Architectural Ornamentation – The Anthemion Motif

anthemion moti
Victorian illustration of the anthemion motif – lotus flower with palm leaf.

I always have my camera with me to snap attractive colour combinations or interesting patterns. Architectural and sculptural details are a great source of diverse ornamentation such as the anthemion motif.  The design is based on combining the lotus flower with palm leaves and has a long history of being reinterpreted and reworked over the centuries. The term ‘anthemion motif’ as a decorative expression appears to have sprung into use in the mid-nineteenth century with anthemion literally meaning ‘flower’ in Ancient Greek.

Ancient Egyptian lotus
Victorian drawing of Ancient Egyptian lotus flowers.

The Victorians were great organisers and cataloguers not only did they classify the wonders of the natural world – beetles and finches spring to mind, but they also applied their energy to sort and order the history of the human-made world. On the 15th December 1856, Owen Jones published the now famous Victorian reference guide to decoration – ‘The Grammar of Ornament’.

Ancient Greek motif
Victorian representation of Ancient Greek lotus-palmette design.

Looking through this beautiful, illustrated book of decorative details it is possible to follow the migration of the lotus-palmette motif from Ancient Egypt, through time to the Ancient Greeks and across the ancient seas giving rise to this Etruscan version currently displayed in the British Museum.

Etruscan sculptural detail
Etruscan carved stone showing the lotus-palmette design, the anthemion motif.

Now, in the 21st century we take for granted the near immediate global transmission of ideas, image, text and music on the Internet, yet there is something pleasing in knowing that we are part of a continuum of the interaction and exchange of designs.

Saturday morning cutting across Hyde Park

Just a brief note – my daughter and I walked through Hyde Park yesterday morning. We enjoyed all the energetic dogs running in the fresh morning sunlight. We also admired the hardy souls at the front of the queue already camped out round the Albert Hall for the Last Night of the Proms. (Sadly, due to other commitments I couldn’t join the queue to be a promenader and hear Joyce DiDonato sing in the evening.)

Royal Albert Hall Proms queue
Last Night of the Proms Queue, 10.45 am Saturday morning .

As we walked round the building, chatting to each other, minding our own business, a shifty man hissed ‘Last Night tickets’ at us. My daughter a regular festival/gig goer just laughed and said there are always touts hanging around any event. Now, I am sorry, but I am going to moan – touts, and I am afraid people who buy from touts on the street, just promote the unsavoury side of the secondary market in show tickets. There has been an on/off rumbling about the secondary market for tickets sales in the UK for the last couple of years. And, in particular, the reselling of debenture tickets for premium events such as Wimbledon and charity music events at the Royal Albert Hall.

My daughter and I are fans of eighteenth-century music. Bach, Handel, Telemann, Arne etc, etc, so here’s our somewhat earthy, Baroque view of ticket touts.

Now from the ridiculous back to the sublime, well a beautiful display of Gothic Revival, the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park.

Ooh, nearly forgot, talking of Thomas Arne, absolutely loved Joyce DiDonato’s interpretation of ‘Rule, Britannia’ at the Last Night (just seen it thanks to YouTube).

Wedgwood Fairyland Lustreware – Beautiful & Charming

Wedgwood fairyland lustre ware
Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Fairyland Lustreware, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Pots have been objects of cultural expression across many centuries and cultures. Although not as resilient as stone, but less ephemeral than textiles and books, ceramic works have been collected and cherished by all kinds of us. Lustreware, the use of metallic glazes on ceramics, dates from about the ninth century with the earliest surviving examples showing lustre glazes decorating glass vessels.

Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre vaseThe Ceramics Department at the V&A Museum in London is always worth a visit and recently I saw these beautiful examples of Wedgwood Fairyland Lustreware. They are the work of one of Wedgwood’s painter/designers called Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881-1945) who joined the firm in 1909. These charming pieces are bone china, printed and painted in underglaze colours with gold and lustre and are thought to date from about 1923.

As with many fine, expensive pieces they are some of the best examples of lustreware which had been popular throughout the nineteenth century following the introduction of pink and white lustreware in 1805 by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. This spawned a whole number of lesser, but more affordable versions of pottery lustreware.

Lustre ware jugs
Eight Staffordshire Lustre Jugs sold by Skinner Auctioneers

Some 150 years later my great-aunt received this version as a wedding gift. A Staffordshire Potteries much diluted version of the pink ‘Moonlight’ lustreware of Wedgwood.

Kensington Pottery pink lustreware

This pink jug has an iridescent sheen created by adding a metallic film over brush marked glazing. It was made by the Kensington Pottery Ltd (1922-61) sometime after 1937 when the company changed their mark from KPH to KPB.


A detailed analysis and discussion of the earliest lustreware techniques can be found at V&A Conservation Journal article

Vanitas – A Contemporary, Personal Version

Back in May a fellow blogger, Frances Allitt, wrote on her blog Before the Art a piece about the tradition of ‘Vanitas’ depictions in Western Art History. It was illustrated with fine 16th and 17th century oil paintings similar to this example from the collection at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Stilleven, Grueber not de Heem
Still Life – Johann Friedrich Grueber, 1662-1681

Towards the end of her post she uploaded her own ‘Vanitas’ photograph and invited her readers, us, to have a go too. So I thought I’d try some staging and shots and create my own Vanitas portrait.

Vanitas photograph

Of course some objects in the photograph are particular for my life, and other items displayed are those often found in a formal Vanitas painting. The dying flowers and the spent candle are symbols of the transience of life. The traditional memento mori image is a skull, but I’ve used an alternative image to signify death and corruption, the rotting peach.

I have also included two photographic portraits one of my late mother and one of my great-grandmother. Both pictures were taken when they were young women. In this photo my great-grandmother was 18 years old and already suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. She died when she 36 years old.

Vanitas Close-up

Working from Scratch – Update in Pink

The other week I worked up a design by looking through many Japanese woodblock prints and selecting a number of Ukiyo-e images as inspiration for both pattern and colour. The end of the process was a blue and green scarf also currently my banner above.


I liked the finished look and decided to work the pattern in a new colour combination and started from nature’s beautiful pink and yellow combination in this poppy with the added golden detail of the hover flies collecting nectar.

Detail of an interior by Antonio Ortiz Echagüe (1883 - 1942)
Detail of an interior by Antonio Ortiz Echagüe
(1883 – 1942)

With the poppy in mind I started looking round building a collection of images with pinks, gold and black, starting with work by fine artists. Next I delved into contemporary visual culture from all over – here tea towels, table decorations and masks.

Ah yes, inspiration this time came from another kind of ‘floating’ world, Venice, and their famous carnival and masked balls. Sumptuous colour combinations and fascinating, ornate detail were now the recipe for the day.

And, here’s the finished work.


The Enduring Appeal of the Market

Where-CamdenThere is something wholesomely appealing about market shopping. Obviously there are markets and markets, but we are part of an age old continuum of face-to-face trading when we shop at a market especially if it’s outdoor with a great variety of stalls offering all kinds of wares.


In London there are several very famous markets, my favourite is the Columbia Road Flower Market, but the other weekend I revisited an old haunt I’ve not been to in over a decade. How Camden Lock Market has been developed and expanded was really surprising. Camden has gone ‘all’ market – now a major tourist destination, and it was heaving.

camden high street
Extremely, extremely busy Camden on a sunny, Saturday lunch-time in August .

At it’s core it is still fairly true to the alternative/vintage/hipster fashion experience, but also now there is a huge range of food stalls offering dishes from every cuisine you can think of. We sampled Japanese, Lebanese, Spanish and Mexican – all very tasty and freshly cooked.

Mass tourism allows us to visit markets all round the world and I think it is a special part of a trip if you can shop with the locals. Buying food becomes a treat and not a chore. Ideally with the more transitory nature of market stalls street merchants can try out the bohemian or the alternative, offering us customers something different or unusual. And it gives the small trader opportunities when selling only a limited stock of their homemade products or homegrown produce.

And, then, sometimes an entire market is a new experience.

 The Hong Kong Bird Market
The Hong Kong Bird Market

A Little Extra – The Grayson Perry Tapestries at the RA

In a previous post I mentioned in passing that at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition you could also see a sequence of tapestries by Grayson Perry.

NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image on Pinterest.

Of course Grayson Perry is well-known for ceramics (his pots) for which he won the Turner Prize in 2003, but these tapestries are a change of medium rather than content. They exhibit a continuation of his challenging often acidic, social commentary in a visual form. I loved them. I had already seen the television programmes ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ that documented his artistic process and I was thrilled to see the finished tapestries. In these works he is visually dissecting the relationship between people’s taste and their class.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From
The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From

The series called ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, is hanging round Room X at the Royal Academy. We see six large tapestries that make a clear reference to Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’- indeed, the protagonist in Perry’s work is called Tim Rakewell. The concept, research, working sketches and the final production of the tapestries form the four part television series.

Detail from 'The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal'.
Detail from ‘The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal’.

The size of tapestries (two metres by four metres), their vibrant colour, together with the exquisite detail and totemic elements included for each depiction of the ‘progress’, were both visually stunning and frequently amusing – well they do say the British are obsessed with class. It is quite a few centuries (despite the sincere efforts of William Morris) since tapestry was considered to be ‘the’ medium for conspicuous consumption and that of itself is precisely why this series, in this woven form, is so acute.

If you can’t get to the RA then . . .

In The Best Possible Taste on Channel 4.

Alternatively or additionally the Arts Council Collection has launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. This is Grayson Perry’s first app and gives users the chance to see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility. The digital guide, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available from Apple’s iTunes Store (£1.99).

And, finally, Grayson Perry is to give this year’s Reith Lectures. The lectures will be broadcast in October and November as part of BBC Radio 4’s celebration of arts and culture in 2013.

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2013 – hmm

Last weekend I was in London and had time to visit this year’s Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy. I’ve been a few times before, but not recently and it was heartening to see they don’t seem to have crammed in the work quite so ferociously as they did in the deep dark past.RA-SummerExhib13

But still some rooms have such densely packed walls that it is difficult to extract the wheat from the chaff.

A tricky hanging - balancing very differing content.
A tricky hanging – balancing very differing content.

With the usual restrictions on photographing exhibitions I have found that The Economist’s Culture Blog has a small gallery of the show which gives a good overall impression.

Now, it is very easy to be swept along by other people’s views especially where ‘art’ is concerned, but in the end you are the only viewer in your head and so your personal opinion is your personal opinion. WorkNotesI make a point of not reading reviews before I go to an exhibition, a performance or even a film – I try to go in a state of openness to a new experience, but I am also aware that I bring my own prejudices. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to avoid the great and the good giving us the benefit of their wisdom when an event is endlessly trailed and heavily promoted. However, this time I’d missed all the usual fuss associated with Summer Exhibition and arrived early with catalogue and pen ready.

TateMoss-with- space

First impressions, well lit, light in feel and light in content. This painting bucked the trend. Neither of these photographs do the central picture justice. It is a striking oil by Jock McFadyen RA called Tate Moss. It is quite large, it even felt large in a spacious gallery room, and shows a derelict, industrial warehouse with graffiti. Despite its sombre theme the blues and green lighten the impression and I could see it gracing the boardroom of a FTSE 100 Company to remind the directors of their own business mortality.

Jock McFadyen
No.76 Tate Moss Jock McFadyen. £55,000. Oil. 200 x 300cm. © Jock McFadyen; Photograph courtesy the artist from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

I don’t normally speak to strangers (I am very English), but I had just written a brief note about a grouped set of canvasses when I heard the stern comment ‘Derivative’ as the man in front of me turned to his companion. He glanced at me seeing my smile and I explained I’ve literally just noted ‘quite derivative’. “Absolutely” he barked and left for the next room, thinking about it I hope he wasn’t the artist, a well-known RA, – he did look the right age.

Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate.
Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate visually.

Don’t you think that a work of art selected for such a prestigious show as the Summer Exhibition should step out from the banal and the mundane and agitate some kind of response in the viewer? Maybe more of these pieces achieve this when viewed alone or in a less art-filled environment. I thought this ‘Little Blue Pinocchio’ stepped out (actually almost out of the frame) despite being hung high on the top row – also visible in the second photo above.

£7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
No.211 Little Blue Pinocchio Jim Dine. £7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.

Walking through the galleries I was struck by the overall paleness/monochrome nature of the show as if the low key presentation was attuned to the general art mood (there have been many cuts to art organisations’ budgets). The most striking of the monochrome works was a series of large ink drawings consisting of three studies of Icelandic geological features, by Emma Stibbon RA. Again, the photograph does not do justice to the work as in real life the scale and detail combine to generate an intense yet restrained visual impact.

£4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.
No.57 Hverir, Iceland. Emma Stibbon RA. £4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

But as usual, and it is always the way, the most stunning and interesting work – the one for me anyway – (other than the splendid Grayson Perry tapestries) had no reproductions available. It was No.580 an acrylic with gloss by Gulcehre Ciplak called ‘The Long List, You Are On It Too!’. It depicts a dining table with unused, empty plates and three turkeys wearing collars and ties staring indignantly directly out at you. The direct gaze is challenging and seems to say ‘What are YOU going to do about this?’

OCTOBER 2013 – update if you want to see Gulcehre Ciplak’s fascinating painting she has now uploaded a photo to her website

If you are in London and have a spare couple of hours then I recommend a visit not least to see the grand finale of the Grayson Perry tapestries. The exhibition is on until 18 August 2013.

Busy City Centres – Now and Then

A few weeks ago I was in Norwich’s City Centre which despite having two covered modern shopping malls still really radiates out from the old market place. It was a sunny, working lunchtime and the market was busy. I took some pictures, but nothing special.

People shopping
Norwich Market 2013

Then The Reluctant Retiree posted about her visit to Warsaw and uploaded this stunning photograph of a pre-war Warsaw.

Credit – Museum of the Warsaw Uprising.

The contrast between these two images prompted some questions. Firstly, does our familiarity with our own everyday surroundings numb us to their intrinsic charm and energy? Or, are we always wearing our rose-tinted spectacles when viewing images of the past? Or is it much more to do with the art of the photograph and the difference between an image constructed by the professional photographer and the happy snaps of the amateur?

Starting from Scratch – Part Four & Finished

The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.

It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.

Ophelia I Blue GreenUkiyo-e woodblockSnow Scene in Garden

Starting from Scratch – Part Three

I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.


It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.

Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.

Painting with dyes - about halfway done.
Painting with dyes – about halfway done.

As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.