Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Sevilla, a city that I've never visited. Below is the related Berlin (done last year), another city which I have never visited. This is hopefully the start of something much bigger. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It-tberfil Malti

The art or craft of tberfil is a Maltese style of lettering/signwriting and decoration usually associated with Malta's recently scrapped old buses. It is also practiced on other methods of transport - construction trucks, old stone quarry and farmer's carts (karrettun), horse-drawn cabins (karozzin) and horse-racing carriages (karru tat-tlielaq). The term tberfil actually refers to anything which implies some form of decoration in Maltese arts and crafts such as intricate patterns in bizzilla (lace craft) and the baroque line work of pavaljuni and bandalori (village feast banners), but is certainly more commonly associated with vehicular decoration than anything else.

Tberfil lettering showing the variety of styles used on a typical old Maltese bus.

Thanks to the bus system, tberfil was until recently one of Malta's most visible traditional arts with bus drivers personally making sure that their bus was fully and freshly decorated with tberfil's swirling flourishes and rich lettering styles. One could easily see tberfil on display in all its varieties at the Valletta bus terminus. Sadly, the recent overhaul of the bus system means that the art of tberfil has just become much less visible in Maltese streets and has been practically relegated to being seen on construction trucks and some other random personalized vans (even though karozzini and horse-racing carriages sport tberfil, the style of decoration used is much more minimal and rarely ever feature the quirky lettering and flourishes found on buses. They are also much less visible on the streets).

In light of these unfortunate developments, I recently embarked on some research into this craft. I've had this project in mind ever since I read that the bus system will be scrapped and replaced a couple of years ago but months away from the island and quick visits meant that I never really found the time to actually do anything up until now. Finally doing some research turned out to be really fun and informative. Signwriting has always been a major interest of mine and actually learning about this lovely, homegrown style was something which was long due. The research involved speaking to a few master practitioners of tberfil (some retired and some still active), observing decorating processes and trying to get some facts about the craft's history before it disappears altogether. I plan to do some additional investigating and later use this material for a graphic/anthropological project in the coming months. 

Below are some photos from the sessions thanks to Sara de la Mora.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Travels with Kapuściński

Back in 2007 when I had just moved to Glasgow, I bought two books - Description of the World by Herodotus and Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński. I really just wanted to buy Herodotus' classic, but it so happened that Kapuściński's book was on a Buy One, Get One HALF PRICE offer. Four years later and I finally managed to read both books starting of course with Description of the World. Herodotus' book made for a heavy and at times uninteresting read loaded as it is with details of puzzling family lineages and bloody royal skirmishes. But Herodotus, the father of history, is at his best when he abandons all the technical pecularities and delves into describing foreign (ie non-Greek) cultures. He does this with a kind of childlike amazement which might not be immediately evident when describing cultures closer to his home but verges onto fantasy when writing about far-away tribes and civilizations. Werewolves, flying snakes and a whole nation of dwarves? They were all there somewhere in Herodotus' world. 

These chapters I thought were the highlights of the book. There's something mind-expanding and even comforting about the fact that cultures have always been in constant flux and motion ever since the dawn of mankind. Cultures mutate, call themselves different things over time, devour eachother up, give birth to new ones and a (at least) 2500 year-old pattern can only mean that this is how it will always be. I find it comforting in this sense, even if I know that in a few years only a tiny fraction of our 6000 languages will still be in use. 

Kapuściński's Travels With Herodotus dwells on such matters. He basically made Herodotus' classic much more interesting to me. Kapuściński, the great Polish journalist and traveller, extracted these bits and expanded on them by inquiring and trying to imagine himself as a journalist in Herodotus' time or vice versa. He treated Herodotus as a buddy and by sharing their travels together came up with some amazing observations. The stuff that Kapuściński wrote down in this book is stuff which I think about most of the time, and simply seeing these thoughts alive and put into words developed in me some kind of camaraderie with the man, perhaps in ways similar to Kapuściński himself and Herodotus. 

Here are some extracts which I felt I related the most to. I like to think that lines like these feed into my illustrations somehow.

"Herodotus was therefore a Greek Carian, an ethnic half-breed. Such people who grow up amid different cultures, as a blend of different bloodlines, have their worldview determined by such concepts as border, distance, difference, diversity. We encounter the widest array of human types among them, from fanatical, fierce sectarians, to passive, apathetic provincials, to open, receptive wanderers - citizens of the world." 

"Yes, Herodotus is never shocked at difference, never condemns it; rather, he tries to learn about it, to understand and describe it. Difference? It serves by some paradox only to emphasize a greater oneness, speaking to its vitality and richness." 

"Traveling and encountering various tribes and peoples, Herodotus observes and records that each of them has its own history, which unfolds independently from yet parallel to other histories - in other words, that far from being one story, human history in its aggregate resembles a great cauldron whose perpetually simmering surface sees incessant collisions of innumerable particles, each moving in their own orbits, along trajectories that intersect at an infinite number of points."

"Herodotus learns about his worlds with the rapturous enthusiasm of a child. His most important discovery? That there are many worlds. And that each is different. 
Each is important.
And that one must learn about them, because these other worlds, these other cultures, are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, thanks to which we understand ourselves better - for we cannot define our own identity until having confronted that of others, as comparison."


Monday, October 10, 2011

Invisible Cities Pt 2

I spent the last post describing the intentions behind this piece I did for the minor project during my illustration degree's final year. I guess the last post was pretty vague as to what the piece actually looked like, but these next few images should settle that. 

I have no idea of what to call the thing I created - sculpture? installation? 3d illustration? monument? Whatever it turned out to be, I started work on it by sketching out a few ideas based on the images which I posted previously. I knew that I wanted it to have some kind of holy aura, to contain a secluded interior using curtains and to have this relic-like quality without it looking like a tourist souvenir. So I created this model out of cardboard and then proceeded to have a chat with my pap who suggested ideas of how best to build the structure without having it collapse during the project's hand-in. My father is one of those men who can build anything from anything and can single-handedly repair a house and while I'm not half as resourceful, I do owe much to him. 

During all of this time I had been hoarding bits of wood from the streets - scrap planks, abandoned bits of furniture in skips, knobs and balusters and banisters and anything that looked remotely like a dome or a tower, and much more. Earlier on I had made the decision to build this thing out of scrap wood, mostly out of pure necessity since I barely had any cash to pay the bills let alone buy wood to build a timeless relic. At the end I think that this worked in favour of the piece's final visual feel since I felt that the various different wooden elements accentuated the idea of drawing from different cultures to create a unified whole. The only money spent was on the varnishes, a couple of couch covers from a charity shop that my friend Lisa turned into curtains, a cheap TK Maxx candle holder and aluminium salad bowl for the dome and some other technical bits and pieces. Most of the construction took place at my uni's 3D workshop and later at home. 


After construction came the decoration bit of the project. This involved varnishing, hand painting a quotation from Invisible Cities onto the structure, applying patterns to the floating city base and of course decorating all of the city's buildings. I based the quotation's typeface on what I thought might look like late-19th century British imperial lettering which I'd seen whilst working in museums in Malta (especially the Maritime Museum). The inverted star-shaped podium on which I built my floating city drew inspiration once again vaguely from the Middle East. The buildings of the city itself are representations of various global and imagined architectural styles - from Central European churches to Arabic minarets and so on. I tried as much as possible to maintain the geographical sequence of the Silk Route within the planning of my tiny city. The interior contains a sprinkling of exotic spices to evoke the smell of a market along the Silk Route and is illuminated by a light which I like to think of as being moonlight. 

This project was almost unlike anything I'd done before. It was a highly passion-driven venture of which I doubt I'd have the opportunity to repeat. I've recently had some ideas for it and I'll post any related plans on this blog (hopefully) in the future. Finally, here are some images of the final piece to finish off this post. Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities is a book by Italo Calvino. I remember being referred to it by way of a Swoon interview a few years back who mentioned it as being one of her favourite books. Anything with a title like 'Invisible Cities' just had to be worth reading, so after buying it it immediately became one of my favourites too. The vocabulary was lush, the rhythms dreamy and the descriptions so fantastic and I remember thinking to myself that I should definitely do some project related to this great book in the future. 

Around a year ago I was just starting my final year in Illustration at UCA Maidstone and was in the process of coming up with a few proposals for my minor project. I thought it would great to return to Invisible Cities, yet my vision for the final product only went as far as mere paint on paper. A couple of months and eye-opening tutorials later I would be hacking away at and sticking together bits of found wood at the uni's 3D workshop.

At some point during those two months the idea of doing a project about Invisible Cities had changed slightly to becoming a project about Invisible Cities and the book on which it is based - Marco Polo's 13th century travels. This actually gave the project a whole new spin due to the fact that now the project was based in Asia and had some form of place in time, as opposed to the timeless poetry of Invisible Cities. The mythical Silk Road (roughly the road Marco Polo describes) now also played a much bigger role in the project and as I'm very attracted to the idea of cultural mutation and ethnographic mixing, I began to view the Silk Road as this extensive cultural gamut - a trail in which one could see, by travelling it, a gradient of languages (sounds), folklore (sights), food (smells) and architecture (spaces) mutating into one another from Europe all the way to China and back. I saw the cities described in Invisible Cities as the cities which Marco Polo had seen during his journey along the Silk Route. That, or cities which he had actually never seen, but rather had heard about through a fellow silk route traveller in a language which he could not fully comprehend and had therefore left enough space for imagination to take root. These fantastical cities could also be a fabulous case of lost in translation during Marco Polo and the Kublai Khan's many dialogues in a made-up language throughout the book.

Even though it is never explicitly mentioned in either book, Russia and its central Asian ex-communist satellite countries quickly became very involved in the project. Central to this involvement was early 1900s Russian colour photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii whose works I find endlessly fascinating. The Russian onion dome too was a major influence on the project. I also always loved (in ways in which Edward Said might not have approved) these late 19th century/early 20th century monochrome ethnographic photographs which always seem to look so weirdly other-worldly. All of this and much more informed the visual direction of the project.

 (last 2 images by Prokudin-Gorskii - more on him another time)

This project acted as a sort of culmination of lots of experiences and interests: places I'd been to, ancient scripts, old maps, migration, melting pots etc. I remember for example thinking of Segovia, this magical city nestled in the mountains just north of Madrid, as having a skyline which I wanted my project to somehow possess. But above all, the place which was always at the back of my mind all throughout the project is Valletta, the capital of Malta and in a way our own little cultural melting pot. A few years away from Malta have allowed me to view my motherland somewhat objectively and I guess some of that came through in this project. For example, the shape of the structure itself was very much influenced by the six-sided turrets found along the Valletta (and the rest of the port area's) fortifications called Gardjoli


a Maltese gardjola


One last theme that I toyed around with throughout Invisible Cities was this idea of creating something magical, otherworldly and rare.. notions which I, writing from a desk on a laptop connected to the internet and downloading ridiculous amounts of readily available-but-previously-obscure music in the middle of London, feel are becoming increasingly hard to come by in this day and age. Perhaps that's why my geographical focus throughout this project (regardless of whether it shows through or not) was the remote steppe of Central Asian and not neon-lit Japan, green Thai curry Thailand or let's get spiritual India (places which until recently seemed worlds away). I wanted to capture that feeling you sometimes get when discovering that special thing you were always searching for when trawling through some musty old antique shop.. that thing and that space which although enjoyed by many belongs only to you.


Thanks for making it this far!
In the next post i'll be posting some making-of images and ones of the final construction. 

(On to the second part)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dream Out

Dream Out is a name lifted from Balam Acab's See Birds EP, one of my favourite EPs definitely my favourite EP from 2010. It's a beautiful track and here it is - 

I recently did some type-based works based loosely around the track's title. They're not influenced just by this track, but by lots of other slow-moving sounds and those crazy African textile patterns and the whole thing acted as a sort of exercise in current zeitgeist, so to speak. As always, I was meant to do much more of these.