I had such great fun making this illustration on my ipad. It’s an (idealised?) amalgam of various designs I have seen on cypriot sgraffito ceramic plates and fragments. In the early 1200’s –medieval Cyprus being a Crusader kingdom under the rule of the Lusignans– a new kind of ceramic art appeared, sporting these distinctive and very appealing decorations in brownish yellow and green glazes. Α surprising number of these bowls, wine cups and plates survive, which perhaps attests to their popularity and widespread usage.
Part of their charm has to be the colour scheme, a result of copper and iron oxide glazes painted and fired on top of lines scratched through the light coloured slip, so that the natural dark colour of the clay shows through. The subject matter is sometimes just decorative patterns, but often there are figures as well: delightful damsels or pages, couples, or single male and female figures engaged in genteel pastimes, such as wine drinking or falconry!
I’ll leave the rest to the experts: here’s a quote and link to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge where some of these can be seen…
Cyprus has a long tradition of producing both hand-made and wheel-made pottery in an exuberant range of colours and styles of decoration that goes back to the Bronze Age. The technology of the Medieval wares shown in this exhibition was practised in many parts of the Byzantine world, but the Cypriot potters exploited their own excellent clay sources and native ingenuity to develop their own distinctive local styles.
Decorated glazed ceramics are mostly tablewares, used on a daily basis by a large section of the population in the towns and villages. A large number of ceramics are found in graves. This is probably connected with burial customs that still survive in Cyprus today, in which the priest pours oil from a vessel on to the body in the grave and then throws the vessel in on top.
Re-entering the blogosphere after several weeks can have quite an impact. Struck by what I have been missing while toiling away at other endeavours, I rush to squeeze another post out of the expiring month. It’s Inktober after all!
Here it is, without further ado, another pumpkin offering, inked by hand this time. And great spooky fun it was too! #inktober31
Ephemeral to Stay is a blog I write as an excuse to illustrate. I base it around my own illustrations, both digital and the more traditional kind, that mostly follow the seasons, nature, art, teaching and other things that interest me. When I started over a year ago, I was drawn to the diaristic element, mainly because my work is inspired by the change in the seasons. Sometimes it’s a bit challenging to find the time so it’s been a while, but other projects have to take precedence, such is life!
I made this using Illustrator, Draw on my iPad and Photoshop, not necessarily in that order, and I had great fun. Happy Samhain, Lucky Halloween! I wish everyone a creative dark half of the year. Good things are coming, as the Earth heals.
Azure, cobalt, cerulean. Ochre of the earth and of limestone, a fragment of white marble blinking ferociously into the sunlight. Long shadows, jagged cliffs. Olive green and pale rose. One more week of August, but Summer still reigns in glorious Cyprus colour palettes. There is still time to take off, be a culture vulture or a beach bum. And on every adventure, out of the corner of the eye, an oleander: white, garnet, peach or pink, the quintessential flower of Cyprus. Unwilting in heatwaves, and forgiving of negligence. Anthropomorphised as heroine in distress, and sung of in medieval ballads. Deceivingly fresh looking, and treacherously toxic. Rosebay or Rhododaphne in greek, Arodaphne in the local dialect. Nerium Oleander, the laurel-rose of the ancients.
A small but fascinating exhibition is currently on at the Benaki Museum, in Athens, of the kind that really should happen more often. “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed lives in Greece” explores the friendship and shared love of Greece and everything greek, of three important creative figures in the post-war years, spanning over half a century, during time spent on Hydra, Corfu, Crete and in Kardamyli, Mani, between the Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika and his British friends Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Craxton.
Ghika first met writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and painter John Craxton in London in 1945. Leigh Fermor, or Paddy to his friends, was already at home in Greece. Also known as “The Man who Walked” – for having walked through much of Europe at age 18, in the ’30s – he had ended up spending a long sojourn in Greece, to which he returned as a Para major in World War II. A public school drop-out, a peripatetic polyglot, a back-packer before it was even a notion, and a war hero on Crete, where he masterminded and executed the kidnapping of the German commander, his writings on Greece show an astonishing understanding of the place and people, and a willingness to explain them to the world that is both illuminating and unapologetic.
Soon he would cross paths with many of Athens’ intellectuals, both the locals as well as their Anglo-American associates: Durrell, Seferis,Henry Miller, George Katsimbalis (the Colossus of Maroussi), Steven Runciman to name but the most prominent. In a way, it was through this circle that Greece was able to re-imagine itself in the post-war years. The Saronic isle of Hydra played a key role, as the ancestral home of Ghika and a dazzling hotspot for local and foreign intellectuals. Paddy called it a source of joy, and used his friend’s house as a refuge for a couple of years while writing his tome on Mani.
Ghika has been called a cubist, but I have always thought his work only became cubist because his island was. There is a lot of light in his work, and a delicate atmosphere. I suppose what he shares with other cubists is the way he creates a visual vocabulary. There is lore there, but without the folkiness. Craxton shared a similar sensitivity, and the interplay between the two painters is evident.
Later Leigh Fermor created his own private paradise in Kardamyli, Mani, a place I visited while he was still alive, though I did not catch a glimpse of him. Ghika was so enchanted by the place that he would paint landscapes there, and also provided some of the art that decorates the house that Paddy and wife Joan built together. John Craxton was Joan’s close friend, and when he visited he instantly fell in love with Greece. Craxton also followed this pattern of first using Ghika’s Hydra house as a haven until the time he discovered his own slice of heaven, in Hania, Crete. Their 50-year friendship proved enduring and creative. Shared by family, friends and guests from abroad these houses were idylls, and individual private universes, and arenas for the meeting of minds. When the family property on Hydra was destroyed by fire, Ghika transformed an old olive press into a home, in Sinies, Corfu to enjoy with his friends.
The exhibition was funded by the Leventis Gallery here in Nicosia, where I saw it. It is currently on at the Benaki Museum in Athens, and I believe will be in London this fall. Well worth a visit.
A ship sails into shore, a rusty well pulley moans
A blue plume of smoke on the rosy horizon
The image of a crane’s broken wing
Armies of swallows await to welcome the brave
Bare arms raised with anchors tattooed in the armpits
And a distant church bell saturates the sky with indigo
Amorgos, by Nikos Gatsos, 1943*
I’m glad I’ve been keeping sketchbooks. I wish I had painted more of these, but I am never going to wish I’d painted fewer. Some were done in cheap children’s water colours, some in fancy W&N. They are mostly from summers in the Aegean, and some from Cyprus. Here’s hoping the marine theme will get me in holiday mood. Two more days of school, for us teachers! Unwinding is a long process…
The translation of the poem (fragment) by Gatsos is my own. It’s from the rather long poem Amorgos. I couldn’t find the lines I wanted to quote online, so I translated as it suited me. Some of the vignettes here are scenes from Amorgos, the island. The cubist villages, geometric pigeon coops and stark whitewash around cobblestones,
…the eyes of the seaweed are turned to the sea
Big black sea with so many pebbles around your neck, so many gems in your hair*