Friday, 7 January 2011

Hybrid Love and Reflecting on Wisdom

Hybrid Love, is so called because of the Hybrid nature of the vase itself and also because Agapanthus is a symbol of love. The name, Agapanthus comprises, 'agape,' meaning love and, 'anthos,' meaning flower. When I refer to the hybridity in the vase, I mean that the upper half, with the flower heads against the cloudy summer sky, looks like a painting of specific Agapanthus flowers, which it is. The lower half, evolved as a flattened, designed pattern; something repeatable and general; a comment or a sign or signifier. At the base, it becomes self-consciously patterned, where I've stylised the roots and added the medallions with my potters mark and the date, 2010. The stems on a couple of the plants are ruled lines, or were, I think I changed my mind half way through when vacillating between general and specific/ pattern and representation.

It has two names this pot. The other name is 'Chinese Vase: Agapanthus.' Both are real, they just have very different feel about them. When reading The Four Quartets, I rebelled against,

'The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.'

Then the more I read it, the more I felt that the 'moves perpetually' bit releases the jar from the onerous weight of having to be an oh so still, well behaved, authentic Chinese Vase. So I renamed it, thinking that perhaps that perpetual movement might have something of my own vacillation.

Reflecting on Wisdom is the name I have given to the Iris vase. I also called it 'Searching for Renaissance,' which was exactly what I was doing. I wanted this vase to evoke the Irises in Italian Renaissance painting and to have the surface quality of a landscape painting or of the landscapes which appear as backgrounds to Renaissance paintings of Biblical themes.

The Iris flower has acquired countless meanings and mythological associations but the idea of the message and of wisdom and courage seem pre-eminent among them. The goddess Iris was the messenger to the gods in Ancient Greek Mythology and carried her messages back and forth along the rainbow. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the three petals stood for faith, wisdom and valour. This seems to have been absorbed into more recent, Christian and European symbolisms not least in the heraldic sign of the Fleur de Lis, which also proclaims these ancient virtues and also in the Christian Trinity. The flower appears repeatedly in Renaissance painting, as a symbol for the Virgin Mary, for love, and sometimes for the sorrow of the Madonna at the crucifixion. It is clearly able to adapt to circumstances and cultures and provide meaning almost wherever it is needed. I think my own meaning for it are most strongly associated with Renaissance religious iconography but I too find I am unable to fix its mood which moves between optimism and hope - it is abundant on the most ungenerous, unaccommodating ground - and foreboding - deep purple seriousness.

Floods at Moonrise

Moonlit landscape, floods, mist. It's a memory of home, when the river valley floods and mist rises. I've added a picture which shows the valley in late summer I think. The vase is gathering of three images and memories. The Glyme valley where I grew up; Portmeadow, in Oxford, where I lived for a time, and which frequently flooded voluminously and magnificently resembling a mighty lake, which froze in winter sometimes and provided the best skating facilities I've ever used; and Lordship Rec, in Tottenham, London, where I now live whose modest and manky ditch is nonetheless edged in vast, stately, mature willows of exactly the sort I grew up with. These are the willows pictured on the pot. There is a slightly mournful tinge to this vase: just after I photographed and drew them on to the surface of the vase, they were subject of major surgery. This is not entirely a matter for mourning. They were suffering. I could see the dead wood and was fearing for them. It is not least for this reason that I gave them a vase. I do want to congratulate Haringey's tree surgeon for doing what looks like an excellent job on the all the trees in our park and I do hope the willows will re-sprout in Spring, as anticipated and in that inimitable way that willows do.
This vase was also in part a response to 'The Dry Salvages' part of 'Four Quartets.'

Technically, the vase felt risky being almost monochrome as it is and almost wholly dependent on tonal variation. I'm not sure how I feel about the lustres. The silver base seems perfect and the rim - neither of which you can see in these images. The moon and its halo seem to work, but there are silvery flecks on the water which need to be well lit to be brought out. Either that or I haven't used enough lustre. The trees and water I'm pleased with. I haven't got to know this pot yet. So I'm still waiting.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Moment in the Rose Garden

This is the first of two or more pots. About four months ago I made a similar one. It was more asymmetrical but with the same surface imagery - a garden blooming and with signs of new life but also on the edge of decay. I left that one and turned to the one pictured above. I wanted to explore the imagery which associates with martyrdom. These are all flowers which seem to inhabit the narratives of martyrs and appear when they are pictured. The lilies are taken to be a symbol of purity. They often accompany images of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation. They are used in images of saints and they adorned the funeral cortege of Diana, Princess of Wales, nothing to do with purity I guess but certainly an adjunct to the growing narrative of Diana as the imperfect saint, redeemed by early death. Their very association with purity always seems to indicate imminent loss - loss of innocence or loss of life - they are often considered one and the same - certainly in Catholic traditions.

Roses, red roses, are the flower of romance but these are dying, these are the decaying part of the garden. These blooms are spent. And then there are green apples, still small, new, yet to grow and reach the stage of ripeness and harvest. So there is hope and promise - possibly.
In this vase, there is not too much indication of a garden. I think the sister vase, still in its unglazed state, has more of a landscape quality, a sense of distance. Even so this one has some sense of distance with the sky and a feel of direction with the positioning of the lily flowers. There is also a hint of 'pattern motif,' in the entanglement of the apples and roses - rather in the way there is sometimes with pre-Raphaelite painting when painting a specific picture seems to become decoration - something more of a signifier, a sign, more general.

I'm delighted with the relationship between the colours: that rather unyielding white, the cold red and the stern blue/grey of the sky seem to me to work together perfectly - though I say so myself. It felt like a colossal risk to place all three with more or less equal weight across the same surface but I think it's worked.

The name of this pot has been confusing me. I kept wanting to name it, 'In the Garden of the Martyrs,' without really knowing why. It's such a precise and strange name that I thought it must have come from somewhere - I must have encountered it before, but I didn't know where. Google tells me that that there are two books of that name, but I hadn't encountered either. However, one of them, actually called, 'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs,' is a reference to the Golzareh Shohada / Behesht e Zahra outside Tehran in Iran and to all of the other mass cemeteries in Iran where the 'martyrs' of the Iran Iraq war are buried. I haven't been to any of these places but they are certainly in my consciousness because they are often talked of in Iran and now in London too. Ayatollah Khomeini is burried in Golzareh Shohada and, now, so is Neda Agha Soltan and Sohrab Arabi.

I think I shall keep, 'A moment in the rose garden,'(from T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets), for this vase, and the other one will be called, 'In the garden of the martyrs,' and will be an image of the 'martyrdom' of Neda and an exploration of the way that her death has been pictured. I think there will be a third, ideally, which will be for all of those who have died opposing the ruling regimes of Iran since 2009 and since 1979. Navigating this 'martyr' business is not unproblematic though, hence my repeated use of inverted commas, it is not something I can immediately accept - not without question anyway.

I need to get closer to this work before I can really start to explain why. I do know that you need to be dead to be a martyr and I'm not persuaded that the violent deaths of so many young people should remembered in quite this way. It's slightly too fetishistic, slightly too celebratory for my liking. And we need to people to live and win this struggle and function and produce the renewed and flourishing society that Iranians want, not a procession of dead people to be endlessly mourned.

Work in progress and thinking about snow

I've come back from Wootton smelling of damp snow and wood smoke and feeling oddly disorientated to be in the city again. Only five days there with mum over New Year, but the persistent snow and fog made it feel like Narnia. Wootton is the village I grew up in. It's a about 10 miles north-west of Oxford on the edge of the Cotswolds. The land is flat coming out of Oxford to Woodstock, then, just as you leave Woodstock, the first hill starts. Wootton is a small village which sort of flows down a hill side, church at the top and 'the big house' and the school and the shop and what was a pub and so on and then it heads down hill to the river Glyme and goes over a bridge then up a steep path the other side is mum's house. The picture above with the gateway and the foggy snow leading down to the river is the view from her garden; the gate is close to the house. It's isolated. She lives on her own since dad died and when snow comes, it can be difficult to get to the house.
So it's just a bit too easy to get sucked into a haze of village and field and river and snow and fog and forget everything else, particularly since I've known it since the day I was born - February 1962, one of the coldest winters on record.
So, on to recently completed work, part 1 we could say. I'll start with the bowls which I've called 'Shabe Yalda,' the Iranian Winter Solstice, a series of bowls continuing the 'Ab Lambu' theme because, at this time, Iranians celebrate with pomegranates and water melon. The bowls I made this time just made me think of Shab e yalda, because I finished them on yalda night and because the snow had come and, by coincidence, I had wanted to create a pomegranates in snow feel so gave them all a snowy white tin glaze exterior. Not quite by coincidence: a few years ago I photographed pomegranates in snow and I always had wanted to make something that recalled that image. I also well remember eating pomegranates in Abadeh, in Western Iran, with friends just as snow was falling. So, here there they are, above the snow.
I'll sign this post off now and continue with a new one for the four more new vases which are the beginning of new work.