Tag: art

The amazing story of the Normandy artist behind the Water-Lilies

Just back home.

I spent last week on the Monet trail In Normandy, exploring sites associated with the father of the Impressionist art movement.

It was scorching hot and peak-season chaos but I could still get a sense of the delicious tranquility of Monet’s garden at Giverny [pictured above].

And, by visiting places in the Seine Valley between Paris and Rouen, I could also get a sense of the man behind the movement.

Best of all, a visit to the Musée d’Orangerie offered me a chance to get up close with his master opus, the Water-Lilies cycle — les Nympheas in French.

The article is for the November issue of France Magazine but, meanwhile, here’s a taster.

To get up close to the Water-Lilies requires a visit to Musée de L’Orangerie, tucked into the corner of the Tuileries Garden in Paris.

The eight compositions, moving from dawn to sunset across two light-filed rooms, form the striking centrepiece of the overall exhibition.

In the words of Monet himself, it was created to give “… the illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore”.

Story of the week: Snowdonia Arts Festival in Betws-y-Coed


I find Alison Bradley in the doorway of her Betws-y-Coed gallery checking the weather.

“I’m always struck by the movements in the clouds, the rain and the trees in the forest,” says the Nottingham-born artist, surrounded by her oil and charcoal Welsh landscapes from a landscape of a mist-shrouded Moel Siabod to dawn at Cwm Idwal.

“The Snowdonia weather is very changeable but it brings a dramatic variety of light and shade to the landscape.”

The Alison Bradley gallery opened two years ago in the Alpine-style village of Betws-y-Coed at the heart of the Snowdonia National Park.

Artistic legacy

But Alison is not the first artist to be inspired by the lush-verdant Gwydyr Forest on Snowdonia’s eastern flank, the valley-carving intersection of the Rivers Conwy and Llugwy, and the water-frothing Swallow Falls between Betws-y-Coed and Capel Curig.

While the village is better known today as a centre for walking, it was, in fact, home to Britain’s first ever artists’ colony.

The landscape artist David Cox, a contemporary of Turner, first came to Betws in 1844 to capture the transient beauty of the changing seasons in Snowdonia.

He made his summer base at the town’s Royal Oak Hotel and his students soon followed, establishing a popular retreat for artists during Victorian times.

His best-known work, A Welsh Funeral, inspired by the funeral of a young girl at the village’s 14th-century St Michael’s Church, is today exhibited at Tate Britain.

“Cox worked with atmosphere, the wind and rain, water running over stepping stones,” says Alison. “He was always checking the weather.”

Arts Festival

This October, a small but dedicated group of local people is staging the Snowdonia Arts Festival in Betws-y-Coed. The event is only the second of its kind and a refined version of the Betws-y-Coed Arts Festival held last spring.

This year’s festival features a much-expanded programme of exhibitions by Welsh artists and practical workshops by day, plus music, literary and poetry events by night.

The festival centre and a showcase of craft producers from across North Wales will be housed in a marquee on Cae Llan, the village green.

“Setting up a new arts festival from scratch is really hard work and we’ve definitely learnt some lessons along the way,” says Jon Davies, a professional picture framer by trade and member of the festival’s eight-strong festival committee.

“It takes a small group of like-minded people who are passionate about something to grow the festival organically over time and build support from the local community.”

The event is underscored by its community ethos. The organisers are local residents working in tourism, who run galleries, B&Bs and hotels amongst others.

They plan to make use of various public spaces around the village from the Memorial Hall, which will house drama workshops, to the Waterloo Hotel, home to an open exhibition of artists working in all disciplines from ceramics to 3-D artworks.

Amongst the festival highlights, the workshops, priced £24-50 per person, include sessions on working with watercolours and mixed media with local artists Chloe Needham and Eleri Jones.

Alison is hosting a workshop about painting outdoors. For people staying over for the weekend, places to eat round Betws, such as stylish cafe Plas Derwen and local stalwart Bistro Betws-y-Coed, will be showcasing the best of local produce.

“We want to open up Betws to people outside the traditional community of walkers and encourage them to see the place in a new light,” says Marion Owen, Secretary of the Snowdonia Arts Festival and owner of the Mair Lys B&B in Betws-y-Coed.

“The autumn colours are beautiful here and there are lots of artists, working in studios around the region, just waiting to be discovered.”

Art trail

Heading north through the Conwy Valley, the Mostyn gallery in Llandudno re-opened in May this year after three years of renovations.

The building, finally freed of scaffolding, looks aesthetically striking with the original terracotta facade restored to its turn-of-the-century finery and light, high-ceilinged galleries to show off the work of contemporary artists from around the world.

“There’s an increasingly lively arts scene across North Wales with artists like Bedwyr Williams coming back home to establish their practices. The ease of transport and communication is helping drive the largest return to Wales since the day’s of the Betws artists’ colony,” says Martin Barlow, Director of Mostyn.

But how some words of advice for the Snowdonia Arts Festival in its bid to establish a presence on the art circuit?

“Most arts events are born out of the passion and dedication of a small number of people at the outset,” he adds. “They need that to sustain them until they gain wider funding and support.”

Little acorns

Later that afternoon Alison leads me along the bustling, tree-lined main thoroughfare through Betws, the old Holyhead to London stage coach route.

Hikers are busily scouring the outdoor shops for bargains, families are devouring ice creams after rides on the model train and grandparents are browsing for souvenirs at Anna Davies, the history-packed independent department store with its lost-in-time feel.

The majority are probably are oblivious to the rich artistic heritage of the village, but clues abound.

Alison knows a hidden-gem hint to former glories. She leads me into the lounge-bar of the Royal Oak Hotel, where David Cox’s 1847 painting for the hotel sign still hangs above the fireplace.

In the wake of Cox, Betws remained an artistic community until the First World War. In 1882, the artist Clarence Whaite and other colony artists were instrumental in the founding of the Royal Cambrian Academy in nearby Conwy, a place to celebrate the art produced in, and inspired by, Wales.

Today, with a new generation of artists discovering Snowdonia as a place to fuel their artistic fire, its time has come again.

“We’re a small festival and the emphasis is currently on the quality of the art, not the visitor numbers,” says Alison.

“We hope the festival will, over time, put Betws-y-Coed on the map once more.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

Liked this? Try also Exploring Snowdonia in National Parks Week.

Rubens exhibition: where to see classical art in Antwerp


It was my last trip of the year. And a prodigal return to one of my favourite European cities: Antwerp.

I’ve covered everything from culture to chips previously but this assignment threw up a new angle – classical art.

The reason? A major new exhibition of works featuring Rubens and the artists he influenced, which opens at London’s Royal Academy in January 2015.

Antwerp is awash with references to the Flemish grand master and his influence extends to the contemporary art and fashion so prevalent in the city today.

I started my visit on a wintery December afternoon over coffee Nico Van Hout, Research Curator at Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts (closed until 2019 for refurbishment), who has curated the London exhibition. He said:

“Rubens is not about analysis but sensuality. The fluency of his brushwork and his use of colour makes him the artist’s artist.”

“He makes me feel very small. He lived the lives of fix or six men, yet did so at a time when Antwerp was the centre of social and political turmoil in Europe,” he added.

The story will be published in the Daily Express in January.

Meanwhile, that’s me done for another year. 45 commissions, 25 trips and three payments still outstanding from work completed this year.

Another year beckons and my posts resume here early January 2015. Expect more teaching, more family-travel assignments and more single-dad content to come.

Come along for the ride.


Royal Academy

KMSKA Antwerp

Visit Antwerp 

Story of the week: Discovering public art around England


* Image: Krzysztof Nowakowski for www.dphotographer.co.uk

They bring new meaning to ‘the greatest show on earth.’

Permanent works of art are now part of the British landscape and examples of monumental art have become part of our heritage over the years.

We discover some of the best for a day trip around the UK:

The Headington Shark, Oxford

A shark became the most famous resident of Oxford’s Headington district when it landed on the roof of 2 New High Street on 9 August, 1986.

The private residence is the home of BBC Radio Oxford presenter, Bill Heine, who commissioned the shark and still owns the house. The headless sculpture, officially called ‘Untitled 1986’, was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Created by the sculptor John Buckley, it is made of fibreglass and is 25 feet long. The shark had to be winched up by a crane overnight and local police were powerless to intervene as there is no UK legislation to prevent a man from putting a shark on his own roof.

Oxford City Council subsequently tried to get rid of the shark on the grounds that it was dangerous to the public, but engineers inspected the roof girders that had been specially installed to support it and pronounced the erection safe.

Today the shark lives on and, in the words of Heine: “{it} says something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”


Another Place, Merseyside

There’s a crowd gathering on Crosby beach – about 100 of them, in fact.

Cast-iron, life-size figures every one, they spread out along 3km of the foreshore, stretching almost 1km out to sea. Merseyside’s latest favourite artwork, Another Place, is the creation of Anthony Gormley, the winner of the 1994 Turner Prize and the man best known for his controversial sculpture, The Angel of the North (see below).

The Another Place figures, each one weighing 650kg, are made from casts of the artist’s own body, a trademark of Gormley’s work, and are shown at different stages of rising out of the sand, all of them staring out to the horizon in silent expectation.

The artist has described his work as a poetic response to the universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place. It has proven so popular that a campaign is now under way to keep the work in Crosby and not relocated, as previously planned, to, well, another place.


Angel of the North, Gateshead

She has a captive audience of over 90,000 motorists each day, plus rail passengers travelling on the East Coast mainline from London to Edinburgh.

She’s taller at 20m high than a five-storey building and has a wingspan of 54m wide – almost the same as a jumbo jet. The 208-tonne Angel of the North has gone from controversy to garnering praise as a landmark site for the Northeast England and one of Britain’s most important contemporary public artworks.

Another creation by Anthony Gormley (see above), he designed the stark, landscape-dominating sculpture as a link between earth and sky. The Angel is built to last for more than 100 years and withstand winds of more than 100 miles per hour, constructed from weather resistant steel that mellows with age.

The lady is not beyond some minor tinkering, however: the body is hollow to allow for internal inspections with an access door high up on her shoulder blade.


Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

Founded in 1977 and set in the beautiful grounds and gardens of a 500-acre, 18th-century country estate, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of the Britain’s leading open-air galleries with a changing programme of international exhibitions.

Most of all, it is synonymous with its display of 50-odd outdoor sculptures, of which the ten works by Henry Moore, the iconic figure of the Yorkshire sculpture scene, are the best known.

Scattered around the wide-open fields of the park, Moore’s works include Reclining Figure Arch Leg, located by the entrance as you drive up with the park stretching out behind it; and Draped Seated Women, one of his most-detailed female figures.

Get there for the 10am opening to enjoy the quietest time of the day and try to visit mid week rather than a Sunday to soak up the juxtaposition of nature and sculpture without the hordes. Unlike some stuffy indoor galleries, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is ideal for families.


B of the Bang, Manchester

Manchester has changed dramatically since the city hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

And nothing symbolises the urban renaissance of the city quite like B of the Bang, designed by the Heatherwick Studio and inspired by Olympic Gold Medal winning sprinter Linford Christie, who said that he started his race on the B of the Bang.

Today the sculpture is based at the City of Manchester Stadium, home of Manchester City Football Club. The sculpture is inclined at an angle of thirty degrees from the vertical and represents a major challenge of both construction and engineering.

B of the Bang is made of 180 steel spikes, including its five legs, which are arranged in elliptical clusters that radiate outwards from a single central point. The highest point of the sculpture is 55.44m above ground level, and 56m above the foundations to its five legs.

This makes the B of the Bang the tallest sculpture in the United Kingdom and just pips the 55.9m-high Leaning Tower of Pisa.

* It was subsequently melted down – see www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-18703854

The Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Benjamin Britten used to take his afternoon constitutional along Aldeburgh’s windswept beach, a short distance north of the town centre.

To commemorate Britain’s legacy, the Suffolk-based artist and sculptor Maggi Hambling, also known for her memorial to Oscar Wilde in central London, created Scallop, a 4m-high sculpture in stainless steel.

The piece is made up of two interlocking scallop shells, each broken, the upright shell being pierced with the words: “I hear those voices that will not be drowned.” The wording is taken from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

Hambling unveiled her opus work to a storm of controversy in November 2003. The artist claimed she hopes people will take a seat on the clam and enjoy the view, but opinion among the local community was deeply divided.

In the first three months of 2004, the sculpture was twice vandalised by pouring paint over it; it was subsequently attacked with graffiti and there have been petitions to have it removed – controversy rages to this day.


The Willow Man, near Bridgwater, Somerset

Don’t panic: this is nothing to do the recent turkey of a film staring Nicholas Cage. It’s not even about the seminal 1973 original staring Edward Woodward.

The Willow Man is, in fact, southern England’s answer to the Angel of the North, an iconic image of Somerset’s rich willow heritage.

Immense wickerwork figures have been part of the English landscape since the time of the druids and the sculpture by the artist Serena de la Hay, who specialises in working with willow, was unveiled as a celebration of a rustic cottage industry. The creation subsequently burned down in May 2001, however, and the artists had to start on a replacement.

Today a new version of the man stands proud once more after the artist painstakingly reworked the fire-damaged structure.


The Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset

Drivers with delicate sensibilities are advised to avert their gaze when travelling along the A352 towards Sherborne.

The sight of a giant figure of a naked and impressively well-endowed man, on a hillside near the village of Cerne Abbas to the north of Dorchester, is quite an eyebrow raiser. The Cerne Abbas Giant or ‘Rude Man’ is the largest hill figure in Britain, and one of two representations of the human form along with the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex.

The origins of the 55m-high figure, carved in solid lines from the chalk bedrock, remains a source of dispute. Like other chalk figures carved into the English countryside, the Cerne Abbas giant is often mistakenly thought of as an ancient creation.

His history, however, can only be traced back to the late 17th century. Indeed, it is now believed that he was probably etched during the English Civil War. There has even been speculation that the figure is a parody of Oliver Cromwell, who was sometimes mockingly referred to as “England’s Hercules” by his enemies.

Either way, the combination of the enormous knobbed club, 36.5m long, and his equally impressive phallic talent, make for a distinctive landmark.


The Concrete Cows of Milton Keynes

It was the cows that did it for Milton Keynes.

The new city has one of the largest collections of outdoor public art in England with over 230 pieces of art located inside its boundaries. Since it’s inception in 1967, the city has commissioned numerous pieces, involving communities in the process, which vary in form from playground designs to street furniture.

The best-known example is, however, the Concrete Cows, designed by Canadian-born artist/sculptress Liz Leyh at Stacey Hill Farm, now the home of Milton Keynes Museum. Commissioned in 1978 using recycled materials, the work is among the earliest examples of conceptual art – the artist poking fun at the preconceived notion of the new city.

Their arrival was not greeted with universal acclaim. Indeed, during their lifetime the cows have been kidnapped twice, had pyjamas bottoms painted on them, been beheaded in the style of a Damien Hirst artwork and have acquired BSE (mad cow disease) graffiti.

The cows have had the last laugh: today they graze in peace.


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* This story was first published by Forward Publishing in 2006. Liked this? Try also Talking contemporary art in Burgundy.

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