2003 by Thomas A Clark
an island postcard (2) published by Essence Press
Essence Press publish minimalist works by artists and poets, predominantly from artist Julie Johnstone. island was a biannual publication for writing inspired by nature, though sadly it is no longer published. Happily, we have a postcard to remember it by and the poetry of Scottish poet Thomas A Clark, inspired by the landscape and its evocative details, is perfect for Essence Press’s subtle approach to printing where words, paper and texture are treated as elements to a composition. The text of Five Waves is given space to breath, so the poignant ideas seep into the surrounding emptiness of white, igniting it as words pull images from the depths of our imagination. As we would take in the view and expanse of a horizon – a sparkling sea of freedom and possibility – Clark’s lines gleam as the lines of waves before us, hovering in the distance. The repetitive ‘to learn’ begins each line as the lapping beat of the tide, the words ‘the sea’ answering with the shhhhhh of a wave each time. The blue, almost iridescent against the white, is softly violet as water, natural as duck-egg, betraying nothing of the possessive indigo or turquoise. The rippling of realisation whilst reading each line, as one remembers a lesson they too learnt by the sea, is quietly haunting; butterflies of feeling as we are lulled into a feeling of solace, carried with these words that spell the power of nature.
Ancient Order of Free Gardeners
Garden Museum, London
There are records for the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners as far back as the late 1600s, the origin of the order appearing in Scotland. Orders were based in Lodges, very like the early Freemasons; indeed, the roles of the two groups were similar in many ways. By the mid 1800s the order had thousands of members across England, with even women-only and juvenile branches. The history reflects the importance of gardens and gardening for the gentry of society. Gardens were a way of demonstrating one’s style and wealth, through cutting edge design as well as exotic and new plant species. Though teams of gardeners would be hired by estates, gardening was also a very acceptable and fashionable pastime for those that owned them – an interest that spanned the classes, albeit to very different lengths of necessity. What is wonderful about this silk banner is the incorporation of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the downfall of man, here celebrated for its link to the garden. Adam and Eve stand on cloud-like tufts of moss, brandishing their tools, standing over the snake and its garden as one adjoined entity. The symbolic sun, moon and rainbow adorn the sky, with the beehive (a symbol of industry since medieval times) and three concentric circles (sacred in representing past, present, future or earth, air, water) below. This banner shows just how honoured a profession gardening was, something the Garden Museum takes us through with its historical displays. To create beauty with nature, to cultivate the land, is happily something we have not yet lost. Though the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners has long since died, it is a happy thought to remember the respect the gardener once commanded.
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Mars and Venus United by Love
1570-5 by Paulo Veronese
Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice, National Gallery until 15 June 2014
The National Gallery’s Veronese exhibition envelopes one sumptuously. The walls are thick with work – with portraits of Venetian gentry, angels and allegories, and figures of both myth and religion. The driving forces of Renaissance imagination are all explored here, the stories and symbolism that artists desperately reinvented for their possibilities of beauty. And the paintings are beautiful, over-powering in both size and detail, illuminated with the wealth of colour – cascading and luxurious in folds of material, sensually soft in the blushes of skin. While some of Veronese’s work lacks the depth and richness of Titian, for example, the exhibition plunges us so deep into the mind of the Venetian sixteenth-century we hardly notice. We are surrounded, pulled through each room picture by picture; any exhibition text is happily infrequent and subtle, the work giving us enough narrative on which to contemplate. Mars and Venus United by Love is one of three paintings that depict the iconic couple, and it is a treat to compare all three. Here, Mars pulls a navy night-like shroud across Venus’s dignity, yet her abundant body, fleshy and milky pink, triumphantly glows out from the ochre light that ignites the rest of the painting. Mars’ armour is warm with gold, echoed in the trees that bend over, bowing in respect it seems, to the happy union. The foliage itself appears magical; when nature creeps into Veronese’s work it is celebrated, something we also see in The Rest of the Flight into Egypt, where the tree that reaches above the resting party is wildly lush and exotically green. The faces of Veronese’s Gods are far from omnipotent; they are human-like, empathetic, gazing kindly down to the putto that holds Venus’ leg. Veronese allows us to identify so with many of his protagonists in this way, their faces betraying emotion that reminds us of our own. That is magnificence indeed.
1963 by David Bailey
Bailey’s Stardust, until 1 June 2014, National Portrait Gallery
Bailey’s Stardust is all we expect it to be: a glittering array of recognisable faces in their prime, captured through the magical lens of David Bailey. It’s no secret that Bailey has a knack for making people feel at ease – he has successfully photographed the trickiest of sitters – but his photos reveal more than this. Bailey turns his sitters into creations of their own personality, drawing on their humour, talent or physical beauty to create compositions that embody them. The classic black and white portraits are perhaps the most iconic examples of this, where each protagonist is left quite alone in their own monotone square. Drawn out by Bailey’s exquisite tone – the crisp edge of detail and the softly seductive creeping of contrast – each figure is cast in the role of flaunting themselves, not overtly but subtly; as if you briefly caught their eye. Jean Shrimpton – an infamous favourite of Bailey’s – shows us this. She is lit from the side, throwing light on the face that made her famous, illuminating her beauty as she draws us in with her eyes. The soft and milky greys of her skin are luxurious against the black out of her dress that sweeps – organically, abstractedly, sexually – across the lower half of the photo, ending out of sight. She appears to lean against the frame in which Bailey has captured her, the lines of his entrapment reinforced with a black outline. Compositionally, the shape Bailey creates with her body should be awkward, cocked to one side, but it’s far from it; the lines he creates are harmonious, a perfect balance. The exhibition is filled with such evocative portraits, the most intimate depicting Catherine Bailey – a whole room celebrates her as Bailey’s muse. The star-struck atmosphere is interrupted by the intermittent inclusion of Bailey’s documentary photographs, including those from Papua New Guinea and the Live Aid photos. The effect of these hung opposite and next to his glamourous icons is a little jarring, though this could be the idea. All in all it’s worth taking an afternoon to wander through the illustrated history of music, fashion and the ’60s onwards that this exhibition provides.
View in the Alps
1825 by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme
A Dialogue with Nature; Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany, The Courtauld Gallery, with The Morgan Library & Museum, until 27 April
The Courthauld’s A Dialogue with Nature is a quietly potent exhibition; its small works continuing to meditate upon beauty, long after their philosophers have died. An array of watercolours and drawings turn our gaze to the Romantic notion of landscape, with nature so delicately drawn she exudes an ethereal sigh. This breath of wonder sweeps through the exhibition, caught and carried in the exquisite detail of the landscapes and their jewel-like treatment of colour. The concentration of every element is poignant; a cluster of works in the middle of the exhibition concentrate only on the formation of clouds – ink washes and coloured paper perfectly capturing their weightless magic. Indeed, it seems almost a mystic coincidence that both British and German artists were captured by clouds, transfixed by the skies at the same moment in time. This joyful realisation embodies the treatment of the British and German artworks throughout the exhibition; neither are singled out, but left to harmoniously converse in their melodious interpretations of differing landscapes. Ernst Ferdinand Oehme painted alongside Caspar David Friedrich, a pioneer of early German Romanticism (Friedrich is also in the exhibition). View in the Alps is pregnant with the air of mysticism; the hills glowing with a green so lush, their tops roll with vitality. Colour fades and grows as a drawing breath, shadowy purples and deep emerald eclipsed by the radiant white of the mountain tops. The celebration of nature and its beauty is jubilant, singing of infinite possibilities and leaving us on a high that remains long after we have left the exhibition.
2014 by Jill McManners
Flowers of Basalt; Kaleidoscope, Mall Galleries until 1 March 2014
A badge is a not a postcard; but the way McManners has made badges of each of her Flowers of Basalt, is very much in the postcard spirit. The badges allow you to take a little image of the exhibition home, to pin on your wall or indeed on your bag or your jacket. The badges, like postcards, are little works of art in their own right. Flowers of Basalt runs alongside McManner’ solo exhibition Basalt, which presents her wonderfully textured watercolours inspired by the coastline of The Shiant Islands of the Outer Hebrides. Rock – the colour, texture, weathering and beauty of the material that builds our earth – is the subject of these vast paintings. Flowers of Basalt take textures and shapes from these and set them spinning in repetitive and brightly mounted prints, inspired by what are known as the ‘Flowers of Sulphur’. These are crystals that form from sulphurous volcanic vapours condensing on colder rock that, under a microscope, resemble flowers. Dianthus is the genus name of around 300 plant species, such as the Carnation and Sweet William. As deep and intense colour spreads inkily through the petals of Sweet William, McManners’ petals of 2.Dianthus are tinged with the intense pink and grey that dilutes through her rock faces. The tips of her jagged edged petals are flushed with a deep purple that runs in veins down the white face of the rock. These lines, repeated as each petal multiplies to complete the wheel, give McManners’ flowers a motion and energy that pushes them to move before our very eyes. As a kaleidoscope shrinks and grows in jewel-like patterns, the Flowers of Basalt dance to a music guided by McManners’ visual exploration of the various faces of rock. The large and bulbous shapes of the outer petals mesmerise like falling boulders, carrying our eyes with their constant and heavy rhythm to the centre, where small whirling shapes frame the epicentre of molten rock. The impact of all McManners’ flowers – large, as they are in print – is indeed that of a kaleidoscope, as they spin across the colours of the rainbow, each drawing on the intensity of McManners’ naturally inspired pattern and colour. Don’t miss Basalt and its flowers.
l’esprit de l’escalier bleu
2013 by Nick Wadley
The Postcard is a Public Work of Art, X Marks the Bökship until 1 March 2014
The Postcard is a Public Work of Art is made up of 60 British artists’ postcards. The postcards are not simply postcard-sized artworks but explorations into the postcard itself. Each artist has used the postcard shape to harness their ideas about the much loved card, using its ingrained meanings and associations to make points of their own. Whether it be Molly Rooke’s Realistic Expectation postcard, which shows a large white van driving in front of the building you just came to visit, or Ruth Claxton’s playful lampshade cut-outs around St. Celilia’s head, the exhibition is an electric display of big ideas in a small communication-focused form. These artists are playing with the crux of the postcard, that the image is supposed to carry the message, making these cards truly powerful works of art. Wadley plays with this idea of meaning and message by illustrating a phrase with no apparent meaning. Yet once set upon their watery blue stairs, the letters of his phrase fall into animation, ignited with humour and movement in their topsy turvey ascent – or indeed descent, as they appear to be toppling downward. In mixing letters and the image they describe, Wadley visualises one of the main relationships behind a postcard – the fact that his words are ‘meaningless’, even silly, makes the potent mixture all the more clear. The simplicity of this card, together with its none-too-serious approach, embodies the carefree or uninhibited reactions postcards allow us to have. They are wonderfully accessible, often deliberately personal – the carriers of memories and pleasant nostalgia. The Postcard is a Public Work of Art should not be missed; nor should its catalogue, a beautifully printed ‘breakaway’ book – made up, of course, of each of the postcards.