Monday, October 20, 2014

Brain-cleansing pause

This past weekend I have been stalwartly making my way through the excellent but enormous meal of input of the Marine Archaeology course.  I still have not completed last week's information, and in the middle of sections ranging both in time and geography I just had to give my brain a rest.  So I concentrated on something else to aid digestion.  Leftovers from my thinking about grids, Bauhaus, and the colours around me brought about this:
Autumn interior (design in progress)
On my way now to continue my attempted absorption of the facts about boat design through the ages, trade routes in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age, Viking burials, ... etc. I took a few snaps in the bit of the garden I pass from the front door to the annex.  The spill over of seasons is such a delightful mix and I love spotting so many little gems.
The Dortmund rose is now in full hip, draped over the winter jasmine, the leaves of which are developing a gloss just as the rose's are turning.
The callicarpa as ever is just stunning at this time of year.  The birds never touch the lurid berries if there is alternative food around.  Can they see the 'unnatural' colour, I wonder?
And co-ordinating beautifully, not paying any attention to what time of year it is, the Mermaid rose is still flowering.
A drainage project for winter is waiting for the comfrey to realise that it should all be dying back - not flowering!
The annuals keep on going.  I cannot bear to take them out when they are still producing such lovely blooms.  The mass of leaves of the nasturtium are there even after a second flush of flowers - and look at the front rim of the pot: a new seedling!
The fuchsia drapes itself elegantly against the annex door.  Even though it soaks my skirt on rainy days, even though I bring so many flower heads into the annex with me, I love having to brush my way past it.  This is the last year of that ridiculous pleasure; this winter we are moving the plant to a more appropriate spot.
And down by the door the winter flowering ground cover is forming buds (sorry, I can never remember the name - I really must look it up), and I was astonished as I looked closer that the snowdrops' leaves are up and already being nibbled by some passing pest.
Now, back to facts aquatic!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


An exercise based around the idea of the grid got me animated over the past couple of weeks.  It is a HUGE area to explore, so I decided just to keep to elements close to hand.  I started with my diminishing but still substantial postcard collection, which provided me with lots of material, but I chose the work of Gunta Stolzl to think about.
She was a weaver, prominent in the Bauhaus group, and I wonder how much inspiration she gave to fabric designers Collier Campbell, whose work I have also long admired.  (Coincidentally I discovered that there is currently an exhibition of quilts inspired by the Bauhaus.)
In considering grids the challenge is to eliminate, to think about what it is that entices, what might possibly work for me. 
I am attracted to photographing grids, such as this path of broken shells:
But mostly the grids which seem to attract me most to photograph are accidental,
or distortions.
I used grids directly when I was designing patterns for my knitting machine.  Here are some doodles showing the template,
and here is an actual design.
Early in my stitching career I did use galvanized mesh (meant for making pet cages!) in some of my pieces - perhaps I was feeling particularly caged at the time?!
Discomforter: Rough edges (detail)
Measured response (seen framed)
Sharper (made with pieced felted knitwear triangles, flint, and stitched cotton figures)
Sharper (detail)
And in my printmaking I have used grids, either whole-ish, or broken.
Piano player (drypoint with chine collé)
Figures (drypoint with chine collé)
Tilt (drypoint with chine collé)
At the end of this current exercise I used a couple of broken grid ideas to come up with this:
which could well be the beginning of something worth taking further.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dusty doodles

Autumn really is upon us now: wind, rain, chill, nights drawing in, ... the increasing desire for comfort food, .... Each season I do a weed of my files, and discovered these two appropriately autumnal ones from last century.  They were both drawn using now ancient (!) digital technology, but I'm glad that I can still keep them, taking up hardly any space at all.
And this below was one of my first works using running stitch only - a detail from a piece stitched on grey habotai silk which I had painted, the whole work also appropriately called Mists and mellow made in 2001.
As well as the arrival of a loved season, other good news here is that I have been accepted to exhibit in Quilt National 2015.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Disproportionate delights

For me, a good day is one made up of small pleasures: delights which can be savoured, which alter even a grumpy mood to positive.  One such pleasure is encountering lovely endpapers in a book, and I have just posted an article on Ragged Cloth Café about such.
The set of endpapers I would love to find is one made of fabric.  Has anyone come across such a thing?  I would have thought that the Collier Campbell Archive might have had a set as their fabric designs are such classics, but I expect that it is too difficult to handle in manufacture, not to mention too expensive for a mass market publication.
Does anyone know of fabric endpapers in an artist's book?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Fine rain

Looking at the sky this morning I decided to toddle to the post box before breakfast.  I pass the village pond on my way, and the two white ducks and the six teenage female mallards were under the overhanging trees.  They too were anticipating rain - the first steady rain for so long.  Contrary to folklore, ducks do not stand about enjoying a downpour!
Back indoors before the rain started I am now looking out, wishing that I could just capture the beauty of raindrops on the trees.  How they light up the berries on the hawthorn trees I'm looking at as I type this.  They draw attention to the elegant joints in the twigs that are doing their slow striptease.  Gentle rain, such a joy for the plants.
I found this photo here.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Intense Wall experience

This sudden plunge into a rich input of information about the Romans at Hadrian's Wall is a wondrous experience for me.  Ever a hooverer-up of information, I am thoroughly enjoying this online course.  The bonus is that it fills up so much of my thinking that I no longer over-think my creative projects: decisions make themselves more satisfactorily at the back of my mind where the emotions can sort things out without too much interference from logical thought! 
It is also good to be thinking about areas which I do not expect to inspire creative work. 
Just a third of the way through this six week course I have been introduced to Hadrian, the topography of the area the wall would cover, the design of the wall and its component parts, a look at the artefacts found and what they might mean, the makeup of the Roman army in Britain, ....  So much introductory coverage that I can imagine that it will lead me to explore more on my own for some time in the future.
image from here
There are so many comments from the folks all over the world on the course that it was a relief to find that I could restrict myself to a few whom I choose to follow.  Really the Internet has facilitated a wondrous means of learning, combining reading, videos, and links to sites which can inform even more.
Next week I shall see whether I can return to being able to keep more than one portmanteau subject in mind at the same time: I've signed up for Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology, which although only four weeks long, it runs simultaneously with Hadrian's Wall.  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I don't have a favourite poem

but I love poetry.  Today is National Poetry Day.
I don't have a favourite kind of poetry either; there is such a rich selection from which to choose: different styles for different moods.  I think that it's the concentration, the distillation which attracts me most.  The focus on individual words, combinations of words, the sounds, the meanings - the broad and the narrow possibilities of this mix, and how it all remains, savoured in the mind.
With me it started as a love of words and their power: a wonder at vocabularies and their subtleties.  I was fortunate as a baby that I was constantly in the company of a Greek mother who was learning English, surrounded either in Scotland by speakers of English with a range of dialect vocabulary, or in Greece by speakers of Greek also with the addition of Pontic expressions and words.  Crossing Europe by train from that earliest age introduced me to so many languages, expressions, and accents, and I would try out and practise sounds, rolling them round in my mouth quietly to myself over the days that the journey took.
When I went to school of course there were nursery rhymes, the poetry which introduces the young to literature.  I was put off for a few years, however, because we were made to recite out loud in front of the class, and I was a shy child.  Two years from the age of eight in a tiny school in Malta however not only cured that, but introduced me to two brilliant teachers.  One taught English poetry with passion, the other taught me French.
(image from here)
And it was Apollinaire who fired off my real love affair with poetry by introducing the visual with calligrams. Closely followed by the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay who was local to where I was at school and university.
(image from here)
I loved teaching poetry, and was lucky enough to do so in Liverpool at the time when the Liverpool poets were stars, but never insisted on memorising verse as I have not been able or wanted to myself.  Those phrases which remain in my memory do so under the power of their own force.
I have been so fortunate to be able to read and study poetry in English, French, and German. My only mild regret is that I only learned to speak 'household' Greek, not to read or write, but I have had the help of brilliant translators to be able to approach the work of so many poets in Greek and other languages.

One of the poems which I enjoyed with my students was Snake by D.H. Lawrence (a writer whose poetry and short stories are not so popular these days):


A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
i o And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

Taormina, 1923