The extended peace of the Tokugawa period afforded the samurai time to refine helmet design to an aesthetic plane seldom scaled by safety equipment before or since. Ironically perhaps, the more the samurai pushed for a macho, intimidating effect from their hardhats, the more the end result circled back towards high camp. Do not misunderstand me: the results were often magnificent.
This painting is of a helmet that apparently purports to portray a dolphin. As there is a shortage of 17th century samurai armour in my house, this is a rendering of a photo taken by Werner Forman (whose online archive I recommend).
I do not normally show my working out, but I took a lot of snaphots as I painted this. Reviewing these, it is strangely satisfying to see the finished picture emerge. You can also see where I changed my mind on a few things, and realised halfway through that I was painting the scales in the wrong direction! You can also see a cheeky sheet of kitchen paper photobombing its way onto the internet.
Edmund de Waal’s Letters to Camondo is (no surprise) engaging, moving and profoundly confronting. I will not try to summarise it or give you the highlights. It is short. Read it.
For my purpose today, however, I refer to de Waal’s praise of Édouard Manet’s The Lemon. Manet did a lot with a little here. It is very (no surprise) hard to make a painting of a lemon exciting. Manet managed it. Inspired, I painted this little friend from our tree out front.
Apparently if you have to buy lemons you either do not have a lemon tree or you do not have friends; it seems most friends (or at least some friends) have lemon trees. Who knew?
I have discovered that it is possible to tire of painting, and sometimes I need a break from it. As we are all in lockdown, I recently took a leaf from a friend’s book and made a model of a silly little car (thanks Claudia!). It filled the late night lockdown hours after work. It was fun, diverting, and this is what it looks like. My paintbrushes did not quite know how to handle the unfamiliar enamel I used on this.
This is what it looks like approaching the pedestrian underpass at the local train station in the hooligan hours of late night. Everything is still, cold, and is bathed in a flat orange light. It is a bit scary and I always speed up. But, so far, there has been nothing in there except me, fear, and the fog of my breath in the cold.
Regular viewers will have noted my fondness for painting Fiat cars. They are beautiful objects and they are so obliging at not moving for long periods. This one appeared to have been baking in the sun in the same spot for years.
This is a much bigger version of a small sketch I did about a year ago. It came as a surprise, but should not have, that it is easier to paint a big version of a picture than a small version. There is so much more room to get the detail right, provided the composition is sound.