Az Values and Vanities

letter V badge for April 2018's A to Z Challenge; click image to visit the A to Z Challenge dot com websiteStill Life with a Twist ~V~

Victorious I emerged from the vastitude of my storage area with a sketchy painting from 26 years ago that I wanted to show this month. (I’m still vexing for my paints etc!) I’d been tasked (as an art student) to arrange and paint a collection of objects that held significant personal value at that time. It’s not a well-finished painting and is the most complex ‘still life’ I’ve ever attempted. Here’s a couple of close-up sections first (I’ll need to return to visual describing for alt text for these images):

The section below shows my Bible, I’d bought that myself when I was eleven, either with gifted money from my Nan or with the book voucher I’d won as a prize for attainment in English lessons at school. I’m still trying to remember that detail, maybe I combined both £5 amounts – that was a lot of money in those days and I’m fairly sure my Bible was quite expensive. I wonder now what were the two other books in my painting and why were they there? And do I still have my C-leaf pendant?

The VODKA bottle made it into the picture as an empty bottle that I retained after it was gifted me by a special friend at my 21st birthday celebration. I’m not sure I still have it. My guitar was also a gift for my 21st birthday from my parents, they’d visited me here in Nottingham and took me to the city to choose it.

Apologies for poor quality photography, I’m struggling for areas with enough light where I can get this large painting flat! Here’s the whole shaboodle:

At the very back of the painting is a brass teapot ornament that I dug out of my very first garden after moving from my flat to my first house – probably my very first ‘found object’. At the very front left is one my son’s first walking shoes, they squeaked when pressure was applied to the soles to encourage walking – he’d been pulling himself up and standing for ages but couldn’t walk until eighteen months old, I dunno if the shoes helped, but at least he learnt to walk! The whole arrangement is on a blanket I still have from childhood, more faded and worn now than then, as am I.

That’s a lot about me, so there went my vanity excercise… I have nothing new I want to show today around remembering my Mum, other than this photo of a plaque with VERSE I bought as a gift for her while I was quite young – I was surprised to find she still had it. (I placed it on one of her cushions, it’s not wallpaper.)

Two more female painters have vied for my attention in my virtual explorations today (they’re both French):

  • Suzanne VALADON (1865 or 1867- 1938, I’m not sure why there’s a discrepancy with her date of birth, intriguing). Valadon was painting in Paris around the time of French Impressionism and was  associated with Degas and others. There’s something vaguely ‘Van Gogh’ about her style in the still life paintings I’ve seen so far.
  • Anne VALLAYER-COSTER (1591-1632) was a very skillful painter, one of only four women to have entered the Royal Academie de Peinture et Sculpture before 1800 (or thereabouts). She’d entered two still-life paintings for exhibit in 1771 and was subsequently unanimously elected by the academics who saw her work. Perhaps her work would be an example of VIRTUOSO still-life, but some of her pieces definitely appear to qualify as VANITAS works.

VANITAS still-life paintings are “a collection of objects to remind the spectator of the transience and uncertainty of mortal life” and “speak an immediate universal language” (Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists). They often have a  moral or religious context with symbolic or emblematic visualisation and are sometimes also devotional. The name apparently derives from Eccliastes (i:2), ‘Vanitas Vanitatum…’ and now I have a vested interest to pick up my Bible and read that chapter and verse, so perhaps will.

I was also reading a little on the traditions of Varnishing Day, when painters retouched their paintings before exhibition opening, often competitively when they saw each others work to be displayed. Turner is said to have habitually only half-finished his paintings, completing them only on Varnishing Day. The now customary VERNISSAGE apparently grew from that earlier tradition, that being the Private View, the preview for invited guests.

Back to VALUE – in technical terms, this usually refers to tonal value, as gradation of monochromatic tone to suggest darkness and light. Colour values in the pictorial space often require creative license to be applied to add contrast to or emphasise areas with similar tonal values. Tip: When observing objects for still life drawing or painting, looking through squinted half-closed eyes helps to reduce the areas of colour to reveal visible tonal contrasts.

Briefly, before closing and veering slightly off-topic perhaps, VERISMO was an Italian form of Realism preceding Impressionism – I haven’t yet found any still life examples but wonder there must be some (it also has a musical meaning in operatic terms). VORTICISM was a British art movement around 1914 that fascinates me for the abstract compositions, similar to Futurism and Cubism, some few examples of which might appear to relate to objects.

Finally, VEHICLE is a word sometimes used in place of medium when discussing VISUAL arts and so far, the A to Z Challenge has been a fine vehicle for returning to learning more about art, and practising a little once more. [909!]