France in July (V) Bayeux. Stone and wood.

IMG_4570blogFor the last couple of days of our holiday we stayed in the town of Bayeux. We’ve only dashed through here in the past to drag the kids around the tapestry, so we decided that this year the town deserved a proper look around.

Here in the cathedral, we saw more of the apotropaic symbols commonly seen in an English medieval church than we had seen elsewhere during the break. Hexafoils and pentangles on the pillars and walls:

The forms that had been carved long ago in the cathedral were also seen on the desks of the courtroom housed in the MAHB museum next door.

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Originally the Bishops Palace, housing the Bishops courtroom, the building was seized as National Property during the revolution and the room used as the court of justice of Bayeux between 1793 and 1987. I couldn’t identify if the woodwork belonged to the revolutionary court, or if it had been shipped in from somewhere else, but people with time on their hands, beliefs and fears all seem to play with drawing the same shapes.

Elsewhere in the MAHB museum were all sorts of interesting things to see, and lots of instances of my favourite sort of structured chaos/chaotic structure. There were large displays on the local lacemaking tradition and about a local porcelain factory that made ceramics for medicinal uses.

The first night that we stayed was Saturday 16th July, and late in the evening we went to a son et lumière performance at the ‘Liberty Tree’ sited between the cathedral and Bishops Palace. Because the gîte that we had been staying in had no wi-fi and a barely intermittent phone signal, we had only just become aware of the carnage in Nice on the 14th, so it was a very moving experience to have all the people around you singing the ‘Marseillaise’ in defiance.

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The illuminations projected onto the tree were the sort that only the French can come up with; psychedelia accompanying Bob Dylan…

Our last day in France and final jog around the cathedral found a couple of the best examples of graffiti for the whole break. Firstly, high on one of the exterior walls near the cathedral, some Scrabble tiles that said it all:

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And lastly, a ship in plain sight (in the right light!) beside the main doors:

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France in July (IV) The Clocktower.

Historic building in larger French towns seems to be rooted in the eighteenth century. – I know that this a sweeping generalisation, but, apart from the ecclesiastical structures and a few earlier houses, most public building is from the around time of the revolution, so it was good to find the old clock tower in St-Jean-d’Angély.

Rebuilt around 1400 on the site of an ancient gate in the twelfth century ramparts, the tower has served many uses, including that as a military prison in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Guess what? Military prisons tend to have graffiti….

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Some seems quite ‘romantic’, such as this flower, other items are slightly more graphic:

And there are lots of references to military manoeuvres and regiments:

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Although the second of these two appears to have been altered a bit (as a result of wishful thinking perhaps?) There were also several altars deeply carved into the stone of the rooms.

There are names all over, this one referring to ‘Fleury Tambow’ mentions that he was a grenadier from the Saintonge regiment (who came in here), and another to Bernard (?):

 

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Following a (totally unrelated) visit to Porchester Castle recently, I’ve found it really interesting to compare some of the French POW graffiti seen there to that from France. The text and style of writing is so similar, and I’m intrigued by the back-to-front N’s.

 

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Porchester castle graffiti

 

According to the details in the tower (which were very good), some of the soldiers had themselves know and recorded by assumed names that had a heroic or patriotic sentiment, thus ‘La Victoire’ and ‘La Prairie’ in this overlaid graffiti referred to men who had been there.

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This last image is very deeply engraved into the stone next to a window looking out over the town. I can’t translate some of the salient words (if it’s even all there) and I’m not sure if the tone is mocking or anguished, but it really demonstrates the power of older graffiti and the resulting connection with past people.

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France in July (III) Animals and prehistory.

Whilst in France this July, we stayed in a gîte close to Aulnay-de–Saintonge. This village is on the Via Turonensis, one of the Compostela routes through France and the church here is a beautiful example of romanesque architecture.

Inside the church were plenty of examples of masons marks and it was interesting to see where the different marks were positioned in different areas of the building, each mason seems to have done both simple and more complex work.

From a pictorial graffiti point of view, we only found one image of note; a bird with a small, crude, hexafoil in its beak, that seemed to be standing on something (a snake perhaps?).

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Nearby at another romanesque church in Melle, there was a lovely image on the pillar next to the north door of a horseman that seemed to echo the statue of the ‘Victorious Knight’ that was carved above the door outside.

Several of these churches seemed to have similar masons’ marks; it would be interesting to know if they were made by the same people or if these marks just happened to be the simplest to create for these working men?

Just for a change, one day we went to visit the neolithic barrow complex at Bougon. There are 5 tumuli here dating from 4800BC and tumulus A has the largest chamber. At 7.8 m x 5 m x 2.25 m high, the area is sub-divided by 2 large monolithic pillars, which also help to hold up the 90 ton roof stone.

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Some of the small flint blade fragments found here.

The structure was excavated in the 1840’s and some 200 skeletons were found, including the skull of a man that had undergone 3 trepanation operations (the last one proved fatal). For a structure that has only been accessible to graffitists for less than 200 years it was interesting to see the markings that were all over. From general scribbles:

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to a motif that would be quite at home in a medieval church, – the VV symbol.

 

France in July (II) Crosses, circles and shells.

 

One thing that was not obvious at the Pilgrim hospital at Pons was graffiti that resembled what, in England, would be called a ‘Pilgrim Cross’. This loose term tends to be used for any representation of a cross especially when found around doorways or near the site of an altar or tomb and is said to be linked to pilgrimage.

The only place that we saw crosses in any multiple form was at the shrine to St Eutrope in Saintes.

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A lovely town with lots of archaeology and good Roman remains, the cool crypt in St Eutrope was a welcome relief on a very hot day. And the pillars around the saints’ tomb were covered in many crosses of varying style, size and quality of craftsmanship.

 

Up above, in the nave of the church, were a couple of really lovely graffiti. A drawing of a building, possibly the church itself, and some medieval script that may be able to be read by someone with a knowledge of old French or maybe Latin.

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The outside wall of the church above also had a lovely representation of a pilgrim carrying several crosses. Alongside the ‘pilgrim’ there was also a range of ship graffiti, one of which can be seen here amongst the overlaid marks.

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The cathedral in Saintes also had some interesting compass drawn images, said to act as a ‘snare’ for demons. When the evil entity came across a line, it felt compelled to follow to the end; and as these designs have no beginning or end, the demon would become trapped.

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And this one with seven concentric rings as well as other circles:

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On the previous day we had stumbled across (okay, it has to be admitted that we do plan some of our journeys around the churches that we might see!) the Romanesque church at Nuaille sur Boutonne. The doors were locked but we had a look around the outside and found that the graffito of choice for medieval visitors here was the ‘mass dial’. There were a whole lot of them along the south wall (more than would be useful to tell the time!)

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as well as some rough scallop shells, the symbol of the Compostela pilgrim.

 

France in July (I)

I thought that as I move on from the MA, I would share some of the things that I have found (and will carry on finding, I hope) during my visits to churches and other old places. Since helping with the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti survey ( http://www.wiltshire-medieval-graffiti-survey.com/ ), I now find that I can’t just look at a building and appreciate it as a whole, I now have to inspect closely and check for graffiti.

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Here we visited the L’Hôpital des Pèlerins (the pilgrims hospital). A medieval building that cared for pilgrims on the Compostela pilgrimage route down through France to Spain. Built in the 12th century there is loads of graffiti that has been studied by a local group, GRAHT ( http://www.graht.fr ). we were lucky in that there was an exhibition on while we were there showing the ‘moulages’ – mouldings that they had created of some of the graffitiIMG_4471blog

Outside the building were numerous horseshoes, inside had a whole range of things simple and complex; ships, pilgrims,

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Scissors/shears and footprints

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and a view of the town, best seen in their ‘moulage’ plaque:

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My favourite find was an 8-pointed star created from one continuous line:

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Just next door was the current hostel for pilgrims. this building was 18th century but still had graffiti on nearly every stone, suns, moons, pentangles etc and this lovely compass drawn motif:

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Aside from the graffiti, the building itself was stunning, the structure for the roof had no joints in the woodwork, it relied on gravity with the timbers just resting on each other and the stone, and outside was a lovely medieval herb garden.

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Highly recommended, it certainly gave me a lot to think about.

 

 

Résumé of Year Three

The time went so quickly during this year that I really didn’t have time (or energy spare) to post anything during the whirlwind. But the year has ended and it’s time to move on, so I thought that I would post a quick round up of how things went.

IMG_4618blogMonoprint from found image ( 25 x 20 cm)

The start of the year saw me come back to my senses after the ‘personal’ diversions of Year 2. I’d been looking at various churches whilst away on holiday and locally to me and knew that this was the subject matter that would feed this last year. I’ve always loved the atmosphere, the sense of history and that connection to the people that had been in these buildings before, although I would always say that I’m not a religious person.

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Silverpoint drawing on prepared blueprint paper (10 x 10 cm)

Working with a range of media drawings and prints were produced based on found images, my own photos and at first hand in situ. Gradually I honed the subject matter down to a couple of churches local to me and realised that it was the contact with previous visitors that was the focus of interest for me. During the year I also became involved with the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti recording project ( http://www.wiltshire-medieval-graffiti-survey.com/ ) and helping to create this record of graffiti encouraged really close contact with medieval life. One of the initial redundant churches that we visited as a group became the focus of my interest for the final part of the year and I visited on a regular basis.

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Charcoal drawing on prepared board  (10 x 12 cm). Based on photo taken during a visit with WMG survey

Several things influenced the media I used and the way that I used them during this time. A visit to the ‘Drawing in Silver and Gold’ exhibition at the British Museum strengthened my existing love of silverpoint as a drawing medium and echoed the era that I was discovering with the graffiti survey. Two further exhibitions on printing by Munch and Degas sanctioned the use of the printing process as a tool for drawing, rather than just a means to an end, which allowed the creation of some of my final pieces of work.

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First negative impression from a monoprint with watercolour (35 x 25 cm)

The final submission at the end of the year involved a diptych at near life size that represented the main door into the church and a section of the interior wall close by. The sections evoked the interaction of the populace by their physical contact with the door, and the more ephemeral, glancing contact of breath, heat and shadows on the wall.

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Overall view of presentation. L – R: ‘Nescis I’, ‘Nescis II’ and ‘Areredos’.

This large scale drawing was accompanied by a small, soft, intimate book that recorded of some 140 medieval graffiti marks that I had discovered during my visits; my direct contact with the ‘common’ people of the past.

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‘Areredos’

   Japanese paper, watercolour paint, pencil, watercolour pencil, inks, leather, silk.            (10 x 8 x 2 cm)

For my dissertation I noted that one artist that I was discussing, Jane Dixon, employs ‘techniques that deliberately lose their eloquence in reproduction’(1.). Unfortunately my own drawing has also proved very difficult to reproduce here – partly due to the final size (2.2m x 3.5m) and also the fact that the intricate silverpoint drawing just doesn’t show up well!

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Detail of silverpoint drawing on left-hand panel of diptych, ‘Nescis I’.

The book also has to be physically experienced for appreciation of the drawings within, but this intimacy with the graffiti and marks from the past and their creators is what I have discovered is really informing my practice as I come out of the MA.

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Silverpoint and chalk on prepared blue paper.

Life drawing has remained a key element in the development of the drawings that I made throughout; as I found that I could experiment with media and technique whilst looking at the familiar models in the relaxed atmosphere of the Life Room and is something that I will continue to do.

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Erased charcoal on paper.

  1. Lampert, C, 2009, extract from catalogue essay for In Between the Lines: Recent British Drawings, Trinity Contemporary, London, http://www.janedixon.net/index.html accessed 2/3/2015

Drawing from Experience

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Hung our exhibition at ‘Darkroom Espresso’, a lovely independent coffee shop in Swindon a week ago. ( https://twitter.com/darkroomsn1)

The three of us are in our final year now at the local college doing our MA’s and thought that it would be good to commit ourselves to showing. For me this meant that I could develop the theme coming from the set of knitted figurines that I made at the beginning of the last year, and create an installation that has been at the back of my mind for a while. The suspended ‘facets’ are accompanied by a selection of the drawings and prints made during that time. This has allowed me to lay this stream of work to rest, – I’m back to knitting jumpers and socks again now!

It’s good to know that the exhibition has been well received by those who’ve seen it, and it’s always a boost to see your work on a wall.

We’re having an open drawing session at the café to coincide with the ‘Big Draw’ on 15th October, 10 – 12am, so if you happen to be around please come in and see us.