Sunday, April 27, 2014


I neglected one Sunday's blogging but this past week has been very generous with gifts that I can share here. 

I decided to give my working hand a rest - it had been screaming RSI (repetitive strain injury) at me -  and what could be more therapeutic and relevant to me than Matisse's cut-outs? On my way to Tate Modern via the tube, I noticed a shoulder bag on an empty seat. Other passengers noticed it too but nobody did anything about it and a man absorbed in reading his newspaper almost sat on the bag, not bothering to move it. I had resolved to hand it in to Underground staff and when an empty seat next to it came up, I quickly put the bag on my lap, simultaneously saying loud and clear: "Somebody left this behind and it should be handed in." I must admit I was curious to know its contents and since nobody was paying any attention to me, I unzipped some of the bag's pockets. In one there was a handful of coasters from a pub and in the main compartment, a sophisticated video camera with various state-of-the art attachments. Did temptation whisper "Finders keepers"? Yes, it most certainly did, but since I already have a camcorder (though nothing like as posh) it took me less than twenty seconds to opt in favour of honesty. When I got off at Blackfriars station, I immediately gave the bag to an inspector standing by the turnstiles and the thoroughness of his questions suddenly made me aware that this wasn't just lost property but, possibly, a dangerous, even lethal object. It says something about our sense of security that I hadn't considered this before and neither, apparently, did any of my fellow passengers.

Feeling virtuous and relieved, off I went to my rendez-vous with Matisse via the Millenium Bridge. I hate the egocentric protuberances (especially the Shard, not shown in this photo) aggressively pushing themselves above the old London skyline but under a sky like this, I temporarily forgave them.

Below: looking back towards St.Paul while crossing the bridge towards Tate Modern on the opposite bank.

This recently opened exhibition is one I've been looking forward to. I love Matisse, not so much for his paintings but for his line drawings and cut-outs, especially JAZZ, a chef d'oeuvre in the livre d'artiste genre and very well represented in this beautifully designed show. Brief film clips are included: Matisse wielding big tailor's scissors into the yielding, fragile body of hand-coloured paper, showing him at his most child-like yet confidently masterful, having found what he called his "second life" in old age despite serious illness. Those who assert that creative innovation only happens to the young haven't looked at Matisse's end-of-life cut-outs: proof of the agelessness of creativity, if proof is needed.

My translation of this page and the next one (not shown):
To arrive = Prison, and the artist must never be prisoner. Prisoner? An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of a success, etc. Didn't the Goncourts write that Japanese artists of the great period used to change their names several times during their lives. I like this: they wanted to safeguard their liberty.

Whilst looking at the pages of Matisse's hand-written text which accompanies the cut-outs in JAZZ I quickly snapped the photo below.The shadow of my own hand makes me feel that we are somehow communicating.

Last week gifted me with another experience of harmonious communication. Tom Kempton, the man behind the blog Gwynt - an uncompromisingly honest and consistent personal search for profound spiritual truth - was briefly in London and came to visit me. Tom is married to Lucy, of the brilliant Box Elder, but one of them has to stay home in Brittany to look after ailing Molly, their beloved dog, so I'm hoping to meet the real life Lucy on another occasion.

People who can talk about their inner life without being either egotistical or boring, and who can also listen attentively, are few and far between, at least in my experience. Tom is one of those rare people and so the time passed very quickly in meaningful conversation. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


It's 2 am on Monday but I'm cheating so that I can keep to my new resolution about posting every Sunday. I was in Camden Town this afternoon when the annual Palm Sunday procession went by, the neighbourhood donkey playing his part and about fifty people singing as they walked back to a local church. 

I sat in an empty Catholic church and emptied my mind, something I find quite easy to do, in order to connect to whatever it is which is not thought and not imagination but makes use of both if the channels are free from obstruction. 

What is my faith? I was brought up Catholic but cannot honestly say I am a practicing Catholic any longer. I didn't 'lose' faith but my belief never came from Catholicism, it was always in me. As I've said here before, I'm a wholehearted believer in God but doubtful of all religions. The teachings of Christ mean more to me than any others but the institutionalising of Christianity has loaded that story with so much extraneous baggage - verbal, visual, emotional, sentimental, intellectual, political - that the simple teachings themselves have become almost invisible.

Among my friends and acquaintances there are perhaps only one or two who actually practice a religion, the rest are either agnostic, atheist, or 'spiritual but not religious'. Religion is not an easy subject to talk about. It brings out surprisingly vehement feelings among those who had a strict religious upbpringing and then rejected it. I don't know any Bible-thumping or other sacred-book-thumping fundamentalists but I'm sure it must be equally difficult to have an unemotional discussion about faith with them. 

Why can't God be considered separate from any religion? Religions are created by humans and therefore subject to all human foibles. God (whatever that word means which is not necessarily defined in the Bible or any other book) is not created by humans (yes, I know. Most of you will say God is also a human creation. I beg to disagree).

Well, that's all I have to say today.

Sunday, April 06, 2014


Being at work every day all day on the illustrations there's not much to blog about but I still want to be part of this small community of blogger friends and feel bad about not contributing to the cyber conversation. So I've decided to post once a week, on Sundays, starting.... now.

For those of you who are not familiar with the process of printing a relief block, and those who are, I took some photos when I proofed a recent block yesterday. It is my illustration for what will be page 19 of our book of Blaise Cendrars' poem Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne From France translated by Dick Jones, to be published by The Old Stile Press.
Here's my inking table with the block on the right. Below is a new two-handled roller I just bought (for an exorbitant sum) in order to be able to cover the whole surface of my blocks and avoid fiddly, haphazard inking with small rollers.

Inked block on the press bed. I've put two wooden runners either side of the block thus raising the heavy roller sufficiently to allow the block, plus paper plus blanket, to pass under it. That's because my press is an etching press, not designed for relief printing which doesn't require the strong pressure used to print etchings. I'm merely proofing each of my blocks so I can see what I'm doing during the process of cutting them but the final edition, text together with images, will be printed by Nicolas McDowall on his big letterpress in Wales. On his press, the ink is deposited on the block and/or type by the press roller itself whereas on an etching press plates must be hand-inked as the metal roller serves only to apply pressure.


 My press, ready to roll. 

And here's the finished print. Unlike this photo the actual paper is white. This is the text which will go into the space on the left:

Now for something completely different. Many years ago (1973 to be exact) a book I wrote called Designing With Natural Forms was published by Batsford - it's out of print but copies can still be found in public libraries and via Amazon etc. It was illustrated with my drawings and with photographs by the late Ted Sebley. The experiment I set out to do was to focus on only four natural forms as if I'd never seen them before and then see whatever ideas came up. The four subjects were: water, a pineapple, the hand, eggs.

During the first experiment, I asked Ted to photograph a tray of water while I tilted and shook it to make various sorts of waves.

 A few of Ted's photos. From the one on the top right I traced an enlarged detail:

And then got the idea to turn it into a musical score.

I'm not a musician and never followed this idea up but recently, after reading an extremely interesting post on Dominic Rivron's blog about Daphne Oram, I decided to ask Dominic (a very able musician and teacher) to see if he could do something with it. To my astonishment he actually came up with a composition that I could never have imagined, let alone created. I'm taking the liberty of copying below what he wrote in his email to me about it: 

I've attached my finished effort as an MP3 sound file.
I don't have good enough equipment to overdub myself humming it ten times so I opted in the end for something I'd been into a while back: using the "low-fi" MIDI sounds that get used on computer games and the like to make original pieces. The music I'd made then was probably John Cage-influenced, with a nod to Eno and to Gamelan music.
I used the notes you'd written and gave the ten parts to ten different MIDI sounds. The first statement of your piece lasts about 1 minute 11 seconds. You mentioned in the book the possibility of playing it at different speeds, so I followed the initial statement of the piece with progressively faster (and louder) statements. Each time the music is played each part get passed to a different MIDI sound, to make a sort of "round".

(the MP3 file is working on the main Blaugustine blog if it doesn't play here.)

I don't know if something like this can be judged by normal musical criteria (however you define these) but as a reply to what was an improbable improvisation on my part all those years ago, I find it delightful and am moved that Dominic was willing to give it his full attention - thank you, Dominic!

And to end this Sunday-almost-Monday post here is the view from my window yesterday at dusk.