Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Lost Painting ....

Zeynep Sultan Mosque - Sirkeci - Istanbul

My friends in Istanbul like this picture. To a European it can appear a little gothic or even threatening, but locals seem to choose it above other pictures I've done of Istanbul scenes. I was pleased with the way the oil pastel in blue and yellow worked well with the black watercolour.

I would love to say that I have sold it, but alas there are worse things than not selling work, I lost it! On my way somewhere in a taxi, in a hurry, I left it in the car.

Maybe some Istanbul taxi driver is settling down each night in his salon, after a frustrating busy day spent besieged by traffic. As he gazes upon this picture, sipping his tea and meditating on his own rich Ottoman heritage, he begins to sense the greatness that made the Ottomans the superpower of their age... probably not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Hidden Nook of Istanbul

Şehzade Cihangir Camii (Jihangir Mosque) despite its small size and apparent insignificance amidst the monuments of Istanbul has a commanding view of the Bosphorus. It was built in 1559 but renovated by Abdulhamit II in 1889.

Most tourists who made the journey up towards the Black Sea would have noticed this sentinel watching the passing shipping traffic but probably would not have found it in their guide books. It's perched on the steep slopes over looking the Bosphorus in a historic and bohemian part of the city.

The minarets and dome of the mosque sever the horizon so that as one passes down from the north one sees a silhouette that beautifully frames the distance spires of the city. It can be reached by walking up a network of old stairways that start from busy road that takes the traffic down the European side of the Bosphorus. As one climbs the steep stairway which rises up between modern office buildings, residential flats and mysterious old ruins one comes to the commanding view that the mosque enjoys. 

Those that seem to have discovered this hidden delight of the city are modest lovers quietly holding hands peacefully looking across the waterway. Young boys also kick a football around in the street outside and cats lie sleepily amidst the trees and graves stones surrounding the mosque.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Bosphorus

View of the Bosphorus, watercolour, 2010
As we board the ferry from Üsküdar to Kabataş, a quick fifteen minute journey across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe, I always glance at the sky and the horizon wondering what I'll see. The Bosphorous has many moods in the four seasons that Istanbul enjoys and at times the view is breathtaking. Sometimes dolphins (or maybe porpoise) can be seen in the spring as the 'hamsi' (anchovies) come down in their millions from the Black Sea.

How many times do you have to see something before you can paint it? Of course there's the impact a sight can make on one at first viewing, this can trigger inspiration. But I've found that often frequently seeing the same sight in different weather conditions, or at different times of the day can lead to me one day seeing something that suddenly inspires me to paint it.

Zonaro (yes I know I mentioned him before) captured beautifully the purples  of the shadows cast by the setting sun. He would then offset them strikingly with the warm golden sun resting on the Bosphorus. He would portray the late sun striking the buildings with a single dab of colour amidst the smokey mauve of the advancing shadows. 

The city's changed but its colours remain the same.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Green

There's more to life than Istanbul and the distant deserts of Central Asia....

The taxi ride home from London's Heathrow airport through the Cambridgeshire countryside after many months staying in more arid and desolate places was always jaw dropping. It really can be breathtaking. Green fields, green grass, green trees, deep blue skies absorbing skyscapes and wild flowers! 

Bored already? Well, feel for the taxi driver! 

It would start with a comment from me, something like..
'Wow, it's really green!' he would murmur a polite but vaguely puzzled agreement. 
'Oh, look at those fields! They are so green!' I would say, he would grunt another affirmation.
This would carry on for about an hour. We'd venture into subjects ranging from football to politics, or the fortunes of whatever war our good country happened to be engaged in at the time. But even these subjects (polite attempts to soften the silence) would be punctuated with more exclamations of wonder at the greenness all around. I would try and think of another word to describe 'green', like 'lush' but that could sound a bit strange.

So the picture above is in homage to the English countryside from a returning wanderer. I used neat white acrylic sprayed on with a toothbrush on top of lots of wet colour which frequently threatened to run riot. Thank goodness for masking fluid which provides some control amidst the chaos of using the 'wet on wet' technique. This particular lane in the West Country is flanked by countryside that's lush and green (?), with golden and glorious light bursting through. I wish I could capture more of its charm on paper.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kashgar stairway - watercolour

They aren't there anymore, or so I'm told. These stairs climbed up from the springs at the base of the city into the maze like host of tunnels that wound in between and under old family homes. Narrow streets dipped and curved into the heart of the old city, children and elderly women would often sit perched on doorsteps watching the days pass.

The Old City of Kashgar seemed to defy 'progress'. It lay as a reminder of old central Asia. The was the place that little more that a hundred years ago had been a place of intrigue. Russian spies, British agents and their local informants plotted against one another in the bazaars of Kashgar, Samarkand and Kabul. The Great Game as it was called was a struggle between Imperial Russia and the British Empire over the northern approaches to Britain's 'Jewel in the Crown' India.

Legend tells of the parties that Petrovsky, the Russian consul General to Kashgar used to have at his base in what is now the Seman Hotel, revolver's were often drawn on these occasions. George MacCartney, the British consul in the late nineteenth century seems to have been a more sober character, the British Consul building still stands in the city - look for it behind the Chinibag Hotel.

Anyway, a lot of the old city has gone now. There are the usual reasons given for it's destruction; poor quality buildings, poor sanitary conditions, susceptible to earthquake damage etc.. All the same, something unique, old, organic is gone and will never rise again. How long does it take to weave threads of culture, spirituality, art and custom into the fabric of everyday lives, into buildings, neighbourhoods and communities?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The top ten watercolor scenes of Istanbul....?

Kız Kulesi - Maiden's Tower
Have I ever painted a tram ?...

...No never, I guess I could. I suppose it's possible I could be inspired, at some point maybe... suffice to say it's not a subject I'm instantly drawn to...

When I first came to Istanbul different gallery owners and well meaning locals told me that what I really needed to do in order to be a successful artist here; I had to paint the ten to twelve classic subjects in the city.

What they meant by this was that I should start by painting the famous antique tram which takes tourists and sightseers up and down a famous street on the European side of the city. I should then move onto portraying the other ten to twelve classic sights of the city, like everyone else does!

After hearing that the penny dropped, or the 'jeton dushtu' as they say here. I realised that all around me hanging on friend's walls, being sold as postcards, prints, jigsaw puzzles, on mugs, plates, key rings etc... was, you guessed it, the red tram of Istiklal Caddesi  (as the street is called).

My mind had clearly blocked that particular image out of my vision up until that point, now thanks to the powers of auto-suggestion I realised that the red tram was haunting me wherever I went.

The trouble is that I still don't really want to paint it, in fact wishing no offense to the millions who apparently adore it, I remain unmoved by that particular icon to Istanbul's comparatively recent past.

Which brings me onto the subject of today's painting. It's a classic view of the famous Maiden's tower in Istanbul (Kız kulesi), it's one of the 'must do' sights for landscape artists here. I'm a little embarrassed about this 'following of the pack' as it were, but at the same time I feel I captured some of the wind swept nature of the scene and dazzling sunlight which characterises that part of the Bosphorous.

The legends around the tower tell of a Princess (I suppose she'd have to have been Byzantine royalty) who was sent there to avoid dying of a spell cast upon her. She predictably died of a Snow White'esque attraction to apples, or was it snakes, maybe both.

Fausto Zonarro - Maiden's tower
Fausto Zonarro,  the court painter to Sultan Abdulhamid II is for me the unsurpassed master of Istanbul's orientalist painters. His stunning views of Istanbul remain a constant source of inspiration.  His works are all over this city and reveal a fascinating glimpse of what was here before the tides of modernity and traffic besieged this ancient place.

I hope to complete more of the 'must do' sights of the city, but as in the case of the tram it might take me a while....

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