The Fourth Plinth at Night

Walking through Trafalgar Square in the evening these days is still a noisy and bustling affair, but with all the cleaned buildings and the National Gallery artfully lit, the experience is definitely an improvement from my first memories as a newly arrived student in 1979.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2018), Michael Rakowitz’s sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London

Also, back in 1979 the fourth plinth beneath the towering Nelson’s Column was empty. In fact it had been empty for 150 years until the current series of temporary artworks was begun in 1999. The present sculpture is the twelfth artwork to top the plinth. It is a replica of an Assyrian lamassu statue that was destroyed by ISIS/Daesh at the Mosul museum in 2015. The original had guarded the entrance at the Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) from c700 BC.

Lamassus were protective winged deities with the body of a bull or lion and the head of a man. Some of these statues that stood at the gates of ancient Assyrian cities and palaces as symbols of power are nearly three thousand years old.  

The lamassu beneath Nelson’s Column and in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

This particular lamassu has been created by the Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz. He is an artist who, within his creative practice, has been considering peoples and cultures that have been under threat of being deliberately erased, and, to this end he has created counter-monuments such as this lamassu. This piece is one of his series  ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’, a project he began in 2006. His hope is to recreate many of the 7000 cultural objects that have been lost forever. Some of these were looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003, whilst many others were destroyed across the country during the Iraq War.

Detail showing the date tree motif on the date syrup cans.

From the pavement below it isn’t obvious at first glance precisely what this sculpture is comprised of. However, gradually you realise the surface decoration is tin cans. The Lamassu is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans and you can even spot the date tree motifs. Selecting date syrup cans was not a random choice. Of course not, this top decorative layer is informing us about another type of loss as a result of the Iraq War, the loss of one of Iraq’s traditional food export businesses.

Placed on a plinth in Trafalgar Square beneath Admiral Lord Nelson, the lamassu’s style and content is very much a counter to the traditional representation of wars and war heroes as seen with the sandstone Nelson atop his granite column. This lamassu is colourful, transient and recycled, literally made from the remains of everyday food packaging. I think it challenges the hubristic ideas of permanence, stability and the ‘forever’ notion that the stone Nelson monument suggests. Trafalgar Square may not be under water within the next 30 years, but much of a London that even now is a forever changing building site, will probably be looking very different. See London 2050 flood map.

A Popular Piece at the Barn

This year at Blackthorpe Barn, as usual, the scarf that caught the attention of the casual passersby was not my favourite. You would think by now I would be used to the well known truth ‘to each their own’ – and so it was on this occasion the blue was popular and yet my favourite, the rich red, was not. I realise that this isn’t quite that simple as within different cultures, particularly where colour is concerned, some colours are more popular than others. For example, red is the most popular colour in China and is traditionally considered to bring good luck and success.

However, despite red being a Christmassy colour here in the UK, and, having several of my red scarves on display, it was this blue neckerchief that received the most appreciative comments, and sold first.

Perhaps it was the way I had displayed it draped across the source photograph of my homegrown flowers, clearing showing from where the colour inspiration had come. Perhaps this little detail intrigued people.

Also, it wasn’t as though it was the biggest one on display which naturally was another one of my favourites. This scarf of soft pastel pinks and lilacs on a parchment background only garnered a couple of appreciative comments and it didn’t sell.

After the weekend’s experience I would like to be able to conclude that I have a clearer idea of what my customers want to buy. However, each year the preferences are different. Fashion trends are ephemeral, and at the same time individuals have their own favourite colours and colours that suit them, and, in the end buying any clothing for oneself or as a gift is a matter of personal taste. And, what’s more no directive from the fashion police or Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’ folk will make somebody choose peach (Living Coral, 2019), or purple (Ultra Violet, 2018), or lime green (Greenery, 2017) if they don’t already like those colours.

An Influential Mention for the Crafters at Blackthorpe Barn

As I wrote last week I will be at Blackthorpe Barn for the British Crafts this weekend. Obviously there has been publicity in the local press and for Suffolk that means a splash in the East Anglian Daily Times.

But the really good news is that the pre-eminent organisation, The Craft Council, has also recommended the British Crafts event in their list of the best eight Christmas Craft events across the UK.

I don’t actually take the Crafts Magazine myself, but I looked at their online listing and found this engaging photograph showing Margaret Gardiner presenting once of her beautiful pieces accompanying the listing for Blackthorpe Barn.

Screenshot from the Crafts Council

I think it is quite a coup for Blackthorpe Barn to be included in this feature and my fingers are crossed that all my fellow crafters will do well especially during these uncertain times.

Is Red a Winter Colour?

In just over a weeks’ time I shall be part of British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn again. Naturally, I am preparing my display and sorting out my stock and it occurred to me that I have more red scarves available this year than in previous years. Is red a colour people choose to wear in winter or just a colour associated more with Christmassy things?

My listing for British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn with the first three photos.

As part of the preparations for a show there is the publicity and this year I sent six photographs to the marketing and social media folk at Blackthorpe Barn for my listing on their site. Will the red neckerchief be chosen?

My listing with the second three photos as you scroll to the right.

It is always interesting for me to see which photograph gets selected as the ‘header’ image for my listing. I was really surprised when I first saw the picture featuring the pinks and greys of the Thomasina scarf had been picked.

However, when you see the ‘Craft Makers’ page you can see that it is the best one of the six I sent to balance their arrangement particularly when you notice the main header image features plenty of red.

Thomasina – a 90 x 90 cm silk twill scarf

I think you’d agree the picture did fit well and, luckily for once, both the model’s face and scarf are in focus!

British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn is about Christmas. Around the back of the big old barn hundreds of Christmas trees are for sale and the complex hosts a bespoke Christmas shop full of decorations as well as the main barn featuring all the craft stalls. And, somewhere in our culture red has become solidly associated with Christmas, if not particularly with winter clothing, and I guess that’s why my attention has been drawn more my red work.

Painting a Neckerchief: Freckeda Opal

It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.

After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.

However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.

All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!

PS – If you are in Suffolk . . . . .

Bones for Halloween

Well, other things might not be happening today, 31st October 2019, despite the premature minting of ‘Brexit’ coins, but Halloween is still on. And, this post, photographs of skeletons on display at the Ipswich Museum, is a little contribution to the general spookiness of the day.

Skull of a Woolly Mammoth trawled from the bed of the North Sea about 50 km east of Lowestoft. It is between 40,000 and 25,000 years old. The animal would have died during the last Ice Age before the existence of the North Sea.

Some skeletons are easily identifiable, but this massive bone arrangement for the Woolly Mammoth has an air of a rocky outcrop about it and I had to take a hard look to figure out what I was seeing.

The ribs and skull make for an interesting image with a little tweaking.

However, this dramatic looking skeleton caught my attention with the obvious rib cage and the recognisable skull. It was displayed in the post-glacial section of the exhibition, so I guessed it might have been a badger, but I was wrong. It was a beaver. Skeletal remains of beavers are quite common in the fens of East Anglia and this one was found in the peat in Burwell Fen, Cambridgeshire. Sadly, the beaver was hunted for fur and food and finally exterminated in England in the Saxon times. However, recently there have been successful re-introduction programmes in several parts of Great Britain (see Devon Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Project).

After being sidetracked by the Ice Age displays I went off to the Geology Room to find what I had actually come to see, a really, really big skull. The skull of a whale. It was from a whale that swam up the River Orwell in 1811 and died after becoming stranded on Denham Beach.

Skull of the stranded whale. River Orwell, 1811.

It is so large it is difficult to photograph and get a sense of its size, I guess its about 3 metres by 1.5 metres. It is also difficult to comprehend what you are seeing especially if marine mammal anatomy is not your field.

‘The Whale at Denham Beach, River Orwell’. George Frost (1745-1821) Pencil.

Beneath the whale skull were a range of cabinets with skeletons of creatures from modern times. Specimens of mammals, birds and fish are displayed and, although, a casual visitor may not be able to identify individual species, it was not hard to guess the animal from the bones. For example, you would know that this was a skeleton of a primate, but was it a chimpanzee, a gorilla or perhaps even an orangutan?

The skeleton of a female gorilla.

At first glance you might even briefly think it was an early human skeleton, but the main differences between a gorilla skeleton and a human skeleton are seen in the teeth, skull, pelvis and large toes. That looks quite a jaw and heavy brow on this lady.

Back in my studio and always interested in finding interesting shapes and patterns for my work I took another look at my photographs. The fish, the gorilla and the ostrich bone pictures had possibilities.

Fish bones and the bones as a glowing line image.

The fish skeleton makes for perhaps a better print-like image (top of this post) than a glowing line treatment, but the gorilla skull is transformed with glowing lines into an impressive Halloween portrait.

However, easily the most elegant of all the bones I saw at the Ipswich Museum was the ostrich skeleton and it’s made the best picture.

An Autumnal Walk through the Old Cemetery.

Usually when I despatch a scarf into the postal system, last week it was Musselburgh, I go to my nearest Post Office, but as we are in the middle of autumn, I thought I’d walk a bit further along a more scenic route. I chose the Post Office the other side of the Old Cemetery taking my camera with me to capture some autumnal colours as I strolled through.

I have to admit I was disappointed and a little surprised. There have been plenty of trees dropping their leaves around Ipswich, but a panorama of blazing colour in the Old Cemetery it was not.

Fallen leaves beginning to accumulate, but no striking colourful canopies.

Some of the trees were turning, but there were many more still pretty green as you can see from my photographs.

I expect all the recent rain and the lack of any overnight frost has delayed the colour changes.

One or two of the large horse chestnuts and the odd plane tree were at the light golden stage. I had expected the Pride of India/Golden Rain (Koelreuteria paniculata) trees to have been transformed into fiery oranges, but they were still entirely green.

Back in September when I walked through the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) was at its full orange-tipped yellow stage, but that moment has gone and it now stands in its dormant winter nakedness.

The Katsura Tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum. September, 2019.

Perhaps this autumn will be one of those years where the leaves change colour almost at the point of dropping, and we will blink and miss it.

Inspiration from the Wickham Market Hoard: The Freckenham ‘Horse’ Motif

Last week, I finished my post with a photograph of the beginnings of my new collection based on the Wickham Market Hoard. Strictly speaking it is the designs struck on the Freckenham and Snettisham staters that have caught my attention and specifically the charming horse symbol.

Once I had my version of the horse motif worked out and drawn up I could plan out the whole scarf design. I began this series using the smallest size scarf I paint, that’s the neckerchief square, but what colours for the initial interpretation?

Photomontage of flowers for colour combinations.

Well, it wasn’t difficult to decide as I had plenty of flower photographs capturing all the bright zing of summer blooms. When I pasted some of these together into various photomontages they offered a number of irresistible colour combinations. I chose the pink and red grouping. Below is a sequence of photos from start to finish recording painting the neckerchief where I incorporate my version of the glorious 2000 year old horse motif.

Mmm, the ‘blank canvas’ moment.
Outlines of resist all done and left to dry.
Painting in the colour.
Halfway done with only the horses to complete.
Finished and ready for steaming.

The first in my Freckenham series, the neckerchief ‘Freckenham Carmine’ is now finished and displayed on my shop.

Not all that glistens is gold: The Wickham Market Hoard

Now the statement ‘Not all that glistens is gold’ in this case is a bit of a naughty comment to attach to the Wickham Market Hoard of late antique coins. It implies the coins are not made of gold whereas it is just that they are not pure 24 Karat gold. Pure gold as we know is a soft metal and is unsuitable for circulating coins and therefore over the centuries various gold alloys have been used.

The Wickham Market Hoard on display at the Ipswich Museum.

The Wickham Market Hoard is comprised of tribal coins made of one such gold alloy. The alloy in this case is a mixture of gold, silver and copper. The coins of different tribes of this period are known as staters and were marked with different symbols.

At the time these coins were in use in Britain, around 10 BC to AD 10, Julius Caesar had already been and gone from our shores, and Britain wouldn’t be officially conquered and part of the Roman Empire until Emperor Claudius’s campaign of AD 43 .

The Romans had, of course, been minting coins for the empire and Roman coins circulated in Britain from Celtic times, but regional tribes also minted their own coinage. Roman coinage had consisted of coins of gold, silver, orichalcum (a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc) and copper. However, the tribal finds dating from this time are hoards that comprise of gold coins only.

The Wickham Market Hoard was discovered in 2008 and is the largest hoard of British Iron Age gold coins to have been found in more than 150 years. There has been nothing of comparable size since the discovery of the Whaddon Chase Hoard in Buckinghamshire in 1849.

A couple of the less worn Freckenham staters clearing showing a horse motif.

On display at the Ipswich Museum, the Wickham Market Hoard consists of 840 staters. That is 830 are Freckenham staters, five are Snettisham staters and five are Ferriby staters. These coins are named after the villages in which the coins were originally discovered. Freckenham is a village in west Suffolk and the staters found their were made by the Iceni tribe.

Gold tribal coins. Freckenham staters showing the horse motif.

These coins have a horse motif on one side and on the reverse a pair of crescents motif with a cross formed of dots or a flower.

Crescent moons on the reverse of the Freckenham staters.

The Snettisham staters were first found near the village of Snettisham, west Norfolk, and were also made by the Iceni. These staters have a similar horse motif, but this time it has a sun symbol between its legs and the reverse of these coins is nearly blank.

A couple of the Snettisham staters with a sun motif between the legs.

Finally, there are the five Ferriby staters so-called as these were discovered as part of a hoard found in north Lincolnshire in 1900. These were made by the Corieltauvi who were a tribe from the East Midlands. These coins also have a horse on one side. It is a more stylised version as the horse’s head is a triangular shape and the body is made up of a series of crescents. The reverse of a Ferriby stater has a wreath of laurel leaves.

Three of the Ferriby staters with a horse motif made of a triangle and crescents (probably easiest to see on the middle example).

These coins struck with their fascinating images are over 2000 years old, and yet the design for the horse motif on the Freckenham staters has a timeless quality. When I first saw them I knew that they would be the basis for my next collection of silk scarves.

Sunflowers – A Litmus Test

Last month I mentioned that I’d been over-optimistic about growing flowers in my backyard. As it has turned out, the sunflowers have provided the evidence for precisely what kind of conditions prevail across my patch during the course of a spring to autumn flowering season. I grew two varieties, Black Magic and Evening Sun, from seed and planted all the seedlings out at the same time in two different aspects.

There were seven seedlings planted at the end of the yard in a bed facing south-east and another seven grown in a narrow strip against the south-west facing fence.

Both varieties were supposed to grow to the top of the fence, about six feet tall, providing blooms that would be easy to cut. The plants in the back bed were weedy and only four made it to flowering, rather disappointing, and it has confirmed my suspicions that the soil in that bed is markedly impoverished. Yet both varieties in the south-west facing strip grew and grew and grew, and it became clear that they were obviously well fed, but was there more to it than that?

They all eventually flowered although the flowers at the top of these nearly 12 feet tall plants have not been easy to cut. Their unexpected height has been mostly due to a significantly richer soil in this bed. However, I can’t help but feel their height has also been as a response to the light shade that occurs during the couple of hours in the middle of the day courtesy of the neighbouring, fully grown eucalyptus tree.

Really, I should not moan as I have never had so many sunflowers all at once – almost enough to sell bunches from a bucket on my front steps!

As is often the way the yellower variety, Evening Sun, nearer to Mother Nature’s original, has grown and flowered more than my favourite the very dark red Black Magic.

Sunflowers ‘Black Magic’ with dahlia ‘Black Jack’

Growing sunflowers has been a useful litmus test indicating the quality of growing conditions across my garden. Additionally, it has also turned out that the handful of them planted in the front garden weren’t up to much, but then I had seen what the builders had ‘tipped’ onto that small patch! At least next year I will have a much better idea of what to expect. And, with a bit of luck and after my efforts during this coming winter to improve the soil, I will have a small crop of medium height sunflowers easy to harvest.

Not a bad selection for the beginning of October – sadly the pears are not homegrown.

Since I wrote this post on Monday the recent storm with high winds and heavy rain has brought down the tallest sunflower. That’s another pot needed then.

A few outtakes

Four or five times a year I prepare my latest work and head out into the Suffolk countryside for a photoshoot. You may remember in August I did just that making the most of the early morning light down by the River Orwell .

An interesting view of a misty morning on the River Orwell.

I usually take 250 to 300 photographs during the course of a shoot.

Swimming dog in the shallows equals a wet dog.

Now, not all pictures are attempts at capturing the essential ‘best’ photograph of model and scarf, some are simply capturing a moment.

Watching the dog chasing his stick into the river again.
Wet dog now investigating who and what has turned up on the riverbank – us!.

Putting all the doggy fun aside, it’s not possible for me to know before I get back to my office if I have got the shots I actually need. Unlike professional photographers I don’t have a laptop with me on location to check pictures as the shoot progresses. And, looking on the tiny camera screen only gives a very vague indication as to the quality of any image.

A white shirt in full sun makes for an over-exposed feel and shut eyes in the full glare.

Obviously, poorly framed, extremely over and under-exposed and grossly out of focus images can be immediately deleted, but it’s not possible to tell if any shot is pin sharp until I see it on my computer screen.

Apart from somebody being distracted again by the wet dog this time returning and running straight back towards our gear including a snack-filled backpack, it turns out the scarf in this photo is not in focus.

Finally, here’s a reasonable photo. However, it didn’t look like it on my camera screen, but thankfully it wasn’t deleted at first glance, made the cut and will probably be used on my shop at some point.