This was another of the empty rooms at No 351, the grand, sprawling house in which I locked myself for an overnight vigil in late July, 2016. I recall I was getting pretty tired by now, subsisting on packets of almonds, and the sudden surges of nervous energy bequeathed me by every unexpected noise, every ruffle of startled pigeon feathers, every creak of the building’s timbers. Still, I was quick-witted enough to go on capturing the various glowing manifestations that followed me about No 351’s chambers – including these three, standing by the hearth as if in conference, their backs to the memory of the fire.
The Kick-About always casts its net very wide. Our last haul, inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms In Nature, landed a shimmering catch of creativity. Our nets don’t always require knots, but this week’s edition of the Kick-About is all about the nip!
“Here I have a painting called ‘Unravel’. Not a knot supposed to hold or anchor, then it will not work, having lost the nip. But I see it as a knot of the heart, which is finally finding a way to disentangle and on its way to separate and free the separate bits and pieces.” Inks on paper 76 X 57 cm.
“I was walking through a park near where we live in Berlin recently and I noticed that all the leaves of the hops and traveller’s joy had been stripped away, leaving a seething mass of twisted and knotted stems. Aha, I thought – the kick about! The writhing stems had all grown around each other, squirming over the shrubs and fences, they were rather lovely, wet and glistening after rain, and retaining a surprising amount of colour. I’ve drawn a study of the stems, with some dried, curled up dead leaves trapped in the nets.”
“‘Tying the knot’ brings up images of 1950’s bride magazines, bended knee, white net, sparkly bits… So that’s where I went, fossicking around in my studio, finding what I could to knit an image or two together. The nip, I think, could be the commitment made? This is the traditional engagement stage – maybe pressure exerted to get there, or even to stay there? It all hangs on this in order to get to stage two. Perhaps that’s the true tie, but I like the unpredictability of the promise, sealed with a reflecting star on a finge, .a doorway to respectability. Definitely (thank goodness) part of a time warp, not entirely obsolete, but so many other ways to get that ‘nip’.”
“It’s been a long time since I did any macrame, but I love to embroider, entranced by everything about it–the floss itself, the color and texture, the rhythmic and repetitive motions that are so like meditation, the gradual revelation of something new. I’ve done a lot of embroidery on paper, but I couldn’t remember ever trying French Knots, also called Seed Stitch. My mandala papers are fairly sturdy, so I painted one, inspired by Monet, and searched through my embroidery floss boxes for similar colors. Besides their practical and decorative uses, knots can symbolize many things, from the vows of marriage, to a puzzle to be solved. They are connected to threads of all kinds, and thus the interweavings that form and support all of life. The French Knot is a simple stitch–wind the floss 3 times around the needle and reinsert it into the hole made by bringing the thread to the surface–but like many simple things, it’s easy to become tangled up if you aren’t paying attention. Something that applies to all creative endeavors involving fibers. I’ve used the Badger’s Hexastitch form for my poem.”
the needle and
spirit passes into
matter returning to
the center of
the floss around
the needle—one two three–
casting strands into knots
to connect what
lies hidden below the
coiled surface—roots binding
up and down to
“I have a feeling I’ve not quite tightened the knot properly, and things have just quietly slipped away, making me no worthy seaman, but it’s a nice sunny day for having the boats off their mooring! Perhaps it suggests the up-coming summer-staycation on the North Kent coastline.” Oil on prepared paper 40cm x 50cm
“I had many options with this Kick-About, as Ireland’s heritage is teaming with Celtic knot and rope references in art jewellery and clothes. I decided to do a mash-up of different perspectives, one inspired by the picturesque Aran islands off Galway Bay, specifically the Aran sweater, knitted for the fishermen. The jumpers are made from the wool of the sheep that populate the fields in the islands, and retain their natural oils, meaning they are water repellent – ideal for Irish weather! Because the sweater is water repellent, the fishermen wouldn’t feel the chill from getting wet while out fishing. The stitches in an Aran sweater are used to signify different important factors, such as the diamond stitch representing the fields in the Aran Islands and which bestows health and success, while the cable stitch represents the fisherman’s ropes, and promise safety and good luck while out fishing. The combination of different stitches are divided into different clans for each family name of kinship in Ireland. Around the borders of my designs is the diamond stitch central to the specific Daly clan Aran sweater. The overall theme of these designs seeks to reflect Ancient Celtic artwork, including the triple spiral; the Irish believe everything happens in 3’s and can symbolise the mental, physical and spiritual self or birth, death and rebirth.”
“I found the highly descriptive quote of tying a knot a little queasy and unnerving and I could feel it somehow more than I should have. It brought me to the idea of the knots and ropes imagined as gory body-horror, but retaining the intricacy and functionality of their original purpose. Quite how I made that leap I am not so sure, but it was certainly enjoyable making these as if I were some sort of mad artisan butcher.”
“I guess, when seeing the rather charming front cover to one of the versions on the book of an old salty sea dog blissfully tying a knot, I couldn’t help but think in a nautical direction. Then, as a page of loosely tied knots started to emerge, so did pirates. Ropes and knots seemed symbolic in some way for how I draw and fill endless sketchbooks. Some loose ends, some ideas connected firmly, some pulling away into the meaningless unexplored abyss. I think to pursue the head honcho with his hands tied up would be the next step here, which I may well do.”
“I can remember my dad showing me how to tie a Sheepshank knot and a Round turn with two half hitches. I think I did manage to master them at the time but I’m knot so sure now! (Ouch). Anyway I have decided to stick to what I know best i.e: the knots used in embroidery and crochet. The rectangular brooch was made using an old buckle as a frame, the oval pendant a piece of shaped wire, while the coaster began life as a large circular earring. All of these objects have various threads, wool and fabric knotted and looped on top. The bright pink wire was made in the manner of french knitting then flattened and sewn onto the design. My other piece of work is an embroidered knot garden worked many years ago and getting a bit faded now, but I thought it was appropriate.”
“The tree won me over again this week, and this tree in particular, as it reminded me of Mexico. I saw it from a very cranky bus travelling around an enormous canyon that seemed to be creating its own knots by winding round and round and up and up. I was astonished to see trees perpendicular to the rock face. The painting is just a memory and it reminds me of Chinese paintings of those trees on top of misty mountains that the Chinese love. I wanted to express the heat and dust of the Mexican canyons, rather than the cool misty hill tops of China. I think I have a way to go the grasp that sense. The other couple of drawings are of repeating patterns that knots can make, as in this netting. So graceful when they are hung out, so lethal in their use.”
“The idea for this short story came quickly. Making it work on the page took much longer! In large part, I was responding to the idea of ‘the nip’, the idea of friction, abrasion and tensions tying people together in impossible knots – and the idea too that the security of a bond in certain circumstances might require a lot of nip.”
You can find a large-print PDF here
“Knots – the topic had me all bound up – what will the world be like in the future – knots leave traces about the nip mark and there will be plenty of those to be revealed in the coming months. I began with a sketch of a garden knot as a starting point then did a couple of James knots – I feel like I need unknotting here in Sydney – can’t begin to imagine what you must feel like in the UK!”
Many thanks to our regular Japan-based Kick-Abouter, Tom Beg, for our new prompt for the Kick-About 21, which casts us off in a completely new direction: the very mechanics of forming ideas and making them understandable by others no less! See you all on the other side.
A final set of stills from the animation, Ink (2021) aka Variations on a theme of a Petri dish!
A third set of panoramic stills from my short stop-motion film, Ink (2021), which, unlikely as it now looks, captured the interactions between black marker pen and rubbing alcohol on the surface of a 20cm x 20cm white ceramic tile. A number of the images in this collection remind me very strongly of the sublime horror of the footage of nuclear bomb tests.
A second set of stills from Ink (2021), evoking expansive skyscapes and vast coastal land masses.
Inspired, as ever, by all those dubious photographs of ectoplasmic excretions, I locked myself away in the empty salon of the old French house, and waited for the spirits to show themselves…
For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.
It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art Forms’ through time-lapse photography.
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile, frame-by-frame.
With Ernst Haeckel’s beautiful and often bizarre zoological illustrations as my prompt, it was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria (I suspect the global pandemic might have something to do with it too!) and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned.
What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark.
The many individual photographs comprising the film were originally in colour, but I ultimately took the decision to produce the finished film in black and white. It was one of those instances when the sum of the film won out over its parts, with the music and the vintage flicker of the images crying out for monochrome. I’ve included the colour alternate version here for your curiosity.
Following the simple, unadorned charms of our previous still-life inspired Kick-About, in which we were encouraged to turn our creative attentions to objects rather ordinary and domestic, this week’s edition is a good deal more fanciful. With Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature as our collective stomping ground, we’ve generated between us a veritable coral reef of different ideas, processes and creativity.
“Haeckel’s images have that other worldly alienness of the microscopic, to me, they tread a line between the interspatial and the outer spatial. With this image I started “riffing” in Maya with repeated forms, influenced a little by Hebrew descriptions of the Ophanim. With a bit of “evolution” a tiny bit of “Interstellar” and a smidge of “Event Horizon” I ended up here.”
“As regular Kick-Abouters are probably aware, I’ve been playing around with freeform crochet off-and-on throughout these last few months. First I tried faces, then a whole new world, and then the use of crochet to visualise forms from different environments. I had also started to play about with mathematical forms, and I came across the work of Christine and Margaret Wertheim. (Check it out. It is mind-blowing!. I had to have a go. The Kickabout 19 gave me the perfect opportunity to put some of these ideas together. If Ernst Haeckel reveals art forms in nature, what better example than the myriad forms and colours of a coral reef? I just loved this Kick-About. Great fun!”
“Ernst had me take a few snaps of garden toot – nigella, poppy and rocket (or is it arugula over there?) seed heads and some other scraps in a vase on a rainy day. Low light and not much in focus but I think moody.“
“And one little gauche pic – no husband, it is not a pumpkin!”
“I imagine these images (created by mashing together a bunch of images and outputting them through different software) as explosions, atoms, cells, planets or even galaxies seen in their most embryonic stage, viewed through some impossibly powerful microscope.”
“I’ve admired Haeckel’s work for years but had never really researched the man. A surprise was in store… which made me see it in a very different light. He was a eugenicist/scientific racist believing in both the superiority of German culture/ race and monism (represented as a circle with a central dot). This guided my response. I decided to find beauty in the…so called…imperfect, which, to me, has always been a more interesting area to explore: dusty dead insects picked up in my studio, broken / found objects, scratched and stained surfaces, ageing skin… all this evidence of life long lived… so many layers of history.”
Charcoal on Fabriano. 30” X 22” / Crayon on Fabriano. 19” X 19”
“I’ve been a fan of Haeckel’s work for many years. In the mid-1990s I used to work in Covent Garden, in London, and there was a wonderful shop selling books of source material for artists and designers. There would usually be a volume of Haeckel’s images in the window, with a cover illustration of strange and otherworldly creatures.
Haeckel’s prints are an absolute marvel. They record every, tiny detail of each subject with such laser-sharp intensity, an intensity that gives the images a uniquely mysterious and odd quality. In fact, many of the images are quite nightmarish to my mind. What may be harmless sea creatures often seem to have spikes, tendrils and/or tentacles. There are creatures here that remind me of The Thing, when it gets the dog in the kennels...
At the moment there is a jam-jar of twigs and berries on my desk, gathered on a winter walk in the woods just south west of Berlin, not far from where Haeckel was born, it turns out. So, I’ve photographed them for the kick about this week and played about with the images a bit to try and draw out some strangeness. Nothing as remotely strange as a page of Haeckel drawings of plankton though!“
“As per usual I am torn between going down a textile or a painting route with the wonderful art of Ernst Haeckel. Oh, how I wish we had been given such fabulous ideas and examples for study back in the O level days! But hey, it’s never too late and the Kick-About and lockdown is a great opportunity to make another run at the tape, so to speak.
These last few weeks I have spent many hours trudging through soggy woods and finding lots of examples of lichen and leaves. Around my area, Oak and Beech are prevalent, as they don’t rot away easily. Consequently the woodland paths seem to shimmer and shine in the wet and make wonderful shapes and patterns underfoot, which I have tried to capture in acrylics. My other submission is using various stitches, beads and shells depicting an underwater scene I did a while back.”
“This was a curious Kick-About, as the subject matter was immediately attractive to me, mainly because the sense of patterning and natural forms has always attracted my attention. I saw this tower of watch parts in a workshop window in Bristol last week and it reminded me of the images of Ernst Haeckel.
However, in my own work it flows between 2 and 3 dimensions. The desire for me is not so much the patterns as the incongruity and movement in the growing process, and the cellular transparency of delicate organisms.
I started this piece some while ago and I have been trying to come to grips with it over this year. It is made from cardboard boxes cut into strips and reassembled to create a more transparent filigree effect. I do some, then leave it, and then this prompt made me come back to it. Thank you. It needs reviving!
I anticipate it will grow more towards the original drawing as the ‘Limbs’ will become more numerous. I want the piece to curve so that the viewer can stand within to look out on a different world. It’s going to take a while!“
“I was spoiled for choice with this Kick-About, with rural Ireland having a bountiful abundance of botany with textures, colours and shapes, all the flora and vegetation feeling like an endless pick’n’mix. I always find myself thinking about the intricate patterns and shapes as I snap away; mint green reindeer moss looking like bleached coral under a microscopic macro lens, and the swirling and meandering of ice a jigsaw of frozen motion. Twigs, branches and petals look like spores – after some manipulation. Suffice to say, I loved this kick-about and I loved learning about Ernst Haeckel and his gorgeous Illustrations. I could go on and on with creating designs like this and I have a hankering to do so!”
“It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art forms’ through time-lapse photography. It was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria, and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned. What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark…”
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile.
“Here’s my little offering for this week’s Kick-About: a plain and simple graphic study of some fascinating fungi I had in my photo archive of interesting stuff to draw one day. Not sure of their name, but this is no impediment to studying their forms and surfaces. The pattern in the backdrop is based on the folded, rippled surface on the stem. I think I’ve made them look monumental, when in reality they’re probably quite tiny. Great inking practice, my current obsession.”
“What fun this was! I looked in my collage box/reference book collection for nature images that I could combine to create new forms based on Haeckel’s paintings. This is a project that could go on and on…”
in reciprocity to
meet the world halfway
“‘The Story of the Development of a Youth’ consists of Haeckel’s letters home, whilst studying age 18-22 (1852-56). A really good read, brimming with exuberant enthusiasm, energy, and appetite for learning, each letter of enchanting spirit and feeling, humour, impulsiveness, apprehension, mood swing and a deep devotion to Christianity. Haeckel’s left-eye was fixed down the microscope, his right focused on the drawings so, I’ve tried capturing Haeckel’s spirit, framing it within the scope, and beyond it is representation of his melancholy and homesickness.” Oil on prepared paper 50cm x 50cm
Many thanks to Kick-Abouter, Jan Blake, for our next jumping off point – the following quotation from Cifford W Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots (1944):
“To prevent slipping, a knot depends on friction, and to provide friction there must be pressure of some sort. This pressure and the place within the knot where it occurs is called the nip. The security of a knot appears to depend solely on its nip.”
Looking forward to seeing where this one takes us – and if you’ve enjoyed this week’s kick-about and fancy a run around with the rest of us, get in touch and get involved.
Inevitably, given the monochromatic weather and newly-announced ‘lock-down 3’, I find myself preoccupied with memories of different sights and warmer climes.
Back in February, 2017, I visited Rome in the company of a crowd of students, alumni and staff, and during the course of our five day stay, walked the length and breadth of the city. The weather was amazing, the sights impressive, and the food delicious – with the exception of one group meal so haphazard and underwhelming, the experience of it still lives on in the collective imaginations of an entire cohort of students. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what the nutritional benefits may or may not have been of my daily morning cocktail of Berocca, Pro Plus and velvety double espressos, but they certainly ensured my camera and I remained very much alive to every sight and sound the Eternal City had to offer.