Monday, 20 June 2016

The EU Referendum - Freedom, choice, cultural diversity: Why I would vote IN if I had a vote

Nearly twenty years ago I arrived in England, having left Germany with a single suitcase and a determination to make a living here. I was in the very lucky position to do so out of my own free will and for no other reason than a love for the English language, literature, humour and art. I found work within a few days and started paying taxes almost immediately, worked hard and tried to improve my language skills. I quickly understood the brilliance and fragility of the NHS system and have always tried not too much of a strain on it.

In return Britain has given me fulfilling jobs, several scholarships and fellowships, and a wealth of opportunities, both on a personal and professional level. I now teach British culture and heritage and consider myself an advocate for this country. In short, I found happiness in the place I chose as a home. I still love Britain's quirkiness, cultural diversity, the melancholy beauty of its countryside, and it makes me immensely proud to be able to tell my daughter that Richard 'Dickie' Attenborough hugged and kissed her at my graduation. This didn't make me feel British - I see myself as a citizen of Europe - but I felt I had become part of Britain.

The impending EU referendum fills me with fear and sadness. I come from a country that was divided when I was young and the crossing of the German/German border (if you were lucky enough to be able to cross it) meant being questioned, sometimes strip-searched, families being split up for hours, cars being taken apart, luggage being searched and confiscated and passports being taken away, so I am naturally allergic to borders. The EU meant I could travel freely and even choose a new home, and I and many of my friends revelled in this freedom.

A result in favour of "Brexit" will affect me personally and it will mean I have to rethink many aspects of my life, but this is about much more than my feelings and circumstances. If Britain leaves the EU my 9-year old daughter (so far with only a British passport) and all other young British people will not have that same freedom of movement I so enjoyed and that enabled me to experiment, learn and flourish. Apart from the unpredictable economic implications for Britain and the whole of the EU I fear we will all lose that freedom of choice, the cultural richness and the opportunities I was so lucky to enjoy. And as for the European Convention on Human Rights ...

Because I hold a German passport I will not be able to vote on Thursday 23 June, but if you can then please please please vote for Britain to remain in the European Union. 

Thank you.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Silence outweighs noise here: My China experience

I have been guest-blogging about my trip to China in September over at the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums blog:

Sunday, 28 September 2014

"Into the sweet morning fog" - Turner, Kate Bush and Mary Anne Aytoun Ellis

I have just returned from my first visit to China, about which I will be writing over at the Royal Pavilion blog soon. I spent the day before my departure in London, where I visited two exhibitions and saw Kate Bush in concert (yes, I managed to book tickets in those twenty minutes it took for them to sell out). By coincidence water was the dominant theme running through the day.

Turner: Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth c.1842
Tate Britain's Late Turner - Painting Set Free brought many of Turner's near-abstract, breathless, centrifugal works together, and his Snowstorm once again punched me in the stomach. Is this the perfect sublime sea picture? Water, ice and snow in destructive yet utterly beautiful, moving form. I have an 1840s engraving of it at home - a pale copy, but still effective.  Another highlight for me was to see his two "Goethean" colour theory canvases together, Shade and Darkness - The Evening of the Deluge, and Light and Darkness (Goethe's Theory) - The Morning After the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis. It seemed fitting to contemplate these two pictures shortly after having received my PhD. They marked the beginning of my research into colour six years ago. Interestingly the curator suggested in the label text that Turner may have alluded not just to the biblical Moses in the title but also to the British eighteenth century colour theorist Moses Harris.

From a blockbuster exhibition to the opening of a small but magical exhibition of paintings that was almost entirely devoted to water: Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis's 'Place and Memory' at the Portland Gallery.

Dewpond, Egg tempera on paper, mounted on panel

I recently visited Aytoun Ellis's studio in Lewes, with a view to contributing in some form to the project Springlines, a collaboration between Aytoun Ellis and the poet Clare Best, a friend of mine. Together they have been exploring hidden and mysterious bodies of water across the South Country of England, such as furnace ponds, dew ponds, old clay pits and ancient wells, "mapping and illustrating the psychogeography of water in Sussex".

In Mary Anne Aytoun Ellis's studio,
Whereto a Spirit Clings on the easel
I like visiting artists' studios, as it gives me an opportunity to see the raw materials of their art, find out which pigments they use and how they work, in the hope of getting closer to the substance of art. There is also an element of voyeurism to this, of course. In Aytoun Ellis's studio I revelled in the multi-layered complexity of her paintings, their slow development, the apparent cruelty with which she scrapes off large areas of paint, adds another layer, more detail, then erases and reworks her watery images again. I looked at the works in progress, paintings like palimpsests, and wondered whether she ever considers her paintings finished, or whether they reach an imposed state of finish only because eventually they need to be framed, displayed and sold.

Some of Aytoun Ellis's pigments. 

In any case, the fluidity of materials and the artist's technique suit the dominant subjects of her work: water in many shapes and forms, meadows, hills, trees, hedges, undergrowth, all in glorious realistic detail, yet often under a veil of mist or blue moonlight, the imagery only occasionally punctuated by birds, sheep, deer or a steaming horse. In the studio the paintings appear organic, evolving, as if growing out of the walls and floor. In a gallery space they assume a strong and uncompromising air, encapsulated perfectly by the astonishing Caballus. The exhibition at the Portland Gallery is only on until 3 October, so if you find yourself in London in the next few days, perhaps in search of Turner, drop into the Portland as well, for a rare opportunity to see Aytoun Ellis's work.

‘Place and Memory’
at Portland Gallery, 8 Bennet Street, London SW1A 1RP
18 September – 3 October 2014

From there I went with my golden ticket to see Kate Bush's theatrical performance Before the Dawn at the Hammersmith Apollo. Much, perhaps too much, has been written about it, so I will refrain from adding to all the well-deserved praise. There was much water imagery in the style of Turner and Aytoun Ellis, from ferocious storms, shipwrecks and souls lost at sea to frozen rivers, fog, and a painter working en plein air, with rain turning his canvas into something unpredictable and new. The entire The Ninth Wave performed as a stage show - need I say more? I was transported back to my angst-ridden, intense late teens by Ms Bush, in an entirely good way. Under Ice (from The Ninth Wave) has for me always conjured up memories of the flood plains of the Rhine near Düsseldorf freezing over, providing a rare opportunity to skate for miles through winter trees. On this occasion though I couldn't help thinking of Aytoun Ellis's Frozen Water, and what a perfect visual equivalent it was to Bush's eerie piece.

Frozen Water, Pencil and egg tempera on paper mounted on gessoed panel
And by complete coincidence, both artists used a single feather in their iconography, Bush on the curtain during the interval, Aytoun Ellis in a small format painting, both almost tangible, painted in painstaking and sensual detail:

Taking photographs was not allowed during the performance, so a picture of the rather beautiful ticket artwork will have to do, featuring colourful entangled sea creatures.

Even the confetti shot from canons before the interval continued the water theme, with blotchy hand-written lines from Tennyson's The Coming of Arthur (from Idylls of the King) printed on the paper:

Poetic trophy confetti from Before the Dawn. I will not sell this on Ebay.
After all this walking on water I was ready for a trip to desert plains in north-western China the following day, of which more later. But during the 11-hour flight I could not stop humming Hello Earth and thinking of water.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

From submission to Viva Voce and beyond: 'Oh! Color, color, dear tormenting color, thou darling of the eye!'

Apologies for the silence, but the last few months were taken up with actually finishing my doctoral thesis, for which I am referring to this dramatic illustration (courtesy of

I submitted my thesis (400 pages plus 80 pages of illustrations) on 12 January 2014, and it felt a bit like sending my daughter off to nursery for the first time. Here is the pictorial story, in colour, since then:

Submission moon, on the way home
Then came months of waiting, until I was giving a Viva date: 9 May 2014.
This is what Viva Voce preparation looks like. A still life of six years of part-time research:

My external examiner was Abraham Thomas, the new Director of the Sir John Soane Museum in London. The Viva was scheduled to take place at the Soane - an utterly appropriate place. It took place at 2 pm on the ground floor of No.14 Lincoln's Inn Fields (bottom right in the picture) and lasted about two hours.

 I waited here for about fifteen minutes for the verdict, being very very tense and nervous (as indeed I was in the weeks leading up to it):
No 14, Lincoln's Inn Fields
And the outcome was an astonishing and totally unexpected "unconditional PhD". This picture was taken outside the Soane Museum just after the Viva, with dear Franky Bulmer, who waited outside for me. She dressed topically, I played it safe in black and came armed with tissues.

This is what post-Viva celebrations look like (involves a lot of Champagne and cake):

This is what the bound version looks like (involves a lot of struggling with gigantic pdf files):

And this is what a very happy Dr Loske looks like:

I submitted the bound copy at the University of Sussex with help from Flora and could not resist this photo opportunity. I actually owe my university a lot of happiness. Thank you everyone at Sussex, especially Meaghan Clarke, everyone at the Royal Pavilion, and thank you AHRC for funding this.

But before I embark on new and related projects (keywords: a conference in China, an exhibition on exotic creatures, research into Mary Philadelphia Merrifield and Moses Harris), here are lines from the most curious book I came across during my research, a spoof on colour manuals and theories, entitled 'Hints upon Tints', dating from 1833. It's been a wonderful six years. Gratuitous graduation pictures in funny Tudor cap to follow in July. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

"Tapping the cells of knowledge": On researching colour in London libraries and excellent teachers

When in London, I carry out much of my research on colour at either the British Library, the National Art Library at the V&A or the Colour Reference Library at the Royal College of Art. The Colour Reference Library very kindly lent three items, including Moses Harris's Natural System of Colours (1811) (related blog post HERE) for my Regency Colour and Beyond display at the Royal Pavilion.

All three libraries are  wonderful spaces to work in, staffed with very helpful and knowledgable people and I feel privileged and grateful to be able to spend time there.

Last week I went to the British Library to have a closer look at the King's Library. This is George III's collection of around 60,000 books, which was given to the nation by his son George IV in 1823. They were housed in the British Museum in a long gallery and from 1857 in the round Reading Room of the British Museum. Now, of course, the library forms the glass heart of the new British Library building at King's Cross.

King George III's personal copy of Newton's Opticks, 1704, with that famous prismatic colour wheel (Fig.11).
Here is George III's own copy of Newton's Opticks in its first English edition (he owned three more copies in Latin), showing the fold-out copper plate engraving my diagrams illustrating the text. This particular plate includes his famous circle of seven spectral colours, perhaps the earliest colour circle published in England.

By coincidence I received an email from one of my (clearly excellent) English teachers from high school (German 'Gymnasium') in the same week. He sent me these lines:

Excerpt from Louis MacNeice, “The British Museum Reading Room”

Under the hive-like dome the stooping haunted readers
Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge --
Honey and wax, the accumulation of years --
Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
Some because they have nothing better to do
Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
The drumming of the demon in their ears.

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
And cherishing their hobby or their doom
Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent.

These links neatly to four lines from a Wordsworth's poem the same teacher wrote in a card for me on finishing my A-Levels (Abitur) more than 25 years ago:

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Very appropriate in the throes of finishing a doctoral thesis.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

I am guest-blogging again: Blue in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton

I am guest-blogging again over at

Royal Pavilion & Brighton Museums 
Behind the scenes with staff and volunteers

as part of a running commentary on the display Regency Colour and Beyond in the Royal Pavilion. This blog post is on blue pigments in the Royal Pavilion. Link here:

The main display cabinet of Regency Colour and Beyond

View of the South Galleries of the Royal Pavilion©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove. 

Cross-section showing Blue Verditer pigment
©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove.
Photograph: Janet Brough, 1989.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Moses Harris, Faber Birren and the treasure chests of Yale University libraries

I have returned from a week at the Yale Center for British Art, where I attended a seminar on color, together with nine other colour researchers and fine art students. I have seen many wonderful things in the Rare Books collection of the YCBA and other libraries at Yale and have pushed my myopic eyes and my I-Phone camera to the limit, but I have returned with many beautiful pictures and notes.

Gartside, Turner and Merrifield mingling at the YCBA
At one point I had a first edition of Mary Gartside's Essay on Light and Shade (1805), a1827 copy of a book on colour in art that was once owned and embellished with detailed marginalia by Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, and one of the few Turner sketchbooks outside the Turner Bequest in front of me, with a little rainbow painted by Constable propped up on the table next to me.

A Constable rainbow (in the dark?)

A plate from Faber Birren's copy of Moses Harris's Natural System of Colours, first edition

 Another highlight was to look at a few gems in Faber Birren's collection of colour books. It was the first time I handled a first edition of Moses Harris's Natural System of Colours (between 1769 and 1776). For my Regency Colour display at the Royal Pavilion I borrowed a second edition (1811) from the Colour Reference Library at the Royal College of Art, and while in the U.S. I was lucky to find a copy of Faber Birren's facsimile reprint of it from 1963.
I have blogged properly about this short but utterly beautiful and influential publication on the Royal Pavilion and Museums blog: