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Preben Andersen

Collograph by Preben Andersen

Christmas came early this year. I just received this beautiful collographic print in the post. The sender? My artist uncle, Preben Andersen.The photo does not pay it justice as you don’t get the wonderful play between print and paper so evident in real life.

I grew up in a working-class family in rural Denmark, but ours was a weird family. Everybody seemed to be creative one way or another. Some of my uncles set up their own ‘beat combo’ in the mid-1960s which led to much heartache among the local teenage girls. Others became more interested in visual arts and crafts: murals, collages, sculpture, pottery.. Of course my family still obsessed over football results and popular music, but there was a definite and pervasive sense of self-expression and creative exploration which I recognise in myself.

One of my uncles painting in a field late 1950s/early 1960s.

I grew up with paintings on the wall and frequent visits to galleries exhibiting works by members of my family. I inherited a big pile of art history books from my great-grandmother’s brother (who had been a farm labourer as well as a painter). I recall one summer when I spent days in my great-grandmother’s backyard trying to use a hammer and chisel so I could carve out a sculpture from a cheap piece of concete.

I never knew my upbringing to be different from everybody else – that is, until I started school and other kids did not make their own Christmas decorations, their mums did not knit them jumpers in mad colours, and their parents much preferred reproductions of famous paintings (Monet’s water lilies, in particular) to no-name oil paintings by weird uncles. It was a rude awakening but thankfully I did not reject my unusual upbringing. I just .. well, I’m still a crafty, creative, slightly odd person, am I not?


One of my paintings - circa 2002?

I paint too.

Well, I used to paint. I have sold a couple of paintings over the years, never made enough decent paintings to stage a real exhibition and currently I live in a space which does not lend itself to splashing acrylic paint around. I miss it, though I know I am not particularly gifted; I just love colour – one of my first art loves was Wassily Kandinsky unsurprisingly. I am also shacked up with an art school boy who is a creative, slightly oddball and colour-obsessed man. They always say you end up marrying your father – I did not have a father but I had a huge number of creative, slightly oddball, and colour-obsessed uncles. Draw your own conclusions.

Finally, just two quick links to two of my favourite artists/paintings. I grew up with figurative art but I fell in love with abstract art very early on in my life.

Garterstitch 100

Garterstitch100 seeks to celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day – and you as a knitter can help. The artists are hoping to make a blanket consisting of 100 million stitches. They need you to knit them a square or set up a public knitting station where knitters can come and knit. There are a myriad other ways that you can help out. I’ll be lending a hand – will you?

In Edinburgh

The tebirkes (teh-beer-kes) is on the left whilst the raspberry-jam filled spanduer (i.e. traditional Danish pastry) is on the right. Not pictured: the two other tebirkes I had. Hey, I don't get to eat any on a regular basis..

In Copenhagen, the Nørrebro neighbourhood is my favourite. It is bohemian, multicultural and vibrant. The streets are filled with small ‘ethnic’ eateries catering for small immigrant groups and niche culinary interests. My taste buds really came off age when I lived there. Today we went to Edinburgh and visited Jo Jo’s Danish Bakery & Cafe. As I sat there munching my tebirkes (think a croissant filled with a marzipan/butter concoction and topped with poppy seeds), it struck me: now I’m the ethnic minority with niche culinary interests.

If you are in Edinburgh or thereabouts, I thoroughly recommend Jo Jo’s place. Jo’s got the recipes just right and she’s a lovely person too.

Alasdair Gray: the real reason why we went to Edinburgh.

And then that big exhibition on Alasdair Gray and his images for his books: Gray Stuff was good stuff.

I was particular taken with the process shown in-between the works: the process of taking complete control over every little aspect of his Book.

Gray’s need to take control over the visual impact shows up early (with Lanark, of course) but he gets more and more confident about his level of control as each book is published. I was sadly sad that the exhibition was not arranged strictly chronological (and I would have loved to have known how much say Gray had), but I was fascinated.

I particularly liked the collages making up the frontispieces in Lanark with marginalia written in Gray’s distinct handwriting pointing out how the images should fit on the page. And, oh, the notes written about the colour scheme of The Book of Prefaces (or The Anthology of Prefaces – the mystery of its real title has not been solved nor has the ‘is it/isn’t it’ mystery about the comma in 1982 Janine.. forgive me, I have been geeking out all day)!!

How I wish I had had access to some of this material back when I was an aspiring academic. Oh, the joy! the rapture!

Work by Andy Goldsworthy and log boats

Just along the street from the Alasdair Gray exhibition, the National Museum of Scotland. Neither of us had ever been, cough, and we arrived too late to see more than the first two floors (we only had three hours and we like to take our time).

The basement was particularly interesting: the pre-history and early settlements in Scotland. I’m a sucker for anything relating to the Picts.

Whilst in the basement I thought fondly of Erika and Lori who both recently referenced Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is a contemporary British artist who makes .. some call it ‘land art’ because his pieces tend to be site-specific and employs exclusive natural materials .. I think of his art as being peculiarly ritualistic: fire, circles, traces and marks. The National Museum has commissioned him to create installations playing with and off archaeological finds and instead of detracting from the objects, I think his works added to them. It was a pleasant surprise.

Next time we are through, we’ll work our way through the second and the third floors. It’s a labyrinthine museum and that is awfully appealing in its own right.

Tomorrow: another trip to Edinburgh (it’s work-related) and Friday: another trip to Edinburgh (it’s flight-related). Today was all about indulgence.

Friday Linkage

Some linkage for you on a Friday night:

Self-Stitched September round-up: the Haematite scarf/shawl worn yesterday. My Millbrook cardigan was worn today. It’s rather warm in Glasgow at the moment which makes SSS extra interesting..

PS We went to the Joseph Beuys exhibition today. I didn’t like it much – I thought it was simultaneously too masculine and too infantile and too tied to Beuys’ own myth-making. We then went upstairs to Aspects of Scottish Art 1860-1910 and whilst some of the art was too chocolate-box for me, I enjoyed it more than I did Beuys. You can try to lead this girl to Fluxus, but she does like her early 20th C art. Sigh.

DK: Knit

DK: Knit is an exhibition of contemporary knitwear design by graduates from the Kolding School of Design currently on display at the Danish Cultural Institute in Edinburgh. Being both of the knitterly and the Danish persuasion, I thought I might as well check it out.

Unsurprisingly, most of the pieces are machine-knitted and at a fairly fine gauge. Some pieces explore garment construction (like the piece shown left), other pieces explore the idea of “fabric”. One particular piece resembles a big pink bath sponge plunged on the floor – I can admire the skill in its construction whilst at the same time reject its aesthetic, can’t I? – whilst another piece looks like an upmarket version of IKEA curtains (and uses the same stitch pattern as the Summit Shawl).

My favourite pieces are the ones which add twists to so-called classic knitting: items that acknowledge their debt to generations past whilst still trying to pave the way forward.

Hans-Christian Madsen has two pieces included in the DK: Knit exhibition and I really liked both. My favourite was the pullover shown right: a traditional Icelandic yoked sweater in subtle colours – but when you get closer, you can see that the colourwork yoke incorporates unusual materials.The surface is broken up – but by texture rather than colour.

Katarina i Geil also draws upon knitting traditions – most obviously from her native Faroe Islands – but uses cables in a really organic, free-flowing way. I am also impressed by her use of embellishment and contrasting texture. One piece is handknitted(?) in rustic wool with clever crochet ornaments in silk. Sadly my photos has not turned out well nor does she have any web presence, so you will have take me at my word.

For a handknitter, DK:Knit is not the most inspiring exhibition. I can see some possibilities in the play with surface textures, but I think fashion students will find it more worthwhile. I did enjoy my chat with the friendly staff and I was alerted to a new Danish bakery in Edinburgh. Mmm, tebirkes!

The knitterly content continues tomorrow..

Yes, there is more. Oh yes, there is more.

Something for the Weekend

My new autumnal knitting project. I started working on it last night whilst watching Digging for Britain, a programme about British archaeology. When I was a teen I wanted to be an archaeologist specialising in Neolithic sites (you get a lot of those where I grew up). Then I went out on work placement and realised that the majority of the job consisted in mapping the landscape and measuring soil depths. Clearly not my thing, but I still love learning about middens, neolithic settlements, and migration patterns. As you can imagine, I’ve always been a riot at parties.

Anyway. Knitting.

I am completely smitten with the new Kim Hargreaves collection, Touching Elegance. It ticks a lot of my boxes: sumptuous colours, defined silhouettes, 1920s/1930s styling and copious amounts of warm fibres. I was torn between Eleanor, Ella, Nancy, Mae, Nellie, Isadora, Patsy and Delores – I told you I was smitten – and have sort of hedged my bets a bit (more on that later when I figure out if I’m right in doing what I’m doing). The collection feels a lot more grown up than my usual thing, but I think the colour palette has a lot to do with that. As you can tell from the photo, I have chosen a less than sombre colour – Rowan Baby Alpaca in Cherry Red, kittens.

Also in the photo: fabric. It’s a long story but I have been roped into doing a public sewing demo next week. Don’t ask. I’ll be making an Amy Butler Barcelona skirt complete with lining and a hidden zipper. I’m petrified as I have not done any sewing for about two decades and all my sewing terminology is in Danish. Sewers everywhere, weep for your art and craft. On the plus side, I got to choose the fabric myself and I cunningly chose a design which matches my autumn knitting project. It’ll be fine but I will be poring over sewing instructions and blogs the next few days.

Also on the agenda the next few days: a Joseph Beuys exhibition (I’m not huge fan of Fluxus, but I also have to step outside of my comfort zone now and then) and DK:KNIT, an exhibition on experimental knitting design hosted by the Danish Cultural Institute in Edinburgh (this means I’ll be in Edinburgh on Monday, by the way. Give me a shout if you want to meet up for coffee).

Assorted linkage: Other Half loves this poster but I just cannot get beyond how Freudian it is. Or is it just me? Save the Words! is a beautiful application although most of the words are surely inkhorn terms. And this Icelandic jumper spotted at the Reykjavik Pride Parade is just about the best thing ever.

Becoming Less of a Magpie?

The Football World Cup has begun. I’d be happier if I could knit my way through every match, but my wrist is still bothering me. A colleague recommended arnica gel as a possible short-cut to future happiness knitting. I am not one for herbal remedies, really, but I get twitchy if I have nothing to occupy my hands.

During my “downtime” I have been doing a lot of thinking. Yet another fantastic Cargo Cult Craft blog post sent me thinking about the things I create and why I create them. This spring I made Millbrook, a lightweight cardigan, and it has turned out to be one of the pieces I reach for again and again. I want to knit things I will actually wear and I think I need to be far more discerning about what I chose to make. I think I have been a “magpie knitter” in the past – making things just because I thought they were really, really shiny rather than because I needed them.

I love knitting triangular lace shawls which I wear as scarves – but do I really need more than four or five? Instead, perhaps, I should look into knitting fine-gauge lace cardigans and pullovers, because a) I will wear them and b) they fit with the rest of my existing wardrobe. Fine-gauge lace cardigans and pullovers will provide the challenges I love in my knitting, and while they may take much longer, they will actually see some use rather than languish in a drawer somewhere. I’m thinking along the lines of Geno, Arisaig, Shirley .. but pattern suggestions are very welcome. My queue is long, unwieldy and does not contain many realistic knits. I am looking for winter-appropriate patterns as well as more summery knits.

Susannah at CCC makes a great point about realistic wardrobes. I find my wardrobe is very geared towards “vintage-inspired casual” but I struggle when it comes to dressing up. Recently a good friend became engaged and I had a moment of panic, because I have nothing I can wear to a wedding. Fortunately the wedding is some years away, so I have time to find a solution, but it was an eye-opener. I tried on this dress (I liked the silhouette), but I am struggling to see how a party dress fits into my lifestyle. Weddings come around every five years or so, not every five weeks. Susannah’s point about realistic wardrobes comes in handy here. If I did have a realistic approach to clothes-shopping and -making, I would have a little shift dress I could pull out whenever an occasion arose. I would have matching shoes and a little handmade cardigan.

Another thought-provoking blog post about clothes and bodies come courtesy of ProjectRunGay. I know, I know, but their fashion recaps of Mad Men has been hugely enjoyable – and I don’t even watch the show! This post about “Joan Holloway” (aka our Mrs Reynolds‘ Christina Hendricks) was a particular favourite of mine because I have a similar body shape and took a lot from how Mad Men‘s costume designers dressed Hendricks. I might be able to apply some of the logic to my own clothes. In a realistic way.

PS. I wholeheartedly recommend the Glasgow Boys exhibition currently on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. I think it will become a touring exhibition, so keep an eye out if you are in the UK. I was particularly taken by George Henry‘s Symbolist landscapes and Japanese watercolours as well as Arthur Melville‘s impressive watercolours.

The Glasgow Boys

Before I moved here, I had never heard of The Glasgow Boys, a late 19th century art movement in, yes, Glasgow. I suppose you might call them late Impressionists or even Post-Impressionists. They were inspired by the then Glasgow-based James McNeil Whistler (he of “Whistler’s Mother”-fame) but also by French realist art.

My favourite Glasgow Boy is undoubtedly E.A. Hornel whose collaboration with G. Henry, “The Druids Bringing In the Mistletoe”, you can see on the left (or at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum). It is such an strange, unsettling painting filled with arcane symbolism,  and up close you can see the layers of paint smeared upon the canvas. It is not a beautiful painting nor is it particular skilled in a strictly technical sense – but it stays with you. I actually prefer Hornel’s Japanese paintings where he becomes almost abstract when depicting kimonos and Japanese gardens, but “Druids” is arguably when he first sets off on his own path.

Later this year Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery will be showing a major exhibition on The Glasgow Boys (which will travel to London, I believe), but if you are interested in learning more about the Glasgow Boys, the late 19th century arts scene in Scotland, or simply want to know more about Scottish culture, I can recommend A.L. Kennedy’s radio programme (which also features Alasdair Gray). I am not sure if it will be available outside the UK although I remember listening to Radio 4 whilst in Denmark..

Yesterday I received a lovely email from a long-lost, but dearly-remembered Danish friend. Coupled with the sunshine and the promise of spring, I am almost cheerful today.


A few brief links:

  • Why not visit Pompeii from the comfort of your own home? The ruins of Pompeii are now available on Google Street View.
  • This is absolutely lovely: Flare, a wind-sensitive electronic dress. “As the wind gently caresses the dress or if you “blow” on the dandelions themselves, a pattern of lights will twinkle across the dress.”
  • I have fallen head over heels with at least three of the garments in Rowan 47. A preview is available from Rowan’s site (it is slow-loading, beware). My current favourite is the pink filly concoction in KidSilk Haze. I might knit in another colour, mind.
  • An illuminated snowflake. At some point I will get one of my scientist friends to show me how to make these.
  • A YouTube clip chronicling Franz Ferdinand’s use of Soviet interwar avant-garde graphic design/art. Ah, El Lissitzky. Be still my heart.
  • Starbucks will start selling  Flat Whites in the UK in the new year. I love Flat Whites and hope they’ll become available in Glasgow too. Yum. (thanks, Kimfobo)
  • This little clip makes me a little sad that I won’t be in Blighty for Christmas (thank heavens for iPlayer)
  • Finally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The first sleeve on David’s pullover is done! Let me do a small \o/ – and as my stepfather’s Christmas is done , I feel like I can cast on the delightful Yule Pig potholders in good faith that they’ll be done before Christmas. I might even throw in a Christmas tree or two, thanks to these spiffing Christmas socks.

Work As If You Live in the Early Days of a Better Nation

Alasdair Gray, SignedI do not know how many of you have read Alasdair Gray’s excellent dystopian novel, Lanark: a Life in Four Books? It takes place partly in Glasgow and partly in an imaginary Glasgow, known as Unthank. In Unthank the characters are forever chasing sunlight whilst seemingly dying of a symbolic disease known as ‘dragonhide’ (Yes, well, Lanark isn’t your average book). Right now I am feeling like I’m living in Unthank-Glasgow and not Glasgow-Glasgow because sunlight seems just out of reach and like something I vaguely remember from a dream.

I have a lot of time for Alasdair Gray. He is one of those novelists I am never sure whether people will like or not. I tend to recommend Poor Things as the gateway to Gray’s oeuvre: it reads like a postmodern feminist Frankenstein; it is exuberant and giddy; and it is wildly entertaining.  Unlikely Stories, Mostly is a rare beast: a short story collection which feels like a cohesive book and which is also a compulsive read. The stories ranges from short childhood snippets to the fantastic typographic fantasy of “Sir Thomas’ Logopandocy” about Sir Thomas Urquhart (it remains my favourite piece by Gray).  Lanark tends to divide people – my boyfriend still cannot believe that I like a book that nasty and unpleasant, but then again he has not read Gray’s 1982, Janine which is Gray’s tour-de-force in sheer unpleasantness and utter despair (and I really like that one too).

I once spent a lot of time looking at how Alasdair Gray imagines the Book as an object. 1982, Janine is not only a typographical wonder (at one point the protagonist attempts suicide which is portrayed in visual poetry) but its hardcover is beautifully decorated by Gray himself. I always try to get hold of Gray’s books in hardcover whenever I can because underneath the dust jackets, you get elaborate beautiful books. Gray also writes his own blurbs, controls the typesetting and draws his own illustrations. The Book of Prefaces is as close as Gray has come to a postmodern Gesamtkunstwerk. The book is beautiful, of course, but Gray adds an extra layer by writing prefaces to the selected prefaces and writing prefaces to those prefaces. It is all rather dazzling.

And as fate would have it, I have ended up in Glasgow. Alasdair Gray lives just a few streets down from me (I may have said “Good afternoon, sir” once or twice), my local pub features his artwork and my boyfriend has drawn him at art class. Strange how these things work out.

Read more about dear Ally Gray and his artwork or his writing and remember that Poor Things is the best place to start. Meanwhile I shall continue to chase sunlight.