Artwork in India (12) – Himachal Pradesh

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Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April. 

I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.

To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.

Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport)  are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).

So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.

A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.

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Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.

Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley. 

I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.

India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back. 

Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.

“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”

A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.

Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.

That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.

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Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.

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Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty India smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.

Herman@ de Tod@s

Arte Vejer recently staged a group exhibition of artworks made by local artists inspired by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca who was murdered 80 years ago on the orders of Franco the fascist dictator.

Lorca was born on the 5th June (the same day as me) in 1898 (several years before me) in a small town close to Granada. That’s why I chose the pomegranate as the theme for my collage; granada means pomegranate in Spanish and the ancient town was renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

The pomegranate is also a symbol of abundance and fertility which aptly describes Lorca’s imagination, passion and creative genius; he was a  prolific writer, considered to be one of Spain’s most important poets and published his first book at the age of 21.

The first stage of the process (above) was to blacken the background (paper on cardboard) and outline the pomegranate seeds with layers of charcoal.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

Lorca moved to Madrid in 1919 and devoted himself entirely to his art which was infused with the flamenco culture of his native Andalusia. He was a contemporary of Buñuel and Dalí who introduced him to surrealism. Lorca and Dalí had a particularly intimate relationship involving ‘love, passion and respect‘ but it is rumoured that Dalí’s aversion to physical contact and his repressed sexuality led him to reject Lorca’s advances.

I painted the seeds and persistent calyx (the bit at the top of the fruit) with acrylic.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

In 1929 Lorca left Spain to spend a year in New York where he was inspired by the African-American spirituals he heard in Harlem, his favourite part of the city.

Next I collaged a map of the world over the background (above), this represents the international reach of Lorca’s work and art in general as well as his time abroad. I then painted over it with acrylic.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

The text is an extract from one of Lorca’s last interviews.

Here’s the full quote in Spanish:

“Yo soy español integral y me sería imposible vivir fuera de mis límites geográficos; pero odio al que es español por ser español nada más, yo soy hermano de todos y execro al hombre que se sacrifica por una idea nacionalista, abstracta, por el sólo hecho de que ama a su patria con una venda en los ojos. El chino bueno está más cerca de mí que el español malo. Canto a España y la siento hasta la médula, pero antes que esto soy hombre del mundo y hermano de todos. Desde luego no creo en la frontera política.”

And translated into English

“I am Spanish through and through and it would be impossible for me to live outside my geographic boundaries; but I hate those Spanish people who are merely Spanish and nothing more, I am brother to all and abhor the man who sacrifices himself to an abstract nationalist idea purely because he blindly loves his homeland. I feel closer to the good Chinese man than the bad Spanish man. I sing to Spain and feel her in my marrow, but before that I am a man of the world and brother of all. Of course I don’t believe in political borders.”

The quote really sang to me when I came across it; it seems particularly apposite in these times of Brexit and Trump when ugly nationalism and bigotry are on the rise again. 

I cut the letters for the text from magazines and stuck them down in the style of an old fashioned ransom note (above) as a reference to the fact that Lorca was abducted before being killed by a falangist firing squad.

I added ‘A’s to the ‘O’s of ‘hermano’ and ‘todos’ to explicitly make the words gender neutral which also happily turned those letters into anarchist symbols.

Next I painted electrical cables emerging from the calyx of the pomegranate (below) to turn it into a fairy light. I made this piece just before Christmas so it was seasonally apt (although I am a huge fan of the year round fairy light) and it also suggests that the earth is but a bauble hanging in the vastness of the universe and that we humans take our opinions about our piffling differences far too seriously.

The final stage of the process (below) was to paint crackle glaze over the whole of the image before applying bitumen, gold paint and glitter as stains.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

Lorca was staying at his family’s country home just outside Granada when the civil war started in 1936. About a month before his incarceration and murder on August 19th Lorca had a disturbing dream in which he was being menaced by a group of grieving women waving black crucifixes.

Archaeologists are still searching for the exact burial site of Lorca’s body. 

Light Hearted

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About a week after my Dad had a mild heart attack in the spring of 2014 he had an angiogram to find out which of his coronary arteries might need stents to open them up and improve the blood flow to his heart muscle.  He asked the cardiologist if the stents would stop his supraventricular tachycardia – also known as SVT, a sudden acceleration of the heart rate which usually resolves without treatment and causes no harm.

 

The cardiologist replied “No, this is plumbing and that’s wiring”.

When my Dad told me the story this picture sprang to my mind, almost fully formed.

I started by researching related images and sticking them in my sketchbook and then set about making some sketches.

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The power switch and plug represent the sinoatrial node, or pacemaker, which is the area of heart tissue that generates the electrical impulses which cause the heart to beat. My Mum has had a pacemaker fitted so this part also refers to her.

The fairy lights are a celebratory representation of the electrical impulses which drive the heart, they are also inspired by the ring of flowers or thorns which typically adorn a sacred heart and by the nostlgia for the childhood Christmas times when my Dad would take the lights down from the loft, untangle them and replace the dud bulbs ready for my Mum and me to decorate the tree.

Once I was happy with the basic layout I enlarged the rough drawing,

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traced it onto my working surface and began to collage.

I used sheet music for the lungs/wings because music, lungs and wings all need air to work properly.

The map which forms the background for the heart and blood vessels is of the Brecon Beacons, my Dad used to lead trekking holidays there for apprentices of the engineering company where he worked as a training instructor. He told me that he’d had a clear out of his old maps and I said “I’ll have them!” but he’d already taken them to the charity shop so I went straight there and bought them back.

Once the lungs/wings were collaged I added charcoal outlines and stuck on the map pieces.

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I then applied a wash of acryilc paint and more charcoal outlines and shading

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All the plumbing and electrical components were made in the same way:

I drew them onto thick paper,

applied a wash of acrylic paint and reinforced the outlines and shading with charcoal,

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cut them out,

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and stuck them on.

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The electrical flex and glow from the fairy lights are painted with acrylic.

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Working  with collage, drawn collage, acrlyic paint and charcoal in this way was really fun and liberating.

Details: 36 x 41 cm, mixed media comprising collage, painted collage, acrylic paint and charcoal on paper and card.

Requiem

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This collage is made from objects found on the beach where I live along with scraps of paper, leather and ribbon.

It is on show (and for sale) at La Casa del Arco until September 10th 2013

Mixed media collage on reclaimed wood

These collages are made with found wood, bottle caps, ribbon, string, feathers and paper scraps

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The ‘Pray for Surf’ image is available as a postcard

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