Is it a Dog’s Bone?

dog bone

 

This article was prompted by a remark from a woman I was on a health walk with in Saltwell Park. The metallic sculpture in the park elicited the question, “What do you think of the dog-bone?”

Yes, unfortunately it does resemble a cartoon dog-bone; a comparison I’m sure was not in the sculptor’s mind when he produced the sculpture.

The next week our walking group passed nearby the sculpture which is titled, Rise, and we stopped to talk about it. I put on my art-history hat and explained about abstract art: that it didn’t ‘represent’ anything other than itself, not even a dog-bone! Someone else said, “It can be anything you want it to be.” That innocent remark begs a multitude of questions such as, “Is a work of art successful if its form is so open- ended as to be a blank space upon which we project purely subjective ideas?”

This is getting into more philosophical territory which I will leave for a possible future blog.

Another person in the group drew attention to the shiny material (steel) and he contrasted it with the weathered, rusty appearance of Anthony Gormley’s Angel Of the North. Someone else even said we should keep an open mind and not jump to quick judgements. These last two remarks made me re-assess my own opinions; was I being too hasty in thinking the sculpture underwhelming?

The sculpture is by Stephen Newby and was commissioned by Gateshead Sculpture Festival in 2006. It is what is known as a site-specific sculpture. The title is always helpful when viewing art. So, this is called Rise. We are all used to seeing engineering structures, such as bridges which use cast iron for example, yet nevertheless, appear to be light and buoyant. Think of the Millennium Bridge crossing the Tyne or the Forth Railway Bridge.

The fact that Rise is balanced on one of its four corners and consists of curves and no straight edges suggests lightness and movement. Does it make you think of ‘dance’?

I have found that by questioning my knee-jerk reaction to Rise, I have appreciated some of its qualities more. We should approach art in an attitude of open mindedness and ‘disinterestedness.’ On the other hand I always like to relate art to my own life. This is easier in content-heavy and representational art but more difficult with abstract art. Nevertheless, we can still ask such questions as, “What mood does it engender? What does it express? What effect do the materials have?” Such questions are better than “What is it?” which closes down debate and reveals a misunderstanding of abstraction.

Stephen Newby pioneered a new technique in which he somehow ‘inflates’ stainless steel. His website outlines his aims:

Realism becomes obscured and the unmalleable and clinical appearance of steel is transformed into something soft, fluid and organic.

Elsewhere he is quoted: I like to create objects that confuse the eye and give the viewer the feeling that she has found herself in another dimension.

Examples of some of his other work include a metallic sofa, cushions and an oversized metallic crisp-bag. There is also a huge metallic ‘tyre’ (Titled, Halo) outside the main Tesco in Gateshead.

Is Rise anything other than an ephemeral talking point? Will our grandchildren view it as significant art in 50yrs’ time? Maybe not; but at least it has made a few of us look at it with fresh eyes. The ‘problem’ with a lot of contemporary art is that there is so much of it. There are thousands upon thousands of sculptures all vying for position as it were. Much of it is bland and forgettable.

I hope I have given Rise a bit of a rise and that it can now dance confidently in Saltwell Park for a while.

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Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet, Tintoretto

tintoretto-shipley

Priceless Painting in the Shipley Gallery, Bensham, Gateshead.

If you click on the picture it will enlarge.

This is one artist I haven’t included in my book so I thought I’d post it here to give you an idea of how the book is structured. The idea is to have the poem on one page and the picture opposite followed by the criticism. (Note: I have abandoned the book! 2019)

Not many people outside the region, realise that there is a priceless Renaissance masterpiece in the Shipley. It is Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Tintoretto. It is a huge oil on canvas measuring 533 x 210cm. When you walk into the main exhibition space it is facing you at the far end. Many people ignore it as an ‘old-fashioned’ narrative painting no longer relevant to today! However, as well as its overt Christian story it is also a painting about humility and spiritual fellowship. Perhaps these are among the qualities the world could do with at the moment!

Tintoretto painted it for San Marcuola church in Venice and a copy was done some time later. It is not clear which is the original now as as another copy hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid!

The Shipley version ( which may well be the original) turned up in Paris in 1814 where it was sold at an auction to a collector by the name of Baring. He sold it the next day to Sir Mathew Ridley of Blagdon Hall in Northumberland. In 1818 he gave the painting to St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle. It came to the Shipley in 1986.

The composition is typical of Tintoretto’s style: he used diagonal compositions and dramatic gestures a lot. The disciples are in conversation and removing their boots and socks ready for Christ to wash their feet. Washing feet in public was a common sight in Italy in Tintoretto’s time. The large table dominating the composition is a reminder of the ‘last supper’. Judas, the much maligned disciple leans on a pillar at the back, left of centre.

Vasari the famous art historian of the day, who wrote The Lives of the Artists, was critical of Tintoretto’s quick way of working – he implied it was slapdash. In my poem I have imagined the artist replying to Vasari.

Tintoretto Replies to Giorgio Vasari

Oh Giorgio, as I stand before Jesus now

it’s no jest – I’m humbled by his kneeling

presence, dwarfed by such magnificence, impelled

to join in at the table. How could you pass

over my loyal dog; how could you pass

over the momentous moment I’ve depicted?

I’m admittedly fast and like to let the brush strokes

show but there’s nothing dashed off or haphazard

in my design; it’s partly ordained if you’ll pardon

the expression. Remember I had to stand on my own

two feet. I’d gladly have them washed too if I could

only reach over the canvas there, where Peter is.

See how I’ve used distance and separation to depict

destiny; Judas far gone and John close by. I’m down

to earth; no angels here or anything transfigured

and the betrayal only hinted at in dim light.

There are ghoulish doctors, with bird beaks, patrolling

outside as I speak. A plague on Venice – it’s an omen

so they say but I’d rather paint what I see: tables, wash tub

and Christ’s white apron, echoed in the bright tablecloth.

Blaydon Races

Blaydon races

An Extra in the Blaydon Races; a Painting by William Irving

This painting is displayed along with a key and sound commentary at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead.

I’ll be reading this poem of mine as part of the Late Shows on 14 May at the Shipley.

*

I told him I wanted to be recognised, immortalised –

why he painted that bloke with his upside-down pipe

and starving whippet on his arm beats me.

He’s stealing my thunder, elbowing me out of the way,

I’m barely visible. I told him to paint my new hat

with the betting slips prominent but I’m too far away, more

an extra rather than a leading player. Surely as manager

of Spencer’s Iron Works I should be in the foreground.

My nether regions have gone; obliterated, why I don’t know

my legs and feet are up to scratch, I’m only half the man

without my twill trousers and brown leather shoes.

It’s just not on; he should have shown me his sketches

before lashing out in oils. Anyway sitting here isn’t fun

the bairn behind me’s bawling its head off; The Punch

& Judy man’s slipped in the mud for the third time.

That’s Nancy in the pink dress sitting on the grass

with her bairn asleep on her lap; hope she doesn’t

recognise me – she can talk the hind legs off

the proverbial. A newspaper’s handy that way – you

can hide behind the small print. Why did he have to

have so many bumpkins -look, there’s goggle-eyed Mally

and Fester the Jester doing a jig; centre stage please note!

There’s some right low life here, a pick-pocketers

paradise to be sure. I don’t trust that card sharper

or the Dick Turpin character on his horse. I wish

the Scots Piper would go and blow his bags

somewhere else or leg it back to bonny Scotland.

*

It’ll soon be time for the three o’clock – I’ve backed

William Irving three ways, lets hope I win some notes!

As a betting man you can bet your bottom dollar

I won’t be recognised in fifty years’ time; no I’ll just be

another extra – a portrait in oils my foot!

The Tyne Bridge

IMG_0963-001

I have recently bought a used Canon EOS dSLR 300D camera and this is one of my first photographs taken with it.

[18mm focal length, 1/125sec, f20 and ISO 200.]

I will no doubt be putting other photos on my blog in the future.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle is iconic to all who live in the North East. Newcastle Upon Tyne is truly the city of bridges as it has five bridges within half a mile of each other on the quayside.  The newest is the Millennium Bridge which tilts to let boats under.  The Swing Bridge was built in 1868. These two bridges are the only ones which have a mechanism to enable them to move!

The modern building in the background is the Sage Gateshead a marvelous concert hall – the venue for all kinds of music and music education. Just out of sight behind the Sage is the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Gateshead use to live in the shadow of Newcastle but since the developments on the south side of the river it is now its equal – at least in cutural offerings!

I’ve lived in the NE for forty years and think it is a great part of Britain to live in. Apart from the city-life and cultural attractions it is near the North Sea, the Northumberland coast is an area of unspoilt natural beauty (Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands are definitely worth a visit) , the Cheviots are accessible and the Lake District is a 2hr drive away!