A Day in Venice – By New Venetian Resident and AHA Alum, Anna Fothergill

As part of my studies in History of Art at the University of Warwick, there comes the opportunity to spend the autumn term of my third year in one of the greatest, and most unique, artistic centres of the world. This term abroad is the reason I choose Warwick and two years have flown by. I am now officially living and working in Venice for ten weeks and of course this fantastic and rare chance had to be documented for AHA readers.

Sunset over Santa Maria de Salute - Own photo

I have survived a full week in this watery paradise and I can safely say there is no fear I will run out of things to do, nor will I ever get bored of the stunning canal views over every bridge. Over the next ten week I hope to share some of the beauty of the city, the best places to eat and drink and some of the oddities that are only noticed one you live in a place.

Typically, a day might start by being woken up by the clanging of bells across the city (at first rather magical, but the midnight bell tolls are proving irritating). Since I am up, there is the need for coffee, so I stroll sleepily down the road, over the canal to my local coffee bar, where I use my limited (but improving) Italian to ask for a caffe latte. In true Italian fashion, I stand at the bar sipping away, enjoying the rapid chatting around me, a chorus of “Ciao”’s and “Buongiorno”’s. Once I have fuelled up on coffee, its time to get ready for the day.

Own Photo
A morning necessity - Own photo

With some free time in the morning, it is time for touristing. When I initially arrived, I wanted to go and see and do everything in the first week. I have decided to pace myself a bit more, once the full realisation that I am here for ten weeks sunk in. So I allow myself to get a bit lost in the crowds and find new routes. Despite being October, it is really warm and sunny here and there are still hundreds of tourist flooding in everyday. One quickly learns the winding back streets and shortcuts of Venice, and in fact the best shops, restaurants and friendliest people are often found off the beaten track.

Being a History of Art student, naturally I hit the galleries, the Guggenheim in particular. It has been one of my favourite galleries since visiting with AHA, due to the layout as well as the content, and a free day can easily be spent there admiring Peggy Guggenheim’s extensive collection.

Guggenheim - Own photos

In the afternoon, I usually have seminars and this particular aspect of being here certainly bring back memories of my AHA tour. We have seminars on site, awkwardly and eagerly writing down information whilst standing in front of our topic. The experience of seeing the live work as it is explained to you is a far more engaging method than powerpoint and a classroom and I am thoroughly enjoying getting to experience it again.

Evening approaches and life slows down a bit. From about 4 o’clock onwards, people will be sitting in cafes with a spritz aperol and bruschettas, chatting and taking it easy. So of course I join in, having always a weakness for prosecco. This is a wonderful time of day.

Aperitifs - Own Photo

After an aperitif and a bowl of pasta for dinner, it is an easy walk to Campo Margherita, the resident student piazza, where the is prosecco is cheap, the company great and the pizza slices substantial. Usually the rest of the Warwick course end up here for a few laughs and catch up about what they have discovered in Venice that day. A great place to get to know the Venice students and meet the locals before heading home to bed, eagerly to bring on the next day in Venezia.

Look out for more blogs about Anna in Venice soon.

 

 

Own Image

 

 

 

 

Under a Tuscan Sky: AHA alum Anna Fothergill reviews Tuscany’s lesser know treasures.

During my AHA experience, back when I was a young bright Gap Year student, drinking in the wonders of Italy (as well as the prosecco), the days we spent in Florence and Siena secured themselves a special place in my Italian Romance. And for so many others, the lure of Tuscany is undoubtedly present. This summer, I was fortunate enough to return to the land of pencil cedars, rhythmic hills and Medici fortunes. And I soon realised, that while Florence and Sienna might be the most famous gems of Tuscany, the surrounding region has ancient villages atop every hill, and endless landscapes to fill any camera.

 

View from San Gimignano - Own photo

So if you are drawn back to the heat and beauty of Tuscany, here are some places to consider visiting if you want a taste of real Italian life.

1) San Gimignano. A name which you may have heard, but know little about. I spent one gelato-meltingly hot day there, and was awestruck by the quiet beauty of it. Be warned that most of your time will be spent walking around looking skyward to the 14 remaining “power-towers”, which give San Gimignano it’s distinctive skyline. The town appeared to me like a 14th century Manhattan, with each stone skyscraper attempting to tower over its neighbour. There is a gelateria that claims to be the World Ice Cream Champion, and of course I sampled it to assure you all that it lives up to its title. If you wander into the Duomo, first being wrapped in Crete paper to protect your modesty, the church is illuminated with wall to wall frescos that for me were reminiscent of those in Giotto’s Area Chapel in their colour brilliance and animated expressions. The hellish portrayal of gluttony was particularly descriptive.

 

Sam Gimignano

 

Frescos in San Gimignano Duomo

Should you leave San Gimignano in search of new adventures, a place for a true taste of local Tuscan life is Montepulciano, a town where they have their own version of the Palio…trading the horses for barrel rolling. The town has wide, movie set streets and bars resting on sloped paved roads, any number of which will serve for apperitvi, before you head to the viewpoint to take in the sweeping countryside. A highlight of this town for me was the atmospheric Ristorante sotto L’arche, a pizzeria which seated you under a canopy of a lighted arch, the owner greets you as his own family and live music accompanied every bite of the unforgettable pizza (the real Italian stuff, not your standard Dominoes). The meal was loud with laughter and music, the manger himself as concerned with performing an aria as he was dutiful to his customers. Definitely  worth a visit.

Primi Piatti - Own photo

For those who wish for rest and relaxation, an escape from the endless supply of cultural wonders, it can be found at the villas of La Foce. The massive estate has a fascinating history as well as breathtaking views. Built on the volcanic lands of Val del’Orcia, it has served as a farming estate, was taken over by Nazis, secretly fed artisans during WW2, and today one can tour the gardens, relax by the pool and even attend olive oil tastings – the golden syrup is grown right beside your villa. The whole complex radiates with the smell of cedars, lavender and olives. the coolness and calm of La Foce is an oasis in the dry Tuscan heat.

La Foce

Sunset over La Foce -own photo

These are just a few of the things I was fortunate enough to discover in only a week. This is what amazed me about Tuscany. How there can be so much to do if you desire to do things, yet such an emphasis on Italian lifestyle. On enjoying eating and drinking, taking hours over meals, feeling no pressure to go to any 14th century town today because it will still be there tomorrow. If you are in Tuscany in the next year, know that you can see as much or as little as you want, and it will still be a wonderful Italian holiday. Of course, there is always Florence.

Firenze -own photograph

 

Kaleidoscope Landscapes and Playful Goats: John Craxton, by AHA alum Anna Fothergill

John Craxton. The name many have little significance to the British public, but his recent exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge (which closed at the end of last month) served to change the fact.  And with just cause. The British-born, Mediterranean-bred artist, produced some of the most vibrant and beautiful work I have encountered in a while. Despite the small scale of the exhibition, it demonstrated the evolution and diversity of Craxton’s work, from delicate line drawings, to geometric landscapes.

Pastoral for P.W, 1948, Oil on canvas

Inspiration from artists like William Blake, Picasso and Samuel Palmer is clear throughout his oeuvre. His friendship and teaching from Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud also found its way into the young man’s work. He was also appreciated as a good companion as well as an artist and the variety of his art testifies to his colourful character.

Lucian Freud, 1946, Conte pencil
Portrait of Sonia, 1948-57, Oil on Canvas

 

It was Craxton’s first visit to Greece in 1946 that  inspired him with light, food, landscape and nature. His work shed the slight gloom of his youth and took on the romanticism of the Mediterranean, where he spent the majority of his adult life. He demonstrated a unique ability to capture the easy pace of these sunny regions and the unique characters he encountered there. Many of his larger scale works are of pastoral scenes and the use of block colours, effective layering and intentional compositions work in harmony to  give an impression of an exotic culture – one that any traveller to Greece or Sicily will be familiar with. There is no doubt that his landscapes are seeking to create arcadia with their serene shepherds, chromatic light and whimsical goats.

Landscape with derelict Windmill, 1958, Oil on board

Still Life with Three Sailors, 1980-85. Tempera on Canvas

However, the most interesting aspect of Craxton’s work did not occur to me until after I had stood enjoying Landscape with the Elements, a monumental kaleidoscopic work. Craxton was producing works such as these in the aftermath of the Second World War, wanting to project a joyful, energetic picture of life – life in Europe that was continuing despite the years of loss they had suffered. To this end, he painted images of thriving landscapes, flourishing feasts and animated locals. Because he chose to remain in Greece for the remainder of his life, his work was not celebrated by the British art world for many years. Thankfully, it is now possible to view Craxton in the context of history and see him as a joyous contrast to the horrors occurring during his lifetime.

 

Landscape with the Elements, 1973, Oil on board

His paintings have a personal sensitivity to them and also capture the fullness of a life lived. He will amaze you with his talent, complexity, simplicity and emotional narrative. And his goats really are humorous too.

Study for Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape, 1950,

Lights in the Landscape – The New Trend in Land Art and Installation by Anna Fothergill

My recent research has brought to light (pardon the pun) a trend which seems to be gaining popularity with both artists and the general public; the use of lights in ways and places they do not belong. It seems to me, there is a fascination in the collective artistic world of the way electric light can be manipulated in art. This is being done in many ways, such as in  Jessica Lloyd-Jones’s glass human organs containing neon lights or any display from Gent’s yearly Light Festival, an event which is definitely on my bucket list. However, I think it is the subtler use of light that appeals to the general public. Specifically, stimulated lighting in a natural setting.

Copyright Barry Underwood
Copyright Barry Underwood

The placement of ethereal shapes in a landscape creates a juxtaposition of a traditionally urban feature and nature, yet when it’s done well, there does not seem to be anything unnatural about it. The work of an artist like Barry Underwood perfectly illustrates how well this creation of an electric environment works in beautiful harmony, despite all logic.

Copyright Barry Underwood

Works such as these, whilst falling under the category of ‘land art’, also span many other mediums, and this could explain why it has gained such popularity. This fascination has even seeped its way into national advertising, like Ikea’s recent advert. These light installations are sculptures, surreal photographs and now advertising agents. Underwood’s work seeks to turn the everyday into something unique and unusual. These images, to me, are reminiscent of fairy tales, of something magical happening away from the every day world. They are scenes from a mysterious play, and each installation has its own dream-like narrative, which the viewer cannot help but be drawn to.

Copyright Barry Underwood

The collision of the material and the natural world generates a refined contrast.

Copyright Barry Underwood

The strange beauty of light cannot be captured to its fullest extent but this has not stopped artists from trying and at the heart of this use of light, we essentially see an example of the human condition, choosing light over darkness. Barry Underwood’s lights in a night landscape brilliantly brings together all aspects of installation, photography and a basic human instinct.

Copyright Barry Underwood
Copyright Barry Underwood

The Body in Art: Latest exhibition to open at The Herbert Art Gallery

Throughout art history, the body has been manipulated, idealized and explored by artists. There is a fascination as to the way it works, how one unified form can come in so many shapes, both beautiful and ugly. I found I was no stranger to this fascination after going to see the latest exhibition to open at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, which combines a range of artist’s studies of the human form. The exhibition’s focal inspiration is the story of Pygmalion from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the tale of an artist who sculpted a woman in ivory who was so beautiful that he fell in love with her and asked Venus to breathe life into the work.

Pygmalion - Edward Burne-Jones 1878

This story opens up complicated ideas about the relationship between the artist and their work and the exhibition brilliantly elaborates on this idea. Can an artist create something so perfect that we mistake it for reality? Should art depict total reality, or seek to rise above human imperfection? Portrayals of the body are used to remember, study and document the delicate and complex way our forms work. For this particular exhibition, although the area where it is held is small, the arrangement of space, and progression of works means the viewer is taken through the narrative of the body. Traditionally, the creation of the “ideal” body was seen as one of the highest achievements an artist can strive for and much of the art of Classical and Renaissance Periods sought to show the strength, agility and idealized perfection of the body. Indeed, the show’s earliest work by Durer is a print of the strong, overly muscled Hercules.

 

Hercules at the Crossroads - Albrecht Durer 1498

While these versions of perfection are of course beautiful, I found that the most striking and interesting study of the body was when the artist made no effort to hide the flaws of their subject. We see idealized Venues and luminous nudes in so much of the art of Western culture, but as you wandered through the history of the exhibition, the focus moves away from this archetypal form to real studies of blemished body. Perhaps the reasons this exhibition inspires such interest is the fact that it does not simply use the beauty from the Pygmalion story, but gives us, who are indeed imperfect bodies, a relatable experience. This is why the piece I found most striking from the exhibition, and I encourage you to look out for it, if you happen to visit, is Freud’s Woman with an Arm Tattoo, the latest work in the collection.

Woman with an Arm Tattoo 1996 by Lucian Freud 1922-2011

This image, drawn in black ink, is pretty hideous. There is no effort to flatter the sitter, with her bulging arms and way her hand is almost lost in her greasy hair in her despairing pose. She is no beauty. But the drawing is so unusual that I found it led me to question the traditional way I have regarded the body in art before.

The exhibition also includes works from Ford Maddox Brown, Francis Bacon, Gillian Wearing and a variety of others and each present new and dynamic ideas. It is running until the 31st April and I would highly recommend you pop in and have a wander around if you get the chance.

Lily Cole by Gillian Wearing 2009

 

Mad Man Dali: Artist or Icon? by AHA alum Anna Fothergill

Salvador Dali. The name immediately conjures up hallucinogenic images of dropping clocks and elongated body parts. He has never been one of my favourite  artists and indeed many critics were captured by his narcissistic nature rather than his surrealist art. He was once quoted to have said “”every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali”

Mr Dali

Nevertheless, his work has many loyal fans, even if I am not one of them. My exposure to Dali happened whilst I was spending a sunny week in Mallorca, thoughts of art and university far from my mind. One day, a bit of culture was called for. And so in the lovely city of Palma, a tiny exhibition of Dali sketches was discovered in a typical Mediterranean apartment, tucked away in some back street. The sketches I saw here were delicate pen drawings, often showing brutal and uncomfortable subjects. Initially, I was drawn to the soft colours and bareness of the paper, but as I studied the sketches, Dali’s love of the erotic and grotesque became profusely clear. His work attacks any kind of rationality and
in a sense, this is entirely reflective of Dali’s personality. I have to say, I was slightly repulsed by many of these sketches. However, a certain captivation began to take hold regarding the man himself. It seemed to me that the name Dali was more famous in the art world than any work he had produced. His obsession with projecting an image of himself means we will instantly recognise the waxed moustache and wild eyes, but give us a surrealist painting and we may not straightaway attribute it to Dali.  He has become a cultural icon with the title ‘artist’ as an afterthought.

 

Salvador Dali: The-Persistence of Memory-1931

There are countless stories of Dali’s outlandish actions, one in particular happened in 1973, when Dali pushed over the projector at contemporary film maker’s screening, claiming the man had stolen Dali’s idea, an idea he had never written down or told anyone but he swore that the filmmaker, “stole it from my subconscious!”. It was antics like bringing Russian wolfhounds to exhibitions, dining with kings or going to a fancy dress party as the Lindbergh baby that gained Dali fame and repute.  His involvement in movements such as Dadaism and the Surrealism, along with his eccentric political stance were all attempts to cultivate an eccentric image of himself. One critic said “it was Dali’s obsession with his image that was ultimately his downfall.” The fantastical stories that surround this man are essentially what interested me, far more than the sketches I was looking at. He was controversial, offensive, brilliant and arrogant. His work did indeed go on to influence many of today’s artists, and even today his moustache is as well known as the man himself. Whatever your feelings towards the work of Dali, you certainly cannot ignore the mad man.

Exciting New Controversy Surrounding the Turin Shroud, by Anna Fothergill

For many centuries, the Turin Shroud has been cloaked in mystery and debate. The single piece of cloth shows an image of a skeletal like figure, with wounds consistent with someone who was crucified. Is this iconic image really that of Christ? The image is certainly much clearer in its black and white negative, adding to its divine nature. For many years, devout believers have flocked to the relic, despite scientific speculation, and it has proved to be a source of sacred comfort.

The scientific story of the shroud has in recent months taken a new twist. The Shroud has undergone numerous tests in chemical, biological and optical image analysis. Original radiocarbon dating tests of the Shroud, placed its creation back to the Middle Ages, and it was therefore written off as a medieval forgery; another relic whose origins had been glorified through myth and propaganda. In 1978, a team of American scientist tested some strands of the cloth, claiming to find no solid evidence that it was in fact a forgery. The question about how the image appeared on the length of linen was still a mystery. However, since 2005, suggestions were made that the samples used had in fact been damaged fragments from a fire the Shroud survived in the Middle Ages. This caused an even greater increase in the interest of the Shroud’s murky history. However, in recent months, new types of tests carried out by Giulio Fanti, (a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University) have caused a stir in both the scientific and Catholic world. The tests were carried out through a form of radiation and have in fact, dated the Shroud back to the time of Christ, specifically 300 BC to 400AD.

 

Image pointing out wounds

This discovery is being disputed on every front for its scientific validity, however the tests have at last provided some kind of answer for the imprinted image. Mr Fanti was quoted in a recent Telegraph article as describing the stamp as being “caused by a blast of ‘exceptional radiation’”, more specifically, a blast of radiation from the inside out.

 

Image comparison of Christ

What does a discovery of this kind mean for the art and papal community? The Catholic Church has never confirmed or denied the authenticity of the Shroud, but have been greatly encourage by this new research.

Devotional Showing of the Shroud

The image of Christ is one that has long been established, the oval face with neat beard and parted hair. Despite the biblical commandment against creating idols, Christ’s face evolved from images that where supposedly not made by human hands. While many will defend vigorously that the Shroud is a fake, I wonder why there is such an aversion to considering the relic as authentic. Perhaps because of the divine and historical implications the Shroud would have if ever proved genuine. The thought that a man called Jesus might have been crucified and risen through a “blast of exceptional radiation”, is certainly an uncomfortable one to our society today.

 

The Tapestry at Coventry Cathedral: by Anna Fothergill

The cathedral of Coventry is famous for its celebration of building something new out of something old that had been dramatically destroyed.  Like Achilles arising from his funeral pyre, or the mythical Phoenix, Coventry Cathedral was re-born.  Since the trauma that the city underwent, there grew a desire for the new Cathedral to be created in an entirely modern and revivalist manner, in both its architectural design, and for the art works inside.

 

The Ruins of Coventry Cathedral

This task fell to Sir Basil Spence, and he ultimately designed the ‘jewel box’ Cathedral. Within the new, innovative building, is the vast tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland, and it certainly captures your attention. Christ looks out from an emerald background, surrounded by stylized versions of the four evangelists.  What makes this image of Christ instantly recognizable is Sutherland’s decision to draw on the traditional iconography of us as a society associate with Christ. Over thousands of years, Christ has maintained the same basic facial physiology such as the oval face, long nose and signature parted hair and small, clean cut beard.  Combined with his piercing gaze and the presence of the halo, the majority of society would be familiar with this stereotypical view of Christ.

The tapestry

 

The importance of Christ Jesus as an icon is not something to be ignored. For Sutherland, his image of Christ had to be instantly distinguishable, due to the size and position of the work. Christ’s representation strives to somehow embody and invoke his presence within the Cathedral and this reflects an important ideal in Christian teaching with regards to the Eucharist and receiving Communion. The tapestry serves to direct the mind of the congregation to a further reverence and appreciation of spiritual matters. Christ’s very insistent and assertive stare is one we certainly cannot escape from, a reminder perhaps to the congregation that Christ sees into every part of us .  As humans, we are drawn to eyes and so the use of the full frontal gaze is very effective.

 

The Face of Christ

The tapestry produces a sense of awe and overwhelms the viewer with the grandeur and majesty of Christ.  As we look deeper into the tapestry,we gain a sense of Christ’s humanity, which is further emphasised by the wounds he shows us. The ambiguous halo that surrounds his head, coupled with the life-sized figure of a man at his feet serves to remind us of our own mortality. All this considered, the image’s glory is undeniable. The success of Sutherland’s tapestry comes from its ability to invoke familiar religious imagery and yet be modern and innovative in its approach.  A highly suitable piece for a rebuilt Christian Cathedral, a structure which by its very nature is a metaphor for the Christian expectation of resurrection.

The Tapestry within the Cathedral

 

Creation of a Portrait by Anna Fothergill

Portraits are something we are faced with (pun intended) everyday. Cameras have made it possible for everyone to capture their likeness and as I studied the relationship between photography and portraits, I discovered there is actually a lot more to creating an image of a person than its physical accuracy. So one rainy afternoon my flat mates were hood winked into the first of many photography projects. The idea: Write one word on a piece of paper that describes something they want to be MORE of, e.g decisive, generous, and daring. Here are the resulting images, with slightly edited text:

 

It was truly fascinating to see what people came up with. Some took longer than others, some answers were surprising, but by doing this, I looked at the way, when a portrait is taken, the subject wants to be shown in a particular light. From this, I as the artist am in a unique position of power, to decide whether or not they get to be shown in that way. I chose whether or not their individuality gets taken away. By placing many portraits of different people together, the only way to keep that individuality is by the word they have chosen and displayed. An interesting tension between physical accuracy and inner character arises when the subject is asked to describe themselves.

However, so to add to this idea, I wanted to take away the subject’s exact likeness. In this way, it is a portrait, as they have that word. What I quickly realised was that again tension was created when I drew in the faces rather than leave the photographic likeness:

Tom
Anna

While the subject still has recognisable features, there is now a disconcerting element to the portraits. A side point is that interestingly enough, the words people choose where, for each individual, perfect words as to how I as their friend saw them, and yet they are claiming they want to have more of that quality. This introduces ideas of how one views one self and how they actually are perceived by the outer world. A third party had no other indication other than the word on the piece of paper about the character of this person, and from that, they assume it is true. Our minds find it hard to believe what the camera depicts as anything other than truth. I as the photographer know whether or not my subjects are the characteristics they chose to display. This was a very interesting project and I encourage you to think about these aspects next time you are taking candid snapshots.

Thank you to all my flat mates who partook in this!

Here are some of the out-takes from this shoot:

C-Field

You can read more from Anna here

Good, Bad and Modern Government

Having recently been back to stunning Siena on a sneaky pre-university trip with my mother, I simply had to take her to see the famous and important Lorenzetti fresco series of Good and Bad Government. Once again, I was struck by the figures, by the delicate grace of Pax, lounging on the hidden armour, and by the amount of complexity that could be painted into one fresco. Since I started Art History at Warwick University, this fresco series has turned up numerous times. Medieval Art was intended for study, only for learned men, none more so than The Nine, who sat in the Palazzo Pubblico, discussing the best way to govern Siena, the momentous eye of Good Government looming over them. The figures of Faith, Hope and Charity hover disembodied above The Commune of Siena who is aided by elegant and strong female representations of virtues such as Fortitude Prudence, Temperance and Justice. The mirrored layout of Bad Government on the left wall provides a poignant contrast.

Good Government Detail Copyright Web Gallery of Art

As I considered their gracious strength, I wondered are these virtues any less important in today’s government? And is there a modern day equivalent of this allegory for our own government to look to? Not having an immediate answer, I did the modern thing. I Googled it. The range of answers was inconclusive and thoroughly negative which made me think, that the virtues Lorenzetti depicted, while they should be important, are not. Since nowadays we are bombarded by visual stimulation and information, we can know every detail about our government, and needless to say they are often portrayed as more like the tyrannical fanged figures on the Bad Government side.

Bad Government Detail, Copyright Web Gallery of Art

Is this simply bad press or bad politics? Maybe qualities such as patriotism, power and economic survival have overshadowed the Virtues of the Sienna fresco. However, while the years of the Nine were prosperous, they were eventually overturned. Maybe there is no perfect guide for Good Government, and Lorenzetti painted an idealistic dream that, while beautiful, is unrealistic. Nevertheless, the allegorical meaning in those amazing fresco’s is something which modern leaders and governmental figures can in fact look to, so they might be reminded of the potential their positions have, for good and for evil, just as the Nine did.

House of Commons
House of Commons 1893 Copyright Wikipedia

View of the frescos, Palazzo Pubblico. Siena. Copyright Web Gallery of Art

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