Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Green Man—A Design Mystery.

13th century foliate faces from the portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt.
13th century foliate faces from the portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt.

A Green Man “a head disgorging vegetation from eyes, nostrils, ears or forehead, or a foliate head where the cheeks are depicted as leaf-like.” Doel & Doel (2010)

For many years I’ve been fascinated by Green Men.  The meaning of these ancient faces made up of leaves remains a mystery in terms of their cultural function and what they truly represent.  There are no known documents made at the time of their creation that help explain or even hint at the meaning of the green man. Contemporary medieval drawings are scarce, with the only drawings that I can find are that of foliate faced men created by 14th century artist Villard de Honnecourt (above). Of course, anyone who can tell you the true meaning of green men is long dead, and anyone proffering explanation now is doing so on a hunch, even if it is an well educated one. And, as such these are just my musings as I’ve looked upon these much studied cultural symbols.

Recently, when leaving St. Dunstan’s church in Cranbrook in Kent, I looked up in the entrance to see the face of a green man facing me (below). I was struck by a thought about why it would have been positioned as such.

Green Man in the Entrance of St. Dunstan's Church, Cranbrook
Green Man in the Entrance of St. Dunstan’s Church, Cranbrook

His head facing the the person leaving. I wondered if its strategic placement was to remind or warn the medieval churchgoer that they were now leaving the orderly safety and protection of the Christian church before going out into what some Christians believe(d) to be the sinful, natural world.  Maybe he/they somehow suggest a bridge or link between the two? Perhaps he was a form of intermediary of God? Maybe a Jesus-like being; enduring suffering and who is humane and capable of both goodness and sin, and who will inevitably live, die and be reborn in some form, like all living things.

There is something of a duality to the green man; on one hand he can take a rather sinister appearance. His face sometimes seems somewhat demonic or tormented in many images, yet on the other he is the peaceful or playful.  The green man spewing leaves, perhaps equates to the breathe of life. He appears to be exhaling, almost showing us the bronchi of his leafy lungs and perhaps quite literally breathing out life into the world. Perhaps the leaf spewer represents the Holy Spirit inhabiting all mankind? It is is possible that such notions made a being with pagan legacies palatable to the medieval church and more accessible to the common folk? The masses might have identified more easily with concept of the green man as an analogy of their own, hard, natural, brief existence, rather than the threats of some fire and brimstone priest speaking at them for hours in Latin, a language the masses would not have understood.

The church obviously accepted the green man for centuries given how frequently he appears. Images of the Green Man in various incarnations go back to Roman times and it is evident that the church adopted the image as an evolving concept which was almost certainly borne of our pagan legacy. His image—and it is almost always a male, although I have seen and woman and also cats or lions—is frequently positioned midst images of Jesus and other religious figures and symbols, and perhaps the green man was the acceptable and succinct parallel for the church to illustrate the concept of life, death and rebirth to parishioners, most of whom would have been poor, illiterate folk. People who would have also been so much more in tune with the natural world than most of us today. Their very dependence upon the land and its cultivation required an intensely intimate understanding of the patterns and intricacies of each season. An ability to read nature. Such intimacy can be seen within the beautiful illustrations of the Luttrell Psalter c. 1325.

Whatever the Green Man once meant, this mysterious being has remained with us and remains open to interpretation only to be re-interpreted and re-imagined by subsequent generations. Most of us can identify with the joy that spring’s arrival brings following a long, hard winter. This was and and still is something to be celebrated, and, given the growing number of May Day celebrations across England it would seem that as one might  expect, the Green Man lives on.

Here are a few of my own images of the Green Man that I’ve I taken over time.

References and Further Reading

Doel, Fran & Geoff (2010), The Green Man in Britain, The History Press

Basford, Kathleen. The Green Man, (1998). D.S. Brewer (Cambridge)

Harding, Mike. (1998) A Little Book of The Green Man, Aurum Press

Harrowing in the Luttrell Psalter c.1325 – 1335, The British Library

Tim Bones © 2015

Silvanus the Roman forest deity.
The original Green Man? Silvanus the Roman forest deity. 1st-2nd century AD. British Museum exhibit.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Pick-me-Up 2015 at Somerset House

Pick me up 1

Once again we took our students to the current offerings of Somerset House’s Pick Me Up, Graphic Arts Festival. I really wanted to see something different, something inspiring, something to amaze me and I came away feeling mostly flat. The ‘festival’ seemed to have lost its buzz and its edgy excitement . There was little of any substance but then that’s partly what Pick Me Up seems to be about. (No, it’s not me getting old, many of my students felt the same way.) Even the exhibitors appeared to have lost their zest for the occasion, looking quite glum and crestfallen. I suspect that there were fewer exhibitors this year and that made it feel emptier.

Pick me Up is a niche happening. It’s a mixture of the zany, the quirky, the colourful and the cheerful. Typically you’ll see cartoons, surreal and abstract prints and alphabets and much of it now looks like a reproduction of each others style and a rehash of much from previous years, only now it’s looking a little like a tired clown. Pick Me Up appears to have become increasingly safe in churning out pseudo-cheerful work with little to say. Imagine a nursery school with a letterpress, good paper stock and plenty of day glo colours only far more strained in its results. Well, with the few exceptions that’s Pick Me Up 2015. There were some noticeable strong participants and their differences in both technical skills and content made them stand out. My favourites by far were the sensitive and lively drawings of Zoë Taylor and wonderful paper-crafted works of Hattie Newman. Both were a real delight to find.

Visual work aside, the range of speakers this year was good and I was lucky enough to hear Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of ‘pioneering publishing house’ GraphicDesign&  deliver a great talk on graphic design.

In recent years I have genuinely enjoyed much of what has come out of PMU and the associated genre of art that has emerged. I particularly like the way in which many of the PMU creatives are doing things for themselves, on their own terms and in their own way, however, I can’t help yearning for something fresh or perhaps more importantly a more diverse range of styles. Contemporary graphic art is so much more than what PMU has come to represent. A little substance goes a long way.

Lucienne Roberts (L) & educator Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign&
Out students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Our FE & HE students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson

Friday, 13 March 2015

Collage: Graphic Play

Collage is a great medium to explore fresh and unexpected compositions and themes.

#collage #collageart #papercollage #creativeplay #wip

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#collage #creativity #collageart #creativeplay #papercollage #fox #glasses

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#collage #collageart #wip #workinprogress #creativity #creativeplay #papercollage

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#digitalcollage #collage #collageart #surreal #creativeplay #art #nonsense

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#collage #montage #surreal #art #collageart #design #graphicart #graphics #creativeplay #digitalcollage   A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#collage #collageart #creativeplay #art #surreal #nonsense

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ivan Chermayeff: ‘Cut and Paste’ at the De La Warr Pavillion


One of the most cheerful and playful exhibitions I’ve been to this year has to that of Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste, currently at the De La Warr Pavillion in Sussex. Charmayeff, founding member of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, is a designer of international repute, and has maintained a lengthy and prolific career. He is known particularly for his logo designs that include, among many, Mobil, National Geographic and NBC. Whilst this exhibition contains some of Chermayeff’s commercial work, the exhibition, as the title suggests, is a collection of his personal works that mostly consist of collage together with some calligraphic works. These works demonstrate the bright and witty thinking that one might associate with a successful designer.

The collages are seemingly made of whatever the artist has to hand, be it envelopes, postage stamps, coloured card and other found materials to form fresh and engaging pieces. I’m a big fan of this type of work and I also love the work of the late Alan Fletcher who was also a master of creating similar, quick witted and intelligent collages. I also like these as I think they are a great way of both relaxing, having fun and problem solving at the same time. It appears to be a good time for collage becoming highly visible. Last year I saw the incredible works of Kurt Schwitters, and earlier this year the powerful collages of MatisseIt’s great to feel inspired, but it wasn’t only me that felt that way. To the end of the exhibition hall there was an area for having a go at making your own collages, and my 7 year old sons did a grand job rising to the challenge, as can be seen below. Future Charmayeff’s in the making, perhaps?!

Many of Charmayeff’s collages have been collated in this book titled ‘Suspects, Smokers, Soldiers and Salesladies’, published by Lars Müller. (There are images of Chermayeff’s work in this link.)

The exhibition ends 14th September 2014


Bones2 S_Bones



Monday, 16 June 2014