Reading the walls of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Lithuania. pic by James HainsworthOur first full day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was flooded with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, so we took the chance to follow one of their excellent tourist maps, Wallographer’s Notes.

Street art began to emerge in the city as a form of protest during the years of Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1990. Today, the City Municipality regular invites applications of ideas for new artworks, and so every month new creations appear. Here are ten of my favourites.

Insects of Ladislas Starevich. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley1. Insects of Ladislas Starevich
Rotušės Aikštė, 15, Kaunas
If you begin at the town hall, you will soon happen across this trio of gigantic insects: an ant, grasshopper complete with violin and stag-beetle created in honour of pioneering puppet animator Ladislas Starevich.

Dogs Fountain, Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley2. The Dogs’ Fountain
Rotušės Aikštė, 19, Kaunas
Created by sculptor Vytautas Narutis in memory of the canine guardians said to protect the sleep of emperor Napoleon when he stayed in Kaunas Old Town, Fontanas Šunys (Dogs’ Fountain) was installed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The dogs have lovely friendly faces rubbed shiny in places, presumably from people patting their noses for luck.

The Freedom Warrior. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley3. The Freedom Warrior
Pilies G. 17, Kaunas
Located between the 14th century Kaunas castle and the Neris River, this exuberant statue is named the Freedom Warrior. The figure of the armour-clad knight on horseback mirrors the one of the city’s heraldic shield, known as Vytis. It stands an imposing seven metres high. I love its celebratory air, but feel its triumphant air is rivalled by the tot scooting around the monument’s base in my shot.

The Wise Old Man, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley4. The Wise Old Man
Jonavos G. 3, Kaunas
Turn to the right with your back to the castle, and you’ll spy The Wise Old Man, or The Master, a gigantic portrait smoking a pipe apparently in his pyjamas. We visited on a Saturday when the square below was laid out with stalls selling freshly unearthed root vegetables, cheese, honey, cured fish and the eponymous tree cakes. The 440 m2 creation by artists Tadas Šimkus and Žygimantas Amelynas overlooks it all with a benevolent air. Ironically, he’s painted on the side of a former footwear factory, and though you can’t see his feet in this photo, he has no shoes. He’s said to be an homage to George Maciunas, one of the pioneers of the Fluxus art movement.

Monument to Abraham Mapu. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by James Hainsworth5. Monument to Abraham Mapu
Mapu G., Kaunas
This jaunty chap stands on a chair inthe courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery. He is the sculpture of a beloved Kaunas-born author,Abraham Mapu, who is credited with writing and self-publishing one of the first Hebrew novels in 1853. I love the cheeky character sculptor Martynas Gaubas has achieved. With his hand held just so, he looks about to doff his cap in greeting.

Owl on Owl Hill, Kaunas Lithuania1. pic by Judy Darley6. A whole flock of owls
Pelėdų Kalnas, Kaunas
These concrete and sand owls mark the perimeter of Pelėdų Kalnas, or Owl Hill, and were created by sculptor Vincas Grybas in 1922. The owls are the symbols of Kaunas Art School, the hill and the city below.

Owl House on Owl Hill. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley

We followed tourist map to visit the owls, but spotted the above en-route to Owl Hill. What is that? An owl-shaped building?! So fabulous. Wonder if it’s on AirBnB,

The Cabin. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley7. The Cabin
Putvinskio G. 36, Kaunas
This gorgeous rainbow building springs out of its surroundings as a reminder that art rests on every corner of Kaunas. Once an abandoned and weather-beaten house, it’s now a vivid slice of life set almost midway between the Devil’s Museum and the Žaliakalnis Funicular (which was closed when we visited, with no explanation as to why). There are two chairs on the cabin’s roof, perhaps in case the devil or his wife fancy a rest.

Levitator. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley8. The Levitator
Nepriklausomybes Aikštė, Kaunas
Situated close to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, this sculpture resembles a miracle caught in mid-moment, as a figure rises, harnessed to its long-locked plinth only by a swathe of cloak.
I’ve since seen photos of children pressing themselves beneath the hovering body, but when we saw it rain poured down and all that caught there was the suggestion of clouds. By the way, apparently the Lithuanian word of Levitator is levitatacija. Beautiful.

Yard Gallery Kaunas1 Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley9. Yard Gallery
Ožeškienės G. 21A, Kaunas
Begun in artist Vytenis Jakas more than a decade ago, the Yard Gallery is a constantly evolving creation, with new artworks being added by a range of artists, neighbours and passersby all the time. It aims to bring life and a sense of community to this space surrounded by residential homes. An astonishing space crammed with evidence of narrative and imagination.

Pink Elephant Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley10. The Pink Elephant
Ožeškienės G. 18A, Kaunas
Just up the hill from the Yard Gallery, you’ll find a vast, resting elephant depicted in power pink. That large ear seems ripe for secrets, better than any church confessional. It’s by artist Vytenis Jakas(yep, him of the Yard Gallery, and to me seems to represent all things joyful and accepting in this quirky creative city. It was actually inspired by a graffiti slogan that translates as Love Conquers All.

Find out more about Kaunas, Lithuania, at visit.kaunas.lt/en/ 

Discover Bath.
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Discover Reyjavik.

Writing prompt – missing

Missing cat_photo by Judy DarleyThe other day I re-watched Big, in which Tom Hanks plays a child transformed by a wish into an adult, and was struck by the skilful storytelling within that movie.

The placement of a milk carton with the hero’s childhood face on it added poignancy to a scene whilst serving to remind viewers of his true self.

Imagine a ‘missing’ poster in your neighbourhood and think of the unexpected revelation or subtle depth it could layer into a story. Then have a play.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Biography – finding a new angle

Richmond bridge postcardIn today’s guest post, biographer Peter Fullagar discusses the value in finding a fresh focus when writing about a well-known figure.

Virginia Woolf is an icon. There can be no doubt about it. She fits into a variety of iconic categories; writer, feminist, mental health sufferer, sexual abuse survivor, LGBTQ supporter – the list is seemingly endless. So how does one attempt to look at Virginia, or rather RE:View her, from a different standpoint when there have been such outstanding biographies and commentaries on her life already?

Virginia Woolf.MS Thr 559 (21), Houghton Library, Harvard UniversityFind a minor point and turn it major

When I was asked by Aurora Metro Books to write a book about Virginia and her life in Richmond, I was thrilled. Having studied much of her work and read her diaries, it was going to be fascinating to delve into her life again. The book accompanies Aurora Metro’s Virginia Woolf Statue campaign to erect the first life-size bronze statue of Virginia in the UK. At the time of writing, there is only a blue plaque to state that Virginia had any connection to Richmond. Even the biographies demonstrate a cursory nod to Richmond and its influence.

In contrast, Virginia is almost synonymous with the Bloomsbury area of London and for being a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of writers, artists and intellectuals. To Woolf fans, it’s no secret that she loved living in the city of London and lived there for most of her life, with fifteen years of it spent at Tavistock Square. However, a quote from the film The Hours had always bothered me:

If it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.

I wondered if this was really the reason why Virginia was not apparently celebrated in the town.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Do your research

During the hours of research in her letters and diaries, I could find no reference to the quote from The Hours, so I contacted the writer of the book it was adapted from, Michael Cunningham and also the screenwriter, Sir David Hare.

Sir David’s agent confirmed that the station scene, from which the quote comes from, was largely invented for the screen and in fact, Virginia had never uttered these words. This, then, was the angle which the book should explore. Richmond was integral to Virginia’s life and yet a lot of people didn’t even know that she had lived there. From 1915 to 1924, Virginia and her husband, Leonard, lived in the town, and it was here, I believe, where she truly found her career taking off and the foundation of the Hogarth Press and her short story Kew Gardens were instrumental to her success.

Find the evidence

Looking at somebody’s life from a different angle is nothing without the evidence to support your claims. Luckily for me, Virginia had been kind enough to detail the majority of her life through her diaries and letters, and, although it took a long time and a lot of post-it notes, I gradually found the evidence that she actually did like living in Richmond, contrary to the fictitious quote and popular belief. I think that one of the key things about my research is that Leonard Woolf had written volumes of autobiography, and here I was able to corroborate the evidence from what he had written.

Hogarth House B&W

Hogarth House, Richmond

Broaden your scope

It wasn’t going to be enough just to find a few quotes that basically said ‘I like living in Richmond’, I had to fully explore her life in the town, from demonstrating her feelings with what she did (such as helping to run the local Women’s Co-operative Guild), to her family and servants and the people who came to visit her. Thus, thirteen chapters were borne out of the research and a book was made.

Clinch your conclusion

Ultimately, there was one vital entry in Virginia’s diary that sealed the conclusion. On 9th January 1924, as Virginia and Leonard were preparing to leave Richmond, she wrote:

So I ought to be grateful to Richmond and Hogarth, and indeed, whether it’s my invincible optimism or not, I am grateful.

Peter FullagarAbout the author

Peter Fullagar is a former English teacher turned writer and editor. As well as Virginia Woolf in Richmond, he has a short story published in Tempest: An Anthology from Patrician Press, published March 2019 and two English language exam books with Express Publishing. He enjoys playing the piano, taking photographs and spending time with cats. He lives in Berkshire with his partner. Find Peter at www.peterjfullagar.co.uk and www.twitter.com/peterjfullagar

About the book

Drawing from Virginia Woolf’s diaries, letters and other source material, Virginia Woolf in Richmond offers a glimpse of the author and her deep affection for Richmond, as well as the early days of the Hogarth Press, named after the Woolfs’ home in Richmond, and the many influences on Virginia’s mental health and literary output.

The biography recently had a second print run. The hardback version is available from www.aurorametro.com, with ebook versions available from various online stores.

The Virginia Woolf Statue Project continues to raise money after securing planning permission.

All photos in this post were supplied by Peter Fullagar.

Painting and piecing artefacts

Screen Illuminated by Sunset, gouache on paper by Alan James McLeodAlan James McLeod took a long and winding route to reach the abstract works he’s becoming known for. “I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1990, in applied design, then became a freelance textile designer, producing hand painted fabric and wallpaper designs for companies such as Warner Fabrics, Habitat & John Lewis.”

Following “a long hiatus” during which he set art and design aside, Alan chose to return with a more fine art approach at the beginning of 2014, “but the design background is always there.”

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

The delicious textural look to Alan’s artwork is created by handpainting papers he then collages. The result is an intriguing resemblance to unearthed artefacts or enticingly  weatherbeaten ephemera.

“At college I used to paint on top of oil pastels, then scrape through to create designs,” he explains of his technique. “This developed to layering the paint colours on top of each other, using clear wax instead of the oil pastels. Lots of scraping and washing, leaving out in the rain, anything to reveal what’s underneath.”

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

He developed his unique style through a balance of “not worrying about the outcome”, embracing “happy accidents to push my work in different directions” and endeavouring to produce individual pieces “that reminded me of something, and that have some sort of resonance or depth. Papers that are too ‘surface’, can be useful in my work as well though, as they can be overworked or gilded to bring them to a level of usefulness.”

Being away from the art world for around seven years was useful in its own way, as it showed Alan how intrinsic art had become to him. “I was missing a big part of my life, and after work I would head upstairs to our spare room and start sifting through old textile designs, found papers and postcards.”

Before long, Alan started making little collages. “This was purely for enjoyment’s sake. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to try a couple of them in a gallery.”

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

He describes moving house a catalyst for taking his work to a new level. “At the same time as I was taking my art more seriously, my surroundings were unfamiliar, and not giving me the inspiration that directed my work. This is when a more cerebral approach took over, with my imagination coming in to play.”

Alan felt that collage work using found papers, was already a crowded area. “Many artists have mastered college, one of my favourites being Kurt Schwitter.”

To ensure an originality in his own work, Alan decided to focus on creating his own unique painted papers as the medium for his collages.

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

I’m impressed by the beauty of the light Alan captures in his work, and ask how he learnt to represent it so effectively. “Sometimes we need to be shown the light,” he says. “I hope in my work that I’m revealing a little of what may have been hidden.”

The process of developing and completing a work of art can be lengthy and ponderous.
“Often a piece of work will ‘hang around’ for quite some time before finding another paper to marry up with it,” Alan says. “At the onset, I have no preconceived idea of any finished work. The process is just in the doing. I’m thinking about ancient weathered walls, tribal textiles, or a place of cultural interest which has only the decorative architectural features left, with all the precious artefacts removed. Towards completion of the work, I’m striving for depth, hidden meaning, or just something beautifully decorative.”

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Daydreaming is a vital part of Alan’s creative process. “I did a bit of travelling when I was younger, not so much now, so the use of a good imagination helps. Places like Italy and Malta, left an impression on me. The faded colours, layers of history living side by side…”

Alan begins the creation of his painted papers with no fixed plan or vision. “It’s solely about the drive to create an effect or texture that I feel I can use in a finished work,” he says. “How the papers end up influences the direction the piece is going in, be it a more planetary look, abstract landscape, or thinking of imagined shrines, artefacts or architecture. Very rarely is a piece completed using only one paper. I use a combination of techniques, including edge to edge joining for the composition, and collage for the decorative elements.”

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

In his bio on the Lime Tree Gallery website, where he frequently exhibits, Alan states his goal of documenting “emotional responses to music and memory, celestial bodies and changes in the seasons.”

He elaborates: “Abstract work can evoke memories of not just places, but feelings and experiences. I add shapes to the compositions to add focus, hoping the viewer finds enough space within the work to add their own interpretation. Anthropomorphising what is seen happens often, but the attaching of memories and the personalising of the piece is the joy of producing the work.”

Find more of Alan’s artwork on Instagram.

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Writing prompt – discord

Devil and accordian. Devils Museum, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy DarleyThe accordion is a devil’s instrument. No, seriously. When visiting Kaunas, Lithuania, recently, I spent some time meandering the three storeys of the Devils’ Museum (highly recommended, btw), and saw numerous statues of gurning devils clutching elaborate squeeze-boxes.

Somehow, it was no surprise. Unless played with uncommon skill, these tricky instruments sound somewhat like outraged felines. Far from accord, all you get is discord.

What instrument or implement could you give the villain of a story to provide an insight into their depths of depravity? Go brash, or go subtle – you could set the whole tone of your piece.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Enter the Poetry on the Lake Competition

Carzano harbour cr Judy DarleyThere’s still time to enter the Poetry on the Lake Competition with a closing date of 31st March 2019.

There are two categories:

Silver Wyvern (max 42 lines), which will be judged by singer, songwriter and broadcaster Paul Henry, and can be on any theme and in any form.
Formal (max 40 lines) is for traditional poetic forms only, such as sonnet, sestina, or villanelle, but can be on any topic.

Prizes range from €100 to €500.

I love how much more inclusive the world of writing competitions is becoming, with optional fees to allow lower-income talents to enter! In this case, all fees are classed as donations to the competition costs, organisation and events of Poetry on the Lake, so while there’s a suggested amount, they add: “If you genuinely can’t afford the fee, send one poem for nothing. Those who can, please donate generously.”

Find full details at www.poetryonthelake.org.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

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Theatre review – Orca

Orca play at Bristol old VicMatt Grinter’s powerfully understated play Orca, directed by Chloe Masterson, opens on a scene of excitement as fourteen-year-old Fan (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) prepares for her village’s annual ritual of choosing a girl to play the role of the Daughter and protect precious fish stocks from marauding orcas. Each of the village’s young girls vies for the privilege to re-enact the Daughter’s sacrifice of leaping into the ocean and the orca’s jaws to save The Father and the village.

Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan and Sam Henderson as The Father in Orca. Credit Craig Fuller.jpg

Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan and Sam Henderson as The Father in Orca

Fan has her dress all but ready, the flowers for her hair and her performance down pat, but there’s one obstacle. Her sister Maggie, who was chosen as the Daughter years earlier, shamed her family by telling ‘lies’ about what happens to the girls taken out to sea. The family – Maggie, Fan and their carpenter father Joshua (Finnbar Hayman) has been struggling to get by ever since.

Fan is certain that being picked as the Daughter herself will help to re-establish the family’s position in the village. But Maggie is scared that what happened to her will happen to her little sister, far out from shore where nobody can help her. It wasn’t that no one believed her, she says, but rather that no one dared or wanted to believe.

Sam Henderson as The Father and Heidi Parsons as Maggie in Orca. Credit Craig Fuller

Sam Henderson as The Father and Heidi Parsons as Maggie in Orca

This is the premise that has sanctioned the misdeeds carried out by men with the mindsets of Harvey Weinstein for centuries. Even Maggie’s own father dares not believe her, but she sees that there’s doubt in his heart.

Finnbar Hayman as Joshua and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca. Credit Craig Fuller

Finnbar Hayman as Joshua and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca

Portrayed by a cast of five exceptionally talented acting students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, each character is wonderfully nuanced and human, from our hero Maggie, played with blazing determination by Heidi Parsons, to Sam Henderson delivering The Father with a skin-creeping blend of charm and threat.

Set designer Robin Davis keeps scenery pared back and humble, with a table and two stools representing the house, and bare, salt-stained boards becoming the island exterior. Lamps flicker into life to add atmosphere, while sound designer Daniel Harvey adds in the soft sound of surf keeps our minds on the sea. Matched to costume designer Oscar Selfridge’s rustic knitwear.

Heidi Parsons as Maggie and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca. Credit Craig Fuller

Heidi Parsons as Maggie and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca

Holly Carpenter as Gretchen, a girl pulled from the waves with rope burns around her ankles, adds a palpable sense of urgency to the narrative, showing Maggie that The Father’s actions are further reaching than she suspected. Maggie never wavers from the truth, despite the pressures put on her by the community and by her own family.

Gretchen and Maggie have both had encounters with the orcas everyone professes to dread, and both feel this fear is misplaced. As the play races towards its crescendo, clarity rises from the depths of every heart, but has it come too late?

Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca. Credit Craig Fuller

Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Fan in Orca

Orca is a gut-chilling reminder that the smallest communities have room for danger, and that often the biggest risks come not from nature, but from the people who claim to want to keep you safe.

Gloriously atmospheric, rich textured and riddled with uncomfortable truths, this is a drama that will seep beneath your skin and remind you to question the society that shelters you.

Find out more at https://www.oldvic.ac.uk/events-shows/orca/

Orca is on at Bristol Old Vic’s Weston Studio until Saturday 16th March 2019 and is part of the New Plays in Rep season. Photos by Craig Fuller.

Writing prompt – extinction

Jam spoon cr Judy DarleyThere’s been a lot in the news recently about the world losing its first mammal species to climate change. The creature in crisis was a little rodent called a melomy, which used to live on an island near the Great Barrier Reef, but died out due to cataclysmic weather that destroyed their habitat.

It’s a scary harbinger of the losses to come. This week, I suggest you write a tale on this theme, but give it a twist by a) writing about the extinction of human beings from the point of view of another species, or b) by detailing the extinction of an inanimate object, along the lines of: “Scientists today confirmed the death of the last jam spoon. This selfless and useful species is now declared extinct.”

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

London Book Fair 2019

English Pen Literary Cafe

London Book Fair crops up almost a full month earlier for 2019, taking place at Olympia, London, from 12th-14th March.

It’s a vast, sprawling space filled with people who haven’t slept in days and aren’t quite sure where they’re going – a bit like an international airport but with the added requirement of being ready to schmooze at a moment’s notice.

Previously a trade fair for literary agents and publishers, the Fair is increasing skewed towards writers, with The Author Club and Author HQ, a dedicated theatre offering the chance of agent one-to-ones and seminars attracting more than 3,700 authors and aspiring authors across the three days of the Fair. Popular topics include plotting, character, voice and pacing.

Look out for the Writer’s Summit and New Title Showcase too. For a head’s up on what agents are eyeing up this year, read The Bookseller’s insight piece on agent hotlists.

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