Kettle’s Yard: a reflection

I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK.  Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s.  Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War.  He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This work, called ‘Bird swallows a fish’ by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made a profound impression on me. Very pertinent for our ecological crisis.

Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature.  There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is.  Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either.  Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art.  He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University.  He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’

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Humble collections of stones, arranged carefully, give a peaceful ‘zen-like’ calm to the home.

Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply.  And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are.  So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich.  A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture.  Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty.  This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one.  In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.

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Works of art by famous artists are placed deliberately low on the floor so that the viewer can sit down and contemplate these.
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Light and shadows play a part in how sculptures are placed
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Plants also part of the display- a living natural art
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You are invited to sit on the chairs to contemplate the space and art

Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard

  1. Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
  2. Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
  3. Follow the design through as you walk from space to space.  It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
  4. Remove and hide things seasonally.  This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
  5. Eclectic collections have a charm of their own.  Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.

 

A poem about mornings

I read recently about people who write ‘morning journals’ to capture their streams of consciousness after waking up. I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it is to capture your ideas, inspirations and aspirations. I used to think that if I checked the morning news, it might give me some idea on what to concentrate on for the rest of the day. But that is reactive thinking.  Morning journals and thoughts which help me to prioritise not only my day but also a way of future planning, are a much best way.  As I am not a morning person, here is a poem that I read each morning to inspire myself.  It is not written by a new age guru or the latest ‘Tim Ferriss’, this was written in 5th Century AD-

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Learn from others

There is a view about creativity about a lone artist, struggling in his or her attic, to create an original work.  But in reality, creativity is never a lone effort- there are always at least two people in it. One is yourself and the other is the person who inspires you.  Originality comes from being nudged by past creativity- it is like a fire that is lit by the match of another’s idea.

‘The imagination will not perform until it has been flooded by a vast torrent of reading’, Petronius Arbiter, 66AD

‘A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always apt to overrate his own abilities, to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him for a new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have steered a better course have long left behind them. The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts; and if they are found to differ in anything from their predecessors, it is only in irregular sallies and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.’ Joshua Reynolds, from a speech at the Royal Academy, December 11, 1769.

 

Help for the distracted

I am naturally a person who gets easily distracted.  I might check my emails, or look at an social media post or read the online news many times while working on my computer.  This is not a good habit because work  interrupted is the flow of thought stilled.  It stops being thoughtful and perceptive.  For me being creative, for being ‘in the flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, comes from having inner peace, free of distractions.  So I had to write every day, despite a lot of resistance internally.  What helped me was reading bits of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations every night. Marcus Aurelius was the 16th emperor of the Roman empire, often called the Philosopher-King. The Stoic Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, describes how to find equanimity in the midst of conflict and how to overcome common human problems. In particular one passage that is a must read for all would be procrastinators or for those easily detracted is this-

Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so and so is doing and why or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming- in a word, anything that detracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you- means a loss of opportunity for some other task. See then the flow of your thoughts is kept free from idle or random fancies, particularly those of an inquisitive or uncharitable nature.  A man should habituate himself to such a way of thinking that if suddenly asked, ‘What is in your mind at his minute?’ he could respond frankly and without hesitation; thus proving that all thoughts were simple and kindly.’

I have highlighted in the above passage the bits that struck me strongly- about wasting time, about keeping flow free from distraction and the discipline of having only simple and kindly thoughts.

I kept my wandering mind on a leash by imagining that someone would suddenly appear and ask what I was thinking and I could say honestly that I was being creative and thinking about my project.  Simple and kindly thoughts are actually the creative person’s best allies- I imagined brushing away negativity that was holding me back, every time I was feeling down or bad.  However, thinking like this is a skill that must be built up daily by the minute- so it goes on for me, although I have finished my book for now.

One year of writing and painting

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I haven’t written for awhile- that’s because I have been writing this.  And it is still not finished!  I can’t remember how many times I have gone over chapter, moving and shifting words and paragraphs, trying to make my own voice heard over others.  The cover took many months to create- I wanted both the cover and the title to be catchy. I want people to hold the book in their hands and want to read it.  I have heard of people who write easily but this has been so difficult.  Hopefully I shall finish this next week but I am so grateful to get so far.  Thank you to all my readers and Happy 2016!

Re-working the old

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Sometimes, when you look at something you’ve created and it appears perfectly fine and then later, other things happen to come along that say the work needs something more- that is alright!  During my recent visit to look after my sick and elderly parents, I found many newspapers that reading now, suggested something darker was happening then- things that would be unacceptable now.  So upon return, I decided to use those historical references to my painting of the city of Jaisalmer in North India which I had made in January 2009.  I decided it was perfectly fine to revisit memories and through my art, to be exorcised of that past. Although upon first glance the painting glitters and there are flags reminiscent of festivities and brightness, but when one looks carefully at the newspaper cuttings, darker images emerge out of the surface.

Here is a reminder of the painting looked like for almost five years before-

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I know I can’t take it back to where it was and now it reads differently, so I have to accept it is now where I am.  Art is an expression of one’s life and one can’t be too precious about it.  This work is also a representation of my eye problems because now my art has to be more tactile and contrasting.  Have you done something like this?

What is mindfulness?

I used to think that mindfulness was about thinking, that I needed to think through everything I was doing- ‘I am opening the door, I am putting my shoes away, etc etc’.  But the more I thought, the more tired I got.  The chatter in my mind was not mindfulness- it was clutter.  Mindfulness is easy, is calm and clear.  I realised what mindfulness is when I read the following words from the Venerable W Rahula:

Mindfulness does not mean that you should think and be conscious,’I am doing this’ or ‘I am doing that’. No. Just the contrary.  The moment you think ‘I am doing this’ you become self conscious and then you do not live in the action but you live in the idea, ‘I am’ and consequently your work is spoilt too.  You should forget yourself completely and lose yourself in what you do.

So for  example if you are looking at something, then just look at it with your whole life and not think, ‘I am looking at it’.  I still get the sorts of thoughts I used to but now I simply observe the thoughts and let them float away like clouds until my mind is clear.

Even moments of joy and suffering can be tools of mindfulness.  As Nichiren, the Buddhist monk said, ‘Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life..’  Many a times, we suffer what is there to enjoy and enjoy what is there to suffer and thus, our whole life becomes miserable.  Instead as Thoreau advised, we should strive to ‘live deep and suck out all the marrow of life’ – whatever that may be.