Tag Archives: Art

Papa Chagall

I knew less about Marc Chagall than I wanted to admit. Sometimes the names of these big artists just blend together and you know they are great, but who painted what, exactly?

Now I know, because I have been properly introduced to Marc Chagall and his paintings and his life story, all in one fell swoop through the medium of a children’s picture book. They are often the best.

In Tell Us a Story, Papa Chagall, Laurence Anholt paints pictures of Chagall and of his paintings, with ‘real’ paintings used every now and then to illustrate parts of Chagall’s life. They are truly weird, but very appealing in a childish kind of way. What’s not to like about beautiful women and flying cows? In the same painting.

Laurence Anholt, Papa Chagall

His grandchildren come and see the great artist in his studio, and like children do, they insist on being told a story. And he tells them about his life, about his childhood in Russia, about how he met their grandmother and what happened in the war (WWII).

They are touching stories, and help you understand him and sympathise with how his life turned out. But no matter how hard it was, Papa Chagall has time for his grandchildren, and time for one more story.

Rather wonderful.

Bone Quill

This second instalment in the Barrowman siblings’ trilogy about escaping into art, takes the reader places they won’t be expecting. At least, I didn’t.

More fun than book one, because we know who’s who and what people can do and why. Twins Em and Matt are confident in their ‘draw a picture and disappear into it’ abilities. They know their friends, and they know who their enemies are. Admittedly, their mum has disappeared, probably into a painting. But they’ll find her.

And for hopeless people like me, there is a very useful – and blissfully short – reminder of what happened in Hollow Earth.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Bone Quill

Matt is more hot-headed and does things without thinking for as long as he ought to. But both children, along with their friend Zach want to put things right. And that does not include unbinding the twins’ dad, who has the wrong kind of ideas about stuff.

This time their art travel has another dimension added, and they do find a few unexpected people. We see more of the monks in the Middle Ages. They are all more closely connected than we previously thought.

It took me a while, but I began to see roughly how this book must end. There is a cliffhanger, but it involves warm fruit scones, so all is not lost.

No reader will want to stop here. While we enjoy our scones, we expect John and Carole to get on with the happy ending.

Selling the Royal Institution

No sooner had the Grandmother suggested we sell the Royal Institution, but someone is actually wanting to do that very thing.

Although, I suppose not the RI as such. The RI are the ones being forced out of their ‘home,’ the rather nice building in Albemarle Street, where Michael Faraday used to work.

I hope it’s a false alarm, and by that I mean perhaps someone will come up with the money to save it. But why do I feel like this? In most cases I would shrug my shoulders in a pragmatic kind of way, because I’m not surprised by either mismanagement or hard times. ‘These things happen.’ All the time.

But this is the Royal Institution. It’s the Faraday link.

But as I said, we were thinking of selling the very same building, albeit in the shape of a painting. Apparently it was commissioned by Faraday. And according to family lore, once it was painted, it lived under his desk for a very long time.

It was eventually framed by the Resident IT Consultant’s grandfather, and is currently hanging on our wall. At first it was on sufferance, because as pictures go I didn’t like it much. But once the idea of selling it was broached, I realised I’d got used to it.

I suspect we will keep it, because it’s not worth a lot. The story of it being close to Faraday’s knees is probably more valuable.

Royal Institution

As for the other building, I hope someone nice and rich will find they have money to spare. The problem though, is that by doing the place up, the RI have priced people like us out of going there, even if we lived close enough to consider frequenting it for talks and other events.

I am Cat

When is a picture book really art? Always? Or just quite often? And if it is art, is it still a book primarily for small children?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. But Jackie Morris is a real artist. No question about that. And her new book I am Cat should be treasured for the sheer magic of her cat pictures.

Jackie is something of a cat lover, and whereas I don’t share her sentiments, I can only love I am Cat. It is so beautiful.

Jackie Morris, I am Cat

Every page has a new cat, from tabby to tiger and all the rest. With each page (=piece of art) we get to share the thoughts of its cat. About their identity. At the end of the book is a couple of pages of cat facts.

So it’s not a story as such, but I could see this would work, reading to a child. And any child would surely love pictures like these!

A must for cat lovers.

(The book is not officially published yet, but Jackie tells me she is selling them at Art in Action this weekend. And then she has a book launch at Solva Mill on August 8th.)


Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.

Bookwitch bites #83

I’m having problems. Just little ones, though. Except, I wasn’t just a little jealous when Sarah McIntyre went and blogged about going painting with Rolf Harris on television. That’s more like extremely jealous. The mitigating factors are two. I can’t draw or paint (counts as one, those do), and Sarah is so lovely it’s very hard to think badly of her.

Did I moan about the weather earlier this week? I can moan again, but the other way round. It is far too cold! But then everyone knows how cold it is in those far flung Nordic countries. It must be global warming (said Daughter) that’s behind it getting colder. I have packed swimsuit as usual. Doubt I’ll be using it. On the other hand, the Resident IT Consultant cycled off the first evening and flung himself in the sea. Not for long, but enough.

So, as Daughter speculated on Gulf streams and stuff, she suggested I could put the heating up a little. I said I could have, if I hadn’t turned it off as we arrived. I mean, you do, when it’s late May. Don’t you?

Elsinore Castle

We went the long way round. No, the slower way round. Instead of getting on the through train from Copenhagen airport, we went through Copenhagen, in the opposite direction and north to Elsinore. Hamlet wasn’t at home. The sensible Danes wore coats and things, so they clearly knew it was chilly. Then we de-trained and went for the ferry, except that was more complicated than it should have been, and it was neither the Aurora nor the Tycho Brahe, both of which would have met with Daughter’s approval. It’s best if we don’t mention too much about the dubious vessel we did go on. It had (whispers) a smokers’ corner… Letting smoke out. (And, air to the smokers in. Do they really need to breathe?)

Mercandia and Helsingborg

Once on the other side – Sweden, not the land of the dead – we waited for the train to take us further north, meaning we ended up on the one an hour later than if we’d picked the sensible alternative. At least the Resident IT Consultant could be talked out of the family experiencing the Copenhagen Metro, where no experiencing was necessary. The train covered the same distance admirably.

Because the ticket machine in Helsingborg panicked at the sight of my foreign credit card, we (legally) saved £10 on fares. We travelled on, and eventually swapped a pound of Stilton for a Saab. The natives really do have a liking for cheese. We stopped to stare at the red warning light for a while, before deciding to ignore it, shopped for milk and cheese and stuff (we had given our cheese away, remember), before finally picking up pizzas and driving off to see if there still was a house in which to eat them.

There was. Plenty of grass, too. But you saw that last year.


Hollow Earth

There is no absolute rule that because you are good at one thing – and successful and famous and stuff – that you can’t therefore also do something else, and even do a tolerable job of it. It’s just that we don’t like people who seem to be able to turn their hands at ‘everything.’ At least I don’t. I feel there should be a limit to how much any one person gets up to. Spread the talent. That kind of idea.

That’s why I thought it was a bit much when John Barrowman started his solo concert career. Can Captain Jack really sing? How embarrassing. Those were my personal moans. And now he’s written a children’s book. But I’ve learned my lesson, and the autobiography he co-wrote with his sister Carole a few years ago was quite readable. So why not a children’s adventure story?

Why not indeed? I raced through Hollow Earth pretty quickly, just to see how it would end. (Not clear-cut enough. There is more to come. Clever move.) I’ve no idea how Carole and John divided up the work between them, but it seems that the whole book just popped up on a long car journey and they had it all planned by the time they arrived. With his acting background I can just imagine John not being short of a crazy idea or two, and Carole has the writing credentials and can presumably sort out those ideas on paper.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Hollow Earth

Not surprisingly, this tale about twins Emily and Matt is set mostly in Scotland, on an island the Barrowman siblings made up. It sounds real enough, though. The twins are good at drawing and when they draw, they find they can make what’s in the picture real. Hence the surplus of water in the National Gallery, which caused some embarrassment.

This isn’t a safe skill to have, so the chase is on, with the twins taking refuge in Scotland, where more and more ‘life’ drawing takes place. There are plenty of baddies after the children, and they will stop at very little to get what they want. (Some) family and friends help the twins, but then you never know who to trust. My main complaint about the story would actually be that very fact. All the adults are fairly similar, so it wasn’t easy guessing who was good or bad. I’ve only got one right, so far.

The story begins in a monastery in the Middle Ages, when an artistic monk slips while working on a book illustration, very nearly letting a creature lose. That seems to be the background to what Emily and Matt experience, and we find the past and the present have close ties.

Apart from being a pacy adventure, Hollow Earth could be said to provide some art education for young readers. While John and Carole have made up the paintings included in he story, they are based on real and similar art. Let’s hope children will take a renewed interest in art galleries after reading this book.

And there’s always good old Scottish ice cream to be eaten in oh so typical Scottish sunshine.

(For more info, visit Hollow Earth. If you dare.)

Tales From Outer Suburbia

It’s (slightly weird) art, with words added. And I don’t know how Shaun Tan does it. The inside of his mind must be a very ‘interesting’ place to be. He sees more than most of us, turning that seeing into marvellously odd pictures. And then Shaun adds the briefest of stories to go with those images.

Tales From Outer Suburbia is yet another wonderful (and I mean wonderful in the old way; full of wonders) book from Shaun. It’s a collection of short short stories. The story about Eric, the foreign student, is in here. Interesting seeing it differently laid out on the page. It almost changes the story.

Who would think of a wise old water buffalo for a story? Or poetry growing into a large paper ball? Just reading that turned the description of the ball into poetry for me. The weird ‘pre-wedding’ treasure hunt, featuring television sets with teeth, and presumably something Shaun thought of after seeing the traditional Just Married car with posterior dangly bits.

Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia

The hidden gardens, or the stick figures (absolutely loved the pictures for that one!), reindeer, amnesia with ice cream. Or how about having your very own intercontinental ballistic missile? It makes so much sense. So does making your own pet from leftover bits. The dog wake. Falling off the edge of your map is more of a danger than I had imagined.

Even the end is something to read. It’s so simple, the way Shaun starts and ends a book, except if it’s that easy, then surely everyone would be doing it?

Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia

My favourite story is Broken Toys. It’s enough to make you cry.

Little My and the H₂O

I always worry when I visit School Friend and need to wash my hands. (And I don’t mean her place calls for extra hand-washing, just that one does have to wash one’s hands occasionally.) Her guest hand towel features Little My, and anyone quite so angry looking is a wee bit scary. You know.

Lilla My

But on Sunday I decided it’s not my hands that make her angry, even as I wipe them on her face. It rained. When it stopped raining we wanted to go out and sit on the deck. I was fine, because I have never done the Swedish taking shoes off indoors (and apparently even for stepping out on the deck…) thing, so didn’t mind the H₂O spread out all over. School Friend, however, objected to wet tootsies, so wiped the floor with – you guessed it! – Little My.

That will be why she’s perpetually upset.

Last time chez School Friend I was a little shocked by the new table decoration. It looked anything but child friendly. Or even people friendly. That sword (something LOTR-ish, I gather) is sharp. And on the dinner table. With flowers, but still.

The Sword, and some flowers

Now Pizzabella, the owner of the sword, has her own little flat which we went to inspect the other day. The sword went with her. But, oh dear, it sits on top of a (Billy) bookcase, and I can just visualise how it falls down…

Permanent Rose

Permanent Rose

The room where I sleep where the New Librarian used to reside is now an art studio for School Friend. I sometimes use her desk for my blogging, and was ridiculously pleased to find an old friend on there; Permanent Rose, Hilary McKay’s darling girl.

There are so many uses for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, aren’t there?

The Resident IT Consultant was puzzled to find an ‘unknown’ Mary Hoffman in our hosts’ bookcase and wanted to know which one it was. I told him it’s Falconer’s Knot in Swedish, and if he looked closely he’d find that it had been signed by the author. Just as with the copy of Troy by Adèle Geras, nestling dangerously close (i.e. below) to the aforementioned sword.


Mary Hoffman, David

The heading feels a little on the personal side for me, but as it’s the title of Mary Hoffman’s latest historical novel, it can’t be helped. Anyway, the Resident IT Consultant got to the story about his namesake before me, in that annoying way he has. A short way into the novel he wondered if it’s an adult book, and was taken aback to find that it’s not. Not that adults can’t read it and enjoy it, of course.

It was the sex, I expect. By page eight Gabriele (aka David) has had two close encounters, and he goes on to charm both men and women in Florence. It’s the way with handsome young men. People only see the beautiful exterior and go potty.

Sex aside, David is an education. I marvel at the understanding Mary has for the politics of Florence and Italy five hundred years ago. My mind reeled trying to keep up with all the Guiseppes and Giulios  and who was a Cardinal and who might be Pope one day.

Then there were all the other Gs, Gianbattista, Giuliano, Giovan, Gismondo, and so on.

Mary and David

Gabriele is a young man who is too good-looking for his own good. He’s the milk brother of Michelangelo, and Mary has spun the whole book around this possible model for the most famous of statues. It’s fascinating to learn of how it might have happened, and how it was for pretty young men at the time, posing for artists, and being wooed by everyone they meet.

What I would never have guessed is the politics that went on behind all that famous art that we now take for granted. Mary even throws in the Mona Lisa for good measure. I’m also very relieved to find that Michelangelo treated large slabs of Carrara marble the way I do bits of fabric and knitting wool. I go out and buy it and then somehow never get around to making anything with it. And twelve slabs of stone is a lot harder to ignore if you’ve got them lying around.

Despite so much of this tale being about Gabriele’s inability to stay out of women’s beds, I almost feel there wasn’t enough of his private life story in the novel. The art was fun and the politics educational, but we could have had ‘more sex’.