different if she’d been around for my teenage years, but hey. So I laughed along with the rest, didn’t do art or music at school, had a shit time, failed my exams, and went out to work at 16.

Okay, so now we fast-forward a few years and my world did a shift, as it often does. I had money to buy books, and started reading a lot of (fun but not very good) science fiction, discovered Hawkwind and Rush, and met a very strange bloke a few years older called Pete who was hugely alternative. Thanks to him I read Richard Brautigan, and Jack Kerouac, and Tom Robbins, and found that The Guardian was so much better than The Express, and because he said it was worth visiting I went to the Tate Gallery for the first time. This was the old Tate Gallery, what is now Tate Britain, before all the modern art went off to Bankside. So there I am, intellectually totally unequipped for modern art, but curious. I wandered around looking at pictures I could identify now but couldn’t then, and not sure what to make of it all. Then, all of a sudden, there I am looking at The Bricks. Equivalent VIII by Carl Andre – not that at the time I could have told you what it was called or who it was by – and thought ‘hey, these are what all that fuss was about years ago, these are stupid’…only it wasn’t. Actually it had something, I couldn’t pin down what it was, but it was definitely something. Yes, it was 120 bricks, arranged in two layers, it was everything that Nationwide had said it was. Though it was more than it’s substance, it had….something. If you were to ask me what it is now, I’d say it was things like balance, and a sense of physical presence, satisfying colour and texture, the way it fills the space, stuff like that. But at the time all I knew was that I liked it. It wasn’t rubbish. It wasn’t silly. It wasn’t remotely like the piles of bricks the clowns on Nationwide had produced, it was more than that.

So I suppose, if you had to ask me to pin down my art gallery moment, that would be it. I still don’t know very much about Andre, though I do like the work 144 Magnesium Square a lot (also in the Tate collection), and perhaps I ought to find out more about him.

Tate Gallery Page on Equivalent VIII


Phil Noto

Back in the 60s my father used to have a subscription to Do It Yourself magazine; quite why is a mystery has he both loathed DIY and never used any of the ideas or information from the magazines. I clearly remember them in a pile in our dining room, and I used to leaf through them now and again they way kids will do. We also had a copy of Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Tribe That Lost it’s Head from the same vintage, a book which I never frankly felt remotely inclined to read but which had a somewhat intriguing title when I was young and as I got into my early teens I developed something which one might only call a crush on the woman illustrated on the cover: it was something about her very pretty nose..

This is back story, I will tie up some relevance in due course…honest.

Okay, cut to the present where, half a century later on I’ve got a renewed interest in comic books (which were also a passion in the Do It Yourself / Tribe That Lost it’s Head years). When the new run of Black Widow started I decided to give them a go, because hey how can you NOT love Black Widow. Issue No. 1 arrived…and I was blown away by the drawing, they were like nothing that was in any of the other ones I was reading, and actually were nothing like anything else I was seeing. I could work out what was going on, flat colours, very little outlining, etc…but there was something about them which was..well… I just didn’t know. So I googled for the artist Phil Noto and found an interview in which he said:

 “I was also very influenced by the guys who did all the book covers and advertising art in the 50’s and 60’s, like Robert McGinnis, Bob Peak, and Coby Whitmore.”

Bang, there it was. I was looking at a modern take on my dad’s old magazines and that copy of The Tribe That Lost it’s Head.

The comic book was very now, but it was also very then too,

So that led me off to looking at the art of the three people he mentioned, Coby Whitmore, Bob Peak, and Robert McGinnis  – which made me realise the other thing I was looking at from my younger days in the Noto drawings…those classic Bond movie posters!

So Phil Noto is, for me, both totally modern and totally retro at the same time.

By the way, it’s worth either nipping down to your local comic book store or logging on to your favourite online comic supplier…and even if you don’t like comics it’s worth doing this… as he’s doing special cover variants for some titles at the moment

Also, check out his website and twitter to see more of his stuff!

"Love is Enough" – William Morris and Andy Warhol – MOMA Oxford

My first thought on seeing this exhibition listed was that there seems to be precious little in common between these two men – they’re both great but how do you link them? Bit like chocolate cake and chesse..on their own great…together……how?

Takes about 5 minutes in the first room of this exhibition at MOMA Oxford to have a revaluation: repeating printworks! Flowers and birds = Elvis Presley and electric chairs. It’s the repeating printworks stupid!!

Of course it isn’t just that, nowhere near. In fact one of the things I got out of the show was the way it made me think about the ways they’re the same. Warhol began his career as a commercial illustrator and Morris was focussed on work which would sell to a mass market (though one has to comment that one needed a certain level of affluence to be part of that mass market). Warhol called his art studio ‘The Factory’ while of course Morris and Co quite literally had one! Neither of them worked alone but in conjunction with other craftspeople in the production of their work.  Both were writers as well as visual artists. Both were interested in social change. Etc

Richard Dorment in The Telegraph fails to like it, calling it a “half-baked self-indulgent mess” ; it’s a scathing and frankly brutal review which does make some very valid points, and clearly Dorment likes both Warhol and Morris so it’s not just the material he dislikes. It’s a great piece of writing though and you should read it as it WILL make you think

Mark Brown in The Guardian is more generous to the show

So, does having read the Dorment review make me think differently in retrospect? Would it have made me think differently had I read it before? I think that by it’s very nature an exhibition which seeks to compare and contrast two artists separated by some of the most world-changing decades history has seen was always going to be somewhat artificial. Quoted in The Guardian review linked above Jeremy Deller (the curator) says of the show that he was asking people “to suspend their disbelief momentarily and make connections about art across two centuries”.  Of course one can find limitless differences – volume produced wallpaper for ‘the masses’ (even if the working class couldn’t afford it) is a lot different to limited runs of silk-screen portraits of pop-culture icons and food packaging. After all there were pop-culture icons and packaged food in Morris’s day and he doesn’t, so far as we know, even consider putting them on wallpaper! The whole cultural atmosphere is also totally different, which creates a totally different cultural context for the work, and Morris seeks to change society by exposing them to beautiful well crafted things rather than producing graphic images of the aftermath of things like the Chartist Riots and the Newgate Gallows: transformed by beauty rather than inspired to riot one might put it.

But, and I think there is a but, the exhibition does make you look at their work and by showing the similarities makes you realise there are some. The past is a different country and they do do things differently there..but Morris’ old buddy Rosetti might not have been too out of place hanging out with the Velvet Underground (and Lizzie might have just dumped him for a rock drummer and lived).

Even if you agree with Dorment and find it all ridiculous, or like me find some things which do make you think,  I think it’s a great show. If you can get to Oxford before it closes on the 8th of March then do so.  It’s also free so if you find yourself finding that it’s rubbish you’ve not lost any money and just go and have a coffee instead!