NIGHT 55 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

DOME DETAILS

IMG_0081

This week’s Dome Poem:

What’s in the dome? A Dr. Who-style transporter? An empty wardrobe? A changing room? Nothing?

I saw three ships

We’re done! Looking up at Kublai

Yours truly

Strange man

My gorgeous little golden ship reference – once worn on a hat (those days when I used to dress up for events!)

Part of the circular surroundings of the Willow Pattern/Blue Willow

I add Greek yoghurt to everything. This is where all the pots go

Sunlight on the sunlit part of the dome

Green details ~

0055_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family

 

NIGHT 54 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

Kublai Khan, us, a magic carpet and the dome continues

We’re almost done.

I love the cold, pale blue of this sea in the sunlight and my ‘abject monks’ contemplating their stone.

A shared fascination with Kublai Khan and Genghis Khan is how we met.

Chinese emperors traditionally wore yellow, as yellow could only be worn by the emperor.

Kublai Khan (interesting beard, like a double goatee).

Painting a magic floating carpet.

The original rug.

Detail from the cover, I like the diagonal energy of this rug.

Becoming more and more complete ~

0054_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family

NIGHT 53 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

A City of Blocks, the Willow Pattern and we’re taking shape in the dome.

The City of Blocks.

Block City – I needed to see the 3D form a city would take for perspective reasons so I used my child’s blocks!

The Willow Pattern takes shape.

The Willow Pattern – Chinese but not Chinese. Famously and erroneously thought of as Chinese in origin, it was actually dreamt up by 18th century English ceramic artists to look quintessentially Chinese, so it’s a form of Chinoiserie. Known in the US as Blue Willow, they also conjured up a story in order to make it more romantic: two lovers (the daughter of a rich man and a poor young accountant) are prevented from being together by her father who wants her to marry a Duke on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree. The Duke gives the lady a gift of jewels and one evening she and the poor young man escape over the bridge with the jewels, the Duke running after them. They make it to an island where they live in bliss until the Duke finds them and kills them both, whereupon they turn into two doves that are united in death at last. This story was so enduring that it was even turned into operas, movies and plays.

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.

Sunlight on the dome.

Old photo of me escaping from a mysterious onion-domed wardrobe (location unknown – forgotten!).

The mysterious onion-domed wardrobe made its way into the painting in front of the ice caves (part of the Kubla Khan painting ‘those caves of ice’). Funny how parts of your life resurface into your work unexpectedly.

Floating islands in progress – standard motif of mine.

An airport and a sky cloud dragon blowing three circles (‘Weave a circle round him thrice’).

Strange fellow, strange pose ~

0053_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family

NIGHT 52 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

Gelly Grintaki, independent curator and writer for the Art Newspaper Greece, wrote this about my Carpet Pages show last year. Currently planning this year’s show and reminiscing about the last one:

Weaving Past into Present

Taking a walk around the Carpet Pages I exhibition is like browsing through the Arabian Nights – a book that the curator, Vaishali Prazmari, has revealed as her favourite. And not only because of the masterfully made Eastern traditional ornaments that predominate. Every work of art – every carpet page – seems like an introduction to a narrative. This could be read as Scheherazade’s tale, a refugee’s story, an indiscernible organic process, a personal narration or a video game. Arabesque patterns become barcodes, symbols, labyrinths, fractals or biological forms creating a continuous shape-shifting Borgesian universe. There are flowers and leaves, kites and birds, geometrical forms and wallpaper designs and undoubtedly, possessed by the exotic surroundings, someone might find allusions to flying carpets. Besides, group art exhibitions are like carpets: different threads interlace to offer an ornate piece of truth.

Although through all those different and miraculous patterns an effort to organize chaos is detectable, it is when chaos slightly escapes that the visitor can sense the curator’s vision: the transcendence of absolute symmetry; the painting that unexpectedly gets out of its frame; a slight shift of the visual centre; the Lucretian clinamen. There is a very unique and personal artistic view of the world behind every work and yet it’s those unpredicted dialogues/clashes taking place among them that give the visitor the necessary surprise, the startling that a good exhibition deigns to offer. There it is, the traditional vs the contemporary, the real vs the imaginary, spirituality vs technology. The universe is not homogenous, that is what the artists tell us. It is diversity and creative chaos that generate beauty. Carpet Pages I seems like a small artistic archipelago of conceptual islands beyond time (the island being another recurring motif of the curator). The arabesque shapes that run over it, after all, appear to have no beginning and no end, belonging to a circular Nietzschean spacetime or no time at all. However, a carpet page, being the term for the introductory ornamental pages of early religious books, indicates a start. This way the exhibition’s title becomes a wink, a playful implication about entering a spiritual ongoing experience, the Open Sesame spell for a transcendence in time.

In his book Ways of Curating Hans Ulrich Obrist posits that an ideal exhibition should be an imaginary space of past and present coming together. With this first chapter of the Carpet Pages series artist and curator Vaishali Prazmari, by bringing together tradition and contemporary worldviews, opens up a promising path for the creation of this exact kind of expanded space.

Gelly Gryntaki
London 2018

gelly text

0052_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family

NIGHT 51 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

IMG_0113

We’re going in the dome.

I never do self-portraits – in fact the only I did one it was forced upon me in a secondary school art class – and yet here it is of my own volition. This dome painting marks a major shift in my attitude to my own art – while the dome itself is a slow-cooking, considered painting, there have been subtle yet big shifts in my approach (see below, Things I’ve Learnt). This is my favourite photo of myself and so I’m going in.

IMG_9565

In. Ghostly figures; the first outline.

IMG_9566

Painting in a circle is tricky enough and this is a dome, and a rotating dome at that, so I need to think about perspective. The viewer will be looking directly up, and I am looking down at my painting while working. Down and across, so slightly slanted, so I need to make sure that my reference photos are upright and that I am constantly checking that everything is in proportion. I’m compiling two entirely separate figures from different photos and placing them onto a carpet together in a semi-isometric perspective that also has to make sense with the rest of the painting. Tricky, but doable with concentration and focus.

IMG_9570

A strange man.

IMG_9560

He’s going in too.

IMG_9571

THINGS I’VE LEARNT:

A master slows down towards the end, and doesn’t speed up (as I was wont to do in the past). A master is not afraid of using whatever tools, equipment and materials to get the job done. I never use toothbrushes in serious art – yet I’ve done so here, in one of my most ‘serious’ paintings! It’s what was called for and it’s what was best (they make good stars). There is no need to be a purist for the sake of it.

A master is not afraid to mix the ancient and the modern – we live today, not in the past, and yet we have access to the past. A master blends the best of both worlds. In this painting I’m happy to have finally understood the colour red (a colour which I have studiously avoided in previous artworks – either ignored and left out of my palette completely, or used as a mixing colour, or used in very tiny amounts only). Studying Medieval art and Persian and Indian miniature painting made me appreciate all colours and especially how red is very carefully used – and I’m finally absorbing and reproducing those lessons here. Red is in the lanterns and in the volcano – things that really do need to be red. And it fits perfectly… and there will be more.

A master knows when to have sharp edges and when to have soft edges. Sharp edges for  details – and God is in the details – and softness for variation and depth. A master is judicious in the provision of blank spaces – although I have horror vacui (horror of the void) like the miniature painters, I am also half Chinese and appreciate the ‘pregnant’ empty spaces of Chinese paintings. A master knows that blank passages complement areas of high detail beautifully and thus they provide breathing spaces en route while your eyes rove around the painting. This works for both big and small artworks. This is a dome which will eventually revolve, so the ‘blank’ spaces (areas with less detail) are even more important to the experience.

A master is not afraid of mixing perspective and is able to make effortless switches between 2D and 3D in the picture plane. It all makes sense if you allow it to be so. A master is not afraid of using beautiful, rare or luxurious materials in their work because they are confident that they can handle them and that their work merits them. A master uses gold where appropriate. A master is not afraid to paint anything: while painting, instead of asking ‘What do I want to paint next?’ the master asks ‘What does the painting need?’ and responds appropriately. In this way, the master creates new worlds with their own internal logic.

For me this dome is really a learning painting, which is why I call it my ‘masterpiece’ in the original sense of the word – not as a piece just to show off, but as a piece in which I’ve really learnt the techniques and honed my approach and combined all my skills into one painting. And most importantly, changed my attitude.

And now for some abject monks. I conjured up these abject monks quietly and spontaneously during my own vision in a dream while daydreaming while painting while pondering while my brush was working in a flow state and the idea came to me calmly, naturally ~

IMG_9572

0051_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family

NIGHT 50 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

THE DOME IS TAKING SHAPE AND FORM

More to come on the poem Kubla Khan later (there’s lots to say so I will break it down).

I’m pleased that the dome is making progress; some paintings are slow cookers and this is definitely one of them! It’s best to leave these slow cookers to cook, I’ve found, and worth it in the end. Going to make a masterpiece! I’ve never painted a dome before so taking it slowly means I don’t make mistakes, I really consider each thing I’m going to paint (unlike with other paintings where I am more free to make mistakes and/or happy accidents). There is room for me to be spontaneous here of course, but it is a considered and slow spontaneity – close to the more real, ancient Chinese, Zhuang Zi version of spontaneity – where ideas flow freely off the brush after long, considered work. It’s the opposite of impulsive. This kind of spontaneity springs softly. It’s not whimsy although there are whimsical elements. It comes in the doing (‘inspiration has to find you working’), not in the waiting around. However, the waiting around and doing nothing is also important, in the way that meditation clears and resets your mind… so evidently it is hard to put this creative process into words. It’s a fine balance that needs to be honed and perfected. That in itself is a lifetime’s work in progress ~

0050_King_Umar_ibn_al_Numan_and_his_family