Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Review: The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry's exhibition of the tapestries which make up The Vanity of Small Differences continues its travels around the UK .  This work is so good it gets its own tour of the UK! It's now reached Manchester City Art Gallery where it will be on display until 2 February 2014. Well worth visiting if you can get to Manchester! (More details at the end of future tour dates!)

The tour prompts me to review the Catalogue of the tapestry project of the television programme. I'm really pleased to have been sent a copy of the book of The Vanity of Small Differences for review.

Front Cover of the book of the exhibition of the tapestries arising out of the television series!
by Grayson Perry
Published by Haward Publishing

Background: A brief synopsis of the artwork and how it came about

The Vanity of Small Difference is a very important piece of contemporary art - which was conceived as a public work of art. It comprises six Tapestries listed below together with links to Grayson Perry's explanation of what the tapestries are about.
The piece explores British taste. It's a contemporary version of Hogarth's 'Rake's Progress' and also reprises classic artworks (puns in the titles of tapestries provide clues!) in contemporary form. It all started with a safari around UK. Grayson Perry visited different groups of people - in Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds - which resulted in a BAFTA award-winning Channel 4 series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ (2012). His visits to places strongly identified with social classes investigated the taste of the different tribes of people in terms of class and social mobility and unearthed more than a few surrprises.  

The other thing you need to know is that Grayson Perry is very intelligent, acutely observant of contemporary mores - and finally, he's truly astonishing in the way in which he manages to be both very articulate with very accessible.  I'm a  huge fan!

Synopsis:  This book is the catalogue of the exhibition of The Vanity of Small Differences - an iconic piece of contemporary art based on research by Grayson Perry into contemporary taste, social class and class mobility. It tells the story - and shows us the processes - of how he developed tapestries telling the story of Tim Rakewell and his progress through life to his death. The name is a link to the Tom Rakewell of the Rake's Progress. The book explains how the tapestries came about and provides a commentary on what they reveal.
Summary review:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: This is an essential guide to a multi-layered, culturally rich and very important set of tapestries. A contemporary tale, an iconic artwork - and an interesting story about how the tapestries were produced plus excellent publication values all combine to make this both a very interesting and a very high quality publication. 
Average customer review
  • a visual narrative of what it is to be English today - in terms of taste and associated visual aesthetics 
  • a great read - in terms of the essays. A stronger sense of the morality tale which underpins some of the narrative of the tapestries. 
  • the research is represented by a portfolio of annotated photographs - with some surprising captions
  • Perry's sketchbooks are a delight. In these he developed the themes, the storyline and finally the sketches for the tapestries. Plus added annotations about the artwork and notes of key themes for individual tapestries.
  • Superb illustrations of both tapestries and details. each individual tapestry enjoys a folded panoramic pullout - which means we get to see them very much bigger than the size possible on a conventional page. Plus details enable one to see the way the tapestries are woven and how the colour transitions work - which is an aspect I found particularly interesting - scumbling on a loom! Plus who knew that looms are now digital and can produce a large tapestry in about 5 hours?
Think Again?
  • Those who have no connection with figurative artwork or social commentary 
  • Those who have no interest in the fascinating process which generated the tapestries
Who should buy this?:
  • Fans of Grayson Perry - whose fan base seems to be increasingly exponentially. He's on his way to becoming a "national treasure" if not there already! 
  • people who want an example of how to be unique; how to make art which is different
Who should not buy this?
  • Those not interested in tapestries, contemporary art or social comment
Author: Grayson Perry
Publisher: Hayward Publishing (UK 10 June 2013 | USA 31 October 2013)
Technical data: Hardcover| 128 pages | 21.5 x 25 cm | 120 colour and black and white illustrations
  • ISBN-10: 1853323152
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853323157
Paperback: No
Available as an ebook? No - however an app about the Tapestries is available 

Digital guide

The Arts Council Collection have created an app for iPad and iPhone. This gives you commentary on Perry's perspective, details art historical references and provides a guide to the making of the works. You can see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility and have Grayson's own audio guide. Reproductions of the classical referenced artwork are disappointly tiny. They work better when accessed via the interactive aspect of the app.  The bonus is Grayson Perry reading the words associated with each tapestry and highlighting the similarities between classical painting and his tapestry.

The digital guide,Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available only on the App Store (£1.99).

The Vanity of Small Differences - The Tour

Exhibitions to date

These include the following. The link in the title is to the exhibition page at that location.
  • Gallery I Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW (7 Jun - 11 Aug 2012)
  • Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden - the location for two of the patesries  on 28 June, as part of the Festival of the North East which celebrates the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham Cathedral. It is of particular significance that the works begin their public tour in Sunderland as this is where Grayson sets two of the tapestries, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters and The Agony in the Car Park. 
  • Perry’s own edition of The Vanity of Small Differences was displayed as part of the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2013 (June - August 2013) - see my review 10 reasons to visit the RA Summer Exhibition 2013 - my #1 reason was the set of tapestries which got a room to themselves.
  • Manchester Art Gallery (24 October – 21 January 2014)

Future Tour Dates:

  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (14 February – 11 May 2014), 
  • Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (May – August 2014) and 
  • Leeds City Art Gallery (1 August – 1 October 2014). 
  • An international tour will follow. 
The Art Fund and Sfumato Foundation are supporting the UK tour of the tapestries, as well as education and interpretation materials for the UK tour

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book review: One Drawing a Day

This review kicks off the The Big Drawing Book Review 2013 - which I introduced on my main blog Making A Mark.  

It follows on from The Big Drawing Book Review in 2007.  There have been so many new books in the intervening years I thought it was time for another one! You can find out how you too can participate by reading my introduction blog post (see first link above).

It seemed appropriate to start with a book which encourages people to draw.

This then is a review of One Drawing a Day: A 6-Week Course Exploring Creativity with Illustration and Mixed Media by Veronica Lawlor.

The key distinction of this book is that it grew out of a blog created by professional illustrators and art educators which has been more or less posting one drawing a day each month since June 2009.

Synopsis:  This is a structured daily drawing course exploring creativity with illustration and mixed media which allows you to pick and choose the order that you complete the work. The author proposes readers should do 42 daily exercises - one drawing a day - over a period of 6 weeks. Drawing is a euphemism insomuch as in this book it also involves sketching with paint. The focus is on expressionism rather than realism.
Summary review:  This is a book to stimulate those who’d like to improve their drawing and sketching - and to reinvigorate those who know how to draw but need to stay fresh and inspired by what they see and how they draw/sketch/paint. In my opinion, it’s too challenging for beginners but would suit those who like experimenting and want to widen their repertoire of skills and improve their drawing in terms of interpretation and impact. It's both
  • A handy book to have around when your drawing goes stale. 
  • A good book to consult if you want to make progress with your drawing without going to class.
Average customer review
  • the structure of the exercises is flexible - it provides a framework but you can choose what you want to do
  • The Exercises:
    • Push the boundaries of conventional art-making for novice artists and those with no formal education in art and illustration
    • Recommend subject matter to focus on and media to use
    • Focus on observation from the real and not drawing from photos
    • Provide quick tips for those skim reading! They contain some very useful information - I learned a few new things!
  • the book advocates a wide range of materials to use for drawing and sketching - including ink and paint washes which both need brushes. Excellent demonstration of different ways you can use a range of art materials - stimulating for those who like mixed media
  • Very nice production values - design and format are contemporary and easy on the eye; quality of reproduction of images is good
  • There are two social media sites associated with this book where you can see the artwork triggered by use of the book
    • this is the blog One Drawing a Day written by the members of an illustration collective called Studio 1482. There are blog posts most days.
    • There is an a Flickr group - One Drawing a Day. Note that some of the people who participate are adult professional artists.
Think Again?
  • Exercises may feel routine to some with a formal art education - on the other hand it’s nice to have a reminder! 
  • If you are apt to take words very literally, you may feel some of the exercises are a major challenge. Try thinking how you can use the intent and vary the subject matter 
  • The sketches are very “sketchy”. The style is fine by me but some people who like drawings to be “realistic” might not like it. I say “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!” (NB It took me 10 years to loosen up the way I drew!) 
  • The book lacks variety in terms of different styles of drawing and sketching compared to the variety of sketches seen elsewhere in other books and other projects. Probably connected to the content having been produced by an artists’ collective (Studio 1482). 
  • Those who want to stay home and draw might not like the fact that the book includes exercises which involve getting out and about to draw and sketch 
  • Those who want to stick to one medium which makes them feel comfortable may not appreciate the challenges to their skills and techniques 
Who should buy this?:
  • Artists and illustrators who’d like to keep their drawing regular, fresh and creative 
  • People who like structured exercises to complete to create a discipline of habit 
  • People who like experimentation 
  • People who like trying and using different media and mixing media 
  • People who want to devote more time to sketching and need some ideas to get them going 
  • People who like engaging with related social media sites 
Who should not buy this?
  • Those wanting to learn how to draw - from the very beginning. I don’t think this is a beginners’ book. it assumes a lot of prior knowledge of art materials and that you will “get on and do” on your own. 
  • Those who want to take their time and draw very precisely 
  • People who like to draw using photographs - unless they want to break away from this limited approach to making art
Author: Veronica Lawlor + others (all are professional illustrators and/or art educators)
Publisher: Quarry Books (1 October 2011)
(Note: Studio 1482 artists Greg Betza, Margaret Hurst, and Veronica Lawlor are also featured in the Quarry Books release “The Art of Urban Sketching“) 
Technical data: Publication Date: 2011
Paperback - 128 pages
Available as an ebook? Yes - Kindle version available on Amazon
Also available as an ebook via iTunes for reading on an iPad 

This book will feature on a new website I'm creating.  

This is my main website about drawing books (which is currently being redesigned) The Best Books about Drawing and Sketching 

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