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.

Monday, 4 March 2019

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one of those strange, mythical places that until relatively recently I knew very little about. Of course I'd heard of the Lindisfarne Gospel (as a long time illuminated manuscript fanatic) but honestly I knew little else about this distant place.
A good friend of mine recommended visiting Holy Island and sang its praises as an amazing place to visit. Also, after watching the fantastic TV series 'Vikings' I gained a little more basic knowledge about Lindisfarne and its role in history. A few documentaries later and a bit more basic reading later and my appetite was suitably wetted.

Nothing had in actuality quite prepared me for Lindisfarne. I wasn't expecting what this incredible place had to offer or how it would make me feel. It was honestly nothing short of magical. And in reality, I cant wholly explain why.
The approach across the miles of causeway was in itself an unusual experience and felt like the beginning of an adventure. Knowing that the times of the tide are crucial and how quickly the causeway is lost to the sea there was a mixture of fear and excitement about it all.

The landscape itself was increasingly breathtaking the further from the mainland you go. This incredible swathe of low land which looks as though it could be washed away in an instant. Sand that goes on for miles, but you know it wont be that way for long. And there it was, on a mound of land erupting from the sea, Lindisfarne Castle. Everywhere around heather and wildflowers dance in the breeze and the grass which is pale as straw seems to sway with the sea. The sandy shores seem reflected in the buttery stone of the old ruins of the Priory which the Vikings plundered centuries ago.

I can't deny that Holy Island had a special feeling. Ancient, deep rooted, celtic. At the edge of England and the farthest North I've ever travelled in the UK I felt strangely at home. This rugged coast line is not something a landlocked Nottinghamshire lass gets to see very often, and it was just perfection. 

And to top it all off, as with most great places people have lived, there was a lovely graveyard. Perched behind the Priory ruins surrounding the quaint little church sit many graves of varying age. Looking out to the sea almost surrounding it I never fail to see some beautifully poetic, hopelessly romantic aspect about being beside the sea for all eternity.
Seaside graves are always interesting. 'Lost at sea' 'Died in a great storm' 'Shipwrecked' are often some of the untimely deaths recorded, and generally stones decorated with anchors and ships pepper the cemeteries, showing the importance of the sea to these people, in life, and death.

My only regrets regarding Lindisfarne are that I did not visit this otherworldly place sooner, and that I did not get to spend more time in it on this occasion (down to the timing of the tide unfortunately). Lindisfarne was one of those rare places that before you have even left, you're planning your return. I desperately hope to make it back to Holy Island in 2019 and explore more of this breathtaking place.

For me The Holy Island of Lindisfarne felt like my own little Summerisle, only, I'm no Sergent Howie ...