One of my treasures ~ introducing Kapp 1890-1978

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I stumbled on this print almost literally. It was years ago and I was treading warily around a rackety riverside warehouse in Shrewsbury. The place called itself an Antiques Centre, and as I climbed the stairs to the ‘showroom’ the chances of sudden building collapse loomed large. Having reached the first floor, I remember creeping around on tiptoe, trying not to challenge the timbers. So it was, in mid negotiation with  uneven floor boards, my hand reached down to an old picture frame. It was propped against a cardboard box underneath a table. When I turned it round, there it was – a caricature of The Rt. Hon. Viscount Cave, signed by Kapp.

I’d never heard of either the subject or the artist, but who cared. It was love at first sight – the colours, the ‘cut-out’ two-dimensional form,  that two-thirds frowning, pasty face of the viscount.  The whole thing made me smile, inside and out. Best of all, the price tag said £2.50. What luck – to find something so pleasing for such a paltry sum.

My tracking down of information about the work and its creator has continued off and on ever since. I discovered first (and long before the days of Google) that my ‘print’ is an offset lithograph, and one of a series called Ten Great Lawyers  created in 1924 for The Law Journal. I also learned that Edmond Xavier Kapp was an artist, and caricaturist of note, born in London in 1890, and a Cambridge graduate.

I came across him again when reading poet, Edmund Blunden’s World War 1 memoir Undertones of War. Kapp, already well known for his drawings and short stories before the war, was serving on the Western Front, a 2nd Lieutenant, in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He provided some of Blunden’s lighter moments in the trenches. Blunden himself was only twenty years old at the time of their encounters, and newly arrived at the Front:

Second in command, Edmond Xavier Kapp appeared, ready with scribbles and charcoal drawings not unworthy of his reputation as a satirical artist…[He] was a lively hand to have in a dugout; his probably imaginary autobiography, peeping out at intervals and enriched by other versions, was also a diversion; but one day he was called away to an interview with the Colonel, and soon he disappeared into the irrelevant air of GHQ, far beyond the stars.

Kapp was twenty-four when he enlisted and, until his promotion to Intelligence and the rank of Captain on General Haig’s Staff, had withstood three nightmare years in the trenches. In Time Will Tell: Memoirs  his first wife Yvonne Kapp says that he witnessed the wipe out of his own platoon twice over, and never was able to lay the ghosts of lost comrades.

That he survived at all is remarkable. Because he spoke German fluently, he was sent out alone to occupy a dug-out in No Man’s Land, the objective being to interrogate German prisoners as they were brought in. On one occasion, in the bloody chaos of shifting lines, Command forgot he was out there. Under constant bombardment and gas attacks, he survived for several weeks on tins of bully beef. When he was finally rescued he was deaf and half blind, and almost dead, and thereafter spent several months in hospital. Later, he apparently relished his senior officers’ less than whole-hearted commendation of his military service: “his zeal sometimes outruns his discretion.”

In the light of all he must have endured, and in what he described so sparely as those “five long dreadful years”, it is astonishing that he went on to serve as Official War Artist in the World War Two. Between the wars he produced many drawings of well known personalities, both for periodicals and exhibitions. He also ventured into oil painting after working with American artist, Maurice Sterne. Then in the 1930s he deployed his lithographic skills to produce portraits of the twenty five members of The League of Nations, and this led to his meeting and friendship with Picasso who sat for him in 1938.

Kapp himself disliked being called a caricaturist . He considered himself to be a “character-portraitist”, producing works of psychological rather then satirical intent (Chris Beetles Gallery ). And perhaps, now  that I look again at The Hon. Viscount Cave, this is the quality I most admire. After all, the stuffy old gent is rendered with such gentle humour. It speaks, I think, of the artist’s humanity, and of a good, and kindly eye.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Post inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Melon

Follow the link for more bloggers’ responses.

Release Your Inner Artist

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We are each of us born brimming with potential, creators in the making. But then something happens – at least for most of us it does. Somewhere between the childhood dreaming, and the adolescent wake-up call we make a decision. For each of us this will be the result of particular, often very painful circumstances, but the outcome will be the same. From that point on we will tell ourselves we are not good enough, and what we do is not good enough and that even if we toil until the crack of doom, it never will be good enough. We give up. Surrender, often before we have given ourselves half a chance. Somehow – through repeated expressions of contempt, denigration, ridicule, bemusement from peers and elders – we learn that it is dangerous to be too extraordinary, and that if we persist in following our dream we will end up alone, and worse still, hated.

At the same time, reinforcing our sense of uselessness, the dominant culture peddles the notion that geniuses are born, and that true talent is ‘natural’. In other words Beethoven’s symphonies, Shakespeare’s plays and Picasso’s Blue Period simply manifested themselves via the gifted hands and minds of said geniuses.

This model of spontaneous creation, artist as divine conduit, somewhat like spontaneous combustion, does not take into account the actual years of preparation that preceded the creation of these works.

To compound this whole misunderstanding of the creative process, there is then the popular belief that ‘inspiration’ is the be all and end all, when in fact it is only the starting point for any work. Added to this are the ideas that you must ‘wait for it’ and thus be someone ‘special’ to receive it at all. Yet in reality ideas do not happen in a vacuum. They  need triggers, and you need to actively invite those triggers otherwise it is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy; do not engage and sure enough, nothing will come.

I have no idea whether or not geniuses are born rather than nurtured, but my own feeling is that the nurturing has an awful lot to do with it. We all have capacity to create something. We are all artists. What we go on to create, should we be determined enough to follow our inclinations, will be influenced by our experiences, past, present, conscious and subconscious, and by the encouragement, assistance and wisdom we may receive from considerate others.

Sometimes we are lucky to have long-lasting mentors who are generous enough to stand by, ready to open our eyes to new ways of looking and making; sometimes we have to do much of this work for ourselves.  In this sense, then, it is a quest, an honourable labour. The learning process can take a huge amount of time and dedication. It might take a lifetime. There are craft skills to learn and hone, stimuli to absorb and decipher. Most of all, there are failed attempts and mistakes to learn from.  But nothing in this process is ever wasted: every part informs another part, even if you are the only person who knows it is there.

The final onslaught that the dominant culture visits on the creative process is the commoditisation of art, judging it by its selling power. I include in this the idea of competition, and the presumption that it is in some way useful to judge one piece of well-crafted work against another piece of well-crafted work.  Of course it creates publicity, and boosts sales, but this is a distraction from what really matters – the work itself, and how it ‘speaks’ to people.

Creating art is a mediumistic pursuit not a commercial production. Our gut reactions, whether as creators or observers tell us the difference. It is about integrity, craftsmanship and telling the truth at some level. It is about doing the best we can. And we can all choose to take this path, and make of the journey what we will. The things we create are worth creating. So I say again, we are all artists. And if you don’t believe me, imagine yourself at life’s end when you still have hidden, and unrealised in your heart that story you longed to tell, the picture you did not finish, the film script lying in a box in the attic. How does this make you feel – not to have seen them through?

So what are you waiting for then? Set free the captive. Who knows what wonderful things will happen next.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Bill at Pinklightsabre and his poem Moon Song for Marz

Thank you, Bill Star

 

Related:

How I Write: telling the truth in fiction

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life…?

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I snapped this the other morning with my little Lumix ‘point and shoot’. It’s the view from our bedroom window. The light was extraordinary, and when I looked at the image again it reminded me of  René Magritte’s The Golden Legend  –  also a view from a window, although with the interesting addition of flying baguettes. What do you think?

René Magritte

You can find out more about Magritte HERE. I like the way he challenges our ingrained perceptions.

 

Cee’s fun foto challenge: water/winter

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These photos of the C-Curve by Indian sculptor, Anish Kapoor, were taken on freezing cold winter’s morning in London’s Kensington Park. The marvellous stainless steel creation was one of four Kapoor pieces sited across the park for the Seeing the World Upside Down exhibition hosted by the Serpentine Gallery and Royal Parks in 2010-2011.

Some of you will have seen these  shots in earlier posts, but I thought they were perfect for Cee’s challenge for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, the stark silhouettes of trees say ‘winter’, but the bright sunlight also says that life goes on; and the trees themselves, though dormant, are still full of life. I also like the reflections of the couple and the trees in the puddles on the plinth, and the reflections of the puddles in the sculpture. It is all so playful, yet reflective too – and in every sense.

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: water or the season of winter    Go here to see more bloggers’ takes on this challenge

Yesterday’s Shining Star? The Restoring of Artist Mildred Elsi Eldridge (1909-1991)

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Self Portrait Mildred Elsi Eldridge. Photo: Glyndwr University www.glyndwr.ac.uk

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It has to be asked, this burning, niggling question, but why on earth do we forget women artists so readily? Why is it that their work is less exhibited, less revered or, if noticed at all, only grudgingly accorded a modicum of the status enjoyed by male artists?

I leave it to you to supply the answers to these questions. I only note that this same enquiry was the driving force behind Professor Amanda Vickery’s recent BBC2 series The Story of Women and Art. In this too brief historical exploration of  forgotten/hidden/suppressed  and otherwise invisible women artists, Professor Vickery introduced us to the breath-taking creativity of (among others) Sofonisba Anguissola, Berthe Morisot, Johanna Koerten, Properzia de Rossi and Artemisia Gentileschi.  I will be forever grateful for the introduction.

Now, though, I have a very particular question. It relates to the work you are about to see – details from a great mural that, until fairly recently, was hidden from view.

 

All photos: Glyndwr University www.glyndwr.ac.uk

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So my question is this. What was in the minds of the people when they took down and concealed from sight this work of lucent genius by Mildred Elsi Eldridge; how did they feel when they stowed away the Dance of Life?

Sorely deflated? Bereft? As if the light had gone out?

The work was originally commissioned in the early 1950s by the Hospital Management Committee of the Robert Jones Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Gobowen near Oswestry in Shropshire. A new nurse’s home had been built and the  mural was to hang in the dining hall. The hospital’s Doctors Menzies and Salt had recently been to Sweden and seen how art was being introduced to hospitals to enhance the healing process.

The fee for the commission was £500 and the work took M E Eldridge around five years to complete (Gwydion Thomas in Life and Times of M E Eldridge). In 1999, after being on display for forty years, the mural was put into storage. The hospital was undergoing development. But once consigned to custodial care, it was over a decade before moves were made to restore the panels and find them a new home. 

Elsi’s son, Gwydion Thomas, was a child when the panels were being painted  (see the boy with the monkey above). He says the work was created in their home, in the drawing room of Manafon Rectory, Montgomery. He says that, as there was not enough wall space to hang the work in progress, Elsi rolled up completed portions as she went along, hanging others over doors as she was painting. He says the work wound many times around the room. It is a sharp glimpse into this woman’s focus, vision and determination.

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The mural’s overarching theme explores how we industrialized human beings have become detached from the natural cycles of life and death. There are depictions of alienation and loss. Yet the work inspires hope, too, through the reclaiming of forgotten wisdom and traditional ways of living and healing. And so, despite the dark undercurrents, the work is hugely elevating. Joyous.  Transcendent. Full of verve. When fellow artist, Stanley Spencer, saw it in 1958 he wrote to Elsi: “Just one look at the heavenly sheep panel would remove all fear and gloom.”

Art Historian, Peter Lord, has described the work as “a masterpiece on so many levels”, while pointing  out not only the technical ambitiousness of so large a project, but also the fact that Elsi completed the work without a suitable studio.

It is good news, then, that Dance of Life has now been released from custody, restored and put on permanent view at Glyndŵr University’s Centre for the Creative Industries in Wrexham. It can be viewed by visiting the main University Reception (tel: 01978 293950). 

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Restoration by Vanessa Andrew in progress at Glyndwr University www.glyndwr.ac.uk

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Gwydion Thomas speaking at a private view of the restored panels

Photos: Glyndwr University www.glyndwr.ac.uk

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So: you have seen some of her work, including that self-assured self-portrait at the start of this post, but what of the artist M E Eldridge? Why isn’t she better known?

Mildred Elsi Eldridge

She was born in Wimbledon in 1909, the daughter of a pawn- broker turned  jeweller. She studied at Wimbledon College of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, where her teachers included Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and William Rothenstein. She was one of the RCA’s star pupils. In her autobiography she says of this time:

A free studentship in 1931 took me to the RCA which in those days was attached to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There were huge doors from the V&A into the College which were kept securely locked but as there was always one of the museum keepers on duty on the other side of the doors, special signs and knocks could be made so that after signing on at the RCA entrance desk it was possible to escape into the V&A and make drawings of the splendid treasures in the museum, or experimental drawings of one’s own which would probably have received severe criticism from the RCA staff. From there, sallies could be made to the Science Museum across Exhibition Road or to the Natural History Museum to make studies of animals, plants and fungus.

In 1934 The Rome Scholarship competition was held – the subject Music. I submitted the 5′ x 5′ Telling the Bees which later became the central part of the first panel in the mural in the Dining Hall of theNurses’ Home at the Gobowen Orthopaedic Hospital. 

M. E. Eldridge Autobiography

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This was the piece that won her the prestigious Travelling Scholarship to Italy and opened the doors to the art world. When she returned to London she soon established herself, being the only artist to sell all her work at 1936 Royal Academy exhibition. The next year she had a one-woman show at the Beaux Arts Gallery, and with the proceeds of the sales, including several to major collectors and large metropolitan art galleries, she bought herself a Bentley car. And then –

She turned her back on the glitter, and headed off in her Bentley for  the Shropshire-Wales borderlands to teach at Oswestry High School and Moreton Hall School for Girls in Shropshire. She lodged just over the border in Wales, in Chirk near Wrexham, and it was in the house where she was staying that she met the fellow lodger, a young curate, who was to become known to the world as poet, R.S. Thomas. She made this portrait of him in 1940, the year of their marriage.

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It would be easy to say that the growing fame of RS eclipsed or stunted Elsi’s talent. He apparently took no interest in her work or did anything to encourage her. There is a revealing interview in the New Welsh Review issue 64 in which Gwydion Thomas says that after Elsi’s death in 1991, his father wondered if Elsi would have “gone on painting properly” if, as they moved from rectory to rectory across Wales, he had ever bothered to arrange for a house with suitable work space for her. RS admitted, too, that he should never have expected her to live at Sarn y Plas in Rhiw (see the previous post) after he retired  from the priesthood, and the church authorities would not allow them to buy the Aberdaron rectory with its pleasant rooms and fine views.

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Gwydion describes her room at the house in Rhiw: so dark with two tiny windows, and damp too. She had to keep her paintings in black plastic refuse bags to protect them from the water that  dripped through the walls. It was so cold, that as she painted, she kept her feet inside a cardboard box, along with a two-bar electric heater, and so was frequently burned. The room also had a low loft which she reached by means of a ladder. Here, with the company of mice, she both slept and worked. Tellingly, the new room that the Thomases built at Sarn y Plas served RS as bed-sitting room.

Elsewhere, Gwydion describes Elsi as

a remarkable and talented woman. She painted, and sold, some 2,000 finished pictures and produced innumerable studies…She was a weaver, a sculptor, a clothes maker – she made me clothes out of rabbit and mole skins – and a knitter, a teacher, a writer and illustrator of children’s books…She designed altar cloths, stained glass windows and wrought-iron chandeliers. She designed and planted four gardens, raised a child, cooked for my father: four meals a day, every day, for 50 years.

He did not know why she stopped painting landscapes, and took to churning out what he calls  ‘pretty’ paintings and illustrations. But he does say something that is perhaps illuminating. He says that when his parents first met, RS was writing “dreadful imitations of soppy Georgian poetry”, and full of dreams of Celtic romance. Then along comes this vibrant, shining, well read, well travelled and sophisticated young woman who can introduce him to other kinds of literature, and to the wider world besides.

When it comes to Elsi’s influence on the poet, R S Thomas scholar, Jason Walford Davies, calls her a catalyst, a promoter, the one who made things possible, and helped RS realize a career as poet. She certainly inspired him to write some of his most humane and moving poems.

Marriage

We met
under a shower
of bird-notes.
Fifty years passed,
love’s moment
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
‘Come,’ said death,
choosing her as his
partner for
the last dance, And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird’s grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.

R S Thomas

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And so perhaps, in a sense, R S Thomas was also one of Elsi’s creations, a co-creation certainly. She gave him the gift of possibility, and that is a great gift indeed. Her artist self may indeed have been diminished by the marriage, although she strikes me as a woman who knew her own mind and made her choices accordingly. Perhaps she had painted out all her best thoughts, and felt she had nothing more to add in terms of ‘great works’. She anyway never stopped creating, making paintings for Medici greetings cards for instance, and she was working still when she could barely see.

There seems to be no single explanation, then, as to why M E Eldridge, after such a glittering start, is not better known today. Clearly she had some hand in this when she decided  to drive away from her London career, and head for the Welsh Marches. But then to leave in a Bentley, that most self-aggrandizing of vehicles? It is all so playfully enigmatic.

And so instead of answers, I leave you, in like vein,  with this alluring abstract study called ‘Gwydion’s treasures 1952’. I love the shining light in the marbles: what a heart-felt evocation of childhood freedom, and not a shred of sentiment. Only wonder at the cycle of life and death to be observed upon the sea shore, and seen through the endlessly enquiring eyes of a child. Her child.

abstract 1952 httpwww.bbc.co.uknewsuk-wales-21714220

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For further discussion of overlooked women artists:

Jeanne de Montbaston Women, Art and Authority: The Language of Exclusion

#artbywomen

Text © 2014 Tish Farrell

Last Warrior Standing?

 

 

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I have written about this magnificent  Welsh sculpture in more detail in an earlier post, Warrior Wind-Singer of Llyn, but I thought he/she deserved another viewing. This brave Celtic guardian surveys Cardigan Bay from the cliff top above Plas Glyn-y-Weddw, Llanbedrog, on the Llyn Peninsula. It is the work of local craftsmen Berwyn Jones and Huw Jones and replaces two earlier figureheads that met there doom there by fire and corrosion. It is known as the Iron Man of Mynydd Tir y Cwmwd, but as I say, I think it could also be a woman. After all, the Celts had fierce women like Buddug, known more widely today as Boudicca. She was  the warrior queen of the Iceni,  who took on the invading Romans.

 

I find the  figure very moving, the remnant twist of sinew and ligament after bone and flesh have been weathered away. In the spaces between, the steel armature gathers the sea winds and sings. A metaphor, perhaps, for Welsh culture – the bardic verses and sea-sounds of the language that outsiders find so hard to get their tongues round. And for those of you want to hear some Welsh being spoken and see some superlative Welsh drama produced by BBC Cymru Wales, then look out for Hinterland, (Y Gwyll in Welsh), the so-called Celtic Noir detective series. It is currently showing on the UK’s BBC, but it deserves to go world-wide.

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The winding cliff path to the Iron Man

© 2014 Tish Farrell

 

For more twist and metal follow the links:

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: Metal

Looking inside ‘The House of Belonging’: remembering artist Sheilagh Jevons

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The following is the account of a conversation I had with Sheilagh in 2014, a year before her death. She is sadly missed.

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I thought it was time I welcomed good friend and artist, Sheilagh Jevons, to this blog. She lives a few miles from me along Wenlock Edge, in the little village of Easthope. There, and in her studio not far away, she creates arresting work that explores the sense of belonging that people have with landscape. From time to time she and I have involving conversations about the creative process – the stumbling blocks, the sources of inspiration, the way we work (or in my case, don’t work).

A few weeks ago she came round for coffee. I wanted to ask her about a painting I had seen in her studio. I had thought it striking and mysterious, and wanted to know what she meant by it. Besides which, it is hard to resist the opportunity to grill an artist when you have one captured inside your house.

The header image is a small detail from a work called The House of Belonging. This figure has appeared in Sheilagh’s other works and represents women artists. Some of their names are written on the smock, artists perhaps not well known to the general public. Here she pays homage to their work, but also alludes to the fact that, overall, very little work by women artists is to be found in museums. The writing of names and of repeated key-words and equations is characteristic of many of Sheilagh’s pieces. It was one of the things I was going to ask her about. But first, the painting.

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It is a large canvas, some 4 feet (120cm) square. The next photo gives a better sense of scale. Here it is hanging in Sheilagh’s studio:

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I asked Sheilagh how the work began. She told me that some years ago the idea of belonging had become very important to her. As she says on her website:

Our ‘sense of belonging’ ripples out from our homes to our village, street, town, county, region and country and help to shape our identity…

Key, then, to her work is a sense of connection to land and how that relationship defines us. This in turn has physical expression in community repositories, the places where we keep artefacts, our history, the knowledge of ancestors – all the familiar things we recognise and which tell us something of who we are. In other words, the museum, or as Sheilagh describes it: the house of belonging. The script running down the left-hand margin of the painting in fact repeats over and over the words ‘the museum’, the house of belonging’. The repetition reflects the strong political stance of Sheilagh’s work.

To me this is ‘the writing on the wall’, a statement of collective ownership; The House of Belonging staking a claim. Its contents are manifestations of how humans have interacted with their landscape and the place they call home. Sheilagh also says that adding text creates a certain texture; that the sense of a hand moving across the work creates a connection with her, its maker. The wheeled blue structure, then, is the House of Belonging. The words written inside say ‘everybody’s knowledge’. This is written twice so there can be no mistake. It feels like something to stand up for, a rallying call.

It is also important, Sheilagh says, that the House can move across the landscape to where the people are, rather than the other way round; this makes it more egalitarian. Inside the House are images and artefacts, symbols of creativity. Some of them are stereotypical of ‘heritage’ and therefore instantly recognisable. For instance, the chess pieces (centre left in the painting) are derived from the Scottish Isle of Lewis Chess Set in the British Museum. The set dates from AD 1150-1200 and suggests Norse influence or origins.

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Sheilagh copied and simplified the images from a sales catalogue that specialises in heritage reproductions. The placing of the queen in the central position is also significant. She says she feels bound to redress an imbalance: the fact that in most of our media women only occupy centre stage when they are being commodified in some way. And then there is the mathematical equation painted in red beneath the red tree, centre right of the painting. 100_5291 The presence of equations in Sheilagh’s works adds a further layer meaning for her, and although she doesn’t think it necessary to explain them, she is always very pleased when people recognise them. This particular one refers to mathematical research by American academics in the 1920s called The Geometry of Paths. The appearance of equations in Sheilagh’s paintings also has more personal origins. She tells me she started to include them some years ago – after she had been helping her daughter revise for her Maths and Physics A’ level exams. It is another connection. There are many more signifiers in the work: motifs that have links and resonance with Sheilagh’s other works. The red tree above the equation is a symbol of timelessness, indicating ‘forever’ in human terms.  House of Belonging ii - Copy The red arrow in the top right creates a sense of energy and direction; a ‘look what’s here’ sign. There is the sense of a force field, drawing people to the House of Belonging. 100_5294

Finally, we talked about the overall composition. Sheilagh says that she began the work some years ago after she noticed that a small building denoting ‘museum’ often appeared in her landscapes. This time she wanted it to have it as the main subject, and to make it both an enticing and a mysterious place. At this point she also created the friezes at the top and bottom of the picture, these in order to suggest other layers of reality behind the surface painting. The top frieze is the wider, timeless landscape of which the museum is also symbol. The bottom frieze is deliberately ambiguous and suggestive; it invites the viewer to consider what might lie behind.

House of Belonging ii And having created the work’s essential structure, the painting was then abandoned. It was only some fifteen months later, when Sheilagh, looking for a large canvas to start another work, returned to it. She was fully intending to paint over it, but when she looked at it again she suddenly knew how to proceed and completed the work very swiftly. She says it probably is not quite finished, and suspects that something may still need to be added. In the meantime she has been occupied with a large body of work relating to Scotland.

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Notes and reference materials from Sheilagh Jevon’s studio

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Kudos to North Cambridge Family Opera and their upcoming show Rain Dance

 

 

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Art by Brian Lies  (Copyright Brian Lies)

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The North Cambridge Family Opera Company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been working long and hard for their upcoming production of Rain Dance. This will be the US premier of the young people’s opera created by librettist, Donald Sturrock (official Roald Dahl biographer) and award-winning composer, Stuart Hancock. I am honoured to say that this wonderfully witty creation was inspired by one of my short stories, The Hare Who Would Not Be King, originally published in Spider, part of the Cricket Magazine Group in the US. Above is some of the artwork by children’s writer and illustrator, Brian Lies. I especially love Brian’s hats.

Rain Dance was originally commissioned for performance in 2010 by W11 Children’s Opera in London. As such, the cast comprised entirely young people from London schools. North Cambridge has a different approach, putting on shows that involve all family members – kids and adults together. And the reason I know they have all been working so very hard is because there is a PREVIEW of the performance on their website. If you click HERE you can not only download the score and read the synopsis, but hear an entire performance scene by scene. Please listen. You truly will not be disappointed. Stuart Hancock’s score is captivating, and Donald Sturrock’s libretto is very funny.  And it is all about failing rains and lion-style political corruption down at the waterhole  (based on an original Akamba traditional story). But if you live in MA and can make an actual performance, here are the details:

Home

Directed by David Bass and Kathy Lindsay
Choreography by Rachel Zimmerman

Performances:
Saturdays March 29 and April 5, at 3:00pm and 7:00pm
Sundays March 30 and April 6, at 1:00pm and 5:00pm
AT:
The Peabody School  (Directions, map, parking)
70 Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

 

Frizz’s challenge ‘tagged K’

Yellow Peril? Some Cut and Thrust Tactics on Kenya’s Matatus

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Going down the Great Rift

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Meet the matatu, one of Kenya’s 24,000 privately owned and operated mini-buses. They are the country’s main form of public transport, taking 12 million Kenyan commuters to and from work each day. It can often be a grit-your-teeth-and-hope-to-live-to-tell-the-tale form of transport. The decrepit state of some of the vehicles, reckless driving and overloading are  frequent causes of the country’s large numbers of road deaths.

Government attempts to regulate the industry regularly stall. But whatever their shortcomings, there is always a matatu to be had, and their fares are relatively affordable. They provide the only means for many traders to transport their goods to market.

In fact you could say that matatus are an example of free market enterprise at its most vibrant/rampant – depending on your stance. This is especially true in the country’s capital Nairobi, now home to 3 million souls and counting. The competition to secure key commuter routes across the unregulated urban sprawl can be cut throat. Matatu owners hire young men as drivers and touts, and since they earn a cut of the takings, the inclination to make the maximum return from every journey, and to beat competitors  to the queue of waiting passengers, can lead to hair-raising practices. ‘Undertaking’ or cutting up on inside lanes and pavements is a particular Kenyan driving style. When we lived in Nairobi there were also anguished  letters to the local press from matatu users, saying how they had been physically ‘kidnapped’ by touts, forcing them to ride a particular bus when the did not want to.

And not only that, when it rains, the fares go up.

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Matatu stop in Westlands, Nairobi

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These two photos of yellow matatus were taken in the late ‘90s and are bit old hat when it comes  to the exterior paintwork. But even back then many buses were mobile art galleries. In recent times a vehicle’s ‘look’  has become part and parcel of the competition war. Owners commission the hottest young graffiti artists to paint their matatus’ livery.  The expectation is that a well ‘pimped’ vehicle will up the takings. And this is the vibrant side of the matatu business. It is creating employment opportunities for educated and creative young Kenyans who finish school but cannot find work. They have a lot to say for themselves and considerable flair. Their style is increasingly sophisticated and western influenced. Go matatu spotting and you will soon grasp what is trending in popular culture and political opinion.

Photo: Cheki.co.ke

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Then there is the loud music, especially hip hop. This is another ‘on board’ feature designed to attract and secure clientele. The touts say it brings in the beautiful girls and stylish guys, and is all about creating a cool atmosphere.  Needless to say, the Kenyan Government has also attempted to ban the music, but enforcement is another matter.

The intense competition for business has been taking the matatu in other directions. Over 1,000  Nairobi matatus have recently gone high-tech. Commuter journeys from the city suburbs can take up to 2 hours, so providing free wi-fi has been proving a significant draw. Vuma Online was launched last April by Kenya’s biggest telecom company, Safaricom. Now passengers can pass the time stuck in the capital’s notorious traffic jams on their smart phones – checking emails and watching the news. People with particular views of what goes on in African countries may be surprised at the particular sophistication of this commuter facility. They shouldn’t be. Kenya is the East African hub of telecoms interconnectivity. This is the country that has pioneered the M-Pesa mobile phone money transfer and micro-financing system that is now facilitating so many small businesses.

But enough from me. If you want a flavour of what city life is like for ordinary Kenyans, take a look at these two short films.

Ailsa’s Travel Theme for more yellow entries besides these that caught my eye:

Melissa Shaw-Smith

Travel Words

Figments of DuTchess

PDJPIX

The Changing Palette

Photos by Emilio