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.
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
One of the many highlights for me on this trip was
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.
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and were probably originally made using terracotta cones.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.
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 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.
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
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
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
A Secret Language Embroidered onto Fans - Alessandro
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.
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,
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.
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.