Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Lior and Ori

Lior was turning 17. His Dad told me that he loves his electric bike and horses, and asked me to include his iPhone, a bowl of noodles and some sushi on his birthday card as well. I modelled the horse on this one, a longtime favourite project of mine. The Hebrew greeting on the card says "Happy Birthday Lior" and it opens in the Hebrew direction, from the right, because the Hebrew language is read from right to left instead of left to right like English.
20-year-old Ori, below, is into the CrossFit fitness programme, so Mum asked me to show him lifting weights on his birthday card. He has also just got a new military rank in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) so, despite the fact that I have shown him in black sportswear and not in his olive green army uniform, I made sure to add those special stripes in the background. Mum was also keen for me to include Ori's army symbol on the card. It is similar to the Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health, though I have absolutely no idea what it has to do with Ori or the Israel Defence Forces!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ai Weiwei

If I was to be honest, the primary reason for my recent visit to the Israel Museum was to see the Dan Reisinger exhibition, though the exhibition "Maybe, Maybe Not" by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, which was the big crowd-puller this summer, made my visit even more interesting.
On display for the first time in Israel, Ai's artworks included sculpture, photography, video, and his large-scale installation, "Sunflower Seeds", above. This covered the entire floor of one of the upper galleries of the museum with 23 tons of sunflower seeds, each one sculpted from porcelain and painted by hand in the city of Jingdezhen, in northeastern Jiangxi province. The town once made porcelain for the imperial court and has been saved from bankruptcy by making sunflower seeds!
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is an artist and an activist, and has also been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. His father, Ai Qing, a poet and prominent intellectual, was exiled to a labour camp when Ai was one year old, and the family was only allowed back to Beijing in 1976. He began his career on the burgeoning contemporary art scene of Beijing, but took the first opportunity to leave China for the United States in 1981. He returned in 1993 to care for his ailing father and became involved with the early Chinese avant-garde, organizing exhibitions and publishing underground books. In 2006 he started blogging, becoming a popular and unfiltered voice on political, aesthetic and societal concerns. He was detained in 2011 for 81 days without trial and had his passport confiscated for four years. He is now based in Berlin but is a hugely influential figure in China and is one of the leading Chinese artists.
Ai's works are typically massive in scale, often requiring the assistance of dozens and sometimes even hundreds of highly skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. They are politically edgy and address subjects such as labour and working conditions, the eradication of tradition in the name of development, censorship, migration and displacement, and Chinese history - recent and distant.
His "Trees" (2010), above, comprised of dead roots, trunks and branches the artist gathered in the mountains of southern China, reference the ancient tradition of collecting dry wood in appreciation of its form. The work combines different species to create a semblance of a tree, and the pretence is only apparent upon closer inspection. This exhibition, which was spread out over a number of galleries, also included examples of Ai’s signature wallpaper, the design below depicting the plight of refugees while mixing in classical images, giving it the look of a frieze from ancient Greece. 
His "Soft Ground" installation, above, has particular resonance for Israel. The 250-square-metre hand-woven carpet carefully replicates the floor of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, where the Nazis once displayed art they deemed worthy. The carpet, which was created in a weaving mill in Hebei province, took a day to bring into the museum and takes up nearly the entire floor of one gallery, with visitors allowed to walk on it barefoot.
"Dropping a Han dynasty urn" (2016) comprises three mosaic images made of Lego bricks that document an art performance carried out by Ai Weiwei in 1995. As material for his art, Ai Weiwei draws upon the society and politics of contemporary China as well as cultural artefacts such as ancient Neolithic vases and traditional Chinese furniture, whose function and perceived value he challenges and subverts.
In the wonderful sculpture "Kippe" (2006), below, he stacks pieces of dismantled Qing dynasty temple wood into a neat rectangular pile like firewood, suggesting a throw-away response to a long and valuable history.
From afar, this decorative wallpaper, above, seems to belong in a palace rather than a museum. Only from close up we can see that the gilt ornaments are made up of surveillance cameras, chains, handcuffs and more. Ever since the Chinese government installed a battery of surveillance cameras around Ai Weiwei's home, these items have become a recurring motif in his work. The wallpaper, which covers and thus conceals the wall, is a cynical allusion to the way tyrannical powers cover up their repressive acts and spy on their citizens.
His "Bicycle Basket with Flowers" (2014), below, refers to his time under house arrest. Ai Weiwei was prohibited from talking to the press, so he protested his incarceration silently by setting out a bicycle in front of his compound and placing fresh flowers in its basket every day. For the sculpture, the basket has been replicated in porcelain and filled with porcelain blossoms. These were made in Jingdezhen, a centuries-old town in China famous for its porcelain manufacturing and where Ai also had his "Sunflower Seeds" made.
For Ai, sunflower seeds - a common street snack shared by friends - carry personal associations with Mao Zedong’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966–76). While individuals were stripped of personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Yet Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, providing a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness during a time of extreme poverty, repression and uncertainty. "Sunflower Seeds" expresses Ai Weiwei’s responsibility as an artist, "Seeds grow...The crowd will have its way, eventually."
The exhibition "Maybe, Maybe Not", also premiered Ai Weiwei's new "Iron Tree" (2016), above, which is situated among the olive trees that line the Israel Museum’s promenade. The trees, which are over 8 metres tall and weigh 14 tonnes, are cast from nearly 100 fragments of trunks, branches and roots gathered in southern china and sold in the markets of Jingdezhen. Held together by nuts and bolts, the sculptures look at first glance like natural trees but a closer look reveals the illusion. By leaving them outdoors, the iron trees rust and become covered in a patina that endows them with the texture of natural trees. This allows them to blend with the Jerusalem vegetation - mainly olive trees and rosemary bushes - that surround them. Consequently, the trees-turned-sculptures complete the cyclical journey from the natural to the artificial and back to nature again.

* This post has been shared on Pictorial Tuesday, Our World TuesdayWordless Wednesday (on Tuesday), Wednesday around the WorldSeasons{wow me} wednesdayWow Us WednesdaysWednesday Blog HopThe Happy Now and City Tripping.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Golden Wedding

My customer was travelling to the UK to surprise her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. She asked me to make two cards which she could take with her: one from her and her husband, and one from my customer's children, their grandchildren. The first card was based on the beautiful black and white photo she sent me of her parents on their wedding day. I added a gold number 50 to mark the date.
Next, she wanted a card showing her parents today. She told me that they enjoy doing crosswords and that they drink a lot of tea! I showed the couple with a hot mug of tea in their hands, which together display the number 50. A crossword next to them is filled with the words Happy Anniversary.
Apparently they loved the cards.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

She Loves the City of Tel Aviv

Not that long ago this lovely lady ordered cards for her mum and for a good friend. It was therefore a nice surprise when her husband called me to tell me that it was his wife's birthday and that, since she is such a fan of my designs, he wanted to order a card for her big day as well! She likes fashion and shoes, he said, and she loves the city of Tel Aviv and her job at Joy Tunes there.
The birthday girl was thrilled with her card. She posted it on Facebook and captioned it "The best birthday card ever... especially love how I look 10 years younger!"
My parents-in-law recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, the diamond anniversary. We marked their special day with them back in August, making a quick visit to the UK en route to Barcelona. (Gosh, it sounds like we are world travellers - we're really not!). I made this card for them for their big day. The "60 Years" is silver (a diamond anniversary card needed some sparkle!) and I added two champagne glasses, hearts and flowers.
I hope they liked their card. However, I am sure that the one they received from The Queen was far more exciting! A friend reminded me that cards are sent on behalf of The Queen to people celebrating significant milestones. The diamond wedding anniversary is one of them. Armed with all the information I needed about my in-laws wedding day, it was relatively easy to arrange it online and I am told that they were delighted to receive it! The congratulatory messages consist of a card containing a personalised message and comes in a special envelope.
Whilst my in-laws were celebrating 60 years of married life, another couple were marking 25 years. A customer asked me to create a silver wedding card for them. I cut out a large silver number 25 and placed it on a scalloped circle, then decorated the card with flowers, a tiny heart and a silver bow.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Father's Day Down Under

This past week my family and I celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe"), the most solemn days of the Jewish year, which conclude with the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I would like to wish all my Jewish customers and friends a very happy and peaceful holiday period, and, in the words of the traditional blessing, "May You Be Written and Sealed for a Good Year."
Quite some months ago a very organised customer asked me to create a card for her Dad for Father's Day in Australia. Dad is a pharmacist, his daughter told me, he loves doughnuts, and he is obsessed (her words) with family history and their family tree. My customer sent me a few photos of Dad and also of the box of 6 doughnuts he always buys. She was very particular that the doughnuts I crafted were iced in brown, pink and yellow. I followed her instructions carefully...
I showed Dad wearing a white dress shirt and added his rectangular shaped glasses. Together we decided to show him holding a mortar and pestle, to illustrate his profession, and to add his initials to the mortar. I also included some little bottles of pills. He has a yellow iced doughnut in his other hand. In addition, I added a small family tree with the family's surname on it, to show Dad's interest in genealogy.
I think I got everything on there!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Aiguabella - a Taste of the Catalan Countryside

After 5 busy days in Barcelona it was time to take it down a notch and move somewhere quieter. It has to be said that there was still plenty for me to see and do in Barcelona, but the men in my family were growing a little tired of Gaudi and Modernista architecture. Is that possible?
We drove north to the Garrotxa county, an area known for the Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa, a huge natural park with many extinct volcanic cones. We had booked an apartment in Aiguabella, a beautiful manor house dating from the 13th century, set in the charming village of Sant Feliu de Pallerols. Aiguabella was built by local noblemen and each apartment is named after the house's 13th and 14th-century inhabitants. Our apartment was simply spectacular and we loved every minute of our stay there. The pictures above and below show the view we had from the apartment's windows, and look at the village itself. Just look at it!
The 8 nights we stayed in Aiguabella were meant to be for relaxing, swimming and generally unwinding, but honestly I am not very good at that! I relax when I am visiting unfamiliar and beautiful places. Each day we set out for somewhere new. We visited nearby Olot, the capital of the Garrotxa county, known for its natural landscape including four volcanoes scattered around the city centre. We climbed the steps up the Montsacopa volcano, which has a circular crater produced by an explosive strombolic eruption some 100,000 years ago. From the top we enjoyed the 360º panoramic views of Olot. The volcano also has a chapel on its top, built in 1817 and dedicated to Saint Francis, and two watchtowers surrounding the crater. Later that same day we walked around the medieval town of Santa Pau, built around a castle, with lovely views of the surrounding valleys.
Another day - the boys' absolute favourite day of the holiday - we drove to Ribes de Freser and took the rack railway up to La Vall de Núria in the Pyrenees. The railway climbs 12.5km over an incline of more than 1,000 metres through wild mountain scenery, and is the only way to access Núria's Valley. Stepping off the train, we were greeted with the most incredible views - and a sudden and unexpected heavy fall of rain and hail, which fortunately stopped just 10 minutes later! La Vall de Núria sits 3000 metres above sea level in a perfect little valley hidden from view, until the last moment, by the the mountains which completely surround it. In the centre of the valley is a hotel and exhibition centre, a picnic area, a lake and a small farm with animals. We soon left all this behind and set off on one of ten marked trails that climb above the valley. The words spectacular, stunning, awesome, breathtaking, beautiful and jaw-dropping spring to mind.
I knew that the Call Jueu or Jewish quarter and medieval centre of Girona was a must-see, so I booked a guided tour with Miquel at Girona Trips for our visit to the city. Girona was once home to a large Jewish community. Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi (better known as Nachmanides or Ramban) headed one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe here, but in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Girona and Spain as a whole. Girona also happens to be the place where some scenes from the 6th season of Game of Thrones were filmed, and the men in my family are big Game of Thrones fans.
We met Miquel in front of the Basilica of Sant Feliu and were soon exploring the old town. We saw the Girona Cathedral, the old synagogues, the Aljama and the Jewish quarter, the archaeological gardens and old city walls, and more. We also discussed quite a bit of football! Afterwards I visited the Museum of Jewish History, a museum which allowed me a glimpse into Jewish life, both in Girona and in Spain. The tour was a great success.
We had been told that the Costa Brava is rugged and beautiful so set off for Tossa de Mar on the southerly part of the coast, to see it for ourselves. The craggy rocks with the teal-coloured Mediterranean glimmering below were indeed gorgeous, but the beaches were absolutely packed with tourists and the English menus in the restaurants were not our thing! We quickly made our escape to the next beach up the coast. Maybe one day in the future we will travel further north and enjoy the unspoilt stretches of coast up there.
Modest, the friendly owner of Aiguabella, suggested a drive into the hills to enjoy the incredible views of the Garrotxa region from La Salut Catholic Sanctuary, located at the height of 1,028 metres, and the Sanctuary at El Far, positioned on top of some spectacular cliffs and overlooking the Montdois Plain and the Susqueda reservoir.
And then it was our last full day. I can't say that I am the biggest Salvador Dalí fan, but I wanted to experience the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, his birthplace, for myself. The Dalí Museum is officially called the Dalí Theatre-Museum because it is a renovation and expansion of the town's old theatre which Dalí knew as a child, and which was almost destroyed by a fire during the Spanish Civil War. It holds the largest collection of major works by Dalí in a single location. In addition, a small selection of works by other artists collected by Dalí is housed there, and the second floor is dedicated to the work of his friend Antoni Pitxot, who became the director of the Dalí Museum after Dalí died. Mister Handmade in Israel and the boys even opted to join me on this visit and we spent a good couple of hours at the museum. I’m glad we saw it. There is little doubt that Dali was a very unique and thought-provoking creator. But am I now a fan of Dalí's work? Erm, no.
Our final stop, before it was time to pack our bags, was Besalú, a picturesque medieval town dating back to the 11th century. Famous for its impressive Romanesque bridge which, unusually, is not straight but follows more of an 'L' shape to take advantage of rock in the riverbed, Besalú is also well known for its mikveh, a ritual Jewish bath dating from the eleventh or twelfth century and thought to be one of only three left in Europe from that period. The mikveh anchors the remnants of the old Jewish quarter, as well as the remains of a medieval synagogue, located in the lower town near the river. The Jewish population of Besalú thrived until 1415, when the authorities sealed the Jewish quarter, according to a plaque at the site. Within 20 years no Jews remained in Besalú and, by the end of the century, the Spanish Inquisition was going strong and Jews and other "nonbelievers" were forcibly driven out of Catholic Spain.
The narrow cobblestone streets, restored medieval stone houses and small squares of Besalú were a treat. It was a great way to end our exploration of Catalonia. We loved La Garrotxa, the ever so slightly cooler weather, the chance to relax in a charming manor house, and also to delight in one or two good meals out (dinner at Casa de Curry was yum!). Yet again, though there is so much of the world I would like to see, I hope we'll be back someday.
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