A mighty long silence on this blog, not because there hasn't been any painting going on, but because as well as working on the usual clutch of summer commissions for wedding icons and so forth, I have been preparing for a month's residency in the lovely medieval town of Gmuend in southern Austria. Besides being an exquisitely preserved medieval town - fortress, town walls, dungeons, the works - Gmuend runs a distinguished arts programme and is host to a busy artistic community. The town is currently holding a Matisse exhibition in the Stadtturmgalerie, and as of this morning will be hosting me for a month in the Altstadtgalerie. There I get to display my icons and illuminations and work in public, and struggle along in German with interested visitors. This will be an amusing challenge, as my German is still rudimentary and I generally prefer to hide away......
eAs you can see from the pictures, the Altstadtgalerie usually has a more contemporary offering than mine. However you can also spy the red sign of the well-known Cafe Rudiferia where if the art bores you, you can sample the high art of Austrian patisserie at a much more reasonable price than in Salzburg.
During the month I shall also be holding two workshops, an introduction to medieval book illumination, where the participants will be able to choose from a range of fabulous dragons I have recreated from manuscripts of different periods.
More than seven years on, and mindful of the old adage about the cobbler's children going unshod, I decided it was time I made a crucifix for our own home. Most things I paint are commissions or are for sale elsewhere, so no sooner do we get used to something being on the wall than it disappears. I'm glad of that really, it gives me the chance to try again. Though I shan't be trying again with a crucifix unless I can buy a ready-made blank. I had forgotten how difficult a shape it is to cut without specialist equipment. Casting around the internet for my inspiration, I ran across some wonderful images from the Franciscan museum in Zadar, Croatia. Another one for the bucket list.... If you make it there before I do, please abandon the beach one day in favour of this place and report back. Croatia is a bit of a hybrid East-meets-West place, iconographically speaking. A largely Catholic country, but with many influences from the East. The 11th century cross which I took as my chief model shows Christ standing rather than hanging, calm and strong. He is not twisted and emaciated or smothered in gore. Instead of a loin cloth he sports a rather fetching sort of brocade kilt which I lifted wholesale. But what I really wanted - and failed - to recreate was the magnificent face of Christ in my second, black and white image below. Also from Zadar, from a nunnery destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war, tragically this partial photo seems to be all that remains of this most haunting icon.
I just viewed another wonderful video by Attila Gazo of www.masterpigments.com about the production of blue pigment from mineral azurite. Find it here on YouTube by cut and pasting the link in your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcMCGNNzxtk.
A divine colour, azurite, as important in later medieval western art as lapis lazuli. If I could afford to, I would splash it on all over. I love it in its purest grades, as in this tiny illuminated letter T (back of a pendant jewel I made for my daughter): -
- and just as much in its lesser grades, as the greenish shade I used for Christ's robe in this icon of the Confession of Thomas.
I once harboured ambitions to make my own pigments, but just looking at the equipment and repetitive processes involved in Attila's work is enough to make one come over faint. Quite a risky business too, given the toxicity of some of these pigments. Check out his videos on the production of lead white and cinnabar.
Some art deserves to be less noticed, and I have to admit that sadly most of the contents of the Salzburg Cathedral Museum fall squarely into that category. Worse still, the reputedly magnificent apartments of the former prince-bishops were closed for restoration, so I found myself scooting past quantities of truly dire (but impressively large) canvases, an entire corridor of curiosity cabinets with several hundred years' worth of dead animals and other dusty relics in them, and various other forbidding remains, wondering whether the fabulously wealthy bishops of Salzburg were just less efficient than their contemporaries in looting the best religious art, or whether they preferred to keep their wealth at home and commission only from the locals at the expense of quality. But then in the very last display case (which displayed, unaccountably, a huge pair of Dutch clogs) I read a querulous note complaining of Nazi thefts and Allied bombings, which went some way to explaining it. But I spent time there, it being a cold January day, and a few things did catch my eye at random:-
The view from my desk
Current work, places and events, art travel, and interesting snippets about Christian icons, medieval art, manuscript illumination, egg tempera , gilding, technique and materials.