Today, as the weather was particularly vile, I went to visit The Ferens Art Galley in Hull city centre. I went to look at maritime paintings and landscapes to see if anything in particular grabbed my attention. I know the collection very well and think we are so lucky to have such an excellent gallery with a fine selection of art so close and free for everyone.
As I have been reading about the romantic artists I went to examine one of my favorite paintings, the Constable sky study with fresh eyes.
It is very intimate in scale and simple in composition and content, the sky dominates. The brushstrokes are very loose and fresh giving energy and a sense of movement to the scene. The sky is broody with the last vestiges of the good weather being engulfed by the swirling, darker heavy clouds. The hints of pink, reflections of the sun underneath the clouds, soften the feeling and add contrast to the green foreground.
Great Works: Study Of Clouds (1822) by John Constable
Tom Lubbock: The Independent, Friday 21st November 2008
Clouds are complex natural phenomena, which challenge our capacity for accurate observation.
This Study of Clouds by Constable claims a strictly observational status. His vantage point is Hampstead Heath. The canvas is marked on the back: “31 Sept 10-11 o’clock morning looking Eastward a gentle wind to East.”
The structure is so elusive that it might have arrived with no deliberate shaping. Perhaps it appears in the painting simply because it appeared in the sky, and Constable transcribed it with unblinking accuracy from an ambiguous natural cloud formation. Or perhaps it materialised through an act of drifting painting, the brush improvising.
“You can’t be sure that the artist was doing any manipulation, or was even aware of the quasi-pattern emerging. So Constable’s own work ends up like nature itself – a phenomenon in which you can see shapes, but where no conscious shape-making has taken place.”
“Five years before Constable painted this picture, Keats was writing, in praise of a rare creative faculty. He called it “Negative Capability, that is, when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. It happens when artists know how to stay back, leaving their work open, unsolved, holding unknowns. If you want to know what negative capability looks like in paint, it looks like this.”
In contrast I came upon a painting I had never noticed before which greatly intrigued me. John Selby-Bigge: Composition 1936
I know nothing about this artist other than that he was associated with the surrealist and the British neo romantics such as Paul Nash. This painting struck me as being very odd, very stylised, part figurative and part abstract. It has a strong sense of foreboding, with the approaching danger of the rocks and imminent storm intensifying the vulnerability of the boat. I enjoy the strong colours, the mark-making and particularly the stylised rock shapes. The rocks and the foreground water have a strength and confidence in the way they have been rendered which makes the boat and the sky seem more naive in style.
Other paintings I found interesting were;
Ivon Hitchens: The path between waters 1937
Of all the paintings I saw today this one struck me as being closest to my own approach. It is spontaneous, gestural, loose and abstract but suggestive of landscape. I love the brooding, subtle palette and decorative quality of the mark-making.
Paul Nash: The Rye Marshes 1932
I like the geometry and starkness of this painting. Originally commissioned by BP and Shell for a poster which reads “Everywhere you go you can be sure of Shell” This was of interest as BP are very present in the industry on the Humber.