Exhibitions – Poster Girls, London Transport Museum

The London transport museum are currently showing an exhibition of posters that have been displayed on the London underground since 1906 to the present day. What is particularly interesting about this exhibition is that all the posters on display were designed by women.

In the early 20th century, poster design started to be considered as a new form of art with designers, illustrators and painters all being commissioned by printers, railway companies, theatres, public bodies etc. to create posters.

This new medium was used extensively by the London Underground’s Traffic & Publicity Manager, Francis Pick who saw the potential in using posters to advertise the new underground network to the public in 1906. Rather than sticking with a single ‘house style’, Pick deliberately commissioned work from a wide spectrum of artistic styles so that the variety in style would continuously attract the viewer’s attention and in so doing brought many modernerist art styles to the attention of the general public.

Prior to 1906, poster design had typically been a very male dominated field but Pick commissioned artists based on talent not gender and as a result, many of the posters were designed by women. Many of the posters designed by women show modern, independent women and encouraged female emancipation.

This large exhibition shows an extensive array of posters designed by women, giving these often unsung artists of the 20th century the credit they deserve.

The posters in this exhibition are displayed chronologically and I found it particularly interesting to be able to track how artistic styles changed through the century.

The posters are bright, colourful, entertaining, witty and a joy to look at. I really enjoyed the entire exhibition. It is fascinating to see how wonderful and clever designs are typically created with very limited colour palettes.

I like the exhibition so much that I bought the book, and there were so many posters that I really liked that it is difficult to pick out some hightlights, but a few things that did stand out for me were:

Pair Posters

Effectively, two posters that would be displayed side-by-side or near to each other, such as on either side of a wall mounted tube map. The aim was to give the artist plenty of creative freedom with the poster design and the copy writer plenty of space for the text. Having wrestled with trying to fit text and images around each other when designing posters, I can certainly see the benefits of this style!

Insight into the Design Process

Jennie Tuffs, ‘Marigolds Grow Wild on the Platforms’ book jacket design 1995.

It was fascinating to see the development stages of the design work for this book on railway poems.


Visit to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – May 2018

I am currently holidaying in Amsterdam and today’s activity was a trip to the Van Gogh museum. As you would expect it was quite breath-taking to see all those famous artworks up close. However, there was an exhibition running while we were there, called ‘Van Gogh and Japan’ which celebrated Van Gogh’s love of Japanese art, showcased his extensive collection of Japansese prints and demonstrated just how much Van Gogh’s work was influenced by this form of Japanese art. This was a real bonus for me because I really like Japanese prints and had no idea that Van Gogh’s work was so influenced by them.

The exhibition highlighted the key features of Japanese prints as being:

– Large areas of flat, bright colour

– Bold contour lines,

– Prominent diagonals,

– Subjects cut off the edges of the picture

– Emphasis between the foreground and background

– A high or absent horizon

– Zooming in on details in nature

– Paintings that stood out as being influenced by the Japanese style include:

Small Pear Tree in Blossom – 1888

Almond Blossom 1890

Irises, 1890

Other points of interest from the exhibition were:

Kono Bairei’s album of ‘Drawings of a Hundred Birds’ – a book of printed images of Japanese birds, as well as prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and Hokusai. Interestingly, there was a print of Hokusai’s great wave included in the exhibition. How funny it was that I was able to stand next to it, on my own without a crowd of people jostling me – unlike when I went to see the Hokusai exhibition in London!

There is further information about the exhibition on the Van Gogh Museum’s website, here:



A Visit to the Stedelijk Design Museum Amsterdam – May 2018

On holiday for a few days in Amsterdam, I paid a visit to the Stedelijk Museum. It’s not my first visit here and I always love it. This time was no different and I spent the entire afternoon poring over the exhibits.

A massive highlight for me this year was a new permenant installation at the museum – ‘The Collection Stedelijk Base’. This was a chronological history of art and design from 1880 to the present day.


The exhibition mixes iconic artworks from various art movements with elements of furniture, jewellery etc., showing, not only how styles of art evolved and were influenced by changing politics and culture, but also how art influenced design.

This exhibition resonated so much with me because of all the reading I had been doing around this subject in Part 4 of this course here:


..and in particular my reading of the book ‘Graphic Design A History’ by Stephen J. Eskilson.

Here was an exhibition with approximately 700 pieces of art of design, bringing to life everything I had been reading about. I was also impressed that the museum seemed to have made a real effort to include plenty of works by female artists and designers. It does irk me that iconic artworks from the past only ever seem to have created by men so well done to the Stedelijk for reminding us that women made art too – even in the 1900s!

Had my husband allowed it, I would have gone back to the museum for another day and done it all again. He likes art but not quite that much!

Highlights for me where:

Anna Boch

When I first saw this, I thought it was a Monet. I was very pleasantly surprised when I read the caption to see that it was a woman who had painted it, albeit one I had never heard of!

Jan Toorop – Delft Salad Oil Poster 1894

A beautiful example of the art nouveau style being used in an advertising poster.

Piet Zwart

Examples of how new ideas in design were being employed in typography in the 1920s and 1930s. These works were described as illustrating ‘a dynamic negotiation of geometric forms and starkly angled typography coupled with an unprecedented degree of white space’.

The Cobra Art Movement

Not mentioned in ‘Graphic Design A History’ by Stephen J. Eskilson, the Cobra movement of around 1949 was a style of art ‘rooted in antagonism towards intellectualism and the established order of process-orientated modern life’. The works are described as ‘reclaiming a childlike, expressive and essentially emotional gaze towards reality’ and ‘paintings full of bright colours, naïve figures and abstracted compositions, puncturing the purity of painting with fierce and passionate expression’.

The cobra artists initially were not very popular but went on to revolutionize Dutch modern art.

Willem Sandberg’s posters.

New Objective Portraits


Around 1923, between the two world wars, the ‘New Objectivity’ style was developed in Germany. Often featuring portraits, it was described as ‘an unsentimental, somewhat detached depiction of reality, characterized in painting stark graphic lines, an exacting near-mechanical technique and vivid colours.

In the Netherlands, artists of this style included Charley Troop, John Fernhout and Eva Besnyo.

I really, really like the somewhat illustrative style of these images!

A Whole Wall of Malevich Paintings!


Martha Rosler – Bowl of Fruit 1966 – 1972, Print 2010.

Another artist that I have learnt about through this course and consequently was very excited to see some of her original artwork.

The museum caption here states ‘Martha Rosler combines images of immaculate American homes with photographs of the Vietnam War to devastating, and polically critical effect in her photomontage series’ House Beautiful: Bring the War Home.’ Roseler also addresses power relationships between men and women by ‘splicing together pictures of naked women from Playboy magazine with photographs of ideal domesticity.

Grayson Perry – Gulf War Dinner Service 1991

I am a big fan of Greyson Perry, so was very happy to find some of his work in the museum.

Brilliant exhibition!

Exhibitions – World Illustration Awards 2017

This was the first time I had seem an exhibition of illustrations and I was quite bowled over by it! The range of styles and techniques, the riot of colour, the humour and wit was all amazing! I was struck by how, in daily life, I am surrounded by these incredible illustrations and I barely notice – there were images on display that had been created as editorial work for newspapers which probably would have been glanced at by most people before the paper was tossed into the recycling.  I now have a whole new appreciation for illustrative work!

For me, it was also a great privilege to be able to read a little about how the artists created their work and the techniques they used. It was particularly noticeable how much of the work was wholly or partially digital.  I particularly enjoyed watching a timelapse video of a digital illustration being created, starting with a hand drawn pencil sketch that was scanned in and then coloured in using Photoshop. Something I am going to have to try myself!

These were the stand out pieces for me:

Tony Rodriguez – Bill Murray: Mark Twain Prize

I particularly like the pen and ink style of this illustration, in particular the creation of texture on the skin using fine pen lines. I also like the ‘busy’ background. There are more details about the image are artist here.

Richard Allen – Wave

This image was created as a cover image for Sunday Telegraph Money section. It took me a little while to understand what I was looking at but when I realised it was  Trump’s hair taking the place of Hokusai’s Great Wave – I thought it was genius! Given how Trump’s bellicose rhetoric  is threatening the stability of the Korean peninsula at the moment I thought this was an incredibly clever and witty image.

Oivind Hovland – Skaanevik Fjord Hotel

I really liked this child-like illustration of life around the hotel. I liked it’s ‘busy’ nature with  lots going on and lots to look at. I also really liked how there is so much detail packed into the image but it is using simple shapes and a simple colour palette. More details here.

Alice Yu Deng – Tashirojima: The Cat Island

I have to confess that I probably really like this because I like cats and I like Japan 🙂 That said, I do like images where there is quite a lot going on and I enjoyed looking at the sunbathing cats in their different poses. I also thought this was a very clever way to depict the Japanese ‘cat island’ where cats and people live in harmony. More details here.

Sam Pierpoint – Visit Bristol Christmas Campaign

This model wasn’t actually on display at the exhibition but I saw it on the website and thought it was beautiful. More details here.


Exhibitions – Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

The Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum (seen August 2017) displayed works from the last 30 years of Hokusai’s life when he is considered to have produced some of his most memorable works. Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is widely regarded as one of Japan’s most famous and influential artists, producing works right up until his death at the age of 90.

About Hokusai

At the age of 18, Hokusai was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings. Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan’s cities at the time.

Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject marked a significant change in the ukiyo-e style and in Hokusai’s career.

Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. In 1820, Hokusai changed his name to “Iitsu. It was during the 1820s that Hokusai reached the peak of his career. His most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, dated from this period. Among the other popular series of prints he published during this time are A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces and Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces. He also began producing a number of detailed individual images of flowers and birds.

Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan’s cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.

My thoughts on the Exhibition

It was wonderful to see Hokusai’s beautiful prints ‘in person’, especially the very famous ‘Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa’ (smaller than I thought it would be!).

However, for me the stars of the show where the pieces that Hokusai created at the end of his life, particularly the ‘Old Tiger in the Snow’ and the dragon emerging from storm clouds. Although there is some speculation that his daughter Oi may have assisted in creating these works, they are incredibly delicate and detailed. His tiger seems to be full of joy, bouncing through the snow, and his dragon, emerging from storm clouds, with it’s almost human face, is full of life and movement.

I also particularly liked all of his images of birds and animals as they were full of life and personality.  For example, in the image ‘Weeping Cherry and Bull Finch’ the finch is not sitting passively on the cherry branch but is hanging almost upside down.

What really stood out for me with a lot of the works on display, was the sense of fun and joy in the images. I was quite surprised to see images of laughing ghosts and cartoon-like ‘manga’ figures. The images were all beautiful, delicate and a joy to see.


Exhibitions – A Printmaker’s Journey

Last week I saw a wonderful exhibition of prints curated by and featuring a lot of the work of Angie Lewin. The exhibition was an introspective review of Angie’s work which also showed works by other artists that had influenced her and were important to her through her career.

I have always adored Angie Lewin’s work.  She depicts wild plants often in the places were they grow, such as cliff tops, hedgerows or beaches. Her images show how plants naturally grow together, often tangled and overlapping and she focuses on the distinguishing features of the plants – their form and structure, which gives a quite an abstract and graphical feel to her images. There is a wonderful 1950’s feel to her prints.

What was particularly interesting about this exhibition is that it also showed work that had influenced her own journey.  A painting by Alan Reynolds that she had seen when she was 14, was on lone from the Tate, and it is fascinating to see the obvious parallels with this painting and Angie’s work. I found it very insightful, and quite a privilege, to see how other artists had influenced Angie’s own images.

Summer: Young September’s Cornfield 1954 Alan Reynolds 1926-2014 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1956  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00105

Angie Lewin ‘Lakeside Teasels’



Exhibitions – American Dream. Pop to the Present

I recently went to see this exhibition at the British Museum. The exhibition showcases how American artists used print in creative and innovative ways to react to the way the changing face of the US from the 1960s to the present day.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and found it fascinating. Print is something I know very little about and it was very interesting to see the different styles of image created by different techniques such as lithography, lino cut, screen printing, etching etc. It was also fascinating to see how the trends in artistic style changed from pop art in the 60s through to abstration, minimalism, photo realism, activism etc.

One thing I particularly liked about this exhibition was that it felt quite ‘accessible’ to me. Very often, when I visit a contemporary art or photography exhibition, I can’t make any sense of what the image is trying to convey unless I read the caption next to the art work. The prints in the ‘American Dream’ exhibition just seemed to be a bit clearer in what they were communicating. The artwork in the exhibition, just felt a little less ‘elistist’. Given that print is used for mass communication, it made sense to me that an artwork in print should be more ‘understandable’.

Some highlights of the exhibition for me:

Ed Ruscha – Made in California 1971

This image made my mouth water! It eludes to the warm sunshine of California and the oranges that grow there. The text looks like liquid orange juice.  I could really feel the warmth of the sun and the thirst quenching effect of the juice in this image.

Ed Ruscha – Standard Station 1966 (Colour Screen Print)

This image was based on Ed Ruscha’s series of photographs ‘Twenty Six Gasoline Stations’. I recognised it straight away as I like the Gasoline Stations photographs. This is a very graphical, stylised image of what would otherwise be a mundane object.

Sam Francis – Always In and Out of Need 1976

I liked the abstract nature of this print. It was intriguing to look at.

Dottie Attie – Mother’s Kisses 1982

I really liked this work! The piece consisted of a sketch of  ‘An Allegory with Venus and Cupid’ by Bronzino (painted in approx 1545). In a glass case below it, there were a series of cut out details from the sketch, e.g. a hand or lips, mounted in small squares and each between each detail, was a short piece of text, giving the feel of a graphic novel telling the story of the image. The text alluded to the somewhat incestuous nature of the drawing, as it is Cupid, kissing his mother, Venus, on the lips.

(I also discovered that Cupid’s foot in the original painting is the foot that features in the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus :-))

Robert Motherwell – Automatism B (Lithograph)

Again, I really liked the bold, abstract nature of this image. Automatism refers to a technique used by surrealist artists where the hand is allowed to move freely across the paper, allowing the subconscious mind to create the artwork.