Peter Doig at The Courtauld

Peter Doig is an exciting artist—in fact, he is one of the most celebrated and important figurative painters working today. Born in Scotland in 1959, he moved with his family to Trinidad, then Canada, and later studied in London. In 2000 he was invited to return to Trinidad with his friend, artist Chris Ofili, and was so inspired he moved there permanently with his wife and children, until relocating recently to London.

His paintings focus on both landscapes and the human figure, melding them into evocative and often haunting compositions which are painterly and almost abstract. “I’m not trying to make paintings look like photos,” he has said of his process. “I want to make paintings using photos as a reference, the way painters did when photography was first invented.”

Painting on an Island. The setting is the prison island of Carrera, off the coast of Trinidad. Learning that some of the inmates were painters, Doig helped organise an annual exhibition of their work in Port of Spain.

I went to see his newest work, which is exhibited at The Courtauld in London. These are paintings that have evolved over a number of years, as he explores a rich variety of places, people, memories and ways of painting. Perhaps they are not his best work, but there is still that haunting quality, stark imagery and wonderfully strong palette to admire.

House of Music (Soca boat) Based on a photo of fishermen holding up their catch, Doig painted the men as musicians.

Their location at The Courtauld is also interesting because the permanent collection contains wonderful works that have been important inspiration for the artist, by artists such as Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Van Gogh. It was interesting to consider Doig’s contemporary works in the light of these masterpieces.

This painting was started in the Alps, but is inspired by Doig’s time in Canada

The Courtauld is also showcasing the artist’s work as a printmaker with a display that unveils for the first time a series of prints Doig made in response to the poetry of his friend and collaborator, the late Derek Walcott (1930-2017).

Portrait of Derek Walcott

As a footnote, I will add that Doig’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others. In 2007, his painting White Canoe sold at Sotheby’s for $11.3 million, then an auction record for a living European artist.

White canoe

The Morgan Stanley Exhibition at The Courtauld is on until May 29

Anselm Kiefer at the Musée Rodin

On a brief trip to Paris, I managed to squeeze in two art exhibitions, and it was really worth it.

Les cathédrales de Frances. Painting by Anselm Kiefer

The first was at the Musée Rodin, where the German artist Anselm Kiefer was asked to produce art to mark the centenary of the death of Auguste Rodin. The idea was to invite the viewer to consider the aesthetic concerns shared by the two artists.
Anselm Kiefer was given the freedom to create a series of works incorporating debris that Rodin produced while making his sculptures, such as offcuts and discarded molds.To echo this, elsewhere in the museum displays were altered to present previously unseen plaster works by Rodin.



The Musée Rodin is housed in a 1730 building, the Hôtel Biron, which was initially a private residence, before being rented by the Society of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus. It was then taken over by the state and left vacant for years. In the early 20th century rooms were rented out for studios to artists such as Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan and Rainer Maria Rilke, amongst others. Henri Matisse rented space for his school of art, and then Rodin – after Rilke, who later became his secretary, let him know about the building – joined the group, and gradually took over the whole building, where he worked for years, until his death.

The building and gardens are beautiful and perfectly maintained. The main part of Kiefer’s work is presented in a room just inside the outer wall, which was built as a chapel for the needs of of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus Society.



Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 and studied with Joseph Beuys and Peter Dreher during the 1970s. In his work, he unflinchingly confronts his culture’s dark past, and adresses controversial historical issues.



Kiefer is a romantic, with a huge visual vocabulary. He uses architecture, amongst other images, to convey the weight of history. The three paintings in the room are diptychs, large canvases whose surface is multi-layered and textured. Thick layers of gesso and paint have been mixed with other substances such as glass and clay to give them texture. Kiefer then scratches and carves into the surface to reveal the layers beneath. In these particular paintings, molten lead has been splattered on top, and parts of it have been bent and curled backwards to add a third dimension.


Detail: The lead has been curled back, still bearing the imprint of the layer beneath it, which it reveals.

The paintings are difficult to describe and photographs can never do them justice (even better ones than mine!). They have to be experienced – and, without the slightest exaggeration, I can say they are breathtaking.

Kiefer also makes installations, in this case using dried sunflowers and branches, sunflower seeds coated in gold leaf, earth, stones and the aforementioned clay debris.
In my opinion, he is one of the greatest artists of our time, due to his enormous scope and erudition, his use of a huge variety of materials and his production of monumental works. I might not love everything he does – which I think is a good thing – but I never cease to be surprised and impressed every time I encounter another of his works.



I finished up by walking in the gardens to visit old favorites, such as The Thinker.


P. S. I still need to write up the second exhibition I saw, on African Art at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, so stay tuned!

Three weeks down, one to go

Here’s my progress with World Watercolor Month:

Day 16: Drawing people is not my strong point, and World Watercolor Month is all about trying new things, so I thought I’d challenge myself. I love Francesco Clemente’s watercolor portraits, and I used those as my inspiration. Still a long way to go…(sigh…). But they were fun to do, and I’ll definitely repeat the exercise.



Day 17: Everything possible went wrong with this drawing of a starfish – the masking fluid wouldn’t dry, the masking tape ripped the top layer of the paper off… I think it was all due to the heat. However, I still enjoyed  playing with the stencils.



Day 18: Very busy day, and I got back late, so I only had time to doodle these little blue flowers.



Day 19: More people drawing practice – this time inspired by a photo I took on my visit to Metsovo.




Day 20: Found time to start my new project, a floral triptych. I’ve been doing studies for this since the spring, when the irises were blooming in the garden. I find it really makes a difference to draw things from life, rather than from a photograph. It’s easier to distill the essence of your subject, rather than just its image.




Day 21: I’m now obsessed with this project , so just carrying on. I’m using Canson Watercolor paper, very thick (640msg). I’ve never used this before, and I find it very interesting. It absorbs the color, and leaves it very vivid. Good for wet-in-wet, but also for a hard edge, although the surface is very rough. The back of the paper is smooth, so maybe I’ll try that next time.



Day 22: Started on the leaves. I got interesting effects from lifting the paint with a paper towel, although it won’t lift with a rag. Still playing about, not sure what I’ll leave in and what I’ll paint over.




Day 23: This ‘week’ has eight days, since there are another eight to the end of the month. Here’s the next step to my painting.



I wonder if it’s cheating to post consecutive images of the same drawing? Who knows, and, more importantly, who cares?

Trying to keep up

Well, it’s been a busy week, but I was determined not to fall behind on the World Watercolor Month challenge, so I mostly resorted to quick sketches at bedtime.

Day 8: Seagulls.  I seem to be inspired by birds lately, and it is the summer and beach weather. After making a quick and splashy background, I drew the seagulls in ink and added oil pastel for highlights.



Day 9: Mother and child. I have to force myself to draw people (not my strongest point, so I need the practice).  I had a little more time tonigh, and I found an appealing photo as a reference – it would have been better drawn from life, but no models available (sigh…)



Day 10: Garden produce. I’d gone out to pick some lettuce, onions and cauliflower, so I just dumped them on the kitchen table (I used a tea towel not to get dirt onto the table, and that proved quite a useful addition to the sketch!)



Day 11: Three bowls of fruit and a tomato. I do love summer fruit. These are peaches, yellow cherries and red currants. What could have been more inspiring than to make a sketch of them in a large Moleskine journal.



Day 12: Roses. Really no time tonight, so I just sloshed some paint around and doodled on top. It was a good way to test some new Daniel Smith watercolors, too (Quinacridone Rose, New Gamboge and Deep Sap Green).



Meanwhile, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my bird project, ‘Sandhill Cranes In Flight’. This is watercolor, oil crayon and gold leaf on two large sheets of Arches paper (100x60cm). It has now been packed off to the recipient, who I hope will be happy with it. I’m a rotten photographer, only use my iPhone and couldn’t get the light right, but you get the idea (I blue-tacked it to the wall to take the picture, but the left side was in shadow).



Day 13: Three-panel study of floral painting. This is my new project, so I started making some studies to help me decide how to proceed. It will be based on plein air sketches of irises, tulips and hyacinths I made when they were in flower in the garden. Always gives a better result than painting from photos.



Day 14: Six-panel study. Another version, using six pieces of paper instead of three. I probable prefer the first one.



Day 15: Chickens. Really got back late today, so when I came upon a piece of paper on which I’d been testing color mixes and some flower stencils, I just added a rooster and a hen on top.


That’s the week done, phew!

July is World Watercolor Month

For those who did not read my post last year,  World Watercolor Month is the brainchild of Charlie O’Shields of Doodlewash fame. It’s a challenge designed to encourage anyone who joins in to post a watercolor painting each day of the month of July. It’s a fun thing, with very relaxed rules – there are no prizes, or obligation to post each day.


Day 1: Bunnies – Present for a child’s christening (part 1)


We do have a list of prompts, but nobody’s obliged to follow it, they’re only meant to help people with inspiration. The idea is to bring together artists of all levels, from all parts of the world.


Day 2: Ducks – present for a child’s christening (part 2)


WWM started in 2016 and proved a great success, prompting Charlie to greater efforts this year. The project, which has attracted sponsorship from various well-known art supply brands, has also teamed up with The Dreaming Zebra, a non-profit foundation  that provides underprivileged schoolchildren throughout the world with art and music supplies.


Day 3: Mountain village – the view from the window. Quick evening plein air sketch.


I joined in last year, and the results were beyond my expectations. It got me into the habit of drawing or painting every day, which I’ve kept up since. It made me open an Instagram account, and inspired me to follow many artists from whom I’ve learnt so much. I’m self-taught, so the encouragement, tips, comments, ideas and support I’ve been getting have proven invaluable. I’ve met new people, improved my technique and, most of all, had so much fun. I’ve now started getting commissions, and am even thinking of opening an Etsy shop.


Day 4: result of a walk in the fields


I’m so grateful to Charlie, who has shown that you don’t need more than enthusiasm, new ideas and a lot of TLC to make a real difference. His site, Doodlewash, hosts watercolor artists from all over the world (I was extremely proud to be included, here) and every Saturday there is a post where artist Jessica Seacrest reviews art supplies that she has tested. We’re talking types of paper, brushes, paints – very addictive, although bad for the wallet! And, of course, Charlie never fails to post his own daily doodlewash, with an amusing story to accompany it.


Day 5: Starfish. Watercolor and oil crayon over comic strip glued in tiny sketchbook.


I’m getting stuck in again this year, even if some days it will mean just splashing some paint around for a few minutes. I will post my output at the end of each week, and you can tell me what you think. What you see today is this week’s output.


Day 6: Summer fields. Mini landscape in tiny sketchbook.


I urge any of you with a creative streak to join in. You can jump in at any time, post as little or as much as you like. Just tag your work #WorldWatercolorMonth


Day 7: the tools of the trade

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook

On April 14, 2016 Anne Lawson, a botanical artist who lives in Melbourne, posted this on her blog: ‘Oh I do love a good idea, and this is one of the best! A travelling sketchbook!’

So she made a sketchbook, drew her own contribution in it, and posted it to the first person on the list of those who’d signed up for the project.
There are 15 of us, and each is to ‘add to the sketchbook when it comes in the post to you. Draw, write, collage, sew, paste in a photograph ~ whatever you would like to contribute. There would be no rules, no themes, just a heartfelt contribution.’
(You can read the whole post here)

I was number 9 on the list. Imagine my excitement when I received a package from Indiana, USA, and opened it to see this:



Anne had drawn on the cover, and inside the back cover,



and her contribution was a delicate drawing of the Kakadu Escarpment in Melbourne.



Next was Kate Chiconi from Baker’s Creek, QLD. (See her blog here) Kate makes the most amazing quilts, so this is what she came up with:




After Kate, Sandra Gay from Ténériffe, QLD (blog here), added an illustrated recipe for ratatouille!





In number 4, we have the stunning drawings of Megan Power from Caulfield, VIC (blog here) – she made a map of the cycling trails in the city, leading to the National Gallery of Victoria,



as well as a beautiful drawing inspired by a painting  by Jules-Bastien Lepage, which is exhibited in the gallery.




Then a poem, by Sandi Worrall-Hart, of Wnadin East, VIC.



Next, the Sketchbook travelled from Australia to the US, where Alys Milner from SAN Jose, California, (blog here) made an imaginative collage ‘quilt’ from all the previous contributions!




Followed by two more stunning mini quilts by Sue Brown of Mount Vernon, WA (blog here).



Then, just before me, Usha Gudipalli from Indianapolis (blog here) added another, very colorful,  collage. Again a quilt theme, which I assume has been so popular as it symbolises unity and friendship.



Now the Sketchbook has travelled to Europe – first stop, Athens, Greece! When I’m done I will send it on to Germany, since there are five more memers of the Sisterhood, two in Germany, one in France, and two in the U.K. Finally, it will go to one more contributor in Australia, then at last back to Anne – we are thinking of maybe scanning it, so each of us has a memento of her own.

I have already thought about my own contribution, of course, but my lips are sealed for the moment, so stay tuned!
(To be continued)

I did it!

We are on the last day of July, otherwise known as World Watercolor Month. I joined the challenge of making one painting each day, and I’m happy to say I managed it, with very little cheating! (I only posted a couple that I’d actually started before…) I’m rather pleased with myself, and also glad that Charlie O’Shields, whose brainchild this is, egged me on.




Charlie’s great at encouraging people to join in, and also at showcasing the work of other artists. If you haven’t been to see his blog yet, go check it out, it’s fun even for people who don’t paint. It’s called Doodlewash (click here).




This has been a fun challenge – it made me try different things, and also get on with my dog alphabet. Only three to go now, and that baby will have a cheerful wall to look at!




It was also nice  seeing the work of the hundreds of other artists who joined in the challenge. I’ve followed quite a few. If anyone is interested in looking at all my efforts, I’ve posted them on Instagram, at @athensletters.




World Watercolor Month

What’s World Watercolor Month?

It’s a month to inspire people to paint with watercolor (watercolour, aquarelle) while raising awareness for the importance of art and creativity in the world.  Anyone can join the celebration, from master watercolorists to artists just starting out with watercolor!



Best of all, this first year of the celebration will be about raising awareness for children in need of art supplies and art education around the globe. Art is an important aspect of child development and paves the way for a successful future. What would the world be without art?





How could I resist? I’m joining the 31-day challenge – a watercolor each day. Some might be just doodles, some only dabs (abstract dabs?), but it will be fun. It will be motivation to pick up a brush each day, to try new things; and an opportunity to meet other artists. I will be posting on Instagram(athensletters). Below is my first contribution:

Day 1: Sketch of flowers past their prime.