Tag Archives: rose strang artist

Thoughts on people and culture …

‘Damascus Rose 3’. Mixed media on 36×36″ wood panel

My recent article about creative exploration of the way we view a people and its culture was published on Bella Caledonia today, link – http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/03/10/roses-of-the-world/

It’s great to add my voice to the creatives who contribute to Bella Caledonia –  an online publication that was launched in 2007 by Mike Small and Kevin Williamson (now also a supplement as part of The National).

It became hugely popular in the run up to 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, offering an alternative to mainstream media, and an interesting mix of in-depth opinion and culture alongside politics.

They increasingly encourage contributions from a variety of thinkers and creatives –  and my article coincides with a general interest in exploring ideas of identity and nation; a subject that has recently dominated headlines, most recently with Melanie Philips’ controversial (and inexplicable!) Times article which offered up some suspect ideas on what constitutes a nation. (I’d link to it but there’s a Times paywall – you can explore Bella’s response here  http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/03/07/authentic-nations/)

I’ve always been resistant to art that coincides with a certain political stance or party, and still am – my recent series was a visceral and emotional response to the situation in Syria, also my attempt at a creative take on the way propaganda influences our view of a nation, or a people and their culture. Ultimately though, the inspiration is landscape for me creatively, and I can’t wait for the upcoming trip to the Isle of Harris in May – peace and inspiration beckon!

The rose of all the world

Painting in progress. Damascus Rose 3

Painting in progress. Damascus Rose 3. 36×36 inches on wood panel

Above – painting in progress, this is the third and last in the Damascus Rose series. Tomorrow when this blue base is dry I’ll be painting hundreds of roses rising into the sky, viewed slightly from above probably.

I’ve been musing on the symbology of flowers today, the many flowers that have been attached or appropriated to causes. I’m thinking for example of the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘little white rose’:

The rose of all the world is not for me

I want for my part

Only the little white rose of Scotland

That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart

The little white rose was first adopted by Jacobites during the ’45 rebellion. A few years ago, former First Minister Alex Salmond suggested it might be a rose ‘for all Scotland’ – appropriating it as a symbol for anyone who lives in Scotland whatever their background or beliefs.

I began the Damascus series of paintings when I heard that the Damascus rose was no longer in production, due to the war in Syria, so for me this became a way to explore a difficult subject that I couldn’t claim to understand on a personal level, only as an observer, albeit a fellow human witnessing the suffering of ordinary people in Syria through my computer screen.

The rose seemed an appropriate symbol for me to explore; it often features in Middle Eastern poetry as a symbol of love, it has done for centuries and up to the present, as in this moving poem by Kurdish poet Bejan Matur, called ‘Peaceful morning’ …

A time before time
A morning of peace
Of roses
And fountains.
A welcoming
Of the creatures
Of the latecomer
Rescued from the hand of sleep
In the dappled dawn.
So arms
Moved away from a statue’s body
And found a human.
Desired.
What belonged
Far more than words
Was love.

'Damascus Rose 1'. Acrylic on 36x36" wood panel

‘Damascus Rose 1’. Acrylic on 36×36″ wood panel

The rose of Damascus is the linking theme in my three works; first the rose of Middle Eastern visual art, in designs we’re familiar with, on tiles and mosques, adopted into western designs too. I painted these conventionally across the wood panel, then scraped this back to ‘age’ it, then pretty impulsively scrawled over this the deep blue and red roses on the left, graffiti-like, perhaps to suggest a kind of protest, or survival of love and creativity amidst cruelty (several lovingly designed sacred mosques were blown up during attacks on Aleppo and Damascus, citizens almost immediately began to rebuild, just as Bosnians did with the Mostar bridge, decades ago).

The second painting has an underlay of rose madder (or alazarin crimson) the predominant p1140203blue-toned rose-red I used for the previous painting. I blocked out the pattern (based on a map of Damascus from above) in tape, then covered the painting in thick bitumen-like black mixed with salt. When the tape was pulled off the rose tones were revealed – intended as a sort of glow underlying destruction. (some of the most ancient streets in Damascus proved the best cover for residents under attack, as these streets were so narrow and deep).

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The third painting is taking shape, so I’m not quite sure how it will look, or exactly why I’ve chosen to paint roses rising into the sky, perhaps it evokes the idea of survival, even after death and destruction.

Returning to MacDiarmid’s Little White Rose, it was written (I think) in the 1920’s, when MacDiarmid was a supporter of Scottish Independence, but things have changed radically in Scotland since then; the area of Edinburgh I grew up in, Leith (where I live now, having lived all over the UK and occasionally abroad) is still often the first port of call for new immigrants – it’s affordable and central, predominantly working class with a long history of newcomers and settlers. When I was growing up here I witnessed an amount of racism against the Chinese and South Asian communities (the WW2 generation will no doubt remember racism against the first generations of the Italian community to arrive in Leith and Portobello further along the coast).

I’ve watched Leith change for the better over the years though, most radically as a result of the inclusive and democratic approach of the contemporary movement for Scottish independence, not just the approach led by the SNP but also among grass roots groups, for example ‘Scots Asians for Yes‘ ‘Women for Independence‘, Scots English for Yes‘, and broad groups or organisations such as Common Weal and the artist-led National Collective.

We look outwards now. So while the little white rose is dear to my heart,  we are all connected. To end this post – a poem by The 12th century Muslim Andalucian poet Muhyyeddin Ibn Arabi who wrote these lines before he died in 1240:

My heart has become capable of every form: it is a
pasture for gazelles and a convent for
Christian monks,
And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and
the tables of the Tora and the
book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love, whichever way his camels take.

Hebrides 13

p1120455 p1120459 p1120457 p1120460Today’s paintings in progress, of the Isle of Harris.

I was ‘channeling’ Frank Auerbach a bit on the very textured paintings (at least in terms of impasto paint application if not talent!) A camera tends to flatten out texture, so I’ve taken one sideways to show the thick layers –

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Most of Auerbach’s works are portraits, but here’s a landscape example below –

8337bb8ad63bc18a486022af6e73d34eI remember gazing in fascination at one of his thickly textured portraits at Inverleith House Art Gallery in Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens as a teenager.

As with many others I was shocked to hear the recent announcement that the gallery will be closed due to funding cuts. Arts critic Joyce MacMillan began a petition online (link below) which you can sign to show your support for the gallery to remain open. I remain hopeful!

Link here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/prevent-the-closure-of-inverleith-house-edinburgh-as-a-public-art-space

Hebrides 11

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Liceasto 4 (Harris)’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood

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‘Liceasto 3 (Harris). Mixed media on 10×10″ wood

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‘Leaving Ullapool’. Mixed media on 20×16″ canvas

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‘Liceasto (Harris)’. Mixed media on 20×16″ canvas

Today’s paintings –  a couple of very quick paintings on canvas at 20×16 inches, also two more works on 10×10 inch wood, adding to the Harris and Lewis series. There’s a definite palette and mood emerging – white, green, rust, black and blue…

The diffuse light effect is mostly gesso layers on top of dry paint – it’s usually used as a base, but it’s less opaque than titanium white and I’ve always liked the atmospheric effects, along with thick paint applied with palette knife and salt which gives gritty highlights.

I’m really tempted to publish one of Louise Palfreyman’s poems here to illustrate how well these all work together, but I’ll wait until I’ve edited the video, and Atzi Muramatsu has responded musically (though Louise might publish on her own blog – viewable Here)

Hebrides 10 (paintings, video and music in progress)

p1120379 p1120380More works in progress, above.

I spent a couple of days editing the video of my paintings and Louise Palfreyman’s poems, which I find beautifully evocative of the landscape – capturing her visceral response whilst subtly touching on some of the ideas, context and history of Lewis and Harris.

Then I realised I wasn’t entirely happy with the paintings. Or to be more accurate, Atzi Muramatsu (the cellist we’re collaborating with on this project) came round to my flat to discuss music for the project, watched the first draft video then said he knew I could paint something more atmospheric. I thought so too – I’d got caught up in video editing when my focus is painting!

I’m still trying to capture the mood and feel of the landscape at this stage, experimenting with what works, things haven’t entirely fallen into place yet, so I was grateful for the reminder.

More paintings, poems, music and video to follow, in the next few weeks…

RSA Review

Giles review RSA SI was very pleased to read the review (above) of the RSA Open today in the Times, which mentions ‘Cockenzie Power Station, 26th September 2015’.

Many thanks to Giles Sutherland (Author and Art Critic, Times Scotland) for mentioning my work in this review

The RSA Open is free entry and continues until February, there’s a lot to see and some great paintings and sculpture, I highly recommend you drop in.