Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A cup of tea with Henry Moore

Our friend Marjorie has just left. Our place has been her base,  as she's buzzed around  having all kinds of interesting encounters and experiences.   We don't see each other very often, since the Atlantic is in the way, so I was pleased to discover something new about her on this trip - that she is a longtime fan of the sculptor Henry Moore.

Well!    I'd just won a couple of tickets to an exhibition at the Henry Moore Studios and Gallery in Hertfordshire.   I hadn't been planning to use the tickets - to be honest, I didn't remember entering the contest. And although I knew of the Henry Moore sculpture garden in Wakefield, I didn't realise his home and studios had been so near to London.

But of course we took a trip.

Moore and his wife lived for decades in an ancient house at the end of a very rustic lane,  the type where two cars find it hard to pass. They modernised it piecemeal where necessary, but the interior's surprisingly domesticated, almost conventional in parts, with old fashioned cream telephones in almost every room and a kitchen that wouldn't win any prizes in a design contest.

However,  the fact that it's crammed with art books and natural and ethnographic curiosities gives the game away that artists lived here.  (Moore's wife was also an artist).   Then there are also the carpets in startling shades of orange and mauve, and curtains of the textiles he designed himself to remind you that this is not really the kind of home your mum or gran might have lived in....

Outside, arrays of cacti are grown in little greenhouses.


 An attractive, large-windowed visitor centre, cafe and shop has been built in the house's grounds, and offers views of the orchard, and the lawns where many of Moore's enormous sculptures are shown over several acres.

Moore was versatile, and although sculpture was his main love, he also designed tapestries. Some are displayed in a 16th century barn, copied from his small sketches in charcoal and watercolour. Although the drawings are deliberately tiny, the tapestries are huge, and use endless variations of colours and textures and different types of yarn to reinterpret the subtle shadings of the tiny originals. Moore said that he loved the change which the weaving process made to his drawings, and it does give a new understanding to the works.   I looked at them for a long time.

I always like to show photos of what I am talking about, particularly with art, but unfortunately photos aren't allowed inside the house, studios or display areas, and I can't find any online which illustrate this wonderful quality of the textiles. Even the site's own image gallery  doesn't show it.

Still, explore the site if you want more photos and information, take my word that the studios and galleries were interesting, and let me share with you my own view of what I was allowed to photograph on a quiet, grey, overcast day. I'll show you the cowslips and the apple blossom just finishing in the orchard, the sheep whose shapes so inspired Moore grazing in the adjoining fields, and the sculptures seeming at home in their surroundings....



Cowslips in the orchard. 



 There's something alarming, almost devilish about this, at least to me.


 I don't like thinking too intellectually about visual art, so I was glad to have the chance to see these works in real life to see what Moore was trying to do. It's so thought provoking and interesting both at large scale and in close up; every line can make you think of something - or several things.  

Here, I saw his house framed through a statue based on a reclining figure.  I was standing beside what would be the left thigh, with the left leg... see the characteristic shape of an ankle on the left? You do feel that the sculptures are alive, in an alien way, and that's part of his genius.


Moore was conventionally trained, and very gifted at more orthodox work. I did snatch one picture, showing a drawing he did when at art school - at present the centre has a show about the artistic influences on his work.  Even in this very different and far more conventional style, his talent and individualism shows.  Don't you feel you might have met this gentleman, so vivid and alive with that determined set of his jaw?    

Or, on second thoughts, is it his hair that bulges out at the jaw? Or a swelling on his face?  And those stubborn eyes, staring steadfastly upwards - look closely and you'll see they're not set naturally in his face. One looks upwards the other does not.   What is Moore really conveying about this man, apparently so naturalistic and alive?   


The picture below is one of my favourite sculptures of those on display. A bit like vertebrae from this angle

Textured like bone. 


And I liked that you could walk inside this huge female figure. 



Here it is from a distance.


I see in this sculpture a thoughtful face with its chin on its hand.  T. didn't see that at all.  What do you see?


Having spent so long looking at sculpture, I began to see it myself in the nature around me. 


And so, back to the visitor centre. We reached it just as it started to rain... 


... for a nice cup of tea.  I believe Henry Moore also enjoyed a nice cup of tea,  since his house certainly contained a teapot out in the conservatory that was seemingly ready for use!





Henry Moore Studios & Gardens
Dane Tree House
Perry Green
Herts
SG10 6EE
T: +44 (0)1279 843 333

Monday, 1 May 2017

In Springtime....

One of the reasons I love Spring is the flowers, and I usually go out around now and buy a selection of pot plants to add to those already on the balcony.  Except that over the last year or two I've noticed that many stores have stopped bothering to look after the plants they sell.  Here's a random selection that have been offered at full price in our local Homebase and Waitrose.... aargh!!!!








Perhaps the staff haven't been told that certain fresh produce needs to be cared for...  but I need hardly tell you that I haven't bought anything here.  Since they're the only local places selling pot plants, I was wondering what to do but then, cycling through Little Venice, where the Regents' Canal runs through big, tall, grand houses,  I spotted this.... 


Inspiring gardeners since 1851!  Surely there would be something here for me? 

I daresay that the market garden shown on the site of Clifton Nurseries in early Victorian development plans supplied fruit and veg to the cooks of surrounding homes. But as supermarkets came along, Clifton Nurseries obviously moved with the times.  I was delighted when I went down the passageway into the garden and saw lots of beautifully kept plants....


The nursery now serves high end landscape gardeners, wedding organisers and hotels. Until recently owned by the Rothschilds it's just been bought by super-garden specialists Gavin Jones who do stately homes and public parks...    BUT!!!!!! despite these grand credentials it also seems to welcome locals with balconies.  To my delight I found that their humbler plants cost the same - or less than -  the sorry specimens at Homebase or Waitrose.

And the surroundings are certainly more interesting than racks of plumbing equipment or freezers full of sausages.   Do you notice that the lad is watering around the base of a Roman column?  


The column's on the right in this picture below, a splendid ornament for the garden, though perhaps a little over the top for a balcony. I also admired the stone sphinxes and urns beyond, completely overgrown with creeper.


I was a bit tempted by the enormous canna lilies too...


But I saw sense and these are the plants I ended up with, which fitted into my bike panniers  just fine 


And they are now quite happy on the balcony.  



Friday, 14 April 2017

Happy Easter!





Happy Easter!  I hope you have a lovely weekend.   We have a good friend joining us from the US tomorrow - she's a native of Chicago - so hoping that London will look good to greet her.  

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Cunning Folk and London Trees


Went to the launch of my son-in-law George's folk CD the other day, in an underground room in a pub, just the kind of place folk music should be heard.  George's passion is British folklore and landscape, and the CD, "Cunning Folk" had this theme.  Although I'm sure you'll think I'm biased, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and hearing the songs performed live, and was very sorry when it was over.  The band's also called Cunning Folk, and if you look on the website here you'll hear one of the CD tracks about the Pendle Witches, and see it's accompanied by an animation by Richard Mansfield.  As you see the film's graphic style is 17th century broadsheet woodcut style - something I've certainly never seen before in an animated film!

George is also keen on craft beer so he arranged for some special Cunning Folk ale to be brewed for those who came to the launch. Only 400 bottles were created, so, I guess this is a collector's item - though I do intend to drink it soon. 


Here's another pic of George, this time in the New Forest in Hampshire, recording ambient sound near the Rufus Stone for a project he was doing about ancient trees.  Interesting trees are one of his passions and at birthdays and Christmas a gift for him is usually perfect as long as it has a tree somewhere about it. 


If I had to say whether I was a tree person or a sea person, (have you noticed that people are usually one or the other?) I'd opt for the trees.   The following photos were all taken in the last two or three weeks in Kenwood, a public park on Hampstead Heath, London. How nice that they're there for everyone to see. 



Magnolias and daffodils...


Catkins


...  and blackthorn, the latter 2 both taken about 10 days before the magnolias.  I liked how they seemed to be reaching out to the world, eager to be up and off. 

And, when I come down in the morning at the moment, the cherry tree outside the window is the first thing I see. For a moment I feel as it if has been snowing in the night.  

  
I never thought particularly of cherry blossom before visiting Japan - I mean, it is beautiful but so are other blossoms.  Then I learned a bit about what it means symbolically to some Japanese (see this link) and so I always notice it a bit more now. 

So I am really happy, appreciating the spring, my favourite time of year, all about hope and new beginnings.  Sure, it is transient, and winter comes, but life continues. 

What's your favourite season and what do you like about it? 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

At Last!

At last!!!  I have managed to change the colours on my blog to make it more readable.  Long story about a fault on Blogger - but anyway, I hope those of you who were dazzled by the previous lurid colour scheme find it easier now. 

Here in London our thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack, but London has survived so much over the years, and I do remember when life was overlaid with the constant threat of IRA bombs some years ago.  So things are carrying on exactly as usual, but I suppose the risk of trouble is always at the back of peoples' minds, as it is, sadly, in so many places in the world. 

  I've hardly been at the computer at all, so I am sorry that I've been remiss about responding to comments.  I do read and appreciate them very much, so I'll aim to do better in future.  I'm now posting more Japanese pictures, though, since there are still loads of things I would like to tell you about.   So here is something about Miyajima island, near Hiroshima. It's particularly famous for its large orange Torii gate which stands in the shallow sea just offshore.    


At low tide you can get very close to the gate as you see in the photos above and below.  It's exhilarating, if a bit soggy, to walk over the sands.  I noticed the old gent below walking out with his pet dog  - or at least, he was walking and the dog was sitting in its buggy.


This big torii gate marks the entrance to the Itsukushima Shinto shrine complex. ("Itsukushima" is another name for the island).  It is famous for several reasons, mainly that the main shrine as well as the torii seem to be rising from or floating on the water. And, as you see below, the general appearance of the place also reflects traditional Japanese ideas about landscape beauty, with sea, mountains and architecture in relation to each other.  It really is wonderful. 


The shrine's present design dates from the 12th century, even though it had been a holy place for six centuries before that. So pure was it that for many years no births and deaths were allowed to take place there.  (If someone died suddenly I suppose there would have been great consternation - nobody was able to tell me if this had ever happened though. I probably shouldn't have asked!)
  

The site is large so didn't seem crowded, and October weather in Hiroshima is generally good so the general atmosphere was peaceful and pleasant. It's a working shrine and ceremonies were going on in the normal way - in fact there were lots of monks around. Here's one explaining to some schoolgirls about this section of a huge and very old tree.   (T and I have been racking our brains to remember the exact significance of this gnarled and ancient slice of wood, so perhaps one Japanese speaking reader might click on the picture and enlarge it enough to read the notice on it?)


A couple of years ago I visited beautiful Nara park and admired the deer, so was charmed to find that semi wild deer roam the temple grounds here, too, and they are not backward in their search for food from tourists.  These people were having some trouble posing for their group photo while deer enthusiastically rummaged in their bags for food.


I like to look for little details, so this home made tableau caught my eye, arranged on a box in the street.  I wondered about the meaning (if any) of the pine cone in the foreground,which, as you see, has a long stalk balanced across it, with an acorn at each end.


High up on the hillside is Senjokaku hall, a monumental part of the shrine complex. It's as large as "1000 tatami mats"  (which are, I'm told 85.5 x 179 cm each - that's about 33.5 x 70.5 inches. Tatami mats are used in Japan as a way of indicating the size of a space).  Attached to the massive roof beams are votive paintings, and in the background you might spot huge rice spoons propped up on the floor, nearly twice the height of a man. They're called shamoji, they have some religious significance and are particularly associated with the island of Miyajima.


Similar flat rice spoons have become one of Miyajima's best selling souvenirs - needless to say the souvenir spoons are much smaller than the ones above.  Little cakes shaped like maple leaves are also widely sold on the island.... here's one which formed part of our picnic lunch, together with sandwiches beautifully packed by the friend we were staying with. (It looks so much more elegant than my rough old version of a picnic....)



Anyway,  Senjokaku has a fabulous view from all sides, as you see below. A quiet and peaceful place to sit and contemplate, with only the sound of birds to be heard and the sun coming in.


In this distant view you can see how large the hall is; it's just to the left of the pagoda.  


Despite the island's fame, the tourism isn't too high key, and we particularly enjoyed the town museum, which spreads over several rooms in an old house.  Of everything there, I was specially impressed by the prints on display. Japanese printmaking is most famous in the West for the work of a small handful of artists, of which Hiroshige and Hokusai are the best known. But in fact it is a huge art form with many celebrated artists and it's an absolute delight to look at the variety of it all. This woodcut in Miyajima museum appealed very much to me.  I recognised the shrine, but I didn't understand what was going on.  T is learning Japanese but his reading isn't up to deciphering the label. 


It looks immensely dramatic, anyhow.  

I'm looking forward to the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum but how I wish there would be a more comprehensive exhibition of Japanese printmaking.  Like most Westerners, I had absolutely no idea of how wonderful it is.

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