Friday, October 20, 2017

Poached eggs and other savoured memories

Diego Velazquez: An old woman cooking eggs (image from here)
I had been exposed to a wide variety of visual art from my earliest years, but I was over 11 years old before I entered an institutional art gallery.  My first visit was to the Scottish National Gallery with my secondary school in Edinburgh.  I subsequently visited many times after that, both with the school, but mostly alone.  The year I took History of Art as part of my degree (still in Edinburgh) I was there at least once a week.
Several of the paintings there remain prominently in my head and in my heart, but my favourite of all is the Velazquez above.  I find it a complete stunner that never shuts down my curiosity.  It presents the possible beginning, or middle, or maybe even the end of many stories.  The skill of course is breath-taking.  And I love that my grandmother's mortar and pestle are there right at the front.  I remember as a small child battering the shape out of walnuts using those heavy brass instruments that I was barely able to lift!
Inevitably one of my other favourites is the now widely known The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (perhaps) by Raeburn(image above from here)
Daniel Macnee: A lady in grey (the artist's daughter)
And a much less well known lady whom I used to greet on every visit: A Lady in Grey.  This again had a personal connection because it was unusual to have a portrait showing a young woman engaged in an occupation which dominated my leisure hours: hand stitching.
Paul Gauguin: Vision of the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel)
In my teenage years I was obsessed by all things French (none of my family knew anything about France or the French, so my interest was left well alone), and so inevitably I was drawn by the strikingly dramatic Gauguin - indeed the whole painting cried out to me before I knew who had made it.  (If you scroll down the page linked under the image above you will find a short film which chimes very much with my own youthful experience - strangely enough we were reading The moon and sixpence at school around the time of my first visits to the gallery.)
Edgar Degas: Woman Drying Herself
The other French painting which stays with me from those early days is a Degas pastel.  I had loved both the realism and the looseness, the chalkiness of the pastel as well as its subtle colour - without at that point knowing anything about the material.  Later, during my art history studies the tutor who specialised in Post Impressionism told us that this work had had the glass cleaned so assiduously that the pastel had now transferred from the paper to the glass!  I do not know whether this is really true.*  And I don't know whether my curiosity about and my love of soft pastels came from this work and the story.

Of course I discovered many other delights in the collection, and during the intensive art history visits learned so much about them all - a sweet consolation for not being permitted to study to be an artist myself - but these five works in particular have a special place in my memory.  Over the decades ever since then I have continued to look, to discover, to pursue my curiosity, to research not only the art that appeals, but also the art that does not appeal.  I believe that finding out why something does not capture one's delight can illuminate and develop one's looking and understanding.
I must admit to doing a bit less of the latter now.  I seem to have reached a point when - with some exceptions - I want to save my art curiosity for delving deeper into the realms that I already enjoy.  Nowadays that seems to feed my own work much more, and I save my wider curiosity for other subjects such as Roman architecture, satellite mapping of the oceans, and geology (all current or imminent FutureLearn courses).

*I don't think it can be true because the implication in 1967 was that years of cleaning had lifted the pastel off the paper, and yet I now see that the work was only donated to the gallery in 1960.  I must have seen it first not long after that gift took place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Today I have been wandering through the ArtUk site, gazing at the wealth of content, working from the artists.  These are paintings in public collections in the UK, and can be seen - well, not all are actually on display, but the theory is that by contacting the institution a viewing can be arranged.
Anne Redpath: Terraced fields, Gran Canaria (image from here)
I wanted to reacquaint myself with old favourites, as for example Anne Redpath.
Anne Redpath: Landscape at Kyleakin (image from here)
I love her use of colour; three of the paintings in the public collections particularly catching my attention today.  I was taken with the transition from the deep reds of Gran Canaria through the reds, greys, and whites of Kyleakin to the whites and greys with scant but essential red of the still life below.
Anne Redpath: Grey Still Life, The Venetian Blind (image from here)
How wondrous to include a venetian blind!  I cannot off the top of my head think of another still life with such dynamic horizontals, translucent, arising from what might otherwise be thought a boring object.  Doubly delightful after having seen this image for the first time is the discovery that it is held in the collection of the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria - a favourite destination of ours when we are up in the North West of England, or on our way to Scotland.  So I hope to be able to see the painting for real some day.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Excellent timing

My bedtime reading at present is SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard.  I am enjoying this, reading it slowly to chew over all the information.  As described in this review, the book is engaging - but I was delighted to find a FutureLearn course covering the development of Rome from Dr Matthew Nicholls of Reading University Classics department
(image above from here)
The course started today, and it is quite a revelation.  These free online courses are amazing.  I have thoroughly enjoyed most of the ones I have pursued.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Tree cutting theatre

The renovation cycle has turned, and amongst other jobs which are being and to be done, tree cutting was added.  (A sub-clause of the jammy piece principle - if dropped, a jammy piece will fall jammy side down - is that if great sums of money are being paid out, another large expense will force its way up the queue.)  The poplar had grown so high that were it so to fall, it would smash my sewing room.  A drastic crown reduction was called for.
The rule, just as in cutting fabric, is look and discuss at length before beginning the climb - especially as the tree grows between an electricity wire and a public path to a primary school.
A twice-extended ladder forms the foothills of the ascent, which reaches the topmost branches in order to secure the rope.
Then, with the rope in place, the descent to the cutting can begin.
And with the cut line established after a few hours, the cutting for the day more or less ends (a less experienced guy is given the opportunity in the afternoon to climb up and experience cutting at the great height !).  Clearing - the much longer job - begins.
On the two subsequent days the experienced climber and cutter gradually works his way across the tree.  Although there is much crashing of falling timber, the job on the whole is remarkably elegantly and skillfully done. 

Another less experienced guy gets the opportunity ! to climb up to cut the final bit of branch and retrieve the rope.
All was busyness and noise for four days, and then on the fifth the fence was mended (a couple of pieces of tree didn't miss it), and now all is quiet.  And we are discovering how agile the squirrels are.  Discombobulated at first because their electricity super highway was previously brushed by branches.  Now they really have to l e a p!  And they do.
And we have a greatly augmented wood pile - not to mention having an entertaining spectacle to compensate for the lack of work that I achieved.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Inspiration shared

When looking at the work of Turner Prize shortlisted artist Lubaina Hamid (first seen this year in Eirene's blog) I saw much that attracts me.  And I see that we are both lovers of Picasso's glorious frontcloth (below), designed for the Ballets Russes.
(image above from this article)
Since I first saw it I have always been drawn to this great painting, not only for its immediate expression of friendship and exuberance, but also for the ambiguity of emotion it also seems to contain - the more I look, the more I see.
Lubaina Hamid: Freedom and Change (images from here)
As Eirene's photos show, Hamid's appropriation of the figures adds the delightful hounds, and the perhaps not so delightful onlooking men.  My own appropriation for a quilt made in 2007 crops the original to the upper body of the left hand woman, and I took her off the beach and put her in the sea.  I wish that I had the space to have this piece hanging because it pleases me still, even after all these years.
A big splash 2007 145x107cm
It is always a pleasure to see that someone else - whose work I admire greatly - has also been inspired by a piece which inspired my own creative juices to flow.

There are Guardian newspaper articles about Lubaina Himid here, and here, and here, and here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Explanation or excuse?

Several years ago, when my nephews were young they used to spend every summer with my parents, and I would take them all on outings.  One such was to a nearby bird world.  Weather-wise it was a rather drizzly day, so many of the birds - especially those from warm climes - looked miserable.
There were not many photo opportunities, but I was struck by the sculptural form of the northern bald ibis on a boat.
I found this photo the other day, and was struck again by the attractiveness of the bird's form as well as by its apparent look of total misery.  Of course I am probably anthropomorphising its mood, as other photos I have seen do not show it looking much different.  But even so, when I think about what we humans are doing to so many environments in the name of progress, but really perhaps it turns out only for the comfort of a few - in which I count myself - I wonder how we would start to account for our actions.
Nature of course is well known for being raw in tooth and claw - it's just that we humans get the prize for having pursued this beyond any wildest dreams.  While I was thinking over how one could begin to explain ourselves to our fellow inhabitants of the planet, I came up with an image using the ibis.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wondrous encounter

Today I found two films by Alison F Bell.  The films involve textile work -
and one on the sea shore.  Both move me, and for me require no further words.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ruthless, yet benign and far-sighted

Jung Chang has written a third enthralling biography.  I very much enjoyed, appreciated, and was enlightened by Wild Swans and Mao: The Unknown Story.  Today I finished reading the extraordinary life of the Empress Dowager Cixi.
I had a vague recollection of the Boxer rebellion from my history lessons at school, and in my early 20s when I was commuting to work in London I read a great deal about Chinese communism.  But I had never heard of this remarkable woman, a concubine of the emperor who saw what needed to be done to bring her country into the modern age, and found ways to take the power again and again to carry out the reforms.  Astonishing that we have not all heard of her.
(image from here)
She was far from an angel; she was just as murderous as any despot, but the good she did seems far to have outweighed the bad.  Learning some of the history of a period which had fallen between the cracks of my previous reading has been fascinating too.   It is such a pleasure to benefit from slow, well researched and well written input as an antidote to hard to avoid fast thoughtless 'news'.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


I'm happiest when thinking about several - or at least a few things at a time.  So when I am stitching solidly, my brain is busy in other areas.  Today I have been exploring ideas about three dimensions - an alley I stroll down from time to time with no specific direction as yet.
There is stitching to be done every day - I've almost finished the individual pieces of Soliloquy, only a couple to go.  And of course the ongoing getting rid of stuff.  But my main focus today has been on another ongoing task: to work up a few drawings for lino printing later in the year. 
I managed to get a trio to the back burner point - meaning that I'm largely happy enough with them to leave them until I am ready to transfer them onto the vinyl for cutting. 
My starting point for these was the passing thought that apart from when printing, I rarely wear an apron any more, so a tentative title for the trio is Studio aprons.  I have also been feeling sentimental about bits of knitwear I've recently finally cleared out, and so the aprons have designs I created in those days.  I do hate waste.

Friday, August 11, 2017

More runners

The stamps generated this version of the runners.  The Greek ones date from the Cyprus problems which involved Britain, in the 50s.  My father had to put up with a lot of gentle criticism in Greece that summer, and it was the first time I thought about politics. 
The German stamp fitted visually as well as thematically, then the runners arranged themselves.  But something was needed to bring all together.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

A feast of figurative

(image from here)
The primary reason for going to Pallant House yesterday was the John Minton exhibition.  I first came across John Minton's work on book jackets, and I have loosely known his work without really knowing anything about it or him.  So, as the Pallant puts on such good exhibitions of British 20th century artists we grasped the opportunity to find out more.
(image from here)
And I find I really like the work - especially the early paintings, and those from his travels.  Indeed the early works very much brought to mind the currently fashionable artists of the St Judes' stable.  I very much am drawn to the flat presentation of figures - yet so expressive - and the delightful elegant scribbled - and yet emotionally informative detail. 
Children by the Sea oil on canvas (image from here)
In the picture above, all the plants and Cornish details are incorporated like the stones in the walls - graphically, but as they are in fact too.
I am still absorbing and enjoying what I have seen.
Summer Landscape gouache on board (image from here where there is a review of the exhibition)
Landscape near Kingston Jamaica ink and watercolour on paper (image from here, with another review)
Melon Sellers, Corsica  oil on canvas (image from here - with more images)
Exotic Fruit (image from here)
For the time, I find his colours extraordinarily vibrant, and none more so than in his paintings of Corsica, Spain, and Jamaica.  And stunning in the enigmatic painting The Entombment, below with its beautiful Corsican cross.
The Entombment oil on canvas (image from here)

Here is another review.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Prints at Pallant House

Marie Laurencin: Depuis ce Jour Fatal etching (image from here)
The current exhibition in the Pallant House print room is Women Artists: The Female Gaze.  The prints are from the gallery's collection, and what a splendid show they make.  My absolute favourite is the one pictured above, but it only just squeaked ahead of so many others.  These are but a few which particularly caught my interest:
Cornelia Parker: The Blue Room lithograph (image from here)
Kiki Smith: Blue Girl etching (image from here - I'm not exactly sure if this is the right image, but the print I saw was almost exactly similar)
Paula Rego: The Guardian etching (image from here)
Shani Rhys James: The Hand Mirror etching with aquatint (image from here)
Cathie Pilkington: Eve and Eve mokulito lithograph (image from here)
Jennifer McRae: The Absentee lithograph (image from here)