Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Animals in Danger

Remember these? What ever happened to them. I still have a pencil tin and a pencil sharpener which I use to sharpen my green eye liner with. It has two blue bears on it with the Animals in Danger scripted in a wavy line across the top. I have had it for years.

I have tried in vain to find the artist
responsible for these designs so I can't really credit them!
The success of the unique brand of the Body Shop has always fascinated me - it is their rare approach to product development that draws me in. A child of the 1980s, I arrived at an age that was easily influenced by trends at a time when the Body Shop was probably hitting its peak. I remember at school the Body Shop became a fashionable icon. Everyone had their tote bags, their pencil cases and stickers on their books. As I have got older, I still see the living remnants of the movement, so many of my friends went into conservation and ecology with the belief that they could save the world. Many of my generation went on to do low paid work carrying the belief that it doesn't matter they weren't earning. The philanthropic philosophy of having a purpose and being responsible socially has lived on in all of us. We were the children who bought their soaps and soaked in bath tubs of ecological responsibility. 

Anita Roddick used to live very close to the place I grew up in from the age of nine near Amberley village, and every time we drove past her house I was reminded of her. We used to drive past the Body Shop factory in Littlehampton frequently in dad's 2CV van and I participated in their tours several times on school trips and with friends. It was an experience I revelled in, seeing all the bananas shipped in from the tropics being put into large vats to make their banana shampoo and watching all the mandarins being pulped. The smells were incredible. I think it would be right to say that Anita most certainly contributed to my love of plants and ethnobotany.

So yes, it is the ethos of The Body Shop that still plays on my mind repeatedly. I find it deeply moving that a brand such as theirs could have become as successful as it did. Their consistent pursuit of social and environmental justice permeated the culture of the firm and probably still does. However it is something about what it did in the 90s that really sticks in my mind. Their branding doesn't seem quite so apparent these days, it is as if they've been drowned out by other large eco-socio companies. It's the thing - everything is now more focused on being organic and 'from the source'. What I find so sad, is that even though they were the ones to have had the bravado to campaign for this movement, I now find that the messages they made so clear are no longer really part of it. It's morphed and now more about being paraben-free and holistic. What I liked about their campaign was that they broadcasted from the top of their voices how opposed they were to animal testing, how much they helped economically stressed communities and how they promoted recycling. I always recount the clip boards in every shop collecting signatures. For example, in 1989 the body shop collected a million signatures on petitions to 'stop the burning' in the Amazon Rainforest, where fires were being set to clear cast areas for development.  Personally, for me, their best branding mission was 'Animals in Danger' where they designed and responsibly manufactured a range of merchandise aimed at children that highlighted the plight of our most critically endangered species using illustrations (there is just something about the amazing accessibility of art isn't there?). Their campaigns were not hidden in the 90s, they weren't just written on pieces of paper, published on the web or there as a percentage of the price, in the 90s one could 'wear' the campaign and be part of it. 

Save the Rhino
Today, I have just visited The Body Shop website, a place that, to me, on appearance is so very far removed from the inspiring world of Anita Roddick's dream. It's incredibly 'glam' and airbrushed glitz. Such a missed opportunity for L'OrĂ©al I feel. In order to read anything about The Body Shop's ethos you have to scroll right to the bottom of the page, past all the Christmas promo, to the 'About Us' icon, which, after being clicked on is a disappointing read and you have to go onto yet another page to get the full feed. Personally, I feel now that the message is lost in a heap of advertisement, but in the 90s, the message was clear and very simple. Through all of their hard work and concentrated focus The Body Shop created a global community that everyone could identify with and I wonder (and hope) if we, as botanical artists, could do the same?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

They dry like poppadoms in the sun

One thing is for sure, and that is that I'm still obsessed with the Catalpa bignonioides tree growing in our back garden. Everything about it is fantastic. Its leaves, its long spooky pods and its entire form. I have always loved these Cigar Trees. There used to be a large specimen growing at the end of my road on Brick Lane. I loved that one too, but there is just something extra special about this one. 

Spooky beans of Catalpa bignonioides at night
Like the 'Whomping Willow' in Harry Potter, or a wet dog on the beach, it is now shedding its massive leaves in one big shake. Scattered across the sunlit lawn they dry like poppadoms. A fan of the Indian snack, I later come along and gather them all up, study them, select the best leaves and paint those. Here's the latest:

Inky Leaves studio
Inky Leaves studio

Indian Bean Tree
 Close up on another one of my Catalpa bignonioides poppadom leaves
Apparently, the name Catalpa derives from the Muscogee name for the tree, "kutuhlpa" meaning "winged head". Later on, between 1729 and 1732, the spellings "Catalpa" and "Catalpah" were used by Mark Catesby and then Carl Linnaeus published the tree's name as Bignonia catalpa in 1753. Giovanni Antonio Scopoli then later established the genus Catalpa in 1777. I wonder what represented the winged head on the tree?

Observations #151115

One man in a cut field with a gun

One lady thrashing plants on the side of the road with a stick

Two men with radios

One man sitting on a wall looking pensive

Two dogs fighting

Two runners

One man throwing corn seed into a ditch

Two cyclists, both stationary. One at the start, one at the end

Observations,  11am on 15/11/15, Belicena, Granada, Spain

Hiroshima: after the explosion, shadows "fixed" in the walls and pavements 

It's been preposterously light here over the last seven days. A continuum of blue still dons every crown and seeps through the gaps until it’s halted by something opaque. Such is the nature of light, and I am once again rudely reminded that every light casts a shadow. What that shadow is, I am not entirely sure. I suppose it is just a different state of being. A wall can be in the sun in the morning and by afternoon not, but it is still a wall. Like a chameleon, it has just temporarily changed its skin. If there is light, then there are definitely shadows and so where there is light, there is darkness. On a metaphorical level, my greatest fear is that as I try to step closer into the light spiritually, someone or something else edges a little closer into the darkness.  Such is the impossible violence of light.

Still from the documentary film, The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, produced by Akira Iwasaki and Kihon Eigasa, 1945. Photographed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum's daily screening by slavick.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Studio updates

It's been quiet again. I think I am getting quieter and quieter, going deeper and deeper underground. I am bored by social media and more entranced by the things outside my door. I suppose this isn't a bad thing. 

Currently, what I find when I step outside of my door are platoons of corn stubs,
shimmering Poplar trees and long, long shadows.
So I have been getting on with a commission of a wreath made up of Salvia officinalis, Lavandula officinalisMarjorana officinaleVeronica officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis plants  for a new website.

Preparations are also underway for my upcoming show. I have worked out the time I need to build a collection of work together. I was aiming for February 2017, but with the RHS also in contention, I might have to wait until 2018. Lets see... So I have been very carefully selecting specimens for the job. I feel like one of those judges at a summer fete judging flowers, fruits and vegetables, except my criteria are slightly different in that I am looking for the perfection in imperfection. 

As for the RHS... well this has all gone awry in my heart. I still don't feel 100% happy doing what I wanted to do and all other ideas still aren't really fitting the bill. They are either too whacky, too difficult or not very me. I am finding it difficult trying to find something that I want to do that isn't going to be seen by the judges as madness. With this difficulty, I have decided to just step back from the whole thing and let the plant/theme/subject find me. 

After drawing after drawing, and fantasy session after fantasy session I have had a complete rethink on what I am doing. I often find that this is how I come to most of my pieces of work - there are those that come from dreams and fantasy and those that come from reality. Dreams come first and I tend to stick with them. Darth was a dream, as was the Coffee and Cos. They are usually softer paintings that come with an aura of uncontrollable darkness. Sometimes I dream so much I end up falling out on the other side and finding a simple solution in reality. I wonder how it will be with the RHS? So no blogging about this for a while now. Not sure what I will be writing about instead but I want to carrying on going deeper within in order to create something incredible and I feel I can't do that when I am spreading myself out on the web.

A spontaneous burst of pigeons - fabulous movement. 
Came across this the other day... a diary entry before I went to the UK in August... Made me laugh whilst also highlighting the importance of taking one's time in planning:

"Drawing it out and its the wrong size, only slightly wrong. Could go forward as is, but not happy with the size and that will ruin everything. I know it will. I got away with it on the pineapple, but not with this. I need Gertrude to be big. Bugger. Totally pissed off I have wasted 3 whole days  on this, sitting in a boiling hot room for nothing. Part of the process. The planning is so important and remember what Steven Moffat says - 'it is all the ideas that you didn't go ahead with that makes good writing'. It's all the silly doodles and ideas that lead to something ground breaking. I must remember this".

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The fabulous work of Nancy Blum

Last night my mother and I discovered the work of Nancy Blum. It was a magical moment. So magical that I wanted to share it with you on here in case you hadn't heard of her. Based in New York, Nancy draws these spectacularly detailed botanical pieces full of vibrancy and colour. Each one of her carefully executed works is practically busting with life. She has a Facebook page which can be found here and a website in case you want to see more of these fabulously tantalising pieces. 

Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

For me, I feel that there is something inherently 'William Morris' about them, but they also remind me of the stylised botanical paintings of the 19th century, such as the illustrations made for John hutton Balfour for his students in Edinburgh (below) or the bright intense paintings of Walter Hood Fitch (also below). Add a dash of Georg Dionysius Ehret's more brazen works, such as his Opuntia and the intensity of Maria Sibylla Merian's work, and I believe you get something a little like this. They almost look a bit 'Indian' with their rich colours and never ending embellishment. However, despite all of this, I still find Nancy's work to be completely unique. 

Working clockwise from top left: John Hutton Balfour drawing aid, 'Blandfordia grandiflora' by Walter Hood Fitch, 'Opuntia' by Georg Dionysius Ehret and  'Butterflies sun' by Maria Sibylla Merian. 
Balfour botanical drawings
Artist unknown: "Stenocarpus sinuatus Endlicher (PROTEACEAE). Firewheel tree, tulip flower, Mr Cunningham's stenocarpus", c. 1846, botanical illustration, watercolour and ink on board, 95.2 x 60.3 cm. 
Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Botanical Art by Nancy Blum - I would love to have this on my wall.

Nancy Blum ©

"Of all known forms of life, only about ten percent are still living today. All other forms – fantastic plants, ordinary plants, living animals with unimaginably various wings, tails, teeth, brains – are utterly and forever gone. That is a great many forms that have been created. Multiplying ten times the number of living forms today yields a profusion that is quite beyond what I consider thinkable. Why so many forms? Why not just that one hydrogen atom? The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here?"

Annie Dillard
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek