James Watt: Painter for the People

James Watt is a name synonymous with Scottish innovation, the Greenock inventor creating the steam engine.

But another Jimmy has shown his talents, in the form of a Port Glasgow painter by the same name. His recent exhibit at The Beacon Arts Center, Greenock, is his latest public display and his first in the newly built arts center.

Main Entrance - Beacon Arts Center

Main Entrance – Beacon Arts Center

The setting is more appropriate than your usual gallery. As a painter of an aquatic theme, the gallery sees the paintings overlooking the Clyde, the river which inspired the painter for half a century. The Beacons entire back wall is made of glass, giving for a majestic view of the water. One might think this would give visitors some small insight as to why Watt found it such an inspiring location; they would be wrong. It was the smog filled ship yards and dirty working men that lit the fire of creativity in this Port-born man.

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The man himself was in attendance on the Friday I visited, and the day before as well. Watt said of the new local arts center;

“It’s a marvelous building, it really is. For the first time since the ship yards closed I feel we’re really making use of what the Clyde has to offer, if not in such an industrial sense. It’s a beautiful location and it’s wonderful to see the pictures all overlooking the water. It’s where they were all painted, after all.”

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Having come from a line of working class men, poorly educated with little prospect other than to go straight from basic schooling into the expected and predictable future of a trade, Watt found himself of school leaving age during a time of unexpected promise. Further education was no longer an unattainable dream for the working man, a lavish luxury of the wealthy. Scholarship and free further education were being offered to the working middle class and Watts father, being a clever man and self-educated despite his humble station, saw an opportunity to send his equally so ambitious sons on a path to a life he had no hope of attaining.

On workers his opinion was clear;

“Whether they were clever or not was irrelevant; this was what was expected of them. My father was a very clever man. He read books that most of the other men would never have heard of and the fact that he was even interested in what they had to say was strange to them, alien even. Something he would be mocked over. Now we can see that he was just a man with a mind more than his station but with no way to correctly employ that inherent brilliance. It’s very sad, really, because you just don’t know how many others were in the same position.”

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And so it was that James Watt found himself able to attend Art School and begin to create painted works from the scenes he saw growing up. Industry features prominently in almost all of his works and his paintings more often defy the quintessential ideal of pretty boats on sparkling water under a lightly dusted blue skies. They reveal the true rawness and unyielding mire of the yards and the daily toil of the men who worked there.

“It was a toil, that’s exactly the word. Those men had no prospects; they would never leave the yards once they sucked them in. They had no choice but to go straight from school and pick a trade, work at it all their lives and live the predictable, mundane life of a grafter, same as every other man in the yard.” he said, “Not to say that they weren’t extremely skilled, which they were, in their way.”

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Often painting these scenes of graft and Clyde creation in burnished tones, there is an almost sinister, otherworldly atmosphere from them. They depict relics of a bygone age as the shipping industry has since died out from the area, moving on to greener pastures in South Korea and other, offshore locations.

The artists favourite

The artists favourite

Taking great pleasure in speaking to admirers of his work he spoke of the largest in the exhibition being his favourite. Featuring on the main entrance wall of the gallery his fondness of it was clear;

“It’s not even that I think it’s my best painting,” he told me, “But it’s only now that I’ve lent it to the Beacon and it’s no longer hanging on the wall in my house that I can’t help feeling a little bereft in it’s absence. I think it’s more that I painted it at a time I now reflect upon as bring poignant… I’m actually feeling a little anxious with it hanging there, I quite want it back now.” he laughed, but there was a glint of yearning the kind, weathered face.

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My personal favourite was found at the back of the gallery. Consuming a massive expanse of wall, it was one of the lighter, more hopeful images in the show. Titled ‘ARDBEG’ it was painted in 1980 and is oil on canvas.

Ardbeg

Ardbeg

Ardbeg

Ardbeg

There is a light and an optimism for the freedom of boating that struck me as being quietly beautiful, a relief in a collection of largely russet toned canvases.

Interspersing the work yard themed, brazenly painted boat scenes are pictures of a more traditional marine sort. Though one could hardly describe them as “bright”, they are several shades lighted than their harder edged kin. Depicting the cloudy Scottish weather, the waters edge in these smaller canvasses are often lonely feeling, quiet, muted tones showing the simplicity of beachfront life.

The inventor of the steam engine might be a national treasure, but I doubt he could depict his home the way this James Watt does, so many years later.

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The Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days of Summer. Dog Days. The dog days… What the hell is a “DOG DAY”!?

Well I’ll tell you.

I used to think that a ‘dog day’ was another name for one of those lazy days you have during summer. The ones where there is heat rising in a mirage-like haze from the roads, a slight sheen of sweat covers every forehead and more iced treats are floating about than at an Italian gelato vendor.

One of those days that become so bright you could swear some belligerent ten year old had turned on a high watt bulb over you and was trying to incinerate you with a magnifying lens.

One of those days so hot and summery that all you want to do is take a nap under a tree then douse yourself on cool water and guzzle a litre of ice tea from a tall glass filled with ice and topped with lemon.

tall glass of something from my pre-alcohol days… 😉

One of those days. The Dog Days.

But no. This is apparently (and admittedly disappointingly) not the case at all.

Mystic Meg

Apparently, the phrase stems from the Ancient Romans. Those clever little conquerors who invented all manner of things we now take for granted such as roads, cement, plumbing, government, even an EXTREMELY early computer, made a bit of a silly. For all their intelligence they may er… have read a little too much into the stars… kinda like Mystic Meg… except people actually believed them… for hundreds of years

They believed heavily in the power of the stars and their influence over earth. They studied them extensively – at least, as extensively as they could without todays technology.

Sirius Constellation

Once a year (another thing they invented, by the way, the calendar) the brightest star in the Sirius constellation would synchronise with the rise and setting of the sun, outshining all others in the sky. The Ancient Romans believed that it was the energy, light and heat released by this combination that led to the hotter and brighter summer seasons. Hence, Dog Days. It was really just a very early term for summer.

(This all has nothing to do with Harry Potter, by the way…)

The surprising thing is, that despite this being something they came up with simply as it was the only rational explanation they had for the change that came about in the environment around that time, they were not so far wrong; Sirius does shine brightest between July 3rd and August 11th, which is generally the hottest time of the year – it does not, however effect the actual temperature. That bit was all a load of rubbish. But it made them happy to feel clever, so we’ll let them have that as they were rather good at a lot of things.

It was the astronomer Geminus who out forward a more correct thesis around 70 B.C.

He wrote: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days,’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun?s heat is the greatest.”

This is what FLORENCE WELCH (of FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE fame) refers to in her song “Dog Days are Over”, used in the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Many people originally thought the reference to “dog” was a tip in the direction of the films protagonist. Not so.

Florence Welch

So when you thought you were hippy swaying in a field to a song about breaking up with some “dog” of a guy/girl, or emancipation from being treated like nothing more than a “dog” – you were actually celebrating the end of the summer season, as sanctioned by the Ancient Romans. Go figure!

Not so chuffed about it now, are ya… 😉

It was purely a serendipitous moment that led me to this discovery. I was randomly pondering its implications, trying to make some nuance of sense of it, after hearing our fiery haired Florence on the radio (as you do…). Then the very next day I discovered its origins on, aptly enough, a calendar at work. 😀

Florence Welch

So consider this while you lament the end of the summer holidays:

When the light of the Sirius has waned, will you continue to grieve the passing of its season? Or will you invest your former vigour in new, autumnal exploits?

In other words, wocha up to after summer, anything interesting happening in the Autumn? 😀

Just because the fairest season has lived and left, does not meanthat the sun has to set on life and all its brightness.

And so, in the best of Florence style, I bid you, put on your flowery crowns, don those flowing dresses and RUN! “Run fast for you mother and fast for your fa-a-ather/run for your children for your sisters and b-rothers.”

Would you know, I think I’m becoming something of an optimist in my old age.

NAAAH! More like some kind of wood nymph. 😛

SSDD

“The Dog Days Are Over” still…

Spicy Vegetable Soup (optional: with Herb Dumplings)

Ready for a super easy soup recipe?

Why is it so easy, you ask? Well, because nothing is definite in it. It’s all subject to change according to what you like, which makes it perfect to make for yourself, or if you are having guests – just tailor it to what suits! 🙂 When I made it I changed a few of the original ingredients, partly because I preferred alternatives and partly… well, because I was a derp and read the ingredients wrong… and was left without the curry paste… which was silly considering it says spicy in the title… So I had to improvise. But it all worked out perfectly so it’s fine 😀

I decided to go more or less vegetarian about 8 months ago. It wasn’t for any particular reason, I just sorta went off meat. However, I do enjoy a chicken rogan josh from my local Indian, the Taj Mahal, on weekends though – seriously, the most tasty thing IN THE WORLD!!

So instead of making a Spicy Chicken and Veg soup, as the recipe suggested, I decided to go for this option. It was partly in an effort to prove to my highly skeptical dad that “rabbit food” is tasty too. Because he is an idiot and does not believe me 😛 But, you could add chicken or even beef if that’s what you like – go with what you feel!

Also, don’t get bogged down in measurements. The great thing about soup is that anything goes – if you like peas more than carrots, go wild! Loving that asparagus? Why not throw some in?!? 🙂

So here it is, my Spicy Vegetable Soup with (optional) Herb Dumplings!!

You might need:

SOUP

1     large ONION (chopped)

1/2     large CARROT/s (peeled and sliced)

1     small SWEET POTATO (cut into pieces)

400g     tin CHOPPED TOMATOES

quarter mug   PEAS and  SWEETCORN

quarter mugMIXED PEPPERS (chopped)

2     mugs of WATER

1     tablespoon OIL (to fry veg)

1     vegetable stock cube

1     teaspoon of CURRY PASTE (more if you like it hot!!!!!) (or, do what I did and mix your own curry paste, using TUMERIC, GARRAM MARSALA, CUMIN and a tiny bit of CHILI POWDER and GARLIC 🙂 )

DUMPLINGS:

not entirely necessary, I only made them to impress my parents – I cheated and used a “just add water” (and a pinch of dry basil) packet mix from the supermarket that takes two minutes to make. Seriously. 😀

but just incase you want to try them yourself…

DUMPLINGS:

1     mug SELF-RAISING FLOUR (plain won’t work, dumplings will be solid)

half mug     SUET

1     teaspoon CORIANDER or BASIL

1     EGG & WATER (to mix up to one cup)

METHOD:

1.     Chop all veg and heat oil in large saucepan. Fry the onions until soft (but not BROWN!!). Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for approx 1 minute, or until quite soft. (Don’t panic if this takes a little longer, it might if you have quite a lot of ingredients.

2.     For this step, transfer to a POT instead of SAUCEPAN if you feel there is too much oil or the pan is not very deep.

Add the stock cube, curry paste, water and tin of tomatoes (usually supermarkets stock tins the correct volume already – yay for efficiency!). Add pinch of salt/pepper if to taste. Leave to simmer gently while “making” the dumplings 😉

3.     If you choose not to make the dumplings, then – congrats, you’re done! Not even joking, kick back and chillax til dinner, or heat it up, grab a bowl, and chow down!

Serves: 4     Prep Time: approx 30-40 mins     Suitable for Vegetarians

Simple, healthy and delicious, as well as quick to make. The potato, of whichever kind you prefer adds thickness, while the choice of veg make it flavourful and fresh, as well as personal to the makers taste. I added the peppers and lots of spices because I love all hot food. Served piping hot, this definitely fits the bill.

If you give it a bash, let me know and tell me what variations you tried – I’d love to make it again differently 😀

What I used…

chopped goodies 😀

Happy bubbling pot… 😀

This was the size of my sweet potato… yeah. bloody HUGE!

All the extra potato… there should be more, really… 🙂

SSDD

Lent (2)

 Update on the zero caffeine situation.

Picture taken from Womans' Day

For the first couple of days, maybe 10, I was experiencing the most horrendous cravings, all the time, every day, every time I passed by somewhere serving or making coffee, someone holding a coffee, or of it was a time of the day I would have idealistically been holding a coffee myself. It. Was. Awful!

Because I am used to having my little dose of sweet caffeinated bliss at certain times of the day, my body was craving it, like some kind of beast, reaching from my inside out trying to grab what it was after. It left me with a kind of emptiness and I knew that the void could be so easily filled if I just gave in to the cravings. But you can’t! 

Along with the ache for the forbidden fruit, there came the headaches. I tend to get pretty bad headaches on a regular basis, but it’s the kind of thing you learn to ignore. Stress causes them, yet a lot of hypochondriacs who get them put them down to some chronic imaginary illness. This was something entirely other. It took me a while, but I’ve put these down to dehydration. Yeah, I know, weird right. But then when you think about it, I was drinking a tonne of coffee which is basically water with (delicious) murky brown stuff in it. Take that away and I really was only drinking about half a bottle and one glass of water a day. Not really that much. I had no idea.

There have been other “side-effects”, though in actual fact some of them are more beneficial than not.

I seem to have a bigger appetite and my metabolism has sped up a little. I think it’s because of the coffee but it could also be that I have also increased the amount of exercise I’m doing a little. Should probably have only changed one thing in my life to be absolutely sure, but hey! I definitely feel like I’m storing a little less pudge than I was before. So it’s all good!

Except for them damn cravings…

Lent (1) Intro

About a month ago I was speaking to some friends when an interesting opportunity presented itself. We each decided to give things up for Lent and I will document our progress here over the next 40 days
 
 
Having only known each other since September, when four of us met on the first day of Uni, none of us really knew anything of each others beliefs. For some reason, the subject had never come up in our lunch breaks or over drinks. I wonder why… Oh yeah, coz we were too busy partying!!… I mean, studying… obviously… 😛
 
I’m more agnostic than atheist, but basically I don’t follow any religion. I’m not in complete denial that there might be something out there though. This view, it turned out, was shared by two of my friends, Gillian and Phoebe. We’ve all had our own experiences of religion and we’re old enough now to be able to come to our own conclusions.
 
But enough of that! Totally separate issue.
 
However. With Irish heritage and having been raised inGlasgow,Shannonhad been raised a strict Catholic. She was enlightening us ignorant and undecided whelps on the truth of what it really is to be a Christian. (coz honestly, after hearing her speak of Catholicism, we realised we really didn’t have a bloody clue! That was quite humbling)
 
It was really quite inspiring and touching to hear someone speak about a faith that has been so slandered in the press in recent years with such passion and total commitment. She explained to us how frustrated she was with the misconceptions of Catholicism people have these days, all because a few of the shadier aspects were picked to pieces by the press. Even though we are, all four of us studying to be a part of that world, it did make me think that often people and subjects may receive an unduly bad rap.
 
 
Everybody has their dark side, it is a reflection of the faith they follow. But that doesn’t mean something is rotten to the core. It just means that you should try to isolate that darkness, fight it into submission by flooding it with light. As some smart cookie once said, “We need darkness to prove the light”.
 
***
 
Anyway…
 
Gillian and I decided to set a challenge.
 
Lent is a Christian tradition where, on Ash Wednesday, you give up something for the 40 days and nights preceding Easter Sunday. This day comes immediately after Shrove Tuesday, but in true heretic fashion, most people know it as Pancake Day. There is some story to do with Jesus and the crucifixion and his rise from the dead and a massive boulder or something… But no one really cares about that when the sickly sweet and delicious scent of fresh pancake is being wafted under your nose so, Pancake Day it is!
 
Now, I write these here words and confess to you, hand on heart… My name is Gemma, and I am a coffee addict. XD
 
Gillian thought that an interesting and productive use of her time would be to use me as her glorified lab rat – an experiment into the effects of caffeine withdrawal in a teenager. 40 days without coffee. 40!
 
Faced with the daunting prospect I counter struck with a vicious blow – give up junk food. All of it. Unhealthy snacks, take-away, the lot!
 
The crisp addict hesitated, but to her credit, only for a moment. And that was that. Decided. The winner gaining nothing but boasting rights, and if it was a draw, pride.
 To be honest, she has more to gain from this than me, the way I see it. Take-away food for the most part is bad for you. She’s just cutting out all the stuff you shouldn’t be eating if you have any sense anyway! Me, however…

Coffee makes me smile 🙂

How can a person deny themselves the bittersweet goodness in the luscious warmth of a steaming hot mug of coffee? (I take mine black, one sugar, just in case you were wondering 😉 )