Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On the easel | Irish landscapes







The first land-(and sea-)scape is a recent commission, which prompted me to paint another one in the same format. I look at the first one, and certain elements and colours make me think of the writer Ali Smith, whose Desert Island Discs I was listening to while working on the painting and whose book How to be Both I read a few weeks ago.

These formed associations can be strong and lasting - the painting or drawing will bring back memories of whatever I was listening to at the time, down to flashes of sentences. That's why I am selective in what I listen to in the studio (no radio apart from Lyric FM) or work in silence.

Which makes me think, my students have no choice - I can only hope that my playlists of 'mellow music for the art classes' (the general consensus seems to be that background music is desired) do not offend anybody's audio/visual synthesising.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

'Such incredible loveliness'








A favourite passage from Frances Spalding's biography of Vanessa Bell (Tauris Parke, London, reprinted 2016, p. 268) and a scene from our holiday at my mother's house - my nephews' hats (1 & 2, no. 1 made by my sister) and my sister's hat (also her own creation) lined up on the piano awaiting the next outing in the sun. 



Friday, June 30, 2017

More botanicals





1|  The rose campion a friend gave me a few weeks ago revealed its intense magenta flowers while we were away. Returning from Germany's heatwave and its abundant gardens to grey skies and the worst rain in months, we were in a funk for a day or two, but these pops of colour helped.




 2|  We also came back to a courgette the size of a baby and have incorporated it into every meal (and a cake). And we are eating tons of salad, but so far have only two varieties in our polytunnel. I want to grow chicory - I love bitter leaves, and the above is one of my favourite salads, chicory with orange, walnut, balsamic and apple cider vinegar and honey.

Search for the pioneering photographer and botanist Anna Atkins in Google Images, and you get lost in this sea of cyanotype blue - her work looks so modern.




3|  I was sorting through papers in my studio and accidentally formed this lovely juxtaposition of two of my obsessions - 'Las Meninas' by Velázquez (on a transparency I must have used for a presentation in college) and botanical illustrations (this one by Edward Minchen, I believe). I am displaying them temporarily on a shelf in the hope they will spark an idea, or simply to enjoy them for a while.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Flower power



 Jasmine for the garden

 Florals on a jumper (from Part Two)

Peonies that never opened fully

Essential oils and tea from a local herbalist


Last week, on our way to the midlands to visit friends and family, we stopped at a lovely garden centre for presents and got a jasmine plant for our garden, which is a dream come true for me (if it survives the wild west of Ireland - the very helpful lady there assured us it would and gave us advice on how to plant it). The car journey for the rest of the day was an aromatherapy experience.

Sleeping with the window open and the intoxicating scent filling the bedroom may not happen for a while yet, unless I sleep in the shed, as we put the jasmine beside the door to the shed, where it is sheltered. Between the stock (another strong fragrance), the jasmine and the lavender, our garden is fast becoming a feast for the nose. 

Another favourite, though not as fragrant, are peonies. We have a few in the garden, but the ones in the photos came from a florist. They never opened fully, but I love the tight ball they start out with. 

John got me some essential oils and a specialty tea for clear skin (hint?) from a local herbalist. I had asked for neroli and rosemary, and he kindly added sweet orange oil, so I have been burning a lot of orange-focused blends to sweeten my time in the studio (it badly needs it, as a piece of furniture in there still smells musty from the damp in the last house - John calls it 'the smell of stale ideas' hovering in the studio, and I am determined to conquer it on both levels).


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

In the kitchen | Quark bread and coloured walls



 Kitchen work-in-progress

Bread-making work-in-progress.
Illustration by Heather Gatley in this book, which has nothing to do with the bread and which I feel ambivalent about.


One of the things I wanted to get back into this year was making my own bread. Ideally sourdough, but I haven't started the starter yet. I used to make wholemeal spelt bread all the time and have stocked up on spelt flour, but I wanted to try some new recipes as well.

The other day I had to use up some quark that was past its use-by date. I always pick up quark when I see it in the shop, as it is a German staple, but then I never know what to do with it apart from eating it like yogurt or the two ways our family used it - German cheesecake, and potatoes served with quark whipped up with sparkling water and chopped chives and seasoned with pepper and salt.

A quick search online yielded quark oil dough, which apparently is a well-known substitute for yeast dough. In Ireland you cannot buy fresh yeast in the shop, only from bakeries on request, if they are happy to give it to you, and I prefer not to eat too much food containing yeast and haven't bought any dry yeast in years, so I was interested in how the quark oil dough would turn out.

There are various recipes, all very similar, but I didn't follow any particular one - I used around 180g quark, 4 tablespoons milk, 8 tablespoons oil (rapeseed), 1 egg, 350g flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt to make a braided bread. You can add some sugar and raisins to make it sweet. It was so quick to make - no waiting, unlike with yeast - and came out well, despite my half-a***d kneading and braiding (hence the rustic look). It took only a few minutes to put together, still tasted fresh the following day, and we loved it, so this is where any leftover quark will end up from now on, and it will be great for making pizza. It is fluffy and moist, and I can imagine substituting kefir for the milk (inspired by my sister).

In August it will be two years since we moved into this house, and we still have a lot of work to do. The kitchen is one of two rooms where we left the old floor, and we also kept the kitchen that was there, but painted it (as well as the airing cupboard, on the left in the photo) and took out all the hanging cupboards. It is the only room that has colour on two small areas of wall (everywhere else is some shade of white, pale grey or charcoal, or - half the house - still unpainted). A few weeks ago, with the help of John's brother-in-law, we finally connected a lamp to the cable that was awkwardly sticking out of the corner between the blue wall and ceiling. Usually there is a small armchair in that corner by the stove - currently in the sitting room, as we had visitors and not enough seats -, so it is now a reading corner.

Monday, May 29, 2017

At the table



At home

At my sister's house


I had a week of the three sisters plus husbands and toddlers, cat and donkeys (not to forget a walk with Emilia, the micro pig from the Burren Nature Sanctuary), swimming in the sea and only doing teaching hours and urgent e-mail, followed by meals with my Saturday art class, visitors and neighbours, all a reminder of the truly important things in life. We ate the first salad from our polytunnel and hope to say goodbye to supermarket salad for the rest of the year.

This morning was the start of my summer: a much looser, more self-directed schedule work-wise, which requires discipline amid the freedom. There is a part of me that wants to lock myself in, plough through the work-load and neglect my needs, when I know I will function so much better on good food, exercise and sleep, books and art. From my maternal grandmother I must have inherited the busy-ness, always jumping up to do something, and in combination with my racing thoughts it does not make for a serene life.

Happily I now see my daily yoga as a necessity rather than something to tick off a list. Throughout the day I find myself craving to get into a certain pose or just stretch part of my body in a certain way it has stored in its memory from my yoga practice. I will also switch off early in the evenings and read all the books that have piled up (we have a tiny library in the village, and from my first visit I came away with books on Edvard Munch, a memoir by Graham Greene's partner and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.)

Once I have my current work project finished, I want to paint colourful things from around the house and the garden, calm seascapes as a counterbalance, and do more drawings of my nephews.



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.