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Saturday, 26 February 2011


I'm not sure if you remember my disappointment at the Hughie O'Donoghue exhibition I went to see at Trinity Hall Cambridge. It was not how I had imagined it would be...Anyway here is a little virtual curation for you, without text because I am feeling so tired. This is the Excavations exhibitions I wanted to find; of bodies recuperated from postcards, from memory, from their immersion within history. The caborundums have a visceral quality; they look like traces of remains, they could be fossils left on the surface of stone, cave paintings, photo negatives. It is these prints which perform archaeologies and excavations, not those paintings I saw in the small room at Trinity Hall.

Postcard from Milan

Postcard from Milan

Postcard from Milan

Postcard from Milan

Postcard from Mila


Bird on Noah's Head

Noah's Cap

Noah Remembered

Immersion II

Falling cup


Friday, 25 February 2011

Dung Beetles

Three Dung Beetles- Wendy Taylor

Today I went down to the staircase to try and get a photograph of our legendary beetle sculpture in college. However, following what has become a brutal tradition of vandalism, the beetles have been temporarily removed. The Three Dung Beetles are an iconic piece of sculpture in the New Hall art collection, as the borrowed photograph shows their importance lies in their interaction with similarly iconic surroundings. The beetles dance in odd circles as the concrete staircase sweeps around them. It is this drama of architecture and sculpture which keeps the beetles here, despite the many drunken attempts to drive them out. A pattern of tricks is emerging. Students playing with the mischievous quality of the beetles throw them on to their heavy bronze backs and rearrange them in all kinds of positions. So for now the beetles, which are very much a part of our college, have been taken away from us. As a justified punishment for our lack of respect, and our inability to protect them from inebriated men (yes I am going to blame the men). But I hope they will return, as they always do, with their resilient thick, bronze skins.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Michael Kenna

I have been gifted some beautiful books this week which combine some passions; photography and travel. Michael Kenna is one of the discoveries I made within the pages. Kenna has photographed Japan for years, his love of the country emerges in these soft landscapes which could be ink drawings. It is this point of metamorphosis between the tangible landscape and the incorporeal artist's fantasy which captivates me too.

Kenna writes 'Hokkaido has always been stark to me. There are towns and cities and traffic lights in places, yes, but the simplicity is what appeals to me. To be alone in the silence with only the sound of your heart beating and the snow's beautiful.'

This soft, silent beauty perfectly fits my mood today.

Another photograph of the Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina has also stirred my reflections, reminding me of this perfect piece of cinematography in Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together. This panoramic shot of the falls in the film never fails to make me weep. In the music and the motion there is absolute heartbreak and a stifling sense of loss. Genius.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Paintings of Trinidad

I love Chris Ofili. I appreciate his boyish fascination with elephant poo; he smuggled masses of it back in to the country from Africa and used it to mount and embellish his paintings, and even made one particular lump in to a self portrait, 'Shithead', which included old teeth and locks of his own hair. I also appreciate his humour, his bitter and brave play with black culture. When I saw No Woman, No Cry for the first time in the flesh it made me cry; partly because of the tragedy of Stephen Lawrence which it is a tribute to, but also because I had not expected the painting to be quite so big, or quite so overwhelmingly beautiful. I loved Chris Ofili because of, or despite all these things, but I love him even more now that he has spent a good long time maturing in the heat of Trinidad and emerged from night time jungle walks a painter. Because painters are a rare thing in the modern art world. Ofili proves his medium's validity with such torpidity and power.
The Raising of Lazarus, 2007

'I wonder if biblical was always a way to get to the spiritual, for me. When you live somewhere like this, you just become aware of different types of energy. The place itself has an undeniable energy. The force of nature is overwhelming.' Ofili on painting in Trinidad

The Healer, 2008

'I painted the first images of The Healer outdoors during a total lunar eclipse. He is born of the imagination sparked by forms in the clouds hovering over the hills at night. The figure of The Healer is a very dark character, black in fact, who feeds on the bright yellow of the sun.' Ofili

Habio Green Locks, 2009

'I've found that the night and twilight here enhances the imagination. In the city our relationship to the night is very particular because it's always illuminated, but here it's unlit, so you're relying on the light of the moon and sensitivity of the eyes. It's a different level of consciousness that is less familiar to me, and stimulating through a degree of fear and mystery.' Chris Ofili on painting in Trinidad

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sunday Selections

Back to Sunday Selections again, which is always fun! This week my images are from a Buddhist mountain village in China called Wutai Shan. One day, when exploring the temples, we stumbled upon the preparations for a festival. What amazed me were the repetitions; candles and peaches laid out in rows, and flowers and mushrooms lying to dry on the ground.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Constantin Brancusi

I don't have many regrets in life; regrets are inevitably things which we make a choice to hold on to because of our guilt and so it's far easier just to let them go. However the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, does represent one of my regrets. Since its his 135th birthday today, Google are using his work as their banner and he is trending on Twitter, I thought I would attempt some kind of reparation.

The Google banner today really is a work of art in itself, the digital sculptures really capture the sense of solid dimensionality.

In 2009 I spent my summer in Romania, the birthplace of Brancusi, where they cling on to his legacy with fierce pride. I was located in a town called Craiova in the region of Oltenia, a hot industrial town with the skeleton of a grand casino planned by Ceaucescu abandoned at its centre. I was not far from the Brancusi sculpture park in Targu Jiu, people continually suggested it as a day trip but I stubbornly believed that I did not like sculpture and never went.

Madame Pogany in the Craiova Museum

All I saw of Brancusi in Romania were two sculptures in the small, neglected museum of Art in Craiova. But I returned to England with an ingrained sense of his importance as well as a Romanian love of meat, gherkins and a gushing pride in Oltenia Terra Nova. Yes, i returned from Romania part Romanian (but that is another story). Since being back in England, and falling in love with sculpture, I have hunted Brancusi wherever I can find him.

The Kiss in Craiova Museum of Art

The Kiss is one of Brancusi's most famous sculptures, it recalls Rodin, whom Brancusi studied under for several months but demonstrates his strong individuality. There is a beautiful simplicity in this equal pair locked in an intense but also tenderly innocent embrace. We can find comparisons for Brancusi's work in contemporaries such as Modigliani or Gaudier-Brzeska but in the end the sculptures are distinctively his own.

Sleeping Muse, I think I may have seen versions of this in various places...I went to a Van Doesburg exhibition at the Tate Modern because it advertised work by Brancusi and then found only this solitary sculpture to satisfy me. That's not to say that it isn't beautiful. There is a purity of line in Brancusi, a peaceful stillness of the inanimate material made animate by the artist's thought.

"There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things."

"Am șlefuit materia pentru a afla linia continuă. Și când am constatat că n‑o pot afla, m‑am oprit; parcă cineva nevăzut mi‑a dat peste mâini."

"I ground matter to find the continuous line. And when I realized I could not find it, I stopped, as if an unseen someone had slapped my hands."

Brancusi moved to Paris and spent his life working there in the thriving art scene, but he did not forget his Romanian identity; with folktales and culture influencing his work, clothing and his home. As an honorary Romanian, I think that is what I admire most of all.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Word made Flesh

In 1909, while his wife Mary Gill was pregnant, Eric Gill made his first stone carving. It was the incarnation of frustrated sexual desire, a body which replaced the one he could not have access to; 'Lord! How exciting! - and not merely touching and seeing her but actually making her. I was responsible for her very existence and and her every form came straight out of my heart.' In sculpting Gill became a Pygmalion, treating the stone as flesh and designing his new woman.

The sculpture is sadly lost but sketches remain; we can see a woman crippled beneath the weight of desire bearing an inscription from Aeschylus' Agamemnon 'There is the sea, and who shall drain her dry?' it is an address from Clytaemnestra to her returning husband, but in this context it captures the tumultuous sea of unquenched desires.

Gill described his new discovery of an art language in the terms of letter cutting 'And this new job was the same job, only the letters were different ones. A new alphabet- the word made flesh.' The biblical references of his workman's vocabulary should not be accepted without implication. Gill's sculptures recreate the ultimate act of religious creation, transubstantiation. They make incarnate.

'For stone carving properly speaking isn't just doing things in stone or turning things into stone, a sort of petrifying process; stone carving is conceiving things in stone and conceiving them as made by carving. They are not only born but conceived in stone; they are of stone in their inmost being as well as their outmost existence.'

Eric Gill was the figure who sparked my interest in carving and it was exactly this sense of the corporeality of stone and the sensuality of sculpture, which is more than just representation, that excited me. Gill's sculptures retain the tender touch of the workman who believes in the absolute authority of his medium to translate thought and feeling in to something intelligible.

'in the beginning was a thought not a thing, and therefore it is that intelligibility is the final cause of all things.'

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Jessie Dismorr- Rhythm

I thought some people might appreciate an update on my search for the artist and writer Jessie Dismorr. When I posted in January the only glimpse in to Dismorr's history and her potential corpus of work was an article written by a journalist called Mark Archer about his own difficult search for traces of Jessie. Thanks to a combination of social media and their respective powers, but largely thanks to Reddish, I succeeded in tracking down a PHD thesis which catalogues all of Dismorr's work, traces her genealogy and darts across various archives to map out her life. My favourite discovery has been that the Vorticist artist,whose work in Blast! is based on the bold, violent, abstract lines of machines, began by drawing Romantic female nudes. So here are some startling surprises stolen from an online version of the modernist magazine, Rhythm.

In Rhythm Dismorr was publishing alongside figures such as Pablo Picasso, Katherine Mansfield and a circle of artists connected to the Russian Ballet. This certainly gives her a stronger independent context than historians of Wyndham Lewis might suggest. The bold lines remain but they have an organic solidity. I imagine them as pseudo-pre-raphaelite or Alfons Mucha style stained glass panels. All that romanticism and folly which the Vorticists condemn is a lyrical statement here. An exploration of Dismorr's contexts reveals just how nuanced her approach to various modernist manifestos might be. Now I know I can write my dissertation on her.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Life Drawing

Last night I went to my first ever life drawing class, it was also my first time drawing in a long time. These are my offerings. I know that they are not brilliant; disproportionate, tight and small where I would like them to be large and expressive. We had to walk around and look at everyone's drawings to see what we could steal, I came back to my seat with only the sense that I was not ready to steal yet. I don't see a style in my drawings, and if there is one it is not something I recognise as being my own. In the two minute drawings there was no time to lose faith and despair. Thirty minutes, on the other hand, felt like a long time to be scrutinizing bodies and lines. I frequently abandoned drawings and began again, reducing time frames to fit my hesitation. But it was two hours of familiar bliss and when I got home all I wanted to do was draw and plan my next life drawing class.
Life Drawing is the art of the sketch book study, but I was reminded of an exhibition of Gustav Klimt's women I had seen at sixteen.

The exhibition in Madrid was of nude and erotic drawings which Klimt had wanted destroyed when he died. A secret history of private life drawings were revealed for the first time. They reveal the workings of passion rather than a merely technical interest in forms.

I remember my Spanish uncle rushing through the exhibition embarrassed. He waited for me in the entrance while I looked and dismissed it all as disgusting with a gesture of his hands. Some of the drawings move towards gratuity as they capture women masturbating. However we have to remember their status as private art between artist and model.

I thought they were beautiful and gave every simple line drawing a measure of my attention and reverence. I bought the book, even though they only had it in Spanish, and made a pledge to learn to read it. The pages still have this satisfying smell of cartridge paper and art studios.

This is definitely not to say that my interest in life drawing is erotic, far from it. What I adore about Klimt's Mujeres is their nature as secret; turn of the century taboo has reduced something so natural to an underground culture of eroticism.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The architecture of dreams

I am up and out of bed but struggling to feel like I am awake, and therefore struggling to begin writing my essay. I am hoping that an informal post about my ideas might help to navigate me out of my blurry haze and into the realms of essay. Comparing the architecture of dreams to the architecture of Gothic Cathedrals to assert the centrality of contemplative culture to Medieval religion, if I didn't feel so tired I would be very excited about my essay. In other words, the dream vision in the medieval period was not the privileged experience of saints, martyrs and starving mystics but was the universally encouraged experience of the masses. The design of Cathedrals, as George Henderson writes, is a manipulation of our senses which comes to define our religious experience. Incense, hymn, prayer, the taking of the Eucharist; religious practice is rich in sensory material which engages the participant but the space in which scents, sounds and thoughts echo is also important.

‘The mental associations, liaisons, meanderings to and fro, ‘ambivalences’, asides, sprawl of the pattern, if pattern there is- these thought-trains (or, some might reasonably say, trains of distraction and inadvertence) have been as often as not initially set in motion, shunted or buffered in to near sidings or off to far destinations, by some action or word, something seen or heard, during the liturgy.’ David Jones

Notre Dame, Paris

'The ambivalence of late-Gothic architecture is immediately obvious in the silhouette of buildings. Long since conditioned not to commit themselves to any formal accent unless they can balance by its opposite, Gothic architects even attempted a fantastic and ingenious compromise between the two poles of being and non-being. A Gothic building cannot simply stop, it has to fade away. Hence the familiar flurry of curves and spikes, by which the physical presence is gradually withdrawn and the dense material mass is dissolved into the empty air.' George Henderson, Gothic

Contemplating the facades of Gothic cathedrals we have our own sense of fading in to the air, of rising up from our corporeal bodies and receding in to the heavens. The facade guides viewer and dreamer in to the realms of 'non-being'. It introduces us to a sensation, which once inside, will overwhelm us.

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

I was recently speaking to an architectural photographer who taught me something that I didn't know. To take photographs of buildings you need a special focusing lens which prevents the strange receding angles that your average digital camera struggling with the enormities of architectural perspectives resorts to. However in the contexts of Henderson's remarks the effect becomes entirely appropriate.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

'the triforium itself is glazed, so that the whole area above the arches of the main arcade and between the shafts which rise uninterrupted from column base to vault springs becomes a shimmering sheet of glass, articulated by the slender vertical mullions , and impregnated with sunlight.' Henderson

Describing a particular cathedral, Henderson captures the effect of combinations of light and highly articulated design to provide revelation. The vaulting of cathedral ceilings leads us upwards in to the heavens of the religious construction. The dream, just like the cathedral, has a complete architecture which encloses us and encompasses us within the meditation. As we enter the portals and arches of Cathedrals we move in to a different level of consciousness. The design of entrances which tell stories Purgatorial, Hellish or Heavenly and are inscribed with warning such as that of Dante's Inferno 'Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch' intrate', facilitate the movement between exterior and interior and the reflexive states.

Stained glass window, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Stained glass 'had to appear to be weightless and shot through with visible energy,' writes Henderson describing the window in terms comparable to the dream vision; a sensation of weightless energy. Looking through the window we are drawn in to an alternative visionary world where things are expressed in image, type and symbols, where tableau are familiar and yet strangely vivid. Countless medieval visions begin with a light through a window, an illumination which opens up a parallel perspective.

Cave church, Budapest- particularly interesting for ideas about mystics and affective piety.

In the Revelation of St. John, Chapter 21 the Holy city of Jerusalem, a vision of heaven, is described:

'and had a great wall and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon [...] and on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates...and the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth...And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits...And the building of the wall it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.'

This description of Jerusalem reads like an architectural plan; offering measurements and the construction along an axis. The specificities give the architect an ideal to aim for, so that the emulation of Heavenly Jerusalem in Cathedral plans became a genuine possibility. Paradise, etymologically, is a walled garden and so religious buildings themselves become gestures towards paradise, or at least spaces in which the contemplation of paradise is sensorily encouraged. Each Cathedral becomes a vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem brought down to earth.

Anyway there is an outline of a few ideas, time to actually write the essay!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Mending Broken Hearts

Happy Valentine's day. Romance isn't just for the loved up amongst us. Well it is really, and that is a fairly vapid attempt at empowerment, but the point is that I want to consider more important things. On a trip in to town last week, dissatisfied with the O'Donoghue exhibition, I slipped in to the Cambridge Contemporary Art Gallery and stumbled upon the British Heart Foundation's Mending Broken Heart's exhibition. A collection of prints produced by leading contemporary British artists in aid of the current campaign by BHF. The exhibition was a candy-box explosion of joy and vibrant graphics which suggests how strongly diverse artists approach this sugar-candied theme. Maggi Hambling's Sunrise Heart drew me in to the exhibition, it appeared to be a reworking of her sea paintings with the same chaotic mass of shifting colours.

'Sunrise Heart is alive with movement and texture; the paint seems ready to leap from the canvas. Flashes of red and orange capture that vital and optimistic event: sunrise.'

Brendan Neiland's strip-lighting print, Calypso, was a striking example of how contemporary artist's have succeeded in abstracting even acrylic paint. It became a vibrant, glowing neon print. The artist said that he wanted to produce something ‘bright, bold and as joyful as possible’.
Storm Thorgerson was the artist of the iconic album cover for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and in Teardrop he has reworked this silkscreen print for the theme of the exhibition.

'Thorgerson harnesses the scientific imagery of light passing through a prism and softens it by replacing the hard-edged prism with a teardrop. The fluid forms of the rainbow colours that emanate from the teardrop are joyous and hopeful compared to the monochromatic scheme on the opposite side of the composition, suggesting that we must suffer before we can rejoice.'

I think the appeal is exciting and original, engaging with contemporary art seems to be a very productive way of drawing people in. Although I do also like the less culturally-elevated campaign surrounding Hope the Zebra Fish, because Zebra Fish can mend their own hearts.

Anyway here are some beautiful videos, combinations of literature and film which I think are the very epitome of romance.

John Keats' letter to Fanny Brawne in the film Bright Star

Heath Ledger reading an E.E Cummings poem in the film Candy