Friday, May 12, 2017

Books | Continuity, meaning, value



Furbo beach, 12 May 2017, 8:30am


"With 'a brush, the one dependable thing in a world of strife, ruin, chaos', they could return, whatever the stress and discord of daily life, to that continuously absorbing interior world in which the struggle to record observations of light, colour and form, however agonisingly difficult and intractable, resolves into an enduring happiness. Here, where the artist strives to shape, condense and order thoughts and sensations until they take on a form that communicates, is the promise of continuity as opposed to decay, of meaning as opposed to senselessness, of value as opposed to pain. Vanessa painted, not in order to forget anxiety and pain, but in order to transform them into the permanence of art." (Spalding, Frances: Vanessa Bell. Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist, Tauris Parke, London 2016, pp.225f.)

I enjoyed this book about Vanessa Bell immensely, and once you get over the dreadful snobbery (an even bigger problem with Bell's sister Virginia Woolf, whose writing I adore), you get to 'like' Vanessa, a complex and at times intimidating person - not that liking the subject is a prerequisite for enjoying a biography. Spalding recreates Vanessa's and Bloomsbury's world so vividly, and her writing about painting is achingly insightful.

While she experienced quite a lot of hardship and finances were not always as free-flowing as it seems, it can be tempting to yearn for the lifestyle that allowed Bell and Duncan Grant to paint all day, travel widely, with lengthy stays in France, and shut themselves off from the demands of society. 

I am struggling to arrange for one week of painting (or more likely drawing) with no interruptions, but it seems almost impossible in our day and age, and I don't even have children. On Inis Meáin recently I could picture an island stay with no technology, so who knows. 

And I have to remember that I am extremely lucky with my circumstances - I can create pockets of time at home working in my studio, and more of time management is choice than I have allowed for - I can choose when to let e-mail distract me, for example.

Next on my list is another art book by another Frances, Seeing Ourselves by Frances Borzello, a book about self-portraits by women artists. My sister gave me one of her books a few years ago, and I want to read my way through all of her publications.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Things that work | Silk and lace






I get overwhelmed by too much choice and too many decisions to be made, which explains why I can be found skirting the deli counter nervously (and possibly walking away hungry) and why our house will be all-white on the outside when the external wall insulation is completed.

While I doubt I will ever resort to a 'uniform' that eliminates the need for deliberations on what to wear - I love clothes too much for that level of minimalism - shopping leaves me frazzled, so finding well-made things that work and knowing that in the future I won't have to wander around countless shops before emerging with the item I need simplifies things.

I prefer my clothes to be made from natural fabrics*, and one of my favourite materials is silk. Currently about half of my underwear consists of silk and lace sets from this range. I don't care that it is a celebrity line; it is beautifully designed and the sets are extremely comfortable and light, so suitable for everyday wear. They are machine-washable, and they last. I am sure there are various other silk options online, but I can buy these locally, which is a bonus, and the old-school department store assistants are always so lovely and chatty.


 *though I have a few polyester pieces that are years old but still look like new, so I don't rule it out


Friday, April 28, 2017

Springtime of the year



 Apple blossoms in the garden

A better world - my sister asked for a scene like this


The cherry blossoms have come and nearly gone and now the apple trees are in full bloom. This is always such a beautiful and sad time, and this year in particular.

The right music can be so cathartic, so today I spent nearly all day painting with two new-to-me songs on repeat.*

I must have been living under a rock not to have come across these before. John played me John Spillane's 'The Dance of the Cherry Trees' last night (it took him three years to play me one of his favourite songs), and we tried to find a word to describe the sentiment in that heartbreaking  'well done' line (all I could come up with was 'bittersweet', but it is so much more). It just destroys you.

The other song was one of those late-night car radio discoveries that are always heightened by the atmosphere of the night, but judging by the amount of views on Youtube the world has been aware of this song for quite some time: 'Emmylou' by First Aid Kit. (also, Emmylou Harris listening to 'Emmylou', and a cover of 'America' with Paul Simon in the audience).

* and last night was treated to this passionate violinist in concert, playing Gubaidulina (also previously unknown to me) - such a tour de force

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading | Art as Therapy










De Botton, Alain and Armstrong, John: Art as Therapy, Phaidon, London 2013


This book was published a few years ago, but I only bought it last month and am enjoying it immensely. You've got to love a book on the purpose of art that has The Tiger Who Came to Tea as one of its examples.

De Botton and Armstrong highlight the ability of art to rebalance and to restore our frail, incomplete selves, and this book is a call for a radical rethink about how museums and galleries present art to the public, focusing on the psychological, therapeutic function of art. When de Botton applied this thinking to an actual museum, he was ridiculed for it, but I have a soft spot for his work and his empathy and don't agree with the majority of the criticism levelled against him. I admit to being a bit wary after all the hype, both positive and negative, but I was positively surprised.

The part of me that worries at times about being so obsessed with tidying was reassured to find Ben Nicholson's abstract piece used as an example of a work of art that embodies the 'pleasure of organising things' (p.54), showing a kinship with 'quiet domestic tasks' and similar acts of 'happy concentration', which should be taken more seriously. Likewise, a beautiful Chardin honours and celebrates the ordinary and 'recognises the worth of a modest moment' (p.56), thus encouraging us to be kinder towards ourselves and enabling us to make the best of what we have. 

There are so many instances of recognition when reading this book, and the works discussed include several of my favourite pieces (Las Meninas!). It even takes in interior decoration, suggesting that rather than showing off, our concern with what we place in our homes involves 'a far more interesting and human process', using objects 'to communicate our identities to the world', as in, '[this] crockery [...] is like my deepest self' (p.43). The writers are aware of how exaggerated this might seem, but there is so much truth and humanity in these observations, and they are able to articulate and distill feelings we all have and voice our non-verbal, often visceral responses to visual art.

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Brain Pickings has an excellent article about the book.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Three









1. A recent commission for a concert hall that has been renamed after this lady (they kindly gave me a photo-op backdrop banner with my drawing on it). Apparently no photos of her as an adult exist bar one small photograph in a newspaper article, hence the request for a portrait based on that image.

2. Evening light in the studio and the beginning of the 'layout wall' for a new book, a collaboration with John. The studio is one of the colder rooms in the house, and many times during the winter I would move my work to the kitchen table, but in the last few weeks it has become the space I spend most of my time. I have been working in and on the studio (the walls still need painting, but it is much more homely now) - more on this soon.

3. My cousin made the envelope for a wedding card out of this, and I put it in a frame, as I love the sentiment the title evokes and it is a beautiful piece of music. In my head it is a synonym for 'Kinderspiel', the figurative meaning of which is 'piece of cake'. Along with my tiny Laughing Buddha and other pieces it serves as a reminder to lighten up and not take life so seriously - a good word to look at when heading out the door.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Natural skincare | Hydration, soaps








On the one hand I am becoming more and more minimalist when it comes to beauty products (and pretty much everything else), on the other hand I have added eye serum to my routine...

The hotel we stayed in in London had one single bottle of organic mint body/hair wash in the shower, and I loved the simplicity of it - nothing else cluttering up the shower. I used to take a bottle of Dr Bronner's castile soap with me when travelling, which is for everything from brushing your teeth to washing the dog and apparently even for removing your eye make-up. My sister has started using it as shampoo, and I got a large bottle (the lavender scent) to have by the kitchen sink for washing dishes (as that lovely lemon balm one we had seems to have been discontinued at our supermarket) and will decant a bit into a bottle for the bathroom.

I have combination skin and still get minor breakouts at age 33 (nearly 34), but my skin can also get dry. When I ran out of my Weleda rose moisturiser I thought I would try something else.

I have been giving Green Angel products as gifts, as they are a great Irish company and stocked in the shop at the bottom of our road, so I can shop local. I am halfway through the moisturiser, which contains two of my favourite essential oils, neroli and jasmine. Since using this I haven't had any problems with dry skin, and my skin is clearer as well.

As for the eye serum, this is from another Irish company. I am a bit sceptical when it comes to eye products, as products for the face often do the job just as well (and when using olive oil for removing eye make-up, you are simultaneously caring for the area around the eyes), but I thought I'd give this a go, as I like the ritual and this has a cooling roller. I have only used it for about two weeks, but already can see and feel some improvement, with plumper skin that doesn't feel tight. It can leave a bit of a residue that looks like dried tears (or maybe I used too much), but as long as you blend your moisturiser or concealer into the edge, it becomes invisible.

I love that both these products come in glass instead of plastic, though would advise not to store them at a height it in a bathroom with a tiled floor - the cap of the serum shattered into a million pieces when it fell out of the cabinet.

I didn't own any lip balm for the last two years, at least. At home, when I thought of it, I would apply coconut oil or honey and dry-brush with a toothbrush to exfoliate my lips, and then during the day I would leave them alone or apply lipstick or gloss. But recently I must have neglected them, and I thought it would be handy to have some lip balm in my bag, so I bought the Trilogy one. It works really well, and I love mint in lip products - some energising aromatherapy right under my nose.

And finally, soaps. I know having the Dr Bronner's liquid soap ought to cover that area (another minimalism fail), but I don't have that many bottles I can decant into, and I like using old-fashioned solid pieces of soap. These are as local as it gets, and they don't dry out your skin; I can even use them on my face (one thing I no longer buy is facial wash). They also remain solid, unlike a lot of natural soaps that turn into mush, and they scent the bathroom nicely.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Four o'clock is teatime and other rituals








There are a few pages in one of my notebooks where I jot down things I feel I 'ought to' do daily (and another section for 'weekly', and one for 'monthly') in order to have a good day insofar far as my own actions and choices can influence it. It has grown to quite a substantial list, and if I were to run through this list every day, it would leave me exhausted and frantic, but I like to write things down when they occur to me or when I come across advice that I think might be useful to incorporate, and it serves as a choose-from menu rather than a to-do list.

The 'daily' things range from kitchen tasks such as 'clear all the dishes, make kefir and soak almonds before going to bed' to work-related activities, for example doing a daily sketch and using paints in some form.

We all know what we can do to be happier, healthier and better people, but so often we choose not to do those things, at times to the point of sabotage. 

Some items on my list have become habits by now, such as doing yoga (almost) daily and going for a walk or working in the garden. Others I dip into and then might forget for weeks or months until I return to them. What I am likely to forget or ignore I try to tie to another activity, until it becomes a habit to do B while doing A. For example, I stand on one leg while brushing my teeth or filling the water filter (balancing on one leg is one of the easier exercises I should be doing  two or three times a week for my patellofemoral pain syndrome) and having all the windows in the house open for the four minutes the coffee is brewing.

Recent additions include washing my eyes every morning (an ayurvedic practice I didn't know about) and drinking matcha tea every afternoon instead of every now and again. I cannot say whether my eyes are actually more refreshed, but I love the strange feeling of splashing cold water into them, and just thinking of all the green in matcha tea gives me a boost when drinking it.

My daily painting these days can be for hours on days I work from home or quick sketches with acrylics when time is short. I finally, finally am going through all the photographs I took of the view from the chalet, where I lived for almost seven years, and from our new house (with a very similar view, as it is just seven minutes further west and on a similar height) and making them into small paintings.