23 May 2018

Ladder of years

The book of that title, Ladder of Years, by Ann ...oh dear, the name will come in a moment... has the happiest memories for me - I was captivated by it, right from the "newspaper announcement" of the missing woman, with the description given by her husband: "Her eyes are blue, or maybe green" - well, it's easy to forget the colour of your wife's eyes! The book came along on a trip to Paris and at one point I sat in the square outside the hotel, early in the morning, reading it while Tony slept on, and on... perhaps he was taking his time to let me get on with the book?

So now I have the ladder - the much wanted stepladder - and as for the years, what difference does yet another birthday make? It's better to get older, than not!

A cautionary tale (included, by the manufacturer, with the stepladder): watch out for over reaching - and keep a grip on that ladder -
Ah, that's better -

Ann Tyler, of course! After reading this review, I need to reread the book. Literary subtexts can be elusive - the Lear story is the basis for A Thousand Acres too (by Jane Smiley), and I missed it there too.

22 May 2018

Drawing Tuesday - Tate Britain

This bit of crazy colourfulness is on the way to the gallery, part of a building under construction -
 but I'd also seen a lot of this -
 and it was the leafiness that won out, as I sat in the shade and tried to catch the shadows - it was windy, they kept moving! - first as lines (with watersoluble pencils) and then using the dregs of my coffee to activate the colours -
 All very pleasant, and a good warm-up for some serious stuff "inside", getting to know a seemingly simple Barbara Hepworth sculpture -
Sue started with a dark pastel paper for drawing the unidentified lounging woman in the Anthea Hamilton exhibit (it's Henry Laurens’ 1948 bronze, Autumn)-
Intersecting shadows, by Judith -
Najlaa's perseverance in tracing the contours of an Antony Gormley piece has paid off -
 Joyce stayed outdoors, using grey and black for shapes, shadows, and foliage -
 Janet K spent the morning with Rebecca Warren's "Come, Helga" -

Tool of the week - the pencil extender means you can use even the smallest stub!

21 May 2018


Several years on the needles and finished this week the leftovers of yarn brought back from Canada years ago. Looks a lot like one of these, in a blog post from March 2008 -

       Favourite pattern             

This makes a dishcloth from 1.5 oz (45 g) of cotton, using 4mm needles.

Cast on 4.
Knit 2, yarn over needle, knit to end of row.
Repeat till you have 44 stitches.
Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to end of row.
Repeat till you have 4 stitches.
Cast off.

20 May 2018

New River Walk (London N1)

A shallow stream, shadowed in the heat of a sunny day - it's a hidden green sliver through already-leafy Canonbury. Shade, birds, reflections on the moving water ... "a green thought in a green shade".

Even when you're on the way to somewhere, it invites pausing - and a few photos.

Under the fountain


Tucked away

 Abstraction -

 Patterns -

"This charming linear park is landscaped along the river. There are several graceful weeping willows dipping into the water and many other trees, both junior and mature. The narrow path winds intriguingly enabling the pretence you're in the actual countryside and it's a delight to linger ... There are ducks, coots and moorhens even in midwinter and birdsong rang out from the treetops. ... The walk is rarely busy although a favourite for locals in the know and there are strategic benches along the way for when it's warm enough to sit and doze." (via)

One such bench was occupied by a young man, stretched out in the sun and supporting a book on his raised knee, lost to the world in it.

19 May 2018

Rachel Howard at Newport Street Gallery

The series, "Repetition is Truth - Via Dolorosa" includes 14 paintings, in parallel with the Stations of the Cross, and standing in front of each does make you pause. The colours are subtle, the content is abstracted, the finish is extraordinary. And the connection to violence, horror, atrocity isn't immediately obvious.

But the subject matter is based on a famous photograph, The Hooded Man - showing the torture of an Iraqui detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. 
Study, 2005

A small painting that started a large series
Walking between the paintings in the large rooms in the gallery is rather like visiting a cathedral...

Howard's method of creating these works involves a process stretched out over time. She uses household gloss paint, and allows it to sit in the can so that pigment and varnish separate. Standing on ladders and scaffolding, she pours "vast swathes" of the pigment down from the top of the canvas "before using the varnish to add weight and momentum to the medium, pushing the paint down the surface to produce a veil-like effect". Each layer is left to dry for a month. Sometimes she applies a layer of acrylic paint before the gloss, "giving rise to occasional glimpses of fluorescence".
Shiny, glossy, smooth, subtle
The layers of paint and the veil of varnish create a subliminal surface, catching the internal and external lighting in subtle ways -
More glimpses of under-layers at the edge

Howard became fixated by the box the hooded man was standing on - an interplay with the cross in the crucifixion - which emerges and dissolves in some of the paintings -
The fascinating box - with "glimpses of fluorescence"

 The information leaflet offers a fuller explanation -

Showing till 28 May.

18 May 2018

The "new" Royal Academy

After much hoo-haa the enlarged Royal Academy has officially opened, expanding into what was once the Museum of Mankind, where I spent many a happy hour and where, thanks to an all-day free event about Palestinian costume, I rediscovered "the itch to stitch" ... and that made all the difference ...

What was different at the RA, apart from the fresh paint and extra space (high ceilings!) was the incorporation of bits of "history", such as these fragments mounted high on the walls of the bridging section between the buildings -
 We went to see Tacita Dean's "Landscape" show - gorgeous drawings on slate -
cloudscapes roiling at low level...

... and hanging high up in the sky...
I was delighted by her collection of four, five, six, seven and nine leaf clovers -
1972 to present

A large gallery contains important historical works - some enormous paintings and smaller things like these amazing engravings -

And tracings (!) of costumes, research for medieval paintings by Millais -

A lovely little courtyard, a rest for the eye -
but perhaps the opening day came just a bit too soon? -

17 May 2018

Poetry Thursday - Everything is Going to be All Right by Derek Mahon

"The sun rises in spite of everything"

Everything is Going to be All Right - Derek Mahon

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon (b1941) was born in Ireland and made literary friendships at Trinity College Dublin. After a time at the Sorbonne and working his way through Canada and the US he taught school in Dublin and worked as a freelance journalist in London. He now lives in Co.Cork, Ireland. Since 1965 he has amassed a raft of publications and won several poetry prizes. A biography by Stephen Enniss details the life context of Mahon's poems.

Encountered in the "Reconciliation" episode of BBC Radio 3's excellent "Words and Music" programme (12 days left to listen at time of writing).

16 May 2018

Woodblock Wednesday - reconsiderations

Opening April Vollmer's Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop at random as I sat down to breakfast, I found myself reading about papermaking for mokuhanga and how washi differs from Western papers. Then, thinking to invest in a decent brush (mizubake) for wetting and/or sizing paper, I found myself reading about papers again (at rospobio.blogspot.co.uk) and, seeing the range in results obtained, determined to try a few of the papers on hand here, just to see what happens.

In the "proper" process, there are so many nuances for each aspect ... quite beyond me at this point and maybe forever ... but I'm not averse to using the process "improperly". At the moment, it's a matter of making lots of prints so that Just Doing It becomes easier and the results better, and some sort of control of the desired results develops.

So, into the studio, get a block soaking and choose a colour or two, and search out some papers.


Things don't always go as planned (do they?) - looking back through what I'd already printed, and thinking about the "two page book" project, I got caught up in "using what's there" rather than extending the field of operations.

These two had been stitched together, trying out various covers -

The alignment of the blocks isn't right - it should work as a totality, as in some of the traditional japanese books I so admire, these for example -

An improvement, but still not there - the proportions are awkward -
 and here are some more waiting to be put together -
Thus the morning went on, consideration and deliberation mainly, but also realisation of the quantity of "stuff" already on hand, hastily (but enthusiastically) made. Rather than printing more, I decided to finish the things on hand - as a number of successful artists have said, "take it to the end", don't abandon a project just because it's not meeting your expectations: there is much to learn on the way to "the end".

These pages, for example, were intended to have overprinting. I worked out a plan for "Sunrise/Moonrise" and got as far as deciding placement of the separate elements, but haven't decided on colours yet.
Just when you think it's sorted, you have a better idea ....
Now it can slush around in my subconscious for a week, and probably will be changed again. Just a little.

The subconscious will be looking out for suitable colours, too.