Back with a Bang! – Part 1

Hey followers of The Art Dungeon!! So, after a fortnight of hectic travelling and holidaying, I am back to my favorite job in the whole wide world! Any hunches??? Yesssss!!  If you guessed art and blogging about it, then you are bang on!! Good job guys!!  

So, as promised, I’m back after a fortnight of fervent sightseeing and am loaded with tons of exciting art-related experiences and learning. I feel so enlightened and inspired after this trip that it’s almost as if I have been reborn as an artist! I am practically brimming with excitement and can’t wait to share my treasure trove with you all. So I will be break off from my presently ongoing Navrasa series and do a blog post about this expedition of mine. I shall return to the above mentioned series thereafter.

But there’s so much to tell that I can’t possibly fit it into one post, so I will do so in two parts. Let’s begin then with Part 1!   

Even though I was constantly on the move with not a minute to spare during my holiday, art was always on my mind wherever I went. I would find inspiration in each and every nook, corner and alley of all the lovely sights and sounds I came across during my travels.

Where did I go you ask? I had the good fortune to visit the breathtakingly beautiful, diverse, historic, romantic, captivating, addictive and extremely inspiring group of islands anchored in the middle of the North Atlantic that go by the name of the United Kingdom. Whoa! That’s a lot of adjectives in one sentence, don’t you think? But that’s the effect this enchanting country had on me. It left me craving for more, especially the artist in me!

Tower of London Commission

 My sojourn began in the pulsating tunnels of the underground “Tube” of the very cosmopolitan, yet historic London. The bustling underground, which is forever buzzing with human activity, provided me with ample amount of inspiration in the form of wall art and graffiti. These awe- inspiring pieces of art not only gave me a flavor of the country’s character but also filled me with a feeling of wondrous admiration for this glorious land.

I found my first inspiration splashed all along the walls leading to one such underground station, the Tower Hill Station near the historic Tower of London. A series of 30 paintings of the Tower of London by Stephen B. Whatley have been reproduced permanently on steel vitreous enamel panels lining throughout Tower Hill Underpass, the main portal entrance to the Tower of London, from Tower Hill Station. The originals, all oils on canvas, were exhibited in the Banqueting Hall of HM Tower of London, for an official reception marking the completion of major refurbishments to the Tower of London and its environs – including Tower Hill Underpass. 

 This is a permanent public art exhibit on display daily in London. The entire series of works depicts the history and iconic locations of the Tower of London and its environs. The vibrantly colorful imagery in these artworks depicts the architectural magnificence of the complex towering walls and moat of the Tower of London in varying silhouettes of the White Tower, Bloody Tower and Traitors’ Gate, The Wakefield and St. Thomas’s Towers.

The artist has skillfully illustrated the interiors in his work The Chapel Royal of St. Peter Ad Vincular. Apart from this there are several portraits of the likes of Henry III, Charles II, Sir Thomas More, Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn(1507-1536), all rendered by Whatley in his signature expressionistic style.

There is also a painting displaying a Panoramic View of The Tower from The Thames and yet another one depicting William The Conqueror’s Invasion and Battle – Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry.

But my personal favorites are two renditions of The Crown Jewels (that are on display inside the Tower of London), The Queen’s Guardsman and The Yeoman Warder. The former two, as the name suggests, are vibrant and dynamic paintings of The Royal ceremonial crowns, orb, scepter and rings while the latter are portraits of the Royal Guard and the Yeoman or “Beefeaters” as they are commonly called.

As I was walking through this astoundingly beautiful display, I came across two more paintings that left me totally speechless and spell bound. The first, called The 15th Century Murder of the Two Princes at The Tower, depicts the violent and mysterious deaths of the only two sons of King Edward IV. What struck me most about this piece, besides the bold color palette, was the use of indistinct and smudgy brush strokes which further added to the mystery and drama.

The second, titled Tower Ravens, shows the group of captive ravens that reside at the Tower of London. Their presence is traditionally believed to protect The Crown and the tower. A superstition holds that “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” There are seven ravens at the Tower today — the required six, plus one spare!

The Shakespeare Mural

My next inspiration greeted me in the form of none other than The Bard of Avon himself. Yes! I’m talking about Shakespeare!! No I didn’t run into his ghost!! While making my way into the lively Borough Market at the Southbank of Southwark, London, I crossed a railway arch emblazoned with this strikingly colorful mural of William Shakespeare.

This mural was sprayed painted on a brick wall in a tunnel on Clink Street located next to the Borough Market, which is very near the historic Globe Theatre in Southwark, south east London. This portrait of the famous English playwright was painted by the Australian street artist, James Cochran, a.k.a Jimmy C, who is also known for his mural of David Bowie in Brixton.

Coincidentally, the portrait of Shakespeare is just yards from the Bankside playhouses where the Bard worked and in the very heart of Shakespeare territory, with the Globe and the Rose Theatre nearby as well as Southwark Cathedral where Shakespeare’s brother is buried.  Once again the colorful rendition of this artwork attracted me not to mention the fact that I had never seen such a unique and contemporary version of the Bard and that too on the street!

The Painted Hall

One of the tours I took while in the UK included a trip to Greenwich with an opportunity to visit the Greenwich Maritime Observatory and the Royal Naval College there. While the former was an experience of a lifetime, the latter turned out to be much more than an academic tour as it satiated my artistic taste buds as well, much to my delight!

It was here that I came across The Painted Hall, which is one of the most spectacular and striking Baroque spaces in Europe. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, it is often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”. It features spectacular wall and ceiling decorations by the British artist Sir James Thornhill, who lavished 19 years on this, his masterwork (1707 to 1726).

The accessions to the throne of William III and Mary II in 1688 and George I in 1714, form the central narrative of a scheme which also triumphalises Britain’s maritime and trading successes. The artist drew on a cast of around 200 figures to tell a story of political change, scientific and cultural achievements, naval endeavors, and commercial enterprise against a series of magnificent backdrops. The characters he included are allegorical, mythological, historical and contemporary.

The grandeur of the composition, which covers 40,000 square feet, reflects the importance of the space the paintings adorn: the hall of a new Royal Hospital for men invalided out of the Navy.
The Painted Hall itself was originally intended as a grand dining room for the Naval pensioners, but it soon became a ceremonial space open to paying visitors and reserved for special functions.

The Painted Hall is a sequence of three distinct but connected spaces: first, we encounter the soaring domed Vestibule, then the long, brightly lit Lower Hall and finally the Upper Hall whose west wall provides the highly theatrical finale.

The Lower Hall ceiling, which measures 15 by 30 metres
celebrates the ‘Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny’. At the centre of the composition are the figures of King William and Queen Mary surrounded by various mythological and allegorical figures. The king is shown with his foot on a figure representing ‘arbitrary power and tyranny’ – which appears to be a thinly veiled depiction of Louis XIV.

The Upper Hall ceiling honours Queen Anne and her consort Prince George of Denmark, next to personifications of the continents Europe, Asia, America and Africa and the coats of arms of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.

The west wall celebrates the arrival of the Hanoverians (‘a new race of men from Heaven’ as its motto declares) with George I at the centre of a large family group portrait. Other figures and objects reinforce messages of peace, stability and prosperity underpinned by naval might.

Thornhill used a variety of techniques such as chiaroscuro (contrast of light and dark), fictional light sources and foreshortening to enliven his paintings. His use of illusionistic architecture and steep perspective was inspired by Roman high baroque painting.The Painted Hall was extraordinarily impressive for me as I found it to be a powerful amalgamation of painting and architecture. In my opinion the extravagant yet thoughtful scheme of events portrayed by Thornhill paints a powerful and fascinating picture of 
Britain’s position in the world according at the beginning of the 18th century. Moreover, The Painted Hall overawed and delighted me for its sheer grandeur and magnificence.

Blackheath Art Society Exhibition

The Blackheath Art Society in South East London was launched in 1947 by distinguished artists and educators with links to Goldsmiths College, Camberwell School of Art and the Royal Academy. Many current members who work as artists or designers and in art education studied at these colleges and at other prestigious art institutions in the UK and abroad. The Blackheath Art Society holds exhibitions locally each year and also meets for sketching and photography trips, visits to art galleries, museums and places of interest.

One such exhibition organized by the society was underway at the Old Royal Naval College and I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time to be able to witness it! This exhibition featured a mixture of paintings, drawings, prints and photographs in various mediums ranging from oils to acrylics, watercolors, inks, charcoal, pastels, gouache, color pencils and mixed media. To see such an expansive and versatile range of art by the some of the most prominent contemporary artists was indeed an experience of a lifetime.

Besides these conventional mediums, I was also exposed to new contemporary techniques and unique surfaces that can used to create some pretty amazing works of art. Among these were a couple of pieces by Alice Gur-Arie, who has created astounding prints on archive paper and then hand repainted them. Alice is an award nominated mixed media artist who takes photographs around the world and repaints them by hand digitally into contemporary, limited edition, fine art images. Treating the photograph as a canvas, images are repainted by hand digitally with a “brush”, sometimes in layers, sometimes pixel by pixel. 

There were some interesting linocut prints by Gillian Fairbanks that particularly caught my attention. Other eye catching prints included a screen print titled Winter Trees by Lucy Cooper and Inkjet print called Poppies by Patricia Colman. Another engaging form of art that I identified with there was the mandala like artwork by Angele Joneliene.

I discovered yet another unique medium in the form of an artwork by Chris Francis. This was assemblagean artistic form or medium usually created on a defined substrate that consists of three-dimensional elements projecting out of or from the substrate. It is similar to collage, a two-dimensional medium.

Chris Francis

Tower of London Arms as Art

Ever found an inspiration for art where you least expect it to be? That’s exactly what happened with me when I was walking through the armory section of the museum in the Tower of London. This exhibit, known as Arms as Art, consists of four items – The Raven Gun, Jewelled Pistol, Tiffany Revolver and the Jewelled Gun. Not only were these fire arms studded with diamonds and paneled with gold, but the supposed trajectories of their bullets had been carved out with crystals as well! It made a pretty cool exhibit I must say!!

Art Inspirations at Natural History Museum

Of all the places in London, one would least expect to find inspiration for art at the Natural History Museum. But I sure did! One such exhibit was that of different species of butterflies and moths preserved for posterity in a glass casing. This for me has become a befitting source of inspiration and who knows, may even transform into a muse for my future art explorations!

Another exhibit at the museum that was exceptionally stimulating for my artistic genes was that of aquatic flora and planktons, once again encased in glass. The fluidity of the display is the perfect subject for a watercolor composition, don’t you think?

And just when I thought I was through, I bumped into Pandora’s Box of artistry! The Natural History Museum holds all of the surviving botanical artwork from Captain James Cook’s first Pacific voyage. There are original botanical drawings and engravings prepared by Sydney Parkinson aboard the Endeavour, as well as those completed after his death by artists back in England under the patronage of  Sir Joseph Banks.

The illustrations have been systematically organized as per the location where each species was seen during HMS Victory’s travels, which included Australia, Brazil, Java, Madeira, New Zealand, Tahiti and all the way to Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America.

One can also explore the collection by the artists, namely, Sydney Parkinson, a Scottish natural history artist, Frederick Polydore Nodder, an English natural history artist, brothers John and James Frederick Miller and John Cleveley the Younger.

Another method of arrangement is by the engraver, who engraved the copper plates for the species collected. There were three of these, the first being Daniel Mackenzie, the principal engraver who  produced over 250 of the 738 copper plates . The second was Gabriel Smith, one of Banks’s most productive engravers, having created 118 copper plates. Last but not the least was Gerald Sibelius, a Dutch artist and one of the longest-serving engravers for Banks’s project, producing a total of 195 copper plates.

Lions of Windsor

One of my guided sightseeing tours took me to Windsor Castle where I had a close encounter of the feline kind, only in the arty sort of way. Scattered all over the streets of Windsor town were these stunningly magnificent life size sculptures of lions, painted in styles ranging from mosaics to street art.

This majestic pride of 46 colourful lions, aimed at raising money for local charities in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth and each one was individually-decorated by talented artists and designers. Some of these are designer Dame Zandra Rhodes, decorative artist Kaffe Fassett MBE, and French artist Lyora Pissarro, who is the great grand-daughter of Camille Pissarro. Other notable names include Craig Wheatley, ex-Creative Director of Christian Lacroix, and Martin Brown, the illustrator of the Horrible Histories book series.

Most of the lions in Windsor town centre were clustered quite closely together. There were a couple that were a bit further out but all were within easy walking distance, including those in Eton which is just across the bridge on the other side of the Thames. Some were also displayed in shop windows or were only put out within shop opening hours. Another majestic member of the pride was Robert Oxley’s dazzling super-sized lion, Leonidas, which had been adorned with the artist’s signature dripping paint style, and was on display outside Windsor gallery.

These lion sculptures were on display till October 27 with the aim to highlight the plight of lions, which are now more endangered than polar bears, with only 15,000 left in the wild. Thereafter, most of them are to be auctioned off at the international auction house, Christie’s to raise funds for local and wildlife charities.

Phew! That’s a lot of art inspiration in for city, don’t you think? But trust me this is just the tip of the iceberg!! I have loads in store for all you art lovers in the second part of this post so stay tuned until next time!

DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole objective to stimulate artistic progress and enrichment.Most of the photos included in this post are my personal copies which I clicked during my trip to the UK. However, some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data for this post, therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages for their data. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.

Sources and Photo Credits –

4 thoughts on “Back with a Bang! – Part 1

  1. Brilliant writing and what an eye opener to London. I have been through London myself and never noticed all this. Will need to go there again with a different perspective!!


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