Monthly Archives: May 2016

Contextual studies, Assignment 4 questions

29 May 2016

This blog entry records my response to the following course note questions:

1. Did you find this more theoretical approach helpful, interesting, inspiring, restrictive or boring?

The research has been extremely inspiring. I have seen how artists, craftspeople and designers came to be recognised in their careers, how they used sketchbooks, where they got their inspiration and whether they collaborated or worked alone. In some instances there has been direct read across to work which I have done in the assignments (either through process or source or inspiration). Even work with no apparent association has been valuable by giving insight into use of colour, composition, application of ideas, or sheer determination of the artist/designer to succeed.


2. Were you already familiar with some of the designers and artists in the set list? Whose work was completely new to you? How did you respond to it?

I was familiar with only a few of the individuals in the list; Zandra Rhodes, Issey Miyake and Tracey Emin. Of these I had a complete misconception about the work of Zandra Rhodes, which my research has dispelled. Far from being a garish woman producing equally garish and over-the-top, much of her clothing is subtle and it is beautifully conceived. Her sketchbook work is incredible and I hope to learn from how she uses museums collections, landscapes and cultural influences to inform her work.

Because I have captured my responses to the work of each of the artists/designers within my research, it seems unnecessary to duplicate it here. At the beginning of each section I have listed how their work relates to, or how it might influence my practice. I have also made comments in response to some of the articles or images within the body of my research.


3. Did you find the questions we gave helpful as a basis for your analysis? If not, how would you have preferred to approach this task?

I found that the questions very helpful (although so of the answers were difficult to find!) I like the structure that the questions provide and I will use them in future as a basis for commenting on artwork (see my blog entry on the medieval paintings at Thornham Parva, and work of Jonathan Lloyd). 


4. Do you think that an awareness of the context in which work is produced will influence the way in which you approach your own work in the future?


Yes. Before these contextual studies I had little knowledge of most of the artists/designers in the set list. Now I can approach my work knowing what has gone before, aware of some of the major movements and styles, and (if appropriate) building on political or social ideas.


5. Do you feel stimulated to do more research work of this nature in your own time?


Yes. The research which I did for this assignment has already inspired me with fresh ideas and made me think, in particular about feminist art and how the nature of the art, and materials in use has changed. The set questions have led me to areas of exploration which I have found highly stimulating. For example. In researching Jonathan Lloyds work “Altarpiece in dazzle camouflage” (inspired by the retable at Thornahm Parva, Suffolk), I have investigated the history of dazzle camouflage and the recent work of Sir Peter Blake.


Contextual studies, Project 2, Stage 2, Analyse three pieces of work

27 May 2016

In this task I have analysed three pieces of work from the six artists that I chose to research in stage 1, using the same questions and methods as Project 1, stage 3.

The artists whose work I selected were:

  1. Sheila Hicks
  2. Louise Bourgeois
  3. Sonia Delaunay

Contextual Studies, Project 2, Stage 1, Research six artists or designers

3 May 2016

For this stage I had to select six artists or designers who I particularly admire to study, taken from any period from/ the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. The task was to source information about their individual achievements. 

For this study, I followed the same format that I have outlined in Project 1, stage 1, the only difference being that I included a short explanation of why I chose each of the artists at the start of the section on the research about them.

My choice was as follows:

  1. Sheila Hicks
  2. Judith Scott
  3. Rozanne Hawksley
  4. Louise Bourgeois
  5. Sonia Delaunay
  6. Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher

In making my selection, I did consider whether I should have chosen a more diverse group. All of my choices are female, white (and with the exception of Sonia Delaunay), European or North American (Judith Scott being a different, having worked in cultural and social isolation). It is perhaps because of their gender and cultural similarity to myself, that I find their work engaging and easy to relate to? Conversely, it could be read that I am not open-minded about other cultures and social groups (the fact that I am aware, hopefully means this is not the case).


The references for my research are listed in the bibliography.

Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 3, Review of artworks

27 April 2016

This study requires a choice of two pieces of work representative of two of the artists/designers taken from the list at the start of Project 1. I selected work by Lucienne Day and Tracey Emin. 

The course notes ask that students choose illustrations of the artwork, taking care to bear in mind that texture, colour and scale are often not well represented. I tried to select the best quality images available, preferably from the Bridgeman online library or other reputable source. 

The course notes pose a series of questions for the student to answer. Although they appeared straightforward, many of the answers were difficult to source, and/or required thought – for example whether the piece has elements of a political or propaganda nature.

In preparation for this stage, I also read the suggested text by Mary Pointon (1). It was useful, not only in helping me understand the rationale for interrogating a work of art, but also in analysing the way others write about art, and the influence of surroundings and juxtapositioning of additional artwork in the context of that which is being studied.

The section was more work than I had anticipated, but it demonstrated how much more interesting art becomes when you delve into the “who, where, how, when and why”. Not only does it inform about the work being studied, but puts the piece into into context of the rest of the artsist’s work, and wider, that of art history and the major movements and styles.


1. Pointon, M (2014) History of Art. A student handbook. 5th Edition. London and New York. Routledge.

N.B. References pertaining to answering the questions on the artwork are contained in the bibliography.

Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 2, An in-depth study

23 April 2016

Choosing one artist/designer from the list from Stage 1, this in-depth study takes the from of an illustrated essay of not more than 2000 words, looking at their work and the issues related to it.

My choice of artist – Judy Chicago:

I selected Judy Chicago because her most notable work “the Dinner Party” was produced in the context of the emerging feminist art movement of California/L.A. in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It was a highly controversial at the time and continues to promote debate. The concept of feminist art is a subject which I find fascinating; it is dynamic, thought provoking and at times risqué. There are some issues which I am interested in exploring through my own artwork in future.

My approach:

The biggest challenge with this project was the limit of just 2000 words. I would normally consider an in-depth study to be at least 10,000 words, so I had to choose my topics carefully and keep focused on the message that I wanted to get across.

I started by printing out by the Wikipedia entry for Judy Chicago. Although I would never reference this source directly, it provided a useful starting point, highlighting main events in the artist’s life, and helping me navigate around the volume of information on the web and in print. 

I then sourced and printed off selected articles from the Internet, focusing on the areas of Chicago’s work which interested me most – particularly “The Dinner Party” and work leading up to it, life influences and political context. I borrowed several books from Norwich University library, including Judy Chicago’s autobiography, and reviews of her career and artworks by other authors.

I produced several pages of my own typed notes – shorthand of the text I had read, designed to help me extract the salient points and to know where to go back and find references. Once this was complete, I used it to draft an outline plan. I then began to write the essay. The plan helped me remember all the points I wanted to express and put them in and an order which was logical and made sense. I re-examined my work as it progressed (particularly in view of the balance and emphasis), and I adjusted the plan accordingly. I have written my essay slightly different from how I would normally, making explicit reference to my own opinion (as I understand this is what the assessors would like to see).


What I have learnt from this exercise:

The task highlighted the complexity of unraveling the comments of art critics, who may have underlying alternative motives for their remarks. Like politics, it is always possible to argue a point! The act of writing the essay has been most thought provoking. I have had to consider how I feel about “The Dinner Party”, in the context of both the era in which it was first exhibited, and how it would be received today. I hope I have correctly identified the content and presented well balanced and concise arguments.

I was only able to obtain Pointon’s book (1) after my essay had been written, and there were some points which I would probably have brought out more strongly, had I read the text first. Specifically, to have been more precise about collaboration, about who made criticisms about Chicago’s work, in what capacity, and when.

The importance of “where and how” the work is shown, is a point which is also made clearly by in Pointon’s book (1). Originally shown in 1979, “The Dinner Party” was later included in the exhibition “Sexual politics: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in Feminist art history” curated by Amelia Jones in 1996. In this exhibition,  “The Dinner Party” was shown together with other feminist artworks which had been produced in the intervening years. (2) The context was completely different from the original exhibition, which undoubtedly affected the way the work was viewed and how it was critiqued. Jones drew criticism for the prominence she gave to Chicago’s work, as the centrepiece of the exhibition, and the that fact five prominent female artists (including Miriam Schapiro, a former collaborator of Chicago’s) refused to exhibit their work. (3) Again, this would have been an interesting point to draw out in my essay.



1. Pointon, M (2014) History of Art. A student handbook. 5th Edition. London and New York. Routledge.

2. Brooklyn museum [n.d.] “The Dinner Party”: Tour and home. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

3. Jones, A. (2006) Aesthetics and sexual politics: Arts sexual politics. In: Mobile fidelities. Pachmanova, M. n.paradoxa online issue no. 19 pp.53 [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

The references for my essay are copied directly into the bibliography and are not reproduced here.. 




Contextual studies, Project 1, Stage 1, Research

23 April 2016

Assignment 4, Project 1, Stage 1

This first stage of the project is focused on researching ten key artists and designers listed in the course notes. The focus is on information gathering and collating, and not writing about each one. 

The brief is very general and it would have been all to easy to print off several folders full of information for each artist. I decided this approach was both impractical and counter-productive; a large body of information is useless, unless it has been deciphered and understood.

My dilemma was where to focus. I felt that to keep my research too general would have resulted in a cursory investigation of limited value, whilst delving into too much detail could have produced an overwhelming volume of material. 


I decided to take a balanced approach – I applied the following format to my research for each artist:

  1. Seek out biographies and articles which provide a summaries, so as to understand the status of the artists, their background, influences and interests.
  2. Seek out two more detailed articles, maybe exhibition reviews, journal publications, a book chapter. Of particular interest is if they present a controversial view, new slant or opinion.
  3. Look for interviews or video clips (ideally with the artist to gain first hand information). 
  4. Obtain images as examples of work, particularly if they illustrate major work, different phases of the artst’s career or a changes in approach.

The process of collating and summarising is very important to me. It is during this phase that I examine and rationalise arguments to come to my own conclusions. I draw mental links and formulate ideas (from which I may seek out further information to test assumptions and substantiate or dispel theories). I decided that in order to make the task meaningful, I would annotate my research. My notes include why a particular article was selected, and the salient points it contains. I also decided to write a summary of how the artsit’s work either relates to, or might influence my practice – a really useful exercise for focusing my attention.

References for each artist are included in the bibliography page.

Medieval art at St Mary’s church Thornham Parva

26 April 2016

I met up with a group of OCA students to discuss our work in the cafe at Thornham Walks, near Eye, Suffolk. We then visited the nearby church of St Mary in Thornham Parva. 

The medieval retable

In this tiny thatched church resides one of the few medieval retables (an altarpiece structure) to survive the purge of decorative church furniture during the English Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

The piece (not complete, but none the less the largest surviving in the UK),  is originally thought to be from the Dominican Priory in Thetford (1). It is estimated that it was made in the 1330’s (2). The style in which the figures are painted, and the fact that it features St Dominic and St Edmund, suggest it was made in East Anglia. (5) It is considered a particularly fine example of medieval painting.

Medieval Christianity was full of symbolism and superstition. The practise of placing images on or over alters was well established by the 14th century across Europe, the aim being to stress the fact that alters were dedicated to saints who witnessed the daily commemoration of Christ’s death in the Mass. (5)

The retable is a low wide rectangular painted wooden panel, 3.81 x 0.94m. It consists of a row of carved canopies, and arcade of gothic arches supported on round columns. Over the row of arches is stylised, carved and gilded foliage. It shows a crucifixion theme with the Virgin Mary flanked by St John and panel paintings of the saints on a gilt background. Within the arcade stand the figures of saints, no two being alike. In medieval fashion the saints are imagined in then-contemporary costume, as if to present to the beholder as being in the ‘here and now’. (5) Alternate archways show black and gilt chequerboard backgrounds (also in relief).

The retable was ‘discovered’ in 1920 in a stable on the Thornham estate. It was clear that the medieval paintwork had been seriously compromised by later repairs, and a decision was made to undergo a programme of restoration. The restorers (Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge) were able to gain new insights into the sophisticated practise of oil painting in England before the fifteenth century and published a book to document the contribution of the altarpiece to the history of medieval art (3).

The retable is not isolated – it has a ‘sister’ panel painting which resided in the Musee de Cluny, Paris. This panel was painted by the same team of painters using the same distinctive stamped decoration. Both panels also showed identical damage, and were probably damaged by the same person at the same time. This led researchers to conclude that they must have been commissioned together; the Thornham painting at the back of the alter, the Paris painting as the frontal, placed in front of the altar table. (5)de Cluny, Paris (

The image above is of an information board in St Mary’s church, showing what the two painting look like when viewed together as originally intended.

Contemporary work inspired by the medieval retable

I was also interested to buy a postcard of a contemporary interpretation of the retable by Jonathan Lloyd (2015). His piece, entitled “Altarpiece in dazzle camouflage (Thornham Parva)“, is a woodcut on Japanese paper, 88 x 27cm. It is possible to see echoes of the arches, chequerboard design and poses of the different figures. Clearly present is also the olive green and orange colours of the pillars. 

The picture below shows a Lloyd’s second study for the woodcut; acrylic on board (2014), which is on loan to Thornham Parva church.

The woodcut print was originally exhibited at the Royal Academy summer show of 2015, and proved extremely popular (with the entire edition of 18 prints selling out within three hours) (4). Lloyd lives in Wooler, Northumberland, and any association he may have with Suffolk or reason for a particular interest in this retable is unclear, although his work frequently has a religious theme.

I took a step back and examined the origins of Dazzle Camouflage. Originally conceived in WWI as a camouflage for ships, it was designed not be be stealthy, but to confuse the enemy as to the direction of travel of the vessel, making it an extremely difficult to target. (6) The dazzle designs have been compares to the Cubist art movement, made famous by Picasso and Braque. 

The illustrator who developed the dazzle designs, Norman Wilkinson appointed dock officers around Britain to supervise painting of the ships. One such officer was Edward Wadsworth, a founder of Vorticism – a British art movement that grew out of Cubism. (6)

I remembered reading about Sir Peter Blake’s commission to paint the Mersey ferry “snowdrop” in dazzle paintwork. (7), and found a ‘dazzle app’ which I have been experimenting with to produce my own dazzle effects (below)

Although not original (the dazzle designs are pre-programmed), it did help me understand the principle.

Medieval wall paintings

Although the work of a provincial painter and modest in quality compared to the retable, the medieval wall paintings at St Mary’s church Thornham Parva are nonetheless of interest, especially as they contain one of the only two surviving cycles in English wall painting of the life of St Edmund. (8) St Edmund was particularly important in East Anglia; Anglo Saxon King and martyr, he was killed by invading Danes in 869 and his relics were enshrined in Bury (later taking the name Bury St Edmunds), less than 20 miles from Thornham Parva.

Dating probably from the 14th century, the cycle starts with scenes from the infancy of Christ on the South wall; consisting of the visitation, the nativity of Christ, the denunciation of the shepherds, the adoration of the Magi, and the presentation in the temple.

The photo below is a close-up, showing the Virgin (cloaked figure on the right) and Child, and St Joseph in the presentation in the temple (the figure facing the opposite direction, on the left).

The St Edmund cycle is shown on the North wall; consisting of St Edmund attempting to flee the Danes, martyrdom of St Edmund, St Edmund’s severed head rejoined to his body, The burial procession and the cart carrying St Edmund’s relics.

The photo below shows the martyrdom of St Edmund. In this scene, St Edmund’s severed head is rejoined to his body. 

My final photo shows two scenes; the burial procession (right), and the cart with St Edmund’s relics (left)

The inexpensive nature of the paintings is re-enforced by their use of just a few cheap, readily available pigments, their outline style and only certain features being blocked in solid colour. Although many features are consistent with the 13th century, the outsize crowns which suggest they are unlikely to date from before the beginning of the 14th century. (8)


1. Secret Suffolk [n.d.] Thornham Parva. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2016]

2. BBC (2003) Medieval altarpiece is restored. [online] BBC News 20 February 2003. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2016]

3. Hamilton Kerr Institute (Ed.) (2004) The Thornham Parva retable: technique, conservation and context of an English Medieval painting. Chicago. Harvey Millar Publishers.

4. Old School Gallery (2015) Jonathan Lloyd – Royal Academy Summer 2015. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2016]

5. Binski, P. (2003) St Mary’s church Thornham Parva, Suffolk. A guide to the retable. Ipswich. Expression printers. 

6. Willis, S. [n.d.] How did an artist help Britain fight the war at sea? BBC iWonder series. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

7. Brown, M. (2015) Mersey ferry gets the dazzle treatment from Sir Peter Blake. In: The Guardian. 2 April 2015. [online].Available from: [Accessed 30 May 2016]

8. Courtauld Institute (2004) St Mary’s church Thornham Parva – a guide to the wall paintings. Ipswich. Expression printers.