Panchi Sayargyi U Thu Kha, Centenary Art Exhibition – The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

ပန္းခ်ီဆရာၾကီး ဦးသုခ ႏွစ္ ၁၀၀ ျပည့္ ပန္းခ်ီျပပြဲ

I’m honoured to have been invited by my friend, internationally renowned Burmese artist Min Wae Aung, to join him in an art exhibition celebrating the centenary birth year of Saya U Thu Kha (1918-2007), a seminal figure in the arts movement in Myanmar and a teacher of Min Wae.

The exhibition, comprised of international artists, will take place at The Strand Hotel (Ballroom) in Yangon, from 13-15 November 2018.

My work has actually been held at Min Wae’s gallery, the New Treasure Art Gallery in Yangon since the beginning of August 2018 before it is exhibited at The Strand.

Thank you to Min Wae, who provided the biographical information and resources related to this article on Saya U Thu Kha.

SAYA U THU KHA

Born Muang Thu Kha on 11 November 1918, his family lived in the west end of Yangon and owned a food stall at Scott Market, now renamed Bo Gyoke Market. His parents, U Pu and Daw Mya Hnit had no artists among their ancestors but they were related to those involved in art; his mother was a niece of Daw Mya Shwe, a cousin of Daw Mya May, the wife of a commissioner who strongly supported the art movement and is known as the Mother of Myanmar art.

Whilst under British colonialism in 1910, nationalism and political awareness began to take root in Myanmar, propelling literature and the arts into the 1920s. Various national newspapers hired Myanmar illustrators, increasing public awareness of the art movement. After the country’s first strike, Daw Mya May and her husband U Hla Aung opened a Buddhist Middle school for boys on Pagoda Road in Yangon and one for girls on Canal Street; U Thu Kha attended his great aunt’s Buddhist Middle School for boys when he was of school age. Whilst studying, his growing interest in the arts could not be contained. He broke school rules during 6th grade by covering the school’s freshly painted latrine walls with his drawings which resulted in a harsh caning from his teacher that was so severe the school doctor was called and he spent the next three days to recover. Upon his return, he explained to the teacher that his passion for art compelled him to paint. Seemingly regretful, his teacher immediately wrote a note for Muang Thu Kha giving him permission to attend classes at the Burma Art Club and become a life member until 1928 without paying any fees. It seems this incident had unexpectedly opened a door to his future.

In pre-war years, Muang Thu Kha was the general secretary of the art club of the State High School for four years. He entered the annual competition for art, crafts and technology held at the Jubilee Hall in Shwedagon Pagoda Road, and won gold medals and prizes every year; he also exhibited in artist group shows sponsored by U Ba Nyan at the Burma Art Club. Aside from painting, he was a talented sportsman, playing football, basketball and boxing. His father’s uncle was a famous athlete of the time, U Ba Than (Sando).

He became a teacher in 1938, passing the examination held by the all Burma Education and Information Department. After independence in 1948, he became a member of the newly established Artists and Sculptors Union. He was the in-house illustrator of the English-language version of the New Times of Burma and the weekly Business Review in 1950. In 1952, he participated in an art exhibition held on the premises of the Rangoon Gazette Press on Bo Aung Kyaw Street (now the offices of Myanmar Times), at the Sarpay Beikhman Art Exhibition in 1959 and later at the annual art exhibition held at the Envoy Hall (now the Tatmadaw Hall) by the National Art and Sculpture Council.

In 1963 he was inaugurated as an instructor at the Yangon State School of Fine Arts, later becoming a principle until his retirement in 1984. He was known to be very patient, teaching his students basic skills and anatomy, emphasising their need to draw first in pencil before using colours. Whether they were good or bad, he treated his students as friends, often buying them tea, meals or a bus fare. In 1972, he studied block printing and mosaic in Germany and then toured Egypt. Whilst he was teaching at the SSFA Yangon, he was also taking classes at the Rangoon University Art Club. Until his death, he served as the patron of the Traditional Artists and Artisans association. In 1997 he was awarded an honorary professorship by the Department of Fine Arts.

When his student, Min Wae Aung, opened the New Treasure Art Gallery, U Thu Kha acted as patron, coming there to paint regularly until his very last days. After suffering a brain haemorrhage in 2000, he came three days a week to the gallery, painting every time he came.

Aside from painting, he wrote articles and books on art. One well received publication was his translated book ‘International Methods of Figure Drawing,’ complete with illustrations.

A popular teacher, his students had begun paying homage to him through an annual Homage ceremony to Elder Artists from 1978 until 2006, twenty nine years in total. Initially they went to his house but later changed the venue to the New Treasue Art Gallery after it was established.

Saya U Thu Kha is known to be one of two Burmese artists, the other Saya U Thein Han, to teach art well into their retirement years. Compelled by the desire to further the arts in Myanmar, both artists opened private classes after retiring from teaching.

Many of his students achieved fame, including Min Wae Aung, Thein Shwe Kyi, Win Thaw, Ngwe Kyi, Shwe Min Thar, Zaw Min and Aung Min Thein amongst others.

U Thu Kha passed away in 2007 at the age of 89 and is survived by his wife Daw Khin Ohn and their eleven children. Long may his legacy continue.

My contribution to the exhibition is a 1m oil painting on canvas board, entitled
‘Bluebell Woods’:

 

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall – a monastery, a fortress, a family home

‘Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon [the devil] and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.’ Revelation 12:7

Like generations before me, I have become enamoured with a rocky outcrop outside Marazion in Cornwall, better known as St Michael’s Mount.

Rising enigmatically out of the sea’s vapours like a dream or fairytale, St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, only accessible via a narrow cobbled causeway when the tide is out. The islanders are essentially marooned for sixteen out of twenty four hours, lending it an ethereal, elusive quality, with visitors eagerly anticipating the small gap through which to embark on their own pilgrimage to the castle.

The Mount has undergone several transformations. Once a spiritual house of worship and place of pilgrimage, it transitioned into a fortified stronghold before settling into a family home. Throughout the ages, many have been drawn to its natural advantages and access to the high seas, but it has remained impenetrable, its sheer rock face seemingly unassailable, rising above the land around the shore; its church surrounded by a walled castle at the top of the rocky outcrop with a single track leading down to a few fishermen’s huts and an enclosed harbour.

The castle’s rooftop gives commanding views over the open sea and Marazion:

As Marazion local and author of ‘about St Michael’s Mount,’ Michael Sagar-Fenton says, it always looked ‘just right,’ at ease in its natural surroundings.

No written record exists of the Mount’s formative days, it was most likely a rocky promontory before leaving the safe harbour of land to favour the open sea. Its name supposedly derives from its magnificent namesake in Normandy, UNESCO World Heritage site, Mont St Michel.

Where the former is a medieval city and monastery, the latter is a bastion of natural defence, attractive to those looking for a stronghold or a shipwreck’s bounty, the latter being a frequent problem as many a ship or boat would fall victim to an unforgiving south westerly wind around the island.

The Mount’s spiritual heritage hearkens back to the early Celts, when a group of Celtic missionaries, known as The Saints, marked numerous places in Cornwall as places of worship and bestowed upon them sanctified names. Following the saints came the pilgrims and consequently the foundation for the Mount’s future role in the coming years. Penance and absolution were necessary to enter heaven, so extravagant journeys of pilgrimage were made by those who had the resources, supporting the small local community through tithes of fish.

After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror bestowed the county to his half brother, Robert. The latter then gave the local village permission to hold a Thursday market to financially aid Mont St Michel, naming themselves ‘Marghas Yow,’ and a nearby settlement became known as ‘Little Market’ or ‘Marghas Byghan; from these come the derivatives, Market Jew and Marazion.

The ‘Pilgrim’s Steps:’

In 495 came a miraculous apparition, with several fisherman claiming a vision of St Michael standing upon a rocky outcrop on the western side of the island. Thus the island transformed from simply a trading port to a significant location in Christendom.

Sculpture depicting the Mount’s namesake, Michael the Archangel, and his defeat over the devil:

In 1135 the Abbot of Mont St Michel established a Benedictine priory on St Michael’s Mount as a subsidiary of his own. However tributaries were suspended during wartime, which gradually eroded their bond. Links were finally severed during the reign of Henry V, at which point the Mount became an independent institution. It was now property with income attached, no longer a sanctified refuge. Although there are few footnotes in history pertaining to its conquest by enemy forces, its strategic advantages undoubtedly made it attractive to both the monarchy and outsiders. After years of wresting it from the monarchy, Syon Abbey eventually regained control of the Mount.

During this period of unrest, the Mount was undoubtedly transitioning from a spiritual place of worship to a fortified stronghold.

A line of cannons overlook the harbour and open sea, reminders of its military heritage:

Due to its strategic advantages, the island survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the 14th century church remains to this day, the ‘centrepiece of the castle.’ Despite its survival, the faithful clergy were sadly sent away, instead replaced by the Milliton family of Pengersick, who rented it from the monarchy on the condition that they repaired the buildings and pier and supported a garrison of five soldiers.

Stained glass at the castle:

As the tin trade flourished, so did the communities at neighbouring Mousehole, Newlynn, Penzance, Marazion and the village on the Mount. The island was no longer the only significant port, but its fortifications made it the most vital. In July 1588, the beacon on the mount was lit as the Spanish Armada advanced up the  English channel to its forthcoming defeat by Howard and Drake.

Oil painting depicting the first beacon to warn of the Spanish Armada, 1588:

The Spanish invaded Brittany instead, but an embittered raiding party razed Paul, Mousehole, Newlynn and Penzance in revenge. The Mount was too much of a challenge and Marazion was the largest community in the area left standing.

In 1599 many church lands were sold by Elizabeth I into private hands and Robert Cecil, later Earl of Salisbury, bought the Mount. It was a formidable challenge to invading forces, with a new threat rising from the Dutch and North African pirates from Salee and Algiers, who were known to take hostages as slaves.

In 1640 the Mount was sold to Sir Francis Bassett, however two years after their acquisition, they became embroiled in the civil war, with Bassett one of the king’s most faithful soldiers. However, they were forced to pay extortionate fines after Cromwell’s victory (Cornwall was emphatically Royalist) and despite their tin revenues, they parted with the Mount in 1659.

Oil painting depicting the surrender of the Mount after the civil war, 1646:

Unfortunately for the Bassetts, the purchaser, John St Aubyn of Clowance, was a prominent Parliamentarian and was appointed Captain of the Mount by parliament after the war. The family remained custodians for the next three hundred years and still are today. The last garrison departed in 1660 by which time the Mount was in a poor state. However with the end of international and local hostilities and the beginning of the golden age of tin and copper, time and money was at their expense. One of the early improvements was the reowned frieze in the ‘Chevy Chase’ room, the monk’s old refectory and much of the Mount as we know it now originated from this period of renovation, making it more befitting to a country house.

The resplendent banqueting hall in the older part of the castle:

The St Aubyns mostly followed careers in the army and parliament, many distinguishing themselves through military exploits.

Fencing equipment mounted in the entrance hall:

An exception was the fifth baron, known as a patron of the arts, particularly for sponsoring the Cornish artist John Opie. The family’s affection for the arts continued for generations and they still continue to support and encourage living artists.

Examples of their extensive art collection:

The Napoleonic wars led to renewed tension and further fortifications, using the impressive line of cannons to disarm the enemy. At its peak, the island supported 300 people, a school and three pubs. Marazion was declining as a fishing port at this time and both Marazion and the Mount were not previously places the gentry would want to inhabit. However with the ascendancy of the railway, the Mount became a genteel resort for affluent visitors. The island’s business was mainly fishing for pilchards, although many men also doubled as boatmen and estate workers.

The causeway was not properly laid until 1898, before which it was a natural shingle bank, laid by natural confluence of the tides. In the 1950s, the family decided to gift the castle to the National Trust as a means to conserve it for the future. The castle and older parts of the house were opened to the public and the 19th century house, with kitchens and ‘one of the most romantically set dining rooms in the world’ remains private.

Rooftop view of the sub-tropical garden:

Its appeal endures, with artists from Turner to the cartoonist Giles attempting to capture it through its evanescent changes, in sunlight, dusk or moonlight. The Mount is known, justifiably, as the jewel in Cornwall’s crown, an emblem for the whole county. Even mystical straight ley-lines are present, which are said to link places of supernatural power and often high places dedicated to St Michael.

Pre-Christian beliefs also favoured the island as a place of magic and many today find their dreams of fairy stories fulfilled. The Mount also has its own mythology, concerning Jack the Giant Killer, where the giant Cormoran lived in the island.

The Giant’s well, halfway up the Pilgrim’s steps:

This is my charcoal interpretation of the beguiling changing tide at St Michael’s Mount, with Chapel Rock in the foreground:

 

Discovering Rare Masterpieces & 5000 years of Art at London Art Week, July 2018

‘The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.’ Leonardo da Vinci

Nestled between the streets of Mayfair and St James’, behind the elegant facades of historic London townhouses, lies 40 bespoke galleries, 3 of the world’s most celebrated auction houses and over 5000 years of art.

For traditional fine art dealers, collectors and enthusiasts alike, this affluent district provides a marvellous treasure trove of ancient sculptures, old master paintings, post-Impressionist paintings, drawings and textiles.

Each gallery is a specialist in their field, catering both to prominent museums and art collectors, as well as being open to all members of the public throughout the year. They offer a unique opportunity to peruse, and buy, artworks and masterpieces at leisure and in a private setting, a welcome refuge away from the crowds at larger institutions.

Often operating through word of mouth, each gallery is so specialist in its area and seemingly discreet, that most clients become familiar with their exhibitions not just through publications and extensive scholarship, but also through fine art fairs such as Masterpiece, which is held annually at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The galleries and auction houses also participate in London Art Week, a twice yearly event which acts as a tantalising taster into their acquisitions, exhibitions and research. Visitors are offered free art gallery tours, talks and the opportunity to buy artworks from some of the most distinguished art dealers and curators.

Just as Leonardo Da Vinci adeptly expressed the unique vision an artist has, so do collectors, connoisseurs, dealers and art enthusiasts yearn to see into the soul of the artist and, through years of dedicated research, expertise and passion, bring to light the periods of art history which deserve inclusion in the canon of artistic influence.

Over the course of one week, from 29 June to 6 July, the founders of London Art Week (LAW), take visitors on a free lunchtime walking tour in either Mayfair or St James’, with the itinerary changing each day. I attended the tour on 4th July, lasting just 60 minutes and offering a glimpse into four bespoke art galleries in Mayfair. Some galleries were also exhibiting artworks at Masterpiece, but many of their most historically significant pieces remained at the gallery. I had no previous knowledge of which specific galleries we would visit and I was delighted with the ones chosen by LAW that day, some almost concealed on street view in elegant London townhouses and all within walking distance of one another.

Our first port of call was Lullo – Pampoulides on Cork Street, exhibiting master paintings and sculpture. Established in 2016 by Andrea Lullo and Andreas Pampoulides, each artwork was presented with rigorous scholarship, their aim, according to gallery manager Chiara, to assist art lovers from all ages to engage with art across all periods.

The below oil painting by Antonio Mancini (1852-1930) was the most contemporary painting on display at Lullo – Pampoulides, having been painted in 1910. Entitled ‘Suonatrice di mandola’ or ‘Il costume giapponsese,’ it depicts a woman wearing an antique Japanese costume playing the mandola. The paint thickens in places in an expressive impasto technique, creating a glistening effect. The use of light within the painting illuminates her smiling expression, suggesting her contentment and ease with the viewer:

Both Lullo and Pampoulides are compelled by their passion for art and acquire pieces that especially capture their discerning eye, even if the origins or attribution is unknown. Part of the joy of being an art specialist must be in the pursuit of discovery and unearthing new and historically significant artefacts! The below terracotta sculpture, depicted with the same energy as an Auguste Rodin piece, is awaiting attribution and currently undergoing research. A recent acquisition, it has however been established to be of the esteemed classical composer, Giuseppe Verdi, but sculpted post humously.

A stunning bronze sculpture of Jesus is also a recent acquisition and is under investigation for its attribution.

Directly across the street from Lullo – Pampoulides lies Sam Fogg gallery, his name emblazoned prominently above the large windows. A leading art dealer in late medieval and renaissance textiles, Fogg is committed to redefining the market for medieval art in Europe. Luxurious silks, intricate weaves, patterns and tapestries in incredible colours and condition adorned the walls in a mixture of Christian, Islamic and Indian pieces.

Where some tapestries were evidently historic in their patterns, some were also quite contemporary in their designs, such as this Perugia Towel, with wyverns, griffins and human figures. Dating from 15th or 16th century, the towel originates from Central Italy:

Velvet chasuble back with the Crucifixion from Central Europe, Bohemia, circa 1500:

As a reader of English Literature at University, with modules on Medieval literature, chivalric romances in particular, I was delighted to discover this large tapestry depicting The Marriage of Blanchefleur from the Story of Garin and Begon, originating from Southern Netherlands in 1460-80:

Next we visited Lowell Libson & Johnny Yarker, specialist dealers in British art with an emphasis on watercolours, paintings, sculpture and drawings of the seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Their exhibition, ‘The Spirit & Force of Art: Drawing in Britain 1600-1750‘, was on show from 29 June to 6 July so it is worth researching the galleries to see what and when they will feature a new exhibition. The result of ten years collecting, this unprecedented exhibition celebrated almost 100 British drawings from a period before the foundation of the Royal Academy. It offered a rare opportunity for art collectors and museums to acquire significant works from 1600-1750 that were previously neglected by the art market and both private and institutional collectors. Some of the artworks on display were influenced by the fashionable Dutch and Flemish styles of the sixteenth century, rather than by the Italian imports during the reign of Charles II.

I look forward to visiting Libson Yarker again and perusing further drawings by master court painter, Sir Peter Lely, and renowned 16th century artist Louis Laguerre, whose murals decorate Fetcham Park House, a gorgeous Grade II listed house and wedding venue. There is also a portrait of the English ship, Princess, by Willem Van de Velde the Younger, 1633-1707, that was particularly intricate and beautiful.

Isaac Oliver’s masterpiece in miniature, The Annunciation to the Shepherds:

Jacques Rigaud, The Rotunda at Stowe:

Louis Cheron’s drawing of Mars:

Our last stop on the art tour was Ben Elwes Fine Art, a specialist dealer in Old Master, British, nineteenth and twentieth century paintings, drawings and sculpture. Together with his wife and co-director, Rachel Layton Elwes, who comes from an American academic and museum background, they offer a discreet service, with broad expertise in the market. Their clients include the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the Musee du Louvre and the Met.

Their exhibition for London Art Week featured vibrant Old Master oil paintings on canvas and copper, the latter material delivering a gorgeous intensity of colour.

The below oil on canvas painting by Carlo Dolci is entitled ‘Portrait of a Young Man,’ and was completed between 1627-1633. This portrait, perhaps of a fellow artist, was painted when the artist was just 12 years old, however as Ben pointed out, an artist would often be apprenticed at a professional artist’s studio from the age of six, so this portrait is in fact the culmination of six or seven years of experience:

A portrait of Jesus which captures the highly emotional moment before he was flogged. Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Christ at the Column, Oil on copper:

Ben and Rachel also have a propensity to collect abolitionist art, particularly as a result of Rachel’s study of African American history. Aside from some poignant artefacts such as an original slave collar, there was also a Staffordshire porcelain figure of abolitionist, John Brown, and the below painting by prominent early nineteenth century artist, Henry Hoppner Meyer (1780-1847). Entitled ‘A Young Catechist’, it depicts a young missionary teaching a slave how to pray. The portrait was exhibited at the Society of British Artists in 1827, accompanied by a poem by Charles Lamb.

A corner of the gallery also revealed this treasure, a portrait of a Navajo woman painted in 1916 by Maxwell Armfield:

The tour was now complete, but the founder of London Art Week and our guide, Philippa, urged us to visit Daniel Katz gallery and Ariadne gallery, both situated in a Victorian townhouse just off Berkeley Square. Behind an elegant façade, paintings from antiquity to the twentieth century were on display.

Located on the first and second floors, the exhibition at Daniel Katz placed an emphasis on women in elegance for London Art Week and included paintings by Gustav Klimt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the pre-raphaelite brotherhood.

Oil on canvas portrait of Lady Hillington by Sir Frank Dickser, 1905:

A Japanese Lady, oil on canvas, by William Meritt Chase, circa 1902:

A vibrant study of a Neopolitan girl by John Frederick Lewis, RA (1804-1876), in mixed media: pencil, black chalk and watercolour.

Rounding the corner of the main hall however, was this magnificent oil painting seemingly illuminating the dimly lit corridor. There was no description which added to its enigmatic quality, but the intensity of light exuding from the painting in almost a chiaroscuro effect was astonishing.

This detail of the silk dress emphasises the remarkable glazing technique of the artist to render a translucent and almost sculpture like effect.

Upon walking upstairs to Ariadne Gallery, my friend and I stumbled upon the director’s office where he kindly allowed us to look around the art pieces on display. This clock caught my attention and although we didn’t have time to discuss the piece with the director at the time, its elaborate design reminded me of one of my favourite periods of art history, Baroque.

On the second floor of the townhouse lay Ariadne Galleries, leading specialists in ancient art. Based in New York with their second gallery in Mayfair, the family dealers have established themselves as unique in their field, with an extensive client base stretching from private collectors to prominent institutions. They are also regular exhibitors at Frieze Art Fair, Tefaf and Masterpiece.

Miniature artefacts of antiquity were delicately arranged on plinths, not behind glass as in the British Museum, but on display for buyers and collectors to handle (with care of course). Indeed, the artefacts were not originally intended for arts sake or even solely for burial purposes, but also to be used either in religious rites or everyday use, such as a mirror or cosmetic vessel, the latter of which was intended perhaps to hold perfume. It’s also incredible to fathom that these artworks were created without machinery or complex tools.

The minimalist design of the artefacts bordered on abstraction, void of unnecessary details. The central figure in the below photo reminded me of Alberto Giacommeti’s work and although it might look modern, like other pieces in the gallery, it seems generations of subsequent sculptors and painters such as Picasso have simply been inspired by ancient artworks to create similar styles of art:

Gallery specialist, Alex, pointed out that artists from ancient periods have been largely erased from history, the sole purpose of the work was to signify something symbolic and cultural, larger than the artist themselves. Indeed, the artwork is then admired for its own sake or its religious significance, rather than a study of a particular artists work. This is in stark contrast to artists from the Renaissance onwards, where the artists name has become more important.

Juxtaposed against these ancient works of art were abstract modern paintings by Richard Serra; the contrast of black etching ink, silica and paintstick on handmade white paper evoked a similar, yet contemporary, mystery and primeval quality.

From Mayfair, we then headed to Christie’s on King Street, St James’ London. Founded by James Christie, the auction house has established itself as the greatest and most celebrated market leader in old master paintings, most recently selling Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $450 million. My friend and I had just missed the auction viewing, but will be headed there again for another viewing in the near future!

One particular wish of mine during London Art Week was to see works by Canova, considering we had missed a recent talk on his works. With that in mind, we headed to Robilant and Voena located in Dover Street, where the curators have acquired a vast range of fifteenth century to twenty first: old masters and nineteenth century painting, classic modern, Italian post-war and contemporary art. They have also shown works by another of my favourite artists, Caravaggio.

Luminous oil paintings adorned the walls but I eventually found what I had been seeking, not the subject necessarily, which was of Caroline Bonaparte (apologies to Caroline), but the artist, Antonio Canova; his sculpture, Psyche being revived by Cupid’s kiss, is an emotional and graceful piece capturing the beauty of their love seemingly effortlessly. To render such a tender look in marble for me is astonishing and reflects a similar prowess to another sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

There are many more galleries in Mayfair and St James’ that participate in London Art Week and which I didn’t have time to visit, so I look forward to discovering their artworks soon! I would highly recommend visiting these galleries throughout the year to either peruse or buy, an appointment is not needed. Intimate settings define the galleries on show and offer a welcome private retreat from the crowds at other larger institutions nearby. The owners and gallery specialists look forward to welcoming you soon!

This is my oil on paper rendition of a beautiful ornate pattern which can be found at Sam Fogg’s gallery on a panel of polychrome voided silk velvet from Ottoman Turkey, circa 1460-90:

 

DC Comics – The Art of Superheroes

“Dreams save us, dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honour and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Superman. Action Comics #775 (2001)

Superheroes have entered contemporary mythology in a way unlike ancient myths, medieval legends and western films. Where the latter were constrained by historical facts and authenticity, the creators of superheroes could give their imagination free reign, inventing characters, costumes, technology, superpowers, heroes, villains and worlds through which they could convey their narratives. Although a product of the culture at a particular time, every element was unique and the colours and graphics have captured the imaginations of many for generations to come.

The writers, always drawing from current events, have been able to make superheroes form the base of our modern mythology and remain consistently relevant to humanity across the ages, bringing hope to society, whether its when confronted by economic decline, war or terrorism, or marking scientific, technological and medical advancements. The characters, their costumes and icons have evolved to reflect the aesthetic of each era. As Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton), creator of Wonder Woman, puts it, superheroes are in fact, our national aspirations.

I recently visited ‘The Art of DC – The Dawn of Superheroes‘ exhibition at The O2 (perfect timing for Father’s Day I might add!), where a century of artistic creation is currently being celebrated, from traditional methods of artwork to synthesizing animation, art and computer technology. The exhibition has been curated by Parisian museum, Art Ludique – Le Musee, the first museum in the world dedicated to contemporary art from comics, animation, manga, movies and videogames. Over 250 original historical comic pages, graphic art, illustration, preparatory charcoal and pen and ink drawings, 280 concept art and numerous costumes and props used in the films are on display.

The first superheroes:

The appearance of superheroes revolutionised the comic genre and the era, influencing art, literature, fashion and television. Created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, Superman made his debut in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938 as a hero from another world, wielding superpowers and symbolising hope, truth and justice admist scientific and medical advancements and the rise of fascism. The success of Superman inspired a young artist named Bob Kane, who, with Bill Finger, created ‘The Bat-Man,’ appearing in Detective Comics the following year. Rather than harbouring superpowers, Batman used his own intelligence and abilities to become a superhero in order to fight crime. Both opposites (an immortal and a human), they set a standard for all forthcoming superheroes and a new genre of contemporary mythology. Both cover artworks below were by Fred Guardineer in the era known as The Golden Age of Comic Books (1930s-50s):

Action Comics #50 cover, pen and inks, July 1942 by Fred Ray:

June 1938 cover:

Superman #14 pen and ink cover by Fred Ray:

Superman was a conveyor of truth and justice, seen here protecting young boys from being arrested after being asked to paint a wall mural:

The influence of Superman in contemporary culture was made indelible in 1961 with Andy Warhol’s reproduction of a scene from the comic ‘Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane’ #74 for a New York department store window. The image quickly became emblematic of Pop Art and was published in the story ‘Super Surprise!’ drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenberger:

Superman storyboard in ink and marker by Walley Veevers (1978):

Since his inception in 1938, Superman’s dual identities have presented the timeless struggle of both an ordinary man and a superhero. Clark’s professional attire acts as a device to hide his powerful physique, whereas Superman’s colourful costume shows off his muscular body. His visual look and heroic pose are similar to heroes from Greek mythology, portrayed in sculpture with chiselled features and impressively muscled bodies. His portrayal set the standard for all future superheroes across the different art forms.

Paint on cel of Clark Kent and Superman for ‘Superman, The Animated Series,’ 1996-2000:

Digital concept art by Jared Purrington:

After Superman’s creation came a darker action hero, Batman, more akin to a city cop than a superhero. Suffering from childhood trauma and a witness to his parents murder, Bruce Wayne uses his vast wealth and resources to fight crime in Gotham city. As Philosophy Professor Thibaut de Saint Maurice explains, he embraces the night to avenge their deaths, using the darkness against those who use this pretext to prey on others. The artwork starkly contrasts to the bright vibrancy of Superman and other heroes, his black suit and use of the dark represents ‘the chiaroscuro of justice.’ He fights villains of Gotham City either alone or alongside other masked vigilantes such as Robin and Batgirl.

Batman the Return #1 cover, January 2011, pen and inks. Artwork by David Finch, inked by Scott Williams:

Pencil drawing of Gotham city, from Batman Returns. Artwork by Marty Kline, 1992:

Detective Comics #61 cover, March 1942, showing Batman and his accomplice Robin. Artwork by Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos:

Batman’s intense physical training transformed him into the modern ideal of the time with a strong, healthy body. His vast resources were utilised in new technology, seen here in this illustration of the Batmobile by Tim Flattery:

When high risk missions need more extreme measures that don’t align with the DC superheroes moral code, they call upon Task Force X, otherwise known as The Suicide Squad. Originally appearing in The Brave and The Bold in 1959 as a more traditional military team defending mankind from monsters, they were reintroduced as The Suicide Squad in Legends #3 in 1987.  This team of criminal antiheroes are expendable villains looking not to be acquitted of their crimes but to simply lessen their sentence. The 2016 film adaptation by David Ayer tells their story, updating its elements for a contemporary audience, such as giving Harley Quinn’s costume a more modern style with colourful and edgy street wear as opposed to a black and white suit:

The contemporary mythology was however incomplete until the creation of Wonder Woman in 1941. Representing ‘the best of all of us,’ according to Thibaut de Saint Maurice, Wonder Woman invites us to make the best of ourselves. Her beauty is taken from ‘the best parts of humanity,’ created for good and not to destroy. For Saint Maurice, it is both essential and inconsequential that she is a woman, as justice, love and peace are qualities of humanity as a whole, hence the words of Louis Aragon from his poem Zadjal de l’avenir (1963): ‘The future of man is woman. She is the colour of his soul.’ Created at the onset of World War II by Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was the fearless maiden who gave up her heritage of peace and happiness to help America fight evil and aggression. As the third pillar of the DC Trinity alongside Superman and Batman, she is motivated by her desire to let peace reign and loving her fellow man. She bridges the gap between the contemporary mythology of superheroes and that of the gods of Olympus because she is an Amazon, part of a tribe of female warriors from Ancient Greece who live together on Paradise Island governed by Queen Hippolyta.

Wonder Woman Cover artwork showing the moment when a man arrives on the beach at Paradise Island:

A concept art painting by Aline Bonetto and Aaron Sims Creative depicting the first meeting between Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor:

A costume illustration of Wonder Woman’s wetsuit, with an added reflection of the costume from the original film:

The first iteration of Wonder Woman in 1940 by Harry Peter, depicted in mixed media and holding her lasso of truth:

The first team of comic book superheroes debuted in All Star Comics #3 in 1940, calling themselves the ‘Justice Society of America.’ Iconic heroes from the Golden Age including The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Dr Fate and The Spectre were united by their shared values of justice and liberty. Their adventures were published until 1951, and then reappeared as the Justice League of America in the February/March issue of The Brave and The Bold in 1960. The team now consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Not confined to comic books, the league has been appearing in animation throughout the decades and recently given live action treatment in Zach Snyder’s new film (although I prefer the blond haired animated version of Aquaman).

Justice League of America #100 cover by Nick Cardy, August 1972:

Cover artworks for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern and Superman:

Similar to mythological heroes of ancient times, members of the League were drawn with powerfully built bodies and other godlike features: The Flash’s winged boots and speed echoes Hermes and Aquaman is king of the underwater city of Atlantis, evoking the majesty of Poseidon.

Hawkman cover:

Aquaman #48 pen and ink cover artworks by Nick Cardy, December 1969 (left) and #57 by Jim Aparo, September 1977 (right)

Mixed media artwork by contemporary comic artist, Alex Ross:

There is far more in the exhibition than I can cover in this blog, but I would highly recommend visiting it as either an art admirer or superhero fan, as it was superbly curated and incredibly educational!

This is my pen drawing of The Daily Planet globe from Superman as a dedication to the DC Comic style:

Walt Disney’s Art of Animation – Disneyland Paris

‘Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience.’ Walt Disney

All artists, in their essence, seek to communicate the spirit or soul of a person or thing, whether that be via paintings, illustrations or animation.

Like many other ‘millennials’, I love Disney films. I love the stories, the fairy tale, the moral, the laughter and the art. The scenes are like works of art, every part of a scene meticulously painted to create a new world for people of all ages to enjoy and admire the craftsmanship involved. The whole film becomes a gorgeous painting to become immersed in.

David Hall’s painting from ‘Alice in Wonderland:’

Coming from a family of creative people, I have been exposed to art since an early age, whether in books, museums, galleries or film. I love to admire it in painting, sculpture, design, architecture or the best source – nature itself.

Painting by production designer Hans Bacher:

I have already visited the original Universal Studios and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, so when I was surprised at my birthday with a trip to Disneyland Paris I was excited to say the least. This was a dream come true!

Some people, who perhaps grow up too fast, may see Disney films as being childish. I see the films as being symbolic. Many of their animations are based on folk tales or fairy tales: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, amongst others, are based on variations of original fairy tales by Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, both of which involve a beautiful princess, a sleeping enchantment and a handsome prince. Many fairy tales are dark stories, almost parables, of good overcoming evil and courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

Fairy tales are intended to be symbolic and if we are open to them, to teach us a moral or lesson. They should teach people of all ages about the dangers of jealousy, deceit, cruelty, greed, corruption and other evils that plague the world we live in. The power of love to save and redeem features heavily in Disney’s films and versions of fairy tales. Without love there is no hope – whether it is the kiss of true love that saves Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, or between sisters Elsa and Anna in Frozen.

Illustrations of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip from The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale inside the castle tower at Disneyland Paris:

It can be argued that what Walt Disney attempted to do was to create a work of art, not simply cartoons. He sought to create characters that could somehow, despite being painted two dimensional figures, elicit both joy and tears of sadness – the first Disney film I watched at the cinema when I was little was Bambi and I still remember crying and holding onto my mother for comfort. I honestly believe that many would find it difficult not to cry whilst watching Bambi, no matter their age. The power of art to harness human emotion and create catharsis is a powerful tool indeed. I admire Walt Disney for his desire to restore a childlike innocence to people of all ages anywhere in the world through his medium of film and in his parks. Animation, like other works of art, should reflect our world and be recognisable in some way, perhaps even encourage us in our relationships or circumstances. They can help children dream, hope, play and imagine. 

Children are always receptive to new things and their curiousity helps them to learn. Play and imagination is proven to be vital to growth and development, their understanding of the world around them and their place in it. A film might not change the world entirely, but it certainly has the power to inspire people.

Half painted scene from Pinnochio:

As a Christian, I see art as a powerful tool to bring hope, love and joy to the world. God is the best creator after all and imagination is a gift, to be utilised for good and not evil. Prince Philippe even seems to put on the full armour of God to fight evil in the Sleeping Beauty film – armed by the fairy godmothers with his supernatural sword of truth, and a shield of virtue which resembles a shield of faith in Ephesians.

A few Disney villains in view:

At Walt Disney Studios in Paris, I visited Art of Disney Animation and listened to a talk on the making of a character and the vision behind their design. Every aspect of a character in a Disney film is symbolic and meaningful, just as a costume is to a film or colour is to a painting. No character’s look or personality is accidental – every aspect, from their anatomy to their movement or expression is to convey a message. So many changes might be made to a character’s design to ensure their believability and importance to a scene and the film overall. Every aspect conveys their narrative and story to make them more believable or relatable.

Paintings from Beauty and The Beast:

Model of the Beast in the studios:

The presenter at the Studios used Mulan’s companion, an anthropomorphic red dragon called Mushu as an example of character development. Mulan might be based on a historical figure in Chinese legend, but she did need a sidekick, or rather guardian and guide, to protect her and for comic effect!

The audience listened attentively to the presenter speaking initially with screenplay writer Chris Sanders, then with Mushu’s supervising animator, Tom Bancroft (his brother, Tony, was the director for Mulan!). The little dragon (not lizard..) even made his own delightful appearance during the talk, interacting directly with the presenter and animators.

In this animation masterclass, Tom explained how Mushu’s character developed as a result of his Eastern (Chinese) heritage. Initially there were to be two reptilian creatures but this was changed to one as they could not take attention from Mulan as the titular character; Mushu then went from having two heads to one and was made smaller in stature. He resembles depictions of Eastern dragons in Chinese art during that time, is benevolent and can breathe fire. I also recently discovered that Mulan’s early story was concurrent with a Scottish tale project that featured a dragon character and when it was cancelled, Mulan inherited the dragon as a sidekick. You can read more of Mushu’s development here.

I couldn’t find an illustration of Mushu so here he is in toy form in the animation studios shop:

Interestingly, I found out that Pocahontas’ sidekick was originally a turkey before they decided a racoon would be more effective alongside her!

The paintings that fill every scene in a Disney film is intended to draw the viewer into that world, creating possibility out of a sheet of paper. It is an illusion that speaks truths and desire, not merely escapist fantasy.

Paintings from Aladdin, Tangled and The Little Mermaid:

This is my version of a lovely scene from Snow White as she begins to sing with the doves at the wishing well. I was able to paint it whilst working on private commissions, so it isn’t yet finished but will be soon! Did you know that Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs consists of over 1, 500,000 individual pen-and-ink drawings and watercolour paintings? I painted this scene in oils on canvas instead of watercolour and ink to give my personal touch; I also painted just Snow White and the flowers in colour:

I love this beautiful painting of Florian serenading Snow White, which I found whilst exploring the Disney Village:

Here is another of my favourite Disney couples, Roger and Jessica Rabbit, from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ filmed in collaboration with Steven Spielberg:

And let’s not forget that Walt Disney’s dreams of inspiring people of all ages with his animations began with a mouse named Mickey!

I am currently working on commissioned oil paintings and ones for exhibition later this year (in my normal style rather than illustrations/animations!), but as they are private I am looking forward to dedicating more blog posts to art extraordinaire Walt Disney and his team. I hope you enjoy the art of Disney as much as I do!

End Plastic Pollution – Earth Day, 22 April

‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for God founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.’ Psalm 24:1-2

Every 22nd of April, environmental revolutionists and conservationists worldwide gather in solidarity to help protect and restore the health of our natural environment.

Since it was officially recognised in 1970, one billion Earth Day supporters have petitioned world leaders, national governments and local legislations to combat the (often) human made issues that have afflicted our planet.

The event this year addresses a topic that is difficult to ignore: Plastic pollution. According to Earth Day Network, over 300 million tons of fossil fuel created plastic is sold each year and 90% is emptied in landfills or ends up as litter. Chemicals seep into the ocean and soil, severely damaging our environment, wildlife and our own health by contaminating the fish we eat or water we drink.

I chose to use my oil painting, ‘Night Waves,’ to illustrate Earth Day, as over 70% of the earth is made up of water, with 96% consisting of the ocean’s salt water and the rest of arctic ice, groundwater and fresh water. The oceans are similar to rainforests in their biodiversity, they also produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorb more than half of its carbon. It is a precious yet fragile natural resource.

Historically, there has not been much regard for the ocean as a place to protect, and waste disposal has been rife. Disturbing facts seem to get more and more prevalent in recent years in relation to this last frontier of exploration; it is estimated that 4.6 billion tons of plastic are poured into the ocean worldwide per annum, suffocating marine animals which cannot digest it and polluting the environment. According to the National Geographic, one garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.

Plastic is no longer the miracle storage packaging, as its very longevity makes it virtually indestructible and non biodegradable. It is estimated that it takes around 10,000 years for ordinary plastic bags to decompose. Did you know that 4.5 billion coffee cups so far have been found in the ocean and around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, finding their way into the seaIt is estimated that over 100,000 sea mammals die each year from eating plastic.

Who didn’t feel upset at the sight of this sperm whale in Spain, who had been found washed up on shore having suffocated after eating 5 tons of plastic, fishing nets and garbage bags? Or the now famous image of a seahorse clutching onto a cotton bud in Indonesian waters?

The filmmakers of Blue Planet II said there was rarely a moment when they dived and didn’t encounter plastic in the sea. Alarmingly, we may also have been ingesting it in the form of microplastics, tiny beads of plastic that are found in many cosmetic products and when washed away down the sink find themselves in the ocean and into the bodies of sea creatures which we may be ultimately eating. In a recent study, over 83% of tap water samples worldwide was found to be polluted with microplastics.

The race to produce renewable alternatives has begun. DowDuPont scientists are revolutionising plastic bottles by creating a molecular chain that derives from cane sugar rather than petrochemicals. This sweet alternative is sustainable and will never run out, as chemist Paul Fagan says, bio-plastics are like returning to our past, where everything was made from plants. Engineer Toby McCartney is also pioneering a way of using recycled plastic instead of oil as a bidding agent in asphalt, creating longer-lasting roads and decreasing plastic waste. Scientists have also further improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest plastic; originally found in Japan, this enzyme can break down PET, the strong plastic most commonly used in bottles, in just a few days as opposed to hundreds of years.

Until a permanent solution has been found or a new plastic becomes commonplace, there are many quick solutions that can be adopted, such as investing in recyclable materials, refusing plastic cutlery, reusing bags or coffee cups. and using paper straws. A ban on microplastics in cosmetics has already been passed in the UK and cotton buds and plastic straws could be banned next year.

We all depend on a healthy ocean but currently only 2% of our seas are fully protectedYou can sign a government petition here to help end single-use plastics or make a personal pledge for Earth Day.

It’s time to save Nemo!

Being rooted and grounded in love. Take part in Earth Hour, 24 March 2018.

‘Being rooted and grounded in love.’
Ephesians 3:17-19

For 60 minutes on the evening of 24 March 2018, hundreds of millions of people worldwide will turn off non-essential electric lights as a symbolic show of solidarity to connect to the earth and help reverse climate change.

Organised by the WWF,  Earth Hour began as a lights out event in Sydney in 2007 and has since grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with businesses, individuals and communities across the globe pledging to protect the planet.  The event usually falls on the last Saturday of March, but has been moved forward a week in 2018 to 8:30pm-9:30pm on Saturday 24 March, due to Holy Saturday (the day after Good Friday) falling on Easter weekend. 

The worlds most iconic landmarks will be participating – Edinburgh Castle, Buckingham Palace, Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower. Last year, 9 million people took part in the UK alone! You can use this interactive map to find out what is happening near you.

Humanity has a heavy weight of responsibility for the future of the planet and to live with regard for the environment. Earth has been afflicted by deforestation, climate change, plastic, pesticides, fossil fuel pollution and wildlife trafficking amongst others, most of which have arguably been driven by greed and profit, with devastating consequences for our environment.  Earth Hour is a means to reverse the damage done before it’s too late, by encouraging people to make a small change in their lifestyle and to reject a throwaway culture. Backed by a global movement, real beneficial change can be made.

I chose to use my oil painting of the Ash Tree in our garden to highlight the importance of trees to our planet. This is a section of the canopy:

Climate change is a natural phenomenon that has been rapidly exacerbated by the flagrant burning of our natural resources and releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide emissions and pollutant particles in the atmosphere, then store the carbon and release pure oxygen, improving our air quality. Forests and trees in temperate regions also help cool the earth’s surface as they evapotranspire, by releasing moisture into the atmosphere and contributing to rainfall. It is estimated that 40% of rainfall on land is due to evotranspiration and according to Cool Earth, just one tree produces 324 litres of water per year and one acre of rainforest produces 76,000 tons of water.

On average, a new acre of trees can absorb 2.5 tons of carbon annually. A tree reaches maturity at around ten years, releasing enough oxygen to support two human beings.  They help reduce the greenhouse effect by shading buildings, reducing the need for burning fossil fuels to power air conditioining. Planting trees is the most cost effective way to remove excess carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, according to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, 32 million acres of trees are deforested worldwide each year; this equates to 9.9 million acres of forest in Africa each year and 10.6 million acres of forest in South America.

Charities like Cool Earth helps put local rainforest communities back in control of the forests, protecting their future and that of the wildlife and biodiversity, rather than allowing vast swathes to be deforested for unnatural plantations such as soy production or palm oil.

Reforestation projects can help reverse the damage caused by global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere in the trees and soil. 20,000 new trees are being planted in the Seychelles as part of The Commonwealth Canopy Project, and here in the UK, woodland conservation charity, The Woodland Trust has planted over 30 million new trees, helping to restore devastated ancient woodland as well as creating new woodland areas.

There are many quick solutions that can help reduce CO2 emissions, whether its recycling more, turning your washing machine to 30 degrees, switching to a green energy supplier, becoming a flexitarian or composting food. What will your promise be?

For every promise made, Ariel will donate £1 to help protect the planet.

Earth Day is also soon approaching, held annually on 22nd April, the focus of which will be plastic pollution. Did you know that by 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the sea? It is always my hope that my art can show the beauty of the world and God’s creation, encouraging people to live closer to nature and to protect it for future generations.

Join the global movement today!

Thai orchid festival – Mothers Day celebrations at Kew gardens

‘If mothers were flowers, you would be the one I would pick.’

Here is a work in progress oil painting, inspired by the tropical orchids on display at the recent Thai orchid festival at Kew Gardens. The flowers were reaching towards the stream beneath the glasshouse bridge and I wanted to evoke the sense of tranquillity, where you felt almost as if you had arrived in an island oasis:

From 10 February to 11 March 2018, The Princess of Wales glasshouse at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was transformed into a tropical oasis, transporting visitors to the floral shores of Thailand in an extravagant celebration of its culture and botanical heritage.

My family and I attended the last weekend of the 23rd orchid festival at Kew for Mother’s Day. It was a feast for the senses, with over 4,000 Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids arrayed in  beautiful centrepieces, or seemingly ‘growing wild,’ either lining the paths or intertwining around trees. Their sweet fragrance infused the atmosphere and colour abounded, with hues of purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green at every turn. Traditional Thai music was performed live in one area of the glasshouse, with the sound permeating through the garden, enhancing the immersive experience. The variety of tropical orchids and plants on display was breathtaking and a delight for every visitor and particularly every mother visiting the glasshouse on this special day.

Sculptures hewn from flora and fauna appeared at different intersections of the garden and a forest of mangroves lined areas of the path and stream. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a cocoa tree that was native to Thailand, and to learn that cocoa butter is often squeezed from its seeds. Incredibly, miniature rice paddy fields were also successfully cultivated in the glasshouse.

The main attraction of the orchid garden was the floating Palace centrepiece, measuring at 16.5ft x 13ft and intended to be a replica of Bang Pa In Palace in Thailand. 600 orchids adorned the sculpture, representing the rich diversity of their flora. The Royal Thai Embassy in London also generously lent a number of Thai crafted parasols to Kew for the festival.

Kew Gardens has worked alongside the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for many years, focusing on mutually beneficial projects that include the study and conservation of Thailand’s rich variety of flora and fauna. Their relationship was formalised in 2010, through a signing orchestrated by Kew scientist Dave Simpson.

Phalaenopsis orchid species are native to tropical Asian countries, including Thailand, Borneo, Java and the Philippines. However for this display at Kew, they were actually grown at Double H nurseries in New Milton in the South of England.

The Cymbidian orchids at the glasshouse were also British grown in East Sussex, supplied by McBean’s Orchids and are on regular display at Kew’s annual orchid festivals.

Surprisingly, several orchid varieties do grow wild in Britain’s temperate climate, see when and where you can spot nine species here. You can also learn how to grow them successfully with this horticulturalists guide.

A Tropical Paradise in the depths of winter – Butterfly conservation at RHS Wisley

‘You are altogether beautiful my love, there is no flaw in you.’ Song of Songs

Each winter the Glasshouse at RHS Wisley transforms, almost dreamlike, into a tropical paradise. Its 28 degree heat serves as a haven to over 7,000 butterflies that have travelled (with a little help from humans) thousands of miles to help educate wildlife enthusiasts of all ages on exotic butterflies, butterfly conservation and their importance to the environment.

Bred on a farm in Belize, Central America, these butterflies originate from tropical climes in the Americas and Asia, where the lofty heights of the rainforest canopy is their natural habitat. The farm is invaluable to conserving butterflies, where 15,000 caterpillars are looked after at a time and many released back into the wild. The owners, who live in the UK, are also owners of Stratford Butterfly Farm in Stratford- Upon-Avon.

Aside from the rainforest oasis, visitors can experience an interactive zone where they can watch the lifecyle of a butterfly and get a rare close up view of their wings. Visitors can learn about their behaviour, such as courtship, feeding and egg laying as well as how they differ to moths.

Butterflies are ectothermic (cold blooded) and constantly seek the warmth of the sun, so the best place to find these dainty winged insects were the pools of sunlight on the paths around the glasshouse. Seeing the butterflies dance around the trees and alight nearby never fails to bring a smile to all the . The food table was another area guaranteed to host several butterflies, and often the best place to have a better view of their beautiful wings.

With so many  unusual and non native species, there is a handy guide which helps identify the different species. 

This white, yellow and black beauty is a Tree Nymph, native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, Sri Lanka and other areas of Southeast Asia. Their delicate flight patterns and black and white coloration distinguish them from others. Tree Nymphs usually live high in the forest canopy but descend to ground level for nectar and mating. According to Garden Guides, these butterflies can thrive in altitudes up to 5,000ft and below to 2,000ft. Many tree nymphs secrete a chemical substance known as ‘danadoine,’ which is a deterrent to predators and makes them unpalatable.

Their wings reminded me of stained glass, which seemed to glow with the sun’s rays through the windows.

Although we are unlikely to see exotic butterflies like the Tree Nymph in our temperate climate, many native butterfly species are endangered and need our protection.  

I regularly contribute a painting to the Environment Trust’s Secret Art Sale to promote wildlife conservation in the UK. Last year, the theme was ‘wildlife corridors,’ its definition recorded in my blog:

These corridors, aptly named ‘natures highways and byways’ by the RSPB, are integral to the maintenance of ecological processes, including allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of wildlife populations.

These corridors, formed out of hedges, flora and fauna, are indispensable not only for butterflies, but also for hedgehogs, frogs, toads, newts, bees, dragonflies, creepy crawlies, moths, bats, birds, badgers and foxes. Wildlife, such as insects and butterflies, are crucial to the general health of the ecosystem and maintaining the natural balance and their decline in numbers usually reflect a decline in the health of the environment and are often indicators of pollution etc.

Insects like Butterflies are necessary to pollinate flowers,  and are especially attracted to certain plants and flowers such as lavender in order to thrive. The RHS have compiled a guide on how to attract native species, including planting brightly coloured buddleias.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Butterfly Conservation society, with Conservation Day being held on 10 March before Mother’s Day. To celebrate this landmark year, the charity are holding conservation events around the UK to give you the opportunity to get involved in the effort to protect over 100 endangered species.

Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, has urged everyone to take action to help reverse the decline of our butterflies; sadly their habitats have shrunk significantly over the years due to climate change, pesticide use and other factors. You don’t need to have specialist knowledge to become a butterfly conservator or naturalist, you can simply help plant a meadow or develop your own garden into a butterfly and wildlife haven. Whichever you choose, it will be an invaluable contribution to our environment and to ensure future generations can continue to enjoy the diverse species in our gardens and wild areas.

Here is one of our native beauties which I immortalised in oil paint in 2017: a perfectly formed Peacock butterfly and a regular visitor to our garden:

Happy conserving!

Architectural Digest Design Show – 22-25 March, New York

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” Frank Gehry

I’m delighted to be returning to my architectural and design roots by participating in the Architectural Digest Design Show in New York, on 22-25 March 2018.

Around 40,000 design professionals, creative entrepreneurs and connoiseurs are expected to descend upon Piers 92 and 94 on 55th Street, Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan. 400 luxury designers, brands, and several artists (!) will gather for the 17th year of North America’s premier design festival. There will be talks and workshops to tantalise your design tastebuds, including culinary classes; the forthcoming program of trade seminars will be available at the end of February.

My oil paintings and drawings will be on display with Art UpClose and Artifact in booth 519. Other artists exhibiting include seascape painter Margot Nimoroski and award winning British sculptor, David Harber .

I have often emphasised in my blog posts on the importance of a personal connection to interior design and art. Chosen carefully and sensitively, furniture and design accessories are arguably elevated to the status of art when placed in an interior setting. Indeed their very design, often unique and sometimes bespoke, reflects a particular artistic vision and narrative of the designer. As I pointed out in my previous blog, ‘Home is where the Art is:’

“Without art, design is merely function. Both art and design are means of communication, and both can elicit an emotional response.”

You can be certain to find inspiration from the many furniture makers, artisans, lighting designers, and accessory brands that will be exhibiting at the Design Show. Whether it’s choosing a bespoke table by Attitude Furnishings, ‘baby-soft’ alpaca throws by Alicia Adams, secure iron fences and gates by Compass Iron Security, handmade wooden chairs and tables by Erickson Woodworking, wall art and wall décor by Mitchell Black, lighting by Rayon Roskar, custom flooring by Sunshine Hardwood Floors, or geometric leather rugs by Avo Studio, each lends a statement to your room, whether subtle or obvious.

When combined with paintings and sculpture in an interior setting, furnishings create a visual tapestry of the owner’s personality, interwoven with meaningful elements.

Their intentional design adopts a new meaning and purpose: As Coco Chanel aptly put it, ‘an interior is the natural projection of the soul.’

I love visiting New York, here is a rather iconic building whose name derives from the nickname for the city: ‘Empire State.’ Designed by architect William F. Lamb and completed in 1931 at 1,454 ft high, its 102 floors overlook the vast network and labyrinth of roads and buildings below.

Art that surrounds you, that you can touch, feel and live in, as well as admire from a distance; this is immersive art at its best and most satisfying.