Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Graphic Design. Artist Matthew Bell. Professor John Searl, SEG/Searl Effect Generator and controversy.

Design by Matthew Bell

I caught up with my nephew Matthew Bell recently at a rare family gathering, and he showed me his portfolio. Matthew was at the Chelsea School of Fine Art and Design, and is talented at painting, digital art, graphic design, animation  and computer games. He is currently interested in artificial intelligence.
Matt has designed shampoo bottles for Boots, has worked for Anthony Gormley, the Newell and Sorrell agency and IMP, and painted portraits of Lembit Opik, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls among many others for the late Andrew Roth's Parliamentary Profiles.

His current commission is to paint a portrait of the controversial British Professor John Roy Robert Searl, and five of his office buildings. 

Professor Searl, who was born in 1932,  is the inventor of the Searl Solution, the Searl Effect Generator which he developed in the 1960s. The SEG is allegedly capable of producing electricity cheaply and safely without fuel, pollution, friction or noise. His company Searl Magnetics Inc. is  in California. 

Searl Effect Generator, a flying disc

The British Wikipedia entry on Searl has been removed under Data Protection Law. The translated version of Wikipedia from the Netherlands calls him a controversial British inventor, and reports that most people call him a charlatan or a swindler:(De meesten die met hem te maken hebben gehad, betitelen hem als charlatan of oplichter)

Nonetheless Professor Searl has supporters all over the world,  including an enthusiastic following on Facebook, The Searl Effect Community.

Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell

An illustration for children's books by Matthew Bell

Harrow-on-the-Hill painting in acrylic by Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell
Various 3D models of characters for different clients by Matthew Bell

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Otto Dix. George Grosz. German WW1 victims. Philip Mould. Professor Anthea Callen. Mystery Painting of a busker with harmonica.

The Blind Harmonica Player 

This painting of a blind busker was bought in North London at a boot fair. The painting is on a board and is unsigned. The crumbling wall in the background is composed of paper collage. 

Researching the harmonica player has brought up the huge topic of German war victims crippled by World War 1, as the painting is reminiscent of the buskers and beggars painted by George Grosz and Otto Dix during the 1920s. 

The man is playing a 10-hole diatonic harmonica. He looks like a Mittel European. His left hand is out of the picture, implying it is outstretched for coins from passers-by. He seems to be wearing an old civilian uniform, although it is now patched. It looks like that of a hotel porter or a messenger who could have fought and been blinded in the war by mustard gas.

He is in a poor area of town: plaster is crumbling from the wall behind him. His black glasses indicate that he is blind, like those worn by the blind match seller in Otto Dix's painting.  The case for them is in his jacket pocket. He has bad teeth. His shoes look new but the left shoe lacks laces.

Otto Dix (1891–1969)
The Match Seller,1920
Oil and collage on canvas, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003

Otto Dix. Prager Straße/Prague Street, Dresden 1920
Stuttgart Art Museum

George Grosz, The Hero, c. 1936, lithograph

Arizona State University, Jules Heller Print Study Room

George Grosz painted a war veteran who is selling flowers rather than just begging. 

"I wanted to protest against this world of mutual destruction...I saw heroism, but it seemed to be blind......what I saw more was misery, stupidity, hunger, cowardice and horror."  Georg Grosz, 1930.

In trying to find out the mystery artist of the harmonica painting, Otto Dix is a putative suspect. 
  • Many of Dix's paintings are still missing. His work was labelled Entartete Kunst or degenerate under the Nazis and some was seized or destroyed. Jewish émigrés who were lucky enough to escape from Germany brought their art to England too.
  • Like the mystery artist, Dix did not always sign his paintings, and he sometimes painted on wood. 
  • Dix's subject matter of beggars is similar to that of the unknown artist. Both the harmonica player and the match seller are earning their living on the streets.  They also wear the same sort of black frosted glasses which were worn by the blind.
  • The style of painting is similar especially the angular hands and fleshy noses. Ears painted by Dix are out of proportion, as are the hands of the harmonica player.
  • Dix started to use collage in his paintings after meeting George Grosz In 1920, who was influenced  by Dada. The crumbling wall in the mystery painting is also a collage.
Nonetheless, all of the above is supposition and wishful thinking. The clue to the painting lies in the green uniform, which would indicate the busker's nationality. Googling the image came to nought, and the web came up with loads of military uniforms.

In contrast to the suffering shown by the Dix beggars, the busker seems to be quite contented with his lot. 

The artist remains an enigma, and a copy of the painting has been sent to Philip Mould, who has an excellent record at discovering the identity of artists, including three Van Dycks. He had a real bargain when he recognised and bought a Gainsborough on eBay for £120.

I have also sent a copy of the painting to Professor Anthea Callen, who was until June 2014 Professor of Art (Practice-led Research) in the School of Art, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra. She is Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture at the University of Nottingham. Anthea was my great tutor at Warwick University.

Excellent, fascinating recommended online reading

Museum of Yugoslav History, Belgrade, Serbia

Disability in the Culture of The Weimar Republic by Carol Poore, Professor of German Studies at Brown University.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Parliament of Posers? Cost of MPs' chairs and vanity portraits.Portcullis House. Freedom of Information Act and the Hazell Report .

Portcullis House, Westminster
MPs in Portcullis House sit on RBM Noor ergonomically-shaped black chairs.
MPs have had 300 new chairs in Portcullis House since last November, which caused the usual storm of protests in the media. The cost of the chairs and MPs' portraits came to light after a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request by the Evening Standard this February 

The chairs cost £109.85 each, amounting to almost £33,000. Taxpayers' Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: "It seems that the parliamentary authorities have expensive tastes, whether that is when purchasing chairs or commissioning portraits, and taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.

According to a House of Commons spokeswoman : " The chairs in Portcullis House needed to be replaced as they were no longer fit for normal use, with regular faults being reported. The new chairs were selected through a competitive tender and offered the highest value for money and quality. A discount was applied as the old chairs were recycled."

It seems as though the issue of the Noor chairs was all a storm in a teacup. They were rather a bargain as similar less attractive upholstered chairs from Ikea cost £100 as well as the tedious task of assembling them from flatpacks.

Bernhard upholstered chairs from Ikea  £100

The media were on much surer ground when debating the cost of MPs portraits during the hard and recent times of austerity. The FOI request revealed that MPs had splurged around £250,000 on commissioning such 'vanity projects'  The Mail Online gleefully labelled MPs a Parliament of Posers. The most expensive portrait was that of John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, which cost £22,000, plus an extra £15,000 for a frame and coat of arms. 

John Bercow by Brendan Kelly, 2011. 
Bercow is seen addressing MPs in the House of Commons

MPs are not pretty people, generally speaking, and artists had a field day, depicting their warts and all.  The Portrait Collection in Portcullis House is open to the public and the chairs can also be seen.

David Blunkett by Lorna Wadsworth in 2003, 
during his time as Home Secretary during the Labour Government. 

A topless? Diane Abbott by Stuart Pearson Wright in 2004 cost £11,750
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Tory former chancellor Kenneth Clarke,  by James Lloyd in  2007, 
The portrait cost £8,000, and shows him looking even more dishevelled than usual.
 it is a pity his famous brown suede shoes were not depicted.

 The Rt. Hon. Tony Benn,  1925-2014, by Andrew Tift in 1998 only cost £2000.
It is a curiously lifeless portrait of a vigorous Labour campaigner

Portcullis House atrium

Portcullis House was opened in 2001 to provide offices for MPs and their staff owing to the limited space in the Palace of Westminster.  MPs were given reclining chairs for their offices at that time costing £440.  The building was designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners to complement the Palace of Westminster and is unusual inside,  resembling the interior of a boat. 

Portcullis House ground floor. The photo shows the original chairs.
The main courtyard has metallic sails overhead

The Freedom of Information Act  became law in 2005. It made government more open and accessible, enabling anyone to request information from public bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.and have that information given to them, subject to certain exemptions, such as 'vexatious' requests.  

The FOI has been a godsend to the media and others. Facts have come out and continue to emerge that would formerly have remained a secret. The Daily Telegraph famously obtained their sensational information about outrageous claims by MPs for mortgages, duck houses, moats, rocking chairs, gold taps, gluttony  etc.,  thanks to a leak concerning three freedom of information requests concerning certain MPs' expenses. 

Wikipedia has listed facts that have emerged from the Freedom of Information Act  :
  • The Government agreed to a £1.5 million bailout of one of the most troubled schools in its flagship academies programme ten days before the 2005 general election.
  • Ministers and MPs claimed thousands of pounds on taxis as part of £5.9 million in expenses for travel.
  • Foreign diplomats – who have diplomatic immunity – were accused of rapes, sexual assaults, child abuse and murders while working in Britain.
  • Seventy-four police officers serving with the Metropolitan Police have criminal records.
  • A clandestine British torture programme existed in post-war Germany, “reminiscent of the concentration camps”.
  • The UK supported the Israeli nuclear weapons program, by selling Israel 20 tonnes of heavy water in 1958.
  • The NHS has made available Implanon implants to girls from the age of 13 in an attempt to cut teenage pregnancies.
There is now a much greater openness regarding information from public bodies thanks to the Freedom of Information Act but there is still a large backlog owing to delays citing national security, commercial confidentiality and other excuses. The BBC is notoriously reluctant to give out data regarding FOI requests about the payment of their staff and celebrities working for them, citing they are under rules of exemption. 

The Impact of the Freedom of Information Act  – Hazell, R, Worthy, B and Glover, M.  Does Freedom of Information Work? is well worth reading: a short extract is included.

The Overall Impact of FOI
  •  FOI has met its core objectives at central and local level. Government is more transparent in terms of the information it releases and how it works. FOI has also encouraged pro-active disclosure of a range of information, from salaries to road maintenance. 
  •  FOI has also made public bodies more accountable. FOI works well with other mechanisms (such as the media, MPs or NGOs) as a tool to put together information for campaigns. 
  •  FOI has not improved the quality of decision-making. FOI has not increased public understanding of decision-making at central government and has little impact on public participation except via ‘proxies’ either centrally or locally.
  •  At local level FOI has increased public understanding of decision-making at a low level, though it is mostly used to get information rather than learn about the decision-making process.
  •  A chilling effect can be seen in a few politically sensitive cases but is not happening systematically.
  •  Superficially FOI does not appear to have increased trust in central government but the data is sparse and points in different directions. However, the effect is very variable for local government. At local level use of FOI is diverse and trust in local government is more heavily influenced by performance and ‘community visibility’ than openness.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Feijoada: spicy comfort food from Portugal. Lundy Hole, Epphaven and Doyden Castle. South West Coast Path.

Joana relaxes after making her lovely meal

Feijoada- pronounced fazeshwada-  is a delicious one-pot casserole dish which originated in Portugal. Like paella it is eaten at midday. It has long been the national dish of Brazil. There are many variations: the Portuguese use butter beans whereas the Brazillians prefer black beans.

I had it for the first time last week in north Cornwall at a family gathering,  cooked by Joana Cânovas, from Madeira, who is au-pairing in England during her vacation.

Joana,19, is studying Speech and Language Therapy at the School of Health Technology in Porto. She could just as easily become a diplomat or a cook, and here is her recipe. She would have added add white wine to it had young children not been with us.  She also salted the pork belly or loin beforehand.

Feijoada, by Joana Cânovas

- onions
- garlic
- red peppers
- pork belly 
- chorizo
- butter beans 
- paprika (and piri piri if you like it hot)
- carrots
- potatoes
- cabbage
- tomatoes 
- bacon

You put olive oil, onions, tomatoes, garlic and peppers first with the salt and paprika. Then you put chopped bacon, meat (little cubes) and chorizo. Meanwhile you boil the potatoes (little cubes). 
Then you put the cabage (tiny bits) and carrots in and add hot water to it. When the carrots are almost ready you add the potatoes and beans and let them boil for a bit so they can absorb the sauce.
Keep tasting the sauce and checking if it's good. Keep adding paprika, salt, or even herbs till you think it tastes good! 
Serve with rice.

Lundy Hole is on the coastal path,
near Epphaven and Doyden Castle.
We walked there after the meal

Doyden Castle is owned by The National Trust,
it can be rented but is booked up for months in advance

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern, reviewed by Cornish abstract artist Chris Billington. Lydia Delectorskaya. Starchild charity.

 It is always interesting to see what one artist makes of another's work, and I am delighted to be able to share the well-known Cornish abstract artist Chris Billington's excellent review of the exhibition at Tate Modern of Henri Matisse's Cut-Outs. He also took all but one of the excellent photographs.
Chris Billington has recently moved back to Truro, and has donated his latest painting Starchild for the forthcoming auction in Glasgow for the Starchild charity,  which was set up in 2012 to improve the lives of orphans in Uganda. 

Like Matisse, Chris goes back to the basics of form and colour in his paintings.

We Are All Made Of Stars (2014) – 24in X 30in – painted for Starchild ~ Chris Billington

Review by Chris Billington 

 Henri Matisse The Cut Outs ~ Painting With Scissors

This summer Matisse lights up the walls of the Tate Modern with a concord of colour and pattern.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

This is an exhibition entirely given over to the Cut-Outs of Matisse.   Shapes cut from gouache painted sheets of paper, pinned and eventually glued to a support mostly completed during his latter years, with the help of various assistants, but mainly aided by Lydia Delectorskaya, his Russian lover and muse.

         Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The  Cut-Outs are arranged pretty much chronologically and demonstrate just how much cutting up Matisse carried out during his artistic career. These Cut-Outs were not merely a bookend, a whimsical diversion: his experiments with this process span decades and what is evident is how they progress and develop logically, charting the use of the cut out shapes and the cast off pieces there is a visible path of evolution from the earliest attempts.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington 

A short film, shot at the time, shows Lydia Delectorskaya at the side of Matisse while he is making circular motions in the air with a large pair of dressmaking scissors, cutting out paper shapes freehand. She is then seen arranging the shapes under the direction of Matisse, who is pointing to various positions on the wall with a long pole until he is happy that they are in the correct place. However, far from always being an instant process often the shapes were placed, and replaced, rotated and turned, pinned and unpinned, until the overall idea worked right. This could take many attempts and some even took several years before Matisse was entirely happy with the results, evidence of this has been identified by a myriad of tiny pin holes in some of the cut outs indicating that Matisse repositioned the shapes many times before arriving at the final composition.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

Much of this work was Matisse attempting to bring the exuberance of the garden into his studio when he was bedridden and infirm in his later years but it was by no means an end of life project, rather it was borne out of years of experimentation with Matisse perfecting the procedure over decades.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The exhibition takes us from his 1930s early experiments with scissors, pins and paper, through the complete process, including a look at some of the raw materials with which he worked. Complete with a rich complement of photographs and writings from the archive to enhance our understanding of the process, along with a selection of many of his early book illustrations and taking us right up to his work for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary at Vence and his final pieces in the mid 1950′s prior to his death. However it was in his later years due to old age and infirmity that the process was to become dominant in his practice with Matisse even declaring that his new ideas were the beginning of the end of painting.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington
A proliferation of foliage and fauna bursts forth from the gallery walls as one moves from one room to the next, of which there are a suite of 14 in total which together showcase 120 dazzling works. Several books and magazines were illustrated by Matisse using the cut-out principle, but the stand-out publication was Jazz which was published in 1947 in a limited edition of 100 and one of the rooms is given over entirely to the subject and this room really held my attention for quite some time as there was so much information to take in.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The original edition of Jazz contains a portfolio of glorious stencil prints, each interspersed with pages of very large fluid text, handwritten by Matisse, much of which was in the room, including The Sword Swallower.
               Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

All of the iconic works are present in the other 13 rooms, including ‘The Snail’ (1953), which actually belongs to The Tate, is shown alongside its sister work ‘Memory of Oceania’ also from 1953. The Four Blue Nudes, the first three of which came to Matisse effortlessly, like many other cut-outs, almost in an instant, but the fourth he struggled to form. It is noticeable how uneasy ‘Blue Nude iv’ sits alongside the previous three all the more remarkable in fact because ‘Blue Nude iv’ was actually the first of the four to be started and the last to be completed. Seen by millions on posters, postcards, greetings cards etc, now is the chance for many of us to see the real articles up close. From room to room the brilliance and scale is quite staggering, and the exhibition closes with the magnificent cut-out model on a Christmas theme and the resulting stained glass which was commissioned for the Time-Life Building in New York. Like his windows for the Vence Chapel, Christmas Eve conveys the spirit of religious expression without explicitly addressing religious subject matter. in the final room.

The Snail and Memory of Oceana are reunited in Henri Matisse 
                             The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern ~ Photo Tate

Matisse termed the process of making these intensely vivid and large scale works as “painting with scissors.”. And what these Cut-Outs or as the French refer to them, découpages, do is uphold to the very end of his years the reputation of Matisse as the ‘wild beast ‘ of colour.
             Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

“I have worked for years in order that people might say, ‘it seems easy to do’”, said Matisse shortly before his death, and if this all seems like child’s play to the viewer he would probably be very happy, but whichever way you view it, by going back to the basics of form and colour, there is no denying that the Cut Outs dance on the walls, they vibrate with energy.
              Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

This genuinely once in a lifetime exhibition revitalises the works that we know so well, even if we have never before seen the original pieces. That it does so admirably is testament to the skill of the curatorial team of Jodi Hauptman, Karl Buchberg, Samantha Friedman and Nicholas Cullinan under the most capable charge of Sir Nicholas Serota. In one broad sweep this exquisitely executed show seduces the senses and refashions our understanding of what Matisse achieved in the cut-outs. From now on we’ll see them not simply as a delightful postscript to his extraordinary artistic career, but the realisation of half a century of work … not merely decorative arrangements of shapes and colours but as works of art from a 20th century giant of modern art that continue to enliven the spirit through their powerful emotional presence.

On 3 June, a live film about the exhibition was broadcast in cinemas across the UK.
Matisse The Cut-Outs runs until September  2014 at Tate Modern

Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya by Henri Matisse, 1947 
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg