Sunday, 5 April 2020

Parc Guell

Over the years during my time in Barcelona I have made it my mission to see as much of Gaudi’s legacy as possible. As a lover of architecture and all things a little strange, Gaudi and his style has long fascinated me. Weirdness is always bound to appeal to weirdos!

In previous years (and blogs) I’ve been lucky enough to see the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. But somewhere I’d hoped to go for the longest time was somewhere quite different; Parc Guell.

Sitting outside the hustle and bustle of the city, shuttle buses take you to the park, which it’s totally essential to pre-book to stand any chance of visiting. What I had envisaged being a tranquil place to catch a breather outside of the sprawling metropolis of this city was actually full of hoards of the most dreaded kinds, yes, tourists. Selfie sticks were out in force as girls posed as if they were being shot for vogue, not taking a second to truly look at the beauty around them, rather than that on their phone.

Luckily entry to certain parts of the park are timed, so this limited numbers to a certain degree at least and made things a little less cramped. As everyone trouped off ready to see the next ‘grammable’ spot I hung back to look at all the different tile fragments in the seats which were being restored, watch the workman with his angle grinder, and soak up a few rays.

Gaudi guarantees there’s always something to be seen. Nothing is ever mundane or plain, everything is so deliberate and detailed. The great stilt like columns leading up to support a beautiful mosaic ceiling, with every ‘crown’ section totally unique. Emerging from this shade one of the busiest places in the Park is heaving as people pose for photos with the famous mosaic iguana which is the star of every postcard stand in Catalunya. As ever getting a photo of him without the masses pouting was a challenge. But I was far more interested in a pigeon having a drink from the fountain anyway!

My favourite part of the park was incredible on many levels. It felt like I was walking through a location for Jurassic Park with curved cliffs enclosing the area and vegetation hanging down giving a prehistoric vibe to the area. The columns supporting this cliff, some of which were men and woman holding it aloft made it seem as though I was discovering an ancient Inca city. I felt so excited and curious, maybe that’s my lifelong love of Indiana Jones coming out! Other parts of Guell echoed this vibe with stunning wisteria hanging from curving rock faces while lizards darted around.

The buildings at the park, like the rest of the complex, were quite fun. It really feels like Gaudi let himself go with the designs here and had fun, which is an interesting contrast to buildings such as the Sagrada Familia which feel of such epic importance and seriousness to this mans legend.
The roofs spiral in colours and I feel like I’m in a sweet shop with all this amazing Mediterranean vibrancy and excitement.

Parc Guell was more than worth baring with the crowds to enjoy this beautiful slice of Gaudi's vision. Every so often you would find yourself alone in this paradise, grabbing a tranquil moment to breathe and relax in this wonderland. In some shady spot stumbling upon a busker, whose exotic rhythms transport you a world away from the busy city of Barcelona and to Gaudi's spring sunshine drenched dreamland.



O



J






Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Burne-Jones: Forms Divinely Beautiful

Recently I visited an exhibition I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw its announcement. That one of my favourite local places; Newstead Abbey, was having a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition was a surprise to say the least! Having traveled across the country to see Pre-Raphaelite artworks and exhibitions for the past 10+ years this one is certainly the closest to home I’m ever likely to visit!

After a few weeks of waiting for the initial rush to have made their visit I could wait no longer and headed off to Byron’s pile to see some Edward Burne-Jones!
The exhibition is a little different to most Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions in the sense that what’s on display isn’t a collection of paintings, but is actually a folio of Photogravure prints. As a printer this interests me greatly as the value of etchings and prints are often played down and under appreciated by so many.


The folio on display is one of 200 which were commissioned by Burne-Jones’ son, Philip, to celebrate and showcase his fathers work. It was created by the Berlin Photographic company using photogravure, a technique using a photographic negative to create an etched plate to print from. This skilled technique produces high quality prints which at the time was a very popular method of reproduction and sharing art. Interestingly the Pre-Raphaelites were one of the first art movements to make use of photography in creating their work and to draw on this new technology, so it’s interesting to see how new and changing technology and techniques have been embraced in other ways.


Having seen lots of Burne-Jones paintings over the years his often very muted palette lends itself well to black and white reproduction, something which might not be said for more vibrant artists within the movement (Millais perhaps). The pieces on display are, to me at least, beautiful works of art in their own right. The depth of tone in these monochrome prints is truly stunning, and you don’t lose anything from these dreamy visions due to their lack of hue.


Learning from Rossetti gave Burne-Jones a similarly unique view and creative flair to his idol. The flowing hair, plump lips and long necks of Rosetti’s recurring female aesthetics all shine through in Burne-Jones work. All be it his own ideal of female beauty and perfection, but Burne-Jones style and stylisation of themes is unique in the movement, with a distinct nod to Rossetti.


Burne-Jones, like Waterhouse, is a great portrayer of myths and legends in his work. With many of his pieces focusing on tales and stories rather than the more religious tendencies of earlier Pre-Raphaelites. These later members of the movement were masters at depicting incredible far off places where heroes and monsters reign and damsels and their tantalising beauty await rescue. Burne-Jones escaped the real world through his art, and shared this beautiful world with us all in turn.
For me, Burne-Jones style only heightens the sense of ethereal, mystical realms and long forgotten times of our ancient past as he steers away from the photorealism of the movement and towards a more stylised portrayal of scenes.


My favourite piece on display, 'The Beguiling of Merlin' is captivating. Merlin's eyes pierce out at you from the paper, so wild and alive. They seem to follow you and hold your gaze in an eerie, haunting way, stirring emotions only art can make us feel.


This exhibition seems to have been quietly understated among the artistic community. Nobody I speak to knows about it, and online information is scarce. I understand that the current pandemic has caused the closure of Newstead temporarily, but the exhibition is still available to view virtually here: https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=cahQQShRaT1&hl=1&guides=0&kb=0&qs=1&ts=3&st=1800 
and when it reopens I urge everyone to go and immerse themselves in this dream world for just a time. Not that I think it will take any encouragement to get people out and visiting galleries and beautiful places again once this is all over!


My only criticism of the exhibition was I was hoping to buy a book, print, postcards, anything! But there was nothing sadly.


Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Five Wells

Recently I spent some time compiling all my research into the best local Neolithic and Bronze Age sites to form a list of where I hope to visit in the near future. A number of local sites I have already visited. But that doesn’t mean I don’t intend to return, especially to see different seasons from these amazing sites.

One place high on my list was the Neolithic burial Cairn of Five Wells, located near Chelmorton, just south of Buxton. After seeing a few photos of this site and reading a little information I was impressed how intact the Cairn was compared to many and how visible the chamber was to visitors, so it went high on the list of where to go next.
In early March a perfect opportunity arose to visit Five Wells, so off I went on a 30 mile drive to discover another amazing piece of Derbyshires ancient history.



After some map consultation I parked near Chelmorton church and set out following a trail uphill in the general direction of the tomb. The villages original wellspring is en route and signed as a point of interest on the way.





The landscape is largely farmers fields and grazing livestock, but a strange, what I presume to be, natural rocky feature runs along the ridge of the hill as a seam dividing the space in two.  It’s quite rugged terrain and I imagine what the whole landscape would have looked like before agriculture moved in.

At a crossroads I managed to wander into a nearby farm, (still following a public footpath) when actually I should have turned left to find the Cairn in fields behind the farm. A little correction later (after thinking I was going to be savaged by dogs!) and I spotted the Cairn on the horizon at last.







It’s structure is quite imposing on the hillside. Like jagged teeth reaching out to the heavens it sits prominent and protruding. The moment I laid eyes on it, I loved it. The rugged and weather beaten hillside and these great stones erupting from the earth. It had an incredible feeling and atmosphere I wasn’t expecting, but wholly embraced.






One of the tombs is slowly being consumed by the earth, as much is covered by a thick layer of moss, while the more intact chamber exists like a miniature shelter missing its roof. Great upright pillars of the entrance give the feeling you are entering a mysterious and incredible time. As ever with these ancient places I stand and wonder what happened, were rituals performed when these people were buried in this great tomb? What did this place in the landscape mean to these people? The rolling landscape surrounding the Cairn is certainly one I’d be quite comfortable to spend my eternity in.





I'd be lying if I said I didn't find Five Wells to be an incredible, moving place. Though I will not attempt to provide any real reasoning why. For me personally these sites often seem to create an overwhelming sense of connection with our history and the traditions of our ancestors. Although this window into the past is only fleeting, for me it strengthens the feeling that these people, their values and respect for and use of the land is incredible, admirable and frankly far better than our own. These people had so many things right that we do not. They worshiped the land for the life it gave, we merely abuse it. For me, Cairn sites in particular always give a sense of ancestors rooted in the earth. For them, in life and death the landscape was clearly so important. I only wish I could know more about their lives and understand more about their world ...




Friday, 21 February 2020

Cimaruta

The cimaruta is an ancient charm, most commonly found in Italian folklore tradition, dating back at least to Roman times, if not further. It is steeped in fascinating symbolism and speaks strongly of a superstitious and incredibly rich culture.

If you have visited any museum containing magical or folklore related artifacts the chances are you’ve seen a Cimaruta and maybe not even realised. Pitt Rivers has a huge collection of them, which is where I first encountered these curious objects. They can also be seen at Frederic Mares Museum in Barcelona, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall and many other places.


Typically the Cimaruta resembles a Rue sprig, which is a plant with an absolutely fascinating history and symbolism. Rue has been used since ancient times in cooking, herbal remedies and as a popular ingredient in spells and witchcraft. During the Middle Ages rue was used as a way for witches to recognise each other. As ever the church attempted to hijack this herb by calling it the ‘herb of grace’ and using it to sprinkle holy water on subjects.

There are also some fascinating folklore tales which feature rue. In Classical mythology it was believed that the basilisk could kill all plants with its breath, except rue. Weasels bitten by the Basilisk would eat rue to recover from their injuries and fight back. This may relate to beliefs that rue could help to cure poisoning. In other examples rue represents virginity, or regret.

The imagery of the Cimaruta itself is complex. With the herb closely associated to Diana and the three branches displayed are connected her Triformis nature. In addition, the small charms at the end of the branches each have their own meaning. The result of this is that each different Cimaruta’s symbolism is unique.
Commonly featured charms are the moon, a hand, a fish, a key, a serpent, a heart, a flower. The piece can often be dated by what charms it features, as later charms imagery is more influenced by Christianity.


Different interpretations of the use of these protective charms only serves to increase the mystery (and for me intrigue) surrounding them. It is generally thought that they were a charm against the evil eye and witchcraft. The overtly pagan imagery of the charms is argued as being valid as a weapon ‘against’ witchcraft as Christian elements on later examples balance out and defeat these heathen elements, thus protecting from witchcraft. I have to say this does sound rather illogical to me, and I’m far more inclined to believe the idea that these were worn by followers of the cult of Diana. The majority of the various symbols all represent and connect with Diana in some way, suggesting to me that this was more about the worship of this particular goddess, before being changed and bastardised later by the church. The fact that rue was used for practicing pagans to recognise each other is another major point for me in this. I can appreciate that for hundreds of years the Cimaruta has probably been a talisman against witchcraft, but I can’t help but think that it has a much deeper history than that statement suggests.



Cimaruta have been a great source of fascination since I first laid eyes on them quite a few years ago now. Since then I have delved into their fascinating symbolism and history, but because of the lack of knowledge surrounding them and conflicting information available I have only gotten so far. I fully intend to continue my quest to learn all there is to know about these beautiful relics of superstition and magic and shed light of their true and I believe very ancient history.


Saturday, 8 February 2020

Museum of the Moon

One day by complete chance I saw an image on Instagram from a good friend which was utterly captivating and intriguing. I recognised the setting immediately having visited a number of times previously; it was Derby Cathedral. But I couldn’t quite understand why there was a huge moon suspended from the ceiling! But one thing was not in doubt; it was glorious!!

I immediately went and researched exactly what I was looking at, which turned out to be an art installation by Luke Jerram called ‘The Museum of the Moon’. The seven metre sphere is inflated, covered with high resolution NASA images of the moon and internally lit to mimic moonlight. It certainly has a huge presence even in a space as grand as a cathedral!

The installation is designed to evoke the thoughts and feelings we get when looking up at the moon and what it means to us. The cultural and historical importance of the moon is evident across the world, through this the installation aims to connect us all and get us thinking more deeply about the moon and what it means to us.

I have never been shy about the fact I have an inexplicable adoration of the moon and love it wholly. For me it has always evoked so much mystery, beauty and is the light in the darkness. As a teenager I had a map of the dark side of the moon (no I’m not talking about anything Pink Floyd related) on my wall for years and would spend many a hour looking at it in wonder. And as a keen child astronomer I would often sit inspecting each crater in depth through my telescope, secretly hoping I’d see something move or another unexpected turn of events.

Of course I had to go and pay the moon a visit while it was so close by! And while the boards of folk flocking to take a selfie with the moon was abhorrent, the installation itself and all its glorious lighting was fantastic.

Visiting the museum of the moon got me wondering when my obsession with the moon first happened and exactly how it came about. After wracking my brains the only possible  thing which I can think of is a strange one indeed (other than my lifelong obsession with space and stargazing - I still have my sky maps and some astronomy books and we’ve lost a planet since those were published!). Even as a child I had my strange morbid nature I still possess today, and I loved Halloween. I was told at around the age of 5 or 6 that on Halloween if I watched the moon long enough I’d see a witch fly by it on her broom. I can still remember sitting watching for hours waiting to see her. And suspect during this time formed my fascination with that wonderful lunar presence.

If you get chance to visit the Museum of the Moon in a city near you its an experience you shouldn't pass up!






Friday, 31 January 2020

Fabulous Fungi

All of my life I have had a healthy interest in mushrooms. My late grandad was an avid mushroom forager and would often be known to fry up his foraged goods for breakfast. I always found this vaguely terrifying, but on reflection probably quite normal for someone from rural Lincolnshire who worked on a farm for most of his formative years.




I have many mushroom photos I’ve taken over the years. The most fascinating I found on the Ercall in Shropshire around 10 years ago and still remember it vividly to this day. As if it was covered in countless red jewels (subsequent searching for this photo and research has identified this as either a Devils tooth or a Mealy tooth thanks to my good friend Montalo).


But during the autumn of 2019 I decided to take my fungi fascination up a notch and instead of casually noticing fungi while out walking I became a self certified fungi hunter and started actively walking specifically to find the most amazing mushrooms I could.


Throughout 2019 I made a specific effort on different walks to focus on different things. This had a huge seasonal impact of course and spring was lots of trips to see the ducklings, then lots of looking at wild flowers, as summer progressed it was chasing butterflies and dragonflies, then as things changed I started suspiciously rooting about in the undergrowth for fantastic fungi!



Admittedly it did help that this autumn was an absolutely bumper one for mushrooms. Never in my life have I seen so many, and some staggeringly vast! Not to take anything away from the beautifully dainty fungi.




My goal for 2020 is to become far better at identifying them all! While I don't expect to become an expert over night it would be nice to be more aware and knowledgeable on the subject, so this is a good place to start. One of my first tasks of the new year was to buy a pocket identification book to keep in my camera bag at all times. To know nature is to be nature.


Friday, 17 January 2020

Witch Marks After Dark: Apotropaic magic at Creswell Crags

Apotropaic magic is a very interesting and mysterious subject. In recent years the interest in apotropaic magic has soared, largely I believe due to our increasing understanding of the subject, and the ongoing discovery of apotropaic marks and objects in all sorts of places. One of these places is Creswell Crags. It would be tempting to say that recently apotropaic marks were discovered in their largest cave system, however the term ‘identified’ is actually much more appropriate.



In an unusual turn of events, two visitors to the Crags Hayley Clark and Ed Waters, avid hunters of so called ‘Witches Marks’ spotted some marks within the cave and informed their guide. After further research and observations in the cave what had previously been thought to be nothing more than (reasonably) modern graffiti was actually suddenly understood to be hundreds upon hundreds of apotropaic marks.


A brief explanation on apotropaic magic; the term literally means something which has the power to ‘turn away’ evil. There are countless different examples of this in most cultures throughout the world; the evil eye charm in Greece and Turkey, the Cimaruta and Mano Cornuto in Italy, Witches bottles and Horse shoes in Britain, the Eguzkilore in Basque France and Spain, to name just a few. The main purpose of these objects is believed to be to cast away evil spirits, Witches, Demons and Dark Magic. Apotropaic items have been found hidden within buildings; in cavity walls or under floorboards. But most apotropaic items or symbols are situated in or around entrance ways, to prevent the evil entering the building. A very common form of apotropaic magic as well as objects is marks, like the ones seen in Wookey Hole, Woolsthorpe Manor, Tithe Barn and of course Creswell Crags.


Creswell Crags has the largest concentration of spotropaic marks in Britain, and specialists are still trying to fully understand why. There are a few theories; perhaps to keep evil spirits from the cave so it could be used for winter storage, perhaps the site was a focus for local folklore and superstition or maybe the cave was perceived as a meeting place between worlds and the hole which plummets into the earth (incidentally where the concentration of the marks is most fervent) was perceived as a ‘well to hell’ and the Marks served the purpose to keep the demons from entering our world. Maybe we will never know what was going through the minds of the people who laboriously scratched these marks into the rock, but it’s certainly a major cause for curiosity.

The symbolism of the particular marks at Creswell are largely derived from Latin words or phrases commonly thought to be protective in the 17th century. The most heavily featured is the double V, which looks a lot like a W, which stand for ‘Virgo Virginum’ (Virgin of Virgins), but there are also many ‘C’s for Christ, I for Iesus (original Latin spelling of Jesus), R for Rex or Regina (referring to king or queen) and several other variations which generally all relate to Mary and Jesus in some form.



There are also some which may take the form of ‘demonic traps’ designed to ensnare evil in a maze like form, such as a Merels board, ladders and other usually straight edged shapes.


As you might imagine there has been some scepticism from visitors suggesting that the symbols are merely graffiti. However when you take into account the sheer volume of symbols, witness first hand their obsessive repetition and are aware of the presence of the same symbols hundreds of miles apart the significance of these marks becomes startlingly obvious.



I hope that in years to come more becomes known about the Witch Marks at Creswell Crags and that we learn who put them there and exactly why. But the team there are certainly up against it with all the changes that have happened on site over the last few hundred years, in particular Victorian excavations which didn’t record findings as rigorously as archaeologists do today, and considered anything from the 17th century too contemporary to bother with and sadly may have discarded many clues to deciphering the mysteries of the cave.

A huge thank you to the team at Creswell for their dedication and passion, and of course to our guide Sarah who made the experience a fantastic one!
Witch Marks After Dark tours run on select dates until the end of the month. Check out the Creswell Crags website here to find out more!



Monday, 13 January 2020

Art in Focus: Treebeard

Throughout most of November and December I have been working on a top secret piece of artwork to be gifted to some of my oldest and best friends for Christmas. Now that the cats out of the bag and they have the piece I can talk a little more about it’s creation and concept!

As some may be aware, Tolkien is a absolutely huge influence on me, having visited some of his old haunts in Oxford, his grave and an exhibition at the Bodelian in 2018. The Hobbit is my favourite book of all time and I collect editions of Lord of the Rings (and almost anything Tolkien related) whenever possible. So it’s probably natural that at some point I did some Tolkien related art.



Many years ago I designed my half sleeve on the theme of ‘good and evil in Middle Earth’ (kindly tattooed by the super talented Nick Brinsley) and the main focus of this is my imagining of Treebeard, one of my favourite characters. (I always felt a huge affinity with Treebeard and probably wanted to be him more than any other character.)



Fast forward several years and me and good friends went to the Rodney Matthews exhibition Electric Rock near Birmingham to see many prints and originals on offer. My favourite was Rodney’s depiction of Treebeard (which I’ve been looking at in books since childhood). My friend ordered herself this print as she liked it so much. Little did I know she also ordered one for me and kept it safe over 9 months until my birthday! What a wonderful surprise, absolutely blew me away!


So, I got to thinking how I could express my gratitude and give a gift that really meant as much as some of the gifts she has given me over the years! So, I decided creating something was the only way.

I started doodling Treebeard in early November based on what I always saw reading the books (I refused to see Lord of the Rings until I had read the books, hence only seeing The Return of the King at the cinema). He closely resembles the Treebeard of my tattoo as this was also his basis. Just with rather a lot more moss, and of course mushrooms.
On my recent autumnal walks I took lots of photos of tree textures, lichen, moss and fungi to help as reference material.



Similarly to when putting together my tattoo design, Treebeard is imagined, but other elements are based on the depictions in the film. In my tattoo Sauron is based on Christopher Lees portrayal, the Orthanc and eye of Sauron also inspired by the film. Yet in the style of an illustration (in particular the way I tend to draw, which is not photorealism). Merry and Pippin who I chose to include in the painting are loosely based on the movie casting, with similar hair and clothes, but again, are an illustrative interpretation.



Creating the piece was a very enjoyable challenge. The knotwork in particular was infuriating! A very unforgiving art form! The piece consists of a complete pen layer (below) to build the depth of the piece, and then watercolour work to bring him truly to life. Interestingly this was the first piece I experimented in adding some metallic watercolour to bring out certain areas and give them a bit of pazazz. In total the piece took around 25 hours. As usual in the winter months the light is the biggest challenge to most creatives. Unfortunately I had to resort to doing the majority of the work under artificial light, which is never ideal, but I was happy with the results considering this.


I hope my friends are happy with their painting and enjoy it for many years to come!