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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stems, shoots, and leaves--

The image is a large detail of Agnes II. The colors are much better in the original, so go see!

The Foliate Head
Last year I published a book called The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press) and another called Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing), both decked with foliate-head art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. So I can't resist linking to Eyes Big as Plates. Here are wonderful elder faces as foliated heads and elder bodies decked in leaves and seaweed and flowers and reeds by two collaborators, Ritta Ikonen of Finland and Karoline Hjorth of Norway.

These magical figures are descendants of folk culture and of Andy Goldsworthy in their out-of-doors, make-do-with-the-landscape beauty. The mythic quality that often accrues to Goldsworthy's pieces becomes dominant in these, as suggestions of narrative enters in, story and ceremony hovering like an ancient, rural halo over the heads of characters emerging from the natural world.

Yet where Goldsworthy often gives one the feeling that an infinitely precocious child has been celebrating and playing with the materials of the natural world in a timeless realm, these pieces make a contemporary art by going back through folk tradition and the past, and it seems exactly right that they focus a lens on the elderly, who are our living embodiment of the (more recent) past.

As with Goldworthy, the record of the art event involves a collision between two kinds of time, the quick instant of the photographic medium and the time of a piece that invokes a more mythic time. But here there is a stronger knowingness about what is happening--a knowledge of that very collision--that often emerges from the pictures and lends many of them a kind of whimsy and playfulness. This air seems to come from the artifice of costuming, which turns traditional "greening" costumes (like Jack o' the Green or the Green Man) into something more graceful and artful, but also emerges in the expressive faces of a few of the models.

The foliated, crowned faces and decked torsos are marvelous. It's impossible to pick a single favorite. But I know what to do with rhubarb this year!

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Hat tip to the nimble-minded writer Haddayr Copley-Woods, whose name neatly and appropriately combines art (John Singleton Copley) and forests. Later addendum: Being a foliate-head lover, I'd be interested in what people especially like--which ones and why.

Samples of The Foliate Head poems and excerpts from Thaliad are at Scribd.

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Meeting me elsewhere: excerpts from 2012 books (A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageThaliadThe Foliate Head) at ScribdThaliad at Phoenicia Publishing. See page tabs above for review clips and information on those brand new books plus The Throne of Psyche from 2011, and more.


  1. hmmm...for me, only 3 of the images "work for me" (in the post you link to). i'm afraid that, for me, the majority of the "constructions" feel contrived. That said, those 3 strike me as very magical and intriguingly, delightfully beyond the sum of parts. And illuminating.

    Several did make me chuckle.

  2. Yes, some are better than others, certainly! Which ones do you like the best?

  3. Hallvar--the first one

    Agnes i and ii

    Those two women...their faces...goodness they are special

    Pupi--might be my favorite in that it takes me several places

    And, this time 'round, i think i would add a 4th: Tuija

    Velkkari image wins very high marks for humor.

  4. And the two women--maybe you meant Astrid also? I love her face as well. The Rhubarb Woman.

  5. yes, her face is also wonderful...i just don't think the construct/photograph is art or possesses that "mythic quality" or "suggests narrative", whereas the others, for me, are and do.

  6. every detail of how one dresses a model is what makes or breaks it for me in photography of this nature. i realize on this re-visit that seeing the full-body version of "rhubarb woman" influenced my response to the portrait of her.
    i'm sure you will think i'm silly...but it's that tiny bit of white sock peaking out and shiny shoes--with a gorgeous big rhubarb leaf pointing right at them-- that grab my eye and prevent me from going into the image.

  7. No, I don't think that's silly at all. I had certain wishes too--that they stick to cotton/linen/wool clothing, particularly. It's intrusive to have synthetic fibers, rather like having plastic in the garden.

    And there were tiny things--like a shadow on Tuija's face--that picked at me.

  8. Yes, agree on the clothing--and footwear frequently got in the way. Cropping some of them would change some the images entirely...for the better. and that marvelous flowery chest man--wish they would have used more flowers to cover up the black "armature" and/or employed photoshop to fix it since they didn't notice it before packing up. The concept is brilliant. They just need to learn "look" at all the parts...aren't quite yet intuitive about how all the parts influence the whole.

  9. Yes, definitely!

    I love what they do and can't imagine that they won't get better and better about "seeing" and making a kind of seamless picture. You can't get away from the interesting collision between modernity (the camera) and mythicism, but you can make the parts of the image flawless.

  10. Oh my, what a shock to see that beautiful familiar face first thing when I came here! Except this seems to be the cover of the magaizine of Kiasma, the modern art museum in Helsinki. I had linked to Eyes as Big as Plates recently so am familiar with the fantastic work but did not see this image. I love what you wrote about it, word-magician that you are!

  11. Hi Marja-Leena!

    Knew you would have something to say about this one... I missed the link, alas. I used the magazine because their images are slathered with copyright notices...

    Glad you liked the word frolic!

  12. Others may go too far the other way--stumbling over their cleverness with costumes.

    one of the reasons i admire Andy's work so much is that he clearly knows what the camera sees, and in his hands it is simply our window. Especially for the temporary constructions.

  13. Just curious, how did you come across "Eyes"? and where did you find the Kiasma image? In my post I too didn't use any of their images because of the copyrights. Added a link to yours here:

  14. Marja-Leena,

    Writer Haddayr Copley-Woods mentioned it on facebook. And I didn't want to use their images because they seem to not want them shared that way--or maybe they don't mind, but there are a lot of copyright notices...

    If you put their names into a Google search, you will find a few images like this you can use--there's a poster that has an image not in the batch of the linked post, and there may be more. I just plucked that one because I liked Agnes I and Agnes II.

    Tell me which you found most compelling--I think it's an especially interesting question with you, since there are connections to your work like the Finnish bond and the use of natural (and sometimes castoff, dead) materials.

  15. zephyr,

    Yes, it is a delicate act of balance, no doubt.

    I wholly agree with the Goldsworthy comment. The awareness of camera recedes into the background. I also think he was very lucky in Thomas Riedelsheimer and "Rivers and Tides." What a gorgeous piece of work that is, with wonderful, unhurried pacing.

  16. Yes. Thomas created a lyrical piece with Andy. i am eager to see two of his other films on other artists, "Garden of the Sea" and "Breathing Earth"


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.