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!