46 posts categorised "Art"

Graeme Lothian: War Artist

The distant crack of a gunshot. Suddenly an agonising bolt of pain charges down his arm. His shattered camera hits the floor and his arm falls lifeless to his side. Blood runs down his leg and starts to pool on the ground. More gunfire, much louder and faster this time, crackles all around him. He lays down on the ground, shocked and in crippling pain.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

That was Helmand Province, Afghanistan, eight months ago. Today I am standing on a peaceful Mount Ephraim in the beautiful spring sunshine with the man from that opening paragraph. His name is Graeme Lothian and I am watching him paint.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian paints.

You may have already heard Graeme’s story, if not let me bring you up to speed. Graeme, an ex-paratrooper and SAS soldier, was one of only two official war artists serving the Armed Forces. Since a parachuting accident curtailed his military career he had spent over 30 years painting scenes of army life in major conflicts all over the world. He was on his fourth tour of Afghanistan when he was shot by a Taliban sniper.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian out on patrol just minutes before being hit by a sniper's bullet. Copyright Graeme Lothian.

He was out on patrol with troops from the 1st Mechanised Brigade taking research photographs for one of his paintings. He had walked to one of the support vehicles for a drink of water, and whilst making his way back towards the group a sniper’s bullet had ricocheted off the ground and hit him in the arm.

The bullet entered his arm just above the elbow, it travelled along the length of his forearm shattering bones, severing nerves and tearing ligaments, until finally exiting through the palm of his hand. On its way out the bullet destroyed the camera he was holding. If it wasn’t for that camera his fingers might not be in the same places they are today.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting in Camp Bastion. Copyright Graeme Lothian.

The realisation that the sniper had hit him in his painting arm was probably more painful than the bullet wound.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

He was airlifted to Camp Bastion where he underwent emergency surgery before being transported back to Blighty to a military hospital in Birmingham for more operations. Graeme says he was very lucky, "if the bullet had been six inches to the right it would've hit my spine".

I am noticeably taken aback at the exuberance that Graeme shows when telling me his story. He has probably seen more of Afghanistan than any soldier, and after witnessing limbs being amputated and seeing the victims of the havoc created by IEDs, I am amazed how positive he is by it all.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

Back again to the present day, to the peaceful surroundings of the Common, and the very beginning of this story. I had decided to go for a walk for a bit of fresh air and as I was meandering along I noticed, far off in the distance, an artist's easel perched atop Mount Ephraim. I ran up that hill like a greyhound out of a trap. This was when I first said hello to Graeme.

Over the course of a couple of days I spent about five hours interrupting Graeme from his painting and enjoying his seemingly endless stream of extraordinary stories. Now, if anyone needs to get their life into a novel, it's Graeme. His tales of flying into Camp Bastion at night, watching the sun set over Mount Doom, and patrolling with the tank regiment, amongst others, were frankly astonishing. But perhaps the most amazing of all the tidbits Graeme told me was the fact that this was the first time since his accident that he had picked up his brushes to paint. I asked him why he chose this particular view to do so.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

It turns out that the road along the top of Mount Ephraim is part of his regular commute between Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells and he'd always thought it one of the most picturesque views of town. I think we can all agree with that. So when the time came to begin exercising his painting hand it was this view that he knew he had to start with.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian's security pass.

So how has the injury affected his ability to put paint to canvas? "I can’t do this any more", he says frantically waving the brush up and down, "but apart from that it’s much the same”. From what I can see Graeme is not one of those people who's going to let anyone or anything defeat him.

As we stood and talked many people passed by, and this being Tunbridge Wells most of them stopped to chat and compliment Graeme on his work, one lady even commissioned a painting of her house.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

I caught up with Graeme later in the week to see how he was getting on. This time he had brought with him more than just his paints and brushes. He reached into his bag and brought out something wrapped in a camouflaged blanket. He rested it on a nearby rock and unfurled it. It was his broken camera. He handed it to me and I stood in awe for a while. In my hands I held something that not only had taken a hit from a bloodied Taliban bullet but had also saved the fingers of the man who stood next to me.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme's broken camera.

Graeme Lothian An Artist in London

An Artist in London by Graeme Lothian. Click to buy.

Sadly Graeme doesn’t have the funds to replace his once-prized camera. He recently wrote to Canon and explained his story in the hope of a replacement but they didn’t even bother to reply. Can you believe that? Anyway, saying that, he's now decided that he wants to keep it as a souvenir but would dearly love another. Canon, if you are reading this then you can reach Graeme here.

Amongst all the other things that Graeme had brought to show me was a copy of his latest book, An Artist in London. He thumbed through it showing me some of the works he’d created over the course of five years painting in the capital. He then flicked to the opening page, he had signed it for me. I was quite touched. This will sit in a very special place on my bookshelf. If you want a copy for yourself you can buy it from Amazon.

That all happened a few weeks ago - yep we are skipping forward in time again - and today I paid Graeme a visit at his home for tea and biscuits. We sat and shot the breeze for hours. As well as watching some of the videos that he had taken in Afghanistan we also went through the prototype of his latest book that he is just finishing, An Artist in Afghanistan, which tells the story of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Graeme wanted my opinion on how the book was coming along, I thought it was rather impressive indeed. It's a bit different from his other books, it's more educational and story-like than before, if you've ever wanted to see what it's like to be a soldier living and working at war in Afghanistan then this will be a book you will want to own.

What I had especially looked forward to most of all on my visit though was to see the finished painting, and here it is:

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian's painting of Tunbridge Wells from Mount Ephraim.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian holding his painting of Tunbridge Wells from Mount Ephraim. You can see his battle scar on his hand in this picture.

Superb isn't it. I think he's depicted the scene beautifully don't you? I'm hoping that this will be the first of many for a future book about Tunbridge Wells (hint hint Graeme).

Of all the works he has created over the years what are his favourites? Graeme says he has three: the Scots Guards at Pan Kalay (pictured below), the Fighter Pilot of the Royal Air Force, and the Eagles over the Steppe.

Graeme Lothian

The Scots Guards at Pan Kalay. Copyright Graeme Lothian and Cranston Fine Arts.

If you wanted to see more of Graeme's work, not only can you buy it from Cranston Fine Arts or the Sevenoaks Art Shop, but you can see it hanging on many prestigious walls all over the world including The Royal Society of Medicine, The National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Hospital Chelsea, Oxford University, and even in the home of George Lucas.

I really enjoyed my time accompanying (annoying) Graeme whilst he worked, I meet a lot of people who are generous with their knowledge but Graeme is in another league, he loves to share stories of his travels and experiences all over the world and you could sit for days and listen to them. If you wanted to learn more about him you can read more about him on The Big Issue and the BBC, but to be honest the best place to hear his stories are whilst standing right next to him, so if you happen to see Graeme around town painting then stop and say hello, trust me it's worth it.

I can't wait to catch up with Graeme again over the summer and show you more of his paintings of Tunbridge Wells.

Are Comic Books Art?

That is the question our Art Gallery at the Museum is asking for the next couple of months with their new exhibition, Dave McKean: A Retrospective.

Dave McKean A Retrospective at the Art Gallery

Opening tonight (Thursday) and open to all from the 24th of January until the 30th of March, the new exhibition showcases a terrific range of work from a local working artist. From album covers, to comic books, to children's illustrations, to movie posters, and everything in between, the broad gamut of styles and talent on show is something to behold.

Dave McKean Leaflet

This is a bit of a departure for the Art Gallery - something a bit different from their more traditional displays of the past. It's a showcase of work that they hope will appeal to a younger and wider audience, and one that will challenge your view of art.

When I got talking to Jeremy and Liz, the two people that helped to get the display into the gallery, it's quite clear that this is something they are all really excited about. Please, if you can, grab either of them when you go along and pick their brains about the work on show, they are both so enthusiastic and knowledgable and you'll get a little bit extra out of the exhibition as a result I promise. Even if you don't though, you are in for a real treat.

As Liz gave me a personal mini-tour I was most taken by the enormous range of techniques on show, particularly impressive were the three-dimensional pieces which were then converted into two-dimensional cover art, later made easier with the advent of Photoshop. Most noticeable of all though was the fact that Dave McKean never seems to stick to the same style or look yet retains that underlying darkness to his work, especially evident in the children's illustrations - tell me that they wouldn't have struck the fear of God into you for your entire childhood. I think it shows the professionalism of an artist working for exactly what a client wants whilst still retaining his own character.

Dave McKean A Retrospective at the Art Gallery

As well as the main exhibition there are some themed events running at the Art Gallery, Library, and Museum over the coming weeks too:

Maus and the Holocaust by Dr Axel Stahler - Monday 27th January - £6.
Getting into Graphic Art Career Panel - Thursday 13th February - Free.
Women in Comics: Roundtable Talk/Debate - Saturday 8th March - Free.

It's quite an apt exhibition too as a new comic book store, the Comic Café, has opened on Camden Road recently, so if do you get a bit excited by all the graphic art on display then you can pop along there to fill your boots. There are also some of Dave McKean's books for sale in the Museum shop and Waterstones mentioned to me they might get in a few more copies just in case too.

Those lovely people at the Art Gallery and Museum have given me two free tickets to give away to the Maus and the Holocaust talk by Dr Axel Stahler on Monday 27th January. Just leave a comment below to enter, be sure to leave your name. Competition is now closed.

Regardless of whether you are a graphic novel fan or not I heartily encourage you to visit this exhibition, especially if you've never ventured into the Art Gallery before. Oh, and don't forget to fill in the "Are Comic Books Art?" questionnaire after you've seen the exhibit too.

The Wonderful World of Jessica Exall

Sometimes when I meet artists I am impressed, sometimes I am astounded, sometimes I am wowed. This was one of those times when I was imprestoundowed.

Jessica Exall Illustrator and Puppet Maker

It is usually my remit to visit artists and talk to them about their work but Mrs Anke was insistent that she wanted to be the one to blog about Jessica, she loved her work that much. Actually it was a bit of a contest to see who loved her work the most. What I was most stunned by was not her amazing talent, but how unbelievably humble about it she was.

Jessica Exall Illustrator and Puppet Maker

If any of our readers out there doesn't flood this girl with offers of work or immediately snaps up all of her artworks or commissions her for illustrating books or making puppets for theatre, then something is very very wrong in the world.

Now go and read Mrs Anke's piece on Jessica, it's a good one.

The Architectural Art of David Ramshaw

This was a day I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. I was going to meet one of my favourite artists.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

David Ramshaw in his home studio.

You may have read about David Ramshaw on the blog here before as I have bought many of his works. I’ve chatted to him a few times via email before too but until last week I’d never actually met him.

After recently picking up three new works by David I thought that it was time to finally meet and to say thank you.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

Capriccio of noteworthy buildings. Copyright David Ramshaw.

When I arrived David was just putting the finishes touches to another great piece, a commission for a lady in Rusthall of her house along with the Toad Rock Retreat and Toad Rock. It was beautiful. I would've opened my wallet right there and then if it was for sale, shame then that it will only be seen by a lucky few as it graces the home of the commissioner. You can see it on David’s drawing board in the photograph below. Actually thinking about it, perhaps I should share my small collection somehow.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

David Ramshaw in his home studio.

Before we continue let’s go back in time for a tiny bit of back story. A month or so ago I’d popped into the Spa Galleries to collect my latest Ramshaw acquisition of a capriccio of noteworthy local buildings. There, placed right in my eyeline, on purpose I imagine, was a print of Bedford Terrace (edition 0/10 and all sold, sorry) and an original painting of the small row of shops along Mount Ephraim. Philip, the gallery owner, knew I had bought them a split second before my jaw hit the floor. These were just beautiful works of art that I had to have. I've posted small snippets of them below.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

The shops of Mount Ephraim. Copyright David Ramshaw.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

Bedford Terrace. Copyright David Ramshaw.

But then as Philip was totting the total amount I owed up in his head he suddenly raised his finger in the air and chirped "I've got one more thing for you over here". It turned out that David had recently dropped off another just-finished original piece and Philip thought that nobody in their right mind, except me, would even think of buying it.

David had painted the Ritz Cinema, and yes of course I bought it.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

The Ritz Cinema. Copyright David Ramshaw.

So here now, back in the present I took the opportunity to ask David why he’d painted it. Why had he painted the most ugly and most hated building for miles around? He said that he’d often stopped at the Church Road traffic lights and looked over at the grot spot and his eye was always drawn to “Sids’s Fish and Chips” and more specifically to that apostrophe. It drove him crazy and he just had to immortalise it onto paper.

David reached over and grabbed his sketchbook and flipped to the original sketch he’d made of the cinema to show me, he then ripped it out and said “would you like it?”. Can you imagine my face? I cheekily asked David to sign it, which he gracefully did with a chuckle. Another great Ramshaw piece to add to my collection.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

Ritz Cinema preliminary sketch. Copyright David Ramshaw.

Now, if you’d have seen the Ritz painting before me would you have bought it?

I was quite surprised at David’s studio space. It was so clean and sparse. I asked where all his old paintings were and unlike any artist I’ve met before he said that he has none, he sells everything. With the exception of a few notable pieces of his on the walls of his studio the rest is being adored by people like me, which must actually be quite a nice feeling for an artist.

David Ramshaw Artist Art

David Ramshaw in his home studio.

David says he manages to paint about one piece a week on average and, apart from my lovely new commission he’s going to get onto soon, is going to concentrate on painting some of the London skyline for a while. Apparently they sell well here. But you can interrupt him anytime and commission your own painting if you like, his prices are unbelievably reasonable. Why not commission something for your favourite person for a Birthday or Christmas present?

David Ramshaw Artist Art

David's tools of the trade.

I'd love to know what you think of David's work. Do you own any prints or paintings?

Thank you very kindly to David and to Philip at the Spa Galleries. Why not pop down to the gallery on The Pantiles and see what you can discover, unless I get there first.

The Illustrations of Chris Burke

Sometimes Lady Luck smiles upon you, and she was positively beaming on the day that I noticed a small sign on a lamppost pointing towards Newton Road. The small cardboard sign was advertising the South East Open Studios fortnight. I thought to myself "hang on, there are no art studios down there." What was going on?

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Steve Jobs, painted for The National.

I pulled out my phone and searched the website. It turned out that illustrator Chris Burke was borrowing a space here for the duration of the event. When I delved further to see some examples of his work I was flabbergasted at the beautiful colourful caricatures in front of me. Then I noticed the dates of the exhibition. Oh dear. The flip side of such a serendipitous discovery was the realisation that the South East Open Studios event had finished the day before and Chris had packed up and gone home. Blast!

All was not lost, though. Without hesitating I dropped him an email almost begging to have a chat about his work. Within a few hours Chris replied and invited me round for a cup of tea.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke at work in his studio.

I was greeted at the door by Chris with his dog Fred, and the most glorious smell of baking bread. Fred led us into the kitchen where the table had been laid with two plates and a spread of ham, cheese and salad. We sat in the sunshine in the garden and enjoyed a delicious lunch with a giant pot of tea. It was glorious!

With full bellies we got down to business of talking art.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration for the Financial Times How to Spent It Magazine.

Chris's previous client list is frankly mind-boggling in its breadth and reach. He has worked for - take a long intake of breath - The Radio Times, Punch, The Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, The Times T2, The Economist, The Guardian, London Review of Books, Time magazine, GQ (UK & USA), Tatler, Vogue, The Financial Times’s How To Spend It Magazine, pretty much every major British publication actually, the BBC, Penguin, Pan, Puffin, Pentagram Sony, BT, M&S, Tesco, Virgin, Yehudi Menuhin School, Save the Children, World Wildlife Fund, CLIC Sargent, Comic Relief, the Irish Tourist Board, children’s books for Lenny Henry, posters for London Transport, the Metropolitan Police, murals for Green Park Tube Station, the Welsh National Opera and various theatres, postage stamps for Barbados and Malaysia and he also created over eighty murals for Ottakar’s Bookshops as well as their catalogues and point of sale. WOW!

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration for the Financial Times How to Spent It Magazine.

I would imagine, dear reader, that you have therefore happened upon Chris's work at least once before now, and he's a Tunbridge Wellian! How fantastic is that? Definitely something to point out to a friend next time you see his work in print.

His work is also in many private collections and the permanent collections of The London Transport Museum and the V&A. He has been Cartoonist of the Year and won the Creative Circle Gold Medal for Illustration and is included in: The Dictionary of 20th Century British Cartoonists & Caricaturists, The Dictionary of British Cartoonists 1730-1980, and Who’s Who in Art. More WOW!

One thing I really have loved about writing my Meet the Artist series is being able to see into the private spaces where the artists work. Chris gestured towards the stairs and invited me up to see his studio, Fred wasn't far behind.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke in his studio.

I am always stunned at how beautiful the studios of artists are, their chaotic workspaces are themselves works of art, and here was no different. Beautifully thick rich oak floorboards are flecked with tiny splatters of paint. A shiny silver iMac sits on an old wooden desk perfectly portraying in a nutshell just how the modern artist works. Under the big curtain-less window a large drafting table is flooded with light, upon it sit neat rows of paint pots, brushes, pencils and pens. A sheet of paper sits patiently in the centre of the table, the wonderfully distinctive soft swoops and sharp angles of Chris's pencil marking the first stages of his next masterpiece. One entire wall of the room was devoted to a bookshelf piled high with inspirational books, around the other walls stood chests of small drawers filled with small items, large-drawered chests of large things, and even larger drawers of presumably larger things.

We sat down and Chris reached over to the desk and pulled open one of its deep drawers. It was full to the brim of neatly stacked pieces of thick paper, each one a beautifully painted portrait. We started to flick through the pile. Chris took great pride in recalling the famous names and pointing out the character traits in each one that he had exaggerated to tell their story. If this collection of pictures does not get made into a book then something is wrong. Publishers I pray that you are reading this.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration of Tony Blair with his head in the sand.

Chris explained that sometimes his caricatures go a bit too far and he has to amend the images. One case in point was the rather lovely image of Michael O'Leary (below) that he painted for Abu Dhabi's The National Newspaper. Now I'm sure we all know who Michael O'Leary is. Chris originally drew him holding the planes like he was holding up two fingers in a typical O'Leary gesture, much more appropriate I think, but the magazine editors didn't think so and he had to redraw it.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Michael O'Leary peers out from a drawer.

With the paper stacked safely back in the drawer, Chris began to show me some photos of oil paintings of corks that he had created for the Antique Wine Company. He started to explain how they had inadvertently kickstarted a fresh new artistic style when he excitedly said "hang on, I have the art next door, let me show you what I mean." We jumped to our feet, stepped gently over a sleeping Fred and walked into the next room.

There in pride of place sitting on an easel was a portrait of a smiling Lenny Henry. Lenny and Chris are good friends, they'd just finished working together on some illustrated children's books. This portrait is a present for Lenny's birthday, shhhh! that's just between you and me. Lenny if you are reading this then please ignore that last paragraph.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Corks painted for The Antique Wine Company.

But what's a Lenny Henry portrait got to do with corks? Well, there is an interesting little technique at play here. Notice if you will the background texture of both pictures, Lenny above, and the corks to the right. Chris said that he enjoyed painting the corks so much that he wanted to apply the texture to something else, that and he had lots of the paint and long thin canvases left over, so has begun to wash it over portraits. Effective isn't it.

Whilst we were in this room, Chris reached over to some portfolios that were tucked away in the corner and invited me to take a knee.

We sat on the floor and scattered pictures all around us. A range of his early and recent work was spread before us, you could see the evolution from soft lithography to hard pen and ink (vital for scanning these days). Quite a few of the images were completely new territory for the artist. He has been asked recently to start painting animals, as they apparently sell well here in Tunbridge Wells, and he was in the midst of grappling with a pig, which I think had the look of a politician about it.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

He says that although this pig isn't finished he loves the way it looks and is just going to keep him like this and start another one to complete the work.

You may be as intrigued as I was about some of the other techniques that Chris uses in his works. I was immediately taken when I first saw his work by the ink splatters. It's a really effective and striking style. It turns out Chris uses the same method that is taught to children in primary school and that's to flick paint on by drawing your thumb across a toothbrush. Try it at home kids!

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

There is another interesting technique at work here too. To give the impression of movement in some of his works Chris scrapes through the paint and the paper. He explained to me that he happened upon this method by accident one day when he accidentally spilled some water onto one of his drawings. He blotted as much of the liquid as he could but some blemishes remained so he picked up a scalpel that was to hand and tried to scrape off the worst of it. Chris found the resultant damage quite appealing and the effect has appeared in most of his work ever since.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration for the Financial Times How to Spent It Magazine.

Chris describes himself as an "inky fingered dinosaur" and says the demand for traditional cartoonists is dwindling, which is a real shame. Unlike the old days of having a week or two to illustrate a story and get the pictures in the post, thanks to instant communications, today's editors demand much tighter deadlines. Chris has just a couple of days to create and scan across his illustrations. Having to scan and email the pictures does mean that the original is his to keep though which is quite nice, especially when the person he paints wants to buy them.

Work may be slower these days but he still illustrates regularly for publications all over the world and finds time to paint commission works. He has found also found time recently to arrange an exhibition that will take place at the Spa Galleries on The Pantiles this August. He is exhibiting with another favourite local artist of mine, Ian Kesterton after a fortuitous meeting at the local swimming baths.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration for the Financial Times How to Spent It Magazine.

So how did Chris get started in all this art lark? After leaving Canterbury College with a degree in Graphic Design and Art History he started working as an advertising art director. It wasn't long before he became frustrated at the quality of work coming across his desk from illustrators and thought to himself "I could do better than that." So he did. He quit work and picked up a pencil. An opportune meeting at the Radio Times proved to be his lucky break after they wanted him to create a St. Patrick's Day illustration for the magazine, he stayed there for five years and he hasn't stopped drawing since.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Chris Burke illustration for the Financial Times How to Spent It Magazine.

Before we both realised it was almost four o'clock, we'd been chatting and drinking tea for three hours.

Finally, I asked Chris if he'd ever painted Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells before and it turned out that he hadn't. We both agreed that our town should cherish and celebrate Disgusted so Chris thought it would be fun to reimagine him for the 21st Century and created this great piece of art (below) especially.

Chris Burke Artist Illustrator

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells as imagined by Chris Burke.

Thanks Chris, it was an utterly wonderfully pleasurable afternoon.

COMPETITION:

The competition is now closed, the winner is Stephen Elsden! Well done, Stephen. You're prize, the Disgusted illustration above, is on its way.

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  • I am a spritely 30-something living with my beautiful wife in the most fabulous town in the entire world, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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