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Art

Biro drawing of David Bowie

Saturday, 8 December, 2018

This Bic biro drawing of David Bowie is by the amazing Mark Powell, formerly of Yorkshire and now of Brick Lane in East London. Why a biro? “I choose a biro because it is the most simple and readily available tool to hand. I want to show how easy it is to have the chance to create. I want it to inspire people to give it a go without feeling the need to spend money on arts and crafts.”

Biro Bowie


Leda e il cigno

Wednesday, 28 November, 2018

According to the Greek myth that inspired the great W.B. Yeats poem, Zeus took the form of a swan and seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. Recently, a brilliant fresco depicting the event was unearthed in Pompeii and the artwork is best described in the original Italian:

Bellissima e sensuale, il corpo statuario solo parzialmente coperto da un drappo dorato, la regina Leda sembra incrociare languida lo sguardo di chi la avvicina. Tra le gambe di lei, in una posa che non potrebbe essere più esplicita, c’è il potente Zeus che per possederla si è trasformato in un grande cigno bianco e che secondo il mito insieme con il marito Tindaro, re di Sparta, diventerà il padre dei suoi quattro figli, i gemelli Castore e Polluce, ma anche la bella Elena, nel cui nome si scatenerà la guerra di Troia, e Clitennestra, che diventerà la moglie del re Agamennone.

Leda and the Swan

Here’s how Pliny the Younger recalled the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that destroyed Pompeii and preserved the fresco of Leda and the Swan:

“Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.

‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’

We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”


Cecilia

Thursday, 22 November, 2018

One of the oldest musical institutions in the world is the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. It was founded at the command of Pope Sixtus V in 1585, who invoked two saints: Gregory the Great, after whom Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Her feast day is celebrated in the Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches on 22 November. The story goes that Cecelia was a noble lady of Rome, who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a Roman soldier named Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230 under the Emperor Severus Alexander. She was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus, and her remains were later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

This portrait of Saint Ceclia is by Il Lucchese, Antonio Franchi (1638–1709). After training in Lucca with Domenico Ferrucci, he moved to Florence to work under Medici patronage. He also published a text on the occupation of painting titled, La Teorica della Pittura.

Saint Cecelia


The milk of life

Tuesday, 9 October, 2018

My mother milked cows by hand and emptied countless buckets of their milk into churns that were then taken by my father to the local branch creamery of the Dairy Disposal Company, which was the name the nascent Free State had given to the Condensed Milk Company of Ireland. For both my parents, milk was more than a product. It was life.

Johannes Vermeer painted The Milkmaid around 1660 and it’s one of the most brilliant of his 34 brilliant works that still exist today. As the Rijksmuseum puts it:

“A maidservant pours milk, entirely absorbed in her work. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. Vermeer took this simple everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting — the woman stands like a statue in the brightly lit room. Vermeer also had an eye for how light by means of hundreds of colourful dots that play over the surface of objects.”

The Milkmaid


Decisions, decisions

Thursday, 2 August, 2018

What was it Harvey Cox said? “Not to decide is to decide.” Anyway, the excellent cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld grew up in Aberdeenshire in Scotland and now lives with his family in London. His work is distributed worldwide.

Tom Gauld


Shark Day

Thursday, 12 July, 2018

Kazuki Okuda is an illustrator and “2D artist” based in Kyoto. An impressive array of his work can be found on the showcase site Behance, which is owned by Adobe.

Shark


Into the Mystic

Monday, 11 June, 2018

“Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
Smell the sea, and feel the sky,
Let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic.”

— Van Morrison, Into the Mystic

The team behind BBC Earth, which produced Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, offers this 10-hour video of calming oceanscapes with swim-on roles for singing whales, swarming fish, circling sharks, vibrating jellyfish and diving rays. Ten hours!


Kavanagh poem: the cancer ward

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. Yesterday, we had a joke by Swift; today, we have a poem by Kavanagh and it is read here by the great man himself.

Background: In March 1955, Kavanagh underwent surgery for lung cancer at the Rialto Hospital in Dublin. As the weather improved, he spent much of his time convalescing on the banks of the Grand Canal and composing verse.

The Hospital

A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins — an art lover’s woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.

This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)


Salvator Mundi by the MIAOAT

Sunday, 15 October, 2017 0 Comments

Here, MIAOAT stands for the “most important artist of all time.” We’re talking Leonardo.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting disappeared in 1763 and didn’t reappear again until 1900 in London. Sir Charles Robinson had bought it, believing it to be a work by Leonardo’s disciple, Bernardino Luini, for Sir Francis Cook’s famed collection at Doughty House on Richmond Hill. By this time, the Saviour’s face and hair had been repainted and a photograph taken in 1912 records the changed appearance. When the Cook Collection was sold at auction in 1958, Salvator Mundi fetched £45, after which it disappeared again. It re-emerged in 2005 and was sold by an American estate for $10,000. All along, it was believed to be a Leonardo copy.

On Wednesday, 15 November, Salvator Mundi, now verified as an authentic da Vinci, will be put up for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York. The estimated price is $100 million but it could easily go much higher. “Discovering a new painting by Leonardo is like finding a new planet,” says art critic Alastair Sooke, in a discussion with Christie’s Chairman Loic Gouzer and Old Masters specialist Alan Wintermute.

Salvator Mundi


Shadow dancers

Thursday, 21 September, 2017 0 Comments

“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” — Merce Cunningham

Dancing on air


Jane Austen endures and entertains

Tuesday, 18 July, 2017 0 Comments

“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Two-hundred years ago today, 18 July 1817, Jane Austen departed this world, taken by a mysterious illness. She was just 41 years old.

Two-hundred years later, she has never been more alive, more popular, more relevant.

The novelist who gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — the mismatched lovers of Pride and Prejudice — is as endurable as Shakespeare. The eternal entertainment she created in a handful of Regency novels is based on life’s fundamentals: society, money, friendship, love, marriage, pride, prejudice, vanity and all the other shortcomings of human nature. Our world, with its excesses of sex and suicide bombers, appears deranged by comparison and the difference is that in Austen’s world decorum dominates while restraint rules. People observe a code of behaviour, especially regarding feelings and in what they are allowed to say. We don’t face such restrictions. We can say whatever we want. And we do. “Angry people are not always wise,” Austen noted, wisely, in Pride and Prejudice.

“Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her.” — G.K. Chesterton