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Heart of Darkness revisited: Some lino prints

While I was adding some more pictures to my gallery a couple of weeks ago, I came across a series of lino prints that I did for a local art project in 2017, based around Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/526

Heart of Darkness begins aboard the British ship, Nellie, which is anchored in the Thames, near Gravesend. As the crew wait for the weather to clear, one of the sailors, Marlow, tells the story of the time that he travelled in a steamboat up the River Congo. He describes his shock at the European traders’ treatment of the natives and how the experience of trading in Africa changes people. He relates what he has learnt about the darkness of the human heart, and the things of which that darkness is capable.

In Chapter One, Conrad describes the scene from the ship, Nellie, looking up the river towards London.

Chapman Light on the Thames features in Chapter 1 of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Chapman Light – limited edition lino print

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman light-house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.

I’ve done a lino print of the Chapman Lighthouse, separately from the Heart of Darkness project. https://duncangrantartist.com/product/chapman-light/

The 2017 Heart of Darkness art project, hosted by St Andrews Arts Centre in Gravesend, was organised by Terry Lane, who I used to work with back in the day.  It featured excerpts read from the book, accompanied by projected images and live music composed specially for the event . The bands involved were The Closer We are to Dying (Terry’s band) https://www.facebook.com/thecloserwearetodying/ Whthppnsfpshthtbttn?, The Bleak Industrialists and The Science Department, and the projections were produced by Mike and Romana from The Hot Tin www.the-hot-tin.co.uk through their company Routestock https://www.routestock.org/about?fbclid=IwAR3AQlfQ_wjB4IzGoxS2dLPqbWpEOEAAfR0_2GSOaJuRqSMiw7xaFjkVn6o

The boat anchored on the Thames at the start of Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Boat – limited edition lino print

Several local artists, including me, provided artwork, inspired by scenes from the book. Others involved were Matt Kilda, Jane Prangnell, Mark Wrangham and Nikki Price.

Mental health is a key theme in Heat of Darkness and the show was produced in association with North Kent MIND http://northkentmind.co.uk/, with all ticket money donated to them.

If you missed it, these You Tube clips give a flavour of the event.



If you’ve read the book you’ll know that, as well as being an adventure story, Heart of Darkness is bleak. It explores thenes of greed, cruelty and humanity, and raises troubling questions about imperialism. It is said that Conrad made the book deliberately hard to read. He wanted the reader to feel as though they were fighting through the jungle, just like Marlow did in search of the desperate and deranged ivory trader Kurtz.

My pictures, all lino cuts for the project, focused mainly on the weird and the macabre in the book, plus a couple of others on a maritime theme.

Maps and charts use for navigation up the Congo in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Chart table – limited edition lino print

As a boy, Marlow, the storyteller in Heart of Darkness, was fascinated by maps and longed to be an explorer. After several years sailing in the Pacific he returns to London, and inspired by a map of Africa and the Congo River that he sees in a shop window, he takes a job as a steamboat pilot and sets off into Africa dreaming of adventure.

River Congo described as a snake in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Snake – limited edition lino print

But Marlow’s comparison of the river to a coiled snake is a portent of the evil he would later encounter.

But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird – a silly little bird.

Marlow soon realises that his employer, ‘the company’, is in the Congo for gain and to spread European ideals. ‘The company’ say they are ’emissaries of light’, but what Marlow sees are ‘groves of death’.

Images - Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Heads – Limited edition lino print
Death and decay in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Skeletons – limited edition lino print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heads on sicks at the climax of Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Heads on sticks – limited edition lino print

 

The heads on sticks appear at the end of the book and symbolise Kurtz, the ivory trader’s, excessive brutality and madness.

Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to make me throw my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing—food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.

I was interested to find out that the film Apocalypse Now  was based on the Heart of Darkness, but set in the jungles of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It explores the ways in which the ‘darkness’ of Vietnam caused an apocalypse in the hearts of those sent there to fight, just as the ‘darkness’ of the Congo revealed the darkness in the hearts of the European traders.

My Heart of Darkness  limited edition lino prints are available to buy in my gallery https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

Boat – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-boat/
Chart table – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-chart-table/
Heads – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-heads/
Skeletons – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-skeletons/
Heads on sticks – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-heads-on-sticks/

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Lions of Windsor and other animals

After I came back from the Liberty factory in Milan in March I wrote in my blog, ‘I wondered where this journey will take me next’. Well one answer is possibly ‘Windsor’ and I certainly didn’t expect that!

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by award winning homeware designer, Lisa Todd, who is Director of this year’s Lions of Windsor project https://lionsofwindsor.org/, to ask if I would be interested in decorating a life-size resin and fibre glass lion to be displayed somewhere around Windsor this summer. The original lion was created by Bath sculptor Alan Dun https://alandunsculpture.weebly.com/ as a 3D canvas.

The project will involve a giant pride of over 60, individually decorated lion sculptures being positioned around the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead from 10th August until 27th October this year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. There will be an official public art ‘safari trail’ where visitors can see the bigger lions, decorated by artists and designers, plus a mini-pride of lion cubs decorated by schools and charities.

The project will culminate in a Lions Roar Goodbye  festival (9th/10 November) and then a charity auction on 22nd November. All profits will be donated to local charities, including the new Thames Hospice in Maidenhead, Look Good Feel Better and the Lions Club of Windsor, for distributing to good causes across the region.

I haven’t really got much experience of 3D art or drawing (on) animals really. I did decorate this set of Russian Dolls in 2018 for ‘Art on a Postcard’ https://www.artonapostcard.com/ and I’ve done relief prints of a few cats, birds, water creatures and insects over the years (see below) but a 3-D lion is going to be a bit of a challenge. Not least because I have to get it home, paint it and then get it back to Windsor, without being eaten!

Russian dolls decorated for ‘Art on a Postcard’

As you might be aware, over the last year I’ve been working on a series of Small Town ink drawings. You can see then all in my Gallery under ‘Original Artwork: Ink Drawings’. https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/original-artwork/drawing-ink/ They are all also available as digital prints. I submitted one of the Small Towns to the #LibertyOpenCall competition that I won and the two designs that Liberty have been produced are due to be launched next month as part of their Summer Collection. I’ve included elements of the Liberty Small Town design in my lion design because Liberty fabric designs were very popular in the Victorian era.

My lion design is called Night and Day  and depicts Windsor in daylight (on the side of the lion with his eye open) and Windsor at night (on the side of the lion with his eye closed). Each side will reflect Windsor’s position on the Thames, and will feature prominent landmarks, such as the castle and the Great Park. You might even spot some Windsor collars and ties with Windsor knots on the final product. I haven’t really decided.

Anyway, that’s for the future. I have to have my design accepted first. The templates are really small so what you can see here is only an impression. If I’m successful, the design on the final lion will be much more intricate.

Here is what I have submitted:

Front view
Windsor by day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the other animals….. As mentioned above, here are some of my earlier encounters with animals. They’re all for sale via the Gallery on this website – just follow the links.

Cats

 

https://duncangrantartist.com/product/black-cat/ (also Blue Cat)
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/moon-cat-2/
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/cat/

Hares

https://duncangrantartist.com/rabbits/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://duncangrantartist.com/product/crow/
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/raven/
https://duncangrantrist.com/product/penguins/
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/pigeon/ 

Sea creatures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


https://duncangrantartist.com/octopus/
https://duncangrantartist.com/squid/
https://duncangrantartist.com/dogfish/

Insects

 

https://duncangrantartist.com/stag-beetle/
https://duncangrantartist.com/cheesy-bug/

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Drawing inspiration from the Thames

A beautiful sunny day with a Force 9 gale battering the prom seemed like the perfect backdrop for a nautical themed Explore and Draw session on the magnificent, retired lightship Light Vessel 21 – LV21 now moored at St Andrew’s Quay in Gravesend, Kent.

I was booked to give an introductory talk to the artists and after that, taking care not to be blown overboard, we set off to explore the ship in search of inspiration for our drawings .

LV 21 was acquired in 2009 by Päivi Seppälä and Gary Weston who have converted the 400m, steel-hulled ship into a thriving cultural and heritage centre. https://lv21.co.uk/ It was the last lightship to be built by Dartmouth-based Philip and Son, and spent most of its service off the Kent coast on the Varne, East Goodwin and Channel stations. Derek Grieve, the last Master of the lightship, explains what daily life was like for the crew on board. website https://lv21.co.uk/about/history-of-lv21/crew-stories/

In 1981, LV21 survived a collision with another ship, the Ore Meteor, which was being towed by a tug. Crew member Brian Packham gives a fascinating account of the event. https://lv21.co.uk/about/history-of-lv21/collision-at-the-varne/

The Thames has inspired artists for centuries. Many people will be familiar with J.M.W. Turner’s work but you may not have heard of The Wapping Group of Artists, founded in 1946, who met initially to record the busy life of London’s dockland and, since then, have painted the Thames and the land either side of it. http://thewappinggroupofartists.co.uk/

Being born and bred in Gravesend, the river hasalways been part of my life and, inevitably, its history and childhood memories have found their way into my art.

This limited edition lino cut shows the Chapman Lighthouse, which stood off the coast of Canvey Island in the Thames Estuary from 1851 to 1957, warning sailors away from the mud flats. It featured in Chapter 1 of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. https://duncangrantartist.com/product/chapman-light/

The digital print (below right) depicts Lower Hope, a stretch of the tidal Thames, below Gravesend, near the Ship and Lobster pub.  The picture, which was originaly an acrylic painting, is about remembering my dad. We would go walking down by the sea wall when I was a kid. The background is a doodle of elements from my life. I am the small figure in the middle. I guess I am walking on my own these days.  http://duncangrantartist.com/product/ac364-print/

 

This final image, also a digital print from an acrylic painting, is a view of the Thames from Gravesend High Street. Visitors to Gravesend are often amazed to see 7-storey cruise ships appearing from behind the buildings at the end of the road. http://duncangrantartist.com/product/to-the-river-print/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variety offered by Thames and LV21 did not disappoint the Explore and Draw artists. Encouraged by workshop leader and artist Luna Zsigo, they captured their surroundings in very different ways – from detailed drawings of ropes, to windswept landscapes framed by the lightship’s portholes. My LV21 inspired drawing is at the top of this post.

 

Everyone is welcome at Explore and Draw sessions – from absolute beginners to more experienced artists. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and non-judgemental…oh, and the cake is to die for!

If you are interested in joining or attending other cultural events on board L21 or organised by Päivi and Gary, visit the website: https://lv21.co.uk/events/ 
Explore and Draw workshop photographs by Neil Thorne Photography – 07715 681855

Finally, talented musician Ian Kirton has set some of my Thames-related work to one of his original compositions ‘Simplicity’. See the You Tube link below.

A licence to use Ian Kirton’s track ‘Simplicity’ can be purchased here: https://www.productiontrax.com/royalty-free-music/249644

All the pictures featured are available to buy on this website, just search for the title in the Gallery.