Residency – Looking for Icons

Whilst holidaying in Greece I wanted to see some Greek icons.  The Orthodox Church and Greece had played an important role in John Tavener’s life and I was curious.

My host had discovered a tiny Chapel in the middle of nowhere whilst out running.

We abandoned the car on some wasteland and walked uphill for the final few minutes to get there.

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The door was being lovingly repaired as we approached.  The humble exterior did not prepare me.

The interior is extraordinary.  A joyous celebration of the Orthodox faith, far removed from the pain and suffering so beloved of the Pugin chapel.

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Walls, ceiling, every possible surface decorated (and in surprisingly good order), with saints and symbolic images.

 

The passion and love that had created this jewel of a building was palpable.

 

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I clearly had a misconception about icons, in particular the preciousness, which was brought home to me at another Chapel in Milies, where there were row upon row for sale in the entrance at 5 euro a time.

The icons may not have lived up to expectation but the Chapel was an unexpected delight.

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Residency – A Different Perspective

Whilst on my last visit an artist friend came to view the Chapel.  She kindly offered these observations:

Nothing could have quite prepared me for the experience of stepping into the chapel…  even though Susan’s drawings, photos and descriptions are truly evocative, the overall impression was quite overwhelming for me.  A heady mixture of profound decay; an absurd theatrical setting (a large table and velvet chairs in front of the altar); a jiving Jesus above the altar and a pieta underneath it …  and debris, humid salt air that catches your throat everywhere.  Suffering and somewhat feeble attempts at the sublime.  Susan’s matter of fact comments on the ‘tacky’ plaster sculptures shook me out of my ‘lapsed catholic’ trance.  Decay, suffering and beauty in unexpected places.

I am reminded how there is always more than one perspective.

I write this from my balcony in Greece, looking out to an unusually leaden sea and sky.  I have brought my mineral paints to further explore the materials.  I am enjoying the process.  It is only by playing that you get to appreciate the possibilities and limitations.

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The grainy Bloodstone floats on the surface disturbed by the slightest attention.

D33F5549-D04B-4544-B573-E4EE8C3B1084The Rhodonite finds it hard to compete with the Bloodstone.

I try painting a figurative subject, my view.  The exercise is about revisiting the dried paint.  Yupo paper feels like plastic.  If you don’t like what you have done, wash it off and start again.  Therein lies the major problem for someone who works with many layers to build the work.

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Watercolour on Yupo, 14 x 14cms

Dropping clean water on top of the dried work the boundaries slide, so exact working seems almost impossible in my novice hands.  Any contact with the dried work by wet brush moves or removes the dried paint.

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Detail from the view.  The white areas were easily created by removal, almost impossible without preplanning on watercolour paper.  The green lines are naturally created from dried pools of Green Apatite mineral paint, carefully pipetted over the dried work.

Green Apatite is very much the colour of the Chapel for me, together with a deep rich red, which will need to be mixed from a combination of Red Fuchsite, Rhodonite and Garnet.

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I am drawn to the decaying quality of the green.

 

 

Residency

The icon is challenging, no, paralysing me.  I have tried three different Japanese washi papers, Kizuki Kosovo, Yuki Gampi and Tosa Shi (strong, lightweight papers made from mulberry or bamboo), that should have worked but don’t.

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I am now awaiting delivery of a yupo paper to continue experimenting.

I am also experimenting with hot pressed  (smooth) Saunders and Fabriano 250lb high white papers, which are proving more successful.  That said, I am still not happy with the images I am producing and am struggling to stay motivated.  I have decided that I need some separation.

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So to ease the pressure I am simply playing with the paints creating small abstracts.

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In between watching the paint dry and revisiting old works that I am not completely happy with, I have been producing a large charcoal work of the damaged Jesus, over two metres long onn Fabriano paper.

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D2180125-4949-4E82-A721-FAD48CCD1D8AThe logistics have been interesting in my temporary studio, where I do not have a suitable wall.  I will need to complete the left hand side of the work before moving the paper, as currently the right hand side is over the light switch.  Oh for a more suitable studio.

Residency Finding My Way

This week I wanted to spend some time exploring my new paints.  I have been reading about the Stations of the Cross with a view to producing a series of ‘icons’ based loosely on the structure of each image.  To be clear, I am using the Stations as a vehicle, an access point for the viewer, and not for their religious symbolism.  I am also referencing the Stations as a connection to the physical building because they are relief works embedded in the walls of the Chapel.

Interestingly permission for the Franciscans to erect the Stations inside their churches was only given by Pope Innocent XI in 1686.  In 1731 Pope Clement XIi extended this permission to all churches provided they were erected by a Franciscan  Father, with the consent of the local bishop and the number was fixed at 14.  In 1857 the necessity for a Franciscan Father to erect the Stations was removed for bishops of English churches and in 1862 this was extended to all bishops.  The Pugin Chapel was consecrated in 1868.

The icon, (the Greek word for ‘image’ or ‘resemblance’), is my connection to Sir John Tavener, my inspiration for this project, who was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.  An icon is a religious image, usually a painting, found within the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

This is the sort of image I have in mind when I think of an icon.  Gold leaf, figurative, and jewel-like, small and precious (although  this image is much larger than I expected).

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Theotokos or Our Lady of Vladimir taken from Wikipedia. Around 1130 Constantinople.  Tempera on board. 104 x 69 cms.

The colours used in an icon are symbolic.  Gold, the radiance of heaven, red, divine life, blue, human life, violet the sovereignty of Christ, green is growth.  Most include calligraphic text.

I have always felt that icons were ‘special’, and not necessarily for their religious connection.  I wanted my icons to be ‘special’ too.  In my research (Victoria Finlay has written an excellent book on the sources of colour, Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox), I discovered a range of paints by the American Watercolour manufacturer Daniel Smith that are made from minerals.  I selected 11 for their differing qualities, texture, sparkle and colour, to which I also added gold leaf, a material new to me.

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I selected Red Fuchsite, Garnet, Mayan, Bloodstone and Green Apatite and started working on various versions of Station 1, with and without tissues surface.

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This is not the feeling that I am seeking.  I feel I am adhering too closely to the colours of the image in the Chapel.

1E4C05F0-0778-4D71-BECC-B2B8AA7786BBI need to rethink.  Maybe change the paper, my approach, the intensity of the colours.  I feel that these beautiful paints need to be allowed to speak more for themselves.  That said, I will continue to develop the unsatisfactory images just in case.

Residency Day 18

Sensations

The Chapel is completely silent, heavily silent, in a way that is rare in a town.  My skin feels that slight itchiness after only a minute.  The salty air?  Or the deadness that permeates a building with no opening windows?

A mower starts up nearby and masks the life that exists outside the Chapel, someone hammering, birdsong, the distant sound of traffic.  Someone enters, crosses  herself and observes.  After a minute she is gone.  I busy myself, the sensations melt.

Back alone the mowing has stopped.  The air has an iciness.  Prepared, I am wearing three layers when a T-shirt would suffice outside.  I am willing the building to converse, but all that seems to have happened is my face, arms and legs are getting colder and my back is aching.  Pews designed for suffering!

I have come specifically to work at the north west altar. 4E362EFE-B838-4710-BDE4-27BAB033D227No special reason why this altar other than the words are easily accessible.  I want to combine the traced words with an ink painted image on top.  I choose the angels.  Why not!  This is when I realise the problems of working on site.

I trace more words with charcoal and hands, and charcoal an image of an angel. 57D397F1-4AC4-4199-A421-87FA639F833FInterestingly the words traced by hand with charcoal dust (at the bottom), look more manufactured than those without direct human contact.

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My hands look like a miner’s.  Everything I touch I leave my mark.  There is nowhere to wash them.  I plough on.  I struggle to open a large bottle of ink.  I am new to ink but it seemed a suitable medium to dry quickly and be transportable.  It appears I can only pour into a smaller container, which I haven’t brought.  There is no direct access for a brush. Ho hum!

I glue the words onto paper.  Nowhere to clean the brush, no bag to transport.

I draw over the glued tissue, which moves, disobligingly under the charcoal, which I hadn’t intended to use.  Lesson learnt.  Next time..

A5AB64BC-987D-4776-99DF-AAD543CCA3F3I return to the pew to give my knees a rest.  Looking at the main altar I am reminded that once you see something it is difficult to unsee.  I see two ghosts with their arms raised, to the left, above the figures, and two girls to the right with long bunches, similar to the characters in a manga comic.  I sit there wondering why the Catholics would make such a homage….   clearly time to stop.

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Residency Day 17

Following a course I recently took to release ‘stuckness’ in painting, I have been working into collaged torn paintings.  This together with a comment from a reader to perhaps consider incorporating some of my writings with the work, has curiously led me to take some tissue rubbings from the Chapel.

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214BD9BF-4840-45B5-B5F0-92CA5ED30F4BI work with tissue for its textural and unpredictable qualities, so this could be a natural extension to that practice.

Two of the altars where I took the rubbings from.  The one with the red fabric is supposed to contain the remains of a dead child, so being a couple of inches away from the glass was quite disconcerting.  In fact this was the final rubbing after which I had to sit in the sunshine to relieve a very uncomfortable feeling, not quite nausea but certainly something wasn’t right.

By this time the sun had moved and was flooding through the westerly stained glass windows.  I decided to use the opportunity to revisit the right hand window, accessed by a spiral staircase.  The resultant images are joyous, in a way that I do not experience elsewhere in the building.

Again I am not sure what I will do with the images, maybe use as the basis for painting, maybe just keep as photos.

 

Residency Ghosts

This week I wanted time at home to process what I am experiencing at the Chapel.  Due to the impracticality of transporting flat soggy large scale watercolours in a mini, I find I cannot paint in the Chapel.  It has been suggested that I leave the work to dry in situ, but with filming and other events taking place in the building, not to mention the inevitable paw prints of Target, the estate dog, that too is not an option.  So home it is.

A couple of weeks ago I sat silently in the Chapel for half an hour, listening to and absorbing the building, its history, its occupants, the conversations witnessed.  Other than meditating, the conscious mind was not aware of anything.  No ghosts, nothing.  Many years ago in Chicago, I encountered what I believe was a ghost.  I had no such feeling here.

Working with the unconscious requires a certain amount of faith in the process.  As the hotel owner in the Marigold Hotel said ‘It will be alright in the.  If it isn’t alright then it isn’t the end.’

My process requires many layers of paint, applied over many days or weeks.  I have no specific image in mind but respond intuitively to the mark making in front of me, allowing the unconscious to influence direction.  I work on 5 or 6 paintings at a time, each at various stages of development.  In this way I am neither precious nor bored, just curious, and often disappointed.  I rarely abandon, reworking until the work speaks to me or is repurposed.

During such a session this week this image appeared.

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This is still a work in progress but I have titled it Conversations with Ghosts.  They were present in the Chapel all the time, I just couldn’t see them consciously!

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