This time last year I was on a big blue train with a Dutch business man, two Australian nurses, a grinning Muslim tour guide, some cockroaches, a cup of chai and lots of curious, staring natives. This time last year I was in India.
A year later, there are many memories and experiences I know I’ll cherish. A few of the things that stand out most are:
The food – My trip explored Southern India, which is renowned for its delicious dishes. Highlights included freshly baked chapati bread, yellow daal, egg curry (for breakfast!), home-made Keralan fish curry and the yummiest of all snacks – masala dosa.
The company – My Intrepid tour group was very small, consisting of three older travelling companions in ther fifties and a very excitable and enthusiastic local guide named Thoufeeq. I couldn’t have been in safer hands or better company – most people assumed we were some sort of dysfunctional family and as the ‘daughter’ I wasn’t bothered much at all.
The surroundings – crowded, dirty, hot cities like Chennai and Madurai littered with skinny cows but with their share of breathe-taking temples. Dramatic coastlines and sunset ocean views in Varkala and Goa. Supreme palaces in Mysore. Winding backwaters in Kerala. Luscious tropical landscapes in mystical Hampi… The variation was astounding.
The people – smiling, staring, curious and excitable. Always willing to help or make a sale, or both. (I never knew how good children could be at persuading me to part with my money before.) And I learnt all about the ambiguous head waggling gesture, which can mean yes, no, maybe or ‘whatever’ depending on the mood of the waggler.
The shopping – flower markets, incense making, fruit selling, ethnic bangles, cushion covers, pashminas, carved jewellry boxes, multi-coloured powders…. I could have spent days ambling round Indian markets. If only my backpack had been a little bigger.
Although a massive culture shock in some ways, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I hope these sketches reveal something of the sights and sensations I experienced.
After an absence of over a year, I’ve decided to make a reappearance in the bloggersphere. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I stopped posting in the first place. Looking back, this blog is a really effective way of catching some of the amazing experiences and beautiful things in my life, which deserve to be remembered. I’ve also been thinking about how I used to enjoy writing my blog and when something is enjoyable there’s no point in quitting mid-flow.
So you can expect to see lots more over the coming weeks, months, and maybe even years. The core focus will continue to be on the things that inspire me, whether that be personal experiences, art exhibitions, travels, London life, films, the spiritual realm or anything else that catches my attention. I’ll also be making an effort to post more of my own art on the site. So take a look and let me know what you think. I love hearing everyone else’s views and their own experiences of all things inspirtaional too!
I am ashamed to say I fall into the category of those who can’t really appreciate a lot of old art – frescos and religious paintings have never really been my bag. Old drawings, however, are another matter all together. The exhibition of Italian Renaissance Drawings at the British Museum is really something special. The blurb explains that drawing only became popular in the 1400s when paper started to be more widely available. Sketching was seen principally as a way for artists to hone their skills and create studies for larger scale paintings. But, as the exhibition shows, drawings are often more playful, delicate and charismatic than paintings of the same time. Seeing every tiny mark, you get a much better understanding of the skill and study that has gone into them, even the mistakes and corrections are interesting.
For this reason, I think it is easy to feel a stronger connection with them and to really understand how remarkable it is that these delicate, incredibly skillful drawings are staring you right in the face. In 1400, a bloke called Giovannino de’Grassi sat down to draw a cheetah, for instance, and here I am looking at it now. Mind-boggling:
And it isn’t just really old sketches that get me excited – any work from any era where you can see the skill and technique used to create it will usually interest me more than a ‘finished’ perfect painting. For instance, I prefer Degas’ ballerina sketches to his paintings:
Egon Schiele’s sketches, disturbing as they can be, are also very appealing to me:
The wartime artist John Piper’s work often had a sketchlike quality to it that I absolutely love:
So there we have it. A small insight into a beautiful exhibition and a few examples of other sketches I love. Now all I have to do is start doing more of my own sketches. And who knows, maybe someone in the year 3000 will marvel at one of my own doodles…
If you are wondering what you’ve just been reading and why, then please consult Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief – in part of this book one of the characters (a fist-fighting Jew) creates his own picture book, which is featured in the text – made of simple sketches, it playfully interrupts the text with childlike pictures that are all the more enjoyable for their technical lack of ability. So I thought I’d have a go.
For a more accurate representation of what I saw in Wales and how beautiful it was there are some photos below.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to do the blogging equivalent of a holiday slide show. Just thought I’d draw your attention to some fun things I discovered on a recent trip to rockin’ Belgium. Of course, I indulged in all the expected treats of the land: beer, mussels, choccies and chips but I also found some unexpected cultural gems:
Belgian Symbolist Art at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts: From a quick Google I can tell you that broadly speaking symbolism was a reaction against realism, focusing on spirituality, dreams and the power of the imagination. A stroll round the exhibition showed me that in the late nineteenth century these dark, moody paintings and sculptures were the order of the day in Belgium. While I’m not sure I’d want any of them hanging on my walls (think of the nightmares), they were certainly interesting to behold and very atmospheric. Here are a couple of examples:
Felicien Rops, La Buveuse d’absinthe, 1865:
And the very famous Orphee mort, (Ophelia’s Death), 1893, Jean Delville:
Some more Googling tells me that decorative elements of Belgian Symbolism had an influence on the subsequent Art Nouveau movement, bringing me to my next Brussels highlight: the Belgian architect Victor Horta’s house and the various cool Art Nouveau buildings around Brussels including the Music Museum, which reminds me of the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
Victor Horta wanted to break free from convention and redesign functional objects to make them beautiful. The interior of his house, which you can just stroll around as if you were his guest, is gorgeous and well worth a visit.
Speaking of individuals with a passion for modernity and creativity, another cool dude I learnt more about from my trip is Benedikt Taschen, a German publisher who puts out books on all things art, film, fashion and erotica. There’s a lovely Taschen bookshop in the heart of Brussels and I spent a good deal of time browsing the pages of these beautiful books.
Which leads me nicely onto the final thing I have to say about Brussels: they have a surprisingly good shopping scene. Not blinding, in-your-face fashion saturation like London and New York, but small independent boutiques and a refreshing lack of chain stores. (This goes for their cafes and restaurants too: they just don’t do Starbucks, OK?) My favourite shopping find was a boutique store with the unusual name of Mr Ego. Its website describes it as ‘cool attitude shopping’ – I love frenglish. I picked up several nice pieces from this place, and think they will make welcome additions to my Topshopified wardrobe.
So that concludes my Belgian observations. I hope you find them useful for future trips to a land that does indeed go beyond mussels and chips. Incidentally, it is a very easy place to get to for a weekend break thanks to the legendary Eurostar! And even more convenient if, like me, you have lovely friends living out there like Tom and Laura who provided me with free accommodation, a guided tour and invaluable local knowledge.
No I don’t mean anything rude by that. Graphic art is ‘a term applied historically to the art of printmaking and drawing’ (according to Wikipedia). Basically, it’s posters and prints, often used for things like gig posters, display ads and promo flyers. The reason for my sudden interest in it? I went to a rather good graphic art fair last weekend called ‘Pick Me Up’. I browsed the prints and posters (some a bit generic but mostly top quality), watched artists at work and fantasised about which ones I’d buy if I spent money on art instead of shoes (which I don’t but I really should. A much better investment). This quirky little fair was only on for a week so for those of you who missed it here are some highlights:
1) Erin Petson: I love her sketchy, messy but delicate style. Gorgeous. It says on her website she’s done work for Vogue. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing in mainstream fashion media. (See previous blog post!)
2) Everything is Everything: A video about objects. What happens (or doesn’t happen) when you touch, pick up, throw, put on, drop and jump on everyday things. Intermittently accompanied by some rancid-looking Chinese food. I can’t say any more about it except you should watch it because it is mindlessly hypnotic.
3) The humble art of screen printing: So easily ignored in the age of digital printing but really satisfying to watch the swiping of the paint and the building up of colours. It is still very much alive today at the likes of Print Club London where trendy East Londoners unite to seep paint onto paper.
4) Rob Ryan: Paper cutout artiste extraordinaire breathes new life into the humble paper chain and doily with amazingly intricate poster templates which are transposed onto all sorts of medium, including bags, books and mugs. Although as my housemate Jim said ‘It’s a bit girlie, isn’t it?’
5) Big Ideas (don’t get any) by James Houston: The most original Radiohead cover you’ll ever hear, Houston covers ‘Nude’ from In Rainbows using old school technology. What it is doing at a graphic art fair I’ve not idea but it is very clever stuff. I love seeing all that clunky technology put to good use!
This post should come with a warning that it involves a high horse and me getting on it. So read on if you dare…
Flicking through the pages of the well-known fashion mag, Grazia, there are lots of lovely things to behold: pretty people, sexy clothes and outrageous footwear – you know how it goes. (Don’t pretend you don’t, boys). I’m drawn to this eye candyfest as much as the next person
I’m getting increasingly upset by the number of what I would describe as ‘fembots and zoids’ on the pages, mainly in the ads. What I mean by this is the extent to which the faces and figures are airbrushed and distorted till they resemble no woman on earth. The one that caught my attention as a particularly horrendous example of this is the two headed, flat-faced monstrosity I spied the other day, which could also be described as two ‘beautiful’ women advertising lipstick.
Something about the vacant airbrushed faces upset me more than usual. I think because there are two of them and they’ve been done up to look like clones this is a particularly strong example of the attack of the ‘fembots’. (Is it me or do they also look a little bit evil?)
What I wonder is how much further the airbrushed zoid look can go before they all merge into one generic computer manipulated image of ‘the perfect woman’ (which would probably look like Kate Moss as she is in every second ad anyway).
In a book of past Vogue covers that I have it is really interesting to see how much more creative editors had to be before the days of airbrushing and even fashion photography. It would be brilliant to see this type of artwork come back into mainstream fashion but I guess that’s a big ask.
Call me a blind optimist but I do believe it is possible, however, that one day we will see an airbrushing backlash which acknowledges the fact that no one really looks like this and nor should they want to!
Being ill, I didn’t do much today. What I did do was watch two simple and beautiful films. The first, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, is set in breathtaking Korean landscape. Writing or reading the title gives an idea of what it is about: the way things change and how they remain the same. It follows the life of a boy and his master who live a strict Buddhist existence in a small cabin in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains. In particular, we see how the boy, despite his pious upbringing, is not without human failings and is drawn to the chaotic secular world. Without giving too much away, the ending resembles the start as he comes to terms with the nature of life and finally takes on the role of master.
The other film I saw today is Whale Rider which is similar to Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring in that it also takes place in a beautiful location, is very understated and draws parallels between the past and the present. It is about a Maori girl’s determination to fulfill her birthright as the leader of her tribe. The cliff tops and beaches are pleasing to look at, but the girl’s story of her efforts to win her grandfather’s acceptance is the real focus of this powerful narrative. The tradition of the people and the way it is almost forgotten, but comes back stronger also underpins the tale.
So why did these two films make me feel better? I guess because they are both beautiful, calming and reassuring. Added to that, neither of them has too many bells and whistles. (I say this as someone who hated Avatar). Either that or the lemsip had just done its job…
I’ve been to a couple of social events recently that have been slightly out of the ordinary so I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer some thoughts on them.
Firstly, Shunt has been my Saturday night destination for the past two weeks running. Both times it has been a bit disappointing. This is a performance arts venue in London Bridge station with live music and art exhibitions. The location is amazing – a labyrinth of tunnels and caverns with a unisex toilet, cinema (of sorts) and the odd tree (!) Previously they used to have DJs and pack the place out with a crowd happy to take in the randomness but safe in the knowledge they they’d have a good dance and feel suitably merry. Now it has reopened they seem to have removed the DJ from the equation and, quite frankly, bopping along to an acoustic performance, doesn’t quite cut the mustard for a Saturday night out in London. That said, it is worth at least one visit. But get there early or book in advance.
So moving on to a more successful recent soiree, with equally unusual credentials: I recently attended one of the Science Museum ‘Lates’. This is a free adult only night and the one I went to was all about the science of music (not sure if they change the theme each month). Here I discovered that ukulele karaoke + breakdancing demonstration + silent disco = a winning combination. Plus you could play with all the interactive exhibitions which are usually reserved for kiddies. (There’s something very satisfying about seeing grown ups at play.) As an added element of randomness, the world’s first pregnant man also made an appearance… All in all a very fun and FREE evening.
The conclusion I’d draw from these recent excursions is that when organisers are trying to do something different it is still important to keep fun at the heart of their idea. I do think that some of the fun has gone out of Shunt and I won’t be returning until I can be guaranteed a good dance, a laugh, an upbeat atmosphere or ukulele karaoke. Any of these would be more fitting for such an awesome venue than the gloomy atmosphere that seems to reign at present.