Talk with an Art Head: Exclusive Interview with Karen James

Karen James_Back to Back_Earthenware with Underglaze Pigment & Wax_11Karen James_Stretch_Earthenware with Underglaze Pigment & Wax_8Karen James_Dancer_Earthenware with Underglaze Pigment & Wax_12

Eduardo Alessandro Studios, the contemporary art gallery in Broughty Ferry, has been invaded.

Invaded by dancing nymphs.

Dancing, swaying, stretching, and whispering, Karen James’ delightful range of ladies has taken up residence in the centre of the upstairs gallery. Sitting back-to-back, doing the can can, and posing as the illustrious Marilyn Monroe, these little nymphs are having a ball. And their joy and mirth is contagious.

So who is responsible for these lovely ladies and what was the inspiration for them?

It must be the Venus figurines, I thought, those mysterious and ancient sculptures found all over Europe dating back to the Palaeolithic era. As some of the oldest artefacts in human history, the Venus figurines have captivated the imaginations of archaeologists and historians of prehistory alike, the debate raging on as to their original meaning. Perhaps it was these figurines that inspired Karen James.

Or maybe I was looking too far back in time and needed look no further than the 20th century with the likes of world famous Columbian artist Fernando Botero or Britain’s very own Beryl Cook whose oversized, voluptuous figures continue to delight viewers all over the world.

When I asked my boss where Karen gets her inspiration from, he told me to ask her.

So I did.

And would you know it, but she’s also American.

Not just American, she’s from Texas, that wonderful Texas drawl taking on a Scottish lilt after decades of living on this side of the pond.

Karen is amused to find herself speaking with another American who has left the states for a British fella. We speak about adjusting to the Scottish climate and the best times to visit the U.S. when flights are cheapest (fly via Florida in February and March).

Finally we get around to the purpose of my call. Taking a breath, I ask her the question that has been preoccupying me for days.

Is it the ancient Venus figurines? Or artistic influences Botero or Beryl Cook?

“No,” she says, “They’re not really related at all.”

Here’s the story.

Karen left school in an era when women went into secretarial work or teaching. “I always thought I had an art thing about me that was never brought out,” she says in her Texan drawl. Although she worked as a secretary, she followed her passion, taking night classes in clay and pottery, which led to her moving to Florida and pursing an art degree. Then she took a trip to Europe to do a museum and gallery tour and see the works she had spent two years studying. That’s when something unexpected happened.

“I ended up in Amsterdam where I met some Americans who owned a Texan bar.” Rather than return to the states, she stayed on as a bar tender and it was there that she met her future husband and moved with him back to his native Scotland. They started a family and her art career was put on hold. But only temporarily.

Karen returned to study pottery and ceramics at Cardonald College but decided not to follow her younger classmates to art school. “I had waited long enough to get stuck-in,” she explains.

The dancing nymphs were born from a brief in Karen’s final year of her higher diploma. It asked students to create a seated figure in a stylised way, showing emotion. “I really struggled with it,” Karen admits, “My original figure I tried to do was quite slender.”

Inspired by Matisse’ Cut-Outs, Karen continued experimenting until she came upon the figure and shape that has become characteristic of her dancing nymphs. Her tutor encouraged her to show them in a gallery and from there she was commissioned to create an almost human sized figure.

Despite this success, Karen says that “in my early days I didn’t have any direction as to what poses to make.” Then one day Karen saw a few pieces of driftwood lying in her yard and realised that she could use them to create standing figures, which she had wanted to make. “The driftwood was the perfect solution,” she says.

Since then Karen’s work has taken on a momentum of its own. “Now I feel like what’s driving me is the exuberance in the ladies and I’m just working to impart that in my work.” Although Karen has tried making mournful and scornful pieces she says, “I just don’t get the feeling I get when I do ladies who are really happy being free and active, dancing and singing.”

So what’s up next for Karen? She’s actually pursuing functional art, working away on a collection of vessels. “I’m working on pots that are functional but wonky and textured, bringing the male and female with them.” She’s also looking into exhibiting in galleries in the U.S.

And considering that she already has one American fan over here delighting in the joy and exuberance of Karen’s ladies, I won’t be surprised if Karen’s work begins cropping up all over the states as well. But for the moment, they’re enjoying themselves in bonnie Scotland so come on down to the gallery and join in the fun!

Andrea

Talk like an Art Head: Felt Paintings

Mackay

“Andrea, I’m sure you’ve noticed the new felt paintings we have in the gallery.”

I looked at Sandro blankly.

Yes, I had noticed the lovely, new paintings that had just arrived to Eduardo Alessandro Studios, the contemporary Scottish art gallery in Broughty Ferry, but I had no idea what he meant by felt.

In these situations, I always fall back on the good old motto: “Fake it till you make it.”

“Yes, of course, the Moy Mackay’s,” I said smoothly, joining Sandro beside the paintings.

“Amazing, isn’t it, how she’s reinvented the medium, using fleece fibres to ‘paint’ as it were.”

My eyed bulged. Now that I was looking closely, I realised that these paintings were indeed made out of felt! I had already thought they were lovely, admiring their colours and texture that seemed to intimate an almost magical fairyland, but now I was head-over-heels for them.

Felt paintings? Really?

Go to our website, take a look at these beauties, and then come down to the gallery and see them in the felt. I’m not the only one who was fooled.

I’ve approached many a gallery visitor, admiring Moy’s work: “Amazing, isn’t it, how she uses felt to make her paintings?”

So far, no one has been quite as good as faking till they make it as I was.

“Felt? What do you mean?”

Well let me tell you.

Moy’s studio is decorated with a wall of hand dyed and carded merino fleece, creating a rainbow of colour for Moy to pull from. After selecting her colours, she builds up layers of merino, just as though she were painting. (And the good thing about working in felt and not paint is that if she doesn’t like something, she doesn’t have to wait for the paint to dry – she can wipe off the felt and try another shade!)

Once the colours are built up, she then felts the fleece, using hot water and soap to work the fibres together. Finally, she uses a freehand machine to finish the pieces, as well as hand embroidery to add finer detail.

Sound hard? Well, Moy’s actually written a book, taking readers through the process and providing lessons to make your very own felt painting. She also offers workshops to learn first-hand what felt painting is all about.

As for myself, I will continue to approach the unassuming gallery visitor, unaware of what new insight she is about to gain. “Isn’t it amazing that you can actually paint with felt?”

And now you know the answer: Yes, it truly is.

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Talk like an Art Head: The Still Life

Ian Mastin

Just when I had accepted that Ron Lawson paints with gouache and not goulash and thought I had my hunger cravings under control, a new batch of food themed paintings arrived in the gallery.

Ian Mastin’s still lifes radiate from the canvas. They almost glow. And furthermore, they look delicious.

Vintage wines, decanters, elegant glasses, French cheeses and deep red fruit emerge from a dark, moody background with startling immediacy. The shadows and lighting are so well done that you are almost fooled into thinking you’re looking at a photographic image if not the real thing itself.

Which makes it all the more difficult when you’re tummy is rumbling and lunch is still an hour away. How lovely it would be to stroll up the painting, reach in and retrieve a glass of wine, slice of camembert and a cherry. Now that Ian’s paintings have been so gorgeously framed up and displayed in the very centre of the upstairs gallery, I literally have to stop myself from doing just that.

But surely still lifes weren’t invented to tempt the hungry gallery assistant. What is this fascination with painting food, I wondered. I recalled from art class that the still life serves as the fundamental composition for all artists starting out. Even then my stomach would rumble and I would be preoccupied by thoughts of food rather than developing my technique. Still, was this really the origins of the still life?

Turns out the answer is far more interesting, not to mention ancient.

Get this: Ancient Egyptians used to decorate the interior of tombs with images of food; they believed that in the afterlife the food would become real and nourish the deceased!

In Ancient Rome, still lifes played an active role in everyday life with wealthy Romans adorning their homes with images depicting the range of food enjoyed by the upper classes. Apart from showing off their bling, these images were also signs of hospitality. (And if I were welcomed into someone’s home whose walls here hung with Ian Mastin’s paintings, I would sure hope that some fine wine and grapes would follow!)

Ancient Rome had inherited the still life from Ancient Greece, where it had become an established genre with the help of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, who duked it out for the title of greater artist. Zeuxis painted a picture of grapes – so lifelike was it that birds flew down to peck at the illusory fruit. Next, Parrhasius presented his painting, hidden behind a curtain. Zeauxis asked his rival to draw the curtain aside, but for naught. The curtain was the painting! Zeauxis humbly bowed his head in respect, “I have fooled the birds, but Parrhasius has fooled me,” he admitted.

Ian Mastin’s paintings grow out of this tradition. He is especially influenced by Dutch and Flemish 17th century Masters who revived the Ancient Greek tradition of trompe-l’œil, which Parrhasius and Zeuxis had so adeptly championed. Trompe-l’œil is a technique that aims to depict everyday objects in three dimensions, creating an optical illusion.

Ian is also influenced by chiaroscuro, a technique that uses contrasts of light to create a sense of volume. Originating in the Renaissance, artists worked from the paper’s base tone towards light; it’s chiaroscuro that’s responsible for the way Ian Mastin’s figs and cherries emerge as if from nowhere with such vibrancy.

Through his paintings, Ian aims to draw his viewers into a reflective state, focusing on old objects whose value rests in the richness of their history and hands they have passed through. By using an ancient and timeless subject matter and employing such wonderfully old and traditional techniques, Ian achieves his aim thoroughly.

And what’s this? My stomach has ceased its rumbling, so immersed have I become in the history of the still life.

Although that doesn’t change the fact that if I could stroll up to an Ian Mastin painting and lift out a tray of scrumptious delights, I would definitely be taking my lunch break early!

Andrea

 

Recline like an Art Head: Functional Art

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Ah, finally a quiet hour in the gallery to get some Art Head blogging done. Ever since starting to write this blog for Eduardo Alessandro Studios, the contemporary Scottish art gallery in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, I’ve become quite adept at seizing on the quiet times in the gallery to get some research and writing done.

So now I opened my laptop and pulled up a folding chair. Sitting back, I cracked my knuckles, placing my fingers on the keyboard as inspiration was sure to strike. But something was wrong.

I tried to readjust but there was no getting around it. This folding chair was just uncomfortable. Come on, how is inspiration going to strike when you’re preoccupied by the hard, wooden backrest poking you in the back? I could do with a cushion.

Now the nice thing about working at a contemporary art gallery with a gift shop is that we actually stock cushions. So I wandered into the gift shop, wondering whether there might be a cushion I could commandeer as the gallery cushion.

Now would you believe it but I found my colleagues fawning over, you guessed it, cushions! We had just received a delivery of the some of the most unique cushions I have ever seen. Displayed on three tiers in the gift shop, I found myself surprisingly humbled by the sight of pillows. Was it even possible to be humbled by pillows? Well, apparently it is.

You see, these are no ordinary cushions. They are handmade from tartan and tweed and depict Scottish symbols from nature, such as the stag, highland cow, and thistle. These works of art need to go behind glass in a museum exhibit, I thought. I couldn’t imagine actually using one.

But then I thought twice about this. Now bear with me, it might seem like I’m going on a tangent about handmade Hungarian pottery, but there is a thread and I will return to the Scottish cushions.

I lived in Hungary for several years after graduating university, going back to my roots and spending time with my Hungarian father. During that time my friend from Transylvania gave me a pair of gorgeous handmade mugs from her little village. I was delighted and couldn’t wait for the following morning to have my coffee in them.

The next morning I awoke to my fiancé pouring the morning coffee into our old generic, white IKEA mugs. “What are you doing?” I thundered.

Turns out that David thought the cups were for purely decorative purposes to be hung on the wall. Well of course you hang them on the wall rather than put them away in the cupboard, I told him, but you also drink out of them! I had grown up with such tableware and while we recognised these pieces of pottery as works of art, they also served a very practical function. David’s eyes widened in recognition, just as mine were doing so now.

That’s when it hit me that it’s the same for these gorgeous cushions. And that being an Art Head isn’t just about knowing your art history, terms, and practical knowledge, it’s also about recognising that functional objects can also be works of art and filling your home with items that are not only functional but handmade and gorgeous.

With this epiphany I realised that not only do I need to learn how to talk like an Art Head but to recline like an Art Head, specifically on a tweed and tartan cushion to protect my poor back from uncomfortable back rests.

I confidently approached my boss, sure that he would not only understand but be delighted by my proposition to commandeer one of the Country House Interiors cushions as the gallery cushion.

Well… it didn’t quite work out as I had hoped. I suppose he has a point, what with the materials being carefully sourced and each cushion being handmade. Considering the limited supply, we can’t really commandeer one.

Maybe I’ll try standing instead. After all, sitting is so last year and standing desks, like those we have in the gallery, are all the rage. Did you know that you actually burn 50 more calories an hour standing than sitting?

Okay, so I’m a little disappointed, but I actually have a much better view of the gift shop from here and its many other pieces of functional art from handmade clocks to artisan cupboards. Yes, it’s time to turn my home into an Art Head home and to recline, check the time, and store things like a true Art Head!

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Talk Like an Art Head: Gouache

Gouache

Giclée wasn’t the only foreign word that puzzled me when I started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, the contemporary Scottish art gallery in Broughty Ferry. While I came to learn that giclée refers to a printing method for high quality prints, there was another mysterious word beginning with the letter ‘g’ that also eluded me: gouache.

In fact, when I first came across this term, describing the medium Ron Lawson works in, “watercolour & gouache,” I misread it for “watercolour & goulash.”

Goulash, of course, is that wonderful Hungarian stew of beef, potatoes and vegetables, traditionally simmered over an open fire to perfection. I grew up on the stuff, my Hungarian father determined to bring up his American daughter the right way, and I can’t help salivating at the thought of this scrumptious meal.

But at the moment all I could think about was the image of Ron Lawson dipping his watercolour brushes into a pot of goulash. I should have stopped there, recognising this for the absurd image it is, but my brain doesn’t work that way.

What a waste I thought sadly, shaking my head. Why would Ron sacrifice such a tasty meal for the canvas? Surely he wouldn’t do this. Perhaps Ron eats goulash while he paints in watercolour. Now that makes more sense, I thought. Surely a bright, talented man such as himself would know a meal fit for kings when he saw it.

Then I heard something rumble and looked down to discover that it was my stomach. It occurred to me then that Ron Lawson might not work in “watercolour & goulash” – perhaps I was just hungry. So hungry, it seems, I was becoming a little delusional!

So what is this gouache then?

On my first day at the gallery I asked my boss how Ron Lawson achieves the almost luminous effect that makes his paintings appear almost collage-like. “Well you could ask Ron, but then he’d have to kill you,” was Sandro’s cryptic response. Not wanting to anger this great goulash eating painter, I can only suggest that part of his secret must be gouache.

Gouache (pronounced like goulash but without the ‘l’) is pretty neat. It’s similar to watercolour paint but more opaque due to its higher ratio of pigment; the presence of white pigment creates its opaque quality. This means that unlike watercolours, which are translucent, gouache can be used on a dark surface. It also allows for thick, flat coatings of paint, creating a matt finish, that would be difficult to achieve with watercolours.

And herein lies a piece of the puzzle: it is gouache that is responsible for Ron Lawson’s dark brooding skies. Against this heavy, uniform backdrop of gouache, Ron’s white cottages and sheep emerge from the page with striking immediacy.

Ron isn’t the only fan of gouache. My artist colleagues here at the gallery gush about the medium. One colleague works primarily with gouache because it dries quickly, a quality it is widely known for. Artist forums are also full of praise for gouache as an “all-purpose” medium – with the opacity of oils, water-solubility of acrylics (without drying out brushes) and the easy set-up of watercolour, not to mention its matt finish that makes gouache paintings conducive to photographing as well as making prints from. Sounds pretty awesome! Be careful, however, unless you use a fixative, gouache remains active after drying and is actually rewettable. This means you can go back years later, rewet and rework a painting!

Quite a dynamic medium, if you ask me, perfectly suited to be paired with goulash – that peasant dish that has risen to princely prominence. I would quite like a world in which food was paired with art medium. Perhaps we could sample certain dishes as we view artworks for an added experience. “Oils and moussaka,” “Mixed media and pad thai.” Perhaps I’ll suggest it to my boss. Or perhaps it’s just dinner time!

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Talk like an Art Head: The Pastel

Margaret Evans & Fiona Haldane

It wasn’t long after moving to Scotland that I started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, the contemporary art gallery in Broughty Ferry. One of the first things I noticed about the gallery was the number of landscape paintings it features. The Scots, I assumed, like their landscapes. Fair enough, I’m all for a nice sunset too.

Then one day something happened. The Scottish rain clouds parted, revealing the most stunning sunset I have ever seen, and I realised then that these Scottish landscape painters were painting from real life.
What, I thought they’d made it up? Well… yes. And I’m not the only one.

When my mom visited from the states, she came to the gallery and commented that the colours in the landscape paintings were “a bit much,” a bit “exaggerated” to be specific. When we stepped outside and the clouds parted, revealing those very same flamboyant colours, she was gobsmacked. Indeed, mother, indeed.

But it’s not just the orange-peach tinted sunsets that caught me out. Recently I took a road trip around Scotland and up to the Highlands. As we drove through the mountains and over hilltops, I felt a sense of Déjà vu. What was this place, I wondered, marvelling at the rising hills, brown green knolls with gentle blue babbling brooks. I had been here before, I knew this place – or somewhere very much like it.

Then it hit me. The gallery. I had seen these places in the works of Margaret Evans and Fiona Haldane. These were their mountains, their colours.

When I returned to the gallery, I studied their works closely, marvelling at the magic of pastel to capture not just the likeness but the atmosphere of the Scottish highlands. What was this medium that had such subtle and yet vibrant texture?

I remembered pastels as a fun by messy lesson in art class where I managed to paint my fingers, hands and face rather than depict anything remotely recognisable on the page. So the visual arts had never been my forte, but I could certainly appreciate such masterful work. And now, of course, I needed to know all there was to know about the pastel.

Get this: pastels trace their origins all the way back to the dawn of man! The caveman with his cave paintings used charcoal and coloured pigments to record what mattered most to him (and her). Despite this early start, it wasn’t until the Renaissance that we started to refine this basic tool into something a little more sophisticated. By rolling pure pigments into sticks and holding them together with a binder, man created the pastel. A Frenchman, to be specific – Jean Fouquet.

From France pastels began to spread when the likes of Leonardo da Vinci caught word of this new medium. In a surviving note-to-self, da Vinci wrote: “Get from Jean de Paris” – a Parisian artist Leo must have admired – “the method of dry colouring . . . his box of colours; learn the tempera of flesh tones, learn to dissolve gum lake.”

(Yes, the great da Vinci wasn’t born painting masterpieces, he had teachers too! As a side note, I’m not sure what ‘dissolve gum lake’ means, unless it refers to making a gum binder, but it sounds so poetic that I decided to include it for your reading pleasure! Now back to the main thread…)

At first pastels were mainly used by painters to create preparatory sketches. Then a steady line of artists began taking the medium seriously, culminating in Edgar Degas who championed pastels as a fine art with new and innovating techniques. Despite being a gifted painter and sculptor, Degas adopted pastel as his primary medium.

And what of the medium itself? Well, would you believe it but being a pastel artist requires some serious skill. Listen to this: Unlike paint, pastel colours cannot be tested on a palette first. Instead, they are mixed and blended directly onto the canvas or workspace. This means that if you make a mistake you can’t just cover it up – you have to be ready for the finale!

Pastels are also surprisingly permanent. Even though they are made from dry powder, once fixed under glass they will withstand the test of time, continuing to look just as vibrant as when first painted (provided, like oils, you keep them protected from direct sunlight).

As I am researching and writing this I am becoming ever more enamoured with pastel. What an amazing medium from its roots in prehistory as the oldest medium to Da Vinci and Degas to Margaret Evans’ and Fiona Haldane’s breath-taking portrayals of the Scottish highlands.

There’s something about the dry medium that captures the texture of the Highlands perfectly. Perhaps I will get out my old forgotten box of childhood pastels and try again now that I understand the compulsion to capture the colours and terrain. And while I may not personally do justice in depicting this lovely corner of the world, I can direct you to the medium and artists who do!

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Talk like an Art Head: Printmaking

Hand coloured antiquarian newspaper engraving 1887 & limited edition giclée print by Ian Johnstone
The Tay Bridge Disaster, hand coloured antiquarian newspaper engraving 1887 (left)
Tay at Broughty Ferry, limited edition giclée print by Ian Johnstone (right)

There are times in life when you feel the full weight of mortality on your shoulders. Well that’s been happening to me ever since I started writing this blog for Eduardo Alessandro Studios and learning about the history of printmaking.

That sounds a little intense. But it’s true.

Maybe it’s that quarter life crisis I’m coming into. I’m taking up knitting, considering investment property because pension schemes are on the decline, and wondering what kind of person Zsíkli will be.

If you start asking yourself these kinds of questions, it probably means you’ve also realised that you aren’t so invincible after all. Never mind invincible, I’m coming to accept that in the broad span of human history, I’m pretty darn inconsequential (it’s only taken 27 years)!

So why has learning about the history of printmaking brought on this reflective, existential turn? It started with my first blog post about the Remarque, when I lost myself in reading articles from the early 20th century about the crisis that printmaking was going through. Later, when researching the giclée, I read a rant by an angry printmaker bemoaning the crisis printmaking is going through today. Over a century apart, these writers were shaking their heads at the advent of new technologies that rendered traditional printmaking practices obsolete.

But today’s printmaker who practices “traditional” printmaking is actually using what last century’s printmaker might have considered a new-fangled and depraved invention!

In 1901, Morris T. Everett was writing about the brief revival of etching in America at the turn of the century. The problem, Everett laments, is that “cleverness set itself to work.” (Don’t you love that phrase!) While an etched copper-plate is susceptible to wear and can only yield a few hundred perfect impressions, “by hardening and coating processes it was found possible to make a plate yield thousands of prints.” Here, Everett’s sigh is almost palpable, “The market,” he writes, “was glutted.”

Over a century later, another printmaker was decrying the advent of digital printmaking. Giclée prints, this artist argued, are not prints – they are reproductions. To call them prints, he argued, is a scam.

But a scam on whom? What both these gentlemen failed to recognise is that people appreciate the difference between an original, an etching, a high quality giclée print, a low quality print, etc. Everett complained that “invention has made a travesty of first, second, and third states, Remarque proofs, and everything else that collectors of prints prize.”

But that isn’t true. Remarques and artist proofs are still highly sought after and giclée prints are the go-to for signed limited edition prints because of their superior ink and paper quality. Sure, hardening and coating processes allowed for consistently vivid images, as does digital printing, but people still differentiate value depending on the kind of print it is.

And that’s actually very reassuring. It means that despite technology and commercialism, we still distinguish and appreciate high quality from low and continue to value, above all, an original piece of art, the work of human ingenuity.

Plus, we have to accept that in the future giclée printers will be but another archaic piece of kit, perhaps still in use, perhaps outmoded, or maybe enjoying a renaissance. And it’s exciting to think what new “cleverness will set itself to work” and what it will produce next!

So I might as well put my quarter life crisis to the side, continue the fascinating study of printmaking – for it is an immense field of study – but also look towards the future, embracing change and new topics. Next week we leave printmaking behind (at least for a short while) and take on another medium altogether – the pastel!

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Talk like an Art Head: the Giclée

Giclée

When I started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, I quickly sized up a collection of my favourite prints. These were images that shimmered in fairytale whimsy: Debbie Phillip’s hand-embellished fields of baby blues and pinks that sparkled; Tracy Savage’s quirky scenes with carousals, ice cream shops, and campervans perched cheerfully on seaside crags, and Quentin Blake’s imaginative prints of Roald Dahl’s Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.

I learned that all of these prints were giclée prints. But what did this curious word mean? And was it pronounced ‘gick-lee’ or ‘guy-clee?’

No matter. I came to associate giclée with spring carnivals, balloons, cupcakes, and cotton candy – with all that is fairytale wonder. No idea what giclée actually meant, I could tell you one thing: it felt good.

But then one day somebody asked me what it meant, and I couldn’t very well say “gum drops and daffodils.”

“Oh that’s just the kind of print it is,” I said breezily, “…and isn’t it just lovely!”

Luckily for me, the customer was satisfied with this sub-par answer. After she left, however, I decided it was time to get my Art Head schooling and asked my colleague what a “guy-clee” was.

“Gi-clee,” Lee corrected me.

Let’s break this down.

It’s not the ‘i’ or even the long é that will trip you up. It’s that troublesome ‘g’ putting on French ‘j’ airs! That is, the ‘g’ in giclée is pronounced the same way as the ‘j’ in je ne se qoi or the ‘s’ in visual.

(I might mention that the Hungarian language has just such a sophisticated sound represented by the diphthong ‘zs.’ Just so you know.)

And if we really want to get our linguistics on, giclée is phonetically known as ʒiːˈkleɪ.

“What is a giclée?” I asked suavely, the ʒ sound effortlessly rolling off my half Hungarian tongue.

“It’s a type of printing process,” Lee explained.

Aha! So I had been right! It was a kind of print! (Okay, so it didn’t actually take a genius to make this leap considering giclée described the medium on the price ticket.. Still, I was pretty chuffed.)

It turns out that about 90% of the prints we sell in the gallery are giclées. It just so happens that the Debbie Phillips, Tracy Savages, and Roal Dahl prints are labelled as such. So now I did a little more research.

Giclée printing is a very high quality printing process. The term was first coined in 1991 by printmaker Jack Duganne who was looking for a sophisticated word to describe this new, state-of-the-art printing process. Of course, he turned to the French, appropriating the word “gicler” which means to squirt – for, indeed, printers squirt ink. But this technology is so superior that it can create prints that faithfully mirror the original. Printed on high-quality acid-free substrates – such as photo paper, watercolour paper or canvas – giclée prints are the go-to for limited edition printing today. Moreover, compared to lithograph printing, giclée printing not only utilises more and higher quality ink colours to produce richer images, but they produce prints with a longevity that will last over 100 years! Now how’s that for some exceptional technology!

Despite what I now know about the true meaning of giclée, my fond associations with cupcakes remain. And now that I know how to pronounce the word, I am even more enamoured with it. What a lovely name to give a child!

Just imagine: “Mom, why did you name me Giclée?”

“Well, I thought I was naming you after dew drops and fairy dust, but it turns out I named you after a printing process.”

But to be fair, it is a very high quality printing process only for the best!

Now, I’ll just have to explain why I chose to spell her named Zsíkli.

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Talk like an Art Head: The Artist’s Proof

 

Guarding the Post

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Ron Lawson’s evocative paintings of the Scottish highlands. But when I first started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, I was so focused on selling them that I didn’t consider for a moment buying one myself.

Then one day the last copy of my favourite print was whisked out of the gallery under the arm of a very satisfied customer. You see, she knew she had bought the last copy – I had told her. I believe my words had been: “That one’s my favourite, and it’s our last copy, so you better snatch it up.”

Clever woman that she was, she took my advice and walked out of the gallery with what I considered Ron’s finest work – a sheep standing next to a postbox.

Come on, Ron doesn’t get much better than that! Brooding sky, stoic sheep, quaint red postbox – all brought together under the wonderfully humorous title, Guarding the Post.

I loved this little guard sheep, and now it was gone. I was too good at my job, it seemed, and had foolishly given up the prize.

The next day, I was still brooding over my loss. “They’re all sold out,” I lamented to my colleague.

“You know, sometimes there are a few Artist’s Proofs left you might be able to buy,” she suggested helpfully.

Artist WHAT?

“Before an edition is officially published, a few Artist’s Proofs are printed to test the printer.”

It turns out that these first copies aren’t included in the limited edition and are sometimes sold only after an edition has sold out.

Hope welled up inside of me. Might it be possible after all? To own a Ron Lawson print, a guard sheep and a quaint red postbox?

Imagine my elation later that week as I proudly strutted out of the gallery with my very own copy of Guarding the Post gripped tightly under my arm. This was a momentous occasion for me. I had never made such a purchase before, previously spending at most a few pounds on a poster. Now, I had been thrust into the world of art collectors, owning not only a limited edition print but an Artist’s Proof at that!

On the bus ride home, I felt as though I held an elevated position above everyone else, for I now owned an exclusive Ron Lawson print! (Okay, so it helped that I was sitting at the top front of a double decker bus.)

But now that I was an art collector (or so fancied myself), I had an Art Head responsibility to know more about the Artist’s Proof. Anyway, the history geek inside me needed to know!

So when I got home I sat the guard sheep down in its very own armchair, before hanging it, and did a little research.

Similar to a Remarque, Artist’s Proofs were originally pulled from the printing press at different stages of production for the artist to inspect. Rembrandt, for example, owned his own printing press and made numerous proofs of an etching at different stages in the printing process. He would even return to earlier proofs and rework them after he had published and sold a finished print.

Because Artist’s Proofs were pulled early in production, colours and lines were more vivid, creating more vibrant prints and adding to their value. With today’s technology, artist’s proofs are identical to the rest of an edition but are still considered more valuable because they come directly from the artist. When a print is published, about 10% of the prints are given to the artist, making them literally the “Artist’s Proof.” Occasionally these proofs are also given to the printer (which is perhaps where I got lucky since Eduardo Alessandro Studios publishes Ron’s work!)

Slowly I was becoming an Art Head and coming to understand the history of printing. Before I unveil my treatise on the history of etching, however, there are a few more terms I need to get my head around. Next time we’ll tackle the giclée.

Until then, I’ll nurse a glass of wine as I gaze at my Ron Lawson Artist’s Proof, marvelling at my leap from poster enthusiast to aspiring art collector!

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Talk like an Art Head: the Remarque

 

RL Guarding the Post Remarque

 

When I started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios three months ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about art. I’d taken an art survey class at university and my father is a Hungarian art critic. I’d grown traveling around the world from New York’s MOMA to Paris’ Louvre. So yeah, I knew I wasn’t a hot shot on Scottish contemporary art, per se, but I still thought I had my vocabulary down.

So imagine my dismay when I swaggered into the gallery one morning and my colleagues were excitedly discussing the new Ron Lawson remarques.

Re-WHAT?

I hadn’t even understood the word, flowing effortlessly off my colleague’s Scottish lips. As my boss explained that we would be selling these re-somethings, I was asked to make notes for my other colleagues. I duly wrote down the price details, the prints that had these re-whatevers, and how many were available of each. But since I was writing this note for my co-workers, I had to ask…

“And what is a re…” I asked airily trailing off in my most nonchalant tone.

“It’s a little sketch in the margins of a print,” Sandro explained, “A doodle.”

Aha! I knew what a doodle was and so I faithfully titled my note, “Ron Lawson Doodles.”

The next day I came in to discover that someone had crossed out the word “doodle” on my note and replaced it with “Remarque.”

I looked around sheepishly, thankful I hadn’t been there when this correction was made.

Now I studied this mysterious word closely, noting the “qe” for some real sophisticated flair.

That’s when I knew for sure that I was no Art Head. Though I could discuss the theoretical breakthrough that happened when Cezanne started experimenting with perspective and geometric simplification, or when Duchamp entered a urinal into a fine art exhibit, I still had some serious learning to do – especially when it came to knowing something a little more practical about art.

But I’m a history geek! I can’t help it! I had to learn what the origins of the Remarque were. Not because any of our customers were likely to ask but just because. Just because it’s interesting. Come on, aren’t you even a little bit curious? Just a wee bit?

Well lucky for you, I’ve done my research.

Originally, a Remarque was a little sketch drawn in the margins of an etching to help an artist test his tools on the printing plate. This sketch, which was related thematically to the print, was removed before the print’s publication.

Then some enterprising individual came up with an idea: why not sell these remarques? With these exclusive sketches, they were considered even more valuable. And so the Remarque as a collector’s item was born.

Now, remarques are added to a select number of prints after an edition has sold out. As each Remarque is hand sketched by the artist, it truly adds an original element to each Remarque print.

Ron Lawson’s Remarque sketches were snatched up overnight. While Ron is busily working towards his next show, these remarques were a chance for his fans to get their hands on something original while they await his next exhibition at Glasgow Art Fair.

So there we have it, all you need to know about the Remarque to keep up with your artsy social milieu.

But no, there’s actually much more to know. I’ve just spent the last half hour reading articles from the early 20th century on the history of etching – which is quite fascinating! History geek, I know, but really, this stuff is good. And you’re not going to read it yourself (come on, are you?), so you’re better off getting it from me.

But you’ll just have to wait for another edition of ‘Talk like an Art Head’ for these fine art insights.

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