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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Just like any other room in the house, a bathroom needs a stamp of personality. With just the bare necessities, and even a lovely set of sanitary ware, pretty tiles and nice flooring, you’ll always needs a few extra things to make the room feel comfortable and lived-in. From practical items like hand towels, to fun accessories, there are all sorts of way to add your own personal touch a bathroom.

A quick update of your hand towels, bath mats or shower curtains can be an easy way to give your bathroom a fresh look and create a scheme that matches the aesthetic of the rest of the house. Patterned shower curtains can sometimes look a little garish, but this soft toned curtain from H&M Home has a relaxed, bohemian style that gives a bathroom an interesting look.

Patterned Shower Curtain from H&M Home

Adding some new textures to a bathroom really help to make the room feel less stark. A bare bathroom, especially one that is modern can feel a little clinical, so adding in textures can soften the room and give it a more diverse colour palette. These hand towels from Amara, have some metallic flair to give you bathroom a touch of fun glam.

Lark Hand Towels from Amara

A few candles in the room can not only help to add some ambiance, (there’s nothing worse than trying to have a relaxing bath in bright, glaring light), but they can also add style if you find the right ones. This candle wall sconce has a beautiful Moroccan style to it, and would look good as a pair framing a bath, or basin.

Medina Wall Sconce from Angel & Boho

If you have a large window sill, or a shelving area, a few pretty lanterns can make a really nice feature, as well as being a handy source of relaxing light. This lantern from India Jane has an aged iron frame, add it to a collection of mismatched lanterns for a romantic, bohemian look.

Bertucci Iron Lantern from India Jane

Sometimes little touches like keeping your liquid soap in a nice dispenser can make your bathroom feel clean and tidy as it means getting rid of all those mismatching and ugly branded bottles. This contemporary set from H&M Home is rather smart with the tinted glass and white label front.

Soap Dispenser from H&M Home

A mirror is not only a practical item in your bathroom but can be a decorative one too; finding a design that matches the look you’re going for will enhance the overall feel of the room. If the person who designed the layout of your bathroom rather stupidly put the basin in front of the window, you’ll need a standing mirror. I like this simple one from Maison du Monde with a thin, black frame.

Metal Table Mirror from Maison du Monde

Keep things like cotton balls in a stylish container like this one from Nkuku; it’s a great way to add instant style and personality to the room and to mundane household items.

Bequai Star Pot from Nkuku

The accessories don’t always have to accommodate items or have a practical use, just like in any room a few trinkets and treasures in your bathroom can really give it the finishing touch. A few glass vases that you can add plants and flowers to will help lift the room; if you get a lot of light go for fresh, but if not faux will do the job nicely. I like these jar vases from Pale and Interesting matched with these faux leaf branches from Angel & Boho.

Glass Jar Vases from Pale and Interesting

Leaf Branches from Angel & Boho

Or something like this zinc stand, with a colourful boutique in it, or you could use it as decorative storage, like storing soaps or bathroom paraphernalia.

Zinc Stand from Pale and Interesting

Artwork isn’t always something you might remember to include in your bathroom, but it’s actually a great place to hang it. You may want to go for something a little wilder than you might put elsewhere, as you don’t have to look at it call the time, or you might want to use your art as a way for your bathroom to stay in keeping with the rest of the house. This cactus print would make an interesting piece to have in your bathroom, or these little Hare blocks would look lovely on a window sill or shelving unit.

Limited Edition Botanical Art Print from Rose & Grey

Hare Standing Block from Cox & Cox

Bathrooms, just like any other house have a purpose but also need to feel like they have a personality and a uniqueness to them; adding in the perfect accessories to suit you, your taste and your bathroom means you will create a great space in your home.

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A few weeks ago, Kettle’s Yard reopened after years of renovation. On opening day the queue wrapped around the street corner, proving just how much Cambridge had missed the gallery and house. I choose to visit a few weeks later and it was great to see the new gallery space and interesting pieces being featured, but my heart still belongs to the house and it was a real treat to go back there again.

The house, was the former home of art curator and collector Jim Ede and his wife Helen Ede. The pair lived in the house from 1958 to 1973 and during this time the house was filled with some truly beautiful pieces of art, artefacts and furniture. The house has been kept as a time capsule and an insight into the couple’s life; filled with art from renowned names, such as Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis, who were also the couple’s friends, Jim and Helen Ede would open their home to Cambridge students making it the most intimate of art galleries. The home’s aesthetic is a cool, contemporary, almost minimalist style with the perfect dose of bohemian touches.

Dining nook in the Ground Floor of the cottage

This dining nook area is beautifully simplistic. The solid wood table and benches are rustic and strong, while the gold candlesticks and decorative plates add an understated air of glamour.

View of the fireplace in the Ground Floor of the Cottage

Close up of the ornaments displayed on the fireplace

The main fireplace as you walk into the house is unfussy and perfectly decorated with soot build up along with trinkets and ceramics. Jim and Helen Ede would hang some of their artwork at a lower level than expected so that they could be look at comfortably from an armchair.

Sitting area in the Ground Floor of the Cottage

The room is filled with interesting and meticulously placed artefacts and objects. A single lemon placed on a metal dish, a display of pebbles in an ombre effect and a handful of wispy feathers are just a few of the unusual items you’ll find.

An artistic display of a single lemon of a metal plate

An ombré pebble collection

An assortment of feather on display

A sculpture, a painting and a single book makes up this satisfying display next to Jim Ede’s bed. The exclusiveness of the display speaks for Ede’s admiration of the artists; his faith and love for these three simple objects, expresses more to an audience about the items and the feeling of the home than a whole row of items could ever, creating a strong and commanding statement.

A minimal display shelf featuring a sculpture, a painting and a single book

As you move through the house, up to the first floor of the cottage there is a lovely run through the house into the extension. The length of the house creates an interesting feel, delicate sections and areas are carved out of the main body, making sweet, intimate spots. My favourite is known as the “dancer’s room”, due to the beautiful sculpture that sits on the table, and when hit with sunlight creates a silhouette on the wall. The area is filled with gorgeous rugs and painting, giving you a never ending supply of things to look at.

A traditional rug laid over stairs

A look at the “Dancer’s Room”

A selection of paintings from the “Dancer’s Room”

Once in the extension of the house, there is a gallery up top and below a more open space, for hosting guests. This area feel much more contemporary then the previous space, with seventies characteristic. I love the proportions of this section of the lower floor. From the all-white plates to the black and white abstract art, to the beautifully made slate top and wood leg console table, it all works together to create a serene view, with everything in its place.

A side area in the Lower Level of the House

Whether you’re looking for something to do in Cambridge, or interior inspiration, or fancy a little vintage walk back through time, the house at Kettle’s Yard is truly a lovely way to spend an hour or two.

 

For more information: http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/

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A few weeks ago I went on a trip to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. In the middle of Lloyd Park sits a beautiful a grand Georgian house, and is entirely dedicated to the celebration of the Arts and Crafts designer. The house, the work and the atmosphere all make it well worth a trip; here are some of my highlights.

Illustrated Book by William Morris

The gallery is filled with William’s best and brightest work, from the beginning and end of his life, and continuing after his death as his company Morris & Co. lived on, and still continues today. The tapestry below was a rather unique piece in the collection, and although it was made in 1885, it has a very medieval quality to it, and is an ode to Morris’s love of storytelling.

Tapestry by William Morris

Cray Block Printed Cotton by William Morris

This intricate, floral design was created using natural vegetable dyes and needed thirty-four different woodblocks to complete the finished look; showing the dedication that Morris and his team put into their work.

There are all sorts of different pieces on display at the gallery, including this fireplace surround, which is beautifully decorated with Longden tiles in a sunny yellow, which have been attributed to Philip Webb who worked closely alongside William throughout his career.

Longden Tiles by Philip Webb

If you know William Morris, you’re probably aware of his ideologies that contributed to his style of work, and his return to art forms prior to the Victorian era. Morris created his work in protest to the industrial revolution, and the way it treated the workers as well as the quality of the work that was produced. Here, Morris designed this chair for his lodgings in London, and its style reflects a medieval style with painted panels; which was an era that Morris much admired.

Medieval Style Chair by William Morris

The gallery also featured a segment from William Morris’s first wallpaper design, Trellis, which also reflected his love for medieval art once again, and was based on a medieval style walled garden he had created at his home, Red house.

Trellis Wallpaper Design by William Morris

This Flowerpot embroidery, was an affordable design which proved very popular, and was made by May Morris, Morris’s very talented daughter; the design looks like it was perfectly made for a feature cushion.

Flowerpot Embroidery by William Morris

Another wallpaper design that really caught my eye was the Lily and Pomegranate design. It’s meticulous detail shows the craftsmanship that went into each and every piece; the background is made up of dots, which is intricate work and Morris is quoted as saying on the design “after taking all the trouble to draw it, do you think I’d be such a fool as not to do the dots?”

Lily and Pomegranate Wallpaper design by William Morris

May Morris, William’s daughter also had her own career as a designer and an embroiderer; and had an exhibition at the gallery as well. Her work was absolutely glorious, full of light and elegance.

Work by May Morris

This piece is absolutely luminous; there’s a delicacy it is and softness that is different to her father’s work.

Work by May Morris

This design was by far my favourite thing in the whole gallery. Intricate embroidery on a sheer silk background, shows off not only style but skill. The golden thread still shimmers today, holding all of its life even after all this time; it’s a truly breath-taking piece.

Detailing of Work by May Morris

Written on the wall in May Morris’ exhibition is a quote by her in her later life saying “I’m a remarkable woman – always was, though none of you seemed to think so”, which I thought was rather brilliant. Under the shadow of her father and his company, May Morris shined, although not in her own name, but today she get the celebration she deserves, and she truly does deserve it.

 

For more information on the William Morris Gallery visit their website www.wmgallery.org.uk/

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Art can be an intimidating business. It shouldn’t be because the purpose of art is primarily about pure delight for the eyes of the beholder but I do understand the home lovers’ dilemma when it comes to what to hang on your walls. In the back of most people’s minds, and I include in this even the most confident of us, is ‘what are other people going to make of the pictures on my walls?’. I’m not going to tackle the enormous subject of how to select your art here (although I am gearing up to this topic so watch this space) but what I am going to talk about now is the incredibly good news which is that, and I really mean this, how you present and hang your art is almost, indeed dare I say as important, as the art you choose.

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These lovely simple botanical drawings make a huge impact hung in a group and against the backdrop of Fired Earth’s delicious South Bank paint colour. The clever addition of the bench and cushions picks up the colours in the paintings and visually anchors the artwork.

 

When I hang art for clients, which is a task I love because it makes such a difference to how an interior looks, the first thing I ask them to do is to get all the art they have out (and this should incorporate everything – original paintings of worth or not, prints, framed posters, family pictures, sculpture, home-made craft projects and so on) so that we can look at it and discuss what they actually like and what they are less keen on but may have a good reason (or not) for keeping. In this exercise I am primarily interested in noting what their most loved pieces are which should be displayed in key areas (master bedroom, entrance hall, main living room – wherever a household spends time) and what is less loved but can find a home in a lesser used area of a house (cloakroom, guest bedroom, back entrance hall). Once we have had this frank conversation, which is not always easy, I then start to think about where to place artwork in the home.

It helps to bear in mind that artwork does not have to match an interior scheme, in fact I like a picture to bring something different and eye-catching to the look of a room, but it does have to look comfortable in the space, not overpowering everything else or being overwhelmed itself.

I often feel rather shame faced when I visit the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum because I tend to head for the first floor galleries which I love and as I try hard to concentrate on the artwork I find my mind pondering exactly what colour the wall behind the great masterpiece is and examining the way the lighting has been achieved. I know I am supposed to be looking at the artwork, but actually it is the whole experience of those rooms that makes me love the galleries and whilst the rooms are certainly not pretending to be domestic interiors, I find the combination of the artwork with the rich background colours, the dark wood flooring, the lighting and the occasional pieces of furniture is what makes me very happy. The moral of the story is that an interior is a collage of many elements and if you get the balance right, the effect is glorious; out of balance and beautiful things suddenly can’t come to life in the way that you want them to.

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Putting a treasured painting in a master bedroom ensures it is regularly seen and enjoyed.

When you have got an idea of where you want your pictures to live, the art of hanging them well starts with checking the space around the piece – they need enough space to be seen and to shine on their own merit but also some reference to other furnishings or pictures. For example, a piece of furniture under a picture usually helps to visually anchor the artwork – you need to leave enough space between the furniture and the picture to allow some accessories on the surface, the picture should not hang so low that accessories obscure the picture and not so high that it is hanging in mid-air with no reference to the things below it at all. The best way to hang pictures is to get someone (one or more people depending on the size of the work) to hold the picture in place and then get them to go higher, lower, right a bit, left a bit until you find the place that the picture looks comfortable and hopefully before the holder’s arms start shaking and a row beings to brew. I generally find that pictures are hung too high – go as low as you dare and try to remember that being able to see the painting comfortably, even when you are sitting down, is also an important part of the exercise.

I cannot emphasise how important framing is and this decision includes whether to frame or not, as certainly not all artwork needs framing. Spend time, effort and money (as necessary) on making the absolute best of your artworks by considering how best to present them. A clever framer is a very good friend of the interior designer and I always make sure that I ask the advice of my framer as a starting point, who will generally consider the right approach to make the best of the picture, but then I may add an opinion on the look that we are creating in the interior. We tend to agree somewhere between the two which should ensure that the final approach adds to both the artwork and the interior.

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This very favourite painting is displayed in full view in a well used space

Moving pictures around is a surprisingly effective way of giving your home a bit of an update. I would like to say that I do this regularly but realistically it only really happens when I buy a new picture and move current ones around to accommodate it, but I am always surprised at the impact that a picture’s surroundings has on how the artwork itself is perceived. I recently acquired a lovely bright yellow velvet occasional chair which has found a very happy home in the corner of my bedroom. Interestingly three people who visit the house regularly asked, on completely separate occasions, whether the picture above it was new. In fact the picture has been there for quite a while and features quite a strong dash of yellow and I can only assume that the new chair combined with the painting draws the eye to the corner of the room more than before. Whatever it was, it is interesting that even a small change around can suddenly bring artwork, and it surroundings, to life.

Much as I love to see beautiful photography in an interior, which should be hung with the same consideration and principles as your other artwork, I also like to see personal photographs in a home as they so instantly individualise a space. These will probably not be the beautiful specimens that the great photographers produce and so need to be handled accordingly. Groups of photos (either in standing frames or wall hung) can be a good way to display images of family, holiday or a general hotchpotch of memories and should be thought of as an explosion of emotion, rather than a focus on one particular shot. A group of photos can also be added to and changed as life moves forward, which keeps your display up to date. Don’t feel you have to include every image, or record every event, or heaven forbid, have a photo of every family member (although you may have to swap pictures in on critical occasions so as not to cause a family dispute) – personal photos in your home are not an absolute record of your life, but an accessory that should lift your heart when you glance at them.

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This delightful tiny artwork is given a great presence by using a large mount with a simple frame and
being hung on a dark painted wall

Lighting is crucial for artwork (indeed for interiors generally and is a huge topic in itself). Think about what light you need for your artwork in daylight (which might still include artificial lighting) and what you need at night. You don’t have to only consider the traditional picture light – a light from the ceiling or a floor-standing uplighter can work really well too. Just as lighting art well is important for enjoying the work, shielding it from the sunlight is important for preservation purposes and should also be considered carefully.

Finally, I wish to joyfully dismiss the idea that you can’t hang pictures on wallpaper. You can and you should. Wallpaper is a splendid backdrop to your pictures, you will just need to be careful that the wallpaper doesn’t overpower the art either in terms of colour or pattern or both, it should be a backdrop so ensure that your art, not your wallpaper, is the star.

I have realised whilst I have been writing this piece that there really are a multitude of considerations when hanging artwork so what I say to you is don’t be overwhelmed by the task – get your picture hooks and hammer out and have a go. Unless you are wildly wrong, in which case you will have to get a pot of paint out, the new position for the picture will cover the first (and subsequent) hanging attempts and if you live with your efforts for a few days, you will soon know whether you got it right or not. I have rarely seen an interior that doesn’t benefit from having artwork on the walls so be brave and get those pictures hung.

This post appeared in the July edition of Cambridge Magazine

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This Sunday the clocks are going to be turning back an hour, meaning more light in the mornings and cozier, darker evenings. Since it’s all about the clocks this weekend, what better time to take a look at some of the beautiful and interesting clocks around at the moment? From big to small, there all sorts of lovely designs to suit your interior style.

Clocks are a handy buy as they do two jobs in one; they’re the perfect decorative piece to really make a wall pop, or to add focus to a table, plus they are also a functional piece for your interior and your life!

‘Marble Wall Watch’ from Rose & Grey

This square wall piece from Rose & Grey is the perfect unstated piece, if you’re looking for something clean and simple that will complement a relaxed design scheme, this is a great choice. The dark marble is completely on trend right now, and the square shape is an interesting alternative to the classic circle.

Following the marble trend, this hexagonal light marble wall clock from Trouva is a lovely sophisticated piece. It really stands out against a dark wall, and will look equally as gorgeous in a light and airy setting, it’s a great design for a contemporary setting!

‘Karlsson Light Marble Hexagonal Clock’ from Trouva

A clock doesn’t just have to tell the time, it can be a creative way to bring in some artwork or a feature piece to a room. This can be achieved by getting your hands on a bold and daring wall clock. This delicate sunflower clock from Chaplins is just wonderful. The metal petals are a lovely design and despite its flower motif, its design can be used in all sorts of schemes, not just a feminine one. The design can work in both a contemporary or bohemian interior, and even be used to jazz up a traditional setting.

‘Sunflower Wall Clock’ from Chaplins

If you love a wonderful vintage feel from your home accessories, this nautical style large wall clock from Graham & Green will do just the trick. I love the rusty, antiqued finish the clock has on it, it’ll look great up on a high wall against a pale background, or if you like a bit of organized chaos, mix it amongst some other wall pieces or art to create a wonderful cluster.

‘Nautical Compass Skeleton Wall Clock’ from Graham & Green

For something rather special, Rockett St George are currently stocking an amazing clock designed by George Nelson in 1957. The abstract eye design is perfect if you love to decorate your home with alternative and unusual items.

‘Eye Clock Designed by George Nelson 1957’ from Rockett St George

For something a little smaller, finding a clock for a table, be it sideboard or bedside table is a great time to experiment your style and begin to introduce a different feel to your interiors. This retro style alarm clock from Rockett St George will look fantastic in a contemporary and glamourous bedroom. The copper casing is beautiful, hopefully filling you with less dread when the alarm goes off in the morning!

‘Leff Amsterdam Block Alarm Clock’ form Rockett St George

If you’re looking for some ultra-antique glam, this Chinoiserie clock from Oka is a great little piece. The clock is fun and playful and will look great on an antique table, or if you want to mix up your styled pair with a contemporary piece of furniture.

‘Chinoiserie Carriage Clock’ from Oka

Rowen & Wren have something up their sleeve if you’re in the market for something a little quirky and unusual. The Ellmau chalet cuckoo clock could fit perfectly into a ski lodge look, or if you want to give your room an interesting focal point, contrasting this cuckoo clock against a contemporary or minimal scheme will create an interesting effect.

‘Ellmau Chalet Cuckoo Clock’ from Rowen & Wren

There is all sorts of fun to be had with picking out the perfect clock from your home, and with so much variety and choice out there you’ll have to resist the urge to put one on every wall in your house!

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The book featured in Book Club this month was brought to our attention by one of our lovely clients, and though it’s not the usual type of book we tend to include on the list, it’s a real thing of beauty! The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones is a detailed depiction of the history of decorative design and ornament. From Greek to Turkish to the Renaissance, the book is full to the brim of beautiful, traditional designs, and an interesting history on each origin. The collection of ornament designs are absolutely stunning, in fact this book is even worth buying to pull out and frame the images. I’ve selected a few of my favourites from some of the different eras to show off just how lovely they are.

Greek No.6

‘Greek Plate No.6’

This design comes from Greek and Etruscan (the name of civilisation in ancient Italy) vases. Something Owen Jones, the author of The Grammar of Ornament, notes about Greek decoration is that unlike some of its predecessors or companions at the time, its designs lacked meaning. Beautiful though they were, they weren’t representative or symbolic in any way, and were purely for decorative purposes. However, what is important to note is that there is an overwhelming amount of Greek ornament that still remains today, this indicates that at the time the style of Greek ornament would have been in popular demand and considered high on the taste scale. Jones comments that “the lands would have been overflowing with artists, whose hands and minds were so trained as to enable them to execute these beautiful ornaments with unerring truth”. Below the Greek plate shows off ornament from the Temples and Tombs in Greece and Sicily.

Greek No.8

‘Greek Plate No.8’

Ornamentation from Pompeii takes its influence from its surrounding areas, from Greek to Roman styles, the design below is a rather fantastic geometric ornament, taken from Mosaics from Pompeii. The rich dark colours mixed with the almost neon bright tones creates a somewhat contemporary design.

Pompeian No.2

‘Pompeian Plate No.3’

There is a certain vagueness that comes with the discussion of Byzantine ornament, it appears that historians are often unable to track down, or confirm authentic Byzantine pieces of design and therefore are unable to make a true, viable comment on the history of the ornament. Jones calls the Byzantine style “peculiar” but I think it’s rather wonderful, and the combination of various schools of design compile together to create a gorgeous style.

Byzantine No.3

‘Byzantine Plate No.3’

Of course, if you’re talking about decorative ornament, you can hardly leave out Turkish designs. From mosques, tombs and fountains in Constantinople, or modern day Istanbul, these intricate designs are truly something special, perhaps because they take influence from other styles of ornament, as Jones says, “on the same building side by side with ornaments derived from Arabian and Persian floral ornaments, we find debased Roman and Renaissance details”.

Turkish No.1

‘Turkish Plate No.1’

The Alhambra is a palace located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain, and is home to some wonderful examples of Moresque ornament. As Jones tells the reader, “we find in the Alhambra the speaking art of the Egyptians, the natural grace and refinement of the Greeks, the geometrical combinations of the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Arabs”. It’s this wonderful collection of influences that creates such glorious patterns and designs. The example below shows a diaper ornament, which is a repetitive geometric surface, usually composed of lozenges or squares, which this pattern uses.

Moresque No.4

‘Moresque Plate No. 4’

Persian No.1

‘Persian Plate No.1’

Above is Persian ornament taken from manuscripts that belong to the British Museum.

Jones describes medieval ornament as being in “perfect harmony” with the structural features of a building. Although little remains of medieval decorative interiors, the decoration of some manuscripts gives some indication as to what would have been the common and popular styles of the interiors. The design below shows off the conventional leaves and flowers from medieval style.

Medieval No.1

‘Medieval Plate No.1’

And finally, I thought I’d squeeze in a few more designs from the Renaissance and Italy. The Renaissance design comes from pottery ornamentation at the South Kensington Museum, which we now know as The V&A.

Renaissance No.5

 

‘Renaissance Plate No.5’

The Italian plate is pilasters and ornament from none other than the Vatican, specifically from the loggia, which were corridors, open on one side to the outside and covered in frescos, such as the one below.

Italian No.1

‘Italian Plate No.1’

Whether you want to learn about the history and stories of ornament, or just take a look at the glorious imagery The Grammar of Ornament is truly a fantastic book!

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Last week  I went to The Heong Gallery at Downing College in Cambridge to see the exhibition Cubes and Trees by the brilliant artist Ai Weiwei.  Although technically it’s not much to do with interior design, the exhibition was rather lovely and so we thought it deserved a blog!

Ai Weiwei is somewhat of a controversial artist, due to the subject matter of his work, which spoke out against the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei was arrested and imprisoned in 2011 for 81 days, and up until 2015 he was deprived of his passport. It is this that has led to a worldwide reaction and intrigue into his work, and since having his passport returned to him Ai Weiwei has exhibited his work in some of the world’s major museums, including a recent exhibition at the Royal Academy, which featured some of the same pieces available to see at The Heong Gallery.

Cubes and Trees is a simple, non-fussy exhibition that does exactly what it says on the tin, and the latter part of the title is by far my favourite piece. Comparatively, when I went to go see Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy, it was a cold December morning and these beautiful trees where placed in the grand courtyard of the building. To see the piece then, in those circumstances created a looming, dramatic effect, but what a difference and change of location and season can make! Yesterday the sun was bright and shining, and the trees though still as equally dramatic had a serenity about them that created a very calm and peaceful encounter.

From afar the trees may appear ordinary, however as soon as you get a closer look you can see all of the wonderful details. Each tree is made up from multiple deconstructed trees, found in a market in Jingdezhen in China. The cut up branches and trunks and fixed together with nuts and bolts to create a beautiful, but raw appearance. What is so clever about this artwork, is that upon viewing it for the first time you may think that each piece is just a single tree cut up and put back together again, but in actual fact each final tree is created from several trees, all in different variety, shapes and sizes, each piece carefully crafted to fit together perfectly.

 

Ai Weiwei has commented on the piece, “We assembled them together to have all the details of a normal tree. At the same time, you’re not comfortable, there’s a strangeness there, an unfamiliar-ness. It’s just like trying to imagine what a tree was like”. The trees are interestingly placed in front of the neo-classical buildings of Downing College, which, like the deconstructed/reconstructed trees, and an interpretation of what its original counterpart would have looked like. Both the building and the trees are an imitation of something, and there is a wonderful synergy between them.

Inside the main area of the gallery, four one-metre square cubes are situated in a row taking up almost the entire length of the floor space. Each cube is made up for a different material, Crystal, Tea, Ebony and Wood.

The Crystal Cube, made in 2014, creates a distorted vision which is encouraged further by the placement of a mirrored surface place on the bottom. This helps to create the cube-like effect, it’s like you’re looking into a vat of solidified water.

The second cube in the sequence is made up of one ton of compressed Pu-er tea leaves, a traditional Chinese tea. As the room get warmer the aromatic fragrances of the tea become more and more potent.

The third cube is titled Cube in Ebony, made in 2009 from Zitan wood. Zitan wood, which grows in China is expensive, and it is often rare to find furniture made from it. In creating these cubes Ai Weiwei comments on Chinese culture’s traditions and customs. There is a perfect blend of modern geometric forms and traditional Chinese materials and decorative conventions. The last cube instalment is made from honey-toned Huali wood and is called Treasure Box. This piece is a little more interactive then the previous three, it is made with an excruciating amount of precision, and when dismantled it can turn into different forms of furniture. This piece is both a play on larger traditional Chinese furniture as well as Puzzle Boxes, which conceal their openings and can be used to hide things in for those in the know.

Cubes and Trees is a wonderful exhibition, full of eye-catching pieces with intriguing stories to tell of both the works and the artist, as the curator of The Heong Gallery Rachel Rose Smith confirms, “Both groups of works attest to the power of Ai’s use of forms, materials and places to reveal more about how we interact with our environments”. It’s a sure must of any Cambridge local to go and take a look at.

For more information on opening times, visit: http://www.dow.cam.ac.uk/index.php/heong-gallery

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