Vienna - a city rich in history and culture. Having only a few days means tough decisions needed to be made regarding where to go and what to see. Much time was spent walking through the old city centre admiring the architecture and statues. However I had specifically wanted to visit the Natural History Museum so this is where I started. Much like the Natural History Museum in London, the collection is housed in a grand historic building. The collections began under the reign of the Hapsburgs in 1750 and has now become vast with an estimated 20 million objects.
I had specially wanted to see the prehistoric figurine - the Venus of Willendorf. This small figure is only eleven centimetres in height but 29,000 years old. In recognition of her significance she is housed in her very own room. It is believed to have been carved during the Paleolithic period and is one of the oldest examples of art in existence today. (There is some debate about the name and in academic circles she is referred to as the Woman of Willendorf to distinguish the association from the Roman Goddess of Love). Although she is often regarded as a divine fertility figure, anthropologists and researchers are still divided as to whether she is truly a representation of a Palaeolithic goddess. We will probably never be sure, but regardless, it is an astonishing ancient work of art.
While I knew this figurine was in the collection, I was delightfully surprised to find the Museum also has an exquiste collection of Blaschka glass marine creatures. Leopald Blaschka (1822-1895) was a Bohemian glass artist who made glass models of invertebrate marine creatures. His son Rudolf (1857 -1939) became his only apprentice, so sadly when he died, the knowledge about production of the models was sadly lost.
While Professor of Zoology in Vienna, Carl Claus commissioned 150 glass models for the museum during the 1870's and 1880's. These tiny delicate models capture the ethereal mystery of the deep sea, and in an era before underwater photography, were instrumental in teaching naturalists about invertebrates. Real specimens were often difficult to study as they often collapsed and would loose their colour when stored in jars. These beautiful 'artworks' are an early example of science and art working together.
The University of Vienna has the second largest collection of Blashcka models in Europe. The collection was in use until the 1930's and presumably put into safe storage during the war. They were rediscovered during the 1980's. It is estimated that between father and son as many as ten thousand marine invertebrate models, and a further 4,400 botanical specimens were produced.
Guido Mocafico has made a series of stunning photographs of these glass works capturing their incredible accuracy and beauty. They can be viewed here.
As you enter the marine galleries, the visitor passes through a small Victorian lecture theatre. Several impressive stain glass windows form a wall along one side. Depicting Ernst Haeckel's intricate drawings, they create a cool moody 'underwater' atmosphere. A portrait of the man looks down from the back of the theatre. There was a feeling of walking into a very special place - a cathedral to nature!
I have recently been looking at these drawings in relation to my next piece of work so was thrilled to come across this room.
Ernst Haeckl (1834 - 1919) was a German naturalist, philosopher, physician, artist and a strong proponent of Darwinism. In an age where polymaths were multi talented and able to combine their various experiences and observations, Haeckel's legacy is outstanding. Among his achievements he discovered and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms and through his detailed drawings of microscopic life forms, was instrumental in expanding knowledge and curiosity about the natural world. He produced illustrated volumes of enduring value and biological atlases that have remained unparalleled in their precision.
And so in conclusion...
Moving on, another day, and a different place - the Belvedere Gallery, I conclude here with this charming statue of St Elizabeth. While the crowds flock to see Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (which was magnificent) this understated 13th century sculpture in the medieval gallery is the artwork that stood out above all others. I was moved by its simplicity, and serene quality. Perhaps it was also due to the stark contrast between this and the grand mythological statues we had seen on every building throughout the city!
Rrecent work has been exploring ideas involving seeds and biodiversity, so the book I chose to take with me on this trip was Feral by George Monibot. I bought it after seeing Mike Perrys excellent exhibition Land/Sea at the Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno earlier in the Spring. It turned out to be a a good choice. Both Mike Perry and George Monbiot ask us to look more closely and question what we consider as wild natural landscapes. They refer to areas of the UK countryside as 'green desserts', and voice their concerns at the huge decline of wildlife and native plant species.
By stark contrast one of the most notable impressions arriving in Austria was the abundance of colour and variety of plants along paths and road side verges. Rather than the regimented 'parks bedding' which we are so use to in the UK, Austria seems to have a more relaxed approach by creating 'mini meadows' in their villages.
Bees, butterflies and a variety of insects provided a soft background hum during our walks. It seemed to be highlighting the points raised by Perry and Monibot. This became even more evident as we moved into the alpine meadows.
With the exception of trees, the plants seem to get smaller the higher you travel in the Alps. Carpets of small flowers cling to rock surfaces, determined to fill any crevice, and to seek shelter from wind. This really is life on the edge! When viewing the area on a summers day with blue skies and sunshine it seems a extreme action, but of course temperatures and conditions in mountain areas are constantly changing. Small and compact is how to survive in this environment.
It has been a rewarding and enriching visit to Austria. It will take time to reflect and process so many different sights and experiences. The landscape, while appearing familiar was also very different to the one I am familiar with. These photos are a "snap shot" of the experiences I wish to 'hold on" to, some of which may find their way into the art work.
But for now it is time to get back into the studio...!
Famous as the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is dominated by the Fortress Hohensalzburg Sitting atop the 250 metre hill it is one of Europe's largest medieval castles, and offers views of the old town. Salzburg retains its medieval streets and narrow alleyways and has now become a Unesco world heritage site. Having arrived relaxed from our time in the mountains it felt it felt like an assault on the senses having to adjust to the business of a major tourist town!
Missing the beautiful alpine scenery of Pertisau, we decided to take the opportunity to escape the crowds and visit the Untersburg mountain. Just a short bus ride from Salzburg, Untersburg is the northern most massif of the Berchtesgaden Alps, marking the border between Austria and Germany. At 1,972 metres, the views were once again spectatular. Small alpine plants cling to cracks and crevices and frame the views of the wider landscapes.
With its unique setting, the cemetery of St Peters is one of the worlds most beautiful and Austrias oldest cemetery. Sheltered by the massive rocks of the Festunsburg, many of the headstones are made from wrought iron rather than stone. The whole area is full of flowers creating an unusually bright and lively atmosphere. A steep climb takes you into the catacombs where you can visit two ancient chapels - Gertrauden Chapel, and the Maximus Chapel. Hewn from the rock the caves have been in use since late antiquity.
Pertisau is a small village nestled beneath the Karwendel mountain range, close to the shore of Austrias largest lake - playfully referred to as the Tyrollean Sea. Lake Achen known for it's stunning emerald green waters is nearly 10 kilometres in length and 133 metres deep. Due to its extraordinary water quality the range of underwater vision amounts up to 10 metres. It is a beautiful location where any stresses seem to just evaporate as you take in the breathtaking views.
To immerse yourself in such a tranquil location felt a real privilege and a stark contrast to busy urban environment I am use to. Time was spent walking, sitting, and simply observing the grand vistas, along side the wild grass verges which were a riot of colour and movement. Bees, butterflies and a variety of other insects accompanied any walks along the shore or into the woods. The rich biodiversity here was apparent and brought into sharp focus how 'quiet' our walks are in the UK.
The views from Rofan (1,840 metres above sea level) looking across to the Karwendal Alpine Park are awe inspiring. At more than 920 square kilometres, it is the largest continuous nature reserve in the northern alps, stretching across to Bavaria. Twenty one pairs of Golden Eagles can be found breeding in this area.
Standing in front of this magnificent view felt like you might be following in the footsteps of the Romantic poets and artists of the 18/19th centuries. I imagine the scene virtually unchanged since they made their way across the Alps on their Grand Tours.
I recently returned from Austria, having spent time in three cities (Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna) and in the beautiful mountains of the Tirol. As an artist it is impossible to 'switch off' and not be excited by new experiences and fresh horizons. Needless to say there was much to see and explore. So now I am home I need to reflect on all of this and consider what parts stand out and how these might filter through into my work. As the momentum of work in the studio had already been 'interupted', I have decided to give myself a few extra days to 'revisit' and 'absorb' the various experiences of Austria. There was so much to to inspire and discover.
So where do I to start?
It strikes me a good a place to begin will be recalling a few of the highlights which have left a strong impression. These may either relate to present work already underway or potentially inform new ideas. I will share something from each of the four centres visited starting with Innsbruck. The Tyrolean Folk Art Museum was an absolute delight. Housed in four wings of a former Franciscan monastery it was awarded European Museum of the Year, and for good reason. It is full of charm - it's collections tell the story of traditional life in this part of Austria. Wood abounds and was used for everything - from a building material to ornate tools, decorative objects and everyday items. The skill of the craftsman is evident everywhere.
An ornate weaving loom.
Decorated wooden drills Brush made from teasels.
Some delightfully humorous carved figures.
Moving through the various displays the visitor comes to some well preserved wood panelled buildings. Families would have lived together in one large room. These were relatively simple but sturdy dwellings. The rooms vary from being very sparse to more ornate, presumably reflecting the wealth of the occupants. I loved the dark interiors and was entranced by the the way the light fell through the old glass windows creating beautiful reflections across the rooms. I have always loved the dramatic contrast of light and dark and these images reminded me of a series of drawings of the interior of a chapel completed many years ago while still a fine art student.
The ever colourful Society of Bookbinders stand.
A general overview
Image Keith Osbourne.
Another great few days spent at the Forum in Norwich. Sadly Turn the Page is over for another year. The time was spent catching up with old friends and meeting new people. I have always found Norwich to be such a friendly place with visitors taking time to engage with artists about their work. I am looking forward to starting a new project and already thinking about next year!
The studio has had a good tidy and is now ready for me to go back in a make a mess!!!!
Some detailed images of small books which will be shown at Turn the Page Artist Book Fair this weekend. The event takes place at the Forum in Norwich. I am looking forward to being part of the event, and to spending two days amongst a group of fabulous book artists, as well as some interesting conversations with visitors.
Finding interest in the everyday and making the most of what we have.
While I may sometimes imagine living in a wild and natural environment, like many other people, the reality of my life sees me living in a large urban town. Although I may ‘escape’ to these rural locations for a few weeks in the year, I also consider myself fortunate to live by an estuary. This is where the rural meets the industrial, a place of edges and contrasts. Ships and birds ‘migrate’ along the river in equal measure. Everything is on the move - the tide coming and going, the light shifting, bright one moment, grey another. No two days are ever the same.
My regular walk takes me through a municipal park, complete with its customary large pond, - home to a resident pair of swans, and surrounded by some beautiful old trees, and on to my favourite destination - the seafront. While other locations may be more prestigious, more wild, more tranquil, I love this ‘little bit of paradise’ on my doorstep.
This year I have decided to record the moments which have especially caught my attention. I do not regard myself as a photographer, but equipped with heaps of curiosity, and a small Panasonic camera, (or iPhone), I look forward to seeing what threads emerge over the course of the four seasons. This is not a new idea, many have done it before me, but it encourages me to keep looking closely at my immediate surroundings.
I will display a selection of photos over the course of the year under the page heading 'Capturing the Moment'.
Winter chill in Southchurch Park
The waves consist of a series of five books - similar structures but each unique. The covers are shaped into a wave, - the pages made from various fine papers. These have been saturated in inks and wax to create transparent layers. Each book has a different 'voice' - a comment on the health of our oceans. I have incorporated quotes from people such as Sylvia Earle, Al Gore, and others who work tirelessly to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and thoughtless dumping of rubbish into the oceans. They, and others like them, help us to see what is happening beyond our own little part of the world.
The work will be on show at Turn the Page Artist Book Fair, The Forum, Norwich on 25th/26th May 2018.
A quote from Al Gore The Earth in Balance.
Plastic pages which mimic seaweed, tumble forward, spilling out of the book which can no longer contain them. I wanted to convey the idea that all is not what it first appears. We can think everything appears fine, but all is not good below the surface. Discarded plastic does not degrade - it just becomes smaller and smaller. Fish, birds and other marine life can not easily distinguish plastic from prey and ingest these particles with serious consequences. It not only affects marine life but ripples through the whole food chain ending with us!
Sadly this week has seen the announcement that plastic has been found in the deepest part of the ocean - the Mariana Trench. The discovery was made at 36,00ft (10,898 m) with some of the pieces dating back thirty years.
It seems nowhere is immune from this ever increasing 'invasive wave' of pollution. On a more hopeful note the topic is at least making headlines and forcing politicians to discuss and think about it's implications. It is on the 'agenda'
Other hopeful news sees the efforts of a young Dutch man, Boyen Slat, gaining momentum in his work to find ways to clean up this rubbish from the oceans. His foundation - Ocean Cleanup Foundation, is set to launch the largest clean up this summer. Follow their progress on facebook.
A beautiful collection of white artist books. The exhibition includes books from the private collection of Bob Bollick, and artists from the Curious World of Artist Books. The show runs until April 17th 2018. If you are interested in artist books check out Books on Books curated by Robert Bollick. it is a stimulating read.
Here you will find a gathering of thoughts, notes, and images which inform my work. A "virtual sketchbook" of projects and ideas as they evolve.