Birthday Cards

It was my birthday a little while ago. I had some lovely cards – although, because my Facebook account is deactivated, for the first year since about 2008, I didn’t get that flurry of warm electronic wishes from friends far and wide.

I missed that, but I also reflected that for every card I received:

An artist or designer had been able to work creatively and be paid for it.

Trees had been cut down and shipped (and replanted – I’m sure all my cards are from sustainable sources) keeping loggers, machinery manufacturers, HGV drivers in employ

A paper manufacturer created pulp and made the card and the envelope it was posted in. Printers applied the design (and bought ink from its own manufacturers who in turn bought and made the dyes to colour the inks)

Somebody put it on a shelf in a shop and sold it. I hope whoever it was that chose it for me had the pleasure of looking through all the possibilities, finding one that they thought was just the thing. I’m sure they did – I had some really smashing cards.

Then it was written, stamped, posted, collected, delivered and received with great pleasure.

So many people had a hand in each of my birthday cards, so many livings and occupations were supported, so much wealth spread around our little economies, such a lot of tax paid and collected.

There are environmental issues to be tackled to be sure – but Facebook’s huge server farms have their problems too. What struck me more forcibly than ever was that at least with my cards it isn’t just Mark Zuckerberg – getting grotesquely, absurdly, undeservedly richer and richer – who benefits.

Thanks to you all – I’ll make sure to remember your birthdays too. x

Birthday Cards

The way you see colour depends on what language you speak

Interesting article from The Conversation about language and the way we see the world:

Since the day we were born we have learnt to categorise objects, colours, emotions, and pretty much everything meaningful using language. And although our eyes can perceive thousands of colours, the way we communicate about colour – and the way we use colour in our everyday lives – means we have to carve this huge variety up into identifiable, meaningful categories.

Painters and fashion experts, for example, use colour terminology to refer to and discriminate hues and shades that to all intents and purposes may all be described with one term by a non expert.

Different languages and cultural groups also carve up the colour spectrum differently. Some languages like Dani, spoken in Papua New Guinea, and Bassa, spoken in Liberia and Sierra Leone, only have two terms, dark and light. Dark roughly translates as cool in those languages, and light as warm. So colours like black, blue, and green are glossed as cool colours, while lighter colours like white, red, orange and yellow are glossed as warm colours.
— Read on theconversation.com/the-way-you-see-colour-depends-on-what-language-you-speak-94833

The way you see colour depends on what language you speak

On blind accordionists

Geoff Dyer, in the Ongoing Moment, his divergent attempt at a taxonomy of photography, spends a lot of time tracking pictures of blind accordionists through the 20th century. It might seems an unlikely procession but, being blind, these accordionistas are the perfect subject for a street photographer who wants, above all, to take his or her photographs unobserved.

The first accordion player was photographed by the Hungarian Photographer, André Kertész in 1916.

Kertesz Accordionist

It’s worth pointing out that our man isn’t blind, just short sighted, but the photograph still inspired this poem by George Szirtzes:

The Accordionist

The accordionist is a blind intellectual
carrying an enormous typewriter whose keys
grow wings as the instrument expands into a tall
horizontal hat that collapses with a tubercular wheeze.

My century is a sad one of collapses.
The concertina of the chest; the tubular bells
of the high houses; the flattened ellipses
of our skulls that open like petals.

We are the poppies sprinkled along the field.
We are simple crosses dotted with blood.
Beware the sentiments concealed
in this short rhyme. Be wise. Be good.

Dyer’s book, The Ongoing Moment is well worth a read.

On blind accordionists

Bored in the Uffizi

I think we have bad habits now, in museums and galleries, or those vast visiting collections that are puffed off at the Royal Academy or the British Museum. It’s partly the crowds of course, and the pressure to keep moving, but it’s also the sheer numbers of paintings or objects. A literary critic once suggested that you shouldn’t try to read more than four poems a week. I suspect you could apply the same rule to paintings. No more than four in a visit – or is that still too many.

Which all goes to say that I found the the Uffizi marvellously tiring, or tiringly marvellous. I grew especially weary of the endless repetition of religious paintings – all those Madonnas, clutching their – often slightly disturbing – babies.

Which made it all the more exciting when we came across this painting by Antonella da Messina – a Madonna for sure, but somehow less removed or antique, more real; more, I thought, like one of us. Her son too, clambered about in a cheerfully unsymbolic way as babies do, and hugged his mum.

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I discovered that da Messina was painting in the 1470s – when all around him were bursting into the gorgeous excesses of the heroic renaissance – and wondered why he wasn’t better known. If you google him, his paintings all have that unfussy but very human directness. They are real people with back stories, bad thoughts and an appraising eye.

Look at these three:

Antonello da Messina collage 3

And this thoughtful Virgin Mary:

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I even like his crucifixion. Well, Jesus is a little staid, but his thieves are wonderfully acrobatic.

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You can read about Antonella here.

It’s fascinating that much of the story of the renaissance is about south influencing north – but with da Messina it looks as though it was the other way round.

Bored in the Uffizi

Bridget Riley (and others) at Compton Verney

Op-art as a movement became questionable – said a note on the wall – because it was too readily accessible.

Well, whoever those sour faced guardians of the difficult and obscure were, they were quite right. The gallery at Compton Verney yesterday was full of people exploring the optical effects of the prints and structures and simply enjoying themselves.

It was playful; it surprised and entertained; it involved you in a real exploration the way eyes, brain and body were caught up in the artist’s constructions. There was – to me – an unexpected delight in the absolute precision of it all – a wondrous meeting point between art, science and engineering.

The only downside was that, after an hour or more, you felt you needed something solid and ordinary to rest your eyes and get your balance back.

No photographs were allowed except of this magical installation by Liz West that gave us rainbows for shadows and, as you moved around, seemed to conjure new colours out of nothing at all. You had to be there – but in lieu, here are photos and an explanation of how the effect was achieved:

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Bridget Riley (and others) at Compton Verney