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Churches, chapels and frescos

Three Graces frescoFresco from CampaniaI’ve had a yearning for a faded sort of beauty. Wanting to satisfy my need, I googled angels, caves and frescos and found two roman frescos from Italy that I particularly like. One is of a Winged Figure and the other, The Three Graces.

It’s the ethereal beauty of the frescos that I like, somewhat wabi sabi?

But there are frescos closer to home, one in a church just down the road, St Peter’s in Preston Park. There are several other medieval churches close to Brighton that have well kept twelfth century wall paintings, these are at Clayton, Coombes and Hardham. Recently, I visited them and took photos.

St George fresco, Hardham churchAdam and Eve wall painting Hardham church

I love the red ochre used in the wall paintings, it reminds me of cave paintings. Some of these walls have faded ghosts: here’s St George fighting the infidel – an apparition supposedly seen at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Also Adam and Eve, looking a bit raw. The walls must have witnessed countless people over the centuries pondering in the pews.

Below are photos showing Christ in Majesty over the chancel of Clayton church and a humerous painting of a man holding up the arch at Coombes church.

Fresco Coombes Church West SussexClayton Church fresco

In the mood for church art, I made a trip to Watts Chapel in Compton, Surrey. It is a gem of a place. Designed in the nineteenth century by Mary Watts, the wife of George Frederic Watts, a well known Victorian artist, the chapel is of many styles including Art Nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian. It is shaped like a Byzantine Greek Cross and features many decorative mouldings and friezes.

Watts Chapel labyrinth featureWatts Chapel facesWatts Chapel Tree of LifeWatts Chapel angels inside

The whole chapel is embelished with symbolism; birds, flying fish, boats, shells, bells, cherubs etc. The River of Life and The Tree of Life – symbols I love – feature inside and out. Over the entrance arch there are alternating faces; some look up in hope and others down, in sympathy. One of my photos here shows a corbel with a labyrinth that symbolises The Way, which is taken from the saying of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (St John 14:6). Venturing inside the chapel is like entering a hidden, secret garden, where one is surrounded by angels or winged messengers. Some of the angels face outwards “carrying the symbol of light” while others face inwards “carrying the symbol of darkness”. I love the intricate vegetation of The Tree of Life weaving a mystical garment out of the whole. Click on the small photo of the chapel interior to see a larger version.

After all this, I couldn’t help thinking about the film, The English Patient and the scene in which the soldier Kip takes Hana to a cathedral and shows her the frescos there. Here it is:

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Vertical Road

Vertical road - from Akram Khan's website

Vertical Road

A few nights ago I went to see Vertical Road, the latest dance work by the choreographer Akram Khan. The Brighton Dome programme said “the work takes it’s inspiration from universal myths of angels that symbolise ‘ascension’ – the road between the earthly and the spiritual, the Vertical Road“. As I’m intrigued by angels, myths and mysteries I was keen to see it.

Akram Khan is a dancer trained in both classical Kathak dance and contemporary dance. He has successfully incorporated elements of kathak into his own contemporary style. As he says in interviews, his new work, Vertical Road, is spiritual, drawing inspiration and using dancers from many cultures.

The performance gripped me from the start. It began with the sound of water. Behind a giant screen at the back of the stage, a figure could just be seen, his hands tracing circles in the fabric as though attempting to find a way through. Frozen dancers became high on energy; they danced exhortation, torment, blind servitude, listlessness, frustration, grief. No obvious story, but what I saw was people in the grip of relentless mechanical lives, almost regimented in their pursuit of something higher than themselves. They went through times of despair or ecstacy, often overlooking their simple, united humanity.

They tilt their hands upwards
looking into bright sound – whirling and moving in their thunderous lives.
Worshipping amongst the dust of ages,
seeking solace amongst statues, the shattered wings and stone cold hope of angels.
United in regiment and yearning,
they struggle.

And then, the seed,
a particle of light and sound, a moat floats and stills, in sweet silence,
emerging from the dawn,
and hands, from beyond, reach out to touch
alien faces of a peopled creature.

So simple, so quiet.

The reaching out is touching.
The wait is over.
Found.

There was something universal about the performance. I found it quite moving.

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Angel altered book

I’ve turned once again to my altered book. I was listening to the duet Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, which is one of my favourite pieces of music. It was one of my mother’s too. I remember her when I listen to it and it means “Bread of Angels” in latin.

Ephesus faceAngel statueI kept thinking of flying swans so I decided to give my book wings. They looked like stone angel’s wings before their wash of blue, so I found some photos of angel statues I took a while ago in a cemetery and a haunting, “gasping”-faced statue I took at Ephesus in Turkey which I particularly like. I printed out copies and stuck them in along with some latin lyric scraps of Panis Angelicus. I tore up a page of notes that I’d made for my “about me” page (that I’ll put up soon) and stuck the pieces on to the wings. I intend to do more with shreddings, scribblings, fragments, messages and murmurings in other projects.

Angel altered bookHere is my stone angel swan carrying the night on its back.

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Taking steps to paint 2

Perhaps I should call this blog “Flounderings of an untrained artist”. Anyway, I’ve progressed a bit with my painting. My boyfriend said the angels looked smokey so I’m calling it “Smokey Angels”.
smokey angels

The angel on the right needs a bit more definition. It’s a start.

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From angels to mermaids….

I’ve been playing with photoshop. Finally I’m surrendering to the possibilities of digitally altering my artwork. I’ve been inspired by artists such as Greg Spalenka and numerous others whose work is everywhere. I have to enter fully the twenty-first century!

It’s been fasinating and frustrating learning photoshop – bit by bit. I’ve also been dwelling on the sea, on watery things. From angels I’m now into mermaids,… fish …..anything oceanic in fact.

Below is a version of a simple mermaid picture, a photoshop experiment. I’m also including a piece of writing I discovered written up on a church wall in some back street of Barcelona. The author is unknown.

fish-scale-and-mermaid-for-web.jpg

What were the thoughts of those who lived and slept in the vastness beneath the water.
Were these thieves and broken poets, these fugitives affected by some stigma;
Were they jealous or afraid of the world? How had they all gathered in this crepuscular
region?
What had they so much in common that they needed each other’s presence?
Nothing but hope. Hope. Hope like a pale sun……

These words were faint on the church wall, but beneath them was a list of names I could just make out. ‘Mervyn Peake’ was written amongst them; he wrote the Gormenghast trilogy which just happens to be amongst my favourite books.

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