Otherworldly views with Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere cr Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere © Anouk Mercier

Artist Anouk Mercier invites you to take a stroll in a landscape that seems at once deeply familiar and uncommonly strange. Like a set from an arthouse sci-fi film, skies are golden and flecked with bubbles that add both beauty and peculiarity to a scene that may well include an intricately detailed rendering of a grand Victorian country home, a craggy rockface and a scattering of trees.

Anouk never really made a concrete decision to become an artist. “Drawing and reading were always my favourite activities as a child, perhaps partly because I grew up without a TV at home,” she says. “Drawing was and still is so many things to me; a form of entertainment, escapism, relaxation and expression.”

This last point became particularly significant when Anouk first moved to the UK from France “and couldn’t speak English – I learned at that time the power of drawing, and Art generally, as a universal language and means of communication. So there wasn’t so much a decision to ‘become an artist’, as much as an ongoing endeavour to lead my life in a away that would allow me to draw as much and as often as possible.”

Cascade du Lac Noir cr Anouk Mercier

Cascade du Lac Noir © Anouk Mercier

Anouk went to Art School in Paris and then in Bristol, and after graduation found work within the Arts to continue her development “in parallel to my practice.” She says she always makes an effort to ensure any outside work, such as teaching or curating, “compliments and feeds into my practice, whilst allowing me plenty of time in the studio so that I can draw as much and as often as possible. It is all about establishing and sustaining the correct balance!”

Finding the correct balance is also key to the eerie serenity of Anouk’s unique artworks, which blend antique photos and postcards with her own mark making.

The Gorge cr Anouk Mercier

The Gorge © Anouk Mercier

“My practice begins in the collecting of images,” she says, explaining that she has an immense collection to select this base images from. “This is the case whether for a graphite-only drawing, photo etching or acetone transfer and airbrush piece (I use several different techniques throughout my practice).”

Anouk’s process for the latter involves “making multiple photocopies of a selection of existing Romantic landscape prints or paintings, fragments of which are then carefully re-printed onto paper using acetone transfer. I then delicately apply colour to the skies using airbrushed inks, building a base on which to embellish with my own delicate mark-making.”

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies cr Anouk Mercier

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies © Anouk Mercier

It’s a multi layered, and often laborious process, she says,”and each stage is more or less predictable. It’s a technique that’s evolved naturally over time, developed to best convey and present concepts and notions inherent to my work.”

Anouk feels fortunate to have “turned my passion into my ‘job’. I love being surrounded by creative, open minded people and objects of beauty, being self employed and free to manage my own time to a certain extent. I have spent every August over the past few years working from France, for example, which always offers fresh perspective and new sources of inspiration.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, “which is why I always feel that a big part of being an artist is being curious and inquisitive. Generally speaking I tend to be drawn to places and objects that are either beautiful, uncanny or both, which covers a very broad spectrum!”

Anouk spends much of her time taking country walks and visiting stately homes. “Nature, architecture and art all inspire me.”

Anouk’s extensive collection of early photographs and postcards, ranging from Alpine scenes, to Modernist American hotels and hand tinted flowers, are “an inexhaustible source of inspiration to me. I’m currently particularly interested in 18th and 19th Century garden design and landscaping, so I’ve been spending a lot of time ambling through the beautiful grounds of estates such as Stourhead and Hestercombe.”

It sound like a divine way to search for and foster ideas for new artworks.

Anouk is currently represented by Antlers Gallery  and The Contemporary London, and regularly exhibits with both. She recently had a drawing shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize, which you will be able to see as part of a touring exhibition opening in London on 16 September 2015.

Find out more about what Anouk’s up to at www.anoukmercier.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – blooms

Blossom car, Bristol cr Judy DarleyThis Mazda MX-5 was recently parked in a smart part of Bristol, annoying locals by taking up a parking space, but charming passersby with its abundance of flowers.

This week, imagine the person who created such a floral cornucopia. Why plant it in a car? What does the car mean to them? Where do they intend to go with it? Why?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Unraveled Visions by Nina Milton

Unraveled Visions by Nina MiltonUnraveled Visions (A Shaman Mystery) is the second of The Shaman Mysteries by Nina Milton. This review has been written by Lee Fielding.

We’re back on the rain-drenched moors and the rugged, forbidding coastline of Somerset for the second Shaman Mystery by Nina Milton; Unraveled Visions. One of the many things that draws me to read these books and that keeps me looking out for them, is the brilliantly described landscapes, both of Somerset and of the shamanic otherworld – the place shamans go in when they’re in a trance.

As with number one of the series, In the Moors, which I reviewed for SkyLightRain on its release, I was hooked from the first page, a tense description of the body of an unknown young woman being winched up from her watery grave in a silted gravel pit on the River Parrett.

Like In the Moors, Unraveled Visions is a mystical thriller; a whodunit with supernatural undertones, but it still feels very much of the real world, because shamans are part of the alternative therapy community all over Britain and the US, as well as in traditional communities.

Continue reading

Writing prompt – mislaid

Bench thong cr Judy DarleyOccasionally, the morning after the night before, I spy a suspect trail of cast-of clothing wimbling up the hill. A shoe here, a sock there, a bra draped across a litterbin over there.

This week, no such riches, just a single crimson thong adorning the corner of a park bench.

But what happened to the person wearing it? When did they realise they’d come home without it? How did they explain or hide the loss of their underwear (and possibly their dignity too) from their nearest and dearest?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to JudyDarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com

Film review – Song of the Sea

Song of the SeaDrawing on Celtic selkie myths, this animated film is utterly immersive. Mr and I attended a lunchtime showing at Watershed, Bristol, and were initially perturbed to find ourselves surrounded by parents with small children, including one babe in arms. However, as soon as the intricately detailed and gloriously colour-saturated images flooded the screen, all audience members grew still and silent, entranced by the story and the scenes.

The story opens with a little boy, Ben, and his mother Bronagh singing to her unborn child, while Ben’s father Conor looks on fondly.

Six years later, there’s no sign of Bronagh, and Conor is a broken man, with only his love for his son and daughter keeping him going. Ben finds his wordless younger sister, Saoirse, a terrible annoyance. He’s developed a fear of the sea that laps at the foot of their lighthouse home, and attracts his sibling in ways he cannot understand.

Weaving together ancient mythology and very relatable issues of grief, jealousy and sibling rivalry, the tale introduces peril and intrigue, partly in the form of an owl witch (a bit scary for little ones), several adventures in caves and a stormy night in a small boat at sea.

Song of the Sea1

There is humour to balance out the moments of fear, particularly with faithful and immense hound Cú and the Seanachaí with his slipshod memory and stories caught up in his beard. Moone Boy’s David Rawle is fantastic as Ben – developing from resentful to protective to heroic by the end of the film.

But above all, this is a film of exquisite beauty. Interviews with writer and director Tomm Moore reveal how the imagery has its roots in his own watercolours – and the fluid, textural style of each frame is intensely and painterly.

Song of the Sea – discovering the selkie coatFrom the underwater segments where sea jellies waft like abstract lampshades to the cross-country odyssey populated with every kind of rural Irish wildlife, to more intimate scenes such as Saoirse discovering her selkie coat for the first time (above), it’s a rolling array of treats for the eyes and for the heart. Song of the Sea is a gem of a film, emotionally and visually rich, and if you’re lucky moments from it will replay in your mind at unexpected times for days following.

The Song of the Sea is currently playing at Watershed, Bristol and cinemas throughout the UK. Gain an insight into the film here.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Explore ideas of identity with an exhibition in Bath

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, etching 2013-detail- cr Grayson Perry and Paragon-Contemporary editions Ltd

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail © Grayson Perry and Paragon Contemporary Editions Ltd

What makes us who we are in the eyes of others? Is it our outer appearance, our inner turmoil or the objects and actions we surround ourselves with?

Portrait artists have been exploring these concepts for centuries, as a new exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath reveals.

The free exhibition Portraits and Identity has been curated around Grayson Perry’s Map of Days etching, which was acquired last year for the Gallery’s permanent collection.

“The piece is an unusual self-portrait in the form of a walled city, the streets and buildings inside the wall representing aspects of the artist’s personality, whilst outside the walls are the things that did not penetrate the defences,” explains Jon Benington from the Gallery.

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail showing Bradley Wiggins

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail showing Bradley Wiggins

The river of imagination flows past a walled city made up of streets with names such as ‘Intuition’, ‘Revenge’ and ‘Churning Insecurity’.

Other portraits in the exhibition include works by artists as diverse as Hogarth, Dürer and William Nicholson.

H M the Queen (Victoria), by William Nicholson 1897

H M the Queen (Victoria), by William Nicholson 1897

It’s an intriguing insight into the ways artists used visual props, such as books or the tools as their trade, to impart us details of a sitter’s life. Other examples offer more subtle clues, such as this lithograph of Queen Victoria walking her dog in the gardens of Kensington Palace, and described by the artist as looking like ‘an animated tea-cosy’. It reveals her formidable character alongside her love for her affection, and, through this, for her people.

Then there’s the work of caricaturists, which are far more direct, with Gillray transforming naturalist Joseph Banks into a showy butterfly after receiving the Order of the Bath, while William Hibbard depicts the Bath Corporation with symbols of their businesses for heads.

Portrait and Identity is on at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, from 20th August until October 4th 2015, and runs alongside the Jane Austen’s Bath exhibition.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – balloons

Balloons over Totterdown cr Judy DarleyLast weekend was Bristol Balloon Fiesta and the skies over the city filled with brightly coloured, oddly shaped inflated aerial contraptions. It fills the hearts of Bristolians with delight, but for this week’s writing prompt I invite you to write a piece about hot air balloons from the point of view of someone who’s never seen one before.

What might they thing as the lurid swollen shapes swoop towards them, and when they hear the gas burners’ roar?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Theatre review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Mark Hadden’s 2003 bestseller is dream material for any imaginative dramaturg. The result from playwright Simon Stephens, director Marianne Elliott and their team is an exquisite work of art, incorporating clever lighting, movement and huge volumes of emotion.

It begins with a dog, a garden fork and a distressed 15-year-old boy. Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) has trouble making sense of other people, especially when it comes to reading their expressions. Unable to lie, in many ways he is an innocent, yet one equipped with extraordinary amounts of resourcefulness and determination.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Christopher sets himself the task of solving the mystery surrounding the dog’s demise, treating it as a project, and takes us along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Through the street he lives on, to the train station and then into the bewilderment of the London underground. At times Christopher’s sensory overload became my own, as crowds ebbed and flowed, lights fractured and sound pulsated – ringing through us, the audience, as well as our hero on-stage.

There are moments of real fear amid the overriding tension, as well as sublime beauty, magic and even peace. The scene where Christopher imagines being an astronaut is particularly elegant.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

Joshua Jenkins is extraordinary as Christopher – as the character he reels off strings of facts, figures and theories at speed, uses the entire stage and the full scale of human emotion. The whole cast were excellent – his parents, played by Gina Isaac and Stuart Long, were especially impressive – drawing us deep into Christopher’s vibrant, sometimes alarmingly intense, world.

The answers he finds in his search aren’t the ones he’s anticipating. If you’ve read the book, I urge you not to re-read it before seeing the play as the surprises when they come are revealed with grace as well as gut-wrenching power. As audience members we emerged exhausted but exhilarated – and, unexpectedly, understanding Pythagoras‘ theorem.

I watched the play at the Bristol Hippodrome. To find out where The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is on near you, visit www.curiousonstage.com

To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Glorious decrepitude with Ros Paton

Lino Sunset by Ros Paton

Lino Sunset by Ros Paton

A love of decrepitude drives Australian artist Ros Paton’s work. As a small child, scribbling on walls on furniture frequently got her in trouble, but meant that when she left school she knew wanted to go to art college. “I imagined creating enormous ceramics,” she recalls, “but I was an utter failure at it. At the end of the semester they gave me a terminal pass, which means they’ll pass you if you’ll promise never to do that subject again – sort of like paying a busker to take their music elsewhere!”

It was at this point that Ros picked up painting, and discovered she really enjoyed it.

One of the most important things she learnt at art college, she admits, was a tiny percentage. “We were told that just 4% of us would make it as professional artists – I was determined to be in that 4%.”

As a result, she launched her business Just Laughing in the late 1980s, painting murals, TV sets and other large-scale artworks – a natural combination of her childhood tendencies combined with her extraordinary painting skills. The business still exists, though these days she only takes commissions that really interest her, allowing plenty of time for her own art work.

Paintings for meditation studio by Ros Paton

Paintings for meditation studio by Ros Paton

“Things reached a head when I accepted a contract to project manage the painting of murals at twenty stations for Queensland Rail, as part of an effort to minimise graffiti. I wasn’t able to do anything else in that time, so since then I’ve concentrated more on my own work.”

Ros’ fascination with disrepair and destruction took hold in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1989.

“I arrived the day after the quake and it was terrible. Lots of buildings – the fronts had just fallen off. Chimneys had collapsed. They have these buildings on stilts that had been picked up by the tremors, turned slightly and dropped back down, just balancing there on the stumps.”

It fired up an urge in Ros to explore ideas around impermanency. “Nothing lasts forever, not even, or especially not, our homes.”

Ros gained her masters in painting, while investigating and recording scenes of demolition at sites such as the State Library of Brisbane Queensland, part of which was torn down to make way for the new Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.

But after a while, Ros found her attention attracted by the more gradual natural dereliction of places. “I love the Ovid quote ‘all things human hang by a slender thread,’” she says. “I still relish the built environment, but I’m intrigued in the way places degrade and fall into ruin. I like to notice the paving everyone ignores, and the tiles that are hard, but fragile.”

Hang by a Slender Thread cr Ros Paton

Hang by a Slender Thread © Ros Paton

It’s an interest that has led to a series of works based on the house next door to her Brisbane home. “Percy and his family lived there for at least sixty years, and covered the floors with linoleum. As it wore out in the areas most walked on, they’d simply put down more, so in some places there were 12 layers – all different, and all reflecting the era in which they were laid.”

Ros photographed these layers and set about painting pictures of them. “I’ve painted mostly to scale, some deliberately aged and others as new,” she explains. “People recognise them – they’re reminded of the décor of places they rented as students or grew up in as kids. They feel a connection to these designs.”

As well as having shows in Australia, previously Ros has held exhibitions of her work in Florence and Brussels, but is only now exhibiting in the UK.

“I arrived in England in May 2015, just in time for a group exhibition with the Leyden Gallery in London.”

Aldgate East Griffin cr Ros Paton

While in London, Ros became entranced by the tiling in many of the Tube stations, including the vibrant Eduardo Paolozzi mosaics of Tottenham Court Road, the elegant relief tiles (above) at Aldgate East, and Annabel Grey’s mosaic balloons on the walls of the southbound Piccadilly line platform at Finsbury Park. “They’re artwork we pass everyday, but rarely take the time to look at. The friend I was staying with in London took me to Finsbury Park Station but had never even noticed the lovely balloons before!”

Since arriving in Bristol, where she’s taken a space at Easton’s Mivart Studios, Ros has been drawn to capture rooftops, gates and doorways, taking delight in the fact nothing stands entirely straight, and nature is quietly reclaiming disused areas. “They’re the kind of strange details you probably wouldn’t be that aware of, but coming from elsewhere, I find them really beguiling!”

dont walk just eat cr Ros Paton

The three different subjects come together as a triptych celebrating our impermanence – as spaces shift, take on new personalities and roles within our cities, never settling as one thing for more than a limited period. It’s a visual story of change and possibility, and a subtle reminder to relish the time we have.

Ros’ next exhibition, Lamina, will be at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol from 5 September until 3 October 2015. You can find more of her work at www.rospaton.com

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – mural

Easton, Stapleton Road Mural cr Judy DarleyThis gorgeous mural is at Stapleton Road Station in Easton, Bristol. It’s a fantastic work of art, offering a vivid impression of this area throughout the decades, and a glimpse of the people who’ve passed through it in that time.

For this week’s writing prompt I invite you to bring this mural to life – you can either do as though these people are real, and create a story for one of them, or play with the idea of the mural itself. Might a commuter find themselves drawn to look at it occasionally while awaiting their train? And might they discover the portraits shifting from day to day?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.