Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hogmanay: the hinge of years

Janus flask from here
Here we are again: at the very end of one year, and about to step into the next - at the hinge.  Traditionally we think of Janus now, looking back over the past twelvemonth and looking forward in anticipation of the next-to-come.  Every year there are folks who have suffered dire circumstances caused by severe weather or by politics and/or war or other disasters.  This year seems to have inflicted more misery than usual, and I hope that lives ripped, torn, and tattered will have a chance to be darned - but, ....
Janus from here
Personal optimism spawns resolutions, and yet again I resolve to do more of what I did not enough of in the past year, while resolving to do less of what I did too much.  Hey ho the merry-go-round.
Janus from here
Janus from here
Here's wishing you all a Happy Hogmanay, and a 2016 that brings intellectual satisfaction, challenging creativity, and minimal adversity.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hand, eye, and mind

I'm enjoying a book which has reacquainted me with foolscap.  It is a size which has fallen out of favour ever since the adoption of A4 as a standard.  All of my university notes were written on foolscap sheets which I kept in a folder I decorated with psychedelic-patterned Fablon - gosh, more memories. 
So it was lovely to find that Drawing People: The human figure in contemporary art by Roger Malbert comes with enough space to accommodate the illustrations and accompanying text side by side.  There is an interesting introduction, and then a section each on Body, Self, Personal lives, Social reality, and Fictions which all begin with a quote which is expanded with a text before individual examples in double page spread layouts containing image and critical commentary.  Indeed it was a review by Jane Stobart  in Printmaking Today magazine which stated "All art books should be the size of Drawing People.  To see large-scale images is so refreshing."
I like Stobart's work, and have read some of her writing, so am inclined to take notice of what she says.  It was her statement that "Traditionalists may fine the nature of some of the featured drawings challenging, but I believe this book should grace the shelves of every art college library.  It successfully represents contemporary thinking within cutting edge." which led me to order the book.  I'm always keen to try to understand how art thinking and manifestation develops.
I have not got very far yet, but not only does the book feel good, being beautifully produced, but I am finding it absorbing to read in chunks, as well as attractive to pick up and delve randomly in between doing other things.  Much to mull over with my mulled fruit drink!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Greetings to all

Once more the end of the year approaches fast.  Thank you to everyone for stopping here to read from time to time.  I wish you all a happy time over the festive season as those of us who can take time to indulge ourselves before surveying what might be in the new year ahead.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A hundred years

Lucien Freud: Girl reading (from here)
I have just finished reading Golden Age, the last of Jane Smiley's trilogy The Last Hundred Years.  I have always enjoyed her writing, but this tale in particular has chimed so closely with my own memories and thoughts.
Following a family's stories is such an apposite way to consider human development.  In this case Jane Smiley has started in Some Luck with the period just after the first World War, which is where my own memories start.  Of course I was not around then, but as a small child all the family conversation involved vivid retellings by aunts, great aunts, and one great great aunt of who did what, where around then.  My own story started in the late 1940s, just after the second World War, and so the narratives within the second volume Early Warning are more personally vivid. 
Pablo Picasso: Reclining woman reading (from here)
The third volume Golden Age goes beyond our present time by a couple of years and paints a somewhat pessimistic picture of where we are now.  A character asks if we have been living through a golden age that has come to an end, a question I increasingly seem to ask myself.
Alex Katz: Round Hill (from here)
The narrative begins on a farm and spreads to many occupations, situations, and locations, covering society's development through 20th into 21st century United States.  Farming and food production have been vital elements in humanity's development, and in some ways perhaps provide a litmus test for how we are doing as a society.
These reviews give a much better broad idea of each volume than I can:
Some Luck here and here
Early Warning here, here, and here
Golden Age here and here
Patrick Procktor: Woman reading (from here)
Somewhere in the reviews Jane Smiley is compared to Tolstoy, and certainly I was immersed in the trilogy as I previously have been in those tremendous novels that previously did not blanch at taking a great chunk of their society to hold up and examine in human detail.  Immersion in this trilogy has not made me feel any more optimistic about where we humans are going - especially as I have been reading it during the build-up to one of the most ironically excessively wasteful commercial festivals of the year - but nonetheless I very much enjoyed the telling of the tale.
Henry Moore: Girl reading at window (from here)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Light in the morning

From today each morning's breakthrough of the sun will come earlier.  What joy!
Turner: Dawn after the Wreck  1841(Courtauld Institute)
Turner has captured the light often and beautifully.
Turner: San Maggiore at dawn 1819 (image from here)
Turner: Fort Vimieux 1831 (Tate)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Almost the Winter (Spring?) Solstice

As I stepped out of the front door this morning to come through to the ex-granny annexe - now the workrooms area - I noticed nasturtium seedlings sprouting!  Outside the annexe door one snowflake flower is almost completely open.  They normally flower after the snowdrops.  And yesterday morning I heard the birds singing as if Spring were in the air - well, it was around 16 degrees C so who could blame them.  On the pond the ducks are pairing up!
But despite the weird weather, I am still enjoying aspects of Winter living.  I love the indoor cosiness that darkness encourages, and will soon be giving more and more of my time to curling up with good books (thought not exactly curling, as not only do my knees definitely prohibit such notions, but also I am and always have been of the straight back sitting school of comfort) and the latest issues of my favourite magazines (Craft Arts International, Printmaking Today, and Sculpture - all with meaty articles which also require time to digest).
Leading up to that I am experimenting with lino printing.  With one image of a woman reading I wanted to try to convey that sense of the cosy dark.  This is the first proof on newsprint:
I decided to use two backgrounds to convey the mood I wanted.  First, to achieve the cosiness I thought that I would use a quilt - in this case a close-up of the stitching of one of my quilts.  I like the pattern of marks the stitches make, and the 'lumping' of the fabric which conveys the cosiness is obvious too.
To convey the darkness I wanted something which would not eliminate everything else.  It is so easy to lose the distinctive black if one prints on even a dark-ish background (a real bugbear especially when choosing colours to put behind text).  I also wanted a benevolent dark.
I had bought some coloured Lokta Computer Paper from Paper Shed (now part of George Weil).  The blue  - a kind of grey/ 'airforce' blue - added darkness without actually obliterating.  (I'm not sure if this paper is still available, and now I wish I had bought more - hey ho.) 
Anyway, I digitally printed the photo of the stitched fabric onto the Lokta paper, which though calendered is hand made and therefore interestingly uneven.  Then I printed the lino block onto that, also taking care not to print all of the cut away lines. 
It is still a work in progress, but I am pleased with the results so far: an anticipation of a happy hibernation.

Friday, December 18, 2015

New tools

The new lino cutting tools are working out fine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Winter brights

The weather this winter has been strange so far in the UK.  We have had a heavy crop of berries and fruits.  The temperatures have varied so much between south and north - we in the south are in such a mild patch that spring flowers have been developing since the autumn.  Shoots are still burgeoning forth.
There are many leaves still on shrubs especially.  The combination of colours as in these cornus plants is such a delight.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The selfie

I cannot understand the seduction of the selfie, and the other day I was appalled as I watched the news story about Leonardo's Mona Lisa.  On the television they showed crowds taking photos of themselves in front of the famous painting. 
In pondering the whole phenomenon I was reminded of Robert Burns' poem To a Louse and its lines, oft quoted - and I roughly 'translate':

Oh would some power have the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us

Would it really, as he goes on in the poem, free us from many a blunder in self regard?  I fear the opposite seems to be true.  My thinking led me to the doodle at the top.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Powerful piece

In reading an article in the latest Sculpture magazine I encountered one piece at this year's Venice Biennale I would really have loved to experience: this wondrous combination of red wool, old boats, and donated keys.
Image from here
Image from here
Chiharu Shiota's installation The Key in Hand opens up so many avenues of thought, but somehow, like other work of hers which I have seen in reproduction only, it feels familiar: like uncanny or unwanted dreams at the edge of my consciousness - when, like keeping one foot out on the floor I know that I can wake up should I need to.
The visual allure of her pieces gives me a frisson before I know what they are perhaps meant to represent, and I hold on to my own interpretations while reading critical reviews.  The keys and the red wool lead me to think of the forbidden, taboo, of spilled blood, of the secret, precious, that are somehow lost with the boats, lost in the great numbers of the keys (how could one find the particular?)....   Shiota explains that ‘keys are familiar and very valuable things that protect important people and spaces in our lives. they also inspire us to open the door to unknown worlds' but for me it's the door that one wants to open.  The key's main purpose is to do with keeping it closed.  Perhaps this just singles me out as a pessimist.

This is art how I like it: powerful enough to carry both the maker's and the observer's meanings - and beautiful.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


When we were in Cumbria in November we were lucky to be able to catch an exhibition of prints in Penrith.  There was an extraordinary number of brilliant and diverse printmakers represented, several of whose work I have admired but not seen other than online or perhaps as cards.
Gail Brodholt: From the motorway (image from here)
One such is Gail Brodholt who works with lino.  Not only were there several prints on show, but also a short film of her printing, which I see is on her website too.  Seeing all the prints certainly reinforced my determination to spend some more time experimenting with the lino cutting.
I did order a new kind of cutting tool on my return, the RGM from Jackson's.  I like how it sits in my hand, so I ordered a couple more, and am eager to receive them and try them out too.
Meantime I am still stitching a large quilt which I started in Spring this year, foolishly thinking that I could have it ready to enter this Autumn for an exhibition.  I doubt it will be ready much before next Spring.  That's slow stitching for you! 
Also my brain keeps pursuing more ideas, digital drawing, composing images, etc.  I also stitch small pieces in order to have satisfaction of completing something.  I don't really want to turn my creative mind off, but can one be over-inspired?