Growing … can be a deadly business…

I like to get really up close and personal to my subjects, so am growing the herbs for the final MA project work.

Here is a wicked little set of Janus plants; Henbane, Deadly nightshade, Foxglove, Thornapple, Artemisia, Celandine… sure, in their various strengths and concoctions, to do you more harm than good.


Innocent little seedlings right now…

And then there are the plant dyes. Little bottles of colours …lovingly prepared with mordants and salts and minerals, macerated, ground and pulverised, boiled, extracted, slaked and reduced, drowned in alcohol and fattened with oils, relaxed with ox gall and waterproofed with saponified shellac. A little witchcraftery in the kitchen and and studio.


av-ink        av-gd

Some gorgeous avocado ink. Add a little gold here and there for true alchemy…

People ask me how Chris is doing?  Well he’s just fine; at the moment. He just needs to watch his step. __________________________________________________________________

(BUT one final thing today.. it’s just a “get well soon wish” to Orlando. Why this beautiful, fun–loving city?  Responsible for some of the very very happiest days of my life and some of the best people I have ever met. I am thinking of you all.)

Leaf of the Day: A Dragon’s Eye from Vi Mi

Today, in search of some more interesting fruit, we cycled down to Vi-Mi to have a look at the Asian Supermarkets. Vi Mi is about 5 miles down the road from our apartment located around the junction of Colonial and Mills and is the thriving Vietnamese quarter of Orlando, also called Little Saigon. It is a district peppered with Vietnamese restaurants and supermarkets and shops where you can buy exotic imported music, films, and collectibles from across Asia. The Vietnamese started to come to Orlando in the 1970’s as refugees from the war and have established businesses and lives here bringing with them their customs and, of course, their fascinating cuisine.

There are quite a few supermarkets but the one we visited before in search of the dragon fruit is probably the most interesting. The smell as you enter is indescribable and is due to the complete and utter cacophony of produce, all piled up and jostling for space, from live crabs to meats of unknown and unrecognisable origin, to lumpy and unidentifiable vegetables and fruit of all kinds, from the startling pink dragonfruit to persimmons and bits of cactus and aloe, and roots of this, that and the other. In one corner was a basket full of big prickly netted durians, the fruit that smells like drains and I have yet to experience. A diminutive Vietnamese lady in the shop laughed and held her nose but said they tasted like custard.

I wrote before that this is the place for a visual boost should your creativity be flagging. There are shelves and shelves of tinned and packaged foodstuffs dried and shredded things in bright shiny cellophane with brilliantly coloured writing. Sometimes there is a helpful English translation, often not. There are beautifully prepared sweets and pastries and what look like gelatinous appetisers and leaf wrapped delicacies.
It’s a small shop too, and very busy, so wherever you stand, you are in the way. I have to return some other day with time to really browse.
Behind the counter were two fruits I wanted to try. One was the Rambutan, the red spiky sea urchin of the fruit world and the other the Longan, which I had never seen before. I tentatively asked the helpful man who was serving what to do with them and he smiled and immediately held out a sample to try. This is one of those situations where you have to hold your nerve and open both your mind and your mouth. New foods can be alarming but what can you say to such a kind offer except ” delicious”.

So to describe them.. well they look like big grapes but covered in a tough brown papery skin. This you peel. Its contents are surprising. The edible part is an opalescent jellylike berry with a beautiful dark shiny seed at the centre and yes, once you release the fruit from its tight papery covering it does look uncomfortably like a rheumy slippery eyeball.. this is apparently just too much for some people and they can’t quite bring themselves to eat them.
The taste is quite bland and sweet but oddly moreish. We bought a bunch.

Longans, Dimocarpus longana are related to the more glamorous lychee. They are also known as “little brother of the lychee“, “mamoncillo chino” in Cuba, and, because the translucent white flesh covering the black shiny seed resembles the eyeball of an oriental dragon, “the Dragon’s Eye”.
I found the neatest way to peel them was to score the skin with a knife tip. The two halves then come away leaving you with the jelly like flesh. The skin is very close fitting and inside its white shiny surface is covered with a network of veins, the fruit as it pops out actually bears creepy resemblance to a small wobbly brain too.
The little seed is beautiful, bright shiny brown with a white “eye”. In both Vietnam, this “eye” is pressed against a snakebite in the belief that it will absorb the venom. The seeds also contain saponins, like my lovely Soapberries and yes, you can wash your hair with these seeds too!

You eat Longans just as they are, or canned. They can be cooked as pie fillings, poached as a side dish to roasts, dried, to be reconstituted as a “tea”, added to tropical drinks or deliciously stuffed with nuts and honey and I think cream cheese would go well too.

Wiki has a nice little Vietnamese riddle which describes the Longan. Da cóc bọc bột lọc, bột lọc bọc hòn than. “Toad’s skin covers tapioca wheat, tapioca wheat covers a ball of coal.”


Longan, Dragons Eye

Painting for Joy at the Cornell Museum and Jasper Johns and Carol Diehl on Art

Winter Park is lucky to have quite a few museums and most we have visited but one we had never quite got round to was the Cornell Museum of Fine Arts which is on the campus of Rollins College. Yesterday we rectified that. There is an elegant exhibition space on the extensive campus, over looking one of Orlando’s many lakes. They have exhibits old and new, beautifully displayed and with the added attraction of few people……but really this is just an excuse to share this painting with you. It comes from the current exhibition “Painting for Joy” ( what a great title) which showcases the work of nine contemporary Japanese artists.

This big painting ” Dog” 65 x 53 inches by Takanobu Kobayashi is just adorable.

There is also an exhibition “Corps Exquis” exploring images of the body from different periods with an extraordinary film of Vanessa Beecroft’s “VB55” installation of 100 women, naked from the waist up standing in a gallery for 3 hours staged in Berlin in 200. It is a strange and moving film (see a youtube video here ) accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem. (but as the very enlightened lady guide so rightly said.. “you couldn’t show this in Orlando. This is a very conservative state”)
More about Cornell and their exhibitions here and no doubt I will be going back there.

Also today, a quote from Jasper Johns telling it how it is about creativity without, mercifully, the need to fall into appalling contemporary artspeak.

“It’s simple. You just take something, and then you do something to it. Then you do something else to it. And then something else. Keep this up and pretty soon you’ve got something.”
A couple of months ago there was a big commotion when the artist and art writer Carol Diehl dared to draw attention to the ’emperors new clothes’ syndrome of the art “writers” at the Whitney. I just hate that self perpetuating rubbish they write about art. If the art is so bad and banal itself that it has to be propped up with incomprehensible jargon, then it shouldn’t be even on display. The whole argument had me cheering Carol on. The over intellectualising of visual art is such a monster these days. She recently questioned Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth , the crack in the floor of the Tate Modern, which was billed as ” addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world.” “Sometimes” she says “a crack is just a crack.” How true..
To read more about it all go to her blog, the excellent Art Vent One of the problems of course is that our future curators are currently being brainwashed with artspeak at art colleges all over the world. As I know only too well and to my cost, to stand up in a lecture theatre and to question such rubbish even from an extensively researched and informed standpoint will result in some icy cold shouldering of those tutors whose fragile and insecure campus world is precariously fabricated from artspeak alone. You will be regarded from then on as an ungrateful dog biting the hand that was feeding you your passport to a well paid arts funded job in the self perpetuating, self aggrandising world of the fine art academic.

I remember one dull and wispy fine art graduate came to give us new hopefulls a lecture of her most recent and fragrant work about faeces. I asked one tutors later if ‘faeces’ and ‘facecious’ came from from the same orifice. He was not amused, he also said on one a occasion that he found painting flowers an obscenity. Hey I don’t defend what I am currently doing as ‘fine art’ these days but at least it is honest and does what it says on the tin. But wait!! …. if flower painting ever does become pornography I would at least make some money. Painting for Joy? well why not?