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Surrealism, its crooked smile appearing throughout the visual arts down the centuries, like a court jester in the corridors of power – what a debt we owe you!

“A wasp in a wig is altogether beyond the appliances of art” (Tenniel, 1870) – thus was a whole chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-glass dropped. It is a startling example of the relationship between word and image, author and illustrator. It also begs the question, is anything really ‘beyond the appliances of art’? On reflecting anew on my own aims as an artist, I ask myself where my own limitations lie. What exactly is it that I am trying to achieve and why?

This blog charts a personal enquiry from the tyranny of tradition, to anti-art and the climate of contemporary illustration, with its implications for my own work.

 

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Reflective Post 12: Guerrilla

Hall of Illusion

Figure 1: The Hall of Illusion (1993) by Ed Povey, 20′ x 40′ mural in Neuadd Powis/Powis Hall, Bangor University, Gwynedd, North Wales. https://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2009-05-22/784579/

Having completed a cycle of reflective posts, I find myself closing the circle with an exploration of the surreal world of art, both within and beyond the confines of the gallery machinery.  It is the world I wanted to reach at the beginning of this journey, but in true ‘Looking Glass’ style, I was obliged to approach it obliquely, through a series of chance encounters. As I move on to another stage of my practice, it is appropriate that I close this book and open another. However, I intend to continue updating this blog as a dynamic part of my ongoing development, a new kind of ‘sketchbook’. I have noted dramatic growth in my knowledge and awareness in this active process of reading, writing and reflection. It has also fed into my practice and completely transformed my approach.

The next stage of my practice will involve a consideration of audiences and this has been a topic very much to the fore in my recent visits to exhibitions. I always remember something that an American colleague from South Jersey, New York State told me some years ago, about going to Central Park for the day to see Christo’s installation, The Gates in 2005 (http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/the-gates). She was not an artist, or involved in the art world in any way, but Christo’s outdoor installation made people from all walks of life come and look. Not everyone liked it, but it was the talk, not just of the city, but of the wider world.  Further back in my life, I remember Ed Povey’s colourful, poetic murals, bringing grey facades and ends of terraces to life (see Figure 2, below). Many have since disappeared, but Povey returned in the early ‘90s to create a masterpiece in the University’s auditorium (see Figure 1, above). The Hall of Illusion is now the backdrop to final exams, concerts and conferences, but to get to this place, Povey took one step, and then another, and then another…

College Rd Murals

Figure 2: Murals on College Road, Bangor, mid-’70s. https://www.bangor.ac.uk/alumni/photo.php.en

Art that people travel to see also makes me think about the standing stones, circles and ancient landscape art all around Britain: the sense of place, the connections created. They are objects, but also performance, through their interaction with those who visit them. The same could be said of street art – it is intended for its context. Therefore, removing it as a commodity to be transplanted somewhere else changes it entirely, perhaps even extinguishes it entirely. Moreover, despite the fact that most street art is distinctly ‘outsider’, on pretty much every level one could think of, the general public and art world often fight to preserve it. For instance, Banksy’s murals attract a crowd, and in his home city of Bristol, the local Council caved in under public pressure to leave his graffiti where it was (Logan, 2008). A browse through a few examples of the most famous (infamous?) street artists will reveal the full gamut of public reaction: celebration, anger, opportunism, activism, curiosity, admiration… but never indifference (Time, 2016).

In light of the above, three things of importance have emerged for me during this enquiry:

  1. The creation of spaces, maybe to escape into, because things are ‘better’ or more interesting ‘over there’. Many of the artists and illustrators who have fascinated me in my life have done this, whether in the creation of fantasy worlds, surreal universes or intriguing landscapes and interiors. I have found this reflected in my practice. Spaces are where things can happen, they create opportunities. Sometimes we have to fight for them and expand our borders.
  2. Authenticity, or the artist’s commitment to the work they develop, whether based on a rationale, or on their own particular creative incentives. If integrity is a desirable and even necessary quality in other professions, then why should the creative arts be any different? An artist with integrity will inevitably break new ground, because they will push towards development. They will also seek excellence. This can take different forms, but without compromise.
  3. Audiences, as opposed to markets. This is not denying the legitimacy of making a living from art, but rather being aware of art as communication. Awareness of the audience(s) as opposed to the market leads to greater relevance and quality. It is a particularly interesting factor to consider, as it invites an enquiry into wider issues. It is also significant for me, because audiences are not a consideration that is native to Fine Art.

To conclude, this current blog topic has brought me over several bridges and its beginnings already seem far behind me. Therefore, the thought of ending here and not making this a core tool of my practice seems unthinkable now. Reflection is a discipline, just like drawing; it means standing still, clearing a space, allowing things to happen.

References:

http://www.bangor.ac.uk (n.d.) ‘Snapshot of Bangor’, Development and Alumni Relations Office [website]. https://www.bangor.ac.uk/alumni/photo.php.en [Accessed 12 December, 2017]

Faires, R. (2009) Not Weird But Real, May 22. https://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2009-05-22/784579/ [Accessed December 12, 2017].

Logan, L. (2008) ‘Banksy defends his guerrilla graffiti art’, TIME, 29 Oct. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1854616,00.html [Accessed 8 December, 2017].

TIME (2016) Top 10 Guerrilla Artists http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1911799,00.html [Accessed 8 December, 2017].

 

Reflective Post 11: ‘Within’

A visit to a small municipal gallery in a city that I have been linked with for a large part of my life, namely Bangor, North Wales, presented a mixed experience for me this past week, which ties in with some of my reading about cultures of taste and social hierarchies, as well as bringing me back in touch with elements of my life that have been pushed into the background over more recent years, with less time spent in my home country. One side of this experience was powerfully uplifting; the other, less comfortable, almost like an instrument out of a tune in an ensemble.

In fact, on arrival, music was the first thing I heard; I climbed the stairs to the exhibition with the sound of a woodwind section playing Sibelius’ Finlandia. A group of musicians had been invited to play in the gallery, surrounded by John Meirion Morris’ mystical, totemic, otherworldly pieces. Even beyond the music of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, the solidity of the wood and metal resonated with the notes of very different worlds, as if listening, receiving.  The profoundly northern spirit of Sibelius’ music and the richness of the woodwind sound was a very apt choice.

Added to this was the language, the bilingual Welsh and English environment. It is heartening to see that a small country with its minority language and culture has spaces and creative activity that overlap the globalised mainstream, while retaining and communicating the essence of a place, from its ancient roots to its ongoing adaptation and identity. Conversely, Morris’ work is universal, echoing ancient African, Viking and Greek sculpture, pointing to the common ground between all peoples and eras. In alcoves, these were also several figurative bronze busts of literary and political figures from Wales’ past; each bringing to mind decades of social, political and environmental change, driven by ideals and scholarship. Perhaps they are anachronisms in this more cynical age, but nevertheless serve as cultural anchors.

'Lleu' within.JPG

Figure 1: ‘Lleu’, Within, by John Meirion Morris at Amgueddfa ac Oriel, Gwynedd/Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery (STORIEL), Bangor, North Wales (image author’s own, December 2017)

Within by John Meirion Morris is an exploration of art as a spiritual, even religious experience. Morris claims that the roots of both art and religion lie deep within our subconscious. He describes his creative process as initially visionary, but ultimately as an arduous process of realising his vision in sculptural form, until the moment when the piece suddenly resonates with its own independent life.

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Figure 2: ‘Presenoldeb’ [Presence], Within, by John Meirion Morris at STORIEL (image author’s own, December 2017)

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Figure 3: ‘Golau’ [Light], Within, by John Meirion Morris at STORIEL (image author’s own, December 2017)

This small venue also houses a permanent museum collection, which encompasses some objects from the Roman camp, Segontium  in nearby Caernarfon, as well as furniture, costumes and other items illustrating something of the social and cultural history of Gwynedd.  Welsh oak dressers, woollen shawls, spinning wheels, handmade Welsh dolls…  so powerfully symbolic for anyone who grows up in Wales and has spent any time in the smaller, more rural areas, where it often feels that little has changed over the centuries. If it is possible for something of the thoughts and feelings of a community to be absorbed by stone, wood, bricks and mortar, then this what I feel on visiting certain places in Wales. It could simply be familiarity, or associations with my own past, but it is still an important component of my life, which I intend to draw upon as a source of future visual exploration.

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Figure 4: Traditional Welsh oak dresser, pewter and earthenware, Permanent Museum Collection, STORIEL (image author’s own, December 2017)

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Figure 5: Traditional Welsh textiles, hat and doll, Permanent Museum Collection, STORIEL (image author’s own, December 2017)

Less heartening was perhaps a gallery of work for sale, linked with an initiative to enable ‘ordinary members of the public’ to collect original works of art. In itself, this is a proactive and commendable idea, creating a new kind of art marketplace. However, how far will this go towards really developing the creative arts in society? Or promoting authentic cultural activity? Despite the attractive compositions in the series of small paintings on show, I felt that they were rather thin. In fact, they were neither one thing nor the other: not pushed towards excellence as the expensive consumer good that they were being presented as, or breaking onto the level of artistic ground that would give them a legitimate passport into that kind of exhibition space. This was not to do with the talent of the artist or the subject matter, but rather an underlying perception of what a piece can or maybe ‘should’ achieve, regardless of the reasons for making it. They were a series of missed opportunities, illustrating some kind of lack of commitment. It made me cringe that they were being presented as a ‘chance to own original art’. If someone wants to do that, I believe that there are better options out there, even in the museum craft shop. Nevertheless, my visit to STORIEL in Bangor was inspiring and constructive. I began collecting images and ideas for my next project and even my doubts and questions will be interesting to explore further.

References:

Morris, J.M. (n.d.) The Inner Kingdom (or the subconscious)  as a source of art and religion [museum brochure, trans. Thomas, G.].  http://www.johnmeirionmorris.org

Reflective Post 10: Price and Value

Bob Dylan figureFigure 1: ‘Man on a Bridge’ (2008) by Bob Dylan from the Drawn Blank series (hand-signed limited edition print, courtesy of Castle Fine Art, Cardiff)

Following on from my previous post and briefly deviating from the main theme of this blog, I wish to consider some of my evolving perspectives of art as an activity and product/service. This is of special relevance to me at the moment, in moving from a Fine Art background towards a different discipline, although I have already used art in other ways over the years. For example, art has been a key tool in my teaching work, as well as one of my teaching subjects and a means of presenting various types of coursework or other information. Aside from this have been commissions, and  voluntary work as an activities organiser for mental health organisations, working as an art teacher in drop-in centres. I have even drawn on pavements in busy towns to raise cash, or sold hand-made greetings cards from door-to-door. Some of these activities have been driven by the need to use art as a tool of communication, based on a specific brief, while others have been an exploration of potential avenues, or purely to earn some money and continue to make things. However, I have never had a solo exhibition (outside of an educational setting), or residency as a Fine Artist. This is because I have never had a clear rationale for doing so. It has always been important for me to know exactly why I was making art. For instance, participation in an exhibition of work by a number of artists would appear meaningful, because it is an event with wider significance, while a sale of work as a commodity is a clear-cut transaction, but showing my work as an artist per se appears to fall into an undefined void between these two poles.

To clarify this further, the notion of being an ‘artist’ and selling work or being paid on that basis alone has always confused and demotivated me. For a long time, I believed that I simply needed to find the right slot to fit into: fine artist, art therapist, textile designer, etc., but in undergoing the current process of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I create different things for different reasons, but always need to be aware of those reasons. This inevitably determines my approach in each instance and the type of value added to the outcome, whether financial or otherwise.

Two years ago, I was visiting my hometown of Cardiff and came across an exhibition of Bob Dylan’s work in a commercial city centre gallery, Castle Fine Art. I was not aware that he was also an artist, but I loved his work immediately. The gallery assistants were elated to have such a famous person on board and talked about investment, given that original paintings and hand-signed prints by Bob Dylan were increasing in market value at a rapid rate. I considered finding a means of buying something, even though I had no spare money, but then felt that I would only make such a purchase based on a love for the item, not to resell. It was therefore something that I would only do if I could truly afford it. Yes, it would still be a commodity and one that had special importance, due to its ‘branding’ as a hand-signed print by Bob Dylan, but it would also hold intrinsic value for me – in terms of its aesthetic and by association.Bob Dylan image

Figure 2: ‘Amagansett’ (2008) by Bob Dylan from the Drawn Blank series (hand-signed limited edition print courtesy of Castle Fine Art)

This past weekend, I visited another commercial gallery, Ffin y Parc in Llanrwst, North Wales, housed in a restored country house and owned by private individuals. Entry is free of charge, including the sort of hospitality one would normally expect at a private view. The aim of the owners is to promote Welsh artists and everything on the walls is for sale, with a broad range of exhibitions running throughout the year. Prices are mainly within the reach of a significant number of people, in an area that attracts an increasingly affluent population.

At the venue described above, there is currently an exhibition of Mike Jones’ work, characterised by sketches of figures, groups and landscapes in rural South Wales, where the artist lives. His subject matter has largely been social, connected with industrial and agricultural communities in his native region (The Gallery/Yr Oriel Newport Pembs, 2017). Personally, I felt that packaging these slices of working class life as commodities for a new middle class was incongruous, rarefied: the thought of someone purchasing sketches of people in far more modest circumstances for a not insubstantial sum, in order to hang them on the wall of their fabulous home threw up questions for me. However, it is not necessarily a reflection of the artist or gallery owner’s intentions, but rather the natural outcome of art becoming commodified. On the other hand, I loved the house, the concept of paintings hung in a salon environment, the attitude of the gallery owner and the fact that someone had been enterprising enough to establish this space. Nevertheless, as an artist, I would have difficulty identifying my audience in such an environment and this is where I realise I am moving beyond the interpretation of a single keyword, towards the wider context and purpose of my images.

mikejones_2-262x349 Farmer on rail

Figure 3: Mike Jones (n.d.) ‘Farmer on Rail’ (pen, brush and ink on paper, 25 cm x 18 cm)

Ffin y Parc (2017) [website]. https://welshart.net/ [Accessed 5 December, 2017].

The Gallery/Yr Oriel Newport Pembs (2017) [website]. http://thegallery-yroriel.com/portfolio/item/mike-jones/ [Accessed 5 December, 2017].

The Lion Street Gallery (2017) Farmer on Rail. http://lionstreetgallery.co.uk/project/farmer-on-rail/ [Accessed 5 December, 2017].

Price, K. (2015) ‘Bob Dylan’s colourful art work goes on show in Cardiff’, Wales Online, 3rd March. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/gallery/bob-dylan-exhibition-castle-fine-8762430 [Accessed 5 December, 2017].

Reflective Post 9: Exchange

Cardiff Museum Facade reduced size

Figure 1: Façade of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales, November, 2017, digital photograph, author’s own

One of my field visits to exhibitions and sites over the past two weeks was to Cardiff Museum and Art Gallery; a place that has been in my life since childhood, with its Rodin bronzes, glowing Impressionist paintings and wall after wall of Wilson landscapes.  Housed within an imposing early 20th century building in white Portland stone (see Fig. 1, above), one of Britain’s great art collections continues to grow, influence and form new connections between Wales’ industrial and cultural past, and the networks underpinning contemporary life. On this occasion, I selected two apparently contrasting exhibitions to explore, namely Who Decides? Making Connections with Contemporary Art and Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection. However, out of this rich, dynamic pot of simmering energy, one word kept rising to the surface: exchange.

First, there has been the flow of wealth into the city of Cardiff, generated by the industrial communities of the South Wales valleys to construct the fortunes of Victorian industrialists, especially the Bute family. The second Marquess of Bute was one of the driving forces behind the Industrial Revolution, establishing Cardiff as the biggest coal port in the world (Bute, n.d.). The Victorian totems of immense wealth were then returned to the people of Wales, in the form of acres of parkland and a centrepiece of imposing civic buildings; specified as places of learning, storehouses of artistic treasure and antiquity, and at one time, the locus of regional government.

Amgueddfa Cymru [Cardiff Museum] represents a legacy on so many levels – clearly the legacy of the Bute family, but also founded on other bequests, such as the important collection of Impressionist and 20th century art given to the nation by the Davies sisters, grand-daughters of a wealthy industrialist (National Museum Wales, n.d.) and more recently, a large collection of very significant 20th century work, courtesy of the Derek Williams Trust (Derek Williams Trust, 2017). This impressive collection was amassed by a local private collector, a chartered surveyor by profession. Moreover, the Museum has opened its first photography gallery, based on a collection of 700 photographs donated to the Museum by Magnum photographer, David Hurn. However, Hurn’s collection is somewhat unique, with the collector claiming that he has only ever purchased one photograph; the rest were bartered for images of his own (BBC, 2017). The result is an incredibly diverse exhibition of images from across the past half-century, by the world’s best-known and most accomplished photographers.

Finally, the Museum has entered into a new kind of relationship with the wider community, allowing the public to vote for specific pieces held in storage to be displayed in the main gallery. There are also other opportunities to actively respond to exhibitions, individual pieces, or to the concept of art in general, by writing comments on cards to be displayed on a wall. For the first time, the Museum has invited members of the public to curate an exhibition, with quotes by those involved being added the descriptions of the selected pieces. It was very moving to read how some members of the local community had never even been in the Museum before, but found it a profound experience, evoking childhood memories, memories of lost loved ones, or special times in their lives.

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Figure 2: Blaenau Ffestiniog Circle (2011) by Richard Long (image author’s own, with the permission of the National Museum of Wales)

I reflected on this huge network of exchange: the wealth created for others and then returned in some way; the exchange between the Museum and the wider community, and the constant exchange between practising artists, who frequently trade their work, ideas, resources and energy with each other. An exchange can be much more than the items changing hands; it can be the birth of a relationship, a community.

BBC (2017) Swapper: You know you have made it in photography, when this man asks you… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/david_hurn_photographer_swaps_magnum [Accessed 4 December, 2017].

Bute (n.d.) Bute Family Timeline – 1800-1900. http://www.butefamily.com/our-story/bute-family-timeline/ [Accessed 4 December, 2017].

The Derek Williams Trust (2017) [website]. http://derekwilliamstrust.org/# [Accessed 4 December, 2017].

National Museum of Wales (n.d.) ‘Information on the Collections’, Curatorial & Research. https://museum.wales/curatorial/art/collections/ [Accessed 4 December, 2017].

Reflective Post 8: The Vladimirka Road

After taking some time to read, reflect and draw, I now realise that the path I had inadvertently stepped onto was leading to a place that I did not wish to visit; a path that in retrospect, I even consider to be a false trail. This is perhaps partly due to the somewhat explosive effect of taking a keyword and using at as a point of departure for images. It had started to become very personal, abstract and removed, especially as I found myself looking at inner worlds, moods, and how these could be evoked visually. I realised that I was fascinated by the idea of a brooding presence in an otherwise mundane setting and how this could be conveyed through media, light or some other means of expression. On ending the previous post, I found myself looking at a painting, the Vladimirka Road by Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) (see Figure 1, below). A Russian landscape painter, Levitan introduced the notion of the ‘mood landscape’ (Sarabianov, n.d.). Renovated in the 18th century, the Vladimirka Road, or Vladimir Highway stretched 190 km from Moscow to Siberia. It was the route taken by prisoners condemned to march in shackles from Moscow to the katorga or labour camps under the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet era. Moreover, Levitan suffered from an affective disorder, characterised by short-lived periods of depression, where he would become anti-social, destructive to his own work and even suicidal (Lerner and Witztum, 2015). He was also Jewish and as such, expelled from Moscow around the time this painting was produced.

The Vladimirka Road

Vladimirka Road (1892) by Isaak I. Levitan. Used with permission of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow (in Lerner and Witztum, 2015)

Most of Levitan’s work is made up of these barren, sparsely populated or deserted scenes, expressive of another message beyond the realistic depiction of the Russian landscape (ibid.). Looking at this painting while considering the painter’s inner world and personal struggles, as well as understanding the significance of the subject matter, the image initially had a big impact on me. However, on revisiting it and viewing it objectively, distinct from its context, I see a rather bleak and isolated scene, nothing more. Having spent time in parts of the world with extensively undeveloped areas, which could be described as harsh – namely deserts, savanna, open moorland, northern wastes and mountainous zones – I have my own experience to draw upon, where the harshness is mitigated by the company of others or other positive associations. Thus, I would suggest that this painting has more in common with illustration than it has with the accepted definition of ‘fine art’. In other words, it has a strong rationale and must be interpreted according to its context. Otherwise, I believe the meaning is lost.

Moreover, I find the assumption that the Levitan’s affective disorder was pivotal in his work rather spurious – given that he was most productive during his many upbeat periods. I would even venture that some artists make work that helps them escape from or deal with the negative aspects of their lives. In my view, it takes a great deal of inner strength to be able to go to dark places in one’s work. There are inevitably subconscious links, but the act of making art is also a conscious one.

Lerner, V. and Witztum, E. (2015) The Artist, Depression and the Mood Landscape, March 01 [online]. From the Ministry of Health Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er-Sheva, Israel. http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org.ezproxy.herts.ac.uk/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14091159 [Accessed 02 November, 2017].

Sarabianov, A.D. (n.d.) Isaak Ilyich Levitan – Russian Painter. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isaak-Ilyich-Levitan [Accessed 16 November, 2017].

Reflective Post 7: Mists and Rain

 

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Figure 1: Author’s own. Still life, oil pastel and ink wash on paper, digitally processed

In my previous post, I talked about adopting the keyword strategy to inspire creativity and images, applying it in the context of this current Research & Enquiry as a means of reflecting on my own work process. In my exploration of Surrealism, I identified the work of French poet, Charles Baudelaire as an important keystone, linking the Romantics to the Surrealists, the world of the senses to language, language to images. The Paris of Baudelaire, post-revolution, was flooded with images, since printed media were flourishing; while the writers stretched traditional boundaries in literature (Mainwaring, 2016). We are so inundated with images in contemporary life, it is easy to forget that this was only made possible through innovation in print and those audacious practitioners, who dared to challenge fossilised social mores and take on the powerful institutions of their day. In the last blog post, I narrowed my focus to one particular set of poems by Baudelaire, namely his ‘Tableaux Parisiens’ from Les Fleurs du Mal – published in 1961 as the second edition of his seminal work (Lloyd, 2005). In the light of the grey misty Sunday that gazed wanly through my apartment windows, I sifted through these poems and decided on the sonnet, ‘Brumes et pluies’ [Mists and rain] (Poésie française, 2009). Admittedly, I was not in Paris, but rather in a smaller French city that had been similarly destroyed and reconstructed en masse in a more modern style, following extensive bombing during World War II (personal communication, September 2016).

Meanwhile, while exploring the work processes of other artists, I was struck by a short profile of an illustrator called Nicole Xu (Dennis, 2017), accessed on the illustrators’ website, Ape on the Moon. Like me, she has an affinity for fine art media and techniques, describing her process as ‘intuitive’. I also noted that she writes lists of ideas that initially came to mind, even if they are probably pretty nonsensical and illegible to anyone who looks through them” (ibid.). I can identify with this approach, organically responding and working with tangible materials, such as watercolour. In the same way, I realised that I was not only reading through ‘Brumes et Pluies’ for its overall meaning, but also making a mental note of the images used to convey it. For example, Baudelaire extols the virtues of the ‘pallid’ seasons, with their cold winds, mist, rain and mud. He describes them in funereal terms, shrouding his heart and mind, while a weathercock creaks hoarsely through the long hours of darkness. However, he explains that these seasons make his soul soar, like a crow on the wing. To him, the sweetest thing on earth is to feel engulfed by the deathly pall of these times of year; only surpassed by sinking into the oblivion of a stranger’s arms on a moonless night.

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Figure 2: Author’s own. Figure based on photographic material. Oil pastel and ink wash on paper, digitally processed

From these few words, therefore, a whole gallery of images emerged and I prepared some grounds to start experimenting with various media, exploring Baudelaire’s symbols: mist, rain, a funeral shroud, a tomb… the wind blowing over open country, a weathercock, or a crow spreading its wings. It is a landscape drained of colour, the depths of a moonless night, a passing encounter between two strangers. Moreover, I drew inspiration from the colours of the city, seen through the mist of that late autumn afternoon. The process became rich, coherent, personal and boundless in its possibilities.

DENNIS, P. (2017) Nicole Xu talks about bringing watercolour techniques into her rich illustrations. http://apeonthemoon.com/2016/11/16/nicole-xu-talks-about-bringing-watercolour-techniques-into-her-rich-illustrations/ [Accessed 31 October, 2017].

LLOYD, R. (2006) The Cambridge Companion to Baudelaire. Cambridge University Press.

MAINWARING, M. (2016) The Eye of Baudelaire, November 25. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/11/25/the-eye-of-baudelaire/ [Accessed 01 November, 2017].

POÉSIE FRANÇAISE (2009) ‘Charles Baudelaire (1821-8267)’. Les Grandes Classiques. http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/charles_baudelaire/brumes_et_pluies.html [Accessed October 29, 2017].

 

Reflective Blog Post 6: Key Word, ‘Baudelaire’

Urban Paris

Figure 1: Bird’s eye view of Paris in 1870, showing “the long, straight avenues that […] were a key feature of Baron Haussmann’s rebuilding plans (Photograph: Alamy, in Willsher, 2016)

My reflection continues with more exploration of the creative process, especially in the light of Illustration as a discipline. It is a new departure for me and so it is important for me to look at the whole field, with its various movements, genres, approaches and practitioners, as part of beating my own path through the woods. For this reason, I am interested in reading what other illustrators write about themselves; their own particular journey and ongoing working methods. Sites like Design of the Picture Book (http://www.designofthepicturebook.com/) have proved very useful for this, in transcripts of interviews with successful illustrators of children’s books. I am particularly struck by their approach, such as the initial research and the steps towards arriving at their characters, images and sometimes whole storylines – where the books are self-authored.  However, I am also aware of my own constraints in terms of having another job, which means that my working processes have to accommodate limited time slots. It is not even merely a case of robust time management by the clock and calendar, but also of learning how to maximise the outcomes of those working times. It is these two main problems that I am currently attempting to work through. If this was a question of creating art for art’s sake, or pursuing a purely text-based academic course, I would feel more confident, based on past experience of mapping out those processes, but I have yet to develop tools for the new concepts being presented to me on the course and in the Illustration approach.

For example, extracting and then working with a keyword is new to me and something of a revelation.  As a way of better understanding that process and how it works for me, I decided to start from scratch with a keyword extracted from my last reflective post, namely ‘Baudelaire’. The poet, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) (Lloyd, 2005) is generally regarded as the father of the literary movement of Symbolism, subsequently proving to be pivotal in the development of modern literature, due to his willingness to confront controversial and even taboo themes. He also revolutionised the use of language in poetic forms and expanded the range of subjects that could be seen as valid in the genre. Aside from this, he was an art critic and translator, indicating two further points of connection for me, as one of the ways in which I earn a living is by translating various types of text, although I actually have a background in Fine Art.

My main interest in Baudelaire’s work is the synaesthesia conveyed in his use of language – he was interested in immediate, visceral experience and how it could be expressed in words. The physical sense impressions thus converge with memory and subjective perception, conveyed in abstract form. For my investigation here, I selected his seminal work, the poetry anthology Les Fleurs du Mal [The Flowers of Evil] (publ. 1857; 2nd ed. 1861). The work has been illustrated by many famous artists since its initial publication, including the sculptor, Auguste Rodin in 1887/1888 (see Figure 2, below).

Rodin les-fleurs-du-mal

Figure 2: Auguste Rodin, 1887/1888, Illustration for Les Fleurs du Mal, pen and brown ink on paper (Musée Rodin, n.d.).

In my initial investigation, I read specific poems in the original French, before deciding on the section entitled ‘Tableaux Parisiens’ [Parisian Scenes] (Lloyd, 2005; Poésie française, 2009). This was added in the second edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (1961), after Baudelaire had begun seeking beauty in imperfection, rather than attempting to escape the ugly realities of life; the latter being the main thrust of his first edition in 1857 (Lloyd, 2005). In 1961, Paris was being modernised by Baron Haussmann, who was responsible for central Paris as it looks today (see Figure 1). However, Baudelaire and many other French natives view Haussmann’s changes as aggressive and imperialist (Willsher, 2016), so there is an historical background to Baudelaire’s descriptions of Paris, as well as his own personal and subjective experience of the city.

 

LLOYD, R. (2005) The Cambridge Companion to Baudelaire. Cambridge University Press.

MUSÉE RODIN (n.d.) Charles Baudelaire (1821 -1867) Les fleurs du mal (the flowers of evil). http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/archives/les-fleurs-du-mal-flowers-evil. [Accessed 29 October, 2017].

POÉSIE FRANÇAISE (2009) Charles Baudelaire.  http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/charles_baudelaire/charles_baudelaire.html.  [Accessed 29 October, 2017].

WILLSHER, K. (2016) ‘Story of cities #12: Haussmann rips up Paris – and divides France to this day’, The Guardian, 31 March. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/mar/31/story-cities-12-paris-baron-haussmann-france-urban-planner-napoleon#img-1. [Accessed: 29 October, 2017]