Monday, 27 July 2015

Out & About: Chateau de Chaumont

One of the best things of holidays for me is discovering new places and the other week in the Loire Valley I discovered a real gem.

I’ve been to the Loire Valley many times over the years and have visited many of the chateaux – Chenonceaux is a real favourite.  For some reason, we had not visited Chaumont in the past – what a mistake!  When I saw in the leaflet that it had special gardens and contemporary art, it leapt to the top of the list for this trip.  And it was well worth it.  It was an amazing place.

Each year it has a garden festival, with lots of individual gardens on a theme, selected from many entries from all over the world.  The theme this year was ‘Gardens of Collectors: Extraordinary Gardens’.  They were fantastic, in terms of layout, plantings, gorgeous flowers and, in many of them, for their sheer ingenuity.  They truly were gardens as an art form.  As I am running a class based on nature from September (still a couple of places left), this was more inspiration than I could cope with.  I took lots of pictures of beautiful blooms, architectural leaves as well as general scenes.  Between the plants, art and of course the kids, I took over 400 photos in the one day.  I was especially impressed by the gardens which made me think.  

There was one set up as an art gallery, but instead of a canvas on the wall, there was a hole through which you could see the plants.  

There was another which looked rather unkempt and over grown but the actual garden was secret, only seen reflected in the mirrors on the back wall, so you could only get glimpses of it.  

A third was set up as a dyer’s garden, with information on plant dyes and hanks of wool hung out to dry.  It had a wall of glass jars which from the outside looked like dirty glass.  However inside the little shelter, these glasses glowed with the colours of the dyes, like shining jewels.

My enjoyment of the gardens was increased as I was reading the novel ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ at the time, by Tan Twan Eng.  It explained some concepts of Japanese gardening, including that of ‘borrowing space’ from the surroundings to make the garden feel bigger.  Also the importance of everything being absolutely right: the right number of stones, in the right place at the right height - something that carries through in all parts of art.  It is a lovely, if somewhat melancholy book and well worth reading.
As well as this garden festival, there were many more gardens, but we ran out of time to see them all as I also wanted to see the art. 
Outdoors in the grounds of Chaumont, there were lots of installations of contemporary art.  Some are temporary for this season, other part of the collection which seems to be growing all the time.  It also appeared that every possible building on the estate was used as an art venue, including the chateau itself.  We were very excited to see some photographs by Naoya Hatakeyama, having been really taken by his pictures of underground tunnels in Tokyo which we saw years ago in London.  These ones were part of a photography exhibition on the beautiful but terrifying effects of man on the environment.  It’s amazing how lush industrial waste can look.

The primary artist for this year is Gabriel Orozco.  He was taken with the layers of peeling wallpaper in the private rooms of the last owners of the chateau.  These are now bare apart from some areas of wall where you can see the traces of the previous interior design.  Just like Orozco, I took lots of photos of the walls.  There was a definite feel of textile artist inspiration to them!  

Orozco however, enlarges details of the peeling walls onto canvas using a spray technique and oil paper.  It gives the canvases a ghost-like effect, with a sense of the pattern almost sliding off the canvas.  These were hung in these empty, run down rooms adding to the impression they made.

The other principle highlight for me (although I loved lots more) was seeing the gigantic El Anatsui installation in a stable.  It was enormous, going round three walls of this huge room.  The scale was amazing and you felt enveloped by it, with its subtle shades of can shimmering as you looked.  According to the catalogue, he needed 40 assistants to help make it and it took a dozen students to help install it.  It was truly monumental. 

So it was a truly inspiring day out for everyone, including a great discussion about whether some of the pieces were actually art or not.  We saw in the information that the gardens are open at night from 10 to midnight lit by lots of tiny lights and we would have loved to have returned, but the kids are just that little bit too young to enjoy the experience so late.  But we will definitely return another year and hopefully go for a night visit then.  If you are even vaguely in the area, I can’t recommend a day out there highly enough.  Do go if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Just to make you jealous: a wonderful summer holiday, including drawing

A bee enjoying the lovely flowers.  I like taking photos of them but can't name any plants
We’re just back from our annual summer holiday, which was wonderfully relaxing and full of sunshine and I’m now a bit daunted by all that is coming up over the next few months.  It’s all very exciting: I’m running a drop-in art activity based on Greek myths this weekend at Holmwood House, a National Trust for Scotland property in Glasgow; I have work in an exhibition in Stirling opening on 1st August; I’m going to the Festival of Quilts; I’ve got to get my artwork ready for the European Patchwork Meeting in September and of course, I have my classes to plan and run.  I could really use another few hours in the each day!
Adding the final details to a tree and sunset
Packing for our holiday I was getting convinced it was a bad move to take two weeks off as there is so much on, but I think that really means that the holiday was needed.  We spent a few days in Legoland for the kids (and R) and then we went camping in France.  We visited some amazing chateaux; I will write a separate post about Chaumont as it was such an inspiring place to visit for all the contemporary art on display – I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  
The food was pretty fabulous too
We also went swimming in the sea and played on the beach.  As we live in cold, wet and damp Scotland, part of the attraction of heading south is enjoying some nicer weather for a while and this year we were not let down – two weeks of hot and sunny weather.  Just perfect!
Kids hard at work drawing using my Inktense pencils
I took some paper and my Inktense pencils so I could do some sketching whilst I was away and one of the highlights for me was all three children decided to draw too and we spent some lovely hours in the evening drawing together.  It all sounds idyllic and of course, it wasn’t all the time, but having all the kids enjoying drawing (especially as one has virtually no interest in art whatsoever) is a memory I will treasure.  I didn’t even ask them to draw, they asked me if they could!
I think this started out as a volcano, but was changed along the way
As one of the new courses I am running is 'being inspired by nature', I also had a great time taking loads of inspiring photos, mainly close ups of flowers.  Looking at them now on the computer screen some of the colours look quite unbelievable and this is before I have played with them in image manipulation software.

Back home, with the piles of washing and Scottish rain pouring outside, our holiday already seems light years away (we got back less than 24 hours ago!), but it is nice to be back in the studio, with music blaring and two helpers helping me prepare the things for Holmwood.  If you are in the Glasgow area, why not come and visit Holmwood on Saturday?  There are other activities as well as art and there is also a craft fair.  Hope to see you there.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Inspiration: Tynemouth Priory

Tynemouth Priory on a gorgeous summer's day
Last week the kids and I headed down to Whitley Bay for a couple of days to visit family.  Keeping up the great family tradition imbued in me by my parents, we had to do something too.  So this time we visited Tynemouth Priory.  Although I have been visiting the area for over 40 years (gosh, I’m getting old), I don’t ever remember going there.  It is well worth a visit as there are layers of history: churches built, expanded, turned into a castle, a lighthouse, used as gunning positions, and a coastguard station, before becoming a visitor attraction.
I just loved this rusting detail on the chapel door
We explored the ruins and as we didn’t have much time, I just took photos rather than drawing, but I’d love to return and do some proper drawings one day. 

The sunlight through the stained glass made a lovely pattern on the floor

The circular stained glass was gorgeous, even if my phone camera didn't capture it very well
A worn down gravestone, after years of weathering from the salt air and wind

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