February 26, 2015

Pencil Art

Oh. My. God. Is what I thought when I saw this. A whole new definition of pencil art, don´t you think (says I, who have been buried in the wonderful book "The Pencil" by artist Paul Calle for weeks)? I particularly enjoyed this one.

Thank you, Faith is Torment.

February 20, 2015

Blog Tip

I really have to recommend this blog, where artist Nina Johansson is "trying to rediscover her sleeping imagination". She is doing well, I think! Very inspiring. There is also much to see at her regular blog.

Wish I could draw like that!

February 18, 2015

The Land of Childhood

There is an interesting exhibition at the art gallery right now, by Lotta Söder, who works mainly in glass. She is from around here originally, Skellefteå more specifically, but has lived and worked in Gothenburg for most of her life, returning last year to Umeå to work on this project, which she calls "SPÅR - en forskningsresa i Barndomslandet" (= TRACKS - an expedition in the land of Childhood). The story is, according to the leaflet, a dream about a winter landscape, with a bear and a fox as helpers in the struggle to pull a sled up a hill. Söder wants to use her glass to create an image of the frail and the strong, light and ice, triviality and sanctity.

There is a quote from Sara Lidman, the author (also from Skellefteå): "Det finns en närvaro, en kännedom från födelseorten, så oförneklig som den egna huden." (= There is a presence, a familiarity with the birthplace, as undeniable as one´s own skin.) This collection certainly has a strong taste of personal experience, but at the same time, anyone who grew up in a snowy landscape will know it, as Lidman says, in their own skin. The boots, the jacket, the mittens, which Söder has rendered in glass mosaic. It brings that Chinese princess burial suit to mind, if you remember.

I am attracted to glass, and a bit apprehensive about it, too, as it is so fragile. Every time someone brings a graal or something to the antiques roadshow and it is appraised to thousands and thousands, I can hardly watch as they pick it up - I keep seeing it on the floor, smashed to pieces; a nervous tic, that. Söder´s glass seems a lot more sturdy, for some reason, perhaps it´s the unusual shapes. Here, for example, she has made four pairs of skis from painted and printed glass. If you want a pair on your wall it will cost you 16.000 SEK (in the neighbourhood of 2000 USD or 1700 euro).

I have come back a few times to these objects, which are, to my mind, the most interesting ones on display right now. Perhaps it is that combination of memories, the fragility of the glass, and the burial associations of the mosaics. Memories can be both defining and elusive, and in later years I have returned to this over and over again, for different reasons. I have become more and more convinced of the necessity to forgive, forget and move on, and I see people having trouble with that, not least because of social media, which is a great tool, but which can also be one hell of a shackle.

You can read more about the artist (in Swedish and English) here.

February 16, 2015


The other day, after slipping and hitting my hip and arm on some hard ice, I saw this in one of my stairs. I thought it was rather lovely, and wouldn´t it be nice to decorate the entire wall with a pattern like this? Cheered me up considerably.

February 15, 2015

Sir John Soane´s Museum

Our last day in London we finally managed to make it to a museum that has been at the top of my list for years, but we have not been in London those few days during the week when it is open. I am talking about Sir John Soane´s Museum at Lincoln´s Inn Fields. I first read about it in an article about Swedish actor Peter Harryson and his annual trip to London. (I imagine it was a travel magazine.) He made it sound like a treasure palace of odd, wondrous things.

From the look of it, it was more office and exhibition space than a proper home. Soane was an architect and built the house himself. To me, it had the feel of a tomb more than a palace, not unlike Swedish doctor Axel Munthe´s villa San Michele on Capri, which we visited some fifteen years ago. It all those collections of mummies and gravegoods, tombstones and such, I think. Makes me cold all over, I can´t help it; it´s not conscious at all, more of a physical reaction. It´s so very Victorian to collect things like that; every man with means seems to have been an amateur antiquarian.

Soane - and his home - was quite famous even in his lifetime. He came from modest beginnings as the son of a bricklayer, trained at the Royal Academy where he distinguished himself as a very gifted student, got a scholarship to make his Grand Tour and was even knighted in 1831 after a fairly successful career. I got the impression that Soane was never at the forefront of architectural fashions, but rather a representative of the traditional, classic styles.

Soane had a very happy marriage, but was tragically disappointed in his two sons, one of whom was ill and died young, while the other was a rake, living with two women, gambling, and ending up in prison for fraud. When the younger son anonymously wrote an article slandering his father, Soane´s wife was so upset she died just a few months later. His final hope was for his grandson to be an architect, but the young man was rejected by the architect with whom he was studing, on account of being homosexual.

Interesting fact: the tomb Soane designed for his wife was the inspiration for the red telephone box that is such a classic British symbol.

Unfortunately it is not allowed to take photographs inside the museum, so I can´t share anything from the interior. There isn´t much in way of photo galleries at the website either, so for the Sir John Soane´s Museum experience, I guess you have to go there.

We had never been in this part of town before, and Lincoln´s Inn Fields turned out to be a nice little park, with a densly populated lawn. There was a television crew there and the husband was approached to take part, something about asking questions to politicians. This happens to us often, that we are taken for natives, asked for directions and what not. He declined to go on British television.

After this we walked along Oxford Street and don´t ask me how, but we found our way to the roof of the department store John Lewis, where we found a slightly plastic garden; there we had a drink and looked at the bustling shopping street below. A great place to relax!

And the day after, we went home. Not very many weeks later, we booked tickets to Heathrow for the summer of 2015. We still haven´t decided how to fill those two weeks, but I am beginning to think about it now. I guess it helps to have something to look forward to.

February 13, 2015

Natural History Museum

After Scarborough, we went to London, and one of the sights on my list has long been the Natural History Museum. It is one of several museums along Exhibition Road, among them the Victoria and Albert Museum that we went to some years ago to see an exhibition of historical fashion. The Natural History Museum was built by Alfred Waterhouse, who was part of the Victorian Gothic Revival and the building itself is reason enough to take time out to go there. It´s a cathedral dedicated to ecology. You have probably seen it it a film or two. I remember an episode of "Spooks" a few years ago, with spies walking and talking around the dinosaur in the main hall - that scene specifically put it on my list of places to go.

Of course, there were even more dinosaurs further inside the museum, and they seemed to be the main attraction for the many visitors, many of whom were children - perhaps the free entrance adds to the attraction for families. They have a lot of special programs for school children - we saw hoards of little girls in white coats, carrying clipboards, being Dino-scientists! Unfortunately, this option was not available for adults...

If you ever have a rainy day in London, I can really recommend this place.

The details are charming.

All individually fantastic pieces of art, used to decorate the ceiling.

From one of the side galleries.

View from the top floor; the statue of Charles Darwin throned on the stair opposite.

The top jewel, a slice of a Redwood Tree.

The modern extensions have a completely different design,
but works well with Waterhouse´s original style.

The SOE, special operations executive, which supported resistance
in occupied territory during World War II, had offices in
the building where agents were trained in using "specialised military equipment".


They have so many skeletons that they display them on two floors in a single room, leading the visitors through on up-hoisted gangways.

This fleshed out specimen had sound effects. Very Jurassic Park.

Boy pondering a dino nursery.

Some theories as to why they died out. I sympathise with this, though I doubt it...

... and this, I want to believe!

February 11, 2015


As I was reading Carl Larsson´s books (well, more looking at the pictures than reading) I came across this interior with Dala paintings, the kind called kurbits. Dalarna is a Swedish region known for its particular kind of peasantry decoration style, or allmoge, of which kurbits painting is a part. It is used for furniture, wooden boxes, tapestries, grandfather clocks, and so on. It has its roots in the baroque styles of decoration and the word originally means cucumber or pumpkin plant.

I lived for most of my childhood in Dalarna and my mother-in-law lived there for almost twenty years (raising her first batch of children). Some traces of this has survived in our home. We have a kitchen cupboard inherited from the mum-in-law, originally painted in a colour called dalablå. It more like verdigris now, and when I decided to vamp up the dining table by painting it the same colour, the one most like it that I could buy was called Mint Green.

When I was a child, there was a printed hanging in the hallway leading into the kitchen with a kurbits painting of The Queen of Sheba. Or, as it was called, "The Queen of Rich Arabia visits King Solomon with gifts". These biblical motifs were very popular, and the bible story characters were depicted as if they were inhabitants of 18th or 19th century Dalarna. Very charming. I now have that hanging in my kitchen, one of a few reminders of childhood that I cherish.

February 10, 2015

Aging Gracefully

We had a big party on January 27, when the mum-in-law celebrated her 95th birthday. She has not been well since about a week before Christmas, but luckily, she held herself up, and with style too. My brother & sister-in-law came up and helped her fix everything and the husband and I could relax a little and feel like guests. Friends and family gathered for birthday fika in the afternoon, and then my sister-in-law made a great dinner for the closest family.

The mum-in-law was a professional seamstress for most of her working life, and her closets are brimming with beautiful clothes, most of which, unfortunately, she has shrunk to much to fill out. That´s what happens, even one´s feet become smaller, apparently. But this dress, a black lace number with a Spanish vibe (I think she made it after she started going to Spain with her partner Ove, in the late 90´s), fit perfectly. The sister-in-law helped her fix her hair, and you know, as long as she sat, you wouldn´t have guessed her age within fifteen years. She was - no competition, and I´m not exaggerating one little bit - by far the best dressed, most elegant and beautiful woman in the room. She may be old and a bit wrinkly (but don´t tell her, she is nearly blind and claims to be wrinkle-free) but that bone structure doesn´t age one bit.

I had to make this sketch of her from a photo my other sister-in-law took, just to show you an impression of what I have to hold up as a model for myself every day. I know she looks like she is facebooking, but that´s her asthma medication she is about to take, before the guests arrive. She had a surprise guest: the former mayor, who recently read and wrote about her memoir in the local paper, came to pay his respects, and I understand he made a very nice speech for her (but that was before we got there, being still young enough to have to work on a weekday...).

Read about Bill Nighy!

"He has a thing for Berkeley Square. “I love studying the plane trees. They overwhelm me. As you get older you feel you need to pay more attention to what is around you and relish it. I’m greedy for beauty.” He concedes that his perfect day is really “wandering about London on my own. I built my life around not being in a hurry.”"Bill Nighy

... who says this in a great interview in the Guardian. I love him, a great actor and he seems like a wise and nice guy, too! 

February 8, 2015

A Boat Ride

Our last day in Scarborough we decided to take a trip on the North Sea and take in the first view of Skardaborg that the Vikings would have had. We were lucky enough to be taken out by "Regal Lady", a lovely little boat that actually took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, which impressed me much. It´s captain was very proud of her, you could really tell. Seemed like it needed some TLC, though, and they were selling bits and bobs, aside from having a pub/café service, to scrape together some money to do maintainance work. I bought a small plastic notebook with the image of "Regal Lady" on it, as we really couldn´t stomach food or drink on such a short trip (a little more than an hour). But there was much eating and drinkning going on around us - the Brits have excellent appetites, that´s for sure!

Luckily, for me, a trip at sea seemed to clear up my hay fever pretty well, and I hardly felt it after that. Must remember for next time. (Also, must remember to take a photo of the entire boat! You can see a little film about here here, though.)

Scarborough from the south.

Scarborough from the north. (The sky a bit more dramatic in noir...)

February 7, 2015

Humane Architecture

From Luxemburg.
I found this interesting blog, devoted to the beauty of brutalist architecture. Ok, so I really enjoyed the Coventry Cathedral, for example, which is one example of brutalist architecture, but honestly, I find it hard to imagine living an interesting and satisfying life surrounded by, or in, these naked buildings of raw concrete. Which, by the way, is what brutalist means; it has nothing to do with brutality, but with béton brut, or raw concrete. (This is a word the Swedes have loaned from the French rather than the English; the Swedish word for concrete is betong.) While these brutalist buildings can be wonderfully beautiful on photo, once I get up close to them, they are really repulsive. Like they don´t want me there. Perhaps there is no wonder so few of them are pictured with people in or near them on that blog (and when they are, the people appear ant-like).

We certainly have examples of uninspiring architecture in Luleå, like landstingshuset (the county council house), Valandhuset (mainly shopping), the court- and policehouse, and the highway bridge over Lule river. Exept for the last one, none of them are exactly brutalist, but certainly people have thought, and still think, them rather brutal to the eye. All these compete for the prize of "ugliest building in Luleå".

Again, Luxemburg.
Pretty and popular architecture is often traditional. It´s all about buildings that make us connect to our cultural roots, make us feel safe and happy. It´s no wonder people love to come to Gammelstad and the church village (which is on the World Heritage list) in the summer. We certainly go there often, and it´s mandatory for visitors to be taken there. We have the Residence, a wood castle from the 19th century which is the home and office of the landshövding, or county governor. I have never been, but part of it opens to the public at certain days of the year, for example the governor invites his people to fika every year during Advent. Also, there is the theatre, built into the old harbour store houses, thus preserving the old town while accommodating for the new.

But I find that really modern architecture has taken a leap forward in the hearts of ordinary folk. Certainly, our Culture house is very popular. My absolute favourite buildning in the world is probably the new Birmingham library and I so wish it was here where I could go enjoy it every day!

I think those brutalist buildings would be so much more inviting if they were decorated with colour and perhaps textile on the inside, a bit like old castles, where the walls were more or less carpeted both to show off and keep the drafts out. I have read, though, that concrete crumbles away under layers of graffiti, so perhaps it simply can´t take paint. Also, I was once told that measurements are the key to making architecture inviting to humans. If the scale of it is too large, so that we feel small, we become stressed and tend to avoid it. Perhaps that is why we like to buy and build small cottages for our holiday homes. I also heard that the important thing about building good cathedrals is to accommodate both humans and God, for example size the foot of the pillars to fit humans, and raise the ceiling so that one can look up to the heavens, and create an image of that inner heaven, the ideal heaven. Perhaps that is what makes brutalism in Coventry cathedral work so well, it invites God, whom we have come there to meet, and in contrast to other brutalist buildings, there is much art in there, which invites humans. So, to preserve the brutalist architecture (and the plain ugly) I suggest we use more art! Much more art to the people!

More from Luxemburg.

February 6, 2015

Peasholm Park

One of our days in Scarborough we spent in Peasholm Park. I was still feeling pretty awful from my allergy, and while a park probably wasn´t the best place for me, going shopping again felt too depressing.

The park is lovely, was opened in 1912 as a Japanese themed park, and is recently restored with the support of the Peasholm Park Friends, a group of volunteers who even set up a website for the park. Now that I have looked at the website I´m sorry we didn´t go see the Naval Warfare thing, which they describe like this:  "For more than 80 years the “Battle of Peasholm” has been played out for 30 minutes three times every week during the summer season, delighting audiences..." They have a gallery of photos, old and new, here. Soo British! We did, however, enjoy the music of an organist sitting in a floating... pagoda, perhaps. He played jolly evergreens like "The sun has put his hat on" from the musical "Me and My Girl", and an ABBA-medley, which he commented with "hördi-gördi*, and all that kind of thing". I guess that´s what the English thinks Swedish sounds like: hördi-gördi. The Brits are crazy about ABBA, you hear it played all the time.

Well, we walked into the park, following the Tree Trail, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a cemetery. The English kind, that looks completely abandoned. If a stone falls over in a Swedish cemetery, it is considered a desecration and a disrespect to the dead, not to mention a hazard for children (after a child climbing a stone was crushed under it a few years ago - a tragic accident). The English seem to think otherwise. Their cemeteries have a gothic kind of beauty, though, that I like; it really is a place for the dead. Swedish cemeteries are positively cheerful and lively in comparison.

I did do a lot of drawing, there are many photos of me sitting on a bench, red-nosed with a packet of Kleenex in my breastpocket and a drawing pad in my knee. Looking at the drawings now, at least I can say that my skills have improved since then!

No wonder Dracula was attracted to England... 

* I attempted an English spelling of "hördi-gördi" but couldn´t decide on one that I was sure would have an unambiguous pronounciation. The sound that goes with the letter "ö" can be spelled in English with an i, as in bird or first; with an e, as in her or serve; with a u, as in burn or turn; with an o, as in word; or with the combination ea, as in learn or pearl. I would not be surprised if there are more variants. What to choose? One of my old English-teachers comes to mind, who sighed and said that there are no clear rules to English spelling. You just have to learn every word by using it. Perhaps I should have gone with an e - it works after h in her, and after g in Gertrude. "Herdi-gerdi"?

What if the English would adopt the letter ö? I´m sure millions of först-graders would be grateful, easily lörning to spell wörds like börd, först, hör, sörve, börn, törn, lörn and pörl. Of course, pearl and purl would be spelled the same way, but there already are lots of words with several meanings. Wouldn´t that be just pörfect? Hm, maybe not.