Friday, December 27, 2013


struck on Christmas eve: my beloved iMac desktop computer decided it was time to leave me, after eight years of more or less blissful co-existence. With no warning, not even a goodbye note, he just went dark, kaputt, finito. With all my precious software programmes, files etc. (not lately backed up). I won't know the extent of the damage until I can take the carcass to the Apple gods' headquarters after New Year's day but until then I'm warily typing this on a laptop which may crash any minute.
So a hasty Happy New Year everyone and please wish me digital and analogue luck, in abundance.

Friday, December 20, 2013


when all the shopping and wrapping, unwrapping, consuming and partying is contrasted, in less visible ways, by acts of kindness, generosity, helpfulness and good will towards those who have nothing to celebrate, those whose lives are a daily battle against hunger, cold, loneliness, fear, pain, prejudice, abuse, exclusion, oppression. 

So my Christmas image is a madonna and child but you can also read it as a spirit of compassion for the children and the old and all those of any age who are at this moment suffering, everywhere on this planet, even in privileged societies like ours. My hope is that there will come a time when universal compassion is the big name in lights and the most valued gift is the one of loving attention to those who have never received it. 


Thursday, December 12, 2013


For the benefit of those who are not local, Kentish Town is the characterful North London neighbourhood where I live (to be precise, I'm on the border between it and Tufnell Park). We locals are blessed to have neighbourliness and character in abundance and one proof of this is the daily online and on-paper magazine, The Kentish Towner, edited by Stephen Emms and Tom Kihl. I'm especially delighted by it today because my exhibition is mentioned. They interviewed me last October here.

See, I can be a frequent blogger when it comes to boasting.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Of all the forms of guilt, some of them perfectly legitimate, feeling guilty for not blogging often enough is possibly the most absurd. It demonstrates an inflated view of one's own importance and also, since the creation and upkeep of a blog is entirely self-determined, there are no rules dictating what the correct blogging frequency must be. Neverthless, guilt is what I feel and I am apologising, in a roundabout way, for a blogging blank of seventeen days. My excuse is having been otherwise engaged, busy with things which take priority over posting blogs and reading blogs. Of course everyone is always otherwise engaged yet it is such a joy when you, dear loyal readers, take the time to stop by here and leave some words, a signal that we are connecting, however briefly. Maybe my guilt is mainly a sense of neglecting friends, interrupting a cyber-flow of friendship. Perhaps that's an illusion or delusion but it's one worth nurturing. 

The private view at Café Rustique on December 1st was well attended and the small space cheefully filled, as you can see in the photo below, taken by the café owner on his phone. The low lighting and terra cotta coloured walls create an intimate ambiance which suits the pieces I'm showing but on normal working days, café customers are intently focused on their laptops and rarely look up at the walls. Still, I'm glad to see these works away from home.

Amidst the sadness at Mandela's departure, the thought struck me that he was one of three extraordinary men of our time who created tidal waves of positive transformation and inspiration which will not cease to transform and inspire future generations: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi. Is it a coincidence that these three men were not white? Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps a signpost that the only colour which truly matters in human relations is the incandescent light of truth and compassion, radiating from the heart and the conscience.


Sunday, November 24, 2013


of artworks
by Natalie d'Arbeloff
will be held from Monday 2nd to Friday 20th December 2013
at Café Rustique
142 Fortess Road, London NW5 2HP
(Tufnell Park Underground)

If you are in London you're very welcome at the Private View from 8 to 10pm on Sunday 1st December.
I've made a page here showing the seventeen works which will be exhibited. Photos of most of these paintings and box-constructions have already been seen on the Blaug at various times but since I'm clearing space on my walls it seemed the right moment to put them up for sale. 

* * * * * 

Below is a photo of where I slept, or rather didn't sleep, last night. The amorphous shape on the right is a pile of builders' gear covered with paint-spattered dust sheet. The reason I dragged a mattress to try and sleep there was because the noise noise noise noise NOISE NOISE coming from a party in a house next door was vibrating the walls of the bedroom and shattering my ear drums. It was no better on the floor of the living room and as the repetitious pounding and shouting went on and on until one, two, three, four in the morning I dialled the number for noise pollution and shaking with rage demanded that something be done to stop this torture. Calmly, wearily, having heard it all before, someone took down details and said they would try to investigate. Ages later the noise stopped but I don't know if it was because the noise-police arrived or if the partying yoofs finally got tired. 
I know what I sound like: grumpy oldie objecting to young people enjoying themselves. Damn right I object because ear-drum-shattering by imbecilic repetition of the same note banged endlessly on metal drums at top top top volume along with wowoowoowoo howling cannot by any stretch of imagination be classified as enjoyment unless those enjoying it have lost whatever soupçon of brain matter they ever had and it's unlikely they'll ever get it back because it's been mangled by the NOISE

Oh yes I'm ranting but maybe that's because I didn't sleep and also because torture-by-music actually is torture, as used on prisoners, for instance at Guantanamo. So how do innocent young party-goers get away with the music-torturing of innocent neighbours? That's what I want to know.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Walls and woodwork in twenty years of wear and tear from me and the weather inside and outside this flat have accumulated signs of stress which needed to be dealt with but since there's never going to be a right time to attend to it, I thought: why not now? In times past I would have tackled it all myself but since I've been told I'm ageing, I've taken the soft option and called in the workers. Soft option my foot. I deliberately forgot the fact that I'd have to move everything - every single thing - all the pictures, books, records, hundreds of things out of the way, off the shelves and off the walls and off the tops of cupboards covered in ancient dust. I've declared my attic studio out of bounds but my study is where I've piled high many of the innumerable books. Here's a shot of one corner - on the top right are my desk and computer, where I huddle as I type this.

old shower curtain dust-sheet 
But you know what? There's something liberating about this disruption of my comfort zone. The clutter is a different kind of clutter from my usual one, which is passive. This clutter challenges me to act, to get rid of stuff, to clean up and make space. I've chosen to have all the walls painted white and the flat is looking bigger already. And letting the workmen in at 7:45 every morning forces me to change my night owl routine. Who knew there were so many early morning hours every day? Who knew that if you get up at 6:30 you're starving hungry by eleven o'clock? And who knew you can get so much more done in daylight than you can in the middle of the night? 

Do I hear scoffing from all you early risers?


Monday, November 11, 2013


Given enough time to get to know each other, the four of us would probably have had a useful and even inspirational conversation. But if you read face and body language in the photomontage below, you can get a pretty good idea of how the session actually developed. Ludmila Ulitskaya is the only one who looks at ease, perhaps because she spoke no English. Her Russian translator mumbled so softly that I could barely hear a word so I don't know what Ludmila thought but she had a sympathetic face. David Galenson held forth longer than anyone else in a manner that seemed defensive but perhaps that's because I didn't agree with most of his approach to the subject and perhaps that's because I'm deeply involved in, and perhaps also defensive, about the process of creation, while he is deeply involved in the theory he has painstakingly constructed about it. Pamela Ryckman had done her homework assiduously and tried her best to orchestrate the session but it was no easy task. It was more like a set of monologues than a discussion but if I look disgruntled perhaps that's because I was disappointed by the many empty chairs in the room - only about fifteen people in the audience.

But perhaps that's because many talks on different topics were scheduled at the same time on each day of the Forum and therefore people tended to graze buffet-style, wandering in and out of rooms to sample what was on offer. Understandable perhaps, but not exactly conducive to depth and concentration. That's a lot of perhapses ...Quisas quisas quisas: remember that old Latin American song?

I had written notes to prepare for the session but, as often happens on such occasions, I ended up improvising. It all seems far away already but since we're still on the subject, herewith my notes:

I've been invited here because I'm creative and I'm ageing. But I'm not going to say how old I am because a number, when associated with age, instantly brings up stereotypes which I want to avoid. If you've been a committed artist all your life you never reach retiring age - you just keep on working, trying to do better - or as Beckett said: fail again, fail better.

For me, creativity is a metaphorical room I have to enter in order to switch on the state of creativity: the state in which I can make objects that can be called artworks. I don't mean that I must perform some arcane ritual before picking up a brush or other tool, but there is a definite difference between this state and the ordinary state in which I do the shopping, cleaning, socialising, internet surfing etc. The creativity involved in writing is different: I can think of sentences to write while doing the dishes or sitting in a noisy café. But to fully engage in a process which will eventually end up as physical artworks, in whatever medium, demands a deliberate decision to enter and stay as long as possible in a space where anything other than the work at hand is excluded. I can't explain what neurons in my brain need to be activated but I do know that it is like tuning to a specific radio station and that I need complete silence in order to connect. 

One thing that ageing has done is to make me more aware that I have to choose to enter that state. It doesn't happen automatically just because I call myself an artist. I can decide to step into that room and make stuff (which may or may not be art) and keep on making more of it until my dying day, if health and energy permit. Or I can sit back and let age creep up while I'm surfing the internet, playing with my digital gadgets, watching TV, shopping and so on until suddenly I realise: hey, I'm old! I've got one foot in the grave and the other one is wobbling! 

But in my creative space I've got loads of time ahead because the child in me is still able to make discoveries and perhaps produce the best work I've ever done. It is still possible, as many artists have proved, that you can be an innovator, a rule-breaker, even when you're chronologically old. Creativity is about breaking or bending the rules and ageing doesn't necessarily kill one's inner rebel. Some will disagree, asserting that the brain ages and that's that. Well, even experts admit that, so far, little is known about exactly what goes on in the convoluted grey matter inside our skulls. So it may be that the brains of artists...ageing and aged....can teach the experts a thing or two about creativity.
Something else that ageing does is to prod me to shed, rather than to accumulate things and concepts, getting rid of anything that interferes with finding out what my own inner voice is trying to say.
And now a few more photos from the Deauville do. It was an eye-opening experience which I'm grateful to have been a part of and I will not forget the inspiring people I met or whose talks I heard - too many to mention and do justice to.

Mercy Oduyoye, theologian, Director of Women in Religion and Culture, Ghana


Wednesday, November 06, 2013



Amazing is an over-used word but I'm going to use it lavishly because it's too much of an effort to hunt for alternatives and I have an excuse: bunged up sinuses knocked out my cognitive faculties since I got back from France and writing a blog post, let alone thinking of one, has been about as feasible as climbing Everest. But here I am now so it must mean that the wool filling my head is starting to unravel and will, I hope, evaporate if I continue to inhale menthol-infused steam. 

Everything was amazing from the start of my privileged journey on Eurostar in a Premier class seat, breakfast served by solicitous attendants, and at the Gare du Nord my name was on a card held up by a chauffeur who took me to Deauville, a two and a half hour drive from Paris, without my having had to lift a finger or spend a single Euro just because I was one of the invited speakers at the Women's Forum. I was awed by the mind-blowing logistics of organising such an event, involving 207 speakers and 1200 participants from 70 countries, 600 organisations, 143 journalists, and much more. Amazingly, it all ran like Swiss clockwork with never a hitch, at least not visibly. 

My hotel was at the top of a hill, on a vast golf course overlooking the town - that pale blue strip in the distance is the ocean. Below is the view from the window of my room and below that, moi-même in the mirror on the first night, ready to go out to dinner (flat golden shoes) to meet the organisers. The dinner was at another luxury hotel where the company and the food were....amazing. Normandy is known for its gastronomic delights but don't ask me what I ate, or drank, because I don't remember except that it was all super-delicious and frequently timbale-shaped. 

At first I wondered if I'd have to make a long trek down from the hotel every day to Le CID  - Centre International de Deauville - where the Forum was held, but I soon realised that all possible contingencies had been taken care of: a fleet of navettes (coaches) appeared at regular intervals to transport participants to and from the venue. So much was going on during the three days of the Forum's duration that I saw more of Le Cid's interior than I ever saw of Deauville but in the few glimpses I had of the town, it seemed to me like a designer film set, all posh boutiques, hotels and shuttered second homes, deserted except for weekends and holidays when the well-heeled from Paris and elsewhere roll in to play at casino, race-course, golf or yacht. 

The nostalgic old-world, old-money ambiance surviving in a hard-edged new world was summed up when a well-dressed elderly gentleman hobbling with his cane down a shiny main street came up to me and said apologetically: Pardon madame, quel jour est aujourd'hui? (excuse me madam, what day is today?) It wasn't a chat-up line and he was perfectly sober and when I replied, he thanked me politely and hobbled elegantly away. 

There couldn't have been a more vivid contrast between that tiny melancholy incident and the forward-facing, high-powered, high-achieving, high-heeled goings-on at the Women's Global Forum 2013: compete, cooperate, create. There's no way I can give an adequate report of the event or do justice to the myriad praiseworthy projects happening, or about to happen, in many countries thanks to enterprising, inventive, energetic, courageous and clever women world-wide and to organisations and individuals who support them. It seemed odd that I was there at all: moi, an art-worker usually found sitting in her imitation-ivory tower, making things of no discernable use to the real world and occasionally blogging about it: what on earth was I doing in such real-world company? I was very happy to be there but wandered around in a daze, not sure where to focus my attention. Most interesting to me were the conversations I had with some of the fascinating women I met. The Creativity and Aging session (the reason I was invited) was probably the least interesting part of the Forum, in my opinion. But I'll write about that in the next post. 

One thing I did was to take photographs and, looking at them when I returned home, I see that visual content almost always holds my attention more than the verbal. The images I gathered and remember from this experience will, I'm sure, serve me for paintings or other media. I share some of them below. More words and pictures tomorrow. 

Heels and mobiles at the Forum

Welcome party given by the Mayor of Deauville at Villa le Cercle

Russian-themed party given by Cartier at Deauville casino in honour of the Russian delegation

 Cooking Boeuf Stroganoff

Serious Russians cooking

Blue dress, red lighting

 Listening to Russian musicians

In a Russian sled 

African winners

 Busy legs, shiny surfaces


Monday, October 14, 2013


Am off to France early tomorrow morning but here's the link showing yours truly on the Forum website. And if you click on Speakers on that page, you'll get the whole photo-gallery of the beautiful...intimidatingly beautiful...people I am going to be mingling with. Full report later.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Here is a relevant comic strip which I drew in 2009. 


Tuesday, October 08, 2013


A few months ago I was invited to be one of the speakers at a prestigious conference organised by the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society which will take place from October 16 to 18 in Deauville, France. Of course I accepted, as you can see by checking the list of speakers here

UPDATE: the 'here' link doesn't work properly, at least on  my browser. It should go to the main Forum site with all speakers pictured and full program as a PDF. Try simply entering Womens Forum Deauville in Google.  
The subject I've been asked to participate in discussing on Friday, 18th October, along with Russian author Ludmila Ulitskaya, and Professor David Galenson from the University of Chicago, and Pamela Ryckman, American author and journalist, is: 

Creativity and, ahem, Aging
The ahem is entirely mine and explains why I am simultaneously flattered by this invitation and stupefaite that I have turned into someone who can actually be described as ageing. Moi? Vieillissant? There isn't even a French word for the process. I hear you say: fact of life, deal with it! I deal with it by the effective method known as denial. 

Who says denial is bad? For example, it is perfectly sensible to deny entry to burglars or cockroaches or poisonous fumes. So, by denying entry into my psyche of the concept 'aging' I am sensibly keeping out all the heavy baggage that comes with it - prejudices, stereotypes, theories, surveys, statistics. I'm not ignoring death, that would be idiotic. But let me cross that bridge when it comes. The period between then and now is the present and creativity is always in the present tense. 

Does creativity change in the same way one's body changes with time? I've spent my whole life in the creativity game - it is a serious kind of game - and I can't detect any great differences between past and present in terms of creativity. Rather than time, what has always deeply affected creativity for me are life experiences, relationships, places. I chose art as a child, never considering any other profession, and choosing to be a full-time artist is basically giving yourself permission not to join the adult world, the world in which people have proper jobs and proper careers and go on holidays and retire eventually and do that thing called 'aging'. A full-time life-long artist doesn't retire, doesn't like going on holidays, and denies aging. Voilà. C'est tout. 

Next week I'm off to Deauville. Will report, with pictures when I return. I leave you with a photo of 84-year old Matisse creating with cut-out coloured paper in 1952.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


In the days after that weekend I was in a state of permanent exhilaration. The coup which had me foudroyée was not (or not only) as some might think, the boringly well-documented phenomenon of transference:
"...the redirection of feelings and desires and especially those retained from childhood to a new object..."
Any phenomenon will always be given a label by some expert somewhere, a label which reduces it to that definition, neatly stored in a file endlessly consulted and expanded by other experts until the phenomenon itself becomes invisible.
Every tiny neuron in my brain was flashing like a hyperactive firefly but the side-effect was down to earth: I wanted to get into bed, or any other suitable location, with Z. Romantic extras were not required but it was absolutely imperative, essential to my very being, that a physical conjunction should take place, preferably immediately, but I was prepared to wait if necessary. It's hard to believe that a grown-up, cosmopolitan, professional artist with a marriage and other affairs behind her, could be in such naive and visceral thrall. But it's true. 

The group therapy centre's brochure, which I meticulously studied after my dramatic introduction to that hitherto unknown world, was a seductive menu describing "life-changing" sessions led by top therapists of every persuasion. But I was only interested in one of them and was transfixed by a paragraph outlining a forthcoming project conceived and led by Z. It was called the Theatre of the Secret Self. The gist of it was that each participant in the six month-long project would be given time, space, insight and encouragement to mine their innermost self for creative ideas and expression, culminating in the group putting on a public performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To sign up, you had to commit to attending once or twice-weekly evening workshops, some weekends, and a week or so in Edinburgh the following summer. 

I must have read that paragraph a hundred times. It was like staring into a dazzling shop-window displaying everything you had ever wanted for Christmas and realising that you could actually have it all. During those miraculous minutes that I had sobbed on my pseudo-mother's breast and carried my pseudo-father around the room, the cheeky child I once was had been given full permission to resurrect, liberated from a secret sorrow and an unexpressed burden. 

The Theatre of the Secret Self!! Custom-made for me! A chance to show off every hidden dimension of the rediscovered Nathalie! With Z the metteur en scène of my dreams, the director who would make me the star I knew I was! (Not that I wanted to be an actor, but only to have my inner and perhaps even outer star-quality confirmed.) It was obvious: I had to sign up. The cost was fairly hefty but an idea popped up on how I could reduce it. The time comittment could be fitted into my normal activities - I was teaching printmaking part-time and working on NdA Press which had taken off very well. 

But first of all I had to establish some kind of unique status: I didn't want to be merely one of the members of Z's group. Inspired by the cunning which comes as a bonus with love, I wrote him a carefully composed nonchalant note, enclosing one of my books as proof of talent, offering my services as artist-in-residence or graphic reporter at his workshops (I would sketch the people during the sessions). In return, I jokingly suggested, he could give me a discount on the fee for joining the Theatre of the Secret Self project. To my not-so-great surprise (destiny is not surprising) he agreed. 

* * * * 

I started these posts with the intention of slightly expanding a conversation about the differences and problems between creativity in solitude (eg the painter in her/his studio) and in collaboration (eg in a theatrical production) but I got carried away by a particular reminiscence which threatens to monopolise this space and my time. This is a problem because I must focus on current work and also because it's difficult for me to see the fine line where memoir becomes indiscretion. I was openly confessional in earlier parts of my autobio but as it moves forward chronologically, I have to learn to be more reticent, more indirect....more British! (Roderick's comment under Part Four got me thinking.)

I know it's mean of me to cut this short now but the full story is far too long and complex to reduce to a set of blog posts. My private journals and many of my artworks have documented it, both literally and symbolically, and maybe some day, in graphic novel or other form, I'll find a way to...what? Pin it down?
My secret self did indeed emerge from hiding during the years that followed that personally historical September 21 and the date has been celebrated ever since. They were years of turbulence, elation, inspiration, despair, fulfilment, gloomy darkness and brilliant light - everything you get from from being foudroyée over a long period. 

For now I'll wind up Showing Off by showing you On the Fringe, oil pastel portraits (the full set in context is here ) which I drew of some spectators at performances of the Theatre of the Secret Self in Edinburgh in which I participated. Our group won an award for best float at the Fringe Festival's opening day parade.


Monday, September 23, 2013


I went straight to the most beautiful woman in the room, a blonde in her twenties, not unlike my mother at that age. She was taller than me and as I stood in front of her, Z brought a cushion and placed it under my feet. I laid my head on her chest and stayed like that for a while, my heart pounding like a hammer. Z then asked people to lift the two of us up and lay us down gently on the floor. He and the whole group formed a silent, protective circle around us. 

Lying on top of my 'mother' I lost all sense of who or where I was. She stayed motionless, cool. At some point I lifted her shirt and put my face against her bare breast. It was then I began to cry. The sobbing came from somewhere so deep and powerful that I felt as if I was being torn apart and the more I cried, the deeper it went. I must have been returning to a moment in time of which I have no conscious memory, one which had so profoundly affected me that I had buried it beyond reach. But there were no thoughts, no words for what was happening, there was only this soul-shaking sobbing. I was the crying, nothing else.
How long it lasted I have no idea but suddenly the crying stopped and I was invaded by the most extraordinary peace and lightness. It seemed as if something really momentous had taken place, a kind of miracle. 

Everyone in the group had felt it too but ordinary life was now restored and the Regression Weekend was over. In high spirits we all trooped out and headed for the Indian restaurant which had been booked for a farewell dinner. Z picked me up, put me on his shoulders, and carried me piggy-back down the street.

My life took a new turn from that day. 

Part Five will follow soon.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Throughout the weekend, each person in the group had their moment in the limelight and Z's full attention as observer, interpreter and motivator of each scenario. Nobody in the group seemed more than averagely troubled, none seriously neurotic and certainly not mentally ill but, by God, all those unresolved childhoods! So many early traumas hidden behind ordinary people's faces and perhaps never revealed until now. The simple technique of choosing two strangers who vaguely ressembled one's parents worked like magic. Having a supportive and absorbed audience for your mini-drama plus the charismatic presence of Z orchestrating it created an enveloping, secure ambiance where it was safe to unlock secrets and to show off whatever needed showing off. 

I became totally mesmerised by each person's story, and by Z's stunning insights. I was picked to be 'mother' a few times, playing the role as my 'children' had experienced it. But you were supposed to decide when to 'work' (take centre stage) and I had almost forgotten that I had come for my own sake. It was only as the last session was winding up and the whole group was about to go out to dinner that I felt an irresistible urge to be heard. I got up and went to sit in front of Z and said: I want to work. 

He looked at his watch. 
Precisely the gesture my father often made when I was talking with him. 
Z said: Do you always wait until the last minute to get attention? I nodded.
He said: Who's your father? 
I said: You.
Z stood up, arms hanging loosely at his sides, head down. 
He said: What do you want to do?
Without a moment's hesitation, I came to stand with my back to him, grabbed his arms and put them over my shoulders, bent down, hoisted him off the ground and walked around the room carrying him on my back. 
Everyone laughed. I was (am) a petite 4'11". He was about 5'9" and solidly built. It was very funny.
Z said seriously: That's it. You're a carrier. Your parents jumped on your back when you were born and you've been carrying them ever since.

 (I drew the above cartoon when I got home so I would remember the scene forever. I also sent it to Z)

Then Z said: Who's your mother? 

Part Four is in preparation and will be posted shortly.



I wrote a post some time ago about this experience but I can't find it in my blog archive so if anyone remembers reading it, my apologies for repetition. I want to try to finish this before midnight so that it's still the 21st but if I can't manage it, there'll have to be a Part Three tomorrow.

The place where the event which changed my life happened was an unremarkable house in a forgettable semi-suburban area of North London. It took a train, a bus and a walk to get there, a journey I was to become very familiar with. This was the heyday of encounter groups (the de-privatisation of psychotherapy) and a steady stream of well-known group therapists flowed in and out of London from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Big Sur, New York, Amsterdam and further afield and the house I entered on that autumn evening was the venue where most of them came to do their thing. I was not particularly interested in that scene but picked up the centre's brochure to read while waiting for the Regression group to begin. The room was large, carpeted and completely bare apart from a circle of about fifteen floor cushions, all but two of which were occupied - one was for me and one, presumably, for the psychologist. My new friend B had already arrived and we said hello silently. The atmosphere was very quiet and rather tense. I was reading the brochure and when I looked up, suddenly the leader was there on his cushion. I hadn't heard him come in. We were all barefoot so maybe that was why.

Talk about a coup de foudre: a thunder clap deafening you while a bolt of lightning strikes you should not by any stretch of language be translated as 'love at first sight'. Lust is nearer the mark because it blinds you but, in this case, inextricably woven into love and childhood and your entire life history, ressembling one of those sundaes when the hot chocolate sauce and the strawberry syrup filigree their way into the vanilla ice cream and who can tell which is lust and which is love in that delicious and stomach-churning mess?

So there he was, on the cushion, legs crossed in casual approximation of the lotus position. Think Picasso mixed with Brando in Last Tango in Paris with a dollop of Sinatra in Las Vegas and maybe a dash of Al Pacino and you'll get some idea of what I saw in that coup de foudre moment though none of this is an accurate description. He also looked like my father who absolutely did not look like any of those men and anyway I was not in love with my father and Freud was wrong.

He asked us to say something about ourselves and why we had chosen to participate in this group. It took a while for my turn to come round and I sat there, panicking, unable to think of any words at all. Finally I managed to blurt out something like: I keep stopping myself from doing what I want to do. He said: Are you successful at this? Startled, I said: Yes, very successful. He smiled. The coup became even more foudroyant for me as the evening and the weekend progressed but there's only one part that I need to describe because it leads to the theme of this post.

The psychologist...let's call him Z...explained the structure of the work: each of us was to choose two people from the group who in some way, however distantly, reminded us of our parents. Then we were to re-enact a scene from our childhood which was significant for us and which encapsulated our rapport with father and mother; it could be without words and simply with body language. There was much more to it but I'm abbreviating because the clock above my desk says ten minutes to midnight. Five minutes to midnight.

Okay, it's midnight. So I'll finish this tomorrow. And there'll be a drawing as well.


Saturday, September 21, 2013


A few days ago I wrote a comment at Clive Hicks-Jenkins' amazing Artlog, asking him a question. He answered it so fully and thoughtfully that it has sent me back in time to my own experiences in the realm of public, in contrast to private creativity. 

Why title this rumination Showing Off ? Well, first of all, please forget the accusing, guilt-inducing, mocking connotations of those two words when spoken about or to someone, usually accompanied by an ever so slightly green (with envy) facial expression. Would this blog exist, or yours or yours or yours, or the internet itself and all its social media, if we were not all show-offs of some kind? Some quietly diffident, some so modest as to be nearly invisible, some hesitant, some bold, some brash, some altruistic, some egotistic - whatever the mode, a desire to invite others in, and to be invited, is a powerful stimulus and motivator. Even those who, like myself, feel at home with solitude and consider it an indispensable ingredient to creativity are sometimes propelled into a communal or collaborative endeavor in which we can shine (show off) and find it invigorating, challenging and, on some levels, disturbing. 

The following reminiscence really belongs in the autobiography and I'll move it there at some point but anyway. 

It was in London, after times I've written about and some times as yet unwritten. I was stuck. Restless. Annoyed with myself. Nothing was very wrong nor very right with my life. One day I was reading the classified personal ads in the London Review of Books, as one does. Now here's a funny thing: I cannot remember whether an ad caught my eye and I answered it, or whether it was I who inserted a Would-Like-To-Meet ad which was answered. Either way, it was via the LRB personal ads that I met B, who was not the message but the messenger. Chemistry, no, but we liked each other and he asked if I wanted to go with him to a group therapy weekend, led by a highly regarded psychologist whose regression (to childhood) groups were said to be extraordinary. I was intrigued and said yes. It was the 21st of September, in the evening.

It's now 1:35 am and I want to sleep so I'll continue later today but will post this snippet now.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


It's hard not to voice an opinion on the crisis in Syria and the world powers' current stance concerning it but I'm resisting the temptation to add to the debates, at least online, though in conversation with friends I can't help saying what I think. I'm aware that my knowledge of the complex factors involved in the situation, being based only on what I read in the media, is so limited that any words I can say on the subject are about as much use to the problem as the meowing of a cat or the tweeting of birds and Tweeters. Therefore I'm posting more artwork to distract your attention from more serious matters, if only for a minute or two.

Here's another of the rough black & white sketches for the book, with one stage of the cut block lying on the table. The vinyl tile is about 2mm thick and quite bendy so the block is fragile because of its large open areas. But after it's been textured with gesso, I glue it to a second vinyl block which acts as backing and brings it up to the right height for eventual printing. The vinyl is quite resistant and cutting blocks with a scalpel requires a lot of effort - I wear a thin leather glove so as not to get sore between thumb and index finger where the handle of the knife rests. Stanley or other chunky knives are not suitable for intricate cuts. The second photo below shows the block upright. 

And now for some entirely different artwork. I did the little painting below a few months ago, working fast and loose as a break from slow, concentrated effort. As sometimes happens, such exhalations can turn out surprisingly well - this one's going into my Apple Series.

A Happy Apple NdA 2013. Oil on canvas board. 25 x 30cms (10" x 12") 

Another artwork, this one from a very long time ago: a portrait of my late ex-husband Reg which I painted in San Miguel Allende, Mexico where I first met him, when I was an art student and he was a teacher at the Instituto Allende (see this part of my autobiography). The portrait will soon be going to Vancouver where some of his grown-up children and grand-children live. It was painted in Duco, the industrial paint which was used at the art school and by many of the Mexican muralists. I like this painting, it captures Reg's personality, the sunny time and the enthusiasm I felt. 

Reg in San Miguel, Mexico  NdA. Duco on board. 24" x 36"


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The clock on the wall is showing quarter past twelve: that's midnight, not noon. When I next look up it will probably say 3:30 or 4am but that's the kind of time it usually is when I'm up there in my mansarde. I cannot shake off the habit of working late. There must be something about mornings which puts me off but I haven't got time to analyse why and does it matter anyway? Getting the work done is the main thing, never mind what time of day or night. 

Since I'm blogging so infrequently I thought I would show you some of what I'm doing which, as I've mentioned before, is illustrating the long poem by Blaise Cendrars Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France translated by Dick Jones which will be published by The Old Stile Press . I'm creating about 48 images, and cutting as many blocks, to be eventually hand-printed by Nicolas McDowall. The photo above shows the sink for damping paper etc. and the table where I work out ideas. Before cutting the final blocks out of vynil tiles, I work out the design and colours for each image by cutting trial blocks out of cardboard and proofing them on my etching press.

I've had this press a very long time and it has served me well - I printed most of the images for my artist's books on it. For those who are not familiar with this simple machine, an etching press resembles a mangle: the old-fashioned kind that was used for wringing clothes. Except that the baby photographed above consists of heavy solid steel rollers, between which a steel bed is driven back and forth by a geared wheel. Pressure is adjusted by turning the top screws on either side of the frame. Special blankets are laid between the top roller and the paper and plate to be printed. The difference between an etching press and a litho press or a relief press is that it's designed primarily to print intaglio: a design that is engraved or etched below the flat surface of a plate - traditionally metal, but can also be any material which will fit under the etching press roller. Printing intaglio consists of pushing ink into the lines, grooves and textures that have deeply scarred the surface of the plate and then wiping the surface clean. Damp paper is laid over the plate and when it's passed under the roller, heavy pressure pushes the paper into the grooves of the plate, lifting out the ink, creating the intaglio image (always embossed on the back of the paper). 

More recent presses are adaptable to both intaglio and relief because the top roller can be lifted off the bed, allowing blocks of any thickness to be printed. Unfortunately my old press doesn't have this flexibility and, since the blocks I'm cutting for this book will be printed in relief (off the flat surface of the block) they must be a lot thicker than a normal intaglio plate. Therefore any proofing I do doesn't show the same detail or texture as it will eventually have on Nicolas' excellent relief press. 

My working process goes like this: the text is of primary importance, it gives me the rhythm and content of each page. I've made a full-size (30cms x 28cms/ 12" x 11") dummy in which I do rough drawings and/or collages in black only. From these, I cut the first trial blocks out of thin cardboard, proof them, then start cutting the final vynil blocks, perhaps two or three blocks for each design since they will be printed in colour: each colour requires a separate block. Below is the working dummy open at pages 8-9. 

Below is one of the finished vynil blocks for page 9: its strongly textured (with gesso) surface doesn't show in the photo. The green and red areas inside the main figure are actually holes through which you're seeing the table behind. The holes are so that the relief press rollers won't deposit ink in those areas. 

Below: roughs for pages 14-15 

Printmaking demands equal and extreme amounts of messiness and cleanliness in constant alternation. Above, my inking table and rollers are about to be cleaned. This procedure has to be repeated many times during the day because ink (I use only oil-based) mustn't be allowed to dry on slabs or rollers. The smell of white spirit (turps) is pervasive so ventilation is essential. That shark-like shape on the top right in the picture below is the edge of an open Velux skylight window - my studio is a converted loft. 

A colour proof of page 7, using three blocks. The text is only pasted on and not printed as it will be in the final book. 

Voilà, that's it for tonight. The time is now five past 2 am.