Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Crustumerium: Death and afterlife at the gates of Rome.

Crustumerium: Death and afterlife at the gates of Rome.

Exhibition: 19  May – 20 Nov 2016 at the Glypotek, Copenhagen
The ancient city of Crustumerium was a centre for cultural exchange and played a significant role in the early history of Rome. For some 2,500 years Crustumerium was merely a recurrent reference in historical sources.  When in 1975 archaeologists located the city, some 15 km north-east of the Italian capital, it was an archaeological breakthrough of the first order. Since then Crustumerium has been the object of numerous successful excavations.

Admission to special exhibitions all days, including Tuesday.
Admission includes access to all special exhibitions and the rest of the museum.
Adults: 110 DKK
Groups of 10 or more: 90 DKK
Under 27: 65 DKK
Under 18: Free

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue featuring contributions by thirty-two leading experts within the field.
Buy the catalogue

Straight from the tomb
Realised in close cooperation with on-site archaeologists from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo e l’Area Archeologica Centrale, Rome, Italy, the exhibition presents significant recently excavated grave goods from Crustumerium. A total of ten tombs will be exhibited at the Glyptotek, featuring skeletal remains and spectacular treasures. Each individual tomb offers an intimate narrative that evoke human life and fate from a bygone era, making tombs much more than just relics from a distant past.

Death and the afterlife
The exhibition focuses on ideas about life and death in antiquity. The many objects testify to the customs, mindsets and beliefs found in a culturally hybrid society. As such, the exhibition shows how various cultural impulses from antiquity have affected humanity’s ideas about death and afterlife, and how such ideas continue to affect and offer perspectives on our present time.

Live archaeology at the Glyptotek …
Last but not least, the exhibition offers rare first-hand insight into the processes that take objects from being archaeological finds to becoming exhibition artefacts. An archaeological laboratory allows visitors to witness restorers work on microexcavation of block lifts been removed as single, undisturbed pieces from a tomb complex in Crustumerium and transported to Copenhagen for this occasion. In addition to witnessing the actual excavation work, visitors can also see and ask the experts about how archaeological finds are treated, preserved, analysed and interpreted.

… and live from Crustumerium
The excavation work currently undertaken at the city of Crustumerium itself will also be broadcast to Copenhagen. On selected days throughout the summer, the exhibition will facilitate live streaming featuring archaeologists at work in Italy, presenting their most recent discoveries to Copenhagen exhibition visitors.

The exhibition is supported by:
Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond 

The archaeological laboratory is supported by:

Paul Klee’s hand puppets

Paul Klee’s hand puppets

Felix Klee woke up on his ninth birthday to find eight strange little figures waving at him.

They were hand puppets  made by  his father, the artist Paul Klee who had   based them on stock characters from Kasperl and Gretl (Germany’s Punch and Judy). For the heads, he used whatever he could turn to use from the household’s everyday life: beef bones and electrical outlets, bristle brushes, leftover bits of fur and nutshells. Next he began to sew costumes.  Between 1916 and 1925 Klee (1879-1940) made some fifty hand puppets for Felix, of which thirty are still in existence. 



Felix Klee the puppeteer

Finally, Klee painted an old picture frame to serve as the curtained proscenium of a theatre. It fitted into a doorway, on one side of which were the puppeteer and puppets and on the other, the audience.

The cast included political figures, a self-portrait, and a skull-faced character which Felix called Dr. Death. When Felix grew up and went travelling he took many of his favourite puppets with him. Almost all of these were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Wurzburg.


The only survivor was Dr. Death. 

Gallery of Paul Klee’s puppets.
Book: Paul Klee’s Hand Puppets.

Before reading further remove your clothes and turn out the lights

Before reading further remove your clothes and turn out the lights

Visitors to  the National Gallery of Australia have been asked to take off all their clothes before they can view  James Turrell: A Retrospective,  an exhibition which celebrates Turrell’s work with  light and colours.  About 50 people at a time duly stripped to attend the show which ran after hours on April 1st and 2nd and was emphatically not, the Gallery insisted,  an April Fool’s joke.

Viewing art naked as a way to remove the last material barrier   between artist and audience was a favourite idea of Turrell’s,  who first introduced it in Japan, where an unclad audience viewed one of his “Perceptual Cells”.  When Turrell, now 70, suggested to the National Gallery in Melbourne that they give the notion   a try, they asked well-known    absurdist artist Stuart Ringholt, who is based in the city, to  guide the unclothed tours.

Ringholt was enthusiastic. ‘Intellectually’,  he says, ‘it’s an interesting idea, nudity. …Turrell’s work is minimal — he doesn’t work with materials like clay, paint and other traditional materials: he just works with light.’  He quotes Turrell,  ‘Light is very difficult to shape.  You end up shaping everything around it.’  Precisely why, says Ringholt,  these immersive light installations are best experienced without clothes.

Indeed, looking at images of clothed people bathed in the colours of  Turrell’s Ganzfield Room, their clothes seem banal, almost ridiculous. It is easy to imagine how subtle and enchanting would be the play of light on bare bodies.





Clothing, Ringholt told   a reporter from Australia’s NewsCorp,  is a kind of second skin, a barrier  which itself carries colour  and thus  doubly overwhelms the direct relationship of light  and body. ‘The nude viewer is reduced to just themselves, because there is no second skin… the body can [directly] feel the vibration to colour.’ 


Looking at pictures of  the nude audience inside the exhibit, it is hard to dispute that they are beautiful and this beauty has little to do with body shape or size.  Rather it is a sort of serenity that comes from having overcome  embarrassment and  fear of the body.  

Only when  you  stop  trying    to  be  beautiful do    you discover   that you   already are.

That’s what I take out of it, anyway, even though  I am far too repressed to give it a try myself.

But look, in this gathering of  people made   innocent and vulnerable by having shed their protective layers it is only the fully-clothed gallery attendant who seems ill-at-ease.  


Stuart Ringholt (born 1971, Perth) has had solo exhibitions at institutions such as Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; and Club Laundromat, New York. His major group exhibitions include Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2014); The Last Laugh, apexart, New York (2013); and dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, Germany (2013). He is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

ringholt explains

Ringholt has led many nude art tours, partly because ‘It is against the law to be nude in public in Australia, and by being nude you are breaking the law: but because we closed the museum to a certain few, it becomes private space and also a space of protest.’

Having the courage to disrobe  in public, he says,  is also a stance against sexism and a culture of sexualisation:  ‘We’re actually less sexualised with our clothes off — when you’re clothed, it engages the imagination: there is something very sexy about a beautiful ankle in a beautiful shoe, or clothing that frames the body beautifully.  Whereas when it’s all out, people start focusing on the face — it’s no longer about the butt, the hairy bits and the nipples.’

However, as he explained to the Newscorp reporter, ‘There are always more younger women than younger men,  because younger men are very fearful of getting shrinkage.’

naked viewing

Ringholt’s video Helen Lane (2009), filmed in a lane outside his North Melbourne studio, was featured for four years on before the site decided that it didn’t meet its terms of service.  The excellent article on Ringholt  at Frieze magazine,  describes the video thus: “a thin man precariously grasps at the handle of a ‘Wacka-Packa’,  (a powerful motorized device typically used for compacting earth on construction sites), that thuds across the lane releasing shards of cobblestone and sending the tree attached to its top into orgasmic quivers. The… video  is, quite simply, absurd.” 

James Turrell (born May 6, 1943) is an American artist primarily concerned with light and space. Turrell was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984. Turrell is best known for his work in progress, Roden Crater, a natural cinder cone crater located outside Flagstaff, Arizona   that he is turning into a massive naked-eye observatory.  (Source,  with no trace of irony: Wikipedia)

Sources: Art Daily, ArtNet,, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane,  Frieze magazine,,  Wikipedia

World’s rarest diamond goes on sale at Sotheby’s

World’s rarest diamond goes on sale at Sotheby’s

21 April 2015 | 10am EDT | NEW YORK

Sotheby’s are calling it The Ultimate Emerald-Cut Diamond. Well,  you’d expect them to speak highly of it. They’re hoping   to part someone from  $25 million for the pleasure of owning it.  This is small change   compared to the  $300 million paid  in February this year for Gauguin’s  Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) ,  and perhaps this is  because immensely rich people realise that gems are ultimately  baubles with no instrinsic value and any fool with enough money can own one, whereas a good painting will keep you warm forever.

Anyway, the stone in question is a mysterious 100-carat emerald-cut,  D colour, Internally Flawless diamond unlike any offered at auction before.  It is thought to have been found in  a De Beers mine in Angola  (or another West African location,  I  wasn’t interested enough to have  made a note of the place) and  thence travelled to Amsterdam, where it was cut from its original rough weight of 200 carats to the 100.2 carats of  masterly  precision we see here. Who owns it? Who cut it? Nobody knows, except presumably Sotheby’s and they are not saying.


Sotheby’s  New York saleroom will offer the   diamond at its April 21 Magnificent Jewels sale. Only   six  diamonds of over 100 carats and comparable-quality have ever been   sold at auction, and Sotheby’s estimate this one   will fetch   between $19 and $25 million.

The size and spectacle of this huge stone seem to have reduced Frank Everett, Sotheby’s vice president of sales for jewellery,  to a kind of breathless  babble.


Struggling for some way to describe the uniqueness and presence   of the gem, he told  the Observer.  “It could be considered a kind of object of art.  When you hold it in your hand it’s such a unique experience—–you can see the mastery of the cut and the entire geometry––the size is what makes it rare and beautiful.”  This, geometry aside, confirms  me in my  belief that the best that can be said of a stone like this is that it is rather   large and very shiny. (More about diamonds when I write  up  several years’ worth of  notes on  the Kohinoor.)



Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

AbeBooks has sold a rare 1765 ornithology book  for $191,000, making it   the most expensive item in its 19-year history.


The book,  Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale,  normally translated and shortened to A Natural History of Birds,  was published in Florence in Italian in five volumes. It  contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete. This copy’s fine condition coupled   with the fact that only ten  complete copies have been offered at auction in the past 40 years,  helped assure  a record price.


Here is the bookseller’s description: Together 10 volumes. Folio (19 x 15 inches). 6 plate volumes: 600 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE engraved plates with original hand-colour after Manetti, Lorenzi and Vanni (a few plates loose, one or two marginal stains, top outer corner of plates 100 and 101 affected by damp, plates 197 and 198 torn in upper margin, plates 221 and 225 with repaired tears (without loss), plates 267 and 336 slightly shorter,). 4 (of 5) text volumes: elaborately engraved half-titles by Lorenzi after Giuseppe Zocchi, 2 letterpress title-pages with engraved vignettes, one in Latin and one in Italian in each volume, parallel text in Latin and Italian, engraved allegorical plate by Lorenzi in volume IV, descriptions for 480 birds (small wormhole on first leaf in text volume I without loss, r1 and T1 of text volume I with marginal repairs).


Contemporary speckled calf backed marbled paper boards, the spines in six compartments with five raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with gilt-ruled borders and small decorations (a bit scuffed, but attractive). Provenance: with the contemporary gilt initials “F.B.” at the foot of each spine; remains of later printed paper shelf labels at the foot of each spine, early shelf-marks to endpapers. First edition of a great 18th-century ornithological book. Manetti was a physician and director of the Florentine Botanical Gardens from 1749-1782.


Manetti worked almost exclusively from real specimens, beginning with the extensive collection of Marquis Giovanni Gerini. The result was one of the largest surveys of ornithology attempted up to that date, a work which became ‘the flamboyant forerunner of the splendid ornithological folios which were to appear in the nineteenth century. The production of its five massive folio volumes must have been one of the most remarkable publishing ventures ever undertaken in Florence. Begun in 1767 and completed ten years later, it was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous book on birds’, notable for its lively posturing of the specimens which seem to reflect ‘the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society’ (Dance p.70); Nissen IVB 588; Wood p.450; Fine Bird Books p.10; Zimmer I, 241. Bookseller Inventory # 72nhr128


Certainly all of this is worth following up. Feather by feather, leaf by leaf, tome by tome: this is how we discover   the world.


Ornithological flights leave in all directions from this page:

Oiseaux Exotiques
A Walk   Through H:   Reincarnation of an Ornithologist


Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

It is two hundred years since the  Battle of Waterloo. In commemoration,   H.M. The Queen has opened  Windsor Castle’s famous Waterloo Chamber  to the public for  a special exhibition of Waterloo-related artefacts from the Royal Collection. The exhibition opened on 31st January 2015 and will run for a year.  Throughout 2015,  visitors will be able to  walk into and around the chamber  for the first time.

The pieces on display, many of them acquired by  George, Prince Regent (the future George IV), include contemporary prints, drawings, maps and ‘souvenirs’ from the battle.


The Imperial Cloak, modelled on an Egyptian burnoose

Among these are  Napoleon’s red cloak, made of felt and embroidered in silk with elaborate scrolls and arabesques around the hood and breast, was removed from the Emperor’s baggage train in the aftermath of the allied victory and presented to the Prince Regent by Field Marshal Blücher, who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington. Lined with yellow brocade, it is appliquéd with Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle.

Napoleon’s silver-gilt porringer, a small bowl used for food, was also taken from the Emperor’s train.

waterloo-chairThe Waterloo Chair, made from the elm tree that marked the Duke of Wellington’s command post on the Waterloo battlefield, was presented to George IV in 1821. Commissioned by John Children from Thomas Chippendale the Younger, it is carved with a lion trampling the vanquished French standard in the village of Waterloo.  A drawing of the elm tree by Children’s daughter Anna, made during a visit to the battlefield with her father in 1818, will go on display for the first time.

table-des-grands-capitainesThe Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Great Commanders),  commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate  his   victories, is decorated with the profile of Alexander the Great and other great generals   and philosophers. Considered one   the finest works of Sèvres porcelain ever produced, it never left the factory but was presented to George IV by the restored French king, Louis XVIII, in gratitude for the allied victory. The table appears in all of George IV’s state portraits, including the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence which hangs in the Waterloo Chamber.
Source for full article



Missing the Missa Luba

Missing the Missa Luba

The Missa Luba is a Latin Mass from the Congo sung by a boys choir, Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, trained by Father Guido Haazen, a Franciscan Friar. The original performance was recorded in 1958 in Kamina, Congo. It was released as an LP in 1963. When we were living in India in the mid sixties my family had a copy and we listened over and over to its rhythms, harmonies and birdlike vocal calls.


The Sanctus from Missa Luba featured in Lindsey Anderson’s film If, and some of the music was recorded by other performers, but the original has never been surpassed, nor reissued in its original form.


Philips Records released a ten-inch LP of the Missa Luba by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudoin in the Netherlands and other European markets in 1958.[8] The track list was:


Side A: Congolese songs

Dibwe Diambula Kabanda (Marriage Song) – 3:02
Lutuku y a Bene Kanyoka (Emergence from Grief) – 2:48
Ebu Bwale Kemai (Marriage Ballad) – 2:22
Katumbo (Dance) – 1:42
Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba (Marital Celebration) – 2:21
Banana (Soldiers’ Song) – 2:01
Twai Tshinaminai (Work Song) – 1:01


Side B: Missa Luba

Kyrie – 2:03
Gloria – 2:39
Credo – 4:06
Sanctus – 1:36
Benedictus – 0:52
Agnus Dei – 1:52


I’ve found several of the songs from Missa Luba, and you can listen to them here.

Ben Wilson, London’s brilliant chewing gum artist

Ben Wilson, London’s brilliant chewing gum artist

Look well, next time you’re out in London, and you’ll see that the streets are covered in pale splats that look like bird droppings. In fact they’re the remains of people’s spat-out and trampled-on chewing gum.  London councils spend more than £4 million a year trying and failing to clean gum off their pavements. They’ve tried high pressure steam guns, and chemicals of all sorts, but nothing works. They’ve begged chewing gum manufacturers to change their recipe, and been told it’s impossible. They’ve cajoled the masticating public with ”gum targets” stuck on lamp posts (a truly revolting idea), and threatened them with fines. All to no avail.

It takes a certain kind of genius to see people’s spat-out globs of chewing gum as the means of beautifying a city. Artist Ben Wilson is that sort of genius. Where others see streets splattered with gummy eyesores, Ben sees thousands of tiny canvases.


“Lots of people have created the chewing gum, on the pavement, and I thought I can work with the gum.”

Sitting in his favourite Muswell Hill cafe, he envisaged small jewel-like paintings, like badges, that would glow on the pavements, mystify passers by, and celebrate the lives of the people who used the streets.


Unlike grafitti artists, he could paint his little masterpieces openly. “If I were to paint on walls or the pavement itself, I’d be breaking the law, but they can’t accuse me of causing criminal damage because the criminal damage has already been done, by the gum . . . I paint on chewing gum because I can’t be arrested, and there isn’t a plaque next to it telling you what it is and why it’s there, so people can create anything in their own imagination.”


Ben’s works are dotted all over London. Several can be found outside the Royal Academy. The Royal Society of Chemistry recently asked him to paint depictions of each of the 118 known chemical elements.

He also takes commissions from people in the street, who live or work nearby and includes their names and short messages. A picture can take anything from two hours to three days to complete. Each one is photographed and catalogued.




Jason de Caires Taylor: sculpting underwater masterpieces

Jason de Caires Taylor: sculpting underwater masterpieces

The really extraordinary thing about Jason de Caires Taylor’s underwater sculpture groups is that they look so natural, so at home in the filtered green light of the sea. Figures, faces, appear out of the murk like classical statues marking the spot of an ancient shipwreck.

Jason’s underwater career began as an attempt to create new foundations for corals to colonise in the aftermath of a tropical hurricane that had damaged reefs in the Caribbean.

The series of videos below is highly recommended, as a way of seeing and experiencing the sculptures. The nearest thing to actually swimming among them.

Unstill Life is a three-dimensional representation of a classic painters’ subject. Four-dimensional, I should have said, for time allows the sea to work on the piece, coating it with algae, fringing carved eyes with tubeworms and starfish. Sea fans have set up shop in the bowl of fruit, which is now guarded by a fish that has made its home there.

In another video, a face ravaged by the sea, yet retaining its beauty and grace, grimaces almost in fear, as a silver barracuda hangs in the water nearby.

The camera lingers on a row of African faces deep underwater, turned up to the light, making one wonder if Jason Taylor intended this piece as a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Africans who lost their lives in the ocean after being taken in chains from Africa.

But it was the grandeur of the drowned throngs in Silent Evolution that awed me. These works are no gimmick, they are moving and powerful and absolutely right for their environment.


Painting with light, the Wholeo dome

Painting with light, the Wholeo dome

‘I don’t remember,’ says artist Caroling (real name Caroline Geary). ‘when I first encountered the phrase, “stained glass is the ‘handmaiden’ of architecture”. The idea, which permeated the stained glass world, got stuck in my mind like a porcupine quill. After all, painting escaped servitude years ago. It finally dawned on me that glass needed not only to become portable, but also to become revolutionary.’


‘In 1967, after seven years of designing for studios, doing stained glass free-lance and for fun, I was profoundly dissatisfied with what I or anyone else had done in the medium. Stained glass might be a wonderful medium for colour, but what is colour? Colour is vibrations, the light from atoms and stars, a basic language, the stuff of communication! You can touch stained glass and the fingers receive communications. The colour shines into your eyes, penetrates the skin, and even colours up your shadows. The colours seem to float in a thick space. It is an unusual space.



‘What a great idea, I thought, to surround myself with this inside-out space. I wanted not to look at a window, but to be in a window. I needed control of all the light. I would make panels on the arcs around me. The radius of the arc was seven feet, the distance my fingers reached up while standing on tip-toe.’


ARTIST CAROLING COMMENTS: On a bright hot morning, movie-makers looked around in Wholeo Dome. Here are some favorite details: a feather stuck in easterly “Breathe In”, a spectrum cast by the old military tank prism in the south, etched panels leading westerly to “Death End”, spirals of the “Essence of Being” in the north. Clouds leading the eye afar, illuminating the textured glass membrane of the dome, while intense colors project into your cells. The rich sense of depth permeates the whole. Looking up, patterns entangle. Looking down, colored light reaches, bathes, and sinks into pebbles. Not only eyes but auras mingle.


A curious sighting in the Australian desert

A curious sighting in the Australian desert

I dream every time I fall asleep. Sometimes the dreams are vivid enough to recall clearly on waking, but generally they evaporate before I can remember them. One dream has stayed with me for more than a decade. If I close my eyes I can see it now: a brilliantly coloured parrot wrasse, hanging in mid air above a red Australian desert. I was pleased to find this fish and planned to catch it, however I was called away. To stop the fish swimming off while I was gone, I draped a tea towel over it.

This image was so intriguing that about two or three years ago, I tried to recreate it by combining pictures of a wrasse and desert. So far so good, but I could not find a suitable tea towel. I made this one in Photoshop.


A few nights later a voice spoke to me when I was sleeping. ‘I was born in the dark where dreams begin, in the low halls of the australopithecine mind.” I knew at once that this was the beginning of a story. I didn’t know what the story might turn out to be, but I began to dream more pictures.

There was a skull, decorated with writing which had been carefully engraved in the bone. I tried to recreate the decorated skull and connect it in a sequence to the fish. The result was a set of images that I’ll post here when I can find them.

“Anima”, Virginia Peck’s painted Journal III, is published

“Anima”, Virginia Peck’s painted Journal III, is published

This piece was written as a Foreword for “Anima”, the printed edition of the third of Virginia Peck’s handpainted journals, which was published on December 3, 2010.

Reception 17:00 – 19:30 at Gallery 1581, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, 1581 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446. Telephone: +1 (617) 277-3915.


Once, in a car boot sale, I found an old novel. Its cover was mostly torn away revealing a title page with a handwritten dedication, slowly dissolving in an English drizzle-mist: a wretched sight to anyone who loves books. All books are valuable. There is always something interesting about them. If not the text it might be an engraving, or the type, or the old advertisements you sometimes find before the endpapers.

I picked up this damp, unloved novel and found to my astonishment that it was one of my own. The blue blurring lines had been written for a friend. Such humbling moments are no doubt good for us, but not too often. I still have that book. I’m looking at it as I write this, and thinking that such a miserable tome could have no kinder fate than to be picked up, not by its author, but by a stranger, a passerby with a rare and restless genius, who would give it new life as a ravishing work of art.

You’ll gather I’m a fan. I admire – no, love – nay, adore – Virginia Peck’s hand-painted Journals, but I don’t believe a word of her story.

Virginia says that one day, finding a discarded copy of Natural Light, a novel by Ethel Gorham, she was seized by the idea that she would take it home and use it as a sketchbook. Virginia had not read the novel, and was not interested in trying to make images out of what was written on the page. Rather she would begin workinging by instinct, almost with eyes closed, waiting for what would come, and when shapes appeared in the paint, in the layers of colour and the brushstrokes, she would work with them, and let them become whatever wanted to emerge.




Her first Journal quickly filled with marvellous images. A blue lady stares out at us with startled eyes. What is she seeing? Driftwood sculptures are heaped together, a ring of them, like dancers, or a wood-henge washed in by the tide. Bacchantes abandon themselves to dance watched by a pair of still Pharoah hounds. A pensive youth, looking a lot like Raphael’s portrait of Agnolo Doni huddles next to an exotic tribal face. What is going on here?




I first saw these pictures as small images, neat rectangles on a web page. Even then they filled me with excitement. Inside were wonderful things, fizzing with life and energy, and so exhilarating to paint that Virginia found herself unable to wait for the pages to dry, and had to start working in a second book.

 Journal II (John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman) seems more reflective, but is no less brilliant. A mad tiger lifts its head and cries defiance, there’s an excellent frog and a zebra caught in a maelstrom of colour. Most of the pages are given to dancing couples and pairs of heads. Two nudes rest against a wall. I could swear that the one on the right is pointing a gun but her hand is empty.





‘Broken bottles and ashes’: an interview with X-8

‘Broken bottles and ashes’: an interview with X-8

The idea for an extended conversation between X-8 and myself first came up in October 2006. It was to be called “Wine and Cigarettes”. Some months went by. He wrote to me: “I figure you’re really busy or have drunk so much wine you can’t type anymore. I should have named this interview ’300 Wines and 40,000 Cigarettes’.”

Good things can’t be hurried, however, and by the time the piece was finally ready, X had renamed it again. Welcome to ‘Broken Bottles and Ashes’.



You know I’ve admired your paintings for years, and am pleased to be having this conversation with you. You came up with the title for this discussion, tell me, why did you call it ‘Wine and Cigarettes’?



Why ‘Wine and Cigarettes’? Well I know we both like to imbibe once in a while and I do appreciate a relaxing cigarette with friends, so I thought that evoked a properly intimate setting. I’d rather have wine and cigarettes than an SUV and cell phone.



I wish I could join you in a ‘clope’ (French slang) but gave up a few months ago, still miss the aroma of fresh tobacco with coffee. As for wine, we live bang in the middle of the Cahors wine region in France. I wish you could have seen it last month. The vines were still dormant, black gnarled stumps, but in between was a carpet of yellow hawkbit.

What is your favorite wine?



Top of my list at the moment is Chateau Bovila, which is local and organically made.



I’ve posted a Chateau Bovila label on GOD. I will try and find a bottle here in LA.


I ought to send you a couple of bottles. Well, let’s suppose that we have smoked our clopes and are well into the Bovila . . . Now there are two things in my mind . . . first, the subjects of your paintings are so dark, they are about pain, loss, disgust, murder, death, yet the paintings themselves are full of light . . . the light in fact comes bursting through them. How do you explain this?



I’m not sure what you mean by ‘light’. The luminosity of the paint? Or the statement of the work?



I mean the luminosity of the paintings.



It may be the result of my painting technique. I like to paint in a dark studio with only a 15 watt bulb. Like a cave. The paint on the canvas must reflect what little light there is to be effective. So you end up with a luminous palette of rich and contrasting colors. I also like to use ‘happy’ and vibrant colors sometimes to counterbalance the subject matter. It makes the work more digestable to the viewer.



Painting in low light, near darkness . . . apparently it’s something Rembrandt also used to do.



I didn’t know that.



Yet these light-filled paintings are so dark, subject matter wise. One of my favourites among your work is this painting. When I first saw it I was bowled over by its beauty.



Indra (contd):

It looked to me like a human figure with bracken fronds growing out of its belly. I thought of the Green Man carvings you find in medieval churches with leaves bursting from their mouths. So here was an image of the common life shared by man and nature, a growing tree-man in an autumnal sort of coloration …Then I read the title, ‘Suicide Bomber’, and it hit me in the gut. I hadn’t been expecting that – Palestine and Baghdad, blood, horror and injustice – suddenly all this pain was in the painting that a second before had seemed so calm and beautiful. I feel that wrench whenever I see this painting and I still look at it in two ways in order to recapture the feeling I first had, then seeing its bitter politics. I wonder, did you intend it to be seen this way?



I wanted the painting to be pretty and violent.



Here’s another painting that at first glance looks full of life, exuberance, dancing figures, reminiscent of Matisse, only at second glance do you see bullet wounds, blood and the title and realise that these figures are not dancing, they’re sprawled in death. Or perhaps they’re both, the painting contains the before and after, the energy of the living as well as their corpses.

X-8: Sniper. Acrylic and enamel marker on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2004.



The painting is joyful and happy from a distance and full of death and chaos up close. I liked that effect. Instead of dancing people in the park you have a massacre in progress.



Where does all this darkness and violence come from? Tell me about the things that left a mark on you. I know some of this is already on your website, where for example you talk of seeing your father’s body, shot dead in the street. I’m guessing that a lot of this stuff must be painful for you. Yet you talk of this damaging childhood with a kind of nonchalant bravado as if it didn’t matter.



Thank you. It was 35 years ago. Only now have I been able to acknowledge it. I am no longer connected to it emotionally. During my 20’s, there was a game called “Punk Rock Childhood” in which you try and prove that your childhood was the worst. Whoever had the worst was the winner. Others definitely had worse. But it was a way to wear your unfortunate circumstances as a badge of honor. Kind of like a battle scar.



Tell me about your childhood.



I had a dysfunctional family. My father tried to kill my mother when she was pregnant with me and she went to a psychiatric facility of some sort. There are no pictures of my mother and me from that time. I saw pictures of me and various social workers. (I received prison made wallets from my father but I never saw him. Met him a couple of times.) She was released when I was 4 and we became a welfare family. Sometimes she would have medical appointments at these state facilities where the severely deformed lived. I remember a boy whose arms were shaped like corkscrews. It was all very surreal.


We moved every year and soon I was a content loner at home – inventing games to play on my own. We eventually settled in the city of Whittier – which is Richard Nixon’s home town.


She gave me some .38 caliber bullets one year and said they were meant for her. I was 9.



What did she mean by the .38 bullets?



From what I have pieced together, my father apparently tried to shoot her when she pregnant. I guess it was my mother’s way of showing that my father was a very bad man – he robbed banks and tried to kill her as well.


At the time I thought of the bullets as toys or trinkets. I used to play with them and stare at them and wonder what they were filled with. I liked the sleek silver cases and copper tips. They were pretty and shiny. I used to spin them on the ground over and over. I eventually used .38 caliber bullets for art and embedded them in wet tar in a piece I did in 1986. It hung at Al’s Bar, the local artist’s bar. until all the bullets were taken as souvenirs by patrons.

X-8: Slaughterhouse, 6 feet by 5 feet, 2005



Your mother had a bad time, you grew up with her. Did you feel protective of her?



We slept in a small bedroom throughout my childhood. She cried in the middle of the night. I felt sad and wondered what was wrong with her. Again, I thought all this was the norm – you’re naïve and innocent and you don’t know and you don’t ask.


She tried to be a good mom. I look back and have to give her credit. She did make an effort to bring me up ‘right’, even though it was extremely strict. I wasn’t allowed to have anyone visit. A lock was put on the phone so I couldn’t make calls. I would be locked out of the house if I went out for the evening and then would have to sleep in the park. I wasn’t allowed to shave.


I just thought it was the norm.



The strictness of it seems quite extreme. For example why weren’t you allowed to shave, or don’t you know?



It was simply suffocating. And as I grew up I realized how bizarre the whole thing was and I became resentful of her.


I look back and realize she didn’t want me to grow up. To her shaving meant I was becoming a man. She wanted me to remain a child forever. She detested me becoming independent and hanging with others besides her. She didn’t want to know or meet those who were my contacts to the outside world.


Toward the end when I lived with her, she tried to commit me to a mental institution because I began hanging with other people besides herself.


The doctor talked with me and told me not to worry. He prescribed her more pills. She was pissed. We didn’t speak to each other for a year.






When did you become aware that your childhood wasn’t the norm?



I think when I was forced to pull a discarded Christmas Tree from a trash dumpster on Christmas morning so we could have a tree. I was seven.


People with smiling faces used to deliver fruit baskets and boxes of food during holidays. I thought everyone got free food. But I found out no one did. Only the really poor.


I left home at 17 and never looked back. My father was eventually shot to death in front of his house.



You do extraordinary things like put a picture on your website of your father covered by a blanket in the street. How did you feel about your father?



I met him a couple of times. He promised me a bowling ball when I was 10 but it never arrived. I never forgave him for that and I lost trust in people.


When I was 15 I met him on Father’s Day and he said I didn’t look like his son.


He worked in a factory and glued the soles on shoes for a living. He was also an alcoholic. He asked to be dropped off at the liquor store after our Father’s Day breakfast. I never saw him again until I saw his dead body on the news.


I was an unwanted child. My mother told me that. So I clearly was a burden to him. Why they didn’t have an abortion I’ll never know.



I think you say on your website that you were brought up by your grandparents.



My grandfather and grandmother were the center of the family. We met during weekends. They lived in a barrio, which is a poor neighborhood where latins lived. It still had dirt streets.


My aunts and uncles partied and drank liquor while we played in the backyard playing and stealing cucumbers from my grandma’s garden. I ate like 10 cucumbers one time and got sick. To this day I can not stand cucumbers.


My cousins and I would drink the leftover cocktails. We would play with matches and start fires. We burned down the neighbor’s wooden shack one time and the fire department figured out it was us and found the matches.



Sounds like fun.



Then religion overtook the extended family. They all became born again Christians. Anyone who didn’t embrace Christianity would face eternal fire in hell. I thought they had all become mental.

X-8 Crucifixion, 6 feet by 5 feet. 2003



What sort of Christianity were they reborn into?



We were Catholic. When I was 5 I was taken to church in a new suit. I hated the suit and it was a Latin Mass, so I didn’t understand anything the guy up front in the white robe was saying. I threw a tantrum and I never had to go to church or wear the suit again.


My family was all into gangs and crime. Many of my uncles and cousins were in and out of jail. I guess one day they all decided it was best to become ‘born again Christians’ as a way to change their life.


They still all are part of the same Christian Fellowship but I avoided them because they were so aggressive about converting others.



How aggressive?



I was chased out of the parking lot of a relative’s wedding when I was 17 with a friend of the family yelling at me telling me I was going to Hell if I didn’t accept Christ as King of The World. Very psycho.



What were your feelings about religion? You’d had a very rough deal.



I question those who try and control people. I’ve read that religion has killed more people than all natural disasters and fatal diseases combined. I think it’s good for some people if you are weak and need a crutch to help you along. I understand for some people it’s a tradition. But I don’t think killing each other over an invisible entity is really healthy. I don’t think the values and rules they set up in the name of ‘morality’ are useful. For example I think suppressing the natural sexual drive only creates sexual deviants. Just look at all the priests who become child molesters.I was taught that sex was bad and I became a very promiscuous person.

X-8: Falling Through The Snow. Acrylic on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2005.



Your early life sounds like unrelieved horror. Were there any good moments?



I excelled in school. It was an escape from my dreary homelife. To be involved in other creative things showed me there were other things in life. I knew that if I learned I could escape the cycle of poverty and despair.



What were your favorite subjects?



I liked everything. My cousins used to tease me because I got A’s and they got C’s and D’s. I liked music. I played the trumpet.


I hung out at the local library and pored over all the non-fiction books and foreign magazines. Der Speigel was a favorite. German magazines always had naked ladies in the back pages. It was a whole different world. An exciting world. I decided I wanted to be a journalist and write for a cool magazine. I took journalism classes and soon became an editor at my high school paper.



Did you have friends among the other pupils?



I had a little boy’s bowl haircut in 3rd grade and the girls used to chase me at recess screaming “Beatle! Beatle!” The Beatles were just happening at the time. They used to pin me down in the schoolyard and kiss me and then run away. I hid in the boy’s bathroom during recess after that. They used to stand by the door screaming “Beatle! Beatle!” I obviously had no clue about sex.


I got taught about sex by boys at school. They had dirty magazines. I couldn’t understand how a penis could fit into such a bizarre looking thing. The vagina fascinated me. It was like a strange creature.



How did you get started painting?



At 15, I got a skin disorder called vitiligo. It was a blessing in disguise. I withdrew from ‘normal’ society. I began to draw. I created pictures of devils, nazis, monsters and suicides.

X-8: Suicide Siva, 6 feet by 5 feet, 2001


I did take a design class in college one year and the teacher really liked my drawings. He pulled me aside one day and said I didn’t need school to be an artist – just go for it. He liked the splatters and drips that I left on the bottom of the drawings. He was an inspiration. Even to this day.


So I listened to him, quit college and moved to downtown Los Angeles after that and eventually lived in an large artist loft. It was 5000 square feet for $600 a month. I lived with two others. We had to put the toilet and sinks in ourselves. It was raw space. It was so big we used to ride a Vespa in it.



Where and how did you train?



I am self-taught and I support self taught music and art. Schools naturally teach technical ability. I like it when it’s crude. That’s why I liked punk. Anyone could do it. You didn’t need schooled talent. Academics were shunned. I feel the same way about art. I don’t like mainstream stuff.


Moving to downtown Los Angeles I did abstracts for awhile. In 1993 I began creating large figuratives and began to dig up the rotten stuff inside me and release it on giant canvases.



You view your art as a catharsis.



I think it’s healthy to create when you are angry or depressed. That way you don’t become a serial killer. There’s a certain magic to catharsis.


I see my paintings as enlightening. I am killing my internal devils through catharsis. All the paintings are essentially self-portraits. That’s the essence of exorcistic art. It’s a healthy process. I use simple imagery and universal symbols in my work so it’s no surprise that devils and angels play a prominent role.


I love creating alone. That’s obviously traceable to my childhood. I like the feeling of releasing secret emotions and feelings, and to do that, you create in a dark environment alone. It’s pure and peaceful.

X-8: Inside the Skull. Acrylic, latex, oilstick, urine and cigarette burns on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2002



You use a lot of unusual media – mud, blood, urine, if memory serves. Why? How do they make the painting better for you? A technical thing? A visceral connection with work? Transference of life force?



Living in Downtown Los Angeles, I started with mud because it was natural and primitive. I mixed the mud with urine because I felt that it combined elements of both man and nature. It was also anti-academic. It was a great way to separate yourself from the college taught brainwashed artists in the neighborhood.


Mud had a wonderful texture too.


The blood and hair paintings had a more urban overtone. Blood and hair samples are major evidence in homicide cases. It was no surprise that images of serial killers soon followed.



I have been following discussions on an alchemy forum with some interest (albeit little understanding) they talk of a “spiritus mundi” which alchemists through the years have tried to capture in various ways… starting with piss, shit, organic materials etc. Without this magic life force, their “work” is inert. I find the same sort of thing in writing . . .



We are all DNA and stardust.

X-8: Speeding Under A Black Sun (Octopus). Acrylic on canvas. 6 feet by 4 feet. 2003.



We’ve already touched briefly on them being infused with light. Of course how one views a 6 x 6 foot canvas in reality must differ from how it’s seen via the web.



People are usually amazed at the size of the paintings. Viewing them on a website doesn’t give the whole effect. It’s a much more bold emotion when you see the carnage up close and life-size.


In regards to presentation, X-8 is a pseudonym that comes from my favorite letter and number and it remains a pen name. It is somewhat a brand name. Tony Curtis once remarked he would have been more well known if he had named himself ‘Cosmo 5000’ or something. Pseudonyms are common in the music world, so I don’t see a problem.


I often use the music industry as an analogy for how I approach the art world: The paintings are songs. The individual series are the albums. Using this analogy, art galleries are the record labels and clubs rolled into one. When you don’t like the labels and clubs, you start your own thing.



Like you did with your music and your involvement with the LA punk scene?



When I was about 16 punk began and it was all about disaffected youth from bad homes, abusive families and everything. And revolting against it. For some it was fad but I totally related and embraced the anti-social aspect of the music and the scene. It was freedom from one’s shitty childhood and you hung out with others who experienced the same hardships. There were no rules. And it was fun.


Coma. Acrylic, urine and colored gel on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet.2005.



Do you have music on when you paint?



Yes. Most of the time.



What kind?



I sometimes wear headphones with classical music or German industrial music playing full blast as I paint at 3 o’clock in the morning. I love the sun rising as the work dries, like a silent remnant of a nightmare or evidence of a dark horrible adventure.



I am really interested in how painters use paint, as a physical substance to work with, whether with brushes, knives, whatever, the physical side of painting –



I love the texture of paint. I love the smell of it. You name it- oil, latex and acrylic. I love large pieces because they seem so powerful.



When looking at paintings on the internet, I miss the experience of seeing them close up. Brushstrokes and textures and nuances disappear. Nothing will ever beat standing near the picture of course, almost smelling the paint. In the website image of ‘Suicide Bomber’ one can’t really see the texture of the paint, but I’m imagining it laid on quite thick, maybe allowed to crack, and perhaps scraped off again.



That one is more textural than the others. I liked the matte opaque paint I was using and laid it on thick.


X-8, Suicide Bomber, 6 feet by 4 feet, 2005



Suicide Bomber detail



Suicide Bomber detail 2



Painting is a very physical activity and must be tiring, if you’re hours in front of a canvas. How do you work?



I use sleep deprivation and psychotropics.



Do you have a routine?



I work on several large canvases at a time. All in various stages. Some are in a ‘ferment’ stage and are photographed after a couple of months.



How many hours will you put into each painting, each stage?



It depends on the work. Some take a year, some are done in 24 hours. “Reincarnation” was done in 24 hours.



How do you begin?



Staring at a blank canvas loaded.



Do you sketch first, or go straight in and let the theme emerge?



It’s mostly stream-of-consciouness. I sometimes draw but I find it undesirable.



Where do the ideas come from? I was pleased that a passage in The Death of Mr. Love gave you one idea).

X-8: Drunk Or Dying, 5 feet by 6 feet. 2007



I don’t know. I’ve always liked the macabre so I tend to start there.



What is it that I can feel in these paintings? I don’t believe it is rage. It’s too intense to be cynicism. I know you said you were detached from the pain of your childhood, but there is something vulnerable about these pictures.

Derangement (Lost in Rivers), 6 feet by 5 feet, 2004



I try and mix sorrow with anger for balance. I think that gives them a balance.



I’d like to send you a copy of Animal’s People. The narrative from that crippled boy’s mouth is perhaps an analogy to your outpourings on canvas. Animal does feel rage, although not all the time, occasionally he allows himself to feel gentler emotions but despises himself for it. He is not telling his story in order to change the world although I, his surrogate author, am on record as naively saying that I would like to help shape the future. Do you have any such concerns?



My interests are all subversive. (laughs)



Is it ridiculous to ask how you would like people to react or respond to the paintings?



I don’t think about it.



Finally, I’d like to ask you to talk about two more of your paintings. This figure reminds me of Nijinsky as the faun in L’Apres Midi D’un Faune – in the costume by Bakst.

Addiction and Perversion, acrylic and latex on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2001



I see your comparison. “Addiction And Perversion” is a self-portrait of my possible future. The skin disorder vertiligo slowly spreads all over the body with time. If I’m going to be a spotted man, I might as well go down in flames with drugs and sex, hence the title. It will make a great movie.


“End Of The World” pre-dated 9-12 but had symbols of it in it – an aircraft disaster, a dark messiah and his followers, the abuse and torture of women and a crescent moon in a mountainous desert. It was supposed to be a vision of hell.


At this point in the conversation the phone rang with news that Animal’s People had been long-listed for the 2007 Booker Prize.



Congratulations on your Booker nomination. I’m having an incandescent experience with this interview. Given this pace, I think we’ll be done in 2013.

More work, information about the artist and information about
acquiring paintings at X-8′s website


Bringing the famous Classey-Robinson exhibit back to life

Bringing the famous Classey-Robinson exhibit back to life

It’s October 28, 1950. Through the august portal of Burlington House, Piccadilly, home of the Royal Society, a crowd of people, mostly men, is passing.

These are the nation’s leading entomologists, experts in the Diptera (two-winged flies),Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants),Homoptera (cicadas, spittlebugs), Odonata(damsels and dragonflies), Phasmatodae (stick insects), Hemiptera (bugs) and a host of others. In the spotlight today are theNeuroptera (lacewings and antlions) and the Orthoptera (locusts), but probably in greatest abundance are the connoisseurs of the Coloeoptera (beetles) and especially the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Examples of all these orders and families will be on show inside the building.


The Exhibition described in the Society’s Proceedings of  1950-53

The occasion is the Annual Exhibition of the South London Entomological and Natural History Society. Last night, according to custom, the Society dined together in the Charing Cross Hotel, where out-of-towners will have put up for the night. One can imagine the late bar crowded with people discussing this or that aberration, and everyone is agog to see the green moths that E.W. Classey and H.S. Robinson have brought back from County Clare on the west coast of Ireland.

Exhibit 60, entered jointly by E.W. Classey and H.S. Robinson, was the highlight of the show. In a single specimen drawer were both the year’s new additions to the British list: Luceria virens, the Burren Green, the specimens taken by Eric Classey’s expedition; and Diarsia florida the Fenland Square-Spot, a bred series of the moth which had been identified for the first time that July in Yorkshire’s Askham Bog.

1950 firsts: Luceria virens and Diarsia florida, both new additions to the British List.
These are the actual specimens.

Also much talked about were the exhibit’s long series of the Heart and Dart, Agronista exclamationis and Brown-line Bright Eyes Hadena lepida, taken in a single night and there to illustrate the vast attractive power of Hugh Robinson’s new mercury vapour moth trap, which had been tested on the Burren expedition and the previous month to great excitement. The drawer thus showcased three major firsts for British entomology.

Agronista exclamationis with 1950 labels



Download a PDF facsimile of the entire book, complete with illustrations.


 The empty drawer as it was in 2011, 60 years later


Why is the drawer empty? One explanation is that Eric Classey, with characteristic generosity, had donated most of the expedition’s Burren Green specimens, including the pupa, to the Society. Other specimens had gone to friends and fellow collectors. However this doesn’t explain why every single specimen has vanished.

What if after the exhibition Classey simply returned the moths to their usual drawers in the collection? If this is what happened, the moths, or most of them, should still be there and it would be possible to reconstruct the exhibit using moths from the collection. I decided to try. Below, step by step, are the results.


This reconstruction is done photographically. The widths of the partitions reflect the sizes of the moths that were placed in them. This becomes important when considering the two central sections, which have no labels and helps confirm that these were once occupied, as suggested by the order given in the Society Proceedings by the Burren Greens and the Fenland Square-Spot, the two sensational discoveries of that year.



3. Agronista exclamations, the Heart-and-Dart

The first two series in the drawer were cexclamationis-reconstruction-200aught to demonstrate the value of H.S. Robinson’s new mercury vapour light trap. Their shared label says: ‘Each series [was] selected from a single night’s “catch” at a Mercury Vapour trap to show the wide variation occuring in one place and at one time – which is apparent when it is possible to select from very large numbers.’

The basic problem with moth-hunting had always been that the quarry flies at night, when nets are not much use. Some enthusiasts swore by ‘sugar’, smearing tree trunks and wooden doors with exotic mixtures based on molasses and possibly including rum, rotting fruit, raisins, beer and ingredients too vile to mention. C. fraxini was typically taken this way.

Moths throng to lamps, so another method was to place a Tilley lamp on a white sheet and wait for the moths to come and settle. Robinson’s mercury-vapour moth trap was a huge advance because its light went into the ultra violet range, attracting more insects, which then found themselves trapped inside a box, or casing, generally lined with egg boxes where they could settle. The large numbers caught unharmed in the trap could then be examined and collected or released.


 4. Hadena lepida, the Tawny Shears (or Brown-Line Bright Eye)

tawny_shearsSee A. exclamationis, above. Classey knew this species by its lovely old name, the Tawny Shears.

Like the Heart and Dart, this moth is fairly plentiful and displays quite a range of variation in the ground colour and intensity of wing markings, with paler specimens being commoner in the south-east and darker or duller ones in the north and west of the country.

What better species to demonstrate the power of the mercury-light trap? With hundreds of candidates fluttering into the trap it is much easier to pick specimens to illustrate a wide range of variation.

5. Catocala sponsa, the Dark Crimson Underwing

c.sponsa-300This beautiful moth is now extinct in the British Isles, except for a colony in the New Forest, where they are still grimly clinging on.

The situation sixty years ago was evidently not quite as desperate because Classey was able to rear, from eggs taken from a wild female near Ham Street, north Kent, a series of C. sponsawhich he pointedly remarks are different from the New Forest form.

However the event was unusual enough to justify including a series of fine moths in his exhibit.
This form of the Dark Crimson Underwing, represented in the exhibit and abundant in the collection, has now vanished.


6. Luceria virens,  the Burren Green, a new addition to the British List


burrengreen-600-300x282The empty exhibit drawer is nineteen down in the third (right hand) cabinet. I found Classey’s Burren Green specimen parked next-door in drawer nineteen of the central cabinet with some Wainscots in whose society it did not really belong.

The collection as a whole was organised in families reflecting the British list, to which of course Luceria virens was a newcomer, so when the exhibit was emptied it had no home to go to, and was simply placed in the nearest drawer.

Classey had originally exhibited a number of Burren Green specimens and the pupa which proved they were breeding in Ireland. These went to the Society, to expedition members and collector friends. The specimen that remains is the one that Classey chose to keep for himself.

The specimen is rather faded, but one can still see the faint green flush in its wings. The moth is known to fade. Dr Skat Hoffmeyer of Aarhus, Denmark, quoted by the great P.B.M. Allan, said, “L. virens is not a species which adorns one’s collection; it soon becomes greasy and fades deplorably.”

A collector whose name I can’t now remember recommended taking only newly-hatched moths while their wings were still drying as they are then at their most brilliant. More than a little mean, I thought. Let them at least flutter about a bit. Thank goodness we now have cameras with macro lenses.

7. Diarsia florida, the Fenland Square-Spot, a new addition to the British List

diarsia_floridaThe other great discovery of 1950 and like L. virens, a new addition to the British list. The consequence of this was that there was no ready printed label for this species and the handwritten label that eventually identified it was so faint that I nearly missed it in the drawer full of its cousins.

The series was bred from stock obtained from Askham Bog in Yorkshire by Classey’s friend the collector Dr Edward Cockayne, whose vast collection is now part of the Natural History Museum’s British National Collection of moths and butterflies.

Cockayne also showed these moths at the exhibition. Their inclusion in Classey’s exhibit one may surmise is partly homage to his friend, but it meant that he was exhibiting the year’s two sensational discoveries, side by side.

Classey’s decision to include D. florida in his exhibit may have been a late one, as this is the only species for which he did not type out a label. Possibly it appeared above the small handwritten scrap of paper which remains in the collection, stapled beneath the three remaining D. florida specimens.

Gerry Hagget, on Eric Classey’s tribute website made by his family, recalls Eric in pursuit of D. florida:

There are occasions in life when a catch-phrase is invented only to recur at future occasions. Eric went with Les Goodson to Askham Bog when Diarsia florida was first known. They had set up lamps with the Warden and it was not long before a quite different species appeared worthy of comment. “Oh no”, said the Warden “it can’t be that because it doesn’t occur here!” This it was thereafter whenever a location produced an unusual resident there was the repeated chorus along with knowing chuckles and Eric in the lead.


Hadena compta Schiff, the Varied Coronet


These are the moths mentioned in the Proceedings as having been bred from wild larvae obtained in Dover. They are identified by the long typewritten label.

The type is more modern than the robust old fashioned Underwood font of Classey’s typewriter and the label was conceivably typed by Dr. Edward Cockayne who appears to have sent the moths to Classey along with D. florida as a response to Classey’s gift to him of 30 eggs of the Burren Green, Luceria virens.

A series of H. compta bred from the Dover larvae appeared in Dr Cockayne’s exhibit and included one aberration defasciata Hannemann and an example of homeosis. Cockayne exhibited the moths to show their variation. Classey followed his own bred series with a wild specimen caught in Ireland, which appears slightly larger than the Kentish race.

9. Plusia festucae, the Gold Spot

These moths live in drawer 12 of the third cabinet along with a long series of the Burnished Brass and other insects whose wing spots look as if they have been laid on in pure gold leaf. Classey exhibited a pair of these moths, one of the normal type, the other with ‘united’ wingspots. 
L. exigua is an immigrant, crossing the Channel from the continent, and most abundant in the late summer, suggesting that the summer moths are the second brood of immigrants arriving earlier in the year. 1950 was not one of the its most abundant years.  The signficance of this little moth appears to be the date of its capture, February, in the depths of winter. It could not have survived long in the wild.

 11. Callimorpha dominula ab. junta, aberrant form of the Scarlet Tiger

The collection contains a whole drawer full of Callimorpha dominula which, as its scientific name suggests, appears in many different forms, all of them very beautiful.

In the drawer are many varying forms, including dark bimacula and the brilliant yellow ab.lutescens.


As the following article tells, I got into a muddle trying to find a specimen that could be described as ab. juncta, which I took to mean the colour bleeding from wing spots into the wing and connecting the spots. This should properly apply to the forewing, but the specimen I chose has striking spread of black in the hindwing. It’s not one of these.

These three show the normal (but for the Scarlet Tiger what is normal?) form, the dark bimacula and the magnificent yellowab. lutescens forms.


Classey’s moth had been hatched by Edward Cockayne from a larva from Itchen Abbas in Hampshire earlier in the year.

A lot of the insects in the drawer are from the collector H. Haynes, a Wiltshire man, whose death the Society recorded with regret in 1951. The Entomologist’s Record for 1943 reveals that he had bred a series of Panaxia(the old name for Callimorpha dominula, L.) from the Salisbury district showing specimens with enlarged and confluent markings in the forewings.

12. Hydraecia lucens, the Large Ear

Large-Ears-200Besides L. virens Classey exhibited a number of moths the expedition had taken in Co. Clare in August 1950. This fine pair of Large Ears, taken on August 19th, were among them. There is a column of four Large Ears in drawer 2:17 of the collection. The 1950 specimens are the central two. The two English specimens show distinctly darker coloration.

13. Cycnia mendica ab., the Muslin Ermine, aberrant form


MuslinErmine-200Classey caught this little white moth during a collecting trip to Lymington in June 1950. He refers to it simply as ‘an aberration’. There are twenty specimens in the collection, of which two females have odd dark markings on the leading edge of their forewing tips. Normal females have pure white wing-tips with no markings.

I have chosen the more exaggerated of the two variants to represent Classey’s C. mendica, ab.. This specimen also has broad dark markings splashed on the body where normal specimens have none.

14. Heliothis armigera, the Scarce Bordered Straw

Another moth taken by Clacurlywormsssey’s expedition in Co. Clare in August 1950. It is known by at least a dozen synonyms, and is nowadays generally called Helicoverpa armigera, being less politely referred to as The Cotton Bollworm.

Please notice that it has wonderfully curly antennae, the sort Dali would have envied, flamboyant as any desperado should be.

Armigera is a pest of just about every crop known to man. According to UK government risk assessors at DEFRA, ‘The most important crop hosts of which H. armigera is a major pest are tomato, cotton, pigeon pea, chickpea, sorghum and cowpea. Other hosts include dianthus, rosa, pelargonium, chrysanthemum, groundnut, okra, peas, field beans, soybeans, lucerne, Phaseolus spp., other Leguminosae, tobacco, potatoes, maize, flax, a number of fruits (Prunus, Citrus), forest trees and a range of vegetable crops.’ Is there anything it won’t eat? Its caterpillars have even been known to eat one another.

The moth’s home territory is southern Europe and North Africa. It can make thousand mile journeys to reach the south coast of Britain but rarely gets beyond. Possibly this gives a clue to its inclusion here. County Clare is 350 miles further on. Fair play to the little divill.

15. Hydrillula pallustris, the Marsh Moth

Eric Classey took H. pallustris in June 1950 at Woodwalton Fen. Why was it included? Well, the moth is scarce.

For most the capture of a single male in a season was considered ‘good going’ as pallustris is a moth of retiring habits and is very erratic in its appearance at the light. The female has been found in the wild state only on two or three occasions – Proceedings of the S. L. E. & N. H. S.

Classey’s specimen came from Woodwalton Fen, which the Society was actively trying to save from development. Three months after the 1950 exhibition, the Society’s President, Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby, addressed the assembled membership. Five years after the end of the Second World War, Saundby was a famous figure. He had been a  World War I air ace, and during World War II he was No. 2 at RAF Bomber Command.  No one really thought of him as  a lepidopterist, but now he dropped a bomb on them:

When looking through the list of subscribers to the Wicken Fen Fund I was rather surprised to note that, apart from the two guineas subscribed by the Society as a corporate body, only twenty of our members had supported the Fund.
saundby_portrait-300Now I am quite well aware that there are a number of people who do not agree with the way in which these nature reserves are managed, but I think we should all agree that they ought to be kept in being. If Wicken or Woodwalton Fens were given up, they would, in a very few years, be lost to us for ever. They would undoubtedly be drained and brought under cultivation, in common with all the other former fen lands of the East Anglian levels.

Looking after these reserves costs money and it is not sufficient just to prevent the Fen from going derelict. Last year the Wicken Fen Fund raised a sum, after paying expenses, of £57 8s, which was handed to the National Trust. The amount raised by the Fund has been gradually falling, year by year, while the expenses of keeping the Fen going have, like most other things, risen sharply.

The annual cost of the upkeep of the Fen is now about £800 a year. It is true that, in 1948, the University of Cambridge, in order to save the Fen, accepted financial responsibility for £450 a year. But this does not mean that the financial problems of the upkeep of the Fen have been solved. In their rejjort for 1947-48 the Local Committee said:—” The Committee hopes that this grant, far from having the effect of discouraging subscribers will greatly increase their number, and hopes that subscribers will feel that, whereas in the past their contributions may have seemed little more than a drop in the bucket, the money they can give now will result in really tangible improvement of conditions in the Fen.”

These hopes have not been fulfilled. I am not suggesting that large subscriptions are needed, but if a substantial proportion of our members would be prepared to subscribe a few shillings a year, what a difference it would make. Here, I suggest, is a cause which should appeal to every naturalist, whatever his interests.

16. Mincuia lunaris Schiff, Lunar Double-Stripe, suffused wings


lunarisClassey bred these moths from wild larvae taken near Ham Street in north Kent. He describes them as ‘a suffused aberration’. Six of these bred moths are in the collection, in drawer 3:13, giving a choice of specimens for the reconstruction. I chose the bottom two as being easiest to Photoshop, but the top two are more colourful and they are shown here.

This is as far as I could get with reconstructing the exhibit with moths still in the collection.

Photoshop is a wonderful imago-processing tool. It breeds moths faster than you can blink, cutting out the egg, larvaL and pupal stages. Where there was a column of three, we now have twenty one. We can clone L. virens indefinitely. In short, it is easy to finish by filling the gaps and showing what the exhibit would have looked like on October 28th, 1950.


17. The exhibit as it appeared in October 1950

Only three exhibit species are no longer in the collection but I have put in pictures sourced elsewhere to complete the drawer. The three are the White-Lined SphinxCelerio lineata, a Brighton Wainscot, Oria musculosa and three specimens of the Deep Brown Dart Aporophyla lutulenta ab. sedi bred from pupae which Classey had found in Ireland. To this moth attaches the following interesting tale:





A indicates species that remain in the collection. Cabinet and drawer numbers are given, thus 2:4 is cabinet 2, drawer 4. A ø marks moths no longer in the collection.

√ Heart and DartAgrotis exclamationis (long series in 2:4)

√ Brown-line Bright EyeHadena lepida – not mentioned by the Society – 6 specimens in 2:11

√ Dark Crimson UnderwingCatocala sponsa (extinct except possibly in the New Forest, 17 specimens not of New Forest type in 3:14)

√ Fen Square-Spot Diarsia florida – series bred from Askham Bog, Yorks, 1950 (in Proceedings but no label in drawer – Classey had sent his friend Edward Cockayne 30 eggs of the Burren Green from Ireland, and Cockayne responded with a series of H. compta (next entry) and this Diarsia florida series. Like the Burren Green, D. floridawas a new addition to the British list that year. 3 specimens in 2:7 )

√ Varied CoronetHadena compta – Hatched from larva by Cockayne, the second series he sent Classey. (8 specimens plus 1 wild caught by Classey in Ireland in 2:11)

ø White-lined Sphinx Celerio lineata – (not in collection)

√ Small Mottled WillowLaphygma exigua – √ (11 specimens in 3:2)

√ The Gold Spot – Plusia festucae (19 specimens in 3:12)

√ ? Scarlet TigerPanaxia dominula ab. juncta – (conjoined spots, possible candidates in 1:18)

ø Deep Brown DartAporophyla lutulenta ab. sedi (not in collection)

√ Large EarHydraecia lucens – Taken during the Burren expedition August 1950 √ (4 specimens in 2:17)

√ Muslin MothCycnia mendica Ab. – Taken in Lymington, June 1950 (20 specimens in 1:15)

ø Brighton WainscotOria musculosa – 1 also taken at Lymington (not in collection)

√ Scarce Bordered StrawHeliothis armigera – taken Co. Clare, August 1950 √ (9 specimens in 3:11)
√ Marsh MothHydrillula palustris – taken in Woodwalton Fen, June 1950 (1 specimen in 3:2)

√ Lunar Double-StripeMinucia lunaris Ab. (suffused) – bred from wild larva, Ham Street, 1950 (6 specimens in 3:13)