Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Soul of an Artist...

I have finished Just Kids, Patti Smith's autographical work that tracks her early life, and her meandering artistic growth, largely in and around New York city from the late 60s. Many of these years were spent alongside Robert Mapplethorpe, incognito; just kids getting by, experimenting with different art forms and expressions of self, exploring their boundaries and opportunities just as they do the streets and buildings themselves. Like two street-wise alley cats, ever-hungry, ever eager, they are always on the move yet ready to bask in the bright light of some ephemeral beauty too.
We trace the period before either became famous in their own right, sharing a common survival instinct and a some-time lucky streak in this often unforgiving city. Both are forever driven forward and bound together by an artistic force that is a lifeblood. Their unique vision binds them as they look out onto the world and into themselves with the eye of an artist, a creator, almost comparable to deity itself. Theirs is a mutual admiration and appreciation of the other, but it is not blind and Patti Smith does not flinch at observing painful realities. Ultimately this leads to a union more enduring and of greater purity than a simple romance or lasting friendship of fond youth. Whilst experimenting they both find their respective artistic media – or rather fame seems to find them therein…

Patti Smith’s 1978 hit Because the Night led to international success, although she was, and still is, far more than ‘just’ a singer as her poetry, drawings and writings (such as this book) attest. Robert Mapplethorpe found fame as the renowned yet often vilified photographer whose work redefined photography as an art form whilst pushing limits of perceived decency and accepted artistic expression to the extreme. I came across some of his most controversial photos in a bookshop many years ago; these are not my thing on any level. However, it would be a mistake to limit his name and scope to these pieces alone and indeed his still-life work and portraits offer edginess without the hard-core sexuality of his most controversial homoerotic works. Likewise, Just Kids enables you to see further into Robert’s talent and beauty more than an observation of the X pictures alone. Patti Smith’s account of their unique relationship is so pure and loving that we are left with the feeling that death could never truly rupture their ties, just as Robert Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality could never break their bond, it led both to redefine it. That must have been down to the fact that Patti Smith seems to be able to see into the person and beyond, looking at the man and the creator, god-like but fallible. Maybe that’s the kindred soul of an artist.

Actor Matt Smith (of Doctor Who fame) is currently taking on the role of Robert Mapplethorpe for a forth-coming film. I do hope the film producer has read Just Kids

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


One of these days, the garden centre is going to kick me out for taking photos of their wares! I do usually purchase something, however, so I'm not totally shameless.

My eyes are generally riveted to those plants that would probably never survive life on a fifth-floor balcony.

The ones here are beautiful hibiscus, whose colours are often so bright that they seem to burn the camera lens, to the point that it can't reproduce their intensity.

Some of the final, fully-blown flowers are literally the size of large saucers, but initially unfurl from these pod-like buds.

Some of these folded petals looked like umbrella fabric, waiting to be opened out to reveal the full, delicate flowers within.

Not to mention those amazing stamens with rich pollen!

Some time ago, I had the great luck to watch tiny hummingbirds feeding from these, right in front of me, in South America. Magical!

Some petals seem papery and crisp, with intricate veining throughout...

But others appeared softer, with their ruffled layers. Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to seeing the next collection of plants at the centre - rather like an art gallery, in fact!

Monday, August 21, 2017

P***ed Off...

Yes, feeling very p***ed, having lost all of my photos from this year, when the hard drive of my computer died on me. The above is the only one I have remaining of a visit to Fontainebleau, the rest have all been flushed away, along with all the other visuals of 2017. Meanwhile, the D.I.Y missions that I undertook weeks ago are still very much 'Work In Progress', even if my patience and enthusiasm dried up some time ago. Hmm... P***ed indeed!

A few days later.... Managed to salvage one photo from goodness knows where in the murky depths of my computer. Here are two partners in crime - ever ready to commit acts of feline felony on the home front, especially where D.I.Y is concerned!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Morning Walks by Mount's Bay...

My early morning walks around Penzance, Newlyn and Marazion already feel distant in time and space, but I try to hold onto that feeling of freedom and simplicity that I get from these wanderings, whatever the weather. Easier said than done, as my life here bears no resemblance to life in Cornwall!

 The expanse of sky and the vastness of Mount's Bay never fail to amaze me and I love watching the boats setting off...

Or lined up, ready for action in the fishing port at Newlyn...

With St Michael's Mount as backcloth...

Common or Garden Visitors....

On my recent trip back to England, I carried out my ritual walk through Hyde Park. As I wandered along the paths, I became aware of the process by which flora and fauna no longer seem exotic to us and start to become commonplace and customary. The green parakeet was a fine example of this, flashing past, screeching and squabbling in the branches and occasionally deigning to eat from the hands of visitors. Although they must be a very long way from their original homeland, the species appears to be thriving in the London parks.

Whilst the jay (Garrulus glandarius) may appear a little less exotic, its distinctive, primitive cry sets it apart from the other birds. Attracted by acorns, these ones nevertheless seemed content to observe the proceedings, chattering away amongst themselves as we tried to feed the parakeets...  Not even vaguely appropriate for any creature other than teenagers, the barbeque-flavoured crisps did manage to draw in a few birds and one North American expat - the grey squirrel!

A Poet of Street Posters... Levalet

Battre en Retraite
Well, last few hours of this month, and not a single post to show for July so far... However, I have been very preoccupied by walls; scrapping off old paper (kindly pasted directly onto plasterboard), replastering, sanding and applying paint. Still one more room to go. Until that's finished, the domestic chaos will continue. Despite that, I was able to sight these beautiful street posters that appeared on the walls of Reims earlier in the summer. The one above, Battre en retraite (Retreat), is near the cathedral car park, and I really liked the Middle Age theme, with the dignified progress of the mounted knight recalling the historic importance of Reims (Cité des Sacres de rois de France) set against the scruffy modernity of the town centre.

While the rider looks towards us quite defiantly, the horse seems resigned to his fate, trailing along the pots and pans behind him. Intégration is another poster applied to the scaly, distressed paintwork of an initially bland city wall in the centre of town is equally impressive, showing a group of young men loiteiring around. The yellow used in this work lifts out the dull colours of the ugly stretch of wall behind, and the road markings on the kerb to great effect. Shame the real-life loafers of Reims have taken it upon themselves to rip off parts of both posters, but hopefully the artist will provide some more pieces in the future.

Charles Leval - 'Levalet' is the artist in question, from the city of Epinal, itself known for its characteristic printwork (Imagerie d'Epinal). Although an art teacher in the national education service, he turned towards developing his own artistic pursuits in street art, which enabled him to use the numerous personal drawings that he had accumulated. Like the street art of  C215, (much of which is still visible around Reims), the largely black-and-white drawings of Levalet can now also be seen in many cities around the world - inhabiting urban landscapes with a strange harmony of contrasts. Apparently, work by Levalet will be shown in Paris from September, in the Galérie Géraldine Zberro in an exhibition entitled Under Cover... 
And now back to my sanding....

It's the beginning of September now, and another new one just caught my eye, floating above an old shop window.

Artist or painter/decorator?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Busy as a Bee...

Things have been hotting up here, in every sense, and yet I have ended up with... a cold.

This seems to be a strange state of affairs; feeling so low when the temperatures are so high...

And likewise unfortunate, when the work load is heavy. Finding moments of peace and tranquility is a little frustrating when you can't actually smell anything!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Retreat in the Sun near Aix-en-Provence...

I made the most of a fluke gap on my timetable to take a flying visit to the South of France - in the area surrounding Aix-en-Provence, to be precise.

Above all, this gave me the chance to catch up with old friends - the oldest, in terms of acquaintance, being my old correspondante française. A trip had been planned since the beginning of the year, but had never materialized, so last week saw me setting off into the sun.

And the blazing heat... Luckily, the early mornings were spent at the place of work, which happened to be in the most amazing grounds of a former Jesuit novitiate.

Built in the 17th century, as the county house for the Collège royal Bourbon d’Aix, known as the Bastide Saint Alexis, it changed hands in 1763 when the Jesuits were banned from the kingdom.

The bastide was finally bought back by the Jesuits in the middle of the 20th century.

It is now a cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre - La Baume-Les-Aix - that also offers hotel rooms at remarkably cheap rates. The term baume signifies an appeasing, soothing balm for the body and soul, and here it seems quite appropriate.

While it may not have the same glossy veneer as other, more modern, standardized establishments, the calm of the setting, wholly makes up for this. Who needs flashy, trashy facilities when you can walk down the long alleys of noble plane trees (les platanes), and wander around the lavender gardens?

Before the sun has fully risen, you can hear birdsong all around, followed by the cigales that suddenly come to life in the heat, just as they abruptly fall silent at dusk. Baume is also an aromatic and here the name finds its full strength in this setting.

No words could describe the rich quality of the smells in the early-morning provençal air here; pine resin, grasses, earth and dew, amongst other things that I simply couldn't define.

Well, all the above, plus endless conversations in great company were certainly balms to my spirit... and the odd glass of rosé never goes amiss!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sainte Clothilde in the Cold...

The Cathedral Notre-Dame naturally dominates the urban landscape of Reims and its imposing form can still be seen from the distance much as it has since its construction in the 13th century, despite the intrusion of modern buildings. Another contender here is the relatively 'recent' edifice of  Basilica of Saint Clothilde (Basilique Sainte-Clothilde), built at the very end of the 19th century.

Unfortunately, most of the dramatic views of Sainte Clothilde are to be seen from the motorway so I have to content myself with photos from a far greater proximity. These look stark and imposing during the winter months; the summer hides everything behind leafy trees. The day I visited, the skies were dark and damp, the temperatures freezing and the doors firmly locked so I never managed to see the interior of the basilica.

What I like the most is the slightly oriental 'feel' that emerges from the mass, from certain angles. In fact, that was indeed intentional on the part of the architect resposible for its design.

Sainte Clothilde was conceived in 1896 as a commemorative church to mark the forteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, the great historical figure as first Christian king of the Franc kingdom. His conversion to Christianity is said to be due to the influence of his wife, Clothilde, hence the name of the basilica we see today.

It was also designed to house a reliquary offering an impressive collection of items of religious significance, 'les reliques', in the crypt. These I have yet to see, though this will be more out of curiosity than any religious feeling on my part. There are some two thousand Relics!

Cardinal Langénieux, archibishop of Reims, ordered the construction of an edifice that would be dedicated to the saints of France; Sainte Clothilde.

The Rémois, Alphonse Gosset (1835-1914) took on the task of designing Sainte Clothilde. Gosset was a well- established  architect, with the creation of the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the grounds of the champagne house Pommery and the workers' districts of the city  to his name.

The neo-byzantine style was employed and the basilica is based on the form of a Greek cross. The stature is imposing.

Drawing inspiration from his research work published in 1877, Les Coupoles d'Oriént et d'Occident, Gosset makes references to Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome and the church of Saint Augustin in Paris.

The rather detailed brick structure looks very sober from a distance and the angular forms of the towers are set off by the rounded forms of the domed roofs. At dusk, the skyline is quite magical! In the summer, the atmosphere is lively and the open-air Sunday market of Quartier Sainte Anne held around the basilica brings another feel to the site all year round.