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.

 

Buildings, beauty and plants — The Canny Gardener

Even the most ugly buildings get transformed by flowers. I have been photographing beautiful flowers on buildings. As John Ruskin realised during the Industrial Revolution ‘that the quest to make a more beautiful world is inseparable from the need to remake it politically, economically and socially’. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi believed that beauty, benefit and goodness provided […]

via Buildings, beauty and plants — The Canny Gardener

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!

Creativity and Children

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(My son at the Serpentine Pavilion, 2015)

I have two children- one is now a teenager and the other one, nearly one.  For all their lives and most of mine (and there were seven pregnancies with two live births), I have worked, starting with my first lowly job as a teenager working as a receptionist for a dentist.  I am now an architect, author and artist.  My children have always seen me working inside and outside the home.  Therefore I was surprised to view this recent broadcast on BBC Two (3rd July 2015) presented by the model and entrepreneur Lily Cole ‘to debate whether having children inhibits or enhances an artistic lifestyle’.  Perhaps, not surprisingly, the people she interviewed were mostly women- only one man appeared. Gavin Turk, the artist, was also interviewed but together with his wife, Deborah Curtis, who is also an artist.  The programme was based around the infamous quote by the critic Cyril Connolly, ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall’. One got the feeling that Lily Cole, who was then eight months pregnant, was exploring her own fears about whether she would continue to be creative after the birth of her child.  Barbara Hepworth also featured- how did she manage to be creative despite having four children, including triplets?  But the possible dilemma of her husband, Ben Nicholson, the artist, was ignored.  So I wondered if Cole meant to imply that this is a woman’s problem only?

The modern creatives- Holly McNeish, the spoken word poet, and Turk and Curtis- were sanguine and funny about the whole experience- breastfeeding in a public toilet, bringing babies to art shows, and doing those other crazy things parents have to do when they don’t have childcare, either paid or unpaid.  My life was like that too- I brought my sons to business meetings, construction site visits, art shows and lectures and I know of other parents who did that too.  Lionel Shriver, the author, who has chosen to be childless, spoke about the socio-politics of why and how only ‘white’ people were choosing to be childless or having less children- though her theories might be debatable (she appeared to have forgotten entirely about China, for instance).  This led me to think more deeply about my experience of having children. I believe my children have made my life more creative, not less.  It is far more simpler not to have to think about feeding and nurturing another person, about not having to argue with a teenager about pocket money, etc- instead just concentrating on being creative.  But is creativity limited to just what you produce?  Or is it about how you lead your life?  My life with children has really enhance how I live my entire life with creativity.  And I am proud that they are also known as creative people in themselves.  There will always be people, who choose not to have children (like my beloved Uncle) but those who care and nurture others (like my Uncle did with me).   I have creative friends, who are childless, and they enjoy my children’s company.  Creativity does not depend on whether you have children or not, it is a state of being, that continues, regardless.

hanging a picture

I never knew how much deliberation and care would go into hanging a picture.  My friend had given a lovely chalk and pencil sketch to me as a present for my birthday in November.  But for nearly two months, it stayed under a desk while I looked at it daily and wondered where I would put it up.  The thing was that his style of drawing was very different to mine and I couldn’t see a way to put it up without a stylistic conflict.  It was not a huge ethical dilemma, a world changing event, it wasn’t something of even local importance but it became something deeply important to me.  I wanted to hang the picture to acknowledge his very personal and beautiful gift to me but without a conflict.  I wanted artistic harmony.  After all, even though I paint, I have never been able to give any of my paintings away, even though I have been asked many times- I am too close to them, it’s like losing a baby for me.  Sometimes, I even wondered if people would take a painting of mine and then throw it away.  They would be throwing a bit of me away.  Anyway, I think this is my struggle.  But I was deeply appreciative of my friends’s generous gesture.  So finally a couple of weeks ago, I decided to put it up.  It meant I had to move several of my own works as wall space has become very precious.  As I debated and adjusted, lifted, nailed, then took off everything again to do it again, it became like a Zen meditation for me.  After the initial struggle to find the space, the exact location for it became a joyful adventure.  As soon as I started to smile, I knew I was winning.  How strange that hanging a picture should take that long but how satisfying the journey.  As for the result, you can judge yourself.  The chalk and pencil sketch on the right is from my friend, the rest of the pictures are mostly by myself except for the two of the calligraphy works- one by a teacher in Istanbul and the other one by William Morris.  The top and bottom left are my works.  IMG_3429

It is a strange mixture but it works.

Bamboos shoots and talking peace

Amanda Palmer writes in her recent post-In China bamboo farmers plant baby bamboo shoots deep into the ground. And then, for three years, nothing happens. But the farmers will work, diligently watering the shoot, spreading hay and manure, waiting patiently, even though nothing is sprouting up. They simply have faith. And then, one day, the bamboo sprout appear and shoot to thirty feet in a month.

Dialogue is like that.  Talking, discussing, respecting each other’s views- it is a very slow process but it is sure one that makes relationships work.  The Toda Institute of peace has devised a tablet of Ten Commandments for Dialogue that has proved useful in complex situations of conflict. Unlike the other Ten Commandments, this one is subject to negotiation.

  • Honour others and listen to them deeply with all your heart and mind.
  • Focus on the agenda while seeking the common ground for consensus, but avoid groupthink by acknowledging and honoring the diversity of views.
  • Refrain from irrelevant or intemperate intervention.
  • Acknowledge others’ contributions to the discussion before relating your own remarks to theirs.
  • Remember that silence also speaks; speak only when you have a contribution to make by posing a relevant question, presenting a fact, making or clarifying a point, or advancing the discussion to greater specificity or consensus.
    Identify the critical points of difference for further deliberation.
  • Never distort other views in order to advance your own, try to restate others’ positions to their own satisfaction before presenting your own different views
  • Formulate the agreements on any agenda item before moving on to the next.
  • Draw out the implications of an agreement for group policy and action.
  • Thank your colleagues for their contribution.

The best type of work

The best work does not feel like work. You do not feel tired, heavy, bored- it feels like you are doing nothing extraordinary, it feels like you are playing! As LP Jack says-

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

To find out what you are good at, see how you spend your time and then check to see if you can make your living from it. I love reading and writing- so I found that I was getting free books to read and getting paid to write!

What is your best work?

Staying together

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Couples who do things together, stay together!  It is important to have shared goals. Although you may not do absolutely everything together, as long as your main and most important goals match, then you will be working together and loving your time together.

I saw this lovely example recently at a pottery workshop.  A couple who had met with their shared love of pottery, decided to make these bowls together for their wedding.  The idea is that these bowls will be used to decorate the table and then each guest can take them away as a memento of their shared joy in this marriage. I am sure this marriage is made to last!  Congratulations to this happy and wonderful couple who incidentally I don’t know and have never met but already I feel the joy of their wedding and their lives.

book and the cover

Have you sometimes looked at a couple and thought, “I wonder how that person could be with that person?”  You might have thought one of the partners ugly/unfunny/morose/stupid etc.  Well, I have realised that such superficial comparisons and judgments based on first impressions are never correct.  First of all, one never knows what is going on in their homes.  The unfunny/morose person could be the life and soul of the home.  Second, it is never the superficial things that attract people to each other- it is their hearts.  A kind but a ugly man might attract a beautiful woman. I have realised that sometimes despite the attractive packaging, what is inside someone’s heart is what matters.  While looks and other external things like fame and fortune might fade, one has to live with that person day in and day out.  Only a deep attachment of the heart can enable that.  Never judge a book by the cover, as they say!

Not taking abuse

Every night I do a simple prayer and shake my hands and shoulders- I ‘throw off’ any negativity that I have encountered, and I forgive others too.  This simple act has made my sleep much deeper and my mind calmer.  Sure there are days when everything does not go smoothly- I make mistakes, my colleagues make mistakes, I lose my cool, they lose theirs, I hurt someone and someone hurts me.  That is real life- jostling away and entering the rough edges of our being, smoothing them and making us more aware of life.  We can’t avoid such interactions- physically, mentally or digitally.

Yet, if we allow abuse to sit with us all the time, in time it will deaden our souls and hurt us. Forgiving ourselves and others and going through life ‘lightly’ will help us to sharpen our creativity and make us stronger.  Travel light, travel calm and do not spend your time looking for revenge or wallowing in negativity- the law of cause and effect will take care of everything.  The abuser will suffer in some way but that is not your responsibility or your worry.  As the Buddha said to a Brahmin who asked him about abuse, “If I do not accept the abuses you hurl at me, then will these not return to you and become your own?”