Blossom Trees

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There are so many blossom trees in Clapham. I think nearly every street has at least one but most boast an impressive collection. There’s a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and for the next few weeks of Spring we’ll be able to enjoy them all. Soft pinks, vanillas, whites and creams with little specks of green leaves. They contrast against their dark branches and light up when viewed against a bright Spring sky. At night, they loom out of the dark like Christmas decorations that haven’t been taken down yet.

Sometimes I find that painting or drawing things that are naturally very pretty to begin with, such as flowers, can produce results that are a bit twee and boring. I made a quick Google search to see if I could find some blossom inspired artwork that managed to avoid this.

Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Almond Blossom’ (1890, shown below) are beautiful but still have a wildness to them. The branches are crooked and spiky. The flowers are delicate but they belong in nature, not to be put in a vase on a mantelpiece.

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I’m not overly familiar with the work of husband-and-wife illustration team Kozyndan but their bunny themed work is super popular and hard to miss. In Bunny Blossoms (2005, shown below), instead of flowers, tiny pink rabbits bloom from the branches. Apart from the fact that they are HELLA cute, they bring something unexpected and humorous to the piece which references traditional Japanese blossom artwork.

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Hanami, which translates as ‘flower viewing’, is the Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers (thanks Wikipedia!). From March to May the Sakura trees blossom all over Japan and people celebrate with outdoor parties, sometimes decorating the trees with paper lanterns.

‘Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami’ by Toyohara Chikanobu translates as ‘Cherry Blossoms Party at the Chiyoda Palace’ (1894, shown below). I love the elaborate clothes and bright splashes of red. You really get the sense that the people are enjoying playing underneath the blossom.

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I made some experiments myself working from photos I took of the Clapham Hanami. I’m quite pleased with the results. I think it was a useful exercise, choosing to sketch something that I was unsure of and finding ways to tackle it to create drawings I was happy with. Wherever you are, I hope that you get to enjoy some blossom trees this Spring too!

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Bunny Blossoms by Kozyndan used in appreciation without permission
Almond Blossom by Vincent Van Gogh provided by the Van Gogh Museum
Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami by Toyohara Chikanobu via Wikipedia
All other photographs and sketches are my own.

Paul Nash, Monster Field

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‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ —Paul Nash, Outline, 1949

I went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was an overwhelming show. A huge collection of his works including watercolours, engravings, large oil paintings, collages, illustrations and poetry from his varied career. I wasn’t overly familiar with his work before attending, though I’d perhaps seen a few of his more famous surrealist paintings.

I didn’t know that he was a war artist in both World Wars. That he began his career as an illustrator. That he took a major role in organising the International Surrealist Exhibition in London 1936. I’m very keen to get my hands on his autobiography and learn more about him, but for now I wanted to share a couple of the pieces from the show that chimed with me.

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Nash felt a strong connection to certain places. In 1938 he discovered ‘Monster Field’ a place where large fallen trees seemed to him to resemble beast-like creatures. He enjoyed returning there, though in a letter from the time he wrote that he had trouble remembering exactly how to find it. It seems to me he enjoyed the atmosphere of this field and those tree-creatures. They inspired him and he documented them in photos and a series of paintings. The branches reach out like tentacles and jagged shards of bark look like teeth.

I can relate to Nash’s Monster Field, some places have something very evocative about them. I have my own spots that can make me feel blissfully happy and serene, others that creep me up or that I feel strangely tied to though I can’t always explain why.

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The other piece I particularly enjoyed ‘Swanage’ (1936) is a collage composed of photographs from Nash’s collection of found objects. Along with his fellow artist and friend Eileen Agar, they would place unusual objects together to create new and surreal encounters between them. Which they would then photograph, draw and paint. I love the muted colours in this piece. The shapes and forms, shadows and details that create an alien landscape.

Swanage c.1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946
The Paul Nash exhibition is running at the Tate Britain from 26th October – 5th March
Tickets approx £15

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year! I’ve just been for my first outdoor sketch trip of 2017 to Birling Gap. A beautiful sunny day, though super chilly. So nice to get outdoors and tramp around for a bit. We stopped high up on a bench to draw a view of the cliffs and stripy red lighthouse, then headed back down to the beach to watch the sunset over the sea with our cheese and pickle sandwiches. I managed to drop my entire chalk pastel collection, twice :/ need to get a tin for them I think!

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Wilmington Expedition

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Back in January my Mum and I spent three days in a cabin in Sussex exploring and drawing on the downs! We stocked up on hearty winter foods; soups, crusty bread and cheese. We packed our warmest clothes our sketchbooks, paper and drawing materials and set off for the hills.

Hailing from Newhaven, my Mum has always felt a strong connection to this part of the world and has been drawn to the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington, something that she has passed on to me. There is definitely something about the place. An ancient chalk figure etched into the hillside, being able to see way out across the land, rolling greenery and patchwork fields. The feeling of being high up and catching glimpses of the silvery sea.

It was late afternoon when we set out on our first sketch-pedition. We walked up the chalky track that runs alongside the Long Man. Though icy cold, the sun was shining brightly, setting everything ablaze. It was hard going clambering up the steep track in our skiwear whilst juggling our drawing equipment and we quickly overheated. Underfoot, beautiful frosty patterns had formed in the chalk, the ice wrenching the track apart and churning up the ground.

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At the top, spectacular views across the valleys. The sun seemed to hook into you and draw you out of your winter shell. I always get a primitive feeling when I’m there. My inner cave girl rises up! I felt like I could have been a horse in a previous life as I had the urge to gallop and jump around. I wanted to look at all the plants and flints. Examine every bit of sheep’s wool caught on thorny bushes. Mum stood next to a large metal gate and discovered it was singing a strange melody as the wind blew through the tiny holes in its metal surface.

We made quick sketches. I thought about all the artists who have been inspired by the landscape over the years and the beautiful works they have created. Scruffy pencil marks, etchings, layers and textures. I found it quite difficult to draw the sparse landscape, but the feeling of calm that came from getting totally lost in the moment and absorbed by the surroundings was amazing.

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The cabin itself was our refuge from the cold. Lighting fires in the wood-burning stove became my job. A good little fire would quickly warm the small room and give off a lovely smoky smell. In the evenings we cooked our meals, settled into the comfy chairs with hot chocolate and dissected our drawings. Our soundtrack was Arch Garrison’s album ‘I Will Be a Pilgrim’ a beautiful piece of music with lyrics mirroring our experience of enjoying the wild, chalky land.

 

We spent two days like this, waking early, making crumpets then setting out to the hills. Drawing, getting cold, coming back to warm up and refuel, then setting out again. Collapsing into our beds at the end of the day, feeling that we’d earned our rest.

On the last day, it snowed. It had fallen quite thickly in the night and we woke to a silent, white world. The Long Man was lost in the freezing clouds of fog. We sat on the cabin porch and drew the view in front of us, our breath freezing in the air. We set out on a different route that day, the snow had completely changed the views and we had to stop every few minutes to photograph and gawp at how different it looked. The white contrasted against the dark sky and enhanced the many lines and furrows that cut across the landscape. They seemed to carve it up, scars on the surface of the world.

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We arrived at a little church and entered the graveyard. A giant, ancient tree was at its centre, reinforced by heavy planks of wood and bound by thick iron chains in an attempt to keep it together. Most of the snow had burned off by midday as we made it to the top. It was difficult to work on a drawing too long because of the cold but we put the effort in and both make sketches we were pleased with.

I enjoyed treading on the frozen puddles. Carefully displacing my weight a little at a time and watching the splinters and shards form in the ice until, with a squeaking sound, they give way and the brown muddy water gushes up to greet your wellies!

It was such a special weekend. Making drawing the focus of the trip meant that we really made time for it. If we saw something we wanted to sketch, we could change our plans to fit around it, something that isn’t always practical on a more usual sort of holiday. Being outside in January despite the cold made me very happy too. Shutting ourselves away from the modern world and keeping things simple. We definitely want to go back again next year!

On this trip we stayed at Jackson’s Cabin in Polegate, hosted by the lovely Alison.

 

Illustrated Festival Posters

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There’s been a super lovely crop of illustrated festival posters this Summer. Featuring bright colours, strange little characters and odd machines. They seem to have a bit of a ‘Where’s Wally?’ vibe to them, which does makes sense as it can often feel that way trying to find your friends at a festival! This type of illustration seems to be particularly popular for music and gig art at the moment and it’s really nice to see more of it about! Bestival, Wildlife and Music Wins festival posters shown above.

Magnificent Collections

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I went to see the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibition at the Barbican. This is a series of rooms filled with the collections of 14 artists living and dead. On the quest as ever for something unusual to draw, I was pleased to find plenty of curious and odd objects to satisfy that need, but perusing the collections of each artist in turn got me thinking about the act of ‘collecting’ itself.

What does it mean to collect something? Is it the grouping together of near identical objects? Or It might be the differences of objects which allows you to bring them together; you like the way this jug looks when placed next to these silver handcuffs and this cactus. Or maybe you’re more categorical, bringing together stuffed animals like Damien Hirst, or grouping flora and fauna in a more general way.

The Victorians were big on collecting, and having a Cabinet of Curiosities (also known as a Kunstkammer, or Wonder Room) was quite a big status symbol, something to show your power and worldliness. Apparently even earlier in 1587, Christian the 1st of Saxony was advised that one needed 3 types of item in order to have a proper Kunstkammer:

1. Sculptures and paintings
2. Curious items from home and abroad

3. Antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals

For Andy Warhol and his collection of gaudy cookie jars the satisfaction may have come from the act of obtaining the jars rather than displaying or admiring them. It is said that after purchasing a jar, it could end up sitting unwrapped and unobserved in his studio. Not put out on display or organised in any pleasing fashion as they have been at the Barbican. It’s more about the buzz, the thrill of suddenly spotting that unusual object you crave, almost obscured beneath a pile of junk in a dingy back room at a flea market. Knowing that you had to have it and make it yours.

Not all collections have to be beautiful and pleasing. You might choose to collect something that disgusts or provokes. Peter Blake’s collection of creepy dolls and outlandish masks definitely give a different vibe than that of the beautiful intricate ‘Netsuke’ collected by British ceramic artist Edmuund De Waal. Netsuke being carved, button like toggles worn on Japanese Kimonos. He has tiny carved mice, hares and turtles sometimes made from ivory (eek) and sometimes bamboo amongst other outlandish materials.
 
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The line between ‘STUFF’ and ‘A Collection’ is quite thin I feel. In one of the larger rooms at The Barbican’s exhib, German artist Hanne Darboven’s objects are on show.

A life size plastic horse, a miniature theatre, a lamp in the shape of a cobra, to me this definitely falls more into the STUFF pile. If you collect stuff, is it a collection? Or just a group of things that you like? Are you just a hoarder rather than an intrepid devoted collector? Not that it matters.

I wondered if my higgledy piggeldy ‘house decorations’ qualify as a collection? These are things that I like to have around me, usually on a shelf in whichever place i’m renting, because they are pleasing and inspiring to my eye. I have dried roses from a friend’s funeral, vintage teacups, kitsch shiny angels, half a barbie that has been painted as a Mexican day of the dead Katrina (A small selection pictured below). I suppose the common element here is that I have lots of owls, ceramic owls, wooden owls, metal owls, big ones, small ones, cute ones, serious ones. Some are ugly, but that no longer matters when they are brought into the parliament with the others because their oddness makes them interesting.
 
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Are creative people more likely to cultivate a collection? As it is something which may feed back into their work and inspire it or even become an extension of their work. Barbican featured American artist Pae White describes her collection of textiles as a visual library that she can refer to when working. My visual library is now largely online thanks to the internet and apps like pinterest which allow you to have a HUGE collection, without any of the financial commitment or risk of alienating loved ones by filling every available space and surface with seashells.

I suppose it really comes down to an individual’s personality and what sparks their interest as to whether or not they will have a collection. If they do have a collection, what do you think it says about them?

‘Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as a Collector’
Is at The Barbican until the 25th of May, £12