Sunday 23 December 2018

Red House

For more years than I can count I have dreamed of visiting Red House. As a life long lover of William Morris and everything he stood for (Socialism, quality products, hand craftsmanship, well considered design, the aesthetic beauty of everyday objects, truth to and respect of nature, obsession with the Medieval ... the list goes on) Red House for me has always been some what of a Holy Grail.
Every time I've visited London and begin to think about what I can cram in Red House always comes to the front of my mind, looming large like some un-vanquished beast. And then I look at Bexleyheath and its awkward location and the logistics never quite seem to fit.

But this wasn't a trip to London, this was a trip to France and beyond, and with Bexleyheath only a short drive from the M25 to my logic it was 'on the way' (as too was Bodingham Castle apparently) and the perfect opportunity to finally make a pilgrimage to Morris's home. And so it was built into the mammoth road trip schedule.

Our arrival at Red House hadn't been quite what I was expecting. A winding, modern suburban housing estate with boring, cloned houses costing I shudder to think how much lining the narrow winding lanes which felt a million miles away from London (however the traffic on the main roads did not). Twisting and turning wondering where on earth it was as the satnav had not-so-helpfully announced we had arrived, yet it was nowhere to be seen. Then suddenly around a bend lofty trees loomed up from behind a high brick wall and a blue plaque, here we were! Red House at last.

To say the property is National Trust you would hardly know in all honesty. A little out building with a small gift shop in but none of the usual pomp and grandeur that generally greets you at most trust properties (though we have visited other exceptions). From outside the walls Red House is quite unassuming, hidden behind trees and garden walls, most people probably drive by without a second glance. However inside those walls, it feels like I've walked into Morris' personal paradise. The steeply pitched roof gives the house a dramatic, imposing presence, while the many different windows in lots of shapes and sizes soften it and give it a charming character. On first impression the house is simple, honest. Its not until you get around the back of the house you see its more complex side, with a much more cosy feeling as it comes around to hug the ornate well and envelope the garden. One thing you truly get a sense of at Red House is Morris's connection to nature. The beautiful gardens were as important to Morris as every other aspect of this home, and that truly shows.

Inside the building had the echoes of some great medieval hall with beams, dark wood and bespoke gothic furniture in most rooms. But it was not as Morris intended it. White washed walls and Morris wallpaper Red House has been painfully sanitized over the years. Beautiful murals painted over, colour schemes whited out, stained glass sold, its true artistic intention and creation, lost. Colour swatches in the rooms tell you the original schemes Morris used. Deep reds, ocre, dark green, all those beautiful Medieval colours he so loved and we see today immortalised in illuminated manuscripts. Gone. The house was a living work of art and what he and Jane achieved there in 5 short years is incredible. So why isn't it being restored?

I asked volunteers why original schemes had not been reintroduced, or more original features had not been uncovered as for me the sorry state of the inside compared to what it could and should be was heart breaking and if I'm honest, a little distressing. Many were flippant, one telling me there were beautiful artworks on the doors, but she preferred the teal blue they were now painted and hoped they would stay that way. I wanted to tell her that wasn't her decision to make, this was Morris's dream and should reflect his vision, not hers, surely that's what we're saving this gem for, in tribute to his memory and genius? But, I wound my neck in and held my tongue. Other staff said they didn't have enough funding to carry out the costly work involved, painstaking work I know, but worthwhile surely? And I was also told of some urgent structural problems which needed to be addressed but for whatever reason hadn't been yet.

Its frustrating to see the house which was Morris' vision a shadow of its former self. But its easy to understand how this happens when an organisation as large as the National Trust has guardianship of a building. Over the past years we've been to so many of their properties, and what they do to safe guard and protect our heritage is nothing short of incredible. But when you visit Red House and are one of perhaps a dozen people in the entire grounds, you can see that compared to a property such as Nostell Priory, which on the day we visited there were literally thousands of people, and we were told on our tour how many tens of thousands of pounds they paid to reupholster a single sofa in one room of the Priory because it was looking a bit past it, you realise Red House is sadly a little fish in a big pond. And not the big bucks money spinning tourist attraction which some of their buildings are.

To have finally made it to Red House was a double edged sword. With so much joy to finally see this unique home, and yet sadness and frustration at wanting it to truly reflect Morris still. I hope that when the time comes when I have chance to visit again more of the intricate work of Morris will have been uncovered for future generations to treasure and protect.

Next to complete on my Morris pilgrimages is Kelmscott Manor. Perhaps one for 2019 ...

Monday 5 November 2018

HR Giger: Skizzen

10 years ago I was lucky enough visit the home of fellow HR Giger fan and avid collector; Dave Julian. Subsequently I was lucky enough to call this wonderfully hospitable and welcoming man my friend and reunite with him earlier this year in Gruyeres. When visiting Dave's house I marvelled at his amazing collection ranging from posters, prints and books to jewellery, albums and photos and everything in between. At the time I was a fresh faced college student desperate to get to the HR Giger Museum, but unequipped financially, logistically and lacking a lot of of the necessary knowledge to make my pilgrimage. I appealed to Les Barany, Gigers agent, for help, and he kindly put me in touch with some wonderful folks a little closer to home who were willing, most kindly, to share their personal collections with me. After having my eyes well and truly opened by Dave's collection all those years ago I have actively added to my own collection bit by bit over the years. But for one reason of another there has always been certain pieces which stuck with me and I am always dreaming of owning. The film design book with the fold out Alien 3 design, wonderfully crafted pieces of jewellery (one of which I am now lucky enough to call my own), the NYC portfolio (yeah I can dream!) and of course, Skizzen.

As they say good things come in small packages and for me Skizzen was just that. By no means a flash statement, this unassuming little grey book totally and utterly captivated me. It was utterly charming and a format rarely seen in a commercial book. Each page features one of Giger's sketches. Pure, raw, honest. A brief glimpse into the mind of a genius. His thought processes, the development of his ideas, what made the great man tick. His sketchbook laid bare in every detail. I found it mesmerizing and nothing short of incredible.

Since seeing Dave's copy of Skizzen all those years ago I think of that little book often and what for me is utterly unrivalled beauty. Perhaps the signs of a truly obsessive book collector. For many years I have hoped some how one day I would have a Skizzen of my own, though knowing it is a very rare book which can command a high price I never expected to get my hands on one, not really.

Then suddenly just under a month ago I received an email. It was an alert from eBay which I had set up to inform me of anything appearing relating to 'Giger Skizzen'. I set up the alert so long ago I had honestly forgotten all about it. For the first time I had found a copy at a price I could afford. I thought about it for around 5 minutes (probably less) and in the end with the words 'you might never see another one' and 'how long have you waited for this?' ringing in my ears I pressed the buy it now button and waited what felt like the longest week for it to arrive from Germany. I was fearful it was too good to be true, would something be wrong? Damage? Missing pages? A fake? Or it just not arrive.

Upon Skizzen's eventual arriva,l I checked it all over, to my relief everything was as it should have been. And finally, after all those years, all that searching through book shops and stalls for countless hours, all that hope that if I looked long enough one would be there waiting. Skizzen was mine. And boy was it worth waiting 10 years for. Never lose hope.

Monday 29 October 2018

Scriptum Oxford

On a recent visit to Oxford for my birthday I discovered an utter gem of a shop. From outside this small shop housed down a quiet street hints at the treasure which waits within. As an avid fountain pen collector the instant I saw a quill in the window I was heading for the door.

Inside an utter treasure trove of glorious things awaited. Italian quills and dip pens in all sorts of shapes and sizes lay delicately on a table as you walked in. The brass of hand shaped clips, letter openers and magnifying glass rims twinkled in the light as I surveyed the scene of a pen lovers dream. Sealing wax and seals sat neatly in rows waiting to be adored. Halloween eyeball marbles displayed in a miniature bath, what could be finer?

I caught sight of what is always the greatest temptation in life; the glass cabinet. With lines of beautiful pens standing to attention and given an exotic flair by the addition of ornate oriental fans I searched to see what was on offer. Much to my joy my favourite pen manufacturer Kaweco took pride of place in centre front.

Upstairs the walls were lined with notebooks, parchment and everything you could want to accompany your favourite pen. Marbled paper, papyrus and illuminated manuscripts sat waiting for a keen owner to give them a lease of life. Puppets and prints lined the staircase in a colourful display of character and fun, ensuring every available inch is packed with sights guaranteed to stir the senses. The entire place was a cornucopia of everything I love, ancient looking globes, phrenology heads, beautiful binding, an eclectic array of objects which largely exist in times gone by only.

The shop was nothing short of incredible and a real credit to its owner who has on offer some of the finest selection of objects, both useful and ornamental I have seen in a shop for a long time. If like me you somehow seem to find you live your life almost in another century to the majority of other people don't hesitate to visit Scriptum next time you're near by, its nothing short of delightful and utterly glorious. Or if your a little more 21st century check out their wares online:

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Le Palais Idéal

When researching some places to visit off the beaten track on our European Roadrip I stumbled upon the Le Palais Idéal on Atlas Obscura and it was instantly added to the must see list of weird and wonderful places.

Upon leaving Lyon to head for Marseillan we took a minor detour to the village of Hauterives to find this magnificent marvel, where 139 years ago a French Postman started on his lifes mission to create the place of his dreams. What Ferdinand Cheval created was a temple to imagination, nature and the wonders of the world. It stands today as an incredible testament to the hard work and determination of one man over the course of 33 years.

The Palais is truly a wonder to behold. It rises from the ground like some eruption of organic mass. Like the ultimate life size sandcastle this mammoth monument is a feast for the eyes. Everywhere can be see plants, coral, animals, people all merging, growing and flowing. The Palais is not the typical structure you would expect to find in the middle of a rural French village. It has clear exotic influences from a variety of different cultures. And this was no accident. On his postal rounds Cheval saw the wonders of the world outside his home through publications magazines and postcards he was delivering. All of these elements fed into the aesthetics and final design of of the Le Palais Idéal.

As utterly awe inspiring and breath taking as the structure is, equally moving was the story of Ferdinand Cheval himself. A modest, hard working man who one day was inspired in the most unlikely of ways; by a stone. He looked at this strange stone shaped by nature and felt compelled to build. He collected stones to build with on his postal rounds, initially in his pockets, then a basket and finally his famous wheelbarrow, which gives an idea of the growth of his ideas and the development of the scale of the project. Chevals building took on a life of its own as he poured dreams, inspiration and determination into its building. He faced great ridicule and was mocked for his venture, yet he persevered and completed the incredible monument we see today. I felt incredibly moved by the idea that if you work long and hard enough your dreams can come true. It was a very sobering, moving experience.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of seeing this incredible sculptured structure. If you are ever in the region I urge you to visit this incredible testament to one mans vision. For more information please visit:

Wednesday 3 October 2018

The Alchemy Series

Recently I have been hard at work on the sometimes painfully detailed Alchemy series. While I think quite easily I could keep on going with this series and dreaming up more weird and wacky designs and picking even more of my favourite creatures to feature I decided to call a halt on it at 6, as its a nice round number and a number of different eco-systems and creatures have been covered.

Originally the Alchemy series was born out of the twisted take on the idea of being a creator. My idea of some ancient fellow using mysterious magic and methods long lost to modern man to create these curious creatures prevailed throughout the series and often led me to pursue some of the more bizarre creations nature has to offer. Each creature sits inert in the bottle of their birth, surveying their surroundings and place in the world. This mere man, a magician or a deity depending on your perspective, has unleashed these curious creatures upon us through the power of his alchemic practice. Does his ancient practice make him a god? Or are all those whose imagination knows no bounds capable of creation?

The series was a truly mammoth undertaking with over 130 hours work creating the final pieces and countless hours of photoshop work preparing them for print.

The Alchemy series is available to buy as a set of A4 prints, or individually, to check them out Click here!

Monday 24 September 2018

The Wellcome Collection - Medical marvels, morbidity and more

For a long time I've heard only good things about the Wellcome Collection in London and have long been intending to visit and never quite gotten round to it, so I thought it was about time I corrected this. During a trip to London earlier in the year, I made a point of making my first stop fresh off the train an early evening visit to the Wellcome Collection.

The collection can be easily divided into 2 clear categories; the more modern, scientific area of the white rooms, featuring cross sections of human bodies, nerve and muscle specimen and modern art commenting on modern science and the human body. The other, a temple to all things once cutting edge and scientifically sound. The red room is full of fascinating objects from our medical and personal past.

Prosthetic limbs, saws, syringes, diorama, dildos, models, mummies, good luck charms, skulls, secret pornography, shrunken heads, artwork, masks, ex voto. The room is full of strange decadent items from a whole host of civilizations. The Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, Japanese and everything in between contribute to the collection.

The pieces on display are truly fascinating and I have never seen a collection of medical and morbid memorabilia quite like it. The criteria for inclusion in the collection seems to favour anything featuring a skull (which I wholly approve of of course); candle sticks, paintings, wax works, statues, walking sticks, models and of course, actual skulls. On the whole the collection certainly does justice to our predisposed obsession with death, morbidity and darkness, especially in times past. Many of the exhibits reflect our fascination with decay and the contrast between life and death. While these are sometimes medical, sometimes spiritual, they are nearly always hauntingly beautiful.

One of my favourite pieces, a memento mori waxwork model reminding people of the inescapable inevitability of death stares hauntingly out at passers by as a serpent snakes into an empty eye socket while insects take hold of the decaying corpse. In its time this would have been a grizzly but potent reminder of the inevitable fate of us all, regardless of power or wealth.

Scientifically the collection shows just how much progress we've made since medicine was in its infancy. It showcases some extraordinary examples which remind us just how far we've come in the way of prosthesis, surgery and even mindset in the last 100 years alone.
The collection is a fascinating chance to truly see our understanding and comprehension of disease, death and decay develop over the centuries.

If you have an interest in relics from medical history or are a little morbidly inclined be sure to check out the Wellcome collection on your next visit to the big smoke. More more info visit: I can highly recommend the gift shop, some fantastic books and gifts!