Thursday, April 30, 2009

William, Jane & John: Distillation

Distillation is defined as a method of separating a substance that is in solution from its solvent or of separating a liquid from a mixture of liquids having different boiling points. This chemical process has many applications but there appears to be some debate as to whether the first distillations were employed to extract the "spirit" in fermented honey for the production of alcoholic drinks, or for extracting essential oils for use in perfume and cosmetics.
Making these images is proving to be a fascinating and challenging experience. As I work, I find that I am guided by what I know of the story, but conversely, the story's nuances and poetic connections "reveal" themselves to me through the work process. Wearing my Genealogist's hat, I know that I must stick to what is known as interpretations can send a researcher up some very dark and murky alleys that lead, almost inevitably, to dead ends. The problem is that when I'm researching this story, my view of the events and each protagonist's part in them takes another turn with each newly uncovered fact and, of course, this is all the working of my overactive imagination. The complete facts will never be known and my inventions make me feel guilty and irresponsible. Sharing the story through imagery has freed me from such guilt. With each new image, the story takes on a life of its own. A myriad of meaning and secret messages can be hidden in an image and the shared story is far more mutable than it ever could be in a written history. However, as an artist, I'm torn between my instinct to create painterly, semi-abstract images the need, in this instance, to "illustrate" and provide clues. Furthermore, I want to keep the touch light and not overburden each piece with too much hidden meaning or anecdote. There are usually several versions of many of the images that I create (not just the ones in this sequence): an initial "clean" one and then several more in a gradual sequence of abstraction. I usually post one that represents a mid point in the process. Even so,there is a lot of detail in these ATC images (actually made at twice ATC size) which doesn't get seen at screen size and resolution. Perhaps the solution is to post two versions of each image alongside one or two close-ups...but then again, I personally enjoy the ambiguity of an image and the interpretations that each new set of eyes brings. This story is, after all, an only partially known mystery and so I leave to you, dear readers, to let me know if you become frustrated and confused rather than intrigued and engaged.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Northern Light

There is no reason not to expect the weather to turn on us here in England. It is, after all, only April and I for one will not be putting my lovingly nurtured vegetable plants into their beds and troughs until June, no matter how thuggish their behavior in the greenhouse might become. As the chilly air has indeed returned, I am revisiting my Lapland images.

Friday, April 24, 2009

William, Jane & John: Another Eden


For some time now, I have been pondering how I might create a layout that shares a particularly intriguing story that I have uncovered whilst researching my family history, and I have finally decided to begin by exploring it in a series of ATCs. Each card will give clues to events but I won't be creating them in chronological order as I want to feel free to explore whichever episode interests or inspires me at a given moment. The cards may serve as provisional sketches for a final page or I may decide to let them stand alone as a "book". I don't know how many cards there will be or how long it will take to do them all as I will be making other things alongside them, but when they are all done, I will post them together in chronological order and perhaps provide some background information.
The story took place mainly in England from the mid nineteenth century to the early years of the twentieth. Not all the facts are known, they probably never will be. Feel free to invent your own interpretations and post them here. Remember, this first ATC is not the begining of the story...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pierrots, Piers and Periwinkles

The next Sunday Postcard Art challenge theme is Pierrot. These two lovely young ladies have been sitting on my bedroom mantelpiece for some years now. The photograph is not dated but I'm making a guess that it was taken between 1900 to the mid 1920s. It is stamped with the name Richards, King's Road, Newark, but I display it in in a handsome brown card mount from the studio of H. Ricketts of Llandudno. My instinct is that the girls in the photograph were dressed up for a carnival rather than for a theatrical performance. I have decided to give them a new home in front of a backdrop and in a frame that reflects Llandudno's seaside setting.

Llandudno's 2,295ft-long Pier is the longest in Wales and the 5th longest in England and Wales. It took just over 1 year to construct and was opened to the general public on the 1st August 1877. Piers, originally built for elegant promenading whilst imbibing ozone, gradually acquired pavilions that offered diverse entertainment, including Pierrot shows that became essentials of the British seaside holiday for several decades. The traditional seaside Pierrot shows began in the late nineteenth century and in some resorts they were carried right through to 1939. Pierrots had their roots not in the pier pavilions, but in French pantomime. They wore white costumes with ruffles, pom-poms and skull caps. Their act usually consisted of comic sketches and rather sad songs, after which a hat was passed around for contributions. In Llandudno, Pierrot shows must also have been performed at the open air theatre (actually just a wooden stage with a canopy) optimistically named Happy Valley.

Making the shell frame brought to mind a marvelous childhood holiday in Bournemouth, during which my grandparents took me to the extraordinary and unforgettable Shell House at Southbourne. The Shell House was the dedicated work of a man named George Howard who created a magical fantasy garden where every object and surface was made or covered with shells. Mr. Howard's reward for his effort was the pleasure that it gave to all who saw it and the very large amounts of money that the Shell House collected for charity. Tragically, in February 2001, the Shell House was mysteriously and suddenly demolished to make way for a modern apartment block. Now it exists only in the fond memories and imaginations of those who had the privilege to marvel at its quirky, exuberant delights.

There is a website commemorating the Shell House here

You can find more information about British Seaside piers here