17 April 2014

Poetry Thursday - Rising Five by Norman Nicholson

"We never see the flower / but only the fruit in the flower"
(watercolour by Katrina Small, via)

Rising Five 

I’m rising five” he said
“Not four” and the little coils of hair
Un-clicked themselves upon his head.
His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare
At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light
Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive
Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;
_____________Not four
But rising five.

Around him in the field, the cells of spring
Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot
And stem shook out the creases from their frills,
And every tree was swilled with green.
It was the season after blossoming,
Before the forming of the fruit:
_____Not May
But rising June._____

And in the sky
The dust dissected the tangential light:
_____Not day
But rising night;
_____Not now
But rising soon.

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
We drop our youth behind us like a boy
Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
In the baby’s cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;
_____Not living
But rising dead.

Norman Nicholson (from Complete Verse, Jonathan Cape, 1999)

This poem came my way via the BBC iPlayer, perhaps on "Something Understood" but more likely on "Words and Music" - both are eclectic and always interesting programmes. In an engaging, vivid way, it reminds us to pay attention to today, rather than always hurrying ahead to tomorrow.

Norman Nicholson (1914-1987) is known for his association with a town on the edge of the Lake District, Millom - and for four books of poems, two novels, four verse plays, criticism and an autobiography, Wednesday Early Closing (1975). His work is characterised by the simplicity and directness of his language, and deals with "ordinary" things, whether the industries in his area, religion and faith, or quotations from everyday life. He worked outside the poetry mainstream, and is also known for his social awareness as a champion of the working class.

16 April 2014

"Boro" underfoot

After yet another visit to the Boro exhibition, I'm seeing "mending" everywhere -
Stair boro
Path boro
Pavement boro
Road boro
Window boro
Wall boro
More wall boro

Versatile garments

Traveller's friend, the Kooshoo shawl can be worn in 12 ways. Made from Tencel and sourced from sustainable eucalyptus trees, it's very eco-conscious.

Even more bang for your buck - the Versalette has 30 configurations! It also has an instruction video, and an interesting story of how this idea led to formation of a company, Seamly.co, that makes all its garments from deadstock fabric, ie. fabric discarded by other manufacturers.

14 April 2014

Monday miscellany

Work by Korean-American artist Kyoung Ae Cho, from her solo show (13 April till 13 July, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee, WI) -
M-a-r-k-i-n-g, 2013
24 pieces, 30 x 24 inches each
Hair (collected from April 2011-March 2013), silk organza, muslin, thread, mixed materials Hand felted, hand stitched.
Kyoung Ae Cho presents recent, or recently completed, work. Much of it involves the painstaking collection of things over a long period of time, as in M-a-r-k-i-n-g, which references a Korean custom of collecting one’s own hair as it is shed in the course of daily life; or the slow accretion of small objects to produce a whole, as in her 10-foot-square quilt of artificial flowers. Cho’s practice is never far from nature: she collects fallen leaves and twigs for her hangings and closely observes the flowers and insects in her garden, recording their behavior in startling, almost voyeuristic photographs.(photo and text from lyndensculpturegarden.org/exhibitions/women-nature-science-kyoung-ae-cho-one-time)

Delightfully small -
Itty bitty books in itty bitty bottles - by Rhonda Miller, shown at 
Halifax Crafters Spring Market (wish I could have been there!)
See more of her work at myhandboundbooks.blogspot.ca


"The designation of quilts as ‘decorative art’ has undoubtedly made it harder for them to be given the same consideration as paintings or sculpture. First of all, I find the term ‘decorative art’ to be a little misleading. To label objects that have their origins in utility ‘decorative,’ doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Meanwhile, I think it could be argued that other ‘high’ art forms like painting and sculpture are, in many ways, more purely decorative than objects like textiles and pottery." - Virginia Treanor, one of the curators of the innovative display, Workt by Hand, showcasing 35 historic quilts from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection; read the rest of the interview at whyquiltsmatter.org


Last week was Coffee Week in London - here's a list of 10 recommended independent coffee shops throughout the city - a mere tip of the iceberg: londonist.com/2014/04/10-independent-coffee-shops-you-must-visit.php  (My local made it onto one of their other lists...)


Not many miscellaneous items have come my way in the past week (not enough computer time!), so I'm including some of my own photos, from the archive -
Still Life in a Traditional Caf (2011)

At the Steam Museum (Rainy January) (2011)


13 April 2014

Painting, engraving, authorship, and meaning - Magdalena de Passe

It's hard to imagine, from our image-saturated present day, how rarified access to art was, 500 years ago. Paintings were displayed in churches, and in the homes of the rich; such images were accessible elsewhere rarely if at all.

So it was collectors, and those involved in producing art, who had the most access to "pictures". And what were the pictures about? Religious themes (often including donor portraits), and depictions of myths. Starting in the 15th century Northern Renaissance, portraits of patrons became an important subject.

In the 16th century, Northern artists, mainly from the Netherlands (which by the way was being over-run by Spanish conquerors), brought back from Italy their own work influenced by the great Italian painters and currents in Italian art.

One such painter who went to live in Rome was the German Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610). He painted small-scale works on copper, and his influence comes from their translation into prints. The lighting effects in his work are remarkable, and Rubens struck up a friendship with him.

Another friend, at least at first, was Hendrick Goudt, who established his reputation with seven prints after Elsheimer at the start of the 17th century, and thereby publicised Elsheimer's work in northern Europe.
Elsheimer's Apollo and Coronis (26 x 32 cm): large-scale composition on a miniature level
Goudt must have shown his engravings, or possibly the original painting, to Magdalena de Passe, who produced her own engraving of a work known since 1951 as Apollo and Coronis. It is based on a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and was formerly thought to be of Cephalus and Procris - both stories involve jealousy and wife-killing.

Magdalena (1600-1638) was taught engraving by her father, Crispin de Passe, along with three of her brothers. The family was rooted in artistic circles - the mother was the niece of the painter Marten de Vos (d.1603; he had spent six years in Italy and brought the Venetian style to Antwerp). As Mennonites, Crispin and his family had had to move from Antwerp to Cologne to escape the Spanish and then to Utrecht. However, work they all did, producing more than 1400 engravings and 50 illustrated works.
Magdalena de Passe's engraving, 21 x 23 cm, with added text
The subject of painting and print (and hence their "meaning" or interpretation) had been contested, and the inscriptions below the image add further meanings, rooted in history. This work "bears all the characteristics of [the] singular and specialized mode of production [of engravings "after" paintings] ... she credits the painter in an elegant italic formula ... she includes a set of verses in Latin to sum up the moral implications of the scene ... she includes a dedication to a prestigious figure" says Stephen Bann in Nelson and Shiff, Critical Terms for Art History, 1996. "The work is enmeshed in a close texture of relationships which make it virtually impossible to separate out the stake of an individual authorship."

Bann compares literature and art - in literature, says the critic Harold Bloom, "there are no texts, but only relationships between texts", and the art historian Norman Bryson has extended this: "in the visual arts, tradition has an even more constraining effect because the image maker 'lacks access to any comparable flow (at least before the mass dissemination of imagery).'"

In the bottom left corner Magdalena put her own name and that of her father: "Magdalena Passaea Crisp. F. Fecit." Above that is a high-sounding dedication of the print, to the prince of Flemish painters, Rubens. The most significant northern exponent of the baroque, Rubens made Antwerp and Flanders the center of northern Italianate painting. The dedication is appropriate, as Rubens valued Elsheimer highly.

A 17th-century German painter, Joachim von Sandrart, warned of the limitations of engravings: by their very nature, they cannot achieve the "excellence" of paintings. (Around the time he wrote, engraving was being demoted from the "artistic" stratosphere, but that's another story.) Stephen Bann makes a case for Magdalena misinterpreting the painting. She has included four lines of Latin verse in a stylish italic hand, and these point out the dangers of ill-directed zeal and draw attention to the "unhappy Procris", who perished at the hands of her husband, or rather, by his javelin (which had been her gift to him as appeasement after a jealousy-producing incident). This is a confusion with the Apollo and Coronis story - Coronis perished from Apollo's impulsive act, again after a bout of jealousy, killed with an arrow - but Apollo, a healer (gathering herbs in the painting), saved their unborn son, who became the god of medicine, Aesculapius.

What is interesting about this mis-reading and mis-naming is that, in the light of the Latin verses, this engraving falls into a class of images espousing wifely virtue, and thus becomes appropriate for a marriage gift. Was Magdalena taking Goudt's title at face value, not bothering to check the details of the story, or was she looking to improve the saleability of the print among her Calvinist compatriots?

Bann hesitates to speculate on "the stake of this dutiful daughter ... in a representation of femininity which differs significantly from the one which Elsheimer intended ... the skillful craftswoman effaces herself behind the scene which she has patiently re-created in another medium."

12 April 2014

Starting the painting project

"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Don't know how far I'll be travelling with this notion of spending half an hour a day dabbing and swooshing various colours of paint here and there ... but the thing is to start, and then "que sera sera".

Out of the archive came this glued-up thing, about 12"x16" - I covered it with white (using a wide foam pad, and then a 1/2" brush to get into the cracks) and added other colours. It's as simple as that.

Various edges lifted and needed sticking down with blobs of paint. When it had dried, I sanded it a bit with coarse sandpaper, and it's ready to be transformed some more.

As for spending half an hour -- I got so caught up in "mending" the surface that an unknown amount of time passed...

More boro

More from the exhibition at Somerset House. Click on the images to enlarge.

Pretty is as pretty does

Still thinking of making "something pretty" ... and wondering what "pretty" actually is. OK, it might be epitomised by pastel butterflies ... but those aren't what I have in mind ...

Going round my flat looking for pretty things, I found these patterns on bowls, quilty items, Persephone bookmarks -
Birds fit easily into my prettiness comfort zone. Colours ranging from the pastel to the strong but somewhat muted brights. A sense of space, of lightness. Orderliness, though not necessarily in a regimented way.

A focus group of female friends identified that pretty has to do with the feminine - they mentioned pastel colours, rounded shapes, petals, small or detailed patterning.

What does the dictionary say?
pretty: adjective - (especially of a woman or child) attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful;  pleasing to the eye or ear (from the Oxford Dictionary)


adjective, pret·ti·er, pret·ti·est.
pleasing or attractive to the eye, as by delicacy or gracefulness: a pretty face.
(of things, places, etc.) pleasing to the eye, especially without grandeur.
pleasing to the ear: a pretty tune.
pleasing to the mind or aesthetic taste: He writes pretty little stories.
(often used ironically) fine; grand: This is a pretty mess!" (via)

Note in 4. the conjunction of pretty and little! The word "pretty" seems to embody a diminution - "not truly beautiful"; colours diluted to pastel; shapes safely rounded.

"Pleasing to the eye" - that's not a bad thing. All too rare, some would say!

A related exercise is to find words for not-pretty art. How about: strong; immediate; raw; overworked; vivid; chaotic; frenzied; intense; dark ...

11 April 2014

Boro - words and details

The Boro exhibition at Somerset House till 26 April is well worth a visit. The textiles, of which there are many, are attached to stretched fabric on the wall, though in Japan they've been shown in folded heaps on the floor.

We were lucky to chat with Gordon Reece, who was instrumental in setting up the exhibition and indeed in collecting the works, and heard of how disregarded these textiles are in Japan - they are an embarrassment, a sign of poverty (as were the Canadian Red Cross quilts sent to homeless families in WW2). We value the frugality, and the abstract patterning - there are parallels with Gee's Bend quilts.

Click on the photos to enlarge them - it should make the words easier to read. A catalogue is available, but these texts aren't in it.

Doll-like objects

These are children's dolls made by the Nenets tribe in north-western Russia -
What do you think their heads are made of? The label at the Polar Museum in Cambridge reads: "Dolls are made from the upper bill of a duck or goose, with the beak representing a person's head. Along with carved wooden reindeer and miniature sledges, children use beak dolls to enact scenes of everyday life such as lassoing reindeer or migrating to a new campsite. Beaks are obtained in May during the spring hunting season when ducks and geese from southern regions (including Britain) fly to nest in the tundra. There they constitute the main diet for herders at a season when reindeer meat is scarce, as reindeer are not slaughtered in the calving season."

Less exotic are these figures seen recently in Selfridges -
They're designed by Alexander Girard (1907-93), who designed much else, including textiles for Ray and Charles Eames. He had an extensive folk art collection (now housed in Santa Fe), and obviously loved colour and pattern. The year before his death, he gave the contents of his studio to the Vitra Design Museum.

Men at work

Great excitement at 136A, a dwelling often afflicted with shaking and rattling as buses speed down the road outside, hitting the dips and bouncing up again. It gradually gets worse, and there comes a point when you notice the cracks are getting wider...

This time, such a speedy response - less than 24 hours after the situation was reported to Islington Council, the repair team brought asphalt and filled in the dips - well done, guys!

And the bonus is: the bus passengers are getting a smoother ride.

10 April 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Great Book of Gaelic

An Leabhar Mor, The Great Book of Gaelic, is a project published 2003 with 150 poets, artists, calligraphers taking part. The book is on line - you can click on the number and see every page - leabharmor.net/leabharmor

One artist, Steve Dilworth, contributed a print of a rock - it balances on another rock - he'd covered it in lard, then (on a programme made in about 2004, shown on BBC Alba) it was shown burning, fuelled by the fat.

Another (Remco de Fouw) worked only at certain phases of the moon, the dark phases, because he photographed the surface of the sea by holding paper soaked in photoemulsion near the surface, then flashing a light to expose it - then printed it right away in the back of his jeep. (See more of his work here.)

Various poets have translated the "blackbird" poem (written in the year 800 or so) - two versions are shown here (translators David Greene and Frank O'Connor; artist Jake Harvey) -
The little bird 
has whistled 
from the tip 
of his bright yellow beak; 
the blackbird
from a bough 
laden with yellow blossom 
has tossed a cry over Belfast Lough.