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.

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

Still Life

Clockwise from top left: Still Life with Ginger Plant, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76cm; Green Handbag, mixed media on canvas, 76 x 50 cm; Interior with Bed, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76 cm; Still Life with Window, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76 cm.

This series of works is inspired by domestic interiors. The simplicity of a bag hanging on the back of a door, an unmade bed, a vase, a table. Colours and forms spring forth and through an abstracted lense can become something beyond themselves.

The tradition of painting still lifes is deeply entrenched in fine art, and indeed has been a recurring element in my own practice over the decades. The colours and forms of real life objects have been inspiring artists for millenia, and I find great satisfaction in finding ways to represent, and suggest those forms in the most expressive way; so that you don’t just see a vase, or a bowl of fruit, or a chair; but you feel it. The expressive marks and deep colours pull you in and come to life, and allow you to make your own impressions of what they are.

Blue Handbag, mixed media on canvas, 76 x 50 cm
Interior with Mirror, mixed media on canvas, 113 x 100 cm.

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.

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.

Music Box – Des Baches Wiegenlied

 

Die Schöne Müllerin is a song cycle of 20 songs composed by Franz Schubert. They move from heady optimism to tragedy. A young miller wanders happily through the countryside, soon following a brook which leads to the mill AND the beautiful miller’s daughter. Her response to his approaches is luke- warm and worse, is rapidly supplanted by a green clad hunter. The miller becomes obsessed with the colour green.

In the final song cycle, Des Baches Wiegenlied, our lovelorn suicidal hero gives himself up to the tender clutches of the brook as it meanders through the bleak countryside. The moonlight is reflected back from the flowing water.

David Armitage
Des Baches Wiegenlied, Dye and acrylic on canvas, David Armitage.

It is the brook who sings the lullaby as it embraces the heartbroken miller.

 

Good night, good night
until everything wakes
sleep away your joy, sleep away your pain
the full moon rises,
the mist departs,
and the sky above, how vast it is.

 

Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795: XX. Des Baches Wiegenlied · Christian Gerhaher · Franz Schubert · Gerold Huber Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin ℗ 2003 Bayerischer Rundfunk Producer: Wilhelm Meister Lyricist: Wilhelm Müller

 

David Armitage has also produced an illustrated book of ‘Winterreise’, Schubert’s other great song cycle. Follow the blog to see more posts on Winterreise, Music Box, paintings, memoirs and more!

David Armitage
Illustration from Winterreise, David Armitage.