Research point: Tondo and domestic interiors

For this research point, we are asked to look into the work of Mark Fairnington, Roxy Walsh, Iain Andrews, Henny Acloque, Mindy Lee and Virginia Verran.

In addition, Can you find any other examples of tondo painting? Try to decide why the artist in question has decided to paint in this format. Does any of this work give you any ideas for your tondo painting in Part Four?

Look also at artists who have focused on aspects of the domestic interior.

Charlie Day, Annabel Dover, Jacqueline Utley

TONDO

What is a Tondo painting?

A tondo is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, either a painting or a sculpture. The word derives from the Italian rotondo, “round.” The term is usually not used in English for small round paintings, but only those over about 60 cm in diameter, thus excluding many round portrait miniatures – for sculpture the threshold is rather lower. A circular or oval relief sculpture is also called a roundel.

Andy Warhol’s Tondo ‘Butterflies’ (1955)  is where I kicked off my search.  

Tondo (Butterflies) 1955 Andy Warhol 1928-1987 ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00250

‘Tondo’ is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art. In referring to an art historical term in the title, perhaps Wrhol is beginning to contemplate his move beyond the commercial art stage to fine art. Typical of his work of the 1950s he has combined his blotted-line technique with vibrant colours. These were possibly added at one of his colouring parties, hosted at the fashionable Serendipity 3 café after its opening in 1954. He would encourage his friends – some of whom would have helped him create the original illustrations – to colour the works with an inventiveness that adds to their whimsical nature. This process looks forward to the production methods of Warhol’s legendary studio, the Factory, in the 1960s.

This was painted a long time ago and is part of his canon but to be honest, I can’t see what’s so special about it at all.  The images of it on the internet are also not sharp, perhaps it’s best seen up front? 

A tondo from antiquity, also documented on Wikipedia, is the Severan Tondo or Berlin Tondo from around 200AD.  

I paraphrased from that source:   ‘This was an egg-based (tempera) painting on a circular wooden panel – it’s diameter is 30.5 centimetres or 12 inches.  The people depicted are an Imperial Roman family – Septimus Severus and his sons.   One son’s face has been obliterated in an act of iconoclasm and the vacant space was apparently smeared with excrement.   The tondo may have been originally made in a square or rectangular shape and then cut into a circle.   These tondos would have been mass-produced and placed in offices or public buildings.   With each change of emperor these portraits would have been discarded.   Wood, being an organic material, does not normally survive and this tondo is considered the only surviving specimen of its kind. ‘

I think it’s amazing that this little painting, with so much historical meaning attached to it, has survived for so long!   It’s a beautiful piece of work.  However, as the author of the article on Wikipedia pointed out, it was originally made as a rectangular or square shape and then a circle was cut from it.   Perhaps then, it is not a true Tondo?  

Mark Fairnington

I have looked at Fairnington’s work for previous research but not for his tondo pieces.   There are many examples of Tondo paintings on his website – here are a couple of screenshots – from the ‘Beasts’ and ‘Human -People’ sections.  

His work is photo-realistic and the eye themes for his tondos fit the circular framework very well.  However, they don’t really do much for me, I find them lacking in any kind of emotional depth.

Roxy Walsh

It would appear that there is only one image extant on the internet of Walsh’s Tondo painting, which seems abstract and I have no clue what the title is. 

Roxy Walsh (title unknown)

I know Walsh has an extensive biography and artistic qualifications but I can’t really comment  on her tondo work because there are no further examples to see.  

Iain Andrews

Andrews’ work mixes the colour palette of contemporary abstract painting with the cracked paint and varnish associated with Renaissance masters and nostalgic Victorian painting, from which he also appropriates various compositional and figurative elements.  So says a bio about him on Contemporary British Painting

An example of a tondo is provided in the course notes, which is ascribed to Iain Andrews (no title), I could not find this painting online, nor could I find any other examples of work that he has done specifically in the tondo format. 

Henny Acloque

Ah at last a couple of examples of tondos!  Or maybe not.  There is no information on Acloque’s website detailing his process.  I took this screenshot from a section on his website titled ‘Lugar de Culto’ … or Cult Place?  (thank Google translate later):

We are told in the course notes that she references Breugel in her work – Tarot cards also by the looks of it. Here’s a screenshot from her website:

I suppose it could vaguely be reminiscent of Breugel (Elder?) and I can see the obvious reference to the Tarot in the design of the paintings. Again, these are not rigid tondo’s as the paintings are on elipses, or oval shaped canvasses, not circles.

Mindy Lee

Her ‘tondo’ section on the website is titled ‘Paintings on Plates’.  Some are definitely not tondo, more rounded off rectangular platters (the type of thing used to cook chickens or turkeys).   This one looks like she smeared poop on the plate and then made a painting out of it.   

Mindy Lee ‘Better out than in Venus’

I would say her paintings on plates are more sculptural than painterly.   She appears to reference renaissance era imagery as the basis for the ‘painting’ (Caravaggio’s Medusa being one) and then puts blobs and blobs of stuff on top, smooches it all about and the resultant vomit-inducing mess is given a title.   I’m not a fan.

Mindy Lee John’s overfaced (Reni)
Mindy Lee ‘Medusa’s overfaced’ (Caravaggio)

Virginia Verran

She does seem to produce tondo’s on a regular basis, her Instagram page features a few newish ones.  This one is taken off her website:

Virginia Verran ‘Bonner-space creeper’

I am not particularly excited by her work, I find it a bit flat and wonder why she uses the tondo device, as her work is abstract and the paintings would work just as well on a rectangular or square format substrate?

Other examples:

The below painting, to me, is a fine example of how landscape perspective is used to great effect in a tondo painting – by Goffredo Wals (1590-1638).  The walls bow outwards on both right and left hand sides, but the plants curl inwards, like waves, making you look into the centre behind the tall dark tree. The point of interest, or ‘golden section, is towards the window in the building. It’s a clever device.

Goffredo Wals ‘Country road by a house’ Oil on copper

Artists who focus on the domestic interior

We are given three contemporary artists who use scenes from domestic life in their paintings. I was not initially particularly entranced but changed my mind.

Charlie Day

A blurb from his website:

 My theoretical interests incorporate the Uncanny, Foucault’s ideas regarding Manet’s ‘Object of Painting’, and the phenomenon of ‘Bad Painting’, Marcia Tucker’s term for a certain type of painting that was ‘kicking against the pricks’ of 1960s and 1970s minimalism and conceptual art.

Charlie Day ‘Smother me Mother’

This is just an egg.  On a plate.  I don’t know what else we are supposed to draw from it.  

Charlie Day ‘Ceci n’est pas une banana turps’

This is a banana on a table cloth edge. Or ‘This is not a banana turps’ as Google Translate would have it.

Day uses thick, bold, impasto brush strokes. The work appears naïve and raw.  The more I look at some of the artists in this course, the more I keep being drawn back to Luc Tuymans’ work.  What makes Tuymans’ work so profound (to me)?   Is it the marketing hoo-ha that accompanies all of Tuyman’s paintings? Would Tuymans’ works be ordinary and boring without all the historical perspective and layers of intellectual meaning presented by the artist when he discusses his paintings?  

If these food item paintings of Day’s were accompanied with a narrative about food waste/the plight of starving millions in the 21st century, would that make them profound?  Would they become really important and demand hundreds of thousands of pounds at gallery sales?   Of all the artists in this section that we’ve been asked to research, I like Day’s work quite a lot – his paintings are unpretentious, in your face, meat-and-potatoes works about subjects that appeal to him.  His  lock-down landscapes are brilliant.  This is from his pandemic/lock-down series ‘Remembered Walks’  

Charlie Day ‘Remembered Walk XXXV: Salthouse, Norfolk)

Annabel Dover

Oooh, cyanotype!   That perked my interest but it was ephemeral as I couldn’t find much else to illustrate Dover’s prowess as an artist.   

Anabel Dover ‘Darwin’s Weed bed’ Cyanotype on paper 2014

 Jacqueline Utley

Her work is pretty, she seems to use the same soft pastel tones in all her paintings, which feature naïve views of people in rooms.  Not my cup of tea. Thse are screenshots from her website:

Other inspirational examples of paintings by artists who focus on the domestic interior:

James Gillick Blue Eggs and Butter Pat, 2013 (oil on linen over panel)

James Gillick Blue Eggs and Butter Pat, 2013 (oil on linen over panel) Bridgeman Education

Hugh Buchanan  Interior with blind cord, Holkham (w/c on paper) (Source also Bridgeman Education)

Someone I discovered recently is Alice Mumford.   A blurb on the landing page of her website states:

‘Her objects have at one in the same time a prosaic and dramatic nature, and symbolise the presence of human beings and the mystery of their daily lives.  She has instilled an English flavour into the still life tradition and, in her profound understanding and joyful handling of oil paint, can be likened to Winifred Nicholson and the School of St Ives. Professor Richard Demarco CBE’

Alice Mumford  Kitchen Table and Flowers, Afternoon, 2005 (oil on canvas) Brideman Education

I am reminded of Bonnard. 

  

Alice Mumford ‘Bright Light’ 2003

General comment on research and image searches in particular

I am finding the more we delve into obscure or specialist artists, it is becoming harder and harder to find examples of their work online.   It is also very difficult to find reliable information sources on many of the artists we’ve looked at so far in this course, without doing a large amount of time-consuming digging about on the web.   Bridgeman Education is seriously lacking with regards images/information about contemporary artworks.  It’s rare to find reference images on there of most artists mentioned in these OCA courses.    It would be really helpful if the course modulators and producers could provide examples of websites where we could go to immediately look into the artists under discussion, this would certainly cut out a lot of time-wasting and frustration.

Bibliography

Text:

What is a Tondo painting?  Source:   Wikipedia   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tondo_(art)  Accessed 10/05/2021

Severan Tondo  Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severan_Tondo  Accessed 10/05/2021

Iain Andrews  https://www.saulhayfineart.co.uk/iain-andrews https://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/iain-andrews/       Accessed 10/05/2021

Henry Acloque http://www.hennyacloque.com/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Mindy Lee  https://mindylee.me/    Accessed 10/05/2021

Virginia Verran  http://virginiaverran.com/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Charlie Day   https://www.charliedayart.co.uk/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Annabel Dover  https://juggartfoundation.com/annabel-dover   Accessed 10/05/2021

Jacqueline Utley  http://www.jacquelineutley.com/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Alice Mumford  https://www.alicemumford.com/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Images:

Andy Warhol – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/AR/AR00250_8.jpg   Accessed 10/05/2021

Severan Tondo    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severan_Tondo  Accessed 10/05/2021

Mark Fairnington  https://markfairnington.com/beast/animal/ https://markfairnington.com/human/people/ Accessed 10/05/2021

Roxy Walsh  artexchange.org.uk  Accessed 10/05/2021

Henry Acloque http://www.hennyacloque.com/paintings/lugar-de-culto  Accessed 10/05/2021

Mindy Lee – paintings on plates  https://mindylee.me/2012-2/   accessed 10/05/2021

Caravaggio Medusa’s head   https://www.artdocentprogram.com/10-caravaggio-paintings-better-internet-reaction-image/   Accessed 10/05/2021

Charlie Day – all images from his website.

Annabel Dover Darwin’s seed head image  https://juggartfoundation.com/annabel-dover  Accessed 10/05/2021

https://web.archive.org/web/20160729093116/http://www.annabeldover.com/index.htm  Accessed 10/05/2021

Other research images from Bridgeman Education – where stated.

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