Having experimented with Suminagashi, I wanted to learn more about the traditional methods of marbling. Having evolved through the Middle Ages, marbling was once so highly prized artists would jealously guard their processes and designs. My father initially trained as a bookbinder, so I grew up with some the books he had restored. There was always something magical about opening those old books with their beautiful marbled endpapers. I owe my love of art and books to him.
While Suminagashi is a fairly straightforward process and can be easily set up in a studio or kitchen, marbling with carrageenan moss is a more involved process. Size is required to be added to the water to hold the gouache on the surface. There are more variables that can affect the outcome. For the process to be successful the correct balance is essential - for example the temperature can have an influence, as can the hardness of the water used.
However when all is in balance the results can be extremely satisfying. I quickly became absorbed by two particular patterns - the vein and the stone pattern.
Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese process of floating ink on water. Patterns are created by gently manipulating the ink, using the breath, or a single hair to create swirling marks. Paper is then placed on the surface of the water thereby transferring the design. Suminagashi was first recorded in the twelfth century. The process appears simple, producing some fabulous marks but like any art form, there are always those skilled artists who can raise it to another level. These are my first attempts!
The process of Suminagashi produces a calm and serene feeling - it is not a process that likes be hurried. It feels very in tune with the spirit of Buddhism - slowing things down and encouraging you to "be in the moment". It is a wonderful process of mark making and one which I will certainly be exploring further.
I always enjoy the chance to explore new book structures, and spending time 'simply making.' Freed from the challenges of content and ideas, making allows for new skills and ideas to emerge. I have recently been looking at Oriental book structures in particular Japanese stab binding methods. While there are numerous elaborate contemporary designs, I am drawn to the four traditional patterns - the four hole, the Noble, the Hemp Leaf, and Tortoiseshell. There is a beautiful timeless simplicity to these designs. While sewing these books it immediately becomes apparent how the choice of paper is an integral part of the process. If the books are to open successfully fine papers work best. This suits my way of working as I enjoy working on various thin handmade papers.
Marbled cover, Four hole binding, linen thread, shoji paper, suminagashi prints.
Marbled Cover (Stone pattern), four hole stitch, linen thread, wash paper, ink.
Thin volumes of books would traditionally be contained within a bespoke box. in contrast to the western style of binding (where the pages are bound between hard covers) here the box becomes the protective cover for the thin volumes. It wraps beautifully around the books and there is a joy to be had in the process of 'unveiling" its contents. This is a process and structure which I can see myself using for future projects.
A mixture of the four traditional bindings, with box.
The beautiful North Sea Observatory has just opened at Chapel Point, Lincolnshire and will be showing #200 Fish exhibition from August 23rd - 3rd September. I am delighted to be part of the project which raises awareness of the biodiversity of the North Sea. Co-ordinated by Biff Vernon, more information about the project can be viewed on line - #200 fish
Raja Clavata, The Thornback Ray
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.