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Zaragoza – Day 2: La Ofrenda de Flores

Looking out of the window in the city of Zaragoza on Sunday the 12th October was a bizarre experience. On the streets there was not a single car or vehicle which resembled modern times, but instead, passers by and groups of people walked along and gathered in the otherwise empty streets wearing incredible period costume. Decked out in heavy silken dresses, embroidered cloaks, wooden clogs, extravagantly frayed shawls and floral headdresses, the inhabitants of Zaragoza looked either like they had gone back in time, or were appearing as extras in a Hollywood blockbuster. But before I could conclude that I had somehow awoken in a dream, scenes from local television flashing up on the television screen at the end of my bed betrayed the truth: that this was no Hollywood blockbuster, but an event surely worthy of the live film reel remitting images of the event onto TV screens all over Spain. Showing extraordinary images of the streets of Zaragoza packed to the rafters with locals wearing traditional costume and carrying bouquets of flowers, the cameras had captured the very centre point of the Fiestas del Pilar – the Offering of the Flowers.

Floral dedications being carried by traditionally dressed locals towards the Plaza del Pilar

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La Ofrenda des Flores (the offering of flowers) is a great demonstration of the people’s devotion to the patron saint of the city, the Virgen del Pillar, during which hundreds of thousands of people, dressed in the traditional costume of Aragon or of any other region in Spain, bring flowers to the Virgin, a statue of whom is placed in the centre of the Plaza del Pilar. Around the statue stood on high, an army of volunteers slot the flowers offered into a vast pyramidal structure, tiling a huge sloping flower mantle around the Virgin, which remains in the square for the rest of the festival so that all the people in the city can see it. From an early beginning, when the first bouquets filled the area of the mantel immediately below the glinting gilded statue, we were lucky enough to see this vast floral cape as it gradually filled with floral tributes, while thousands more offers flooded into the square, brought by locals queuing patiently in their lavish local costumes and entertained by a wide variety of superb traditional dancing and music shows.

Handing over the flowers and the vast floral mantel built around the Virgen del Pilar

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It was an incredible event to watch and be part of, from regarding the vast human river of flower-carrying locals slowly winding its passage all the way down from the main thoroughfares North of the city to the vast Plaza del Pilar, to seeing the great floral mantel slowly develop flower by flower. The air was filled with human spirit, with shared happiness and with a tangible expression of positivity and celebration, and was certainly an unmissable event in all of my adventures in Spain.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Zaragoza Focus – All the fun of the fiesta

From the moment we arrived in Zaragoza in North Eastern Spain, continuing right up to (and no doubt beyond) the time we left, the city was tangibly pumping with the rhythm of fiesta. The leafy squares and vast piazzas standing amidst Zaragoza’s world-famous cathedrals were alive with open air concerts playing throughout the day and evening; the streets were packed so full of people that it took 10 minutes to make one’s way even down the shortest; the skies periodically erupted with the pop and crackle of a distant firework display; tapas bars and restaurants were full to over brimming; and the air was filled with helium balloons of every shape and size and bubbles blown by children. And despite all of the inconvenience and noise that this festival inevitably created, there is no denying the magical atmosphere that filled the air, as the whole city seemed bound by an intangible electricity of celebration, and almost the entirety of its population came out to enjoy the party, to stroll in the crowds, to listen to the live music, to dance in the streets.

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This selection of photographs attempts to convey something of the atmosphere which filled every inch of Zaragoza when we made a visit the weekend before last. The reason for the festival was the Fiestas del Pilar, an annual ten day celebration, centred around a religious festival when huge crowds pay homage to the patron saint of the city: the Virgen del Pillar, but actually incorporating a packed programme of traditional music, modern pop, excuses to dance, and occasions to get out, eat and meet with loved ones and friends. And no wonder it was so crowded: for this annual festival is not only the biggest in Zaragoza, but one of the largest in all of Spain attracting thousands from outside of the city, and indeed the country: like us. It certainly was something unique, and made our visit to Zaragoza a hundred times more memorable.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Zaragoza – Day 1: Cultural Calm before the Fiesta

The city of Zaragoza, the 6th largest in Spain and the capital of the landlocked region of Aragon to the West of Catalonia and Northeast of Madrid, has always drawn me with promises of its majestic river setting along the banks of the Ebro (the longest river in Spain don’t you know) and it’s vast Basilica del Pilar, a church so grand they had to give it four bell towers. But because direct flights from the UK are not all that common, and largely involve braving the distinct downgrade to comfort-stripped Ryanair, I had never made it there despite visiting Spain with the same frequency as the changing seasons. But this year, what with it’s being my Mother’s big birthday (don’t worry I won’t betray which one) I considered that it was time to give Zaragoza a go, even if it meant suffering Ryanair’s cushionless cramped flight to get there. 

And to be fair to Ryanair, they got us there with the full efficiency of carefully oiled machine, all the earlier then to gain our first views of the much promised Basilica del Pillar which was every bit as stunning as its reputation suggested, as well as enabling us to get a feel for the buzzing electric spirit filling the city. For by sheer coincidence, we happened to be visiting the city during the high point of its annual calendar: the Fiestas del Pilar – 10 days of unrivalled partying, street concerts, traditional costumes and religious devotion. Despite the excitement on the streets, we were keen to sleep after our night time arrival, and all the sooner to wake up to our unbeatable hotel room view: not one, not two but all four of the stunning bell towers of the Basilica del Pilar creeping up from behind the residential street opposite. And as if this scenic view needed to get any more picture perfect, there was even a hot air balloon rising high into the sky besides the great church. What a start to our Zaragoza story!

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Breakfast did not keep us from seeing the city for long, and walking out into the warm autumn sunshine, we made our way to the Basilica, stopping en route to delight our senses in the local market, where every kind of fruit, vegetable, sweet and savoury treat were on view to delight and entice, although some products were perhaps more enticing than others – I should warn you that those sensitive to gruesome sights may want to look away now!

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After the market and an amble through Zaragoza’s old town streets, we were able to get a fuller view of the majestic Basilica from the very best viewpoint – across the River Ebro to the gardens which line the riverbank opposite the old town; gardens whose sun-bleached auburn leaves provided the perfect frame for this most wonderful of city views.

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Having satisfied ourselves with the ultimate view of the city, and having enjoyed the basilica from all angles, we soon discovered that the city of Zaragoza, asides from being a city bustling with festivals and containing one of the most architecturally magnificent of all Spanish churches, is also a city of considerable cultural offerings. As we traversed the characterful streets of its old town, we literally stumbled upon museums without having to so much as open our guide book.

The first cultural event we found ourselves wandering into was the exhibition of Enrqiue Larroy – Chapa y Pintura – held in La Lonja. Like many such “Lonjas” in other Spanish cities, La Lonja of Zaragoza is a former merchants hall constructed in a palacial gothic style with soaring ceilings and pillars reaching darlingly up to the vertiginous height of its lofty stone latticed ceiling. But this beautiful architectural site was perfectly set off by the contrasting bright colours of Larroy’s acrylic works, which not only presented wonderfully dynamic, zinging paintings in their own right, but as an artistic installation worked fantastically as they were reflected into the shiny stone floors of this important historical space.

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Just up the road from La Lonja is the Museum of local sculptor Pablo Gargallo. Sculpting in the height of the roaring 20s, Gargallo’s work is a wonderful mixture of avant garde figuration and cubism, as the sculptor managed to create three dimensional portraits with only a few hard cast features, allowing the interplay of light and shadow to fill in all of the missing details.As with so many of the art museums I have visited in Spain over the last decade, the Gargallo museum is yet another which is set amidst a stylishly renovated palace, meticulously conceived creating a seamless and highly polished exhibition space.

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But having had our fill of art for one day, we found ourselves ending this first day in Zaragoza back where we started – at the magnetic nuclei of the city: the Basilica del Pilar, where excitement for the oncoming festival was tangibly building. Inside the great Basilica, large queues were forming of pilgrims wishing to catch a closer sight or even kiss the pillar on which Mary was supposedly once sighted and around which the entire church was built. Meanwhile outside, huge stages were being constructed in the main squares, people were out dancing in the streets, and more and more visitors seemed to be pouring into the city.

DSC09382 DSC09373 DSC09389Amongst all this excitement, we took refuge in the charmingly old fashioned Grand Café Zaragoza. Reminding me of Florians in Venice, it provided the perfect sanctuary from the madness on the city’s streets, as well as a throwback to the past which seems to be so prevalent in this city where tradition and folk law is enthusiastically  celebrated. As for us, we ended our day contenting ourselves with our own tradition – a welocme cup of earl grey tea and a chocolate covered palmera pastry: the perfect way to look back and reflect on this first exciting day in Zaragoza.


All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Late Turner at Tate: Repetitious repertoire with moments of genius

I think I may be almost alone amongst my British compatriots when I declare that I am not a huge fan of J M W Turner. In fact I’m fully expecting to receive a raft of hate mail when this review goes live on my blog and I conclude that Tate Britian’s latest exploit of this undoubtedly revolutionary British Artist is all a bit insipidly, uninterestingly “pastel”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that Turner was a master of his times, and likewise that he was crucial in the development of the impressionist, and then expressionist art movements that changed the world of art history. I do not doubt that without him, the whole revolution of modern art may never have seeded in quite the way it did, if at all. And I recognise that in so far as great British artists go (of which there are few), he is almost certainly one of the best. Yet when I am faced with a painting by Turner, I cannot help but feel depressed, and a little uninterested, my attention somewhat wondering away from the smudged colour palette, the greys and the pastels.

Tate Britain’s new Turner exhibition has opened with considerable fanfare. This is insuperably the case when any Turner show is opened in the UK, but the problem is, we’ve seen so much of the work before. Such is the result of an exhibition of Turner being shown at Tate, the very same museum which was bequeathed hundreds of Turner works a short time after his death. Since the exhibition focuses on “Late Turner” (works produced between 1835 and his death in 1851), it almost certainly features the lion’s share of the Turner Bequest, meaning that there is very little new to be seen by we London regulars. Still, one cannot doubt the scale and ambition of the show, which ably demonstrates that Turner was perhaps at his innovative best in this final period of his life. While the artwork is still trenched in the rigid tradition of the prescribed artistic and aesthetic tastes of the time (antiquity, pastoral landscape, naval scenes and the like), Turner was presenting canvases which aimed to capture more of an effect than a historical narrative. Even his history and antiquity paintings (of which there are many) focus more on the breathtaking light of a sunrise or sun set, or the moody effect resulting from a foggy encounter, than the story itself.

Regulus (1828)

Regulus (1828)

Peace - Burial at Sea (1842)

Peace – Burial at Sea (1842)

Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (1839)

Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (1839)

So to give the show its dues and focus in on the “good”, one cannot help but be stirred at times by some of Turner’s more atmospheric works, such as his paintings of stormy seas in Snowstorm (1842), so cyclical like a washing machine drum that you feel as though you are swept out at sea yourself – an effect which just can’t be captured from a postcard reproduction of the work. Mention also has to go to the stunning effects of light achieved by Turner – for example the burning glow of the Fire at the Houses of Parliament, and the incredible blinding light captured in his painting Regulus (1828) – an effect so well captured that I felt compelled to look away from the painting, as though I was staring into the sun itself.

Snowstorm (1842)

Snowstorm (1842)

The Blue Rigi Sunrise (1842)

The Blue Rigi Sunrise (1842)

Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1834)

Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1834)

For me though, the success of the show – its scale – was also its downfall, as with so many Turners from the same period exhibited all together, one couldn’t help conclude that it was all a bit samey, and repetitive – a feeling also engendered by the RA’s Monet show a few years back, when one water lily after another began to look like a single mesh of watery wobbly lines so that you could no longer distinguish between them. This feeling is proliferated at Tate’s show by the unfortunate decision to paint the walls in the same predominant colour as the paintings, so that in one room, a gallery full of dull yellow paintings feels even duller and more dated thanks to the same colour having been painted on the wall. If only the whole show had been curated like the middle room, where Turner’s square and round paintings were hung on dark walls and spot-lit to magnificent effect. Under those conditions, the works really came alive.

So coming out of this exhibition, my conclusions were as follows: Turner left me flat, not so much because of his work, but because of the way the show had been put together. Too much, too samey, and horrible decisions regarding wall colours. What Turner was brilliant at was capturing light, and it is this, set against dark backgrounds, that Tate should have concentrated on, to give Turner’s final years the kind of exhibition they perhaps deserve.

Fishermen at Sea (1796)

Fishermen at Sea (1796)

Late Turner: Painting Set Free is showing at Tate Britian until 25 January 2015

Watery Wonder of Wandsworth in the Autumn Light

After a rare extension of English summer temperatures to the end of September, the inevitable onset of autumn last weekend was heralded by a sudden drop in temperatures, but also a very welcome burst of sharp strong sunshine. Waking to the sunrays peeking their way through my window blinds this Sunday, I rose from my slumber with a new sense of excitement for the season ahead, and gathering together some long since aired padded winter clothing, I headed out with my partner to enjoy the arrival of Autumn.

Our original intention was to photograph the typical hallmarks of the season: conkers, ruby-coloured leaves and mushrooms peaking up around the damp bases of ancient trees, but perhaps because of the warmer-than-average September, or maybe because it is still early days in the autumn calendar, we found such seasonal staples to be lacking. However, what we did find, upon walking in the densely verdant landscape of South London’s Wandsworth Park, was a waterway of small ponds and larger lakes come alive with the auburn light and the rich sunny hues of autumn. While I have seen this park in every season, there was something about the interplay of autumn light, with the turning colour of the leaves and the elegant auburns and greens of the mallard ducks gliding on the surface of the water that made the entire scene a treat for the eyes.

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So rather than giving you a photographic panoply of autumn berries, nuts and other forest favourites, my homage to autumn’s ascendancy is an album focusing on the stunning sparkling reflections formulated in the softly-lit waters of Wandsworth Park. Autumn in England is not known to be the most clement of seasons, but on a day like this, it can make for one of the most beautiful times of all the year.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Daily Norm Photo of the Week: Sunrise above the Sleepers

Waking up on a weekday in order to go to work is simply dismal at this time of the year. As the season descends into autumn and then winter, and the days get shorter and shorter as they go on, the forceful ringing of an alarm clock before the skies are yet light seems like the most unnatural and cruel start to a day imaginable. Why can’t humans be as sensible as animals, curling up in their warm beds until at least the sun is out, and the start of our day coincides with the awakening of nature around us? Better still, can’t we just hibernate now until the cold dark times of winter are over? Nonetheless, despite this gloom, if you’re lucky with timing, there is one thing about the autumn that makes waking up before sunrise a real treat for the eyes – the skies. Just as the sun is about to rise (and when, of course, the sky is clear of clouds – not exactly easy in England) autumn’s gift is a sunrise so visually enriching that it could be mistaken for a neon light show out of an 80s roller disco. Shot through the sky, stripes of richly fluorescent orange slice through a peachy soft sky, while above, the fading exit of the night sky bleeds from dark blue, to lightening blue, through to a subtle shade of fragrant purple.

This week’s Daily Norm Photo of the Week shows one such sunrise, when the sun has just burst above the horizon and transformed the skies around it into a cocktail of colour explosions. I love how the urban silhouette in front of it responds with such fervour in a sharp relief of black, while reminding us that at this time of the sun’s early entrance, beneath the eaves and roofs of these houses, workers remain snuggled up in bed, fighting the eager alarm clock whose shrill warning reminds the snoozing sleeper that it is time to face the cold, long, busy day ahead.


The Daily Norm Photo of the Week: Il Grillo Parlante

Whenever The Daily Norm focuses in on a particular photo, that photo is more often than not a nature shot. For there is nothing quite so beautifully complex as the work of mother nature, especially the little beasties that she has gathered around the earth. And this week’s offering is no exception, for following hot on the heels of my Tuscany exposé is a spectacular little resident of the region who we happened to meet one sunny morning over coffee in the town of Campiglia Marittima. Meet Jiminy Cricket himself, a right royal example of this bandy legged wonder, sat aloofly in a lush leafy plant neighbouring our table as we sat nonchalantly sipping cappuccino in the sun.

With his large oval eyes casting side glances at the viewer, and dappled wings whose complex pattern looks like a cracked ceramic tile or a Roman mosaic, this insect is truly a beauty, and I was delighted to achieve this closeup without the said spectacle jumping swiftly out of sight. But I also love other aspects of the photo too, such as the soft defocus of the cobweb in the immediate foreground which has the appearance of rainbow electrics shooting through the air.


It seems appropriate that this marvellous cricket should have been found in amongst the verdant landscape of Italy, for Jiminy Cricket himself, perhaps the most famous cricket of them all and illustrated character of Disney’s Pinocchio was of course based on a character of Italian author  Carlo Collodi‘s original Pinocchio tales, a character whose simple name, The Talking Cricket (Il Grillo Parlanate) takes the name of this post. 

My début at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

2014 has been a great year for me artistically. In May, I held my most commercially successful exhibition to date, with plenty of exciting commissions and opportunities flowing straight out of it. In July I exhibited with a new generation of freshly graduated art students at London Bridge’s Art Academy, and in September I exhibited my prints in a sensational show of printmaking talent amongst the works of the East London Printmakers at the Embassy Tea Gallery in London Bridge. But as far as 2014 goes, I have certainly left the best until last. For this October, one of my paintings will hang in an art gallery so prestigious, and so imbued with history, that it feels like a dream to see my work up on its walls.

I am of course talking about the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s oldest public art gallery, and home to some of the UK’s most illustrious artists and art collections, amongst them undisputed masters such as Gainborough, Watteau, Canaletto, Veronese and Reynolds. And for the next two and a half weeks, starting with a lavish opening gala last night, my very own artwork will be hanging amongst other works in a new Open Submission show a mere few metres from these incredible masterpieces of art history – a complete honour.

The painting selected for show was my simple landscape of Praiano, a glistening little town on the mountainous Amalfi Coast. Painted in gouache on paper in the immediate aftermath of my Amalfi Coast trip, the painting is one of currently 11 paintings comprising my “interpretations” collection, and is perhaps the most meditative and tranquil of them all. All framed up in a fancy oak frame, it looks splendid, and I have never been prouder of my artwork than last night, when I saw my little painting hung on these walls where only months before David Hockney’s world-class printworks had been admired by crowds of thousands.

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And of course my painting is not alone. Hanging amongst some 170 others, it is but one in a collection of wonderful works submitted by the Friends of the Dulwich Picture Gallery and chosen for exhibition by a panel of illustrious judges. So  don’t just go along to see my Praiano – make your way to Dulwich to see galleries full of creative gems – both those of new budding artists, and of art history’s greats.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery Friend’s Open Exhibition runs until 12 October 2014.

Interpretation No. 11 – Castagneto Carducci

Last week’s Daily Norm was a glorious panoply of Tuscan views, scenes and sensations and it’s not quite over yet. For hot on the heels of my Tuscan weekend comes my 11th interpretative landscape – part of my Interpretations collection which I began some three months ago after being inspired by the sumptuous landscapes and cubic shapes of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. 

Back in Italy this September, and one glimpse up through the vine-packed fields of Donoratico to the emerging landscape of Castagneto Carducci made me realise that this pretty hill top town was an obvious contender for an interpretative overhaul. For with its tightly packed cluster of pastel coloured houses all set up on a Tuscan hill, Castagneto offers a wonderful synthesis between petit-urban development set amidst a stunning landscape, which is exactly what the Interpretations series sets out to emulate. And I think this 11th Interpretation is probably one of my favourites of them all.   

Interpretation No. 11 - Castagneto Carducci (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Interpretation No. 11 – Castagneto Carducci (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Sunset on Tuscany

Just as this week of Tuscany posts began with an essay on a sensational sunny morning, when the sun was slowly rising over the calmest of seas, so now it ends with the most sumptuous of sunsets, as that round ball of fire on which we are all so inherently reliant made its 180 degree course through our northern hemisphere before dropping gracefully beyond the reach of the equator to pursue a further path on the other side of the world. 

As the Tuscan coastline universally faces west, wherever you are on that beautiful stretch of pine tree lined coast, you are guaranteed to be treated to the most stunning of sunsets, whatever the time of the year. Over just a short weekend in Tuscany, we witnessed three incredible shows, and with each the panoply of colours striding through the sky seemed to increase. From a lemon yellow deepening through to mango, when the sun eventually plunged beneath the horizon, the sky was shot with the most exquisite shades of rose and raspberry ripple so that, by the time night descended, the sky had danced its way through a cabaret of colours, inspiring fruit filled cocktails and artists aplenty in its wake. 

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But just as the sun had to set, a little earlier each day, so too did the time have to set on our little trip to Tuscany. For the nature of a weekend is the inevitable onset of work the following Monday, and with this damned thought in mind, we made our long way back, besides a fading purple sky, along the dark winding road to Pisa. 

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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