Study visit – Nikolai Astrup

On Saturday 2nd April I attended. My second OCA study visit to the Dulwich picture gallery in London. The OCA tutor for the visit was Gerald Deslandes.

The visit started with a quick tour of the permanent collection of old master paintings. We were a fairly small group so managed to look at several of the paintings and to discuss common themes and motifs in portrait painting and the composition of landscape painting – which was very interesting.

After our tour of the collection we visited the Nikolai Astrup exhibition. Astrup is a contemporary of Edvard Munch but unlike Munch is not really known outside of Norway.

Astrup as well as a painter was a printmaker – he was a innovative printmaker with his own unusual techniques.

The exhibition occupied several rooms – using my note book I jotted down several notes  and observations  – these are my notes :

ROOM ONE

In this room were a group of paintings largely concerned with capturing the landscape of western Norway. I really liked how Astrup depicts  ordinary lives –  yet in an uniquely Nordic manner with the juxtaposition of country folk going around their ordinary rural lives but in an extraordinary way such as planting crops at midnight  in the light of a  full moon. Astrup seems to have captured the intensity of the light in a very expressionist style with loose fluid  brush marks.

ROOM 2

In ‘Spring night 1903’ Astrup uses blocks of colour to suggest the shape and structure of the bright green hues of the trees which add atmosphere to the scene – the full moon also seems to add a mysterious dimension to the painting. In ‘the open door’ an oil painting dated before 1911 he depicts the tranquil scene of a summer garden glimpsed from an interior view. There are two contemplative women one standing and one seated looking out on to the view. Looking at the seated woman  I was instantly reminded of a painting I saw in London several years ago by Edvard Munch of his sister  Inga seated on some rocks.  Another  interesting oil painting ‘the shady side of the Jolster parsonage’ painted around 1908 depicts a small girl with her back to the viewer peering in to the window of the white parsonage. The windows are dark yet there is a suggestion of something happening behind them , with tiny brush strokes that add very small patches of colour onto the Matt flat darkness of the glass window panes.  I really liked the serene harmony of the  muted pale  colours – the pale blue of the child’s simple dress and the brightness of the blue sky and the pure white of the calm clouds all suggesting an idyllic scene of childhood innocence.  another dreamy serene domestic scene captured in oil is the highly decorative ‘birthday in the parsonage garden ‘ 1911-1927. Again a very happy  family scene – there is a young mother dressed in a striking patterned dress looking on at some children enjoying a tea party – even the very youngest child is holding and drinking from a China cup. The cosy domestic scene reminded me of  the work of the Swedish artist and illustrator Carl Larsson. However the way Astrup has painted the pattern on the woman’s dress seems  very reminiscent of the work of the French artists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. I also really like the way Astrup has painted the landscape of the garden with rich colours – the way he has suggested the texture of the bark of the silver birch tree with sparse use of paint and his expressionist  brush marks. Next to this painting is another painting of the same  young woman wearing the blue and white  patterned dress called ‘ rhubarb ‘ the woman is bending to pick very vividly painted red rhubarbs observed by a young child . Around her the trees are covered in blossom. The structure of the trees suggest that Astrup was influenced by Japanese printmaking which was very fashionable in France and was also a major influence on several artists including Vincent Van Gogt. The posture of the mother figure also reminded me of works by the English artist Stanley Spencer.

In ‘grey spring evening ‘ painted before 1908 Astrup conveys the end of the winter by depicting trees sporting the promise of new growth. In the distance there is a snow topped mountain. In the middle ground you can just made out a tiny silhouetted figure in a rowing boat. Another painting ‘March atmosphere at Jolstrauatnd ‘ again is concerned with the end of winter and the advent of Spring. Like many of Astrup work the composition is heavily influenced by Japanese prints.

‘barren mountain ( Kollen) 1905 – 1906 seems to  have an air of forbearing to it as it seems much darker in tone. The massive structure of the mountain dominates the centre plane of the painting. There is also an almost symbolic blossoming tree in the foreground and some Norwegian style buildings.  What I found particularly interesting about this oil painting is the way he suggests the immensity and darkness of the mountain which almost looks like a huge mythical creature  or a large bird of prey with folded wings. Another interesting aspect of this work is that Astrup disregards the technique of aerial perspective with the darkness of the background yet the painting  still seems to work.

THIRD ROOM – printmaker 1

As well as being a painter Astrup produced a large volume of prints. He had admired Japanese woodcuts during a visit to Paris in 1902 and also when visiting London in 1905. Astrup had a very different method he worked without any printing equipment and used oil based paints. He would lay the paper on to his block then rub by hand with a cotton reel or a piece of wood covered by rags to imprint the image on to the paper. Astrup mainly used 4 different blocks sometimes carving on both sides of the block. Often he would re-touch the final image adding extra details to the design. He worked several versions of the same themes. He would come back to a print revisiting them over an extended period of time, later he would add paint onto the image.

There were 2 versions side by side of a print entitled ‘ Bird on stone’ before 1908 the colours of the blue really shone out with a very Japanese influenced composition. Many of the woodcuts  on show explore the changing seasons with melting snow on the mountains and the moon reflecting on the lake very similar to several of  the paintings  on display in the first room.

FOURTH ROOM – printmaker 11

In this room Astrup has developed his print making further – in these prints he has reworked the colour by applying layer on layer of bright colours onto each of the impressions – the effort is extraordinary the richness of the vivid colours product almost a luminous glow that give this  set of print a visionary and dreamy feel. When I first entered the room standing back the images looked almost like rich bright tapestries as they had a raised like surface to them   – an amazing effect. Again Astrup has produced several versions repeating themes and motifs. I was particularly drawn to a large woodcut ‘foxgloves ‘ in which two young girls dressed head to toe in bright vivid red with baskets are gathering berries in a woodland landscape densely covered by trees , wild flowers and foliage. This  print has a strange naive quality – the foxgloves at the left of the foreground look almost too large? And the posture of the two bending girls looks almost unnatural and awkward. Yet it is a magical scene an almost Mesmerising snapshot of  a timeless rural wood.

Another hi light is an oil painting ‘marsh marigold and double rainbow’ 1918 again the rich bright intensity of the colours literally sing and glow.

FIFTH ROOM – SANDALSTRAND

After marrying a local pleasant girl called  Engel Sunde in 1902 the young couple moved first to Mylcreburst before settling in 1912 to a small holding on a north facing slope above the lake in Sandalstrand. Over the next fifteen  years Astrup transformed the property into a family home to accommodate his large family adding on the land additional traditional Nordic  buildings. The gardens provided him with  inspiration and  he also produced work celebrating family life. In Christmas Eve at Sandalstrand ‘ Astrup captures family life in two woodcuts ( one in monochrome). These seem very intimate showing a simple scene complete with a traditionally decorated Christmas tree. This motif is explored in ‘interior still life/ Christmas morning ‘ a large oil painting that shows a laden table filled with lavish fruit such as Apples, bananas and peppers. I was intrigued to see that they had bananas in December in western Norway? The scene is lit by candlelight that emphasises the cold but bright December light just glimpsed outside the window. There is a figure of a naked child seated to the right of the table Contemplating the table and its contents. The figure of the child is under painted suggesting that the work may be  unfinished?

‘interior still life ( living room at Sandalstrand) c.1921 again depicts  a similar scene with a table with dressed with  a traditional Norwegian hand made  table cloth , on the table is a vase of flowers, a potted plant , China cups and jug and apples. Leaning against the jug is a child’s abandoned toy.

THE LAST ROOM

The last part of the exhibition is filled with large paintings that explore outside life. The room seemed to glow from the effect of the bright colours. These large works seem to capture more than a sense of place and culture as they suggest magic and folklore – creating a sense of a childish lost life , looking back on past traditions.  I really felt the intensity of the bonfires radiating out of the pictures – Astrup used glowing colours including a fierce orange. In ‘Midsummer eve bonfire’ 1912 retouched in 1927 ( right at the end of his life) Astrup is recalling the midsummer celebrations where the entire community would rejoice together. The imagery is extraordinary and very powerful- I could sense the excitement, and the noise of the celebration. In the foreground there is a small poignant  silhouette of a small figure ( a young boy? ) , lonely and separate set apart from the main celebrations . The figure is painted from behind and is looking into the heart of the flames. Another large  canvas ‘ midsummer eve bonfire’ again is of a large symbolic blazing fire with bright orange light leaping into the sky – couples dressed in traditional costume are seen dancing together    Watched closely by a young woman with a swollen pregnant belly ( perhaps a symbol of fertility?)

As a young child Astrup was forbidden by his pastor father to attend the midsummer celebrations – this sense of exclusion clearly seemed to have lasting effect on him , which seems to have led him to recall and evoke the midsummer rituals. Could the young boy in the silhouette symbalise the young Astrup?

MY PERSONAL RESPONSE TO NIKOLAI ASTRUP PAINTING NORWAY

I have always been interested in Nordic art as I really like Edvard Munch.Several years ago I went to an exhibition at the Hayward gallery in London called  ‘dreams of a summer night ‘ where a collection of works by Scandinavian artists including Munch were collected together. The exhibition sought to explore how the midnight sun  and the intensity of the northern light influenced the way the painters worked. It was an interesting and insightful show  it introduced me to artists such as Elif Petersson, Harold Sohlberg and Vilhelm Hammershoi. I still have the exhibition catalogue. Nikolai Astrup did not feature at all in this show so I come new to his work at Dulwich.

I really loved the show it was magical, strange exciting and exhilarating.  The way he worked with printmaking was very interesting. I loved the way he evoked mood though the landscape. I also liked the way the exhibition was curated allowing the viewer insight into his working methods – there were some of his photographs and wood blocks displayed  in a cabinet. I really lost myself in his almost visionary landscape. I have just completed the third part of drawing one – working outside including looking at clouds , trees , landscape and townscapes so this study visit really fitted in well with my personal development and progress on my course. I have recently spent some time researching how the landscape of an environment impacts on the artist’s vision and work – which I definitely sensed looking at Astrup’s work. Unlike’s Munch gloomy subjects Astrup seem to celebrate his Norwegian culture and capture the joy of his environment.

many thanks to the Open college of the Arts for organising the trip and to Gerald our tutor for the visit.

also thanks to the Dulwich picture gallery for introducing me to the work of Nikolai Astrup

 

Drawing one – part 3 outdoors – final assignment piece and reflection

I used ink blocks , water and a brush for the final piece of assignment 3. Armed with A2 cream paper pinned on my drawing broad and all my sketches , sketchbook and notes I drew on location. I decided to stand up to draw  as I felt this offered the best view of the building. I worked fairly quickly as I was standing. I had s couple of breaks and spend around one hour and 45 minutes on my drawing ( the criteria in my handbook says up to 2 hours on the main drawing) , I decided to leave out some of the tree branches as the composition seemed better and I also didn’t include the bench on the left hand side of the building as it seemed too fussy. My view from my standing postition is looking up though the trees and looking at the building . I found the building a challenge as it had straight vertical lines as well as a curved rounded edge as well as a domed roof. I decided on aerial perspective graduating the tones to suggest distance. The lower part of the trees , their foliage and the window panes were the darkest toned areas. I used brighter colours in the foreground. I deliberately under developed the domed roof as this part of the composition was furthest away. I didn’t finish the drawing but kept to the time scale of up to 2 hours. I felt parts of my drawing worked as I felt I had captured a fleeting moment outside on a sunny early April afternoon. But  I am not fully sure I have completely mastered perspective yet – so I feel that the building is definitely the weakest area of my drawing. I probably should have started again but I didn’t have time. I may re-work it !

My reflection on drawing one part 3 – a very challenging project but I really felt inspired and so far this has been my favourite part of the course. I really enjoyed working on location and really  enjoyed observing nature and watching the season subtly change. In January I observed bare branches and  now the trees have changed and developed new growth of blossom and foliage. I enjoyed all the research points and really found looking at landscape artists very helpful, inspiring and useful. I learn a lot about evaluing my environmental and how to record what I see. I learnt about perspective and how to suggest distance – although I still need to master some of the skills and techniques. I learnt about the golden ratio and the rule of thirds . I learnt how to use a viewfinder. I did a lot of looking and trying to capture atmosphere. I enjoyed particularly the studies of cloud formations , drawing trees and statutes – all useful at developing observational drawing. I learnt about composition looking at how to construct a foreground, middle ground and background. I learnt how a view can change just by changing directions and viewpoints . I looked at buildings and use of vertical and horizontal lines. I learnt that when drawing landscape you can decide to leave out things and it is okay to move things around to create a view that can be personal and emotive.

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Drawing one – part 3 -outdoors- assignment three

for assignment three the criteria is to draw an outdoors scene a view that includes natural objects including trees, plants etc and straight lined objects such as buildings , walls , fences etc to demonstrate an understanding of aerial or linear perspective.

I found my subject matter within the large and busy  Greenwich park there is a walled garden  which is tucked away behind a heavy iron fence called ‘the Royal observatory garden’ this little garden is filled with trees, shrubs and wildlife such as birds and squirrels. The garden is also landscaped, with stone steps disappearing within the green grassy pathways. Just above the  structured beds and trees is one of the Royal observatory buildings  – complete with a white dome and earthy brown bricks. Though the trees you can glimpse the dark window panes.

I began by doing some preliminary drawings and notes in my sketchbook- I tried different compositions some seated and some standing. I observated the lines and structural form of the building.

I also looked and recorded negative shapes within the branches of the three trees. Depending on where I drew I could observe either 2 or 3 trees.

I then did a almost abstract gouache painting exploring the shapes within and around the foliage and trees. I also did a colour pencil drawing and a detailed pencil sketch. I. Also did a large monochromatic ink  and wash sketch. I did a oil crayon drawing exploring colour. I looked at composition and varied it in my studies. I explored using marks with my media to suggest form and texture. I decided to explore aerial perspective using graduated tone.  I wanted to capture the essence and feeling of the place , as it is my favourite area of the park that I associate with childhood memories playing with my siblings and later with time spend there with my own daughter and even going there to watch open air Shakesperian productions , which always seemed magical. In many ways the park is a quiet oasis hidden away in the busy park. As children we used to call it the ‘the secret garden’ . I was keen to capture the magic of this little park.

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Drawing one part 3 – Townscapes exercise4 – outdoor statues

image.jpegThis exercise is about drawing and exploring outdoor public art statues – either in parks , streets or in Town squares.

I found my subject matter quite by chance – I had been sketching in Greenwich park and after finishing before walking home  I decided to walk up the hill to the  Royal observatory to look at a collection of astromology photos . Looking outside of the upper floor window I noticed a very eye catching statue – it was a figure of the back view of a man wearing a baggy costume. The statue had out stretched arms. I did a very quick pencil sketch as I liked the way the stark wintry sun reflected onto the cold metalic grey hue of the statue. The  shadows cast were very dark intense black- which added an interesting dimension to the statue.

I went downstairs to the courtyard garden of the  cafe where the statue is erected. I sat  at a table so that I could look up, directly at the statue. I established from reading the plaque that the statue was of the famous Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The art work is larger than life sized and the figure is balancing on top of a globe. I drew the statue using pencil and a Pitt graphic marker. I was keen to capture the intensity of the black shadows that had formed on the cold steel of the figure I particularly wanted to capture the way the light filtered on the baggy spacesuit. I added in details of the background as I wanted  to place the statue into its surroundings. Behind the statue are large and very Dark window panes. I also did another quick pencil sketch.

I did these drawings seated looking upwards at the very powerful statue. I really enjoyed this exercise as I felt that as well as observing and recording the essence of the statue I was also interpreting the sculptors vision of his subject matter. I feel that I had achieved something especially capturing the strong light and shadows playing across the smooth texture of the statue. I found the exercise a good way to try and hone my drawing skills particularly at this stage in my studies. i also felt that this  exercise helps with building drawing skills  particularly when working on location and also helps with gaining skills for observational drawing.

Drawing one -part 3 Townscapes exercise 3 – a limited palette study

The object is exercise 3 is to do a drawing using some of the  material from exercise 2 and to use a limited colour palette using no more than 3 colours. I worked from my pervious sketches choosing a design with strong vertical lines. I used water based inks using just brown, black and orange which I diluted with water. I plotted the main lines redrawing any errors as I built up the structure of the drawing and added tone. I really did not like my drawing  I think it looks too flat- if I had more time I would have started another drawing.image

Drawing one – part 3 -.project 5 – Townscapes – exercise 2 -study of Townscape in pen / ink

For this exercise I used heavy paper and I used a brush and ink diluting my ink to produce tonal values.

I chose for my subject the row of houses where I live. I t was 6pm just before sunset. The clouds were various shades of orange, yellow and purple. I did two sketches of the basic composition and shapes in my sketchbook also  I wrote some notes . It was a challenging drawing as there was a two point perspective so I had to keep changing and checking my horizontal and vertical lines.

I am not sure whether my drawing works as I am not sure that I captured the depth of tone. I also found the parked cars a major challenge. But having said that it was an interesting exercise,

Drawing one part 3 – project 5 townscapes – exercise 1 sketches of townscapes

This exercise is concerned with producing a serie of sketches of streets in Townscapes from industrial buildings to a collection of domestic houses.

For this exercise I decided to work on location at the Royal Naval college in Greenwich close to where I live.  The naval college is a world heritage site and has a colourful history, the buildings are large and can be overwhelming as they are large with a diverse collection of design features including domes, clock faces, towers, decorative plaster work with eroded carvings , the build work is different styles in places and there are a lot of Windows.

I found a comfy place to sit stone  steps leading to a courtyard facing a row of buildings. Using a 3B pencil I did a drawing of a section of the building on a 10cm square piece of paper and then another drawing again 10cm square but this time recording tones. I found this  challenging due to the scale of the buildings.  I found that as there was so much to draw I had to Make decisions on what I should include in my drawings. It was a cold Late March morning when I began my drawings. The sun was bright but low in the sky casting fairly muted shadows – the darkest tones were the window panes that were deep Matt black. I did some rapid drawings in my sketchbook attempting to capture loosely what I could see. I found the smallness of my sketchbook a challenge so  changed to loose sheets of A4 paper using graphic pen to do line drawings looking for interesting shapes . I also did a sketch looking up at the dome. I evaluated my work as I drew not using a rubber but instead re-drawing errors. I recalled John Virtues drawing methods – virtue was concerned with capturing the essence of the place  which I found an interesting and helpful approach when faced with  a very complicated building.

I spend 3 hours sketching and really felt a connection with the place – I felt like a small dot on the timeline of the historical buildings, some of the buildings are used as lecture rooms for the university of Greenwich and for a music college – today as it is the Easter break there were hardly any people about.

i wrote notes in my sketchbook,and evaluated my work with the notion of using some of the drawings for the basis of a larger drawing . I really enjoyed this exercise although I found perspective a real challenge .