At Night on The Southbank

IMG_2982We were out and about for drawing class yesterday, at the Southbank, a much diminished group, either because the others didn’t get the email, or because they all had a hot date.

Spend any time at all at the Royal Festival Hall and its environs and you will see pretty much all of life.  There’s the river, the bridges, the lights, performers, tourists lingering, office workers rushing by, people scavenging through bins outside the shops and restaurants……people sketching.

Inside the Hall, there are people having business meetings or conducting job interviews, people on their own hard at work on their laptops, concert goers having a drink before the performance, and others just sitting and looking and listening in to their conversations (unless that’s just me).

Watch out especially for anyone sketching, because, if you sit still for too long, you might find yourself the subject of a drawing.

We were outside for the first hour, struggling, some much more successfully than me, to capture something of the scene in the dark.  My fascination with the structure of Hungerford Bridge overcame my certainty that it’s far too tricky for me to be able to draw, especially in the dark , when it’s difficult to see the piece of paper on which I was trying to do it; but heyho, it’s a class, and it’s about trying things out, isn’t it?

An hour outside in February is enough for anyone, so after fingers had recovered some warmth, we were set loose inside, to draw people.


I think this man suspected I was looking at him and his friend, but I pretended to ignore him when he looked my way

Art of Angel (2)


A Demographic Mapping of a Corner of Holbeck

I enjoy people watching, working out who is with whom, wondering where this or that person is going, admiring that coat, thinking that person needs a friend to tell them that skirt doesn’t fit, but Gillian takes that observation of stranger to a different level all together.  All those people form the subject of some of her large pieces of work, and taken together, they make a sort of snapshot tapestry of a place and time.

In July 2011, she took a snap or made a sketch of every person who passed her while she was sitting in a corner of Holbeck in Leeds.  Holbeck is a mixed area of light industrial units at one end and refurbished brick factory buildings now occupied by architects and chichi coffee shops at the other.  The Demographic Mapping tracks that from construction workers, through pram pushing young women to besuited gents.  It’s summer, so there are floral print skirts and shirt sleeves, and one mysterious figure wrapped up in a duffel coat defying the warmth of the day; most are in motion, and through the drawing we get a feel for their gait and posture and how quickly they are walking.

IMG00727-20130117-1842I’ve had the opportunity to look at this piece a few times now, and each time I spot something new.  I thought it was the most interesting of the pieces on show at the Art of Angel exhibition at the Candid Arts Trust.

I wrote yesterday about the posters of art works on display at Angel Tube station at the moment.  Many of the original pieces are on display at the exhibition just around the corner.  It gave an opportunity to consider the effect of photographing a piece of art.

What does it mean if the photograph is more appealing than the original?  The photograph can flatten or flatter a piece, it can blur the colours or sharpen them.  It adds another layer to the process of communication between viewer and creator, and creates something which exists in its own right.

Might it be a helpful rule of thumb that if the original piece is more interesting and engaging than a photograph of it, then that it a successful artwork?

Westbourne Grove: a Portrait of Everyday

The artist talking about her work……

I was very excited to see a display of my friend Gillian Holding’s work in prime position in the front window of Debut Contemporary gallery in Westbourne Grove, London on Saturday afternoon.

Entitled Westbourne Grove: a Portrait of Everyday, it is a dyptych, made up of a digital painting printed on vinyl of images of the length of Westbourne Grove.  Images of people, strangers and passersby who make up the local community, or who were making their first and only visit to the area and who just happened to walk past when Gillian was collecting images for the piece, are arrayed in top of images of the length of the street, a two mile stretch of urban west London.

It’s a busy image, filled with the sorts of things we all see every day when we walk down the road, and it reminded me of that miscellany of pictures and half imagined stories that I collect whenever I sit in one place for a while and people watch, and it reminded me of that especial enjoyment of noticing some new detail in a very familiar landscape. Because I’ve that kind of mind, I also tried to place each of the building I could see in the piece with what I could see through the shop window of the gallery, but it was wondering about the people, seeing the detail in each of them, that was the most enjoyable aspect of it.

Gillian explained that she had used a collage technique for the work and had taken many photographs, blindly, without checking what she was capturing as she went along, and then later, painting with the computer, she improved each of the images, redressing the figures, altering ordinary coats into fanciful flowery fabrics and re-tinting the sky and buildings.

We did wonder what would happen if someone walked by the gallery and spotted themselves in the work.  So far, I don’t think it’s happened, but I would hope they would feel flattered.

Knowing that Gillian wanted to document the first day of the show, I sent her the couple of photos I had taken as I was leaving, expressing some disappointment with the  effect of the red line which is painted on the gallery’s window, bisecting  the picture.  Her response was that she liked the red line as it created a perfect Golden Section, so I am both gratified and educated, always a happy combination!  I like that it is possible to see a reflection of some of the building across the street in the gallery window.

The work is on display all week  and Gillian will be at the Other Art Fair in London from 22-25 November.

Other people’s snaps

Sitting beside the river

Do you ever wonder what happens when you’re caught in other people’s holiday photographs?  When they get home, do they tell their friends ‘this would have been a great shot if only that woman would have moved out of the way.’?

Yesterday afternoon I spent a half hour or so sitting on the stepped terrace area outside City Hall, the office of the Mayor of London.  It’s a good spot for people watching, one of my favourite occupations.  It’s by the river with a view of the City of London’s skyline, including the Gherkin, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast.  As such it’s a tourist magnet, and many of them strolled passed me as I sat there, watching them.

Even though it’s prime tourist territory, it’s also a high density business area, as there are a number of large glass clad buildings occupying the area between London Bridge Station  and City Hall; and once the shard is completed there will be more.  But in the mid afternoon of a Friday there was little evidence of the hundreds of workers who presumably occupy the glass floors above where I was sitting.

Nearly everyone I saw stopped to take a photograph, or twenty. A favourite shot seemed to be to pose pushing or leaning against the black egg shaped sculpture that balances at a hard to believe angle in the centre of the esplanade area.  But the urge to photograph clearly doesn’t stop there.  And I’m fairly sure I’m in quite a few of the shots, looking like a refugee from an office.

Of course, as a Londoner, I rarely think about taking photographs of the sites around me.  Don’t get me wrong, I do look at them, and marvel at my good fortune to live in a place which has so many extraordinary vistas; but taking pictures of familiar things is something I don’t often think about.

I should think I’ve as many, if not more, photographs of Tokyo, where  I have spent a week, than Moscow, where I lived for over 2 years.  I suppose you think you’ll always be able to see the sites when you live somewhere, but there’s an urgency in capturing the image if you’re a short term visitor.

I’ve photos in which strangers feature in the background, and sometimes I’m happy for the ‘local interest’ they add; other times, quite the contrary.

I frequently find myself stepping out of the way of people taking each others photos outside Westminster or on the Millennium Bridge, but on Friday there was no avoiding being in many shots, I fear.  Hopefully I’m local colour rather than the annoying woman who wouldn’t get out of the way.

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