A City of Wonder - Florence!

March 03 2017
Florence Italy, cultural trip of the year!

Florence - Too much to see in one visit!

This February, we left cold, rainy and dark old England and took a flight over to Pisa in Italy for our transfer to the medieval city of Florence. Arriving, was like a breath of fresh air, the sun was shining, it was warmer  and suddenly we were in the narrow stone streets of the old medieval city.

At every turn was another beautiful building or architectural detail, I could spend hours drawing on any street corner. Honestly, I don't know where to start when talking about all the things I saw on our short visit. An obvious one is the "Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers" or as it is famously known the 'Duomo'. It is absolutely breathtaking in both size and beauty. Started in 1296 by  Arnolfo di Cambio in the Gothic style, and completed in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi, who engineered the dome.
Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, is the third largest church in the world.

Uffizi Art Gallery

The other wonders we saw included the Uffizi Art gallery with its overwhelming collection including works from Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio. If you just visited this, you would need a few days or more to absorb it all. But we also saw the original David sculpture by Michelangelo at the  "Gallery of the Academy of Florence" as well as the view from the top of the bell tower known as 'Giotto’s Campanile'.
Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi art Gallery Florence

Magnificent Mosaics

One of the many highlights for me on this trip was the Baptistery of St John. This octagonal building is one of the oldest in the city and was completed in 1128. However, it is also believed to have been the site of a Roman temple to the god, Mars. 

It was the golden mosaic ceiling that really captured my imagination, made by unknown Venetian craftsman it depicts stories from the Bible including the Last Judgement and the Book of Genesis.  I really liked the idea that the ceiling would have reflected the ripples from the water in the baptism pool.

Below is my photograph showing the whole ceiling. The earliest mosaics here, date from around 1225 but the whole of it was probably not completed until the fourteenth century. I can understand why, when I think about how long it takes to put together my own work - and I only collage paper. 

The Baptistery Of St John, mosaic ceiling.

'Tessarae' Cubes make Paintings that Last.

Mosaics go way back in history at least 4.000 years or more and were probably originally made using terracotta cones. Later, different coloured pebbles were used as decoration to create patterns and then the Greeks turned this into an art form by the fourth century BC.  

Manufactured 'tesserae', were then used a few centuries later (200BC), meaning that mosaics could imitate paintings, such as those found in Pompeii (made by Greek artists too). Tessarae, were made from cubes of marble or stone and sometimes pottery, terracotta or even brick. 

Baptistery Mosaic, detail.

Pietra Dura

So, having visited the amazing Baptistery and being showered from above with images emblazoned with golden mosaic, we then went to the Medici Chapel. If you know anything about Florence you might have heard about how rich the Medici family were. They built this chapel for themselves also as a private mortuary for the family and it is stuffed with amazing art including unbelievable stone marquetry called pietra dura.

Pietra Dura is a decorative, inlay technique using highly polished coloured stones to create images. The stonework is assembled so precisely that contact between each piece is practically invisible. Marbles and semiprecious and even precious stones were used to create these beautiful designs. This technique matured fully in Florence around the sixteenth century. 

When you visit the Medici chapel, the architecture and the famous sculpture draw your attention and this stunning decorative art could be missed. But when I stopped to look and consider the skill and level of craftsmanship it takes to make these artworks, I was in awe.
Pietra Dura , inlaid stone, decorative art. At the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy
If you get the chance to visit Florence, then I can fully recommend it. But remember that you will need to return, as you will quickly be filled up with the sheer amount there is to see. The weather was also much cooler when we visited (February), and apparently in the summer it is both really busy and super hot.

Rediscovering Messages Lost in Time

January 25 2017

Forgotten meaning, Misinterpreted Words.

The written word often has meaning that connects with our humanity, beyond the time it was written. An example of this might be the work of William Shakespeare. The deeper meaning of these texts remains clear but often some words can get lost in translation or undergo perjuration, as  langauge evolves or other cultures try to translate them. 

Whilst making my spring series of paintings, I found myself drawn to some words and then wanted clarification on their original meaning. For one of my paintings I wanted to include some of the Beatitudes from the Bible. In Matthew 5:5 are the words, 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth'. Why are the 'meek' blessed? Today, 'meek' might imply a weak, tame, submissive or compliant person.

The ancient Near Eastern Kings would often refered to themselves as meek - so what is this word referring too? When a person is unable to control or influence circumstances they might feel frustration, bitterness or anger. Meekness refers to a person who actively and deliberately endures undesirable circumstances. A meek person is a strong person who when placed in a position of weakness, perseveres without giving up. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong.


A Secret Language Embroidered onto Fans - Alessandro Cardinale

After thinking about how words change in meaning, I discovered the artwork of Alessandro Cardinale whilst visiting the London Art fair. His amazing sculptures are made from long strips of fabric of wood which are carefully cut or carved and mounted together in a box. On standing at a distance, or from a certain angle, a ghostly but realistic portrait appears.

Alessandro's work refers to an almost lost secret, language used by women, who were not permitted to read or write. These women in the Hunan in China, created there own original writing system with over 1500 characters.  They used certain embroidered fabrics and fans on which they confided to their friends their most intimate thoughts and pains.

This series of work, beautifully suggests nature of a fan and the idea of a concealed message. When viewing these installations, it feels like you are receiving a private notification across a room, that was only visible for a split moment.
Nu Shu - Alessandro Cardinale

Chun Kwang Young  - Aggregation

As an artist I am really inspired by new ways that artists use words and paper to make new artworks. Whilst  at the London art fair, the intricate wrapped sculptures made by Chun Kwang Young  of Korea where fascinating to me for both the quality of craft  in them as well as the originality.

The artworks are made from thousands of triangular blocks wrapped in printed mulberry paper that form large abstract pieces. The surfaces suggest the surface of rocky landscapes or planets, but because of the shapes and blocks also reminded me of a crowded, dense city.

Kwang Young's work refers to the 'damaging of truth' by governments all over the world as well as the destruction of historical facts. The artist has taken the paper and text from books which have lost their value and given them new life by adhering them to the canvas. Some blocks which are both black and have no words on them represent death and nonexistence.

To me it seems that the traditional Korean mulberry paper and its printed content is being preserved within the artwork. It is bound up and locked away within a beautifully crafted sculpture that comments on the time in which it was made - a kind of time capsule. A message to the future.

Find out more about Chun Kwang Young  here.

Walking Through One Hundred Years at a School.

A Message to the Future.

Recently, I was commissioned to make an artwork that would celebrate the one hundredth year of Northampton School for Girls. I used printed names to collage a painting that shows two images - one from 1915 and the other from 2015, in a lenticular format.. The girls in the painting look similar, but the names are very different as the students today are from many different countries and cultures. 

Words or names are used here to mark the change in our culture as well as preserve it within an artwork. 

To read more about the Northampton School for Girls centenary painting Click here.


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