Currently reading the National Galleries of Scotland companion to an exhibit called True To Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s. I'm interested in the period, architecturally, culturally, and politically, not to mention the tiles and domestic decorations of the time, so this book will help to round that out. I'm also someone for whom the farther edges of both realism (e.g. Edward Hopper, Grant Wood) and abstraction (e.g. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock) have little or no appeal. So-called photorealism raises the question of why not just take a photo -- and the answer is that all art as art selects and distorts, in a different way than the camera does. But the visual effect of photorealism, in which the virtuosity of the illusion is the point, impresses up to that point and then rarely goes farther. On the other hand, an artist whose book is devoted to loose gestural painting, speed of rendering, and vivacity failed entirely to convince me: I preferred the 'before' picture where the round floats on the boats he painted were truly round, and solid like cherries, and had a pleasing density both of colour and form. To my eyes, his looser, more washy version (he works in watercolours) had moved in the wrong direction. To me, there is a sweet spot between too tight and too loose, too precise and too vague. It depends what one is trying to achieve, of course. The economical suggestiveness of Marcia Brown's 'Cinderella' illustrations is admirable. There are as many or more ways to find that sweet spot, and to give it new expression, as there are artists.
To return to the True To Life exhibit: the cover of the book features a striking oil portrait, called 'By The Hills', which was painted by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst and is dated 1939. It features the head of a successful model, actress, and minor aristocrat, and, we are told, the arms of the painter's lover-made-second-wife. Apparently he judged the aristo to be too thin, though given the slimness of the existing arms, and the fact that the aristo was a healthy woman -- she lived till 2002 -- this seems rather unlikely. Anyway, the man was an artist: if her arms lacked sufficient fullness or shape, why not just paint them as he wished them?
Moving on. The face is captivatingly beautiful (even if her eyebrows are too pencil-thin for contemporary taste), but eventually you do look at the head hair rather than just allow it to contribute to the overall impression. And when you do look at the hair, you realize (or I did) that the hair is far less 'realistic' than the face. It looks like a kind of shiny chocolate ganache. In the large and sharp reproduction of the cover photo, the hair looks like something squeezed from an icing bag.