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Finding inspiration from Marbella’s final resting place

There’s something inherently beautiful about a cemetery. It’s not just the peace and quiet, which is of course an inevitable feature of every cemetery or graveyard, but the tangible demonstration of human emotion shown by the care taken by those living for the memories of their beloved dead. This can be seen through the wording of a grave, through the flowers carefully laid alongside it, and through the regular cleaning of the stone with as much care as would be taken for a feature of a living household. There is also something innately civilised about caring for the dead and paying homage to the past, not least because it can make us more appreciative of our life and the lives of others still around us.

While I do like an English graveyard, headstones tilting in all directions and covered in moss and decay, my favourite type of cemetery is a Spanish cemetery, whose tranquil atmosphere is more than embellished by the regular presence of sunshine filtering through the large dark cypress trees which are a regular inhabitant of such places. But I also love how seriously Spanish society takes its dead, and whenever I take a stroll in Marbella’s cemetery in Southern Spain, I am always touched by the number of locals visiting their family graves, with rubber gloves and cleaning products to hand, ensuring that all looks clean and well maintained. It’s a bit like the beginning scene from Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant film, Volver, when a visit to the family grave is both a family tradition and a time to gather and reminisce.

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Of course it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that my overriding reasons for visiting a Spanish cemetery are artistic ones, and Marbella’s has more than once inspired me to take many a photograph of the scene. For in the sheer volume of marble fronted graves, both within private family mausoleums and piled up on top of one another like bookshelves in neat rows, these graves make for an excellent photographic subject, not least because of the variety and dedications, flowers, family memorabilia and photos. And on top of all of that, the sunshine is always on hand to provide warmth to the photographs and plenty of contrast between light and shade.

So here are the photos I took on my recent stroll around Marbella’s cemetery. Hopefully like me you will see the inherent beauty of the place, which far from being morbid, is a place of tranquillity, devotion and hope.

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.

Interpretation No. 9: The Gorge and the Puente Nuevo

It would have been hard to stop my artistic appreciation of the city of Ronda with a single painting, and having completed Interpretation no.8, my interpretative landscape of Ronda, no.9 followed hot on its heels. This time the same fusion of the arid amber gorge and crisp white buildings predominates, but this painting focuses more on the great imposing El Tajo gorge, together with the bridge (albeit only a small slice of it) that links the two sides of ancient Ronda. In this painting I hope to have emphasised the sheer drama which the teetering positioning of Ronda’s houses on the top of a vast plunging gorge provides, as well as capturing some of the more iconic sights of the city, from the Puente Nuevo to the old cathedral sitting at its centre. 

Interpretation No. 9 (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Interpretation No. 9 (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 www.delacy-brown.com

Ronda Roundup

If one is to weigh up beauty in proportion to blog content, I haven’t written about Ronda in Southern Spain all that much. And I surely haven’t had enough opportunities to post the wealth of photos I took on my two day trip to the city either (a quantity you could say is also out of proportion to the length of the trip, but there you go). But happily with each new day comes a new excuse to write about Ronda, and today I’ve put together a group of miscellaneous photos which act as a kind of sample from my 48 hours in that picture-perfect hill top town. 

As has become somewhat the norm of my photography, I have concentrated more on architectural and urban details in exploring the town with my SLR bridge camera, making the most of soft focus capabilities when taking group shots, as well as the ability of the camera to excel under conditions of both light and shadow. But I have also used the frame of each photo to capture little vignettes of the city, such as the little horse and carts which ferry tourists around the old town, or the large succulent cactus which so beautifully compliments the arid golden landscape beyond it. 

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I of course realise that this blog has become more of a homage to travel than to art in recent times. But as these photos will hopefully show, there is no greater inspiration for an artist than travel, and no greater art than that which captures the beauty which is so much easier to appreciate when the eye is not accustomed to it.

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. 

My travel sketchbook: Swimming Pool at the Paradores, Ronda

My third sketch of Ronda marked something of a departure from my two views of the gorge. I had taken my sketchbook down to the hotel pool with me on the afternoon of my birthday, half expecting to capture another glimpse of the sensational hotel views over the surrounding landscape. And while I did begin to draw in a little of that landscape, I soon realised that what was exciting me most about the scene before me wasn’t the landscape at all, but the electric blue swimming pool set within a lush garden dappled with sunlight through sheltering trees. And so in something which recalls the dolce vita represented in the early LA paintings of David Hockney, I made the swimming pool of the hotel Paradores the focus of this sketch, even returning to the completed black and white work to add the same electric blue that had so entranced me. Together there is not only a striking contrast of monochrome and blue, but the very vision of a summer’s holiday afternoon. Bliss. 

Ronda Sketch 3 - Paradores Pool (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

Ronda Sketch 3 – Paradores Pool (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink 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 www.delacy-brown.com

Ronda | Day Two: Ronda Joy for the Birthday Boy

Being a proponent of self-indulgence in all forms I am a great lover of birthdays. And being a great lover of birthdays I very often get disappointed when they are anything less than perfect. Which is most of the time – after all, when one is hoping for perfection you will almost certainly be on the look out for problems. But this year’s birthday, my 31st I am loathe to admit was, perhaps because it was so unplanned and unexpected (original plans to go to Cadiz being abandoned) utterly and in every way perfect. For how could it be otherwise, waking up in the glorious Spanish city of Ronda to some of the most spectacular views the country has to offer. 

Those views, of golden fields, red rocky outcrops, white washed houses dazzled by the sun, and the vast imposing structure of the New Bridge, accompanied me throughout the early exciting stages of my birthday: admiring the views, taking a bath still admiring the views, unwrapping those few presents and cards I had brought with me from the UK, eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant still admiring the views, and finally getting my fill of those same stunning views as we strolled through the morning tranquility of the Almeda Park. 

Opening up my birthday presents and walking out into Ronda’s delightfully sunny morning

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All that set me up in perfect stead for the day to come, energy levels sky rocketing inspired by the beauty all around us. We headed straight over the vast gorge to the fairly new museum of another artist who had been inspired by these landscapes as well as the wealth of art historical references boasted by Spain: Ronda born Joaquin Peinado. His works, largely figurative moving into cubism, all wonderfully colourful and full of energising geometric forms, are contained in the beautifully converted Moctezuma Palace which is today owned by the Unicaja Ronda Foundation. The conversion makes for the perfect meditative surroundings where art is appreciated at its best: marble floors, clean white walls and incredibly detailed ancient mudejar ceilings. And just in case the building itself does not do it for you, the paintings on show are comprehensive and varied: Not only was a plentiful collection of the work of Peinado himself on show, but the museum was also hosting a temporary exhibit of Picasso’s Voillard Suite of around 100 prints. Those works, which are mainly crafted in etchings and lithographs and depict themes of the minotaur and the sculptor and model, demonstrate once again the versatility of Picasso and how prolific he was in the field of print.

Highlights from the Peinado Museum

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If my birthday had ended there, stepping out after that wonderful art gallery experience, I would have been happy, but it was far from over. Next the compulsory coffee, enjoyed in the heart of the old town in the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, after which a quite random walk took us quite accidentally but fortuitously down around the outskirts of the old arab ramparts of Xijara and to the Islamic remains of the city. Chief among them are the almost fully intact Arab Baths, which today make for an atmospheric visitor’s attraction with sunlight flooding through the small star shaped holes in the stone ceiling, even though the water is today long gone. Then, just outside the baths, the incredible Old Bridge (so called) crossing the El Tajo gorge is likewise a supposed remnant to the old arab civilisation in the city. Today it makes for a stunningly impressive sight.

Arab Ronda

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Interpretation No. 8: Ronda cluster above the El Tajo Gorge

Readers of the Daily Norm will know that following my beautiful trip to the Amalfi Coast in June, I embarked on a series on new gouache paintings. I have loosely labelled the collection “interpretations” because they are not so much landscapes as interpretations of a landscape – a simplified landscape with the details of urban structures stripped away so that the focus of the audience can be placed on the general shape made by a town or a cluster of buildings, rather than the details. This is particularly striking where generations of people have built up towns in the most hostile of landscapes, such as the cliff edges of the Amalfi Coast. The result is the development of a group of buildings which look almost out of place and surreal when set against the harsh unapologetic backdrop of nature. It is this contrast which my interpretations seek to emphasise.

Interpretation No. 8 - Ronda (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Interpretation No. 8 – Ronda (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

There was no doubt that having been inspired by the vast rocky coastal crags of Amalfi, I would be likewise moved to paint by the mountainous planes and combination of town versus harsh seemingly unconquerable landscape which characterises the small urban sprawl of Ronda. I set about working on my first Ronda “interpretation” almost as soon as I caught eyes on the views. This first work is the result, a painting which, unlike the Italian works which have gone before it, loses the blues and purples of the Amalfi Coast, and is instead painted in the warm reds, ochres, bronzes and russets for which the arid Southern Spanish landscape is famous. And these colours are not works of fiction – for the El Tajo gorge on which Ronda stands is very much a fiery orange colour, which glows ever more robustly red as the sun sets upon it. It’s an awesome sight, and made for the perfect inspiration for this continuation of my Interpretations collection.

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. 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 www.delacy-brown.com

My travel sketchbook: El Tajo Gorge, Ronda

I could have sketched Ronda, the sumptuous Spanish city in Southern Andalucía, forever. Not only were the clusters of white terracotta-roofed old buildings more than easy on the eye, but the great El Tajo gorge upon which the city is precariously built is itself a feast for the eyes, and for a sketchbook. With its multiple craggy rocks, rounded by centuries of weather beatings and the expanse of plant life which has crept over its surface, the steep sided cliffs of the gorge are a picture of complex shapes, angles and shadows, and taken as a whole almost appear to defy gravity, such is the vertical, and in places almost inversed top heavy standing of these vertiginously high cliff faces. All this of course makes for a sensational drawing subject, and within hours of moving into our sumptuously large bedroom and terrace in the Paradores Hotel, I began two pen sketches of the incredible view which we could see from every part of our room.

Ronda 1 - Buildings above the Tajo Gorge, Ronda (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Ronda 1 – Buildings above the Tajo Gorge, Ronda (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The two sketches are fairly similar, hence why I am posting them together. They concentrate on the same section of the gorge, with a view onto the oldest quarter of Ronda with its main church stood proudly at the centre. However, one focuses more on a cluster of buildings showing just a little of the gorge below, while the other shows more of the gorge and just a thin slice of the bridge, helping the audience to appreciate just how small the buildings of Ronda appear when perched on the full expanse of this rocky canyon. And this is only what I could see from the hotel – the gorge plummeted deeper still, showing just how dramatic this scenery is.

Ronda 2: The Tajo Gorge (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Ronda 2: The Tajo Gorge (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

I am delighted with the capacity of these sketches to have captured that drama, along with the great contrast between violently brutal rock face and highly civilised historical architecture which makes Ronda – and now these sketches – so interesting to see.

© 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 www.delacy-brown.com

Ronda | Day One: Matadors, Miradores and Multiple Moments of Epiphany

I am going to say something potentially controversial. I think that the experience of a moment of epiphany is the preserve of artists and creatives. Not because other people can’t be placed in the often emotional, sense-tantilising circumstances that give rise to such a moment, but because they do not have the creative mentality which makes them aware of it, or at least of just how sensational are the surroundings giving rise to it. Not everyone therefore will necessarily understand me when I say that in Ronda, a small mountain-top city in Spain’s Andalucia, the surroundings were so bone-achingly beautiful that I experienced multiple moments of epiphany – times when situation, atmosphere and inspiration combine into a powerful fusion of mood and moment; when creative ideas pop and flow from my head like bubbles out of a fast-moving fountain. (The blogosphere does however tend to me full of creatives, and I therefore retain high hopes that most of my readership will be able to flow effortlessly along with me as I describe the happening of those moments under the hot sunny skies of a summer-baked rolling Spanish landscape). 

The Spanish City of Ronda

The Spanish City of Ronda

The first of those moments occurred shortly after our arrival in this incredibly placed city up in the vast mountain ranges that sit behind Marbella. As if the incredible view of vertiginous mountain passages on the wildly meandering road from Marbella to Ronda weren’t enough, but up in the city itself, our hotel (and one of the town’s best) – the Paradores – was so sensationally located as to give us the very best views wherever in the hotel we happened to be situated. Located bang next door to Ronda’s iconic Puente Nuevo, the newest and largest of three bridges that span the 120-metre-deep chasm that carries the Guadalevín River and divides the city, the hotel has an enviable location right on the edge of the vast El Tajo gorge on which the whole city is precariously perched. 

But my moment of epiphany came not in the hotel lobby, or in its well appointed restaurant or swimming pool gardens, but in our own room which we had, with great fortune, been allocated with a vast hotel terrace spanning one whole corner of the hotel and presenting the most sensational almost 360 degree views of Ronda, the El Tajo gorge, the bridge and the mountainous valleys and hills beyond. Looking over the variously angled terracotta rooftops of Ronda’s old town houses, across the rocky gorge and over to vast planes in a tapestry of sun-burnt browns, coppers, umbers and olive greens, we could see hints of Tuscany, moments of Malta, the green verdancy of lush tropics, but predominating over all the unmistakable russet richness of a Spanish landscape. In those fields were every conceivable shade of orange and red; pastures haphazardly placed and others neatly planted with olive trees; curving meandering roads lined with cypresses and Spanish firs, and exposed hard-edged rocky outcrops with birds of prey flying overhead. 

What a view…the Paradores Hotel, our terrace, and the landscape beyond

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From the hotel, we were but moments away from the Alameda Park; lush botanical gardens whose beauty would themselves make for a view worthy of lavished attention, but which are largely overlooked because of the incredible mountain views which span the entire length of the gardens at the bottom of their sun dappled paths. This reminded me of those sensational gardens at the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello – stunning gardens, much overlooked by visitors who rush to the Terrazzo dell’lnfinito (Terrace of Infinity) to see the unbeatable views of the Mediterranean which the terrace affords. 

The stunning Alameda Park

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Photo Focus: Marbella Mix

It’s Marbella week on The Daily Norm, a blog which has become progressively taken over by a summer of Mediterranean (and Adriatic!) travel as I seek to pursue the only true source of a man’s spiritual and creative happiness: La Dolce Vita itself. And back in Marbella, the place which has been my family home for over decade and which has given birth to so many of my most successful creative moments, the typically Andalucian charming little old town which inspired me from my first visit in the year 2000 continues to do so these 14 years later. Still, when I walk around the town, I take my camera with me, for the excitement that this Spanish beauty instils in me continues to inspire creativity of every form, and a camera is a necessary tool in those moments.

So this post contains just a few of the Marbella shots I took while I spent two wonderful weeks recently ambling down its little narrow alleyways, through large cobbled squares, and around its lush gardens and seaside promenades. In this mixed old bunch of shots, you’ll enjoy energetic bursts of fountains glittering in the hot afternoon sun, you’ll see old Spanish locals creating a picture-postcard grouping as they gather together out in the warm balmy evening air to gossip; and you can share in the burst of optimism which the long shadows and sharp sunshine of an early Spanish morning can bring – when hope itself goes out for a promenade. Amongst the Marbella locals, you’ll see a rather friendly pigeon enjoying those ample fountains, you can meet the rather handsome patron saint cast in bronze outside the Iglesia de la Incarnacion, and, like the lady in one photo, you’ll want to sit out in an Andaluz square reading while the sun breaks out around you.

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These photos are very much an expression of the true authentic heart of one of Andalucía’s most overlooked historical centres. For as I’ve said so many times before, Marbella is not just about the superficial glitz of Puerto Banus – it has a heart and soul too.

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.

My travel sketchbook: Marbella de la Encarnacion

As may have become obvious from my last two posts featuring my spot of summertime DIY, I have recently spent some quality time in the town I am very lucky to call my second home – Marbella in Southern Spain. Despite the fact that the white washed cobbled streets, the charmingly authentic squares, and the alleyways full of geraniums and plant pots and old gossiping locals have all become very familiar to me, I cannot help but be inspired by their quaint beauty on each of my many visits to the town. And since this summer, back in Dubrovnik, I started dedicating my artistic energies to capturing a place in my travel sketchbook, I felt it only apt that I take my sketchbook out into the old town of Marbella, to immortalise the town I love most in all the world.

The view I chose to create is the view which I can see from one of my favourite benches in Marbella’s old town. Set nestled between two leafy orange trees, this bench is where my partner and I love to sit and while away long balmy summer evenings, listening to the relaxed bustle of restaurants nearby. But best of all, we get to gaze upon the wonder of Marbella’s Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion – in other words the town’s main church, an architectural mix of classical grandeur, moorish sumptuousness, and baroque excesses, and nothing shows that mix of styles better than the churches grand doorway, which is what I have attempted to capture in this sketch.

Doorway of Marbella's Iglesia Encarnacion (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Doorway of Marbella’s Iglesia Encarnacion (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

I accept that the sketch is a bit wobbly in parts, but that’s what you get when sketching in the open, a book resting on your knee, while drawing in unforgiving, unerasable pen – but altogether I love this sketch. For it perfectly captures the imposing grandeur of one of my favourite Marbella views, and the moment in which I sketched it.

© 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 www.delacy-brown.com

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