Summer School – Day 3

Today we had to make a collage in a box. The course materials list said we would need a box; however, I thought it meant, a box to put all our stuff in, so that’s what I bought, one of those filing boxes with the hinge clamp. As it turned out, we needed was a box to make a collage in. Never mind, I tipped out my stuff, whipped out the clamp and made do; trouble is, now have nothing to put my stuff in.

The stuff

The stuff

You may not know this, but making a collage in a box is exhausting. Actually, making any kind of art is exhausting, if you’re doing it for 8hrs straight. Although I always aim to paint that much each day, it’s broken up into 3 sessions spread out over the day. Plus, I paint very very slowly. Indeed, the energy I expend painting is probably equivalent to rolling over in bed. Plus, in a class setting, there are people constantly looking at what you are doing, so the pressure is on not to make crap.

After my exhausting day, I decided to take a stroll around Bloomsbury, to clear my head. The Hall of Residence I am staying in is on Tavistock Square – which has a lovely park in the middle of it; there is also a park one street over called Gordon Square. These two squares were once home to the Bloomsbury Group; who were a group of writers, artist and poets. I think there was even an economist among them; which makes sense considering they are often idealists.


The Bloomsbury Group

The most famous of the group was Virginia Wolf – playwright and poet – who tragically drowned herself in the Ouse River, Sussex, when she was 59. I trawled both parks looking for her memorial, but couldn’t find it. I did however find the following:

Tavistock Square

Mahatma Ghandi

Memorial to Mahatma Ghandi

Gandy studied law and trained as a Barrister at University College London in 1888, which is located in Bloomsbury and, of which, the Slade is part of.

Memorial to the victims of Hiroshima

Memorial to the victims of Hiroshima

I am not quite sure of the connection with the area; but, personally, I think there should be one in every park, as it is, without doubt, one of the most horrendous things human beings have ever done or had to endure.

Monument to Conscientious Objectors

Memorial to Conscientious Objectors

I found this monument very moving. I realise it is a contentious issue; but, personally, I think it is noble to refuse to kill another human being. What would happen if everyone refused to go to war? Well, we’d be at peace…provided the other side felt the same; therein lies the trickiness of the situation. Still, objecting conscientiously is no picnic and, I think, a memorial to those folk do is very fitting.

Tavistock Square has also received notoriety in modern times – as the site of the 7/7 bombings – in which 13 people lost their lives. This year was the 10th anniversary and, I have to say, it felt sad and eerie to see the remaining tributes. Such senseless and calculated destruction is beyond words.

Site of the 7/7 bus bombing.

Site of the 7/7 bus bombing.

Gordon Square

The Gordon Square park was full of people, just lolling about after work. Despite what I’d learned in Tavistock Square, it struck me how mostly peaceful people are. While strolling around, I came across the following:

Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

A Special Operations Executive during the war, Khan infiltrated into occupied France, but was captured and executed at Dachau Concentration Camp. According to the memorial, her last word was “Liberte.” She is memorialised in the park because, at one time, she lived close by and used to spend time in the park in quiet contemplation.

Memorial to Rabindranath Tagore

Memorial to Rabindranath Tagore

An Indian Poet and Philosopher, Tagore was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia.

So it is that Bloomsbury is a place of contrasts: on the one hand it is creatively vibrant and thrives with the intellectual life of the university. On the other hand, it’s memorials to human travesties, and the tragedy it has itself seen, make it a place of sober reflection.

Summer School – Day 2

I spent the morning foraging on the streets of London for things to stick in a collage. Usually Ma tells me off for picking things off the pavement, but the teacher told us to do it, so who was I to argue. Before our crap collecting assignment, we all met at the Royal Academy to see a temporary exhibition of the work of Joseph Cornell. I thought it was brilliant and am now slightly in love with him; unfortunately, he is dead – so I doubt anything will come of it.

Self-educated and self-taught, Cornell was a collage artist par excellence, and is most noted for the wonderful Shadow Boxes he made.

Cornell making a Shadow Box.

Cornell making a Shadow Box.

When his father died prematurely, Cornell assumed responsibility for his Mother and younger brother – who had Cerebral Palsy. They lived in Queens, New York and Cornell worked in Manhattan as a textiles salesman. During his lunch hour he would roam the streets, collecting things that caught his eye, mostly from second-hand book shops and flea markets. For a while he just collected things, then one day he started arranging them, and hey presto, a great artist was born. He worked in the basement of his home, then later on the kitchen table. By all accounts he was socially awkward and not too flash with the ladies. Nonetheless, he courted the art world, and was both honoured and renowned in his life time.

For me, the most amazing piece in the whole exhibition was a Shadow Box he made for Emily Dickinson. As famous for her reclusiveness and squirreling her work under her bed as she was for her poetry and writing, Emily Dickinson remains an enigmatic figure – deeply intellectual and exquisitely sensitive. The piece was entitled “Towards the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson” – which is taken from one of her poems, which ends:

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight

It is easy to understand, when viewing Cornell’s work, why he felt such an affinity with Emily and paid homage to her. Without doubt they were kindred spirits and had a similar intellectual and artistic sensibility. Further, they both suffered from loneliness and the restrictiveness of their reclusive lives, and had a similar approach to desire; in that, they both preferred the state of longing itself, rather than the fulfilment of longing.

'Towards the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson' - Joseph Cornell

‘Towards the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson’ – Joseph Cornell

Enamoured by Cornell’s work and story, I spent that afternoon making a collage about his life, featuring at the end his homage to the beautiful Emily.


After class I attended an Art History lecture; although it was optional, I am nerd, so I scurried along. I’m pleased I did, as the lecture was very interesting; not that it would’ve mattered, because the guy giving it had the loveliest French accent which would’ve made a lecture on turnips seem riveting.

All and all it was a brilliant day. Nonetheless, loving Cornell and Emily and the French lecturer was exhausting, so it was a relief to get back to my room and have some dinner.


Summer School – Day 1

Turns out, collaging is way harder than it looks; unless you want to make something naff, then it’s pretty easy. Our assignment today was to make a portrait. I told my teacher that I hoped mine wasn’t a self-portrait, to which she replied, it probably is. ‘Every painter paints themselves,’ she told me (a little Tuscan proverb favoured by Da Vinci…and not in a good way). So, if you have ever thought I am a little strange, you’re in good company, my subconscious thinks so too.

My start to the day wasn’t much better. The breakfast buffet here at Connaught Hall is pretty impressive. However, I got all flustered when I was choosing mine, due to the po-faced dinner lady and the long queue behind me; all I wanted was yogurt and toast, instead I got a piece of cheesy bread, an egg and a chocolate pastry thing. Still I managed to eat it all.

After breakfast I wandered off to the Slade, which I managed to find without getting lost; not because my sense of direction has suddenly improved, but because it is only 5mins and 1 turn away. First we had a short lecture about Summer School in general. I have to say I felt quite chuffed sitting there, as though a dream I’d given up on long ago had, in a way, come to pass. I’d always wanted to make art at the Slade and there I was about to do so. After the lecture, we were shown to our respective studios. The one for the Collage course is wonderful; it’s huge and filled with light – when the sun bothers to come out that is.


There are 13 of us on the course, and everyone seems really nice. I met a lovely woman who joined the course after lunch. I had finished my lunch early and returned to the studio to try and fix my collage (the pic above is actually the improved version), so I was the only one in there when she arrived. She had missed the first part of the course because she had been at funeral. The funeral was for a 17 year old girl who had died of Leukaemia. I felt very sad as she was telling me the story and about the funeral, which she said was amazing. It was apparent from talking to her that she had indeed witnessed something incredible and was changed because of it, as I am sure all who attended were. I couldn’t help thinking that the tragic death of a beautiful young woman is now rippling out like a positive force in the world and touching the lives of people she didn’t even know. Indeed, I was touched by her story.


On my way home, I passed the enormous bookshop I visited when I was last in London. I gave myself strict instructions to keep walking, as I am on a budget and can’t be going around buying books willy nilly. But then I spied the tables of cheap books lined up outside and thought it couldn’t do any harm to have a little look. Did I have a look? Hardly. I walked straight past them, into the shop.


Waterstones Book Shop – Gower St. Bloomsbury.

It really is amazing in there. Even though I’ve been there twice, I have still only seen half of it. I saw lots that I wanted to buy; though I was sure to stay away from the Art books, as they’re always so pretty and, unfortunately, expensive. Instead, I wandered round the History, Religion and Philosophy sections (my other passions in life) and found a wonderful book I just had to have, about Maimonides and outsiders.


Summer School – Day Before

Tomorrow I am off to the Slade School of Art, for a week long course on collage. Given that collage is essentially sticking one piece of paper on another, one might wonder if a course is really necessary, especially a course that is in Central London and costs an arm and leg. Well, probably not. But I love a good collage, so here I am.

The Slade, part of University College London, is located in Bloomsbury, in the heart of London. The school was founded in 1871 through the bequest of Felix Slade – a wealthy art collector from Yorkshire – and is noted for providing equal educational terms for men and women from its inception.

While on the course, I will be staying at one of the Student Halls of Residence. The students have gone for the summer, so the University has rented out the rooms to visitors. It might not be the Ritz, but it is an affordable way to stay in Central London; plus, the bonus for me is, it’s on campus.

When I arrived in London this afternoon, it was pouring with rain. By the time I got to the Hall of Residence my clogs were swimming with water (see travel posts for my I have such ridiculous shoes) and I was soaked to the bone. It was a relief when I finally arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely it was. I checked in at the front desk…at least, I tried to check in. To my horror and that of the reception fellow, I wasn’t on the list. All I had was a little receipt saying I had paid my money. He kept asking if I had definitely booked and I kept saying yes, yes. I tried not to get stressed as I unpacked my suitcase right there in reception, in an effort to find the booking confirmation letter I hadn’t brought with me. As a last resort the fellow looked on the lists of other Halls of Residence in the area and, sure enough, there was my name on the list for a Hall down the road. As soon as I saw it, I was like, oh yeah, that’s the Hall I booked.

The fellow was very gracious, considering I nearly gave him a heart attack. He gave me directions to the Hall I was actually staying at, but I didn’t listen to a word he said, as I was too busy apologising and packaging my suitcase. Consequently, it took me half an hour to find the Hall that was 5 minutes away. Nonetheless, I eventually arrived and, although it isn’t as nice as the Hall I tried to stay at, I was relieved to get here. The room is quite tatty and smells of teenager, but there is a lovely tree outside my window and the gentle hum of traffic on the rain soaked street below, reminds me why I love city life.