Mike Vickers' Blog

July 29, 2011

English Portrait Painting since WW2

Filed under: Personal — derryvickers @ 9:22 pm

James Fox has just completed a series BBC4 on British Art in the Twentieth Century.  I have only seen the third and last.  This parallels the last part of Peter Capaldi’s programme on Scottish Portraiture (See my previous blog).  Capaldi’s thesis is that only Scotland is taking forward portraiture but James Fox shows otherwise.  In the New Jerusalem he takes us through the work of English artists painting pictures of people since the WW2.  His artists are Graham Sutherland with his crucifixion in St Mary’s Northampton,

Graham Sutherland

Francis Bacon who lost his lover in Paris, Richard Hamilton with his adventures into Pop Art, Keith Vaughan and finishing with Lucien Freud who had to paint life as it really is;  Freud died just last week.  I get the feeling that Fox sees no one taking their place but lets hope he is wrong. 

Portrait of a Lady

Lucien Freud


Incidentally in our recent trip to New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art there was one whole room dedicated to Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

July 28, 2011


Filed under: History in the making — derryvickers @ 9:07 pm

It is difficult to make any sensible comment on the Norwegian massacre – so many thoughts are going round in my head. 

Charlie Brooker has long article in the Guardian and pleads that Anders Behring Breivik should not be made a ‘hero’ yet how can it not happen – he is most likely to insist on his own defence.  With the Dunblane massacre who can remember Thomas Hamilton but he committed suicide after his shooting – not so Breivik.  Others have exampled Timothy McVeigh.

Brooker also denigrates the experts called in immediately after the massacre  for blaming it on Al Qaeda and he is right but then in an era of ‘instant news’ people just want instant answers – any answer will do and certainly not that ‘it was one of us’.

 The massacre instantly displaced News Corp from the headlines but this story has been short lived too; the tabloids are front-paging the death of Amy Winehouse and even the Scotsman’s front page shares both stories.

Leslie Riddoch and Chris Smith do a little analysis in their weekly pod and this has a ring of correctness: Breivik concentrated his main anger on the up and coming labour party teenagers on the island rather than gunning down more senior labour politicians.  The guy is reacting against a liberal society that tolerates and even welcomes Muslims.  Muslins who may have a different set of moral standards from the rank and file Norwegians.  Leslie and Chris have described them well in their pod.

One of my heroes, Stephen Jay Gould, has admirably described that there is no such thing as ‘rank and file’ – the mean is not the answer – it is the distribution (Gaussian standard deviation) that is equally if not more important.  Even if the mean is open minded, left of centre, there will always be a few bigoted far right of centre members of society; as there will be narrow mind members of the extreme left.  These extremes may both feel they need to act.

And one has, to devastating effect.  Another was Bin Laden – equally well educated from a prosperous family.

Of course in different parts of the world the mean features and their distribution differ considerably from those characterised by western society.  These may change over surprising short periods; look at the US where a vociferous population, narrow minded, right wing Christian, is preventing resolution of the Budget.  I do not argue whether the group is right or wrong, but if they survive they will change the face of the US and indeed the Western World. (The real problem with budget balancing is that it is not the ones who balance the budget but the poor and less able who suffer – wealth is a Poisson distribution with the politicians high up the tail).

So back to Norway, it is unlikely that security will not get tighter.  Our local primary school is now surrounded by a high barbed steel fence.  This is not, I suggest, to protect the children from outsiders but from ourselves.

July 18, 2011

Scottish Portraiture

Filed under: Personal — derryvickers @ 8:16 am

Nice programme on Scottish portraiture by Peter Capaldi.  His theme was that Scotland’s artists have taken to painting portraits like no other.  The rest of the world has moved to abstracts – Pollock and Rothko while Scotland keeps to portraits Steven Campbell, Ken Currie and Peter Howson – as Capaldi called then – the new Glasgow Boys

Peter Howson

He starts way back in the 16th century with George Jamesone, moves through Allan Ramsay to Henry Raeburn, David Wilkie and Gavin Hamilton.  Incidentally I was impressed by the number of Raeburns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Allan RamsayHenry Raeburn








Into the 19th century with Alexander Naismith to the Glasgow Boys – notably James Guthrie.  And then into the early 20th century with the Colourists with JD Fergusson and into the 1950’s with Joan Eardley

James Guthrie

JD Fergusson

Joan Eardley

This does not mean that Scottish Painters have only painted portraits – there have been great landscape painters – I particularly like Peploe and   Cadell, two other Colourists – but the key point that Capaldi is making is that while the rest of the world is moving to abstract paintings, more traditional painting and in particular portrait painting is alive and well in Scotland.

For those who have the opportunity why not take a visit to recently restored National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.  For those like me who think JD Fergusson is one of the best Scottish painters of the 20th century, he has his own gallery in Perth.

PS the portraits here are my selection rather than those of Capaldi’s; though his were good too and we do overlap once or twice!

PS Peter Capaldi is an actor well known for his colourful protrayal of a thinly disguised  Alastair Campbell – Tony Blair’s communications director in the  TV series, ‘In the Thick of It’ .

July 16, 2011

A Holiday in Manhattan

Filed under: Personal, USA — derryvickers @ 8:46 pm

We did the Town – well everything that was available on the New York City Pass!  The weather was great – only one afternoon of summer storms

Impressions – remarkably clean- very cosmopolitan, few obvious WASPs and very few beggars. Yet there is still a hierarchy of who does what.

No obvious signs of depression in Manhattan – although going between Newark Airport and the Penn Station much dereliction.

Food fine although expensive by Scotland’s standards.  One exception was a Food on Foot tour over a lunchtime – the leader knew his stuff and pointed us at some very edible take away joints in East Village.  Clearly If we lived there we could find cheaper meals – we did once and had a great Chinese lunch.

We did the museums, the Guggenheim, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – also a couple of smaller ones on the history of New York and on Skyscrapers.  The best was the Metropolitan Museum of Art – very like the British Museum in London – comparable art – excellent section on 19th and 20th century art (which get to me) – at least as good as the Museum of Modern Art;  unbelievable collection of Degas and Cézannes and Picassos all over the place.  The Guggenheim interesting as a building with its circular architecture and circular staircase – used to good effect for an exhibition of paintings by a Japanese artist Lee Ufan – art is going nihilistic – representation is out.  Thankfully no Damien Hirst anywhere to be seen anywhere.

To the moderns in the Metropolitan:  Pollocks, Rothkos – AnselmKiefer is worth looking at modern yet representational.

Yes and of course there are the skyscrapers – great views from The Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building, both MidTown. The Empire State is particularly impressive – built in 1931 in 420 days – at its peak they were building 4.5 floors a week! Is this still a record or have the Chinese overtaken this rate? 

The Skyscraper museum makes the point that skyscrapers are a natural successor to the factory buildings of the twenties and thirties and provides an excellent film on the building of the Twin Towers – steel frame, floors and cladding all to a basic plan – drag and drop!  The new One World Center Tower is going up and will be the tallest in the US when finished in 2013.  I had not realised that the whole World Center complex was built on reclaimed land vacated when the liners ceased crossing the Atlantic.

And this takes me to the Financial District at the southern tip of Manhattan; where MidTown and beyond is built on a grid plan, the Financial District is more higgledy giggly  as the financial district in London – the US has the Brits to thank for that! 

And I did love the inscriptions built into lower Broadway of all the great and the good who had been given ticker tape parades.

Yes, we did just get to Brooklyn just by walking the Brooklyn Bridge and we did see Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from a cruise during the day and from a clipper ship at night.  But probably the place we got to know most was Central Park- our hotel was near by – and so refreshing with walkers, joggers, baseball pitchers and of course dog walkers – so many dogs in a city full of apartments. 

For those who know, how does Manhattan cope with all the new offices going up while the subway looks to be as it was in the thirties; also where do office workers get their lunch.  Walking through the Financial District at lunch time and while there are quite a few take aways there were very few takers. 

A few things stand out particularly

Queues are universal – one lady asked me politely as I was waiting for my wife to get cash out of an ATM ‘Are you a line’

The Police Vehicles all have Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect on their sides

There are public drinking fountains advertising the quality of their water.

Oh and we did do a Show – that was a requirement – a musical – ‘Wicked’.  I have to say it was very colourful and well done.

In summary Manhattan is a great place for a holiday – we were there a week – it works and works well. But for the Land of the Free there was quite a lot of regulation, perhaps more than in the UK.

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