The Owl and the Pussycat

Owl and the Pussycat – oil on canvas – 43 x 99 cm

Seeing as today is St George’s Day I thought I would present one of my paintings that is quintessentially English. Although my grandparents on my father’s side were Welsh and Irish I have always considered myself to be English however I am wary of nationalism. I consider myself to be first and foremost a citizen of the world and my English identity is secondary to that.

There is something very English about so called nonsense poetry asides from Edward Lear we have Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, Kenneth Graham’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ and there are many other poets and artists who produced work on these themes, notably Richard Dadd’s marvelous fantasy picture ‘The Faery Feller’s Masterstroke’.

If we look at the influence of psychedelic music in the 60’s we find that the UK interpretation was very different to the American take. The English pop groups were very much influenced by writers such as Lear and Carroll, we can see that especially in the music of Pink Floyd when Syd Barret was the leader of the group. The English psychedelia was inclined towards whimsy and world of the imagination whereas the American music was much more hard edged possibly because the youth of America  had to contend with the Vietnam war.

This is a painting that I was commissioned to do. I have always loved this poem and I like art that humanizes animals, sometimes this art is called ‘Topsy Turvy World’ or the ‘World Turned Upside-down’. I wanted to paint a picture that was dreamy and atmospheric. The main problem I had was with the cat and how to make her look really ladylike.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

BY EDWARD LEAR

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar,

“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!

How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood

With a ring at the end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

III

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

http://colinmurrayart.co.uk

 

Hope

Hope – oil on canvas – 61 x 61 cm

This picture was begun when I was staying in Fambridge. The young tree in full blossom looked fine from my first floor window however its surroundings were mundane. Looking at the painting back in London I realized that the only bit of it I liked was the blossom so in order to give it some more bite I decided to paint in some moonlit ruins. The picture has a surreal quality which I find soothing.

http://colinmurrayart.co.uk

Secret Stairs

Secret Stairs – oil on panel – 96.5 x 102 cm

With blossoms blooming in every direction I thought it might be nice to revisit this old picture. I have never been entirely sure about the composition or lack of one. However it’s been a popular image over the years and one that has sold well as a print.

The scene is a made up and it’s the kind of place I like to dream about. But what does one find at the top of the stairs?

Interestingly it’s painted onto a cool ground colour and that’s something I’ve gone back to starting with the Afterglow pictures which appear in the early blogs. My current paintings of cherry blossoms should be featured in a blog fairly soon.

http://colinmurrayart.co.uk

Replay

 

Replay – oil on canvas – 79 x 91.5 cm

I painted this picture more than twenty years ago when I was completing my Fine Art Degree at Middlesex University. My work was not popular with the tutors who considered this kind of painting outmoded and anachronistic. Perhaps I’ll discuss my experience at Middlesex in a future blog.

The Christian story has been illustrated by numerous artists over the centuries as the church used to be a great patron of the arts. In many of these pictures the artists used contemporary settings and clothes for example, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ as painted by the Venetian Giorgione and the Flemish (Belgium) artist Bruegel. It could be that painting biblical stories in this way made them more accessible to a contemporary audience. I should hope that most people realized that the historical Christ was unlikely to be blond haired and white skinned. I have carried on this tradition. I got some friends of mine to dress up then I made some drawings and took some photographs. Once I had the composition established I got them to come back for some life sittings.

The stories told in the gospels are full of dramatic incidents however the taunting of Jesus has always fascinated me. I very much admire those who can show courage in the face of cruelty and intimidation. And these situations have been repeated endlessly over the centuries so I thought I could give my picture a 20th century feel, the way that Jesus and two of his mockers are looking out at the viewer makes it look as though they are posing for a photograph and this idea is further enhanced by the casual way that the figure on the right is resting his arm on Jesus’ shoulder.

I grew up with Christianity and I liked it when I was a child however as I grew older I found it difficult to accept the supernatural aspects of this religion. To be continued…

http://www.colinmurrayart.co.uk

The Artists featured in the Art Collector

The Art Collector – oil on canvas – 122 x 153 cm

The theme for this painting is female beauty and female power. Having a theme creates a focus. In this respect my picture is different to other paintings of collectors by artists such as Johann Zoffany. The art collector seated at his desk is the only male presence in this picture with the exemption of Zeus (Jupitor) who appears as a swan and a shower of gold in the paintings of Leda and Danea. As I mentioned in my previous blog I have sifted through hundreds of images to find the material I needed to make this picture. Each picture that’s featured is intended to be seen in isolation but must also blend in with and complement the pictures and sculptures around it. I have taken liberties with many of the images, cropping and changing some of the details so that they fit in with my design. The scale of the paintings and sculptures selected for this picture has little connection with their sizes in real life. For example Velazques’ Rokeby Venus and Rodin’s Metamorphosis are both much larger in real life whereas the statue of Tara is much smaller. The drawing by William Russell Flint just off centre second down from the top would be about 3’ x 4’ according to the scale of things in my picture. In real life of course a drawing such as this probably measures about 18” x 24”.

Friends and associates have asked me about the source material for this painting so here are some brief comments about the artists whose work has contributed to the creation of this picture.

The Artists featured in the Art Collector

  1. Unknown artist – sculptural bust photographed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
  2. Luis Ricardo Falero (1851-1896) – Falero is a Spanish painter who specialized in painting the female nude in mythological settings. This image is adapted from a painting of a witches Sabbath.
  3. Kay Neilson (1886-1957) – Neilson is a Danish illustrator who was active in the so-called ‘Golden age of Illustration’ early in the 20th This image depicts a women being embraced by a demonic figure as she surrenders to the fire of her passion.
  4. Paul Prosper Tillier (1834-1915) – Leda and the Swan – Tillier is a French artist noted for his paintings of mythological subjects.
  5. Colin Murray – This picture has been created using a variety of sources.
  6. William Russell Flint (1880-1969) – Flint is a Scottish artist who loved drawing and painting women especially in pastels and watercolour.
  7. Gustave Boulanger (1824-88) – Phyrne – Boulanger is a French artist noted for his depictions of classical and oriental subjects. This painting is of Phyrne the most famous courtesan of the classical world. She lived in Athens in the 4th century BC and there are many stories about her. She was once prosecuted for blasphemy because she had impersonated the goddess Aphrodite.
  8. Unknown artist – Danae and the shower of Gold – According to Ovid Danae was locked up in a dungeon because of a prophecy that her first born would kill her father. However Zeus inflamed with lust descended from Mt Olympus and ravished her disguised as shower of gold. As a result of this encounter she gave birth to Perseus. Later in life Perseus went on to slay the Gorgon and rescue Andromeda.
  9. Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) – Andromeda – This aristocratic English artist is noted for his exotic depictions of the female form. Like many of his contemporaries in the 19th century he was fond of classical and oriental subjects.
  10. Albert Toft (1862-1949) – The Bather – Toft was a highly successful English sculptor. Toft described his work as being ‘idealist’ he also said that ‘to become an idealist you must necessarily first be a realist’. A viewpoint that I completely agree with.
  11. Robert Auer (1873-1952) – Cleopatra – Auer is a Croatian painter who was very much influenced by Art Nouveau.
  12. Unknown artist – This is most probably a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture now lost. It could be the figure of a Maenad or Bacchante, these were the female followers of Dionysus, or Bacchus if you prefer the Roman name for this god of wine and fertility.
  13. Titian – Venus of Urbino – Tiziano Vecelli is known in English as Titian. This Venetian artist is one of the great masters of the 16th century. This painting caused a scandal when it was first exhibited because of the alluring way that the model is staring straight at the spectator. In my version she is sitting up and getting ready to step out of the painting. The background vignette identifies it as the ‘Venus of Urbino’. It appears that the servants of the goddess are engaged in some mundane task. One of them is rummaging in a chest whilst the other has a curtain draped across her shoulder. I like the way she is casually scratching herself.
  14. Unknown artist – Venus with the Beautiful Bottom – This is a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture. The original may have been by Praxiteles the 4th century Athenian sculptor said to have been the first person to sculpt a life size female nude. Phyrne is known to have modeled for him and she may well have posed for this piece.
  15. Eric Gill (1882-1940) – Eve – Gill was a controversial English artist noted for his sculpture, printmaking and typeface designs. This wood block print shows Eve being tempted by the serpent.
  16. Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) – Selene – This Czech artist is considered to be the catalyst for the Art Nouveau artistic movement that began in Paris in the late 1880’s. This painting shows the moon goddess Selene looking rather coy.
  17. Gaston Bussiere (1862-1928) – Nereids – Bussiere is a French Symbolist painter noted for his depictions of women in exotic, fantastical settings. In this painting a group of Nereids are about to surface. The Nereids are sea-nymphs and they are often shown with Poseidon the god of the sea.
  18. Diego Velazques (1599-1660) – Rokeby Venus – This great Spanish master is especially noted for his portraits. He is an important artist in the art movement known as the Baroque.
  19. Unknown artist – Sculpture of a Dominatrix
  20. Unknown artist – Aphrodite bathing – This sculpture is sometimes known as ‘Lely’s Venus’ since it once belonged to the portrait painter Sir Peter Lely. This piece was made in Rome in the second century AD from a Greek original now lost. It now resides in the British Museum and the version in my picture is painted from photographs I took myself.
  21. Jami Aka – Dancer – Jami Aka is a contemporary artist noted for his erotic sculpture.
  22. Gilbert Baynes (1872-1953) – Frog Princess – This quirky piece of Art Deco was photographed by me in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
  23. Unknown artist – Girl eating an ice cream – This image is reminiscent of the Pop Art of the 1960’s.
  24. Clodion (1738-1814) – Bacchante – Claude Michel was known as Clodion, this talented French Sculptor worked in the Rococo style.
  25. Allen Jones (born 1937) – Girl Chair – Jones made a number of pieces that show women being made into items of furniture. His work is influenced by rubber fetishism and BDSM.
  26. Jean Morisot (1899-1967) – Witch and Crone – Morisot is a French illustrator who produced numerous erotic drawings which were usually published in portfolio albums.
  27. Auguste Rodin 1840-1917) – Metamorphosis of Ovid – This French sculptor towered above his contemporaries and his work is yet to be eclipsed. The subject for this piece is unclear as it doesn’t refer to any specific story in Ovid’s Metamorphosis.
  28. Colin Murray – This imaginary sculpture was invented by me.
  29. Joseph-Charles Marin (1759-1834) – Bacchante and child – Marin was a French sculptor. He was a pupil of Clodion and his work echoes his master’s graceful Rococo style.
  30. Ernest Nomand (1857-1923) – Nomand’s painting of the Pygmalian and Galatea story is the main inspiration for the sculpture in my picture. The pose is based on the famous Venus de Milo except that he has added the arms. The story appears in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and tells how Pygmalian, a sculptor, creates a piece of art that is so beautiful that he falls in love with it. He goes to the Temple of Venus and prays that his creation may have life. Venus answers his prayer and when he returns to his studio the statue is awakened by a kiss. In my picture the sculpture resembles the art collectors wife.
  31. Franz Von Stuck (1863-1928) – Sensuality – This German artist is associated with the Symbolist movement. He painted many pictures on the theme of the femme fatale which was a popular subject in Symbolist art.
  32. Unknown artist – Bunny sculpture.
  33. Colin Murray – This Fine Art print is adapted from various sources.
  34. P J Lynch (born 1962) – Death and the Maiden – This subject was especially popular in medieval times. Lynch is an Irish artist who has illustrated more than 20 books.
  35. Edward Hodges Bailey (1788-1867) – Bailey was a prolific English sculptor who produced many public commissions including the statue of Nelson that stands on top of the famous column in Trafalgar Square.
  36. Unknown artist – Erotic table
  37. Unknown artist – Tara – Arya Tara is a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism where she is known as the ‘Mother of Liberation’ she represents the virtue of being successful in work and is also known as a Tantric Meditation Deity by the practitioners of the Vajrayana branch of Tibetan Buddhism.
  38. Colin Murray – Mermaid Bathing – This is a classic image of a mermaid based on one of my own designs.

 

The Art Collector

The Art Collector – oil on canvas – 122 x 153 cm

I began this picture late in November 2012. It was developed after a conversation with an art collector who owns a number of my paintings. He would prefer to remain anonymous, however he is a man who loves paintings of beautiful women so we decided to make feminine beauty the theme for this picture. The space in the picture is imaginary some of the paintings and sculptures are from the collectors own collection whilst others have been adapted by me. We thought it would be fun to have some of the paintings coming to life.

The composition was made up on the hoof as it were. As this subject is potentially complex I decided to start with a simple idea – the relationship between the collector and the largest picture in the background. Later it was decided to make it look as if Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ was coming alive. This picture is created entirely from photographic sources, thanks to digital cameras and computer technology it is much easier and quicker to get the visual information required in order to paint a picture such as this. I have painted other pictures using similar methods, for example ‘After the Floods’.

I have sifted through hundreds of images to find the material for this picture. Some of these images have been downloaded from google, others have been scanned in from various art books. And some of them are taken from sculptures I have photographed myself. My research has taken me to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Wallace Collection.

My way of working is quite time consuming. I paint in oils, starting with a ground colour, rubbing out or painting over various ideas as the composition is developed. This is a picture which requires a fair amount of detail in order to be convincing. I decided that each work of art should be painted in a way that allows it be viewed in isolation as well as being part of the overall effect. So that there is a symbiotic relationship between the various art objects as if they are in some way conspiring with each other.

In the history of art there have been many pictures featuring individual connoisseurs or a group of art collectors surrounded by pictures and artefacts. Johann Zoffany, (a German artist active in England during the first half of the 19th century) painted a number of such pictures. The people in these pictures are nearly always male and they are shown in discourse about art and culture. The objects they are discussing often include manuscipts and scientific instruments and there are usually references to music and philosophy. The intention is to show these men as being well educated and very much aware of the pre-Christian classical world, they are antiquarians with humanistic ideals. In pictures of this kind the main subject is the group of figures perusing the works of art. In most of these picturers the choice of objects and their arrangement is secondary to the activity of the gentleman collectors. Sir John Soane was such a person and most of his collection is still intact. His house in London at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields is now a museum and it can be visited free of charge.

In my picture the paintings and sculptures and their positioning is at least as important as the figure of the collector seated at his desk. He is sitting at his desk working on his computer and he’s been distracted by an unknown noise or incident in a part of the room outside of the picture space or possibly by the cry of the seagull flying out of the foreground picture. He is not yet aware of the pictures that are coming to life around him as they are outside of his line of vision. A surreal moment is beginning to unfold.

This painting is quite large by my standards. The fine detail contained within makes it like a gigantic miniature. In this picture I am hoping to achieve a feeling of the sublime. One experiences the sublime when one’s senses are overpowered. Examples could include a spectacular scenic view or the combination of sound and vision at the opera or a rock concert, or the soaring architecture inside a gothic cathedral. In my picture the detail within the individual works of art and the environment that contains them should have the effect of making it go slightly out of focus so when the viewer is first confronted by the painting it is difficult to work out exactly what is going on and for a time there is a suspension of belief.

In my next blog I will be talking about some of the artists whose works are featured in my painting.

http://www.colinmurrayart.co.uk

 

Enigmatic Still Life

Enigmatic still life – oil on panel – 37 x 58 cm

There has always been a dichotomy in my painting, on the one hand I like to paint from life with quite realistically and on the other I enjoy fantasy and surreal subject matter. This picture in some way moulds together the two aspects of my interest in art. It began as a studio still life with the bananas, the statue the cloth and piece of dried seaweed all accurately portrayed. But I was never quite sure about the background and then I thought of putting in a seascape which makes the picture look quite surreal. The peacefulness of the sea offsets the tension between the hardness of the bronze and the softness of the bananas. As to what it may mean I really have no idea. I know that the Italian surrealist De Chirico often used bunches of bananas in his pictures and De Chiroco’s use of the fruit probably had sexual overtones. In my picture it’s hard to say as the statue seems to be coming alive and the bananas have a sentient quality. So I leave any deeper explanation up to the viewer.

http://www.colinmurrayart.co.uk