Painterly Techniques

Having no creative talent whatsoever, I often marvel at how an artist actually creates. As a consequence, I try to look closely at the art work so I can see the brush strokes, thickness of paint, blending of colours etc. 

At the Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, I had the chance to get up and personal with David Bomberg and Francis Bacon and was struck by two techniques they employed. 

In this self portrait by Bomberg, look at the shading of his jaw line: a swirling line of dark grey is all it is! Yet, if I tried that, all you would see is a swirling line of dark grey!  Those rough strokes give a vibrancy to the portrait that should not be possible, but they do!  

In Portrait of Lisa, Bacon uses an unprimed canvas, as was his style but here he uses it as shading to create the shadowy contours of her face. Wonderful! 


More on David Bomberg

Sometimes insomnia can be a good thing as I’ve just discovered the online collection of the Ben Uri Gallery

Particularly liked Ghetto Theatre from 1920.


Painted in 1920, this is a tightly composed work reflects Bomberg’s unease following his war experiences. The gallery’s website had this to say:

In Ghetto Theatre, set in Whitechapel’s lively Pavilion Theatre, where the classics were performed in Yiddish, Bomberg returned to the subject matter and setting of a number of his earlier sketches. Possibly, he hoped to recapture something of his earlier exuberance. In contrast to his animated prewar theatre-goers however, these drably-dressed spectators with their mask-like faces and closed body language are indicative of his dismal, postwar vision. The hunched male figure (in the upper foreground) leaning wearily on a stick embodies his own personal disenchantment and the compressed space, cleaved by a bold and imposing balcony rail, echoes the claustrophobic tunnels of his wartime sappers. Only the bold sweep of red adds richness to an otherwise sombre palette. Painted on the eve of his departure from the East End, it reveals that for Bomberg, it was no longer a place of excitement and vitality. Yet elsewhere in a series of related Ghetto Theatre sketches, the artist’s looser handling once again liberates his audience from their constraints.

It is interesting to compare this work with one by Bomberg’s contemporary, William Roberts – The Cinema, also from 1920 where Roberts looks at the excitement generated by the Rise of the cinema as the main form of mass entertainment:

David Bomberg in Mayfair

This post comes with a note to self: When the Tate magazine comes through the post, read it straight away, otherwise you might miss something wonderful.

I almost missed an exhibition of some of Bomberg's works at Waterhouse and Dodd in Mayfair. Entitled 'Borough', this exhibition has bought together works by Bomberg and his students from the Borough Group.

There were two magnificent landscapes (at magnificent prices!) and the cover painting is 'Farm by the Sea' which is one of several canvases Bomberg did on a six week trip to Cornwall. I saw one in the summer holidays which was stunning and this one came close to it in terms of drama. Bomberg prefered to paint in the evenings and the sunsets he painted are fiery and brooding, and certainly not what you would expect from Cornwall.

The work that I would have loved to own and sell my house for, was a charcoal drawing from 1913 entitled 'Family Bereavement'. Worked in his abstract style, you could see the grief pouring out of these people as they surround the deathbed of a loved one. The figurative version of this work, on the left, is held by The Tate and putting them side by side, you can see how Bomberg could capture the physical reaction to death. According to the Tate's notes, this was inspired by the unexpected death of his mother, and that Bomberg did several versions of this work over the years. He would always keep a copy on an easle so he could return to it.









In need of more Bomberg, I went over to Tate Britain to visit with Mud Bath, and to take some time with two works he created during WWII called 'Bomb Store'.

With these, you can really get up close to see his rapid and expansive brushstrokes combined with the small detail of the bombs. Bomberg had been unsuccessful in his applications to join the War Artists Advisory Committee and he was finally, if begrudgingly allowed to paint the Burton-on-Trent bomb store which was a disued mine. These works were rejected by the committee -shame on them!

As I continue to find more Bombergs, The more I admire this particular artist. Underrated in his own lifetime, it does feel that he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.


David Bomberg – Evening, Cornwall Towards St Ives

Up until now, my interest in David Bomberg has been from a Vorticist perspective.  The Mud Bath is one of my favourite paintings and the fact that he was actually born here in Birmingham in 1891 and lived on Florence Street in Digbeth added to the appeal:

Bombrg 1891

This week I visited the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry without knowing what I would find.  Amongst the gems that made the trip so worthwhile was this Bomberg from 1947 called ‘Evening, Cornwall Towards St Ives:

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I was staggered by how beautiful this painting was.  Luckily, some bright spark put a bench there, so I got to spend some quality time with this work.  This is what I put down in my notebook:

Painted in one sitting so that the wet paint blended together.  On the left hand side – glow of orange and reds on the hillside – church spire just off centre draws your eye to the vanishing point, forcing you to look out to sea. Sky and sea blur with no distinct horizon line. Right hand side full of green hillside with fields and their boundaries clearly marked.  The glow of the evening sky is warm and inviting.”

Although there were other people in the room, they became very distant as I studied this. It had a distinct tranquility surrounding it and I marvelled at how what seems like a simple landscape was so full of meaning. One of my favourite literary quotes is from Wuthering Heights when Catherine Earnshaw talks of her connection to Heathcliffe and she says “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”  I do wonder if there is a reason why some paintings resonate with the viewer more than others – is there a connection?  This painting certainly had an effect on me and has strengthened my love for Bomberg’s work.

IMG_20150724_120420878 IMG_20150724_120351399 IMG_20150724_120337933 IMG_20150724_120331677 IMG_20150724_120324921

By the end of his life, Bomberg felt that he had been ignored by the art world and that his contribution would be forgotten.  At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is this self portrait from 1937 and, while it has a melancholy air, the final self portrait Bomberg produced takes self-reprentation to its furthest point.

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation













Now you see him…now you don’t!

My favourite section of Tate Britain has to be the moment I turn into the 1910 and 1915 rooms. Everyone I love is there: Nevison, Epstein, Gertler, Bomberg, Wyndham Lewis to name but a few.

There has been a rehang and the two rooms are now combined. Bomberg’s Mud Bath is now pride of place:


imageimagewpid-img_20150712_111439864_hdr.jpgThese three Nevinsons are now in the room: The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York -an Abstraction’), The Arrival and, to my great joy, just back from a tour, was La Mitrallieuse. If I was allowed to clap for joy, that would have been the moment.

However, the joy was short-lived as there was someone rather special missing from the gathering: my very own Rock Drill!

Where on earth was the rascally torso? He was there a couple of weeks ago. He could hardly go waltzing off, so a quick tweet to the Tate revealed that he is away on tour and will be appearing at a venue close to me from the 1st September:The New Art Gallery in Walsall-home of a large Epstein Archive. The fact I can pop down the road to check he’s behaving himself will be quite a pleasure and I’ll be interested to see what they will do with him given that the reconstructed Rock Drill sits majestically in nearby Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.


With some new pieces, such as Henry Lamb’s stupendous portrait of the lugubrious Lytton Strachey, it is always worth revisiting the different galleries just to see what treasures have now been snuck in.


BREAKING NEWS: Rock Drill is coming to take part in a rather exciting exhibition, exploring the importance of the dismantling of the statue in context and how this is as vital as its original construction.

David Bomberg: When a Vorticist is not a Vorticist

I have been purchasing old exhibition catalogues and two are of particular interest at the moment: Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism: The Tate Gallery, 6th July -19th August, 1956 and one from the 2nd March-9th April 1967 retrospective of David Bomberg.

Everywhere I go at the moment, there seems to be a Bomberg.  Love popping into the Mud Bath at the Tate; went specifically to Bristol for Figure Composition, 1913; stumbled across The Moorish Wall, Cyprus in Nottingham, of all places and was hoping to bump into him at the Higginson Bedford -result!

So why are these catalogues so interesting?  The exhibition of Wyndham Lewis’s work had a section entitled, ‘Other Vorticists’ in which Bomberg was included, despite the fact that he didn’t class himself as a Vorticist. He never signed the Manifesto, although he did exhibit with the rest of the group in their one exhibition.  The work in question, Jewish Theatre 1913 is not in the stripped down form that characterised other artists who joined Lewis in the celebration of the machine, therefore, it is not surprising that Bomberg was so unhappy with his inclusion in Lewis’s show.

The early works by Bomberg are, for me, the most interesting  and the retrospective catalogue has a fantastic essay about the Mud Bath, comparing it with Wyndham Lewis’s Two Mechanics. Think it is worth quoting:


Two Mechanics


“Lewis applies the machine image literally by pretending  that the figures he is drawing is a kind of machine. The two mechanics…are really just life-room models transformed into robots.  But the Bomberg figures are not like that at all.  Curiously, for all that they are sharp-edged as a pile of girders, they have a kind of spring about them, a muscularity which is entirely human.”

The Mud Bath, David Bomberg 1914

And it is that comment about the humanity of the figures that is so true. This painting is positioned low on the wall, so you are looking down -well you do if you’re taller than me!  The author of the essay, Andrew Forge, says that the more you look at this, the more impressed you become about its “vitality”.  Once you realise that the white and blue is light and shade, you start to see the forms in their different guises: the man diving in, the one on the bath’s edge, the head and arms of the man cutting through the water amongst them.

The one that I would love to see is hidden in the Tate’s storage: Vision of Ezekiel:

Here, the shading brings these figures to the fore and each figure differs to the next. The vibrancy of this can only be imagined.  Perhaps, at some point, this will come out again.

After the war, Bomberg moved into a more representational style and away from his mechanised, angular forms.


The recent BBC series, British Art at War, looked closely at Bomberg’s work and is well worth viewing.

David Bomberg: Prophet in No Man’s Land


Expressionism, Cubism and Vorticism at Higgins Bedford

I have developed a real love of Vorticism and the artists associated with that movement.  When this exhibition popped up, I had to make a decision whether a 90 minute drive was worth the chance that I would see some of the works of my favourite artists… it was!

This exhibition was beautifully lit and the curation had the right balance between the three movements.  The catalyst for change with these three groups of artists was the Great War and with the artists themselves playing a role in the fighting, their return from the trenches altered the way in which they perceived their art.

The German Expressionists were well represented with the woodcuts of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Eric Heckel; as well as Edvard Munch’s haunting lithographs: Jealousy II and Woman with a Brooch (Madonna)

Munch - Jealousy II Munch - Woman with a Brooch



Jealousy II was particularly powerful.  The lover looks out at us with no sense of regret for what he has done.  The question is asked whether the woman is covering her nakedness, having been caught, or whether she too is blatently demonstrating her illicit relationship to her husband.  Based on Munch’s own love affair with a poet’s wife.

Centauress - PWL

The Centauress

The Vorticists started with Wyndham Lewis’s The Centauress .  Lewis’s time in France had bought him to this change in his painting, embracing expressionism, cubism and futurism in one.

Bomberg The Dancer

The Dancer

David Bomberg’s 1913 work, The Dancer was worth the journey on its own.  The colour pallette was so vibrant and what I am loving about his early work is the way in which the image emerges the longer you gaze at it.  Although he did not sign up as a Vorticist, Bomberg did exhibit his work in the only Vorticist Exhibition held in 1915.

First_Vorticist_Exhibition_Doré_Gallery_London_June_1915Upon his return from the First World War, Bomberg rejected the mechanised age within his work and returned to a more representational style.

Two sketches by Christopher Nevinson were also on show: Study for ‘Column on the March and Loading Timber at Southampton Docks.

Then we moved to the Cubists with a fabulous Georges Braque – The Fox.  This I had seen in books, so it was good to get a look at this in detail.


The final section was entitled, ‘A Return to Order and a New Objectivity.  The horrors of the war clearly made its mark on the artists in this section, none more so that Otto Dix.

There were four etchings from his series ‘Der Kriege’ and one in particular was striking.  Called ‘Dead in the Sludge’, Dix did not want to hide the reality of trench warfare and it was very reminiscent of this one by Gilbert Rogers:

Dead in Sludge

Dead in Sludge

Gassed 'Arduis Fidelis'

Gassed ‘Arduis Fidelis’







This exhibition ends today and I am delighted that I took a chance on seeing this.  Just goes to show that you should go with your gut instincts.

Reality Questioned at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Took a trip down the M5 to Bristol and spent an enjoyable time at this exhibition.  As I have nothing better to do with my time, I wrote about some of the more interesting pieces.


Reality Questioned – From Bomberg to Madani

Oh yes, and if anyone is in the Bristol area – visit the Bear Pit for some fantastic Mexican street food at Bearitos!