‘A Brush With Mondrian; Uncovering Secrets Of Art And Family’ by Yvonne Louis (Murdoch Books) This beautiful memoir is about a woman who helps evacuate her mum from her home on two separate occasions because of threatening bushfires and her mum urges her, above all, to save two paintings which have been in the family for as long as Louis can remember. Louis later inherits these paintings and becomes intrigued as to why they are so special. She traces her family history and the role these two Dutch heirlooms have played amongst her family. Intriguingly the author and her family grew up in what must have been streets away from my childhood home and I also remember the alarm of being evacuated from approaching bushfires. Louis was apparently the librarian at my Primary School, but not when my siblings or I were there. The book follows the mystery and intrigue and is beautifully and sensitively written. A history of Dutch painting, traditions and family unfolds.
Read my interview with Yvonne Louis here.
‘Tintin; Herge And His Creation’ by Harry Thompson (Sceptre; Hodder and Stoughton) I didn’t really discover Tintin until after University. l was drawn not only by the wonderful drawing style, but especially by the colours that Belgian Herge (Tintin’s creator) used. The creator of Tintin is actually named Georges Remi; Remi inverted his initials (GR to RG); and in French, phonetically these inverted initials sound like Herge. This biography of Herge is divided into chapters which go through each book he wrote chronologically. I read each chapter then stopped and read the related Tintin book and was able to see and understand what Herge was working on, how his life, peers, world events (wars, conflicts, Al Capone and Fidel Castro) and discoveries (the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and man walking on the moon) influenced and affected his work. It was fascinating to see Herge’s style change and develop as I was reading through each book. The stories are fast-paced mysteries and usually relate to some then-topical event. In terms of Herge’s mastery of colour, my favourite book would have to be ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’; the blues, yellows and economy and elegance of line are breathtaking. My youngest daughter’s white teddy is named ‘Snowy’ after Tintin’s dog.
‘Girl In A Green Gown; The History And Mystery Of The Arnolfini Portrait’ by Carola Hicks (Vintage Books; Random House) Every art student studies this famous 1434 painting by Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck. I was fortunate enough to have two inspiring art teachers in high school and I would eagerly look forward to each art class. Some of the mysteries of this painting are who are these people? what are they doing? who is reflected in the mirror? and why did the artist sign his name top centre of the painting? This book is a loving portrait of this important and mysterious painting. We learn of the history of the painting (every single owner of this artwork has been documented), discuss why it was commissioned, who owned it and how they came to own it. Each detail of the painting is discussed; the fascinating fashion and what it said about the couple, the symbolism, the furniture, the effects and development of light that the painter could demonstrate, the history of the time and the importance and symbolism of the chandelier, the dog and the oranges. Analysis of established and new painting and perspective techniques are examined as well as painting mediums and pigment development. I found this book really fascinating. Thank you to Mrs Oakley and Mrs Lumley for bringing paintings such as this and many more alive to me as an art student. Art classes were always fascinating, engaging and fun.
‘Colour; Travels Through The Paintbox’ by Victoria Finlay (Sceptre; Hodder Stoughton) This book travels through the history and symbolism of colours and pigments in the order they appear in a rainbow. Each chapter is titled a colour and we learn how each pigment came to be in the artist’s paintbox. We follow Finlay’s research and extensive travels through a myriad of countries and experiences. She explains the fascinating history of when lime washing was thought the best precaution against the plague, carmine red was made from the blood of the cochineal beetle and how British post boxes were originally painted green, but people kept bumping in to them! We read about orange varnishes for string instruments and that camboge in yellow paint is so poisonous that no cockroaches or bugs will eat the paint. You need stamens from 170 000 crocus flowers to make 1kg of saffron used in pigments, that butterflies see purple well and that historically, violet is the colour most legislated about regarding who, where and when can use and wear it. Thank you to my friend, Toni, who recommended me to read this book. I love it!
Read my interview with Victoria Finlay here.
Visit Victoria Finlay’s website here and follow her on Twitter; @victoriafinlay and Instagram; @buzzcolour.
‘When My Baby Dreams’ by Adele Enersen (Balzer + Bray; Harper Collins Publishers) I enjoyed Finnish Enerson’s blog and website so I looked forward to her first book being published. First time mum, Enerson wonders what her daughter is dreaming about and creates scenes with her sleeping newborn baby, Mila, as the main character of her images. Apparently, Enerson waits for her daughter to sleep and then creates the scenes from textiles, rugs, cushions, socks, toys, paper plates, books and objects from around her house. I was fascinated, amazed and humoured to see what she would think up next. We see Mila as an astronaut, a bookworm, a bee, butterfly, mermaid, flying, ridding an elephant, a leopard, a Chinese dragon, surfing and hanging out with the washing. I love Enerson’s sense of humour and fun! In each image her baby looks very peaceful and blissfully unaware of the bizarre and creative scene she was in. I am in awe of her having the time to do this when her baby is sleeping. Apparently Mila was a very sound sleeper as a baby!
‘Monet’ by Carla Rachman (Phaidon) Beautifully illustrated with paintings and photographs, this is a very readable and thorough book on the French painter Claude Monet. A talented painter and entrepreneur, we learn why Monet was such an important painter and why he was and still is so popular. We read of his role in the French army, his early financial constraints, his love of the effects of light, family life, his stunning home and garden; Giverny, and his rise to fame. The opening up of Japan and its unseen woodblock prints influenced Monet’s work in terms of flat planes and outlines as was the impact of invention of the camera. Monet moved away from straightforward portraits which were being created by cameras and became fascinated by depicting the effect of light on a single theme such as haystacks, building facades or lily ponds. Monet became very passionate creating and developing his stunning garden. On our honeymoon we visited Giverny. I don’t think I was prepared for how breathtaking the house and garden would be!
‘Beatrix Potter; The Extraordinary Life Of A Victorian Genius’ by Linda Lear (Penguin) I bought this book in a small bookshop when I was holidaying with my family on the coast of Australia. As a young girl my maternal grandparents in Melbourne would send a five dollar note in a birthday card for me and I would peruse the bookshelves of our local Grace Bros. store as if I had a king’s ransom in my pocket. Each year I would choose one or two Beatrix Potter books to buy. So I knew Potter’s work, but not much about her. What I wasn’t expecting to read about was a Victorian rebel! Potter was a pioneering scientific researcher. From a young age her governess encouraged her interest in art and her outstanding talent as a botanist specialising in fungi and fossils gave her entrée to the Linnean Society (biological society); almost unheard of for a woman in Victorian times. Potter was an avid student of natural history and probably would have had a career in science if such opportunities were available to women at that time. This book was a fascinating account through journals, letters, photos and artwork of Potter’s childhood, her work and inspiration, how her publishing came about, her first unbelievably tragic romance and how she went on to find love and happiness. Later in life Potter bought Hill Top Farm and became an avid sheep and English Lakeland countryside expert. So I learnt that Potter’s children’s books are just one aspect of her extraordinary life and that she really was a truly fascinating woman in Victorian England.
Read my interview with Linda Lear here.
‘Carl Warner’s Food Landscapes’ by Carl Warner (Abrams) This is an amazing book about a contemporary English photographer who shapes food into landscapes. You can’t help but be intrigued at the images he creates entirely out of food – seas of smoked salmon with dill trees, peapod boats, nut stone walls, mozzarella ball clouds, pinto bean paving and red cabbage seas. From my professional background as a stylist, I loved reading about the photography shoots, drawing layouts, the hours of preparation that goes in before photography, model making, fine work, attention to detail, the trials, tribulations and solutions behind the scenes. Warner started out making images from food for his own interest, but then received commissions from commercial companies such as an Italian pasta sauce company, one of the major UK supermarkets, a Romanian brand of ice-cream, a Swedish fish and seafood company, an Italian cured meats company, The Lakes District Cheese Company and Betty Crocker cookie mix and recipes. What he and his team come up with is just stunning!
Read my interview with Carl Warner here.
Visit Carl Warner’s website here.
‘Degas’ by Keith Roberts (Phaidon) Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist painter who loved to paint scenes from the ballet and horse races; two particularly beautiful subjects where he celebrated highly skilled and trained people. Generously illustrated with large colour photos of his work, this book follows and gives a comprehensive discussion of the development of Degas’ style including his childhood, influences, peers and how he captured the effect of light on fleeting moments of scenes with high energy or natural elements such as falling rain. His work with pastel celebrates these transitioning light effects with a subtlety and beauty. I love how Degas focuses on the arts and highly skilled characters; ballerinas, orchestra players, opera singers and elite sportsmen, horse racers and horses. Having seen Degas’ ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’ sculpture in an exhibition in Canberra, I was given a copy of this beautiful work which graces our lounge room. It is an apt addition to our household with three daughters who have enjoyed classical ballet classes; two continue to dance and all of us adore and appreciate watching ballet.
‘Fairie-ality Style; A Sourcebook Of Inspirations From Nature’ by David Ellwand (Walker Books) What an intriguing book! This is an beautiful large format book of contemporary English photographer, Ellwand’s, observances of textures and colours in nature combined with his thoughts and fanciful designs for clothes and furniture. Ellwand’s photographs are stunning. His delicate and ephemeral designs are inspired by nature, so we see fern fronds, bluebell meadows and peacock feathers inspire celestial designs for dresses feathers and homes under waterfalls. A complete step-back from reality, this is a book of fantasy and whimsy just to enjoy.
When my youngest daughter was 7 years old, this book inspired her to design a set of the most startlingly beautiful dress designs made from feathers and leaves. I treasure those drawings.