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Posts tagged ‘Inspiration’

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 5 – Spinalonga, The Island of No Return

As my last few posts have hopefully demonstrated, the bay of Mirabello in Eastern Crete is every bit as beautiful as the name suggests. And yet its coastline, fractured by little spin-offs of mini mountain islands tracing the coast yet a water’s breadth apart, holds a darker, more ugly secret: Spinalonga. The name sounds like the setting for a fairy tale – a spindle perhaps, upon whose thorny point a princess pricks her finger. But this is no fairy island. It is a place which, up until as recently as 1957, was an island cut off from the mainland not just by sea but by law and stigma: it was the home of Crete’s leper colony, an exile for those afflicted with history’s most devastating illness.

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Those of you who have read Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel, The Island, will already know about Spinalonga. Once a fortified stronghold created by the Venetian occupiers of Crete and later taken over by the Ottomans, it was put to use as an island on which to keep leper suffers forcibly separated from the rest of society. Once diagnosed as having the condition, suffers would be flagrantly torn from their families and shipped off to the island. Few would ever leave it.

As Hislop describes, as the decades went on, Spinalonga went from an utterly savage backwater completely devoid of civilisation to a thriving little town in its own right fit with electricity, shops, a theatre, even a hairdresser. And when the discovery of a cure for leprosy meant that the island was finally abandoned in 1957, all of that civilisation was forsaken to the elements. It was in that state of utmost dilapidation that we found Spinalonga when we took a boat from nearby Eloundia to visit this most dejected of locations.

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Barren, sun-roasted and rocky, the island on one side was little more than a fortified wall with stark cactus-filled cliffs. However turn landwards and amongst the rubble you could start to see the ghosts of former houses, their shutters half hanging on rusty hinges and their contents long since pillaged. Stone staircases were collapsed under the weight of fallen rubble and punctuated by weeds; the bare bones of wooden beams indicated where once a roof had stood. There is no doubting the feeling of melancholia and claustrophobia which pervades this small tumbledown space, yet few could deny the beauty which was also visible in the stark contrast between rubble and ramshackle, and the stunning turquoise seas which surround the island, and cut it off from the rest of the world.

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We left Spinalonga utterly captivated by the historical significance and emotional impact of the leper island. You cannot escape the sadness which permeates the very fabric of this island of imprisonment and social rebuff. Yet across the Cretan winds, uplifted by the deep ultramarine blue of the island’s surroundings, there is the smallest hint of hope – for Spinalonga’s desertion indicated mankind’s dominance over a disease which had ravaged millions since the beginning of time. And that is surely a cause for celebration.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised 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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A Cretan Odyssey | Part 4 – Nymph Beach and other wonders

When we had had our fill of our perfectly proportioned, utterly private pool (when that was possible – it actually amounted to being dragged away by the fear that we might otherwise be addressed as the kind of philistine pool-huggers who see nothing of the countries they visit on holiday) we only had to stroll 5 minutes down a little lemon and pomegranate tree lined lane to get to the beach. And what a beach it was. Utterly secluded, populated only by the small number of guests from a nearby hotel, a walk some 10 metres along the shingle shore meant complete privacy in waters as clear as Evian. We became accustomed to visiting the beach both first thing in the morning and in the dying light of day. On both occasions there was a tangible magic to the place as the sun, either in its rise or its descent, sent golden sparkles bouncing across the mirror-like waters. It felt mystical, as though Apollo, god of music and harmony, were present.

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Characterised by its rocky promontory, the beach was cosy, enclosed, a safe harbour from winds and an utterly magical place to be. But the mere presence of that promontory had our explorer’s curiosity peeked, and it wasn’t long before we started expiring the cliff tops, an entire plateau covered with olive trees and harsh stones, an ancient biblical landscape tinged with the gold of the Cretan sunshine. We trekked through the landscape, unsure what we would find as the cliffs undulated down to the sea. What we never expected to discover was another beach. This one caught between the dramatic overlap of rocky outcrops and descending hills.

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The beach was perfect. It was completely private. Not a sole around, no one in sight, apart from the mystery of a lone towel abandoned on the shore. That mystery was solved a few minutes later as a lady, perfectly toned, wonderfully naked, appeared on the horizon and glided steadily towards the shore. As she approached the edge of the beach she rose from the water, the sparkling sea sliding off her perfectly tanned and silky skin, and she reclined upon that same towel, almost oblivious to our presence. This was no human. Surely this was a nymph, so perfectly was her body adjusted to the molten waters of the bay.

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We strongly felt that we had entered some kind of mystical place when we swam out away from the shore and came face to face with towering craggy cliffs backlit by the descending sun. Once again Apollo’s touch was here, and when we turned back to shore, no sign remained of the nymph, as though the apparition of her fleeting presence had dissipated into the heady evening air. But we never doubted her existence. Nor the magical moment of our visit to what we now know as Nymph Beach. I won’t tell you where it is. Only that it exists, ripe for discovery by those curious enough to find it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised 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.

Terracotta Collective: Poolside on Mirabello Bay

I can well imagine how Hockney must have felt, when he first left the subdued isles of the UK and arrived in Los Angeles to an explosion of colour characterised by vibrant tropical plants, uninterrupted blue skies, flashy modern architecture and of course those dazzling turquoise pools, rippling and reacting to the burning ball of sunshine overhead. No wonder those pools in their respective post-modern garden spaces inspired Hockney to commit them to canvas. What a startling sight those rectangles of electric blue are for any artist… and yet it’s funny to think that before Hockney, few had ever tried to capture the pool in a painting. Perhaps they were scared of the insuperable challenge of capturing sun on water. Not me. The moment I laid eyes on our rectangle of cerulean happiness, I knew I would paint it, ripples, reflection and all.

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Poolside on Mirabello Bay (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Continuing the theme of my previous Cretan artwork, working up from a painting base splashed with a terracotta undercoat, I committed myself to capturing every aspect of our marvellous villa, and the view which made it such a stunning place to stay. So having tackled the pool, which thrusts its vivacious way into the canvas like an electric eel fully charged by ultraviolet, I moved onto the mountainous landscape which so masterfully framed our view. For me, the vision of overlapping mountainous strata, in every shade of mauve and pale ultramarine, is the very archetype of Greece. And here we had the perfect specimen, to enjoy every day, and now to capture on canvas.

So with a few touches of stone surround and aspects of the lush greenery which kept our garden fresh, I finished this ode to our paradise pool. Much inspired, and as wide eyed with poolside wonder as Hockney must have been when he first arrived in LA, I decided that this pool painting would be only the first. And true to my instinct, I have already started the followup… a true homage to the pool and the beauty of Crete which surrounded it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

One morning in Zürich

Last weekend was joyfully sunny, despite being spent in London during the midsts of its Winter. Sitting on Clapham Common, enjoying coffee on consecutive days reminded me of another winter weekend we enjoyed as 2017 turned into 2018; when in the pristine clean air and surrounded by the magnificence of tall snowy mountains and glistening mirrored lakes, we enjoyed a winter’s day which exhibited all the joyful qualities of Spring: one morning in Zürich.

Zürich enchanted us right from the outset. Expecting something of a super-urbanised banking city metropolis, we were surprised to find a town which was so quaint that it could be the setting of a nursery rhyme, with its gothic spires, cobbled streets and oversized clocks. Yet perhaps the best feature of Zürich is its location: nudging the shore of the Northern tip of Lake Zürich, and surrounded by pristine mountain scenery, it is a place to behold, whatever the season.

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That morning in Zürich showed off the city at its best. With the sun high in the blue sky, all thoughts of winter were swept away as locals took to the gentile path which borders the lake and takes those perambulating on a broad sweep along shallow waters and past progressively green parks and residential enclaves. At the end of the path, and with the city far behind, the view of an uninterrupted mountainous Elysium was ripe to behold, and with the sun beating down on the path and the glassy lake beyond, we stripped off winter layers and breathed deep of the purity of nature that only Switzerland can bring.

That day still lives strong in our mind as we look forward to Spring. Gradually, as each day passes, the optimistic summertime draws near. But occasionally days like that one remind that there is hope even mid-Winter. That’s the transformative power of sunshine. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised 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.

Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 1): The Loggia dei Lanzi

I was in Florence in my imaginings, long before I set foot there on the eve of Christmas Eve. In the weeks preceding our trip, I had been variously transported to the great city of the Renaissance by Mary Hollingsworth, whose new revealing narrative of the Medici family enchanted me before I even turned to the first page. Charting the multiple highs and lows of a family who came to dominate the city of Florence and shape the very fabric of the city to their taste and fancy, the book reminded me that love them or hate them, without the Medici, Florence would never have become the gem which catapulted it to international fame and admiration.

So when I returned to Florence for Christmas, my first visit in over six years, I did so with a mind filled to the brim with tales of the Cosimos and the Lorenzos, of the audacious Grand Dukes and their self-made apotheosis. And in such a state, I could not help but notice their stamp wherever I turned in the city. Barely a metre would pass without their family crest of the 6 balls appearing like an apparition on every stone and surface of Florence. And in striving to fill my trip with some of the city’s greatest masterpieces of art, I was of course undertaking an inadvertent journey along the road of great Medici patronage which, most will agree, underpinned the birth of the Renaissance and promoted artistic excellence to new heights.

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No place quite smacks of Medici prowess as the Piazza della Signoria where our trip began. Not only does it play host to the Palazzo Vecchio, once Medici palace and seat of the Florentine government with its sturdy fortress-like walls ensuring all knew of the powerhouse within; it also contains some of the finest works of sculpture ever commissioned during the thriving Florentine Renaissance. Yes, there’s a copy of Michelangelo’s ravishing David (more about him another day), and a rather magnificent bronze statue of Cosimo I, mounted on a horse, but the very best works are contained within the Loggia del Lanzi, the great gallery of public proclamation and official ceremonies. Named after the Lansquenets guards posted there by Cosimo I de’ Medici, today it contains some of the most recognisable masterpieces of the Medici patronage (as well as a good number of ancient treasures collected by the family in Rome).

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You can spend a fortune on buying entry tickets for Florence’s many art museums, and a even greater amount of time in queuing, but spend an hour in the Loggia del Lanzi, and you will feast upon true treasure of art history and all for free. Thus we passed a wonderfully calm morning on Christmas Day, drinking in the drama, the emotion and the sheer artistic skill of these incredible works; of Pio Fedi’s ravishing but deeply traumatic Rape of Polyxena, and the equally dramatic, soaring masterpiece of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women; gazing at the sheer muscle and brawn of Hercules and the Centaur, and admiring the dexterity of antiquity as we enjoyed an equal number of early Roman lions and graceful Trajan women.

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Firenze is a city with much to offer. You could spend your time focusing on its famous gelaterias, its bustling leather markets or ambling from one glittering church to another. But one thing which you cannot fail to miss is the influence of the Medici. In many ways, their output will provide the visitor with the most enchanting treat of them all.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised 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.

Marseille to Marbella, Part VII: Aix, Le Marché

Colour, colour, colour! Shiny red apples, ruby like strawberries, resplendent silver fish and emerald green herbs. Courgettes in forest green, sage green, yellow green and white, blackboards written with curly french writing. And king of it all those sunflowers: a full, powerful sunshine punch of yellow with a deep fury chocolate brown at its centre, signalling the very epitome of this Provençal heartland. This is the market of Aix-en-Provence, the sensory spectacle to which I rushed on my birthday morning, and which is such a sight for the eyes that it deserves a post all of its own.

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I can only imagine how Paul Cezanne, famous son of the city, became inspired by the bustling, vivid life of Aix’s morning market. Who could not become an artist when basking in the glories of a sun filled square, filled with stripy umbrellas casting a warm glow over stalls full of just-picked produce and carefully nurtured harvests. Yet despite its beauty, this is no artwork to be admired on a gallery wall: The beauty of le marché in Aix is that it continues to be such a vital cog in the life of the city. It is a place for bargaining and butchering, for perusing and tasting. And in Aix’s market, watching the picky locals carefully choose the very best from an already magnificently presented selection was almost as captivating for me as the produce itself.

The market of Aix is a king amongst European street markets. Not big, not intimidating, but utterly authentic and wonderfully, completely charming.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised 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.

Marrakech on Canvas: Rose City Rooftops

I always find it interesting to observe a city from above. It offers something of a backstage perspective on people’s lives; the washing hanging out to dry, the old furniture dumped up on the roof forgotten, or the private pride which may be someone’s roof top garden, hidden from view from the streets below. I have already said that Marrakech is a city of extremes, and that somewhat bipolar personality extends to its buildings too. While the city has become a hotspot for those seeking Arabian luxuries in marble clad spas and lavish Riads, it is interesting to see that so often that extreme of wealth and aesthetic perfection extends to what is seen only. Viewed from the roof, you see the city’s theatre for what it is: those posh patios are mere smoke and mirrors. What you can’t see is the back yard, barely built, with crumbling plaster and propped up with rough wooden supports. There too you can see the roof terraces strewn with weakly installed cabling and rusty satellite dishes, with age battered plant pots and pink plaster facades left to crack and fade in the sun. Marrakech from above is a fascinating mess, a hodgepodge of unplanned construction and time-weathered dilapidation. But unifying it all is the rose-tinged colour of the whole jumble of construction, together with the occasional beautiful mosque tower which punctuates the scenery.

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Rose City Rooftops (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This enthralling city vision was the inspiration for a small painted study which I completed just a few days ago. Focusing on a very small cut-out of a wider landscape, it is an almost abstracted focus on the criss-cross of tumbling, crumbling pink blushing walls, together with the satellite dishes and cables and old plants peppering the scene. It is characteristically Marrakech. An unplanned mess which exudes beauty as a result.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A walk one early Tuscan morning: Vineyards and poppies

Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, Grosseto… Tuscany plays host to more stunning cities than you can even begin to list, let alone visit on a single trip to the region. Full of art history’s jewels, quaint little streets and magical churches, these are the cities which inspired a golden age of travel. Yet the cities are only one facet of Tuscany’s charm. All along the length of the region, there are beaches so sandy that they can rival the very best of Spain’s costas. In its restaurants, the Tuscan people will tell you that the very best food of Italy is served up, from wild boar to Sopa Della Pescaia. But above all things, Tuscany is characterised by its iconic landscapes. Who hasn’t salivated over the picture postcard views of undulating hills truncated by a cypress-lined winding road? And it is this landscape, punctuated by vines and olive trees and pine-perfumed air that I like to enjoy above all things.

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I’m lucky. I have family living in the region. And that means proximity. When we visit them my favourite thing to do is to get up early, as the sun is just starting to make its ascent, and walk. Walk in whatever direction my feet take me. For all roads in Tuscany lead to a lovely landscape, as countryside paths take the earnest visitor through those perfectly ordered vineyards, across freshly ploughed fields and amongst wild flowers.

These photos are from one such morning walk when the hour was perfectly peaceful and the light a creamy tone of reflected gold. But despite the sun’s fast ascent, there was a tangible sleepiness to the air, as poppy heads drooped delicately along grassy verges, snails curled up in snoozing groups on deserted street posts, and the birds, slowly awakening, heralded the start of a sunny new day. Pure. Bliss.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 1: Manicured Gardens

It’s always a wonderful thing to discover that an incredible attraction can be found on your doorstep. And somewhere which is literally 30 minutes by train from your nearest station is not so far from doorstep status, especially when you consider the extent to which those short 30 minutes have the power to transform you from inner city jungle to utter bucolic majesty. Such was my discovery last weekend upon visiting the former home of Henry VIII and his 6 variously fated wives, Hampton Court Palace, which can be found nestling alongside the banks of the Thames a few meandering loops down the river. Our trip to this vast palatial complex was so astounding, so plenteous in its beauty that I have decided to split my experience in three for the sake of The Daily Norm, so that a focus can be had on the various facets that make Hampton Court so incredible.

I must admit that it’s the gardens which really thrill me at Hampton Court. The inside has its merits, naturally. The Chapel Royal is pretty much one of the most stunning historic spaces in the United Kingdom. But the interiors also have the potential to disconcert, as one is led from the Tudor quarters, steeped in the gothic gloom of the age, to the more luminescent baroque rebuild instituted by William and Mary of Orange in the late 17th Century. The result is fragmentary and disorientating. It is like visiting two very distinct palaces, albeit that from the outside, there is a certain level of unity achieved by the uniform use of a rich pink stone. And it is outside where this little photographic tour begins.

The Privy Garden and the Banqueting House

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In my naivety, I thought that a visit during April may be too early to enjoy the gardens. How wrong I was, for the timing enabled us to enjoy the most spectacular array of Spring flowers I have ever seen. In the Privy Garden, the elegant South-facing walled garden extending towards the River’s edge and containing rows of manicured conical hollies and yews lining a perfectly geometric system of paths, tulips in vibrant shades of red and yellow danced in the sunlight and contrasted brilliantly against sky blue hyacinths which filled the air with their fragrance. In the cosy walled Pond Gardens just beyond, the abundance of flowers increased as floral collections were displayed in rich strata of contrasting height and colour to create a ravishing spectacle of nature’s brilliance. I don’t think I ever saw such a variety of tulips, nor so well choreographed an exhibition of this glorious Spring flower.

The Pond Gardens, the Knot Garden and the Orangery 

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This gardening brilliance continued into a small knot garden, laid out in 1924 to recreate the gardens as they would have been during the Tudor dynasty, and in the Lower Orangery Garden, which flowed from Queen Mary’s passion for collecting exotic plants. Of course the gardens of Hampton Court extend much further than those on this Southern expanse – The Great Fountain Garden is so grand as to be worthy of a post all of its own – and will surely get one in a few days time… But for now, I wanted to share photos of these more manicured gardens. Spaces so vividly enriched by their floral abundance, and so satisfyingly regimental in their layout and design that I could have remained there admiring them forever, especially during these happy days of Spring.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

A Portrait of Mallorca

Sometimes I just want to paint what’s on my mind. The energetic fusion of ideas applied to canvas in a mixed and multifarious revolution of form and colour. But unlike the Expressionist movement, which tended to splash and splosh their emotion onto canvas in more of a literal application of paint, my variety of expressionism materialises in more of a controlled fashion. I suppose it says something about my rather controlling mind (a tendency for which my partner may testify). For my wildest form of expression is something more cubist in nature. I have always been enchanted by the age of the cubists. The ability to show an object or a subject on multidimensional planes has always filled me with an ultimate sense of pictorial satisfaction. And while my cubism is less a single subject and rather more a mixed bag of ideas, it definitely belongs to the genre.

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Portrait of Mallorca (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This cubist work, which also belongs to my interpretative abstract way of thinking, is the latest canvas to hop off my easel and says everything and anything about the island on which I have spent the last two happy years of my life. It is for me a true portrait of Mallorca, because beyond the tacky tourism for which the island is so unfortunately infamous, the island is one of true bucolic peasant culture, with its own cuisine and characterised by a stunning mixed mountainous and coastal landscape. All this is represented in the imagery packed into this “portrait” which includes the spiralled ensaimada pastry for which the island is famous, the lacey headdress and straw hat worn by the traditional peasant women, as well as their flowing striped skirts flapping in the Mediterranean breeze. There too are the mountains and the beaches, the glittering coast and the yachts which encircle the island like moths around a light source. And of course the sails of the windmills, which likewise characterise the lower lying stretches of countryside.

It is a painting which fully encapsulates the multifaceted personality of an island which is much, much more than Magaluf.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. 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. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com