- Published on 05 Oct 2015
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Spring 2015 - Click to Read
Over the past 12 months our focus on works on canvas as well as in watercolour has continued, with calligraphic work on a large scale. Tony’s creative process involves painting numbers of smaller ‘studies’, first and these have also become a serious part of our studio output. A long-time fan of Franz Kline, he was recently very excited to attend an exhibition of black and white works from Jackson Pollock on show at Tate Liverpool – many influenced by Zen and a number on Japanese paper.
One of the advantages of Tony working at Tate Britain twice yearly, is the access it gives to Tate Modern where we recently attended an exhibition of works by Kazimir Malevich, including his famous, “Black Square”, a painting that has had an impact on Western art in many ways since first exhibited in 1915. As Tony puts it:
Malevich's Black Square is both a painting and not a painting - an area covered in black, and devoid of light, colour and any suggestion of representational image. Malevich has seized all the territory available and taken away all light so that the mind is left entirely to its own creative resources. It’s a statement that can only be made once – and any future black square would only be a copy of his original idea. So now I’m painting acrylics derived from it: starting with black on canvas, then washing out and looking for the form and subject that can be found when you wash away some of the black, and work with the effects that occur when some of the paint has been allowed to dry before the washing out started. This also reflects a very much older philosophy - dating back to Alexander Cozens (1717 - 1786), who suggested artists make random ‘blots’ and then look for landscapes within them as a source of inspiration and originality Working this way is a bringing together of abstract expressionism and the much earlier British Watercolour School – with methods derived from both Turner and the New York.
Such black and white calligraphic work has been a major part of our most recent studio commissions, and mostly site-specific – just as if the resulting canvasses were painted onto the wall. – with separate works becoming part of a whole setting, in the same way that rocks in a Zen garden visually connect across space.
Tony’s interest in The Golden Age of Watercolour and of course his Zen influenced work have, of course, continued to be a major focus of his studio output, with many of the best paintings now put away into solander boxed collections available for viewing on request (see “Sublime Series Collection” in the Studio Gallery/Collections menu of our website). Our studio collection is always available for viewing in person here in Tasmania and we are very happy to show work from our collection by email.
We make our living by showing and selling our work to interested people from around the world. So please feel free to contact us at any time if you see anything reproduced on our website or elsewhere that you might be interested in. (We may not have that specific painting anymore but will, very likely, be able to show you others in the same vein. And there is no obligation…)
Mountford Granary Art School
This year marked the ‘official’ 25th anniversary of the founding of Mountford Granary Art School, by Tony, Carmel and Tony’s cousin Anne Mackinnon and husband, Hugh. Our simple idea – to offer world-class instruction in the watercolour methods of the great masters, and within the type of beautiful environment that originally inspired their art – has proved a great success, with lots of press and TV coverage, as well as a cultural tourism award. Tony’s Mountford Course, soon evolved into magazine articles, books, videos, TV appearances and an international reputation for the School.
Meanwhile, Mountford has attracted artists from around the world to Tasmania, with many returning year after year to be inspired and benefit from Tony’s latest research into the watercolour methods of Turner, Constable and others, while learning how any artist can adapt these towards their own figurative and non-figurative work.
Although Mountford Granary only takes up a very small part of our year, both the Smibert and Mackinnon families really look forward to it. So it’s with a slightly heavy heart that we announce that we are now only continuing on a ‘year by year’ basis, due to heavy demands on our time from other projects. Tony will continue to teach elsewhere by invitation of course when time allows, but may not be able to offer the regular, intensive beginner courses for which Mountford has become so famous.
Meanwhile, to celebrate such a long partnership, Anne and Hugh, Carmel and Tony recently shared an apartment in Venice and then a UK narrow-boat (for a canal trip from Whitchurch through to Llangollen). Lots of fun, sketching, touring, painting and so on!
In 2016 Mountford can only offer only two seminars, our Foundation Course from April 2nd to 6th , and then our Studio and En Plein Air Course with additional material on working in acrylics and on Turners oil painting techniques for landscape from April 9th to 13th. (Further information can be found at Art School in our menu).
There’s been no program of Museum master-classes this year, but recent discussions in London may now lead to workshops for art and conservation professionals in London and possibly elsewhere in 2016
Travel so far this year has included two visits to the UK and Europe. The most recent, spanning August and September, took in Amsterdam (the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt’s house and studio), where Tony was also able to experience and sketch a tall ship festival from on the water, in a motor launch alongside hundreds of other smaller craft – rather like a series of classic Turner oils – with square-rigged giants, silhouetted against a very dramatic sky. We also went to Belgium, with a chance to visit the sombre landscape of Ypres and then on to Venice, where Tony could again pursue Turner, and sketch exact locations painted by that master – including the chance to be on location for sunrise, sunset and so on (we stayed not far from St Mark’s Square). Next came the wonderful trip along the Llangollen Canal, also with Anne and Hugh, which included traversing aqueducts, tunnels, idyllic rural settings and deep forest with every chance to sit on the deck drawing the passing scenery. Tony and Hugh took turns on the tiller, alternating with sketching everything along the way – so that both returned with sketchbooks brimming. Perhaps the most exciting location for this turned out to be Chirk aqueduct, which had been a subject for both JMW Turner and John Sell Cotman (1782 – 1842). Cotman’s watercolour Chirk Aqueduct is, alongside his more famous Greta Bridge, a British masterpiece, so that Tony and Hugh were soon heading off on foot to look for the exact location where Cotman had worked so long ago. All of this helped Tony in pursuing his particular interest in applying Cotman’s drawing methods in his own sketches (and would then lead to the purchase of a small John Sell Cotman drawing from a dealer in London a few weeks later…).
The next leg took us to Chester, with a side visit to Liverpool and the Jackson Pollock exhibition Blind Spots at Tate Liverpool. Anne and Hugh then set off to another part of the UK and we went on to Snowdonia.
First stop was Conwy Castle (sketching from a Turner view-point), then rugged mountain passes, and more drawing, before arriving at Llanberis and Dolbadarn Castle which was an important Welsh subject for Turner and very much a goal as far as Tony was concerned. So the next three days saw him up and around the ruin of this ancient tower: early morning, late evening, in driving rain, and under dramatic skies. As he describes it:
This was the second time I’ve seen Dolbadarn, but this time I was able to experience what Turner's generation of artists called 'The Sublime' as living art experience. Up there, nothing much has changed in the last 200 years – except that there are now trees on the surrounding cliffs - so the castle stands virtually as a visitor of 1800 would have seen it, so I could make page after page of pencil studies from all directions. I seldom saw another visitor and was certainly able to understand why Turner was profoundly affected by his own time there so long ago*. Then, a week later, in the Study Room at Tate, when I held the very sketchbook that Turner used at Dolbadarn back in 1798 and studied his wonderful drawings alongside my own attempts, the whole experience really came together, so that and I’m now looking forward to seeing how it will impact on my own work…
* Turner and the Sublime: The Performance, in partnership with international concert pianist Ambre Hammond, was staged at both the National Gallery of Australia and Art Gallery of South Australia two years ago, as an original concept, featuring a piano concert of music broadly associated with the idea of The Sublime, performed while Tony painted a watercolour to Turner’s own prose-title for his Dolbadarn Castle of 1800-2.
The final leg involved Tony spending a week at Tate Britain (see next).
The Tate Watercolour Manual: Lessons from the Great Masters has proven to be a best seller for Tate Publishing and co-authors Tony Smibert and Dr Joyce Townsend. Dr Townsend is now working towards a re-write and re-publishing of her earlier, famous reference Turners Painting Techniques, but with with illustrations of paint science and effects created by Tony under her instructions, plus a chapter by Tony with step-by step instructions that any serious artist might use to apply the science of Turner’s technique to creating original paintings with today’s materials.
So the final week of the journey was spent in a painting and photographic studio set up within the Conservation Science Laboratory of Tate Britain at Millbank in London. There, under daylight balanced studio lighting, artist and scientist worked through various ways to illustrate not only the paint science required but also the various ways that Turner is believed to have applied his paint in achieving the remarkably singular visual effects that are so admired, even today. Access to Clore Gallery made it possible for Tony to closely examine a wide range of Turner canvasses up close – often going back and forth to examine and compare results – so that, by the end of five solid days, both he and Joyce could be reasonably happy with the resulting illustrations. This work will also provide key illustrations for a new book planned by Tony’s and now in the works, called Turner’s Apprentice, which will looking at ‘apprenticeship’ to the works of an artist after their passing, with John Ruskin, Thomas Moran and Tony’s as examples of artists who have seriously studied Turner. Dr Townsend will also contribute a chapter.
With such a hectic schedule, we’ve continued to put large exhibitions on hold. We’re still hoping to change all that in the near future (and will, for example, be holding a small exhibition at the Blackman Art Hotel in Melbourne during November of this year, and then an Open Studio Retrospective to celebrate 30 years of our own studio gallery here in Tasmania in December).
Please stay tuned. And if you’d like to be on our mailing list, please let us know. Mailing List
See Aikido section for other Aikido news
The 50th Anniversary Summer School of Aiki Kai Australia, held in January 2015, proved to be a phenomenal success. Guest of Honour Ueshiba Moriteru, the Doshu of Aikido led the training with shihans from around the world giving master class sessions to the around 400 trainees who attended from around the world.
Tony’s personal schedule this year, has so far included three overseas trips (to New Zealand in February for the 45th Anniversary of the New Zealand Aikikai, to Belgium for the Flemish Summer School in May, then back to Belgium for the Global Aikido Inner School at Maredsous, followed by the Three Generations Seminar in Brussels). The most recent visit to Belgium included a special Buddhist Ceremony to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the passing of Sugano Sensei, hosted by Dany le Clare Shihan, President of AFA. Travel next year will include Europe and Japan.
He is also working on an Aikido-related book with the draft title, Art From Aikido, which we hope to self-publish soon, with possible essays from Dr Peter Goldsbury, Professor of Philosophy at Hiroshima University (and Chairman of the International Aikido Federation) and renowned martial arts author, Mike Clarke .
Those with an interest in Aikido are requested to visit http://www.aikido.org.au