Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A new obsession

I have been furthering my researches into Modernism, and in particular its development and influence on landscape and garden design.  The casual reader doesn't have to probe the key texts of the twentieth century too far to unearth the name of Daniel Urban Kiley, and I am increasingly intrigued by this unassuming giant of the American landscape tradition and his work, domestic, public and commercial.  In February, in Chicago, I was unable to do more than peer at his prize-winning courtyard outside the Chicago Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, it being closed for the winter, so missed a chance to immerse myself in one of his singular creations. 
What is so appealing?  What, if anything, do these spaces mean? 
As to the latter, American scholarship and its assiduous examination of the American experience has much to say on the matter - even though Kiley himself was a reluctant lecturer and avoided the pressure to intellectualise his work.  Suffice to say that, in the early days, his landscapes used elements of design vocabulary in purely functional terms - the beauty followed from their fitness for purpose and the implied social good that they stood for.  In his mature works, starting with the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, the elements of his work began to describe a more aesthetic approach - still rigorously functional in true Modernist fashion, but equally classical in their use of trees and other plant material to define space on a controlled topography, often carefully modified to suit the design.  It is no surprise to learn of Kiley's early exposure to the great formal gardens of Andre le Notre in France.
With regard to the former, the appeal has to lie in the management of space, by careful integration of masses, volumes, voids and edges:  large scale works that carve up the sky with allees of trees, bosquets and orchards, that offer seclusion and drama while redefining the relationships within the site, that expose and screen the wider view in turn and which create truly special places, alive with varied light.
I feel the need to plant some trees...

Paul Ridley Design
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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Images now available for sale!

If you enjoy my images, they can now be yours in the form of cards, prints, posters and canvases by visiting Redbubble and searching for 'paulridley'. You will find a gallery of flower images and others, regularly updated.
I hope you like the images on offer - bookmark the site and revisit occasionally to see new work.

Paul Ridley Design

Monday, 12 July 2010

Miquel Barcelo in Avignon

A fortnight resting up in the buzzy city of Avignon in southern France coincided with the start of the annual three week festival.  There are hundreds of theatre, music and dance productions to see, and exhibitions all over the city in the dozens of historic buildings that dot the streets and squares.
In the greatest of these, the Palais des Papes - built in the early fifteenth century for the Papacy during its seventy year break from Rome - the sculptor Miquel Barcelo has installed a thought-provoking series of sculptures, that subtly interact with the surrounding architecture.
Great sheets of pocked plaster lean against the ancient stonework, clay fish masks adorn ecclesiastical statuary, grim zoomorphic heads roughly carved from wet bricks leer down from the walls.  If this all sounds a bit overheated, it should be said that the Palace itself is a pretty forbidding building - massively constructed, as much fortress, strong-room and prison as palace, it is largely unadorned and undecorated - you get the raw bones of papal power here, with none of the luxuries. 
The sculpture is accordingly well-suited to the spaces, and the juxtapositions of some of the pieces with their surroundings can be easily overlooked.
If you are in southern France during the Avignon Festival I'd recommend a detour to see this, and the wonderful production of 'Spartacus' by the Theatre de la Licorne, in the hills of Villeneuve les Avignon across the Rhone.  There are also hordes of street performers to watch while eating the seriously good chocolate orange ice cream from the shop on the corner of Place de l'Horloge...

Monday, 14 June 2010

Henry Moore

The Henry Moore retrospective has much to offer the designer - in whatever field.  The pieces on show are relatively small - or, at least, were intended for indoor display.  There are none of the huge bronzes typically used in public spaces - the majority of pieces in the catalogue are carvings, in wood or stone, with a few casts in bronze, lead and concrete.
As a survey of Moore's themes and preoccupations, the exhibition naturally focuses on the human figure and especially on the Mother and Child motif that occupied such a central position in the work of this, one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century.
From the early years are a strikingly beautiful half-length figure with upraised arms and a shocking depiction of a suckling infant - latched on to a disembodied breast, the child seems to be in nothing less than a blind parasitic frenzy - the absence of the mother, beyond the breast, seemingly indicating the priorities of the young child at that particular moment, its focus entirely on feeding.  The great reclining figure in Hornton Stone, above, from 1929 clearly shows Moore's debt to the strength and massing of, especially, pre-Columbian art of South America - sculpture that was to have a lifelong influence on him from his first glimpse of the reclining Chac-mool in the British Museum.
The final room is devoted to the huge limewood carvings of reclining figures that Moore created over several decades - through them we can trace the increasing abstraction of the human (and, specifically, female) form as well as follow the changes in Moore's style overall.  Some of these are more successful than others, with one piece from the middle of his career perhaps making too free with the notion of voids piercing the body - as one visitor muttered, within earshot, 'too many holes...'.  The greatest though, are extraordinary essays in spatial arrangement, with fluid strength and a deep emotional charge.
It is the playing with space which is such an inspiration for designers - moving around these sculptures you are exposed to a changing landscape of caves, undulations, tunnels and waves.  The eye is led over and through the work, the rhythm exploited then suddenly halted by a change in texture or a sharp edge amongst all the organic softness.  These sculptures are object lessons in arranging a journey for the eye and as such are invaluable for those who are engaged in just this work, no matter what the particular field they work in.
The exhibition closes in August.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Objects of Desire 3

Leather bench
Strange where inspiration for designs crops up - this is the second time I have been moved to photograph seating in an airport or station, in this case in the new terminal at Toulouse airport on the way home from a very relaxed Easter break with friends.  I can easily see this shape, or something like it, appearing in a garden design soon.  I love the sinuous curves, the narrow blunted ends, the shallow taper towards the floor and, in this case, the gently ogival form. 
There were others - worm-like, kidney-shaped, amoebic - but this one caught my eye especially.  There is something of the sickle or the adze in its shape, and something too of the curves of ancient Cycladic sculpture.
There were plenty of great design details at the airport - squiggly metallic lines on glass screening, smooth cast concrete walls and beautifully finished timber screening that looked, at first glance, like random temporary cladding attached to the windows during construction, but which had a coloured glass joint at every intersection.  The benches were the stars though - all highly desirable...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Travelling Companion

It would be hard to conceive of a life more varied or punctuated with the eventful than that of the doyenne of travel writers, Jan Morris.

At her talk for the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday Morris decried the term, however, stating that she hated to be called such. And indeed the body of work which she has created is highly varied, although much of it is necessarily infused with her knowledge of and enthusiasm for the places and people of the wider world, knowledge gained in a lifetime of professional travelling.

She is one of my favourite writers. Deeply humane and seemingly based on Chesterton’s dictum that the three most important things are to be kind, to be kind and to be kind, the writing has for me an elegiac tenor, a barely-apparent regret. This quality is present in all her work, and I have tried in vain to locate the source. The nearest I have come is to conclude that, so all-encompassing is her interest in and passion for the people she meets, places she visits, that she longs to be able to hold all of them in view and mind at once. The regret creeps in as a result of the inability to do this.

And what things to keep in mind. As James, Morris was the Times’ correspondent accompanying the Hillary/Tenzing ascent of Everest. By subterfuge he was able to break the story on the morning of Elizabeth II’s coronation – the Times gave the stories equal billing on the front page and Morris’ name was made.

A prolonged sojourn in Venice led to the book of that title, 50 years old this year, which established Morris’ reputation for getting under the skin of a place, a reputation that has been justified in books on Manhattan, Spain and Oxford itself, among many others.

The key work of the 1970s was the trilogy Pax Britannica, an examination of the British Empire during the phases of its development, zenith and senescence. During the writing of this Morris made the most dramatic journey of her life, undergoing hormone treatment and finally surgery in Morocco in order to say farewell to the James she had been born as and emerge as Jan, the woman she had known she ought to be since a moment of blinding revelation as a small child, sitting beneath the piano at home. This most momentous transformation was shared in a sane and touching account, Conundrum.

Countless articles, and many further books later, Morris was moved to write Last Letters from Hav, a spirited account of the geography, traditions and people of the state of Hav. All completely fictitious, it was followed by Hav of the Myrmidons, describing the changes wrought on this quixotic society by the Myrmidonic revolution documented in the first book.

The most valedictory of all her books is, however, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. A late work, it takes leave of travel writing and beautifully describes this half-way city, its tangled history and mingled people. The city seems almost a metaphor for Morris herself – subject to transformation, mercurial, with a rich and salty past.

Born in 1926, Morris is now an elderly woman, yet to hear her talk about some of the individuals she has encountered in a long life filled with incident was to witness someone with an undimmed delight in the folly, humour, variety and, yes, kindness exhibited by people the world over.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Making an exhibition...

I have put on small exhibitions of my collograph prints in the past, and have a few images on show in Oxford at present, but it never fails to amaze me how much time it takes to mount even a small exhibition of work.  Something that instinct tells you ought to be a quick, simple job becomes a huge tangle of things to resolve, all of which need to be achieved well before the show is due to go on.  Decisions on which work to exhibit were taken a while ago, for instance, but have been revised in the last week following my trip to the US and some new images that I really wanted to include.  The printing is in hand as of today, but then there is the question of framing to sort out, followed by the hanging, labelling, pricing...and this long after the publicity was organised and put to bed. 
With two exhibitions in May, of about 45 images in total, there is going to be plenty to keep me busy this spring - look out for further details in the next few weeks.