Syttende mai – 17th May

There are lots of memorable international celebrations around the globe… In New York there’s the St Patrick’s Day, in Brazil there’s Carnival, and in Edinburgh there’s Hogmanay… what you might not know about is Norway’s answer…

On 17 May every year Norway comes to a standstill as the population commemorates the signing of their constitution on that date in 1814…

Norwegians pull out all the stops. “Syttende mai” as it’s known is the biggest street party Norway has all year, easily eclipsing New Year’s Eve…

Alfred Heaton Cooper Norwegian Fjords Illustrated Book

This is a serious party for everyone, especially for children… it’s a national day with a twist and food figures in a big way…

Before people take to the streets, they go for breakfast with friends and neighbours, sharing freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and a glass of fizz…

Then it’s time for a spot of flag waving, even the Norwegian Royal Family get stuck in… enjoying a day of constant waving…

Alfred Heaton Cooper Sketch Of Bergen Harbour

Then after all the parades and flag waving fun the national obsession with eating huge amounts of ice cream and consuming copious numbers of hot dogs kicks in… So, if you’re on a diet just forget counting the calories today…

All in all, the day is a riot of colour and celebration and to mark our Norwegian heritage Mathilde’s is joining in with the fun too… after all it’s an excuse for us to celebrate the deep seated love between Alfred Heaton Cooper and his beloved Mathilde Marie Valentinsen… a gentle Norwegian country girl who stole away his heart in the small Norwegian village of Balestrand, beside the iconic Sognefjord…

Photograph of Bergen in 1890’s

So, when you pop in for a bite to eat don’t forget to practice a little Norwegian and have a go at traditional Norway Day greeting of “Gratulerer med dagen!”, which literally means “Congratulations of the day”.

The Art of Drawing – World Drawing Day

Art is literally as old as the hills… but drawing it seems is one of the earliest forms of humankind’s desire to express itself…

A small piece of rock covered with a symbol akin to what we know as a hashtag found during an archaeological dig in the South Africa’s famous Blombos Cave in 2015 revealed the 73,000-year-old drawing…

Made using a red-ochre crayon the symbol was applied to the rock’s face and then seemingly discarded… but it’s not the only one of its kind, similar symbols have been found at sites in France and Australia… though this predates earlier known drawings by some 30,000 years!

This form of drawing may be simple; merely the making of a mark but modern dictionary definitions refer to drawing as the formation of a line by drawing some tracing instrument from point to point on a surface arranging lines to determine a form. The modern interpretation has come to include the use of colour, shading, and other elements in addition to the simple act of arranging lines on a surface.

William Heaton Cooper Sketchbook Allen Bank

Early civilisations such as the Ancient Egyptians decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with flat linear drawings depicting daily life, and created texts written on papyrus illustrated with similar designs.

In the post Roman period from 400’s to the late 1300’s, art in all its forms glorified God and shared religious messages to the masses – drawing in particular emerged as the main form of decoration, as monks used drawings to adorn bibles and prayer books.

Drawing in western culture became a highly regarded independent artistic art form in the 1400’s, with modern drawing beginning in earnest in Italy. This period in time later known as the Renaissance, saw the rise of drawing as a true art form, a form that came to be considered the foundation for work in all the arts.

Art students first trained in drawing before going on to painting, sculpture, or even architecture. Drawing was used as a tool for the study of form, which was becoming increasingly important both in terms of nature and in terms of the portrayal of the human body. The need for preparatory drawings also grew during the Renaissance, as many large-scale paintings were produced to decorate the interiors of churches, palaces, and public buildings. Drawings were an important tool in helping to create the finished work.

William Heaton Copper Sketchbook Allen Bank Colour

Renaissance artists continued to use pen and ink for drawing. But they turned increasingly to softer materials, such as black and red chalks and charcoal, to make larger drawings and to achieve a greater variety of effects, shading was also introduced to suggest solids forms and textures. Among the most celebrated draftsmen of the period are notables such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Certainly, many creative people have over the centuries have stressed the importance of drawing as a fundamental underpinning of their work in other art forms. As Degas said; “Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality.” There is no question that the term drawing applies to works that vary greatly in technique, indeed over the years it has been understood in very different ways and as a result is in reality quite difficult to define.

For example, during the Renaissance the term ‘disegno’ from the Italian word for drawing or design, has a much more complex meaning in art, involving both the ability to make the drawing and the intellectual capacity as the creative idea made visible in the preliminary sketch. This ability to invent, or create, put artists on a footing with God, the ultimate creator, and was used as a means of raising the status of painting from craft to art.

Alfred Heaton Cooper -Entrance To Bergen Harbour

John Ruskin commented in the Elements of Drawing: “All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.” Throughout history, drawing has been the foundation for artistic practice, commonly used as a tool for thought and investigation, acting as a study medium whilst artists were preparing for their final pieces of work. The Renaissance brought about a great sophistication in drawing techniques, enabling artists to represent things more realistically than before.

A sophistication seen across the varying styles of work produced by the artists from the Lake District’s Heaton Cooper family, who have all used the medium of drawing to great effect to capture and inform their artistic works.

The Scandinavian body of work created by Alfred Heaton Cooper, between 1890 to 1927, shows the artist’s process from sketchbook drawing done from life, up to the finished painting, precisely documenting all aspects of life and landscape in during that period to illustrate a series of guidebooks.

Alfred Heaton Cooper Norwegian Fjords Illustrated Book

William Heaton Cooper later, produced highly detailed drawings for the Fell and Rock-Climbing Club guides for over 50 years. These books became the bibles of the climbing fraternity, they depicted new routes as they were developed, often drawn on site working closely with the climbers who devised the routes at the very rock face.

And now William’s son, Julian Cooper, inspired by his local landscapes, uses drawing to focus on form and experiment with tonality, to depict planes and structure of a common enough element in almost every landscape, rock…. On a big scale they are mountains, on a small-scale they are the boulders or stones in a field… drawing captures their essence and informs his resulting works…

Alfred Heaton Cooper Ennerdale Sketchbook

The invention and popular rise of photography had a fundamental effect on artists’ drawing, the need for them to copy reality no longer existed… but instead this ushered in an age of experimentation, which saw the advent of Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Vorticism, Constructivism and so on…  All of these artistic movements experimented with a range of drawing media, previously frowned up on, charcoal, inks, graphite all became the common currency for drawing.

As abstraction became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, the role of drawing changed yet again…  becoming something of interest, rather than just an output leading to the creation of a work in another form… simply put “Drawing is the honesty of the art, there is no possibility of cheating, it is either good or bad…” (Salvador Dali).

 

Challenging the notion of picturesque

An exhibition which challenges some traditional notions of landscape art will open here in Grasmere next week.

Unpicturesque at our Heaton Cooper Archive gallery features the work of seven eminent painters and photographers – Martin Greenland, Alan Stones, Rebecca Scott, Alan Thompson, Julian Cooper and John and Rosamund Macfarlane – who all live and work in Cumbria and the Lake District. It aims to extend and complement the inherited notion of the picturesque in both art and landscape.

Torver Quarry, Julian Cooper

The exhibition is being curated by Julian Cooper who is bringing artists together in a critical stand against the “picturesque” view of the Lakes, in the gallery founded by his artist-grandfather.

The term originated in Italy in the 16th century and referred to non-classical subjects in painting, with the French painter Claude Lorraine in particular embodying the picturesque ideal in landscape painting. The Lake District assumed its own identity as a distinct region after becoming a vehicle for ideas of the picturesque imported into English cultural debate by William Gilpin in the 18th century. For tourists the landscape was to be enjoyed as a series of leisurely ‘views’ from particular standpoints, preferably seen through a Claude glass.

“This way of viewing the Lake District survives largely intact through contemporary paintings, film, photographs, and publicity material promoting the tourist industry,” says Julian Cooper, the Cumbria Life visual artist of the year,  whose father William Heaton Cooper, and grandfather Alfred Heaton Cooper, both painted more traditional scenes of the Lakes.

“How we see profoundly affects the way we think, and seeing this and other landscapes as beyond ‘scenery’ and more as a dynamic layering of natural and human systems, all connecting to each other, may help in adjusting our attitudes to the benefit of all who live and visit here, whether they be human or non-human.”

Julian Cooper’s two works on show will include his earlier paintings of abandoned slate quarries, a subject which was part of his exploration of mountains and rock-faces. They were a rich source of possibilities in both form and colour, as well as an exploration of the interaction of natural and man-made worlds. In Torver Quarry the wall of sun-dappled rock leads down to the dark entrance of a cave, with band of coloured iron oxide running across the bedding layer, suggesting fracture and instability. The painting Overhangs, Hodge Close Quarry tries to convey the subtle abstract conjunctions of form and colour of rough and smooth slate typical of old Lakeland quarry walls.

There are three paintings of Setmurthy Forest near Cockermouth by Martin Greenland which are all done from memory.

They show the feeling and experience of walking slowly and quietly along the edge of the forest in fading light at dusk. In Setmurthy Forest Memory – Deeper, More Silent, Very Late, the little path runs alongside the forest on the left, with open fields on the right, leading to the Elva Plain – the site of an ancient stone circle. Beyond the Trees depicts the shock of suddenly seeing a light through the trees and not understanding that its source is a half-hidden farmhouse beyond.

The work by Alan Stones is a fine charcoal drawing, Field, which conjures up a corner of an ordinary field with a row of ancient thorn trees and celebrates the modern type of barn that’s typical everywhere, including the Lakes, but which remains ‘unseen’ in comparison with its picturesque old stone-built equivalent.

Two paintings by Rebecca Scott have a conceptual boldness and painterliness that makes them both successful and disturbing. There’s a rhyming consistency between the shapes and patterns of both meat and the landscape from which it originates. Her paintings Crescent Moon and Red in Tooth and Claw were both referenced from picture-postcards and supermarket catalogues, adding another layer of irony by seeing both the meat and the landscape as consumable products.

Alan Thompson’s extraordinary painting Lakeland Gathering becomes more believable the further in one goes. On the far edge of the invented Lakeland landscape the clothed figures are witnessing a party gathering of some sort, but as one gets nearer the front, it becomes an artificial world of posed nudes arranged in a tight composition.

Nicky Below Great Gable convinces because one doesn’t really believe Nicky is lying on that rock ledge, bracing herself from falling downwards – however, the painting wants us to believe it, and we do. She is somehow held back by the looming bulk of Great Gable behind, which acts not so much as a background but as another character in the painting.

In Alan and Kathryn on a Rock two figures are engaging in a sort of static dance, held in place by the interaction of shapes between each other’s limbs and the shapes in the landscape, each affecting the other.

John Macfarlane’s recent photographs reveal a hidden world just beneath the surface of typical Lakeland becks and streams. Rock changes its nature when it continues downwards under the water – from pitted and gnarled in the air, it becomes smooth and sinuous underwater, worn down by and echoing the shapes of constant water currents. Light becomes magical as if seen through an extra lens, the under-surface of the water becomes a roof, creating a claustrophobic landscape in the most shallow of streams. These photographs take us both physically and imaginatively right into the landscape.

John Macfarlane in Black Moss Pot

Rosamund and John Macfarlane’s series of photographs taken in the air from a Gyrocopter give an exhilarating release from the ground and an overview of how the various different parts of this landscape fit together – both man-made and natural. They show parallel paths of road, river and wall running up Honister Pass, a quarry road snaking its way up even higher, the delicate edging of Holme Wood as it meets Loweswater, and a sweeping view from within the heart of the Lake District, looking outwards over West Cumbria and over the Solway Firth and on to Scotland.

Their son is Robert Macfarlane, the internationally bestselling, prize-winning author of Landmarks, The Lost Words and The Old Ways and whose latest work, Underland, has just been published.

The exhibition, which is free, will run from the 13th of May until 30th September. www.heatoncooper.co.uk

International Sculpture Day

The Heaton Cooper Studio, like many galleries around the world is celebrating International Sculpture Day (27th April), an annual global celebration of sculpture, established to raise awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of sculpture as an art form throughout the world.

We, however, have more reason than most to celebrate this exquisite art form as one of our family members excelled in this medium…

That family member was Ophelia Gordon Bell, the daughter of accomplished animal painter Winifred Gordon Bell. By her mid-teens Ophelia was well on her way to becoming an accomplished artist in her own right, studying at the Regent Street Polytechnic Sculpture School, London, where she learnt to work in a variety of materials, including stone, wood, metal, clay and plaster.

 

Like many sculptors Ophelia was fascinated by the origins of the art form… small sculptures as personal possessions are some of the earliest forms of prehistoric art, and the use of large statement sculptural pieces of as public art goes back at least 4,500 years…

If you simply take a little time and consider this question… what we would know of ancient cultures without sculpture?

From the cave carvings of the pre-historic to the works of the great masters, sculptural art has been the one consistent way we as humans have expressed ourselves throughout the ages. Before the written word, sculptural art was the main form of expression, conveying our beliefs and views on the world around us.

We make immediate associations to long-departed cultures through in the main the sculptural works they left behind, for example the ancient Egyptians and the Sphinx, the Chinese Emperors and the terracotta army, the Greeks with their love of the human form and the Romans elevating their rulers to become gods.

Sculpture by definition is three-dimensional art made by one of four basic processes: carving, modelling, casting, constructing.

 

It is quite simply the most enduring form art known to human kind, it has played a major role in the evolution of our culture. Perhaps it endures to this day as our main form of cultural expression and of memorial because of the unique way in which it expresses itself, unlike other art forms, it patiently waits for us to sit and experience the ideas it seeks to convey…

Sculpture comes to life through the play of light during the day, the surroundings in which the piece sits and because it is solid and usually three dimensional, which means we can interact and view it in any number of ways as a result. Viewing a sculpture is very different than seeing a flat painting hanging on a wall. You can walk around it, look through it, over it or into it.

The materials used in sculpture are diverse, including metal, stone and clay, with cheaper, less durable materials; including wood, bone and antler. Perhaps it is this diversity that appeals, the textures produce quite different visual effects according to whether they are convex or concave, flat or modelled, coloured or uncoloured.

 

This is why sculpture continues to play such an important role in human expression – Ophelia understood all of this better than most and used her knowledge to great effect to create a body of work utilising a broad range of natural materials that to this day inspires and intrigues the beholder…

Paintings, pencils…and pastry

It’s been a really busy summer, with visitors loving our exhibition Inherited Landscapes, and then calling in for coffee, cake, lunch – or even breakfast – at Mathildes.

Mathildes has been open for just over a year now, along with our new layout which connects with the archive gallery. It feels as though we’ve always had this space, as the memories of all the building work fade.

But for our visitors, there are new surprises in store, especially for those who visit the Lakes only occasionally. So we thought we would share with you a few comments from our recent customers.

These are obviously regulars: We always pay this family run gallery and shop a visit…and usually spend far too much on lovely artists’ materials( but never regret it!) It’s unusual to have a gallery that has passed through generations of artists as a viable concern. It’s always inspiring to see the Heaton-Cooper’s generational art work on display and be able to look closely at technique and detail on originals in the place they were painted.

And here’s someone who has undergone a change of heart, or mind: We haven’t been in here for a long time and it’s been brightened up and extended with a cafe. I wasn’t a fan of Heaton Cooper but this visit changed my mind. Was it me or the smarter presentation, but we’ve decided to buy one mail order as we were walking and couldn’t carry it. There’s a wide range of prints and some originals, framed or unframed and in different sizes. The paintings are a mixture with some looking traditional and others looking very up to date in style and colour. The frames are more modern than we recall as well. The prices for prints and framed versions seemed very reasonable.

It is always gratifying to hear from artists who visit us: I visited to look for art materials and was pleasantly surprised to find a lot more to engage my attention. The selection of art materials was pretty good and I was able to buy one item that I had been unable to find in a number of Paris and London art shops, so that was a good start. The gallery featured a good number of technically very competent watercolour landscapes of the Lake District. Great to see a good art shop diversifying and making a go of things off the beaten track.

Likewise this one: Really lovely art shop – made me wish I lived in the village to be able to go in there regularly for all my art supplies.

Here’s one that sums up all our efforts rather succinctly: The Heaton Cooper Studio is more than just a gallery – it tells the history of the Heaton Cooper artistic dynasty in the Lakes. In one sense (apart from the excellent new cafe) it is a timeless archive for the area. It makes all the artworks, original and prints accessible to the wide audience they deserve.

And someone who truly appreciates Mathildes: There’s a modern cafe with excellent service and if you are fed up with the steamy, cheek-by-jowl variety for your afternoon treats, then this is certainly the place for you.

Thank you for all your lovely comments, and thanks for coming back to visit us time and time again. Do say hello next time you’re in Grasmere.