Hans Holbein the Elder (c. 1460-1524) and Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543)
Born about 1460 in Augsburg in Germany, Hans Holbein the Elder lived and work at the cusp of late Gothic and early Renaissance art. He belonged to a significant family of painters; his father was a painter and his brother, Sigismund, worked with him in partnership. Hans Holbein’s earlier body of work includes many religious works such as altar paintings characteristic of the Gothic tradition but he was also a successful portrait artist and his works evidence the transformation from the late Gothic to the Renaissance style. The Renaissance-style portrait of a Man (1518-1520; image 1) prefigures the portrait work of Holbein’s son Hans the Younger.
1. Portrait of a Man, Hans Holbein the Elder (1518-1520)
The portrait of St Barbara (image 2), on the other hand, to me appears still to be influenced by the late Gothic tradition, although perhaps the Renaissance influence is making itself felt in the way Holbein has painted the drapery of St Barbara’s gown.
2. Saint Barbara, Hans Holbein the Elder (1516)
One aspect of interest in both these portraits is the suggestion of blackwork embroidery on the garments worn by the models. The depiction of blackwork is generally associated with the work of Hans Holbein the Younger (and, in fact, a number of web-based sources attribute the painting of St Barbara to the younger Holbein) but these works do appear to show examples of this style of embroidery.
The elder Holbein’s life was eventful; he was forced to leave Augsburg after 1516, when he was declared a tax defaulter, and moved to Issenheim, in Alsace. Pursued by creditors, he moved to Basel, where he died in 1524.
Hans Holbein the Younger, son of the elder Hans Holbein, was born in about 1497, also in Augsburg. Image 3 shows a charming silverpoint drawing of Hans and his brother Ambrosius (also a painter) by their father, Hans Holbein the Elder.
3. Ambrosius and Hans Holbein, Hans Holbein the Elder (1511)
The younger Holbein’s early career, to 1526, was spent predominantly in Basel, where he painted murals, religious paintings, cartoons for stained glass, and woodcut book illustrations, also painting the occasional portrait.
In 1526, Holbein moved to England, where he executed a number of portraits in the Renaissance style, perhaps most notably of Sir Thomas More and his family. From 1529 to 1532, Holbein lived again in Basel, but he returned to England in 1532, and in his second English period, he produced the portraits for which he is most famous. Images 4 to 7 reproduce portraits of Henry VIII and two of his queens, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, from the period 1536 to 1540. The aspect of these portraits of particularly interest in the context of Module 2 is, of course, the fine drawing of blackwork embroidery on the garments (see, particularly, image 6).
4. Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1536)
5. Jane Seymour, Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1537)
6. Detail of blackwork embroidery on Jane Seymour’s cuff
7. Catherine Howard (or perhaps Elizabeth Seymour), Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1540)
Hans Holbein the Younger continued as King’s Painter and also undertook private commissions up to the time of his death in 1543.
Holbein Stitch, used extensively in blackwork, is named after Hans Holbein the Younger on the basis of his paintings of members of King Henry VII’s family, most of which depict blackwork embroidery. Various references suggest that blackwork was introduced to England from Spain by Catherine of Aragon (queen consort from 1509 to 1533). It is thought to have Moorish roots, although Pat Langford (1999) noted that it is impossible to pinpoint the source of the technique. Holbein Stitch produces reversible line embroidery and is worked in two stages, as shown in the stitch diagram in image 8, reproduced from Wikipedia.
8.Holbein Stitch diagram
Langford, P. 1999, Embroidery Ideas from Blackwork, Kangaroo Press, Sydney
Textile Research Centre Leiden 2015, Hans Holbein the Younger and Blackwork, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/index.php/component/k2/item/11025-hans-holbein-the-younger-and-blackwork
Wikipedia 2015, Hans Holbein the Elder, retrieved 15th September 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Holbein_the_Elder
Wikipedia 2015, Hans Holbein the Younger, retrieved 15th September 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Holbein_the_Younger
Wikipedia 2015, Holbein stitch, retrieved 15th September 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holbein_stitch
Bridget Riley, born in 1931 at Norwood, London, is a British contemporary artist best known as a pioneer and foremost practitioner of Op Art (or optical art), a movement initiated in the 1960s which relies on use of abstract geometrical forms to create optical illusions; often, to produce the illusion of three-dimensional space with or without a perception of movement, from a two-dimensional surface. The term ‘Op Art’ was coined around the time of a seminal exhibition, in which Bridget Riley was a key participant, entitled The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965.
Riley’s early art education involved study at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Art, whence she graduated with a BA in 1955. Her early work was figurative; later, intrigued by Seurat’s use of small points of complementary colours in his painting Bridge of Courbevoie, she explored pointillism, demonstrating a growing interest in the way vision and image interact dynamically. Her neo-impressionistic landscape paintings from the late 1950s reflect Seurat’s influence.
The body of work which first engaged critical interest began to emerge in about 1960, when Bridget Riley commenced working in black and white (and sometimes tonal scales of grey), using geometric shapes to produce optical effects where art was made not solely by the work itself but by the perceptions induced by the interaction of the work with the eye of the viewer. From 1960 to 1967, Riley worked exclusively in achromatic colours (black, white and grey) in various media (tempera on board, emulsion on board, PVA on canvas …) to produce a series of geometric abstractions which explored the dynamic effects of optical illusion produced by pure tone, as images 8 to 12 illustrate. Her work from this period is relevant to our use of tone in Module 2 – for example, in the tonal columns in Chapter 1, and in the tonal arrangements of paper and textiles later in the module.
8. Movement in Squares, Bridget Riley (1961)
Here, the effect of a curve is formed by rectangles of decreasing width and the eye is drawn into what appears to be a valley fold in the surface.
9. Britannia, Bridget Riley (1961)
In Britannia, the eccentric circles appear to form a tunnel down which the gaze of the observer is drawn. This effect is accentuated by the formation of three optical pathways to the centre of the stacked circles – the series of black circle segments at the top and bottom of the ‘tunnel’ and the narrow black and white path formed by the thin stripe at the ‘equator’ of the image.
10. Blaze 1, Bridget Riley (1962)
In Blaze, another visual tunnel is formed by circles of chevrons, seemingly concentric but actually, again, offset relative to one another. I thought when first viewing this image that the visual effect is formed by a spiral but this, too, is an optical illusion formed by the way the circles are offset relative to each other. The tunnel has a pleated appearance and the eye is drawn to the centre by the use of chevrons of ever-decreasing size, with the ones closest to the centre appearing more as a grey tone than as pure black and white. For me, this work induces a sense of movement which is quite unsettling.
11. Fall, Bridget Riley (1963)
Fall creates its sense of a folding, then collapsing, surface through use of curved lines with increasing frequency of curvature towards the bottom of the image. Again, the arrangement of the lines creates the perception of grey tone from pure black and white lines.
12. Loss, Bridget Riley (1964)
Loss is an example of Bridget Riley’s work from this period where she has used a tonal scale of grey as well as pure black and white. As with Movement in Squares, the effect of a curve is formed by circles which become ellipses of progressively smaller width the closer the are to the centre of the image, and the eye is drawn into what appears to be a valley fold in the surface. The perception of three-dimensionality is enhanced by the grey circles with both lead the eye to the bottom of the image at the centre and give the appearance of light shining on a three-dimensional form.
Bridget Riley wrote of her work during this period: “In my earlier paintings, I wanted the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active. It was in that space, paradoxically, the painting ‘took place’.”
From 1967 onwards, Riley began experimenting with colour. Initially, her works used colour to produce the same effects of dynamic instability inherent in her achromatic works, as in Cataract 3 (image 13).
13. Cataract 3, Bridget Riley (1967)
Her later work was influenced more by visual and emotional responses to colour, by her interest in ancient Egyptian art kindled by a visit to Egypt in 1981, and by increasing interest in arrangements of geometric units of colour in relation to one another. The screen print Fete (image 14) is an example of her later work. Bridget Riley, now in her 80s, continues to work.
14. Fete, Bridget Riley (1999)
Of Bridget Riley’s work in colour, critic Robert Hughes observed: ‘The swelling, wavelike surfaces of her new work had replaced the sharp, unstable arrays of black and white dots … but their main content, a sense of slippage or threat to underlying order, remained. What seem, at first, “mere” variations of pattern turn into metaphors of unease, closely tuned uncertainties of reading’ (Hughes 1991:389). This interpretation sees her work as destabilising and perhaps subversive and manipulative, in a visual sense.
Bittleston, M. n.d. Bridget Riley, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://www.bittleston.com/artists/bridget_riley/
Colour Vision and Art n.d., Bridget Riley and Op Art, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/riley.html
Hughes, R. 1991, The Shock of the New, Thames and Hudson, London.
Op-art.co.uk 2015, Bridget Riley, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://www.op-art.co.uk/bridget-riley/
Riggs, T. 1998, Bridget Riley born 1931: Artist biography, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bridget-riley-1845
Tate: What’s on (2003), Bridget Riley Tate Britain: Exhibition, retrieved 15th September 2015 from http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/bridget-riley
Wikipedia 2015, Bridget Riley, retrieved 15th September 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_Riley
William Brian ‘Badger’ Bates
For my ‘own choice’ artist I have elected to write about Badger Bates. Badger is a Paakantji (also spelled Barkindji and pronounced with a hard ‘B’ and the stress on the first syllable) elder and knowledge-holder whose country is situated along the Darling River in far-western NSW. He works in several media: linocut, emu egg carving, stone carving and metal and timber sculpture, but it is his printmaking which is directly relevant to Module 2.
Badger Bates’s country begins a short distance west of Bourke, and continues along the Darling River past Wilcannia. He is also a Traditional Owner of country in and around the Mutawintji National Park, north of Wilcannia. His Meat (usually rendered in English as ‘totem’) is the wedge tailed eagle, which is sacred to him and his family. Badger was born in Wilcannia in 1947, and reared by his extended family but, especially, by his grandmother, Granny Moysey (1870-1976), a famous Gurnu Paakantji matriarch, who was reputed to be a Clever Woman. As a Wimpatja Paaka (man of the Darling River), he spent his youth moving from location to location along the river with his grandmother who, intent on keeping him from the clutches of the Aborigines Welfare Board, managed to ensure that, unlike his siblings, Badger never became one of the Stolen Generations.
Badger’s work is strongly influenced by his Paakantji heritage but also by his concerns about environmental degradation of riparian ecosystems. For Aboriginal people, connections to place are deeply ontological, so Badger’s work represents his very identity. His work is an expression of environmental activism but also peace activism – Badger’s father was a Scot, his mother Paakantji, and much of his work is about reconciliation – the bridging of cultures. Badger receives inspiration from the Old People – his ancestors and, especially, his grandmother, who give him ideas and guide his hand. His work illustrates his dreaming, the natural environment of the river and surrounding country, and his life experiences and those of his people.
Of particular interest in the context of this module is Badger’s use of tone, the marks he makes to denote the animals in his work, and his use of mark-making more generally. He produces his linocut prints purely in black and white. He incises the linoleum freehand with minimal if any preparatory sketching on the linoleum surface. His work has a sharp, contemporary feel very different from much of the Aboriginal art currently being made in western NSW, where many people are working with techniques traditional to the Northern Territory. Badger’s rendering of animal markings often takes the form of a representation of the interior architecture of the animal rather than its exterior, but sometimes is purely abstract (as with the echidna in image 15, which is based on an earlier sculptural work made from a circular saw blade and a bicycle chain).
15. Echidna feeding after rain, Badger Bates (2004)
Images 16 and 17 show, respectively, a cod eating yabbies, and the Ngatyi (Paakantji for Rainbow Serpent) and a plesiosaur entwined. In both of these images, the animals are rendered partly to represent the external appearance and partly to reference the internal form. The depiction of food inside the animals reflects the ecosystem of which the animal is a part. Mark-making external to the animal creates tonal variation in the background, and is expressive of the environment – the current within the river, the clouds in the sky, the surrounding landscape.
Parntu Thayilana Wiiithi (Cod Eating Yabbies), Badger Bates (2004)
16. Ngatyi (Rainbow Serpent) Embracing Plesiosaur, Badger Bates (2004)
Image 17 shows a narrative image based on the bronze wing pigeon story. Again, Badger has used textural marks to produce tonal variation which differentiates landscape elements in the print and to reference the actual textures in the landscape.
Marnpi Dreaming (The bronze wing pigeon story), Badger Bates (1994)
Badger was taught to carve by his grandmother from the age of about eight. He later studied basic printmaking techniques at Broken Hill TAFE in the 1980s. He is an arts educator, and has taught as an artist in residence at Wilcannia, at the College of Fine Arts (University of New South Wales) and, more recently, in Rio Tinto in Andalusia, Spain. His works are held in public collections including the Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Broken Hill Regional Gallery, and in private collections (including ours).
Note: Badger, his partner Dr Sarah Martin and their family are dear friends of ours. I was hoping to be able to be able to interview Badger and include an audio recording in this post but we haven’t yet managed to coincide either in Broken Hill or in Armidale to record an interview. If we manage to get together to do this at some point in the near future I will add an audio file to this post.
Broken Hill City Council n.d., Gallery collection, retrieved 20th September 2015 from http://www.brokenhill.nsw.gov.au/explore/regional-art-gallery/explore/broken-hill-regional-art-gallery/gallery-collection
Culture Victoria 2014, Badger Bates, retrieved 20th September 2015 from http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/creative-life/badger-bates/
Lander, J. 2008, William Brian ‘Badger’ Bates, born 1947, retrieved 20th September 2015 from https://www.daao.org.au/bio/william-brian-badger-bates/biography/