Young talent – Annie Lai

More-Annie-LaiCreative-review

Every now and then Instagram gives us something interesting and positive. On Tuesday 26th June the media folk at Creative Review posted this intriguing photograph by a new young talented photographer, Annie Lai.

The post informs us that Annie (for those of you who might want to have a peak on Instagram she’s @annielai_) has only recently graduated from the London College of Fashion. She grew up in China, but spent her High School years in New Zealand, before taking up her place to study photography in London. I can see why Creative Review chose to feature her work as there is a hint of a retro quality about it yet overall it is most definitely new contemporary work.

Creative-review2Looking at this fashion photograph I feel I should grab my Art Historian’s hat and immediately delve into the world of Roland Barthes to consider why I am so taken with this image. Although it is not a blatantly emotionally charged photograph, I think its composition, tone and framing, and crisp lighting is engaging us more than the average fashion photo. I think it has both studium and punctum. Naturally, this is a subjective view and in Barthes’ musings on photography he suggests you can be interested in a photograph (studium) without it having that special quality/effect he called punctum:

A photograph's punctum is that accident which 
pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me). 
Rolande Barthes 
from 'Camera Lucida - Reflections on Photography'1980

After considering why, for me, the photo has pricked me, I think it is very personal. Overtly, it has made me recall images of Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick that were splashed across the magazines from my childhood. Then, in a fleeting drift of linking memories radiating out from this recollection I arrived at recalling my childish thrill at wearing some new orange sandals. My sister and I had accompanied my mother on a visit to a home hairdresser. It had been a very hot day and she had dressed us in matching homemade turquoise and green paisley print mini-dresses. And, I got to wear my new sandals. Amongst the many events of childhood, a random moment on a random day was caught to become a poignant memory for me and it has been strangely evoked by this 21st century fashion photo.

As far as my own attempts at fashion photography go I think I have captured one decent shot in the last 1,000. Again, it’s all subjective, but I think this photograph probably works for more than just me as it is one of my popular pics on Instagram.

Walkies copy

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Mother’s Day and remembering mothers

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Ophelia-goldMy mother is no longer with us, but, she still lives on in my memory. Of course, she was not always a mother and she had some fun times despite growing up during the war years. She was an entertaining storyteller and liked to reminisce. I remember her vivid retelling of how when she was a teenager she and a friend secretly went to a call for extras for a film and she was picked. Unfortunately, my grandfather was absolutely furious when he found out and would not allow her to take up the offer. When she was older she enjoyed amateur dramatics and particularly loved dancing. Naturally, as a teenager she liked to dress like the Hollywood stars of the day and people often remarked she reminded them of Rita Hayworth.

MotherThis will be the eighth Mother’s Day when I’ve not been planning a special lunch for her and it only seems like yesterday I was painting a silk scarf for her in her favourite colours. If she was still here today I think she’d like one of these scarves with plenty of old gold, mustard and a hint of chartreuse.

She used to joke she was a blonde in a brunette’s body. She was a spirited, golden girl with amber coloured eyes and one shade or another of blonde hair. Much missed.

Contemporary Decorations

TurquoiseTomorrow is the last day of Christmas and traditionally all the festive decorations will be taken down.

Going-blueSince early December there has been a contemporary Christmas Tree erected outside the University of Suffolk on the Ipswich Waterfront.

Blue-green-tree-IpswichFeaturing a gradually changing lighting scheme it has attracted plenty of attention and quite a few people have been taking photographs.

green-goldIt is interesting to see non-traditional displays. This one is all about lighting up the winter evenings as it references a traditional tree without being a chopped down fir.

Going-greenI saw it being erected and was unsure about its appearance, but once night fell and the lights were switched on I thought the subtly changing colours were rather beautiful.

Scale-tree
Hard to grasp the scale, but easier with a human in shot!

Christmas is about traditions, but it is pleasing to see new contemporary, festive interpretations too.

 

Claire – Outrageously flamboyant

Claire-GraysonFrom 4 November 2017 – 4 February 2018 the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool is hosting the exhibition ‘Making Himself Claire: Grayson Perry’s Dresses’. Regular readers of this Blog will know I am a big fan of Grayson Perry and his work. And, Claire is a force of nature.

Claire Turner Prize dress
Turner Prize dress, silk satin, polyester and computer controlled embroidery, designed by Grayson Perry, 2003.  Worn by Perry as his alter ego Claire when he collected the Turner Prize for Art in 2003.

The Exhibition is displaying ensembles designed by students of Central St Martins for this world-famous,  cross-dressing artist as well as outfits designed by Grayson Perry himself.

Sarah Hall Central St Martins
Dress, printed polyester and wool, designed by Sarah Hall, Central St Martins, London, 2009. Deliberately unsettling imagery reflecting the designs of Perry’s ceramics which often have darker meanings upon closer examination.
Angus Lai and Grayson Perry
Dress, printed polyester satin, designed by Angus Lai, Central St Martins, London 2014. And Angus with Grayson Perry in a similar dress in a shorter length. Photo David Levene for The Guardian

A friend of mine recently went along and took some photos to share with me as I can’t get to Liverpool to see these fabulous, outrageous creations.

dress and matching bonnet
Dress and matching bonnet, printed and appliquéd cotton, mixed fabrics and ceramic buttons, designed by Grayson Perry, 2008.

The Exhibition is taking place in the Craft and Design Gallery of the Walker Art Gallery.

high priestess cape grayson perry 2007
High Priestess Cape, silk satin, rayon and computer controlled embroidery, designed by Grayson Perry, 2007.

There is a perennial question ‘Is it art or is it craft?’ that bothers some folk, but I think we can say that both in his Turner Prize winning work, and, his personal expression as Claire, it is all first rate visual culture with no need for post-medieval boundaries.

Here’s a short video from the Walker Gallery of Grayson discussing the Exhibition.

 

Park life – planting for bees

Chicory-succoryThink of a traditional civic park in the UK and regularly mown grass criss-crossed with paths and dotted with formal bedding schemes springs to mind. A vision surviving from our community minded forebears, the Victorians.

Wilding-the-parkBut in the 21st century planted civic spaces in many towns have moved away from this formal interpretation. Perhaps this is partly due to the labour intensive nature of seasonal bedding schemes and therefore the greater expense.

Nowadays we find hole areas of parks have become very informal with a move to include the introduction of more natural, conservation areas.  Plants are being chosen to support the indigenous wildlife and there’s even a hint of re-wilding some areas and a hands off approach to weeding.

Meadow-wildflowers-clump
Meadow wildflowers. Bee friendly clump of wild chicory, upright hedge-parsley, teasel and common thistle.

Of course, look closely and there is a fine balance between allowing nature to flourish yet not become entirely overrun with the more thuggish weeds. Weed or not, the bees are only too pleased for the odd flowering thistle and the butterflies such as Painted Ladies, Commas, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals all love a healthy patch of nettles. (Sadly, when I was in the park I only spotted a couple of Commas, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good year for butterflies, possibly due to the recent heavy downpours.)
Busy-beeIt isn’t just the annual and biennial wild flowers that are important for bees, as in the autumn, when there are fewer blooms around, ivy flowers provide a very important source of nectar. And, this is where the large, venerable park trees supporting their heavy old cloaks of ivy are so important as only established, mature (arborescent) ivy flowers.

Woodland-cool-Holywells
Large old tree clad in arborescent ivy in the woodland area of Holywells Park, Ipswich, Suffolk.

A vast interior – Milan Cathedral

Sculptural-friezeThe impressive, ornate Duomo di Milano is unmistakable and familiar to anyone vaguely interested in medieval church buildings, but what about inside . . .  naturally it’s vast. The interior space can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres. It feels magnificent as you enter the immense, shadowy gloom from the bright Milanese daylight.

It is hard to capture the scale of the space which is dominated by the 52 pillars that make up the five aisles of the church, but a few shots down the nave to the altar and beyond . . .

and then standing in the transept to the right of the main alter looking across to the northern apse, encompassing the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree,  . . .

View-across-front-of-main-altar-to-altar-of-the-Madonna-of-the-Tree
Across the transept looking northwards to the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree.

and then turning around to face the altar of Saint John Bono (San Giovanni Bono) on the southern side of the transept, and you begin to get the idea.

Altar-St-John-Good-South-Apse
Altar of San Giovanni Bono filling the southern apse of the transept.

Milan Cathedral has taken over 600 years to complete and during those centuries various architectural and art styles have come and gone. Interestingly, although the Altar of San Giovanni Bono looks at first glance as if it was a whole, complete design created at one time by a single sculptor, it is actually a combination of sculptural pieces. The main figure of San Gionvanni Bono in the centre of this classical style altar, was sculpted by the 18th century sculptor Elia Vincenzo Buzzi around 1763. The statue stands beneath the inscription ‘Ego sun pastor bonus’ (I am the Good Shepherd) and it is flanked to its right by The Guardian Angel and to the left by St Michael. I liked the composition of The Guardian Angel grouping and thought it made an interesting photograph. Our guide simply walked past the whole altar affair, ignoring it and began to relate the details of the more famous Marco d’Agrate statue of St Bartholomew nearby.

Now back home, I have spent some time digging around in the literature and at the same time examining my photographs. I’ve discovered that the two statues flanking the central display were created by a different sculptor and not Buzzi. They are the work of Giovanni Bellandi and were carved 140 years earlier than the Buzzi work. If you look closely the Bellandi work is less stiff and formal than the Buzzi statue. In any case I just liked the idea of such a grand altar being a successful composite of more than one artist’s work carved over a century apart.

Another decorative element of the building that significantly adds to the drama of the experience is the beautiful stained glass.

Soaring 20 metres up towards the ceiling the windows are filled with stained glass some from the 15th and 16th centuries with more additions in the 19th century and some new windows commissioned as recently as 1988. Stained glass is more fragile than stone, and requires regular maintenance. The cleaning and repairing work began in the 17th century and has been carried out ever since.

Of course, over the centuries, many hundreds if not several thousands of people have worked to build and adorn the cathedral and most of them remain unnamed. In our individualistic times celebrating named, famous artists, it is refreshing to think of the extensive collaboration of these unnamed people, working together over hundreds of years, to create such a magnificent building as the Duomo.

 

Magnificent patterned floor
Magnificent patterned floor of Candoglia white, Varenna black and red marble (1584) designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-96) – laid by many hands.

 

 

 

 

What a difference in just 8 weeks!

 

Out-now-Thalictrum
Meadow rue – thalictrum aquilegiifolium

A couple of months ago everything in the garden looked as though the abundance of summer would never arrive and then suddenly here it all is. There are plants bursting into flower and flowing all over each other.

Here are a couple of examples that have so far withstood the torrential rain we’ve been experiencing, but, sadly, I have to report my old fashioned roses have been hammered.

But, after a quick tour round the beds I see there’s plenty of potential waiting in the wings. There are lilies, perennial poppies and some knautia all in bud.

Of course, the open, cheerful and always reliable oxeye daisies are a favourite with the bees. They also look beautiful and fresh in the early morning sun (when we have some!).

Early-morning

The Silk Road

If you’re visiting the Netherlands over the summer there’s a whole exhibition about ‘The Silk Road’ at the Hermitage, Amsterdam. As you may recall ‘The Silk Road’ is one of my favourite historical routes for the transmission of design motifs from the East to the West.

I am not a tourist

camelsilkroute I visited the Hermitage again, this time to see their “ Silk Road Exhibition; Treasures from the Hermitage “.

The Silk Road stretched from China to Europe through various central Asian countries, it crossed borders, cultures and languages allowing trade for centuries. It’s a fascinating route – the cultures and languages along it are diverse and so are the treasures in the exhibition.

There are a pair of merchant’s trousers, which means you’re looking at silk that was woven more than a thousand years ago. Wall frescoes from many of the trading station have been restored and show the legends of the time. There’s a wall of coins from across the route, and there are figurines whose faces show the diversity of people involved in this most famous of trading routes.

The artifacts are beautifully presented, with good information about the treasures. It’s set up so that you can travel…

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