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JULY 2021

WELCOME TO THE EAST  FINCHLEY OPEN  ARTISTS JULY NEWSLETTER

THIS MONTH - New online exhibition - Lee Miller - Lightbulb Moments - Was Van Gogh murdered? - Members News - and more

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OUR NEW ONLINE EXHIBITION

A new virtual exhibition where we need have no guilt or fear about polluting the planet by flying somewhere exotic in our dreams!


Robert Macfarlane in his book The Old Ways says:

“We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality....”
 

For this project, our artists were asked to produce a painting, collage, print, photograph or work in any other medium, perhaps a ceramic tile or a piece of jewellery, inspired by the memory of a place they have visited or long to go.

Each artist has supplied a few words describing their work and the place they long to be during lockdown.

PLEASE VISIT THE EXHIBITION AT:
https://www.eastfinchleyopen.org.uk/events/where-we-were-longing-to-be-during-lockdown.html
AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
A photographer - A woman who had an extraordinary life.

MIKE COLES writes:

Before the Industrial Revolution, societies were primarily agricultural and men, women, and children worked side by side. But after, with the rise of the factory and urbanisation, the home and workplace split in two. The home dominated by women, while the men went off to earn a living. Although young, unmarried women often worked in factories in lowly positions, or as domestics, or taught in schools they were expected to give this work up when they married. Once married, they were merged legally into their husband's identity and expected to bear children and take care of the house. Across America, women could not vote, and had many fewer property rights than men.

It was into this world that Elizabeth "LeeMiller was born on April 23, 1907 in Poughkeepsie, just north of New York in the Hudson River Valley. In 1914, At 7 years old she was raped by a family friend, contracted gonorrhoea and endured years of painful and invasive treatment. Her father, Theodore Miller, was a keen photographer and Lee was his frequent model, often posing nude – today that would not be acceptable, but they were different times.

But things began to change for women after the First World War, especially in the USA and the UK. Women's political rights were brought into the general public consciousness by the suffragettes. The war had created conditions that moved social, political, and economic change in favour of women. As men were fighting on the front, women had to take up occupations hither to dominated by men.

Post WW1 there was no lack of capability, intelligence, or drive among women, but there was a lack of opportunity. However, history is filled with women who broke the societal mould and went on to excel in male-dominated fields – enter Lee Miller
Above left: Lee Miller as a young girl  Above right: With her father Theodore 
Bottom left and right; Early fashion shots of Miller as a model for Vogue
She was an intelligent, headstrong child with a free spirit and was often in trouble at school, (and expelled from several). In 1925, at the age of eighteen, she took herself off to Paris for a year of to study lighting, costume and design at the Ladislas Medgyes' School of Stagecraft. Returning to New York in 1926 fate took a hand in her life; nearly stepping out in front of a car she was saved by a man who was immediately taken her good looks. He was Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue magazine and he invited her to try some modelling. She was 19 years old.

And so she began her modelling career on the cover of American 'Vogue', and was photographed by the leading photographers of the day. Her Parisian training in theatre arts now became very useful in the narratives of fashion photography. For a while she was the Kate Moss of the twenties.

One of Vogue’s most used photographers was Edward Steichen, credited with transforming photography into an art form and a pioneer of fashion photography. At the time Steichen was regarded as the best known and highest paid photographer in the world. A couple of years later one of his pictures of Miller was used in an advertising campaign for Kotex sanitary pads and this rather blunted her modelling career by association, but by now Miller was more interested in getting behind the camera.

If she were serious about becoming a photographer Steichen suggested she go and study with Man Ray in Paris. When asked in a 1946 about how she became a photographer, Miller responded simply: “I thought the best way was to start out studying with one of the great masters in the field, Man Ray.”

So, in 1929 she decided she would return to Paris to become Man Ray’s pupil, (as if you could just do that!).  Man Ray was an American painter and a leading member of the Dada movement based in Paris, although better known as a surrealist photographer.

Somehow, she pulled this off and promptly became his muse and lover. (more about muse’s next month). The relationship was only to last three years but in this time Miller helped in the discovery of Man Ray’s signature photographic solarisation technique, - a way of reversing highlights into blacks – supposedly when Miller accidentally turned on the light during development of a print in the darkroom when she thought she felt something on her ankle. This period also brought Miller into the orbit of the leaders of the Parisian Modernist and Surrealist art world, including Picasso and Dali. (While this group of artists, known for philosophies around intellectual and sexual liberation welcomed women as both models and collaborators, many of the male artists made work with misogynistic overtones).
Top Left: Miller on an early cover of Vogue by illustrator Georges Lepape  Top centre: a solarised picture of Miller by Man Ray  Top right: a self portrait by Miller  Bottom; ManRay's famous 'Glass Tears' made at the time of his break up with Miller. The identity of the face is unknown - it could have been Miller or one of two other named models or even a mannequin.
In 1932, tiring of Paris and in danger of being tied down, off she went again, leaving Man Ray and returning to New York. With the help of her brother Erik she set herself up in her own studio, apparently putting in a sophisticated lighting system and the electric wiring herself. Despite the Great Depression, she worked in celebrity portraiture - Charlie Chaplin was a sitter - fashion and advertising, as well as appearing, uniquely, as both model and photographer in a fashion shot for Vogue.

All change again two years later In July 1934, now jaded with the New York scene she married wealthy Egyptian Aziz Eloui Bey, a member of a prominent Cairo family. (Aziz left his first wife who committed suicide as a result). Moving to Cairo she found new inspiration there. She saw the desert monasteries of Egypt with an eye educated in the 'moderne' forms of Le Corbusier. Her masterpiece, 'Portrait of Space' (1937), taken near Siwa in the Western Desert, has the ambiguity of a Magritte painting - it was photographed on an expedition made soon after Miller returned from a summer spent in Europe with her Surrealist friends.
Above Left;  'Portrait of Space'  by Miller in Egypt  Right; Picasso portrait of Lee Miller - one of six made in 1937 
By 1937 the Egyptian experience had run its course and she left her husband Aziz and upped sticks to Paris yet again, where in no time at all she met and fell in love with the British Surrealist painter Roland Penrose, a close friend of Picasso, and travelled with him in England and France. Picasso, who was greatly impressed by Miller's beauty and personality painted her portrait six times during this period. A bit of muse activity was suspected.

Getting closer to home now, she moved to London in 1939 to live with Roland Penrose in Downshire Hill in Hampstead. Her first book, 'Grim Glory' (1940) took a surrealist look at the London Blitz. She started working for British 'Vogue' in 1940 and became the magazine's most prolific contributor, taking on every kind of photographic assignment for the magazine, whether documentary, portraiture or fashion. She began writing feature articles in 1944 with a profile of the well known American radio broadcaster Ed Murrow. The 'Life' photographer David Scherman became her mentor in photojournalism, and predictably, her lover and friend.
Top left: Air raid precautions in Hampstead  Top right:  Miller in uniform  Centre Left; Liberated prisoners at Dachau by Miller   Centre right: Miller at St Malo  Bottom left David Scherman's picture of Miller in Hitler's bath in Munich  Bottom right; A dead SS guard floating in a canal
The British government wanted publications like Vogue to help everyday women understand what they could contribute to the war effort. Miller did many photo series on women who helped in various ways

Now things took a darker turn.

She managed to get herself accredited with the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for 'Vogue' – the only woman in the European theatre to do so. The magazine published Miller's harrowing despatches on field hospitals in Normandy, the Liberation of Paris, the fighting around the German-occupied citadel in St Malo, the death camps of Dachau and Buchenwald, and finally the banality of Hitler's apartment in Munich.

One of the best-known photographs of Miller, by David Scherman, was of her bathing in Hitler’s bath – ironically on the same day he committed suicide.  (The companion picture by Miller of David Scherman in Hitler's bath can be seen here - https://www.vintag.es/2020/10/lee-miller-david-scherman.html)  Going deep into Eastern Europe, she covered harrowing scenes of children dying in Vienna, peasant life in post war Hungary and finally the execution of Prime Minister Lazlo Bardossy.

Miller wrote to Audrey Withers – editor of British Vogue In 1945, “I hope Vogue will feel that it can publish these pictures.” Her photographs of Buchenwald and Dachau bear witness to various atrocities, and they acted as cold, hard evidence for disbelieving American and British audiences, who saw many written accounts of the war as propaganda. In June 1945 the American edition of Vogue printed Miller’s death camp photos, along with a direct message: “Believe It.” Today her images of war’s most gruesome forms of violence are among her most memorable ones from the era. In one photograph, a dead SS guard floats in sunlit water, incisively drawing contrasting the terror of carnage with the picturesque setting surrounding it.
Left;  Miller with Picasso 1944  Centre: A Lee Miller cookbook  Right: Miller with Man Ray in 1975
After the war Lee Miller returned to Britain to live with Roland Penrose. After coming home, she suffered from terrible depression, alcoholism and PTSD, as many other soldiers did. She discovered she was pregnant, and Antony Penrose was born in 1947. Not seemingly having many maternal instincts Antony was brought up largely by his nanny Patsy Murray. She continued to contribute to Vogue for a further 2 years, covering fashion and celebrities. She and Roland Penrose finally married and she contributed to his seminal biographies of Picasso, Miro, and, ironically, Man Ray

In 1949 they bought Farley's, a small dairy farm in East Sussex with a large 18th century house which became a well-known gathering place for many artists. Picasso (him again) visited for the first time in 1950, and Man Ray, Miro, Max Ernst, Henry Moore, and other old friends were often there. A mentally disturbed Miller slowly faded away from photography in favour of her final career as a Cordon Bleu cook.

She cooked unique meals, dyed her food crazy colours, and also specialized in historically accurate cooking. She had a special room to house her 2000 cookbooks. She continued to take occasional photographs for her husband’s biographies, but never returned fully to photography.

In 1966 Roland Penrose was knighted and she now became Lady Penrose.

Miller once spoke of a “restlessness” that defined her career, and that may account for the variety of roles she occupied. She was a model, a muse, a fashion and documentary photographer, an artist, a war correspondent and a gourmet cook, and she seemed to effortlessly move from one version of herself to the next. Surrealist painter Eileen Agar described of Miller as “a remarkable woman, completely unsentimental, and sometimes ruthless”.

Lady Penrose died from cancer in Sussex in 1977 aged 70.

Historian and curator Mark Haworth-Booth, has said "her photographs shocked people out of their comfort zone" and that "she had a chip of ice in her heart...she got very close to things...   Margaret Bourke-White was far away from the fighting, but Lee was close. That's what makes the difference--Lee was prepared to shock”.

In 1932, Miller said that “photography was perfectly suited to women as a profession...it seems to me that women have a bigger chance at success in photography than men...women are quicker and more adaptable than men. And I think they have an intuition that helps them understand personalities more quickly than men."

This piece is just based on what has been publicly written about Miller but she must have been amazingly charismatic and there is probably more to her life that we will never know.
Artist and willow wizard Mary Poulter has been asking EFOA members if there was a lightbulb moment in their life that set them off on their artistic journey. This month we have renowned ceramicist Peter Hale and felt maestro Sue Pearl.

More next month


Peter Hale

It all started in 1966 when taking A levels at technical college, I had spare time in the week between courses and I was lucky in that a new A level pottery course was starting up,
Five people enrolled for the first year of this new course. Each week I had two whole days in the pottery studio with individual tuition from the young ceramics / sculpture tutor who was inspirational, I was hooked on the wonders of clay.

 After completing my A level exams (Biology, Art & Pottery) I went to on to study architecture initially returning to the technical college for evening classes with the same tutor. Later I continued with pottery evening classes at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute and then Btech ceramics study at City & Islington College with tutor Daphne Carnegy.

From 2000 I have had my own small studio space at home and very much enjoyed being part of EFOA since its inception in 2004.
Sue Pearl                                                       
 
It was 1995 and I was deep in the doldrums. My company had gone under during the recession and I was at a loose end.

Pulling myself together, I decided to go back to education and I enrolled in a City & Guilds course on Textile construction. Textiles have been an interest of mine since my first degree in Interior Design.
We studied every conceivable form of textile including felt which didn’t interest me in the slightest. I went on to do an MA and it was at the beginning of this that I saw a flyer in Design magazine for a week’s course at the V&A studying ethnic textiles. I enrolled at once not noticing that the week also included making felt.

The classroom was at the very top of the building, a big airy room, and in one corner was a huge pile of dyed wool. Our tutor for the week was an anthropologist who’s particular interest was Central Asian textiles.

We had a wonderful time exploring the textile store, which is kept at a chilly temperature to control moth infestation. We could look but not touch but sniffing was allowed and we looked and sniffed our way through fabulously decorated carpets, yurt coverings, camel headdresses, clothing, woven and felt horse and camel bags, draperies and tent hangings. It was a feast for the eyes. And then we went back to our airy room at the top of the V&A.

Our tutor (Prof Stephanie Bunn, who is now the definitive expert on ethnic felts) said to us, “And now we will make our own decorative felt.”

My first piece was a square felt with a picture of a bunch of balloons on it. Something went ‘Ping’ in my head and that was it, I was hooked. This was painting with wool, smoothing the fibres, massaging the piece until all the wool bonded and it was a solid image. I was so happy. I could have stayed there for ever just rubbing bits of wool with warm soapy water, very meditative and calming.

The next piece was a bag (which I still have) with bits of silk on it that I gave to my daughter for one of her Glastonbury visits. But my third piece was based on the felts bordering a door to a yurt. This was bought some years later by  the Oxfordshire Museum for their contemporary craft collection.

The light bulb never went out and I’m still rubbing those bits of wool together. 
 www.feltbetter.com
Was Vincent van Gogh Murdered? Could a rusty revolver finally solve this mystery?

By Carlyn Beccia (the Grim Historian)

On July 29, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh wandered out to a field in Auvers-Sur-Oise, a village less than an hour north of Paris. He made his way past the sprawling wheat fields and along the Rue Daubigny. And with the first morning light dancing through the dense forest, he set down his canvas and began to paint.
But this time, he chose to paint a different subject — twisted and gnarled tree roots. Art historians were even able to pinpoint the exact location of his last painting by these unique trees.
Soon after, in the place that he has once painted wheat fields and cawing crows, he put a revolver to his abdomen and pulled the trigger. He then staggered back to the Ravoux Inn where he was staying. He died two days later.

His death was the final tragic end to a life of despair.

In his final days, Van Gogh was tormented by mental health issues and committed himself to an asylum in early May 1889. Between then and his death the following year, he vacillated between recovery and relapses of mental health. One of his most famous paintings, The Starry Night, was painted during this time, along with Eternity’s Gate.

Historians have long debated the events that led up to Van Gogh’s death. And that mystery might be solved by the revolver that fired the fateful bullet.

In 1960, a rusty Lefaucheux revolver was found in a field in Auvers-Sur-Oise — the same field that Van Gogh allegedly shot himself.

In 2019, the revolver sold for €162,500 ($182,700) — a staggering price considering there isn’t any solid proof that it belonged to van Gogh. What is certain is that the gun’s calibre matched the bullet retrieved from the artist’s body.

But the real mystery remains — was the revolver a suicide or a murder weapon.

The murder theory
The suspected murderer was sixteen-year-old René Secrétan. According to rumours at the time, Secrétan was your typical surly teen who bullied Vincent for months. It is believed the two got into a scuffle, and Secrétan shot Vincent.

Interestingly, handgun expert Vincent Di Maio has claimed the angle of the bullet entering Van Gogh’s abdomen was too “awkward” to be suicide. I would never discredit forensic evidence, but I wonder how accurately his physicians recorded the bullet’s trajectory.

Proponents of the murder theory point to the absence of a suicide note, especially since Van Gogh was a prolific letter writer. But trying to follow Van Gogh’s mental state in his letters is like trying to ride the crest of a wave. Like most people suffering from mental illness, he went through periods of ebullience followed by periods of manic depression.
The gun has no smoke.

The theory that Van Gogh was bullied and murdered has some holes. To start, it’s hard to believe anyone would bully the tempestuous artist.
Van Gogh’s irascible nature was well-documented. When his friend Paul Gauguin pissed him off, Van Gogh chucked bottles of absinthe at Gauguin’s head. He quarrelled on enough nights with his brother Theo for him to remark, “…he makes life hard not only for others but also for himself.” Given Van Gogh’s combative nature, he doesn’t seem the type to let bullies pick on him.
Left: One of several portraits of Dr Paul Gachet made by Van Gogh in his final two weeks   Right: the gun, which sold for £150,000, and is likely to have been Van Gogh's
There is also no solid forensic evidence that this was the gun used to kill van Gogh, nor does the gun indicate who pulled the trigger.

But what makes the murder theory the most incredulous was van Gogh’s mental health. His friends, family, and physicians paint a picture as turbulent as his haunting swirls of paint — Vincent van Gogh was fighting his demons. His doctors believed he was mentally ill.

Van Gogh was probably closest to his doctor and friend, Dr. Gachet. Shortly after van Gogh was diagnosed with epilepsy, Dr. Gachet treated van Gogh for “melancholy.” (Ironically, van Gogh also described his doctor as “melancholic.”) Then, there is the ear cutting incident…
Dr. Félix Rey, the physician who attended van Gogh, writes, “The ear was sliced with a razor following the dotted line. ”Even more telling than body mutilation, Dr. Rey also wrote about his patient’s epileptic seizures and the depression that followed each episode — an unfortunate symptom of epilepsy.

His family believed he committed suicide  Aside from his doctors, the person who was most familiar with Vincent’s struggles was his brother Theo. Theo was his confidant, his art dealer, his most cherished friend, and the person who kept Vincent tethered to the hope he would someday recover. Theo most certainly believed his brother had committed suicide. A few days after Vincent’s death, he wrote to his mother:
Vincent said, “I would like to go like this,” and half an hour later, he had his wish. Life weighed so heavily upon him…”

Top left: Theo Van Gogh  Top centre:  a Van Gogh portrait of Dr Felix Rey made  two weeks after he had treated his severed ear. It seemed like a thoughtful way to thank his doctor for treating him at Arles Hospital. Although Dr. Rey appreciated the gesture, he wasn’t exactly grateful. The painting “horrified” the young doctor. (He apparently took umbrage with the red in his hair.) But Dr. Rey’s mother put the painting to good use — she used it to patch a hole in her chicken coop. In 1900, the artist Charles Camoen tracked down Van Gogh’s art and found the painting still collecting dust in Dr. Rey’s backyard. He paid an unknown pittance for it.  Top right: Dr Rey's assessment of Van Gogh's severed ear.

Another letter written from Van Gogh’s friend Emile Bernard to Albert Aurier is the most revealing. Bernard detailed Van Gogh’s final hours after he staggered back from those golden wheat fields. He writes;
“He finally died on Monday evening, still smoking his pipe which he refused to let go of, explaining that his suicide had been absolutely deliberate and that he had done it in complete lucidity. A typical detail that I was told about his wish to die was that when Dr. Gachet told him that he still hoped to save his life, he said, “Then I’ll have to do it over again.” 

Van Gogh was so determined to end his life that he would do it more than once if anyone stopped him. Logically, if someone attempts to murder you, you would not refuse medical assistance.

The police did investigate the shooting too. And Van Gogh told them to let him be. He said, “What I have done is nobody else’s business. I am free to do what I like with my own body.”

Van Gogh never accused anyone of shooting him, nor did the police have cause to investigate foul play.
Suicide was a mortal sin. We also have to remember the stain of disgrace suicide left behind. At the time, society and the church considered it such a mortal sin that Van Gogh’s hearse was not allowed to be carried up the hill to the church cemetery.
If his friends and family believed he was murdered, they surely would have insisted he receive a proper burial.

Was van Gogh murdered?
I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but the truth is that without any clear forensic evidence, there isn’t any smoking gun that indicates murder.
According to his brother Theo, Van Gogh’s final words on his death bed were– “La tristesse durera toujours” [The sadness will last forever].” Not even death could allow van Gogh to escape the clutches of hopelessness.
Theo wrote of his brother’s last words, “I understood what he wanted to say with those words.” Theo knew the anguish that chipped away at his brother’s heart probably better than any modern biographer. Vincent’s pain was his pain, and as brothers, they shared that crown of thorns.
If Theo believed Vincent van Gogh committed suicide, I believe him.

Sources and footnotes:
Due to how the ear was cut off cleanly, historians have also speculated that Gauguin might have cut van Gogh’s ear off with a fencing sword.
]It is still unknown if van Gogh had epilepsy, but he did have seizures. Naifeh and Smith (2011), 701 ff., 729, 749.
 http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/21/etc-Theo-mother1.htm
 http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/21/etc-Bernard-Aurier.htm
MEMBERS NEWS

CHRISTINE WATSON

Celebrated EFOA Artist Christine Watson is featuring nationally in a number of shows coming up:
Top Left; 'Evening', Chefchaouene, pastel on paper, 59x42cm at the Pastel Society Exhibition 2021 , Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1 14th July to 24th July 2021

Top Centre: 'Fez Scaffolding V', 2021, pastel on paper, 23x17 at Fusion -Pastel,Graphite and Charcoal, The gallery at Holt, Lees Yard ,Holt Norfolk 23rd July to 31st August 2021

Top right: 'Evening', Chefchaouene, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 75x50cm at  The National Acrylic Painters Association, The Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester 13th July to 1st August 2021


https://www.christinewatson.co.uk/
GAIL ALTSCHULER


Top EFOA Artist
and ceramicist
GAIL ALTSCHULER
has had some
good news
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