Whilst up in Welly the other week, chairing a conference, El Hubs and I hotfooted it to Te Papa to see the Colour & Light exhibition of French and American Impressionist paintings. I was really keen to see the artworks. I think I told you somewhere on this blog that I took art lessons for around seven years when I was young. Oh yeah, here’s the post where I told you. I studied mainly watercolours and oils with a German Professor – from the age of 10 to around 17 or 18 years.

Even way back then, my favourite art period was Impressionism with Monet and Degas being top of my list. So to clamp my eyes on some of the famous paintings by these two artists was going to be awesome (a hideously over-used word here in New Zealand that I try not to use!). I am not overly familiar with American Impressionists who usually studied in Paris, so this was the part of the exhibition I was really looking forward to.

The highlight for me was a painting by Degas called At The Races In The Countryside (1869), which is below (courtesy of the Te Papa website).

objimageI have always been intrigued by this painting, I think because it has an English countryside feel to it as well as the subject matter. I remember learning that the man’s face was supposed to be that of Manet (or was it Monet?) and that the family portrait was a bit racy for the time period (since it shows a wet-nurse with bared breast feeding a child, so there are references to breasts and fertility). To see this painting in real life was a great privilege – everything about it is perfect in my view.

Also at Te Papa was the Andy Warhol exhibit called Warhol:Immortal. We started off viewing this exhibition and I was quite amazed actually. I’ve never really appreciated Warhol’s work to be honest and thought I’d breeze through this on my way to the Impressionists. I guess I was always studying Impressionism, Cubism, Pointillism, Dadaism blah blah and sort of missed the Pop Art period. And I never really thought of Warhol’s work as serious stuff but changed my mind after seeing all his portraits and early commercial art work.

Warhol focused on the mundane – Campbell soup cans, Brillo boxes, Coca Cola bottles – as well as Hollywood celebrities. Was he ridiculing our modern obsession with celebrities? Did he subvert what we traditionally view as “art” by celebrating everyday objects like soup cans? Was he nothing more than a working-class illustrator who mesmerized people into thinking he was a groundbreaking artist? I know my Uncle would agree with the last question – I visited him the day after viewing the two exhibitions and told him about the Warhol exhibit. His response? “He was no artist“. Warhol’s work will never have the same place in my heart that Impressionist works have but I do appreciate Warhol more now.

It inspired me to think about taking up painting again. I have an old easel and oils, so I might take a photo of mine and paint a scene. Get back into practice.

For today’s laugh though, below is an oil painting I did when I was 17 years old. I have not been able to get rid of it, despite my best efforts. My mother loved it and for YEARS it hung in the living room to my constant embarrassment. When she came to live with us in 2005, I spirited it away into a shed, only to find it reappear in our NZ house. In the spare room thankfully but El Hubs dragged it out so it wouldn’t be damaged. Not sure what I was thinking when I painted it but I was clearly trying for some Impressionist mood.

Also below is a photo of a plate my mother painted. I think in the 1950s. It’s certainly one of her earlier pieces. She was a talented china painter and would sometimes exhibit. In later years, she took up oil painting but I always preferred her china painting. I dabbled in it too but could not pull off the delicate strokes and patience needed and I would totally stuff up the gold work around the rim of the plate or cup. My Uncle Peter (Dad’s brother) was a commercial artist and was clearly very talented. His work is below too.

Even whilst learning art, I was into photography and, over the years, have stuck with this. But maybe I might take up the brush again. We’ll see.

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The audio guides to both the Warhol and Impressionism exhibits were really good. I picked up a lot of information on key artworks.

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One of my mother’s china painting pieces. I know this is an earlier work of hers. In later life, she preferred to paint flowers rather than landscapes.

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I painted this when I was 17 years old. Yeegads.

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Some of my Uncle Peter’s pencil drawings.

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