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Posts tagged ‘Portrait’

A Portrait of Mallorca

Sometimes I just want to paint what’s on my mind. The energetic fusion of ideas applied to canvas in a mixed and multifarious revolution of form and colour. But unlike the Expressionist movement, which tended to splash and splosh their emotion onto canvas in more of a literal application of paint, my variety of expressionism materialises in more of a controlled fashion. I suppose it says something about my rather controlling mind (a tendency for which my partner may testify). For my wildest form of expression is something more cubist in nature. I have always been enchanted by the age of the cubists. The ability to show an object or a subject on multidimensional planes has always filled me with an ultimate sense of pictorial satisfaction. And while my cubism is less a single subject and rather more a mixed bag of ideas, it definitely belongs to the genre.

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Portrait of Mallorca (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This cubist work, which also belongs to my interpretative abstract way of thinking, is the latest canvas to hop off my easel and says everything and anything about the island on which I have spent the last two happy years of my life. It is for me a true portrait of Mallorca, because beyond the tacky tourism for which the island is so unfortunately infamous, the island is one of true bucolic peasant culture, with its own cuisine and characterised by a stunning mixed mountainous and coastal landscape. All this is represented in the imagery packed into this “portrait” which includes the spiralled ensaimada pastry for which the island is famous, the lacey headdress and straw hat worn by the traditional peasant women, as well as their flowing striped skirts flapping in the Mediterranean breeze. There too are the mountains and the beaches, the glittering coast and the yachts which encircle the island like moths around a light source. And of course the sails of the windmills, which likewise characterise the lower lying stretches of countryside.

It is a painting which fully encapsulates the multifaceted personality of an island which is much, much more than Magaluf.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Art in London (Part 3): Giacometti Pure Presence

Say Alberto Giacometti to most art enthusiasts, and for the majority, an image of his long, spindly totem-pole like human sculptures will come to mind. For it is these famous works which made Giacometti’s name, and which today reach eye-wateringly high prices at auction. But for me, the true genius of this artist was not in his sculptures at all, but in his frenetic, impulsive two-dimensional works.

I first discovered the drawings of Giacometti when I attended a short course in life drawing at the Chelsea College of Art. The teacher was trying to ally the many frustrations spreading amongst the students in the room by the changing positions of the models both during the life drawing session, and after breaks. Yet as he attempted to show us through Giacometti’s work, a portrait does not have to comprise a single well-defined line, but can emerge from a series of lines and positions.

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The portraits he showed us by way of example were by Giacometti, and in drawing his sitters, he did not concern himself with the perfect line of the face or body, but instead through a series of energetic lines, he would draw a fragmented impression of the sitter, building up the lines more and more until he got to the face, where the real details were introduced. The result was a drawing which focused so intently on the face that it appeared to be emerging from the paper.

So I was filled with excitement to discover that this autumn, the National Portrait Gallery in London are exhibiting a retrospective focusing on Giacometti’s many portraits. And while the show does this through some of the sculptures which made him famous, it is Giacometti’s two dimensional works on paper and on canvas which turned out to be as thrilling as I had anticipated.

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Like drawings and paintings created from wire, or built up through a passionate and continued interaction between pencil (or paintbrush) and paper, Giacometti’s portraits are utterly unique, and, after what appears to be a process of interrogation and exploration of the flesh, result in vivid portraiture full of emotional depth. But while the Goya exhibition at the National Gallery next door tended to bring to life the story of each of Goya’s sitters, in Giacometti’s works, I could sense the passion and intention of the artist himself.

Giacometti: Pure Presence runs at The National Portrait Gallery until 10 January 2016.

Art in London (Part 2): The Goya Portraits

When I first saw the grand lofty gallery in the Prado filled with Goya’s portraits, and indeed upon subsequent visits, I admit that I was not overly won over. It was not so much that the portraits were bad, just that by comparison with the dramatic visions of the 2nd and 3rd May 1808 in the adjacent room, or of the even more terrifying and enthralling Black Paintings alongside that, the portraits of Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) always felt a little…bland. It also occurred to me that they all looked a little samey, with their piercing round black eyes sparkling like the glass eyes of teddy bears, and this led me to the perhaps premature conclusion that Goya had painted his sitters more idealistically, rather than realistically.

But the current Goya exhibition at London’s National Gallery sheds new light on this important epoch of the artist’s work, and seen within a narrative of their rich historical context, and with the ability to compare and contrast a magnificent set of some of Goya’s best, suddenly these portraits seem just as compelling as the magnificent sombre works which followed.

Carlos IV of Spain and His Family, 1800

Carlos IV of Spain and His Family, 1800

Charles IV in Hunting Dress, 1799

Charles IV in Hunting Dress, 1799

Maria Luisa wearing a Mantilla, 1799

Maria Luisa wearing a Mantilla, 1799

The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788

The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788

The portraits of Goya cannot be deemed the most technically adept in the world. I could not help but notice that on this head or that, the shading was wrong, or the head-piece look flattened and oddly two-dimensional. And I was interested to read that Goya’s was mostly self-trained, a fact which was to me, a likewise self-taught painter, obvious in the gradual improvement of his portraits from early attempts through to his magnificent depictions of the family of Charles IV of Spain. However, his greatest skill was psychological insight, and this was evident in a series of portraits which seemed to penetrate the sitter through to the core. The result was a series of rooms which felt as though they were occupied by the living shadows of history, almost like the paintings in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, whose sitter would come alive within the frame.

This all makes for a thoroughly enthralling exhibition whose sitters literally leap off the walls to introduce us to the historical periods which characterise the works; from the more informal portraits of the Spanish royals, painted with a view to pacifying the public in the aftermath of the French Revolution, to the somewhat obsequious depictions of French generals after the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. However of all the works, my favourites were of the aristocratic stars of the time, full of bold gestures and extravagant swagger, each competing with the other to afford the more exquisite portrait, and with it, the greater standing in society.

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, 1797

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, 1797

The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, 1796

The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, 1796

The Marquis of Villafranca and Duke of Alba, 1795

The Marquis of Villafranca and Duke of Alba, 1795

The White Duchess (Duchess of Alba), 1795

The White Duchess (Duchess of Alba), 1795

Goya’s portraits are a window on a long past world of aristocratic dominance, and regal fancy, and of a time caught between the birth of the enlightenment and the trauma of invasion and turbulent changes of power. And while many of the sitters exhibited those same teddy-bear black eyes which had caught my intention at the Prado years before, it is the intensity behind the gaze in those eyes which left a lasting impression on me as I left this superb London show.

Goya: The Portraits is on at The National Gallery in London until 10 January 2016… so get there quick!

Rembrandt’s Late Works: Better seen, and never forgotten

While the works of Rembrandt, Dutch master and one of the most applauded artists in the history of art, are instantly recognisable for their energetic brush strokes, moody lighting, undeniable intensity and rich umber colour palate, there is nothing like seeing his paintings in reality to truly appreciate the virtuosity of his work.

The National Gallery London’s new blockbuster on Rembrandt, The Late Works, provides just the opportunity to do that. In the dark bowels of the Sainsbury Wing of galleries, in rooms purpose-designed with dark walls and sharp focused lighting perfectly offsetting the brilliance of Rembrandt’s mastery over light, one enters the exhibition to come face to face with not one, but a whole room of Rembrandt self-portraits. Each demonstrates a startling honesty in self-examination, as the artist becomes visibly older and more saggy. But in as much as this room shows that a Rembrandt self-portrait is far from a rareity  (he made some 80 painted, drawn or etched self portraits in the course of his career), it immediately demonstrated that there is nothing like seeing these famous works in reality: for only then can you appreciate the brilliant layering of the paint, and the masterful use of brushwork to build an aging texture of skin which appears so realistic as it catches the light against a dark mocha background, that it almost feels as though Rembrandt has cast himself in three dimensions, ready to climb out of the frame when the many visitors to the exhibition have gone home.

Self-Portrait (1669)

Self-Portrait (1669)

Self-Portrait (1669)

Self-Portrait (1669)

Self Portrait with Two Circles (1665-9)

Self Portrait with Two Circles (1665-9)

Such was the main impression that this excellent new exhibition left on me as I departed. I felt thrilled to have had the opportunity to see so many brilliant works executed at the tail end of Rembrandt’s career, when his personal fortunes were in decline, but when the product of his paintbrush was more fantastic than ever. But so too was I struck by the breadth and significance of the collection on show, testament no doubt to the National Gallery’s partnership in organising the exhibition with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, who either own or have access to much of the works on show. The result is the chance to come face to face with famous works such as the Jewish Bride – a subtly romantic painting which held Van Gogh so spellbound that he declared he would give up 10 years of his life for a few moments before the painting – and the masterful group portrait, The Syndics, a superb work on a huge scale, surely surpassable only by The Night Watchmen, perhaps Rembrandt’s most famous work.

The Syndics (1662)

The Syndics (1662)

The Jewish Bride (1665)

The Jewish Bride (1665)

A Woman Bathing in a Stream (1654)

A Woman Bathing in a Stream (1654)

The Consipiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (1661)

The Consipiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (1661)

The other thing that struck me was how bloody popular this exhibition is. Even when you have a timed ticket, you need to queue. Admittedly I went along at the weekend, but that does not mean to say that this show will be any quieter during the week, such is the appetite no doubt for a sensational London art show after a year consisting largely of flops and unknowns (I do not include Tate Modern’s brilliant Matisse or Malevich shows in this otherwise scathing review). What this then means is something of a struggle throughout the show, something which is felt less when gazing upon huge works such as the rather questionable Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, a portion of Rembrandt’s less than successful painting for Amsterdam’s new Town Hall. It is however annoying when trying to study the stunning intricacies of Rembrandt’s print works. I never knew that he was such a skilled printmaker, and his drypoint etchings were, in particular, worth elbowing the odd visitor out of the way.

The Three Crosses (1653)

The Three Crosses (1653)

Christ Presented to the People (1655)

Christ Presented to the People (1655)

Christ Presented to the People

Christ Presented to the People

Christ Preaching (1652)

Christ Preaching (1652)

But what these crowds all go to show is how superb this show is – a final hurrah for 2014, and the first great show to come out of The National Gallery, in my view, since the Da Vinci sensation in 2011/2012. Whether it be the intense forlorn gaze of Lucretia at the point of her honour suicide, the sensationally melancholic Man in Armour thought to be Alexander the Great, or the knowledgeable calm grace of Margaretha de Geer depicted wearing her ginormous lace ruff, there are masterpieces aplenty to keep you hooked to this show, and resilient to the many crowds around you.

Rembrandt_lucretia

Portrait of Margaretha de Geer (1661)

Portrait of Margaretha de Geer (1661)

A Man in Armour (Alexander the Great?) 1655

A Man in Armour (Alexander the Great?) 1655

Rembrandt, the Late Works is on at  the National Gallery until 18th January 2015.

Norms do… Marie Antoinette

There have been many famous female figures in history: Mother Theresa, Queen Elizabeth II, Florence Nightingale, Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra – but of all history’s matriarchal icons, my favourite of all time has to be Marie Antoinette. Born Archduchess of Austria and later Queen to France’s doomed Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette’s iconic fame arises, not because of any kind of historical achievement on her part, but because of her reputation for lavish excess, sky-high hair, massive abundant dresses, and a complete self-indulgent profligacy which saw her building herself miniature villages, vast gardens, living in extravagant palaces and dressing in only the finest fabrics – and all this at a time when France was crumbling on the brink of revolution.

Famous for supposedly uttering “Let them eat cake” when told that the poor of France had no bread (although there is no documentary evidence that she ever did so), Marie Antoinette’s renowned excess could not go on forever in the instability of French society at the time, and eventually it became her ultimate downfall, all the way to the guilotine. No doubt this ignominious end is crucial to why Marie Antoinette has become such a legendary figure, together with her towering powdered wigs, vast horizontal dresses and of course a token beauty spot.

Well, as I was preparing for the show stopping highlight of the Norm collection of my recent London solo exhibition, I thought about how I could create a climax to my collection which would ultimately hang at the very end of my show. And being as I already had a super-elaborate Versaille-style gilt frame begging for a new canvas, it seemed that only one Norm would fit the bill: Marie Antoinette Norm.

Marie Antoinette Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Marie Antoinette Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

While the eagel-eyed amongst you may have already spotted her residing in my show in the photos I have shared, here Marie Antoinette Norm, the result of several weeks labour in acrylic on canvas, is presented for the first time. Surrounded by all of the paraphernalia of her power and royal station, together with her iconic high wig, beauty spot and over-sized silk-ruffled skirt, my Marie Antoinette Norm is the very embodiment of the character who has been famed throughout history. She is even holding a piece of cake by way of illustration of her most famous (if historically doubtful) utterance.

The painting, with all of the fabrics and grand interiors typical of the time, was not the easiest to paint, and I found that to make the painting look older, I had to really knock back a lot of the brightness of shop bought colours. Still at its finish I am wholeheartedly delighted with this most glamourous of Norms – the fitting end to a collection of art historical figures all translated into Norm world.

At the exhibition

At the exhibition

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Autobiographical Mobile: The finished article

C’est fini! At last, my autobiographical mobile is complete! Started in June last year and completed right at the end of April of this year, the maths alone dictates that this has been a long project in the making. While my blog account of the work has been posted in respect of 25 full days of painting, a great number of evenings and hours grabbed in otherwise hectic weeks have been spent working on this piece, one of the most comprehensive projects of my art career so far. Yet the protracted length of the project (augmented by the fact I work full-time and have been undertaking a whole host of other artistic projects in the meantime) has also been one of its benefits – feeling no rush, I managed to achieve a more perfected finish on each of the areas I was working on, and likewise, owing to the passage of time, the painting has become something of a developing story in itself – a true artistic reflection of the changing circumstances of my life.

Autorretrato (Autobiographical Mobile) 2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas

Autorretrato (Autobiographical Mobile) 2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas

And how it looked on the first day of painting

And how it looked on the first day of painting

I have extrapolated upon most of the details in the painting in former posts explaining my progress, however in very brief terms, the painting is an autobiographical self-portrait told through symbols and metaphors rather than a head and shoulders portrait. At the centre of the canvas, a large free-standing mobile, in the style of the great mobile-artist Alexander Calder, represents my life. At its base, my constant companions, Fluffy and Bilbao, teddies given by my Partner and me to one another shortly after we first started dating, represent the very consistent, anchoring and significant role of our relationship in my life. Then above, the mobile acts as an autobiography balancing out the various positives and negatives in my life so far. DSC07673 On the left: the positives – all the stuff I love and which has helped to shape me into the person I am today. First up, Spain and art history, symbolised through the iconic image of one of Span’s master-artist’s Infanta portraits, whose dress is in turn decked out to resemble the sandy colours of a Spanish bull ring, while her sunglasses represent Spanish tourism, the industry which has been so important in bolstering the economy of modern day Spain. DSC07623 DSC07619Next, the symbol of enlightenment and creative/ academic success: This is a Norm-shaped lightbulb decked out in a graduation mortar-board and holding a graduation scroll. This hybrid Norm/ bulb character represents my achievements both as an illustrator-blogger and as a lawyer, and stands for the importance of learning and development in my life. Further along, the egg: This is a representation of my art career, and also my love of Paris (where I was engaged and from which I have been inseparable for at least 15 years). Paris was the inspiration for my first major painting, Le Paris Formidable, a creation which I consider to be a milestone in my artistic career and the moment I began to take painting seriously. In that image I painted the Sacre Coeur church as a series of eggs and egg cups (the white domes of the basilica reminding me of eggs), while plunging into the egg, an egg soldier is replaced by a French baguette, held up by a rosary, representing that for me, art is like my religion. DSC07613 Finally in the positives, a sun cream bottle represents my love of travel, and spurting from it, a representation of my love of gastronomy as shown through a mixed and bounteous flow of prawns, marie rose sauce, chorizo, strawberries and wine, all combined together through a meandering strand of spaghetti which in itself metamorphoses from the Fortnum and Masons hamper sat on a rock below it – the hamper representing my love of the finer things in life. DSC07617 Onto the negatives, and up first my 2008 accident – the life-changing event was informed so much of my art and altered my life, both physically and mentally forever. DSC07624 Then the death of my career at the self-employed bar, a hugely difficult time when I suffered stress close to mental breakdown, prejudice, bullying and was effectively cast out of the profession because of the small-minded prejudices which come of a profession in which survival, without fitting into the Oxbridge stereotype (the blue snakes), is all but impossible. DSC07630 Then the birdcage, a symbol of entrapment, both for my sister trapped by the grave fate which arose upon the death of her husband leaving her to bring up three toddlers alone, and for me in my career. DSC07634 Finally the Apprentice – a direct reference to another of my paintings, Nicholas in the Renaissance, a tongue-in-cheek self-portrait in which I parodied a depiction of Saint Sebastian to represent the injustices I felt I had suffered when I appeared in the acclaimed BBC television series, The Apprentice series 4. The sugar cube of course alludes to Lord Sugar, the famous business man for whom the “Apprentices” seek to work under the television format. DSC07645 Meanwhile in the foreground, an expanse of water separates my current life from my childhood, albeit only marginally, and that youth is symbolised my a self-standing rock in the bottom right of the canvas representing my family, a symbol which took on a whole new poignancy when my brother-in-law was killed last December. Meanwhile, in the rock pools to the left, also representative of my childhood, the smallest of shells represents the heady days of my youth when climbing over coastal rocks I would collect shells, affixing them onto little snails I had modelled which I would then sell at local fairs. Some could say it was the start of my art career. They were certainly formative years. DSC07582 DSC07648 DSC07610 So there we have it, my life on a large (120cm x 120cm) canvas in oil paint. I’m awfully proud of this painting, and also glad to have persevered over such a protracted period. The result is a truly reflective glimpse of my life as it stands and also acts for me as a kind of closure on all that is past. Now I look forward to a whole new chapter of my life, with all the artistic expression which will inevitably go hand in hand alongside it.DSC07661 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.