Archive for the Art Category

Chanson d’Automne

Posted in Art, History, LGBT, Music with tags , , , on June 6, 2023 by telescoper

I’ve mentioned on here before that I had an English teacher at school who used to set interesting creative writing challenges, in which we would be given two apparently disconnected topics and asked to write something that connected them together. The inspiration was ‘Only Connect’, the epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End. Since I’ve spent all afternoon in an Exam Board meeting I thought I’d do a little bit of connecting now.

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Chanson d’Automne, by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896).

I posted the above poem by Paul Verlaine for two reasons. One is that lines from the poem were broadcast on the eve of the Normandy Landings. The landings themselves began in the morning of June 6th 1944 and the excerpt – the last three lines of the first verse – formed a coded message broadcast to the French resistance by Radio Londres, 5th June 1944 at 23.15 GMT, informing them that the Allied invasion of France was imminent and that sabotage operations should commence.

The other reason is that that it was just two weeks ago that I attended a concert featuring settings by Benjamin Britten of prose poems taken from  Les Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud. I didn’t know until that Verlaine and Rimbaud were lovers and that they lived for some time together in London. Their relationship was on the tempestuous side – at one point Verlaine fired a gun at Rimbaud, wounding him in the hand. Here’s a detail from a painting showing the two of them (Verlaine on the left, Rimbaud on the right).

It was said of Rimbaud that, as well as writing remarkable poetry, he was cute-looking, had a very dirty sense of humour, drank a bit too much, and liked lots and lots of rough sex. I think I would have liked him (although perhaps not enough to risk being shot by his jealous older boyfriend).

Anyway, this provides me with an excuse not only to commemorate D-Day but also Pride Month!


Ceci n’est pas un tapis de souris

Posted in Art, Education, Maynooth on April 7, 2023 by telescoper
It is now…

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Posted in Art, Jazz with tags , , , , on March 16, 2023 by telescoper

I just heard today – via the latest Private Eye – of the passing of Wally Fawkes on 1st March at the age of 98. His name won’t be familiar to many of the readers of this blog, but it is a name that I grew up with in a jazz-loving family. Wally Fawkes played clarinet with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in its heyday in the late 40s and early 50s and was the last surviving member of that group. That band may have had a rhythm section that always sounded like its members were wearing diving boots, but the front line of Humphrey Lyttelton (trumpet), Wally Fawkes (clarinet) and Keith Christie (trombone) was truly outstanding.

Wally Fawkes wasn’t just a musician, though. He was also the acclaimed cartoonist known by the pseudonym Trog, and contributed a variety of cartoons to a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the long-running comic strip Flook. He was also an occasional contributor to Private Eye. He had to give up drawing in 2005 because of failing eyesight, after 62 years in the business.

I’ve already drawn attention to Wally Fawke’s excellence as a clarinet soloist with the Lyttelton band on The Onions at the famous 1954 Festival Hall Concert so it seems apt to pay tribute to his skills as both a cartoonist and a musician by returning to that concert for him playing his own composition Trog’s Blues. Wally Fawkes was a huge admirer of Sidney Bechet, and this tune clearly pays homage to Bechet’s monumental Blue Horizon (which I think is the finest instrumental blues ever recorded) but while Bechet’s blues performances were hewn from granite, Wally’s were wrought from finest porcelain.

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Internazionale – Camille Souter

Posted in Art with tags , , , on March 4, 2023 by telescoper

Internazionale by Camille Souter (1965, 76.2 x 63.5 cm, oil on newsprint, private collection).

Posted in tribute to the artist, who has passed away at the age of 93.

R.I.P. Camille Souter (1929-2023).

Cosmic Composition – Paul Klee

Posted in Art with tags , , on February 20, 2023 by telescoper

by Paul Klee (1919, 48 x 41 cm, oil on board, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany).

Optical Illusion

Posted in Art with tags , on January 26, 2023 by telescoper

It’s not an illusion that I didn’t post yesterday. I have been very busy this week and didn’t have time to put anything on the blog. To get things going again, here is an intriguing optical illusion I saw on Twitter.

The point is that the cubes are not moving at all:

Composition in Blue – Fernand Léger

Posted in Art with tags , on January 16, 2023 by telescoper

Fernand Léger, Composition in Blue, 1920-27, oil on canvas, 130.5 × 97.2 (Art Institute of Chicago)

DIRAC Research Image Competition – The Winning Entries!

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 9, 2022 by telescoper

DIRAC is a high-performance computing facility designed to serve the research community supported in the UK by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Recently DIRAC ran a competition to select the best images produced using results obtained by this facility, and I was honoured to be asked to be one of the judges. Entries were divided into two Themes: Theme 1 (Particle and Nuclear Physics) and Theme 2 (Astronomy, Cosmology and Solar & Planetary Science) and scores were allocated by the judges based on visual impact and scientific interest. There were 41 entries altogether, all of a very high standard.

So, without further ado, I shall now show you the winning entries!

The winning image in Theme 1 was submitted by Ed Bennett and Biagio Lucini of Swansea University and called Let it (Wilson) flow. The description supplied by the creators reads:

A space-time slice of the topological charge density distribution of a 128 times 643 lattice field configuration (with periodic boundaries) from an ensemble of the SU(2) gauge theory with two flavours of Dirac fermion in the adjoint representation (also known as Minimal Walking Technicolor). Moving along the time direction from left to right, successive time-slices are also iterated using the gradient flow of the Wilson action, which removes the ultraviolet noise that would otherwise prevent computation of the configuration’s topological charge. This noise is clearly visible on the left, with the actual instantons (orange) and anti-instantons (blue) becoming visible at longer flow times to the right.

Here is the winning image for Theme 1:

Theme 1 winner: Let it (Wilson) flow by Ed Bennett and Biagio Lucini.

The winning entry of Theme 2 is entitled Immediate origin of the Moon as a post-impact satellite and was submitted by Jacob Kegerreis of Durham University who supplied the following description:

The Moon is thought to have formed following a giant impact, but the details are still hotly debated. New high-resolution simulations, like the one shown here, reveal that a Moon-like satellite can be immediately placed into a wide orbit around the Earth, in contrast with the traditional idea of later accretion from a debris disk. This opens up new possibilities for the Moon’s initial orbit and interior, which could help to solve mysteries like its tilted orbit, thin crust, and Earth-like isotopes. The 3D smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations were run using the SWIFT code on the DiRAC COSMA8 system with over 100 times higher resolution than the current standard. The SPH data from this mid-impact snapshot are rendered using Houdini and Redshift, with the colour, opacity, and emission controlled by the particle material, density, and internal energy.

Here is the winning image of Theme 2:

Theme 2 Winner: Immediate origin of the Moon as a post-impact satellite by Jacob Kegerreis

Congratulations to the winners!

It was a lot of fun being one of the judges for this competition and I learnt a lot about the science from the clever way in which many of the entries displayed their results. The field was very strong, and many more images were worthy of recognition, but we were only allowed to pick one winner from each Theme. I am however given to understand that it is planned to include the best of the rest alongside the winners in a 2023 calendar which will be distributed to the DIRAC user community.

Nocturne in Black and Gold

Posted in Art, Biographical with tags , , on November 5, 2022 by telescoper

`Only Connect’ – the epigraph of the novel Howard’s End by E.M. Forster – was a favourite phrase of one of my English teachers at school, and he invoked it whenever he set us one of his creative writing challenges. We were given two apparently disconnected things (usually news items), asked to think of a possible connection between them and write an story joining them together. From time to time when stuck for a topic for a blog post I’ve resorted to playing the same game.

In that vein: (a) I noticed a story last week about a painting by Piet Mondrian which has been hanging upside down for 75 years and (b) today is November 5th, Bonfire Night in the United Kingdom. The connection between these two things that sprang to my mind is this painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket by James McNeill Whistler.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – the Falling Rocket, c1875, oil on panel, 60.3 × 46.7 cm (Detroit Institute of Arts)

This, the last in his wonderful series of paintings of night-time scenes, first displayed in 1877, is set in the Cremorne Gardens, which was a park in Chelsea, though in a manner typical of Whistler’s work of this period it is more a response to the location than a representation of it. The sombre colours – mainly green and blue, except for the grey smoke of the falling rocket and the gold flames and flashes of fireworks – are layered in such a way as to blur the situational context of the composition so that it’s no longer a purely figurative work. It’s certainly an enigmatic painting, but I think the arrangement of colours and textures is very well balanced as well as intriguing. It is historically important too, because it represents one of the first stirrings of modernism in art in England.

The compositional ambiguity is deliberate. The ghostly figures in the foreground are almost transparent. Are they even people? When asked this question himself, Whistler replied “They are just what you like”. Whistler is encouraging viewers of his work to construe their own meaning in, and interpretation of, what he put on the canvas. As an astrophysicist, the filamentary pattern of sparks reminds me of chains of distant galaxies. What does it remind you of?

Nocturne in Black and Gold is also famous for having been at the centre of a libel case. The influential art critic John Ruskin hated it and accused Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. Whistler sued for damages (though he couldn’t really afford to). He won the case against Ruskin, but the outcome was financially disastrous for him because he was awarded only one farthing in damages.

Anyway, the connection with the Mondrian story is that Whistler’s case was done no favours when this painting was brought into the courtroom during the Whistler v Ruskin case, as it was was presented for viewing upside down

That Tory Cabinet Reshuffle…

Posted in Art, Politics on October 26, 2022 by telescoper