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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

twelve-project-day-eight

Day eight of the Twelve project takes me to August 2016 (I’ve selected one image for each month of 2016 and I’m posting one a day for twelve days). The big thing for me in August was my first ever visit to Spain. The Spanish border is just four hours drive from where I live in France so you can leave first thing in the morning and have lunch in Spain. I’m not going to write about that whole trip and all the places I visited here but I’ve selected this one image because it captures one of the main threads of that story.

This photo is taken in the Alhambra in Grenada. If you’ve ever thought of making a “bucket list” of places you want to visit before you die, then I highly recommend putting the Alhambra on that list. It’s best to buy your tickets in advance (here’s the official site for buying them online) and you have to select both the date and the time you want to visit. There are a limited number of tickets for each half hour period of the day to manage the flow of visitors. Here’s the number one tip – buy tickets for the 0830 entrance – its the first entrance of the day before it starts to get too busy and way too hot.

This one photo reminds me of several of the things I loved best about my visit.

The shapes of the windows and doors. There are so many in the Alhambra and Generalife site. You can wander from room to room as you wish, unless you are on an organised tour in which case you have to go with your chosen crowd. I prefer to explore freely. Every room you enter has beautiful, enticing windows and doors. You’re drawn to them, both to look through to see what’s on the other side, and to pause and admire their shape, design and decoration.

The decoration – there are just the most astonishing patterns in the stonework and the plaster everywhere. They reminded me of the Celtic knots and Pictish patterns on the ancient stones in Scotland but they are different from both of those. One glance at them captures you. They are beautiful at that very first look, but then you’re drawn into them, exploring more of the detail and noticing how the patterns both repeat and evolve. If you look at the walls, archways and frames in this photo you won’t see a single area left unadorned. The whole place is like that. Room after room. But look down too under the double window and to the left of it….see the mosaic pattern of the tiles? That’s the other major design feature here, the tiles. There are so many different tiles creating so many different patterns in so many different combinations…..the diversity, the creativity, the workmanship….breathtaking.

Through the double window here you can glimpse a garden and that’s one of the things I loved best about the Alhambra….the courtyards and gardens, with trees, flowers, bushes, fountains, pools, paths and benches. The fact that the windows and doors are all wide open to the outside spaces breaks down the boundaries between the inner and outer parts of the palace.

Light and shade – the shadows, the reflections, the contrasts of light and shade are as varied as the patterns on the tiles and walls. I don’t know if they designed the place to give you that experience of light and shade but I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

I know there are many, many, beautiful places to visit in the world. Too many for any of us to experience in one lifetime. But despite the crowds the Alhambra made a huge impact on me. A lot of my photography is of Nature  but this was one of the places where it was the unique creativity of human beings which was almost overwhelming.

We humans really can create the most beautiful, varied, delightful world when we work together with focus and determination.

Patience and persistence – I’d say these are two of the skills I learn to practice every day living in the Charente – and those are the very two skills needed to create beauty. Slowing down, paying attention to the details and enjoying every single moment to the full.

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twelve-project-day-four

Day Four of the Twelve project – 12 images, 12 months, 12 posts over 12 days.

In April the garden filled with colour as the bulbs we planted months ago shot up and expressed themselves with fabulous flowers. There’s an old saying about “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”, but Nature is never as predictable as that. Nature doesn’t use protocols or obey a limited set of strict rules. But there’s still something in that old phrase, not least a call to remember that wind and rain are necessary factors in the seasonal cycles of plants.

I start every day by stepping outside into the garden. I open all the wooden shutters to let the light in through the windows and I turn my gaze to the garden, the field, the vineyards and the sky. Colour catches my eye. A splash of white, red, yellow or blue. I’m drawn towards it. So on this April morning I was drawn to this particular flower and as I bent forwards to look more closely it took my breath away.

The water droplets beaded along the edges of the pink-fringed petals caught the morning sun and sparkled like precious jewels. The shadows of one petal inside another gave me the impression that light was actually emerging from within the flower itself. The delicate pattern of the pink on the white petals looked as if the flower had been lightly dipped into red paint, some of it running slightly from the edge down into the rest of the white petals.

It looked brand new. Freshly made.

Here in this one flower I could see the emergence of the alchemy of Nature working with the four elements – creating its green stalks and white petals from the earth, drawing the energy of the fire of the sun to grow and unfold itself, gathering the elements from the air to forge them into substance, and all with the life-giving power of water.

And maybe more than anything else, it is utterly beautiful. A true work of art.

How lucky are we to be surrounded by such magic and beauty.

“L’émerveillement du quotidien” – the wonder of the everyday.

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twelve-project-day-three

Day Three of the Twelve project – 12 images, one for each month of 2016, used to create 12 posts, one each day for the 12 days of Christmas.

In March 2016, I visited Marqueyssac gardens in the Dordogne. This wonderful place has several, vastly different areas, from woodland scattered with art works, to winding rocky paths on the edge of a cliff, to this astonishing area of topiary.

I’ve seen lots of topiary elsewhere but usually its the odd bush shaped like an animal, or a small planting of bushes shaped into pyramids or spheres, but here…..well, for a start there are more shaped bushes here in one space than I’ve ever seen before, and, more interestingly, they retain a fundamentally organic form. They don’t just look like bushes fashioned to appear like something else. They retain the diversity you usually associate with Nature. The way they grow together also gives a strong impression of a community, or, from a little further back, a whole organism.

This was my inspiration this year for my writing about the two universal forces – whether we think of them as the forces of chaos and order, of wildness and discipline, or of flow and structure, we find them at work everywhere. And here, in Marqueyssac we see how something utterly entrancing emerges when we get a true integration of these two forces.

This has been such a year of divisions. Dualistic, or binary, thinking seems to be on the rise – you have to choose sides. One is good, the other is bad. You can choose science or art, reason or emotions, right wing or left wing….and so on. When we do that with the fundamental forces we end up emphasising order and control at the expense of freedom and wildness, or we choose structure over flexibility, but actually, in the universe, the greatest beauty, and the release of the greatest potential comes when we aren’t forced to choose one at the expense of the other.

I think the clearest way to think about integration is to consider the relationship between our heart and our lungs. They are completely different organs, grown from distinctly different (“well differentiated”) cells. The heart works best as a heart, and the lungs work best as lungs. Neither would do so well if our body chose between them and supported only the heart, or only the lungs. Turns out that the heart can’t be at its best without the lungs, and the lungs can’t be at their best without the heart. They work together for their own, and for each other’s mutual benefit.

That’s the definition of integration which I like best – the creation of mutually beneficial bonds between well differentiated parts.

And that’s what I see when I look at Marqueyssac gardens – discipline and wildness, structure and chaos, beautifully integrated.

Even without any of these thoughts, these gardens would have been wonderful to visit. Take your time. I spent about three or four hours there and could probably have spent longer (if I’d started earlier!) What an experience! It stays with me, not simply as a memory, but as an inspiration, a series of images, a stimulus to my imagination and my thought.

Places like these are the special places on the Earth – they act as our muses. They lift our spirits, and reach deep down into our souls.

 

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Day Two February.jpg

Over twelve days, starting on December 26th, I’m selecting one photograph from each month of 2016 and sharing it here with you. My choices are based on the images themselves, plus what they represent about my life here in France.

Down in the bottom right hand corner of France, the region in the south east which borders onto Italy, is a town called Menton. I’ve visited it a few times in my life and have always liked it. I like its fabulous synthesis of French and Italian culture. I love the colours of the buildings, the views of mountains and sea, the variety of cafes and restaurants, and the ease with which you can pop over into Italy and back. Once a year, the town of Menton holds an event called the Fête du Citron. It lasts for three weeks with a parade through the town each Sunday, a night parade midweek, installations of sculptures made from oranges and lemons, and various other events. In 2016 the theme of the event was “Italian cinema”.

I’ve never seen such immense sculptures made from fruit. They are absolutely astonishing. Some are the size of buildings, some are pulled through the town during the parades, and all are simply, astonishingly colourful and beautiful. But here’s what made the biggest impression on me – the celebration.

Maybe it’s because of the shocking and disturbing terrorist attacks and the appalling stories of brutality and oppression reported in the news in this era but to see thousands of people parading sculptures, no, whole scenes, made from orange and yellow fruit, through the streets of the town, with the buzz of the admiring crowds, the loud Italian movie theme music, the marching bands, the street dancers, the joyous smiles and laughter on the faces of participants and spectators alike…..it was SUCH an antidote to all that horror. This celebration. This delight in dressing up, singing, playing music, dancing, creating works of art, this enjoyment of the spectacle, is such a unique human experience. Yes, it seems some humans have a very mean-spirited, anti-life approach to living, but here was a great example of that opposite pole. Here was a celebration of beauty, colour, music, art, storytelling, dancing, singing, and laughing together.

Uplifting.

Life-enhancing.

Joyous.

Wow, am I grateful to have been able to participate in this celebration of being human.

February 2017, the 84th Fête du Citron will have a theme of “Broadway”. It’s likely that, like this year, about a quarter of a million people will visit and share the celebrations.

 

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goddess-of-the-garden

I stumbled upon a goddess in the gardens today. She looks well pleased now she’s finished painting all of the leaves yellow.

I think she’s every right to be pleased. She’s done a fantastic job!

ginkoes

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dragons-and-crystals

Everywhere you look you can see the effects of the interplay between the universe’s two forces.

When I looked up at the ceiling of the Chapel of Saint Blaise in Toledo I was entranced by the colour, the gold and the eight pointed stars. It was only later when I was back home that I realised that the centre piece contained eight dragons, out of whose mouths poured not fire but crystals…..at least that’s how it looks to me.

Dragons for wildness, crystals for discipline, to bring together David Ward and Thomas Berry, for this is how they each describe the two forces.

Without the integration of these two polar opposites our planet would not exist, and nor would we. Astonishing. Awe inspiring. Wondrous.

Look around and I’m sure it won’t take long for you to spot these forces at work.

 

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on-reflection

The sunlight reflecting on the leaves of the lilies caught my eye, but once I’d uploaded the photo and looked at it more closely I realised there were three completely separate areas of reflection in this one image.

There is the one which initially caught my eye. It’s so bright that the leaves are hardly green at all. They are like silver plates floating on the river. Right next to them is a reflection of the clouds passing up above. The ripples in the river give these clouds the appearance of a water colour painting. Quite beautiful.

Between them, these two reflections put me in mind of Monet’s paintings of lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris….which is definitely one of those places to put on your bucket list.

monet-lilies

To stand in one of those galleries with Monet’s astonishing paintings filling the entirety of your visual field is one of the most amazing experiences you could have in an art gallery.

Finally, right at the top of the photo, there are the reflections of the old watermill, the entrance to the park, and a bridge, all seemingly a much more literal kind of reflection somehow.

I hadn’t really thought much about different types of reflection before, but this one image has inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.

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