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

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

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

Earth Watch

My latest series of paintings, inspired by landscapes and our precious planet Earth. Semi-abstract, giving an impression or an unconventional view.

Billabong.

These paintings are created on paper, utilising techniques which I have developed in both branches of my practice – painting and illustration.

Inks, watercolour, dyes, acrylic and a form of monoprint are combined to give depth and rich colours. High quality aquarelle paper in the perfect base to absorb and hold the vibrant waterbased inks and paints.

Estuary 2
Oasis.

My native Tasmania and Australia are still a strong influence. The baked landscapes, colours and forms crop up again and again. The land will remain forever in my blood.

River Bend.
Meander.

Obviously Sussex, and the landscapes of the South Downs National Park have also been a strong influence. And those who have visited may recognise the looping curves of the Cuckmere.

All of these paintings are mixed media on paper, and can be purchased framed or unframed. A selection are currently on display at Studio+Gallery in Seaford, June 6 – July 7. They are also available individually or as a set for loans or exhibitions. Please contact me for further details.

Seaford Exhibition June 2019

Many thanks to all those who have already been to see my new exhibition, over in Seaford, at the brand new Studio+Gallery. Below are some shots of my paintings in situ at this lovely exhibition space. All of the paintings are relatively new, mostly created this year, and include work from both the Earth Watch series and the Still Life series.

Left to right: Orange Handbag, dye and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 76 cm; Provnece, mixed media on canvas, 30 x 30 cm; Handbag, mixed media on canvas, 30 x 30 cm; Schubert’s Bed, dye and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 76 cm.

The gallery is a beautifully renovated space, with crisp white walls and professional overhead spot lighting, which habits the ground floor of a lovely old town house in one of Seaford’s oldest streets. The scale of the space demonstrates how well my work can sit in a more domestic setting.

On the left work by Abigail Myers. One the right two pieces from my Earth Watch series: Estuary 2, and Meander, both mixed media on paper, 38 x 28 cm, and framed in a float mount frame.
Endurance, mixed media on paper, 40 x 30 cm

The float mount used to frame these works on paper, really sets them off perfectly. It’s lovely to see the naturally ruffled edges of the high quality aquarelle paper that I use for these paintings. I also love it against the rough brick wall behind!

Left: Church Window, mixed media on canvas, 30 x 30 cm; Right: Church Window 3, mixed media on canvas, 40 x 30 cm.

Two little stunners, proving you can still get all the colour, depth and interest in a small package. Even in a small space either of these would light up the room.

The exhibition is open Thursday through Sunday up to the 7th July, 11am – 5pm. There are also two artists Q&A sessions, see their website for details.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the work, please contact the gallery.

Studioplusgallery.com

Momento Mori. Goodbye Francis.

OK, so he eventually drowned in his own polish, but he was way ahead of whoever  was in second place.

Memento Mori / Goodbye Francis. Acrylic and dye on canvas. 108 x 87 cm. David Armitage.

Studio Shows 2

Episode 2

Working across different disciplines adds an element of confusion to the casual studio visitor, or, in one case it was somebody who wanted to see some work for a local show. Being familiar with the range of my children’s illustrations, the first thing she saw in the studio were several very large non-figurative paintings and lots of smaller ones. Puzzlement and doubt abounded. There was nothing cozy about these things. Had she come to the right place? How to extricate herself?


This was symptomatic of the reaction of many visitors and has led to me providing a brief tutorial in order to clarify this. Let’s start with the ‘abstract’ stuff.

My explanation was, and is, by invitation only otherwise the listeners boredom levels would be severely tested. Their interest was genuine and any hint of a patronising attitude from me would be spotted at once.

The gist of my riveting talk turned on learning the history and the language (or lack of it) of painting. As it is with literacy or numeracy or musical notation or culinary techniques, the study of these things is crucial.
Otherwise, without the background knowledge of ‘reading’ paintings then the the lure of conventional pedestrian ‘proper pictures’ in all their tedium prevails.

Does one tackle this with a barrage of words? Heaven forbid.
Consider this. After having enjoyed a play, or a novel, or a collection of poems, would you like to see a series of pictures to further increase one’s understanding? Or, conversely, does the visual experience have to be translated into mountains of words? Of course not. I once had a show where the only words were ‘fire exit’, and that was because it was compulsory. As somebody said ‘painting is about painting, everything else is about everything else.’ Quite so. Study it, learn about it, look at it, and even try it. Then forget the words.

There is an art to writing about art, some of which can become so wrapped up in itself it becomes incomprehensible. I like to call this ‘Art Bollocks’. For an irreverant post on this subject click here!

As previously mentioned, illustrating childrens books has been quite a successful venture. And along with Ronda’s superior literary skill our Lighthouse Keeper books have kept us both busy for over 40 years. Being published by Scholastic they have been a hit in schools, with hundreds of lighthouses being crafted by kids all over the world!

Some years ago, Ronda and I were doing a school visit in London. For some reason, we worked with the kids in a lecture theatre, at the end of which was a grand piano. It was lunchtime and I was on my own finishing off some session pictures for my young audience. At some point a young man appeared, asked if I minded if he did a rehearsal on the piano. ‘Of course not’, I replied, ‘can I come and see?’ He was doing that wonderful warhorse, the piano part in Beethoven 5, a piece I had known since I was about 4 years old. His concert date was pretty close. He was nervous.
He had umpteen goes at the start of the rondo. I approached the piano. ‘Look at this,’ he said, gesturing to the left hand page. He played a bit. ‘Now look at the right,’ he said.
‘You can see the problem! Bloody difficult, fancy a go?’
Of course, I could not see it at all. All I saw was a series of black marks on a piece of white paper. He looked at these marks and his head filled with music. This language was incomprehensible to me. My head filled with nothing. Not a hope. The music of top class painting is the same. It is wordless and deeply affecting.

From musescore.com

And of course, the dross of the ordinary in this venture is just as evident and as easy to spot. There is acres of it. This can be very confusing. Online websites are full of the stuff, so much of it is of spellbinding mediocrity. More explanation required….

Go back to Episode 1 of Studio Shows

[A coda: Back to the lecture theatre type experience with the children….

Making images for children is wonderfully unequivocal and almost totally wordless. The scene is a draughty assembly hall. 200 kids, years 1 and 2 are settled down and expecting a good show. So, get to work and then grab them and hold them, but be quick about it. Do that and the rapport is a kind of silent and magical electricity. The children almost take all the oxygen out of the air. At the end, nobody wants to leave, including me and the teachers. If you are not up to it, death is not lingering, it is immediate and horribly final . Children don’t mess around with platitudes. This activity is not for the faint-hearted.
In which case, go and do something else…..]

SOLD!

Stunning painting, inspired by Giverny, sold to collector.

This stunning artwork has at last found a loving home. A large scale abstract painting, inspired by beautiful Giverny, home of course to the father of impressionist painting, Claude Monet.

Bought by a long – time patron, and art collector, who has had his eye on this painting for some time. It sits perfectly in the space, and I hope will keep it’s new owners happy for many years to come.

It is wonderful to have returning patrons who truly appreciate and admire the painting as an object, as well as appreciating the investment. A piece of original art can make a room and last a lifetime.

Photographs courtesy of Roger Goddard-Coote.