Thursday, 31 March 2016

Tradescants at the Ashmolean.

Tradescant Crest as illustrated

The Ashmolean is the oldest public museum in Britain, and the first purpose-built public museum in the world. The events which led to its establishment began in 1677, when a cabinet of curiosities was donated to the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole.

In 1976, a suitable space was made available in the Ashmolean to house a new display of objects surviving from the Tradescant collection. Construction began on a new gallery in August, 1977, and on 22 May, 1978, the Tradescant Room was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Rex Richards.

Generous contributions towards furnishing the new Tradescant Room were made by individuals and institutions in Britain and in the United States. The layout of the room was designed by the staff of the Department of Antiquities, with Mr. M. G. Welch, the Assistant Keeper concerned, playing a prominent role. The intention was to give the impression of a seventeenth-century museum, while using modern display methods. The fenestration of the old Ashmolean in Broad Street was copied from a contemporary engraving, and from nineteenth-century photographs. The panelling and mouldings were adapted from early seventeenth-century examples in the Principal's Lodgings, Brasenose College, by kind permission of the Principal and Fellows.

For more information visit the Ashmolean Museum's online resource here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tradescant Collection

John Tradescant the elder [1570-1638] English naturalist, gardener and traveller. He collected seeds, bulbs and assembled a collection of curiosities of natural history ethnography, which he housed in a large house, ‘The Ark’ in Lambeth, London. His son, John Tradescant the younger [1608-1662] added American acquisitions to the family’s collection including the ceremonial cloak of Chief Powhatan.

Musaeum Tradescantianum included books, coins, weapons, costumes, taxidermy and other curiosities. The collection was divided, as most collections of the time, into natural objects (naturalia) and man made objects (artificialia).


wee spent that whole day in peruseinge, and that superficially, such as hee had gathered together, as beasts, fowle, fishes, serpents, wormes (reall, although dead and dryed), pretious stones and other Armes, Coines, shells, fether. Of sundrey Nations, Countries, forme, Coullours; also diverse Curiosities in Carvinge, painteinge, as 80 faces carved on a Cherry stone, Pictures to bee seene by a Celinder which otherwise appeare like confused blotts, Medalls of Sondrey sorts. Moreover, a little garden with divers outlandish herbes and flowers, whereof some that I had not seen elsewhere but in India, being supplyd by Noblemen, Gentlemen, Sea Commaunders, with such Toyes as they could bringe or procure from other parts. Soe that I am almost perswaded a Man might in one daye behold and collected into one place more Curiosities then he should see if hee spent all his life in Travell.

Amonge the rest, the roome being made quite darke, only one little hole in it with a glasse through which a light strooke to the opposite side, where was placed white paper, and thereon was represented, as in a glasse, all that was without, as Boates roweing on the Thames, men rideinge on the other side, trees, but all reversed or upside downe, in their true Collours.

where I saw a Unicorns horne, about 1½ yards in length and 2 or 2½ Inches diameter att the bigger end, goeinge Taperwise and wreathed, although somewhat smoothe (I thinck by often handlinge). It was white, resemblinge the substance of an Eliphants Tooth, estimated att 18 or 20000 pounds Sterlinge. This, as all the rest are, conceived to bee rather the home of some fish then of a beast, because such a beast now a dayes is not to bee found, although discoveries att present are in farr greater perfection then they were then.

There is something so intriguing and almost poetic about the way in which collectors describe their collections:

Beasts, fowl, fishes, serpents, worms, real although dead and dried, precious stones and other arms, coins, shells, feathers. 80 faces carved on a Cherry stone, pictures to be seen by a cylinder, which otherwise appear like confused blots. A unicorns horn, smoothed by handling, white like an elephants tooth. 

Four years later, in 1638, a more detailed description of the collection and its contents was recorded by a German traveller named Georg Christoph Stirn.

‘In the museum of Mr. John Tradescant are the following things: first in the courtyard there lie two ribs of a whale, also a very ingenious little boat of bark; then in the garden all kinds of foreign plants, which are to be found in a special little book which Mr. Tradescant has had printed about them. In the museum itself we saw a salamander, a chameleon, a pelican, a remora, a lanhado from Africa, a white partridge, a goose which has grown in Scotland on a tree, a flying squirrel, another squirrel like a fish, all kinds of bright colored birds from India, a number of things changed into stone, amongst others a piece of human flesh on a bone, gourds, olives, a piece of wood, an ape's head, a cheese, etc; all kinds of shells, the hand of a mermaid, the hand of a mummy, a very natural wax hand under glass, all kinds of precious stones, coins, a picture wrought in feathers, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ, pictures in perspective of Henry IV and Louis XIII of France, who are shown, as in nature, on a polished steel mirror when this is held against the middle of the picture, a little box in which a landscape is seen in perspective, pictures from the church of S. Sophia in Constantinople copied by a Jew into a book, two cups of rinocerode, a cup of an E. Indian alcedo which is a kind of unicorn, many Turkish and other foreign shoes and boots, a sea parrot, a toad-fish, an elk's hoof with three claws, a bat as large as a pigeon, a human bone weighing 42 lbs., Indian arrows such as are used by the executioners in the West Indies- when a man is condemned to death, they lay open his back with them and he dies of it, an instrument used by the Jews in circumcision, some very light wood from Africa, the robe of the King of Virginia, a few goblets of agate, a girdle such as the Turks wear in Jerusalem, the passion of Christ carved very daintily on a plumstone, a large magnet stone, a S. Francis in wax under glass, as also a S. Jerome, the Pater Noster of Pope Gregory XV, pipes from the East and West Indies, a stone found in the West Indies in the water, whereon are graven Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a beautiful present from the Duke of Buckingham, which was of gold and diamonds affixed to a feather by which the four elements were signified, Isidor's MS of de natura hominis, a scourge with which Charles V is said to have scourged himself, a hat band of snake bones'.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A collection of collectors.

Sowerby - Conchologists - 4 generations: [1757-1870]
Illustrated conchological and zoological collections from various expedionary voyages.

Ole Worm: [1588-1654]
17th century naturalist, antiquarian and physician. He wrote about everything he found interesting. He used it to teach and disprove popular myths of the time. He kept a great awk (now extinct) as a pet until its death and subsequent preservation for his collection.

Joseph Mayer: [1803-1886]
A liverpudlian goldsmith known for his contributions to the field of anglo-saxon archeology. The Joseph Mayer Trust give public lectures and rovide public education to this day. 

Ida Laura Pfieffer: [1797-1858]
Record breaking and ground breaking voyages and treks between 1842-1858. She collected and carefully documented thousands of specimins. By the end of her life she was highly respected by many notable exploration societies. Her gender gave her access to many unseen places because she was not considered a threat. it also gave her new female perspectives on cultures that had previously only be explored by men.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Wunderkammer: A century of curiosities.

The wunderkammer was a free-form collection of all things rare and marvellous:small works of art, exquisite objects made from precious materials, natural speciments, unusual rock or crystall formations, scientific instruments. The goal was to gather knowledge and explain the world -  not just art - through its wonders. 

In 2008 the Museum of Modern Art NYC, curated an exhibition as part of their permanent collection of prints and illustrated books organised by Sarah Suzuki, assembling 120 prints, illustrated books, editioned objects called multiples, sculptures, drawings and design objects. 
Bizarre, wonderous, fantastic, exotic, strange: objects that evoke such descriptions have long attracted attention, and in the mid-sixteenth century Europeans began to collection them, and to set them in a presentation known as the Wunderkammer, the Chambre des merveilles, or the cabinet of curiosities. These collections contained all manner of things: animal, vegetable, and mineral specimens; anatomical oddities; medical diagrams; pictures and manuscripts describing far-off landscapes, strange figures and animals or beasts from fable and myth; plans for impossible buildings and machines. The objects were often grouped by similarity and likeness, as their owners tried to rationalise and organise the diversity of information. The Wunderkammer is one ancestor of the museum of today.

Although the idea of curating and organising objects is nothing new, there is something more interesting about the  idea that the objects collected were a way of explaining the world, in an age of discovery and exploration. 

What can a Wunderkammer be in an age where we think that we know everything? 

What are the new areas of discovery and explanation? 

Our modern age exists between the offline and online world, between the digital and the real. Our lives are moving to somewhere beyond the real and tangible into the unknown-the grey area beyond the digital.

WunderKammer at the Moma has a wonderful interactive website, that pushes the preconcieved ideas about exhibitions and displays. The user can navigate a wealth of information designed a organised. Although there is something lacking in the digital realisation of the collections, particularly the interplay and juxtaposition of objects displayed and organised by their collectors. Can a digital platform every really convey the subtleties of human categorisation and organisation?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Re defining practice... pt.2

Ok, so I needed to come back to redefining practice. During my previous research I contacted illustration friends directly to discuss their practice and engage with the idea about the reticence of illustrators to define anything. It still require further probing with a wider scope of illustrators from a more extensive range of skill sets, commercial prowess and global success, in the hope of getting perhaps a more professional outward facing definition of practice.

Jessica Bromley Bartram:
Graphic Designer, Illustrator and embroidery enthusiast, process and collaboration, and communication with a focus on typography and book design. A constant desire for new artistic experience.
Joao Fazenda:
An image-maker from Lisbon. His practice is guided by an endless curiosity and exploration of drawing as a visual narrative. His images have a simultaneously metaphoric and narrative nature, allied to a playful sense of dynamic and clarity of shapes, lines and colours.
Veronica Grech:
Creating strange and fun characters, poetic portraits and colourful urban scenes and landscapes. Her artwork is inspired by all types of mid-century illustration and the nostalgia of white and black old photography. She loves ancient and archaic art and she is fascinated by the era of archaeology and the first explorers.
Sophia Martineck:
She is fascinated by the everyday. It is familiar, pretty simple but powerful underneath. A view of the world that is charming, childlike and astute. Colourful drawings of urban life's ups and downs. This humble medium captures that childhood innocence that runs through her work. Emotions permeate her illustrations.

Arguably it is the writing in the third person that adds a layer of reflective distance in these definitions of practice. Perhaps asking others to describe my work would be a good starting point. When combined with a critical reflection of what my practice is currently, and an aspirational description of what I would like it to be, this could be the root of my new definition.

Currently, I paint objects and collections of objects. These objects, highly rendered and miniaturized are juxtaposed together to create something between a visual pattern and a non linear narrative. I have always been fascinated with objects, and so keeping that as the focus I hope to build more thorough and investigative practice around collecting and collectors. Looking at peoples relationships with their objects, how the talk about them, and share them. Looking at how they curate and arrange, categorise and display their objects for themselves and others.

Re defining practice... pt.1

So part of the purpose of this project is to re-examining and re-define my own illustration practice. Illustrators struggle to define their practice, unlike Fine Artists. There is a notable reluctance and dismissal around defining illustration practice, whether for the individual practitioner or for the discipline as a whole. This is because its hard, not just hard, its almost borderline impossible. Illustration practice in its very nature, is fluid, transient and changeable. A clear definition would add restrictions and limitations to a practice that boasts diversity and variety.

In order to think more critically about the purpose of my practice, the direction and my aspirations I looked extensively at peers, some with similar practice, others with diverse practice to seek out commonalities and variants within.

Adam Paxman:
Illustration split between personal practice and professional development. Personal practice includes character design, reflection and experiments with narrative structures.
Alyn Smith:
Creating fun and playful illustration with the use of geometric rules and patterns with a nod to retro colours and design. All my work is created balancing digital processes with hand printed outcome.
Maisie Platts:
I have a particular fondness for drawing characters wearing fancy dress costumes.
Becky Long:
Most of my work is produced by obsessively making marks with a pencil. I am a lover of pattern. Human relationships are the main source of inspiration for me, with human beings and nature. Fascination with peoples reliance on nature or a strong connection with the earth. Ancient folklore and myths and legends. Reminded of something bigger than us, of magic and pure fantasy.
Rheannon Ormond:
My main inspiration comes from nature, history, romance and dark narratives influenced by the turn of the century.

Certainly, judging by this selection, illustrators tend to focus on their process or their inspiration rather than their practice as a whole. Perhaps defining practice is a merging of process and inspiration. What and how you like to make your images? What illustrators tend to miss out is why, why do you make your images the way you do? The purpose of illustration tends to be defined by an external contextual prop. Perhaps part of the reason illustrator's do not define themselves is because their commercial work is defined by someone else. But what happens when illustration stands alone, without a commercial context, whether personal work, self-promotions or self-generated briefs? how do reluctant linguists illustrators define this?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Liverpool World Museum

The Liverpool World Museum is a total delight, the perfect place to while away the hours sketching, reading, and listening to the conversations that pass by. Truly inspiring. I was particularly interested in the way the exhibits were display, the symmetry, pattern and organization of the objects was very interesting. Each exhibit tells a clear narrative about the people and culture of the time.

It wasn't until later that I really thought about the objects in the collections and what they really represented as items from history. Its not that they were chosen for a specific reason; because of their historic value, or cultural value, they are simply survivors. Objects that made it through history. How much can they really tell us about the society of the time? It also made me think that we are in a unique position to choose what we leave for prosperity.
Historical object survive because of chance, arguably because they are well made, or simply lucky.

I wonder if the exhibits would be different if individuals from the historic society were able to select a collection to represent their culture, how different would it be? what objects would they want to survive and why?