Black-legged kittiwakes bathing, video

This video from Canada says about itself:

27 January 2016

Black-legged Kittiwakes swim and bathe in Newfoundland. Most of the birds here are breeding adults, but look for younger birds with darker bills and markings. These birds breed along the northern shores of North America. They feed in flocks, snatching food from the surface of the water, or just underneath, which they pursue with shallow dives.

J.M.W. Turner art exhibition in Canada

This video from England says about itself:

7 October 2014

Tate Britain

The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free is the first exhibition devoted to the extraordinary work J.M.W. Turner created between 1835 and his death in 1851. Bringing together spectacular works from the UK and abroad, this exhibition celebrates Turner’s astonishing creative flowering in these later years when he produced many of his finest pictures but was also controversial and unjustly misunderstood.

Highlights of the exhibition include such important pictures as Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus and Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, rarely reunited since first exhibited together in 1839; The Wreck Buoy 1849; and magnificent watercolours like Heidelberg: Sunset c.1840 and the seldom-seen Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland c.1837.

By Lee Parsons in Canada:

Comments on an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario

26 January 2016

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto—October 31, 2015–January 31, 2016

One senses a growing hunger for something recognizably human (and humane) in the surging popularity of representational imagery in art these days. So, as well as being a profound aesthetic experience in itself, the exhibition of the late work of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto is of particular interest. In this work one can discern the fundamental elements of what were extraordinary achievements of the imagination in their time, which may also speak to the present impasse in contemporary art.

The AGO is the final stop for this touring exhibition that began in 2014 at the Tate Britain, home to over 30,000 works by Turner bequeathed by the artist to its predecessor, the National Gallery. One is left slack-jawed in the face of his prolific efforts. With supporting material from other artists, as well as artifacts (which it has to be said add little to the experience and in some ways detract from it), the show includes over 50 paintings and drawings by Turner from the Tate Britain, as well as four pieces from the permanent collection of the AGO.

Peace–Burial at Sea (1842)

Certainly, other artists working at this time made important and unusual contributions, but Turner’s late artwork in particular represents a defining moment in the formation of sensibilities and conceptions that underlie the breakthroughs of modern art. Though the paintings were controversial in their day, this exhibition brings together some of the most beautiful and disturbing work done by this artistic genius: the painting that Turner did in the last 15 years of his life when his work most boldly broke from literal depiction, legitimizing more spontaneous and even abstract expression in art.

Hailed as the greatest landscape painter of the age, Turner is also arguably the greatest watercolourist of all time. It nevertheless took nearly a century of subsequent developments before this work was properly understood in terms of its role in art history, anticipating and—to a certain extent—even overstepping the great strides of the impressionists who followed after him.

In the watercolour on paper, “The Blue Rigi, Sunrise” (1842), for example, a delicately hazy, almost formless landscape, Turner’s ethereal brushwork conveys the poignancy of its title in a style that is possibly a generation ahead of its time.

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842)

His earlier work is closely associated with Romanticism in art, with its emphasis on emotional expression and aesthetic appreciation. But Turner expanded and developed on this in these later years as he discovered astonishing new ways of communicating emotion and meaning in painting—hence the title of the exhibition, “Painting set Free.”

Reproduction never conveys the full richness of a painting or drawing, but this is especially true in the case of Turner’s work because of the sensual, tactile relationship he developed with his media and his canvas, the precision and grace of which can only be fully appreciated by direct viewing. In addition to experimenting with new materials, he was known to use a variety of tools in his application of paint, at times even his fingers and fingernails.

In a work such as “Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London” (1841), one sees the subtle depth of tones, the fine lines, the mysterious layering of light that he achieves, and one comes to understand why his peers considered him something of a magician.

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London (1841)

His innovation did come at some cost, and many of the paintings shown are badly cracked, the colors faded or damaged in other ways. This premature deterioration is due to a variety of factors—Turner’s use of new, commercially available media for oil painting, his experimentation with new pigments. But it is also the result of the tensions created by inventive yet flawed techniques in his layering of paint—for example, the mixing and layering of water color over oil.

Converging currents

Turner was a deeply contradictory figure, and in a number of ways. Preoccupied with his reputation and status, he avidly sought official recognition and support, yet ignored the criticism and derision that he was eventually subjected to. Artistically, he saw himself as a guardian of established traditions in landscape painting, but at the same time he was among the most inventive and unorthodox artists in history, pushing the limits of his materials and what was considered the proper subject matter in his day.

Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) (1843)

Staunchly conservative and yet truly independent and revolutionary, Turner was a living, breathing embodiment of the tensions of the age, of the struggle between the vestigial hold of the land-owning aristocracy and its cultural traditions, and powerful new social forces, including humble, plebeian ones.

Turner’s life spanned the tumultuous years between the American Revolution and the Revolutions of 1848, and encompassed the great French Revolution of 1789, the industrial revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and more—these were the convulsions that shaped his generation and informed artistic development in Britain and across Europe. This was the period that saw the social and political transformation of Europe and North America, ushering in the bourgeois order—ushering in, in effect, the modern age.

Joseph Mallord William Turner grew up essentially as an only child—his younger sister died at the age of four. His father, from Devon, became a barber and wigmaker in London and his mother came from a propertied family of London butchers. His father’s shop, situated near the city’s theatre district on Maiden Lane, afforded the young Turner contact with a variety of patrons, including writers, artisans and artists, as well as influential figures in the art world, many of whom proved to be of great benefit later in building his career.

The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846)

This clientele provided the young artist, as an adolescent, a steady market for his drawings and watercolours, which his father proudly displayed in his shop, allowing the boy to earn both his own money and public notice from an early age.

Drawing and painting were considered essential to a proper, all-rounded education at the time because such skills were in great demand in various commercial enterprises. Young Turner quickly figured out he had marketable talent and even greater potential, and sought to position himself for financial success. He apprenticed with a noted architect where he learned architectural and perspective drawing, the mastery of which can be seen in even his earliest work.

He began a relationship early in life with the recently founded Royal Academy of Arts (RA), an association that was to last until his death. Enrolling at the age of 14 (the momentous year of 1789!), Turner was immediately recognized as a major talent and, remarkably, his work was accepted for exhibiting the following year. Becoming an associate at the young age of 24, the painter maintained a strong relationship with the Academy, entering his artwork in their annual exhibitions, teaching, lecturing and otherwise supporting the institution throughout his life, long after it had become a bastion of conservatism.

The Departure of the Fleet (1850)

Turner carefully guarded his personal life, but it is generally agreed that he had significant romantic liaisons with at least two women. Sarah Danby gave him two daughters with whom he had little apparent contact. Later on, and to the end of his life, he maintained a secret relationship with Sophia Booth, a widow whom he boarded with in her house on the Thames River. Also kept secret was the declining mental state of his mother, who spent her final years shut away in an asylum, abandoned and ignored by her son. Here is a man who apparently exhibited considerable callousness in his most personal relationships, but who expressed the most profound humanity and compassion in his work—the contrast, while hardly unique, is still jarring.

His father was a lifelong advocate and supporter, working after a certain point exclusively as his assistant and valet right until the end of his life. In his later years, Turner considered himself something of an invalid and indeed suffered from an array of ailments, losing his teeth and also his eyesight towards the end, leading critics to dismiss these later paintings as the work of a blind man, or alternatively, a lunatic.

Many of the relationships with friends and collaborators Turner had maintained throughout his life began to fall away, but this period also brought him his most ardent champion in the person of the noted young art critic and historian John Ruskin. About the latter Turner once declared, “[He] sees more in my pictures than I ever painted.” Though Ruskin’s interpretation was at the time controversial, he later won great respect for his six-volume work, Modern Painters. The first volume was published in 1843 and was dedicated explicitly to the defense of the last period of work by J.M.W. Turner, a service for which the artist was most grateful.

A view forward

The Royal Academy of Arts in London was established in 1768, following the examples of France and Holland, enforcing strict guidelines over subject matter and style in art. It cast off the extravagance of the Baroque period and imposed the classical tradition. Artists who worked beyond these boundaries had great difficulty gaining public recognition and yet this was the institution with which Turner, the most experimental artist of his time, staunchly allied himself.

There is no genuine equivalent in the contemporary world to the social position artists held in the early 19th century, but the fame and prestige Turner enjoyed might be compared to that of a film star today. Throughout his career he was at the top of the heap. His relationships and transactions with the aristocracy and political establishment brought him great wealth and ranked him in the cultural elite, a position he both sought and enjoyed. Politically, Turner was a republican and a British patriot, although he was never very vocal about his views.

The themes and subject matter in his paintings drew on classical mythology, historical parallels to the ancient world and contemporary political events (and particularly the progress of the Napoleonic Wars), as well as the colonial expansion of the British Empire. Ultimately, Turner departed markedly from the traditions of landscape painters such as the French artist Claude Lorrain (c. 1600–1682), whom he openly revered. There are striking contrasts in Turner’s landscape work in these later years, which place him clearly on the leading edge of advances in artistic form and content, as he responded—perhaps in spite of himself—to the pervasive and explosive social transformations taking place around him.

Regulus (1828, 1837)

In addition to the various land and seascapes that he was known for early in his career, in this period of rapid innovation, Turner was both fascinated and suspicious of groundbreaking inventions such as photogravure—which seemed to threaten the very need for artists—and also the steam railway, which broke down barriers of time and space. He was also electrified by such historic achievements as human flight, realized with the advent of hot-air balloons. His enthusiasm for such astonishing advances is conveyed in his own artistic striving against all forms of physical, earth-bound restraint.

One of Turner’s most extraordinary depictions of steam locomotives is “Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway” (1844). Here he develops imagery that is highly evocative and, in its technical exploration and lack of pictorial detail, pushes beyond even the later work of the impressionists.

Another striking work, and a favourite of Ruskin’s, is the subtle but brilliant oil painting, “The Sun of Venice Going to Sea” (1843). Centre frame, a Venetian fishing boat with painted sails unfurled approaches the viewer. The subject, perhaps from a previous era, is seemingly outside time, floating on an ethereal sea, the faint outline of Venice on the horizon, drawn in tones of green, brown and yellow, with an inspired stroke of color in the sky above. This extraordinary work has been interpreted as a reflection by the aging artist on his own mortality, which seems probable. Alternatively, it has been taken to refer to the decline of the Venetian Empire with ominous implications for the British.

The Sun of Venice Going to Sea (1843)

Turner made efforts to write throughout his life, particularly poetry, and he even occasionally lectured, but he never articulated (or perhaps never dared articulate) what were clearly deeply held democratic and humane beliefs. Aside from the lyrical flourishes of his incomplete verse work, “The Fallacies of Hope,” his true feelings are only recorded in his visual art work. All of his paintings, although only a few are explicit in this regard, offer a protest against human cruelty and against slavery and colonial subjugation in particular.

Turner’s body of work as a whole is a staggering achievement, but it is these late paintings that incarnate in the most sophisticated and advanced fashion the strivings of art to grasp and adapt to a challenging new world. There is a great deal to learn and draw from this work, in all its contradictions and ambiguities, in informing and developing the art of our own revolutionary period.

Racist attack on drowned refugee child Aylan Kurdi

Drowned Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Canada: Aylan Kurdi‘s aunt slams ‘disgusting’ cartoon

Saturday 16th January 2016

THE aunt of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi slammed French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Thursday for printing a racist cartoon comparing him to the refugees accused of molesting women in Cologne.

Most of the Cologne accused are not refugees.

The cartoon, in the latest edition of the magazine, counterposes the heart-rending image of the boy’s body washed up on a Turkish beach last year with two ape-faced men chasing screaming women.

The caption asks: “What would little Aylan have become if he had grown up? A bum groper in Germany.”

Aylan’s Canadian-resident aunt Tima Kurdi, who pleaded in vain with her adopted country’s former Tory government to grant the family asylum, called the caricature “disgusting.”

“I hope people respect our family’s pain,” she told CBC News. “It’s a big loss to us.”

“We’re not the same anymore after this tragedy. We’re trying to forget a little bit and move on with our life. But to hurt us again, it’s not fair.”

Four more children were found dead yesterday in the Aegean sea.

With a foul attack on Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy whose drowning last year off the coast of Turkey became a symbol of the terrible human costs of the war in Syria, France’s satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo joined the growing racist campaign against Middle East refugees in Europe: here.

In a brief editorial published Wednesday, the New York Times solidarizes itself fully with the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel as it exploits the media hysteria whipped up over alleged sexual harassment attributed to immigrants in Cologne, Germany in order to mount a crackdown against refugees fleeing the successive and ongoing imperialist wars in the Middle East: here.

WASN’T Charlie Hebdo once something to do with the left, loosely a product of a previous upsurge of social struggle many years ago? Yes it was. So were Sir Oswald Mosley, Benito Mussolini, Georges Sorel… So, I am afraid that that excuse is no mitigation and that the long screeds which point to anti-Establishment articles the publication has run in the last half-century are fundamentally misplaced: here.

Polar bears and research in Canadian Arctic

This 2015 video is called Polar Bears / Documentary (English/HD).

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Going to Need a Tougher Buoy

January 5, 2016

The time a polar bear temporarily sunk important research equipment

The top of the world is warming at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet and scientists there are grappling with what that means for local wildlife.

For instance, as the ice retreats and shipping in the area increases, how will it impact resident marine mammals?

Answering such a question in the far north comes with unique challenges, though.

Our Arctic Beringia Program faced one such obstacle last year. As Dr. Stephen Insley detailed on WCS Canada’s blog, the team had placed a buoy in Sachs Harbor, in the western Canadian Arctic, to record underwater noise.

This would give a better picture of what the local whales and seals were up to and help the team better understand how the animals might be impacted by increased human activity.

At some point, before Insley and the team could retrieve the data they had recorded though, the buoy disappeared underwater.

Suspicion fell on polar bears.

The disappearance coincided with a sighting on the outskirts of the nearby town. The local safety officer had chased two bears out of the area and one was seen swimming off in the direction of the buoy.

Eventually, after hours of dredging the water to no avail, Insley and a local colleague (who also happened to be said safety officer) struck research gold—they hooked onto the rope that was attached to the buoy and pulled it up.

On it, they had their smoking gun: water poured out of the busted float from a pair of teeth-sized holes, which were separated by roughly the width of a polar bear‘s jaw.

Pro-refugee Dutch board game

This 2005 hip hop music video from Sweden about refugees is Fort Europa by LoopTroop, with lyrics.

The new Fortress Europe board game, photo Maurice Vos/RTV Drenthe

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Board game to better understand refugees

Today, 09:30

What happens to an asylum seeker during his flight? What choices does he have to make? Refugee Support in the Northern Netherlands has developed a new board game, Fort Europa [Fortress Europe]. A game to better understand refugees.

At the invitation of the Centre for Visual Arts in Assen ten participants this Thursday put themselves in the shoes of a refugee. Playfully they learned what a refugee runs up against, what it takes to successfully leave one’s own country and the choices he has to make in order to enter the country of destination.

Good reasons

“Fortress Europe is a game where players get information on what having to flee means. Refugees are not refugees for the heck of it, they often have good reasons,” said Monique Berends of Refugee Support in the Northern Netherlands to RTV Drenthe.

Istahil Adulahi is one of the contestants who have played the game. She fled 20 years ago from Somalia to the Netherlands. “I think it’s funny to remember it this way. Gosh, was I really through all that?”

People traffickers

According to Abulahi the game is realistic. “I have also had to deal with people smugglers. I had no idea where I was going and had to blindly trust those people.”

Various departments of Refugee Support in the Netherlands have the game. Associations and schools can apply for the game and play it together with an employee companion of Refugee Support.

Warm welcome for refugees in Canada: here.

Syrian refugee family reunited in B.C. after more than 10 years apart. A Syrian man who has been waiting more than 10 years for his sons to join him in Canada had a tearful reunion with them at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday: here.

See this 10 December 2015 video.