The first part of this exercise was to find two still life pictures that relate to fish.   ‘Nature’ morte’  means ‘dead nature’ and is a term used for Still Life.  Along with finding the pictures, it was advised to make a quick sketch of them with notes.

The first one I chose from the Tate Gallery called Image of the Fish God by Alan Davie (1956)



I particularly liked this one as it felt like it was quite modern and yet I had a feeling there was something ancient being symbolised, possibly a man with a sword or shield, but actually a fish instead.  The fish to me seems dead in the way it is being held upwards,

like its been caught and on show, I hope this means it is considered to be still life as I got a little confused in thinking that perhaps still life paintings are more like fish on a plate to be eaten or the painting had to actually look like real fish but dead.  The main points I took from the notes available (Gallery label, July 2012) were:

Notes from Gallery

  • Made up of shapes and symbols
  • Central diamond symbol depicting an eye
  • Artist defines personal pictograms as ‘Primordial’ (from the beginning of time)
  • Painting has a totemic monumentality evokes ancient cultures and shamanistic beliefs – I understand this to mean that it like a totum monument (a totum pole symbol  worshiped by members of a family or tribe).  Shamanistic is a religion of Northern Asia

My Notes

  • Both modern/ancient – man with a sword/shield
  • Dead fish – upright like its been caught
  • Central weird eye symbol
  • Black figure, ghostly
  • Dripping paint, blood?

The second painting a chose was more traditional, from the Royal Academy website called Still Life: Fish by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA (early 20th century)



I thought this was a homely one, quite traditional, as if someone had been out fishing and dumped two fish on the kitchen table, the reason I think its in the kitchen is there is a drinking canister of some kind next to the fish and some pretty shoes also appear on the floor making me think this is in the home.  The Academy indicated some key words.

Notes from Academy

Studio setting, fish blood, violence, dead animal, brown

My Notes

One fish almost comforting the other, both dead, pretty shoes, kitchen table, homely, drink container, I didn’t see it as being violent or of any blood.

The second part of the exercise was to watch a video showing Hirsts ‘The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living” and to take notes whilst listening to a conversation taking place of three people observing the artwork.  I made the following notes:

HIRST – Plays on human emotion, like danger, fear, shark could kill you, seems to be making you question your level of fear.

THE PIECE – The piece is actually a full size shark in a glass cage, that has been killed and paid for.  This is the second one Hirst has created as the first one disintegrated, this one he employed the help of a taxidermist, to try to preserve this shark.

HIRST’S OTHER WORK – He cut sheep in half lengthwise and put in a glass cage

INFORMATION ON OTHER ARTISTS WHOSE WORK IS CONCERNED WITH MORTALITY – I could only grasp the conversation about mummies being preserved in order to preserve time

REFERENCES TO TIME – There was talk about the Egyptian mummies being preserved in the hope of mortality, preserving time or at least stop time

My initial thought when I saw the picture of the shark in the course book, I thought it wasn’t real and that the shark was almost laughing, I didn’t think of it in terms of death or how scary it was and never question anything about mortality.  So having now found out more about Hirst’s work it has most definitely changed my view on how I would view it.

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise, from start to finish, it was great to investigate several different galleries for pictures on still life and to chose a couple that stood out straight away for me.  Although there were plenty more but you would just take up so much time so made a quick decision.  I am feeling that my note taking is not quite as it should be and I don’t think I’m picking up on some important aspects, or maybe I’m doing ok and maybe it really is just about my opinion and what I think about what art is, all I know is I am finding the whole experience an eye opener and can’t wait to be learning more and realising what amazing artwork there is and the historical meanings behind some of them












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