Spring Barley.  I really enjoyed working to create this image of soft sunshine, with the sun peeking past evening cloud, and shinning gently over sown Barley during" />
The words and work of a classical painter in 2020 in a handful of letters and photos

The words and work of a classical painter in 2020 in a handful of letters and photos

by Charles Harris
article from Monday 4, January, 2021

FOR MY REVIEW of 2020 I thought I should provide you with excerpts of letters and art that help capture my experiences…

Letter to a friend…

Happily, here is the finished painting I mentioned as promised.

I am so pleased. And a piece of prose below for you as well.

Spring Barley. 

I really enjoyed working to create this image of soft sunshine, with the sun peeking past evening cloud, and shinning gently over sown Barley during our Pandemic Lockdown. It seemed appropriate to be painting an image of crops and foodstuff during that time, when we were all queuing outside to buy food in our supermarkets. This was not a loud or an ugly view, just light and airy, offering brightness, new hope, and growth. The view just suggested in a natural way a future happiness to come for all, at a time of great sadness, misery, and distress, worldwide.

Regarding my work, my paintings are about light, life, and reality. While to achieve that aim, I always work entirely from Life, from the very start to finish, in all weathers, all year round. I normally work with Renaissance proportions on canvases of 3 feet x 4 feet in size. From the beginning, I start by drawing in line and in monochrome, seeking to make 3D exist in space, in a traditional Classical discipline. I first make a structure in line and form, with a controlled use of three tonal values, then I eventually introduce colour, through three temperature values in a tightly drawn structure, and the same use of those tonal values, enabling colour to exist within a sensibly controlled light. These are not my own ideas, but carefully learnt from the ‘Great Tradition’ which existed for six hundred years, three hundred of Italian, and three hundred years of French, with a sprinkling of other nations including two Brits.

I considered myself fortunate to be able to complete the work this weekend. I started it a week into our Lockdown. I obtained permission to paint in the field painting next door to my home. It is the usual 3 feet x 4 feet which normally takes me 12 weeks. And this was almost exactly to the day, that amount of time.

Some of my works are easy, while this one proved practically difficult, as it is a large open field. This location is incredibly open, exposed, and has no protection from the wind or the rain. And although the weather has been quite often dry, we had a constant cold prevailing wind, North, or East, almost all the time this Spring. Thus, bright sunshine, its heat, and heavy rain together, produced unexpected changes in temperature for me all of the time, with a need for those warm clothes on, and then clothes off constantly. So, I got really cold and caught a chill several times in that wind as result. It floored me for a couple of days each time. And I was really panicked, as I thought the worst, but it was okay after, thank goodness.

While the other problem with this picture was with materials. I had been away at the Exhibition in Miami in December and again in Vietnam in January, so I did not work on a large Winter painting. With insufficient time, instead I worked on a small one.

However, I made an error in not replacing my supplies after this smaller work, as I would normally have done and suddenly, we were in lockdown.

I found I was unable to buy certain things I needed like Turps for example, which I was only able to do three weeks ago, when B&Q reopened. I did manage with paint, as I never abandon my old used tubes of paint. I have found a problem can occur when the colours in the new tubes you buy are different to the ones you were using. This has been occurring a lot more since I was a student at the Royal Academy and brought my paint from there. Nevertheless, it was fortunate I had the older tubes and was able to finish the picture, although I did run out of white, but I was eventually able to buy a small amount from Ebay.

So, it was with a mass of excitement and great pleasure on Saturday to finish this Lockdown Spring Barley painting. With little or no traffic, it has also been a delight during break times, to sit quietly and listen to the bees buzzing; to a Wren and Robin shuttling song across the road behind, or sitting watching those clouds I had been painting before; just enjoying the harmony of Nature, and those number of human values with the field for everybody I have also been painting too. 

I therefore hope you will enjoy.

With best wishes,

Letter to another friend…

Thank you for your letter.

Yes, unfortunately, my oldest sister had a heart attack and a stroke during Lockdown down in the South of England.  We were not allowed to travel, so I made a series of small watercolours of Flowers from my garden and sent them down. These ended with a pastel of Apples from one of the trees I had planted last year. Happily, she has been recovering remarkably and is nearly back to herself now.

Autumn Fruit…

Later, and fortunately before the weather really collapsed here into rain, I continued with this subject, and completed a small oil painting of these Apples as well afterwards.

October Apples…

I hope you will enjoy them too…….

Letter to third friend…

Yes, I understand what you meant.

It came as a surprise to recently discover during a Zoom meeting that a number of people did not realise there was any difference in art, thinking all art was the same. This was a genuine response, and they had no idea that art galleries and institutions never give you the time of the day, if you make anything other than modern art, and certainly never traditional classical art.

Fortunately, a change to those closed ideas has already seriously begun in content and choice, beginning three years ago, although nothing really occurred this year of course, as the world was closed for major Exhibitions because of the Pandemic. Yet working through this, I now think, despite a world of misery and suffering, the pandemic itself has sadly helped create a greater need for art to reflect reality, beauty, and life, and again become an essential aspect and support, for our lives today, as it did for so many years before. I hope this is so, and that people may describe their honest experience in painting and drawing, without those past narrow modern art restrictions, and make the light for art to shine that much brighter as well.

This touches a real issue in the world of art today, for modern 20th century art failed, for it failed miserably to support human life in a meaningful way. For it just does not represent the reality of human life and has limited design value. And the use of art Design, despite attempts to make it seem otherwise, is just not front-line Fine Art., pertaining to the distinguished not just the merely pleasing.

Unfortunately, everybody has experienced non-stop modern art spin, with regards to how we should all view art, to the extent, that few people today have confidence in the subject of modern conceptual art, as the ideas do not support what they see. This plus the ideas of negative ‘Subjectivity,’ which overwhelmed the universities in the 20th century, has widened the gap between modern art type notions, without those past proven standards, reality, and human sensibilities. You said, “I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

It isn’t.  A beautiful sunrise will not become less beautiful because somebody is too lazy to appreciate it. 

I remember writing about an early Winter morning Mega Bus journey to Dundee. As the bus approached the Tay estuary the Sun rose, changing the colour of the far bank to a crimson and sending shafts of sunlight across the silver blue water. Unfortunately, most of the passengers had their heads down and were not looking out. Yet we see the beauty of life in our cities too. I recently enjoyed watching sunlight shinning on wet roads, and people walking across them silhouetted against yellow light, like a cast from the ‘Nutcracker’ on life’s own stage, as they stepped back onto the pavements, and into blue dark shadows from the tall street buildings above.

Winter Sunrise beside the Country Road outside…

Winter Sunrise in the Suburbs...

Beauty has existed since man first appreciated it. It was described clearly by the Greeks, with their intellect and ideas, and with Painting, those ideals were repeated by the Italians in the 13th century launching the ‘Great Tradition.’ This as I have mentioned before lasted for 600 years, three hundred years of Italian, and three hundred years of French, with a sprinkling of Europeans and two Brits. There was ‘No corner cutting, or a drop in Standards ever.’

Alas, I also believe this particular quotation is a mistaken modern concept. First, it agrees with the idea of subjectivity, that modern art conveniently adapted, suggesting that we cannot know things. An idea that overwhelmed Universities in the 20th Century. While by contrast, Einstein said, “We can know. We can know many things.”

And whereby in this example, through using our eyesight, we can all trust the evidence of our own eyes. Thus, instead of recalling memories of modern art speaking and nonsense, we can see the glory and the joy of Nature, the beauty of a breath-taking sunset, or the love of a person we know or care for shown in a splendid portrait.

The question of values in a product is always subject to standards too. Simply, we do know what a description of a Rolls Royce vehicle means. There is no reason for any modern blurring of the words and images here. Nor is there is any need to try to redefine a great past Classical painting, calling it, ‘”That first piece of modern art, as most modern art historians inevitably try to do.”  

Sadly, they are simply attempting to justify something far less, in fashionable comparison. Or claim in mind numbing twaddle, as one in particular art historian always ends his television programmes by saying, “Of course this was before Avant Guard arrived.”

Thank Goodness, is the response. So, this letter, shall we call it  – ‘A Question of Standards,’ is a very real and important one for me. Happily, a change of thinking and ideas in the marketplace has already occurred. It shall not change back. 

Today in art, we are looking for new resolutions and revitalised traditional subject matter, to present unmet human needs for the future. Which is the best I can explain right now. I hope this was alright for you…

With Best Wishes to You All and Good Health and Happiness for the New Year.

Charles Harris is an award-winning British traditional artist who tcompleted both his BA and then his MA at the Royal Academy. He was awarded a scholarship for both of these courses and has won several prizes during those years. He lives in Perthsire and paints mostly en plein air.

 

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