Author: haftonandkelly

Making Week 9: Freezer Paper

A couple of weeks ago Ann Wood had a free tutorial for applique bats with very pointy wings. I’ve been fiddling with pointy boat sails so I read it with interest (thank you Ann for the tutorial – it was great). Stage 1 specified ‘freezer paper’. Being a Brit I had no idea what this was. Frozen baking paper? Waxed paper of some sort? A little research revealed that it is paper that is plastic coated on one side and that Empress Mills stock it. The problem is that Empress Mills’ website is very well laid-out and full of all sorts of enticing fabrics, some of which were even in the sale. Of course I bought more than the freezer paper.

The wavy lined fabric will be perfect for the sea, the green stripes for sails and the boats were in the sale and looked useful. The blue and white pattern, complete with beach huts and a light house was too charming to leave.


“Istanbul, A Tale of Three Cities” Bettany Hughes.

Istanbul is, for the adventurous, one of the best cities in the world. Bettany Hughes’ book about the “Three Cities” of the book’s title  is a delight to anyone who has enjoyed visiting that wonderful city straddling Europe and Asia. It has successively been known as Byzantium, Constantinople and finally Istanbul: the three cities of the book’s title.

Hughes describes how settlements of sorts have existed on the site of Byzantium, otherwise known as Byzantion, for some 8,000 years. By 670 BC it was a recognisable part of the wider Greek world, and by the fifth century BC was mentioned by Herodotus as the site of a pontoon bridge linking Europe and Asia.

She tells the story of how Byzantium became increasingly linked to Rome as the centuries passed and was formally incorporated as a province of the Empire in AD 73 by Vespasian. Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvain Bridge in AD 312 was a turning point in its history. By 330, it had become Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and subsequent seat of the Orthodox Christian church.  Its empire went through complex and brilliantly outlined cycles of growth, decline and humiliation before its final conquest by the Turkish Emperor Mehmet in 1453. However, throughout all its travails it preserved a remarkable Imperial court, distinguished by amazing and complex ceremonial.

She analyses the process by which Byzantium’s Turkish conquerors brought not just death and destruction but new vigour to the fallen city, so, as Istanbul or Stimboli it became the centre of another great power. The Ottoman Empire at one stage was so powerful it threatened the existence of the entire Christian West before it gradually decayed until its final defeat and dissolution as a consequence of the First World War.  Modern secular Turkey, under the leadership of Gamal Ataturk, emerged from its ruins after even more appalling bloodshed and hardship. Only thereafter did Turkey’s administrative capital move to Ankara, an efficient modern city, albeit one that has never had the slightest impact on the human imagination.

The book relishes not just the history of events in Istanbul but the enduring myths of which it was the subject: their imaginative strength inspired W B Yeats to write Sailing to Byzantium, “Into the artifice of eternity..” to “become a golden enamelled bird, in preference to any natural thing” singing “to keep a drowsy emperor awake of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

Hughes is a serious academic, a successful television historian and vastly experienced as an archaeologist. These qualities help her make sense of a city where numerous different physical remnants and cultural symbols and signifiers lie jumbled over, above and alongside each other in great confusion. She records, explains and popularises the long and eventful story, and the enveloping myths, of a city that has been a key element of world history for most of recorded time.  She writes “But, for me, Istanbul’s cultural and emotional strength comes from the fact that city’s narrative is not confined by lines in time. It is a place where people are connected across time by place, which is why I embarked on the Heraklean, sometimes Augean, task of using clues in the landscape to tell a story of this city from prehistory to the present”.

She dissects the Roman Via Egnatia from the debris of time. From its construction in the second century AD and running from Dyracchium on the Adriatic (modern day Durres in Albania)  to Istanbul the road, now often hidden or buried, has survived as a trade and invasion route for nearly two millennia.  The Milion, that old milestone, that still, just, survives in central Istanbul, marks its eastern end as a mere historical curiosity and indicator of distances in the fallen Empire. More importantly it is an enduring symbol of continuing trade, invasion and change over nearly two thousand years.

Istanbul fascinates us not only because it is beautiful and wonderful to visit, but also because it continues to be filled with events and personalities that are at the centre of Middle Eastern life and politics. Bestriding two continents, and straddling many different nations, beliefs and ways of living, Istanbul is certainly not going to go quietly into the night as President Erdogan of Turkey tries to enforce an increasingly hard political, religious and cultural line on what has for much of its life been seen as a liberal and inclusive city.   Hughes’s achievement is to make sense  of the ways in which Istanbul’s past and present, like Yeats’s verse, elide, conflict and influence the future of what is very much a continuing work in progress as well as home to many millions of people and a source of fascination and pleasure to all those who have visited it or know it in their imaginations.

Chris (more…)

Making Week 7: Patchwork Boats

Boat-wise I’m now constructing 41-52. Thanks to a suggestion from Sarah, my neighbour, they are going to hang in the bathroom; bunting stretching from the corners with mobiles hanging from the central light. The bathroom has odd indents and cupboards so there will be five or six strings of boats and, at a rough count, I’ll need about fifty. For the remainder of the hundred I’m going to branch out and make model and patchwork boats.

Many years ago I used to make stripey patchwork quilts from old shirts. A kindly contact in Jermyn Street gave me bags and bags of offcuts – beautiful cottons in an array of wonderful stripes. I have stopped making the stripey quilts but I still have masses of fabric, waiting  for the perfect project. It is ideal for boat sails. The plainer blues also make excellent sky. Each panel will be 6×8 inches so they’ll fit together easily. I’m not sure yet what I’ll make with them but a flotilla of fabric boats seems like a good idea. Unlike most patchwork they are not particularly portable as they need pinning and ironing to get reasonably sharp corners but that doesn’t matter; I can sit on my now-comfortable garden seat (see the Garden Bench Patchwork here) and sew.


More Life Studies

Again, this was stuff done at Heatherley’s worked at very high speed on A1 cartridge.

The top one, in charcoal and rubbing out with a few lines of compressed charcoal for emphasis was done more to get some sense of depth through overlapping and recession than any attempt at realism, although the right hand figure is definitely the best of the three.

The lower one was intentionally very foreshortened with its enormous left arm and hand. Any success it achieved was due to the combination of red ink applied at will first, followed white opaque acrylic bleeding into it where it was used to correct and firm up the charcoal outline, and charcoal tone again supplemented with rather random rubbing out. In other words it wasn’t quite accidental but there was certainly an element of happy accident involved.



Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour at Pallant House

The most comprehensive and critically important show of Ivon Hitchen’s work for some thirty years runs until 13th October at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. He was painting from the time of the First World War until close to his death in 1979 and over seventy works covering the whole of his career are shown on a chronological basis, supported by an extensive analytical and critical approach to a very well loved artist so often seen primarily as a “semi-abstract”nature or flower painter. Although not actually untrue this view considerably diminishes Hitchens, an outstanding artist  who continued to develop and innovate throughout his long life.

The son of a painter and trained at the Royal Academy Schools after his education at Bedales, Hitchens was very much part of the London art scene in the twenties and thirties, being for example a member of the Seven and Five Group along with Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson. During this formative inter-war period he was exposed to, and gradually assimilated, influences from the major artists of his time. His retreat to the Sussex countryside only took place after his house was destroyed by bombing at the start of the Second World War.

Cezanne and Braque played a vital part in his development of form while his use of pigment was hugely influenced by Matisse, who once stated “with colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft”. Hitchens used abbreviated fields of colour in place of of precise images, often accompanied by the use of a panoramic depictions, often adopting a wide horizontal format from the later 1930s onward.

The exhibition focuses on his use of colour to create space and depth. Of course anyone who has ever been told to paint a landscape knows how distant hills are both bluer and paler than nearby details, and how reds tend to jump out at you from the canvas; but this is something way beyond such elementary concepts. Hitchens’ colour suggests space and articulates his painting within the imagined volumes of the picture plane. The relationships between different areas, shapes and intensities of colour suggest musical or harmonic relationships between the different pigments. Thus, and by the composition of his images, he transcends realism. Nonetheless he almost always began with a particular location, whether clearly recognisable or simply alluded to in the final work.

The show can be bench-marked around three paintings: the “Curved Barn” of 1922, the long horizontal format “Winter Stage” of 1936 and, as an example of his late style, his “Sussex Canal” of 1972.

The “Curved Barn”, above, shows the literary influence of Roger Fry and Clive Bell and the then new concept of “significant form”. Barn, tree and landscape alike are carved into a series of undulating and twisting form while the colours used support these distortions of form and help create an almost theatrical sense of movement. The planes of the painting appear to sometimes fight and sometimes agree with each other, even giving the impression that the obviously static barn would like to spring into action and start moving through its woodland setting.

Winter Stage 1936 Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979 Tate

By 1936 Hitchens had not only absorbed the influence of Braque, Picasso and Matisse but also begun to develop a style and a format that helped him to express a sense of place and develop the “musical” inter-relationships within his painting. “Winter Stage”, painted that year when he was staying at the home of his patrons Mr and Mrs Cecil Harris, represents a view of the grounds from the loggia of their house. Hitchens uses an extended landscape format to connect five different but linked scenes. The painting is best read from left to right. In his Notes on Painting of 1940 Hitchens explained his methods “Using as instruments in one’s orchestra, each to be heard separately yet all in unity, line, form, plane, shape, tone, notan [a Japanese principle of laying light against dark], colour; warm, cool, recession, progression, softness, sharpness, crowdedness, emptiness, up and down, side to side, curves and straights, and any other pairs of opposites, ordering these in transition, opposition, repetition, symmetry and balance’  The painting was recognised as highly significant at the time and purchased by the Contemporary Art Society who presented it to the Tate.

By the 1970’s Hitchens’ work was more abstract, although still grounded in the natural world and continuing  his characteristic long format. In his “Sussex Canal” of 1972, above, his colours are brighter and more primary. Connected planes of colour suggest recession and movement within the natural world despite increasing abstraction.  

This show is an overdue and an excellent exploration of Hitchens’ life and work. It’s well worth spending a couple of hours there if you are within driving distance of Chichester. ( › whats-on › ivon-hitchens-space-through-colour).






J G Ballard’s “Vermilion Sands”, A Trumpian Dystopia?

Although more readers have probably encountered Ballard’s “Empire of the Sun” than his science fiction, the latter genre arguably contains his best and most interesting work of which many peoples’ favourite is “Vermilion Sands”. First published as a whole in 1971 (the image below shows the original cover), the book is a collection of short stories, written over the previous two decades.  All are set in the eponymous fictional beach resort, (which might have certain similarities to Palm Springs), filled with futuristic technologies and weirdly decadent characters of great wealth and very limited merits.

The use of the word “vermilion” in the title, incidentally, is most unlikely to be accidental (Ballard was scientifically trained, had studied medicine at Cambridge and worked for a period as assistant editor of a chemistry magazine), rather referencing the traditional artists’ pigment, made from lethally poisonous mercuric sulphide, whose manufacture and use cost the lives of many involved in the process.

Run down and isolated after an undefined ten year “recess”, the surrounding deserts of red sand are gradually encroaching on the fading buildings and failing lives of the inhabitants, many of whom, including the narrators of every tale,  are in some way “artistic” without having any very great artistic merit. They are abetted in their mediocrity by technologies such as singing plants, poetry-writing machines and light-responsive paints all of which allow previously inert or insensitive materials to respond to the moods and feelings of the humans (or it is sometimes suggested “mutants”) with whom they come into contact, often with disastrous consequences. There are no heroes in these stories, simply a collection of narcissistic and deeply damaged film starlets, singers, trust fund heirs and artists, together with their freakish servants and self-serving suppliers, all of whom are further harmed and often die as a result of their interaction with the strange technologies the stories reveal.

In “Prima Belladonna”, for example, the narrator owns a business, Parker’s Choro-Flora, supplying genetically modified, and highly temperamental singing plants and especially orchids, to customers throughout the world. These require constant tuning like a horde of unruly pianos, using a range of acid and alkaline media applied to their control tanks and taking their lead from the valuable Khan-Arachnid orchid that has  a vocal range of twenty four octaves and is Parker’s prize stock item. When a travelling singer, Jane Ciracylides, with a “good deal of mutant in her”, her golden skin and “insect eyes”, arrives in town she both starts an affair with the narrator and appears on the verge of carrying on another with the orchid. In Ballard’s words “The Arachnid had grown to three times its size. It towered nine feet high out of the shattered lid of its control tank, leaves tumid and inflamed, its calyx as large as a bucket, raging insanely. Arched forward into it, her head thrown back was Jane.” She appears to escape, at the least disappears, and the next day the orchid is found dead. Nothing in these stories ends well.

Ballard has managed to imagine many of the worst effects of digitisation, data transfer and genetic engineering some seventy years before these begin to be generally viable. The real art of course lies in Ballard’s writing and the curiously painterly and surreal quality of his descriptions of settings which seem to mirror Dali or de Chirico. Describing driving through a a particularly sinister piece of desert in “The Screen Game” Ballard writes “The hanging galleries of the reefs were more convoluted and sinister, like the tortured demons of medieval cathedrals. Massive towers of obsidian reared over the roadway like stone gallows, their cornices streaked with iron-red dust. The light seemed duller, unlike the rest of the desert, occasionally flaring into a sepulchral glow as if some subterranean fire-cloud had boiled to the surface of the rocks. The surrounding peaks and spires shut out the desert plain, ….” He continues “Abruptly, around a steep bend the reefs and peaks vanished and the wide expanse of an inland sand-lake lay before us… The tyres cut softly through the cerise sand and soon we were over-running what appeared to be the edge of an immense chessboard of black and white marble squares. More statues appeared, some buried to their heads, others toppled from their plinths by the drifting dunes. Looking out at them this afternoon, I felt, not for the first time, that the whole landscape was compounded of illusion, the hulks of fabulous dreams drifting across it like derelict galleons.”

One couldn’t possibly describe the world of Vermilion Sands as in any way normal or pleasant, but it is deeply fascinating and a most captivating construct. Somehow one just wonders whether this imaginary extension of an entertainment centre for shady people in sunny places may represent the future for a technology obsessed USA in locations such as Donald Trump’s Mar a Lago or Jeffery Epstein’s strange mansion. Whatever, it’s an excellent read, however weird. If you want to buy, try your local independent book shop first, because without your support it may just not be there next time you need it.


More From Life

Herewith a couple of drawings using printing ink and collaged newspaper as well as charcoals and coloured chalks to add a bit more life to Maria, standing patiently with one foot on a stack of chairs. Nothing special, but they all added to our experience of life drawing and even thinking what a picture might be about.





Each Month in my Garden: July

July seems a long way away. Partly because it is a long way away but also because I’ve done a lot in the garden this month, which has rather blocked out what happened in July. Luckily I have photos. I have never taken photos of the garden consciously each month and it is interesting how much it changes in character as the year progresses.

So, briefly; the self-seeded evening primroses in the front garden were (and still are) amazing. A colony has established itself and there are already plenty of rosettes forming which will be next year’s flowers. This is undoubtedly due to the hose as the whole area gets well-watered on a regular basis. There is a particularly fine group where the hose doesn’t fit onto the tap properly and drips. Also in the front my new David Austin rose, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ flowered; it will look stunning once it grows round the front door.

I finished the patchwork cover for the extremely-pretty-but-staggeringly-uncomfortable-bench and I now have five seating areas in my very small garden: wooden bench by the kitchen door for elevenses in the sun (shared with a sundial and basil), blue and white round and Provencal rectangular tables for meals in the sun or shade, as required, the summer house for writing, painting, reading, sitting with the cat on my lap and now a delightfully secluded and almost comfortable bench for reading and admiring the flowers.

For the first time the buddleia flowered; I moved its pot into the sun and it is clearly grateful. The blueberries and mulberry are still thinking about whether to fruit. Clearly none of them have read their labels which specified fruiting quite early in their lives. But the Japanese wineberries provided a long harvest of deliciously tart berries which are the perfect accompaniment to my morning porridge. And the long evenings were perfect for suppers in the garden.