Tuesday 31 January 2017

Art in Focus: 'Wheel of Fortune'

As is suggested by its name 'Wheel of Fortune' is all about fate, fortune and luck. This tarot represents the cycles of life which come in good and bad, and having both negative and positive experiences is simply a part of life. If your life feels difficult, do not be discouraged, things will improve, keep your faith and keep working hard to get what you deserve.

When looking at various decks versions of 'Wheel of Fortune' it became obvious that the imagery of the wheel itself was the most important factor. Early Tarot simply depict animals and mythical beasts on a turning wheel, suggesting they may fall and suffer a foul fate. The Rider-Waite deck however has much more complex symbolism. In each corner sit an angel, eagle, lion and bull, representing the four fixed signs of the zodiac. On the wheel itself is IHVH; the Hebrew name of god, the word TAROT and the alchemy symbols for mercury, sulphur, water and salt. Surrounding the wheel are Egyptian gods, all with their own complex symbolism. 'Wheel of Fortune' is probably the card with the most complex symbolism, which without research and reading, would be very difficult to understand.    

When approaching my design for 'Wheel of Fortune' I had some clear cut elements I wanted to feature in the piece, and a basic idea of layout for the card, but certain elements felt quite troublesome and difficult to resolve. I had started my initial sketches knowing I wanted to avoid overly complex imagery which was difficult to understand. I wanted to simplify the number of different elements and have an image which was generally more accessible. As a card, 'Wheel of Fortune' is closely tied with 'Judgement', so I wanted the themes to reflect this also.

In my original design I had a red and black wheel in the centre of the image, with heaven (or reward) above depicted as clouds and golden beams of light (to connect with 'Judgement') and hell (or punishment) below, depicted as the boat of Charon on the river Styx to take the damned to hell. A demon is poised ready to cast the deserving down. Throughout the pen and painting layers I felt uneasy with the piece, I wasn't satisfied it was correct, or the best version of the card I could produce. So after 8 hours work I scrapped the piece and started again, keeping elements I was happy with and altering others.
After re-thinking 'Wheel of Fortune' I decided to take the imagery of the card right back to the very roots of the wheel of fortune as a concept, leaving behind any modern day dilution. The wheel of fortune was an anicent medieval belief system based around the goddess Fortuna, who spins her wheel at random and changes ones fate, with the chance of misfortune or great luck, but the wheel is ever changing and moving, I suppose an allegory to explain the ups and downs of ones life.
In my depiction Fortuna is a giant goddess. She is unclothed, for she has no shame and it is her role to judge others, not be judged. She stands in limbo between heaven and hell, eternally spinning her wheel, with mere mortals struck by its tragedy, pain, misery and punishment, and the lucky few, joy and reward. Hellmouth sits beneath her, waiting to take the souls of the unlucky players to hell, his firey breath expresses his desire to swallow the sinful and undeserving. Initially I chose the boat of Charon over Hellmouth, as I had been concerned that Hellmouth had already featured in 2 of my Tarot, but I quickly realised this had been the wrong decision and broke the continuity of the series, one of the main reasons for starting the piece anew.  

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Art in focus: 'The Moon'

In Tarot 'The Moon' has several different meanings; fear, bewilderment, intuition, dreams. The list is rather long, and most of the connotations are negative, as the Moon illuminates your path, but his light is a reflection of the sun, not his own, so is his guidance an illusion or deception? The Moon sees the shadowy corners of your mind and knows what lurks in your sub-conscious. But The Moon also represents intuition and psychic power, follow your instincts and the moon will not lead you astray.

The traditional imagery used to depict 'The Moon' is largely unchanged from Tarots birth to modern day. The moon looks down on the earth, raining life giving rays and dew down to the ground. Between two towers sit a wolf, dog and crayfish. The crayfish is emerging from a pool which symbolises the development of consciousness, the dog and wolf represent the tame and wild sides of our minds and personalities, and a path  leads out into the distance, showing the journey you must take to reach a higher consciousness.

My interpretation of the moon purposefully has a different approach to the typical depiction of the card. Imagery of the crayfish, wolf and dog are used to reflect primal elements, evolution, different sides of our personality and the ancient fear of what lurks in the darkness. But I wanted to represent my own feelings about the night far more, and draw on the idea that everybody exposes their shadow self, their true inner feelings in the dark silence of night, which is exactly what the figures are doing.
An uninhibited celebration and embracing of basic human instincts and nature. A ritualistic, frenzied, honest appreciation of the twilight hours, and the moon. They do not fear the night, they embrace it together. I also wanted to weave the myth of 'lunacy' into the design somewhere, and that is represented by the idea that an observer may think that the figures are suffering from lunacy, but from their perspective (and the moons) they are worshiping the moon, the life he brings to the earth and each other. The figures lunar ritual is taking place within standing stones, suggesting that their practices, appreciation and basic primal instincts are ancient, almost as old as the moon itself.

When designing this card, the face of my moon felt very important. I chose to make my moon masculine (where most moons are feminine) as I was forever looking for the man in the moon as a child. I wanted my moon to represent the different phases and faces of the moon, his full face with a pleasant, contented happiness, his half face with a sad, low grimace and his sickle, almost imperceptible nothing more than a glimmer of light, seen, appreciated and understood by few. All of these emotions are a part of him and make him whole. Like the feelings of many humans (myself included) his emotions are often fractured, and the happy face he shows the world may not always be how he genuinely feels. Here he is out in full, presenting himself in all his glory to his admirers. They see every emotion of his face, for he has no reason to hide it from them, they celebrate him as a whole, loving his happiness, madness and sorrow, just as they accept their own.

'The Moon' felt to be a very important card for me personally, so I gave it great consideration when producing initial sketches. I have a long held fascination and obsession with our satellite, I spent hours looking at its craters through my telescope as a child, I had posters of moon maps on my walls as a teenager,  and I still enjoy looking up at the moon and admiring the face of my old friend still looking back at me.     

Thursday 19 January 2017

Musee Fabre: Montpellier Art Gallery

I didn't quite know what to expect from Musee Fabre. Its vast exterior, pale stone face and grand entrance gave away very little about what lay within. The gallery was a vast complex of rooms with a huge breadth of artwork from many different countries, movements and throughout history. The gallery was full of exquisite examples of portraits, landscapes and still life's. One particular subject I always enjoy observing in fine detail when I visit a gallery is Religious art.
Montpellier gallery certainly has religious art in abundance. The range of different pieces on display is vast, covering a variety of different religious scenes and figures, many different styles and periods in history. Many of the pieces are very emotive and powerful, depicting demons and angels, saints and sinners.

One of my particular obsessions with ancient religious art, which was first sparked when I visited the Louvre, is the fine detailed gilding and patterning on the halos, robes and often backgrounds of religious portraits. This attention to detail never fails to fascinate me, a brilliant example of it can be seen on the Virgin Mary and child Christ image below.

Montpellier art gallery was a surprising gem, with helpful, humorous staff, many, many masterpieces and something to satisfy whatever your particular art penchant is. I would definitely recommend a visit to Musee Fabre if you are in the vicinity, there's certainly plenty of culture and beauty to behold.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Cimetiere marin de Sete

'The Cemetery by the Sea' was a very fortunate discovery indeed. While wandering through Sete searching for the Art gallery which was hosting a Yves Tanguy exhibition I'd found out about during our stay, I happened to peer over the wall of the street we were wandering down, convinced we were lost as we were on the very edge of the town, and that's when I saw it. The cemetery by the sea.
And what a sight it was to behold. I wandered through the neatly packed rows of graves which snaked their way up the hillside, staggered by steps and sprinkled with great trees. It was unmistakably a French graveyard, they are always so neat and perfectly formed, and have a gleaming sense of pride.
As I climbed the hill, the monuments became larger and more ancient, with the brow of the hill covered with wonderful miniature chapels often found in French graveyards. Each one is an absolute work of art and I could spend countless hours admiring their architecture and the unique personalities given to them by each family and their stone mason.
There is something so serene and unashamedly, but silently beautiful about French cemeteries. They reflect an attitude and respect for death which is not found everywhere anymore. These little empires of the dead are always so private, with their high walls and gates, if you did not glimpse a glimmer of white stone, or see a sign post, you would most likely pass them by never knowing they exist. 
I have wandered many French graveyards before, but this one was different, its location perched on the side of Mont Saint-Clair, looking out to the vast, infinite blue, with the bright sun beating down relentlessly giving the stone the appearance of bleached bone, was enchanting and breathtaking.
I can understand why French poet Paul Valery wrote the poem 'Le cimetiere marin' about the cemetery. Its opening verse (translated from French):

'This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame -
That sea forever starting and re-starting,
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding,
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!'

I can see why Paul Valery adored this graveyard and chose to be buried within its walls upon his death. I can think of no finer resting place to eternally lay, with the sun on your face and the sea by your side as 'Into flowers the gift of life has passed.'

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Art in focus: 'The Star'

'The Star' Tarot represents deep personal calm, high self esteem and great understanding and fulfillment. You have endured challenges, possibly even disaster, but you have been strengthened by these difficult times and are ready for personal growth and renewal. Big changes are afoot, and thanks to 'The Star', positive ones. Have faith and believe in yourself, 'The Star' brings you hope and tranquility to enrich your life and yourself.

The general imagery is largely unchanged from the time of the Marseille Tarot to modern day. It features a nude woman kneeling between land and water, pouring water from two jugs, this is a symbol of fertility and the act of fertilizing the surrounding land. Behind her are a number of stars, the stars are 8 pointed because the eighth Tarot in the Major Acarna is strength, and represent the number 17 (the number of 'The Star') because 1+7=8.

When designing my interpretation of 'The Star' I felt it was important to give the star itself more focus than it receives in other depictions. I decided to keep the image of the 8 pointed star, as it is numerically important to Tarot, and it's symmetry is aesthetically pleasing. 
I wanted to include a female fertility symbol of my own creation, which visually moved away from the traditional interpretation, but maintained the symbolism. I chose my female to be majestically placed in the glowing light of the star, it is bathing and soothing her, she is the physical embodiment of the star on earth. Her hair flows down into the landscape, connecting her with the land and suggesting that they are bound together. As a slightly cheeky play on the 'jugs' used in decks such as Rider-Waite and Marseille, fluid flows from the woman's breasts, fertilizing the earth and fields and crops. Channeling the stars power, through her being.
The infinite mountains stretching out behind the woman represent the earth, but I chose to use mountains to reflect the loneliness of the star and the vastness of space. 
The stars which fill the sky and surround the one great star, are all constellations mapped out as we see them in the Northern Hemisphere. They show that the one star is in fact not alone, but is surrounded by infinite others across the universe.
When working on any cards relating to space I made a conscious choice to work with a lot of silver and black, and a very muted palette which reflects the world at night, as seen through human eyes. Most of the colours of the world have been washed away and replaced by gentle starlight and darkest shadow.

Friday 13 January 2017

Aesthetics of Death: The Tomb Effigy

Following a visit to one of my favourite museums; the V&A during a short break in London, I have decided to write a piece looking at the aesthetics and importance surrounding tombs.

The V&A is packed with effigies, busts, sarcophagi and tombs. The aesthetic depiction of death is everywhere, but what is its historical and cultural significance?

Physical reminders and markers of the dead stretch throughout history, from domed earth mounds bearing the remains of one, or many people, to elaborate tombs and monuments found in virtually every civilisation across the globe. With time, tastes and faith, the way we bury, and physically remember and represent our dead has changed. Certainly in modern day England, personal monuments have largely become (for the most part) unimaginative, uninspired and increasingly unpopular. Something you simply choose out of a catalogue, for your convenience, and pay by the letter to express your dearest sentiments. But across Europe during the Medieval and Renaissance periods things were very different. Like the Romans and Egyptians before them, they felt death mattered. Being remembered, respected and immortalized forever, demonstrated the most important things achieved during your life; your wealth, earthly deeds and ultimately - status.

The 'Tomb Effigy' or as the French call it 'Gisant' (meaning recumbent) was a popular expression of this. The height of funerary fashion from the 12th century onwards, a tomb effigy was a guaranteed reminder of your physical presence and legacy on the earth, indefinitely. Monarchs from the mightiest kingdoms and empires were immortalised after death, with the most excessive tombs and monuments imaginable. But gisants weren't just reserved for royalty, and they provided the chance for a few to get their slice of immortality.

Initially the tomb effigy began life essentially as a low relief or carving decorating the lid of the deceased's casket. As time progressed designs became larger and more elaborate, eventually becoming life size, fully formed reclining sculptures. The gisants became lavish, opulent and excessive, with Queen Elizabeth I's tomb effigy even dressed in magnificent, luxurious clothing.    

An example of Royal gisants and their unapologetic grandeur is Henry VII's tomb effigy. A plaster reproduction of the original can be seen in the V&A, the main article is on display in its own dedicated chapel in Westminster Abby. The original gilded bronze effigy, which is positioned beside Henry's Queen looks remarkably different to the reproduction. The gilding of the reproduction is tarnished with oxidization, giving it a much more subdued, emotionless look in comparison to the gleaming, lavish original which simply oozes power, wealth and excess.

My favourite tomb effigies on display at the V&A were those of husband and wife Don García de Osorio and Doña María de Perea. The effigies originated from 14th century Spain, which is reflected in their religious imagery and the simple, honest aesthetics of the figures. On first glance the female figure appears to be a nun, however she is not, the items such as the rosary beads and her modest dress, symbolise her piety and faith. Her husband was a member of the Order of Santiago, an order of Christian knights who defended pilgrims and the Christian faith. On his chest the symbol of his order can be clearly seen, suggesting his allegiance in life and death. Latin inscriptions upon his sword reading 'Jesus give me victory' and 'The blessing of God' reaffirm the importance of their faith. It is the main focus of their effigies, suggesting that religion was the foundation of their lives.
Knelt at the feet of Don García de Osorio is an unidentified woman, a 'mourning figure' became popular feature of tomb effigies as they developed in complexity and detail. Many mourning figures knelt in prayer for the dead, as an attempt to encourage those who looked upon the tomb to do the same, however the figure mourning the knight is simply supporting the weight of her grief with her hand, with a posture which suggests respect, sorrow and possibly even waiting.

These effigies are prime examples of how funerary art was used to convey various elements of peoples lives after their death. Their morals, achievements, status and their legacy have all been captured in stone, immortalising their fleeting earthly existence forever.

Alice Durose   

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Art in focus: 'The World'

In Tarot 'The World' signifies the end of life's journey. You have experienced what the world has to offer, you are wiser and more learned because of it. With the end of the great cycle of life comes fulfillment, achievement and understanding. Great satisfaction comes with following your path through life and upon completion, this eternal process begins anew.

From the earliest surviving Tarot through to popular modern day decks, such as Rider-Waite, the traditional imagery of 'The World' is largely unchanged. A dancing figure rejoices, surrounded by a wreath of thick foliage and in each corner a lion, bull, cherub and eagle reside, representing the four fixed signs of the zodiac, the four elements and the four suits of Tarot. The symbolism is complex, representing victory, achievement, infinity but also enlightenment.  

With 'The World' I took a very different approach to the imagery seen in most Tarot decks. I wanted to move away from traditional depictions and re-imagine 'The World', but maintain many of its key messages. I decided a logical option was to depict our world, earth, in its place within the universe, seen not from an insular point of view, but encompassing all.
The Earth is surrounded, almost cocooned and protected by Ouroboros - an ancient symbol, usually a snake or dragon eating its own tail. It represents the infinite and continual cycle of nature, of birth and death, of eternal renewal and the constant cycle of life. In my depiction of 'The World' the Ouroboros represents that not only the cycle of life all over the Earth, but across the universe.
I chose to include the Sun and the Moon, as the Earths celestial neighbours they are essential to our survival, providing warmth, light, fertility and tides to our planet. They are essential to our balance and place within the universe.
Surrounding the World are the constellations of the 12 signs of the zodiac. They surround the earth, signifying their relationship to the world and life, and the different qualities they bring to the world.
The infinite blackness of space is the canvas for our world, often feeling lonely and isolated, but also suggesting that in the infinite vastness of the universe, 'The World' may not be alone.

My version of  'The World' was not a difficult creation, mentally wrestled over and struggled with as art works often are. It simply leapt from my mind one day, virtually fully formed, and I had to race to scribble it down before it vanished as quickly as it had arrived. Those are often the artworks which feel most satisfying as an artist. Their creation and conception has felt like an effortless joy, so their completion often feels very rewarding and 'meant to be' in a strangely comforting sense.

Design work for 'The World' and a clearer view of the 12 zodiac constellations 

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Art in focus: 'The Sun'

As a new year is upon us I am embracing new beginnings and embarking on something different in the form of 'Tarot Tuesdays'. Each week an 'Art in focus' piece will focus on a different Tarot card, the historical significance of the card, its traditional imagery and an in depth look at my own interpretation of the card.

So let's kick off the year on a positive note with 'The Sun'!

Traditionally in Tarot 'The Sun', as the source of all life on Earth represents life, vitality and fertility. 'The Sun' card is read as a very positive sign, it brings boundless strength and happiness to your life, just as the sun brings to the earth. 'The Sun' is the most positive card in the whole of the major Acarna, so feel optimistic; the universe is on your side! 

In one of the earliest surviving Tarot decks, the Marseille Tarot, the image depicted is simply the sun, raining life upon the earth, with two figures stood beneath, possibly rejoicing and embracing. The imagery is simple in comparison to later decks, such as the Rider-Waite deck, which has complex symbolism linking to innocence and purity, as well as the vitality, happiness and optimism depicted by earlier decks. 

In my interpretation of 'The Sun' Tarot I purposely wanted the sun to dominate the card, ensuring it was the main focus of the image and portrayed a sense of strength and power.
When designing my sun I felt the inclusion of a face, to give the sun a personality and identity was essential. The expression of the face felt a very important element, and was something I did a number of sketches of to get right. I wanted the sun to appear melancholy, as he sees the world in the cold light of day, the harsh, often painful realities of mankind are all too clear to him. I wanted him to express a silent sorrow, that the life he gives is not always appreciated, rejoiced or treasured in the way it should be.
Stretching out beneath his life giving rays his bounty covers the land below. The crops and beauty he creates though the fertility he bathes the earth with is ours for the taking, but without his sustenance we would perish. Before him stands the lovers, a recurring theme within a number of my Tarot cards, symbolising fertility, the life the sun gives, and their respect for the Suns gifts, as they are enlightened, not ignorant, individuals.
The crops I chose to represent the Suns bounty are wheat and sunflowers. Wheat has been a staple food for the rich and poor for thousands of years, it has sustained entire civilizations, is one of the most ancient food sources and is still consumed all around the world everyday. The sunflower is a physical symbol of the sun and has been important in art symbolism throughout history. Sunflower crops can be seen sprawled across Europe, with their oil a major ingredient in cooking, the millions of nodding heads is quite a sight to behold, and one that always fills me with joy, hence my inclusion of it upon the card.
I chose a very rich, decadent palette for this Tarot, as I wanted it to represent the intensity of the sun and the light he brings to the world. I looked to illuminated manuscripts for my palette inspiration, as they are timeless and ancient like the sun, and capture a glowing vibrancy and true beauty. 

Sketch and progress work for 'The Sun'

'The Sun' fine art print