Safar: a journey for me, too

One of my recent series is ‘Safar:journey’, and it’s inspired by the imagined wanderings  of my ancestors through millennia from the biblical Middle East to Europe. Below is “Caspian Journey”, my  imagined plan of the route, and clearly I’m no geographer, although I’d like to think you can make out a few oceans – the Mediterranean, Black and  Caspian seas – even though their relative positions might owe more to the exigences of aesthetics than to the actual terrain.  Making the Safar series has been something of a journey for me too, albeit by no way as momentous, hazardous or extended as for the ancestors,  and after a  long blogging gap, I thought I’d like to post about the  journey I travelled towards making this series.

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You may remember from past posts that I had an unexpected medical contretemps a few years ago. Heavy-duty surgery to correct a random medical mishap descended out of the blue, with pain, shock, and a lengthy interruption to life in general – and to life as an artist in particular. For art to happen, I need to have nothing uppermost in my mind except the subject I’m working on and the paint….or prints, paper, or scissors. There also has to be equanimity. Anger is especially inimical to creativity, and I guess after the shock I’d had, a light unconstructive dusting of that wasn’t too far from the surface. This disturbed my usual studio vibe. Everything was in place just as it had always been – my music (often Miles, but pretty eclectic) a heady wafting of incense or perfume, and the suspension of life outside the studio except for the occasional descent to stir a soup; but something had shifted – my confidence and self-belief had gone into stasis with an unsettling sense of life’s unpredictability

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We went to Israel for some winter sun, and mooching in the Binyamin craft market in Tel Aviv, I saw a particularly appealing hand-made amulet with the usual legends : luck, joy, celebration, prosperity, plenty. I was attracted to it, but I remember asking myself what was the point of buying it when these mantras and invocations, however regularly intoned in the past, hadn’t managed to prevent near-catastrophe. Such bright wishes seemed to have nothing to do with me. I put the little piece of silver back on its velvet cloth, and went to sit down for a coffee with our friends. As conversation and laughter flowed around the coffee cups, another dialogue was taking place deep within me. I was telling myself that unease had to be fought, that a person who no longer hoped for luck, health, happiness, plenty, and joy, didn’t deserve them. Bubbling beneath our easy chat was brewing an irrestistible urge to rush back to the market, to find and purchase the little amulet, and start to reabsorb its message of renewal for heart and mind.

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The cups were empty, chairs scraped, and I hurried back to find the amulet again. I brought my new talisman back to London, the inscriptions winking their message at me on the studio table in front of me; I couldn’t help but absorb its positivity as it began to restore me to joy in my work, and in general. I started to make connections between the Hebrew words and their equivalents in Farsi, which  I have been studying for several years. Within a few days I was at the art supplier buying a rather expensive and substantial canvas, and started working on a piece about these words of hope and joy in the many languages my ancestors might have heard or spoken on their ancient journey from the Middle East into Europe. How many times must their journeyings, their very survival have rested on the same hopes, wishes, and self-belief as embodied by my little scrap of silver. My heartfelt thanks go to its maker, jeweller Smadar Dagan Yehieli; its size belied its impact.

I browsed exotic fabrics in Berwick Street’s extraordinary Cloth Shop and filled my studio with delicious samples for collage and monoprint experiments, shaping the fingers of an amuletic hand, or ‘hamsa’, on my new canvas. There’s nothing as exciting as a pristine and substantial blank canvas; what a joy to be back in business with a new project at one’s fingertips. Here below is ‘Amulet with word and symbols’, and I invite you to look at further recent ‘Safar’ pieces on my Facebook Page at /pollyrockbergerartist

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poll/بل  : bridge – my signature, and my name in Farsi.

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Back to the real

Friends, this has become more of an occasional outreach than a blog, and the blame lies with me and my new best ‘friend’, Instagram. How much easier, how tempting it’s been these past months, to point my  iphone at a painting and without thinking very hard, without wrapping it in a theme and prose-ing around it, just to slap it up on Instagram and wait for the lovely ‘likes’ to raise their dear little red hearts and give me a warm glow. They like me! Take a peek at my Instagram and you’ll see why I’ve been unfaithful to you, dear readers. This fuzzy confusion of  ‘like’ with like is so very seductively welcome to we solitary workers. But here I am again, dear hearts, because there’s something of an unsatisfactory cheat about the Instagram process – to which I will doubtless remain addicted. Here’s the thing — the format absolutely has to be square. So the long scroll you see below, which required such loving, careful repeated mono printing in order not to tear or crinkle the fine chinese paper……

IMG_2901    …becomes this, when it’s translated into one of Instagram’s squares:

IMG_1174 Not at all the same thing! and, sorrowful to admit,  I am usually tempted to click ‘share’, instantly publishing my images to both Facebook and the twittersphere, so this fib of an image makes its modest entry into ethernet art history as an inauthentic version of its true self. As I say, my adoration of Instagram and its fix of daily ‘likes’ will continue, but in our WordPress rendezvous, my friends, no such distortion happens, and the truth is posted. Long may it continue! Before I continue with today’s rant about truth, here are some more newish little monoprints which, like the scroll, are printed from easily-cut blocks of foam board.So much easier on not-young hands ( can’t bring myself to say the O-word) than the wood- or lino-cutting I used to do.

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The small monoprint below in the same series includes some ‘chine collé’ (a way of incorporating some lightweight contrasting paper into the print during the inking process). In this case, you can clearly see the square of chine collé with a turquoise splodge, from a sheet which I found at the wonderful New York Central Art Supply shop. Thank you to New York artist Jane Kaplan – we met serendipitously in the lobby of our hotel in Paris, and she told me about this technique as we compared notes over a cup of coffee.

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Here’s a collage of companion monoprints studded with handpainted bright spots:

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Back now to truth and authenticity! There’s nothing more important to an artist than making work about the things of eye, heart and soul that really grab us – and in my case these are various to say the least. The little monoprints above developed from my love of stripes – the subject of an earlier post – be they straight, fractured, or curvy. On the other hand I’m also obsessed with ‘ferronerie’, the curliest of wrought iron, and I’m forever sticking drawings and photocopies of old ironwork into my collages. I’m also a sucker for ancient visual and linguistic symbols that speak to me of our imagined family journey from ancient Middle East to present day London, winding its way through centuries and geography. Here’s a new collage with plenty of scrolls and bits of ancient stone and metalwork, as well as snippets of the rich fabrics I so enjoy picking up from the cloth shops of London’s Berwick Street in Soho.

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Here’s the finished version of a piece I posted while it was in progress some months ago. It was my greatest treat as a little girl to sort out my Mum’s needlework drawer; the daughter of a master designer, and a lady who loved clothes and trimmings, she had a great collection of buttons, beads, lace, ribbons and bindings. This piece, suggestive of a map, roughly charts our family journey in languages and symbols; monoprinted lace jostles with fragments of Farsi poetry, amuletic words in Hebrew and Farsi  – love, luck, health, happiness, joy and plenty  – are scattered amongst the names of close family as well as female ancestors to whom I somehow feel connected.

 Resuming work after my inconvenient health interruption – already documented here at length ( I can’t resist a good health story, it’s a genetic trait) – has reinforced my desire to express through my work – as all artists need to do – something which feels authentic and truthful to me – be that about myself and my own small place in history, or my joy in the purely abstract explorations of line and texture.  I used to spend a lot of time trying to organise the hang of my annual studio show into a coherent theme; perhaps I didn’t appreciate at the time that there was quite enough of a connecting factor  – myself.

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PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE

I seem to be starting out as I always do….with a heartfelt apology for my long, long silence. I can hear you thinking…..’Wow, someone’s bigging herself up, we weren’t exactly waiting with bated breath!’ but I started blogging with a promise to myself of commitment; it’s like Words with Friends, lengthy gaps are just plain bad behaviour. Anyway, here’s the explanation – interspersed, just for a spot of random visual interest, with some new and hopefully fruitful recent images I have put together to inspire the work ahead of me in 2014.

Before I get down to business, take a breather with some photos I took in Israel last week:

Rooftops in old Akko:

Rooftops in old Akko

Old Akko

Bahai Gardens, Haifa:Bahai Gardens, Haifa

Sundown in old Akko – it happens very fast!:

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Dusk, Haifa

Sky during the brief dusk, between Haifa and Akko


Laje Kinneret/ Lake Galilee
Lake Galilee/Kinneret…idyllic

Torn poster, AkkoTorn poster in Akko – puts me in mind of Raymond Hains….

Just my cup of tea - watch out for this one as the ground of a future paintingJust up my street – watch out for this window in Akko as the future ground in a painting.

Regular visitors may remember that a freak health occurrence laid me low last summer. The discovery on a random X-ray of what looked like a small metal chain in my right lung necessitated heavy-duty and painful surgery to remove it. You can well imagine how completely this interrupted the art work-flow….pain, shock, all that stuff. But the plot has since thickened.

As you may remember from my posting last summer, I concluded that I had somehow inhaled some jewellery findings during a sneezing fit, and that this accounted for the glowing alien in my lung. The photo is still there for all to see, in the earlier post. I can now announce that I must no longer be blamed for careless respiration! I owe this startling discovery – not altogether welcome, as I will explain in due course – to dear Leyla, my Farsi teacher. She had very kindly taken to driving over to our house for our weekly lesson as I was still unable to drive, and one day she expressed ( in Farsi of course) an interest in looking at the contents of the little pot of lung with which my surgeon had thoughtfully presented me after the operation. Ghoulish, yes! but, as it turned out, revelatory! It seems that it was not my budding career as a jeweller, but a medical procedure 7 months earlier, that had been the origin of this drama!

Do you remember that fascinating filament with the little platinum bobbles, whose insertion into my bod I described in such admiring terms in a post last year? When prodded by Leyla into examining the contents of that little pot, I realised that this, and not jewellery cable, was what the surgeon had removed from my lung. The filament had indeed formed itself, as intended, into a tiny cute little coiled pretzel, intended to stay put and serve a noble medical purpose, but far from faithfully doing its job, it had apparently set off within 2 days on a completely unauthorised journey round my person, swimming up to my very heart, and whooshing into my lung, where it snuggled down in a cosy nest for 7 months until it was revealed, and removed, last June. Shocking!

Sour-cream/chive pretzel, followed by Foreign Body in my lung masquerading as same:

A genuine sour cream chive pretzel

Foreign body in my lung masquearading as a pretzel

I was now tasked with having to reframe the summer’s painful events into a new narrative in which I had narrowly avoided an even worse disaster. Something had been done TO me, rather than BY me. I had cancelled that earlier procedure on one occasion before I actually underwent it; some protective instinct – which I was talked out of by a different, well-meaning specialist – had come to the fore. Hear me, dear people – henceforth, follow your gut feeling!

I still can’t find it in my heart to erase my earlier post about the jewellery, even though it’s  completely inaccurate, because I was proud of having managed not to recriminate myself, but to accept the randomness of accident. Turns out I was indeed slapped round the face, but it wasn’t necessarily fate who was holding the wet kipper…..

This all had a far-reaching but not necessarily negative impact on my work. Of course, there was something of the post-operative tiredness, even ennui; but the brush with mortality started me thinking again along the same lines as those which led me to start blogging. How many weeks, months, years, will I be blessed to continue with productive work as an artist? Looking round the studio as 2013 drew to a close, I had a surge of love for my treasury of research, drawings, writings, photos, paintings, snippets of colour…of my shelves of collage papers and fabrics, of the monoprints hanging up to dry on the ‘washing line’ rigged up across the room. In early January I came across a ‘hamsa’, a little silver ‘hand’ amulet in the Tel Aviv craft market.  It had the usual legends engraved on it….luck, health, happiness, abundance, joy; I was seized by a sudden New Year’s resolution to sign up to all of these positives, and not to dwell on the more painful parts of the past year.

So….back to blogging, dears. I am back at work, inspired by Tom Reiss’s marvellous book ‘The Orientalist’ – which I realise is a good definition for me. My fascination with Farsi, with the imagined ancient family  journey, as I have already described to you, is still very much alive. My recent visits to Israel have enriched my treasure trove of words, languages and images.During wonderful days in the British Library last month I revelled in the delight of handling a 17th century world map, decorated with mermaids and unicorns, drawn for the King of France. The cashier at my local petrol station kindly allowed me to photograph her beautiful hands decorated in dramatic black henna swirls for a family wedding.

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Another  teaching session at JFS is coming up soon. So…..lots of work ahead to do, to share, to enjoy. Welcome, 2014!

Here’s some work in progress:

Ground for my new 'amulet' piece - positive words and wishes!

Two details from the ground of my new amulet piece, collage on canvas – positive words and wishes

IMG_1677Such fun….writing words on plasticine and clay, and printing from them on to collage paper to stick on to the canvas….I write them first on a sheet of transparent acetate and turn it over to use as a writing guide, so they won’t come out back-to-front when I print them! And I’ve done that enough times….

A new collage about my  grandparents, Fanny and Harry Abrahams, and their children - my mother Sonia and her brothers Victor and Jack.

Here’s a recent collage about my grandparents, Fanny and Harry Abrahams, and their children – my mother Sonia, and her brothers Victor and Jack.

Thanks for visiting. So much work to do – come back soon and keep me up to the mark.

Meanwhile – a few more images…

Old Akko

IMG_1285Windowboxes, Tel Aviv

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  Nazareth

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Friends! the universe has played a little joke!

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The perfect controllable world of the model railway which I conjured up for you in my last post has been struck by a thunderclap. Despite our best efforts fate, reserves the right to smack us in the face at will  – illustrated by the image below of my right lung complete with an unusual inner adornment, a wire jewellery beading cable complete with  bracelet fixings at each end. 
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I wouldn’t normally share quite so transparently the inner workings of my bod, but I’m sure you’ll agree that this deserves installation status, and cries out to be exhibited.You probably know by now how much I love beads; goodness, I have  even threatened in the past to devote a whole post to them. This week I am doing just that, but not with the same  glowing enthusiasm I usually feel for them. No, I leave any glowing to the luminous bead-related object you see here, nestled deep inside my right lung!
 
How in heaven’s name did it get there? I have no explanation, only a selection of possibilities. Hunched over my beading tray, was there a sudden sharp intake of breath before a sneeze? Or maybe a chance draught which blew this lightweight object into my mouth?  (open with wonderment  perhaps, as I luxuriated in my delicious array of bead-y delights)? I must explain that late in May I had  just returned from Le Touquet ( le2k for short, henceforth) with a bunch of those tiny paper sachets the Saturday-market-jewellery-lady packs your tiny purchases in, complete with dear little label saying ‘Plaisir d’offrir’ and a teeny curl of ribbon. Each sachet had a collection of Swarovski crystal beads, or beading wire, or fastenings – toggles and rings, clasps, bolt rings – collectively called  ‘findings’ to jewellers. I settled down very happily in the late evening of May 30 with the nicest package of all – some violet, black and clear crystals which would perfectly match the new hair colour of Andrea my very dear hairdresser. I made her a rather cute bracelet and a matching necklace, as you can see here:  
 
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I do remember a sneezing fit and then a coughing fit….and I think that is when a length of cable and some attachments must have winged their way down my right bronchus…..nb….Warning to all beaders: WEAR A MASK IN FUTURE!!!
 
So here’s where I return to my theme of control versus randomness. Several weeks later I had an X-ray to investigate chest pain (no connection whatsoever by the way) and there in all its glory was this foreign body, lambent, refulgent, and totally shocking, like having alien in your chest. The radiographer freaked out…..the rest is history: in quick succession I was seeing a chest physician, then having a bronchoscopy to pull it out ( not possible even after 3 hours of trying to find the darn thing in my tiny murky bronchioles) and finally, fairly major surgery to remove 20% of my right lung together with its decorative contents – which I am told by my wonderful surgeon were mostly by now invisibly intertwined with bits of lung and were probably there long before the night of May 30. So, back to my theme of randomness…without the random muscular chest pain there wouldn’t have been an X-ray….without the honesty and integrity of the chest physician who opted to ask a thoracic surgeon  to do the procedure instead of doing it himself, without the careful skill and restraint of that surgeon who decided not to risk tugging the object, but to withdraw and plan for surgery a week later, without living in London and having access to the finest possible care…who knows whether I’d be sitting here writing this blog. 
 
All of which warms me to my theme. Model trains may run to pre-determined schedules; life, sadly or happily depending on your point of view, definitely does not, and it’s a renewed shock every time one find this out. Roll with the punches, go with the flow…never a truer word! I am recovering albeit with more than a few twinges, and the sun has finally made an appearance. And now,  some bead photos for you to enjoy – I’m not one to hold a grudge against an innocent bead!

Update: this is a salutary tale! The little metal item which caused me all this grief turned out – well after I posted this entry – to have nothing whatever to do with beads or jewellery! It was at best a medical mishap, at worst, medical something else ….a coil inserted into one of my veins (as described in another post)  had migrated via my heart into my lung where it sat for many months until it was discovered in the X-ray and removed). Moral of the tale: stay away from doctors wherever possible.
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Mind the gap – as in railways, so in art.

I see that my last post was in November, and I could give you loads of reasons why – Christmas, travel, teaching commitments, cooking for hordes of people – but none of them stand scrutiny or give even a flavour of the work that’s going on in my head. It’s all about the process, and mine is changing.  I have so many ideas jostling for position, but a signal failure ( sic…but railways do come into this post!) ) to settle down to the necessary graft of expressing any of them on a canvas. Not that I haven’t done ANYTHING concrete –  of course I have – but I guess I’m started to think about pulling threads together, and they do need a lot of mulling. But sometimes one can over-think an idea, and it starts to feel boring before it’s been shared and hung on a wall, so it really is time to get into the studio. Especially urgent as my birthday ( a horrible number ) is happening any minute ; I need  to step up, liberate all the images gestating in my head, and let them sing out to the world on  their own canvas.

This is a good start – thinking out loud with a post about all the strands of potential output might give me some clarity about the best way forward. Please don’t feel used – I do truly have some things you might enjoy, from Paris, Hambourg, Finchley and Berwick Street. I think I’ll offer you a selection of posts to make up for lost time, and I’ll start with – Hambourg!

ImageI decided to take D away to Hambourg for his birthday to see one of the most visited museums in Germany – the Miniature World Model Railway Museum – 7 floors of heaven for anyone who yearns to create a perfect, controllable universe. My own endeavour towards this goal takes the form of collage, a forum in which I am a Goddess whose scissors decide the fate of every scrap and snippet.

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D’s plans are of quite a different order,  involving teeny tiny trains rolling along in the loft on fine gauge track ((see, I’m getting very knowledgeable), controlled from a state-of-the-art digital box on whose workings he much enjoys tuition on certain Fridays from an all-knowing railway tutor, together with elegant and delicious picnics prepared lovingly by guess-who and hauled up the loft steps in a basket. Yes, just like poor imprisoned Utrillo levering up his booze in a basket from his friends in the Montmartre street beneath his window while his wardress was out shopping… a spot of art history here which neatly slots into the loft theme.

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I put in a brief appearance at Miniature World just to be friendly, and to bone up on the modelling techniques which I volunteered in a sudden love surge to contribute to the Railway, yet another procrastination technique to stave off serious work of my own. Soon I will be building miniature rocks and bridges like the ones you see here, tiny trees and thousands of tiny people milling about at miniature rock concerts. All shaping up to provide an excuse for my next art gap.

I scuttled off as soon as decently possible to the Kunsthalle, Hamburg’s superb art museum. Btw if you want to see a collection of lovely handbags, just as interesting in their way as the art and the railway ( plenty of Furla and Prada on view) take a flight to Hambourg and gaze at the (very well-policed) cloakroom in the Kunsthalle – you can’t take your handbag in with you, only a clear plastic bag for your wallet and your assorted girl stuff. Just like the liquids on a plane journey, a fascinating glimpse into people’s lives – it’s all on view in the bags, phones, lippie, inhalers, hairy combs….too much information.

Now for what’s on the walls there. A totally brilliant collection of German expressionists, from arists as politically diverse as Kathe Kollwitz (a much beloved sculptress, untouched by Nazism) and Nolde (probably can’t say the same of him, but a glowing artist nevertheless). Here’s a little taster:

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Nolde’s ‘Tugboat’. It’s very glowy – I was mesmerised. Here’s another one:

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This expressionist art is so bold – here are some more – Kirchner, Schmidtt-Rottluff, Pechstein – so direct and strong, such interest of pattern, design, surface:

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Below is a piece I found especially fascinating : did Miniatur World emerge from somewhere deep in the national psyche ? Here’s a little giant, all-powerful in his world of toys, tiny houses placed all around according to his whim!
Child with houses
By the most wonderful good fortune there was a special exhibition at the Kunsthalle of the angels which Paul Klee painted throughout his life, starting with this one he made aged 5. Apologies for the poor photo quality – my hand must have been shaking with excitement! But you can still see the angel on the Christmas tree quite clearly on the left.
photoKlee’s sorrowful self portrait, ‘Struck from the List’,  immediately came into my mind. It was made years later in 1933 when the Nazis labelled him a degenerate artist and chucked him out of his teaching job.
Paul Klee 1933Struck from the list
…and returning to this theme much later, in 1941:
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Throughout the trials and tribulations of his life he continued to draw and paint angels from time to time, not only heavenly, guiding angels, but some very human ones as well. Here’s perhaps the most famous one, Angelus Novus. The excellent commentary explained that this Angel seems to have his back to the future. His raised wings distance him from past and future trials….the rubble of the catastrophes of history in a steadily growing pile at his feet, wings seemingly stilled in a storm from the future. Not the most optimistic of images!
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On the other hand we also have a vigilant angel:
Vigilant Angel
the forgetful angel:
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and  ‘Angel, brimful’, a benign and comforting image.
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I’m asking myself how I’ve managed to stray so far from railways, and the gaps in the art process. I guess I’m just thinking aloud and taking inspiration from Klee, a truly great master – one of my Art Gods – who kept working and returning to the same themes throughout his life, despite interruptions imposed on him by an oppressive political system. He never stopped producing original and highly personal work of the finest quality, perhaps pulled out from deep within himself through the darkest of times. So I’ve really got no excuse!
Thanks for sharing, and more very soon….I hope!

How the zebra got into my stripes

Another week where I have to begin by grovelling to my superego as almost no painting has happened since my last post, but on the other hand there’s been plenty of thinking and mulling going on.  I came across this photo, which I took in Paris last year:

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Quite apart from the delightful randomness of coming across a zebra in the middle of Paris, it sent me to thinking how important stripes seem to be in my work. I thought this week I might post a few stripe-ish images which have either flitted through my work or which will eventually appear therein. Here we go – apologies in advance by the way if you inadvertently click on an image in this post and find yourself adrift in the outer fringes of my blog ( though you can scroll down and get back here ) ; my fledgling WordPress skills don’t yet run to attaching enlargement pages, but my patient IT angel Lia  is coming back to teach me any day now. Read on!

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I thought I’d start with the monochrome carpet photos above as they have so much in common with the poor zebra. These are shadows from the light filtering through through a Venetian blind on to my carpet, one day in 2005.  I have been planning a series of paintings about shadows for a long time, but so far I haven’t started on it. As I said in an earlier post, I’ll be annoyed if I get to the great studio in the sky and haven’t yet put some of my fave images and ideas out there in paint, so I’m posting them here as exclusive advance previews ! Health Warning – if you use them for a painting of your own before I do,  expect to be badly haunted at some future date.

Shadows are partly about about history, I think. I was taking a shower in Bruges once at 2am, in an old, old hotel, when I realised that the shadow on the bathroom floor at that time of night on that same date every year had probably not changed for around 400 years. Were I a more dynamic individual I would have followed my first instinct, which was to apply for an Unesco grant to get women all over the world to photograph shadows at exactly the same time of day, a sort of outreach-y, one-world-y vibe with definite exhibition potential, but hey, too much red tape, so I dropped the plan.  Just one of many lost opportunities, but never mind, the road less travelled eh.

This is Chicago. If you go there, take the riverboat tour – this is what you’ll see :

skyscraper

Here’s another photo I took in Chicago.  I know the stripes are curved, but hey, what do you want, it’s a car park. I love this photo and I really am going to make a painting about it very soon. I can see it in my head already – dabs of colour dancing between the stripes, yum, can’t wait to paint it….see how useful a blog is in motivating me?

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Here’s one of my best beads, repeated  x4 with the help of a photocopier. I bought this one at a bead shop in Red Hook, upstate New York. I have no idea why I love it so much. I have put it into lots of my paintings about goddesses as you can see in the collage beneath.

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This collage was a study for my painting ‘Goddess with Beads’, now adorning someone’s bedroom in Islington. it’s on the ‘Symbols and Goddesses’ page of my website.

Goddess with beads collage

A post about beads is definitely on the cards any time now. I love ’em. Here’s another stripey bead photo, taken at a Sunday market in New York City. There were rows and rows of beads there, gloriously laid out in stripes after my own heart.

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Here’s a more ‘mechanical’ stripey shot taken at the train museum in Mulhouse. David, my husband, is a train devotee, and I accompanied him there  (code: was dragged) heroically as I thought, until a million ideas came rushing at me. I took this stripey photo by running along, camera aloft, next to a very parked train. I nearly broke my neck in the process as I tripped over on my 3rd attempt. All for art!

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This is a pile of junk shakily held together in a train yard on the Santa Fe railroad.

The image above was taken on the Verde Valley railroad in Arizona. A huge block of earth was being held in check by a crumbling metal structure which looked like it was about to collapse. Interrupted stripes! Such drama!

Here follow some forest-y stripes, and no prizes for seeing the strong connection with my ‘Forest’ collage series, one of which is the banner heading the home page of this blog.

trees

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There’s so much I could say about the photo above, apart from the fact that it”s upside down. It’s given me so many ideas, but I won’t say any more – a bit of mystery is a good thing.

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Here are some red rock formations in Sedona, Arizona. More landscape-y stripes to follow in good time.

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That’s quite enough for today, so I’m going to get the dinner ready…my cousins are coming for shepherd’s pie, with a good slug of wine in it and a sweet potato topping – it’s gonna be yummy….please visit again soon, as I am going to post some more forest and landscape images with the paintings they have inspired.

Friday….so soon….again?

Friday again, and I’m ashamed to report a scant working week…or should that be, fortnight!

I do have a reasonably good excuse, as last week I underwent a weird and stunningly tekkie medical precedure. A doctor put a tiny tube down my neck, (practically my throat – it was Halloween actually, so one too many vampire associations kept springing unnervingly to mind) and fed it right down through my body. I can’t say it was painful, just a bit odd as I felt it glancing past my ribs and then my waist on its journey south. Then he fed a sort of string with tiny bobbles of platinum down through the tube to block something off. So clever and exciting! and so serendipitously echoing my current theme of ‘safar’, which means ‘journey’ in farsi, a language I am currently studying. If you are a new visitor to my blog and would like an explanation of this seemingly fringe choice of language do please glance at my previous blog about ‘safar’ . I’d better not bore my few regulars with too much repetition. Respect to all the visitors

(Update Spring 2016 : not so ‘clever and exciting’ as it turned out; the item introduced into my body quickly migrated via my heart into my lung, sat there for months and eventually had to be surgically removed – friends, stay well away from doctors wherever possible!! Can’t quite bring myself to delete this post yet but eventually I guess I will! )



These medical events are all very well at the time but of course the adrenaline wore off and left me blubby and a bit decrepit, which is why I didn’t get back to work till Sunday, when I spent a great afternoon cutting and sticking with Miles Davis. The results are pasted below. So ends the week and I am back at work; the doctor thoughtfully gave me a goody bag to take home, with a DVD of screenshots and an unused remnant of the bobbly stringy thingy, with which I plan to embellish future collages. Or is that in poor taste? Your response will be most welcome.

Here is a detail from the only painting I worked on this week, Safar 4. The rain came down just as I started to photograph it in the usual place, flat on the front drive, so I only managed to take one photo  which was a bit rain- spotted and shiny. I cropped the dodgy bits to show you the lower half of the canvas.

This morning my farsi teacher, Leyla, asked me how I was planning to include farsi in my paintings. After all, this was one of the possibilities which motivated me to learn the language.

As an answer to that question, the soft greenish patch in this piece is from a farsi poem I printed out on handmade paper. It’s a snippet of ‘Illuminated Blue Ship’ by Jaleh Esfahani from a book of her poetry I found in my local Iranian bookshop in NW11, and I was beside myself with delight when I opened it. First brilliant thing – it has the English translation on one side and the farsi original on the other, which means I can actually pick out and translate odd words here and there. Even more wonderful is that the poems actually spoke to the themes in this series of paintings – mysterious journeys, fracture, longing. Some of them are sad, poignant, but their discovery and inclusion in my cultural and geographical visual wanderings through time is a delight for me.

safar I collage/acrylic : the first image I made  this summer in the safar series:

I adore wrought iron, and this piece grew out of photos taken over many years in Seville, Alhambra, Venice, Prague. I had it scanned, and the image transferred to a polymer etching plate, so I can now make prints which differ intriguingly from this original.

Some new work at last : ‘safar’ – the journey

This week I have finally got down to some work.  Well, perhaps I’m not being quite fair to myself; when I actually put everything I’ve been working on flat on the studio floor, it came to more than I thought.

 I guess that birthdays eventually start to concentrate the mind. I’m starting to feel that time’s going faster ; before I look round it’s 2pm on Friday again, and Mark Kermode’s movie review is on ( this is my ‘omigod-another-week-I’m-not-working-hard-enough-too-much-time-in-the-coffee-shop’ marker)  Still, this cosmic acceleration is quite useful as it’s helping me to prioritise what I want to say with my art. Notice that I’m not revealing my age out loud, why get myself upset…..?

Like many artists, I have amassed several enormous archives of sketches, notes and photographs I’ve made over the years, around the themes which crop up repeatedly in my work. I feel very possessive and affectionate towards these; they are divided by subject in precarious piles on a shelf near my work table ( I paint on a sloping surface not an easel, I prefer the weight of gesture this allows). Sorting out these stacks of sheets is an excellent procrastination activity but now I’m starting to panic; no lifetime would be long enough to paint about all these, so how are they ever going to see the light of day?

This fear has got me back to work this week with a vengeance – but in a new way.  Over the summer I learned a fairly enjoyable but lengthy and anxiety-inducing digital process, in a plan to develop this same stash of gorgeousness into etchings which I could then rip up for collage. Not for me….at some point you have to accept yourself as you are –I did manage to make some etchings, but I am just too impatient/flawed a character to settle down peacefully to lengthy technical processes. I decided to take a more direct route and make photocopies instead. Not only are they a perfect weight for collage, but I also get  hours of lovely fun at my local copy shop playing around on the photocopier with tone and size to produce a stack of delicious collage material. Of course in a few years time the collages might fade and people who have paid good money for them would want their money back. Again, the passage of time has its advantages as by then I might not be around for complaints. In any event, I like to think I would be firm and say, you spent more than that on dinners at Ottolenghi, mate, and they’re over with, whereas you’re had the delight of my painting hanging up for years, just amortise the cost, innit. Still, I am sealing them and painting over them in all sorts to make them into Proper Art,  so fingers crossed. Is it still art if I am using a photocopier? Is it too narrative? These are some of the questions which I am not thinking about while I am (often) playing Words with Friends.

Last week I mentioned in my opening blog that I am learning farsi. I have the strong and weird feeling that my family was somehow connected in the deep past with Persia/Iran. Maybe it was a stopping-place for a hundred years or so on the journey from biblical Israel to their various shtetls (villages) in central Europe. My work in progress is all about this journey, a sort of geographical/cultural narrative with some favourite and significant farsi words – especially ‘safar’, journey, and my name, ‘poll’, which  translates into ‘bridge’, echoing serendipitously the passage across which I am painting my way towards these ancient connections.

Now for a bold, even a foolhardy thing…..I am going to post one of the works in progress from this very new series, which I am calling ‘Safar: Journey’.  I’m sure the new paintings will gradually morph from the narrative into more abstract mode as the months go by. Enjoy!

This image includes photocopies and original drawings I have made in all sorts of places, including the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Jewish Museum in Paris;
photographs I took in Barcelona, Seville,and Venice; monoprints I painted directly on to a silkscreen, including ‘poll’ ( top left, and upside-down), which is my name in farsi; maps ; painting in acrylic and oil. The word ‘safar’ (journey) drifts diagonally into the image from the top right hand side in pale grey, and is also a mono-screenprint. The map of a little village at the top is a photocopy of a hand-drawn map, ‘Panorama of Old Zeludok’ ( my Grandfather’s birthplace in Belarus) ; it was made years ago in England by H Collier – I have no idea who he was, but I am very grateful to him. Perhaps he spent his boyhood there.

You might make out a partially obscured drawing of a little house at top left which I made in the Jewish Museum in Paris. It is a betrothal ring commissioned by Dona Gracia Nasi for her niece. The paisley shape at top left describes a blue bakelite buckle that belonged to my Mum and was always drifting around in the needlework drawer when I was a child.

Hello world!

It’s a beautiful Autumn day which is good on several counts. Firstly, I hate hot weather, and secondly I prefer my winter clothes. Thirdly I am still attached to the whole ‘new school year’ thing, so I always feel refreshed and ready for something new in the autumn. Today I really am doing something new – I decided to start a wordpress blog. The magic day when I am finally able to manage my website on my own has never arrived despite many tutorials from my patient IT angel Lia, so a blog seems like the answer. I hope to post about the work I am making, exhibitions I am seeing, and any thoughts about art and making art which might possibly be interesting or useful to my students and anyone else.

If you’d like to see my work, please check out http://www.pollyrockberger.com while I find out how to organise some pages on this blog before your next visit! Meanwhile, here are a few images from my postcard-size ‘mini’ series.