Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


Leave a comment

Somewhere over the rainbow…

Well it’s certainly been a bit of a weird time hasn’t it. We’ve all absorbed a new vocabulary and the basic science of infection transmission. R numbers, lock-down, social distancing, bubbles…it’s all a bit, well, unprecedented really.

At the start of the lock-down I was blessed with some of the best spring weather I could have hoped for. Each morning, I promised myself, I would walk to work. This was, in reality, a stroll around the neighborhood before I returned home and climbed the stairs to my stuffy top room where I had installed the hastily borrowed work laptop and some randomly grabbed essentials from my reference book collection. Driving to work was so kinda BC.*

What I loved looking out for was the variety of rainbows that appeared – little signs of hope and love in a bleak and scary world. I loved the creativity with which people spread a little joy. People who had been whisked out of their normal work, home and school routines and were trying, like we all were, to wrestle some control over an uncontrollable virus.

They cheered me and brightened my commute. And for that I am thankful.

So in the end…I had to make my own!

20200430_083424

See you somewhere over the rainbow.

*Before Covid. Of course!

©Chez l’abeille  2020


1 Comment

Chihuly Nights

Dale Chihuly is one of my favourite artists and I have written about his exhibitions on several occasions. The most recent was my trip to Kew Gardens in the spring. Seeing the pieces in a natural environment, unhindered by the confines of a gallery space was something I didn’t think could be bettered. But I was wrong.

Kew is known for its Christmas lights but I’ve never been to see them. When I saw adverts for a night time visit to the Chihuly exhibition, literally seeing the works in another light, I was straight onto it. Tickets booked, friends organised…we were in!

We arrived around dusk and after a short wait to enter we were off on a magical walk. At first the paths seemed a little crowded but as we walked on into the nighttime, guided only by fairy lights and music playing among the trees we often found ourselves alone. Kew in the day is fabulous but at night it becomes more elemental. As you tread closer to the heart of the gardens the air gradually cools. Shadows tumble around you and it starts to feel like another world entirely. Add to this mix the illuminated sculptures, which  glow like jewels in the darkness and it is simply magical!

My favourite piece from the day time trip was the water lily house. Once again I was captivated by this installation and the reflections created by water and light was perfection.

Second place went to the indoor pieces which also cast otherworldly shadows across the walkways.

We were among the last people to leave the gardens that night and left full of plans to finally book for the Christmas lights this year…if it is half as good as this experience, I think it will become a regular calendar event!

©Chez l’abeille  2019

 


4 Comments

The Streets of London: Chihuly at Kew Gardens.

During the Easter break we were fortunate to have some extraordinarily unseasonable weather – the sun shone, the sky was a bright summer blue and the thermometer rose – so this seemed the perfect opportunity to see an outdoor glass installation by a favourite artist.

The Dale Chihuly Exhibition, “Reflections on Nature” at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a sequence of artworks, both indoors and nestled within the famous glasshouses. It took a couple of hours of gentle strolling to see them all and to spend time really looking at these beautiful works within the natural environment.

Enjoy!

As well as seeing the installations in the garden, we visited the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (located inside Kew and included as part of your ticket). There is a large exhibition of classic pieces by Chihuly, some of which I already knew. However, I particularly liked seeing his drawings, which detail the swirls and undulations of the final pieces with an immediacy that is fascinating.

As I write this post, the weather has turned into Storm Hannah, wet, cold and far more like April. However the spirit of these wonderful works is continuing to keep a warm glow inside me. Later in the year there will be the chance to see them lit up at night. Something tells me I’ll be going!

The installation will be at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew until 27th October 2019

©Chez l’abeille  2019


4 Comments

In which I go to Kerala: Part 1. So near and yet so far…

Of all the things I thought might cause havoc on my way to Kerala, the one I really hadn’t considered was fog. The weather reports for Heathrow were clear. The threats of snow had remained largly in the North. I was on a plane and heading for Cochin…until fog  brought the carefully scheduled Christmas plans of several hundred people crashing down into one spot: the transfer desk in Abu Dhabi airport. FOG! For the next three hours I queued and finally achieved two things: I found one of the other two people who were travelling to Cochin to join my holiday group and I got a flight out of Abu Dhabi 14 hours later, with a hotel room thrown in for good measure.

What to do then when your body clock is screaming stay awake and you’ve got several hours to kill? When The Louvre has just jointly opened a multi-million pound gallery on its own island, the answer was a no -brainer.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Opening in November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first in a proposed group of internationally linked, cultural spaces on Saadiyat Island (the island of happiness). Designed by Jean Nouvel, the building is a collection of spaces interlinked under a dome of layered latticework, reflecting the traditional use of palm leaves for roofing. Light filters through this intricate structure and dapples the internal courtyards, creating a harmonious mix of light and shade. Unlike many of the other buildings in Abu Dhabi, the building sits low down on the island, close to the water’s edge; its full beauty is slowly revealed through a screened walkway. We were so entranced by the exterior that it did take us some time to finally make our way inside to view the collection!

And what an amazing collection it is. Spanning every medium, pieces are carefully curated to tell the universal stories of humanity. Linked by brass inlays that guide the vistor from space to space, glass cases present artefacts with a simplicity that is mesmerising. Play, work, food, family, love, war, art: all the great themes are explored and presented as shared experiences across times and spaces. Many works have been loaned but the museum has a very healthy aquisitions budget too, leading to a growing permanent collection. A surprisingly comprehensive collection of 20th Century and current artists was also a treat, with several much loved impressionist works on loan from the Musee D’Orsay. The galleries lead finally out into the covered courtyard where sculptures create focal points under the shady dome.

Getting stuck in Abu Dhabi was a pain, but without it I doubt I would ever have been able to visit this delightful, cultural oasis. Although we arrived a full 24 hours late for our Keralan adventure, the holiday had already started.

©Chez l’abeille 2018

 


The House of Dreams.

Step through this gateway and you will find yourself in The House of Dreams.

Front garden (9)I could try to describe the house and tell you all about Stephen Wright, the artist who has created and shaped this amazing work, but I’m not going to. Instead, as a tiny snapshot of this world apart, I’m going to show you some of the photographs Stephen very generously let me take before the most recent open day got underway.

Then I’m going to invite you to make a cup of tea, take some time out and let Stephen explain his work to you personally. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. So go on – open the gate and step into the courtyard…

Now go through the front door and into the hallway. Memories surround you: Personal thoughts and immense feelings laid bare.

Peep through the archway – colours and textures draw you inwards. Assembled words and objects create something new from the lost and dispossessed detritus of the world.

The studio floor and walls bridge the space towards the back garden.

In the world of Forensic Science it is often said that “every contact leaves a trace”. The cherished fragments of lives lived and lives living infuse each space and become the very DNA of the house. Challenging, comforting, personal, intimate, human.

This is the House of Dreams.

Many thanks to Stephen and Michael for letting me get in the way while their final preparations for the open day were underway.

You can visit the House of Dreams in East Dulwich on the last Saturday in September or October – Tickets can be purchased via Stephen’s website here.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


The Streets of London: Frieze Sculpture 2017

Anyone who has read my last post and got as far as The Royal Docks may recall me telling you that there was now only the one sculpture there, where there were previously several. It was a surprise to find one of the missing pieces this week, amongst the 25 works that make up the 2017 Frieze sculpture trail in London’s Regent’s Park. Somehow this event had failed to register on my “what’s currently happening” radar, but thanks to some more in-the-know friends and with a sunny staycation day in hand, I was able to cross from south to north to have a look.

‘From the playful to the political, these 25 works explore contemporary sculpture’s material and technical dexterity, together with its social role and reflection on the human condition and our environment’. (Clare Lilley – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Director of Programme and Frieze Sculpture curator)

See what YOU think!

I was most excited by Alicja Kwade’s piece, Big Be-Hide (2017) – unfortunately it would appear that something (or someONE) has managed to crack the mirror and it had been health and safety – ed to the max. I managed to take some reasonable pictures, but to see it in its full glory you need to head to https://frieze.com/article/frieze-sculpture-2017-0

 

Frieze Sculpture is free and is open from 5 July to 8 October in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, London.

 

©Chez l’abeille  2017


The Streets of London: Pullens Yards

It started with a tweet by a publisher I follow. A mention of Pullens Yards, an open studios and a postcode intrigued me; I like to think I know many of the studios around my area but this was new to me. I had a few hours to spare before an afternoon of volunteering at a local theatre and as I had to pass through SE17 on the way I thought, “why not?”

I already knew that behind the Walworth Road in SE London there are many Victorian streets, full of original housing stock, but discovering some beautiful Victorian artisan workshops was a complete surprise.

Pullens Centre Sign

Pullens Centre Sign

The yards sit within the Pullens Estate. This was built between 1870 and 1901 by local builders, James Pullen and Son. Included in the estate design were four yards, of which three remain, Iliffe Yard, Clements Yard and Peacock Yard. The Yards were purpose-built workspaces, designed originally as a work/live spaces, something that is still seen today in several locations around Southwark.

It was a great day to visit – the sun was out and London was basking in a kind of post-election lethargy. As it was quite quiet when I arrived many of the artists were happy to chat. I spent some time in the studio of David Cowley, who seeks to capture his responses to music and literature in his paintings. His work was fascinating and I could have spent all morning chatting with him about art and synaesthesia, but there were three yards to get round so I had to move on.

The yards are a celebration of everything you know about Victorian building. From the wrought iron gates and the cobbled roadway, to the worn out staircases and arched doorways they are the epitome of the attention to detail that the builder brought to a project. Today they continue to house a wide range of artists, from Royal Academicians to lute makers, photographers, jewellers, potters…the list is endless.

I was keen to visit Tiny Owl Publishers who are based in Peacock Yard. This publishing house focuses on books which aim to bridge cultural experiences, creating the most beautiful books about love, friendship or freedoms. I had a lovely conversation with co-founder Karim, who took time to show me their latest publications and the themes they focus on. If you are a fan of picture books that really say something then have a look at their titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Back in the 1970s the workshops and surrounding flats were heading for demolition. Thanks to the far-sighted campaigners who saved them in the face of bailiffs and police, the area was saved and is now a sought after place to live. As we see the shape of the Walworth Road and the Elephant and Castle changing on an almost daily basis, I hope these small-scale spaces remain as a creative hub, continuing to bring a little beauty to our lives.

Peacock Yard

Peacock Yard

The Yards host an Open Studios event twice a year in the Summer and at Christmas. Details can be found via their website http://www.pullensyards.co.uk/

©Chez l’abeille  2017


In which I go to Crete. Part 3: Rethymnon

Rethymnon (2)

It’s a few weeks since I got back from Crete but since then I have been trying to recreate some of the flavours I experienced there. It’s not so easy to track down Cretan wine in London, but having discovered a rather delicious wine from Peza in the local Oddbins and coupled it with a home made filo pastry, spinach and feta pie, today I’ve come reasonably close!

There was much eating and wine drinking in Rethymnon too. It’s a busy old town but small enough to get around comfortably on foot. It’s also brimming with restaurants. My favourite spot was Raki Ba Raki where I finally found horta, the steamed or boiled cretan greens (or weeds as I’ve seen them described) which are delicious when drowned in olive oil and lemon. The closest similar plant I have found back home is dandelions, so I might have to wait until I go back to try them again. I have read that the greek word for vegetarian is “hortofagos,” which apparently means “weed eater!”

Sitting above the narrrow streets of the old town is the fortress or fortezzo. This Venetian bastion has been around since 1580 and was designed as a place of safety against Ottoman attack. This plan failed in 1646 when the Ottomans besieged the city and the Venetians surrendered. Inside the grounds there is a mosque and an orthodox church, giving testament to the varied history of the island. The views are magnificent from the parapets and it’s easy to see how this spot would be chosen to defend the city behind it.

At the foot of the Fortezza is the Contemporary Art Museum, which has a variety of shows throughout the year.  I wasn’t too engaged with the work by the artist Nikos Viskadourakis that was on display when I was there. Through intensely worked pieces, using a limited acrylic palette of reds, blues, blacks and ochres he explored the myth of Odysseus in Hades – I guess you might need more than a passing aquaintance with book XI of Homer’s Odyssey to really see what was going on. However the building is worth a visit and in the heat of summer the aircon would be delicious.

Walking around it’s easy to see where the Venetians left their mark in other ways. The Rimondi Fountain lies at its heart, providing drinking water for animals and the people alike in times of drought. Equally the old harbour provides a lovely sheltered spot for some people watching, especially after church turns out on a Sunday morning. Despite the touristy air, there’s also a relaxing, homely atmosphere in Rethymnon, which made it a great place to finish my Cretan soujourn.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


A brand new look…

“It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new.”

                                                                                 Tony Visconti
The cover of January’s “Which” magazine was asking a rather big question recently: “Which brands stand the test of time?”
I guess we only have to open the kitchen cupboards to answer this. A quick survey of my kitchen reveals Birds custard, Tabasco Sauce and Bournville cocoa powder, all longstanding familiar brands from childhood to today. However the best place for a stroll through your own sensational history is definitely the Museum of Brands.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Museum of Brands –  Ladbroke Grove

There’s something rather fabulous about stepping back into your own past. To walk through the “Time Tunnel”, where the museum’s extensive collection is displayed, is also a walk down the collective memory lane.
My main reason for going to the museum was to see the collection of jigsaw puzzles, but in fact I was totally absorbed by the retro packaging and designs. As I moved into the sixties and onwards, sensations were continuously triggered. Memories of sweet tastes or vile ones, good times or bad; the objects created a shared cultural experience that got visitors talking and swopping personal stories. I had a hilarious shared moment with some Australian visitors over the Sixties food packets and memorabilia on display.
The museum has two main parts – the Time Tunnel which walks you through design and branding by decades, from the 1800s to the present day and an exhibition of designs which traces the evolution of very well-known packaging.

Continue reading


1 Comment

Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes things just happen. That, I guess is what constitutes a happening. The arrival of a mirror maze in Peckham for one weekend only is always going to be a happening. Add that it’s in the Copeland Park/Bussey Building’s achingly hip enclave and it is always going to be up there in the zeitgeist.

I’m not going to write a lot about the background to the work – there’s a really decent article by Creative Review, which tells you everything you need to know. Briefly, the work is by Es Devlin who has a background in stage design. It’s exploring scent, memory and identity. It’s created in partnership with i-D and Chanel to celebrate creativity from women in arts and culture aross the world.

What it actually is: a really fabulous, immersive, mesmerising artwork!

I’m glad I went down early on the opening day as I think visitors would be queuing round the block by the end of the weekend as word spread. By the time this post goes out it will all be over, but that I suppose is what makes it the best kind of memory – a transient moment of total magic.

©Chez l’abeille  2016

 

 


2 Comments

The Art of Observation

I bought my most recent camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC GX7, in October before I headed off to Iceland. I wanted something that would take the pictures I could see and my long standing point and shoot just wasn’t cutting it any more. I thought I was fairly au fait with the workings of a SLR based camera, having used my beloved Pentax for years, but the ease of the totally automatic button has left me doing little more than, well, pointing and shooting.

P1000810

The roof top gardener

So last Sunday morning I headed off through early morning London to meet my friend Kathy on the roof top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. If you haven’t wandered up the yellow concrete stairs to this little urban oasis I heartily recommend it. Currently the South Bank Centre is running a series of Sunday photography workshops with photographer Ollie Smallwood – this was the reason for getting up early! Ollie has been photographing the garden and the team of volunteers who look after for a while now, which meant he was well placed to get the best out of our ideas.

The group was small so we had time to talk and share ideas, experiences and cameras, which ranged from mobile phones to high end digital SLRs! What I loved most was that we didn’t spend a lot of the 2 hours taking pictures, which might seem odd, but in the end made perfect sense.

Our first task was to walk around and simply look. We were encouraged to think carefuly about what we wanted to photograph before whipping our camera from pocket or bag. Freed from the view through a lense, I felt more able to focus and open to the nuances of the space around me and the endless possibilties for pictures there were.

“slow down and value each picture you take”

Continue reading


2 Comments

Vegging out.

If you really, really want to know what’s out there in the zietgeist then there’s one sure fire way to find out.

P1000792

Love Lambeth

Yes – that would be the Lambeth Country Show and you KNOW where that leads: straight to the carved vegetable competition.

I actually thought there was a queue to get into the Flower and Produce tent but it turned out the judges were just being all judgy. A quick jaunt up to the jousting and the canvas flaps were lifted. We were in and there was a definite first day of the sales type scrum to get pole position around the carved veg entries.

So what’s hot in the world of veg carving in 2016?

First there was American presidential hopeful Donald Trump in triplicate:

I thought Donald Trumpkin was particularly inspired, but the butternut squash should be commended for genius use of beetroot. Continue reading


The streets of London: If you go down to the woods…

If you live in SE London you’ll have some awareness of the remnants of the Great North Wood – that swathe of oak forest that contributed much to Britains maritime history, providing oak timbers to build ships at the Royal Dockyard in Deptford. Ancient names litter our geography: Gypsy Hill, West Norwood, One Tree Hill, names from the past which still inhabit our present.

Some small pockets of the Great North Wood still exist and can be visited today – one of these is Sydenham Hill Woods, home to a multitude of animal and plantlife, including the Brown Long-eared Bat

As part of the recent Dulwich Festival, Artist Louis Masai painted a large mural of these distinctive bats, which inhabit the woods and roost in the abandoned Victorian railway tunnel.

Brown Long eared bats artwork in Sydenham Hill Wood by Louis Masai

Brown Long eared bats artwork in Sydenham Hill Wood by Louis Masai

The bat is one of several that are found in the woods and use the tunnel to roost. Adding to the body of work that make up the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery, this is a beautiful piece of contemporary art, that sits perfectly in the midst of such an ancient place.

©Chez l’abeille  2016


5 Comments

The Streets of London: Here’s looking at you

So. It was a sunny Sunday after a rather grim Saturday. What to do with a day with no prior engagements?

Inspired by recent postings by Inspiring City, I decided to go for a street art focused wander along Brick Lane towards Hoxton, armed with a digital camera and the trusty Pentax.

Having used up my camera battery and an entire roll of Ilford film which is now waiting to be processed, I discovered that most of the images I photographed today were faces. Large faces, small faces, skeletal faces and famous faces.

Here’s looking at you.

 

©Chez l’abeille  2016


2 Comments

The Afghan Girl

June 1985. Copies of the National Geographic magazine fell through the letter box with the usual heavy thud. Taking off the wrapper to reveal the familiar yellow edged cover, we first made acquaintance with “The Afghan Girl” – destined to become arguably one of the most recognizable faces of the 20th Century. Framed by her rust brown headscarf, those green eyes gazed steadily and intently, forcing us to look at her. She became an international sensation.

Afghan girl image Leake Street 2008

Afghan girl Leake Street 2008

 

Photographed in Peshawar by Steve McCurry in 1984, the unnamed girl was an orphaned Afghan refugee, living in a camp with her remaining family. “I didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day,” he recalls when talking about the image. However, in one of those magical moments in photography, the subject, light and timing all aligned in that Cartier Bresson style “decisive moment”. Such was the power of this photograph that it has become a universally recognised image or cultural reference point. In 2008 she was a key image in Banksy’s street art “Cans Festival”. Still no one knew her name.

 

 

The Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry - two images 1984

The Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry – two images 1984

Years later McCurry set out to find her. Against all odds he was able to track her down, living back in Afghanistan, a three day journey from their original meeting place.
She is no longer the same anonymous girl. Her name is Sharbat Gula. Married at 13, or maybe 16 – ages are not recorded in the mountains of Afghanistan, she has carried four children. Three now survive. Yet despite a life of extreme hardship the same spark of challenge remains in the pictures taken by McCurry when they finally met again.

Beetles + Huxley gallery in London are currently showing a dazzling collection of McCurry’s images, including his portrait of the Afghan Girl. There are actually two images, which was a surprise. The second, with her reddish brown shawl half covering her face was the original cover choice, but a last minute decision switched the images. Renewing our aquaintance with the original image thirty one years on, that piercing look still has the power to make us stop and look.

Steve McCurry at Beetles+Huxley runs until 19th March and is free.

©Chez l’abeille 2016