Sunday 27 May 2018

The Cabinet of Curiosities

During a recent jaunt to Yorkshire to visit the charming East Riddlesden Hall, I was on the look out for other places to tie in with the day trip when I stumbled upon The Cabinet of Curiosities on Tripadvisor. As you might imagine, immediately grabbed by the name, I investigated further. And they were open, fantastic! The village of Haworth was only a short drive away and looked quite interesting, so perfect!

Upon our arrival at the village we became quite alarmed by the amount of traffic and distinct lack of parking spaces. It became apparent after the sudden appearance of a vintage bus and some military vehicles we hadn't arrived on a normal weekend, and some posters later informed us it was a 1940's weekend! That was certainly a surprise! Eventually we managed to squeeze into a small car park and headed off to find the Cabinet of Curiosities.

The village of Haworth, it soon became apparent, is steeped in history, with literary connections and a thriving old fashioned high street the place was teeming with people in all manner of 1940's dress, even a Winston Churchill lookalike. The weekend's festivities meant my browse wasn't quite the quiet, relaxed affair I had imagined. With hustle and bustle, folks pushing past and the general throng of people quite off putting for someone wanting to absorb the atmosphere and ponder the trinkets, trust me to turn up on the busiest weekend of the year!

The shop certainly had character from the moment you see it, with a Victorian style sign and old facade setting the scene for within. 
The interior of the store was fitted out like an old chemists, with beautiful wooden shelving, bottles and jars everywhere and anatomical models dotted here and there. One lady was heard to remark 'what are all these skeletons everywhere? I don't understand they're everywhere, it's very strange, I don't like it.' To which I wanted to answer 'well there's one inside of you right now so it's not that strange ...' But as I often do in these situations I bit my tongue and walked away.

The shop in general was a riot of pattern, illustration and medical memorabilia, with the bath bombs and salts giving the place a heady, exotic scent to tantalise the senses that little bit more. The store was a temple to all the curios which utterly fascinate me, Palmistry hands, Phrenology heads, a whole manner of bottles, jars and the like, skeletons, medical dioramas, insects, books, the list is endless; a true Cabinet of Curiosities!

With an incredible host of interesting, macabre, bizarre items on offer from bat tea pots to muscle rubs from shaving paraphernalia to incredibly ornate journals and notebooks the Cabinet of Curiosities has something on offer for all of you curiously inclined out there! Check out their website here!

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Kensal Green

When taking a trip most places I try to build in a visit to a Cemetery or Churchyard to give myself chance to see a different side to a place, and often one few tourists experience. I love to visit Empires of the Dead, its one of my favourite pass times and something I confess to finding very peaceful and relaxing. So our trip to London this January was the perfect chance to visit another of Britain's most famous cemeteries and one of the 'Magnificent Seven'; Kensal Green.

Travelling out to Kensal Green on the overground you could feel yourself swept away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centre. The station felt like that of a sleepy town, with few travellers around and the quiet, largely residential streets felt a million miles away from London city centre. Immediately we could see the Cemetery, and more accurately the huge wall which obviously surrounded the one thing people don't seem to want to be reminded of constantly; death. After struggling to see a way into the Cemetery we were pointed in the right direction by a lady who looked at us like a pair of lunatics. On the way passed a welcoming looking pub where families seemed to be gathering for Sunday lunch and a relaxing drink (which I made a note of for later) and eventually came to a track leading to the Cemetery. There were immediately two parts to choose between, a Catholic Cemetery, or the large swathe dating from the Victorian era onwards, we chose the latter.

Immediately I began to compare how different Kensal Green was to Highgate. A vast unending sea of tombs, gravestones and monuments lay before me, peppered with trees and set against the somewhat eerie industrial sight of giant gasometers, long out of use and as much of a relic to the past as the graves below. Highgates intimate, close feeling with its twists and turns and the journey its paths take you on across the terrain couldn't be more different to the huge swathe of graves across the flat plain, running as far as the eye can see, like the avenues of Pere Lachaise.

Kensal Green had a much more raw, honest feeling than many Cemeteries I have visited over the years, with the industrial backdrop speaking of harsh realities rather than romantic fantasies. In the distance Central London looms with its smog, high rise buildings and glass glinting on the horizon. The peace and quiet of Kensal Green was welcome rest bite after a few days in the constant onslaught of the fast paced capital. Listening to little but the trees and the occasional squirrel flit by gave ample room for some breathing space.

Some of the monuments in the Cemetery were truly exemplary, with some stunning carving and design on display. Yet like Highgate, a faded, decaying atmosphere surrounds the place as graves fall into ruin, the roofs of personal chapels collapse and Kensal Green takes on its on macabre personality and haunting beauty.
Unfortunately the monument I would have liked to visit most of all doesn't exist. Some years ago there were rumours that Freddie Mercury's ashes were scattered at Kensal Green after a plaque appeared dedicated to him. That plaque was subsequently swiftly removed, but I kept Freddie in my mind the whole time I was there, and the fact this could indeed be his final resting place.

I am truly glad I finally made it to Kensal Green to experience its unique landscape and atmosphere and look forward to exploring more of the Magnificent Seven in years to come ...

Saturday 5 May 2018

Work in Progress: Alchemy series

I started work recently on a series inspired by a book I received for Christmas focusing upon the manuscripts and imagery of Alchemy and Mysticism. I've always found Alchemy a fascinating, mysterious and intriguing topic, so it was certainly about time I delved a little deeper and found out a little more about this lost art form.

What instantly struck me about the book was the beautiful illustrations depicting a whole manner of weird and wonderful things, which today seem quite alien and strange. Thumbing through the book one series of illustrations in particular which struck me were from the 'Splendor Solis'.
This 16th century treatise is largely famed for its stunning artwork and its easy to see why. With a central alchemic bottle surrounded by a lavish gilded border, all set in another even more elaborate border come scene the artworks stand out as truly beautiful, bizarre creations.

They sparked within me the idea of displaying creatures in a bottle of their own, like a specimen trapped for all to see in their own sealed world. I began pondering on the concept in more depth. Who was this alchemist who had created these creatures? Why had he created them? Was he not the equivalent of what some people considered to be a divine being capable of creation? As usual I got a little swept up in the concept, envisaging some ancient wizened figure mixing all sorts of strange substances in his studio to create the whole world of weird and wonderful creatures, but with the twist that these creatures are not fantastical, but real. Hinting that the Alchemist, a wise man of our world, possessing its ancient secrets, is what some would call a god, the creator, a supreme being. (Its little wonder I struggle to sleep at night with things like this going round in my head constantly!).

With my concept firmly in place I started to consider what animals I'd like to feature. Naturally I picked some of my favourites, some of the more bizarre or striking creatures of our natural world and some which I felt represented a different group of animals and an ecosystem (often British). I decided to adorn the border with flora and fauna of the animals natural habitat, enveloping it in its own little world.

As the series progresses I continue to think up more weird and wacky compositions featuring all sorts of creatures. As of yet no end is in sight with the series and while I'm let lose with nature and a paintbrush I'm not entirely sure when there will be ...