British Museum Sketches

Here’s some more old sketchbook pages I scanned, this time from the British Museum. (Unlike the V&A they let you use pens and have plenty of stools to give out). The first one is metal grave goods from the Bronze Age, mostly from Central Europe and Wales. I studied Ancient History as my BA, and Bronze Age ritual landscapes and grave goods are something I’m particularly interested in. Something I’m well aware a lot of people will find horrendously boring. For the best grave goods though, see the Scythians, the nomadic horsepeople of the southern Russian steppes, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Magnificent golden jewellery, carpets, embroidery and intricate tattoos.

These are some carvings of chickens from a mural from Lycia in the southwest of what is now Turkey. Not a famous item at all, so a nice uncrowded room to sit in. The British Museum has so many rooms that it’s almost impossible to visit them all in one day. I have visited them all over the years, and as most tourists cluster in the Egyptian and Athenian rooms, you often have the other galleries all to yourself. To be honest, the British Museum has so many treasures, they could easily send back the disputed items like the Parthenon sculptures and have lots of beautiful items to fill the galleries with (whether the items which no-one is currently clamouring for were themselves legitimately acquired is another matter, up until the 1950s or so, a lot of, or perhaps the majority of anthropologists and archaeologists were essentially robbers and con people- here’s looking at you Schliemann and your dynamiting of the ruins of Troy to get to the gold).

These sculptures are from 520-450BC as I have helpfully written on the drawing. This was the period when Athens was at its peak. People often have this idea that the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans were concurrent, but this is not the case. The Roman empire didn’t even get going (or even have emperors) until the first century AD, and the Egyptian civilisation lasted for several thousand years. Even with periods like the Trojan War and Persian War, people kind of conflate the two together and assume they happened close to each other. In reality though, the Iliad was written around 800BC (whether Homer was a single person or a kind of collective oral narrative tradition is something that is up for debate) harking back to glorious legends of the deeds of the Mycenaean ancestors around 1200BC, and the Persian war was 499-449 (please remember BC dates go backwards). The Greco-Persian wars were also recorded by actual contemporary writers too (whatever your opinion of Herodotus), and the Iliad is essentially an oral tradition written down four hundred years or so later. Troy was a real place on the coast of Turkey, and there is archaeological evidence that there was conflict there at about the right time, but who knows about Achilles, Menelaus and so on.

The era of these carvings was also the period of the Persian war (please do not see the film 300 for any kind of information whatsoever- don’t even talk to me about that film), and Lycia was on the Persian side. The Lycians/Luwians who lived in the area (and had their own language– which is likely to be the same one the Trojans spoke- Troy is not very far away) are one of the less famous civilisations of the era, mainly because they were surrounded by large bossy neighbours like the Athenians, Assyrians and Hittites.

Topiary

I used to work at Hampton Court. This is a marker drawing of some of the trees in the gardens there. I earnt a pittance, worked every single weekend for six months, and wore a terrible polyester uniform. I got very used to being surrounded by incredible splendour though, and spent quite a lot of happy hours minding the maze, sitting in a shed reading long Russian books, listening to whatever mellow music wouldn’t annoy tourists (lots of Elliot Smith, Fleetwood Mac, Tortoise and Grandaddy), and making up lies about the maze to tourists. (I wrote about being in charge of the maze in issue 22 of my zine). I also used to get a good amount of free glasses of Pimms too from jugs that were left over from the outside bar.

Getting menial jobs like that in museums is fiercely competitive, and I gave up on ever earning more than minimum wage in the field- I’m still planning to write about that. Still I had a nice summer being in charge of a maze.

 

Naoshima

(Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture on the beach)

I won a competition last year for free plane tickets to Japan, and went with my friend Vicky for just under three weeks in March, using a rail pass to explore the main island of Honshu and staying in hostels (and a spell in a hotel in Kyoto that came with the flights). Apart from the free flights we were totally broke, so a lot of the focus of the trip was on free or low cost attractions like scenery and museums and making maximum use of the rail pass rather than restaurants, bars or shopping. You can see more photos from other places in the Japan category of this blog, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.

Naoshima is tiny idyllic island in the Seto Inland sea devoted to modern art. The opening of the Benesse modern art museum (owned by the same organisation as Berlitz language schools) revived the island’s fortunes, although it’s still a small and quiet place with only a few villages and a lot of old people.

We visited the museum, but no pictures were allowed inside, so these are all of the rest of the island. I’ve made a post of some of the artists in the collection here.

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Andre Thomkins

andre thomkins

When I was in Liechtenstein, I went to the Modern Art museum there. I was really impressed with the quality of the museum, especially in such a small country. They had a special exhibition about Swiss artist André Thomkins (whose estate had donated his works to the museum). I hadn’t come across him before, but I really enjoyed what I saw (and his large array of German puns), especially the short film where he was talking and demonstrating how he made marbled paintings by floating lacquer on top of water, something he started experimenting with after washing a brush he’d been painting furniture with.

thomkins art 1

Watching a man dropping oil paint onto a bathfull of water accompanied by space noises is strangely relaxing- you can see a video here, the website wouldn’t let me embed it. He seemed to turn his hands to anything that took his fancy, from palindrome surrealist poems to homemade instruments to intricate ink drawings. I imagine he was having lots of fun. I really enjoyed the bad German puns in the written work, but obviously they won’t do anything for you if you don’t speak the language.

thomkins art 2

The gallery has this video where they show you some of the exhibition. Strangely they don’t show that much of the artwork though. The video’s in German too. You do see some of the “Bureaucratic Drawings” made of rubber bands though.

(All images from Hauser & Wirth)

Malevich

black square

Recently I went to the Malevich exhibition at the Tate Modern. I was vaguely aware of him as an avant-garde Russian artist (turns out more Polish-Ukrainian) and his black square paintings which caused such a fuss, but I didn’t know much else about him. I’m glad I went to the exhibition.

It started off with some of his early works, when he was an art student in Ukraine and my initial thoughts were “oh, these aren’t that impressive” because I was under the impression they were from the 20s and were copies of other artist’s styles, then when I read the labels though I realised the paintings had been produced between 1905 and 1910 contemporary with everything that was going on in the rest of Europe. Considering that Russia had only abolished feudalism 40 or so years earlier and the Russian Empire was mostly pre-industrial at the time outside a few cities, that’s pretty impressive.

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Liechtenstein

In other old photos I’ve dug out recently, here’s some photos of Liechtenstein from last summer. I’m currently writing a zine about that trip, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.

Liechtenstein is a very weird place. It’s one of the smallest countries in Europe, and is essentially a small Swiss town that is a separate country by historical accident, and now stays a separate country because they have a nice income from being a corporate tax haven. The entire country has one high school. I was working at a school just across the border in Austria, and there were a fair few students from Liechtenstein at the school. The capital Vaduz has a small parliament building, an impressive castle, a small museum like that of any small town, a really big and impressive modern art museum, a big post office that does a roaring trade in souvenir stamps and a town square with some expensive cafes and assorted useful shops. There’s, Schaan, a suburban town where most people live, a couple of other villages and a big supermarket, some lovely mountains and that’s the whole country really. I saw pretty much most of it in an afternoon, which you can’t say for most countries.

goat butter small

The local health food shop was offering this. I don’t think I’m going to take them up on their offer. Read more

Red Lead & Choleric Humours

In the days when I worked at Hampton Court I got to go to quite a few of their special events. They had a roster of actors who could portray the various monarchs who had lived at the palace (and two Henry VIIIs) and would do special days with re-enactments based on various time periods or themes. On one of the days they had a day based on science in the time of Charles II. I found some photos when I was tidying up the computer the other day.

alchemy 1

They had an alchemy show with Charles II in (the dark haired man).

alchemy 2

The show included a satisfying number of explosions.

leech

I also met a leech-breeder, who gave a talk about past and current uses of leeches in medicine. I declined to have a go holding a leech.

Tate Britain

barlow

I went to the Tate Britain the other day. I went there planning to go to the Folk Art exhibition, but realised I didn’t have the time or money to do it justice that day, and what I was actually in the mood for was post-war modern art. So that’s what I looked at.

These Phyllida Barlow installations were in the main hall. I liked them a lot, but there was a very posh woman behind me berating the poor gallery attendant as if he had personally put them there for her displeasure. Those kind of people are the absolute worst thing about working in museums.

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Fishbourne Palace

building

A while back I went to Fishbourne Palace. In the 1960s engineers digging a new drain in a village just outside Chichester discovered some Roman mosaics. When they were excavated, they turned out to belong to the one of the largest Roman palaces outside Italy. My thing I wrote for Storyboard this month is based on it (and yes, the building really does look like a swimming pool). No one is one hundred percent sure who it belonged to, the most common guess is Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, the local chieftain / Roman ally / client king, but there are no inscriptions or historical records either backing it up or proving otherwise.

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