Art lessons

kievjuly21As a (freelance) teacher of Art and English, I’m always trying to think up new projects and ideas for lessons. Most of the time I try to take the lessons outside to parks, museums and galleries, where we can draw from observation and learn about art first-hand.

We also have some favourite classroom-based games, including:

– “What Am I?” (names of animals are drawn on numerous pieces of paper, each person sticks one to their forehead and tries to discover which it is by asking Yes/No questions like “Do I have hooves?”)

– “Exquisite Corpse”, aka “New Species” (each person draws part of a figure, then folds over the paper and passes it to the next person to complete)

– the self-explanatory “Keep-the-pencil-on-the-paper” and “No looking” drawings

– “Describe the picture” (one person picks a picture from an art book and describes it for the other person to draw)

On one of the rare occasions we weren’t out and about on my last visit to Kyiv, I came up with this very simple mosaic-making project. Suitable for all ages (with varying degrees of assistance).

How to make a paper mosaic Continue reading

Advertisements

Kiev: St Sophia Cathedral

Built in the eleventh century, St Sophia cathedral is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Kiev – hence its rightful place on the World Heritage site list. The ancient building isn’t immediately obvious, having been cloaked in a cheerfully garish white, green, and gold Baroque facade in the eighteenth century. Inside, however, many of the original mosaics and frescoes survive, whilst floor tiles, graffiti and the ingenious structure of the building continue to be uncovered by conservators and archaeologists.

StSophia01

The external walls of the cathedral, where areas of 18th century paint have been stripped back to reveal the original 11th century pinkish stone and brick structure

Draconian ladies in hooded green ponchos checked my ticket in every room, kept a watchful eye and prevented me from taking any but the sneakiest of photos, so most of these images are from other (linked) websites and the guide book I bought on the way out.

The cathedral’s history is intertwined with that of the Grand Princes of Kiev, Varangian Vikings who established their powerbase in Kiev in the ninth century. It’s now thought that Volodymyr I founded the building in 1011, then it was completed by his son, Yaroslav.

Volodymyr had converted himself and Kievan Rus to Christianity after pulling off an unlikely marriage to Byzantine princess “born in the purple” Anna. As sister to the powerful Emperor Basil II, the match to a pagan ‘barbarian’ who already had a number of wives seemed a doubtful one, but, nevertheless, the marriage went ahead. Through this diplomatic wedding contract, Volodymyr gained a tie to the powerful Byzantine imperial family, whilst Basil II gained military support against rival Bulgaria and a long term Christian ally.

StSophia07

St Mark the Evangelist, writing

Anna herself is unlikely to have had much say in the matter, but she had a very important impact on her new home, judging by St Sophia and its art. The cathedral is named after Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The choice of and subject matter of the mosaic decoration shows this Byzantine influence, and may have been undertaken by artists sent from Constantinople.

Anna is depicted at least twice in the cathedral’s decoration: with her family in a procession portrait in the central apse, and in a fresco celebrating her entrance into Kiev.

StSophia08StSophia09

The high number of female saints depicted and choice of iconography may also signify Anna’s importance to the cathedral. The fresco below shows Mary receiving the precious purple and cochineal materials needed for her to make a veil for the temple of Jerusalem. This unusual choice of subject matter seems to identify Princess Anna with Mary, through the symbolic and status-bound colour purple. Anna’s title Porphyrogenitus – “born in the purple”, signifies her status as a member of the Imperial Byzantine family, born in the purple clad chamber of the Imperial palace.

StSophia10

Mary Receiving the Purple and Cochineal. 11th-century fresco, Joachim and Anna’s Chapel

StSophia12

Unknown saint

In the towers and upper gallery, reserved for the Prince and his family, there are many secular frescoes. Imagery includes the Hippodrome, dancers, musicians, acrobats, fighters, creatures and strange beasts. Some of the decorations, like the medallion below featuring a griffin, are reminiscent of the rich silk textiles woven in the Byzantine empire.

StSophia03

fresco in the north tower, griffin

StSophia02

fresco in the north tower, pair fighting

More details about the mosaics can be found here: http://sofiyskiy-sobor.polnaya.info/en/mosaics_st_sophia_cathedral.shtml and the frescoes here: http://sofiyskiy-sobor.polnaya.info/en/frescos_st_sophia_cathedral.shtml

StSophia04
As I left the cathedral building, a white-haired man playing a multi-stringed instrument began singing. Here’s the resulting video I made of Stepan and his bandura (a Ukrainian folk instrument similar to the lute).

Jewel of Donetsk

Last week I paid another visit to Donetsk, a city in Eastern Ukraine where I’ve been regularly working as a teacher over the past few months.glass03

In November, I came across the most breathtakingly beautiful thing I’ve seen in the city so far – even more so because it was completely unexpected. While on a hunt for Ukrainian linen, I ended up in the central market, ЦУМ. A large neoclassical block of a building, ЦУМ is fairly impressive from the outside, if a little dull. There’s certainly no hint of dazzling creativity from its grey exterior.

Inside, it looks pretty much like any other department store in Europe, but at the more rundown end of the scale. Wires trail, there’s a distinct lack of heating and it seems that the decorators never quite finished after the fire that gutted the building in the 1980s.

To reach the fabric stalls on the top floor, I head for the stairs, weaving through a maze of glass-topped jewelry counters and glassy-eyed security guards to the back of the building. I push open an unassuming little door – and stop dead in my tracks. The bare walls of the stairwell are lit by the brilliant colours of one enormous stained glass window that spans the three floors of the building. It’s hard to do it justice in photos, but that’s what I tried to do with these, taken a few days later, when I returned, armed with a camera.glass09glass05glass04I know little about the window, except that it was made in the 1960s when the original 1937 building was rebuilt (having been nearly completely destroyed during the Second World War).

The window seems to flow up through the building, with its central composition of near-life-size figures set against a swirling, semi-abstract background. In typical Soviet style, it depicts the ideals of culture and industry: elegant dancers wearing traditional costume, scientists gazing nobly into test tubes, farm workers proffering baskets of fruit, and broad-shouldered figures at work in the mines and steelworks that Donetsk was originally built on (the name of the city’s football team Shakhtar means ‘miner’, the equivalent of Northampton ‘cobblers’ or Arsenal ‘gunners’).

glass03The whole enormous composition is full brilliant bits of detail. Pieces of glass have been cleverly cut and arranged to depict the shadow of a jacket lapel, smoke rising from factory chimneys and the light cast by a miner’s torch. Even in areas of the background where only one or two colours have been used, the orientation of triangular-shaped pieces suggest the outline of the distant, mountainous slag heaps on the outskirts of the city.

glass12The colour scheme reflects the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, itself supposed to be based on the broad sky and fields of the country’s landscape. The designer has used it to great effect to contrast blue-shadowed workers against the flames of the forge roasting their backs.

Of course, this also reflects the temperature of Donetsk, ranging from 30 in August to  -30 degrees in January. In these pictures, a cloudy and dull -20 degrees day lights the window; I look forward to seeing how the warmer rays of summer will illuminate it.

glass08On a final note, there are plans to redevelop the building, but, according to a recent article, the new owners are planning to keep the windows. I’ll certainly be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.

Upton House & Gardens

upton03A little while ago I paid a visit to Upton House and Gardens with my family. Upton estate has a history going back to the 12th century. Little of this past, beyond the 1930s era to which it has been restored, is now evident, however the National Trust does a reasonable job of maintaining a ‘lived-in’ feeling in the house. A CD of shrill crooning played in the long gallery is made up for by samples of fresh scones in the kitchen (yes, the AGA still works!), and the garden is almost as abundantly populated with pumpkins as the pond is with equally fat orange carp.

upton04upton05upton01upton06upton02upton07upton08upton09

Equal to the garden, the best aspect of Upton is its art collection. There’s a particularly impressive array of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Netherlandish paintings displayed throughout the house and in the terrific squash court gallery.

Highlights include:

  • Adoration of the Kings, Hieronymous Bosch, c.1495
  • The Death of the Virgin, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1564
  • The Interior of the Church of St. Catherine, Utrecht, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1655–1660
  • The Duet or “Le corset blue”, Gabriel Metsu, mid-1660s
upton10

The Duet or “Le corset blue”, by Gabriel Metsu, mid-1660s

upton11

Upton House is located near Banbury, Warwickshire, OX15 6HT

Plasticine!

Today my pupil and I were hard at work making a plasticine town. We’re not finished yet, but have got the basic infrastructure sorted: hospital, roads, bakery, grandma’s house, slide, sandpit, golden bread statue, roundabout, hotel, fountain and squirrels.

plasticine1

plasticine2

plasticine3

plasticine4

plasticine5

plasticine6

plasticine7

plasticine8

my personal supply to take back to London

Kenoujak Ashevak (and me) in Paris

On Tuesday I got back from a short family trip to Paris. We revisited old favorites (Cluny Museum, crème brûlée) and savoured some new (chocolate soup, Rodin Museum). I’ll share those later, but first, a highlight:

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris.

This exhibition showcased 40 works by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), an artist from Ikirasaq, near Baffin Island in the Northwest territories of Canada. Ashevak transferred her skills in traditional inuit textile designs to drawing and printmaking and became one of the first artists from the area to attract international attention.

Her images often depict birds and animals, sometimes alone, sometimes in symmetrical groupings. Some are drawn cleanly and straightforwardly, others are surrounded by blobby protrusions, as if appearing from the patterns of ice floes, like images discovered in cloud formations.

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak is on show at the Canadian Cultural Centre, 5 rue de constantine, Paris 7ème until 6th September 2013.

Ashevak was also the subject of this short film Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak made in 1963 by John Feeney, available to see for free on the National Film Board of Canada website.

Dieter Roth at the Camden Arts Centre

Notes on a visit to the Camden Arts Centre’s exhibition Dieter Roth: Diaries, 17 May – 14 July.

Dieter Roth (1930-98) was a Swiss-German artist known for his varied range of mixed-media artwork, often using found materials.

© Camden Arts Centre, London

The first gallery has a library-like atmosphere; on one side stand five bookcases, interspersed with lamp lit reading desks. There are five shelves on each side of the bookcases, each housing fourteen carefully dated ringbinders filled with the detritus of Roth’s life – photos, letters, medication packets, cigarette ends, bus tickets and numerous sundry scraps of paper. His one criteria for candidates into these files was that objects should be no thicker than 1/4 inch.

Roth seems to have had the understanding of an archaeologist that it’s actually the objects we use daily to the point of being unconscious of them, the detritus that usually ends up in rubbish pits and landfill sites, that reveals the most about us. These give a more honest portrayal of an individual or society than any official biography or collection of high-end artefacts, through sheer accumulation and by the very fact that they tend to be overlooked and underestimated. The piece raises the question Why keep everything?, but then again, Why keep anything?

© Camden Arts Centre, London

In the second gallery, a series of wooden boards covered in stains, notes, paint and doodles reminds me of long-suffering school desks and the kitchen table of a friend whose children have free reign to scratch and sketch over its surface. These, along with the shelves of ringbinders and the journals in a nearby cabinet, are just another kind of diary for Roth, a record of his life.

Gallery 3 houses Roth’s most extreme and ambitious project of documenting his life. He set up video recorders in rooms in his house and studios and for two years captured his daily life. A wall of television sets simultaneously show Roth sleeping, eating, washing up, making phone calls, going to the toilet, and, largely, working. The last video impassively records the empty studio on the day he died.

Later, flicking through the exhibition catalogue, I chanced upon this telling quote by Roth:

D.R.: For me, it’s…it’s like a cancerous tumour, it’s basically an illness. An illness that I have. Now.

I.L-H.: This compulsion to represent your entire life.

D.R.: Yes. That’s my terminal illness. It’ll probably be the cause of my death.

Extract of interview with Irmelin Lebeer-Hossmann, Stuttgart, 20-22 June 1979, published in ‘On Keeping a Diary’, Dieter Roth: Diaries, ed. Fiona Bradley (Yale University Press, 2012), p. 158

I wonder what Roth would have made of social media and blogging had he witnessed the current culture of recording daily life on a massive scale? The questions raised by his pointedly indiscriminate recording and archiving seem more pertinent than ever.

Is the desire to be heard and remembered a terminal illness that we all suffer from to some degree?

Dieter Roth: Diaries runs from 17 May to 14 July 2013 at the Camden Arts Centre, London. Free entry to all.

Museum of the Year

wmgalleryEarlier this month, the William Morris Gallery officially became Museum of the Year.

Despite volunteering at the gallery for nearly a year and being fully aware of how genuinely well-curated and engaging and mind-nourishing the place is.. the news still came as a fantastic shock.

Here’s what the judges said: “This truly is Museum of the Year. Its extraordinary collections, beautifully presented, draw the visitor engagingly through Morris’s life and work and through the building itself. Setting the highest standards of curatorship, and reaching out impressively to its local community.”

Read all about it here on the ArtFund website.

Animation

This week (and next) I’m in Ukraine teaching art. Amongst drawing, painting, photography, art history, printing, T-shirt design and a multitude of games, one of my favourite activities so far has been making animations with my pupils. We used stapled booklets of tracing paper, and, starting from the back, drew a picture on each sheet, changing it a little each time. Try this once and you’ll realise how much work went into the old Disney films (24 frames a second to be exact).

Here’s the demonstration piece I made before I arrived. There are 16 different frames in total (numbered in the corner), edited in iPhoto and iMovie.

.

And here’s one I made earlier.

.

(шутка!)

LDN – BXL – LDN

I’m just back from a few days in Brussels. Despite the best intentions to get straight into some art appreciation at one of the many brilliant galleries in Brussels, upon arrival I couldn’t bear to drag myself indoors away from the glorious SUNSHINE. And so, the first afternoon was spent wandering the city flâneur-stylee, picking streets at random and sauntering into parks to knit/ read.

bxl7bxl10bxl5bxl6bxl4bxl1bxl2bxl3Later in the evening I met our host, who cooked a beef and beer stew (blue label Chimay, 9%, for those of you who, like me, will be attempting to recreate this dish) and told me about a fantastic Brusselian knitting group called ‘Tricot Trottoir‘ (rough trans.: ‘Curb Knits’) who draw attention to environmental and pollution issues by (amongst other methods) knitting plastic bags into colourful garments. Art that uses knitting and green ethics? Tick, tick.
bxl9bxl8

The following day, Sayed and I visited a nearby fleamarket (to get a present for my sister) and a specialist belgian beer shop (to get a present for my Dad), before heading off to Recyclart to set up the evening’s one-night exhibition. Recyclart is a fantastic organisation, run for 12 years by a dedicated group of creatives in a series of units under the main railway line that cuts through the city. We set up Sayed and Karl’s exhibition in Unit 13 – Studio Marcel.

Two videos and a series of photographs projected on the wall presented their ongoing project ‘My Granddad’s Car‘. Outside in the street, a friend’s car borrowed for the night stood in for the two vehicles far away in Pakistan and Nigeria. We covered the car with a sheet and showered it with blossom petals in a half-invented ritual echoing past ceremonies. After dark, a small crowd stood watching the satisfying effects of flurries of wind caused by the passing trains overhead.

car1 car2