Thursday, 19 April 2012

Notes from a hospital bed

Into hospital for operation on left hip on Friday 13th.  General anaesthetic and a femoral nerve block.  Came round in recovery room.  Have forgotten most of the rest of the day!

I’m told my new hip has a bit of high density polyethylene (HDPE) for a cup and a ceramic ball / metal implant (I think).  The surgeon had a change of mind part way through.  Early x-rays show promising results.

The photographs below were taken in the ward.  Thank you to the kind friend who took them and who has tweeted and answered tweets on my behalf.

At the feet of the Professor!

First steps!

View from the ward
(Yes, that's the Shard on the right!)

The Professor with his reacher!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

17th Century Dutch Paintings : Golden Age- Part 1 National Gallery and Wallace Collection

***Update 19/9/2012

Tweet exchange on Ask a Curator Day on Twitter

@rijksmuseum #askacurator How many of your Albert Cuyp pictures in collection feature cows, number + %

@ProfWhitestick I count 32 Albert Cuyp works featuring cows. But correct me if I’m wrong ;)

***end of update

Update 6/5/2012

A conversation on Twitter with the Wallace Collection:

new Post: Rediscovering an interest in 17th Century Dutch Paintings - at a gallery near you Tot ziens!

Wallace Collection
@profwhitestick Very pleased you enjoyed it - do you have a favourite art work in there?

@WallaceMuseum There is an Albert Cuyp painting with an avenue of trees and a view of Dordrecht and a group in the avenue.

@profwhitestick Brilliant choice!

*** end of update

I have always admired those 17th Century paintings that would fit nicely in a suitcase and could fit in quite well at home.  It may be that growing up near the sea in Edinburgh gave one a sense of sharing the North Sea with European neighbours.  It may be the light or the detail but I still find much enjoyment in the style of landscapes, seascapes, town scenes and genre paintings such as the The Lacemaker, which strikes an impression of gloom, dark clothes and possibly dour Scottish themes.  Perhaps that’s what draws me to these paintings.  As they used to say in the Lace making towns of Ayrshire (Galston, Newmilns and Darvel): there is a lot going on behind the lace curtain!

The Lacemaker by Caspar Netscher
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 7th April 2012)

I was in the Netherlands in 1966 on a school cruise and the students were rioting at the time.  We had to travel through Amsterdam on a waterbus and the closest place to the centre we could visit on dry land was the Rijksmuseum.  Memories of endless gables of Amsterdam have remained with me and I can still “spot” Dutch influences in Scotland at Culross, Preston Mill and the East Neuk of Fife.  Similarly the trade between East Anglia and the Low Countries has an influence on landscapes and buildings.  On 10th April BBC Radio3 Nightwave discussed landscape with Alexandra Harris contributing similar thoughts about Dutch influence on landscape culture in England.

Just as my peripheral vision can pick up the Shard in London, it can also pick up lines in a painting of steeples, ship masts, avenues of trees and bridges over a canal or river.  Soon after starting this blog I attended an Art Through Words talk about Dutch painter Gerrit Berckheyde ‘Groote Kirke in Harlem’.  This is a painting of a large church and town centre scene in Harlem in the Netherlands.  This is where we have a problem in the Dutch language and the variants in spelling and for that matter the way that a screenreader will pronounce the names.  Sometimes a search will be unsuccessful but the predictor can be lucky.  I tried to get Bergheide right and was often “corrected”.  Here is the link to the National Gallery for this painting. 

Indeed a search in the National Gallery website is accessible and many of the paintings, once found, have a description.  The National Gallery owes much of the collection to King George IV and Robert Peel.

The Gallery also has a trail round some of the Dutch paintings where it is possible to zoom into some of the images.  This can make some paintings more accessible depending on the type of vision you may have. 

Many of us with sight loss can make out something and these finely drawn paintings of the 17th Century allow me, with my peripheral vision, to get some idea of the painting while those with “tunnel vision” can often identify much of the detail.  I have written down some names, but be careful in copying and pasting into searches on the internet. There are a few lists on the Internet but with Dutch names both the first name and the surnames have changed over the years.

Johannes Vermeer

Rembrandt van Rijn

Esaias van de Velde

Frans Hals

Jan van der Heyden

Jacob van Ruisdael

Jan Steen

Pieter de Hooch

Willem van de Velde the Younger

Caspar Netscher

Gerard ter Borch

Aelbert Cuyp

Adam Frans van der Muelen

David Teniers the Younger

Ludolf Backhuyzen

Meindert Hobbema

Johannes Lingebach

Hendrick ten Oevers

Adrian van de Velde

Some of the problems in resolving the Dutch, Flemish, French and English search terms can be avoided with this very useful website for those interested in Dutch and Flemish Art.  It copes with the language divide in Belgium:

However, there is another problem with some art definitions.  Netherlandish is the term often used (see my post on Hieronymus Bosch) then Flemish Art is used for the period of Spanish occupied South Netherlands or Flanders.  Dutch is often used for North Netherlands, especially the Calvinist provinces which went on to gain independence and form the Kingdom of The Netherlands. 

It may be helpful to check out a list of Dutch artists and spellings.  Also, if you have access to some collections on the internet, it is worth searching for a Facebook gallery and trying to enlarge the image.  This sometimes works with a high resolution image.  For a history of Dutch Painting I have found this link to the famous Boijmans museum in Rotterdam -

A few days after the National Gallery talk, I visited Kenwood House in Hampstead, London.  This is a beautiful Robert Adam House, though is closed till 2013 due to a major refurbishment. There is a fine collection of Dutch paintings including a Vermeer - Lady with Guitar - and some Rembrandts. The Rembrandt has gone on tour, though the Vermeer stays in the UK.   

This shows a scene in Dordrecht and on enquiring at the bookshop if there was a postcard of the painting I was told that there was a book of paintings with the Cuyp painting in it under the Phaidon Label.  These books are large format and are handy for having at home.  The pages are large enough for me to notice something and a friend can often be persuaded to go with you and “see” others in the book which covers paintings in the National Gallery, Wallace Collection, Kenwood House, Buckingham Palace, National Gallery of Scotland as well as institutions in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and New York.

Wallace Museum

I mentioned to my friend Jackie as we made our first visit to the newly refurbished Wallace Collection galleries that optics was a new technique for painters to use in art and sharp lines were just about discernible to me.  Sure enough the gallery notes at the Wallace mentioned that some painters used lenses to fine tune details!

The refurbishment of the Wallace Collection gallery of Dutch Paintings is worth visiting with an hour or so to spare.  There are 3 rooms on the first floor and a lift is available if needed. I am still “scanning” the huge Boucher paintings on the stairway and remembered that Zoffany had copied the style early in his career. In each of the galleries there are notes and if a friend, or even another person, is around to read out these notes, they describe the painting if you can make out the detail. 

Me by View of the Westerkerk, Amseterdam by Jan van der Heyden
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 24th March 2012)

It is important to realise that viewing the collection is not the same as in a conventional gallery. This is quite literally a collection - as the painting of Zoffany (Lawrence Dundas) shows.  We asked one of the attendants if it was OK to take a photograph and having been told that it was (No flash), Jackie took one of me with a painting on either side and a view of the paintings on their own.  I even took my first photograph since I lost my sight. Jackie politely told me that she must have moved, but I treated the phone as a viewfinder and must have moved myself but I am thinking of getting a camera so that I can snap my own things.

Me standing by Ships in a Calm by Willem van de Velde
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 24th March 2012 )

We had a short discussion with the attendant on duty and I must have been talking about the paintings of Cuyp in Dordrecht when we were told that van de Velde was in the next room. With about half of the paintings at about head height, I found I could make quite a lot of many of them. 

Two weeks later I took another friend to visit the Wallace collection and we spent more time on the Dutch Galleries and had a more detailed look at the larger Dutch pictures in the Great Hall.  In walking back via the Bonington pictures of French scenes with boats and harbours, I admired these as much as when I first noticed them.  In the bookshop a selection of the black and white catalogues are on sale. These are a bargain as the monochrome photographs often give a clearer and sharper image of the painting.  The text does indicate the colours used and provides a more academic study of the genre.  I have often found that some descriptions are not easily matchable with a colour image. 

TIP: There is a lot of construction in London’s West End.  Many buses are on diversion and it may be easier if taking a bus going south bound from the north to get off in Wigmore Street and get to Machester Square.  If a bus is diverted in the north direction then Portman Square is navigable, though take care in crossing Baker Street at any time, any place and anywhere!

Books mentioned:

Dutch Painting by Christopher Brown, Phaidon (1993) (ISBN 978 0 7148 2865 7)

Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection by Jo Hedley (1999) (ISBN 0900 785 64 0)

The Wallace Collection – Catalogue of Pictures Volume IV - Dutch and Flemish (1992) (ISBN 0900 785 38 1)

Aelbert Cuyp Edited by Arthur K Wheelock Jr. (2002) (ISBN 0 89468 286 5)

Dutch Landscapes by Desmond Shawe-Taylor (2010) (ISBN 978 1 905686 25 4)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Hailes Castle: East Lothian- Historic Scotland

Update 26 August 2012

I managed to persuade a friend to drive to Hailes Castle on a bright sunny afternoon over the (English Bank Holiday) weekend.  The castle never fails to be an enjoyable location and I managed to clamber down to the River Tyne, with some care, and inspected a pit prison among the ruins.  There are very discreet information boards in sheltered locations around the site, and there were quite a few tourists enjoying this beautifully kept location near East Linton.  This can be approached from either Haddington or East Linton. 

View of Hailes Castle, East Lothian
from the banks of the River Tyne
near the confluence with a burn
A great soundscape location

Prof Whitestick indicating the pit prison at Hailes Castle
East Lothian, Scotland
26 August 2012

I will be staying in London over the Easter Holidays as my hip operation is scheduled soon.  I had been looking forward to visiting the Edinburgh area so instead I have dug out some notes of more attractions in East Lothian.  Coincidentally an article of mine has appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of ‘Historic Scotland’ magazine.  (

The magazine is very useful as it gives an idea of trips one can do. Several years ago there was a theme linking Historic Scotland properties to short boat or ferry trips and I can remember going with friends to Loch Leven Castle and Threave Castle.  There are quite a few properties with a pleasant boat trip and traffic free grounds.  Some examples are: Inchcolm Abbey on Inchcolm Island in River Forth, Inchmahome Priory on an island in the Lake of Menteith.  Further details of Historic Scotland and facilities can be obtained via

Hailes Castle is only about a mile and a half off the A1 near East Linton, in East Lothian and is not far from Edinburgh.  It is accessible by car and an obliging driver.  There is also another road from Haddington which takes in Traprain Law, a geological feature, a laccolith, where some Neolithic finds as well as more recent artifacts have been found.  These can be viewed in the Museum of Scotland in Chambers St in Edinburgh. ( local council has an attractive guide to this feature.  I can just about discern Traprain Law in the landscape with the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law.

However, the final approach is via a single track road, with passing places few and far between!  In the wet summer of 2011 we drove there but there was a sense of dread on the part of my friend who no doubt prayed that no vehicle suddenly appeared in the opposite direction as he drove down the narrow stretch to the castle.    

The castle is in an isolated location.  There are a few houses nearby and limited space for parking.  However, I have been visiting Hailes Castle for many years now, and have never encountered any problem regarding access or parking.

Once there and safely parked, Hailes Castle delights at many levels.  First, the castle can be enjoyed at any reasonable time and can form part of a theme of trips to other properties of Hepburn, Bothwell and of course Mary Queen of Scots.  The area occupied by the ruins is not vast and daunting, but easily explored at leisure, although the sometimes uneven terrain does require a certain measure of alertness! 

 Enjoying the sun at Hailes Castle

© Professor Whitestick

Second, the castle’s isolated location has meant that the site is never crowded, so once again allowing one to discover the ruins and grounds at one’s own pace.  The castle appears to be popular with some European tourists and I have heard quite a few Italian, French and German speaking visitors from time to time.  This has a further advantage in that one is able to listen to and for the sounds that are a part of the castle’s setting.  And it is the setting – rising, in isolation, on the banks of the River Tyne - which for me is the castle’s chief attraction and that draws me to visit it again and again over the years. There is some charm in castle ruins and Scotland’s history can tell us that it was not always the English who tore down the battlements.

On entering the grounds one passes the small ‘bridge’ over a rushing stream near the entrance, down the pathway leading to underground chambers which were the baking house and cellars; or down a narrow flight of steps, through an arch to see and hear the river flowing and gurgling down below.  Occasionally, there will be someone fishing, but always you will hear the sounds of birds – and the water, and nothing else. 

Looking down on the River Tyne at Hailes Castle
© Professor Whitestick

Across, on the opposite side lies an impressive expanse of farmland which reminds me of some landscapes in the Dutch style.

View from across Hailes Castle
© Professor Whitestick

The A1 and East Coast railway line are not far away but I have never sensed them at the castle.  My cane, though useful in negotiating steps, is not much use as a support and I would advise a stout stick. 

Other Historic Scotland properties include Dirleton and Tantallon Castles.  Preston Mill (NTS) was described in the post on East Lothian walks. (  

Haddington is the county town and is rich in history and has an attractive river walk - a Scottish version of San Antonio, TX ?   The town has an historic Scottish Kirk, the Lamp of Lothian and the River Tyne meanders its way through the town with many bridges crossing the river. 

NB The River Tyne is not to be confused with a river of the same name in England.

Hailes Castle has a connection through Lord Hailes, who styled his house near Edinburgh as Newhailes House.  I wrote about my visit to Newhailes House and have decided to add two photographs of the house.  The link is:

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Trainspotting:Thameslink from West Hampstead to Blackfriars for Bankside and Tate Modern

Update: 6/6/2012
Being more mobile, I am now allowed to sit down on the London Overground and so made a trip to Richmond using this line from West Hampstead Overground station. 

Going through the ticket gates, turn left for Richmond, Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction.  Turn right for Stratford and for other connections to Barking via Gospel Oak or the West Croydon and East London lines changing at Canonbury. In both cases there are two sets of steps, 14 and 15, to negotiate. 

The thin platforms have tactile markings roughly half the width and there are obstacles such as benches (with passengers’ outstretched legs, though they have always been considerate and pulled them in when I have approached!) and assorted railway platform fittings. 

Stratford bound train approaching West Hampstead Overground - stand back!

There is quite a gap between the platform and the carriages and some nifty cane work is required. 

Platform 2 West Hamsptead Overground station with train - mind the gap!

If unfamiliar with a station you should ask for assistance. This is often offered if you are spotted by the staff and the train conductor will answer any questions. I noticed that they give stations and the running status of the connecting Underground services.  Announcements in train are audible and clear and the platform announcements have been much improved.

*** end of update

Update: 20/5/2012

Some pictures were taken on Sunday 13th May, 2012 which show the stations in West Hampstead.  On that afternoon there was a big football match and the area around West End Lane was relatively quiet.  The pictures were taken of the station areas including some of the platforms on the underground and the layout of the Thameslink station showing recent developments. 

For the sake of railway enthusiasts, I arranged for a picture to be taken of the Thameslink / Midland lines going towards St Pancras with a view of the London Overground crossing the railway bridge.  The new wall with its shade of green tiles can be seen and indeed touched. 

There is also a shot of me handling a touch screen on one of the ticket machines outside West Hampstead Thamseslink station.  On the day in question, the two ticket offices were closed.

*** end of update

My reduced mobility due to my left hip problem has meant that I have had to avoid certain travel routes which I had carefully learned over the years. Visually impaired people often have preferred ways of getting about, not obvious to the sighted community.  We develop favourite crossing points, favourite exits from train stations and usually pay more attention to our surroundings using sound. 

Currently I can manage to climb the odd stair but descending stairs with a crutch and cane is frightening as well as hazardous.  Walking too far also is painful, so when Stephen offered to take me to Tate Modern I thought we would have to pick up a minicab from Southwark Underground station on the Jubilee line.

Stephen and I made arrangements to meet and get to Tate Modern.  On the day of the visit (22nd March 2012) I learned, through Twitter (@ThamesClippers), that  there had been a problem on the Jubilee Line, so I arranged with Stephen to meet at West Hampstead Underground and we would try out the new West Hampstead Thameslink station and the new exits at Blackfriars Bridge on the South Bank.

West Hampstead has three stations. Going in a northerly direction up West End Lane one comes across West Hampstead Underground which is on the Jubilee line, though trainspotters will know that the Metropolitan Line passes through non-stop.  What is not well known is that the Chiltern Line from Marylebone to Aylesbury and Birmingham also passes through the station.

West Hampstead underground station from footbridge showing Metropolitan and Chiltern lines
©Prof Whitestick

Further up on West End Lane's left side is West Hampstead Overground station.  The Overground has connections to Clapham, Richmond, Watford, Stratford and South London via the East London Line connecting at Canonbury or Highbury & Islington. (I prefer Canonbury)
Entrance to West Hampstead Underground Station
©Prof Whitestick
West Hampstead Overground station
©Prof Whitestick

There is now a significant amount of transfer between the 2 stations at West Hampstead.  The pavements (sidewalks) on both sides of the road have clutter though I tend to cross at a controlled pedestrian crossing outside the Overground Station. If it is not working then other passengers usually assist.  Staying on the left side of West End Lane it is possible to cross over Iverson Road at a Costa Coffee placed on the corner and the new West Hampstead Thameslink station can be noted.
West Hampstead Thameslink Iverson Rd tiled wall -green shades
©Prof Whitestick

The new wall on Iverson Road in NW6 from West End Lane to the station is made of ceramic tiles placed at corners to prevent fly posting.  The shade of green ranges from the shades and tones which we had described to us at the Royal Academy and in the Corot Landscape at the National Gallery.  The station was opened recently and I had already had a preview of the new facilities. 

Visually impaired person using touch screen
©Prof Whitestick
This offers a new footbridge with lift (elevator) access to the platforms.  The new footbridge is covered though open to the elements.  Although the walk surface is of the cheese grater non slip type, being exposed it could be prone to icing. The lifts have waist height controls and with only two options are easy to use. (I had a guided and escorted tour on request.)

Midland Railway northbound and showing new West Hampstead Thameslink footbridge and station
©Prof Whitestick

Midland Railway towards St Pancras
©Prof Whitestick

We got on a southbound train at Platform 1 and got off at Blackfriars. Blackfriars station is really a bridge over the Thames and platforms have been extended to provide a new exit and station on the South Bank convenient for Bankside.  If you continue along the platform there is a lift to take you down to the walkway level on the South Bank. 

There is a lot of construction work.  Turning to the left and walking along the River Thames brings you to Bankside and the two entrances to Tate Modern. Either down a ramp into the Turbine Hall or directly into the gallery areas on level 2. 

On the return we noted that the lift only gave access to the southbound tracks. An elevator is under construction/repair on the northbound side. On going northbound we had to climb the stairs.

Some of the Thameslink train formations are only 4 coaches and many of the trains approach the 2 tracks through Central London with short notice time changes.  If you are travelling with a sighted passenger, ask them to notice how many coaches are mentioned for your destination.  As we were returning to West Hampstead a fellow passenger told us that the next stopping train for West Hampstead had only four coaches and that we would have to walk along the platform. 

From experience I would get on any train and change at City Thameslink where there is a staffed information point on the platform. If  you are on your own the staff are helpful, though if you are with a sighted friend it may be an idea to listen for information about coach formation.

West Hampstead is served with Buses numbers C11, 139 and 328. There was a grand plan to realign all the rail tracks and build a single station with even a Heathrow Airport link.  West Hampstead is served with links to Gatwick and Luton Airports from the Thameslink station.

Hieronymus Bosch: Christ Mocked – The Crowning with Thorns

In the National Gallery ‘Art through Words’ programme the chosen painting for March 31, 2012 was Hieronymus Bosch ‘Christ Mocked’  or ‘Crowning with Thorns’ This has an Easter theme to it and the passion can be read from the Gospel of St Mark.

On the day, the National Gallery was preparing for a full security check in line with London preparing for the Olympic Games.  When there are crowds waiting, security manages to escort visually impaired people through the checking process.  It is something we will all have to get used to as the Games get closer. 

Our describer Karly Allan met us on the ground floor and we went upstairs - a lift is available.  There were about 20 of us including companions.  After introductions we settled down to an A2 sized poster reproduction of the painting, almost the size of the original itself.

Bosch was born in the area around Antwerp.  Many of his paintings were done in the late 1400s and this would put him in the same period as say Richard III in England.  After the historical context and background to Netherlandish Art and Northern European Reformation around 1500, Karly settled on the geometry. 

Within the frame is a 5 sided figure slightly askew (an inverted pentagon with about 18 degrees of clockwise rotation). At the corners are 4 tormentors or torturers of Christ, who is off-centre on the top side to the right of the centre of the pentagon. With the 5 people there are five pairs of hands and we spent some time locating arms, hands and shoulders!

The off-centre nature of the composition with some diagonal lines gives the painting some sense of motion.  It is slightly unnerving and suggests violence, which is doubtless the intent.   I commented in the Zoffany post that in compositions Zoffany managed to suggest a frozen scene of the action in his paintings of theatrical and classical or biblical scenes.  The Bosch painting has characters who appear to be different in their actions as one moves round the group.  Christ himself appears calm though violence is occurring and a crown of thorns is placed just above the head in a halo like appearance. 

The characters top left and bottom left are clothed in green and raspberry red respectively, the lower one is in profile with a bulbous and hooked nose.  On the top right the character is dressed in what looks like a dog collar with spikes and is brandishing a club which may have had spikes though these have been erased.  This character reminded me of the executioner in Mel Brooks Movie ‘Blazing Saddles’  (Now that I think of it, the bottom left character looks like the Marty Feldmann character in Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein!)

The figure on the bottom right seems to be pulling off the white robe on Christ’s body. It is almost as if he were pulling back a curtain and this gives a diagonal from the bottom right of the painting into the centre.  Other lines which give some idea of movement are discernible on the peripheral vision.  Some of those attending could detect detail such as the crescent and 6 pointed star on the bottom left character clothing.  Clusters of oak leaves and an acorn on the tormentor top right and an arrow which is on the turban on the top left character who also has a metal clad arm and hand. 

This painting would have been commissioned as a private “devotional” item.  It is oil on wood (oak) and has a wooden frame in Gallery Room 5. 

We then moved to the painting in groups. There are arms to borrow for guidance and I chatted with a couple I had met in January.  The surprise is “seeing” the painting in real life.  The colour contrast was much clearer.  I am rather weak on green and the profile of those clad in red was much sharper as was the thinning of the white on Christ. 

At this point it was mentioned that this was the only Bosch in the collection.  The same had been said about Albrecht Durer.  I have seen Bosch paintings in real life at the Prado in Madrid.  As coincidence would have it, the friend who had taken me to the Zoffany exhibition had been with his wife to Madrid and had sent me a postcard of the Garden of Delights which I showed to Karly.  

Many thanks to the National Gallery team for these monthly meetings.  They give us another door to explore more art by just asking.

For Chemists: The structure of this painting can be described as Furan, with the oxygen placed at the bottom of the heterocyclic ring.   The carbons represent the heads of the torturers.  The Carbon-Hydrogen bonds represent the arms of the torturers. The white pigment has become abraded and shows the workings of the body of Christ.  The green pigment is made from an unusual compound of tin, oxygen and the isotope of hydrogen with 2 neutrons.


After the talk I was taken back to the Sainsbury Wing where I made some enquiries about the Turner Exhibition.  Security took me outside as the heightened security exercise was underway. I was enjoying a banana outside the gallery when the peace and tranquillity of Trafalgar Square was ruined by someone playing the bagpipes, badly.  I enjoy bagpipe music but this was not only a bad player but the tune was Highland Cathedral.  I can only think that this was the latest Cabinet Office stunt to control the British Masses.

Further dates were handed out at the meeting and when I got home Miranda Baxter sent me the programme which my computer can read to me and which I can cut and paste into the blog.  The National Gallery needs an idea of numbers in order to have reproduction posters and highlights magnified for those attending.  All sessions are free.  Please call 020 7747 5820 to guarantee a place.

Tate Modern:Boetti and Kusama Exhibitions

In January I had been encouraged to go to the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern by Linda Bolton, who wrote a guest post for the blog and has a good understanding of how much a visually impaired person can enjoy some modern art.  Without being specific, Linda said I would enjoy it. (We have since exchanged views on the exhibition.)

I contacted Marcus Dickey Horley at Tate Modern saying that I would try to visit and that having found out how to get there on my own, my hip problem meant that I would have to go nevertheless with a friend.  Marcus came back suggesting that I ought to also take in the Alighiero Boetti exhibition which had just opened and that if I needed any assistance to let them know.   Luckily Stephen (who had taken me to the Gerhard Richter Exhibition) offered to take me. He had seen the Kusama show and had not been too impressed. Another friend said the reviews did not make him want to take me though nevertheless offered to take me to the Zoffany Exhibition at the Royal Academy instead. 

The Boetti and Kusama exhibitions are on Level 4.  This can be reached by escalator or by lift (elevator)  We spent about 4 hours at Tate Modern:  viewed the Boetti exhibition, had lunch, viewed the Kusama, had coffee (cappuccino is an art form on level 6) and went to the shops and viewed the level 2 area which is outside and reached from the embankment.  I am hoping to go again to the exhibitions but these are my first thoughts and memories to which I have added some notes taken from a recording which we made of our conversations.

Visiting exhibitions or shows has, I am told, had an influence on my painting.  Some friends claim to detect Richter/Hockney influences in some of my work.  I am showing a painting I did over 2 weeks.  Val was showing me the application of some pigment with a palette knife.  I thought one of my paintings could do with an off centre ocean so I worked some “blue” giving a tactile effect to it in the process!

Azure - Bay
 © Prof Whitestick

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan

Boetti was born in Turin, which is famous for cars, high technology and a movie (The Italian Job) with Michael Caine. Boetti employs many materials and designs objects and collages and what could be described as framed art work.  Some items are very large and I could make them out from a distance. His ideas are worth a “second look” and I was glad that Stephen noticed a few repeating themes which I could later identify.  Indeed, Boetti decided to form his own group after rejecting Arte Povera and there is a chart which has all the members of his group with identifying marks which were shared but had a unique combination.  This was laid out in a grid with simple geometry which I could detect. Boetti’s meticulous drawings are on display and the clear angles were discernible as were the final sculpture. 

In a scene reminiscent of the Gerhard Richter “Tote”, there is a body laid out.  It is, however, Boetti sunbathing in Turin and framed by panes of glass in the back. This body is made from ceramics.

1000 Rivers

Boetti illustrates the futility of measuring everything and seeking to classify the length of rivers and order them.  Issues such as where is the source, is the left bank different from the right bank and what happens in a delta are raised with running the names of the rivers together.   Boetti collaborated in this with his wife Annemarie Sauzeau.

Maps of the World

In one of the rooms there is a series of world maps which were made in Afghanistan.  Boetti had travelled extensively during the pre Soviet invasion in 1979 and gave work to men who embroidered large tapestry maps and weaved rugs.  Boetti designed and others carried out the work.  In one of the world maps the oceans were coloured in pink and not blue.  The story was that the Afghans had no idea of the concept of oceans, being landlocked and they had a lot of pink to use.

From school I can remember that for a map there has to be a minimum of 4 colours. This allows borders to be clearly marked.  The maps had flags of the nation states and Boetti had noted changes of state names and politics. In a map of the UK there was a Union Flag (Union Jack) over England + Wales, Scotland was a blue grey while Northern Ireland was orange with the Republic coloured with the tricolour. This was in 1969!

28th March

The above was written down a few days after my visit and these notes are from a recording which I made with Stephen. This won’t win any prizes as we were not sure when the recorder was running and my mobile phone, also in my shirt pocket, picked up some interference.  

The title of the “Show” is Gameplan and this refers to the play Boetti makes on many techniques. After the 2nd room there is no chronology and the show can be enjoyed by wandering around. We nevertheless followed the route for the most part and stopped at items which we both wanted to explore in more detail.

Boetti established a “classifactory” process where he would initiate, design and then leave others to complete.  In his first solo exhibition in Turin in 1967 he made objects out of industrial materials including corrugated cardboard, aluminium, varnished wood, fibre glass, steel rods, wire wool, spaghetti  an lighting devices. There are assembled piles of varnished wood range from yellow to cobalt dark shades.  Stephen noticed about 40 clusters.  I could make out the overall shape but missed out on the shades of the wood. On leaving the room I noticed a pair of flashing lights on either side of the door, they said Ping and Pong and flashed one after the other. The symbols chosen for the group resembled “Bassetts Dolly Mixture and liquorice Allsorts!”


X38945 Stretched cloth 2x3 metres with a 2m hand rail in front.

X39052 Lithograph Showman

A chessboard with squares of about 2 inches made of rusty steel with squares of tracing paper giving the chessboard effect. I noticed this on my peripheral vision when navigating to an item hanging on the wall.

Order and disorder is a subject where Boetti has formed letters from the Italian and mixed them up in sketches and later used the results for other works.

X38350 - 2m square formed from paper dots arranged.

X38338 The sighted vedete.

X38635 Boetti has assembled a montage of glossy magazine covers from Vogue, Economist, Elle , Scientific American, Il Mondiale, Le Figaro but these have been drawn on paper with pencil from issues of 1990.


In talking about the maps of the world I made a comment about the Hajj Exhibition maps of the Middle East and an alternative projection other than that of Mercator.  Regarding the Afghans not knowing the colour of the ocean, there was a programme on BBC Radio 3 on Schubert settings of Goethe’s poetry of Sicily and some sea descriptions. Schubert had never seen the sea and had only visited the Austrian lakes.


lo che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin 19 January 1969)
Guatemala 1974 4 photographs
La Mole Antonelliana 1970-75 - 7 stamped postcards

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama was born into a middle class Japanese family and used materials from the family nursery and horticultural business to use as artist’s materials which were in short supply.  She also made use of sacks.  She moved to USA and in some way predates Andy Warhol by 3 years in painting by repetition.  This is obsession par excellence and her pen strokes when repeated and assembled form patterns which I could recognise.  Any scientist familiar with Wave Theory would recognise peaks, troughs, beats and both sound and light effects (Young’s slits with single slit and double slit)

To say that Kusama was obsessive is putting it mildly.  In some of the work there is definitely a single theme of bits of male anatomy. Everything is apparently in what Grayson Perry called Herms.

Notes from the recordings:

Room 7

Series of repetition themed items with a collage of airmail stickers. Kusama had to be supported secretly by her family and the collage in 1962 has the theme of letter writing as the point of communication. 

Room 10

Kusama adjusts to being a voluntary In-Patient in a hospital. Using the hospital as a base she returned to running a sculpture studio.  The accumulations series which had resulted in a motif has by now changed to snake like coils or as Stephen said, like entrails.

Revived soul 1995. Acrylic on canvas X34402

This was probably the first item we enjoyed. It may have been that we were tired and it was after lunch.   This is a large painting triptych 1.5 m by 4 metres. Black background with dots applied. The dots vary in size from a pin prick to dots about 12 mm across. This gives an undulating effect rather like the folds of a curtain. The effect is like snake skin, though when I saw this from a distance it seemed clear enough but in the installation it is not possible to view it in any other way than from an angle. There is an assembly of what appear to be cushions of various sizes piled up.  The cushions have paint applied to the fabric and some spray paint on the edges.

Room 11

Kusama has by now (1980s and 1990s) returned to painting with acrylic on canvas. Installations were multi-canvas thus “extending the visual field”. There is something haunting about these paintings and in some I could imagine an eye. 

Earlier work of Kusama had shown eyes with caterpillar eyebrows.  Her repetitions are by now of the polka dot or tadpole variety.

Yellow Trees 1994 Acrylic on canvas X34380  Brown/yellow on black 1.2 m by 4 m

The final installation is a big surprise! This is one of two which I enjoyed and seemed to be popular with younger people and families.  There is some basic entertainment with the use of polka dots in the dark with some UV lighting picking up the polka dots. The exhibition has by now come alive for me and I enjoyed the last few rooms. 

In summary the Kusama was a very slow burn and the obsession can grate unless you can pick up the visual tricks. The last installation is the culmination and one enters the lit world after having been at a slight advantage within a dark room with polka dots, mirrors and a maze type path which, I suspect, disorientates the others but we cane users are used to tapping and navigating our way round obstacles.

Late-night Char is Filled with Dreams 2009
I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture 2009