Making an entrance

I’m finally back to blogging after being busy on other projects! I’ve loads of ideas for future posts about art and creativity that I have picked up through reading, thinking and making. I’ll kick this off by revisiting a project I did some time ago on Georgian architecture.

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I had the opportunity recently of strolling around the streetscapes of Georgian Dublin. My attraction to the doorways of Georgian houses in the city centre is as strong as the first time I came across this beautiful architectural heritage.

In architecture of almost all types and periods, particular attention is paid to the doorway as the entrance marks the division between the exterior and interior and divides the public and the private spheres. When you walk past the many Georgian doorways in Dublin, you first notice the colour of the door itself. There is real artistry expressed through the striking combination of door types, fanlights, sidelights, doorknobs, knockers and post boxes, all are highly individualized.

Proportion is the essence of the Georgian style: the simple discipline of façade creates a generally unified, yet deceptively varied terrace streetscape. It is all in the detail! The most common classical decorations are plants, garlands, wreaths, animal and human figures. Geometric patterns such as keys, waves, interlaced ribbons, discs and rosettes are also widely represented.

To see examples of early Georgian doors in Dublin you need to head to Henrietta Street on the North side not far from Bolton Street. Some of the doors there are tall and fill the entire opening and bear no fanlight. Trend for doorways with fanlights and sidelights appeared during the mid 18th century. It became quite popular as they allowed for natural lighting to fill the interior hallway.

Some of the finest examples of Georgian doorways are on Molesworth Street, North Great George’s Street, Harcourt Street, Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square.

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RoadArt: Going up North

 

dancing at crossroad

On the road again! This time to look at some of the art encountered on my travels as I went on many occasions northwards.

The most striking road art piece I came across in Co. Monaghan is by the artist David Annand who took his inspiration from one of Patrick Kavanagh’s poems, Come dance with Kitty Stobling. He created the sculpture “Dancing at the Crossroads” (2005), which is located on the N2 Carrickmacross bypass not far from Inniskeen, the poet’s home place. Three dancers are swirling spiritedly on high stilts and reaching out for each other’s hands. I love the dance movement portrayed, as it is both elegant and confident. This sculpture was designed to be well visible and in keeping with the poem- cavorting on mile-high stilts. The old tradition of crossroads dancing was a popular social event in Ireland up to the 1950s, when people would walk or cycle to a main crossroads and meet up to set dance.

 

Further up north, a stunning piece, Polestar (2006), by Derry artist Locky Morris is made of 104 telegraph poles and galvanized steel. This 12 metre high wooden structure can be seen in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, at the Port Bridge roundabout. This site is historically significant as trade and goods would land by boat and be transported to the surrounding areas by rail and road. Transportation played a major part in the town’s development in the past.

polestar2Although abstract in form its internal structure and logic are intended to make strong visual reference to the former railway line and bridge that once operated along the site. The use of telegraph poles is a direct reminiscence of the electrification of rural Ireland programme from the 1930s and the fact that those poles would have been dispatched through the Port of Ballyraine. The linear shape of the wooden poles is suggestive of railway tracks, bringing to mind the vital rail transport system, which existed then in Donegal. Indeed steam-powered trains would travel on the various railway lines, including the Strabane-Letterkenny line back in the 1910s, delivering goods to the communities as well as transporting people to their chosen destination. Imagine traveling up to Donegal by train through the mountains; what an adventure! I think the circular sweep of the structure is spectacular and the interlocked pattern simple yet intricate. The sculpture refers, as its name suggests, to a pole star. Indeed, this star is prominent and bright and has a fixed position. According to Locky Morris, it is a star to be steered by, something serving as a guide. He believes this to be a rich dynamic statement that will hold its own as a new landmark within the Letterkenny area and I am inclined to agree.

tower of imaginationAs you are approaching Newry on the A1 Dublin-Belfast motorway, you might have noticed the steel installation on your left-hand side. This art project came about through a collaboration between Sticky Fingers, a children’s arts organisation based in Newry and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. The Tower of Imagination (2011) was designed by artist Maurice Harron to celebrate the children of Newry. The aim of this piece was to bring the creativity and imagination of the city’s children to the wider community. The tall steel structure looks a though large tumbling blocks have been piled up to create a house. Some of the metal blocks have openings of various sizes and one can see colourful animals and friendly monsters peeping out of these windows. A smiling girl and boy standing in front of the fairytale house are looking up in amazement, it seems.

 When you reach Belfast from the M1 motorway, you can only be mesmerized by the huge metallic sphere looming in front of you. Rise (2011) was designed and created by Nottingham artist Wolfgang Buttress, who received several awards for this piece. No wonder!

riseThe 40-metre high structure was commissioned by Belfast City Council and conceived as a ‘symbol of unity and welcome’. A small concentric sphere made of steel tubes is suspended within a larger one and the sculpture sits very symbolically above the Broadway interchange. Wolfgang Buttress wanted ‘to create a sculpture that could be seen and appreciated in the round from any orientation – physical, emotional or political’. He also ‘wanted to suggest the universal, so the sculpture has neither a back nor a front. It references the sun and the reeds that were here before us and can be seen as a portal to something less tangible, Buttress has said. At night time, the art piece glows beautifully and you can really appreciate the intricacy of the framework arranged in a triangular pattern. I think it gives Belfast city a truly special sense of confidence and pride.

Naturally

bayeux tapestry2On a recent trip to Normandy, I was excited to have the chance to see the world heritage Bayeux tapestry. I was mesmerized by this amazing work of art and I will focus on it specifically in a blog post soon. It reminded me of my own experiments with natural dyeing I did as part of an art project in the 1990s. The fine woollen threads used in the Bayeux tapestry are limited to ten colours only. Woad, madder and weld were the three plants employed to dye the threads producing a variety of reds, yellows, blues and greens.

The practice of dyeing using natural fibres and dyes sourced from plants had always interested me. I collected berries, leaves, gorse, onions skins and seeds as dyestuffs, experimented with others more on natural fibres and recorded my recipes! I printed my findings on floral handmade textured pages, which were bound together into a notebook with raphia. Here is a very short extract from it.

samples dyeing

[…] Natural dyeing conjured up to my mind an ancient craft reserved only to the knowledgeable expert as it involves botany and to a certain extent chemistry as you need to understand the physical properties of the substances extracted from the plants […] The art of dyeing entailed, to my mind, the notion of sacred worthy of a fairies’ activity since it bore a somewhat secretive touch with well-kept recipes not available to ordinary mortals. In ancient times, highly skilled craftmen with closely guarded formulas rendered dyeing a well-protected trade. […] The Elizabethans had a number of names for various colours: rat (grey), puke (khaki green) and goose-turd green were worn by poor folk and the more unfortunate. There were a host of other names, including quite fanciful ones like dead Spaniard, ape’s laugh, mortal sin, love longing and dawn. » […]

 madderThe process of dying consists of three main stages: washing, mordanting and dyeing. […] Mordants are both natural and chemical substances that cause the natural dyes to bond with the cloth, preventing the colour from either fading with exposure to light or washing out. […] Common natural mordants are roots from the madder plant, fir-club moss, wood ash, oak galls or burnt seaweed. […] The dye substance is gathered in the dyeing pot then covered with cold water. The dyeing time can vary from 40 minutes up to 2 hours or more depending on the desired degree of colour.

 […] There is a considerable evidence that dyeing methods are more than 4,000 years old and that natural dyeing was once a key craft in international trade, household life and local commerce […] During the early part of the 20th century, a revival of interest in arts and craft, with the Art and Craft Movement led to the old methods of dyeing being rediscovered. The English artist William Morris was a major advocate of the use of traditional methods and natural dyeing was one of the many crafts he practiced.

[…] Dyeing has been in practice in Ireland since the early Celtic times. Lillias Mitchell mentions an ancient garment known as léine in Irish, that was worn during that period. “It had wide hanging sleeves and was usually dyed yellow and known as the saffron shirt.” Another remnant of past activity is a dye workshop situated on the island of Inishkea, off the County Mayo coast. It dates back to the late 7th century when the practice of extracting purple dye from the live sea fish purpura lapillus was performed extensively.

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As Irish rural economy has always been strong, the raw material for wool, namely fleece has never been difficult to find. The fleece was carded, spun and, if necessary, dyed with dyes extracted from the local flora. Traditionally, the washing, dyeing, carding and spinning was the responsibility of women, while weaving was men’s domain. Wool was the main material used in a family’s clothes making. The knowledge and tools with which to carry it out were handed down from generation to generation […]

The oldest and most commonly-used dyestuff was lichen, usually collected by children on rocks after a rainy period andlocally known as crottle from the Irish word crotal. Turf soot, rich in iron, was used as a mordant or a dyestuff to produce black. Wild madder or madar, a native plant found in the Burren in County Clare, was especially favoured as a dyestuff for making the traditional red petticoat. Indigo, most popular on the Aran Islands, was exported mainly to County Donegal where it was sold at fairs and markets. It was widely used to dye yarn for weaving and knitting. Young heather shoots were only employed for spots of pale green since all green cloths were considered unlucky due to their association with the ‘little people’. The other commonly gathered plants for dyeing were sloe, blackberries, seaweed, roots of water-lilies and yellow iris, alder twigs, corn marigold, blossoms of gorse, common dock, weld, foxgloves and horsetail […]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you reddy?

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Tamara de Lempicka – St Moritz, 1929

I have a preference for the rich, dark wine colours and cherry purpley reds. To me, these are cosier and warmer than the vibrant shades of scarlet and ruby, which I tend to associate with violence. In Sanskrit as well as in the Inuit language, the word for red is the same as the word for blood and you can see of course why this is so. In Russian the word for red has the same root as the word for beautiful. Red is indeed the colour of drama and passion and is usually chosen to make a bold statement in fashion and interiors. Yves Saint Laurent once cited red as the colour of ‘love, battle, death, and warmth’.

 Red, the strongest colour on the spectrum, is the one that most attracts attention. It was one of the first colours used by prehistoric people to adorn the walls of caves using readily available natural pigments such as red ochre and iron oxide. Throughout history and across many cultures, red has been produced using either plants like madder or rubia, insects such as kermes or cochineal, minerals like cinnabar producing from brick-red, scarlet and vivid crimson to vermillion hue. Once, carmine was introduced in Europe, following the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus’, it was used extensively by the great painters of the 15th and 16th centuries such as Brueghel the Elder, Vermeer, Rubens, Velázquez and Tintoretto.

 Red is the colour of revolution, socialism and features as a colour on many flags symbolizing sacrifice and courage. It is also the colour of joyful celebration and formal ceremony. A red carpet is always de rigueur to welcome distinguished guests and scarlet academic gowns are worn by new graduates in universities and many other schools. Clerical dress often combines black with red as a mark of status and authority.  Red is the international colour of warning and danger. It was chosen due to its brightness in daytime and because it stands out against any natural or artificial background.

Pale to Medium

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Eileen Cooper, Baby talk, 1985.

Bois de Rose, Apple Blossom, Cadmium Red, Coquelicot, Copper Red, Coral Red, Currant Red, Geranium Red, Ruby, Scarlet, Fire Engine Red, Chinese Red, Peony, Madder Red, Pomegranate Red, Safflower Red, Tomato Red , Corinthian Red, Pompeian Red, Vermillion

Medium to Strong

Nasturtium Red, Crimson Red, Claret Red, Burgundy, Carmine, Brick Red, Rufous, Amaranth, Puce, Maroon, Ruddy, Cherry Red, Beetroot Red, Venetian Red, Turkey Red, Garnet, Blood Red, Tuscan Red.

 In the world of interiors:

When the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were re-discovered along with many villas in the Campania area in the mid-eighteen century, the arts world became enchanted with the colourful scenes of the frescoes adorning the interiors of the unearthed homes and shops; The love of neo-classical style became instant and Pompeian red was the colour in vogue for smart dining and drawing rooms and is still current nowadays.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum

Art deco interiors favoured solid blocks of colours and geometric patterns. Red was a favourite combined with black and white. It added glamour and vibrancy to a room. The English ceramist Clarice Cliff’s work is bold and her stylish designs are typical of this era. For a true red, try Emperor’s silk by Annie Sloan; For a deep and rich red,  how about bronze red by Little Greene or Kimono by Colourtrend.

Out there Now :

Fashion: The French shoe designer Christian Louboutin whose red-lacquered soles have become his recognizable signature.

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Craft: Emmet Kane’s sculptural pieces.

Design: The iconic chairs by Danish designers : the Egg™chair (1958) by Arne Jacobsen, and the Panton Chair (1965) by Verner Panton.

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, Charles Perrault’s fairy-tale, first printed in 1697.

In the Natural world

amanitaThe large white-gilled and white-spotted, usually red mushroom Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric. It is native to conifer and deciduous woodlands and can be found in the northern hemisphere.

Mars, the second smallest planet in the solar system is known as the red planet due to the iron oxide prevalent on its surface, which gives it a reddish appearance.

Red hair varies in colour from a bright or burnt orange to a deep burgundy. Only 1 to 2 % of the human population has red hair and it is more common in people of northern or western Europeans.

The red-crest male bird native of North and South America, the cardinal bird, named appropriately after the catholic cardinal’s mitre.

And finally imagine a fruit salad made of strawberries, cranberries, redcurrants, apples and pomegranate!

Guerilla Knitting

'Tree in a row' by The Guerilla Girls

‘Tree in a row’ by The Guerilla Girls

During the recent yarn-bombing event for Culture Night in Mullingar, a number of people were intrigued by the idea of covering public buildings, sculptures and trees in colourful knitwear. As some had never heard the term yarn-bombing before, I’m focusing this blog post on the origin of this art-form also called yarn-graffiti or ‘guerrilla knitting’.

The start of the yarn-bombing movement has been attributed to Magda Sayeg from Houston, Texas, who, back in 2005 and on a whim, knitted a cover for the doorknob of her shop. She was pleasantly surprised, if not slightly taken aback by the response she got from amused customers and passers-by. So it spurred her on to do more.  Madga, a self-taught knitter also known as PolyCotN, founded the “Knitta Please” group as a way to deal with unfinished knitted projects.  The group started to reclaim and personalize public spaces by wrapping lampposts, telephone poles, benches and signage with knitted or crocheted material. These yarn installations were decorative, fun and non-permanent art pieces. In 2006, Bergère de Fance, the manufacturer of French yarns invited the group to Paris to celebrate their 60th anniversary, and on the occasion Notre Dame de Paris among many other buildings were tagged in a colourful way.

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From its modest origins, yarn-bombing or yarn graffiti began to be practised throughout the world and a renewed interest in knitting and crocheting emerged especially among young people. Knitting and crocheting groups began to run their own art projects and create wonderful and intricate installations, some with a political twist. The Knit Knot Tree by the Jafagirls in Yellow Springs, Ohio gained international attention in 2008 while Londoner Lauren O’Farrell came up with the concept of street stitched stories and founded the collective ‘Knit the City’. Its four active members are Deadly Knitshade, The Fastener, Shorn-a-the Dead and Lady Loop. The aim of this group of knitters is to guerrilla-knit London and beyond and bring the art of stitching to a world without wool.

While yarnbombing is about passionate knitters and crocheters coming together to create fun public installations incognito and making people smile, it can also be a political medium through which to send a strong message to the community and the world at large. For that reason, it is recognized as being part of  the wider craftivism movement.

yarn cracksKnitting and crocheting is an activity that has been associated with women and the home and conjures up ideas of homely domesticity and tradition but in the last few years, it has undergone a complete revival. A younger generation is eager to learn, be creative and enjoy this wholesome craft along with the women (and some men) who pass on the skills. According to Betsy Greer, the author of Knitting for Good, published in 2008, “For these new knitters, their craft represents much more than the finished project; their knitting is a way to slow down in a fast-paced culture, subvert producers of mass manufactured merchandise, embrace the domestic, connect to people in their community, support communities across the globe, and express their own personal style and creativity.”

As a form of street art yarn-bombing is relatively new: the colourful coverings that liven up and personalize, dull impersonal urban spaces or it may be done to make a political statement usually in a humorous, gentle, peaceful manner. Yarn-bombers are principally women and therefore some feel that there is a feminist element in this art/craft movement. Guerilla knitting is quite a marginalized art form as is any type of street graffiti: it is ephemeral, outdoors and often done anonymously. It is now quite widespread a means of expression that spans across the generations and across the globe.

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In May 2006, in Copenhagen’s main square, a WWII tank was covered with more than 4,000 pink squares, woven together from the handiwork of hundreds of knitters as a symbolic act of protest against Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq war.

In the Autumn of 2010, the yarn-bombers, Strick and Liesel, two German students, Nein Dankefounded the Fluffy Throw-up project in Berlin to protest against their government’s nuclear laws.   “Fluffy stands for the softness of the wool we are using,” said one member of this knitting duo. “The term ‘throw-up’ comes from the graffiti scene and means ‘to leave a quick tag’ somewhere, a kind of signature. The other meaning of ‘throw up’ is ‘to vomit’, which we refer to on purpose. In a fluffy, non-violent way we want to ‘throw up’ in anger about things that annoy us.”

PS: Note that International Yarn-bombing Day is on 7th June 2014! Be ready!

In the pink

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Surrounded Islands by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1983)

The color pink is named after the flowering plants of the Dianthus species due to its pink shade and frilled edge. The word pink referring to the colour was first used in A Book of Drawing, Limning, Washing (1652) by Thomas Jenner. He explained how to make all sorts colours, grind and lay them as an art media. In 19th century France, the fashion was for boys to wear pink ribbons, pink being considered a stronger and more definite colours when girls wore blue ribbons as the colour was dainty and pretty. In the western world, children were dressed in white and equally wore pink fashion accessories up to the 1940s and by the 1950s, pink was starting to be associated with girls and femininity. During the Second World War, men imprisoned because of their homosexuality had to wear a pink triangle. This symbol was later reclaimed, turned upside down and rendered in hot pink by the gay community worldwide and is now worn with pride. In reference to symbols, it is interesting to note that no flag bears the colour pink.

The colour represents compassion, nurturing and love: the softer the pink, the more tenderness and romanticism it portrays whereas deeper tones convey more passion and intensity. It is a reassuring and calming colour and is said to inspire warmth and positive thinking. Pink often represents sweetness and is associated with innocence and sometimes immaturity especially the pastel pink tones. It  combines beautifully with blues while it adds a touch of elegant sophistication when associated with greys.

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Low Tide by Paul Henry (1915-1916)

 PALE: Arbustus pink, aurore pink, baby pink- Baker-Miller pink, blush, cameo pink, candy pink, chalk pink, champagne pink, dusty rose, orchid pink, rose quartz, salmon pink, shell pink, tea-rose pink

MODERATE: Carnation pink, charm pink, cherry blossom pink, Congo pink, desert rose, dogwood rose, flamingo pink; hydrangea, old rose, rose, silver pink

DARK: Amaranth, cherry, China rose,  fushia,  hot pink, magenta, Mexican rose,  tango pink, shocking pink

IN THE WORLD OF INTERIORS

1950s kitchen2The 18th Century French style Rococo made strong use of pastel colours such as Cameo pink. One of the central figures of this artistic movement and advocate of style was the Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. Her influence was such that the royal manufactory in Sévres created a new colour for its fine porcelains called the “Pompadour pink”.
For their part, Georgian architects favoured dusty pink in the late 19th century England, Ireland and America. Boudoirs and ante rooms with decorated in pinks with flat or old white as complimentary tones. Soft and pale pinks came back in fashion in Edwardian homes where fresh, light colours gave a true feminine touch to interiors. Pink pastels created a delicate setting in 1950s decor when candy pink was the favorite colour. For a gentle pink, try Calamine by Farrow and Ball or Antoinette by Annie Sloan.

OUT THERE NOW

  • A pink ribbon, symbol of breast cancer awareness
  • The Pink Pantheryvonne leather ring
  • Marshmallows, one of my favorite sweet!
  • The 1950s inspired SMEG fridge-freezer in pink
  • Sterling silver and leather jewelry by designers Filip Vanas and Yvonne Beale
  • Rosé wines of which the color varies from a pale salmon pink to a raspberry red depending on the grape varieties.

pink flamingoesIN THE NATURAL WORLD

Pitaya is the fruit of a number of cactus species native to Central and South America. It is commomly found in Asia and is called dragon fruit there. Indian Figs also known in French as ‘figue de Barbarie’ are from the same family and grow in the Mediterranean area. Its skin color ranges from a medium to a dark pink. Pink Flamingoes are mainly found in the southern hemisphere. The most widespread species, the greater flamingo can be seen in southern Europe including the Camargue region of France.

RoadArt: Travelling West

Going west at long last!  It seems that there are fewer art pieces to be spotted along the roads as you travel westwards.

grainne ogMoategranoge’, a four metre bronze and stainless steel figure of the local Brehon princess, Gráinne Óg, stood majestically on a motte off the M6 going from Kilbeggan into Moate, Co. Westmeath in 2008. It was from this historical spot that Gráinne adjucated on causes and delivered her oral laws to the people of Ireland.

The cuts in her clothing were evocative of the esker landscape on which Moate was founded. This spectacular and symbolic sculpture by Ann Meldon Hugh was stolen in March 2011 for its metal but fortunatedly was recommissioned by Westmeath County Council to be re-erected this year in the Midlands Amenity Park in Moate.

The Gaelic Chieftain is a most iconic and impressive art piece by Maurice Harron. gaelic chieftainThe piece is a 4.5 metres stainless steel and bronze sculpture that overlooks the site of the Battle of Curlew Pass fought in 1599, when a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell defeated an English army during the Nine Years’ War. The majestic statue representing the Gaelic chieftain Hugh O’Donnell is located on the N4 outside Boyle in County Roscommon. It stands on the highest part of the Curlew Mounains and is surrounded by Lough Key. The sculptured metal horseman was unveiled in 1999 to commemorate the Irish victory 400 years later. The Curlew Hills caught Maurice Harron’s attention and inspired him to create this magnificent art piece for this particular setting. In an interview a few years after creating the work, Maurice Harron noted that “when [he] put a work up in a certain area, [he] has a responsibility. This thing has to exist in the context of its own location.” The sharp angular metal pieces that make up the sculpture seem to me to symbolise the violence on the battlefield as well as the weaponry and armour carried and worn by the soldiers. For me when I look at this I can almost hear the clanging of metal sounds of battle, making it tremendously poignant.

Coracles’ (2005) by artist Irene Benner is inspired by the small lightweight boat  used by fishermen on Irish waterways. Coracles were made of willow rod,  animal skin  and  a thin waterproof tar outer layer. A little like the more familiar currach only that the oval shaped coracle was smaller and tailored to the river conditions. Coracles are very similar to walnut shells and indeed the artist’s interpretation of such a boat makes me think of the little boats we use to make as children out of walnut shells and matchsticks and then try to sail/float them in puddles. The sculpture consists of three large tilted metal vessels either side of the N5 at Scramogue, Co. Roscommon.

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The Silk Road

On a recent trip visiting a friend in Lyons, I had the opportunity to explore the silk museum, La Maison des Canuts, in the hilly Croix-Rousse area of the city. Lyons has been the European capital of silk manufacturing since the 18th century. The combination of its situation on the Saone and Rhone rivers made it possible for trades to flourish and for the reputation of the city to develop.

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The ‘Canuts’ as they were known in Lyons were the master weavers at the heart of the silk industry. They would employ highly skilled craftsmen and women who were involved in the various processes in making silk fabrics such as satin, damasks and brocades. The silk workers would be lodged and fed in their master’s home-cum-workshop. The Canuts would have up to six looms and would supervise the work while weaving for hours a day to complete the many orders from the merchants.

IMG_3394Walking in the narrow streets in Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, I could easily imagine the scenes from the past with noise and intensity of different people’s activities: women cleaning the many cocoons and reeling out metres and metres of the fine thread, the tedious twisting of the raw silk to turn it into yarns, the constant stirring of the dyeing vats to produce new colours, the smells of the dyestuffs coming from the courtyards, the noisy clanking of the loom mechanism constantly going for hours every day, the flickering light from the oil lamps in the workshops in the evening…the chatting of the men and women after a long day’s work, the young apprentices’ footsteps echoing in the narrow lanes as they run errands for their masters. Even the buildings themselves in Lyons have an intriguing architecture with arcades and tunnels linking houses so that the bolts of fabric could be moved from place to place without being exposed to the elements.

I could picture the merchants paying a visit to the Canuts to IMG_3387discuss the fabric designs and to place their orders. The artisans and apprentices would then busy themselves preparing the threads and the looms so that a few meters of silk cloth could be made per day. The craftswomen would combine and shuttle through the shiny gold threads to create intricate passementeries that would later adorn the elaborate garments made for the aristocrats of the European courts. Silk trimmings would also embellish the interiors of churches and mansions where silk panels would cover walls of châteaux throughout France and beyond.

The poignant contrast of the hard-working artisans living in quite harsh conditions as opposed to the leisurely and privileged lives of the aristocracy and churchmen struck me quite powerfully.

Seeing all these different stages depicted in the museum, I was awed by the power of Nature combined with human ingenuity. How impressive it is I thought they way the humble silkworm fed on the mulberry leaves can spawn the thread that becomes fabric of such finesse and beauty once the Canuts and other artisans have worked their magic.

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Black is the colour

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Isabella Blow wearing Philip Treacy’s lace mask (1992)

Black is not a colour as such but the complete absorption of natural light. Black is associated in the Western world with death, mourning, evil, or magic but also with power, elegance and sophistication.

Throughout history the colour black has had both positive and negative connotations. Black is closely linked with mystery and the unknown and in the 17th century, people strongly believed that the devil appeared in the shape of a black animal in the middle of the night during black Sabbath ceremonies.

It was the emblematic colour of the Puritans and protestants during the Reformation, as black was considered the colour of sobriety and simplicity and chosen to underline the contrast with the luxurious red and purple vestments worn by the Pope and cardinals of the Roman church.

 Black was favoured by the Romantics in the 19th Century as it was the perfect colour to depict their melancholic souls. Black has often been the colour of choice for quite a number of would-be revolutionaries: it was chosen by the 1950s Parisian intellectuals to express their individuality, by the young British mods and rockers of the sixties but also later by punks and goths to show their social discontentment. In the United States, the Black Power movement in the late sixties was borne out of a struggle for political and social equality for African-Americans.

 The black flag of the pirates alone was enough to instill fear in other sailors and ordinary folk as they knew that violent events would unfold as soon as the fierce seamen came near. The authoritative symbolism of black is best exemplified in any of the uniforms of members of the armed or police forces throughout the world.

 In the world of fashion, Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s sense of dress forever with her drawing in the American 1926 Vogue magazine of a simple black dress. A trend was born then as well as a new timeless look. By wearing the colour black, women felt empowered and confident like never before in a world dominated by men in black suits albeit through a different kind of power, that of the seductive force of the femme fatale.

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The great black cow in Lascaux

Black was one of the first pigments to be used by our Prehistoric ancestors where it was employed to draw representations of animals or humans almost twenty thousand years ago. Charcoal, burnt bones and manganese oxide were used to produce black to a stunning effect as can be seen in the Lascaux and Niaux caves in the South of France.

 Black was one of the most prominent colours used by ancient Greek artists and potters to create magnificent ceramics. They developed an original firing technique to produce a glossy black. Black ink was produced in Ancient China by using plant dyes or minerals such as graphite which were ground down  and mixed with water. Burnt bones, tar and pitch have been employed in India since at least the 4th century BC as it was common practice to write with ink using a sharp pointed needle. Another historical ink from Ancient Rome was created from salts mixed with tannin extracted from gallnuts. This specific ink was bluish-black but turned to a dull brown as it faded.

 In Medieval times, scribes wrote mainly on parchment or vellum paper and one of the inks they used was derived from a hawthorn bark, wine and iron salt recipe. Obtaining a good quality black pigment was essential for the printing industry as the traditional handwriting Chinese and Indian inks had a tendency to blur as they couldn’t adhere to printing surfaces. A soot, turpentine and walnut oil-based ink was created by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century making it possible to print papers, books and engravings. The Gutenberg Bible was the first book produced with ink pasted over moveable type and was printed in 1451-1452. The Gutenberg press made it possible to spread ideas to the masses for the first time.

 Different civilizations have burned the various plants naturally available to them to produce charcoal pigments. In Alaska, the Inuits mixed wood charcoal with seal blood, for example. In the Polynesian culture, black pigments were made from the soot of burnt candlenut or sometimes coconut mixed with oil or water to create the ink for traditional tattoos.

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The umbrellas (1881-1886) by A.Renoir

PALE: Basalt, Anthracite, Charcoal, Soot Black.

MEDIUM: Graphite, Blue Black, Bone Black, Obsidian Black, Vine Black*, Smoky Black.

Vine black was produced in the Roman Empire by burning grapevine branches or dried crushes grapes.

DARK: Brilliant black, Lampblack*, Jet black, crow black, liquorice, Ebony, Onyx, Tar, Indian Black, Mars black*.

Lampblack was originally produced by burning oil in a lamp and collecting the black soot that accumulated on the glass surface. Mars black is a black pigment made of synthetic iron oxides. It takes its name from Mars, the Roman god of war.

IN THE WORLD OF INTERIORS

Black is ideal as an accent colour to give a bit of drama to an interior space. A black patterned wallpaper as an accent wall, a striped rug or a set of textured cushions will add a sense of elegance and boldness to the décor and will contrast beautifully with any other colour.

 Black was much favoured as a colour in the early 20th century Art Deco movement. This influential eclectic style first appeared in France in the 1920s and combined the craft movement floral motifs with the geometrical shapes of industrialization.  This inspirational new design style was all about theatrical exuberance, glamour and progress. Chrome, glass, highly polished wood and glossy black lacquered furniture mixed with silks and furs were all the rage. Irishwoman Eileen Gray was a highly talented architect and furniture designer (1878-1976) whose interiors were imbued with sophistication and modernism at the same time. She was without doubt a visionary designer and a precursor of the modern movement.

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Living-room in the E.1027 House by Eileen Gray (1929)

OUT THERE NOW

  •  Lady Gaga unique black perfume Fame.
  • The Manchichi Bar in the Bistrotheque restaurant in East London is  wallpapered with the Midnight Empire Luxury wallpaper by House of Hackney: Pure sophistication!
  • Gail Kelly’s lino-cut designs printed on Irish linen.
  • The Constellation portraits by Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita who uses a single piece of unbroken thread meticulously wrapped around thousands of nails. Absolutely amazing.

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IN THE NATURAL WORLD

The black mamba in Africa is one of the fastest and most venomous snakes in the world. Its name comes from the black colour inside its mouth. Another scary creature is the Black Widow spider, which can be found on every continent in the world, except Antartica and whose bite is harmful to humans but fatal to the male of her species. The black panther is not a separate cat breed but rather a black leopard or jaguar, whose natural markings are hidden by the excess black pigment, melanin.

blackberryThe black truffle grows underground near oak or hazelnut trees mainly in southern France, Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. It can be found in late Autumn and winter especially in January when its perfume is at its most pungent. Truffles can measure up to 7 cm for a weight of up to 100 gr. Another wild mushroom that grows in Europe called ‘trumpet of death’ in French for its trumpet shape and its black colour has a remarkably nutty flavour and is in season from August until November.

Blackberry and blackcurrant are among my favourite fruits to pick when in season. Their juice is a deep purple-black colour and they make the most delicious jams and desserts.

RoadArt: Around The Pale

In my previous post about RoadArt, I talked about the art pieces I encountered traveling east from Mullingar. This time, I will concentrate on the art sculptures around Dublin and its surroundings.

 Eccentric Orbit byRemco de Fouw and Rachel Joynt (2002) is located on the North strand in Portmarnock, Co. Dublin. This large limestone sphere was commissioned by the Southern Cross Trust to commemorate early 20th century aviation. Noted aviator Captain Charles Kingsford Smith, departed from the Velvet Strand in June 1930 in his Fokker aircraft The Southern Cross, to reach Harbour Grace in Newfoundland, Canada 31 and a half hours later.  Smith gained world renown when he made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia.

The surface of the sphere in Portmarnock is carved to detail the ocean currents and the countries’ topographies while a bronze compass needle at the top of the sphere points directly at the North Star. The sphere is pinned with bronze studs to show the stopping points on the journey to Australia. This impressive globe is a homage to pioneering navigators like Smith and Irishman J. P. “Paddy” Saul who was Smith’s navigator on his round the-world trip. It pays tribute to the men and women who travelled around the world in harsh conditions and without the technologies of modern aviation.

Beehive Huts by Irene Beurer and Robert Mc Colgar (2001) can be seen at the Balbriggan by-pass on the M1. The artists were inspired by local Medieval history. Beehive huts or clocháns were one of the oldest stone structures in Ireland. The three corbelled beehive huts are grouped together and are in between one to two metres in height, each one bearing one or more air-vents.  I find it fascinating when I drive along this road I always get the feeling that these cut-stone huts have just been dug from the ancient past, they seem so intrinsic to the Irish landscape.

 Amnesty International commissioned The Universal Links on Human Rights in 1995 to represent the jails around the world holding prisoners of conscience. This memorial sculpture by Tony O’Malley is located in Dublin city centre close to Amiens Street, at the back of Customs House and across from Busáras. This simple art structure of welded interlinked chains and bars measures 2.60m in diameter and houses an eternal flame powered by natural gas. This commemorative art piece is always strikingly relevant as it reminds us on a daily basis that freedom of speech and democratic views are not a reality in many societies throughout the world.

Famine is a poignant artwork designed and crafted by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. It was commissioned in 1997 by Norma Smurfit to commemorate the anniversary of the Irish Famine (1845-1849). The sculpture, located on Custom House Quay in Dublin city centre, was subsequently donated to the Irish people. It represents a group of seven life-size emaciated figures in rags heading to the nearby harbour, alongside them and threatening is a growling dog. One of the men carries a tired or sick child across his shoulders while the other men and women hold their meagre belongings in their arms as they wait to embark on board a ship that will take them to a new life in a new land.

I find this bronze sculpture extremely moving as the artist has managed through his work to represent the emotion of fear felt by these bedraggled distressed people. Standing beside these ghost-like figures is a pretty eerie and disturbing experience.  You can almost feel the suffering and the hardship thousands of Irish people went through during the Great Famine and appreciate a little the impact it had on Ireland for generation after them.

The location of the art piece is particularly appropriate and historic as one of the first voyages of that horrific period was on the Perserverance, which sailed from Custom House Quay on St. Patrick’s Day in 1846.  In June 2007, a second series of famine sculptures by Gillespie entitled Arrival, was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on the quayside in Toronto’s Ireland Park to mark the arrival of thousands of Irish emigrants to Canada.

Blackrock Dolmen is an earlier art piece by Rowan Gillespie (1987) and is located on the N11 at the Blackrock bypass. This bronze and fibreglass sculpture is graceful in its shape and acts as a praise to the Irish cultural heritage. The Blackrock dolmen is unusual as three slender women replace the traditional upright stone slabs of a dolmen and hold the large flat stone or capstone above their heads and face outwards. Their body movement seems to almost suggest a light dance as they twirl around on their tiptoes. This artwork makes me think of the 2nd century Roman marble statue, The Three Graces, which is part of the ancient Greek and Roman collection in the Louvre museum in Paris.

 Mothership, a giant cast iron and stainless steel sea urchin by Rachel Joynt (1999)  is quite an iconic artwork located on the Sandycove Seafront. It is as if the rough sea threw up the shell onto the shore one stormy day.  Once on the shore, the sea urchin came to a halt and has remained suspended in motion, leaving a trail of silvery seawater droplets in its track. It is possible to climb into the body of the shell and by doing so, you enter a different dimension, feeling cocooned and therefore protected from the outside world. When inside, you are able to look through it and out onto the sea as if you were looking through a porthole of a ship.

The minimalist granite sculpture, Dunrath Group, (1995) located in Loughlinstown, South County Dublin is by the artist Thomas Glendon. It depicts a family group in a pastoral setting and is reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi’s style in its modern simplicity. The granite used to carve this three-piece sculpture was sourced from a quarry in the Dublin mountains and was chosen for the uniqueness in its mica composition.