Responding to questions in May

There is a Californian website for printmakers called ‘Print day in May’, and the artist who has set it up asks any printmaker from anywhere in the world to make a print on the 4th of May and post it to her website. There is also a questionnaire, which a friend in the UK has kindly worked up into a blogpost for me. It was rather good, so I thought to post it here.

https://printdayinmay.com/2019/05/06/seven-questions-for-a-printmaker-rod-nelson-what-drives-you-to-make-prints-bloody-mindedness/

The universe in a building

There are buildings which attempt to express the entire scope of human knowledge and understanding of the world.  I have had the very good fortune to visit four of these. My dates are approximate, but reasonable estimates I believe.

 The Museum of Science in Oxford, UK (mid 19th Century AC)

The main gopuram of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tiruchirapalli, India (17th Century AC)

Chartres Cathedral, France (14th Century AC)

The monastic library at Bad Schussenried, Baden Wuerttemburg, Germany (mid 18th Century AC)

 Three of these are religious buildings, and one (in Oxford) is secular. The depth and extent of these heroic and noble efforts is very moving. I can not pretend to understand the mind-set of those who have commissioned these wonderful buildings. However, the emotional impact of each of these great works is only partially aesthetic, and subsidiary to the response I feel for the profound respectfulness and understanding of the builders.  I am left wondering whether this kind of effort can ever be made again, so broad is the scope required. This is not simply an architect demonstrating their skill, it is a coordinated effort of many disciplines to express something. A part of me hopes that this type of work continues for the future. 

The picture below is the library at Bad Schussenried

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MY VERY OWN EXHIBITION

Today I’ve been putting up my first one-man show that I’ve had in Germany. It’s been a good day, framing prints and hanging them up, and I feel optimistic that I’ve done the best I can to make this an interesting show with good work. This is the culmination of almost two months of making prints and the sustained effort has been very valuable in getting together a body of work which I otherwise would not have.

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UNICORNS

UNICORNS

I was introduced to unicorns by Sam Hepburn, who came to my woodblock printmaking class at the Royal West of England Academy. She is a treasure, a Scottish-Malaysian cartoonist now living (I think) in the Netherlands and her work is insightful, clever and very funny. The last year of following the political situation in the US and the UK has been a fruitful experience, so far as my understanding of unicorns is concerned. Since Sam first showed me their existence, my understanding of their habitat, nourishment, breeding habits and social interaction continues to grow. For all that,  l’m still rather in the dark about their modes of thought – unicorn group psychology – but I will persist with trying to understand.

I’m sure that 2019 will be a particularly successful year for unicorns. They are particularly successful just now in the English-speaking world, although their habitat is known to be global. I hear that they will make us unbelievably proud and free, and give us back a feeling of control which we may have subconsciously lost over the last fifty years. With unicorns, one seems to know that things will never be quite the same as they were before we knew them.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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Looking at books

Bernard Shaw once said that far too many people read books and not enough people spent their time looking at them. Eckhard Froeschlin is doing something to put this right - he makes the most beautiful books - combining a marvellous eye for typography with a free, often abstract illustration style. The books often have double or treble pages which fold out so that the book itself becomes a kind of gallery. They sell to collectors, libraries and universities all over the world.

To see this work is a great treat. I have admired fine books since being lucky to know Will Carter and the work of the Rampant Lion Press in Cambridge. Eckhard is a cheerful man, richly gifted and wearing his knowledge and skill very lightly.

Gustav Mahler said ‘Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but the preservation of the flame’. Eckhard Froeschlin is doing just that.

www.froeschlin-edition.de

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NKOSI SIKELEL AFRICA

Nkosi sikelel Africa - one of the most beautiful tunes I ever did hear. I heard it this morning on the radio, and I thought to myself 'This song is about the dignity of Africa and that means the whole of Africa: yet this song comes out of South Africa and is now their national anthem’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j94fteQR-TY

This is a breadth of perception that we are sorely missing. By contrast, I thought of the truly terrible image of the spokespeople of the European Research Group that has been in the papers recently. They look like the white Boer masters of the old South Africa. These are people who I think careless about the future of Europe, careless about the future generations, careless about democracy itself, though they spout themselves as democrats. Their selfishness and lack of insight seems to show in those faces, which I find to be horrible faces. Not only are these people the puppet masters pulling Theresa Mays strings, they are part of an energy that has seized a negative, destructive control of the political process in our country. Their intentions steal from me my identity as a European, and I resent them.

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MOSSINGEN

This little piece is about a heroic event 75 years ago which nobody in the UK knows about, except me. OK, I might be wrong, there might be one or two, but to all intents and purposes, I am unique, because I marched there, with 300 others, and banners and marching bands too, on the 70th anniversary.

‘Not in Berlin, not in Hamburg, not in Muenchen, not in Koeln, not in Dusseldorf, nor in any other place in the whole of Germany was there a single public act of communal defiance against Hitler, only in Mossingen’.

On the 31st January, 1933, the working people of Mössingen refused to recognise Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and marched through the town to let their opposition to him be known. It is said that they did so on the grounds that they were certain that he would take Germany into another catastrophic war. If so, they were right.

Let’s remember the heroism of this little place, where they faced their fear and did it anyway. A terrible vengeance was wrought upon them and they suffered for it badly. Especially now, in this age of Trump and Farage, we should not forget this place and what it represents, which is dignity and sense.

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THE LOVE OF SOUND

Sound can carry one away, and great music can take one right beyond personality, right beyond time, beyond thought and into a place of awe where it becomes almost an insult to try to describe how exquisite it is.

Dine Doneff and Maria Dafka were playing here tonight, the music of Macedonia and Albania. Their wonderful musicianship and insight were a magic carpet into that other place, and all one had to do was listen quietly and be transported. These are cultural treasures of a very high order.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5SEyrQzP8Q

PARALLEL

I’m talking about cutting a woodblock print.

Years of experiment are delivering some results. Having now an extended degree of control over the kinds of line that I am making, the direction, curvature, thickness, and relation to other lines nearby, a whole lot of visual possibilities raise their head. So I am playing with parallel, and seeing what emerges. The large print below which I have just done is an effort to show the surface of flowing water and it’s probably where I am pushing the parallel idea further than I’ve ever tried before. When I see the way that the surface begins to take on a virtual three dimensionality simply as a by-product of the lines being consistently crowded or spaced I can’t help feeling excited by the power of this technique.

I am still a beginner with lots to learn.

Flow surface

Flow surface

THE ELEVENTH OF THE ELEVENTH OF THE ELEVENTH

Being in Germany on this momentous, portentous centenary got me to wondering what the positive achievements of the ‘Great’ War 1914 - 1918 were. For what did all those millions of people die, from every major European country? For what did they go through all that horror, stress and anguish and gigantic effort and expense? For what was all that destruction? What positive gain did those left behind receive? They certainly received terrible suffering and loss and grief. As for what might be construed as positive, I can not perceive or sense or find one single tiny thing - to me, it all seems like loss, loss, loss.

The military-industrial complex, with their scientists and technical experts were largely to blame. They are still very much with us. It doesn’t take great intelligence to understand that these clever monsters are best placed to profit from another horror show, even more technological than the last two, and with robots too! UK government supports these trash with billions of pounds.

Join the campaign against the arms trade - CAAT.

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BAROQUE

Although they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the high baroque churches of South Germany are places of beauty to me. A riot of ornament is contained and controlled by a formal geometry and plan. I have thought this way possibly for my work too - it’s a nice concept if one can pull it off! Never get outsmarted by a formal geometry ….. I’ve tried to go that way once or twice, and I’m really not good enough yet. In no time at all, the handcuffs are on and you’re a goner, artistically speaking. I daresay I’ll keep trying because when it works, it is powerful. Yesterday I witnessed a wonderful musical version of the same game.

In his glorious, playful, soaring concerto in Eb for French Horn and Orchestra, Richard Strauss toys with the formalism of the classical form, but never for a moment is his music entrapped by it. It’s a great piece of work. The young musicians from Trossingen Musikakademie played their hearts out, like a great great orchestra. It was wonderful.

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BLACKOUT

Germany is a surprising place sometimes. Having just finished my evening meal at a little Thai restaurant in Sigmaringen, there is a massive power outage. Not a single light can be seen in the whole town, apart from the little sharp points of light from mobile phone LED’s. There is no moon, and absolute blackness shrouds the street. I pick my way back to my flat, passing little groups who chat and flicker in the blackness, and apart from them there is no light anywhere. For two or three hours at least it must have remained absolutely dark. I don’t know, I went to bed and then to sleep. The power was on in the morning. It is extraordinary that such a technological and sophisticated place can just stop like this. All towns must have been like this once.

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COMFORT ZONE

Whilst being strongly oriented around my own comfort zone, it’s disconcerting to have chosen to be entirely responsible for a chain of circumstance that has led me firmly outside of it. Here I am in a foreign land, in a town I’d never seen before, in a place without immediate friends and hardly any wi-fi access! In order to develop a coping strategy to deal with the ‘discomfort of now’ in the hope that my comfort zone will begin to re-establish itself, I made myself a strict timetable for today and more or less managed to keep to it.

However, the cycle ride, on a wonderful, silent electric bike, up the perfect smooth cycle routes past crag and castle, and the golden woods of the glorious valley of the high Danube, in the perfection of late autumn sunshine and colours, was enough to put a blessing on the day.

The woodland above the Danube near to Imrizhofen

The woodland above the Danube near to Imrizhofen

Loaded little car

Early this year I was invited to an artist residency in a small town in South Germany. My reasons for accepting it are in part connected with my wish to keep a strong relationship with the Europe that I know and my friends over here in the middle of this Brexit catastrophe. Another reason for accepting is that I don’t like to look a gift horse in the mouth. These probably seem like weak reasons. The place itself feels challenging socially and emotionally. However, I do have friends in the vicinity, and it is very early days. I think I will be able to work here, but it’s a wrench leaving Geli and the lovely comfortable house and studio in Box.

Today I arrived, unpacked my completely jammed little car, and begun to find out what is going to work for me and what won’t. I’ve brought my electric bike, and plan to go up the valley of the Danube tomorrow - there are numerous cycle paths through the glorious late autumnal woods.

The small town of Sigmaringen, on the Danube, surrounded by hills and forests.

The small town of Sigmaringen, on the Danube, surrounded by hills and forests.