A little floating island suspended by a magic flying carpet, which is itself unravelling (simultaneously being the roots of the island), so the floating status of the island is rendered precarious, since it is slowly sinking. A kind of limbo. This was really magical to paint and it just came to me, one morning, and I completed it in two days. Sometimes art takes several years to complete and sometimes it comes like this, in a flash, clear as day, and all I have to do is just to let my hands do it ~
Half real, half mirrored… a miniature painting of an island mirrored by its photocopy. The real world and the other world. The Isle of the Dead, the Isle of the Immortals. Legend has is that the Chinese Isle of the Immortals lies in the South China Sea. This one belongs to no country and is consequently floating. Roots dangling, always ~
All are welcome at my Universal Cinema for the universe and everyone in it. There are seats on floating islands scattered around as well as in the main amphitheatre and all anticipate the beginning of the movie. That Friday night movie night feeling before the film starts. Cinema is a wonderful way to bring people together. Da da da… da da da…da da DA da da da…. Universal Studios credits start rolling and the sun slowly rises behind the Earth. Everyone looks forward to the film ~
Handmade pigments and paints, raised gold gilding, 24ct gold flecks, abalone shell on lacquer japanning
I once had a strange and beautiful dream that my husband and I were sleeping in a four-poster bed and its canopy – whoosh! – suddenly zoomed off by itself, leaving us exposed to the elements – and then I realised that we were slowly floating in space, the universe all around us, and our bed – now a kind of floating island- was being held gently among the stars ~
An island outdoor beach cinema awaits its audience for the evening. The only sound is the gentle, translucent turquoise water washing over the sand. The early evening sun casts long, colourful shadows and it’s the time of the last, late light before twilight falls. Everything is ready: large outdoor lamps are prepared in anticipation of the coming night and oversize cushions are scattered, for comfortable viewing. Onscreen is an image based on a Soviet poster, which says: Soviet rockets are faster than the flying creatures of myth and fairytale; Soviet technology outflies them all.
The original USSR poster was made in c. 1959 by I M Semenov; the fairytale characters depicted are: Baba Yaga (on a broomstick), Ivan (on his humpbacked pony), Baron Munchausen (on a cannonball), Vakula the Smith (on a devil in the form of a horse) and Prince Hussain from the 1001 Arabian Nights (on a magic carpet), which all try, and fail, to catch up with Sputniks 1 & 2.
There is waiting. Waiting for the movie to start; waiting for the rocket to launch.
One can, at a very basic level, divide world history into pre-space flight and post-space flight. The world was different before humans went into orbit. Or, pre-moon landing and post-moon landing. I grew up on the cusp of the internet age, so this is not my era – it’s my parents’ generation. It fascinates me. I imagine the thoughts of some peasants one day tilling their fields with the last light of the day, looking up at the moon, thinking how far away and how eternal it is – and the next day, on the news, they hear that humans have been into space! And the amazement and wonder that they must feel. There is a Slovak film in which a lowly peasant describes how he, too, is planning to fly into space, but he must wait for his space race dreams: he follows the Soviet news and is thinking of joining the astronauts up there, although he admits that he doesn’t have a helmet*. What an amazing time to have been alive in the history of humanity. Since I didn’t grow up with all this, I can only imagine that heady, intense, collective excitement: “Where were you on the night of the moon landing?” Everyone I ask smiles at their memories – they all remember it quite vividly and some people even bought their first television especially to watch it.
I grew up when the image of the Earth from space was already famous, so little, so fragile and so in need of our protection – our planet as a tiny floating island in the vastness of the cosmos. The Earth is constantly on the move, and islands are liminal, and shorelines are cusps themselves… my island cinema, in some ways, could be the cinema at the edge of the world ~
*This film by Dušan Hanák, Obrazy starého sveta (Pictures of the Old World, 1972) really touched my heart. Everything is possible. A man with no legs builds a house with two storeys by himself. If healthy and lucky enough you could be chosen to be trained as an astronaut. Until then, you live by your means. Melancholic and beautiful, it was banned until 1988, then voted the best Slovak film of all time.
You walked into this piece in the show, as if walking into an inner temple: the inner gallery walls seem to contain you so it’s like a space set apart. Once inside, visitors always remarked on the peace in this painting and I’m sometimes surprised, as perhaps it’s only later that they only notice the frenzied city lights of Hong Kong at night in the centre!
In the foreground, a half-drowned, empty cinema. Slightly forlorn, but going down majestically. The glorious past, perhaps, making way for the future. So there is a kind of small sadness, even melancholy perhaps, in this work.
Whenever I paint Buddhas the painting always goes well. This Buddha is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha on my island, Lantau island, in Hong Kong. It’s also the subject of my first ever good photograph – I walked up the (endless, to me!) steps as an 8-year old and the Buddha appeared behind the mists, whereupon I quickly took a photo. My Buddha has the face of Sook Yee, my old Chinese painting master in Hong Kong. She passed away many years ago and in a way this is dedicated to her.
It was hung next to another Buddha painting (The Buddha of Emei Shan) on one side, and on the other side there was another cinema painting (Catch Me (them) If You Can – Разве за ними угонишься), which itself also has Soviet elements.
Like a rocket blasting into my life, the Soviet space dogs in the corner are, I realised much later, a bit like my husband (to whose era the space dogs belong) blazing into my life, disrupting it and messing it up forever… and I’m glad of it. The subjects in this painting are so intensely personal it’s actually refreshing to have something completely different as a ‘doodle’ in the corner. In the absence of a margin or frame, this work has the extra element directly within the main piece, causing chaos in art as in life. For me, it’s another world, entirely foreign and entirely fascinating. In a way, history is divided into 2 halves: pre-moon landing and post-moon landing. My husband grew up on the cusp of both. These two space dogs are Belka and Strelka (Белька и Стрелка – Little White and Little Arrow) – that were sent into space and came safely back to earth (sadly, the first dog, Laika, did not) – and were consequently immortalised in Soviet postage stamps, posters and ephemera of the time.
More to come on Soviet posters. They are from an era just before ours when the world waited, with bated breathe, to enter the universe for real ~
Traditional techniques meet modern Mandelbrot sets. The ancient and modern collide and the infinite is born. Fractals represent a shape in a shape within a shape within the selfsame shape… a story within a story within a story in the manner of the 1001 Nights. For me, both fractals and the 1001 Nights signal endless possibilities, something that excites me as I want to explore them all.
Lacquer and japanning are traditional techniques used in luxury objects and furniture. Layer upon layer is painted until a high-shine finish is achieved. Protective when cured and dry, it is highly poisonous when wet. You can eat off lacquer utensils, chopsticks and bowls when dry. It has been used for musical instruments, furniture and even coffins. It is waterproof and highly durable. The ancient samurai had leather armour varnished with lacquer to make it weatherproof.
Red and black are ancient colours. The Sanskrit word lākshā (लाक्षा), which also means 100,000 (possibly because insects are numerous) was used both for the lac insect and the scarlet red, shellac-rich resinous secretion that was used to finish wood in ancient India. The word oozes and changes slowly throughout history and geography: Prakrit lakkha seeped into the Hindi lakh, which morphed into the Persian lak, settling into Arabic lakk – the Middle East traded lacquerware – thence to Medieval Latin lacca, whence Portuguese and French lacre – hence English lacquer. Just as the word china came to be used for fine porcelain, so too japanning for the European version of lacquer (lacquer proper needs a warm and humid environment, the opposite of cold, dry northern European climes). Chinese (and subsequently Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian) lacquers contain urushiol, the active ingredient of the resin, from the toxicodendron vernicifluum tree (note the presence of the root toxi-: it is highly poisonous stuff!): raw lacquer is known as 生漆: ki-urushi in Japanese, shengqi in Chinese. This can be mixed into different colours – the classic traditional colours for lacquer being red, black, yellow and gold and silver. The famous Chinese red lacquer is made by mixing it with cinnabar – the same origin of the reds in my lacquer pieces. Lacquer is truly an ancient craft: Chinese Neolithic lacquerware dating from 5000-4500 BC has been unearthed.
Of course, fractals have been around forever in nature and in art. The mathematic disciplines behind fractals as we know them today began in the 17th century with Leibniz and progressed right up to Benoit Mandelbrot who gave his name to the forms he was studying in the 1960s – studying, as it happened, the coastline of Britain – how an island is itself a fractal.
Fractals are complexity encapsulated. I have always been drawn to complexity as it challenges me to imagine all the possible outcomes of an event or idea, while reminding me that the world is myriad and the people in it full of unique stories – unique yet also ‘the same, but different’. Fractals are selfsame images with slight differences in their permutations. They can be found throughout the natural world, in coastlines and clouds, mountain ranges and river networks, trees and snowflakes, waves and crystals as well as in our blood vessels and DNA. At its core, it is a pattern that shapes the universe.
Complexity can be rendered very simply. We can also imagine complexity when confronted with very simple images. The picture of a fractal thus becomes a symbol of the complex, its image enough to indicate infinite microcosmic or macrocosmic worlds which mirror each other, repeating ceaselessly until the end of time ~