Die Schone Mullerin

I have just completed the third book of illustrations based on Schubert song cycles. Winterreise was the first Schubert book I created, followed recently by Schwanengesang. This third book reflect Schuberts first song cycle Die Schone Mullerin based on the poems by Wilhelm Muller.

Below are a few of my paintings, accompanied by excerpts of the text, translated by Celia Sgroi. You can also read more about my process in creating the paintings for all three books here.

David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

Wandering is the miller’s joy,
Wandering!
A man isn’t much of a miller,
If he doesn’t think of wandering,
Wandering!

1. Wandering
David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

Did she send you to me?
Or have you enchanted me?
I’d like to know,
Did she send you to me?

4. Gratitude to the Brook
David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

Now shake off the veil of dreams
And lift yourselves fresh and free
In God’s bright morning!
The lark circles in the sky
And sings from the depths of its heart
The sorrows and cares of love.

8. Morning Greeting
David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

What is the hunter doing at the mill stream?
Bold hunter, stay in your forest preserve!
There’s no game here for you to hunt,
There’s only a doe here, a tame one, for me,
And if you want to see the dainty doe,
Leave your rifle behind in the woods,
And leave your barking dogs at home,

14. The Hunter
David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

Oh green, you hateful color, you,
Why do you keep staring,
So mocking, so proud, so pleased by my pain,
At me, a poor pale man?

17. The Hateful Colour
David Armitage The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter Die Schone Mullerin

And when love frees
Itself from pain,
A little star, a new one,
Twinkles in the sky;
And three roses spring,
Half red and half white,
That never wither,
From the thorny stem.
And the angels cut off
Their wings
And every morning
Go down to earth.

19. The Miller and The Brook

Die Schone Mullerin will be available soon and will join Winterreise and Schwanengesang on my online shop, where you can also purchase original paintings and prints.

If you are interested in a particular work, please contact me.

Below is a short excerpt of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin, performed by Thomas Quasthoff at the Verbier Festival in 2009

Puppets Series

These works represent a lifelong fascination with the powerful imagery of puppetry in all it’s manifestations. It started when I began working in the theatre at the ripe old age of 22.  The puppet shows were, and still are, an international creation,  wonderfully rich and varied throughout its long history. Another world.

Puppets from Giordano Ferrari in Parma, Italy

Puppets can at once be joyful, humorous, dramatic, dark, and even sinister. From shadow puppets to marionettes and a huge variety of other forms, puppets and puppetry dates back thousands of years and across many different countries and cultures.

They also have a place in art history, with puppets created by artists such as Paul Klee and Kurt Schmidt.

Puppets by Paul Klee and Sasha Morgenthaler
Puppet by Bauhaus artist Kurt Schmidt

In these strange times, restricted, quarantined, we are trapped, full of life and yet unable to move freely. There is also an air of surrealism, not only in the context of this pandemic, but in politics and society as a whole.

Below are some of my recent works, completed during isolation, but they are part of an ongoing body of work featuring puppets and masks, and sharing some commonalities with other bodies of work such as my Victims series and Shrines series.

Shadow Puppet, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Wayang klitik image of Batara Guru
Warrior Rod Puppet, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 120 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Hanuman, rod puppet (wayang golek), West Java, Indonesia, early to mid 1900s, wood, cloth – Fowler Museum – University of California, Los Angeles
Bride, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Puppet Theatre with Child, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Victim, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Child with House, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Cat with Hat, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020
Falstaff, Acrylic and dye on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, David Armitage, 2020

Lockdown with Schubert

This is how I am occupying myself during the lockdown. For information on my postponed exhibition see this post: Oxford Exhibition June 2020

Monoprinting in the studio

Having just completed a second book of illustrations for Schubert song cycles, I have now embarked on a third, which in this case is a prequel. I began with Winterreise in 2016. Apart from loving this stuff, I identified strongly with the ‘hero’ of this cycle, possibly stemming from an introverted childhood and spending endless days day dreaming on how things ought to be. In other words, knowing this ‘yearning’ thing which Schubert realises so completely.

Winterreise – A Winter’s Journey

The book has been well received, and after the illustrations were featured on https://winterreise.online/ – an online encyclopedia of Winterreise information and rescources – I was spurred on to create a follow on book, Schwanengesang.

These illustrations are set to Schubert’s final song cycle, which was published posthumously and therefore there is considerable fluttering in the Schubert dovecotes regarding the validity of the term ‘song cycle’ in connection with the latter, in that it is more a collection of songs and put together by somebody else. Dr Iain Phillips, author of the websites dedicated to cataloguing the work of Schubert, however has firmly aligned himself with the song cycle having launched his third Schubert website https://schwanengesang.online/
As far as I am concerned, they are right up there, whatever the title, a point re-inforced by the splendid recording by Fassbaender and Riemann. DG 1992.

Schwanengesang – Swan Song

My third set of illustrations are therefore inspired by Schubert’s first song cycle, Die Schone Mullerin (the beautiful maid of the mill). This is a challenge that will certainly keep me busy in lockdown! But the inspiration provided by the music is as ever a guiding light.

The paintings start out, with a now well practiced technique that relies heavily on accident. Conceived totally in the abstract, the figurative elements come later.


So, armed with a single sized glazed window, a rickety table, loads of acrylic inks , brushes, rags,3 in 1 oil, detergent, 300 gsm Arches watercolour paper and buckets or water, I can produce multiple images by the simple process of mono-prints. The inks are splashed or poured on to the wet glass, oil, detergent can be thrown in for good measure. The paper is then thoroughly doused in water and pressed face down on to the glass. Peel it off, and there it is, or isn’t.

Certainly 2 things happen at once. The tyranny of white paper is strangled at birth and stunning pictorial elements appear which one would never, ever, have consciously thought of. Should the result look like a river flowing upside down, the paper can be hosed down and re-cycled. (This has been demonstrated to year 2 and 3 kids who loved watching this and having a go themselves).

The resulting images contain a huge range of colour/tone relationships and differing moods… some may profit by being turned upside down.
Then, one hears the sound of wedding bells as protracted marriage ceremonies leads to pairing each painting with its counterpart in the verses. Most marriages are made in heaven but a few needed a bit of an academic shove here and there to be true to the text. The alchemy is to convey the spirit of the words and the music but preserve the equally huge disinterested power of abstraction… tricky. But conventional picture making would simply not cope with this exalted subject matter. It is also a good way of avoiding a couple of bete-noirs, technical skill and good taste.

Schwanengesang – Swan Song

A new collection of illustrations painted in response to Schubert’s Schwanengesang.

Front cover of the book

Schubert’s final collection of songs is not a continuous narrative, but there is a theme running through the poems and the music, which is of a deep yearning and melancholy. Yet there is a great beauty too, which can be of great comfort.

The poem Pigeon Post by Johann Gabriel Seidl is somewhat pertinent in these times of isolation and separation:

I send it many thousand times

daily away with messages,

past many dear places

until it reaches my sweetheart’s house.

In at the window there it furtively looks,

observes her face and her step,

cheerfully gives my greetings

and brings hers back.

And from Ludwig Rellstab’s Longing in Springtime a reflection of eerie melancholy in the midst of the hope of springtime.

Glancing gold of the sun that greets me,

you bring the bliss of hope.

How your greeting soothes me!

It smiles gently in the deep blue sky,

and fills my eyes with tears – but why?

The paintings have been compiled into a book, along with the poems, translated into English by William Mann, and is available to purchase from my SHOP.

The original paintings, and giclee reproductions are also available, contact me for prices and details.

You can view more of these illustrations, along with a compendium of information about Schwanengesang on this fantastic website: https://schwanengesang.online/

https://schwanengesang.online/art/

Uncertain Times

Firstly I hope all of my followers are safe and well at this difficult time and I wish you all the best.

It is looking likely that my next exhibition, due to hang at the end of May will be postponed. I hope to have more definite information soon, and will keep you updated. In the meantime, here are a few paintings which I hope will be in the exhibition WHEN it happens!

Also I have a new item in my shop – my latest book Swanengesang. More on that later. Please do keep following my blog and instagram, where I shall try to give you beautiful things to look at. Art can be a great comfort and fulfillment for the soul as well as keeping the brain active, so I shall try to do my part the best way I can.

Gethsemane, Dye and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 140 cm
Transfigured Night, Dye and acrylic on canvas, 162 x 140 cm
Refugee, Mixed media on canvas, 100 x 75 cm
Illustration from Winterreise, Mixed media on paper, 36 x 55 cm
Pigeon Post, Illustration from Schwanengesang, Mixed media on paper, 27 x 76 cm
Still Life with Ginger Plant, Mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76 cm
Archipelago, Mixed media on paper, 38 x 28 cm

Past Controversies!

‘Those paintings, how they arouse people’

Back in 1973 I won a prize at the North Shore Arts Festival in Auckland. My painting was considered by some to be quite controversial at the time and it has certainly been eye opening (and perhaps shocking!) for my assistant who has been reading and copying the old newspaper clippings and articles from that time.

As yet I have been unable to locate a colour image of the painting, but the colours would be similar to those in this blog post about some other works of mine from that period, which are still in the collection at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki

Below are a few of those newspaper articles and clippings which I have kept in a scrap book for many years, but which my assistant insisted must see the light of day – she seemed to find it fascinating and thought others would too.

Note the wonderful composition of this photograph with the head of Festival President Ron Forbes covering the ‘offending’ area!
The article is from the North Shore Times, February 1973.

It seems I caused rather a stir, some of the opinions written in to the papers are hilarious – or infuriating – depending on your viewpoint.

This – signed ‘Not a Prude’ – is a particularly ugly example (the original clipping is rather damaged so I will quote a section):

Two ugly, course, grotesque figures, sprawled out, one in a most disgusting attitude, and not in any way pleasing to the eye…. why not paint two nice young girls (nudes, if he likes) with lovely long flowing hair, throwing a beach ball.

From the opinion s section of the North Shore Times Advertiser,
February 1973

I feel that the author of this letter has said a lot more about himself than the painting – and not in a good way!

Here is a more positive one though:

In fact there were many positive responses, and the painting was bought by Grahame Chote, collector and director of the International Art Centre, Auckland. I recently got in touch with his daughter Fran Davies who is now the director, and she was able to provide me with this image of the painting in their downstairs gallery in the early ’70’s.

Image supplied by International Art Centre, Auckland, New Zealand. 

The following article is Grahame’s response in the Auckland Star, to the controversy surrounding the painting.

And from the newsletter:

He was not the only interested party:

I would love to know who those ‘American tourists’ were! [Ed.]

However, the controversies continued:

You never would have thought I was such an enfant terrible in my youth… would you??!!

Transfigured Night

This painting is titled after Schoenberg’s entrancing chamber piece, composed for six strings, and inspired by the poem by Richard Dehmel.

This is a wonderfully atmospheric evocation in which a woman shares a dark secret with her new lover as they walk through a dark moonlit forest.

Could be mawkish, but isn’t.

Transfigured Night, Dye and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 140 cm


The painting responds to the ambiguity and mystery of a moonlit landscape/ garden with the tonal and sliding colour modulations reflecting the rich chromatic language and the implied narrative in the music. A painting is a painting, music is music, but more often than not, I find it hard to separate the two. But, why should I?

Arnold Schoenberg “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night) Op. 4 for String Orchestra
Chamber Orchestra Kremlin; Misha Rachlevsky, conductor

In recent years the music has also inspired a dance piece choreographed by Rambert dance company.

Transfigured Night performed by Rambert dance company

See more of my paintings inspired by classical music in the Music Box category

Oxford Exhibition August 2020

***UPDATE***

This exhibition will now run:

31 JULY – 18 OCTOBER

I am pleased to announce the new exhibition dates. This will be the first exhibition for the re-opening of the gallery after lockdown, and will now be an extended exhibition of more than 10 weeks.

This exhibition will feature a full range of my work, from book illustrations up to my large abstract paintings. The catalogue is now available, which you can view / download via the link below, or message me if you would like a hardcopy sent to you.

Please see the gallery website for opening times. https://www.thejamfactoryoxford.com/

Collections

The wonderful Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki still has a few of my early pieces in their collection. Nice to know someone still loves me!

Table and mirror and a green interior, 1973, Dye on canvas, 1785 x 1632 mm
Iris, 1972, Acrylic on canvas, 1756 x 1422 mm
Interior with chair, 1970, Dye on canvas, 1829 x 2159 mm
Girl on a bed (1 of 3), 1973, Acrylic on canvas, 1855 x 5025 mm

https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/12652/girl-on-a-bed

Albania

A tall tale from this ancient Adriatic gem.

Here I am in Albania, going off to set up my big show. (Racy pants)

Just locked up my Albanian studio…

Spotted at the opening of my show!!

The gallery is impressive!…. a bit draughty though…

Lovely Roman ruins….

Lovely gracious rococo hotel with panoramic views…

A review of my show! Seen in the Corfu Chronicle, (hence the Greek.) Still, as you see, it makes good reading.

DISASTER! Artist falls down dis-used mine shaft!

This is my fave AIR B and B so far….

My new best friend Alesia. She is an absolute gem at I.T. ….And publicity for my Albanian show! What a find!