Art and Light

I love Bloomsbury. In between the tree lined streets and the garden squares you come across the oddest of shops. In that magical way of the best odd shops you feel like you have never seen them before, and that they have been there forever.

This time is was L Cornellison and Son an art supplier for the very serious painter. It had an air of Ollivanders, and the costume shop from Mr Ben, where turning a corner could take you into another world.

It also struck  me as an interesting place to study light – that essential medium for both the artist and the photographer.

v2-1157The staff were a little bemused that I wanted to take pictures, but kindly let me do so as long as I didn’t snap them or any of the customers, which was fine, my interest was in objects not people.


A case in point was this case, which I half expected to fly open with a selection of wands ready to choose me.


I kept the light deliberately low on these brushes, there was something about the auburn bristles that was very compelling.


I liked the play of light against the different colours in the bottles, the only slight change to the setting of the shelf was to twist the Copaiba Balsam to hide the price, because that cheapened the whole composition (although it was ruinously expensive).v2-1159

A drawer full of pastels to round things off.v2-1160


Wayward Women

The Queen of the Night Possibly Ishtar the Goddess of Sexual Love and War, or her sister and rival Ereshkigal, ruler of the underworld.  From the reign of Hammurabi - Babylon c1792-1750 BC

The Queen of the Night
Possibly Ishtar the Goddess of Sexual Love and War, or her sister and rival Ereshkigal, ruler of the underworld.
From the reign of Hammurabi – Babylon c1792-1750 BC

A canter today through the British Museum (including the Mesopotamia room) culminated in a brief look at the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition. Halloween writing deadlines are pressing and I needed inspiration.

The focus of the exhibition is the representation of women as the source of evil, deviance and misdirection of the virtuous. There was a preachy part of this post linking this representation of women to modern day trolling, but as my blog followers are smarter than me, you’ll have made the link yourselves.

Click the pictures for higher res versions.


The Temptation of St Anthony – Jost de Negker – Woodcut 1500-20


Battle of the Sea Gods Andrea Mantegna – Engraving 1470-1500

The one below is innocent at first glance, but note the devil peaking out of the fire. OGH on the globe apparently stands for O Gott hute – O God Save Us.


The Four Witches – Albrecht Durer – Engraving 1497


Witches Sabbath – Hans Baldung – Woodcut 1510

Circe is one of my favourite mythical characters, partly out of love of the Odyssey.


Circe – Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione – Etching 1650

Poor St Anthony makes several appearances. The general theme is that asceticism in the deserts of Egypt will make you go mad and have visions of demons and succubi.


The Tribulations of St Anthony – Martin Schongauer – Engraving 1469-73


Preparation for the witches sabbath – Andries Jacobsz – Engraving 1610


The Sorceress – Jan van de Velde II – Etching and Engraving 1626

When the prophet Samuel told Saul of his impending death, Saul was tempted by the witch of Endor. She promised him an army of small furry creatures of limited technological ability that would nonetheless overwhelm a vastly superior army. Saul refused because he did not want to ruin his franchise.


Saul and the witch of Endor – Andrew Lawrence – Etching 1740s


Enchantress raising the dead – Johann Veit Kauperz – Engraving 1769


Witchcraft Scene – Luis Paret y Alcazar – Brown/grey wash 1766-69


The witch and the mandrake – Henry Fuseli – Etching 1812


Gretchen in Church – Theodor Matthias von Holst – Pen and Ink 1828-30

One more of St Anthony to round off the pictures:


The temptation of St Anthony – William Strang – Etching 1883


Find more wayward women in my writing here.

MANIFESTO – The Artists Will Set You Free

The Artists Will Set You Free

There are no paintings, no sculptures, no books of poems. There are only conversations between the creator and the canvas , the chisel and the stone, the pen and the paper, all asking: What could you be?

And the dialogue does not stop there. The art asks the audience and the audience answers even if only to say: I do not understand. The creator asks the canvas, creating art; and the art asks the audience and the questions spread. Why? Why this way and not that? Why him and not her? Why your favoured son in the grand chair, why my daughter in the sweat shop? This is what the hegemonies fear.

The questions breed questions. A population explosion, immeasurable, restless. What is the story of the unmade bed? What tide washed in the room full of sunflower seeds? Why do some have no water, and some drink only sugar syrup?

Art is a meritocracy. The questions and the conversation do not see rags or riches, colour, gender, preference, height, weight, they only hear the questions asked as the chisel falls, as ink flows to the nib.

The hegemonies fear for their control is based on illusion. They fear because one mind wide awake can pierce the veil of dreams they wrap us in, cuddled and coddled and exploited. A feedback loop of fantasy in which we are sullied and despoiled.

The questions and the conversations and the dialogues are locked in vaults. They are traded at great price, commodities, goods, merchandised to cheapen their meaning. They are caged in wealth. The chosen, favoured creators gagged by privilege. Money is the divisive wedge.

The rest languish, ignored, the susurrus of the silenced in abandonment, daubed with the discounted cross of price: This has no monetary value – Therefore it has no value. Our language has been suborned and yet we live out our lives without outrage.

The only true currency is communication. What questions does the art make you ask? Does it fuel your courage with indignation? Does it make you inquisitive? Does it wake you from your lives of silence and subservience? If it makes the questions bubble up from beneath the somnolence of soap operas, quiz shows and celebrity worship then the art has some purpose, it has meaning, it has value.

The artists will set you free. They will show you chains you do not know you wear. They will draw back the lace curtains from the cage of thought in which you are trapped. They will make you question the burdens you have become so accustomed to you do not know you bear them. The will smash the yokes of ignorance and blindness with which you plough your birthright for the table of another.

You could have a walk on part in this war of ideas that is long overdue. Did you even know your freedom has been traded for shallow comforts? The sweat of your labour is stolen back from your hands with goods you don’t need made by slaves you will never see, paid for with your own bondage.

The artists will set you free. They will carve the faces of the unschooled children who make your trainers into the soaring walls of corporate mansions. They will spatter the overpasses with the strip mined landscapes where the precious metals for your hybrid car are ripped from the earth. They will bend wires into the spirals of despair and destitution faced by those who don’t fit the narrow confines of the corporate capitalist model.

The artists will set you free. Feed them, hear them, invite them into your homes and hearts. Challenge them to wake you with the truth, and listen when they scream it, raucous, uncouth, uncontained. Ask the questions they ask you. Demand answers and the hegemonies will fear you, hate you, hurt you. Give your own life meaning. Overturn the illusion of your privilege, where the best part of your production lines the pockets of those with plenty.

There will be peril, but at the end of the chain of questions there may be equity.


In a similar vein a recent post from someone I follow: Let us judge Art by QUALITY not POPULARITY!

And off on the consumerism tangent – check out What’s the deal with consumerism?

This piece was brushed off from its initial incarnation because a daily prompt asked for a manifesto and mine has not changed.

My book available here and here among others. Buy it, review it, tell me what you think.