The Ringling Museum. Spectacle and Mystery in Sarasota

This weekend I have had two unashamedly delightful non drawing days. We went to lovely Sarasota to breathe some sea air, to meet up with two painting friends and to see the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
In short the Ringling Museum is astonishing. Mostly because of its grandeur, its beautiful setting on Sarasota Bay, the value of its collections and of course the Circus Museum.
I quote from their publicity:

In 1927 John Ringling moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota. On Christmas Day, 1927, the Sarasota winter quarters opened its doors to visitors. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people visited winter quarters, and it became the number one tourist attraction in the State.

I have very mixed feeling about the circus and I dislike performing animals especially, but as a small child if I ever felt like making a dash for freedom and life on the road with the travelling circus, it was after watching those wonderful circus movies of the 1950’s, Cecil B DeMille’s ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ and ‘Trapeze’. They evoked an exotic, dangerous and compelling life that rural Lincolnshire just did not have.

Our occasional small town circus never quite lived up to the glittering expectations of the films and the few last remaining romantic notions were shattered many years ago when I found myself in a laundrette sitting next to clown (minus costume) from a small travelling show who was washing the costumes of the performers and mending a broken pony harness while he waited. But these were not the silken bejewelled trapping of my childhood imagination but nylon, shabby and worn things, exposed as tawdry and garish in the unforgiving daylight and the unprepossessing surroundings of the Maytag Laundry.
However if any stirring of old longings and evocations of the splendour and lure of the travelling show can be conjured up in this grey world today a trip to the Ringling Circus Museum will do it. Here the sheer scale of the enterprise in the early 20th C and the spectacle of the exotic can be relived through film, posters and a huge and remarkable model of the circus, the largest in the world with eight main tents, 55 railroad cars, 152 circus wagons, 1,500 performers and circus personnel, and more than 500 animals. It occupies 3,800 sq. ft. on the first floor of the Tibbals Learning Center and measures 148 feet in length.

It’s a fine sight in itself with clever lighting and sound effects but equally engaging was the sight of the older visitors, noses pressed against the glass like children at a sweet shop window, reliving those moments of pure escapism and wonder from their youth.

Dodging some heavy thunderstorms we also visited the Museum of Art where there is a fine collection of painting, sculpture and objects d’art from around the world and in the Contemporary gallery there is currently a show called “Phantasmagoria: Spectors of Absence”

I am not a huge fan of installation art but some of these exhibits were quite beautiful. The brochure description sums it up well:
Mist, breath, and fog are often associated with mystery; in their double status as perceptible yet almost nonexistent phenomena, they suggest evanescence or absence. The mysterious world of vapor evokes a dreamlike state inviting the viewer to suspend the harshness of reality for some otherworldly space. This show explores how artists are currently working in this challenging artistic medium, and engaging the viewer with their creations, and throughout the installations, the artists’ use of shadows and actual fog and mist evokes the alluring enigma and magic of Phantasmagoria. The artists, including William Kentridge, Christian Boltanski, Regina Silveira and Jim Campbell,

One of the most lyrical pieces was this smoke projection by Rosângela Rennó . “Experiencing Cinema” Images are timed to project onto a “screen” of smoke. It is almost impossible to show in a photograph how these illusive and fragile images appear and disappear, literally in a puff of smoke but here is a publicity shot that gets close.

For more information about the Ringling Museum here

This is also an opportunity to post a couple of circus themed paintings

A strange and typically bleak early Hopper from 1912 Soir Blue

One of my favourite UK painters, Dame Laura Knight’s image of the Mill ‘s circus from the 1920´s

and “Checkers” by Normal Rockwell 1929, which was on show in the exhibition in Orlando I wrote about some time ago here

Leaf of the day: Endive and Less your model.

Endive is such a pleasing smooth sleek shape. It is amazingly from the daisy family. However, this Belgian endive is forced in a complicated way and is a shoot from the root and a long way from its relative, the pretty wild chicory which does have a blue daisy-like flower. Excellent with soft cheese, thyme and olives and nuts.

These little paintings, I think the first watercolours on this blog, were done after a couple of days with Sue Archer. I have always found dark coloured backgrounds in watercolour very tricky and although these are small paintings, 8 x 4″ and 6 x 2.5″, they represents a modest breakthrough for me.

In the room at La Quinta hotel in Sarasota you have a fridge and a microwave so in the evening I would go back and assemble some food and also try to digest some of what Sue had told us. The endive, with additions was Tuesday and Wednesday’s dinner.. ..eating your models is to be recommended as it avoids critical comparisons.

Belgian Endive

Learning from the Experts:Two Watercolour Tutors

You can read all the books and spend years at college but sometimes a few days with the right person and a door will be unlocked …hopefully. There have been just two tutors who have really helped my watercolour practice.

Sue Archer
I have nothing but good things to say about Sue Archer’s course this week in Sarasota. She is such a good tutor. My head is now completely full of ideas and information. Her course is so well structured and no matter how good an artist you are, you would learn something, revise something, look at your own work in a different way and, as in my case, return to the much needed discipline of planning a piece of work.
Her large scale, deceptively simple images are full of luminous colour, elegant design and careful composition and on the course she explains every aspect of how this is achieved. ..trying to do it is another matter.
Visit her website which she shares with her photographer husband and see this beautiful painting amongst many others.

Life is Just A…
29 x 41″

Sue Rubira
I had seen Sue Archer’s work on the internet and so had some idea of what her work was like but my first door opener was a completely lucky chance.
Sue was the tutor on a last minute decision holiday to Portugal some years ago now. With this Sue I discovered how to work with ‘wet’ transparent watercolour, having been very much a controlled dry brush painter. After a day of making mud, I gradually understood how to leave white paper for whites and how, ideally, to keep colours clean!..I still have my first tentative watercolours from that holiday.
Her work is very different from Sue Archer’s, her portraits are breathtaking in their handling, viewpoint and scale. She was the second prize winner in the prestigious Singer Friedlander watercolour competition in 2006 with this large 72cm wide x 91cm painting of her brother Geoff. This is from the Sunday Times September 3, 2006:
“I need to paint people who interest me in some way, otherwise it’s difficult to begin to understand them. This one’s of my brother, Geoff. I obviously know him very well and to that helps with the painting no end.” “I prefer to paint on a large scale, larger than life, and I like using very large brushes.” Find her work and step by step for some paintings here

Geoff 2006
21 x 30″

I continue with my leaves….

Synchronicity in Sarasota and Fangs & Flippers

Day two in Sarasota and the course is going very well. We are learning so much about colour and the chemical constituents of paint which in the past I have never really got to grips with. Sue is an excellent teacher and sets a cracking pace. I may be able to post a couple of photographs later this week.

Back at the hotel I have my two books ( Jung and Bartram) and Internet access. I tuned into BBC Radio 4 and lo and behold Book of the Week is readings from :
The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of Obsession” By Andrea Wulf,
Her book ‘traces the history of the gardening revolution of the 18th century, led by a group of explorers, botanists, collectors, and plant dealers:
Philip Miller, head gardener of the Chelsea Physic Garden and the author of The Gardeners’ Dictionary
Peter Collinson, collector and merchant, who together with American farmer John Bartram ( father of William) brought American plants to England
Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who classified the natural world and invented a standardized botanical nomenclature
Daniel Solander, who joined Joseph Banks on Captain Cook’s Endeavour.
Joseph Banks, who exchanged his life as a rich gentlemen for that of an explorer, becoming in turn one of the most influential men in Georgian England. ‘

All these wonderful people I have been reading about… How very nice.
Jung coined the word syncronicity to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” ..well it’s certainly a coincidence.

William Bartram illustrated his writings with delightful drawings is one, nature red in fang and flipper. A lotus pod and unfortunate frog from “Travels and other Writings” William Bartram.

Leaf of the Day: Woman’s Tongue

I found this pod a couple of weeks ago on the seafront in Sarasota. I just could not identify it, however after my visit to the library I have found out that it is the pod of the one of the albizia trees, albizia lebbeck. The delicate pods are about 6 to 8 inches long, flattened and papery and they rattle. I am sure I don’t need to explain the origin of the name to you, do I!
There are many other albizias some with longer curling pods which is why I had difficulty finding this one in the guide book. It is, apparently, a very naughty and invasive tree ( category one!) here in Florida, wantonly seeding everywhere and its lovely pods even described as “trashy”by one commentator. The flowers are pretty, very fragrant pompom affairs, all in all a very girly plant, chatty, decorative and just a tiny bit louche!..

Woman’s Tongue