Party time!

Word press has lately informed me of my 7th blogging anniversary. Who would have thought the years would go by so fast? (At least in blogging terms…) Of course I knew it was seven years, because I started the blog during the big—and continuing—crisis we had in Greece in 2015. New readers can read all about it in this post. And some of the following ones.

June 2015: my friends from abroad kept calling to find out what was happening, we were spending a horrible summer stuck in front of the TV. I thought, rather than keep repeating things to each one, I would try and put it down in writing. After a while, I decided I did not always want to talk about the bad news and difficulties,  I also wanted to present the ‘good’ side of Greece—seeing as we were being stigmatised in the press, branded as a nation of feckless tax evaders, and worse.

Although we obviously were not without fault, it has since become apparent to many people that Greece got the short end of the stick, and a whole nation was made to suffer, and is still suffering, because of the usual misguided political and economic schemes and interests of more powerful countries.

 

I have been, since university, very pro Europe, but I confess I have been sadly disappointed. How a bunch of highly qualified (supposedly) and highly paid (by the taxpayer) people managed to make such a mess of things, beats me. And they are still doing it—viz their handling of the refugee situation.

Despite all this, I still feel a united Europe is  a good thing, in order to pull its weight with the huge empires that are the USA, China and Russia. 

To come back to the blog, it will not have escaped the notice of older readers that I have been writing less often of late. Well, I lead a very busy life, shared between Greece and France, since we have had to make big changes due to the above-mentioned crisis. So, my days are full: and, besides work, I have been doing a lot of drawing and painting, as most of you know—and writing, about which you don’t, since I never put any of it on the blog. I also volunteer for two refugee organisations in Greece, which I have not talked about yet—but maybe I will in future, since it has been a most interesting, although often heartbreaking, challenge.

Therefore the blog has taken a back seat, and not only because of the above.  The fact is, I have not been feeling very inspired: the situation, both in Greece and worldwide, is depressing, and who wants to hear any more about it? We read enough in the papers. Art is a solace, but I am wary of overload.


I admit there are days when I have thought of giving up the blog, but what keeps me going is you guys, my dear readers and bloggy friends. Over those seven years there are people who have stuck with me through thick and thin (Yes, you, Pete, Goeff, Jennie, Franklin, Anne, Derrick, Bruce, Deborah, Ellen, Eha, Bea, Mick, Sue, Jacqui, Anne, Kate, Tialys, Mona, Jack, Willowdot, Mariella, Pamela—and countless others). I could not bear to lose touch with you, or stop following your own blogs and exchanging remarks and comments. Also here I must mention the few who have, in the course of those years, sadly left us—I think of them often.

So thanks, everyone, keep checking in, and let me know if there are things you particular want me to write about. In return, and since this is, after all, an anniversary, I offer you cake!

Drawing

On Mondays I attend an art workshop, where, appart from the creativity, there is good conversation to be had, in a congenial atmosphere. Art is soothing, it distracts from the harsher realities of life (i.e. the news).

Lately we have been doing pencil drawing, which is interesting since it obliges you to look closely at the subject, whether live, or taken from a photo or a painting—and notice multiple intriguing details of light, volume and texture.

 

We started with studies of hands, from Renaissance paintings. It is amazing what beautiful hands these men had—I prefer men’s hands to women’s, because they have more character. Women’s hands in paintings of this era are softer and more bland, I suppose to denote their owners had no need to do manual work.


The study below is from a photo of a 17th century sculpture by Bernini, The 
rape of Proserpina, which depicts the abduction of Proserpina by the god Pluto . I can never get my mind around the way these sculptors managed, out of a block of marble, to produce something so closely resembling human flesh. Again, his hands are beautiful, at odds with the violence of the scene (he was dragging her to the underworld).

The photo below is different from the one I used, which was black and white and taken from another angle, but it shows the likeness of stone to flesh even better.

Photo: Wikipedia


We progressed to a human figure, and I chose the Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who I’ve had the privilege to watch live, in the magical setting of the ancient Herodotus Atticus theater in Athens,  under a rising moon (here). He really could defy gravity, like Nureyev and Baryshnikov.

 

Then a still life, trying to reproduce volume as well as shape.

 

Now we are onto portraits, and my first is of the pre-Raphaelite artist Marie Spartali Stillman. She was the daughter of a wealthy Greek merchant who was the Greek Consul-General in London. Her mother was also Greek and she was early on introduced to an artistic milieu. She studied with Ford Maddox Brown but, due to her beauty, also sat for many famous artists, including her mentor and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. She produced an oeuvre of 150 works.

 

Next on my list are the writer Margaret Atwood and the actor Tilda Swinton. Both have, in my opinion, very interesting faces, which defy mere beauty. Stay tuned.

 

It is not good news

I haven’t written a post in a while, because all I had to write about was the marvelous art exhibitions I’ve seen, and I didn’t want to have an overload of those (in case you all started rolling your eyes!)

Mixed media painting. Detail

And now, everything is overshadowed by the situation in the Ukraine. It beggars belief that this is happening so close to us. Children in schools are talking of a third world war. 

However, one must not forget that this is one more war in a series of wars. Syria or Afghanistan might seem further to us, but people are people, all over the world. When my Afghan student said to me, ‘I can’t concentrate today, because the Taliban are in my village and there’s fighting in the streets,’ he was no different than any of us would be in the same situation. A few days later his mum, dad and two little brothers moved to safety in Kabul—then Kabul fell. I still live in dread of bad news every time I talk to him.

Mixed media painting. Detail

 

The Bosnian wars, if anyone remembers them, only ended in 1995.  At the time I knew various people in Greece, both Serbs and Croats, whose relatives at home were watching bridges being bombed from their kitchen windows. Who knows how many friends and relatives they lost.

 

 

What is it about men and guns? And why is always some megalomaniac allowed to rule?

This is already resulting in more population movement, more refugees, more children who suffer.

 


Meanwhile, I was shocked by photos of people being denied access to trains going to Poland because—unbelievable—they are black. Are we still in the 21st century?

 

Pencil study of Bernini sculpture, The rape of Proserpine

There is some consolation to be found in poetry:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ”

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Random thoughts (and drawings)

January and February have never been my favorite months—it’s still SO DARK! Usually I’m a morning person, but I find myself feigning sleep so the dog doesn’t ask to be let out at 7 a.m. She also has to be dressed, alas. See below the latest in dachshund winter fashion…


We have been deprived of many little pleasures of normal life: sharing a bottle of wine and a nice meal with friends (preferably prepared and served by someone else!), wandering around an art exhibition, taking in a show…Moreover, in any wanderings we are surrounded by people wearing masks, so even exchanging a smile is not the same.

We are lucky at least that we can enjoy some entertainment at home. I really enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit (about chess) and Dickinson (a very amusing takeoff on the poet’s early life), and a wonderful documentary called My Octopus Teacher. Remember I wrote about An Octopus in my House (A strange Pet)?Well, this one is even more remarkable, since it is filmed in the wild, underwater, in a kelp forest. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, it has quite put me off eating octopus, which I used to love. But, it inspired me to make an ink drawing.



There is only so much screen time I can take, but I’m a bookworm, so I’ve devoured some of my TBR pile: Where the Crawdads Sing,  by Delia Owens, about a girl growing up in a swamp—wonderful), two cozy mysteries: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Oscan (very entertaining) and The Guest List by Lucy Foley (a page-turner), a thriller called Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins (another page-turner). On a totally different note, Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin (about a woman caretaker of a cemetery). And finally a memoir called The Lightless Sky, by Gulwali Passarlay, describing his journey, as a twelve-year-old boy, from Afganistan to the UK (mind-boggling). 

I do love to have a couple of books on the go, so now I’ve started Girl, Woman, Other, which won the Booker Prize for writer Bernadine Evaristo, together with The Mirror and the Light, the last in the Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel (a huge slab, but I loved the first two, so I will persevere). I’m also dipping into The Lemon Table, short stories by Julian Barnes. Hope this list will inspire some of you.

Apart from chilly walks wrapped up in layers like an onion, I’ve also been drawing. I finished up a few Christmas present comissions.



The ones above inspired me to make a large elephant pencil drawing.

 



I find I’m more in the mood for drawing than painting at the moment. I added a couple of drawings to my ‘Travelers’ series.

 



My resolution for this year is to include more human figures in my work, and even, dare I say it, some portraits. I find I always collect portrait photos because I so admire the capability of artists to reproduce likeness and expression. I’m also drawn to portraits in museums because they show so much about each era. So perhaps it’s time to try for myself.



Erasing history

The news these days are full of stories of social unrest. Something that has been brewing for a while, as society divides become greater, rather than narrower.
However, I find myself perplexed by the practice of tearing down statues of people who were slave traders or racists, along with their other attributes, for which they were celebrated.

 


History is built in shades of grey: unfortunately human nature is such that the strong often prey on the weak.
Alexander the Great built wondrous libraries in his glorious conquest of the ‘known world’, but also massacred plenty of ‘barbarians’ along the way. In the democracy of classical Athens, there were slaves, who did not have a vote—and neither did women, or foreigners.
The men who hauled blocks of marble to build the Parthenon were not blessed with paid holidays and health care. Should we tear down the Pyramids, because they were built in sweat and blood?
Religions and sects have persecuted, burnt, and tortured people who did not share their beliefs. Should we tear down the churches and temples?
Some of the slave traders were black themselves, preying upon their own kind. And racism is not confined to blacks—many others have borne the brunt of it. Native Americans, Maoris, Armenians, Jews, Tutus, the list is long—anyone who found themselves in the minority in the place they lived in. Human nature.


Here is an anecdote: I recall, when visiting one of the Balkan countries during Communism—I think Bulgaria—being shown around a monument by a local guide. It consisted of a large circle dug into the ground, two stories below. It was open to the sky and, all around the perimeter, stood a row of larger-than-life bronze statues representing workers: one held a scythe, another a plow, a third a hammer, and so on. The whole thing was rather ghastly but, was was weirder still, was that when I asked the guide who was the sculptor who made them, she answered, ‘We don’t know.’
‘How can you not know? This is not antique, it’s recent.’
She hemmed and hawed, then she said: ‘He fell out with the regime, and his name was erased from the books.’
Such a narrow minded way of looking at things.


Things that happened, happened. Should we try to erase the past? I think it’s better to reserve our energies for improving the present—with more efficient laws, and with reform, not destruction. Thousands of people are slaves still, in the 21st century—and they’re not all black. There’s a huge immigration crisis, worldwide. There are people now, today, who have made fortunes exploiting others, but everyone sucks up to them, because their money gives them power, and they also take good care to make large donations to charities and universities. There are huge corporations operating on the returns of sweatshops and the like.

Is it a solution to stop reading Rudyard Kipling, or showing Gone With The Wind?

I’m curious to know what everyone thinks about all this.

Equine art series

I like to do as much sketching from life as possible because, although often imperfect, it helps capture movement and spontaneity. And I do find nature is a great inspiration.

 

 

Plants, trees and flowers are easiest, because they don’t tend to move around much, and humans can be persuaded to pose. Animals are a lot trickier. Dogs are best when they’re asleep, but mine sadly is so small and dark that from above she just looks like a black blob; I would need to get down on floor level, but, when I do, she wakes up and starts jumping around like a flea.

A nice field of cows having a siesta in the sun is not too bad, but horses are a nightmare. No sooner are you set up that they decide to come over and see what you’re doing, eat the paper, chew your clothes, etc. Even if you’re on the other side of the fence, you get a load of snorting nostrils, bug eyes and, if there’s a few of them, shoving. And then they gallop away…

 

 

The famous 18th century painter George Stubbs used to hang cadavers of horses in his barn to be able to study their anatomy. The smell must have been unbearable—and the flies! Ugh…
Nowadays we have manuals and photographs to study from, and videos that can be put in slow motion to break down movement.

 

 

Horses are fascinating, expressive creatures, so I’ve been making a whole series of paintings, incorporating my previous work with layers and collage. Under some of the paintings I used pages from an old book, primed with gesso—amusingly, the book is an old French manual of equitation (you can see it most clearly in the first painting.) I also used tissue paper, silver foil and eco-print paper for the collage, and charcoal, pencil, graphite powder, watercolor, and oil pastel for the images.

I did not aim towards photorealism, but made the horse the center of a dreamlike, abstract landscape. The background could be water, or snow, or an indistinct field, or clouds of dust.

 

 

Horses are prey—that makes them nervous and fleet, because of the flight response. However, when not threatened they are serene, and enjoy being in their natural environment.

 

 

I’m also drawn to horses of myth, who play a big part in many legends, and are especially prominent in Greek mythology. Immortal horses drew the chariots of Zeus, the sun god Helios, and Achilles in the Trojan war. They were gold-bridled, sometimes fish-tailed when they belonged to Poseidon, and often winged, like Pegasus.
So I had to have winged horses in my series.

 

 

And finally I added the human form, since men and horses have been linked since the beginnings of civilization. The painting below is entitled The Red Trousers. A girl on her horse, bareback and bare footed, standing in water.

 

Dear reader

Dear reader,

After a surge of posts at the end of last year, things seem to have gone quiet. Or rather, I’ve been both very busy and a little uninspired. I see now I only managed a single post in January – horrors! So let me hasten to reassure you, I have not died or gone away.

 

 

However, I do find myself at some kind of crossroads with this blog. It’s difficult to write about Greece at the moment – things are no better, and do people want to keep reading about the refugees, the hopeless politicians and the unending financial crisis? I feel I’ve also covered the various traditions, feasts, etc – this is not supposed to be a travel guide, after all. Interviews seem to have dried up, a couple of people never having come up with the goods.

 

 

When I come across something amusing or worthwhile, or think of someone fun to interview, or have time for a road trip, or visit an art show, inspiration is easy. However, this does not make for regular output – on the other hand, I don’t want this blog to turn into a kind of homework, there’s no point to that.
So, suggestions are welcome. What would like to read about? Any special interests, more interviews, more art, less art?

 

 

Meanwhile, I am planning a trip next weekend, to visit a facility for people with special needs, in the beautiful seaside town of Galaxidi. The Estia Agios Nikolaos is a unique place, the beloved project of a good friend of mine, where people live in a family-style environment and are allowed to thrive at their own pace. They are having their vasilopitta, the Greek tradition of cutting a special cake each New Year. So there is a post to be written soon, which I feel sure will be interesting.

 

 

The photographs are of a series I’m working on at the moment, Feathers. They are small paintings, which will make up to a larger installation, and at the same time I’m using them to experiment with different techniques in mixed media. As well as working with watercolor, collage and gold leaf, I’m  also layering pieces of newspaper and silver foil with paint and crumpled tissue paper in various combinations. Sometimes I draw or paint over the top, sometimes I gouge bits out with a cutter. It’s really fun to do, and I’m hoping to use these techniques on larger pieces eventually.

 

Don’t forget to comment and egg me on with your suggestions!