Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents: Essential for Life on this Planet

In the new global race war for minerals and sustainability, Hydrothermal Vents, existing 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) below the ocean surface, have become a source of exploitation and vulnerability.

Deep in the abyss, there is an oasis of life.

Rising from the seafloor in spire-like forms, 55 meter (180ft) high chimneys filled with hot mineral-rich fluids erupt, appearing as cities or fortresses. They are alien-like structures, existing at the furthest depths of the ocean. Despite extreme pressures, temperatures, and toxic chemicals, they support an abundance of lifeforms, many species of which are unique and cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.

I wanted to capture the otherworldly beauty and nature of these vents in my oil pastel drawings, as I was concerned about the need to protect and conserve them. The more I discover these vents, the more I realise how fundamental they are to the health of the planet and their role in the global energy crisis. Many vents are rich in rare earth metals like cobalt, gold, and copper, necessary ingredients for electronic components. Ed Conway, Economics and Data Editor at Sky News, has called our times an ‘arms race’ for battery production.

‘Filamentous Bacteria at Castle Vent,’ Oil Pastel on Paper, by Charlotte Iggulden

University of Southampton’s ‘Exploring Our Ocean’ Course

Since completing a short course on Oceanography, hosted by the University of Southampton, I have immersed myself in the ethereal and fascinating world of hydrothermal vents.

As part of the course, Dr. Jon Copley shared his experience of diving down in a submersible vehicle to the Cayman Ridge. I was immediately captivated by their enigmatic qualities, these strange, gnarly smoking spires erupting out of the earth’s crust. They looked primeval, and indeed are ancient, connecting the earth’s unseen inner architecture and our visible landscape. Some vent fields are active for 10,000 years.

My drawings of Castle Vent and El Guapo were inspired by images from a 2013 Science in the News (SITN) lecture, ‘The Alien Worlds of Hydrothermal Vents,’ presented by Heather Olins. The artwork ‘The Cathedral’ is an imagined landscape, based on maps of deep-sea vent fields on the ocean floor and images from the NOAA website.

Only 20% of the ocean has been explored, with just 5% of the ocean floor mapped. Due to its inhospitable conditions, inaccessibility, and cost, more people have been to the moon than they have to the bottom of the ocean. Yet life exists. As Heather argues, they are alien worlds; as satellites have difficulty penetrating water, we have better images of Mars than the ocean floor.

What Are Hydrothermal Vents?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists first discovered hydrothermal vents in 1977, whilst exploring an oceanic spreading ridge located near the Galapagos Islands. They noticed several temperature spikes in their data and wondered how the deep-ocean temperature could quickly change from near freezing to 400 degrees Celsius (750 degrees Fahrenheit).

These chimneys are found across the ocean, usually forming in vast vent fields, along the Mid-Ocean Ridges, such as the Mid Atlantic Ridge and the East Pacific Rise, stretching along 3000km of the mid-ocean ridge. They are essentially underwater hot springs or geysers, forming around volcanic regions as plate tectonics spread apart. Ocean water enters the fissures and percolates through the earth’s crust, becoming geothermally heated by the magma in the upper crust. The water collects minerals within the crust, such as iron and manganese; when it contacts the almost freezing seawater and oxygen, the dissolved minerals crystalize, solidifying to form chimney-like vents and depositing metalliferous sediments, alongside releasing plumes of toxic chemicals. The tallest vent found, ‘Godzilla,’ was 16 stories high before it collapsed in the 1990s.  

Research of the Endeavour Field and other mid-ocean ridges has led MBARI geologists and researchers to propose the theory of Hydrothermal Vent Field/Ridge Evolution:

  1. Magmatic phase: Lasts up to tens of thousands of years, with substantial amounts of magma erupting and spreading across the seafloor.
  2. Tectonic phase: Lasts around 5,000 years; magma production slows, and the ocean floor cools and contracts. Spreading continues further down in the crust. The axial valley sinks, and cracks and faults form in the seafloor.
  3. Hydrothermal phase: Lasts a few thousand years; resurgent magma below the surface heats fluid that percolates up through cracks in the seafloor, forming many vents.
‘The Cathedral’ (imagined landscape, inspired by hydrothermal vent field maps on the seafloor and NOAA images), Oil Pastel on Paper, by Charlotte Iggulden

Hydrothermal Vent Ecosystems

The scientists who discovered the vents were also shocked to discover hundreds of new species. The smokers supported unique ecosystems, composed of highly specialised and simple organisms, some thermophilic microbes that thrive in high temperatures, such as yeti crabs, giant tube worms, limpets, shrimp, and clams. These vent communities are ancient and well established, with many building blocks of life and some of the most primitive lifeforms on earth.

It confounded the science community. Before their discovery, it had been thought that life could only exist via photosynthesis and sunlight. Life at the bottom of the ocean would be scarce, the only energy available from scraps of whale carcasses.

The toxic concoction of chemicals present at these vents is lethal to most forms of life. However, despite the lack of sunlight, toxic minerals, chemicals, and extreme pressures and temperatures, bacteria were converting the poisonous vent minerals into energy through chemosynthesis, providing food for other vent organisms. Species’ existence may be cut short, as vents sometimes suddenly become inactive.

A few facts on Hydrothermal vent organisms:

  1. Giant tube worms grow up to 3m in length; they are the fastest-growing marine invertebrates known.
  2. 95/% of these organisms are unique to the vent ecosystem, with new discoveries previously unknown to science. Many don’t seem to be closely related to any other creature on the planet, which suggests they likely belong to a divergent evolutionary path.
  3. Over 590 new animal species have been identified living at these vents.
  4. Less than 50 active sites have been investigated.

Types of Hydrothermal Vents

  1. Black smokers – These are the most common types of vents, and the hottest, emitting mainly sulfides and iron. The high levels of sulphides precipitate on contact with the cold ocean to form black smoke. Over 50m tall, the chimney is filled with silica, which is very hard. These vents are often found in the bathypelagic zone of the open ocean, between 1,000 to 4,000m (3,300ft-13,000 ft) below the ocean surface but can also be found in lesser depths as well as deeper in the abyss. This lack of sunlight or photosynthesis has led to the region being designated the ‘midnight zone,’ located between the ‘twilight’ mesopelagic’ zone above, and the abyssopelagic zone below. The latter is virtual darkness, covering 83% of the total area of the ocean.
  2. White smokers – These vents release cooler water and lighter-hued minerals containing mainly calcium and silicon, as well as barium.

Some vents emit carbon dioxide gas in a constant stream of bubbles.

‘El Guapo – Black Smoker emitting hydrothermal fluid,’ Oil Pastel on Paper, by Charlotte Iggulden

Hydrothermal Mineral Deposits

Vent zones contain polymetallic sulfides that are rich in zinc and copper. Large amounts of copper are deposited when the hydrothermal vents form. Inside the chimneys are seafloor massive sulfides (SMS) or sulfide deposits containing gold, cobalt, silver, and manganese.

In a hydrothermal vent cross-section shown in Heather’s lecture, minerals include white anhydrite sulfite, pyrite cubes ‘fool’s gold’ sulphide, iron, sulphur, zinc, mini crystals sphalerite, or chalcopyrite copper as opposed to zinc. The distinct layers are determined by temperature and chemistry. The more gold sulphide is found, the older and harder the vent is.

According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, ‘seafloor deposits can be more than a thousand times richer in some metals than mineral deposits on land.’

‘El Guapo – Black Smoker with precious minerals and metals,’ Oil Pastel on Paper, by Charlotte Iggulden

Deep-Sea Mining: The Race War for Minerals

Due to diminishing natural resources and fossil fuels in recent times and the transition to sustainability and renewable energy, mining companies have begun to consider the deep sea as the next mineral mine.  

To achieve COP26’s 1.5C goal for climate change, the UK has entered a race war for precious minerals and metals, such as copper, cobalt, iron, gold, nickel, zinc, and aluminium, all of which are needed for a variety of industries, mainly as electronic components.

Alongside lithium, cobalt is a necessary ingredient necessary for battery production, however, its unsustainable and unethical means of obtaining it might inadvertently result in vent exploitation.

According to Goldman Sachs, demand for copper (used in electrical wiring) could rise 900% by 2030, its price predicted to reach $6.80 per pound by 2025. The metal has been hailed as ‘The new oil’ and even a national security issue due to its strategic value.

In an extract from Mining Feeds, the authors of the Goldman Sachs report ‘Nicholas Snowdon, Daniel Sharp, and Jeffrey Curries estimate that demand from electrification “will grow nearly 600% to 5.4Mt (million tonnes) in our base case and 900% to 8.7Mt in the case of hyper adoption of green technologies” by 2030. In the conservative base case, copper miners would see a massive demand to be filled surge faster than current production and production plans can accommodate. In the case of “hyper adoption of green technologies,” the world is likely to see a problematic copper shortage that is certain to push the price higher and faster.’

The University of Southampton’s oceanography course presenters, Professor Rachel Mills and Dr. Jon Copley revealed how companies have known about the mineral deposits at hydrothermal vents for years, however largely due to a lack of resources have been unable to obtain them. At deep-sea vents, there is a weight of a mile-and-a-half of ocean lying on top, ranging from 40 to over 110 times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Jon Copley began writing about the concerns of deep-sea mining and exploitation of copper in 2014: ‘Mining at deep-sea hydrothermal vents: what are potential impacts on marine life?’ A highly respected scientist who advised on the BBC’s Blue Planet series, Jon has been advising companies on how to do so sustainably, without damaging vent ecosystems.

It is incredibly important that marine geoscientists collaborate with companies and policymakers to ensure the ethical and sustainable extraction of resources if this becomes a necessity. The ocean is essential for life on this planet.

Hydrothermal vents act as a natural plumbing system, transporting heat and chemicals for the ocean, alongside adding elements from seafloor rocks. Scientists estimate that the entire volume of the world’s oceans cycles through hydrothermal vent systems along the global Mid-Ocean Ridge every 10-20 million years or so.

A Blue Planet

The ocean comprises approximately 70% of the planet we live on. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying we live on a Blue Planet.

The ocean is an incredible feat of nature:

  1. According to NASA, it consists of 99% of the habitable space on the planet.
  2. It produces more oxygen than the Amazon.
  3. The ocean contains 97% of all the water on earth.
  4. It accounts for 80% of the world’s biodiversity.
  5. The ocean produces more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe on earth. As it was pointed out at the Marine Conservation Institute’s recent fundraising gala, one of every two breaths we take is from the ocean.
  6. The deepest part of the planet is the Mariana Trench, near the Philippines, at 10,994 meters (36,070ft) below sea level. The Cayman Ridge is the second deepest.
‘Seashell with Bioluminescence,’ Oil Paint on Paper, by Charlotte Iggulden

Outer Space and Hydrothermal Vents

Astronauts like to visit the deep sea. Aside from mimicking zero gravity, it is like another planet.

Unique lifeforms can be found at hydrothermal vents that exist nowhere else. Known as extremophiles, these organisms thrive in hostile conditions that otherwise would be impossible. Active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist on Jupiter’s moon and natural satellite, Europa, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It is also believed that Mars might have once supported ancient hydrothermal vents.

Ganymede (another of Jupiter’s satellites) and Saturn’s satellite Titan are both thought to support life.

‘Blue Moon,’ Oil Paint on Canvas, by Charlotte Iggulden

Hydrothermal Vents: Uniquely Vulnerable Ecosystems

As the ocean is essential for life on this planet, so too are hydrothermal vents, being essentially connected to the ocean as a plumbing system. Their destruction could be disastrous.

The deep-sea is one of the last remaining mysteries of our planet to science. It is largely unexplored. However, this presents a dilemma: if we explore the last frontier on earth and discover all its secrets, species, and potential opportunities to help advance medicine or produce renewable energy, the ocean, and its incredible habitat become vulnerable to exploitation, deep-sea mining, and pollution. In our fervent, and perhaps reactionary desire to save the planet, our actions would be misled, no matter their pure intentions. In reaching for sustainability, it is compromising the very planet we are hoping to save.

There is a need for balance, to only take what we need from the planet, a circular economy. These vents may be subject to mining at some point, but it would need to be done sustainably or as a last resort. Ideally, we should consider other, more renewable alternatives and greener technologies.

It is imperative that the ocean is protected and that mining companies effectively collaborate with scientists around the world. Any exploration or exploitation should be done cautiously and with respect to ocean communities both in the sea and that rely on the sea.

It is a complex issue, and the solution is not always so clear-cut. I have always found the following quote inspiring and very poignant, in relation to maintaining the fine balance and health of the planet, and our relationship with it. Everything is connected. It is not random we are on this planet; we are custodians and guardians of the earth around us.

Sometimes it is indigenous peoples, and those with the closest connection to nature and their environment, that direction and wisdom can be found.

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

Cree First Nations proverb.

Dino 101 and Ancient Marine Reptiles – University of Alberta

During the summer of 2020, I thought it would be fun to explore my interest in the natural history of our planet and its many mysteries, by enrolling in a few (three, to be exact) online courses. I have been interested in myths and legends like sea monsters and their symbolism in different cultures for a long time, as well as the scientific knowledge behind them.

After researching a few courses online, I signed up for Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology and Paleontology: Ancient Marine Reptiles at The University of Alberta, Canada, which is currently running a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).

Since their extinction, the fossilized remains of giant dinosaurs and ancient marine reptiles have taken on an almost mythical status and have understandably inspired generations.

I find it interesting how people interpret any new species using their imagination and pre-held associations; I am reminded of a woodcut that Albrecht Dürer produced based on someone’s description of an armoured rhinoceros:

Albrecht Dürer, Woodcut, The Rhinoceros

I found the University of Alberta’s courses were fascinating and well presented, with generous resources to present paleobiology in a dynamic new way. They were great foundations to practice and learn scientific critical thinking.

Here is a brief overview of the courses at the University of Alberta.

Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology

The world’s first paleobiology MOOC, Dino 101 is led by Dr. Phil Currie, Curator of Dinosaurs and Professor of Paleobiology at the University of Alberta, alongside former MSc student of Paleontology, Betsy Kruk. The course consists of twelve lessons covering the Mesozoic era (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods). Learn more about non-avian dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Spinosaurus, long-necked sauropods like Brachiosaurus, and predatory Therapods like Allosaurus, Velociraptors, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Lessons are delivered from museums, fossil-preparation labs, and dig sites, highlighting the rich resources of Alberta. To aid their learning, students can build a skeleton during the course, and use a fossil viewer.

Topics include:

  1. Anatomy
  2. Eating
  3. Locomotion
  4. Growth
  5. Environmental and behavioural adaptations
  6. Origins and extinction.

Paleontology: Ancient Marine Reptiles

This is a four-lesson MOOC presented by Dr. Scott Persons, a former Ph.D. student of Evolution and Systematics at the University of Alberta. The course assesses the diversity, adaptations, convergence, and phylogenetic relationships of extinct marine reptiles, and the changes that occur when air-breathing terrestrial animals return to the water. The course makes many comparisons to extant (living) reptiles and animals, giving students a comprehensive introduction to animal biology.

Fun fact: Ancient marine reptiles are NOT dinosaurs!

The course focused on the following extinct marine reptiles and how they solved the aquatic problem such as movement, sight, and hearing:

  1. Ichthyosaurs: highly specialized carnivorous aquatic reptiles from early Triassic to mid-Cretaceous; similar in shape to a dolphin or bluefin tuna, they were among the fastest aquatic creatures to have ever lived.
  2. Sauropterygians: Covers diverse species from the late-Triassic to end-Cretaceous reptiles such as the Turtle shaped placodonts with crushing teeth, to the long-necked elasmosaurus and large-jawed pliosaurs.
  3. Mosasaurs: As featured in the film Jurassic World, this group was among the largest and most powerful marine predators to have ever lived. They ruled the seas in the Cretaceous period and are the ancestors of snakes and monitor lizards.

Thank you to the scientists who took the time to deliver the courses in such a fun and engaging way.

Thank you also to Dr. Phil Currie for suggesting I draw the pictured dinosaur skull of their most famous specimen, a small pachycephalosaurid named Stegoceras that was first discovered in Alberta. Its domed skull, horns, and teeth have been remarkably well preserved, I enjoyed capturing the various textures in pencil:

1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ car drawing at Goodwood Revival

An homage to Goodwood Revival 2020

Goodwood Revival is a unique three-day festival held annually in September that recreates the 1940s, 50s, and 60s era of motorsport, with vintage cars, aircraft, fashion, and music celebrating the circuit’s original period between 1948-1966. Held on the grounds of the Goodwood Estate in Chichester, West Sussex, UK, over 150,000 vintage enthusiasts are encouraged to dress in period clothes to help immerse themselves in a historic car race day.

My family and I had booked to attend the Goodwood Revival finals day on Sunday, 13th September 2020, however, due to efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the event has sadly been postponed until 2021. The Revival attracts such large crowds of spectators that enforced social distancing measures would have impaired the visitor’s enjoyment of the event.

Watch the greatest Revival races online from 11th-13th September 2020

Despite being unable to hold the event this year, the Goodwood team has searched the archive and selected the greatest races from the history of the Revival to stream online over 11-13th September 2020. Fans can still immerse themselves in the spirit of Goodwood Revival by tuning in from 10:00 am on the Goodwood Road and Racing website and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Goodwood SpeedWeek, 16th-18th October 2020

Goodwood is also taking the opportunity to preview Goodwood SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard. Held without spectators at Goodwood Motor Circuit, this inaugural event will combine the best aspects from the Revival, the Festival of Speed, and their Members’ Meetings to add to its exclusivity.

Annual Revival favourites such as the RAC TT Celebration for GT cars and the Grand Prix race for the Goodwood Trophy, as well as supercar debuts and new car reveals from the Festival of Speed. Cars will leave the circuit to use areas normally reserved for spectators or buildings. There will also be the first-ever set of rally stages on both tarmac and gravel within the Circuit, gathering cars that represent nearly half a century of the World Rally Championship.

The event will be streamed live through the Goodwood Road and Racing website and their social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Viewers and fans will be able to get involved by participating in competitions, virtual polls, quizzes, and race predictions.

Why I drew the 1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ from the Revival

I had already decided to draw several classic cars, supercars, and motorbikes over a few months in the summer, due to a client’s interest in a commission. It also happened to be the birthday of a family member and taking the Revival as inspiration, I drew the 1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ in pencil as a gift.

There were many beautiful classic cars at Goodwood Revival, but I chose to draw the 1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ as its aerodynamic design, sleek, elongated curves, side exhaust pipes, and unique appearance immediately appealed to me. It was also one of the historic cars racing that day. This particular model caught my eye just before it was due to race on the circuit. I changed the racing number to a 7 as I knew it was the favourite number of the person for whom I gifted the drawing. I thought that a pencil drawing would give a handcrafted and classic, vintage look, as opposed to an oil painting in colour.

1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ car at Goodwood Revival, pencil drawing by Charlotte Iggulden

I am naturally inclined towards vintage and classic cars, possibly because I have been raised in a family that has enjoyed, collected, and driven classic cars over the years. However, as a fine artist, I think that classic car designs have a sophisticated degree of individuality and are incredibly beautiful; their handcrafted look appears as a work of art. I will admit that classic cars are not necessarily the most practical, but they are beautiful to look at and the feeling you get when driving or being driven in one adds far more to the driving experience.

Closeup of the 1958 Lister-Chevrolet ‘Knobbly,’ pencil drawing by Charlotte Iggulden

Lister Motor Company

Founded by Brian Lister in 1951, Lister Motor Company is Britain’s oldest car racing manufacturer and was the country’s most successful sports racing car of the 1950s; it won almost every circuit in the UK and was virtually unbeaten overseas. It is now perhaps the most respected historic race car manufacturer in the world.

Lister Classics is a division of the Lister Motor Company and was founded by Father and son team, Andrew and Lawrence Whittaker, who purchased the company in 2013 to continue building, restoring, and selling a variety of historic racing cars and tuned Jaguar vehicles. You can follow Lister’s official social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Goodwood Revival Fashion

As a gloriously fun step back in time, Goodwood Revival celebrates not only the cars of the 40s-60s eras but also the fashion styles. For anyone who loves vintage fashion, Goodwood Revival is a wonderful event to immerse yourself in.

The Goodwood Revival website has various site pages dedicated to vintage fashion, with ladies and gentlemen style guides for the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. There are also a few websites that provide style guides for Goodwood Revival specifically, such as the House of Foxy which gives advice on the ’40s and ’50s clothes for women.

Here I am dressed in a vintage 1950s outfit at Goodwood Revival 2019

Goodwood Motorsport Events 2021

To find out more about attending the Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed events in 2021, visit Goodwood’s website to sign up for ticket alerts.

Whale Sharks: Giants of the Ocean

I painted this close encounter of a scuba diver swimming with whale sharks (Rhincodon Typus) in the Philippines as part of a series of commissioned oil paintings in 2016.* 
 
I included a scuba diver to highlight the incredible size of the whale shark compared to a human, as well as its majestic presence. I wanted to suggest their meeting as a wondrous yet intimate moment in time between humanity and nature.
 
*See more in the section ‘Whale sharks and biodiversity in the Philippines.’

Elusive and mysterious

Adult whale sharks are often found at the surface, making them popular with snorkelers and divers. Despite their friendliness, these creatures remain enigmatic to scientists and conservationists; their maximum size, lifespan, and age of sexual maturity unconfirmed. Researchers are also unsure why they have spots.*
 
*See more on these topics in the following sections.

Ocean giants

Whale sharks (Rhincodon Typus) are the largest known extant fish species in the world. They are not whales, but their size is comparable. They dwarf great white sharks in size; the average size of a whale shark is around 32 feet, whereas great whites grow to around 20 feet. However, whale sharks are believed to grow over 40 feet (20 metres), similar to that of a bus. They can also weigh up to 20 tonnes. Whale sharks do not have any natural predators.

Habitat

Most sharks prefer temperate climates, except for Greenland sharks, which live in the Arctic and Northern Atlantic. Some whale sharks have been found in colder North Atlantic water near New York, but most are found in warm, tropical waters such as the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

According to this National Geographic video, titled ‘Investigating the Mysterious Whale Sharks of Mafia Island,’ whale sharks help support small ecosystems, as they are often found with schools of smaller fish alongside them, presumably hoping to catch small morsels or plankton when the shark feeds.

My painting shows a school of smaller fish following one of the whale sharks:

Interestingly, this phenomenon has inspired local fishermen living on Mafia Island, Tanzania, to work alongside whale sharks to catch the fish without harming the sharks.

Deep divers

Although often found at the surface, whale sharks can dive further than 1000 metres. In one study, based in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea, researchers used three types of satellite-transmitting tags to track the movements of 47 whale sharks.

Their findings were impressive:

  • The whale sharks made frequent deep dives to at least 500 metres (1,640 feet);
  • Three of the tagged sharks made excursions below 1,000 metres (3,281 feet);
  • The deepest dive they recorded was 1,360 metres (4,462 feet).

Distinctive and unique spot patterns

Whale sharks are the only species of the genus Rhincodon, part of the family Rhincodontidae. They are classified within the order Orectolobiformes, which contains seven families of sharks and includes the carpet sharks. Carpet sharks are given the name due to their mottled body patterns, evocative of carpet-like designs.
 
Whale sharks are easy to identify due to their size and distinctive pattern of white spots and stripes. The patterns are believed to be as unique to each individual as a fingerprint is to a human. However, the purpose of their spots is a mystery. Typically, patterns occur to aid camouflage; wobbegongs (a common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks within the family, Orectolobidae), use the spots on their bodies as camouflage as they rest on the seafloor, and to help them blend in with the reef.
 
Intriguingly, it has been suggested that the spots on whale sharks help protect the sharks from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Feeding habits

Most sharks are carnivores, but some, like the whale shark, are filter-feeders. Inside the whale shark’s mouth are several hundred rows of small, hook-shaped teeth. Although it has a mouthful of teeth, the shark doesn’t use them to bite or chew food.
 
The whale shark is one of three species of filter-feeding sharks, namely the basking shark, and the more mysterious but aptly named megamouth shark. The whale shark actively swims through plankton, sieving these organisms through its gills; it has been observed ram filter-feeding and at times, nocturnally. Whale sharks are migratory animals who appear to move to areas in conjunction with fish and coral spawning.
 
Sharks within the order Orectolobiformes have eyes set far back behind a small mouth. Unlike most sharks, where the mouth is underneath the snout, the whale shark’s mouth is nearly at the tip of its nose.
 

Reproduction and longevity

The whale shark is usually solitary, however, it is sometimes found in schools of up to hundreds of individuals. These animals are found mainly in the open sea, but they sometimes come near the shore. Their age of sexual maturity and reproductive biology is unconfirmed, however, scientists presume that whale sharks are ovoviviparous, where the females incubate fertilized eggs inside her before they hatch,  giving birth to fully formed live young. You can read more about ovoviviparity, and how it differs to viviparity, here. Each litter contains about 16 young, but litters of many more are possible. In the mid-1990s a female whose uterus contained nearly 300 young was caught near Taiwan. Like the other mysteries surrounding whale sharks, they have never been observed giving birth, and it is not known where this may happen.

It is thought that whale sharks are born between 40-60cm, but there are few sightings of individuals below 3m, and no one has yet determined where they go before reaching this size. However, one whale shark measuring just 38cm was found in the Philippines in 2009, suggesting it was a birthing ground and not simply used for feeding.

The gigantic size of whale sharks suggests they can live up to 100 years.

Whale Sharks, biodiversity, and conservation in the Philippines

As mentioned, the commissioned painting featured in this blog is part of an ongoing series of paintings of the Philippines.

Aside from its abundant natural mineral resources including gold and nickel (the country has the second largest gold deposit in the world), the Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and a popular place for whale sharks to congregate; it is an archipelago consisting of more than 7,000 islands and is the smallest of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. The Philippines covers only 2/100 of the total land area of the earth, yet 20,000 species of plants and animals have been recorded here, half of which are found nowhere else in the world. Read more on its biodiversity here.

Donsol, in the Philippine province of Sorsogon, has been identified as a whale shark hotspot, hosting one of the largest aggregations of whale sharks on Earth. 491 individual whale sharks have been identified at Donsol, this equates to 44% of all whale sharks identified in the country. Other large aggregations include Ningaloo Reef in Australia, Mexico, and Mozambique.

15 years ago, WWF Philippines partnered with Donsol and other tourism stakeholders to develop the Community-based Whale Shark Ecotourism Program and establish guidelines for whale shark interactions. Scientists are responsible for researching and studying individual sharks in an attempt to conserve them.

 

Endangered species

There are over 440 species of sharks in the world. These awesome creatures have outlived the dinosaurs, but many are now sadly threatened with extinction.

Due to threats to their ecosystem, whale sharks have been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered since 2016. Like all sharks and large fish, whale sharks are vulnerable to bycatch (becoming caught in fishing nets).
 
It is estimated that 100 million sharks and rays each year are killed by humans. If not victims of bycatch, most are killed by commercial fishermen for their fins and flesh. They are also sometimes illegally hunted and eaten as a delicacy in certain parts of Asia.
 
Sadly, sharks are greatly misunderstood. For instance, the orca whale is the ocean’s top apex predator, not the great white shark. On average, one person dies each year in the US from a shark attack. Cows, bees, wasps, dogs, and snakes are responsible for far more deaths each year in the US than sharks.

Indeed, whale sharks have no natural predators apart from people.

We need to remember that the ocean is their territory, not ours. Predatory species such as the great white, bull shark, or tiger shark, only attack if they confuse a person for their prey, usually fish or seals. It is best to bear this in mind if we choose to swim in areas of the ocean where they are present.

All sharks are vital to a healthy ecosystem

All marine life is essential to a healthy ecosystem and that of the planet as a whole. Sharks are vital as they maintain the species below them and are indicators of ocean health. The apex predators feed on weak and sick animals and ensure biodiversity.

Coral reef ecosystems, seagrass beds, and commercial fisheries have all declined due to the loss of sharks. Without sharks, larger predatory fish, such as groupers, increase in abundance in the coral reefs and feed on the herbivores. As the herbivores decrease, macroalgae increase and expand, leading to the loss of coral and the detriment of the entire reef system.

Majestic and awe-inspiring, yet vulnerable

I recently completed a four-week online course with the University of Southampton on ‘Exploring Our Ocean.’ One of the tasks was to upload an image, title, and description, to represent what the ocean meant to me; I uploaded my painting of whale sharks and titled it, ‘Majestic and Awe-Inspiring, yet Vulnerable.’ The wonders of nature surround us. For it to continue to inspire us, we should try to protect it from threats and exploitation.

Shark Week

With Shark Week upon us (9-16 August 2020), I thought it apt to share my painting of whale sharks. Created by the Discovery Channel to raise shark awareness, the event has grown online, with over one million hashtags on Instagram alone.
 
The Natural History Museum and the American Museum of Natural History have a ‘Nature Drawing Club’ and have included ‘Shark Week,’ so I have tagged them in the image on Instagram to help raise awareness of the vulnerability of whale sharks and the need to protect them.

Museums in Quarantine – Connecting Digitally Through Arts and Culture

Each year since 2014, museums across the world have collaborated in a shared initiative to celebrate their treasures with the public in an online festival known as ‘MuseumWeek.’

MuseumWeek has now grown to include over 60,000 participants from 100+ countries. According to its website, it has become the first virtual, worldwide cultural event on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and VKontakte.

Between 11 May- 17 May this year, many of your much-loved museums have been participating via their social media, at a time when it is vital to connect.

Technology has often had a strange tension between being a blessing and a curse. It has blessed people through the dissemination of information and connecting people in ways that otherwise would not be possible. However, it has also caused uncertainty, where the threat of technology consuming life has pervaded literature and the arts, from dystopian writers such as George Orwell and HG Wells to science fiction films like, but not limited to, Blade Runner (1982) and 2049, Terminator, RoboCop, and Alita: Battle Angel. As we begin to rely increasingly on technology, it is inevitable that we refer to visionaries who have imagined a future that has been absorbed by technology, either willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, for good or bad. I took a while to join any form of social media and was only persuaded to do so in University, as a way to keep in touch.

There is also the issue of trust in images that pervade modern culture, such as the utilization of Photoshop, where images can so easily be manipulated and the lines between fact and fiction blurred. This is a fascinating issue that has been explored in Dr, James Fox’s The Age of The Image, a series that I would recommend watching on BBC iPlayer.

The idea of whether a happy equilibrium could be met between humanity and technology has become heightened in these recent extraordinary times, where imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 has meant people have turned more to social media as a way to connect to others, to culture, the natural world, or whatever they miss from their normal routine.

As an artist, I spend much of my time in my studio creating, and I have seen other artists argue that they have been in lockdown ever since they can remember. However, I also feel acutely the lack of being able to freely move without restriction. I think however that often, and not to become too philosophical, that even as prisoners of war can attest, freedom ultimately lies in your mind.

Times of hardship have often proven to activate the imagination and creativity, reinspiring people to see their surroundings in a whole new light, bringing forth a mental and even spiritual transformation.

Rather than being overcome by inertia, those working at these places of culture have become even more resourceful during the lockdown. As James Fox rightly says, you can’t lockdown, or lock up the imagination. Throughout the lockdown, James has been sharing pieces of art on his Twitter account that he feels will help people come to terms with isolation. You can follow him @doctorjamesfox.

Since joining social media, I have enjoyed following my favourite museums on Instagram and Twitter, when I have not been able to attend in person. Museums such as The Wallace Collection, the V&A, the Louvre, the British Museum, The Museum of Natural History, The Science Museum, The Met, amongst so many others. I also enjoy following other art institutions such as Christie’s or National Trust properties like Waddesdon Manor, as, like the other museums I mentioned, they consistently share their most beloved treasures and stories in a way that engages the viewer and informs them, keeping their minds occupied and relieving boredom. You can even get involved with their accounts by participating in their interactive challenges, such as creating an artwork based on an item in their collection or reenacting a famous painting.

The willingness of the public to engage with these institutions online proves to me that time and again, arts and culture provide a vital means of education, inspiration, and entertainment at any period of time and are a way of understanding current experiences. By seeing stories from the past or how artists have translated their times, whether they have lived through war or peace, can often be a way of inspiring further generations on how to react in our times. Technology can never replace a loved one, but for those struggling with not being able to be physically close to those they love most, social media can be a form of comfort and can help reinforce gratitude and appreciation. Seeing through the eyes of a curator or artist can not only help relieve boredom, but also anxiety, bringing a sense of peace to the viewer.

Even when there is no lockdown, I would recommend following MuseumWeek’s account, or simply your favourite museums and art galleries on social media, either Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or if you are like me, a combination of all three.

Personally, I have enjoyed learning new things about The Wallace Collection, Christie’s, and The National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor, to name a few (a more extensive list is included at the end of this blog). All three actively invite the public to get involved with them through various activities and challenges.

Based in Manchester Square, London, The Wallace Collection is a cornucopia of eclectic and exquisite items housed within beautiful interiors, including armour, sculpture, furniture,  and paintings, collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries. My father and I had actually booked to attend a day’s conference on Indian, Iranian, and Ottoman arms and armour at the museum, which we look forward to attending when possible.


The Wallace Collection’s IG page. 

Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, one of my favourite National Trust properties, if not favourite (it bears a remarkable and convenient resemblance to my beloved uni, Royal Holloway), was founded by The Rothschild family of Jewish bankers, and is a beautiful French Renaissance house, with sumptuous interiors, an exciting sculpture trail, and a lovely history of supporting the local community.


Waddesdon Manor’s IG page.


Waddesdon Manor’s Twitter page, which has a different collection of stories to its other accounts.

Christie’s, located on Kings Street, St James’, also has a wonderful collection of treasures that vary in each auction, from ancient history to the present day.



Christie’s’ Instagram page.

I would always argue that we should never rely on technology and that physical relationships are always superior, however, technology has a surprising way of blessing us in ways that might not previously have been appreciated.

I follow a lot of accounts that focus on my interests (quite a few it seems!), such as history, the natural world, space science, wildlife, design, fashion, interiors, engineering, architecture, art, and even technology itself as a means of design. I honestly believe that you never stop learning and that you can learn from anything and anyone, whether online or offline; it is your attitude that determines whether it is beneficial to you or not.

I think having an appreciation of arts and culture encompasses a cross-section of so many other fields, such as history, fashion, etc and enriches people in such an important way, acting as a vital artery to society itself. It has even been proven to be effective as a form of art therapy for people facing loneliness, whether in lockdown or not, rates of suicide, etc and problems with mental health; feeling a connection to someone, whether you know them or not, whether online or offline, can be very important, and even more so at this time. Even accounts such as the National Geographic or NASA help you to transcend your physical limitations, transporting you to different places in an instant. I will gladly argue that you will find following these accounts very rewarding and enriching, even liberating, whether you are in lockdown or not.

I would also argue that following these places digitally encourages the viewer to want to visit their physical space, if at all possible, and to support them in the physical world. Let us not forget that social media is a free service, and if you can, please support them through a donation or even liking and following their page, as it is a way of showing your appreciation of those people curating such entertaining and educational pieces of content, letting them know that what they do is as valued as any other essential service or area of society.

The themes that MuseumWeek has already covered include #heroesMW, timely after the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and #CultureInQuarantineMW.

Today, on Wednesday 13 May, the theme is #togetherMW, which seems wholly appropriate for the current times.

We can look forward to Thursday’s #MuseumMomentsMW, where museums will recall memories, #climateMW on Friday for climate change (timely after Earth Day on 22 April), #technologyMW, to justify their digital presence, finishing with #dreamsMW.

I have included just a selection of my favourite arts and culture accounts to follow below, for both MuseumWeek and in general:

The Wallace Collection
Instagram – @wallacemuseum
Twitter – @wallacemuseum
Facebook – @wallacemuseum

Christie’s
Instagram – @christiesinc
Twitter – @ChristiesInc
Facebook – @Christies

Waddesdon Manor
Instagram – @waddesdonmanor_nt
Twitter – @WaddesdonManor
Facebook – @WaddesdonManor

The V&A
Instagram – @vamuseum
Twitter – @V_and_A
Facebook – @victoriaandalbertmuseum

Fitzwilliam Museum
Instagram – @fitzmuseum_uk
Twitter – @FitzMuseum_UK
Facebook – @fitzwilliammuseum

The Louvre
Instagram – @thelouvremuseum
Twitter – @MuseeLouvre
Facebook – @museedulouvre

The British Museum
Instagram – @britishmuseum
Twitter – @britishmuseum
Facebook – @britishmuseum

The Natural History Museum
Instagram – @natural_history_museum
Twitter – @NHM_London
Facebook – @naturalhistorymuseum

The Science Museum
Instagram – @sciencemuseum
Twitter – @sciencemuseum
Facebook – @sciencemuseumlondon

The Met
Instagram – @metmuseum
Twitter – @metmuseum
Facebook – @metmuseum

The American Museum of Natural History
Instagram – @amnh
Twitter – @AMNH
Facebook – @naturalhistory

MuseumWeek
Instagram – @museumweek
Twitter – @MuseumWeek
Facebook – @MuseumWeekOfficial

*Please note, all opinions are my own*

Solo exhibition at Surrey County Council Register Offices

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.” Song of Songs 6:3

As we enter the height of the wedding season this month, I wanted to reveal that I have had an exclusive solo show at the Surrey County Council Register Offices since December 2017.

My artworks are on show for the public at The Mansion, Leatherhead, Artington House, Guildford and Rylston, Weybridge.

These historic buildings present a beautiful backdrop to wedding and birth ceremonies. The Mansion is a Grade II listed 16th century building, with a gorgeous façade of red brick in Flemish bond.

The Council informed me recently that across their offices, they hold an estimated 1,800 ceremonies each year.

The public are welcome to visit the offices to view my artwork, where the Council are promoting me as a Surrey Artist.

A few original oil paintings and limited edition prints are on show for the public in the ceremony rooms and entrance at Artington House, Guildford. Limited edition prints are on display in the ceremony rooms and waiting area at Rylston, Weybridge, and in the spacious waiting room overlooking the garden at The Mansion, Leatherhead. The artwork is available to buy.

This solo exhibition has a special place in my heart as the Surrey County Council awarded me the Surrey Art Award in 2005 for my school project on Vanishing Cultures; this award was a wonderful, unexpected, surprise, as my school entered me into the competition without my knowledge.

I am currently working on a few original paintings of the register offices, which will then be put on permanent display. The original or print may provide a lovely memento to celebrate a wedding or birth.

The first painting I am working on is of the wisteria enveloping the exterior of Artington House in Guildford. The below image shows a section of the painting:

Wisteria at Artington House, Guildford. Oil paint on paper, A3

I am currently balancing a few projects, however once I have completed this painting, I will focus on Rylston and The Mansion.

You are welcome to attend this special solo show; the register offices can be found at the following locations:

Artington House,
42 Portsmouth Road,
Guildford,
Surrey,
GU2 4DZ


View of Artington House from the front.

Rylston,
81 Oatlands Drive,
Weybridge,
Surrey,
KT13 9LN
.
View of Rylston from the garden.


View of the garden at Rylston from the waiting area.

The Mansion,
70 Church Street,
Leatherhead,
Surrey,
KT22 9DP

Approaching The Mansion.


View of The Mansion’s garden, from the waiting room.

Leonardo da Vinci: ‘A life in drawing,’ The Royal Collection Trust

‘Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.’ Leonardo da Vinci

A rearing horse, c.1503-04. Red chalk, pen and ink.

I recently had the pleasure of attending ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing,’ at Southampton City Art Gallery, which ran from 1 February to 6 May 2019.

To mark 500 years since his death, 144 of the renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection were on display simultaneously at 12 exhibitions across the UK, part of a nationwide event to give the widest ever UK audience the opportunity to see his work.

At his death in 1519, Leonardo bequeathed his drawings and notebooks to his pupil Francesco Melzi. In 1580, the sculptor Pompeo Leoni acquired Leonardo’s drawings from Melzi’s son and mounted them on two albums, one of which was in England by 1630, in the Earl of Arundel’s collection. Within fifty years the album entered the Royal Collection, having been acquired by King Charles II, possibly as a gift. The drawings were removed from the album during Queen Victoria’s reign and mounted individually. In the twentieth century, many were stamped with Edward VII’s cipher. Housed securely in the Queen’s vaults at Windsor Castle for three successive centuries, these intricate drawings reveal an unparalleled insight into Leonardo’s investigations and the workings of his mind.

Arguably one of the world’s most recognisable and revered names in the history of art, Leonardo da Vinci is without a doubt a tour de force of creativity and artistic genius that has surpassed his own era. Leonardo was a polymath and epitomised the ideal of the renaissance man and the French ‘rebirth’, displaying exceptional talent and an effortless ability to adapt and excel in every discipline he set his mind to.

Twelve selected drawings in the exhibition at Southampton City Gallery reflected the range his interest, from sculpture, painting, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, geology, botany and cartography; each exquisite drawing was recorded meticulously in pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metalpoint. All his drawings were executed on paper made from pulped clothing rags.

Studies of an infant, c.1490-92. Metalpoint, pen and ink, on pale pinkish-buff prepared paper. Spontaneous sketches to develop compositions were an important part of artistic practice during the Renaissance. These drawings of a healthy, chubby child, were probably from life.

New information into Leonardo’s techniques and creative processes has been made possible by scientific research using non-invasive techniques including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence. 

Leonardo’s preparatory drawings and sketches were never intended to be seen by the public and he would probably be surprised people would want to see them. Even his writings and descriptions scrawled onto pulped clothing are almost inscrutable, being written in mirror form, from right to left. However it is believed he did this so as to not smudge the ink.

The heart, bronchi and bronchial vessels c.1511-13. Pen and ink on paper. This is actually the heart of an ox, as Leonardo did not have access to human organs after 1511. He was intrigued by the ‘most minute’ branching of the bronchi, describing them in his annotations.

Leonardo da Vinci’s view of the world was expansive, he was never limited and this drove him to excel in many areas of learning. The artist believed adamantly in visual evidence being more persuasive than academic argument, and an image could convey knowledge with more accuracy than words.

Leonardo spent hours studying nature and botanical details whilst in his surroundings in Vinci, Italy. His ability to grasp the principles of art and science, and his insight into the human soul, spirit and body, captured the spirit of the times when great advancements were being made and pioneering technology developed.

The muscle of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot c.1510-11. Black chalk, pen and ink, wash.

Through careful attention to detail, Leonardo deftly blended mathematics and art into ideal proportions. In Vitruvian man, Leonardo demonstrated his deep understanding of proportions and of the workings of the human body as an analogy of the workings of the universe, uncovering both the ideal symmetry and beauty of the human body mirroring that of the universe. His designs for Vitruvian man were inspired by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius and his work on the perfect proportions in architecture and the human body. I like how Leonardo has portrayed the Vitruvian man’s wavy, flowing hair, his expression wild and intense, and his muscular body perfectly poised against the edges of the circle.

Vitruvian man.

Through the ages, the artist has depicted the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Their vision of the world has always been like that of a prophet; their extensive time spent in nature and observing detail has given them a deeper level of spiritual understanding of the universe. The very act of drawing and painting is an extension of divine creativity and spiritual expression made tangible. 

Leonardo’s preference for a subtle rendering of expression, refined use of shading and changes in tone that is not quite visible is reflected in his art, from the slight smile of the Mona Lisa to the transcendent gaze of the Salvator Mundi, with Christ looking directly into the viewer’s soul. Leonardo captured the human body in a way that revealed their spirit, the individual can never quite be grasped, it evades description and understanding.

In the summer of 2019 (24 May to 13 October), all 144 drawings will be gathered together in a single collection at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, followed by a selection of works at The Queen’s Gallery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, in the winter of 2019-2020.

Designs for an equestrian monument c.1517-18. Black chalk.

Gallery exhibition at the National Trust’s Leith Hill Place, Surrey

‘Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.’ Song of Songs 2:12

I am thrilled to be exhibiting at the National Trust’s Leith Hill’s inaugural open call gallery exhibition every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, 11am-5pm, from 3rd May to 30th June 2019.

Entitled ‘Awakening,’ the exhibition celebrates the arrival of spring at Leith Hill Place and the beautiful surroundings of Leith Hill, part of the Surrey area of outstanding natural beauty. 

My original framed oil painting, ‘Bluebell Woods at Leith Hill,’ is available for sale, alongside limited edition prints. It is featured at the start of the exhibition. I feel extremely honoured that the National Trust have used my painting to promote the exhibition on their website.

‘Awakening’ exhibition on Leith Hill’s website, featuring my oil painting.

My painting featured at the start of the exhibition; ‘Bluebell Woods at Leith Hill,’ oil on canvas, 85cm x 60cm, plus frame.

View of my Bluebell Woods oil painting from the stairs.

The start of the Awakening exhibition.

58 artists submitted entries, however only 31 were selected for the exhibition. The artists I am displaying my work alongside include printmakers, sculptors, painters, ceramicists and jewellery makers, resulting in a wide variety of art on view at the gallery. The majority of the work is for sale. The exhibition is being held in the drawing room upstairs, with glorious views overlooking the countryside.

Initial view of the exhibition.

A selection of paintings, ceramics, prints and jewellery.

Textiles are also on display, alongside ceramics and drawings.

Prints, illustrations and ceramics.

View from the exhibition, overlooking the garden at Leith Hill Place and the Surrey Hills.

As a member of the National Trust, I feel very honoured to be participating in their first open call exhibition. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring their properties and walks over the years, and have never tired of returning to favourite places. It’s also a delight to discover new ones.

For readers outside the UK who may not be familiar with the organisation, the National Trust was founded in 1895 to look after and conserve special places of historic and environmental interest and heritage throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Leith Hill Place was bequeathed to the National Trust by one of England’s greatest composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in 1945. Vaughan Williams grew up at Leith Hill Place from the age of two until he was twenty, when he left to study at Cambridge. His violin composition, The Lark Rise Ascending, has twice been voted as the nation’s favourite classical piece of music.  He also favoured folk music, and folk singing evenings are regularly held at the house.

Leith Hill Place was home to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ grandparents, Josiah Wedgwood III and Caroline (née Darwin), who moved here in 1847. His great uncle, the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, was Caroline’s brother, and conducted experiments in the grounds.

Josiah Wedgwood III was the grandson of potter, Josiah Wedgwood, who founded the Wedgwood company in 1759, specialising in fine china, porcelain, and luxury accessories. A strong academic and musical influence has remained at the house to this day. 

For nearly 40 years since Vaughan Williams bequeathed Leith Hill Place to the National Trust, the building had been tenanted as a school boarding house. In summer 2013, it was opened to the public for the first time since the 1960s. 

The 16th century palladian style house is only open on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week, as well as Bank Holiday Mondays. The house is closed to the public throughout the week, however there are special workshops for those interested in art, history, music and theatre. 

In the month of June, there are sculpture workshops, folk singing evenings, willow weaving, life drawing classes, architectural talks, baking classes, stone carving and outdoor theatre, to name a few.

With its stunning setting overlooking the Surrey Hills, the gallery exhibition, alongside other events at Leith Hill Place, is set to be a fantastic spring/summer day out in the countryside. Unique to the house, there is a working kitchen, where fresh cakes and scones are baked on the premises, giving a warm welcome to travellers and walkers.

I would also recommend visiting the exhibition downstairs, ‘Minding the Women: reflecting Caroline Wedgwood,’  which has researched the life of Caroline Wedgwood, thought to have been the driving force behind planting the woodland garden on Leith Hill in the mid 1800s. My friend, contemporary printmaker/installation artist and founder of the award winning Ochre Print Studio, Julie Hoyle, is displaying her beautiful prints alongside Leith Hill Place’s current artist in residence,  sculptor Philippa Hall, until 30th June. Julie was artist in residence in the summer of 2018.

Leith Hill Place and its exhibitions are free to visit for National Trust members, however admission charges do apply for non members.

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: