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Newsletter #2 / On place, methods and fault-lines
Tunisia, lands, scale, lost cities, drawings
Last weekend, as I was musing over bits of Newsletter #2, looking out to the beautiful Maghrebi vistas from the rooftop of my hotel in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia – my notes brought me back to the influence and idea of place and space in creative work.
What better way to think (and indeed draw) about the question than being in a beautiful, rustic country – and so I set out with tools, notes and material in hand for a long and enriching tour of some Berber villages about two hours south of the capital Tunis, on day 2 of my stay there.
Ghassen, our ever so patient driver+guide understood our vibe perfectly and very generously accommodated various traditional (proper) pit-stops along the way up to the abandoned villages. Some of these were - a roadside sand bread baker, a traditional Tunisian village square, a male dominated coffee shop which was teeming with hookah-smokers and backgammon players and a couple of Berber tents. We finally made our way up to the village of Zriba Olia. The next few hours had us walking/climbing through rocks and ruins in the hot sun, devouring a Berber meal and talking to locals.
Observing and engaging with shifting fault lines and moving landscapes has been the interest of so many land & climate artists, painters, urbanists and travellers. Over the years, this has become a characteristic layer in the work I make too and the method of walking and mark-making en plein air, a key part of my process.
My water-soluble graphite sticks, gessoed paper and most of all the climes were some ingredients of the place specific drawings I made of the time spent there. Thinking about how the village must have come to the state of its present-day ruins fuelled the marks and lines on my paper. Rinse and repeat next morning, during my walks through the ancient Phoenician city port of Carthage.
In his book on world’s lost cities, author Alistair Bonnet writes about this insatiable human desire to be in the unknown, to escape to anywhere and a need to anchor oneself to a certain somewhere. The author states that this fascination is as old as geography itself.
I concur. The views and walks and just being amongst Berber and North-African Roman ruins juxtaposed with modern Arab-French sounds and smells during my time in Tunisia provided me with so much valuable imagery to last.
In the month gone by,several shows drew me in. Speaking of ancient stones and tools, politics and power, Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit at the Design Museum was impactful and playful in equal measure. Particularly, his lego reimagining of Monet’s water lilies and the installation of around 4000 stone axe heads from stone age China.
Alice Neel’s largest show in the UK to date was a real treat to see in every way. Over 70 of her paintings - piercing portraits, street scenes and family life along with archival photos and footage of her time and life was just so inspiring. Plus a chance to browse through some of the books she read! The show is on until May 21 at the Barbican Art Gallery, London.
Crowned the ‘court painter of the underground,' her canvases celebrate those who were too often marginalised in society: labour leaders, Black and Puerto Rican children, pregnant women, Greenwich Village eccentrics, civil rights activists and queer performers.
Wishing you all a lovely week ahead. I am looking forward to seeing Morandi’s exhibition later this week and chipping away on a few paintings.
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