Friday, 19 April 2013

Prince Charles' watercolours

Prince Charles has, of course, collected a kicking from the Telegraph for his watercolours, despite obligingly providing them with several column's worth of material to blether about.  There's no such ingratitude here; this blog knows a freebie when it sees one.  

The Prince has published on line a gallery of his pictures.  The gallery begins here.

A serious publication deserves serious evaluation - he's no less entitled to that than anybody else who picks up a brush and allows you to see their work.  Watercolour is a defiant medium; it's just you, a few colours, paper, brush, and a pot of water.  That's all you need to record your world.  It's much less complicated than most other media but technically its a testing one because you have to have it clear in your head what you want to do and then lay it down in relatively few strokes.

Watercolour doesn't give much in the way of second chances; too many revisions and it goes muddy.  Spiritually it is closer to handwriting than painting; it's best if you get it right (write) first time because the corrections are difficult to disguise.   Experimentation is best done on cheaper paper; the idea is to find out how to work the brush and paint without worrying about a picture, then, when you have sorted out the strokes, turn back to reality and try to get the picture space organized.

Watercolour is democratic; it costs relatively few pounds to get going with a decent block of paper, a couple of brushes and a limited pan of colours.  The brushes are the most expensive items but cheap brushes will still get you started. You will be working with materials which any professional would be just as happy to use.  The grandma taking a U3A class starts from the same place as an Academician.

It is therefore interesting that the Prince chooses not an expensive camera but something which links him to every school child and hobbyist in the country.  Moreover, he chooses to pursue that common experience "Wow, I wonder if I could get that down on paper?".  Most of us give up at that point and get out the camera.

The pictures have been grouped by theme and location. It is obvious where his heart is, but for evaluation the question is: has he caught the differing lights in the various countries? How you judge that might depend on how well you know the places.  I think it is obvious from the selection that he is using watercolour as a private record, a way of fixing experience on paper but is not always sure which aspect of experience it would be best to anchor the picture in.

There are choices in any picture when you have only limited time and palette.  A giant major oil painting allows you to try for several in the same picture, but with watercolour you have to make that decision at the beginning and stick to it.  Do you want the structure of the rocks and buildings? Or are you more concerned to always be able to get back to the fleeting sense of light over a landscape? Or you might be more in love with the impossible colours and decide to focus all your attention on the them and their relationship to each other. This might yield an abstract image which structurally bears little resemblance to the thing you saw.  

Painters such as Samuel Edward Kelly (below) managed to combine these competing aspects and yet keep the colours clean, but there is also a strand of English watercolours which simply gives up and lets it go all sepia. They often paint decrepit barns and cottages where you'd expect it to be dingy.

Samuel Edward Kelly. Babbacombe.

It is often said that Prince Charles dithers; his pictures express an uncertainty about which aspect he wants.   Since photography has been invented, it isn't strictly necessary to paint a picture for that purpose now. If he picked two high-contrast shades, light and dark, concentrating only on pushing areas of the picture plane back, pulling others forward, he'd find the weight of the rocks compared to the lightness of the air would emerge.  They don't have to be strictly real; they just have to work in relation to each other.

Alternatively, many of the pictures show he is struck with the unearthly intensity of colour but then steps back politely, as if he doesn't want to be caught over-reacting and feels unable to lay down the ultramarine in case someone accuses him of not getting it quite right. The online collection does not show it, but there are times when light around Sandringham is psychotic; the leggy pine tress turn brick-red with slashes of dark emerald needles, the sky turns cerulean blue and the sun blood-drops in to the Wash.  Those are the evenings he should be out on Holkham beach saying this is my paintbox, my picture, and I'll damn well paint it whatever colour I see fit.

Overall  - sound catalogue, keep going, get bolder. There's always some bugger telling you that you can't do it this way, or that you shouldn't try at all. Don't listen to the Telegraph.


Furor Teutonicus said...

Na. Would I have them on my wall.... MAYBE.

They are, in my eye, not the WORST I have ever seen.

It is not as if we are talking about somebody who would be a proffessional here.

It is, for him, a hobby. And as a hobby, I find them to be acceptable.

MTG said...

I read the topic whilst honing the axe....which would be unfair to wield after seeing his abstracts.

The Jannie said...

I wish my attempts at watercolour had turned out as well. I'll stick to the expensive camera.

JuliaM said...

Of all the things to criticise Charlie for, being a lousy artist isn't, surprisingly, one of them...

Dick the Prick said...

Dear Mrs WoaR

Hope all's well.

Evelyn Waugh created Charles Ryder for everyone to take the piss out of.

Things seem to have been restored to normal in blogging stuff. Defo rejoice; all's well.

Old Holborn seems to have got him cen arressted - innocent, proven a actor. Good boy.

Whitby has problems. No elections round here so bit vicarious but this Miliband thing is less likely than granted.

Big fat hugs


Woman on a Raft said...

Hello, I'm back from a quick trip to Yorkshire. One resolution made: to plant a flowering blackcurrant ASAP. It is about the only plant which has struggled in to flower and the bees are desperate for it. They are having to hunt miles to find anything, so that plant is a life saver for them. Considering it looks as fragile as an antique cotton print, it has put up a much better fight than most of the other plants.

Just catching up with the news. Next weekend is the spring Goth weekend and Whitby is hoping to welcome its first wave of money, but I haven't been over there to see how things are going.

Thanks for the heads-up about OH. I'll just catch up with that. It would explain why there have been so many hits for certain articles. The police and CPS tend to wade in thinking it is easy to secure a conviction; it is not. My concern is that serious legislation was put in place to deal with stalking and harassment on a personal basis. It doesn't much help because the real crazies don't care about legislation, but it is now being mis-used, as was feared, to try to prevent public as opposed to private statements.

As for Prince Charles' paintings; maybe it will inspire more people to get out there and give it a go.

call me ishmael said...

But he's just a cypher, is't he, a made-up, rounded man ? He paints, he plays the 'cello, he skis, he rides, he hunts, he flies, he sails, he writes, he gardens, he builds; no wonder he has to have someone wipe his arse.

These activities are all things suggested and encouraged by his tutors and paid for by us, the better to make him rule over us in parasitical splendour.

Better by far, for him and us, had he been taught plumbing. Or fidelity.

Woman on a Raft said...

He's all those and less, Mr Ishmael, but painting is still an interesting choice. The consistency with which he has painted over the years suggests he takes it seriously and it is not merely spin - or at least, not to him.

Of course, it is being manipulated now since they hope to achieve a measure of acceptance for him. It's a tough trick; the public just don't warm to him because he spent too many years being petulant. He's never seemed quite 'grounded' in that despite his education he didn't seem to be able to see outside the bubble of privilege.

I believe the painting is a way he attempts to do that.