Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cards and stuff ...

One way and another, there's been far too much going on in the shape of comings and goings mainly, family stuff (and nonsense) which all combine to push my creativity levels down quite a few notches. So I have been involving myself (on and off) with more practical matters - like getting together things to go in my coming-soon online shop.

Cards, for instance.

Introducing (above and on the left) Field Place and on the right, Haworth Parsonage. Framed collage in the middle. All posing on my mantelpiece.

And below:

bookplates, bookmark and a mini-print greeting card. 

More to come.
In between grappling with Lord Byron's Gothic pile, that is.

Right, back to work ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Struggling with Newstead Abbey ..

Well it might be enough to drive me to drink, but honest, guv,  it was just a lunchtime vino blanco caught by the side of the drawing board ...

Might help to orchestrate the perpendiculars and ogee curves better - now there are a couple of words kicking in that I hadn't grappled with since my art history A Level. It's a question at the moment of chopping up the building into manageable proportions.

The trouble is Byron's relatively short life (relative, that is to his fellow Romantics Keats and Shelley) was so packed with places, incidents, characters and animals it is hard to know what to put in and what to leave out. Add to that the impossibly complex character of Gothic architecture and it's an explosive cocktail (to continue the alcoholic metaphor).

I came across a marvellous quotation of Pablo Picasso's in an old sketchbook the other day which sums up this dilemma so wonderfully:
"When one begins a painting one always meets with temptations. One must distrust these, destroy one's own painting, and do it over many times. Even when the artist destroys a beautiful creation, he doesn't really do away with it, but rather changes it, condenses it, makes it more essential. The completed work is the result of a series of discoveries which have been eliminated one by one ...."

Anyway, as you see, (to come down to earth after Picasso's marvellous thoughts) I am going with the Gothic romance theme,  with not one but (possibly) two black friars with a touch of classic Greece in the shape of the Byronic bust for good measure. They may all, of course, be eliminated in due course.

Once I have the house itself sorted out I think working out the foreground and background will be fun. Ghosts, ghouls and an owl or two. Lovely.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mad, bad and difficult to decide ...

... on how to go about portraying Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron's gothic pile in Nottinghamshire. Which I have decided to do.
Having collaged the homes of his fellow Romantic Poets, Keats and Shelley, I feel I can't leave out Byron though his place is nothing if not a real rambler of a building and hard to get a handle on.

Byron wasn't born at Newstead Abbey but grew up there with his querulous mother and the dilapidated  building and its history obviously had an enormous and lasting influence on his life and work.

"Eternally romantic and beautiful, like a smaller version of the great cathedrals of Wells or Salisbury, the great west front of Newstead Abbey stands as one of the most perfect examples of thirteenth century monastic architecture. The Abbey has a long history, but it is the spirit of the sixth Lord Byron which pervades the place today ..."

During the course of one of his not infrequent cash flow problems Byron ordered his servants to dig up floors looking for treasure reputedly buried by monks centuries before, but all they found were a number of stone coffins full of bones. He had a drinking cup made from one of the skulls.

The building is said to be home to any number of ghosts, including a nebulous black shape with staring eyes, a white lady and The Black Friar - this last immortalised by Byron in his poem Don Juan - the appearance of which was believed to portend bad luck for the family that had usurped the monastic order's home ...

All in all I think a large helping of Gothic Romance with a bit of spectral horror a la Fuseli is called for for this one ... but I am determined to introduce Boatswain into the picture somehow, Byron's beloved huge Newfoundland dog who has a magnificent tomb at the Abbey.
Animals were one of his lifelong passions.

And apropos of dogs, here is a tiny collage I did the other day:

It really is tiny, playing card size, based on a previous collage of Fanny Keats's dog Carlo. Another poetic pet. Just playing around, in between pictures, with leftover scraps I am too miserly to throw away.
Right, off to do some more research and review my stash of suitable papers ...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Storm at Sea: Field Place, Sussex

Here it is: the Sussex country seat of the Shelleys, threatened by the Mediterranean storm that took the life of Timothy Shelley's eldest son, Percy Bysshe, who had been born there 29 years and eleven months previously.

Field Place
 All his life Shelley appears to have what would at the last prove to be a fatal attraction to boats and being on the water, whether it was the paper boats he and his successive wives, Harriet (who by-the-by drowned herself) then Mary would sail on London ponds or later rowing boats in Marlow and last but not least, his specially-built sailing boat, the Ariel, in Italy.

So paper boats feature in this house portrait, made from photocopies of pages from his biographies, with significant names on them:

 As to July 8, 1822, this is how one biographer described the fateful day:

"In the heat of the Italian summer Shelley went with Edward Williams to Leghorn in the Ariel, and spent a week there and at Pisa with Leigh Hunt. In the afternoon of an intensely warm July day, under a sky that presaged bad weather, they said goodbye to Hunt and set sail for Lerici. A tremendous storm arose, such as is not infrequent on this coast. The frail little Ariel, twenty-four feet by eight, disappeared from the view of those watching it from the shore, and was swallowed up in the tumult of the tempest.

"A week later the body of Williams, cast up by the waves, was found on the beach, and the next day that of Shelley was discovered upon the shore near Viareggio, three miles away. It was not until three weeks after the storm that the corpse of 18-year-old Charñes Vivian, the young sailor-lad who was their sole companiion in the boat and the only one of the three who could swim, was also found on the sands.

"In one of Shelley's pockets was Keats' last book, Lamia, which he had told Hunt, who had lent it to him on his departure for home, he would not part with until he should see him again..."

Shelley's ashes were eventually interred in the Protestant Cemetery at Rome near the graves of his little son William and that of Keats.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shelley's birthplace taking shape

So far, so slow. Too many distractions at present, mainly that my studio is being inhabited by my youngest, on a visit. The studio houses the computer, hence the lack of solitude...
Small price to pay for her presence, however.

This is my last photo of the work in hand:

As you see, I have lost a window ... possibly hoovered up in my zeal to tidy up and clear the floor yesterday. And since this photo the grass has grown paler, as has the too-black forecourt.

I borrowed a biography, Shelley by Edmund Blunden from our local library this morning. It is a bit of a whitewash but has a few interesting nuggets. Here, for instance, is his take on Field Place:

"Two miles out of Horsham to the north-west, not far from the county boundary, the river Arun and the Roman road called Stane Street, stood and still stands Field Place. In the summer season at least it is a house of enchantment ... like others round about it has a mighty roof of Horsham stone, and a line of chimneys like towers. It is very rambling, with long passages and odd corners, turnings and recesses, floors on different levels - a long low house in which the work of several periods is combined.

"It stands in park which like most in the district has long been shaded with great trees, and it has its own little brook and lake. Before Shelley knew this home, its masters had laid out fine gardens and orchards, as well as "the American garden," described as "a long strip of green, softly turfy and sweetly shaded, with circles and crescents of rhododendrons; here and there ornamental pines of many kinds, cedars, beeches, birches ... making tents of greenery where one might sit hid, unseen yet seeing.

"From the garden he could see the line of the South Downs and in another direction the seemingly mountainous region round Hindhead. The whole estate was such as might fill his days with pleasant adventures. Charming or wild, secret or sunlit, these glades and groves had much to give to a sensitive child, and yield him imagery for his later concepts ..."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thinking about Shelley ...

Scrummy new books ...

... while I was clearing leaves in the garden yesterday. He is not one of my favourite characters from literary history what with his monstrous ego, his cavalier attitude to his wives and children and his rackety lifestyle, to say nothing of his Christian name, but I suppose he must have been undeniably charismatic. And then there's the poetry, of course. She said, ironically.

I remember being set tracts of Ode to the West Wind to learn by heart as English Lit homework. It was hardly a punishment after reams of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard I can tell you, in fact I still love that poem, but even then as a callow schoolgirl I preferred committing Keats to memory. And as I read about their lives I have to say the more I read about the privileged ethereal Shelley the more I preferred the under privileged and down-to-earth Keats.

That said I am rather enjoying The Young Romantics by Daisy Hay, one of a batch of books I got from Amazon recently, which features the story of Shelley and his entourage (it's the one on the far left in the above photo) writ very large by comparison with Leigh Hunt and Byron, the other main protagonists.

All this as a bit of a long-winded way to introduce the fact that Shelley was born in a splendid, highly collagable house, Field Place, in the Horsham area of West Sussex in 1792.
He died almost thirty years later, drowned in a storm at sea.
Before he could get his hands on the house or his inheritance, albeit he'd managed to live off the prospects of it for all his adult years.

I like the idea of trying to contrast the contained domestic classical symmetry of Field Place with a suggestion of his turbulent life and death as a meteorological backdrop. Enlightened balance v. romantic drama.
If you get my meaning.

This is what my doodlebook looks like at present.
Another morning raking up leaves and assorted creepy crawlies should do it ...