Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Words of the week #4

I like my body when it is with your body

I like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
muscles  better and nerves more.
I like your body. I like what it does,
I like its hows. I like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smoothness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, I like kissing this and that of you,
I like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh … And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly I like the thrill
of under me you so quite new.

~ E.E. Cummings

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


It is midwinter in a lonely town in Wisconsin, and we find ourselves deeply immersed in Craig Thompson's tale of first relationships, teenage isolation and religion. I find that graphic novels are an often overlooked art form in the UK, yet they can often be as complex and moving as any other form of established literature. One which I keep returning to is Blankets; unashamedly honest and autobiographical in its subject matter, Blankets traces Thompson's development from an introverted child growing up in a repressively Christian family, to a young person finding freedom and artistic inspiration in his first romantic relationship. Thompson manages to approach these often clichéd subjects without a hint of over-sentimentality. Instead, we are given a highly personal account of the conflicts faced by someone convinced that there is more in life to than what is immediately perceived. The book exposes the battle between his burgeoning desire to become an artist, and his loyalty to a strictly religious upbringing which doesn't value the arts. Meanwhile, the nostalgic account of Thompson's first relationship will resonate with everyone who reads it. 

When writing of his teenage years, Thompson draws a parallel between the act of growing up, and Plato's parable of the cave. At the beginning of our lives we are exposed to a certain kind of reality - that which we immediately perceive as we grow up, shaped by our upbringing, our home town and our parents' beliefs. We remain largely unaware of the world 'out there' as we only encounter the small universe of our youth, and the security of a first love which we believe will last forever. Yet Thompson's growing independence from his upbringing and religion, along with the gradual dissolution of his relationship, is likened to the prisoner being freed from his bonds. He realises that there is more to what we can experience than what is initially perceived. The shock of this new reality is intimidating, often overwhelming, yet necessary. 
Following the cycle of the seasons, we find ourselves a year later once again deeply immersed in a rural Winter, yet this time the blankets of snow have covered everything afresh.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Snow Queen

End of term and a day spent listening to Billie Holiday, whilst making Christmas presents has left me a suitably festive and nostalgic mood.  So much so, that I decided to unearth from the depths of Underneath The Bed my favorite, and most Christmassy, childhood book: The Snow Queen

A Picture Puffin book, this edition is adapted by Naomi Lewis and illustrated magnificently by Errol Le Cain.   Ever since first being read it as a child, right through re-visiting it as inspiration during my English A-Level and up until this evening, the story has always left me feeling distinctly unnerved.  It kind of scares me or perhaps half disturbs some long-forgotten childhood memory that Freud would probably like me to recall.  There is one passage in the book that catches onto this feeling rather well:

As she climbed the staircase something seemed to be rushing past along the wall – shadows of lord and ladies, many on horseback.  There were the dreams of the sleeping people.

Perhaps the feeling of unease comes from tapping into something unsettling in the collective unconsciousness or perhaps it is the narrative and the hauntingly beautiful illustrations themselves. 

The Snow Queen tells the story of two poor children, Gerda and Kay, who are bought up in the same village and play together all the time.  One winter’s day, the little boy, Kay, goes missing after inadvertently attaching his sledge to that of the Snow Queen, who takes away his memory and imprisons him in her castle.  When the spring comes, little Gerda goes out into the wide world searching for Kay and along the way encounters a host of other characters, including a (relatively) friendly old witch who buries all the rose bushes under the earth to try to make Gerda forget Kay.  When this fails, Gerda continues her journey and meets with a Princess who has just accepted to marry proposal of the requisite pauper; a beautiful robber girl who, with her black hair and great swathes of bright clothing, always entranced me as a child; and a homesick reindeer named Bae, who takes her to the Lapland woman and the on to the home of the Snow Queen.  When Gerda finds Kay, her soft warm tears melt the ice that the Snow Queen has frozen his heart with and the shards of ice he is playing with spell out the word ETERNITY and thus break the Snow Queen’s spell and allow him to go free. 

There has been a lot written about how traditional fairy tales and later children’s tales in a similar vein, such as Narnia, are often imbued with thinly veiled Christian moralizing.  What I never realized until I read it again tonight, is that this version of the story does something quite interesting:

When playing together at the beginning of the story, Kay and Gerda often sing the song:

“In the Vale the rose grows wild;
Children Play, all the day.
One of them is the Christ-child.”
I had always assumed this to be the little boy, Kay, and that this formed part of the reason why it was so important to rescue him.  Upon re-reading it, I see now that it is actually the little girl, Gerda, as made clear when the Lapland woman says:

“I can give her no greater power than she has already.  Don’t you see how, everywhere, men and beasts have to serve her? And how wonderfully she has made her way in the world alone on her two small feet? Little Kay is bewitched by the Snow Queen.  He remembers nothing of Gerda and his home.  Only Gerda’s love can win him back.”

Aside from this subtle twisting of theology and tradition, it also made me smile to read (my heroine) the robber girl’s nicely cynical parting words to Kay:

“You’re a fine one,” she said to little Kay. “I wonder if you deserve to have someone running to the end of the world for your sake!”

Throughout the book, the illustrations as stunning and often echo the works of famous artists.  For example:

J.M.W Waterhouse and The Lady of Shalott:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow:

A fusion of Gustav Klimt and Art Nouveau paintings such as Alphonse Mucha’s Les Saisons:

On a purely aesthetic level though, they are just beautiful and definitely worth diving under the bed for.  


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Variations on a theme

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Photostream Feature: Stephen Edwards


Friday, 14 December 2012

Fashion illustration: Natalia Sanabria

A dose of drawing inspiration

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas Oldies

Every year the Christmas film list is added to. Some don't last long enough to see the turkey out of the oven, whilst others tend to stick and return year on year, and never do they grow old...

Miracle on 34th Street, 1947

It's a Wonderful Life, 1946

Monday, 10 December 2012

Words(worth) of the week #3

An extract from William Wordsworth's 'The Two-Part Prelude of 1799':

She was an elfin pinnace; twenty times
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And as I rose upon the stroke my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan -
When, from behind that rocky steep (till then
The bound of the horizon) a huge cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck, and struck again,
And, growing still in stature, the huge cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measured motion, like a living thing
Strode after me. With trembling hands I turned
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the cavern of the willow-tree.
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,
And through the meadows homeward went with grave
And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being. In my thoughts
There was a darkness - call it solitude,
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Of hourly objects, images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields,
But huge and mighty forms that do not live
Like living men moved slowly through my mind
By day, and were the trouble of my dreams.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Photostream Feature: Alison Scarpulla

Silhouettes of the supernatural

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The power of film stills.

This Christmas, the cinema packs a punch. With large-scale, expensive productions of literary and musical classics such as Great Expectations and Les Miserables, film has never been more about self-conscious spectacle and performance. In light of this, I began to consider the power of film, and more specifically, iconography. Film stills are, arguably, works of art in their own right. As the classic saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Film stills have this overwhelming, all-encompassing effect, conveying an entire plot, characters, numerous cultural and metaphysical connotations in a single, yet profound image. Stills have the additional impact of being immediately, instantaneously, recognisable - offering more in a split second than a book could in a hundred pages.

Not just the signifier of monetary or popular success, famous film stills herald the cinematic success of a film - the beauty of its images, the finesse of its camerawork, and the impact of intricacies of plot. Concurrently, stills such as those below signify much more that simply the film they are from, but the art of cinema, their cultural location and the history of the era in which they were created.

I wonder if any films released in 2012 will achieve the 'iconic' status of stalwarts such as Titanic and The Godfather. If they do, they will be one of a special, transcendent breed.


Rogues at Sea

The sea chantey is described as a song about life at sea from a narrative or personal point of view. The words can be as abruptly crude as much as hauntingly poetic. Traditional sea chanteys were sung as riggers tirelessly worked throughout the day; the constant rhythm of their songs seeing them to the end of a long day.
In 'A Dying Sailor to His Shipmates', the poignant lyrics enable us to depict the image of a sailor's final farewell to his comrades before he reaches death and is summoned to the depths of the sea:
Oh, wrap me in my country's flag
And lay me in the cold, blue sea
Let the roaring of the waves
My solemn requiem be
And I shall sleep a pleasant sleep
While storms above their vigils keep

My Captain brave shall read for me
The service of the silent air
And yay, shall lower me in the waves
When all the prayers are said
And I will find my long, long home
Among the billows and the foam
Farewell my friends, for many I leave
We've sailed together on the deep
Come, let us shake our hands
I'll sail no more but ship mains work for me

I'm bound above, my course is run
I near the port, my voyage is done
Other sea chanteys depict rather more romantic and mythical tales of life at sea. 'Lowlands Away' tells the story a lover who was lost at sea and returns as a ghost for one final encounter with his love, to tell her of his sad ending. A world away from this tale of true, honest love 'Baltimore Whores' portrays a 'love' quite different from that of the empty souls of the ghost and his lover...
The allure of the sea will never fail to entice me, and these sea chanteys provide an interesting insight into the life of those who once lived their lives at sea. They portray feelings of brute emotion, whilst also displaying a vivid picture of a seaman's encounters on the ever mysterious sea; revealing secrets and bringing myths to life.
A collection of sea chanteys, performed and reworked by artists such as Bryan Ferry and Jarvis Cocker is available on the cd 'Rogues Gallery'. For now, have a listen to these...


Monday, 3 December 2012

Wild young things: Ryan McGinley

We are twenty-somethings on the blissful brink between youth and adulthood. We are twenty-somethings living the years we waited for and the years we'll remember. Freedom is all ours, the world is all ours, whilst we're still young enough to forget our regrets and make excuses for our mistakes. These are the years of reckless abandon, before the money worries, the settling down, the side effects.

So we probably shouldn't be dragging ourselves to 9ams, nor should the library be our second home in the months of May and June. We shouldn't be planning what to cook for dinner or worrying about our choice of shoes. There shouldn't be essay deadlines creeping up on us and we definitely shouldn't be writing to-do-lists. We should be road-tripping through America or Europe, skinny dipping through lakes and rivers, running naked through forests and fields of stubbled corn as golden sunlight glints across our uninhibited bodies and the wind rushes through our sun-bleached hair. We should be watching sunsets from the roof of our beaten up VW, the one we found abandoned near that house or maybe just stole. The one we painted blue and took to California.

At least thats the life of the spirited twenty-somethings captured by Ryan McGinley's photography. Him and his models bring to life a dream of hedonistic youth, wild and utterly carefree. Watching Walter Salles' film of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, released this year, I was reminded of McGinley's work. The story follows life on the road for three characters grappling with adulthood, identity and a sense of belonging, set against a backdrop of 1940's America. Although the film depicts much of the struggle they go through, many scenes match the audacious oblivion that McGinley's images bring swiftly to mind. 

And he's not alone - many photographers have been fascinated by the art of capturing a realistic portrait of liberated youth; a radiant carelessness that borders on recklessness. Lina Scheynius's diary style photography is personal, often photographing herself, friends and lovers amid their adventures and in candid scenes of intimacy. Flickr photographers are investigating youthfulness in all sorts of ways, cheap film and disposable cameras the perfect stage for portraits of the carefree. In fact, you could say we're all doing it. That's certainly what our Journey issue tells us, coming out this Thursday. Festival summers, inter-railing, a music culture that has never been more eclectic, we're all part of the movement. Between the internships and Saturday jobs, summers are generally spent on the hedonistic hunt for our own free will. There's more to these photos than shiny happy people, and there's more to life than 9ams, there's a fight to show that we can live in the moment, and to prove our freedom, to retain it, further it, push it to the limits


Words of the week #2


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

-Seamus Heaney

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Painting by photos: David Maisel

Photographer David Maisel is famous for his stark images of the world from above. From these heady heights he captures a strange world where nature and humans clash. His projects, Black Maps and The Mining Project, take a birds eye look at the mining industry, documenting the ways human activity has impacted upon the land. Another project documents lakes, flood zones and water reclamation, again showing the devastating transformation of a landscape left at the mercy of human activity through a series beautiful and haunting images. They are so unreal they are like paintings, the colours and patterns giving such an abstract effect it is easy to forget that they are photographs, cold hard evidence of the shapes we are hatching and carving into the surface of the Earth.


Saturday, 1 December 2012