Sunday 24 December 2017

An incredible book for an incredible man ...

Ordinarily when I sit down to thumb through a book or do a spot of reading I sit with an endless stream of tea to lubricate me and piles of notes around me, sketches, scraps of paper and artworks ... everywhere. I rarely allow myself the time to read for pleasure these days, criminal, but there's always research to me done and knowledge needed to move a piece forward or dream up my next mad venture. So when I decided it was finally time to write a blog on the most mammoth (and valuable) book I'm ever likely to own, it was a much more serious affair. On with the white cotton gloves, not a drop of tea or a cheeky biscuit in sight and the only place large enough to house this huge tome, the bed, prepared as I hover over the book, shoulders stooped like a hunchback.

I am talking about a book I was gifted 364 days earlier, Taschens utterly mammoth Limited edition book 'HR Giger'. I say mammoth, Taschen refer to the format as 'Baby Sumo' and at 36x50cm in size, 400 pages and a weight so great I can only just lift it, the book is vast and more than lives up to its title. Released as a limited edition of 1200 copies, the book is a comprehensive look at Giger's career and artworks spanning from 1961 until his death in 2014, when the book was still being worked upon. The book takes you on a journey chronologically through Gigers work, a useful style of layout as you can easily see the flow of Gigers artwork and how his themes and techniques grew and developed over the decades.

Beginning with abstract ink pieces and conceptual pieces such as birth machine the book shows different phases in Gigers career and some themes which would eventually become recurring. The Passagen and Bathroom series demonstrate Gigers amazing ability to represent the same thing in infinite different ways. As time moves on strange organic landscapes grow, and give way to biomechanical nightmares which Giger became so famed for. As the style is honed countless masterpieces stare out at you along the way, pieces from the Spell series, Li, Biomechanoids and eventually Necronom pieces, signaling the arrival of what became later known as (and developed into) the Alien monster which became synonymous with the name Giger. After this time I always felt Giger's work became darker, more mysterious and (if possible) more erotic, something reflected in the Erotomechanics and Victory works. Giger's 2D work continued in his signature style, creating countless nightmarish biomechanical landscapes and the New York City series, until he turned his attention to other ventures including the museum, sculpture, bars, furniture and even a fountain.

Looking through the book in detail sparked memories the images hold for me. Visits to the Giger Museum and different exhibitions, certain details that struck me and things I remember so vividly; the lace pattern of the snakes scales in Spell IV, the haunting eyes of an exotic and surreal woman, the curtained curiosity of the X-Rated Red Room and the overpowering intense Victory images. But also my time studying Gigers work as a young student, looking at his different types of biomechanical landscapes, discovering more and more of his artwork and I couldn't help but smile seeing Japanese Excursion again for the first time in what felt like years (and may well have been).
For me the book is like a miniature Giger Exhibition in my home. There to take me back to seeing some of the pieces that have fascinated me for so long and indulge in my love of all things Giger in the largest possible format outside of the Museum or Exhibitions.

The wealth of artworks in the book largely speak for themselves, with choice quotes thrown in here and there, essays and short chapters peppered throughout to narrate the scenes, the main impact is made, as it should be, by Gigers artwork. The huge landscapes, unfolding and growing to create a detailed, up close look at some of the most magnificent masterpieces I've ever seen. A beautiful print quality allows you to properly see the layering and texture so often lost in books and prints of Gigers work. There's so much to take in visually I'm sure you could sit with the book for weeks and still see a face peering out you've never noticed before or some critter, a rat or snake, so subtle it almost passed you by. The book ultimately allows you to submerge yourself in Giger's incredible world, without even leaving your own home. It isn't even a case of allowing yourself to become engrossed in the imagery and its mysterious landscape and characters, it just happens ...

As a self confessed book obsessive and hoarder this book is the absolute pinnacle of my collection. Its beauty, quality and the consideration behind it is utterly unsurpassed by any other book I own. As a Giger fan and collector I own many books in many languages, but this is undoubtedly the ultimate. For anyone with a passion for Giger this book is a fitting tribute to the late great master. It is a glorious display of some of the finest artworks of his career, on a scale which they can be truly appreciated. I only wish that Giger had lived to see this incredible book come to fruition ...

Friday 8 December 2017

Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum was one place I had wanted to visit for a very long time. I first learned of it's existence at Sixth Form, through my textiles teacher who extolled its virtues and encouraged us to visit. Since then 10 years have passed and lecturers and all sorts of learned people have repeatedly told me how wonderful this little gem is and how I must make it a priority to go. Over the years for one reason or another I've never managed to make it. But suddenly fate was on my side and finally the opportunity has arisen to pay Pitt Rivers a visit ...

Instantly I regretted leaving it so long to visit the Museum. The entrance through the Natural history Museum was impressive and reminiscent of a miniature version of the Natural History Museum in London, with suspended skeletons gracefully floating along against a backdrop of beautiful Victorian Architecture.
Instantly the atmosphere changed as you pass the threshold from the Natural History Museum to Pitt Rivers. The lofty glass roof was replaced with wood and a deep darkness and gloomy mood descended, like wandering into an ancient cave no one had ventured into for years, with just a few lights twinkling like stars to welcome you.

The atmosphere of Pitt Rivers eerily echoed it's many exhibits, adding to the strange sense of being in unknown territory. The exhibits on display are grouped according to their use; the first floor consisting of 'Magic, Masks and Music' the second 'Tattoos, Tools and Toys' and the third 'Shields, Spears and Samurai', and honestly, anything in between. At first the vastness of objects and the space before you is quite overwhelming, but as the museums map advises, your main guide through the maze of cabinets and artifacts is your own curiosity, so it was no surprise I first found myself staring and dozens of Noh masks (as someone who studied Japanese Culture and Arts for many years) and then immediately all sorts of mysterious Witchcraft artifacts ...

The wealth of items on display relating to Witchcraft was truly staggering. Strange bottles with labels of spells and potions, amulets for a whole wealth of uses, Animal skulls, Teeth, pieces of jaw bone, effigies, ex voto, strange charms, hearts with nails hammered into them, alien artifacts from Africa which echo of a different culture. Some of the items were familiar, from British Folklore and ancient culture, like a Witches Ladder hanging ethereally, and the widespread image of the Evil Eye adorning amulets from many cultures, or bottles, jars and skulls, all of which are familiar, recognisable objects, even if the intent and purpose behind them is unknown. Yet many items were entirely alien. Strange pieces of wood or straw doing unknown things, feathers forming headdresses for some unknown ritual, shells and beads intricately decorating some unidentifiable item. There is a real sense of mystery to many of the artifacts on display, which is so tantalizing, and hints at how little we really know our world or understand its deepest, best kept secrets.

Another area I found myself pulled towards within the sea of model boats and strange looking instruments were the cabinets labelled 'Treatment of the Dead' and 'Treatment of Dead Enemies'. Inside these is a treasure trove of bizarre and often gruesome death rituals. Some such as mummification and shrunken heads most people will be familiar with, but most strayed into that mysterious unknown once more, skulls with bound eyes, feathers, graphic mutilation and violence, painted, burned, adorned with strange objects such as wood or bone and even gem stones. These incredible remains reflect customs and traditions which are so different to those practiced by most today its almost like a glimpse into a secret history. The lives and cultures of the tribes who created these artifacts is almost unimaginable, and for the most part, lost forever to modernization, yet these artifacts give a brief and fleeting insight into a lost world.

During my short time at the museum (how much can you soak up in 2 and a half hours in a building of 22,000 items?) I repeatedly wondered about the people who created these incredible objects. Their tribe, their life, the reason for the items creation, the place these objects had in their daily life, and most importantly; is their way of life lost forever? Does their tribe or culture still exist? Does anybody living know any of their secrets anymore? The wonders on display are countless, and say so much about our past, but also about human nature. With the many textiles, adornments, and physical modifications expressing the deeply ingrained desire to be individual and different, yet associate with our own 'tribe' and express ourselves in a personal yet uniform way, something which I'm sure has existed since man first walked on two feet and has personally fascinated me for many years. Many other things which can be seen reflected in the objects is the development and use of rudimentary currency, the evolution of weaponry and armour, the human desire and need for entertainment and pastimes, the insatiable desire for possessions and wealth and the incredible resilience of those without the technology to create something state of the art, still creating something fit for purpose, by whatever means necessary.

For me, what the Pitt Rivers Museum really reflects is the incredible diversity of human culture. The staggering number of objects on display is quite honestly, mind-boggling. Especially when one stops to consider its place in just one culture in one part of the world. I can only imagine what the Victorians would have made of these utterly alien artifacts. Even in a modern world of globalization, instantly accessible knowledge and learning and with unmatched information on ancient cultures and history, I still find something a little bit magical and mysterious about it all. And for me that really is a warming thought. That in a world of total connection, limitless information and a global community, there are still some ancient secrets in the world and some mysteries waiting to be discovered, and some, I hope, that will maintain their mystique and untold magic, forever.

Pitt Rivers amazing collection of anthropological artifacts is a beautiful, refreshing sigh to behold. If you're thinking of giving them a visit, or want to know more, check out

Friday 24 November 2017

Art in Focus: Hand of Glory

A number of years ago in one of my books full of frenzied ideas I did some doodles inspired by the Hand of Glory, and later adorned the cover with a version of it. Over the years I've repeatedly come back to the idea and desperately hoped that one day I'd manage to fit it into my artwork somewhere. Because the Hand of Glory and it's powerful image always felt quite special to me I knew it had to be something incredible, so I waited for the details and ideas to brew and stew themselves until they formed something I knew would do the Hand of Glory justice.

My fascination with the Hand of Glory first came about at around the age of 14, when I first saw what turned out to be, and still is, my favourite film 'The Wicker Man.' (1973). The film, in all honesty, began my love affair with Horror cinema, and stoked the fires of obsession regarding all things macabre, occult and honestly, heathen. The Hand of Glory which Willow placed upon Sergent Howies bedside table, giving him the impression she wished him to sleep long into their May Day celebrations, differs from most historical texts and descriptions of what a real Hand of Glory looked like. Originally the hand was said to be closed grasping a candle made from the fat of the body from which it is cut. Yet the Wicker Mans depiction shows each finger acting as its own candle, conjuring up a far more sinister image and honestly increasing the impact and the horror of the hand visually.

Since first setting eyes on that hand blazing beside Sergent Howie, perhaps in hindsight hinting at the fate of his own flesh, I have always held a fascination with the image of the Hand of Glory. I have delved into its mysterious and often sparse history, seeking out images of it and interpretations, clearly I am not the only one whose intrigue was sparked by seeing this shocking sight. Artists depictions, though out there, are few and far between. Illustrations as old as the practice itself, strange Victorian etchings and more modern interpretations (some no doubt influenced by The Wicker Man) can be found here and there to visually depict the folklore tales surrounding the fascinating practice. But I was eager to create my own interpretation of the Hand of Glory at long last.

When returning to the Hand of Glory I thumbed back over my notes and doodles from previous years, seeing what the culmination of all those hours of pondering was going to be. I looked at one of the only known specimens of a Hand of Glory in existence (housed at Whitby Museum) and eventually began to sketch, from my own hand, my very own Hand of Glory.

As the design progressed and the basic sketch was complete I began to think about how I wanted the piece to look overall, Id already decided a black background would make the hand stand out, but this sense of darkness surrounding the few flames was something I really wanted to convey. I looked back at some unrelated doodles I had done previously, desperate to make a series with intricate borders reminiscent of Medieval manuscripts, and decided the two fitted together perfectly, like the leaf of some secret Grimoire on dark and sinister magic, a mystery to the majority of the world.

I began refining the border and incorporating some elements I thought would really add to the piece and bring more depth. I added the circular 'portholes' to allow the opportunity to include small pieces of art related to the history and creation of the hand. For the first time I decided to try my hand at something a little different and incorporated some of my poorly written poetry into the border of the piece, relating to the creation and history of the Hand of Glory, providing a little more information for those less familiar with the hand. The poem reads:

'Cut down from sinners gibbet,
Thy earthly movement I inhibit,
Hand of Glory burning bright,
Illuminate me with thy light,
Dead mans magic weave your spell,
Before thy are condemned to Hell.'

This contains some basic information on what the Hand of Glory actually is. A murderer, hanged for their crime, has their left hand cut from their body, as both history and Latin teach us, the left is considered sinister. This is then pickled and the fat from the body is used to form a candle, some texts talk of the use of the hair for a wick but not all. The hand then acts as a macabre candle stick, holding the candle. Folklore legends tell that once lit the Hand of Glory will render those it is used upon motionless. Some tales tell the only way to extinguish one and counter its effects is to douse it in milk, but many tales differ from version to version.

When it came to adding details I decided to keep the idea of the candle holder base originally used in my book cover design many years ago, adding the detail of the handle as an ouroboros, one of my favourite recurring things to slip subtly into my artwork. I also chose to add in the remnants of a lace sleeve still clinging to the wrist desperately, hinting at the former life of its owner and bringing a sense of Victorian grandeur to the piece.

I hope that in my completed Hand of Glory I finally managed to achieve a piece which does justice to that macabre burning hand that mesmerized me so many years ago. And ultimately shaped my interest and love of British Folklore and 'the old gods', creating (in the words of Lord SummerIsle) 'A Heathen, conceivably, but not I hope, an unenlightened one ...'

Friday 10 November 2017

'Maleficia and Magic'

I'm pleased to unleash a brand new series of artworks entitled 'Maleficia and Magic'. The series is inspired by the magic and mystery which is woven within our society. Witchcraft and folklore have a prominent place in our history and are intertwined with our customs and traditions. This series celebrates the roots of British witchcraft and the ancient religions of our world and magnificent magic deep and darkly seated in this green and pleasant land.

Each piece is inspired by a different magical artifact or practice and the history or mythos surrounding it. I wrote a short poem for each artwork, which runs around the border of each piece, detailing the sinister nature of that particular artifact, its creation and its potential use. Medieval manuscripts were one of the largest visual influences on the series, leading me to combine the illustration of the magical tool with intricate, detailed borders, text and additional illustrations to expand upon the artifact.

The series is now available to purchase as limited edition prints. Prints are available to purchase singularly or as a set of 4 from the Etsy store. Click here to check them out now!

Thursday 2 November 2017

Gruß vom Krampus!

Brand new for the festive season of 2017 say greetings to Krampus! A one off design especially created to celebrate a different side of Christmas, 'Gruß vom Krampus!' gives you the chance to send greetings from your favourite festive Demon! My first ever Krampus design is inspired by the traditional Krampuskarten sent in Germany, which sees the menacing figure of Krampus punishing naughty children on the run upto Christmas, while his counterpart Saint Nicholas gets to be the good guy! 

To check out the very limited Danse Macabre Krampuskarten Click Here!

Friday 27 October 2017

Tomb of Francois II Duc de Bretagne

During my visit to Nantes earlier in the year I was lucky enough to visit a number of stunning churches and cathedrals. My favourite was Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, its sheer scale and quiet, tranquil atmosphere was beautiful in itself, yet there were so many incredible details and unique elements to be seen within the Cathedral. One of these incredible sights to behold was the Tomb of Francois II Duc de Bretagne and his wife Marguerite de Foix.

I suppose in the vast grandness of the Cathedral it might be easy to pass by a tomb, even one as elaborate as this. However I'm not one to carelessly pass by any monument to the macabre. My ongoing interest in Gisants is always well satisfied in France, and the Duc de Bretagne's Tomb was no exception.
Instantly I was struck by the stunning sculptures which made up the massive monument. At each corner of the Tomb stands one of the four cardinal virtues, each with its own symbolic elements representing each virtue. Courage stands armor clad forcing a mighty dragon from the tower cracking under her might. The great serpent figure represents Satan and the root of evil. Temperance holds reigns and a clock, representing restraint, balance and self control. Justice holds a double edged sword and the book of law with balanced scales upon it, both representing balanced, fair judgement. And lastly, my favourite of the sculptures, is Prudence. The image looks to have been closely modeled to resemble the daughter of Francois II, Anne de Bretagne. She gazes into a looking glass, holding a pair of compasses, representing self discipline, guidance through wisdom and reason. At her feet sits a snake, which along with the mirror is the symbolism typically associated with this virtue and used in many personifications of 'Prudentia'. Most intriguingly the face of an emotionless old man sits within her hood, staring blankly towards the Gisants of the dead. The old man, perhaps, represents the inner wisdom of Anne de Bretagne.

The Gisant's of Francois and Marguerite lay recumbent in in their state of eternal rest, looked upon by angels and protected by the most loyal creatures at their feet. A Lion lays by the feet of the Duke, a symbol of his dynasty and adorned with his coat of arms, while a Greyhound wears his wife's heraldic shield.
Around the Tomb itself stand mourners, the 12 apostles and the patron saints of the deceased. Each one in carved in tiny scale and incredible detail, just one of the many exquisite details of the Tomb.

The craftsmanship of the Tomb is second to none. It was commissioned in 1499 by Anne and her new husband King Louis XII of France. The Tomb took 8 years to complete and was designed and created by the most skilled, talented craftsmen of the time. Michael Colombe sculpted the Tomb from the finest Marble sourced by an Italian artisan. The Tomb has survived being moved, the revolution and over 500 years of history, but now rests back in the Cathedral at Nantes where Anne wanted a fitting monument to her parents to honour their memory forever.

The Tomb is one of the finest examples of sculpture I have seen outside of a museum. With an incredible fineness and haunting realism the ghostly white marble faces look out through history mourning what must have been two truly loved people.



Sunday 22 October 2017

Stag Beetle Hand Painted Cards

A couple of years ago in the spirit of doing something a little different I decided to do a small run of hand painted cards. These featured one of my favourite subjects to draw; Stag Beetles. But as ever, the creepy critters had to have a twist. And with my lifelong obsession with Ancient Egypt a contributing factor I created 8 slightly strange Beetles adorned with gold and jewels or emanating an unholy halo. Two beetles sold soon after their creation, but the others ended up in the deepest, darkest corner of my studio, neglected and forgotten about, until now ...

After rediscovering the pieces I decided to dig them out of their hidey hole to offer them for sale on the Etsy store as a unique opportunity to to own an entirely on off miniature specimen and pocket sized piece of art ... Click here to check them out!

Thursday 12 October 2017

Flora and Fauna Cards

Brand new greeting cards featuring designs from my 'Flora and Fauna' series and my Moth illustrations are available now from the Etsy store! New for Autumn 2017 the cards are the perfect pocket sized pieces of art to frame, give as a gift or even have nestled among your house plants.

The pieces of the 'Flora and Fauna' series, also available as A4 prints, celebrate in the rich history and symbolism of flora and fauna in traditional culture and folklore. Each piece is carefully created to communicate specific messages to the viewer, celebrating both the beauty of nature and its deep rooted messages.

The Moth illustration cards, one featuring British Haw Moths and the other, Tiger Moths, indulges in my love of Moths and their beautiful, vibrant patterns. Who said Moths were boring?!

To check out the new cards available on the Etsy store now Click here!

Sunday 1 October 2017

Marlpool Cemetery

On what transpired to be on of the hottest days of the year it was fitting to do something I love so much; walking. Wandering among wildlife and absorbing the beauty of nature is something I thrive upon. So making the end destination of a many miles walk a local cemetery, and finally a tiny ale house for some refreshment and rest bite from the heat was to me a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday.

Like so many local cemeteries many monuments are faded and forgotten, with nature taking hold, years of erosion and poor weather felling these stony tributes, or far worse; vandals getting a cheap laugh out of the desecration of the memory of some mysterious man.

I wandered in the barmy haze, as ever pondering on the stones and their inscriptions, thinking about the lives which lay behind these few short words and how the world must have been for them. Suddenly I stumbled across one of the most striking inscriptions I've ever read 'Daniel Stirland. Aged 52. Who was killed by lightning at Heanor. August 11th 1890.' I can't imagine that was an everyday occurrence in Victorian Derbyshire. What was even more surprising was that after some subsequent research into newspaper archives it appears to have been during a cricket match!

There really are so many stories to tell hidden behind the long forgotten names of those which lay before us ...

Sunday 24 September 2017

Flora and Fauna Prints

My latest series 'Flora and Fauna' partly harks back to my past work from my time at university, when I first began studying flora and fauna and nature in print in a serious way. The series is highly symbolic and draws both from my obsession with nature and my love of history and complex, often subversive symbolism. The symbolism surrounding the flora and fauna of our world is deep, running through our history and still playing a part in our life today. Within many cultures plants have deep rooted reputations, some still translating into society today through folklore or simply tradition. One element of this is the Victorian phenomenon 'The Language of Flowers' which saw flora, as a method of communication, and deep expression so complex a dictionary was necessary to decipher the message. The concept of communication through nature essentially inspired the series, taking into account different elements such as Herbology, Witchcraft, The Language of Flowers, regional traditions and Art History. Through 'Flora and Fauna' I attempted to combine complex and ancient symbolism  to tell a tale through the medium of Flowers and insects. A face of beauty carrying a deep, sometimes sinister message ...

Available from the Etsy store now ...