Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Who paints your music?

"Music is what life sounds like."

~Eric Olson

A poem inspired by one of your paintings is probably one of the most gratifying accolades an artist could hope to receive. The poet Therese L. Broderick wrote this poem after having seen my painting of the Water Bearers at Lake Turkana on Every Photo Tells A Story.


She walks without shoes for miles
past jealous crocodiles,

hitting the sudden blasts of wind
blowing over the basin,

balancing water in an earthen jar
on the top of her hair,

knowing that her ancestors called
the waters here Ka'alakol,

(not Turkana, not Rudolph)—

she bears it, she bears all of it
wearing silver bracelets.

Therese L. Broderick

Weird as it may seem, I almost always seem to equate paintings with songs or poetry. Maybe it’s because I’ve always painted with music playing loudly in my studio, or perhaps music and poetry have been as much a part of my life as art?

For instance, when I look at The Mona Lisa, for some quite inexplicable reason, I start bopping away in my head to the Beach Boy’s ‘Barbara Ann’. Bizarre, isn’t it? Baa baa baa…..

There are others, like Raoul Dufy’s Amphitrite, which has Rod Stewart’s 'Sailing' come croaking out of my mental amp.

Edward Hopper’s melancholy Summertime makes me think of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

The Harlem Renaissance painter Jacob Lawrence’s The Blues Man brings to mind the words of the poet Langston Hughes’ 'The Weary Blues.'

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.

What do you think about when you look at a favourite painting? The lyrics from a song or a line from a poem, or do you just dream your own dreams? Tell us about it here and I’ll do a random draw from your names in a week or so and send the winner a signed, limited edition print of The Water Bearers - sorry it can’t be a Lawrence, Hopper or a Dufy! - with Therese’s beautiful poem written on the reverse.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The world was silent when they died - The Orphans of Nkandla

Strange, isn’t it, how sometimes you can sit on a fluffy pink cloud feeling like Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds because you’re being pampered and spoilt by friends and family, indulging yourself to the max with an abundance of food, wine, love and laughter when all of sudden you glance sideways and the fizz goes flat?

Out of the corner of your eye you’ve seen a chink of bright white light and when you turn round further you see that big door to the real world slowly creaking open and you feel the soft, cool fingers of reality touch your cheek. Instinct tells you that it’s time now to pull the release cord on your pretty parachute and float back down to earth.

Don’t get me wrong. Earth is good. Life can be beautiful. Look at N’tola and his mother as they walk back home after the harvest. Mama carries a big pot of freshly dug potatoes that she’ll cook to accompany the goat meat that Gogo gave them this morning. N’tola’s tummy is telling him that he’s hungry so he pulls at Mama’s hand to hurry.

Unlike so many children in Africa now, N’tola has a loving mother to feed him; to make sure that he is safe and warm. He has his Gogo, who sings to him and soothes him if he falls. In the evenings N’tola will sit on his father’s lap and listen to the deep, warm rumble of his voice. N’tola is lucky, but for other children, who live not very far away, life is like an earthquake. Suddenly, it can get all sharp and jagged and very frightening indeed. That is the other side of reality – the part that is not soft and cool, but fiercely piercing and sometimes almost unbearable

HIV/AIDS has taken more lives than the sum of all wars, all natural disasters, all diseases throughout the history of humanity. The little mountain kingdom of Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS. 70,000 orphans. 15,000 child-headed families. Nkandla is not far from Swaziland.

Inspired by Dr Maithri Goonetilleke, who writes with such lyrical eloquence on his wonderfully illuminating and compassionate blog The Soaring Impulse, and from whom I learned about the 70,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland, I decided that I needed to make my art more meaningful. To make what I do really and truly sing for its supper. Loud and clear.

As an artist, I’m often asked by people who are interested in my work for commercial purposes if I could please write an ‘artist’s statement’ to accompany any work that may be shown. You know the sort of thing; “My work has an iconic quality, drawing upon the narrative within. The subject matter highlights a tension in the landscape and immortalises the fleeting sparks.....”

My work is not professional enough, nor, frankly, is it good enough to warrant that kind of seriousness of intent, so my artist’s statement is about why I paint what I do, rather than a lofty expression of my philosophy, vision and the creative process. It’s just about how I feel in my heart:

My art is a tribute to the people we’ve met on our travels in Africa. People who have experienced bloody civil war, yet smile with a warmth that reaches the very heart of you. People who have lived under oppressive regimes, yet sing in soaring harmony. Those whose families have been desecrated during onslaughts of horrifying genocide, yet still reach out with love and forgiveness. Children whose eyes light up when given a pencil to take to their little school under the sparse shade of an acacia tree…..

That is why I paint. For me, it is a celebration of life and through my art I endeavour in some small way to encapsulate the essence, the spirit and the strength of the exceptional people I have been so very privileged to meet.

Now, having read about Maithri’s work while in Swaziland in 2006 – he is going
there again in April - and about his fellow medical professionals’ unceasing care for these little ones, I can at last show that my ‘artist’s statement’ really, truly means what it says by ‘giving’ my art to those exceptional people who inspire every brushstroke I make. My deepest thanks to Dr. Maithri and to the children of Swaziland for allowing my work to have resonance.

I’m selling Limited Edition Giclée prints of all my paintings
here, with 100% of the proceeds going to Maithri’s friend and colleague Dr. Joyce Mareverwa, Medical Director of The Baylor Clinic in Swaziland, who works so unflinchingly hard to save the lives of HIV/AIDS orphans in that little mountain kingdom in Africa. Please help her to help these little ones.

“What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give.”

P.D. James ~ Time to Be in Earnest.

**If you'd like to take a peek at the prints, just click the Armadillo Studio logo at the top of my side bar.**

Friday, 20 February 2009

Illustration Friday - Instinct

Solomon was often asked about his success as a fisherman. Invariably his reply was enigmatic. “Just instinct,” he'd say with a wry smile.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

IF - Celebrate

"It's always good to remember where you come from and to celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you're going."

My birthday and Valentine’s Day coincide most serendipitously which means I am wined, dined, chocolated and showered with roses. Well, sometimes. Mostly my birthday means a hooty great beach party and sizzling braai, or a night in the veldt around a campfire with friends, a guitar and the stars. At least it did when we lived in the Southern hemisphere. Now, however, February is invariably cold, wet and rather gloomy up here in the North, so I tend to be a bit grumpy round the 14th and can be heard to mutter ‘bah humbug’ and other such oaths. This time, however, I was told firmly by all and sundry to put on my dancing shoes and ‘get it on down, Mama!’ So I did.

The soft - and flattering - glow of candlelight, a kaleidoscope of fresh flowers, a roaring fire, a big batch of lovely friends and laughing family can do wonders for a disgruntled exile. Add to that delightful mix a meal of superb deliciousity, sparkling conversation, much hilarity and very fine wines, and you have a recipe for the best birthday ever!


This is a perfect dish for a winter dinner party because it's so rich and unctuous. There's really nothing more therapeutic on a chilly day than the intense aroma of roasted spices with garlic and herbs - the fragrance is quite intoxicating and makes you want to do the dance of the seven veils with your teatowels.

And after its long braising time, the lamb is infused with all the warm soft flavours of the spices and is meltingly tender. All you need as an accompaniment is a big bowl of couscous mixed with chickpeas; all stirred though with a couple of teaspoons of lemon zest and chopped parsley. A simple green salad of mixed leaves rounds it all off quite perfectly.

It’s not an entirely authentic Moroccan dish – just one that has evolved over the years - but it is quick and easy to prepare. It also, as I mentioned earlier, smells so divinely exotic that it will induce lots of belly-dancing moments while you work. Here goes:

1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground black pepper
1½ tbsp ground cumin
1½ tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
4 ½lb of lamb neck fillet, trimmed and cut into 2in chunks
2 large onions, grated
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 preserved lemons, chopped
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
115g/4oz dried apricots, cut in half
55g/2oz dates, cut in half
55g/2oz sultanas or raisins
85g/3oz flaked almonds
1 tsp saffron stamens, soaked in cold water
600ml/1 pint stock
2 tbsp clear honey
2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2.

*Put the cayenne, black pepper, cumin, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon into a small bowl and mix to combine.
*Place the lamb in a large bowl and toss together with half of the spice mix. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
*Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large casserole dish. Add the fennel and mustard seeds and toss gently until they begin to pop.
*Add the grated onion, the remaining spice mix and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes so that the onions are soft but not coloured. Add the crushed garlic and preserved lemon for the final 2 or 3 minutes.
*In a separate frying pan, heat the remaining oil and brown the cubes of lamb on all sides then add the browned meat to the casserole dish.
*De-glaze the frying pan with ¼ pint of the stock and the lime juice and add these to the casserole dish.
*Add the chopped tomatoes, apricots, dates, raisins or sultanas, flaked almonds, saffron, lamb stock and honey to the casserole dish.
*Bring to the boil, cover with a fitted lid, place in the oven and cook for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is meltingly tender.
*Place the lamb in a tagine or large serving dish, sprinkle over the chopped coriander and decorate with a couple of lime wedges and a sliver of red chilli.

My marvellous brother-in-law gave me a box of Mulderbosch as a pressy, and both the birthday girl and her guests can vouch for the fact that there is absolutely nothing better than a bottle or three of deep, dark, spicy, sunshiny South African wine to aid the digestion of this nummtious feast in a most delightful way.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

You Must Remember This, A Kiss Is......sometimes quite boring.

“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine”

We sat in silence, side by side on the edge of the pool and watched the wind-ripples flash and dance as sunlight sliced the water. A wood pigeon, invisible in the light flecked foliage of a Cape Oak, coo-cooed gently and a cicada shrilled a staccato accompaniment.

“Shall we do a kiss?” he asked, his tone of voice sternly matter of fact.

I stared hard at the purpling, mottled bruise on my knee and thought about how mortified I’d felt when I’d fallen off Misty in front of everybody at the gymkhana last Saturday.

"Okay," I muttered distractedly and turned to look at him. I stifled a giggle when I saw his face, all puckered up and ready. Leaning towards him, I waited.

And waited. The breeze blew warm across the vineyards, bringing with it the sweet green smell of ripening grapes and a bee flew past my ear with a swiftly receding buzz.

And I waited. Keeping my head still, I looked up at the sky, squinting a little in the sharp blue light, and watched a jet trail slowly puff out of shape.

I was mildly surprised then when we finally connected. Wham! I wondered vaguely what would happen next, but nothing did. We sat there, lips upon lips, not moving a muscle, for what seemed an eternity.

After several eons my neck began aching. My damp swimsuit started itching and my feet, which had been dangling in the pool, began to grow numb with cold.

“This,” I thought crossly, “is really boring.”

I left him with his lips still puckered and dived into the pool.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Elemental Forces - Earth, Wind, Fire and Water


We remember the massive Asian Tsunami which slammed into the Thai, Indonesian and Sri Lankan coastlines on Boxing Day in 2004 wreaking havoc beyond imagining. Nor will we ever forget the cruel devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, or the massive destruction and loss of life after the earthquake in Sichuan province, China in May 2008.

Now Australia has had to deal with the brutal horror of raging fires. In the face of such a monumental tragedy, it is hard to find ways in which to express comfort and compassion for those who have experienced such inestimable levels of grief, loss, fear and devastation. Nothing we say can alleviate even a fraction of the terrible pain and horror suffered by so many during those catastrophic fires in Victoria. The flames tore their relentless way through the lives of so many, leaving in their fiery wake the smouldering ashes of memory.

So instead of words of condolence, I will reach out my hands to hold theirs and grieve alongside them for the loss of their loved ones, their homes and environment. And maybe just whisper very softy that there will be renewal, just as there has been since time immemorial.

Paradise Seed

Where is the seed

Of the tree felled,

Of the forest burned,

Or living root

Under ash and cinders?

From woven bud

What last leaf strives

Into life, last

Shrivelled flower?

Is fruit of our harvest,

Our long labour

Dust to the core?

To what far, fair land

Borne on the wind

What winged seed

Or spark of fire

From holocaust

To kindle a star?

~ Kathleen Raine

Australia 2005

Sunday, 8 February 2009

SSS - Inside and Out.

Tracy at Hey Harriet is the leading light of Shadow Shot Sunday. Pop over to her wonderful blog to see her stunning photographs and those of other ‘shadow shooters’ from around the world.

Bwana's Snow Gear....


(with apologies to A.A. Milne)

Guy had
Great Big
Boots on;
Guy had a
Great Big
Guy had a
Great Big
Mackintosh --
And that
(Said Guy)

I had to stand exactly aligned with tree-trunk in order to get this shadow shot in the snow covered field behind our house......

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not.
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We'll weather the weather.
Won’t we?

These whimsical tin balancing toys reside on a windowsill in our sitting room. With the light from a snow-bright wintery sun, their shadows were sharply defined on the wall…..

Men and fish are alike. They both get into trouble when they open their mouths. ~Author Unknown

Friday, 6 February 2009

IF - Time

Time is surely the most valuable thing a man can spend.

“Look at the length of the shadow, my son, we are far into the second half of the day.”

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Brain Freeze

Kupri - desktop painting

Brrrr – too cold to paint today so, because my desk is right next to a cosily warm radiator, I thought I’d write instead. After gazing for a while at the swirly colours of a painting I have resting on a little easel on my desk top and then back at a blank screen, I realised I had another problem. Brain freeze. The only antidote such a debilitating malaise is to………

Take A Quiz!

Try it! Not exactly brain-rattling fodder, but it's more challenging than you’d think. USE ONLY ONE WORD! Copy and change the answers to suit you, post it and pass it on to your bloggy friends.

1. Where is your cell phone? Flowerpot

2. Where is your significant other? Clivedon

3. Your hair? Up

4. Your mother? Australian

5. Your father? Handsome

6. Your favourite food? Oysters

7. Your dream last night? Revealing

8. Your favourite drink? Shiraz

9. Your dream/goal? Africa

10. What room you are in? Study

11. Your hobby? Eavesdropping

12. Your fear? Bogyman

13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Beach

14. Where were you last night? Home

15. Something that you aren't? Uncaring

16. Muffins? Cheese

17. Wish list item? Harmony

18. Where you grew up? Constantia

19. Last thing you did? Blinked

20. What are you wearing? Paloma

21. Your TV? Off

22. Your pets? Husband

23. Friends? Steadfast

24. Your life? Abundant

25. Your mood? Itchy

26. Missing someone? Mother

27. Car? Unsporty

28. Something you're not wearing? Bikini

29. Your favourite store? Foyles

30. What colour is your living room? Yellow

31. Favourite European city? Barcelona

32. Favourite vegetable? Asparagus

33. When is the last time you laughed? Earlier

34. Last time you cried? Friday

35. Who will resend this? Bloggeristas

36. One place that I go to over and over? Studio

37. Who makes you laugh? Bean

38. Your favourite place to eat? Japanese

39. Your favourite musical instrument? Saxophone

40. Your favourite artist? Hayden

Okay, everyone, your turn next!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Light Inspiration & Works In Progress

My work table - little WIP

The sun is so seductive. I love the way it slices through my studio and dances its way across tubes of paint, over the water jar and along the windowsills. But most of all, I love the way it makes my paintings sing.

Sunshine brushes

Despite dire warnings of snow across England today, my celestial friend shone for a little while this morning and I was drawn into its wintery warmth to work before mean grey clouds arrived and bullied it into submission.

Easel - large WIP

(**I'm loving this creative challenge from the innovative Hey Harriet! Do click here to browse a fantastic gallery of weekly Shadow Shots from a group of very talented photographers from around the globe.**)