This is such a terrible photo! So bad! However, I love it. It was taken from a bus on a small country road in Fife near the National Trust for Scotland property, Hill of Tarvit where I had spent the day at a workshop about conservation. It was starting to get a little dreary, the hills in the distance were shrouded in fog, the bus was all over the place on the narrow, winding road. I managed to snap this the moment before my phone died, and even though there is absolutely everything wrong with it from a photography point of view, I can't help totally digging the color and the atmosphere that still comes through even though it's not even in focus. This is what it looked like.
I ran down to Princes Street to do a little shopping and on my way back to my flat I had to stop and admire Princes Street Gardens. Late on a Monday morning it was pretty quiet, but it smelled earthy and warm, and the sun was out just enough to have dried the benches. The hillside was covered in crocuses and I couldn't resist sitting down for a few minutes with the coffee I'd just bought, listening to the bagpiper playing above the National Gallery's cafe. I can't wait for some leaves to start popping out on trees, but my, this is a good start.
Over the past week, sick as a dog, I tried my best to get some reading in during times when I could see and think straight (which wasn't very often, but I really did try).
(An update on that whole sickness thing, by the way: after visiting the doctor on day four-and-feeling-worse I was told that I didn't in fact have pneumonia, but did have some sort of viral infection and was prescribed antibiotics in the event that it did affect the lungs. So essentially, all the symptoms of pneumonia without the actual part that makes it pneumonia. Go figure! It was very miserable and weird. I hardly ever get sick, so when I do I tend to come down with the dumbest things. But I'm about 90% out of it now and feeling much, much better!)
I ordered a book online a few weeks ago, ostensibly for my dissertation and some background reading on Black Mountain College, but more or less just for a really interesting memoir about a time and place I find more and more I wish I could have been a part of. Fair warning, I'm probably going to be writing all sorts of stuff about this great experimental arts college as the summer goes on because it's going to be my sole academic focus. Go figure, I've chosen an incredibly American subject to study while I'm in Scotland! Alas, another example of how being abroad can give you a new perspective on home, even if Black Mountain, NC is quite a ways away from my own in WI. ;)
This book was awesome. It's certainly not one for everybody, but if you're acquainted with some of the players at BMC (artists and writers like Franz Kline, Charles Olson, and so many more) then Fielding Dawson's memoir is like a mini goldmine. The Black Mountain Book is essentially a string of anecdotes written in an off-the-cuff sort of stream-of-consciousness style, but the author offers really illuminating insights into his experience and the workings of this college. I'll certainly be rereading it to parse out names and other items of interest, but for a quick, fun read, I'd definitely recommend it.
There are a couple of reasons I enrolled in Scottish art history courses this year.
1. I'm in Scotland. This should seem obvious, but just like in any other university anywhere, the history of art department at the Edinburgh College of Art/University of Edinburgh is varied in its focus and scope. It's a comparatively large department with experts in Renaissance and Middle Ages, architecture, Chinese art, contemporary art, curating, 19th century painting and the list goes on. Additionally, there are a number of professors whose expertise lies in Scottish visual culture. No matter where you are or what you're interested in, I think it's a good idea to look into local and regional-interest courses as much as possible because it's the sort of educational experience you won't be able to get anywhere else.
2. The beauty of having people who are specialized in an area that you happen to actually be in is that there are many, many more opportunities to get out and see things in person. I took a Scottish architecture course last year and was able to hop on a train to see some castles on the west coast that I was writing about for my essay. And currently I'm taking a course on Scottish art from 1960 which covers a selection of some of the greatest contemporary artists to emerge out of Scotland, and Britain as a whole, in the last fifty years.
So how does it get better than that?
3. Combine 1 and 2, and you get the best possible outcome. Not only do you have professionals who have been working in the field for decades, but in many cases the art that you're discussing is still being made by these artists. Take a professor who's been an art critic and a curator at a number of institutions around the UK and you'll find connections to artists who are top of the heap in the international art world. So when you're taking a class with one (or two) of these professors, why not let them set up a field trip to see some of the art work available in the city and visit the studio of one of the artists discussed in the course? Why not meet the artist! See his work, his process, his studio! Listen to his ideas and his feelings about his art! Get out of your stuffy library and smell the turpentine!
It's a totally different experience in a studio setting with an artist trying to put words to his process than it is to sit in a cold, academic room in front of a PowerPoint presentation, trying to theorize why it looks the way it does. There are merits to both, but I think one of the key things to understand as an art history student is that there are two parts to that: the art and the history. There can be very, very different ways of looking at the subject as a whole.
Taking an extremely long time to get to my point, last week we visited artist Callum Innes' studio in Edinburgh where we spent well over an hour listening to him speak about his painting process, previous projects and how he feels about his previous work, and about his artistic trajectory in general. He had an amazing top-floor studio space with tons of natural light coming through skylights. There was oil paint splattered everywhere, the smell of turps was strong, and several paintings were hung on the walls waiting to dry. Since oil paint takes a long time to thoroughly dry, some of them had been there for months already as he worked on them, layer by layer.
Callum Innes was born in 1962, studied Gray's School of Art and earned a postgrad degree at Edinburgh College of Art. He lives and works in Edinburgh, represented by galleries internationally and exhibiting his paintings in group and solo shows worldwide. Innes was nominated for the Turner Prize (the topmost annual British contemporary art prize) in 1995 and has won several other prizes. Four years ago he had an exhibition in New York at Sean Kelly Gallery which displayed a salon-style array of his watercolor paintings, and Man Booker Prize nominated Colm Tóibín wrote a short story for inclusion in the catalogue.
Cobalt Turquoise / Scarlet Lake, 2012, watercolor on paper
Installation view, Callum Innes | Colm Tóibín: Water | Colour
16 Dec 2010 - 29 Jan 2011, Sean Kelley Gallery, image via ArtNews.org
Innes' process is tied firmly to history. These are modern paintings, some of which easily harken back to, like Untitled No. 71 below, Robert Rauschenberg's white paintings or Barnett Newman's 'zips,' but he takes it a step further. Or, in effect, a step further and then another step back. For me, the crux of Innes' work is, in addition to the 'construction' or layering of paint, is the deconstruction or un-painting. He will spend hours layering on a fine, smooth layer of paint, often paired with another color on half or a portion of the canvas. He'll then use turpentine to remove a layer of color on one side, revealing again the color beneath it, but not without leaving a bit of the topcoat's history there along the edges and in the texture of the paint surface.
The watercolor paintings above are an example of two layers of watercolor paint laid down and then removed to reveal their combination after being 'undone.'
Tate did a really fabulous TateShots visit to his studio about three years ago in which he gives a brief tour and also demonstrates his watercolor process:
Untitled No. 71, 2010, oil on canvas
Three Identified Forms, 2008, oil on canvas
Installation view, Callum Innes: Works on Paper 1989-2013
28 April 2012 - 14 July 2013, Ingleby Gallery
I was really thrilled to be allowed an a peek inside this artist's work space and some insight into his process. I encourage you to take a look at his work. What do you think? Do you like his work? Is there anything you don't like about it?
Don't worry, I'm not going to start complaining. ;) I'm literally sick and tired, having picked up what I assume to be a somewhat mild case of viral pneumonia somewhere along the way in the last few weeks. Who's to say where I got it from either, but it definitely was more than just your typical cold. Last night I woke up a few times, absolutely freezing, feeling like something was pushing down on my sternum with great force. It was really lovely, like the scene of Beth in Little Women when she gets scarlet fever. Throw in some bizarre dreams and you have a really great recipe for a good night's sleep!
Viral pneumonia apparently isn't as serious as its bacterial counterpart, which requires antibiotics to get rid of and can manifest itself much more seriously. For me, it's mild, and there are no medications I can take, so I've just been drinking lots of water and taking an aspirin here and there to keep the mild headache and fever at bay. Viral pneumonia is characterised by slow-onset symptoms of achiness, fatigue, cough, sometimes a sharp pain in the chest, the chills, sweatiness or clamminess, sometimes a light fever and headache. And honestly, I've got all that, yo. Or at least did, in turn, but my T-cells are obviously at the top of their game because it's moving right along.
I went out for a brief walk this morning (snapped the picture above), but felt exhausted so I didn't last too long. I'm telling myself that as much as I would like to be outdoors right now, soaking up this rare sunshine, I'm actually perfectly content to have a good excuse to stay in, rest up, and do nothing but watch movies and drink tea. It's a good excuse to get some writing done, or maybe some fun reading, which I've been far too wrapped up in other things to get on with.
Sometimes something that seems like a bummer is, in another light, a little bit of a blessing.
What do you do when you're home sick? Any favorite movies, books, or soups?
Paint is great. I love paint. But there's paint, and then there's paint. And Jena Thomas's paint is decadent. I just stumbled on her work the other day and just had to share. I wish I could see these in person in order to experience the density of the material on the canvas: the paint is thick which gives the already rich colors a real depth. They defy categorizing, really, as they seem to straddle a blurry line between abstract and traditional landscapes. I love the boldness, the unusual shapes and new vantage points on everyday scenes like backyard pools and camping tents. This is the sort of painting I have an almost visceral reaction to: the rawness of the paint itself adds an amazing amount of depth to what is ostensibly just the surface of the canvas. Check out her website -- her portfolio is consistently wonderful. I'm putting Jena Thomas on my list of artists to keep tabs on...
Guys! I'm so excited to present to you a GUEST POST!! by the wonderful, adorable, rep-the-homestate blogger Lisa at c/oMKE who came up with the brilliant idea to exchange 'care of' posts. I've followed her blog since I started blogging myself last spring and MKE (airport code for Milwaukee, in case you're interested, is what all the cool kids call it. Obvie!) is only a couple hours from where I grew up so it has a special place in my heart. It's also this love of place that really shines through in Lisa's writing and photography about her home. Enjoy! :D
***** Hello Artsy Abroad readers! I'm Lisa from c/oMKE and I'm beyond excited to be guest posting in Kate's wonderful space because 1) We're both raised Wisconsinites and 2) Her blog is just the best, right?! I love her passion for exploring, photography, and travel. Kindred spirits I'd say. I'm just a silly lass living in and blogging about my favorite city in the world, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was born and raised here and have so much passion and enthusiasm for being proud of where you come from or where you live. My blog is a lifestyle blog about my life in Milwaukee. I share personal stories and tidbits about myself, but my main focus is showing the world what Milwaukee has to offer. I feel like many people think of Wisconsin as this northern state with not much more than cows, cheese, and beer. Don't get me wrong, we love our cheese and beer, but Milwaukee has so much more that people don't know about. On my c/oMKE I show the world Milwaukee's great restaurants, bars, and events so that maybe they can see the world in a different light.
Here are some of my favorite posts about MKE among other subjects that I write and share.
Milwaukee is bursting with great brunch spots. There are tons of different options to choose from. Honeypie Café is one of those perfect restaurants for a country-cooking-homestyle meal.
There are greasy spoon restaurants scattered all over the city if you would be looking for something a little more sinful - one of the most popular being Comet Café.
One of my new favorite brunch spots is Café Corazón for when you are feeling a little more Latin. Delicious.
Sticking with the restaurant feel - I love all of the unique places we have as well with a pretty big range. There is Afternoon Tea at the Pfister Hotel which can make you feel all posh and fancy schmancy. Then there are places like our Underground Ramen joint which is a stealthy late night restaurant that only serves 60 bowls per night.
The sun was out in full force on Friday morning, so I took advantage of it and decided to hike it down to Portobello. It truly is a hike, at a bit over three miles, but it was a pretty straight shot for the most part, and I thought it would be worth it to just see the beach.
And it was, in a way. Portobello is considered part of Edinburgh, but it was, in the not-so-distant past, a separate town, so it still has a High Street that functions as its own downtown even though suburban housing and retail complexes connect it to the city at large now. Portobello is also the 'Edinburgh's seaside,' with a promenade beachside attractions like ice cream shops and an arcade. I arrived just as Friday school was letting out, so there were children everywherrre! After stopping for a brie and cranberry panini at a basic takeaway place, I had lunch and watched a ton of families walk by on their way home. But by that time there were a few more clouds covering the sun and making it feel chillier on the waterfront.
Other than that, and the dogs running around on the beach, it was pretty quiet. It's February after all, but there's always something a little quirky and surreal about seaside towns when it's not even remotely warm enough to do much of anything beachy. It was windy and chilly, so I only spent a little while walking along the promenade before hitching a ride on a bus back to the city center (which incidentally broke down so it took a lot longer, but at least I didn't have to walk three miles back!).
It was really nice to get out of the middle of town for the afternoon and see a different side of this city.
Any hardcore Harry Potter fan who visits Edinburgh surely knows about The Elephant House, where JK Rowling is known to have written a bit of her famous series. A large number of cafes and coffee shops like to boast that JK Rowling wrote some of the books in their shop... only a small number of these are actually legit, The Elephant House being one of them. But aside from some photos on the wall, showing her in the shop after the fact, you don't get a very Potteresque vibe about the place, really. You wouldn't even know it's anything very unique in that sense, aside from the fact that more tourists stand outside to take pictures of the front than any other place along that street. You do, however, have to go into the bathrooms. It's here the real power of the Harry Potter pilgrimaging fandom comes out. And it takes forever, if you actually have to use the toilet, because just about anyone in there has to take the time to write a message, or at the very least read them. Or take photos of them. ;)
I love that they are so varied. Many of them are just quotes from the books. Some of them are professions of love for Ron or Harry. Some of them are humorous, and some of them are heartfelt notes of thanks. Like one that read, 'The boy who lived gave me courage to go on living. Thanks JR!' or 'You are our childhood!' I love these messages. I admit to not being a ginormous HP fan (my sisters sure are) but I have read the books and I really enjoy the tale. The Elephant House is a study spot for me because their cafe is nice, the views out the windows wonderful, and the coffee tasty, but I'll never tire of these magnificent bathroom walls. So be sure, if ever you stop in for a tea or a scone (their bakery is quite good) then you should remember to leave your mark in the loo.