Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Lucian Freud

In 2016 the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) opened the Lucian Freud Project, dedicating the whole of the Garden Galleries (a small building) to the work of Lucian Freud for the following five years. I had seen that exhibition, which included paintings, works on paper, and prints along with copper plates that he printed. It was great to see so much of Freud's work in one place, but I wondered how IMMA planned to keep this exhibition fresh over the extended period.

Interestingly and intriguingly, IMMA decided to invite guests in to curate exhibitions around the specific collection that was on loan. The first of these exhibitions opened in mid-February; "The Ethics of Scrutiny" was curated by artist Daphne Wright. I went to the exhibition two weeks ago, totally curious as to how curation was going to change the exhibition. It was fantastic! 
 The first small gallery was a pleasant portent of things to come: dimly lit and reverent, on one wall there were some watercolour botanical drawings by Sigmund Freud (Lucian Freud's grandfather) and in the middle of the room a horizontal display case containing a number of reproductions of Emily Dickenson's "envelope poems". On a further wall was a small painting of Freud's that scrutinised the us, the audience, daring us to look closer. Each room that followed was a sparse but intense exploration of the curatorial theme. Wright made this a multi-media exploration with lightbox reproductions of Gwen John paintings and the sound of exhibition hub-bub in one room, and a reading from a short story in another. I especially was interested in Wright's subversion of what is normally thought of as a "male gaze" as she included artwork and writing by women.

In the large basement gallery, there were a lot of Freud's paintings for individual examination and two video monitors taking centre stage in the room. The videos were clips of John Berger in Ways of Seeing, his 1970s BBC series. In the clips he was analysing the historical view of the female nude.

In several rooms upstairs, Wright again juxtaposed work by other artists with key Freud works relevant to the theme of scrutiny. I loved seeing Kathy Prendergast's bronze sculpture Little Bouquet (2007), a piece of family history & memory, and also seeing a plant on the window ledge whose didactic informed that it was grown from a cutting of a plant belonging to Sigmund Freud. There was an audio of plant biologist Ottoline Leyser discussing plant intelligence.

In the final room there was a sculptural work by Thomas Schutte (which could be seen as portaits of an artist) and Freud's moving self-portrait. Doubly moving was the sound of Bernie Brennan singing the Nine Inch Nails' song Hurt, much in the style of the legendary Johnny Cash's brilliant cover of this song.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Porridge Bread

My foody niece, who owns and operates the Wild Geese Food Company, gave me this very simple, easy to make and extremely tasty recipe for Porridge Bread.

You will need: 1x500g tub of plain yoghurt (I use Greek style myself, and you can also use a dairy-free yoghurt);  2x500g yoghurt tub measures of oats; 2 tsp bicarbonate soda (aka baking soda, aka bread soda); 1 tsp salt. Optional: raisins or other chopped dried fruit for a sweeter bread; basil, oregano or other herb for a more savoury flavour. As my niece said to me, this recipe "is a great base, mix in nuts, seeds, dried fruit (dates are amazing), herbs, parmesan, sundried tomato". It will be your bread, experiment with it!

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl.

 It will become obvious when mixing with your clean hands makes most sense.

Form a bread round; it is moist but will hold it's shape.  Place on a greased baking tray and cut an X in the top of the bread. Bake at 180C for 40-50 minutes (NB, this time also depends on your oven; my oven was pre-heated and it was ready at 35 minutes).

The temptation is to start eating it as soon as it comes out of the oven, but try to let it cool for a bit, otherwise it will be really crumbly. I think I waited about 15 minutes before slicing a few pieces, but it was still warm. Yummy! Thanks, Tara!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Ceramic bowls

In the ceramics workshop that I am participating in every Thursday afternoon at Signal Arts Centre (near where I live), I decided I wanted to make a few handbuilt bowls using slab and flat coil techniques. 

I used pudding bowls as formers, lined first with cling film to ease removal of the bowls when finished. With flat coil technique, one simply rolls coils and presses them into areas left after placing flat clay slabs onto the former. The slabs and coils are joined by working on the inside - pressing the joins together and smoothing. I used terracotta clay for this bowl, with a coil foot.

I made four bowls in a smaller pudding bowl with grey clay and rolled balls for their feet. This is how they look bisqued. The cracks on the outside are intentional: they show where the slab pieces have joined; these joining areas are smoothed together on the inside of the bowl. As the feet, whether ball or coil, are attached when the bowl is leather hard and removed from the former, they must be attached using slip and roughing up the surface, as with any other handbuilt pot. I like to use a bit of vinegar too, which is a strong adhesive for clay.

This is the terracotta bowl when it came out of the bisque fire.

I glazed the four grey bowls with a black glaze all over, but I wiped the glaze from the outside with a damp sponge such that the glaze remained in the surface cracks. I then spattered white glaze on the inside of the bowls. Here are the four "galaxy" bowls sitting happily on their kiln shelf prior to the final firing.

The course facilitator had picked up a new glaze - gold! I painted black glaze on the entire terracotta pot (except the foot of course), wiping the coil areas with a damp sponge before applying the gold glaze.

The gold glaze was very liquid so I applied it by carefully trailing the glaze on the slightly raised areas of the coil swirls. As with the four smaller bowls, sponging the black glaze off the coil areas, left some glaze in the deeper cracks.

Though difficult to photograph, I was delighted with the results. The black glaze actually has a bluish tinge, and the gold is a gorgeous glaze!

I was also delighted with my "galaxy" bowls. The wiped glaze technique worked perfectly for the outside of the bowls, and the results of the spattered white glaze on the inside were just as I had hoped. In ceramics the best plans can easily go astray in the kiln, so it is never until the last firing that one knows for sure whether a pot has worked or not!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Iceland 3

Though it seems like ages ago now (the beginning of the month), I am still amazed by my memory of Strokkur at Geysir.

One of the many wonders of Iceland, Strokkur is such an active geyser. It spouts every few minutes, eliciting the wow response each time! Absolutely amazing too, is the clear blue sky.

As the geyser was gearing up to spout, one could actually view the ground seeithing and bubbling. Just a split second before blowing, a huge bubble would form and reflect the blue sky. Needless to say, this part of the process is near impossible to photograph -- just put the camera down and enjoy (and buy the fridge magnet at the airport that shows the bubble).

The whole area of Geysir is steaming. It reminded me of "the Dead Marshes" from Lord of the Rings (perhaps Tolkien's inspiration?).

The original geyser isn't actively spouting anymore, but the hole in the ground is still steaming.

After our visit to Geysir, it is only about a ten minute drive to Gulfoss ("Golden Falls"). Did I mention that it was cold? The falls weren't completely frozen, but there was a lot of ice...

Gulfoss is a terracing falls, and incredibly gorgeous. Some crazy person went beyond the barrier to get a closer look (you can see the tracks in the snow). I believe you can traverse footpaths in the summer months, but with the cold and the wind in early March, seeing the falls from a distance is enough.

From any large waterfalls in the wind, one always gets a spray, but here the spray was ice particles, so we were feeling a bit sandblastted. Did I mention that it was cold? Gorgeous regardless.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Iceland 2

As our time was so limited in Iceland, we had made a schedule of things we wanted to see and do. We were faithful to our schedule! So having been to Thingvellir to see the tectonic plates on our way to Laugarvatn, and spending a few hours stargazing at the thermal baths of Fontana Spa on our first night, we were up early the next morning to check out the Kerid volcanic crater, which was less than a half hour drive from our apartment. 

It was a beautiful day -- sunny and bright -- but it was COLD and WINDY. There was a path leading down to the lake, which is at water table level, not rain-filled. 

It doesn't look like it in any photo, but this lake is completely frozen over. The idea that there is wave action is an illusion; this is ice!

The spots on the lake are fallen debris from the crater, probably caused by the high winds. As I said, this lake is completely frozen. Apparently it is not a deep lake (when liquid) and the ice was quite solid. While we were there, someone did walk out to the centre; there was really no worry about the ice breaking. 

For our elevenses, we drove back to Laugarvatn to go on Fontana Spa's "Rye Bread Tour". The nearby geothermal station heats all the buildings in the village and its surrounds.

Fontana Spa (which also has a restaurant) makes use of the hot shoreline, not just for the spa, but for baking bread!

The bread dough is sealed in a pot and buried in the hot sand. It takes 24 hours to cook, so they dig up a loaf and put a new pot in twice daily.

This traditional Icelandic recipe is delicious! As part of the tour, we returned to the spa to sample the bread warm with wads of Icelandic butter. Oh that was a really good elevenses!

After filling up on the rye bread, we went for a walk by the shore (being careful not to walk in any steamy sand). This jetty leads out from the spa, and on days when it is not quite so icy, spa-goers can go directly from the hot baths to a dip in the lake.

The view of the lake and surrounds from Laugarvatn is gorgeous.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Iceland 1

The beginning of March brought with it a collision between Storm Emma and "the beast from the east", resulting in huge snowfalls in Ireland, closing Dublin Airport for a day and most annoying of all, disrupting my holiday plans! Though the airport had reopened in time for my plan to take off on the Saturday morning, there was no way for me to get to the airport -- my estate was snowed and iced in, roads in my town impassable, and no bus or train service till that afternoon (too late for me!). After re-scheduling the departure for the earliest date -- 3 days later -- I got to have a whirlwind trip to Iceland. It was beautiful & cold, the sky a pure blue, and lots of mountains were visible. This is the view ahead, driving on the Golden Circle road towards Laugarvatn, from Kevlavik (Reykjavik airport).

As both a stopping point and a site of interest, we went to Thingvellir National Park. Driving up to the park, I was amazed at the oddness of the lake view. It struck me like a frame of a film of a lake --  I could see motion in the water, but it was stopped. The lake was frozen. 

The land is rugged and there are trail pathways for explorers. However, it was just too cold to do more than an hour's wandering at a time.

Thingvellir is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet visibly, and actually pull apart at the rate of 2 cm a year. There is a valley pathway between the plates.

Just before sunset we arrived at our accommodation on the outskirts of Laugarvatn: The Golden Circle Apartments are a complex of three private buildings of comfortable, self-catering apartments.

Inside our apartment, we were especially delighted with the view from our main living-dining room. The flags on the right mark the location of Fontana Spa, a one minute walk away. Of course we headed down there once we were settled and enjoyed an evening of hot and cold relaxation. The night sky was incredible from the luxury of the spa.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

pastel drawings

I have been busy with a lot of writing lately (poetry, short stories, art criticism). At the end of January my short review of William Crozier: the Edge of the Landscape at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) was published as part of CIRCA magazine's This Matters Now series. I saw this exhibition a few months ago, and blogged about it here, but you can read the review here. I was also delighted that my short story, Prayers for My Children was published a few days ago in the online journal, Tales from the Forest; you can read it here.

Last week I decided that, even though I hadn't finished cleaning up the studio, I wanted to do some visual work, other than ceramics. I pulled out some chalk pastels and heavy grey paper and began drawing.

As may be apparent from my prints and handmade books over the past year or two (see here, here, and here), I am inspired by my times of "shinrinyoku" (walks in the woods for good health)

and by walks along the seaside where I become obsessed with pebbles at the shore (also see here and here).

I really enjoyed drawing with the chalk pastels as I was able to lay down shapes and colour to effect quite quickly.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Szechuan cucumbers

Kung Hei Fat Choy! This is the Chinese new year greeting, easy to remember, as The Year of the Dog begins (Feb 16 2018). My friend from Hong Kong assures me that the new year's celebrations traditionally go on for two weeks, so there is plenty of time to include this easy-to-prepare and absolutely delicious Oriental pickle to accompany any meal.

Ingredients: 3 cucumbers (washed but not peeled); 3-4 garlic cloves (sliver); 4.5 tsp salt; 4 dried hot red peppers*** (I haven't been able to get whole dried chillies in years, so I just use a few tsp chilli flakes); 4 tblsp sesame oil; 6 tblsp white vinegar (I use white wine vinegar, but if you have rice vinegar that would be great); 65 g/2.5 oz sugar.

To prepare cucumbers, slice half lengthwise and using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds. This is easy to do. Though it may seem wasteful, this part of the cucumber is mostly water - I usually drain before putting the seedy pulp into my compost bin (if you are using an outdoor compost, you don't need to bother). Cut the cucumber halves into approximately 1 cm slices (as below). Place in a container and sprinkle with salt. LEAVE FOR ABOUT 4 HOURS BEFORE CONTINUING.

Drain, rinse, drain, and maybe rinse and drain again. Place cucumbers, garlic slivers and chillies in a serving dish (not plastic as you'll be adding hot ingredients to it!). Heat up sesame oil in small pot on high heat till it begins to smoke and pour over mix. Heat up vinegar in same pot and pour it over the mix too.

Add the sugar and stir the whole lot well before adding to a container for refrigeration. Again leave this for about 4 hours before you plan to serve. This recipe will last a week in the fridge (though it has never lasted that long in my house!).