( the facebook page - @MarkHaddonAuthor
is run by vintage books / doubleday
i don't have any input
and i don't see any of the comments...
predictably it has far more visitors )

  red house cover

suzanne dean at random house has designed a very beautiful cover for the red house. look carefully at the figures in the willow pattern...

  cold swim

the first proper winter temperatures. and the first swim in the thames in properly cold water. though i do very little swimming per se. more energetic floating. it seems safer in the winter not to head off upriver midstream. fantastic, though. it makes me joyous every time (i wonder sometimes if there might be a dash of walrus dna in there somewhere; one of my forebears geting a little too lonely during those 23 hr nights way back). the river feels like mine again...

(artist's impression; may not show actual product)

photo by jarkkoS under creative commons on flickr

  (solar) glory

toby moorcroft and i saw this from the top of twmpa / lord hereford's knob while taking a hearty walk during the crunch festival. it is, apparently, a (solar) glory surrounding a brocken spectre. perhaps you already knew that...


the other night i watched the cave of forgotten dreams, werner herzog's documentary about the chauvet caves in the limestone cliffs above the ardeche river in france, which were discovered in 1994 and which contain the oldest known cave paintings in the world, 30 - 26,000 bce. rhinoceroses, cave lions, horses, panthers, bears, the stencilled outline of an artist's right hand, repeated throughout the cave, the same man identifiable by the crooked little finger of his right hand. i'd been drawing all day and really did feel as if i'd picked up what the indigo girls once called, in a rather different context, a kind of telephone line through time.

as always, there was talk of shamanism and the spirit world and the porous border between the human and the animal. and as always i thought to myself, if you can draw well then drawing is often a source of pure pleasure, just as running or singing are often sources of pure pleasure for people who can do those things well. the orhtodox view of palaeolithic people is that they weren't as clever as us but were much more spiritual, which says, i think, more about us than it does about them. we rarely think of them as ordinary. we rarely think of them as just human beings. i see those drawings and i think, if you could draw like that would you need a reason? would you need a ceremony? would you need a job as a priest? wouldn't you just want to draw?


i had a couple of hours spare in london yesterday so i visited the national portrait gallery, which i do every so often, though because i've been painting portraits recently everything was much more interesting this time and i was standing a lot closer...

really reassuring to see a bad lucian freud (albeit opposite a breath-takingly good self-portrait of his): lord jacob rothschild, the face grey and lifeless, the background sloppy. it looked likes a unwilling commission done at speed.

a portrait of camila batmanghelidjh by dean marsh in the style of ingres' harem paintings (a concept which in itself makes me a little uneasy). the face is really well done but not very captivating. the main subject of the painting, however, seems to be a glorious triangle of silver damask (?) spilling over the divan on which she's sitting. rare to see as much care taken over a background / foreground in a contemporary painting. and even rarer for the background / foreground to be the most interesting thing in the picture.

fascinating to see group portraits in which the sitters have been painted separately and the eyelines therefore don't quite match up. e.g. a rather pedestrian picture of the royal family during the second world war, conversation piece at the royal lodge, windsor, by james gunn - george vi, the queen, elizabeth and margaret - in which everyone seems to be avoiding one another's eye. which, i suppose, they may have been...

photorealism and it's near relatives seems to be the flavour of the decade (especially if you look at the annual npg national portrait awards catalogues). but they work best in reproduction. seeing big photorealistic works in the gallery, however, takes the wind out of their sails.  look closely and you see the brushmarks which reminds you that they have been hidden, which gives the whole work an air of embarrassment and unself-confidence. it's like listening to the sound of violins or trumpets generated electronically on pro-tools. and it might be a rather hackneyed and naive response to ask why you should labour so long and hard to produce a painting that looks exactly like a photograph when you could just take a photograph, seeing paintings-that-look-exactly-like-photographs hung alongside very good photographs does make it a very hard question to answer.

long corridors of victorian gentlemen locked in some kind of repetitive burnt umber hell. all of them head-and-torso poses, everyone wearing a dark suit and standing ram-rod straight, like they've come out of a machine with only the slightest variation. then you look at the labels and realises that these were fascinating men. burns, stevenson, livingstone, tennyson...

that dark background which began life  in the early renaissnce when painters like durer and van eyck started using lenses / mirros and had to isolate and illuminate figures in a darkened room, and which then became detached from it's function and became instead a marker of tradition and seriousness. strange, then, to see how long it has lasted as a trope, when it can kill a painting stone dead, not just through the nineteenth century but into the twentieth, all these pictures weighed down the lightless sludge of the background. and what a joy to see the vivid green in the backgrounds of pictures by graham sutherland or the fantastic craigie-aitchison pink behind willard white in ishbel myerscough's portrait. 

Syndicate content