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Posts tagged ‘Catalonia’

Valentine’s in Barcelona

We have always loved Barcelona, Dominik and I. For me it’s one of the most perfect cities on the earth. For where else can you find all of the cosmopolitan qualities of London or New York fused so easily with the seaside amiability which comes of being mounted next to the glistening Mediterranean sea, with all of the beach-life benefits that position entails. So when it came to celebrating Valentine’s this year, we decided to take the romantic, candlelit dinner concept a little further, expanding our celebration of love across a weekend city trip where we could show as much love for our surroundings as for each other.

For who could not love Barcelona, a city whose very streets are so elaborately decorated with modernista masterpieces that not a street goes by which does not call for its own round of photographic admiration. It is a place bursting with the colour of Gaudi’s mosaics, an intensity of kaleidoscopic light which results from Barcelona’s natural affinity with the sun, whatever the time of year. And it is a city which exudes creativity from its every facet, from shops and restaurants, characterised by a conceptual brand of cool which stands as ever on the brink of innovation, to endless galleries showcasing both the newest artists and the classic former residents, Miro and Picasso amongst them.

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We benefit from a Mallorca location which makes a weekend to Barcelona a mere 30 minute flight away. This left us with plenty of time to enjoy the city to the full, from a miraculously warm February walk in the Park Güell, to our admiration of the architectural designs employed in both the undulating roof of the Mercado Santa Caterina, and the modernista details of the Palau de la Música Catalana nearby. We headed up the hill of Montjuic to admire the collection of the National Museum of Catalan art, and into the depths of the Gothic Quarter to share stares with the 13 geese of Santa Eulalia in the Medieval Cathedral courtyard. And as for Valentine’s? Well this was enjoyed across the weekend, from the exchange of a rose in our cosy hotel bedroom, to the enjoyment of a mouthwateringly good Fideuà seafood paella in the Sunny Port Vell.

What more can I say? Barcelona is a city of plenty, and the perfect venue for a weekend of love. I will allow my photos to fill in the details.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 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.

Catalan shellfish orzo paella

Nothing continues the memories of a wonderful holiday better than bringing the food of that holiday destination home. There is nothing quite like the process of cooking, and eating international food to tease each of the senses with memories of the good times. So one of the first things I did after my return from my recent weekend in Barcelona was to recreate that exquisite noodle paella which I had so enjoyed on the quayside of the Port Vell over our last lunch. Using durum wheat pasta noodles rather than the traditional rice resulted in a delicious textural twist on the normal paella, while cooking without moving any of the ingredients so as to caramelise the fish stock into a golden crunch at the edges made this paella something to die for.

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I found a similar recipe in a new cook book I have recently picked up, My Barcelona Kitchen by Sophie Ruggles. Unfortunately my supermarkets were less in tune with the noodle paella approach, and finding something similar to the recommended short durum wheat noodles required by the recipe turned out to be the first hurdle to cross. So thinking laterally, I decided to go for a durum wheat orzo instead – for these little beads of pasta very nearly replicated the short length and texture of the noodles we had hungrily devoured in Barcelona. As for the rest, buying myself a good heap of different shell fish, from tiger prawns to langoustines, as well as plenty of squid, mussels and some mixed fish, meant that I was plying my paella with as much fish as it deserved, and in probably more generous portions than had ever been lavished upon us in a restaurant.

First up was to make the fish stock, which is an important element to the dish since it is this which really gives the paella its distinctive flavour and ensures that that caramelisation is as rich and delicious as it deserves to me. However, I admit to cheating just a little bit, as I started off with 1 litre of fresh supermarket-bought fish stock to use as my base, before further enrichening this with a chopped and wilted white onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 diced tomato, half a teaspoon of smoked (sweet) pimenton, a pinch of saffron threads, a whole load of prawn shells, heads – you name it. This was left to simmer away for a good 45 minutes or so to ensure full development of the flavours before being sieved to remove all of the chunky bits, leaving behind a flavoursome stock.

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Then came the paella itself. I started off by coating the base of what should have been a paella pan, but in my case had to be a wok (I am yet to own a paella pan, but I will change this) and in that oil cooking 6 unpeeled garlic cloves for 2-3 minutes. I then added the uncooked orzo and coated in the oil before cooking, tossing frequently, for around 5 minutes until golden brown. I then removed the orzo and garlic and set aside, before then cooking the prawns and langoustines and again setting aside.

Finally, bringing everything together, I cooked my calamari for a few minutes (until the liquid had disappeared), threw in some pieces of mixed fish, my orzo, mussels and all of that delicious stock, and scattered the rest of the seafood including all of the prawns on top. I then cooked untouced over a medium heat for around 10 minutes to gently caramelise. I cheated on this aspect too, placing the whole paella under the grill for a few minutes at the end to further enhance the caramelised area – I just can’t get enough of that caramel!

And there we have it – my orzo paella, which can also be made with noodles, and just calls to be varied with all the different kinds of fish and shellfish that you desire. Buen provecho!

My Barcelona, on canvas: Separatism

While last week I shared with you one of my more sedate paintings of Barcelona – an oil landscape of the Port Vell – this week, as the tales of my recent Barcelona travels draw to a close, it’s inevitably time to share the second of my two paintings featuring Barcelona – and this time it’s a far more vibrant affair. Part III of my España Volver series, Separatism, explored the fragmentation and political division which is shared by two autonomous regions of Spain, the Basque Country and Catalunya (Catalonia), both of which have a historically fractious relationship with the Spanish nation to whom they are, for some unwittingly, part of a national whole.

By way of demonstration of the political and social fragmentation which means that these two regions sit so uneasily with the rest of Spain, the symbols painted across my painting are framed in the shapes of a jigsaw puzzle which, rather than fitting together easily, is in part broken and displaced. Emerging out of and contained within the pieces of the puzzle are a series of images representing the shared values and passions of the region – food, wine, art and maritime history, as well as icons that are unique to the regions. So out of the Basque Country comes Frank Gehry’s famous Guggenheim building, while in Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, we have Gehry’s magnificent beachside Peix fish.

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Representing the Basque town of Saint Sebastian, I have painted a conch shell pierced by arrows (St. Seb’s bay is known as La Concha because of its curving shape), while Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia takes centre stage in this painting, with a dual purpose as a fork on which a juicy salsa drizzled prawn is poised; symbol of the gastronomic prowess of both regions. Meanwhile, further reference to Catalunya’s artistic prowess is made in the broken egg, representing Catalunya born Salvador Dali, while around the canvas, various symbols of Gaudi are represented, from his Passeig de Gracia paving slabs on the left, to the Casa Mila chimney which emerges atop of a bottle of fine Rioja wine.

Of course there’s violence too, with an illustration of the ETA bombings over on the right; symbol of the violent means which some separatist idealist have gone to to make their point, as well as the spiralling energetic core of the painting – a further demonstration of the plethora of cultural, social and historical influences which have made the regions as richly divergent as they are today.

And for those of you who would like to see this painting closer at hand, it will be on exhibition, along with the rest of my España Volver series at London’s Strand Gallery between 13-18 May. More details can be found here.

© 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

 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown’s new solo exhibition, When (S)pain became the Norm, will be at London’s Strand Gallery from 13 – 18 May 2014. For more details, click here

Norms: The Saints Collection | St. George

Saint George and his dragon must together comprise one of the most famous icons of a saint there is, not least in England where St George is our patron saint. Yet as I was to discover only last weekend, we English are not the only country to claim him as ours. In fact St George is likewise a patron saint in Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Ukraine and Syria to name but a few. He is also, I have now learned, the patron saint of none other than Catalonia, the autonomous region of Spain whose capital is Barcelona. And so having just spent the weekend in that very city, there seems no better time than to present the very first Saint of a new Norm sketch collection – I give you Saint George Norm.

Legend has it that St George  defeated a dragon in the far off land of Silene. This dragon poisoned the air of a village, and in order to appease him, the people regularly sacrificed a lamb and a virgin who was chosen. One day the princess of the country met this fate; George killed the dragon and freed her, with the result that the Princess and the entire population were converted to Christianity; the religion behind whose cross St George had been protected as he valiantly fought the beast.

Here is my Saint Norm doing just that, killing the pesky dragon while his rather attractive horse looks on.

St George Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

St George Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

I realised that St George was something of a prominent figure in Catalonia only when I noticed statues and icons of the saint when exploring the old gothic quarter of Barcelona on my first day there last weekend. In the tranquil cloisters of the cathedral, a trickling fountain was topped by a bronze statuette of the saint valiantly riding his horse while trampling upon the dying body of the aggressive dragon. Then, upon walking past the city hall in the Plaça St Juame, I noticed the same venerable saint carved into the stone work of the city hall facade. Subsequent investigations reveal that “Sant Jordi” has been venerated in Catalonia since the 8th century, not only in Barcelona but also in Valencia and the Balearics. And in Barcelona itself, the Saint’s presence is felt not just in the obvious iconography – some say that Gaudi himself recognised the saint when he created his dragon-scaled roof atop the famous Casa Batlló.

Cathedral fountain

Cathedral fountain

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Another cathedral homage to the dragon

Another cathedral homage to the dragon

Facade of the city hall

Facade of the city hall

Roof of the Casa Batllo

Roof of the Casa Batllo

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So with all of this in mind, I leave you to pay appropriate reverence to St George Norm in all of his golden glory, and to look also upon the Barcelona references I found to the saint. But as if by way of further appropriate reference, I also leave you with this English poster using St George as an image to encourage patriotic Englishmen to defend the nation at the outset of World War One 100 years ago. A timely reminder of the continuing power of the iconography of St George to inspire both patriotism and bravery in a time when all faith and hope appeared to have deserted mankind.

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© 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

Every Artist needs his teddy bear

The superb Grayson Perry exhibition at London’s British Museum (reviewed on my blog last week) proved an indubitable fact of life: Every Artist needs his teddy bear. Perry was unabashed in making his teddy, Alan Measles, the pivotal focus of his playful, yet sophisticatedly philosophical exhibition, feeding off the time in childhood when every young person’s mind is alive with the kind of imaginative creativity that most of us in our adult life can only dream of. It is only as children, unaware of the true gravity which attaches itself to most issues arising in everyday life, that we are free to run wild in the lush pastures of our imaginings, without responsibility, or worries upon our shoulders. To an extent, every creative Artist continues this spirit of childlike creativity throughout the duration of his career. However very few make their contemporary artwork in retrospective homage to the initial creations of their past. Grayson Perry does this with style, as well as sociological insight. But perhaps more importantly, he is not scared to emphasise the continuing importance of his teddy bear in his life and art at an age when he himself has young children, no doubt with their own cherished bears.

Pupillage: When the Bar took Centre-Stage (detail of Fluffy) (2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

I loved Grayson Perry’s exhibition because it embodied much of my attitude to life. I trained as a lawyer, and outwardly, I try, at least, to exude an public face of professionalism. But at home, and therefore as an artist, I indulge utterly and without compromise in the introspective world of my imagination, my desires and my aspirations. Home life for me is all about cosiness, and the loving security of my relationship. And as welcome accessories to that relationship, two very cherished teddies are held dear. Meet Bilbao: a cute knitted puppy, given to me by my partner when I was in hospital, and Fluffy, living up to his namesake – a chirpy little bear with ever enquiring eyes and a sweet inquisitive nature. These two little creatures follow my partner and I when we go on holiday, and they are always close by when I paint. It is no surprise therefore that they have featured in my artwork, and in my photography, and it is in homage to the public outing of Grayson Perry’s teddy bear, that I write this post, showcasing the role of my teddies in my work.

Pupillage: When the Bar took Centre-Stage (Oil on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The first painting to feature one of my teddies is this one, which focuses on my time as a Pupil Barrister in London. For the non-British lawyers amongst you, this is a year specific to the Bar profession, when a young lawyer spends a year in a Barristers chambers undertaking intense training in the run up to full qualification. It is a tiring, arduous and, at times, traumatic year. The pupil is constantly assessed, always on the move, and tirelessly trying to impress his superiors. This painting embodies the pressures, depression and anxiety I felt that year. Pink legal ribbon ties me to the slave-ball emblem of the career. My body has become a marble bust as I have sought to metamorphose into the lawyer expected of the Establishment, while turning my back on myself. The profession has taken centre-stage in my life, while in the bottom left hand corner, my Partner, represented by Fluffy, has been sidelined, although the ribbon around his neck represents the extent to which my Partner too has become enslaved to the repercussions of this hectic career.

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Separatism: Catalonia and the Basque Country (detail of Bilbao) (2009, Oil on canvas, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The next painting to feature a teddy is my work Separatism, based on the fractious political history and continuing stresses persisting in the partly autonomous regions of Catalonia in North-East Spain, and the Basque Country in the North of the country. The work, which formed part of my España Volver collection (2009) focuses on various features of the regions as well as the conflicts which have erupted in the past including the bombings instituted at the hands of terrorist separatist organisation, ETA. The rich diversity of the culture in these regions spins into a central vortex, while all around it, images from the two regions are fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle, except where the pieces are held together demonstrating signs of peace and unity in the regions. The image focuses on the architectural and gastronomic strengths of the regions, as well as famous sights such as La Concha in San Sebastián (Donostia) and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Meanwhile a spiralling red ribbon curls through the centre of the painting representing political red tape which, over the years, has hindered and complicated political progress. My teddy Bilbao is a small detail of the painting, wandering into the work in the bottom section. He floats in a safety ring in the seas of the rich coastline common to both Spanish reasons, and close to the marine symbolism which represents the maritime history which both regions also hold dear. His inclusion in the painting does not carry any special significance, but as he is named after the Basque Country’s great city of Bilbao, he thought it appropriate that he make an appearance.

Santa Norm (2011, acrylic on canvas) © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

Finally, there is last year’s Christmas painting, Santa Norm, in which, appropriately, Fluffy makes an appearance in Santa’s sack of toys for all the girls and boys. Luckily, Fluffy already has a very loving home to go to.

I leave you with a selection of photographs of Fluffy and Bilbao taken on travels and at home. Enjoy being childish in life. Because we grow up fast and life is too short to take it seriously. Until next time…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work 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.