Sunday, 27 April 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Yellow Butterflies

“The yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk”  
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

South American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died recently at the age of 87. I remember his books were an inspirational gift and a must-read for myself and other illustrators back in the 1980s because of the rich visual imagery he conjured with his words. His style of writing - known as magic realism, was a blending of the everyday with fantastical elements. In his most famous work One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967, a host of yellow butterflies would follow the character Mauricio Babilonia. Yellow butterflies were one of his most famous literary images, and he used this device in more than one story, where clouds of yellow butterflies would precede a forbidden lovers’ arrival. Yellow was also his favourite colour, he adored yellow roses and used this colour in his writing as a metaphor for change and destruction. 

I was delighted to see these recent pictures of his memorial service in the Palace of Fine Arts building, Mexico City (his adopted home), and others in his Colombian birthplace, where they celebrated his life and memory with yellow roses and released clouds of yellow paper butterflies. A joyous and fitting tribute to a unique literary voice.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Boro: Threads of Life


Visited another very good exhibition, this time it was a form of textile art at Somerset House. I had no idea what ‘boro’ were and did not know about this aspect of textile history. ‘Boro’ or 'rags' are basically recycled patchwork collages of fabric scraps which were initially used as clothing or bedding by the poor of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) who could not afford to buy new fabrics. During this period the poor were forbidden from wearing any bright colours and were only allowed to wear clothing which was coloured blue, grey, brown or black. All other coloured clothing were strictly reserved for the aristocracy and ruling class.

The colder climate of northern Japan made growing cotton impossible and the cost of transporting it north was prohibitively expensive to the rural poor who were reliant on traders from the south to bring discarded pieces of cotton by boat which the poor would then trade for fish and seaweed. The cotton would then be patched onto worn clothes and futon covers by successive generations of the rural poor. Most boro were thrown away or discarded as Japan became more industrial and affluent, as they were an unwelcome, embarrassing reminder of a certain period of poverty and hardship. As a result the surviving boro are scarce in quantity.

What is interesting about boro is that a purely utilitarian object borne of need and poverty, are now being collected and revered as objects of art. They (boro), appear to be pieced and stitched together with no regard to aesthetics, but the frayed, patterned, randomly stitched fabrics are reminiscent of modern works of Western art such as those created by Klee, Rauschenberg and Tapies. 

The surface textures are really interesting as some are frayed and ragged, some have early Japanese hand-loomed patterned fabrics peeping through the many hues of indigo, some have regular patterned patches whilst others are completely randomly collaged. I actually like the idea of boro being mounted on canvas and being displayed as pieces of artwork in themselves and think that they benefit from having the restricted colour palette that was imposed on them by the ruling classes. There is a nice sense of restraint and uniformity amid the varying shades of indigo and patterned fabrics.

Some of the boro remind me of grids and mapping systems, the crude stitching resembling arial photographs of roads and motorways. 

What I found interesting is that even the tiniest postage stamp sized pieces of fabric were used as patches. Absolutely nothing was wasted or thought of as being in too poor condition to be recycled into service to extend the life of the item of clothing or bedding. Some pieces on display have generations of layer upon layer of differing fabrics and shades of indigo creating rich seams of social and family history in each boro.

I was also reminded of the fantastic appliqued quilts of the Gee’s Bend quilters of America who originally created beautiful, colourful quilts instinctively from fabric scraps in similar straitened circumstances. I was also able to make links with the contemporary textile pieces of Natasha Kerr who stitches together fabrics and also adds photographic elements to create pictorial layered textile works that have a link to both her own personal and fictional histories. 

The exhibition is only on for a short time so you will need to hurry if you want to catch it. A visit is well worth the journey to see these serene, abstract pieces of textile art.

Boro: Threads of Life
Somerset House
Strand, London
until 26th April

Friday, 18 April 2014

Walt Whitman - A Beard Full of Butterflies

"Not for a moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies"
Federico Garcia Lorca

More beardy blogging, this time courtesy of two poets. I really liked the imagery the above quote by the Spanish poet Lorca about Whitman evokes. One poet to another. The American poet Walt Whitman had a love of animals and insects, butterflies in particular, using them as a recurring motif in his books. He was also fond of documenting himself by being photographed regularly, the image above from 1877 being one of his favourites, of a butterfly resting on his forefinger. It was claimed by some that the butterfly was a representation of Psyche - the poets soul. For years whilst he was alive Whitman liked to claim the photograph was an actual chance encounter with a real butterfly and play up his closeness to nature and animals. A closer inspection of the picture and his finger however, reveals a strap to hold the "butterfly" in place. It was only revealed after Whitman's passing that the actual "butterfly" in the picture, was in fact a mass produced card to celebrate Easter (pictured below). The words on the butterfly are from John Mason Neale's Easter Hymn.

Happy Easter readers.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Flower Beards & Facial Foliage

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man”
William Shakespeare

Facial hair in the form of beards seems to be very popular amongst younger men nowadays, perhaps inspired by the likes of actors Ryan Gosling and Idris Elba.

Growing a beard is seen as an embracing of ones masculinity and for those poor souls with a whispy, not-quite-there beard, who are keen to keep up with their more hirsute brothers there is always the last extreme resort of facial hair transplants, which are costly but apparently gaining in popularity. 

Beards sported by the likes of George Clooney and Jeremy Paxman have led to the beard revival amongst men of a certain age also. 

So now that spring is here, there is blossom on the trees, and the flowers are beginning to bud, are you man enough to embrace nature and sport a flower beard?  

I really love these images of facial foliage. The first I saw was of the model above at fashion designer Fabien Verriest's degree show, which is really striking, and then I came across these other examples below. 


I think they look great and feel the trend for flower beards would go down really well at music festivals such as Glastonbury and Bestival. I like the combination of the masculine in the beard, and the femininity of the flowers. 

I'm impressed that even actor Bill Murray has seen fit to give the trend a try, albeit in a very modest way.

The images reminded me of the mythology of the Green Man who sports the ultimate in facial foliage. He is a symbol of rebirth who represents the season of spring and the cycle of rebirth, found in, and on churches and other non-religious buildings as a form of architectural decoration.

Flower beards also strongly brought to mind the intriguing floral portrait images of eccentric 16th Century Italian artist Guiseppe Arcimboldo. 

And then again the work of John Piper in his Foliate Head series.

And also the work of Dame Elizabeth Frink and her Green Man series.

Still not convinced of the merits of a beard chaps? Well then perhaps the words of wisdom in the cheeky image below might persuade you to grow one.

It begs the question - If that's what she'd do for a normal beard, what would she do for a Flower beard?...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

ATM's Bird Murals

I really like these paintings of certain dwindling bird species which are specifically placed in urban settings. I like the combination of detailed bird markings against a plain, bold, coloured background. They are the work of street artist ATM, who grew up in the north surrounded by nature and who's primary artistic influence are birds, their songs, and markings.

One can clearly see the influence of or make links with well-known wild-life artists such as Audubon, Swain and perhaps the more recent avian lino-cuts of Robert Gilmour.

 James John Audubon

 William John Swainson

Robert Gilmour
ATM also claims to be influenced by Greek and Roman mythology and the folly and consequence of certain human behaviours, and their influence upon the landscape. Like the Ghosts of Gone Birds project, ATM addresses the rapid decline in numbers and disappearance of certain bird species such as lapwings, skylarks and kestrels. 

One of ATM’s first commissions was to paint a bird mural for Acton Community Forum which introduced art to the South Acton Estate in the form of a painted snipe. This part of London was once marshland so the intention was to return the spirit of the snipe to one of its traditional habitats. 

More murals followed, and this year he began like other well-known street artists, to paint in and around the east end of London.

I really like the results of the paintings. They are an interesting document which bring much needed colour to the housing estates and other locations in which they are situated. I can only hope that the people who live on the estates where they are situated are as appreciative of these artworks. These bird paintings are also a timely and poignant reminder of the beauty that we are in danger of losing as we continue to expand and encroach upon their natural habitats.