Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Frieze.

Long, long ago, when the world was a better bet, I posted this graphic, which included some notes on the cats. The graphic is now sanished ( sanished means that I have decided to post it, but is way long from finished,) and is presented for your perusal.
The full size graphic is bigger than the Internet, but hopefully this will give an idea of what it should look like.

When I was 'but a lad, all the shops had rolls of brown paper which was used for wrapping purchases. I can't remember if it was as much as three feet wide, but I'm sure it was more than two feet. This is probably the brown paper medium that CRM-MMM and Frances & Herbert chose for their friezes.
It was cheap and best of all, an essentially endless roll. It was also brown, which means that it didn't handle color/colour well, and was difficult to photograph.
Using this medium for a frieze meant the the frieze could be drawn and prepared on the level and then glued or pinned to the wall. Much easier than painting directly onto a vertical wall.
Also, if you got bored with it, you could take it down and hang another graphic. I'm reasonably convinced CRM used brown paper for the frieze in his bedroom, using this design, but decided to use a stencil for the playroom at Kilmacolm.

A bigger view, maybe...
Since the weather in Austin, TX is hot, another big Summer Frieze may be forthcoming. Soon. Soon-ish.
I should add that I have absolutely no idea what the symbolism of the graphic represents. I might do some research on the Japanese version of Gaia. possibly UKE-MOCHI-NO-KAMI. All suggestions are welcome!

Sans Update July 2nd 2011.
Timothy Neat, in his book 'Part Seen, Part Imagined' puts forth the association of the cats with the Clan Mackintosh, the Clan crest having a depiction of a Wildcat.
This may be true, as I have to defer to his greater knowledge.
In continuing to study the piece, I am now questioning whether the cats could be cheetahs or similar. I have drawn them as domestic cats, although obviously stylised as per the original, as far as my interpretative talent allows. Any oriental symbolism remains unanswered. As with most of this journey into the works of CRM-MMM, the ubiquitous answer to the ocean of questions I have is, "I don't know".
Sans Update 18th October 2011.
It has taken me ages to realise that this graphic portrays the head of an Eagle Owl. With the Owl being symbolic of wisdom, I don't think this is by accident. Have a look at the top graphic again, and see what you think. The only way this could be realised is by drawing the whole graphic, since the photographic pictures that exist only show the partial frieze. I had always wondered what the long streamers along the top symbolised, and to realise they form the feathers of an Eagle Owl's head, is perfect elegance. I am not worthy.

A Sans Update of 29th October 2011.
The Parable Pointing to Wisdom.
During my research into the works of CRM, I am always amazed, awestruck, and astounded by the sheer genius of the man. When I first encountered the photograph of the frieze of cats, I was intrigued, and entered it into my list of possible covers to reproduce as a computer graphic. I like to choose material that is not already well known in the public domain, and provides me with a challenge. This frieze certainly did that, as there is limited information contained in the single photograph of CRM's room, and the three photographs of the playroom at Gladsmuir.
It took me probably a year to get to the final graphic, and then another passage of time before I realised it was an Owl's head.

Part of my research included reading the book 'Closing The Circle' by Timothy Neat & Gillian McDermott, ISBN 0954058305, which has the text of the last letter from a 79 year old J.Herbert MacNair to Thomas Howarth dated 27th Sept 1947, in reply to an earlier letter from Thomas Howarth, which I reproduce here to provide context:


Thank you very much for your most kind letter enclosing the interesting photo of 'Toshie's Cat's', which I now, at long last, return - I must indeed apologise for such delay - but, I am sorry to say, I have been again laid up. I caught a bad chill which brought back my old troubles and have had a pretty rough time. However, I am once more on the mend. You are quite right about the 'Cat' frieze - it was for Toshie's bedroom at Dennistoun, also the cabinet, and the fender with tall candle- sticks which I remember so well. The Mackintoshes are a branch of Clan Chattan and he used their crest as his 'motif'. At the same time I made a frieze of mermaids - the mermaid being the MacNair crest. I also designed a cabinet. I was in 'digs' in Glasgow at the time, and my frieze was in water-colour, juicily floated on, and on ingrain paper, my landlady allowed me to fix it on the wall with drawing pins. I think Toshie's frieze was also in watercolour. It is a great pity the photograph has faded so badly as the cats were very cleverly and amusingly used. Later, my little wife to be, Frances, and her sister Margaret Macdonald were on a visit to my people at Skelmorlie, and the three of us adapted the Mermaid 'motif' to decorate the main staircase there.
I thought it very good of you and Mrs Howarth to call on me, Mrs Muir has remarked several times on what a nice young couple you were and I hope too that I may have the pleasure of seeing you both again soon.

With all good wishes, yours sincerely,

J. Herbert MacNair

I have to assume that the above is the full content of the letter, as I have not seen the actual letter which is part of the Mackintosh collection of the Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow. When I first read J.Herbert MacNair's last letter (above), the phrase 'as the cats were very cleverly and amusingly used.' struck me as odd. I was planning my cover version at this time, trying to understand what CRM had done, and could see that the cats were cleverly designed, cleverly drawn, and the frieze cleverly executed, but 'cleverly and amusingly used' did not seem to fit right with what I believed I knew at the time.

Anyway, I was busy trying to constuct a reproduction of the graphic, and put any notion of oddness to the back of my mind.

I now think that J. Herbert MacNair was testing Thomas Howarth to realise that there was something written between the lines, and to further investigate the frieze, with the end result being delight in discovery of the Owl's head.
That would indeed justify the 'as the cats were very cleverly and amusingly used.' phrase.
This does not appear to have happened.

One has to remember that my cover graphic has been deduced and constructed from two pieces of string, a bowl of cherries, and a candle, and may be nothing like the original as executed by CRM; but one thing I'm sure of, is that his original was way better than anything I could ever produce.
I am not worthy.
Sans Update 30th October 2011.
Now, when you consider that CRM designed this frieze for the nursery/playroom of Gladsmuir in 1896, and Edward Lear wrote The Owl and the Pussycat in 1871, can there be any doubt about the genius of CRM?
Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the Owl and the Pussycat frieze, for a nursery, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
A Genius.

Sans Update 16th November 2011.

Timothy Neat has kindly given his expert opinion on the illusion of my 'owl'.

-------------------------------oOo--------------------------------------
Dear Andy - Many thanks for your interesting email. I agree with everything you raise - except for the Eagle Owl! I agree that it is possible to see one, but I do not think CRM intended to create one.

It is the orange and the shading you create that encourages the idea. The orb CRM created is the moon rather than the sun. If your orbs were moon coloured and differently shaded the eagle would be harder to see. Cats howl at the moon. The decoration is certainly fun - and serious. It is decoration that, in my opinion, reflects CRM's desire, as an artist, to achieve great things. The maiden and the moon are images of the life and art toward which the artist strives. The hair of the maiden articulates layers (levels) of artistic and spiritual advancement. The cats are Mackintosh on the prowl (they are at once sacred and profane). The greatest animal of the cat family - the lion - is the totemic animal of clan Macdonald (Margaret's clan). This adds another possible meaning.

I think the small orbs (on the maiden) were, probably, originally, articulated as breasts - the feeding sources that the love-object offers her lovers. The love-object is an image of the art, love, achievement, beauty towards which we strive... Thus it might be worth you realigning the orbs you have designed. Certainly think about the placement of these mini moons (or suns) on the maiden's chest.

Finally, the eagle owl, is not native to Britain. It is part of the American visual consciousness but was not, I believe, part of Scottish consciousness in the late C19th.

All art is open to interpretation but I do not think your eagle owl theory adds anything to our perception/understanding of this frieze. Your brown-paper thesis, however, is I believe, spot-on - and important. It is exactly the kind of thing CRM was interested in and would do. And it creates all kinds of possibilities... But - let the eagle-owl now fly off into the mists. Walt Disney has much to answer for.

Yours Timothy Neat.
-------------------------------oOo--------------------------------------
I would like to thank Timothy for taking the time to provide his analysis, and I fully agree with Tim's opinion that my interpretation of CRM's graphic is open to question regarding my use of colour and method, since these are interpretations that have originated from me, and thus the artifact of the owl may just be an illusion created by my reconstruction of the frieze.

I should also qualify my use of Eagle owl. I am not an expert on owls, and should therefore modify my description of the owl illusion as 'an owl with ear tufts'.
I must say however, that for me the illusion is permanent. It is a lovely illusion that ticks all the boxes, including that of 'Der Vogel'.
When I look at the photographs of the real frieze now, all I see is the owl. This is my burden.

3 Comments:

Blogger Julia Smith said...

It's such an adult sort of image for a nursery frieze. But who am I to quibble with the aesthetic choices of brilliant parents?

12:01 AM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Julia, I don't know how much choice CRM gave his clients when doing design for them. Not that much I guess. I have many of my cover pieces hanging in my hall, and my nieces & nephews like the pretty colours. If I print this one out, I'm sure they will like the cats. By the time they get to the "What does that mean?" question stage, I'll be an old man and barely able to grunt.
Shit, I'm already at that stage!

8:39 PM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Julia, the realisation that the design forms the head of an eagle owl, possibly answers your doubts about the suitability of the image for a nursery.
I was astounded myself when I first realised it, and I had been looking at it for weeks.
Is there a nursery rhyme about a cat and an owl?
Off to Google I go...
The Owl & the Pussycat.
The man is a genius!

3:38 PM  

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