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Entries about art

Art Wanderings: Seurat to Riley at Compton Verney

Patterns, pointillism and op art



Compton Verney Art Gallery
Exhibition: Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception.
Travel time from London: 2.5-3 hours
Cost: £15 with Gift Aid.


The Venue:

Compton Verney Art Gallery came into being thanks to the commendable charity efforts of Littlewoods sport betting fortune-holder the late Sir Peter Moores, Wikipedia tells me. It's a lovely old stately home that has been nicely restored complete with surrounding gardens and parkland that offer a bit of outdoor oxygenation time to mix in with the gallery visit.

The Art:


I got the idea to go this from a rave review (The Sunday Times, £) by an art critic whose verdict I trust. As I previously blogged, my favourite sort of art is generally modern, abstract and involving lots of interesting shapes, so naturally I really enjoyed this exhibition. It does a great job of demonstrating what optical art is and offers a pleasing evolution from black and white sketches through to riots of neon colour thanks to a well curated sequence. Among my favourites were the endearing optical inversion of M.C. Escher (top), the gorgeous coloured boxes of Victor Vasarely, (middle), and the colours on the wall of the gallery itself commissioned from German abstractionist Lothar Götz (bottom). Amusingly, once you have finished enjoying squinting at the paintings which in some cases offer additional colours or alternate visuals from different viewpoints, your eyes hurt. "How was the art gallery? Oh my eyes ache terribly, it was marvellous" :-)


The Pubs :

Banbury has a few choices for a pre- or post-painting tipple. The most central option is Wild Lime, (top), a chain pub that would probably be a bit grim if not for the nice garden out front. Much better is the garden at The Old Auctioneer, (middle), although the table service feels a bit pointless for a gastro-beer garden and it's quite slow. The Pinto Lounge, (bottom), is cheerier and you can get a pint much more quickly. All three only had a handful of craft beers between them so you do have to slum it a tad. Wild Lime has Ghost Ship on tap and not much else that doesn't have a listing on the stock exchange, while the Old Auctioneer has Caledonian Brewery's various mediocre beers and the Pinto Lounge has Lawless lager.


The Journey:

If you're looking for ideas for a quick trip to an art gallery, you're in the wrong place. Not that it's all that far away from London, but it requires a measure of committment from the average non-car using Londoner. The 1-hourish train from Marylebone to in Banbury is simple enough, they run every half hour or so, but then you have to add in a 1-hour bus ride that meanders through the oxfordshire/warwickshire countryside as if saying hello to every house between the train station and the gallery, which it pretty much does. Still, good value at £8 for a day ticket which you can buy on your phone or pay contactless on board. Where the bus falls down is on the timetable, (above) which looks like a stale yellow apple someone's taken a giant bite out of. Unless you happen to be there on a Sunday or Bank Holiday, a taxi back to Banbury from the gallery is a flat fare of £20 with 007 Cars Banbury.

The Verdict:

Great show and great day out. They should build a railway to it tho :-)

Posted by BillLehane 08:27 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art trains london paintings england travel uk modern galleries blogs optical banbury daytrips warwickshire Comments (0)

The colour of life

semi-overcast 11 °C


I may not know why I like art but I do know that I have always loved it. Something not a lot of people know about me is that before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a painter. And I have wanted to be writer since I was eight, lost in the otherworldy dreamscapes of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, C.S. Lewis' Narnia and Mary Norton's The Borrowers, curled up in bed encircled by the red bricks and rowan trees of Rathfarnham dreaming of making imaginary worlds of my own. I dream of that still.

Before even then, I was an enormous fan of colour. Sometimes I think I liked blue before anything else on this Earth. My overriding sensory memory of my first years at school is the smell of school-supply paints and chalks. My earliest memory of all is of my mother taking me down the corridor of a grey and crappy but then stlll-new prefabricated building as a very small child of four or five to meet my teacher, the round-spectacled, white-bloused, blue Hillary Clinton-jacketed Mrs Donnelly. I don't remember if it was my first day of school or some other day, only the vibrant red of the floor and how it shimmered in the morning sun. A few years later, my parents were so proud of a oil painting I made when I was about 11 of a canal barge they bought a frame for it and hung it up on the wall, even though it was colour by numbers. It's still there, and I'm proud of it too.

In time, my interest in writing grew as my vocabulary swelled and I started to become known as the boy who was the best at English - a title I held on to all the way through to the end of school when I got the A1 grade everyone said was impossible to get because they gave it to no one - and I forgot about paintings, thinking I wasn't really that good at it anyways. When at secondary school and given the choice of Art, History or Music I went for Music and traded the paintbrush for a clarinet and that was it. Looking at the tubes of paint above I can't help but feel nostalgic, though it must be more than 20 years since I held one of them.


Still, you never lose an eye for art once you have it. Other people yawn through art galleries and delight in history museums, I yawn at museums and eagerly await the gallery. The first thing I look up about a city when I'm going or thinking of going there for holiday is - does it have a good modern art gallery? Every time. I once visited the medieval town of Albi in southwest France because it's the hometown of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and has a nice little gallery devoted to him. What else is there? Aside from a train station, which I know because that's how I get there, I have literally no idea. It applies to daily life to: I have lunch in the Barbican almost every day now just so I have an hour to feel cultural amidst the City hubbub

Travel for everyone is about sights, but which kind of sights varies more than you might think. I saw a listing for an animal theme park in Tenerife the other day and was little short of revulsed. And it's #1 on Tripadvisor. My kind of travel is to go to a place, learn about the people there and their culture and try to experience a little of the life they live. You can do a lot of this through art because it gives you a view of what inspires them, what they like to look at and what they choose to immortalize in pigment. Picasso will give you visions of Spain (along with his adopted Paris of course), and Canaletto's paintings are more Venice than Venice itself. And while his brother William Butler vies for attention in the crowded Irish canon of poets, authors and playwrights, Jack Butler Yeats stands alone in his many paintings chronicling Irish life.


Plus when you travel you can see a hell of a lot of nice art. The Chagall stained-glass windows of the Fraumünster are one of Zurich's finest assets, to name one of many I've seen all around Europe and further afield at this stage. I'm glad I queued for two hours in the August sun to get into the Uffizi in Florence and see its many artistic delights at the age of 21, because if i tried to do that again I would probably faint from heatstroke. Aside from the many amazing Japanese things I saw on my first trip to Tokyo in 2006, obviously, another memory that sticks out strongly is going to Africa Remix at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. A truly fabulous collection of art from all over Africa, I had no idea until afterwards it had already been on show in London, Paris and Hamburg before I travelled from Dublin half way round the world to see it and love it in Asia. Of course some paintings are so powerful they transcend location. After all Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night is for many the timeless epitomy of the Paris cafe scene even though you have to go to a gallery in Otterlo, Netherlands to see it and it actually depicts a cafe in Arles.


Art is different for everyone, and as much as people may love portraits of 17th century royals of various hues, I think they're vacuous and vanishingly dull. The National Portrait Gallery, sitting proudly in the centre of Trafalgar Square, is London's least interesting art gallery by my reckoning, especially while the city boasts a regular program of visiting exhibitions at galleries all over town to rival any other city in the world. Give me Mark Rothko's visionary monochrome of the Moon that recently landed in the Royal Academy or Kazemir Malevich's many Suprematist masterpieces that lit up the Tate Modern last year any day.

As much as the temptation may be to list out your favourites, the best painting for me, I'm sure, will always be the next one. I'm really looking forward to seeing Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 at the RA, and am currently waiting like a sleeper cell of art fandom for a quiet Tuesday some weeks after the opening to see it and have the room all but to myself. Ditto America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. And so on. How lucky I am to live in London and have the luxury of waiting for the right moment. After all that's art itself, life at the right moment. Grab it while you still can.

Posted by BillLehane 09:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art london france colour holidays youth painting irish blog Comments (0)

Bill's European Adventure, 2001. Part 4: Florence and Rome

Our plunky drunkards get culture-jammed and find religion


Bill and Julie at the Duomo, Florence

Aug 23

Florence Day 1 - hellish! Got a double-decker (yes!) train to Firenze and trotted around the place in the scorching heat frantically looking for accommodation, eventually getting booked into what turned out to be a military boot camp style thing in the sticks with rigid breakfast, dinner and lights out times. OK though, given we almost stayed in a brothel that was advertised as a hostel and then we saw the brothel's owner's apartment, which looked like drug money had purchased the white leather sofa and other lavish fittings.

Met two Californians at the hostel - their Republican background and views were hilarious to us once we got merry on a 5l mini-keg of Firstenburg, which they greeted with dismay! One of them actually thought George W was a good President!

Had great fun dodging the curfew - a staff member allowed me to finish my cup of beer and cigarette out the front of the building as a special favour at 12.10am!! Sleep was hot, but comfortable enough. Getting up early to go sightseeing isn't too difficult because one can't sleep late in this fuckin' heat!

Aug 24

Breakfast of coffee and rock of bread with butter was more of a tease than a meal. Packed a lunch from stuff in the supermarket, and set off on the bus for a hectic day of sightseeing, involving queues, lots of paintings and lots of tourists, finishing up back in the hotel bang on time for our boarding school dinner at 6.30. Drank 66CLs with funny Australians and an Irish thirty-something, mid-life crisis couple; it all came to an abrupt end at midnight - lights out. Smoking outside after curfew made me feel like a bold schoolboy!

Beginning to get culture-jammed - saw so much in the last two weeks that cathedrals and paintings no longer have a fixed location in my head. Very impressed by Michelangelo's David though.


Bill and Ollie at the Roman Forum

Aug 25

Rome! Got a train at 1044 (had to stand/sit in the gangway for the whole 2.5 hours, but at least we weren't charged the IR£4 supplement that we should've been. We had a hostel booked, but we had to battle to get there by 2pm deadline. It turned out to be this cool, small, 22-bed place in an apartment block ten minutes from Cipro metro station.

We left for an afternoon of historical sightseeing - the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps (John Keats museum beside it turned out much more interesting), Trevi Fountain, Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuelle II (huge monument that looks like a building, but it's just a statue!) and the Colosseum (found also a huge bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius [old guy from Gladiator]), and then got a metro back to the hostel, where we cooked our own pasta in the kitchen, and settled into an evening of strange 66CL beers, chianti and multi-lingual conversations with Italians, an Australian, a Portuguese guy and a Brazilian who didn't look Brazilian.

The place was so homely that the co-owner was asking our opinion on what to wear out on the piss, and the other co-owner was drinking my beer!!


Not entirely sure why I look so grumpy in this picture.
I think the sun was in my eyes. Or maybe I was just hung over.

Aug 26

Got up a bit groggy at 8.45, later than planned, and went for a Vatican trip with just Julie, as Ollie wouldn't get out of bed! A queue three streets long to get into the Musei Vaticani moved swiftly as entry was free on the last Sunday of each month. We passed countless priceless artefacts on our way to the Sistine Chapel, which was fucking amazing. Walked around to Piazza San Pietro and heard music over the tannoy as we entered - magical! The inside of St Peter's Basilica is ornate, devout and massive - 60,000 can fit in! We saw a bit of a multi-lingual Mass, St Peter's tomb - the underground grotto where Popes are buried, but didn't see the Dome as the queue was too long.

Spent a second night chilling with hostellers and hostel staff alike, though the fun ended early as I was the only one with the foresight to buy beer, so it had to be split into three (albeit a big 'third' for me!) and Ollie had a headache, the poor devil!

Slept in until 11, though the checkout time was 10am (nice staff, again), and then toddled off to the train station to move on to Verona, a hitherto-unenvisaged stop that was easier train-wise than the planned stop, Rimini.

Posted by BillLehane 07:27 Archived in Italy Tagged churches art trains drink italy trips florence rome photos holidays vatican blog interrail vaticancity Comments (0)

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