Archive for the ‘Contemporary Painting’ Category


Abstraction and Alcohol, Expressionism and Excess: Jack Jubb

July 24, 2011

Every year, to run alongside its Summer Exhibition, the Royal Academy of Arts hosts an online gallery that showcases the cream of A-Level work by students across the UK. This year’s exhibition contains three works by a young artist called Jack Jubb that immediately grabbed my attention. This piece is not so much a review but a reflection on his work.

Red, Orange, Tan and Purple, 2011

Red, Orange, Tan and Purple, 1954

Jubb’s works engage the art of the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko, taking three canvases by the celebrated artist and re-imagining them as alcoholic drinks. Aside from the ingenious aesthetic consideration – each drink, recalling the colour composition of a Rothko canvas, is created in the style of a layered cocktail or shooter that one might find in a bar or nightclub – the works, taken collectively, explore alcohol consumption on a deeper level.

Untitled, 2011

Untitled, 1969

Rothko’s art is an exploration of the emotive effect of colour. Often huge in scale, the viewer is immersed in the emotional spectrum of his vast colour fields: sometimes touching, occasionally disturbing; his canvases can range from ecstasy to anger, joy to despair. By re-envisaging Rothko’s oeuvre as alcoholic beverages Jubb acknowledges not only the emotive power of the artist’s work, but also the passionate and often impulsive extremes that are the result of excessive alcohol consumption. It is a highly accomplished triptych, both aesthetically and conceptually; a refreshing reflection of contemporary society that displays a maturity beyond the artist’s young age.

White Centre, 2011

White Centre, 1950

To view the other entries for the Royal Academy’s A-Level Summer Exhibition, 2011 visit their virtual gallery by clicking here.


Canaletto and Head: Multiple Perspectives at the National Gallery

November 8, 2010

I was enticed recently to the National Gallery and, after forgetting which Tube station heralds arrival at Trafalgar Square (I somehow confuse myself every time), I made it to their latest temporary exhibition, Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals.

The show documents the magnificence of eighteenth-century Venice as it would have appeared to young English gentlemen on the Grand Tour: a place of romance and colour, festive and vivacious. The view paintings (veduta) that these noblemen acquired when passing through Venice were very much the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s picture postcards in that they portray an idealised vision of the city. Typically they depicted the famous sights of Venice: views along the Grand Canal, the Piazza San Marco, and the Lagoon for example. It is these paintings by Canaletto and his contemporaries that make up the National Gallery’s exhibition, yet it is the work of Giovanni Antonio Canal, or Canaletto (‘little canal’) as he became known, that have the more striking impact. As the Guardian’s resident art critic Jonathan Jones put it, the exhibition ‘juxtaposes Canaletto with his “rivals”, but the first thing it proves is that Canaletto had no rivals.’ It is a sentiment I entirely agree with. Quite rightly he is regarded as the most masterful of the Venetian veduta artists and the evidence lies largely in the detail.

Take The Stonemason’s Yard (c.1725). Executed prior to the artist’s later embrace of Venice’s more renowned and lucrative sights, the painting shows another side to the city, the toil of the working class. At this early stage of his career the attention to fine details is astounding; in one quirky example, found in the bottom left of the picture, a child falls backwards and urinates in fright. As the exhibition reveals, Canaletto began as he meant to go on. In The Riva degli Schiavoni, looking West (c.1735) we find further proof of this astonishing attention to detail and textures, especially in the background brushwork. This is the artist’s most copied work, a real triumph of the exhibition having been leant out by its owner only once before. Certainly it is all too easy to stand transfixed by these paintings and marvel at their intricacies.

The Stonemason’s Yard
The Riva degli Schiavoni, looking West

For me, however, the characteristic that makes Canaletto’s work that much better, that much more intriguing than that of his contemporaries, is the artist’s readiness to bend reality for pictorial effect. Citing his painting The Piazza San Marco, looking South and West (c.1731) as one example, you can see that Canaletto has distorted the “true” image of what he saw before him. Instead of having one vanishing point he has created two so that his painting blends together views from two different directions. As the viewer you are looking both straight ahead and right at the same time. Wonderfully, the image does not look immediately wrong; instead it draws you into the picture allowing you to revel in the expansive quality of the scene. Given the nature of veduta painting as a primarily tourist-focused profession, this extra level of intrigue generated through visual manipulation is testament to Canaletto’s entrepreneurial ambition.

The Piazza San Marco looking South and West

It is this level of visual intrigue that has led to the National Gallery’s other recent success story. To accompany the Canaletto exhibition, two contemporary artists were commissioned to display related work, the current exhibitor being Clive Head. Head’s work has been met with record attendances for such a modest exhibition – it only comprises of three paintings. This should in no way deter you from going to see it though, because the time you can spend before his images belies their small number. Like Canaletto, Head’s artwork merges together multiple perspectives from a single vantage point. Focussing on the twenty-first century urban landscape, Head takes the Venetian’s approach and runs with it. Whereas Canaletto’s perspectives are embellished with intricate details, Head’s paintings seem without restriction. They are more expansive than Canaletto’s; they incorporate even more of the world and provide even more for the eye to take in. Stood in front of the large canvas that is Coffee at the Cottage Delight (2010) you are at once looking down, looking up, looking left, looking right, looking down the road and looking into the heart of the image. Whilst this might seem excessive and potentially fractious, in truth Head’s works are united by careful consideration and aptitude that ultimately makes for a mesmeric experience.

Coffee at the Cottage Delight

The exhibition Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals is located in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery until January 16 2011. It does incur an admission fee.

The accompanying exhibition Clive Head: Modern Perspectives can be found in Room 1 of the National Gallery and runs until November 28 2010. This is a FREE exhibition and you do not need to have purchased a Canaletto ticket for admission.

To find more information on either visit the National Gallery website