Curving iron and stone II


Hotel Hannon, 1903 (fish eye)

Jules Brunfaut built this magnificent manor house for his childhood friend Édouard Hannon who lived there from 1904-1965 .  The building is now open to the public and shows experimental photography exhibitions.  The interior looks incredible from images I have seen online – unfortunately i didn’t get to go inside this time.

The interior parades vibrant mosaics, frescoes and stained glass windows. A mahogany spiral staircase with a wrought iron balustrade connects the floors in true Art Nouveau style.


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Adjoined to Hotel Hannon on Avenue Brugmann is Maison Les Hiboux, completed in 1899, by architect Édouard Pelseneer.1.IMG_5471.ds

The name of the building ‘Les Hiboux’ (Owls) sits between two stylised owls and floral motifs on stone above the entrance door. This type of scraffitto design and the organic shapes within the ironwork and window frames are typical of Art Nouveau.Building 6.3

The combination of different materials, colours and textures combined in an asymmetrical  layout create a very interesting building.  The rich red brick colours and white and blue stone work compliment the warm yellow and orange sgraffito paintings and the deep browns and greys of the wood and iron.

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Curving iron and stone I


I’ve not looked at any Art Nouveau since my school days – despite it being the Art Nouveau works by creative geniuses such as Gustav Klimt and Victor Horta that got me hooked on art in the first place. During a recent trip to Brussels, I became completely immersed once again in an incredible mix of art nouveau-style architecture displaying a wide range of possibilities with shaping and combining materials – particularly iron and stone.  In this post I’ll share images and a little information of some of the buildings I discovered while exploring Brussels.

‘Art Nouveau-Baroque’ Maison Saint-Cyr with its tall narrow facade (4m wide!) and extravagant ironwork can be found at 11, Square Ambiorix.1.IMG_5396.ds

Stone & steel staircase.1

Details of lacey floral-motifs in iron

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Gustave Strauven, designed this famous house for the painter Georges de Saint-Cyr and it was one of Gustave Strauven’s most important buildings.  He cleverly juxtaposed various materials (brick, iron, stone, wood, glass) linking them with a crazy organic style full of movement.  It is quite clear that the architect liked to utilise new technologies and experiment with different materials.

Some of my favourite details: the linking/bolting together of the iron work (see slide show images above), and the metal and stone balconies with hidden stone engraving on the underside of the balconies which almost look like a shadow of the metalwork (seen when looking up from underneath – see right hand picture below).2ViewsUnfortunately this incredible building has been falling into disrepair for years as not all old buildings with historical significance are protected in Belgium.  Thankfully some repair works started to be made on it in 2013.1.IMG_5394.ds

Maison Cauchie – Cauchie House – built by Paul Cauchie in 1905 is located in front of the Parc du Cinquantenaire.


‘Scraffiti’/’Sgraffito’ facade – colour drawing into cement.  Applying colour, line and texture in the same way that sgraffito is used on clay.  The exquisite allegorical drawings on this building are one of the elements which has led it to being viewed as one of the most important masterpieces of Art Nouveau in Brussels.  Paul Cauchie specialised in designing sgraffiti for architecture, and was decorator more than architect.  He created this home for his wife and himself as a huge advertisement to sell his work and services as a decorator and architect and his wife skills as a teacher.  Cauchie and his wife furnished the house with fine art objects, paintings and furniture. The lettering above the door reflects the whole of the building, ‘Par Nous  Pour Nous’ ‘By Us – For Us’.

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Some of the metalwork here (above and below) demonstrates a more art-deco style.

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I’m not sure of the name of the building above.  It is not as flamboyant as some of the others but is nonetheless equally stunning and powerful.

Below is Maison Ciamberlani built in 1897 by Paul Hankar for the painter Ciamberlani. It displays a great combination of geometry and organic Art Nouveau form.  Again Scrafitti envelopes most of the building’s facade. Paul Hankar the son of a stonemason, was a  furniture designer as well as architect and innovator of Art Nouveau style.

building 3.detailbuilding 3.detail.1

Maison Ciamberlani  is located on the same street Rue Defaqz as Maison Hankar (Paul Hankar’s own house) which was his first major architectural project completed in 1893.  There are a cluster of great Art Nouveau buildings in this area of St Gilles and I was fortunate to be staying close by to them.building.7

I love the geometric metalwork on the balconies, it reminds me of some old Japanese designs and furniture – particularly wooden lattice work that frames paper screens (room dividers) and shoji (traditional windows).  Maison Hankar along with Hotel Tassel by Victor Horta are considered the very first two houses built in Art Nouveau style.  Victor Horta and Paul Hanker also studied together and clearly shared similar interests and influences.  Hotel Tassel is located in St Gilles a couple of streets from Maison Hankar.

Hotel Tassel – Victor Horta, 1893-94

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Beautiful iron and stone work.

Hotel Tassel.2

This building was built for the Belgian scientist Edmond Tassel.  Victor Horta was breaking new ground in at the time through his use of iron and exposed rivets, alongside stone and glass, in domestic architecture.  Some of the pillars of the building are even made from iron rather than stone.  In the early 1900’s metal used in architecture was considered extremely modern.

1.IMG_5440.dsVictor Horta’s most well known building is probably, Horta House (his former home and studio) built between 1898-1901.  It is now the Horta Museum.

The interior of the museum is astonishing.  Unfortunately it’s not possible to take photos inside.  The way light is harnessed in the building, particularly through a skylight above the most incredible staircase and railings make it a unique and exceptional space to experience.

Abstract curves, geometry and motifs entwine the museums’s architecture, interior design, and furniture (which all exhibit fine craftsmanship).


The exquisite cabinetry also includes finer details such as fixtures and fittings, for example door handles.  A cabinet in one of the rooms displays a set of models of  various handle designs and moulds of the handles in plaster.  Most of these handles were cast in metal.

Horta House.handles

Horta House.2


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I’ve got a few more Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels images to share in my next blog post…

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Flemish-Baroque Architecture, Brussels

1.IMG_5562.dsL’ Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Béguinage is an incredible Flemish-Baroque building (completed in 1676) that I discovered in Brussels this month.  It is situated just north of the Grande Place, close to Place Sainte-Catherine.  The above image of the front facing external facade appears to soar into the sky, drawing any bystander in through its dramatic central projection.

If the dynamic exterior isn’t enough to play with your senses and spatial perception, the interior – an explosion of intricate detail and complex geometry, may create a stronger impression!

The architect of this masterpiece Luc Fayd’Herbe, was a student of Rubens. His inspiration from Rubens is apparent in his architecture, particularly in his powerful use of  strong light-and-shade contrasts (creating chiaroscuro effects).  The creation of various sized and shaped windows located at different heights, control the way light enters the space and aids illusory effects.  Also, the Baroque feeling of objects entering one’s space and paintings spilling out of a two-dimensional space or canvas to touch the viewer, is certainly present.  It is captured through a plethora of fluid interconnected curving and linear structures that can play with one’s perception, sense of space and imagination.

I was not aware of the great influence that the painter Paul Rubens had on architecture.  Through his book ‘Palazzi di Genova‘ which, depicts and describes palaces of Genoa he introduced contemporary Italian architecture models to his students in the Netherlands.  Rubens even had his own house (Rubenshuis, Antwerp)  built in the Genoese style of architecture.  I’m guessing Ruben’s played an important role as an artist and educator in initiating Luc Fayd’Herbe’s interest and understanding of Baroque-style, and in enabling him to evolve creatively and to cultivate ideas to develop a new kind of Baroque.

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I have some more images which I’ll post at some point..




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Weathered Stone + English Gothic Architecture


I thought it would be appropriate to share some graves, fine English Gothic Architecture and incredible stone, as this month’s blog has landed on Halloween.  I have visited Whitby in North Yorkshire many times and many of my childhood holidays were spent there.  I could never put into words the intriguing sense of awe, eeriness and mystery that I experienced whenever I passed by the abbey ruins and through St Mary’s churchyard.  The church and abbey is built on a site with a long history – a Benedictine monastery was founded here in the mid-7th century.                                                                                         I made a journey along the top of the East Cliff, through the graveyard and past the abbey daily from the campsite where I stayed, to the fishing and seaside town at the mouth of the River Esk below.

Whitby Abbey.8

Below are some pictures of the graveyard, followed by the  Abbey with a few notes.  I hope the images and annotations can begin to illustrate the aura of mystery and intrigue this place emits alongside a more uncanny atmosphere, which is difficult to put into words.

The cemetery overlooks the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby.  The environment here can be harsh; the stormy weather and strong North Sea winds loaded with salt, have eaten into the tombstones over the years and created interesting erosion effects in colour and texture.  Due to recent landslips from torrential rain and damaged drainage, the pathways along the East Cliff have now been closed.

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The graves date from the 1600’s.  Many of the grave stones have names of ships, trades or professions, a name and the place where the person died or is buried.  There are 924 names recorded on the monuments and tombstones that mainly belong to local sailors, fishermen, royal navy seamen and lifeboatmen.  The 199 stairs that lead from the narrow cobbled streets of the town, up the steep hill to St Mary’s and the Abbey, also form part of the churchyard.  Below are some closer details of the weathered stone.

St Mary’s Parish is a Norman church that dates from around 1110.  It has been added to and altered over the centuries, but still stands like a fortress ready to take on what the North Sea has to throw at it.  It is not surprising that this graveyard was the setting chosen by Bram Stoker for a major scene his book ‘Dracula’.


“For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St. Mary’s Church. Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the Abbey coming into view; and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and churchyard became gradually visible… It seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.”

Whitby Abbey is classified as a major monument of Early English Gothic architecture and some parts still stand at full height.

There are some gorgeous colours and textures to be found in the stone walls between the church and abbey, below are a just few examples.  The erosion and direct environmental effects over hundred’s of years have created a range incredible tactile surfaces.  Also notice the fossil embedded in one of stones.

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A mixture of bold golden ochres and rich terracotta colours harmonise with pure whites, slate greys and deep chocolatey browns to make up the Abbey and its walls.  Some of the colours and textures collide in a variety of ways creating vivid effects.  Colours that have mixed and merged naturally in the materials of the stone appear as marbled effects, overlapping patches, waves and splashes of colour, speckles and streaky linear markings.  Abbey wall.ds2.Whitby Abbey Field

The view above is out onto the headland surrounding the abbey, towards the East Cliffs and North Sea.  The ruins of the medieval abbey church stand in magnificent isolation within this large open expanse of land.  Originally, however, the church would have been at the centre of a large group of monastic buildings.

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Above are a few overview images of the abbey and below a view from the Abbey looking out to a huge storm brewing over the sea.  The shell of the abbey church remained mostly complete until the 18th century; it was then weakened by erosion from wind and rain. This resulted in the collapse of the south transept in 1736, followed by the nave in 1763 and the central tower in 1830.

The stone seems to fascinate me the most, possibly because of the layers of history trapped within it, alongside its natural tactility, sheer mass and strength.  A long history of this area including Viking raids and shelling from the German High Seas Fleet in 1914,  is marked in its stone, etched, imprinted and engraved in its surface.  This gives the stone its own stories over space and time and unique build up of character.   Fossils embedded in the stone can tell us about once living creatures in the area, the textural markings can tell us about the changing atmospheric conditions and the sea, and colours can tell us about the types of clay and minerals available naturally in the surrounding earth.  The remains of the abbey church that can be seen today date from the 13th century onwards.

Abbey fragments.1

The abbey is a good example of fine Romanesque masonry and the remaining North and East transepts (built in the 13th Century) were most likely inspired by the transepts at York Minster Cathedral.  They represent the time when English Gothic came into its own and shifted from heavy French gothic influence – so it was created at an important time and an example of one of the first truly English Gothic monuments.

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Colossal comes to mind when viewing the above photos…  The distinctive ‘clustered’ columns of the abbey and its richly moulded arches are a typical example of the Early English Gothic style.  Also again, these images highlight all the wonderful colours and textures and I’m sure I can see some monstrous faces etched into the stones and protruding outwards.Monster rock.1

Monster Rock.3Monster rock.2

Between 1920-1930 major excavations at this site revealed evidence of the Anglian settlement that once existed here where the abbey stands.  Also between Between 1993 and 2008 English Heritage carried out excavation and survey work to rescue archaeological remains, threatened by steady erosion of the East cliff. The excavated artefacts formed important evidence for all periods of the abbey’s history and evidence of this spot in Whitby being one of the most important religious centres of the Anglo-Saxon world.Whitby abbey

A few final pictures…

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Concrete Lectern


A concrete lectern I have been working on for St Edmunds church in Chingford.  I took a few photos early this morning outside the studio before taking it to the church.

A bronze strip is set into the top surface which the church’s Book of Remembrance will rest against.  I patinated the bronze to discolour it slightly giving it a worn look.  The bronze has a lot of copper in it which is warm against the cool concrete surface.

I will add a few more pictures later of the whole lectern from different angles and closer pictures of the pedestal surface which has an engraved effect and contrasting surfaces.

Installing in the church this morning.

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ok, I think this is the most behind I’ve been with my blog.. been busy in the studio – hope to catch up soon with the previous blog and this months

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From the Perspective of the Artist in Residence

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Every residency programme is unique and the words and images above are from a few makers who joined the SCCP residency progamme between 2005-09.  I introduced SCCP in an earlier blog (Shigaraki Ceramics Cultural Park – A site for creativity) which gives an insight into the ceramic paradise I landed myself in, during the summer of 2005.  I was so in awe of this place, the people and the great clay and kilns, that I packed up and moved to Japan in 2006 and Shigaraki became my kiln firing place until the end of 2009.

Everyone, including artists in residence, staff at SCCP and people living in this ancient ceramic town were connected by their love and appreciation of ceramics. People showed kindness and respect to others sharing studio and within the whole atmosphere I found a powerful creative energy.

To start, here’s a very brief glimpse into my own experience, followed by notes about some of the wonderful creatives I shared my 2005 residency with at SCCP, including the inspiration they took from their experience at SCCP, Shigaraki, Japan. 


Working with local clays I developed new appreciations for the qualities of raw unglazed materials.   Shortly after arriving I was shown a clay sample book of ceramic test tiles, it took a while to decide which clays to work with first and to adapt to new ways of working an such a new working environment. Everything I experienced in Shigaraki was so different and new to me, and I was so curious to learn about this new place and culture and it was like seeing with new eyes.

I made my first pieces of work inspired by architectural form, space and light.  The Miho Museum a contemporary architectural masterpiece built inside an ancient Shigaraki mountain (see blog post Miho – A sacred Architectural place in the mountain) was of great inspiration it enabled me to start see, think and question in new ways.  


Spending time with other artists chatting in the evenings was enriching for all and even learning to communicate with a Japanese friend and fellow artist through origami inspired new ways for me to work using geometry, folding and layering in my ceramic objects.   Time outside the studio was as important for me too,  I even earned the name ‘Kyoto Jo’ after making a few trips there during my residency period.  The time spent experiencing this new culture was precious and influential on my creative journey.

Post still in progress…


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