Dearest Cleo

Well here is my response to investigating the work of Elizabeth Blackadder


Figure 1 (17 02 26 01) Recycling Blackadder acrylic on 300lb watercolour paper 750 x 550mm

I flattened a few cans with the hammer, gently like, so that they would have interesting shapes and arranged them on the floor on a piece of paper on top of another sheet of paper jigged about with things till the arrangement pleased me and then I just painted away.

What do I like? I like that each of my objects has a bit of red in them, this keeps the eye moving across the picture. I like that putting rubbish in paintings gives them an edgy Rauschenberg feel. I like that the lack of shadows makes the objects seem to float like tropical fish. I like that  there is just enough detail in the cans to make them recognisable as cans, with more detail they would be too dominant for the yellow ground.

What don’t I like? I don’t like that the top can has a resemblance to an owl and it’s eyes keep following me round the room.

Hope you like my picture Cleo

Good night


Dear Cleo 17 02 25

Dear Cleo

So sorry to have missed you yesterday but I was rather busy uptown. I set off quite early in the morning and went to the National Gallery to see my Leonardo, it is still in the same place and they seem to be looking after it quite well. Once I had checked that I went along to the Royal Academy to see their latest exhibition which is called “America after the fall”. The theme of the exhibition is the paintings that were done after the Wall Street crash and before the blooming of Abstract Impressionism, there were probably fifty paintings in the show representing the work of around thirty artists, only four of whose work I had seen before.

To get the headliners out of the way, there was an early Jackson Pollock, two of Georgia O’Keeffe’s cow skulls, three of Hopper’s delightful paintings and seven by Grant Wood, one of which, “American Gothic” is the poster for the show.

There was a wealth of styles and subjects on show but my three favourites were Alice Neel’s portrait of Pat Whalen that reminded me of Cezanne’s Man with crossed arms, Walt Kuhn’s self portrait as a clown and Joe Jones’ American Justice.

It was held in the small gallery on the third floor of the Academy and is certainly very interesting if you can get the chance to see it.

I had lunch in a delightful little cafe before walking to Green Park and catching the tube to Pimlico and the Tate Gallery.

I went into the Clore Gallery and spent some time looking at a display of Turner’s unfinished works that they are featuring at the minute.

In the Tate they had a little exhibition of Sickert’s works from photographs which was very interesting and then I went to see their Paul Nash exhibition. The exhibition spanned the whole of Nash’s career, and while it was interesting to compare his early and later work, for me, he never surpassed his earliest work that he did in the trenches of the First World War.

The day ended with a cheeky little carafe of the Tate’s house white and the tube home.

All my love


Dear Cleo 17 02 24

Dearest Cleo

How are you, hope you enjoyed the books that the book fairy sent and you haven’t read them all yet. Me, I have been quite busy, I have finished reading the book by Dr Kandel, apart from strengthening the points I have already explained to you the good doctor had little else of note to say, apart from one thing, he gave a very plausible explanation for the gold and white, blue and black wedding dress, that was all the rage on the internet last year. It is difficult to explain in writing but if we talk through it the next time we are together, you will understand the concept quite quickly.

As you know I Went to Oxford last Sunday to see the exhibition that was recommended by Megan. The exhibition at the Ashmolean was called “From Degas to Picasso”, It featured some terrific drawings and a few paintings starting with Ingres and ending with Picasso. Many of the artists during this time frame were featured but the curator of the exhibition, in my humble opinion, failed to draw a line of progression across the period, preferring instead to state there was no clear progression. I am sure there is a progression, and the stumbling block in the exhibition seemed to be the link between Cezanne and Cubism. Cubism is viewed as a revolution but even Picasso acknowledged his debt to Cezanne, it is something I am researching and I will let you know when I find a more tenuous link. Regardless of that, the drawings on show were fantastic, as usual I bought the catalogue and can hardly wait to leaf through it with you.

I have been planning my still life in the style of Elizabeth Blackadder and in the course of my planning noticed something about her paintings that I forgot to mention in my analysis of her work and that is that there are no cast shadows in her still lives. Only western art uses cast shadows and as Blackadder is painting Chinese and Japanese themes in her work this makes perfect sense, for my own still life I have not yet decided but I will soon, it exists almost fully formed in my head but I have yet to commit my ideas to paper.

I look forward to seeing you at the weekend



Dear Cleo 17 02 16

Hello Cleo

Hope you are well.With me the reading is going well, and the good Doctor Kandel has me still enthralled He wrote of reductionism in brain science and how they use giant sea snails. I didn’t really get a clue how big a giant sea snail is and it isnt really important to the plot,if you really need to know you can look it up on Google. The important thing about the giant sea snail, in this story, is it only has twenty thousand brain cells instead of a human’s gozillion brain cells so they can easily see what happens to it’s brain when they teach it things. They didn’t teach it much,I don’t suppose sea snails are up for learing much with only twenty thousand brain cells, but they taught it that if they stuck their finger in its neck and they would then give it an electric shock in the tail. the sea snail didn’t take long to learn this trick and when they put their finger in its neck it got its tail out of the way pretty damn quick. The good doctor worked out that the snail made some seatonin and joined up some of its brain cells to produce either a long or short term memory to get its tail out of the way quickly.

There are only two things you can teach a snail, that, and give it a chocolate biscuit when it wags its tail. The artiistic bit about this is that abstract painters use reductive techniques to produce their work, no they don’t poke snails in the neck or mess about with electricity in the bathroom. They leave out one or more of the basic elements of a painting such as line,form, tone or colour so they can study what remains nore intently.

The good doctor is a very learned man and teaches lots of things, I knew Arnold Shoenburg was the composer who inspired Kandinsky to paint abstractly but I never knew he was also a painter and produced the world’s first abstract painting in 1909. It is a very good abstract painting but the reason I didn’t know it was the first abstract painting was because it isn’t. As we both know Hilma af Klimt produced the first abstract painting in Sweden  some years before that and the word was spread back to France and Germany by dear old Rudolf Stiener the Theosophist. I wrote about this before when I went to Hilma’s exhibition so if you are interested enough you can read it at;

I have been listening to Schoen berg as I wrote and it is now time to close my eyes and let my synaesthesia take me to new hieghts.

Good night Darling



Dear Cleo 17 02 15

Dearest Cleo

Here is the start of project 2, things are moving on quite quickly with the course, there is much to do before I leave for Florence in a months’ time.

Drawing 2 Investigating drawing

PART 1 Exploring Composition

Project 2 Using space

Elizabeth Blackadder is not an artist I would study by choice, I am not a fan of botanical art and although I know how hard it is to draw a believable cat, Freya just looked at me disdainfully, she is telepathic that cat I am sure, Blackadder’s cats don’t move me either. Backgrounds and space? everything seemed to be on a white background. I could notice that she had a tenancy to break the subject on the left hand edge of the picture frame and that there is almost always a margin at the right hand edge, presumably to keep the eye from drifting off the edge of the canvas.

I have never been quite sure which is the left or the right of a picture, but to avoid any confusion as we go on, I am using the terms from the beholder’s, or my point of view, where the right hand edge of the picture is on the right of my field of vision as I look at the painting or the side of the picture where I would pick up the knife if the picture was, in fact, a table mat.

I’m glad we have cleared that one up, there are only one other to go. Researching paintings and drawings on the internet is a soulless business, apart from the fact that no one it seems can spare the time to put the medium or even the size of the works on their pin interest boards, gives one cause to flounder at the first hurdle, but the images themselves seem devoid of the hand or the eye of the artist, these pitfalls are particularly relevant with contemporary artists. It isn’t so bad when looking at graphite, charcoal or ink works because you can guess the real size from the width of the marks, but with paintings it is a minefield. How often have you been overwhelmed by the size of a Pollock, Veronese, Monet or Rothko that fitted very neatly into the book or screen you viewed? or astounded by the fact that Van Eyck self portrait in real life is smaller than your ipad screen? More astonishing than this is that the preliminary judging for the Royal Academy Summer Show is done virtually, works twice removed, once by photography and once by virtual reality. Me, I wouldn’t even buy pyjamas off the internet, I don’t buy pyjamas anyway, I am talking metaphorically here, but if I did buy pyjamas I would need to count the threads and feel the touch of the material between my fingers. It is with the greatest of apologies that I will continue to pass judgement and opinion on the practice and work of Elizabeth Blackadder without ever having seen her original work.

I chose three paintings to discuss, The Bullfighter, Chinese still life with Arum lilies and Still life with Iris’ and I will consider each in turn. Starting with The Bullfighter.

The painting is 825 x 550 mm while it is not a still life it does seem to be a careful consideration of space. My eye enters the picture at the bullfighter’s hand, the dominant bullfighter breaks the left edge of the picture frame with his elbow my eye flows across the darker tones at the top of the picture, down the pink and blue right margin then investigates the impressionistically rendered arena visible through the door opening before returning to the bullfighter.

Blackadder has for me captured the moment before the bullfighter enters the arena, there seems to be a look of trepidation on his face, his last moment of quiet contemplation before entering the fray. The light is another thing that rings really true the high key tonal range of the arena visible through the doorway is reminiscent of the hot Spanish mid afternoon sun which contrasts well with the cooler darker interior tones, the gap in the middle of the tonal range extenuates the difference between the two contrasting ends of the tonal range. The contrast is intensified by the detailed rendering of the figure as opposed to the abstract marks of his surroundings. The overall composition is very modern reminiscent of a photograph taken quickly as the opportunity arose without recourse to the traditional rules of composition.


Figure 1 (17 02 15 01) The Bullfighter by Elisabeth v Blackadder oil painting 82.5 x 55

The Bullfighter was painted in 1961 in the early part of Blackadder’s career my other two choices are from much later in her career, the first of which is Chinese still life with arum lilies.


Figure 2 (17 02 15 02) Chinese still life with arum lilies, by Elisabeth V Blackadder oil painting

Blackadder arranges her still lives, not on a tabletop in the traditional manner but vertically on a wall, this frees her from the traditional still life arrangement and allows her objects to roam the picture plane in an almost Mondrian like manner giving her much more compositional freedom. She maintains the empty margin on the right hand edge of her canvas using a reversed C shape to frame her composition. She has again the tonal gap between her objects and the ground which allows her objects to float in front of the the surface of the wall.

The objects are very detailed with a Chinese theme and are hard edged, with the exception of the lilies, this serves to make the lilies stand out and become the main subject of the painting. That the lilies are grounded on a surface in front of the wall serves to force them forward in the picture plane. If the objects were painted without detail, this would further enhance the abstract Mondrian like feel of the work but the detail gives a Chirico dreamlike feel to the work.


Figure 3 (17 02 15 03) Still life with irises, by Elisabeth V Blackadder oil painting

My final choice, Still life with irises, whilst retaining the surrealist feel, owes more than a passing nod to Matisse, the bright colouring gives a cheerful mood to the painting. Again the objects seem to float in front of the vertical ground and she has maintained the right hand margin that is so characteristic in her work. The left hand and top edge of the canvas break the forms leaving me with an desire to complete the forms and thereby extend the painting. Although the background has a consistent feel to it, the detail that Blackadder has given to it is overwhelming on closer inspection; it could stand as a painting in its own right without the addition of the objects.

Blackadder fits the mould of the great British artists’ in that like Turner, Bacon and Freud she is a maverick, difficult to pigeonhole into a school or a movement. Well that was quite an experience, a non-Blackadder fan becomes converted and is looking forward to seeing some of her work in the flesh, over the course of a thousand word essay, but I am still not sure about the botanicals and the cats.



Dear Cleo 17 02 12


Dearest Cleo

Today is Sunday, my traditional catch up day with my coursework, although I haven’t written for several days I have not been idle. I got hold of some tracing paper and traced my motif and firstly I got carried away and did this.


Figure 1 (17 02 12 01) Still life Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper

It didn’t advance the compositional element much but drawing on tracing paper is such fun and the 4b pencil makes nice marks. I have noticed that the still life has that slightly wobbly feel that you get in a Cezanne still life. Cezanne achieved this, they say, by putting coins under one side of the objects in his still lives, whilst this is a possibility, it does not ring true, as he would have had to put a house brick under one of the feet of the models for his figure paintings. The most probable explanation is that Cezanne tilted the subjects in his drawings for effect, that this same effect can be achieved by placing coins under one side of the object, is probably an urban myth, no coins were harmed or used in the production of the above drawing. This drawing, however, did serve as a vital link in achieving the solution to this project but more about that later.

Using the tracing paper I traced the dominant features of the set up and produced the following two drawings. One of the best attributes about tracing paper is that if you do a drawing on it the flip side is free or DOGOF as it is known in the trade. Degas was a great exponent of this technique, flipping over the tracing paper to achieve a better composition long before the invention of Photoshop.


Figure 2 (17 02 12 02) Conception Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper


Figure 03 (17 02 12 03) DOGOF Conception Graphite and Sharpie on A4 tracing paper

Whilst both these reductive images still remind me of a bottle and a drinks can, I can see the alternative interpretation, hence the retitle. I can see how this image could be rendered as still life with three apples, probably in acrylics and fulfil the brief, but my reading was telling me that this was not the route to go down.

The book I am reading is called Reductionism in Art and Brain Science by the very learned scientist Eric R Candle. The premise so far, I am only up to page 35, is that nobody sees anything, the brain makes up what you see from signals passed to it by the retinas. These signals pass down two distinct nerve centres, one determines what it is, and the other determines where it is, before joining again in another bit of the brain, to complete the made up virtual picture.

The brain evolved for survival so it is easy to see that the where is is more important, whether it is a sabre toothed tiger or a rabbit, is less important than whether it is close enough to eat you my dear, to kill or be killed by anything that is near to you, is a secondary option.

In order to make up what your retina see the brain uses two processes to make things up, one is called bottom up thinking and the other is called top down thinking. Bottom up thinking is ingrained in us, we all know that light comes from above, that is the sun, so that is what the brain anticipates and why the light bulbs are on the ceiling of your house. Close your eyes and think sabre toothed tiger, you have never seen one, but you will be seriously afraid of the image your brain conjures up because, like elephants, the DNA never forgets. It is also the reason why babies can recognise faces and why ducklings adopt the first thing they see as their mother.

When the brain fails to find a sabre toothed tiger in the mix it uses top down thinking which is based on the experiences of the person in question, I can see a link here with phenomenology but it is early days yet so I will continue reading the book before reaching any valuable conclusions.

Perhaps a good timely example of these two phenomena, it being almost Valentine’s Day, is that love is blind. The bottom up brain thinks she is not as scary as a sabre toothed tiger and the top down brain thinks she is the prettiest girl I ever met so it could be the start of a beautiful friendship (Bogart; Casablanca)

Abstract art exists somewhere along the neurological pathways before your brain can make its virtual world up, most abstract art is dismissed by the brain as “a wall splashed with a number of stains” (Leonardo da Vinci) because the brain is unable to make up a plausible explanation for the signals the retina is sending to it.


Figure 04 (17 02 12 04) Sketch and thumbnails Graphite and Sharpie on A4 cartridge

With this in mind, I consider myself to be an experienced viewer of abstract art, so much so that it doesn’t blow my mind, I looked again at the image in figure 1 to see if I could find a solution to this problem. A sketch and two thumbnails later and I had it.

By ignoring the objects in figure 1 above I got a sense of the edge shapes and the central vortex, to prevent the eye diving down the vortex I have used two devices. Firstly the increasing width between the perimeter lines of the vortex that reverses the normal perspective effect and of course reversing the tonal shading of atmospheric perspective on the sides of the vortex. My Brain sees it as a flat two dimensional image, It doesn’t feel happy that it is unable to make up a virtual reality for itself but it has solved one of it’s problems, I can neither eat nor be eaten by a flat sheet of A4 cartridge paper.


Figure 05 (17 02 12 05) Strange star Graphite and Sharpie on A4 graph paper

The star shape was a dream from earlier in the sequence of this problem and whilst I am aware that stars are not flat, I got that I think from a brilliant bit of top down thinking by Galileo, drawings and pictures of stars are flat 2 dimensional images.

The tones brought something else back, Rothko’s floating colour fields, I almost dusted down the watercolours but no, that is for another day, I have 200 pages of a science book to read and need to progress to project 2 of this course but one day….

There are a number of people who deserve thanks for the inspiration provided to complete this problem and I would like to thank in no particular order Leonardo, Cezanne, Degas, Escher, Rothko, Photoshop, Google, Amazon Eric R Candle Drawing Now and Galileo. Not forgetting Mum, Dad and my teachers for the grounding in top down thinking I received and of course my ancient ancestor, the one who didn’t get eaten by the sabre toothed tiger for the bottom up thinking.

Goodnight Cleo


Dear Cleo 17 02 08

Dearest Cleo

There was one thing I forgot to tell you yesterday, I found a place on Youtube where they teach you how to pronounce Phenomenology, this may be to help you avoid looking like a prat when you use the word in normal everyday conversation. Lambert, Hegel and Husserl are the philosophers associated with this idea. Although I am still a little unsure of the concept, I have ordered Art and Phenomenology from Amazon, I have cancelled my prime membership so they are now delivering within a fortnight to convince me to come back to Prime, I will have a read and report back in five or six weeks.

This blog is getting very wordy so by way of a change I will tell you about my drawings, and put some pictures in.

I applied a grid by computer for the golden section to the photograph of the drawing I did the other day and I was pleased how close to the golden section the drawing was.



Figure 1 (17 02 08 01) Photograph of still life with golden Ratio superimposed grid, Computer generated image.

I then played about with two L shaped framing cards, did four crops and arrived at these eleven images;




Figure 2 (17 02 08 02) The villagers lined the route to the church of Santa Maria del Giorno for his funeral , Computer generated image


Figure 3 (17 02 08 03) Claude rested in the shade of the entrance to the Cemetery of Santa Maria del Giorno to wait for Guilliamairo’s widow, Computer generated image.



Figure 4 (17 02 08 04) Claude rested in the shade of the entrance to the Cemetery of Santa Maria del Giorno to wait for Guilliamairo’s widow reworked, Graphite on about A5 cartridge.



Figure 5 (17 02 08 05) Road to Luigi’s farm Computer generated image



Figure 6 (17 02 08 06) Marianne at the beach with fishing boat Computer generated image



Figure 7 (17 02 08 07) Reading the news Computer generated image


Figure 8 (17 02 08 08) Saxons awaiting the arrival of the Normans Computer generated image



Figure 9 (17 02 08 09) Jason enters the lair of the Gorgon Computer generated image



Figure 10 (17 02 08 10) The party Computer generated image



Figure 11 (17 02 08 11) Superman flew close to the turbine of the stricken airliner Computer generated image

As Leonardo once said, “look at the walls splashed with a number of stains or stones of warious mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene,you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, amd lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinate number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. This happens on such walls and varicoloured stones (which act) like the sound of bells, in whose  pealing you can find every name and word you can imagine.

Do not despise my opinion, when I remind youthat it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stainsof walls or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or likeplaces, in which if you consider them well, youmay find really marvelous ideas.

The mind of the painter is stimulatedto new discoveries, the composition of landscapes the composition of battrles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monsterous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honour, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”

I also took one of the photocopies and worked on it with a sharpie emphasising the lines radiating from the focal point and a star seemed to appear



Figure 12 (17 02 08 12) Star, Sharpie on A4 photocopy

I carried on with the sharpie and darkened the whole of the tabletop which threw the objects into greater relief.



Figure 13 (17 02 08 13) Star 2, Sharpie on A4 photocopy

Enough already for tonight, tomorrow I will get some tracing paper and see how that goes.

All the best