But is it art? (And does it matter anyway?)

26 06 2020

So in my usual obsessive manner I’ve “turned it up to 11” with my latest interest – fountain pens. Inks, paper, the pens themselves (ancient and modern), you get the idea.
I’m self-aware enough to know it’ll pass. It’ll innevitably morph into some adjacent interest and wither untouched for a while. I know it’ll come around again though. Like a slow-turning merry-go-round. Or maybe it stays stationary, and I’m the goldfish going round. Pick your metaphor. Or your nose. However the mood takes you. Who am I to dictate your behaviour?
Anyway, not being one to waste resources, I have a small stack of used – but not yet TOO used – paper towel sheets that have been used variously to wipe nibs or deal with ink-related mishaps… not always before Mrs E spotted something awry though.
Just gazing down at them now I realised that some of them actually look quite interesting. Now I’m no Jackson Pollock, but some of them do have a certain je ne sait quois…

Brigitte Baldrian

19 06 2020

So, the great gods of physics allowed me another birthday last month, and as ever my lovely offspring celebrated it in their own diverse ways. I got a new barbeque out of it, so I’m not complaining.

Second born currently resides in Vienna and the COVID-induced postal delays meant I only just received the card she’d sent today. Postmark was 19th May, so a month in transit exactly. It was actually a postcard she’d found with an anthropomorphic image of a ram in man’s clothing – King Emmerich. (She has a vaguely concerning thing about sheep, but that’s a post for another day.) A rather phallic pear is also present in the image, but that may just be my over-active imagination. The artist was new to me – Brigitte Baldrian.


König Emmerich by Brigette Baldrian: Image Source BrigitteBaldrian.com

I headed straight over to her web site and found a press release which told me a little more…

She has a studio with Harald Hackel and they focus on illustration and graphic design. Their niche is in the field of nature conservation, environmental and eco-education and they work with national parks, environmental protection organizations as well as publishers and magazines. Their work is entirely analogue, with brushes and paint – a craft that is becoming rarer today. They also produce ecologically sustainable card games, picture books and fine paper goods… like my postcard!

Their products are plastic-free and are largely made from recycled paper and exclusively in Austria, mainly the Waldviertel region.

Brigitte Baldrian is originally a biologist and trained horticulturist. Her specialty is nature and picture book illustration. Her work ranges from detailed natural motifs to playful animal cartoons. Her painting is very detailed with vivid watercolor paints on paper, as well as weatherproof works on external facades. She’s stayed connected to the Waldviertel region since childhood.

Find a little more at www.BrigitteBaldrian.com, as well as the option of buying her whimsical products.

Produkte Brigitte Baldrian 2017

Brigitte Baldrian. Image Source: BrigitteBaldrian.com

Photograph me a rainbow…

13 05 2020

I’ve been spending some down time enjoying my hobby of photography recently. I often tend towards abstract, graphic images – frequently in monochrome. For a change then, I thought I’d peruse my photo archives using Google’s awesomely powerful search engine for specific dominant colours. Innevitably, many of the best examples are floral.

Richard – Red

Of – Orange

York – Yellow

Gave – Green

Battle – Blue

In – Indigo

Vain – Violet

If you love art film and Vienna…

13 05 2020

Some of you may know my third born lives in Vienna these days. I’ve visited a couple of times and find it a lovely city. Fernando Livschitz, a director from Argentina re-imagines the Austrian capital in his film “Vienna is like…”.

More of his work can be found here.

On Book Remainders, Origami and Connectivity

18 09 2016

Regular visitors to these pages will know that I often remark on the connectedness of things. Of course, if you live a relatively normal life, interacting with others, reading a little, observing the world as you pass through it – and to some degree, it passes through you – you will almost inevitably notice (or at least perceive) connections. Those moments of déjà vu  when you think you’ve seen something before, or see some connection with something you saw elsewhere.

A few months ago, I was partaking in one of my personal vices… perusing the shelves of Chapters’ Book Shop in Surrey. I have sufficiently eclectic tastes that I often find books that interest me in the discount/remainder section, and this time was particularly fruitful. I discovered a book called On Paper, by Nicholas A. Basbanes. It is a personal account of the author’s discovery of the history of all things “paper”. It’s invention, its development and of course its uses. One chapter that really caught my imagination was about the real gurus of origami and one man in particular – Robert Lang. He is renowned for making a full scale replica of a cuckoo clock out of a single 1’x10′ sheet of paper.

Robert Lang: Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Opus 182

Robert Lang: Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Opus 182

His origami skills are put to use figuring out how to fold up a space-borne telescope for putting on a probe that had to be squeezed into the top of a rocket then unfolded in the vacuum of space. Despite his stellar (sorry…) folding skills, he’s a scientist for a day job. In amongst all his achievements I read that he’d created a pteranodon with a 16′ wingspan that was installed at the Redpath Museum in McGill University… where my daughter is a student. Though she’d visited the museum she had not seen the installation. Seems hard to believe given the size, but then again… many people don’t take the opportunity to look up!

Anyway, she is an archaeology and anthropology student and recently took a volunteer position at Redpath, helping the great unwashed understand what they’re looking at. Being based on the balcony level, she really couldn’t miss the gigantic piece and took a couple of photos for me. I don’t know why, but this somehow brought closure to the open file in my mind, created when I first read of his amazing design skills.

Redpath: Robert J. Lang's Pteranodon

Redpath Museum: Robert J. Lang’s Pteranodon



Redpath Museum: Robert J. Lang’s Pteranodon

Ancient & Modern

13 03 2016

As I may have mentioned – though potentially not to you – Mrs E and I marked our 6th wedding anniversary the other week. After 24 years married. The smarter amongst you will figure out how those facts are not mutually exclusive. We went to stay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at a place called Wickaninnish Inn – a lovely place to go Storm Watching.

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island

Anyway, to pass the time on the ferry, I bought a copy of “Canada’s History”. This used to go by the name of “The Beaver” and was originally the Hudson’s Bay Company’s internal magazine. It’s well known for being brimful of Asha Canadiana. This particular edition was celebrating 20 great Canadian women and that was what caught my eye and lured me to part with the $8 required for the privilege to read it.

The very back cover though was also of interest. As is the norm, it was a full page advert. In this case for the Toronto-Dominion Bank . It was advertising the TD Gallery of Inuit Art in Toronto. The image they’d chosen to use was of “Young man with MP3 player” by Pitseolak Qimirpik, a Cape Dorset artist.

There is no denying the skill of the guy, and you can see more of his work at Dorset Fine Arts. The thing that made me pause though was not only the display of traditional carving skill, but the contemporary subject matter. Here was a very contemporary subject (spliff, earbuds and all), but portrayed in a very ancient way. Not with a digital image or some fancy PhotoShop work, but with time, care and skill… in a 17 inch high piece of serpentine with antler and wire. It inspired me to want to learn more. Not just of the work of Qimirpik himself, but of his culture and motivation.



Smoke gets in your eyes

8 02 2016

I’m feeling a bit guilty for not posting much recently, so here’s a photo I took a day or so ago. I hope your mind is as contorted as mine and it amuses you in the same way.

Happiness is a warm gun - Lennon

Happiness is a warm gun – Lennon

Wild Weekend

31 08 2015

Bit of a to-do here in the Lower Mainland this weekend.

After literally months of uninterrupted sunshine the weather finally broke on Friday night. By mid-morning the welcome rain was joined by a much less welcome wind storm. The parched trees suffered mightily and the urban landscape is still strewn – almost 3 days later – with bits of tree. White Rock/South Surrey got away pretty lightly and we didn’t even lose power except for 2 or 3 “glitches”. Enough to reset the olde worlde desktop PC and aquarium air pump but not enough to lose the time on the cooker’s LED clock.

Number 3 offspring had to help me do some running repairs on our panel fence as the gusty winds blew two panels completely off the fence. Spiketta the devil dog was too scared to go out into the garden otherwise I’m sure she’d have made a break for it. I knew those random pieces of drilled steel from the old overhead garage door opener I replaced a few years ago would come in handy…

Saturday was largely a day for hunkering down and writing, but I did venture out towards lunch to take aforementioned devil dog for a promenade. As we got to the wooded ravine she likes to sniff, we were met by a city workman who told us it was unsafe until someone had been through to check for loose limbs. Having already had to circumvent a pretty large tree limb in the normally serene butterfly garden, we decided that it was prudent to listen, and we detoured around Centennial Park instead.

Sunday was a lot more bright so offspring numbers two and three accompanied me to Van Dusen gardens for a breath of fresh air. We began by having High Tea at Truffles, the café there. It was atrocious! Number two and I had taken tea there before and had a most excellent experience. This time though? Yuck.  They offer afternoon/high tea for two or four. We were three, so we ordered “afternoon tea for two ($40!) with an extra cup please, and a Turkey Club sandwich (~$9!!)”. The order was relayed back to me as “afternoon tea for two and a Turkey Club sandwich”. There was a moment of confusion when I was asked what kind of sandwich we wanted, but this was my mistake as I  hadn’t realised there was a sandwich as part of the High Tea. So, all good, I went to pay. Only as I walked away did I realise the price was wrong. It was $42… not enough! I returned and said, there seems to be a mistake, the bill is $42 and the High Tea is $40 (meaning… the sandwich should have made it nearer $50). At this point I was told (presumably because of my not exactly local accent) that this was “because of the tax”. Here in BC the tax is added on at payment time and not included in the sticker price like in the UK, and I suppose the young lady thought I hadn’t realised that the $40 would become $42. I explained that there was a whole Turkey sandwich missing from the reckoning, but by now there was a large queue and they were on to the second person after me. We slunk off to get a table and I sent last born to rejoin the queue and re-order his Turkey sandwich.

After a while his sandwich arrived all hot and steamy and by all accounts was most tasty. This despite being ordered SEVERAL orders after our High Tea. Then the pot of tea arrived. Without the third cup. The server was pleasant enough despite exuding studied boredom from every pore of his being. He reluctantly sloped off to reappear with a third cup which was no less wet or poorly presented than its two earlier siblings. I don’t take sugar, but the sugar bowl was huge yet held only a small number of sugar cubes. Worse… it was dirty with some old coffee drips on the inside and the sugar was covered in fluff (or worse!). Just as my son finished his sarnie, the main event arrived, was swapped for the number we’d been given and that was it. No cutlery. No serviettes. No smile. Just lots of attitude!

I can’t complain about the food itself. The Croque-monsieur we’d ordered was hot and tasty. The lemon/white chocolate truffles were delightful. The petit fours were exquisite. The scone was a bit odd. Despite being attended by strawberry jam and thick cream (and for the locals – honey), it seemed to have orange in it rather than the more customary raisins or currants. Still that and the croissant went down very nicely thank-you and I can report that at least the kitchen staff were on their game, if not the front of house.

Both offspring were affronted enough to fill out pretty vociferous comment cards (with their real names!) and we went off to tour the gardens. We’ve visited many times and yet I was surprised to find that we ended up in various stretches of the garden I had never before visited. It really was a very pleasant little visit, and I was quite sad when we had to call it a day and leave.

As ever – click on an image for a larger version.

Summer Holiday – day 15

29 08 2015

Day 15 was spent being tourists in Portland. First thing’s first – figure out the Transit! It turned out we were just a couple of blocks from the station and it was easy peasy lemon squeezy to get into town. Cheap too. You get all sorts on public transport. The lady with the pet rat running up and down her arm was a first though…

Second things second… coffee! I’m a big tea drinker but this is Portland! We tried to find a non-chain establishment to better support the hipster economy.

Brazilian coffee sack

Brazilian coffee sack

I forget where we ended up, but I was amused to find the above coffee sack on the wall. Minas Gerais was the area of Brazil I had visited several years ago. Small world, isn’t it? Portland has cute names for its districts, Pearl, Rose, etc. I guess we were in the Rose District when I saw this cover for some utility ducting.

Utility cover

Utility cover

Number two offspring wasn’t with us for this trip, but we’d promised to return with some offerings from Voodoo Doughnuts. After first spending a couple of joyous hours in Powell’s bookshop we dutifully joined the queue for these doughnuts. No idea why they were so popular but the queue ran round the block. Over the road was a telling sign…

Keep it weird

Keep it weird

Having queued the length of the building, we then got the joy of queuing all the way back! Good job we were English… this counts as entertainment! I got dripped on once or twice and I eventually figured out it was an Air Conditioning unit in a first floor window up above the queue.

Little England. Love a good queue...

Little England. Love a good queue…

The jokes I was making about AC units and Legionaire’s Disease suddenly didn’t seem so funny when I realised that the doughnuts we were about to buy spent some period behind this open doorway protected from airborne disease and children’s bogey-laden fingers by nothing more substantial than a wire grille! Pink, I admit, but even so…

Now THAT's healthy...

Now THAT’s healthy…

I’m told by more discerning doughnut-lovers that they were especially scrummy, but personally I don’t think they were worth the effort…

Voodoo doughnuts

Voodoo Doughnuts

Art for art’s sake

14 07 2015

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter went to the Vancouver Art Gallery on their Tuesday “by donation” evening. She didn’t get to see everything, but was enthusiastic and wanted to go again. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go with her this evening.

Now, first of all, I have to applaud them for having Tuesday evenings as “by donation”. It allows people who might hem and haw about being able to afford the normal entrance fee to pay what they can, or what they feel appropriate, and still get to experience the art on display. As we queued I saw several posters informing attendees that it was entrance by donation, and that a donation of $10 was appropriate. The normal entrance fee is $20 (or $15 for students) and I think a donation of $10 or even $5 would be quite achievable for anyone who was even vaguely interested in visiting the gallery.

I was quite prepared to fork out my $10 and though I accept I am reasonably affluent, I was appalled by the number of well-dressed, iPhone-toting student types who were handing over 25c coins as their entrance donation. Now, I used to be a student in a former life. I know money can be tight, but 25c?! That, dear reader is most definitely taking the piss! All due respect to the staff though – they smilingly took the mite and issued a receipt and entrance ticket (which possibly cost more than the 25c received!) See elsewhere for my thoughts regarding integrity!

The temporary exhibition was “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums”. These were good, solid religious paintings by the likes of  Botticelli. Not sure why, but I found them intensely boring. Shocking, I know. Some of them were literally hundreds of years old. They were incredibly skilfully painted. Ground-breaking at the time. I could appreciate their art, but they were just not doing it for me.

As we moved to the stairs and the first floor, I was completely lost for words. Here was “modern art” in its extreme. My daughter loved “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?” Me though – it looked like a bunch of random items from a car boot sale. With some of it I could again see the skill in its execution, but I was left with an overwhelming sense of WTF?! One entire room (Geoffrey Farmer’s The Surgeon and the Photographer) was filled with foot high folk created from fabric bodies and carefully placed collage from magazines and the like. It looked for all the world like the left-overs from a Terry Gilliam segment of a Monty Python film.

The full half hour?

The full half hour?



Sorry Mr. Farmer… just not my cup of tea.

One of the other rooms was a bizarre installation of animatronic items with changing lights and sound. A small anteroom had an IKEA bed with a sleeping bag on it, and my artsy daughter told me that the main installation was supposed to represent a nightmare as experienced by the person who was overnighting in a strange house. Hm-mmm. Perhaps… I definitely think one of the Slag Brothers from The Wacky Races was there though…

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

The installation is called Let’s Make The Water Turn Black and is another Geoffrey Farmer work. It’s supposedly an homage to Frank Zappa and his developments in xenochrony or “strange time”. I can believe that.

The top floor made up for everything though. There was some weird nonsense with “wallpaper” – basically digital patterns projected onto the walls of the room, but otherwise there was some of the VAG’s Emily Carr collection and… photographs! I loved the photographs. “Residue: Persistence of the Real” included a series of photos by Robert Burley (from The Disappearance of Darkness series) of disused manufacturing plants associated with film and photography. There was Polaroid, Ilford and Kodak. I was just mentioning the lack of Agfa (where I used to work) when around the corner there were two images of Agfa’s Mortsel site near Antwerp in Belgium, which I knew very well. I wonder how many casual viewers had even realised the connection between the images.


One wall had a series of three or four images depicting the demolition of one of Kodak’s plants in Rochester as it came to terms with the death of film. End of an era that everyone saw coming except Kodak!

There was another series of images by Geoffrey James called “Inside Kingston Penitentiary” which depicted the final day as the Ontario prison was closed down. These images were stark but very human, showing how prisoners had imprinted their personalities on the harsh environment of the old prison.