Archive for Art


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 12, 2018 by cliffdean

There were lots of birds to be seen on the Friends’ Walk at Castle Water yesterday afternoon but what made it memorable was the overwhelming cloudscape brought in on the chill NW wind.

As much as we felt jeopardised by the sweeping tendrils of sleet, they somehow passed either side.

At the lake itself, rafts of duck were one minute monotone, the next burnished in golden light. Marsh Harriers criss-crossed the reeds and breeding-plumage sinensis Cormorants looked completely unfamiliar as they swam through flocks of Gadwall. Single Little & Great Egrets glittered as they flew against the dark background. A dozen Ruff dashed around in front of us and a pale duck overhead with Mallards turned, most unexpectedly, to be a male Goosander!

“You seem to have had very bbbad luck with your weather Mr Turner.”

With an appreciation of landscape still dominated by Romantic painters, the sky was soon being described as Turneresque, referring perhaps to this 1830 view of Winchelsea…

…though I would have upped to stakes to Altdorfer…

…or John Martin.

As we returned towards the Reedbed Viewpoint, another 3 Great Egrets came in over our  heads to roost by the lake, and then another 2. So – altogether 6 Great Egrets, when only a few years ago they were still rare birds.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 16, 2017 by cliffdean


From Liverpool

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Definitely Spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Considering it was only the very beginning of April, the amount of birdsong on Saturday’s RXbirwalk was amazing. All resident species but for numerous Chiffchaffs and  the wave of Blackcaps which had arrived in the area just two days before, the complexities of the soundscape kept us busy from the very start, where busy cawing from the Two Sawyers rookery provided a constant background for the many other species round about.

Drifts of Wood Anemone whitened the floor of Guestling Wood as Blue, Great and a surprising number of Coal Tits fluttered overhead while loud calls of Nuthatches and GS Woodpeckers came in from trees further away. Out in the open, Skylark song was pitted in unfair competition against a crowd of Med Gulls on a freshly tilled field. Coots have consolidated their hold on the few small ponds in the area and Grey Wagtails could be heard at both Water Treatment Works and Pickham Mill but were very shy and hard to see. We saw & heard 41 species.

This Treecreeper, photographed by Stuart Barnes, was not only singing but dancing!

I’ve been in this area too long; I’ve got too used to it and take for granted the ease with which I step into a landscape others will travel long distances to experience. I get spoilt and lazy. On Sunday I went on my first longer Pett Circular for months, looping round the back of the village to Pannel Bridge, thence down the valley and across the marsh to the seawall. Loads of birds of course.

I must recommend at this point both current exhibitions  at the DLWP. While Elizabeth Price’s pretentiously titled show is very, very interesting and thought-provoking, that most relevant here is George Shaw’s,  of  woodland interiors, bearing traces of (illicit, transgressive) human occupation, so very reminiscent of the suburban woods where I played as a child yet infused with classical references owing to the works’ origins in a residency at the National Gallery.

At Pannel Bridge I was delighted to find a Yellowhammer singing from the  hedge. In decline nationally, they have all but disappeared from the lanes around Pett/Fairlight/Guestling and, although this has been a traditional site, I’d not seen a bird here for some years.

Ironically, this was more exciting than the Marsh Harriers, Med Gulls, Avocets and multiple Cetti’s Warblers in the rest of the valley.

As I was cutting across to the seawall, two shepherdesses driving ewes along the track towards me flushed a Cattle Egret from a nearby ditch. At first it dropped out of sight behind the Pools but soon flew back past me to perch on a post, where I took this poor photo, before it moved off once again,to content itself, in the absence of cattle, with a flock of sheep. From a serious rarity, this has become a scarce but regular bird in the RX area and has now bred in England. This all-white individual is however in non-breeding plumage.

“This artwork splashes. Please take care.”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 10, 2016 by cliffdean

The labels in art galleries customarily include brief reference to the materials employed in the artwork in question: Oil on canvas, Mixed media – that sort of thing.

At the current Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, they’re a bit more specific, in fact some go on for several lines. Like this:

“Silkscreened ink & oil on Plexiglas, with metal coat hanger, wire, string, sound transmitter, circuit board and battery powered motor on metal folding camp stool.”

Or: “Oil paint, graphite, toothpaste and red fingernail polish on pillow, quilt and sheet on wood supports.”


Or: “Oil paint on taxidermied Angora goat and rubber tyre, on oil paint on paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber, shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas on wood platform mounted on four casters.”

(I don’t think there’s such a a word as “taxidermied”; I don’t know why they didn’t say “stuffed” except for the need for disambiguation: the goat could have been “stuffed” with rice…or prunes…or telephones)


But anyway that gives you a pretty good idea of what’s involved in “Monogram”…except that – have you noticed how newspapers always include a young gel in their photos of artworks? Here’s one:

Robert Rauschenberg Exhibition, Press Images, Tate Modern, 29/11/2016

…and another…

Robert Rauschenberg Exhibition, Press Images, Tate Modern, 29/11/2016

If you’ve got goats & stuffed eagles attached to your collages, why not young gels? This habit was recently picked up in a letter to The Times, where I think the excuse was that it provided a human link. But if that’s the case, why always a young gel rather than an old bloke like me? Or slithy Michael Gove, pointing in denunciation like a photo in the Angry People In Local Newspapers group on Facebook, which has given me so much pleasure over the last few months.

What’s really fascinating about that goat (over & above the symbolic associations which have been attributed to it) is its provenance for, according to the label, Rauschenberg obtained it from a “second-hand office supplies store.” “Office supplies” I usually associate with paper, staples & shredders rather than stuffed goats, but perhaps they’re listed along with potted palms and I just haven’t looked hard enough.


I knew I’d seen his work quite early on – when I was still at school – and have just tracked it down thanks to The Wonders of the Internet. Early 1964, at the Whitechapel Gallery. I was 17. I used to take the train from Darkest Albany Park, tube up to Aldgate East for Petticoat Lane then onto the gallery when it opened after lunch. It’s difficult from these little reproductions and from this distance to appreciate how exciting, how audacious this work seemed at the time: the big silkscreened slabs of eclectic imagery combined with abstract-expressionist paintwork (the show is still on at the RA – you have to see these things in the flesh); the American iconography that then seemed so romantic (and is now so contaminated by a sense of cultural imperialism). And, as so often seems to be the case, practices which were once radical have been absorbed into the everyday visual lexicon to the extent that it’s hard now to see them clearly.


But beyond those works from the 60s I had lost track of what Rauschenberg had been up to – I knew of his dance collaborations, for example, but had never seen the films, and had no idea of his continuing inventiveness.

A work which lives in Stockholm but has been transported for this event is the thousand-gallon mudbath which gloops like a Yellowstone geyser in response to sounds on a tape translated into a bubbling air supply. The video below is too small, too short and too quiet to give a sense of the work’s presence (odorless too, though one critic repeatedly describes it as “pungent”). It had initially been trained to respond to sounds within the gallery but, as much as the artist cultivated audience participation, that may have been just too inviting as this article from art orbit explains:

Together they designed and built the aluminum tank filled with 8,000 pounds of driller’s mud made of bentonite, a volcanic ash with grains smaller than .001 millimeter. The material can absorb great quantities of water which turns it into a gel-like substance whose consistency, not unlike thick pea soup or chocolate-cake batter, has an undeniably scatalogical texture. It is hardly coincidental, perhaps, that the first visitors to see Mud Muse enthusiastically smeared and splattered mud on the tank and in the space, which then had to be closed down, cleaned, and later monitored by a guard”


Aha! Old blokes discussing art! (Actually they’re compiling a list of their Top Ten Favourite Tyres.)

Beside the Stour & in the Crypt

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 9, 2016 by cliffdean

You can park in Chartham and walk right into Canterbury along the river on an all-weather track. It takes an hour and a quarter. You’re walking parallel to two roads and a railway, all following the valley through a gap in the Downs but although you can hear traffic and the rumble of trains, trees screen you from most of the world beyond. It’s a route that has been trodden, ridden and rowed for thousands of years.

The chalk-stream is fast and clear; below its crowfoot-starred surface emerald weeds ripple. Grey Wagtails are all along, right into the city centre, while thrushes and warblers – even a Turtle Dove – sing from the overhanging branches. On the adjacent lakes, scoured out for stones for the post-war world of concrete, there are Coots, Tufted Ducks, G G Grebes, Mallards – no doubt more if you look harder – and as you near the city you pass beneath graffitied viaducts live & dead, past rough, wet meadows, an imaginative play-park then across into the bright flower beds of Westgate Gardens.


And into the world of shops, pubs, restaurants and loads of foreign students. My destination this week, not for the first time, was into the Cathedral, through the soaring folk-memory forest of the Nave, down past a party of Chinese tourists crowding the very murder spot to hear of  Becket’s ghastly martyrdom and down the steps into the dark silence of the round-arched Crypt. This is the attraction:


There are several interestingly carved capitals depicting curious scenes. In a side chapel are strange but jolly hares playing fiddles etc. There are a few friendly-looking lions and some acrobats but the ones I really like are the menacing and horrible creations of a mediaeval sculptor clearly the worse for wear on account of magic mushrooms or ergot poisoning.

It really is quite dark in there, flickering candles and soft lighting, so your eyes adjust only slowly to pick out the details. Through drawing the rhythms emerge, far more subtle and complex than you expect. The sculptor’s skull may have housed dark visions but his hands were masterful.

But what is it? It seems to be a big bird ridden by some mad, snarling, long-fanged, two-headed hound. So far, so nightmarish. The bird’s long and curving tail – actually more like a lizard’s….has another head at the end….another bird? (ah, they’ve both got ears)…which is biting one of those….well, I first took them to be stylized Peacock’s feathers (they seem to end in eyes) but they could be tassels of some sort, attached to the saddle upon which that hound-creature (oh my God, it’s got breasts) is riding, guiding with reins and stirrup. Though facing in the wrong direction.

So that’s all clear then. Apart from the meaning. It could be some distant foretelling of post-referendum Britain.


It reminds me of, many years ago, struggling up a small hill to the temple in Leh, Ladakh with heart thumping and a sharp high-altitude headache. Leaving the brilliant, pure Himalayan sunlight for the dark interior I could for some time see nothing till, slowly slowly, the light of the butter-lamps began to reflect from amorphous pale muslin-shrouded forms. As my eyes adjusted, the wavering illumination clarified the figures within the thin covers, albeit dimly. Tibetan Buddhist deities. And that’s where my understanding ran out; who or what was represented I had no idea.

I should have done more homework perhaps but what I was mostly thinking was, “I don’t understand any of this; what am I doing here?”



Breath Squad

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 22, 2016 by cliffdean

vert foliageAlexander Calder is best known for his mobiles (a term coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe his earlier mechanized sculptures): structures suspended in exquisite equilibrium. In response to eddies of moving air, their lesser components jiggle and wag, transferring motion through one fulcrum after another up to set the heaviest sections solemnly turning; the whole assemblage creates constantly shifting alignments.


Unless you see them in the current exhibition at Tate Modern where, in the sterile gallery air they hang lifeless. I’d been very excited at the prospect of seeing these works at first hand since few can be otherwise be seen in the UK, so was exasperated to find them static. Other visitors seemed to find this state of affairs unquestionable but I had soon begun a campaign of undercover puffing – what harm could it do?


Early on in his career, Calder made witty and elegant three-dimensional line drawings in wire. There are portraits, clearly recognized from the front, whose shadows foreshorten into abstraction. There’s a sinuous caricature of Josephine Baker, with articulated limbs designed to jiggle suggestively, but in the preciously protective gallery it hangs like a corpse on a gibbet.


There are standing sculptures driven in subtly complex patterns by electric motors. Einstein, is said to have gazed at one of them for a full forty minutes in order to recognize the periodicity of its interactions. Not here he wouldn’t though, because none of them is in operation. They are, by now, ancient machines in danger of collapse, their operation shown only on a couple of small video screens. Another dissatisfied visitor asked me why functioning facsimiles could not have been commissioned.


The discs of his “Snow Flurry” cast eclipses across other vanes. Calder’s fascination with planetary movements is also reflected in structures resembling astrolabe. I noticed other clandestine heavy-breathers joining forces to get one big piece under way. One of them warned me, “You’re not allowed to blow them.” “Who says? Where’s the sign?” “It’s not on a sign; it’s in the booklet. Look.” Just inside the front cover it says, in missably small type: “Many of Alexander Calder’s sculptures are fragile and should not be touched or blown upon.”

“That’s a prohibition too far. They’ve charged us a small fortune to see mobiles which are not mobile! I think we should ignore it. What can they do? Call Security? Wrestle us to the ground, clamping their hands over our mouths? Let us make a Blow for Sculpture – we could be a Breath Squad!!”

With that fine and brave resolution, we puffed away, marvelling at the motion, no-one intervened and we all went home indignant yet satisfied.


Two potential Worst Case Scenarios did trouble me though: 1) what if they really were fragile (didn’t look it, supporting half a ton of steel), what if invisible metal fatigue resulted in a bit falling off?? The leverage would be such that bits would be flung all over the gallery, laying waste to artifacts and art-lovers alike, the whole thing then crashing to the floor 2) the guerrilla exhalations were making me dizzy. What if I passed out, grabbed out to steady myself was buried beneath gaily painted wreckage? I suppose it would look good on an insurance claim. Or gravestone.