Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Old Operating Theatre Museum

For quite some time I have wanted to visit the Old Operating Theatre Museum since a good friend of mine paid it a visit and couldn't recommend it highly enough. Finally a trip to London for some gigs meant I had the opportunity to pay this unique place a visit at last. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from the Old Operating Theatre, but I certainly experienced far more than my greatest expectations!

Immediately upon arrival at the museum it feels quite hidden away and secretive. Surrounded by landmarks such as The Shard and London Bridge the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the capital seems to pass this slice of history by. Its unusual entrance is secreted through a small door and up a steep spiral staircase winding on and on. At the top you find yourself in the gift shop and entrance, full of all sorts of interesting books and knickknacks to do with anatomy, medical history and a firm favorite; the human skull.

After excitedly paying my entrance fee, I was let loose into the museum. An array of glass jars and bottles, taxidermy and medical equipment awaited me. Only a few people walked around the museum besides myself, however it felt quite busy as it is rather small and consisting of only a handful of rooms. Being quite a fan of my own space in museums (and in general really) I viewed the exhibits in order of least busy. Hopping from place to place to according to where was devoid of anyone else, which gave the visit quite an exciting, energetic feel strangely.

There were countless fantastic photo opportunities throughout the museum, interesting artefacts and instruments behind glass, dioramas, all sorts of jars and bottles arranged interestingly (the ones in the window catching the light were very charming in particular), the old operating theatre itself of course and the Herb Garret with its scales, baskets and a whole manner of different sights and smells.

The sensation of visiting the operating theatre was a curious one indeed. To stand lofty in this (very literally) theatre like space and imagine the kind of things that would have gone on to some poor soul on the table below. Without the mercy of modern medicine and the benefit of the scientific know how we enjoy today. A very unique, strange feeling indeed. What these walls must have seen during their history, operations without the aid of anesthetic and many other modern tools and treatments we take for granted. The horrors and the marvels people have endured while onlookers gawp down in delight. How bizarre.

As I drifted around the main room; The Herb Garret, something absolutely captivated me which I can't properly express in any blog or photograph; the scent. It was utterly enchanting. Baskets and sacks filled with all sorts of herbs and ingredients with important medical ties were dotted around the room. Myrrh, rose petals, lavender, pomegranate, frankincense and countless others, all arranged in amongst pestle and mortar, scales, boiling flasks, plague doctors masks, jars, recipes and all sorts of intriguing elements required to recreate what the Herb Garret may have once looked, and smelled like.

This in particular was my favourite, and honestly the most unexpected part of my visit. Its not very often you come away from a museum raving about how utterly glorious it smelt, and its not the sense you expect to really be heavily engaged in any museum. The Old Operating Theatre Museum is the first museum I can honestly say has engaged almost all of my sense during a visit, as for taste, there wasn't much in those old jars of arsenic and the like I much fancied sampling funnily enough!

If you get the chance to visit The Old Operating Theatre Museum I can't urge you enough to do so. This unique, historically important and fascinating place is a truly fantastic experience. By visiting you are supporting this wonderful charity and keeping alive this slice of our medical history, ensuring the oldest operating theatre in Europe is safeguarded for future generations.

To plan your visit or for more information, visit:

Thursday, 9 May 2019

'The Witches Sabbath'

One evening on my drive home watching dusk approach and the moon rise in the sky an idea struck me suddenly, as they sometimes do. I saw the image of a ritual taking place at dusk, what I call 'the magic hour' where the light and sky do some amazing things which are very hard to capture. Fire flickers and dances in the darkness while a goat standing erect like a biped dances and sways. His adoring followers dance around him in a frenzied ritual, spinning and twisting and turning.

This strange mental image is what eventually inspired 'The Witches Sabbath'. For a long time the working title of the piece was 'Lunar Goat', but when deciding on a final title I went for something which was a nod to one of my favourite artists Francisco Goya and his 'Witches Sabbath', which also partly inspired the piece.

I wanted to try to convey some of the thoughts which Goya's black paintings give me through this piece. Curiosity, intrigue and wonderment largely. Whats happing? Have they summoned the Goat? Are they worshipping the Goat? Or with the Goat? Is he otherworldly? A God or Demon? Is he sinister and satanic? Or a Pagan symbol? I wanted to try and give a sense of mystery with the piece. Echo rituals and traditions long since forgotten, a secret practice of our pre-christian history perhaps. Something that I hoped would speak to Satanists and Pagans alike with its 'open to interpretation' messages. Themes touched on include; nature worship, respect for the earth and its bounty, the lunar cycle and the significance of the moon and the sun, wild animals representing our wild nature, the elements, freedom of expression; of lust, madness, passion.
I am sure that Goya's 'Witches Sabbath' means many things to many people, if I have achieved 1% of that effect of making an artwork personable and reflecting something for you uniquely then the piece has been entirely worth while.

The goat is based on a photograph I took of a goat at Aigue Morts in France during the Festival of St Louis where the town becomes a frenzy of Medieval activity. His posture in his dance is designed to have a rallying, beckoning effect and is inspired by Goya's goats pose to some degree.
The sky comes from a photograph I took of one particularly brooding dusk after the initial idea had struck me and I was waiting for the suitable sky to present itself.
The plants in the piece are all poisonous to some degree Poison Ivy, Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade), Henbane and Datura (Jimson Weed). Some of them represent the use of these in magic or flying ointments. They entwine symbols which reflect Alchemy, Pagan and Satanic beliefs and Solomons Seal, all of which have deep rooted occult meanings, which again have different interpretations depending on your thinking.

At over 30 hours work to complete 'The Witches Sabbath' is one complex and lengthy pieces I have created, and is one of the few artworks I have created that isn't part of a series. That isnt to say I dont have accompanying pieces in my mind already!

'The Witches Sabbath' is now available as a limited edition print Here

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Return to Calke Abbey

As a National Trust member I am always looking to make the most of my membership and for new places to explore, which can sometimes mean you neglect the old ones you love. It had gotten to the time last autumn when I was well over due for a return trip to my most beloved local Trust property; Calke Abbey.

All the times I have visited Calke it never fails to impress and charm, and this was no exception. On a rather wet and windy day I was happy as ever to vanish into this timeless temple of decay and peruse the collections of weird and wonderful things. I can't help but wonder if as a self confessed hoarder, the piles and piles of things are what appeal to me, or all the incredible birds and other marvels captured in the once so popular taxidermy, or the general decrepit nature of the building, which has an honesty and charm to it I can't always seem to find in the pompous grand houses pristine and full of Chippendale. Perhaps its a combination. But nevertheless Calke's spell is still cast over me as I snap away at the tattered beauty around me.

There is never any shortage of photographic opportunities at Calke. There is always plenty to capture and its never anything but a delightful experience. This particular trip it was interesting to compare the differences between the seasons at Calke, and while the fading light of autumn did not provide the bright illumination of spring for photographs, I was more than rewarded by the incredible gourds and pumpkins which had taken over the gardens. As a lover of Autumn and Halloween I was in my element, what a dream!

Photographing Calke this time felt more of a challenge (in a good way I hasten to add!) as I was attempting to think differently to my previous visit and capture photos entirely different to my previous visit. One element which helped with this was visiting the coach house, which I don't think was open on my previous visit. Something immediately struck me, frames filled with Butterfly and Moth specimens arranged in such a way that they formed a pattern. This is something that I did a project on at University and interestingly had been planning on revisiting this as a natural progression on from my recent moth studies (and all these months later I've still not found the time to move this idea forward! More hours in the day please!). As ever, Calke is an inspirational place and you always come away with a head full of ideas and imaginings. If only I had the time to realise all my ideas and use all the inspiration I absorb, wouldn't that be a glorious thing!

Calke Abbey is still the most unique, decadent, curiously charming National Trust property I have visited. Its approach of preservation not restoration has always sat very well with me and truly tells the tragic reality of owning a grand property and the crippling effect death duties have had on these once glorious estates.

I urge anyone who has never visited Calke to take the plunge! You will not regret absorbing and observing the faded magnificence of this wonderful place!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Saint Giles Church, Cheadle

For many years I have longed to visit 'Pugin's gem' St Giles Church at Cheadle. Having read a great deal about the splendor of this stunning place, and seen it mentioned on Gothic Revival documentaries, I knew this incredible feat of architecture and design was not something to be missed. Finally last year the opportunity arose to hop across the border to Staffordshire and at last see Pugin's gem in all its glory.

Upon arrival in Cheadle the churches location and exterior didn't really prepare you for what lay within. Some nice carvings, an opulent door, but nothing out of the ordinary really. Its not until you venture in that you see this masterpiece in all its glory. A service had just finished so the relatively newly installed lights were gleaming away illuminating every nook and cranny of this amazing, unique place. But usually you have to pop some money in the meter (in quite a novel fashion), as we did several times later when the lights timed out leaving us with only the natural light to illuminate the church.

St Giles is utterly off the scale in terms of grandeur and decadence. Pattern and artwork covers every square inch of the walls, with intricate motifs changing every so often and a different colour taking centre stage for a moment, but Pugin consistently sticks to his signature palette. Deep red, indigo blue, dark green, mustard and gold. Lots and lots of gold.
As far as churches go St Giles is honestly nothing short of perfection. As a former print designer, pattern and art are everything to me. So those things utterly covering a Gothic revival masterpiece is a dream come true.
Hand painting walls in this manner is an art and part of our heritage which is largely lost these days. But it is something which has long fascinated me and I always desired to treat the walls of my own home with such dedicated perfection (probably one of the reasons I've always wanted to convert a church.). Pugin's obsessive nature with the detailing, craftsmanship and perfection of St Giles is something I can honestly relate to in myself. And I can think of no better thing than living within that temple to your own creativity and vision.

St Giles is a truly overwhelming place. Everywhere you look there is something to see and every tiny detail has clearly been meticulously planned by Pugin to create the harmonious union of patterns across many different surfaces and media. The stained glass, the furniture, the candle holders, even down to the floor tiles. The man that Pugin was and what he aimed to create is evident in all of these elements, as well as the church as a whole.

I do feel a sense of sadness for Pugin that he never fully realised his dream and saw the church complete as he intended it with a spire in place. Ultimately it was just too costly and ambitious for the project. But I do hope that if Pugin could see his great gem today and the legacy his vision has created he would be truly proud. St Giles stands as a testament to the glory of gothic revival and its incredible impact of the history of British architecture and aestetics.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Holy Trinity Church - Washington

Hidden beside Washington Old Hall lies an overgrown and forgotten, lonely looking graveyard. When exploring the grounds of the house I found myself repeatedly catching glimpses of this moody looking graveyard. Over walls, through gaps and just about anywhere. There it was silently waiting. Its probably largely down to my incredible ability to sniff out cemeteries everywhere I go, a morbid gift I seem to have acquired over the years.

After an enjoyable visit to the ancient family residence of George Washington (though he never actually set foot there) I eagerly rushed off to see the shady churchyard which it turned out belongs to the Holy Trinity Church next door.

The graves in closest proximity to the church were well tended, tidy, trimmed and mowed. As you moved into the darker recesses of the graveyard nature had taken over, with nettles and ivy lining the floor and trees taking over wherever they can rest their limbs. Often this is the type of graveyard I love to see the most. Nature taking back what is rightfully hers. Interacting with the stones which are all that's left to represent the people nourishing from below. The relationship between the stones and the trees certainly made for an interesting and unusual photo opportunity, which of course I grasped with both hands.