As artists, artisans, creatives and makers we all form part of the visual culture community and as such it is always a joy to see and be inspired by the work of others past and present.
One commendable opportunity offered by the Internet is the ability to share our finds and photos of inspirational art particularly the unnamed work of past artisans. Sharing our appreciation gently reverberates across the net as pleasantly, every now and then somebody pops up and leaves some much appreciated positive feedback for my own work.
Just recently I have received a couple of delightful mentions one by Sheri 42 from the blogging world
and one by ‘Suffolk Artists’ on Instagram. And, so I thought I would blog a ‘thank you’ post for both mentions and share the love as they say.
Last week I accompanied my father to a summer’s evening concert at Snape Maltings. I am old enough (just) to remember being driven past the old Maltings when it was being converted into a concert venue from 1965 to 1967. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use. The whole site has expanded considerably over the intervening five decades. As well as the main concert hall there is now the smaller Britten Studio, rehearsal rooms, cafes, restaurants and bars, holiday accommodation and a variety of retail outlets including the Snape Antiques Centre and The Maltings Gallery.
All round Snape Maltings has pitched itself as a cultural centre and as such hosts visiting art installations that are placed amongst permanent works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
When I was at the Maltings back in June, for a sublime performance by Vox Luminis as part of the the Aldeburgh Festival, a fitting installation was on display called ‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) by Ryan Gander.
Last week, we saw another art installation had joined ‘To Give Light’. Round the other side of the Concert Hall, near the main entrance, there is a slightly raised mound between the Maltings and the River Alde. Set on the lawn, unmissable and incongruous, currently stands a fisherman’s hut complete with ‘A’ board pavement signs.
However, there’s nobody selling fish from this hut. Instead, a small crowd of carved people trapped inside the hut gaze out at our world in dismay at the polluted and damaged oceans. (This work was originally sited on Aldeburgh Beach facing out across the North Sea. It had been commissioned for the Siren Festival, Aldeburgh.)
The pavement advertising boards draw our attention to the plight of marine mammals and
the sign written boards hanging on the hut further detail many of the shocking facts regarding the precarious state of the oceans.
‘Siren’ is an ecological art installation that disturbs and informs. It is the type of intriguing and evocative work that affirms a place for visual culture within the wider environmental discourse.
Of all the 61 painted panels that originally covered the wall of Lady Drury’s closet at Hawstead House, only one panel was painted without an emblem or a motto. This ’empty’ panel, consisting of a hilly background and two Scots pines, offers a melancholy scene.
The Reverend Sir John Cullum did not discuss this particular panel at all in his eighteenth-century account. Perhaps he simply considered it an unfinished section. However, the twenty-first century scholar, H L Meakin, suggests the ‘blank’ panel may have been deliberately left empty to encourage spontaneous meditation.
It is also possible to read the two, stark, thin pine trees as visual metaphors for Lady Drury and her husband. They’re standing mature, living apart from each other within a dark and hilly landscape. After all they had existed in a world of challenges and grief following the loss of their young daughters.
More generally, in her summary of Lady Drury’s closet, Meakin offers ideas from Seneca and Montaigne as well as current research considering the lives of early modern women. She suggests there was not a simple division between the public and private spheres, and proposes this tiny, private room offered a space to both think about as well as retreat from the wider world.
Despite the gloomy appearance of the ‘pines’ panel, I find the silhouetted trees make a compelling composition.
And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.
These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.
Overall, the panelled room is both intriguing and inspirational. So inspirational I decided to paint a series of neckerchiefs using the two pines, the scarlet pimpernel and the corn marigold. Here’s the first of the series showing how the scarlet pimpernel rapidly morphed into a larger, less delicate flower to balance the composition.
Sometimes I stick quite closely to my source inspiration as with the first two of my recent Edlyn series of silk scarves. Picking a panel and details from one of the panels of the St Edmund’s rood screen and working up a design.
But sometimes I get diverted.
After I have drawn out some patterns and motifs a few times I start to wander off down my own road. I think it is a similar to when authors say that their characters somehow take on their own lives beyond the control of the writer. I feel this scarf is my version of my ‘visual’ characters marching off in their own direction especially regarding the colours.
This affair is probably better shown than described. As you can see from the photographs, the outline drawing still has a feel of the medieval panels about it, but it is loosening and the choice of colours has clearly moved away from the rood screen originals.
The creative process is not entirely describable, but here is the finished silk on the frame.
Here is another of my Edlyn series. Working with the same design, but this time choosing colours from another panel.
I rather liked the melancholy of the ‘David with harp’ panel and I thought the blues, the very pale grey, and the faded lilacs seen on the surrounding woodwork would make an interesting scarf.
Adding more colour to imitate the golden feel of the original David panel.
At this stage again as with the first of this series, the colours were all looking too clean and all more 21st century than 15th century. So I used my hard bristle brush again and swept lightly across the silk with a thickish greeny-grey resist over the blue.
And, finally I added black dye to the background to give the overall design some depth.
The piece was finished and ready for steaming.
And here’s the scarf after a couple of hours in the steamer.
When I last posted about my Edlyn series I had just begun painting the first Edlyn scarf.
With continual reference to my photograph of the Isaiah panel of the rood screen, I began selecting my colour combinations and mixing up the dyes. Then I started painting.
As the colour was added the whole piece began to take shape.
At this stage I felt the painting looked too flat and clean, so with a wide stiff brush I added sweeps of thick, brown resist to give a hint of ageing. Edlyn gold is now finished and awaiting steaming.
Four years ago during the autumn of 2014 I blogged a sequence of posts relating how I was inspired by the Ranworth rood screen to create some silk scarves. Now is that time of year when I turn to looking at all those warmer, rich shades of autumn and feel the need to work with old gold and dusky damsons. Or, as Hilary Mantel so beautiful wrote “wearing theirfallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum” when describing the gentlemen’s clothing at the Tudor court.
Looking at my recent photographs of another medieval rood screen this time in Suffolk, there is much to admire and inspire. Despite its age, over 500 years old, the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold still has a wealth of medieval painted panels filled with faded colour and I have found plenty of inspiration.
Firstly, I decided to work with a delightful motif repeated on the cloak of the prophet, Isaiah. I copied the motif and worked up a whole scarf design on paper before using three templates to transfer the completed work to a square, flat crepe scarf.
This part of the process is surprisingly controlled to ensure I get balance and movement across the whole scarf. Next it is time to add the specific details, drawing lines and shapes using the gutta resist. This part is a little more loose and random as the resist flows freely and quite rapidly from the applicator pipette.
Finally, once the outlining is finished and has completely dried the softer and unfettered painting can begin. This is the first of my Edlyn Series of silk scarves inspired by the St Edmund’s rood screen.
It was just over 18 years ago that I spent several months visiting a number of medieval churches in East Anglia to photograph their painted rood screens. At the time I was working on the rood screens as part of my research for my Master’s dissertation. Often my mother accompanied me and helped out with the photographs. I was surveying the painted details found within the cloth of gold worn by the saints and prophets. She would patiently hold a cardboard scale slightly in front of the painted motifs embellishing the robes depicted on the screens. It was in the days just before digital cameras became widely available (and affordable!) and I had to wait for my film to return from the developers before I knew if my prints were a fair record for my work.
Following my recent house move my dissertation has surfaced. Looking for fresh inspiration I scrutinised the photographs I used to illustrate my text. What a disappointment! At the time I wrote and produced my dissertation the finished printed version appeared good enough, but compared to my photos today they are, well, of exceedingly poor quality.
There are six rood screens in East Anglia that are particularly fine and are known as the ‘Ranworth Group’. These late-fifteenth-century screens include from Norfolk; St Helen’s, Ranworth; All Saints’, Filby; St Mary’s, Old Hunstanton; All Saints’, Thornham; St Mary’s, North Elmham and from Suffolk, St Edmund’s, Southwold. Maybe one day I will be back up on the North Norfolk coast and visit Old Hunstanton and Thornham again, but for my immediate needs Southwold is my nearest resource. (I have already been back to, rephotographed and worked from Ranworth – see here.)
It is the case that the Ranworth screen is by far the best preserved, but Southwold is also in a reasonable condition despite some Victorian renovation work. All six rood screens of the Ranworth Group appear to have been made and painted by a single workshop. The designs and motifs for the cloth of gold used to adorn the saints and prophets probably came from the same pattern source book. If you look carefully at the examples above (Page 27 -apologies for the poor quality) you can see a dog with collar attacking a nesting swan. This motif is found clearly on five of the painted screens, the exception being North Elmham which was too dark and damaged to see the detail clearly. All measured 6 x 7 cm suggesting the motif was traced from an original source. There are other motifs and stencilled patterns that are also seen repeated on the rood screens, including the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold, providing consistent evidence to support the long held view that a well-respected artisan workshop from Norwich created these masterpieces during the period 1470 – 1500.
Earlier this week I went back to Southwold to rephotograph its glorious rood screen and you can see from the image below that modern technology, a better camera and a better lens have enabled me to record this treasured medieval art as it should be done.
There is something perennially charming about a jug of fading sunflowers. You can see why Vincent Van Gogh was so taken with them. Famously, he painted sunflowers many times including the seven ‘Sunflowers’ canvasses which were ‘nothing but sunflowers’.Of the original seven sunflower paintings, five are now in museums around the world, one was destroyed in a fire during World War Two and one, amazingly, is still in a private collection. These paintings have been frequently reproduced and used to decorate all kinds of merchandise. I recently spotted these Vans on the Internet.When I was younger I had a small print of this version below.
I copied these exuberant flowers onto a couple of metres of silk which I made into a top.
During the intervening 25 years, I, as well as the top have faded a wee bit, but here’s me earlier this year during the heatwave caught on camera mixing up some dyes wearing my old sunflower silk. It may have been very hot in Ipswich this summer, but nowhere the 45 degrees we had experienced in Egypt.
Last week I posted about my discovery of a beautiful example of Tudor woodwork, the Parham fire surround. I found the detailed carving inspirational and have developed a motif from one of the pheasants lurking in the carved vegetation.
Here is more of the process shown in a few photos as the design is first outlined and then painted with dye, pink, old gold and moss green, on a handkerchief-sized piece of silk.
I was not convinced about the old gold so it was dropped when I expanded and transferred the design to a larger, 90 x 90 cm square silk twill scarf.
As I recently mentioned June is the month of roses and I do love a classic pink rose – I think that’s why I have been working with pink all this month.
And, the pieces are now ready to be rolled in paper and steamed for a couple of hours to fix the dyes.
Always on the lookout for captivating visual imagery with which to work, a trip to an exhibition often yields a good collection of useful photographs. Mind you it is surprising how often I go thinking I know what I need to photograph and find something else entirely different awash with fascinating and inspirational details just waiting to be worked up into designs for my scarves.
This was certainly the case when I saw the Parham Fire Surround. It is an impressive piece of Tudor woodwork intricately carved with monkeys, birds, foliage and fruit.
This beautiful yet functional example of early sixteenth-century carpentry was on display as part of the Thomas Wolsey Exhibition held at Christchurch Mansion earlier this year. The fire surround came from a superior house in Parham near Woodbridge in Suffolk and would have been installed in one of the principal rooms. The elegant detailed carving indicates the status, wealth and taste of the homeowner.
It also features the specific detail of pomegranates, a visual reference to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. The exotic quality of the pomegranate motif signifying Katherine’s Spanish origin as well as being a symbol of fertility. By the time of the Tudor period the pomegranate, with its many seeds, already had a long history associated with fecundity. It is poignant that this particular symbol should be associated with a queen whose paucity of viable offspring became her downfall when she failed to provide a male heir for Henry and the English throne.
However, the detail that especially caught my attention was the berry eating pheasants. Pheasants were most likely brought to England by the Romans, but it isn’t until the eleventh century that there is mention of pheasants in the historical record. They were a bird for the nobleman’s table and as the Normans spread their power and influence across England so pheasants became part of the English countryside.
By the fourteenth and fifteenth century they were a common sight and are mentioned as part of ecclesiastical celebration feasts too. At the time the Parham pheasants were carved the records indicate that Henry VIII appeared to have kept a French priest as a “fesaunt breeder”.
Nowadays driving round the lanes of Suffolk it is not a rarity to have to take action to avoid a cock pheasant confidently strolling across the road.
Enough of Suffolk lanes and wildlife and back to the silk which I trialled on a small square of silk, before translating the whole design to a 90 x 90 cm silk twill . . . to be continued in Part II.