The tang of mint, the fragility of a lily - botanical drawing teaches about so many aspects of plants. Yet it is interesting to measure that as I have evolved as an artist, those earlier drawings have led me on to learning so much more about trees, rocks, environments, places. Seeing two exhibitions of my botanical metalpoint drawings up now in Berkeley and Oakland at the same time is both a celebration and a realisation of how the world can teach us artists so much more, all the time.Read More
Seeing an exhibition from the Nanjing Museum about the Ming period in China is guaranteed to be fascinating ahead of time. Indeed, the Caixa Foundation exhibition, "Ming: the Golden Empire", now in Palma de Mallorca after visiting Holland, Germany, Edinburgh, and Barcelona, offers a wide range of objects to tell one of the splendours of the Ming period.Read More
Stones along the roadside or lying in a ploughed field; they are really humble objects that often go unnoticed. During an art residency in Noyers, Burgundy, however, I found stones beginning to speak insistently to me. I found it surprising and entrancing. My first discovery was that many of the stones held tiny fossilised shells of many kinds. I was fascinated, as the stones were really heavy, very different from the limestone rocks lying everywhere, rocks which split amazingly flat and thin. Then I began to find limestone thin slabs with the most beautiful patterns on one face, patterns of minute granulations in golds and browns.
My stone collection got heavier and heavier! I retreated to my wonderful studio perch at La Porte Peinte in Noyers, and entered the complex world of these stones as I started to explore them by drawing them in metalpoint.
To my astonishment, their tiny world bewitched me so much that I found myself drawing almost at their command, creating work that was different, almost automatic in what I found myself drawing as I wove the details together. I kept seeing different details that transformed themselves into other images as I studied them, revealing a whole world of personages, mythical animals, landscapes, a panoply of the imagination's possibilities.
The next discovery and delight was learning of the minute fossilised oyster shells that help form the famous "terroir", the hallmark of a wine - in this case, the terroir that makes Chablis such a famed and wonderful white wine experience. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow samples of these heavy conglomerations of fossils from a wonderful wine grower, Vincent Dauvissat, in Chablis. His stones held me in their thrall for days, as they told of ancient seas teeming with life over 180 million yers ago where now there are rolling fertile hills and valleys, home to the Chablis vineyards.
I spent days in company with these quiet but eloquent stones, utterly involved in creating metalpoint drawings from their configurations. The wonderful artist residency inevitably finished and so I rushed to the Post Office with a very heavy parcel – to send home, of course, more of the stones!
Here's to continuing my metalpoint conversations with these humble stones that lie along the roadsides of Burgundy. I can't wait to get back to them!
Leonardo da Vinci, that omniscient artist, once remarked, “I have seen shapes in clouds and on patchy walls which have given rise to beautiful inventions.”
We have all seen wonderful shapes in clouds as they sailed above our heads – that is a gift that one should never lose.
Patchy walls – that is another affair in today’s world.
Most cities are now more characterized by glass and steel and other slick-surfaced materials that don’t often inspire the imagination in the way that Leonardo meant. Yet, when we visit the older towns and villages of the world, particularly in areas where stone and wood have been the predominant building materials down the ages, the imagination can again take flight.
In Caylus, France, the walls of the medieval houses are a history of generations of people building, adapting and shaping the stones and bricks of their abodes. The abstract patterns and wonderful shapes delight and interest.
In fact, the whole region rewards the imaginative eye. See what you think.
Leonardo da Vinci would have been delighted in southern France. The walls lend themselves to all sorts of flights of fancy. Just what an artist needs and wants!