Four Marvels of the UK: from Stonehenge to Giant’s Causeway

These are excerpts from my travel account (along with some photos) from my UK visit some 8 years ago. In this post, I focus on four extraordinary sites, namely Giant’s Causeway, Stonehenge, Brecon Beacon and Loch Ness.

I – Loch Ness (Scotland)

Skinny-dipping in Loch Ness is one of the most ‘painfully’ unforgettable experiences in my life. The water was so cold that I could not even scream. It was murky as well. So murky that you could not see your own hand when only 5 cm below the surface. I don’t know what I was thinking when I jumped in, but my body still aches whenever I remember. Then came the Loch Ness cruise on board the Royal Scott, equipped with every Nessie-related equipment imaginable, from underwater imaging system to sonar. Nessie (the name they give to the Loch Ness Monster) is obviously the big attraction here, and the locals take the issue seriously. While Loch Lomond is way more beautiful (to my taste), there is something enchanting about Loch Ness, and it’s not the monster, but rather the dead calm water and the feeling that something might really lie beneath.

II- Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland)

Legend has it that the causeway was built by the Irish giant, Fionn, who was challenged by the much ‘bigger’ Scottish giant, Benandonner. Benandonner crossed the causeway in search for Fionn, but was tricked into thinking that Fionn was way bigger than he really was, and he fled, ripping up the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow him. As I first visited Giant’s Causeway, I could see it was really the work of a giant…a giant called Nature. The tens of thousands of mostly hexagonal basalt columns are perfectly geometrical, stretching over a vast area from the hill foot and all the way to the sea (thousands of them are below the sea level). It’s the work of an old volcanic eruption, and it never fails to amaze.
Nearby, one gets to enjoy a typical Irish scene: green highland pastures dotted with sheep and ending in vertical cliffs against which the waves break hysterically. As I went back to my motel in Bushmills, I thought to myself that Giant’s Causeway was the most impressive thing that I would see in Northern Ireland. I was right.

III- Stonehenge (England)

Stonehenge needs no introduction: it’s one of the world’s oldest and most mysterious prehistoric constructions. That circle of stones is something that I had always dreamed of visiting ever since I was a young kid. Young as I was when I first read about it, just the though that a man-made construction is older than the Great Pyramids was simply intriguing, but little I knew. It is true that parts of Stonehenge are believed to be older than the Pyramids of Giza, but my surprise was great when I visited Stonehenge for other reasons. First of all, and even though it is a megalithic structure, it was smaller than I thought. Much smaller.
Second, some of the lintels, like the ones in the inner trilithons, are shockingly heavy: how could anyone at that time (over 4,000 years ago) raise a sarsen lintel weighing some 40 tons to balance it on top of two other stones?
Third, the typical question: what purpose did it serve? Burial ground? Astronomical observatory? Sacred ground? Meeting place? The question persists, and another question follows: why did they use bluestones that had to be moved to the site all the way from Preseli Hills in…Wales?!

IV- Brecon Beacons (Wales)

At a distance, one can see “King Arthur’s Seat”, formed by two soaring peaks: Ben y Fan and Corn Du. Funny that the mountains here can be ‘male’ or ‘female’. Brecon Beacons makes for an incredible hike: green valleys, red sandstone peaks, little streams and waterfalls…everything you would expect from a national park.
Back to “King Arthur”, why him? A Welsh friend explained it with a smile: “Why? Don’t you know that the dragon in our flag is supposedly his battle standard?” Well, no, but one thing I knew for sure: that I was going to love this part of the world.

My new Astronomy Course: From Quarks to Quasars

Today I start giving a course of 4 sessions on Astronomy. Attached is the poster.
The course covers a wide range of relevant topics and celebrates Astronomy as the ultimate science that fuses Physics, Mathematics, Geometry, Chemistry, and many other disciplines. The picture becomes even more interesting as we tackle the big questions of Cosmology and the infinitely small dynamics of Quantum Physics.

From Aristarchus to Sagan and from Ptolemy to Hawking, this is one incredible journey…the journey of science as it turned its attention to our universe and the forces that shape it.

My new Art History Course (Barcelona, Nov. 2012)

I’m pleased to announce my new Art History Course, taking place in Barcelona next month (November) over four sessions (once a week) covering the history of art from Prehistory and all the way to Contemporary Art.

The poster has more details, but the structure of the course is as follows:
First Session : Intro to Art Appreciation – From Prehistory to Medieval Art
Second Session : From Renaissance to Neoclassical Art
Third Session : From Romanticism to Modern Art
Fourth Session : Contemporary Art

All four sessions will be lecture-style, with PowerPoint presentations in all of them. The teaching language is English.

The course includes printed handouts, reading material, and a guided visit to the MNAC Museum in Barcelona to explain some works by old and modern masters like Zurbarán, Carracci, Titian, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Picasso, Casas and others.

Anyone interested is welcome to participate. For inquiries / reservations, kindly contact me at the email address indicated in the poster.

Damien Hirst, the Anti-Christ of Contemporary Art

The story is not a new one, it’s only Damien Hirst hitting again with a new ‘artwork’ of his, this time provoking the death of 9,000 butterflies in his latest exhibition at the Tate Gallery, ‘In and Out of Love’. The Animal Rights groups are outraged, while the artist and the Tate claim that the butterflies selected for the exhibition were selected carefully for the exhibition environment (two rooms with no windows, with visitors walking in and out) and that they (the butterflies) lived out the final stage of their natural life cycle inside the room. This is exactly what Hirst is after: a debate about his art, media attention, spotlights, and controversy. As I said, nothing new for an artist accustomed to fame and fortune, a man accused of banalizing culture as Mario Vargas Llosa put it.

Hirst, a prominent YBAs (Young British Artists) member, rose to fame thanks to the Charles Saatchi (Saatchi Gallery owner) who sponsored him. The first shock to the art world came with Hirst’s work titled ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, featuring a pickled tiger shark (suspended in a formaldehyde tank). Apart from raising many eyebrows as to whether it was art at all, it sold for 8 million dollars (some say $ 12 million).

But Hirst, like Warhol before him, knows how to sell his image and convert himself into a brand. In 2008, he sold a complete show called ‘Beautiful inside my Head Forever’ for around $ 200 million.

One glance at Hirst’s ‘In Nomine Patris’ (In the Name of the Father), ‘Mother and Child Divided’ or ‘A Thousand Years’ is enough to irritate any animal lover and maybe offend the conventional viewer for their content and insinuation. Aesthetically speaking, I find Hirst’s art ugly and highly provocative, but that –in part- is what makes him so popular (and important, I daresay): his art reflects the ills of our contemporary society and the culture of the spectacle…an –in-your-face reflection on our condition.

Hirst does not miss a chance for his art and his character to remain a trending topic. A couple of days ago, a work of his featuring a pregnant mother (a huge bronze-clad statue called Verity) was erected in Illfracombe town, received as a 20 year loan from the artist. In no time, the statue polarized public opinion and the debate is on.

Veolia Environement Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A scene of emperor penguins preparing to blast their way through a hole in the ice earns Paul Nicklen one of the world’s top photo awards. The Canadian braved the extreme cold of Antarctica and attack by leopard seals to get the shot. An impressive photo, titled ‘Bubble Jetting Emperors’.
Source and more news at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19980616

Mark Rothko’s Prophecy: Artworks Vandalized

“A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend the affliction universally!”Mark Rothko

The Russian-American artist famous for his ‘multiforms’ produced a multitude of abstract and color field compositions that earned him both fame and fortune. Coincidently, on the day he committed suicide, his ‘Seagram Murals’ were on their way to the Tate Gallery where they would be displayed. I say coincidently because, a few days ago, one of these murals suffered what he himself had called ‘eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent’. Here is what happened as the Tate put it:
“We can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting.” – Tate spokesperson, October 7th, 2012

Rothko joined a long list of artists whose works have been vandalized: from old master like Michelangelo and Rembrandt and all the way to names like Tracey Emin. The man who defaced Rothko’s painting had something to say about his act: “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.

Earlier this year, Rothko’s ‘Red, Yellow, Orange’ had sold for $ 87 million in an auction in NY.

Eric Clapton Sells, Richter’s Painting Breaks Record

“The role of the artist is more entertainment now. We entertain people.” – Gerhard Richter

It was definitely entertaining to see Richter’s painting ‘“The role of the artist is more entertainment now. We entertain people.” – Gerhard Richter

It was definitely entertaining to see Richter’s painting ‘Abstraktes Bild’ selling for $ 34 million a few days ago, breaking the record for the highest price paid for an artwork by a living artist. The previous record was held by an icon of modern art, namely ‘Flag’ by Jasper Jones ($ 31.6 million, 2010).

Gerhard Richter is obviously one of the most celebrated contemporary painters. He is to contemporary art what Lucian Freud was to modern art. But an intesting perspective on what makes his works so expensive and sought after comes from Georgina Adam, Art Market Editor at The Art Newspaper. In an article published by Daily Telegraph he mentions that:
“For the art market his work is seen as unassailably safe, at a time when investment in art is the hot ticket. And, Richter has been a great investment for those who bought early, such as Eric Clapton.
Richter’s late, abstract works are particularly sought after because of their broad appeal: colourful abstracts which can fit into any interior, cannot offend anyone and are recognizable trophies which give the owner immense bragging rights.

Cynics point out that, as well, they are domestically sized, so ideal for a luxury apartment – or yacht. And, as Richter is now aged 80, the market recognises that he will not be painting forever.
Add to this a career carefully managed by long-term American dealer Marian Goodman, and by the artist himself, who maintains a detailed website enabling prospective buyers to identify all his work and its sale history – something that has particular appeal to those with investment interest.”

So, in a way, this is an ‘informal recipe’ for the price of an artist’s work. But then there is the quality of the artist, his talent, his passion, and as Richter himself put it: “Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting.”
’ selling for $ 34 million a few days ago, breaking the record for the highest price paid for an artwork by a living artist. The previous record was held by an icon of modern art, namely ‘Flag’ by Jasper Jones ($ 31.6 million, 2010).

Gerhard Richter
is obviously one of the most celebrated contemporary painters. He is to contemporary art what Lucian Freud was to Realism last century. But an intesting perspective on what makes his works so expensive and sought after comes from Georgina Adam, Art Market Editor at The Art Newspaper. In an article published by Daily Telegraph he mentions that:
“For the art market his work is seen as unassailably safe, at a time when investment in art is the hot ticket. And, Richter has been a great investment for those who bought early, such as Eric Clapton.
Richter’s late, abstract works are particularly sought after because of their broad appeal: colourful abstracts which can fit into any interior, cannot offend anyone and are recognizable trophies which give the owner immense bragging rights.

Cynics point out that, as well, they are domestically sized, so ideal for a luxury apartment – or yacht. And, as Richter is now aged 80, the market recognises that he will not be painting forever.
Add to this a career carefully managed by long-term American dealer Marian Goodman, and by the artist himself, who maintains a detailed website enabling prospective buyers to identify all his work and its sale history – something that has particular appeal to those with investment interest.”

So, in a way, this is an ‘informal recipe’ for the price of an artist’s work. But then there is the quality of the artist, his talent, his passion, and as Richter himself put it: “Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting.”