The Kick-About #30 ‘Fundus Photography’

The Kick-About No. 29 was inspired by Murakami’s description of the all-seeing moon, and this, our latest creative shindig together, has been prompted by an image of the human eye no less planetary…

Gary Thorne

“In eyeing things up, this KA drew my attention to the bees snuggling into, and reversing out of the foxgloves so, being nosey I had a peak, and discovered a tunnel of pure exotic joy with bright saturated light (optic disc) at the end of the tunnel. Taking a closer look meant later on recalling sensations, avoiding loyalty to the order of nature’s design, to arrive at – maybe the same for the bee (how presumptuous) – memory of that which came to me as a rush.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.

James Randall

“Dear Charly Skilling – thank you for your beautiful moon submission – enormous hugs to you and your beloved. Unfortunately I didn’t read it until after bouncing out of the kick-about gates – it would have changed my direction by 180 degrees.

The fundus spiralled me through cyclops thoughts – not wanting to approach the glaucoma too closely. I added some Royal Academy on-line life drawing, a Tasmanian beach and sky, some sea birds from Byron Bay then decided it was to be all about emotion rather than narrative and substituted the cyclops for the falling upside-down life model to get to my pic. During this process I gazed longingly at our washing machine as I removed another load and noticed the similarity between the fundus image and the inside of the machine and took a series of photos with my head and camera wedged there – the obvious ones made sense thematically but I only really like the attached blurry detail.

Phil Gomm

“I guess the first thing to establish is no actual eyes were harmed in the making of these images! I should say too, no actual eyes were photographed either. In common with these recent images, I looked to various commonplace things at my disposal and once again channelled my inner low-budget film-maker. I won’t reveal my secrets just yet, but suffice to say there is now a shortage of red food colouring and olive oil in our kitchen. I don’t think I will ever tire of the ‘in-camera’ transformations produced by light, specularity and depth-of-field, the magic that sometimes happens between the subject and the lens. I was inspired by images of cataracts and ‘damage’ to the eye (and I think, more gruesomely, by A Clockwork Orange too). This set of resulting images is but a small sample, as I did a bunch of different things over three different days. From these very biological-seeming images, things became more painterly and strange, so I’ll be sharing some more ‘fundus photography’ in the coming days. I’ve certainly been having some fun.’

Tom Beg

For these images I essentially constructed a mass of veins and vessels and trawled through dozens of randomly generated variations looking for the perfect image akin to how a photographer searches for the image of a perfect snowflake amongst hundreds of failures. I somehow managed to generate the aesthetic that I had in my mind after the first attempt, but beyond that lucky first hit I spent a considerable amount of time just staring at blurry orange images, only occasionally getting a glimpse of the things that had initially made me so excited. In a somewhat scientific manner, and after many experiments and further failures, I was able to come up with the formula and methodology that yielded more productive results. Thus was I finally able to reveal the secrets of ‘the eye‘.” /

Marion Raper

“I thought I would do a collage pattern of eye shapes, and began by sketching the outlines.   As I did this a fantastic SF story came into my mind entitled ‘Dark They Were, and Golden Wyed’ written by Ray Bradbury.  So I ended up with “Martian Eyes” which was fun to do. The background is a wax/wash and I used a combination of paper and material scraps.”

Phil Cooper

“The prompt this week sparked all kinds of thoughts, feelings and associations for me. I’m a visual artist, so the workings of the eye, and the connections between the eyes and the brain are pretty darn important, Artists have been exploring how we see things for a long time, not just how they record visual information, but how they can also play tricks, and see what is not there.

For example, before I get a migraine attack, I sometimes get visual disturbances, like veils of glowing zig-zag patterns that drift into my vision from the periphery of my sight until the cover everything. It was terrifying when it first happened, I thought I was having some sort of brain haemorrhage. And there are certain substances that can produce dramatic hallucinations that are totally convincing, but are created entirely by our minds, but the eye can see them.

I went to see an exhibition recently by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who has suffered visual hallucinations most of her life. Early on, she decided to include them in her art and they have become a signature of her work. Kusama has spoken about her wish to create work that conveys her desire to melt into everything, to dissolve and become one with the universe. Her mirrored rooms, or ‘infinity rooms’ as they’re called are particularly effective.

I’ve written a short story about a rather grumpy old man and his family who went to see the Kusama show. He’s a very imperfect man, but not all bad, like most of us, I suppose.” / /

Vanessa Clegg

“This was done in response to the rise in domestic abuse during lockdown. The eye tells all.”

Watercolour on vellum. 10cm X 8cm

Kerfe Roig

“This prompt was made for my watercolor mandalas. I did 4, and embroidered on 2 of them. I’ve included both the original and the embroidered ones.” /

Charly Skilling

Whenever I see one of these retinal photographs, it makes me think of alien skies.  Not that I know much about alien skies, except as depicted on the covers of sci-fi paperbacks or in Hollywood’s representations.  So I decided to create my own “alien sky” with sharpies and alcohol on ceramic tile. While I was playing, I got to thinking about ‘Ingenuity’, the little drone helicopter NASA is using to map the terrain of Mars.  Here are the results.”

Graeme Daly

“I just really wanted to do some digital drawing, I haven’t done much of it lately and I miss how relaxing it is to put some jazz music on, get in the flow and let the lines go where they may. Picturing different landscapes centred around the fundus photograph, a sprawling metropolis materialised, with vivacious characters and stories between them, feeling so close but far away.”

@graemedalyart / / / /

Jan Blake

“I know this orange orb from personal experience. It unnerves me and intrigues me at the same time. A tricky subject for me from a very early age.  I became a pirate at 4 with a constant patch over one eye that made my ‘lazy’ eye do a bit more work. Why am I lazy? I queried. Banned from games requiring throwing a ball. I saw two and had no idea which one to catch. At 8, I started putting lions in cages. I hate zoos. Terrified of balls coming towards me. Fascinated by cages and getting out of them. Set caged birds free.”

“Ah, the joy of that tiny piece of plastic. The contact lens! Free at last to see clearly, use make-up, change hair styles, join the world. My eyes did not agree and rebelled years later, after I had often rammed them back in my eyes with grit and detritus just licked off, as there was nowhere to rinse them up mountains in deserts. The dreaded Orange orb showed a bump that was dangerously close to detaching the retina of my right eye. The bump caused a sentence to dip in the middle on the screen or whilst reading a book. Back to wearing glasses despite trials with soft lenses and many a red eye, and now spiders appearing across my eyes! Back in my cage.”

“So why this lengthy preamble? It could have been much worse. I am obsessed with fencing and seeing through. The lion is sleeping, He has left the cage. The cage has transformed naturally.”

Watching dancers and working for 25 years to understand the body in movement through the Feldenkrais method (Awareness through movement), I understand and feel the natural combination of the spiral of movement from the eye to the feet. It reminds me of twisted fencing that often crops up in my work and connects me to the natural world to which we all belong.”

Emily Clarkson

“Having googled what fundus photography actually was, I realised I was vaguely familiar, as a long-time glasses wearer. Needless to say I was drawn to visually representing my experiences. My most prevalent memory (since I was about 5 years old) is of the ‘balloon machine.’ A standard test in most eye examinations: the grainy image of a distant hot air balloon against a blue sky, blurring and refocusing, is a distinct childhood memory. Plus, the unique set of noises the machine would emit as it altered the focus. It sounded a lot like an antiquated printer. Going beyond the physical tests I’m fairly familiar with, I looked into more metaphorical representations. Fundus photographs show networks of blood vessels. Leading me to networks of nerves, images being processed and the like. So I envisioned snap shots transitioning from one to the next with the blink of an eye!” / /

With thanks to regular Kick-Abouter, Graeme Daly, we have our brand new prompt, the work, life and times of German animation pioneer, Lotte Reiniger.

The Kick-About #28 ‘Prospect Cottage’

Our last Kick-About prompt was a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, an artist whose work is characterised by emptied vistas and other-worldly spaces. Inspired by Howard Sooley’s short film, this week’s showcase of new work is inspired by another improbable landscape – the beach at Dungeness and Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage and garden.

Judy Watson

“I loved Howard Sooley’s film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about. This little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape.” / /

Phil Cooper

“I met Derek Jarman in about 1991 when we were both involved in a direct action group called Outrage that was campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people. He was every bit as wonderful and brilliant as you’d imagine. He was just great to be around and has remained one of my great heroes and inspirations ever since.

I came across this film by Howard Sooley a couple of years ago and I thought it would make a interesting prompt for the Kick-About, as it includes such a wide variety of potential jumping off points, as well as just being beautiful to watch. The prompt has given me a good excuse to re-read Modern Nature over the past few days, my favourite of Derek Jarman’s books. The writing includes passages about so many things; his film work, painting, sex life, reminiscences about his childhood, politics, friends, but the garden he was creating at Prospect Cottage twines around everything and binds it together. The book always keeps coming back to the garden. It’s a telling indication of his character that, after being diagnosed with, what was then, a terminal illness, he responded by moving to a wild scrap of land next to a nuclear power station and started to create a garden.

I’ve used a passage from another of his books, At Your Own Risk, to make this little film for the Kick-About. I find the words very moving and full of humanity and also capture something of his essence. His was a life well-lived and he left so much to us after he’d gone.” / /

Francesca Maxwell

“For this prompt I have some photos of things I collected while travelling and objects given by friends and family. I gather them in corners or containers around the house. They are snapshots of memories surrounding us and making our home.”

Tom Beg

“Unfortunately, because of living out in the urban sprawl in distant lands far from home, wonderfully empty and bleak places like Dungeness are something of a distant memory. These days, the mention of Dungeness conjures up images of post-apocalyptic landscapes dotted with historical relics, and the windswept houses of but a few lone survivors, but my younger self would have perhaps rolled his eyes at idea of yet another school trip or BTEC National Diploma outing to good old Dungeness to wander around on a quiet beach for two hours without any ice-cream or fish and chips, and no way to escape until herded back onto the chartered coach.

Nowadays, I feel like it would probably be very entertaining to be sat on a beach, look out to the horizon, and not really see anything or anyone, and just watch the time pass. So here is a little graphical ode to doing nothing, from the view of my own cottage on a shingle beach somewhere.” /

Graeme Daly

“When viewing Howard Sooley’s Prospect Cottage, I was instantly drawn to the opening images of the lighthouse and the water, the way those clips moved – like pixilation animation. I wanted to create a moving story using older methods revolving around the landscape of Dungeness and all its quirky unique characteristics, I also just really wanted to make something with my hands. I have fashioned a shadow puppet theatre out of old cardboard, a large picture-less frame and some grease proof paper so that I can bring to life cuttings of the characters and all the little things that make Dungeness so intriguing. While I don’t have the film to show just yet, I do have the storyboard.”  

@graemedalyart / / / /

Charly Skilling

“When I saw these images of  Derek Jarman’s garden, I was struck by two  quite separate, powerful memories.

The first was of some photographic images by Jan Groszer that I saw in an exhibition a few years back.  Jan  had captured images of the “industrial heritage” of the Kent coast (i.e. the large chunks of metal and machinery left behind when industry moved on.).  Those images conveyed a sense of solitary resilience, a determination to “be” whether men had need of them or not, a life which continued with or without human intervention. That same “resilience” is evident in the planting and “furniture” of the garden at Prospect Cottage.

The second memory was of my childhood.  Every year, there was an Arts Festival in the town, and my mother insisted all of us kids (there were 5 of us) participated in everything: – we drew pictures, wrote stories, recited verse, did bible-readings, sang songs, and  played piano – with varying degrees of skill and success.  All  part of  the cultural upbringing of middle-class children in the Home Counties during the  1950’s. However, one category I loved was the “Miniature Gardens” competition.  I still don’t really understand how it fitted in with the rest, but it was a favourite.  I would use a little wooden seed tray, line it with newspaper, then fill it with dirt from the garden, or sand.  Then a small mirror to create a pond; moss (for grass);  a few of mother’s rather scrawny cacti, or some miniature plants from the garden (sedums, saxifrages, thyme, I think, though  I had no idea what they were then)  and – Voila! A miniature garden. Of course, if I could get my hands on an Airfix model hut or shed from one of the boys’ model railways (with or without their knowledge), my miniature garden would reach even greater levels of sophistication.  The odd drop of water to try and keep everything alive – or at least looking that way  – and then, a few days later, after ‘Adjudication’, it would all be dismantled, and anything that could be salvaged was returned to its pot or flowerbed (or model railway).

These are the memories that come flooding back when I look at Prospect Cottage and its garden. There is a randomness in the arrangements, the shingle and plant varieties are so in proportion to each other, they could be scaled up or down easily.  And the house itself – well, it really does look quite a lot like an Airfix model.

So here is my miniature ‘Dungeness Garden’. It does not have a model hut, but it does have a bit of “industrial heritage” . It will not be dismantled in a few days, but it may not be completely sustainable in its present form.  Think of it as a work in progress – as all gardens are.”

Vanessa Clegg

“Thinking of Derek Jarman’s film, ‘The Garden’ and the way he experimented with his medium… so, a small reference to this in the use of the lens from from my old Pentax, using it to tint a shot of my allotment as well as being inspired by his use of black and notebooks… all in the mix.” Notebook with Angelica and Lavender seeds.

Gary Thorne

“I rather wish I’d been passing by at Prospect Cottage in ’91, when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had enthroned Jarman and were acting out his Canonization, as a single sea shell collected would have found itself now enshrined. With some guilt I confess having a few cherished shells from around the world, and yes it feels wrong. Thankfully, times have changed, as countries forbid removal of all that is natural, so here’s a tribute to days gone by.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.

Jan Blake

“Memories were sparked by seeing the icon in that interior view of Derek Jarman’s cottage. Derek came to give us a crit on our stage designs for Woyzeck (the play) back in 1981, at the time Caravaggio was formulating, and he was living a wonderful life in Berlin. Aids was about to change lives. He spotted my design for Boris Godunov that was much more interesting to him as I was using the icons in a filmic way and his love of Opera and Russian icons was pertinent. What an inspiring man and how lucky I was to have met him. I moved to Bristol the year he died in 1994. I am still meaning to visit his garden! So taking plants from my garden almost as actors on a stage seems relevant in some way…I had no perception before that that was in my head at the time?

Inspired by Woyzeck, where this ordinary foot soldier is treated as canon fodder and disposable. He is fed a diet of peas to see how he responded. Peas were the first food to be genetically modified. The three graces has a long history to me of the treatment of woman from cradle to grave and preservation of beauty through products. Natural ageing is like a dance and beautiful at every stage. A garden is forever in this cycle of seasons and state of change. When the first Lock-down happened in 2020, I started exploring the idea of these plant portraits painted like an icon with egg and earth.

“In my own garden, a complete contrast to Prospect Cottage, two enormous sycamore trees rule and I look at it from the top of a hill. A woodland garden in Spring and Winter. A desert often in Summer and Autumn. Everything depends on the growing roots of the trees beneath my feet let alone the raging winds from the West mainly. I talk to my garden. The paths and rocks from the walls tell me when and where the roots are moving underneath them. As time progresses they will start to lift everything up and displace it. These snippets are the beginnings of that process in my mind.”

Phil Gomm

“Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film on Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, my short stills-based film began with a simple enough observation: living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.”

Marion Raper

“Such a lovely prompt! I searched out an old canvas I had tucked in a cupboard for many years and started stitching straight away. I know the style of embroidery is very kitch and chocolate box – but wouldn’t you love a dream cottage like that? I also grabbed my watercolours and enjoyed splodging an imaginary summer’s garden – as I gaze out of the window at the hail stones falling…

My memories take me back to when I was about 7 or 8. I suffered badly from what I now know to be dust or mould allergies. The doctor told my parents to move somewhere with “good country air”. So we did. We moved to a small town in Buckinghamshire and into a newly built bungalow situated on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and woods. It was wonderful and my nasal problems disappeared like magic. There was a lot to do, as the house was literally an undecorated structure, and the garden just part of the field fenced off. My sister and I had to help gather as many stones and flints as possible so my dad could put down concrete paths, and gradually the garden began to take shape. However, my father had grand plans for a wall to divide the front and back. Money being quite tight we couldn’t afford the fancy decorative bricks he wanted – so he made them! He found an advert for this metal brick shaped gadget, which you filled with special cement, and when you tipped it out – hey presto, a raised pattern brick emerged! It was a lovely hot summer and I well remember rows of homemade bricks drying out. The wall my father built with them was a real triumph and people would often stop and ask how he did it!

I went to see the old bungalow recently and was sad to see it is in a bad and sorry state. The grass sways in the breeze and our once beautiful garden looks sadly neglected and unloved to say the least. However, still standing proudly amongst the weeds is my father’s wall. Happy days!”

Kerfe Roig

“In my mind the Prospect Cottage prompt intersected with the Otherworld of Brendan’s earthweal prompt and then merged with my shells, collected over years of visits to the ocean. The shore is where I lose myself and meet “Not Here” and Prospect Cottage felt like it was a portal into that suspension of the normal framing of time and space. “Like landing on the moon,” as the narrator said. Most of my shells are still in storage, but I’ve carried some weathered whelks along with each move I’ve made, both to look at and draw. The spirals sing, and bring the sea to me. I drew three of them from different angles on the same page–first pencil, then colored pencil, then with a brush in gouache. I decided to add grounds. It’s not always easy to tell when you’ve gone too far, but I think I definitely did so with the colored pencils. I may take an eraser to the ground to fade it so the shells don’t get so lost. I was trying to capture the garden of Prospect Cottage. The pencil drawing was impossible to photograph well, but I like the weathered effect. I wrote words around and connecting the shells, which you can see better in the close up. These are quotes from the video, interspersed with my own observations. This one has exactly the feeling I wanted, of secret messages, indecipherable voices on the wind.The painted shells – it felt so good to get my gouache out of storage and paint with it again! – captures the colors I was feeling from both prompts–a sense both of otherness and belonging, of being just exactly in the right place without time.”

I can almost hear them
on repeat through my bones
gifts collected in the overlap of
the fluid movement that follows
what hasn’t happened yet

sheer sound waves etched in side winds
I can see them sometimes—doubled
currents vibrating against a blurred sky
like the shadow of a raptor glimpsed
between the singing of reflected light
sailed whole /

James Randall

“I’m afraid I didn’t riff off the beautiful, yet vulnerable Jarman garden – I’m sure others will springboard off that nuclear backdrop. I just ran with ‘garden’.

We have just moved to Brisbane after 10 years in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood. I wasn’t going to raid the garden for cuttings before I left, but at the last minute I ended up with about fifty tube stock sized treasures that I will try to keep alive while we wait the seven months to get access to our permanent home in Brisbane. So this vegetation arc is my garden: I took a series of close-up, blurry detail photos of these cuttings to start with. I couldn’t help but think about what I had left behind as a garden in Sydney, and why I had planted what and where, and what I had learnt. I wrote a sentence or two for four photos and layered the text onto each photo. I drifted off thinking about how impermanent the old garden was (the new Earlwood owners have a dog that I am sure will change the landscape very quickly). I partially erased the text over the images and blurred it to reflect evolution and the loss of meaning to our actions. I also put a layer of mezzotint texture on top to push back the reality of the image further. Later, I thought the text could be fractured and moved about, but only a single word in each image. I used the common name of the plant featured in each image and chopped it up in Illustrator, moving around the pieces and changing the resulting shapes. Then I added these words back into the layered Photoshop composition.  But I thought if what I had done in the garden was of such a transient nature, then why include the photos in the Kick-About? I concentrated on combining the morphed letter forms of the four words in a single Illustrator composition. That’s where I ended up – with a single image.”

Phill Hosking

‘I’ve only visited Dungeness a couple of times, one being a college day trip to draw and paint back in my foundation year. I remember that day, and the other worldly feel of the place so well. In the spirit of that trip 29 years ago I’ve gone proper rough and observational here, wish I could have found my drawings from back then, I looked everywhere. I’m definitely taking myself back there this summer to do some plein air sketching…”

Courtesy of Gary Thorne, we have, as our next prompt, an evocative extract about the moon from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84… Happy landings!