Lennon/Porous Plane at the IMMA

Al 13 Eoin I (2015)

Showing in the same wing of the IMMA as the Coastlines exhibition, there’s a solo show by Lennon. No, not that one, but Irish artist, Ciarán Lennon. A new discovery for me, he’s an elected member of Aosdána, currently living and working in Dublin.

The exhibition features abstract works from 1970 right up to 2017. Many of them have been created by folding fabrics, sometimes forming compex shapes,

Dernier 7 for MM (1974)

Folded/Unfolded MM1972 (for Fiona) (2017)

Folded/Unfolded (1969)

Other works, like the one at the head of this post, are made of painted aluminium

Overall, relatively simple works, but effective.


Katie Spragg at Blackwell


So this weekend the “Beast from the East” made a comeback. Although the east and south east were worst hit, snow, freezing temperatures and a strong wind in the North West meant that we cancelled a planned short break walking around Ullswater. So stuck in the house I had the opportunity to write up about an exhibition we saw the last time we were up in the Lakes at the end of January (when the weather was less awful!).

While we are Abbot Hall visiting the Land|Sea|Life exhibition, as usual we had a look at the other rooms in the Gallery. On display were a couple of works by Katie Spragg, a taster for her exhibition showing at the Lakeland Art’s Trust other main venue, Blackwell.

Katie Spragg creates ceramic works but they’re not the usual pots and vessels. They’re uncoloured, ghostly, reproductions of plants – grasses and flowers. She also produces animations using her ceramics and illustrations.

At Abbot hall there were two animated pieces. In the Meadow illustrated the effect of the elements and people on a grassy meadow

For the other piece, While Away, vsitors could sit in a deck chair to watch grass made of porcelain blow in the wind.

Intrigued we decided to drive over to Blackwell to take a look at the works on display in the Arts and Crafts House.

Blackwell’s website tells us

The exhibition of ceramics at Blackwell will showcase eight new responses to the Arts and Crafts house and the surrounding landscape, alongside six existing works previously displayed by the Craft Council COLLECT at the Saatchi Gallery, Miami Art Week and the British Ceramic Biennial Award show.

Spragg spent a week at Blackwell in November and was inspired to create new works based on her experience. She said, “In the mornings Blackwell feels very serene. The nooks and corners of the house lend themselves to daydreaming, particularly at this time of day. I became interested in how the landscape is framed through the windows of the house and also how nature is brought inside.”

Most of the works were displayed in one of the exhibition rooms upstairs, but three had been located downstairs – two in the White Drawing Room and a third high up on the window sill in the Great Hall.

As well as displaying her work in standard style Perspex boxes, she also uses Victorian glass domes, “peephole boxes” and other types of cabinets.

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Spiro and Leveret live in Liverpool

The week after our trip to Amsterdam the “Beast from the East” arrived bringing freezing cold weather and heavy snow. Much of Britain was paralysed as we aren’t geared up to deal with it. A concert by El Brooke’s at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall was cancelled as she was stuck somewhere down south in the snow. But the same evening we drove over to Liverpool for a different concert at the Phil, in their smaller venue, the Music Room. We had tickets for a concert by Two instrumental folk bands, Spiro and Leveret, the first date of their national tour. The north west was lucky in that although it was bitterly cold, we only had a smattering of snow. So our journey over to Liverpool was uneventful. Less so probably from the bands who’d driven up from the south (Spiro are based in Bristol) and the next date of their tour, in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales, had been cancelled due to the snow over there.

I discovered Spiro when a track of theirs was played on the Cerys Matthews show on BBC6 Music and since then I’ve been a fan. So I was keen to see them live.

In Liverpool they were on first, with their minimalist take on traditional tunes. The four piece – fiddle, mandolin, accordion and guitar, take a traditional tune as a starting point then weave complex riffs and melodies around it. Although the accordion player largely stays seated occasionally standing up, the other three prowl around the stage, at times duelling musically with each other.

Leveret are also accomplished musicians who play traditional tunes. A three piece – a fiddle a squeezebox and an accordion – staying seated throughout their set, they’re much less animated, except for the fiddler whose legs move almost like he has ants in his pants! Their approach to the tunes is different than Spiro, more traditional.

Both sets were excellent and I especially enjoyed seeing Spiro playing live.

As an encore both groups returned to the stage to play together.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. We stepped back out into the cold. Some snow had fallen while we were inside the venue but hadn’t stuck on the road. Driving home down the M62 and M6 it started to snow. But we got off lightly. It had gone by the morning when I had to drive to Chester.

Frans Hals Museum


Frans Haals is probably best known in the UK as the painter of the Laughing Cavalier, which is owned by the Wallace Collection in London. 

He was born in Antwerp some time between 1581 and 1585, but his family fled from the Spaniards in 1585 and settled in Haarlem where he grew up and made his reputation as a painter of society portraits. There’s a museum in the town dedicated to his work, so we decided to visit while we were in Haarlem.

The museum is located in the Haarlem Oude Mannenhuis –  a former Alms house built in the 17th century for elderly men of the town. It’s quite an impressive old building, with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Unfortunately we couldn’t access the courtyard to have a proper look, but I managed to snap a photograph through one of the windows. Originally, there were thirty small houses, each inhabited by two elderly men; over 60 years old, who had to be single and  “honest Haarlem residents”



Some of the rooms inside were quite grand, with antique clocks and furniture on display




The entry fee was rather steep at 20 Euros, but this was partly due to a 5 Euro supplement being applied to fund the temporary exhibition The Art of Laughter, which explored different aspects of humour in Dutch “Golden Age” paintings. There were 53 works on display by artists including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster.



Courtesan by Gerard van Honthorst

Moving into the permanent exhibition, there was a large room with paintings of members of the local militia (rather like Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch)


Other paintings in the collection included the Portrait of Jacobus Zafius (1611), one of the first portraits painted by Hals


and his Self Portrait with a Lute (1663/5)


There were three major paintings on display that had recently been restored – group portraits of the female and male Regents of the very Alms houses we were in.and which have recently been restored. The female Regents looked very serious and rather grim..


The men clearly full of their own importance


The third portrait featured the Regents of the St Elizabeth’s Hospital


A documentary film was showing about the restoration, which looked very interesting. Unfortunately, the commentary was only in Dutch.

While we were looking around the Art of Laugher exhibition, I’d spotted comments scribbled on a number of the information panels accompanying the paintings, some of them quite irreverent and risqué. Initially I thought they’d been done by some irreverent visitor, but the joke was on me as the gallery had commissioned an artist to do these as part of the exhibition – it was about humour, after all! Unfortunately the snaps I took didn’t come out well.

The same artist, Nedko Solakov had also created some “Shadow Doodles” in the permanent exhibition. These were humorous little drawings and comments  scribbled around the shadows cast by picture frames and other objects.




There was more to see, in particular the exhibition Rendez-Vous with Frans Hals. Unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although our flight back to Manchester wasn’t until quite late, we had arranged to see our daughter for one last time during this trip. So we headed over to the station to catch the bus back to Amsterdam.

Return to Haarlem


When we were in Amsterdam last October we took the train out to Haarlem for the day. it’s an attractive town, similar to Amsterdam but considerably less busy. During our recent visit to the Dutch capital we decided we’d go back. It was a cold but sunny day so I managed to get a few decent snaps.

We revisited the Molen de Adriaan.


Unfortunately it wasn’t open until the next day, so we weren’t able to take another look around inside.

The windmill is near a former ship yard, and we spotted the rails which were used to launch the boats into the river.


After a bite to eat we took a walk along the river and canals


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Afterwards we wandered over to the Frans Hals museum, but I’ll save that for another post.



Het Olympisch Stadion


We were staying directly across from the Olympisch Stadion, built as the main stadium for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. It’s a brick built Amsterdam School style structure, designed by the Dutch architect Jan Wils.

Due to renovation works taking place on a couple of Art Deco style buildings at the front of the stadium and an entrance that had been built to the stadium which was being used as a skating rink (the Dutch love skating), we couldn’t see much of the building, but I popped over for half an hour one afternoon to take a closer look.


Built of brick, in keeping with the Amsterdam School style the walls have decorative features including flower boxes and projections.


The Marathontoren (Marathon Tower) is positioned asymmetrically in front of the Marathonpoort (Marathon Gateway) – it’s here where the Olympic flame burned for the duration of the Games


The tower is lit up at night and we could see it from the street outside the hotel and our bedroom window.


Round the back of the stadium there was a sculpture of Johan Cruyff and Berti Vogts who played on opposite sides during the 1974 World Cup Final between the Netherlands and West Germany.


Het Scheepvaartmuseum


The day before we left for our recent break in Amsterdam I was watching a programme on Channel 4 about the south coast of England. One of the features on the programme was about a buried shipwreck in the sand near to Hastings – the remains of the VSO sailing ship, Amsterdam. After showing the location of the wreck the presenters whizzed over to Amsterdam where they visited a reconstruction of the very same ship at the National Maritime Museum. Having seen the programme we decided it would be interesting to go and have a look for ourselves. So on the Wednesday of our holiday we took the tram to Centraal Station and walked along the waterfront to the Maritime Museum.

On the way we passed houseboats and historic ships and boats moored along the quays.


On the way we made a brief visit to Nemo, the Science Museum. The building, designed by Renzo Piano reminds me of a ship’s prow ploughing through the water.

DSC03172 Visitors can walk up onto the roof where there’s a great view across the water and over to the city.


I really liked the cartoon panorama designed by Jan Rothuizen



After a coffee in the roof top café, we made our way round the harbour to the Museum where we could see the Amsterdam moored alongside.


The museum building is a former naval storehouse and magazine, built in 1652.


Today the central courtyard has been covered with a glass roof, just like in the British Museum


There are exhibits in the North, west and east wings. We decided to start by walking through to the harbourside to have a closer look at the Amsterdam


Visitors can board the ship and look around both above and below deck



Although it was a merchantman it carried guns for protection







The museum recently introduced a new attraction on the ship – a virtual reality experience Dare to Discover which

transports visitors back to the 17th century when Amsterdam was the world’s largest port and the Netherlands was a world power. The VR journey allows visitors to witness a number of unique happenings from those days such as the construction of the Zeemagazijn – now home to Het Scheepvaartmuseum – and the building of warships on the shipyard premises. They can even join a farewell on the quayside where the crew is boarding one of the Dutch East India Company’s ships.


There are two other boats to see on the harbourside,


including the very ornate Royal Barge


It was dinner time so we went back inside and enjoyed a light meal ( a hearty soup) before heading over to the east wing to explore the exhibitions.

There was an excellent collection of old maps (I found them fascinating and could have spent longer looking at them, including the interactive electronic versions that visitors could view on computer terminals – you could even email copies to yourself!)


There were also displays of models of yachts, navigational instruments,


ship decorations


and an extensive paintings of ships


and albums of old photographs, all displayed in interesting, engaging and imaginative ways.

Moving over to the west wing we visited the exhibitions about life in the Dutch Golden Age and whaling.


In the north wing we visited the exhibition about the Port of Amsterdam which includes a scale model of the modern port

Time was getting on and although there was more to see but  We’d spent considerably longer in the Museum than I’d expected and we were ready for some fresh air. So it was time to head back along the harbourside to get the tram back to our apartment. We had a meal booked in a nice restaurant in the evening and needed to get ready.

So an enjoyable few hours and glad I was glad that I’d seen the programme on Channel  4 which gave me the idea of visiting the museum.