#415 theoldmortuary ponders

I’ve had a bit of painterly block recently, since visiting Dublin to be completely specific. The weather in Dublin was wonderful, even though the evenings were dark we walked through the city enjoying the historical layers of architecture untroubled by German bombs. There are many secretive back lanes that service the busy bars and nightclubs that give Dublin it’s famed nightime economy. These back streets have seen 300 years or more of the grubby underbelly of Irish nightlife. These would have been the places of sexual liaisons in less permissive times, now the back streets are left to inebriated gents emptying their booze filled bladders and resting chefs, their faces eerily illuminated by their mobile phones as they take a few minutes off their feet. We stumbled on this nocturnal pairing so often that I felt impelled to draw a scene showing the characters isolated in their own activities. Timeless, almost and separated from a vivid, contemporary nightlife that was happening just out of sight. The live music is muffled by closed doors and windows. Illumination is incidental, and the smells of booze, urine and cooking blend to create a fragrance that is both intimate and universal.

Drawing anything quite so figurative is unusual unless I am in a drawing class, but I know that once an image sets itself in my head, nothing else can be done until it is out on paper or canvas. There can be no gloriously colourful abstracts until this dark and dirty image, drawn in charcoal, is finished to my satisfaction. That moment is finally here after a week of sneaking into the studio and scraping away with stubby, brittle sticks of charcoal. Frantic dashes to the bathroom to grab the hairspray needed to seal the details on each session’s layer before they smudge and blur. More leisurely trips to the bathroom to clean my face and fingers of the sooty smuts of obsessive creating.

All because twenty-first-century men, unintentionally captured my imagination in 17th-century back streets.

#402 theoldmortuary ponders

River Liffey in Dublin looking towards Temple Bar.

I suppose the picture above would be fairly typical of a night scene in Dublin. We only visited the infamous Temple Bar once, always preferring less busy options. This was the view from our airbnb. The illuminated Viking ship was quite a draw for ultra late night shenanigans. Friday night was packed with working people celebrating the weekend to the max they were only chased away at dawn by road sweeping vehicles and street cleaners. Saturday night bustled with jubilant Irish rugby supporters celebrating a win over Australia, trumpeters at 4 in the morning was both jubilant and joyful, curiously melodic when leading happy chanting. Sunday night was calm. Every daybreak marked by the sound of road sweepers making the city pristine.

All this is a bit of waffle to make our night tours of back streets more interesting. Dublin has so many historic back streets, untouched by redevelopment that it is like walking in a city 300 years ago. The streets felt safe but there was a recurring theme that I felt compelled to sketch from memory.

Nearly all back streets held the same night time characters. Chefs on their phones, taking a break from cooking with a cigarette and a sit down. An inebriated man taking a piss in a pool of light. I decided to do my first sketch with Charcoal, a messy few hours later. I had the beginning of something that had the flavour of all the back streets we visited. I just need to find a way of getting more colour in.

The chefs face needs to be blue and the peeing man needs to look more drunk and there should be some essence of coloured lights just reflected on the brick work. A project for next week.

#361 theoldmortuary ponders

There are many different ways of marking time with a new baby. The traditional ones of time, meals or sleep, slip their responsibilities and shape-shift into tiny fragments of moments or infinitely extended versions of themselves. From the generosity of others there are new markers like flower arranging or cake eating and tea making. Gifts to be unpacked and WhatsApp groups to be kept informed, photographs to be taken and shared. The familiar world takes on a temporary and unusual shape. Bewilderingly everything looks the same and yet feels very different.

We do still have one unchanged routine; dog walking, which was done yesterday in Canizzaro Park where this sculpture is the centrepiece of a fountain, commissioned to mark the millennium. I’m not aware of the brief for the sculptor when this was commissioned, but in our break-out from the baby bubble, it seemed like a great metaphor for our days. The soft shape and multi handled, multi spouted form really resonates with our current daily routine. Punctuated as they are by the need to rehydrate, welcome, comfort or recover with a cup of tea (other drinks are available )

As luck would have it a fresh cup of coffee is just being served to me, and I am in no position to do anything useful.

I can research the sculptors motivation and vision for his Millennial Fountain. For me though it is about these, current, shape shifting sensations of newborn baby days. Welcoming, homely and slightly surreal.

There will be a PS later in the day…

Here is the somewhat disappointing PS. It seems impossible to find the original brief for the Richard Hope sculpture in Canizzaro Park. Costing £50,000 pounds in 2001 it attracted mixed reviews, of course it did!

What it had failed to do on Google is attract any half decent photos of it with the water turned on that isn’t copyrighted. I will go back on a sunny day and do one myself. Below is one from the Guardian and some links for further reading.

©The Guardian



#360 theoldmortuary ponders

Sharing the care of a newborn gives plenty of time for pondering, not so much out and about, but lovely Facebook Timehop provides substance to ponder over. 5 years ago on the 8th October I was at Devils Point, taking the picture above. Nothing in my life at that time would suggest that in five years time I would be a Stonehouse local, living 5 minutes away from the tidal pool.

Art is always busy in October. 8 years ago I was exhibiting an abstract inspired by Cornish tin mines at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

I love that painting, it lives in North London now. At this time living by the sea could not have been further from my thoughts. Living and arting in Dulwich Village was brilliant fun.

But 5 years ago I was a little closer and living on the shores of the Tamar Valley, watching a steam train cross into Cornwall.

October is also a time for visiting Art Galleries, a couple of years ago I chanced upon this brilliant piece of art/prose. Right up my street.

©Jasmin Kay University of Texas at Pocklington Gallery, York.

Since then life has taken more than a few twists and turns. For us, but also for the world. We have washed up on the shores of the Atlantic at Stonehouse. Currently I am looking at Stonehouse from a distance and loving the Stonehouse Sunrise from a distance, courtesy of a fellow sea swimmer, who long ago was a work colleague.

© Rachel Sample

However wonderful Wimbledon is I miss my nearly daily dips. A trip to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath it will have to be, or failing that the nudist beach at Brighton because even the most organised Nana does not pack a swimming costume for a birth.

#332 theoldmortuary ponders

Yesterday was National Book Reading Day, but because I was behind with artwork my book reading was the standard half hour before bed. Hugo however had plenty of time to get his teeth into the Nick Cave Exhibition book that I had ordered after our visit to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. By a strange twist of timings my time at The Box, Plymouths museum and art gallery will not be fully utilised today as many of the galleries are in transition. Plenty of time and cozy corners to read an arty book but I left it at home with the dogs.

In truth I wish I were back in Chicago to revisit the exhibition with only two chapters of enlightenment from the book. So many layers of everything is my initial opinion, just so much to learn.

A good excuse to share more pictures and encourage anyone who can to get themselves to Chicago and see the real thing before it closes on October 2 nd.


Link above to Exhibition

#330 theoldmortuary ponders

Back in the ( time) zone. A day of homecoming chores. Getting our composite door serviced and a new handle fitted. Prescriptions collected and electricians contacted. Honestly the Tim Horton coffee was an unplanned Canadian throwback. As it happens, Hugo and Lola, who will never visit Canada, rather like a small portion of traditional ‘timbits’

In other throwbacks of the day I visited the trusty Abebooks, secondhand book store to catch up on two book purchases which travelling with only hand luggage had made conpletely impossible during our travels. First up the Chicago Diner Cook Book.

And secondly the book published to accompany the Nick Cave exhibition that we went to at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Our Toronto catch up purchases were supplied by John Lewis who sell the brand Atheleta, even better all items were in the sale. So now we have compression leggings which would have stopped our feet getting plump and puffy on our flights. Back to normal now.

And a blog written before the midnight hour.

#324 theoldmortuary ponders

Back to Chicago, in the blog, for a fabulous blast of unexpected Contemporary Art. The Museum of Contemporary Art was showing a major retrospective of Nick Cave an artist completely unknown to me.

Nick Cave is an American sculptor, dancer, performance artist, and professor. He is best known for his Soundsuit series: wearable assemblage fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly, often made with found objects.
Born: February 4, 1959 (age 63 years), Fulton, Missouri, United States

His Soundsuits are phenomenal. A garment that disguises everything about a person. Wearing one makes a person larger than life and yet invisible, culturally and ethnically unreadable and genderless.

I need to read loads more about this artist, but a hand luggage holiday does not permit buying the weighty tome that I need to fully digest his work.

The works that really connected with me were his assemblages of domestic objects. My responses were not as complex as his motivations but that is often the point of Contemporary Art. It is made to make you think. I know that once I get home and can give this artist plenty of reading time my reactions will be different but for now I thought I would share my thoughts.

I am not an ornament person, my father was not an ornament person, in consequence my mum chose to moderate her ornament ownership. When they died I kept one ornament as a memento mori. My dad, an entirely liberal person with no special requirements of life could not visit over ornamented homes, they set off something in him which he couldn’t tolerate. I am the same, but living a generation later the problem is not as acute. Nick Cave is the same age as me and creates assemblages of the over ornamentation of his parents generation. My immediate reaction was an almost physical dislike and yet they are things of unsettling beauty.

As an aside one of my recurring dreams is in an ornament shop. Lladro brand. In the dream, I break up everything to virtual powder and feel jolly proud of myself once the ornaments are rendered down. A similar feeling of discomfort settled on me during parts of this exhibition.

Caves other work that hit a nerve with me was his Spinner Forest. Garden Spinners are another personal dislike. Three videos show this form of ornamentation in such vast numbers and out of context. Another form of a nightmare dreamscape.

Beyond his nerve jangling, concsience pricking art there are also some quieter pieces. Still hugely thought provoking.

And that, until I am better read about Nick Cave,is that. Knowing that once I have read deeply I will wish I could walk back and enjoy the whole thing more deeply and with greater understanding.

#242 theoldmortuary ponders

Another locally sourced colour square has been created today. This one is a corroded corner of a closed corner shop.

As I traverse the local streets it is very obvious that the time of day and weather conditions really affect the tiny colour snapshots that I take with my camera phone. The old corner shop catches the sun beautifully in the morning. The corner shop is fondly held in the heart of this community. When we moved here it was on the downward turn and did not immediately grab our attention and then just like that it was closed and then, not so long after, floral tributes and messages of condolence appeared. Rather incongruously a large sun hat with the words ‘ On Cloud Nine’ appeared.

Not having been part of a community that loses a much loved character and very popular shop there is a sense of dislocation and puzzlement at what we may have missed. Anecdotally I am aware that we missed a much loved shopkeeper called Ann. Everyone says what a wonderful person she was and what a hub of the community the shop was. There was definitely a sense that something locally important had been lost. The hat as an act of remembrance puzzled me. On Cloud Nine usually denotes someone who is extremely happy. Perhaps the hat was reflecting the character of the departed shopkeeper. Cloud nine is actually a very specific type of cloud. The etymology of Cloud Nine makes nothing clear.


The origin of sense 1 (“a state of bliss”) is uncertain; however, the following etymology has been suggested:

The first edition of the International Cloud Atlas (1896),[1] which defined ten types of cloud, described the ninth type as the cumulonimbus which rises to 10 km (6.2 miles), the highest a cloud can be.[2]
Compare cloud seven (“state of complete happiness or euphoria”),[3] which may have originated from confusion of cloud nine with seventh heaven.[2]

Sense 2 (“a state of fantastic or impractical dreaming or thinking”) may be due to a confusion between sense 1 and the phrase head in the clouds.

So, on this occasion, pondering has made me none the wiser. A sun hat embroidered with the words ‘ on cloud nine’ is a very unusual object to place as an act of remembrance on the steps of a closed corner shop. I suspect it will always remain a mystery to me, but I will ponder it often when I walk past.

#241 theoldmortuary ponders

I am still trying to capture squares of colour in Stonehouse as first mentioned in blog #239. The early morning light gives me completely different colour combinations to sunset and I’ve decided to limit myself to early morning squares of colour for this first painting.

The dogs are complicit in these morning sojourns to gather watercolour inspiration. Yesterday I rewarded myself with a coffee and croissant down by one of the harbours. The dogs need for croissant was apparently just as important as mine. Their faces trap more crumbs than mine which is saying something, croissant crumbs have the tenacity of Super Glue sometimes.

On our little colour square hunt we found the door to the Edes Vinegar/Pickled Onion workshop open and got a fabulous stolen interior shot of the vinegar barrels.

I think local people would, quite likely, want to bop me on the nose if I tried to do a series of images of just inside their front doors. But this one is a gem.

Normal life got in the way of too much painting yesterday. So just the one square completed.

We do have quite an abstract little square going on at our own front door.

Hugo and Lola were not the only dogs, yesterday, to participate in proper human activities. The bobbers were out in force to support Helen Bobber, who was knocking peoples socks off at the Who’d Have Thought It , Open Mic session. Here are Stan and Ralph, Bobberdogs, eager to get to the pub and listen to soulful sounds.

Hugo and Lola stayed at home, four dogs at an Open Mic is at least two too many to be comfortable. Especially as Helen is now fully recovered from Covid and after some months can easily hit her high notes.

She is also an abstract square all of her own making.

#239 theoldmortuary ponders

Bright sunshine set me off on a project yesterday. Stonehouse Peninsular is known for its architecture, history, sea views and brightly coloured buildings. I took off early in the morning to capture some of the colour combinations on camera before the sun got too high.

The plan is to create an abstract watercolour that features some of the beautiful and whacky colour combinations that occur when neighbouring buildings get a paint job. There are also beautiful abstracts that just occur naturally when colours follow the contours of the buildings.


Others are just subtly beautiful just because of age.

The one below I particularly love because a grubby downpipe becomes the star of the watercolor.

This is a project that is going to keep me very busy this summer!