FROM ARABESQUE TO ARABESQUE – Dido’s 30 year journey from clinical ‘OT’ to tenured professor…

On New Year’s Day 1989 I had the great good fortune to meet a beautiful ex-ballerina called Dido Nicholson. Almost exactly two years later, on New Year’s Eve 1990 we were married at Marylebone Registry Office in the West End of London, by which time I had got to know and fall in love with the extraordinary mind, personality and character behind that beauty.

The pictures of two Dido arabesques which head this post roughly frame her career – at least the travel-related episodes of her career – with the first executed on the desert dirt outside San Pedro de Atacama in 1991 and the second, just last winter (2018) on the a frozen lake in our current location of Jönköping in Sweden. Dido had been injured out of the ballet several years before we met (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2014/12/23/before-we-met/) and, after having dabbled with things as disparate as biochemistry and estate agency she settled on a career in occupational therapy. By the time of our wedding she had been qualified only a few months, but it didn’t take long for her colleagues and employers to realise that Dido’s medical and scientific skills weren’t going to be limited within the regular parameters of her new profession.

Naturally, Dido’s background in dance and the arts was always going to make a significant and innovative contribution to her work as both a therapist and a researcher, from the outset of her career until the present day. Thus, it was no surprise when, as early as 1991 Dido won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to go to Chile to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool to support social integration and participation for children with learning problems (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2016/11/14/my-gal-the-fellow/). However, the ultimate acknowledgement of Dido’s unusually creative contribution to her science was when in 2014 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Among Dido’s many qualities, aside from her scholarship and devotion to her work, is her academic modesty and generosity – almost to a fault. The main reason it’s taken her until now to gain tenure (apart from the fact she came into OT ten years later than most of her colleagues) is her strict professional integrity and a deep reluctance to blow her own trumpet. Happily, I don’t share that reticence; hence this visual celebration of her illustrious career. These pictures (one or two of which have featured in earlier posts) offer a fun glimpse into Dido’s remarkable progress, from clinical occupational therapist to leading child neuroscientist, from the one arabesque to the other…


Chilean Lake District with Volcan Osorno in the background – 1991
Although we didn’t know it then, the Chile adventure proved to be the first of numerous work-related trips far and wide; with yours truly in-tow to provide what’s become a visual record spanning the best part of three decades…
First Morning in India – Chennai – 2003
By the time I took this photo (one of my favourite portraits of her), Dido ‘s expertise in child autism was already so internationally respected that she was brought over to southern India to design and set up a specialist clinic in the Tamil Nadu city of Coimbatore…
Dr. Dido’s First Trip as a PhD – University of Ghent – 2007
Despite the strenuous demands of her clinical lead position at Guy’s and St. Thomas Hospital (a London teaching hospital) Dido somehow found the time and energy for research into developing our understanding
of movement disorders and motor learning in children . In 2007, this aspect of her work was rewarded with a PhD from the University of Leeds…
Dido at Point Sublime – Blue Mountains – Australia – 2007
Unquestionably, one of Dido’s most pleasing and relatively regular destinations has turned out to be Australia. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel there three times, and each trip has been memorable; professionally, socially, culturally and scenically…
Dido and Jaffa – Tel Aviv – 2009
Dido’s first full-time academic post was at Tel Aviv University where apart from enjoying about two years of vibrant and dynamic research she established some of her most enduring relationships, professionally and socially…
Dido Working in the Library – Finca Carmel – 2012
Since 1993, our mountain home in southern Spain has been something of a sanctuary for Dido, and the place she goes to recharge her batteries – physical and mental…
Emergency Sun Hat – Stockholm – 2016
This picture was taken – during an unexpectedly sunny early winter’s day – on one of several work trips Dido made to the Swedish capital. Little did we know as I took this snap that Sweden was soon to become our latest base of operations…
The Ferry to Denmark – Femer Bælt -2017
This picture shows Dido on the ferry from Germany to Denmark en-route to take up her latest post at Jönköping University, where her full professorship was confirmed last month. As for the technicolor pencil case Dido’s holding; well, that’s a whole other story…
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BRICKS – a pictorial tribute to the humble building block of civilisation…

If, as has recently been shown to be true, that the evolution of our human species is intimately connected with our relationship with, and domestication of, the dog, then our development from hunter gatherers to sedentary building dwellers is founded upon our mastery of the humble brick more than any other material.

ROME

We first started making and building with simple mud bricks over 7000 years ago and ever since, both in mud form and the far more durable fired clay variety they have comprised the fundamental building blocks of most urban societies across the globe.

GRONIGEN (THE NETHERLANDS)

Cheaper, and easier to shape than stone and marble, and more durable and weather-proof than timber, clay-based bricks have been mass-manufactured for over four millennia. From China in the east to Rome in the west, bricks were the chosen material to house the citizenry of the world’s mightiest empires.

MONTREAL

While in many cultures, the brick was regarded as purely functional and considered ugly; best concealed beneath layers of plaster and cement; by the late Middle Ages, in northern Europe in particular, a skilfully laid brick rose to aesthetic acceptance.

DUSSELDORF

Among the Western European cultures especially, the brick came to be the defining municipal texture of the “Anglo Saxon” / “Germanic” north, in the same way stuccoed walls evoke the “Latin / Mediterranean” south.

MATFIELD (UK)

As a native Londoner with his main home in Spain I like my bricks both ways – proudly exposed, or peaking out from behind a peeling stucco skin. The pictures presented here are my homage to both. Please enjoy the gallery below…

SAN GIMAGNANO (ITALY)

STILL LIVES (AND STILL BOTTLES) – the evolution of my study of still life…

In a long-lost period of art (except perhaps, for those attending Royal Academy Schools – in the UK at least), both the formal study of the human form (alive and dead) and the formal study of inanimate objects, known under the coverall of still life, formed the foundation of an art education. In exactly the same way as the great literary figures and music composers of yesteryear relied upon solid groundings in grammar and notation respectively, a mastery of observation was regarded a prerequisite for an aspirant artist.

TELEPHONE WITH VASE – oil on paper – 1977
Dramatic, but little feel for the space between the objects…

My own time at art school, beginning in 1976, coincided with the end of that ages-old period, so that even during my foundation course it was the finished image that mattered and not so much how it was created.

BOTTLES AND LEMONS – oil on paper – 1979
Jazzy, but obsessed with the spaces between at the expense of solid drawing…

How much this matters is a debate that has continued unabated since “Modernism” in art began, about the time of my birth in 1960, and not a subject I wish to go into now. However, my own opinion of the matter is well known to regular readers and followers of these pages and evidenced pretty obviously by the pictures displayed here.

FRUIT AND VEG IN BASKET – charcoal on paper – 1980
Sober but with a touch of drama and some half-decent drawing…

Lacking any formal/traditional grounding/tuition in the skills of my trade, early on in my time at art school I began to resort to self-education. As the pictures here attest, at first, I was pretty rudderless, but gradually, over about three years began to evolve a reasonably articulate language built upon a fairly solid visual and observational grammar – albeit, and with apologies to RA Scholars everywhere – personal to me.

BOTTLES WITH FRUIT AND VEG – oil on canvas – 1981
Formal composition, but with contained elements of painterly expression.

FIRST AND nearly LAST – the evolution of my painting on canvas…

One of the many surprises thrown up by my recent digitisation of all my photographs of old artwork was how – once chronologically sorted – it vividly revealed the development of my painting skills – or, if not skills exactly; at least of my comfort with the medium of oil paint. Additionally, they exposed something even more interesting – at least to me – of the dramatic alteration in my spirits and emotions from that heavily pressured time at art school to my days as a confident, free painting spirit.

The two paintings I have chosen for this piece graphically illustrate what I mean:

Soho Buildings was the first painting I ever made on canvas, and how it shows! Thin washes, tentative drawing and clumsy composition. Looking at it now, even in photographic form, I can still feel my fear of the canvas, and my hesitant application of the paint. Plus there was the added pressure of being surrounded by – at least – equally talented artists, most of whom were already familiar with painting on canvas. So, I was desperate for it to appear like I knew what I was doing and that I was at ease with the process, which clearly shows in the picture. But, for all that, the painting has some merit; some lucky accidents; like the two white painted windows on the shaded side of the near building…something quite lyrical about them. Plus, it serves now as a powerfully symbolic and accurate reminder of my gloomy mindset during those first terrifying days at Saint Martins…

SOHO BUILDINGS FROM SAINT MARTINS – oil on canvas – 1978

Girl Fastening Sandal was painted in 1988 and is evidently, everything the Soho picture is not. By this time I was confident and comfortable with both the oil paint and the painting surface and, more crucially, unencumbered by being part of any “art scene” – I didn’t have to worry about peers and rivals watching me over my shoulder. Whereas, with the Soho painting it was all I could do to produce any kind of image on the canvas, with the Girl painting I was preoccupied with expressing the joys and thrills of both the subject and the paint itself. It should look almost as if the paint flowed directly from my mind to the palette knife; a visual stream of consciousness; like a happy, joyous thought. The two paintings here graphically represent a pretty dramatic 10-year transition from student to artist and from teenage hesitancy to adult assuredness.

GIRL FASTENING SANDAL – oil on canvas – 1995

DELPHI – disappointing runs but thrilling ruins…

To many, the idea of travelling to Delphi to ski might seem as daft as travelling to Zermat for the archaeology, but once, many years ago I went to Apollo’s sanctuary for a winter sports holiday.

Obviously, we didn’t need to consult the local oracle to know that the skiing on Mount Parnassus would be nearly as scarce as Doric temples on the Matterhorn. Fortunately, the stunning ancient Greek ruins were more than a compensation for a lack of powder-covered moguls and red runs. What had primarily been intended as a fortnight of physical thrills materialised as a fitness course for the mind.

The treated photos here were taken with my trusty old Canonet 28, but I think they get across something of the drama of Delphi and the sheer majesty of the two-an-a-half-thousand-year-old remains of one the world’s most historically influential civilisations…

Delphi sits on the south eastern slopes of Mount Parnassus, above the Valley of Phocis, seen here looking west…

These columns of the Temple of Apollo date from the 4th century BC and sit upon remains of a 6th century predecessor…

The reconstructed Athenian Treasury was built in the late 5th century BC to commemorate their naval victory over the Persians at Salamis in 478. Every city state of Greece had a treasury at Delphi where their tributes to the god and payment to the Oracle were stored…

The often-remodelled amphitheatre dates originally from the 5th century BC. It sits just above the Temple of Apollo and has stunning views of the Valley Of Phocis…

The Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronia with its famously resurrected column section has become Delphi’s most iconic and most photographed site. I was so drawn to it myself that I visited the Tholos every day of our visit…
The 6500 capacity Stadium sits high above the rest of the site. The field is about 177 long by 26 meters wide…
This was described to me as a sacred pool,…
These newly cut stones are used for restorations and repairs…
The view from modern Delphi, looking south west, across vast olive groves to the Gulf of Corinth.

FINCA-ING OF YOU ALL – New Year’s greetings from Finca Carmel

No time for a proper post I’m afraid with so much work to do on our little farm. Fortunately, the hard labour has its rewards such as the fabulous 2018 vintage port (pictured here) we barrelled in August and is now looking and tasting delicious.

A hearty cheers, lechaim, salud, and whatever your favoured salutation may be, to all my followers, accidental readers and passers by for a happy and healthy 2019!

BEER AND BIROS –  or how I learned to prioritise my student grant spending…

I don’t know if it’s the same today, but when I was at art school it was constantly drummed into us students to carry a sketchbook, “always and everywhere”, and to use it frequently. For some reason, this was a habit I found hard to acquire, and thus an early indicator perhaps that I never had the mentality of the true artist.

Sitters 1
Bar Props 9 – pencil sketch

It wasn’t so much the issue of self-discipline – I had plenty of that when sufficiently motivated to a given (normally non-art-related) task – it was the somewhat ironic fact that I felt that sketching was more of a barrier to, than an absorber of, the world around me.

Bar Drinker 1
Bar Prop 8 – biro sketch

Perhaps part of my problem was that although only 16 when I started my foundation course at Harrow School of Art, I was already an experienced photographer and had become used to having a camera with me much of the time. Ditching my elegant Nikon, and its power to capture everything I saw at the press of a button for a sketchpad and assorted, often unwieldy drawing implements seemed a retrograde and pointless drudgery.

Pub Couple 1.jpg
                    Thoughtful Couple – biro sketch

Of course, deep-down, I recognised the wisdom of my tutors’ insistence on me interpreting the world I saw through the point of a drawing implement as a fundamental prerequisite for learning the language of picture-making. Yet I remained resistant for a long time into my art education; a bit like the reluctant music student longing to skip his/her daily four hours of practising scales. Eventually however, although never an enthusiast, by the time I started my degree at Saint Martin’s I’d found a way to become a regular sketcher.

Sitter 2.jpg
Bar Leaner – Conté sketch

The “way” I’d landed upon was to lubricate the grind of the actual sketching by means of large doses of simultaneous self-gratification and self-stimulation in the form of pints of my favourite beverage at the many hostelries adjacent to my Soho-based art school.

Sitter 5
Bar Thinker – biro sketch

In authentic and time-honoured tradition, I found wiling away hours of time in saloons rewarding both sensually and artistically. And while my fellow pub punters may not have offered up images as exotic as those that greeted the French Post Impressionists in the clubs and dives of 19th century Paris, they did nevertheless provide an endless source of unwitting, and thus natural model subjects.

Sitter 4.jpg
Paper Reader – Conté sketch

Needless to say, this element of my nascent art career necessitated a significant chunk of my student grant. How good or not this investment was, is a matter for debate. From my, admittedly biased point of view, all these years later, the examples shown here don’t look too bad, and if nothing else, they do go to show that even the humble biro, can be an effective artists tool…after a glass or two of fine English ale…

Sitter 3
Greasy Lunch – Conté sketch (done in a Soho cafe or “greasy spoon”)

STALIN, IN THE LIBRARY, WITH A BOUNCING BOMB – or the weird and wonderful incarnations of my old school…

I rarely get to the cinema these days and do most of my catching up with the latest films on the two or three long-haul flights I do every year. So it was last Spring, I found myself 33,000 above the North Atlantic Ocean, watching The Death of Stalin. The film itself was somewhat disappointing, and I was considering changing to another movie when something caught my attention. It was a scene in a study in Stalin’s quarters, in which Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) was talking to Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), but it wasn’t the “drama” that caught my attention; it was the study itself.

The room was somehow familiar, and then, in following scenes set in the tyrant’s abode, I saw other rooms that I thought I recognised. However, my mild curiosity over the apparent familiarity of the movie-set for Stalin’s quarters was insufficient to maintain any interest in the alleged black comic-drama and a short while later I was watching something else.

And, until yesterday, when I began preparing my next post for this site, the film and the film-set had completely slipped from my mind. The post I was preparing was to have been a brief history of my old school, Carmel College, and my experiences as a pupil there. But, when researching some details about the Victorian mansion that I had known as School House, I made some discoveries which seemed to offer me the prospect of a  more interesting piece than the one I was originally working on.

Presented below are several photographs of locations from the late Carmel College with captions describing their respective roles in 20th century British architecture; inspiring the world’s longest running play and indirectly one of the world’s most successful board games; in British Cinema; and finally, in military history…

School House
The Victorian mansion (that I knew as School House) has the richest history of all the Carmel College buildings. During the Second World War it was HQ for No. 2 Group, RAF Bomber Command, and in 1943  the final reconnaissance briefing for the  Dam Busters’ Raid was conducted in what I knew as the headmaster’s study. A few years later it became Agatha Christie’s template for the house in her world record breaking 1952 play for the longest West End run, The Mousetrap. Christie had a huge influence upon Anthony E. Pratt, the creator of Cluedo in 1949. Far more recently , among other things (as mentioned above) the interior of the mansion was the set for Stalin’s quarters in the 2017 movie, The Death of Stalin. The grand entrance hall and staircase, the library and the aforementioned study featured heavily…

Shul on frosty morning
The Carmel Synagogue was designed by architect Thomas Hancock who also masterminded the entire Carmel Campus. It’s now a grade II listed building and remains one of the most stunning and beautiful Synagogues anywhere in the world. Hancock’s concrete amphitheatre, built at the same time, can just be made out to the left of the picture. Hancock, a Buddhist, developed something of a niche for himself designing houses of worship. including a Hindu temple and most famously the Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes. The Synagogue’s interior was used in the 2011 film The Iron Lady as the scene where Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) received voice coaching , and its exterior featured in the 2016 film, Mindhorn…

The Pyramid
Another grade II listed masterpiece, we just referred to as”the Pyramid”, was actually an art gallery and named in honour of  patron of the arts ,Julius Gottlieb  and gifted to Carmel College by his son Lieutenant Commander E. J. Gottlieb. The Pyramid and the boathouse upon which it sits was designed by Sir Basil Spence, and is one of the smallest, and  best resolved works of Britain’s foremost brutalist architect.

Pool and Gymnasium Building
The Sports block which contains a large gymnasium, a 25 metre swimming pool and a squash court has been the setting for  pop videos and movie scenes. Kylie Minogue and The Kaiser Chiefs shot promotional videos there in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and the pool featured in the 2018 movie, Annihilation (with Natalie Portman)…

Carmel Gardens.jpg
The exterior of the mansion and its gardens was the setting for the the final part of the 2016 film, The Darkest Dawn.  The grounds’ arboretum is most famous for its fabulous Ceders of Lebanon…

 

VINTAGE VACATION

 

Apologies to my loyal followers but the wine making and other arduous – sometimes pleasant – farming tasks have left me little time to devote to this blog. Normal posting will resume next time. For now, here are a few striking images of the local environment around our small finca in the heart of the Axarquia in southern Spain.

Enjoy…we do.

 

ADAM IMITATING ADAMS – and the sublimeness of black and white

It’s always intrigued me that the greatest photographs of landscape ever taken, by the incomparable Ansell Adams, were all in black and white. To this day, when scenes of Yosemite or the Grand Tetons enter my my mind’s eye I invariably see them in Adams’ deeply contrasted, brooding monochrome. For me, as for so many others no doubt, American Sublime is at its most sublime in Adams’ black and white.

Banff Mountain View 1p.jpg

Hence, it might surprise some to know that with the advent of Kodachrome film in the late 1930’s, Adams also took thousands of pictures in colour. His main reason for not publishing most of them seems to have had something to do with the lack of control he felt had over the finished image. Whereas with his black and white work he had total mastery over the entire process, he found colour film (especially early colour film) unreliable as a medium of his vision.

Banff Mountain View 3 p.jpg

Bearing this in mind, it would be fascinating to know what Adams would have made of the digital photographic world of today? While I suspect, in common with many current “film-purists”, he would have been inherently suspicious of film-less images, I also think it’s possible at least, that he would have been equally intrigued by the almost limitless control offered by tools like Photoshop. Whether or not he would have been sufficiently titillated to swap the darkroom for the desktop I somehow doubt, but it’s fun to ponder.

Banff Mountain View 4 p.jpg

Apart from the fact I share the singular form of Adams’ surname as my forename, my own photographic offerings have little in common with the great late master, either as to quality or as to ambition. However, the hypothetical conundrum I pose for Adams above, is something that I, and thousands of my contemporaries – professional and amateur – have actually had to confront. In my own case, I at first resisted the transition from film to digital, until one day, during the early 90’s, a retired professional photographer friend scanned an old film of mine, for me to “play with” using the hitherto unemployed Corel software on my Gateway computer. I was hooked within moments and traded in my old Nikon film camera for a Nikon digital camera the next day. And, over the subsequent years, as I’ve gradually upgraded both my camera and my computer software, I’ve never once regretted the decision.

Lake Louise C p.jpg

The photos here were taken on that first, crude Nikon digital camera, and remain to this day the closest I’ve ever got to emulating Ansell Adams himself – at least with subject matter (the scenery around Banff in the Canadian Rockies) if not in quality. They are presented in their original colour form, side-by-side with Photo-shopped monochrome twins. I upped the contrast to deepen the shadows and dramatise the tones in an attempt to give them a more “Adams feel”, and to see whether I would prefer them, or the original colour images. In the end, for me at least, there is no contest, and thus much to consider for my future landscape photography…

(Camera used: Nikon Coolpix 990)