Archive for October, 2009

Creative Course ‘En Plein Air’ 1 - making paint

earth and trowelThis last week’s creative course at Los Gázquez ‘En Plein Air’ has been very much about being outside. The weather has been absolutely fantastic. Warm and without a breeze. Not a cloud in the sky and the sun quite low on the horizon making for fantastically dramatic shadow formations.

We thought we should kick the week off by making paint. Not to be thrifty mind, but remind, or just make people aware, of where colour comes from. For example, take yourself to Italy, to Umbria or Siena, walk into a field and scoop up the earth from beneath your feet and surprise surprise, it is Raw Umber or Raw Siena. Toast that earth a little and you will have Burnt Umber and Burnt Siena.

andrea earthThe same principle operates all over the globe. With early Italian painting it is possible to locate the origin of a given painting by the colours employed in it’s creation. When you look, for example, at a painting by Sassetta di Siena, a very early and conventionally primitive painter, it is amazing how exact the colours are to the original. This is because those very colours which occur naturally in the landscape are employed to make the paint for the paintings made to represent the landscape.

This is guest Andrea on a collecting mission. We managed to find at least eight distinctly different earth colours from La Hoya de Carrascal alone. The trick is to find a fine grained patch of earth, free of organic material such as leaf litter or plant roots. This material is then put through a riddle to take out any stones that are too big. Next it is placed in a mortar and pestle to be ground down into a fine powder. At this point, if you should so choose, you can blend your pigment with others you have collected or with bought non organic mineral powders. The binding agent we used is Gum Arabic, similar to what you would find in a water colour tube. It can be made into a paste similar in consistency to mayonnaise, the whiter the mineral the more chalk is in the mix and the more opaque is the paint.

making paintJoya resident artist, sculptor Gordon Senior, used a similar technique for modeling some small objects. Except within his work he used a small amount of cement as a binding agent. Obviously cement wont bind to paper but it will bind materials of the same quality to each other as long as it is mixed with those compounds.

For working on paper Gum Arabic is far superior for many reasons, not least because it is transparent. I would imagine one could use wood glue (PVA) just as easily if diluted.

The next stage was to apply our mix as a ground for painting our immediate landscape. Lo and behold the basic colour was exactly the same as the mountain to the north of the house. As in those painting by Sassetta we had reproduced the colour of the landscape from some of the constituent parts of that landscape.

paint with home made paintIt’s quite clear what this teaches us. Paint is not an abstracted medium from which we try to render likeness, for example. Paint is (or was) of the earth.

Our lesson is simplistic, and paint making either in the studio or factory, is an incredibly technical procedure. What our lesson does however is connect us to the source of our inspiration, which is so often the land.

It’s interesting to note that Pliny, in his Natural Histories, described the manufacture of Lead White in a manner more or less exactly the same as in production today. But Pliny goes on to describe the manufacture of a colour called Dragon’s Blood. It is made when a dragon and an elephant are locked together in mutually mortal combat. The coils of the dragon strangle the elephant and the elephant’s weight crushes the dragon. The conglomerating blood is apparently the only colour which can faithfully reproduce the colour of blood in painting!

We have many pre-historic paintings in the caves in this area of Spain and they nearly all prepared colours in the same manner as we have done. I doubt though there were any dragons on hand too make the likeness of blood.



Joya / New York, New York

Lynch talk

Los Gázquez is running a painting course this week, ‘En Plein Air’. And some of the JOYA residencies are designed to overlap with the visits of our creative guests. This has proven to be very successful and rewarding, especially for our creative guests. JOYA resident artist, Kathryn Lynch from New York, one evening gave us a ‘powerpoint’ talk about her work, painting in New York and Shelter Island and Los Gázquez.

With no disrespect to our creative clients, who are often just starting out on their creative journey, I must say that the opportunity to have such an insight into the mind and motives of a professional artist, at a creative retreat such as this, is a wonderful experience. You can almost see lives changing as they become locked into the thought processes that inspire them.

Lynch in studio

Alas, we had to say goodbye to Kathryn early this morning as she makes her way home to New York. It was such a pleasure for all of us to have her here. She has such energy, enthusiasm and such a positive outlook on life, you might think New York would have come to a standstill without her.

She will be missed, but hopefully she will come again soon.



Manhattan to Migas

tomas migasToday we were all invited to the nave, the old home in the country, of Tomas and Pepe for migas. It translates literally as crumbs but means much more. In a very hot frying pan, a sarten, you mix flour with olive oil and water. Stir the mixture vigorously and for a long time until it makes crumbs. To this add copious whole cloves of garlic, sausages, pork and liver.

The secret recipe was passed on from generation to generation and then onto Donna…

donna migas

and when the meal was ready no plates were doled out, just a spoon and a napkin and a jar of jalapeno peppers. Delicious.


But Manhattan you ask? Well, resident artist from New York, Kathryn Lynch came too. A trip back to the old world and one keenly appreciated. Thank you Tomas and Pepe and all your family for being so generous.

kathryn and migas



Joya / Welcomes Resident Artist Kathryn Lynch

Blue Harbor 6x7 ft

Blue Harbour 6ft x 7ft 2008

Artist Kathryn Lynch flew into Madrid yesterday from New York and caught the train down to Murcia. This is where I collected her and we both immediately set off in search of an art supply shop looking for pure turpentine and linseed oil.

We arrived at Los Gázquez in the dark so it seemed a surreal experience to wake up to this high arid landscape, vultures overhead. We are fascinated to see how she responds.



Joya / Gordon Senior Installation @ Los Gázquez

joya installation through glass 500

Joya intallation 1 500

joya tools 1 500



Joya Private Viewing / Gordon Senior

senior private view

I must confess that it never really crossed our minds, before last night, that we could have a private view to celebrate the end of a residency. We have a heap of young people in the house plus our small family so we thought why not. Normally being so remote, even to the village, it didn’t seem practical, but it was a great success with those we had.

Gordon Senior, amongst many other things, is a natural teacher, a natural communicator. I can see why this aspect of his career has been so successful. I think he converted a group of young people, unfamiliar to art, into art appreciators. And he made it seem so easy.

And I also think the conclusion of his residency was fantastic. There will be more images to follow.


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Joya / Senior Residency

The JOYA residency at Cortijada Los Gazquez of sculptor Gordon Senior is drawing to a close. And what a fantastic and productive two weeks it has been. Our sculptor installed himself outside the workshop, shaded from the sun, and has worked constantly for the whole duration.

senior in studio LG

The constituent parts of his practice appear to evolve, working on several pieces and ideas simultaneously. Conventional three dimensionality is forgone in favour of a multitude of smaller objects that will constitute a whole installation, the finished piece to be put in place in the studio tomorrow, Sunday.

senior hands at work

A central concern in Gordon Senior’s work currently appears to be the making of ‘Tools of Unknown Use’. They are tools by virtue of having handles. Their display is akin to the head gardener’s tool shed, each implement occupying it’s own space because that is where it belongs. In time of need you could lay your hand on the requisite utensil.

Yet they defy utility. Their handles are functional enough but the ‘doing end’ is obscure or simply useless. They are fabricated from found objects, organic or otherwise, the flotsam and jetsom of agrarian practice and the Pound shop. (We have them here too, Euro shops).

tools of unknown use

Now there are those within the ‘transition movement’ who see ‘peak oil’ moving us quickly to an inevitable declination into archaic agricultural practice along with the destruction of industry and manufacturing. What is more they see this as a good thing. I wonder though if modern man could survive from the land the way our ancestors did. I wonder if we have the skills let alone the energy to survive. To me Gordon Senior’s ‘tools of unknown use’ are perhaps tools of forgotten use. They seem to refer to a pre-industrial and pastoral life. They are implements for rendering the produce of the hedgerow to the table. They are to catch the creatures beneath our feet or in the air or within the tidal washes. They are the instruments to preserve without refrigeration, to comb and card, to tease. To whisk and beat, strain and flay.

However, would it be that this were true, things have changed. We have altered our ecology so much already. If an unwritten folklore were still able to explain the use of these tools the subjects for their application have gone.

But wait, we have the use of modern plastics, their pre-prescription re-aligned. There is a reference here to something post-apocalyptic, finding utility in the discarded, their origin the future. Perhaps Gordon Senior’s work is envisioning of what is to come. Does anyone remember a film called ‘The Bed-Sitting Room’ 1970? It was based on a play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus and had Peter Cooke and Dudly Moore and a heap of other great British actors creating a post-apocalyptic picture of London after ‘a nuclear misunderstanding’. It was an unearthly vision to which Spike Milligan later commented…

“Nobody ever got the point about what it was about. What we were trying to say through all this laughter and fun, was that if they dropped the bomb on a major civilisation, the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again and have Barclays Bank, Barclay cards, garages, hates, cinemas and all…just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity.”

I believe Gordon’s ‘tools of unknown use’ are tools of yet undiscovered use.

clay heads

Another aspect fo Gordon Senior‘s work during the Joya residency has seen the making of small clay heads and other forms. They are integral to the whole piece but how he will inevitably assemble them we shall have to wait and see. He walks across the land here at Los Gazquez, and around, scooping up handfuls of different coloured earth. Earth which is almost purely clay. With the tools he whittled but with the clay he massages and moulds the red, orange, ochre and grey earth. His thumbs form the eye sockets, raising the brows and form the jaws. Are these totem figures the pilots, the navigators, the folk from the past come back to claim the future?

Obviously all this represents only my own opinion and I am not naturally drawn to an apocalyptic vision. On the contrary I believe ‘transition culture’ to be a dynamic design technology movement. What the work of Gordon Senior has done is to stimulate us to think, to interpret and examine. It has brought us to seek reason, which is why I believe we can transcend Spike Milligan’s vision of the future.


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Blog Action Day 2009 - A View From Los Gázquez

bad-300-250Here at Los Gázquez we have been scratching our heads. What can we say about climate change that is not already familiar and in the public domain. We all now know what global warming is and we know who and what is causing the problem.

Whilst we believe that this blog, along with thousands of others, may in some way contribute to the pressure which is needed to be exerted upon our political leaders, it is ultimately what we do at Los Gázquez that makes the difference.

So, what have we done at Los Gázquez?

(Regular followers of our blog will already know so forgive us for repeating ourselves)


This is us, high in the alpine deserts of Andalucia, southern Spain. We bought the house because it gave us the opportunity to develop a home and business that would sit benignly on the earth, not contributing to the planet’s problems.

LG wind turbineTo create electricity we use the sun and the wind. We have a photo voltaic panel and a wind turbine which more than sufficiently powers the house. We don’t have to run around switching off lights or turning off the TV!

The photo voltaic panel tracks the sun throughout the day and when the sun rises again in the mornings the panel turns back to face east and starts the day all over again.

The combination, in our opinion, doesn’t distract from the vernacular architecture, it adds to it.

pv y molinoWe also have a solar panel to create hot water. On a good day, i.e with sunshine (which tends to be most days here) the solar panel can easily create 600 litres of hot water. On days when the sky is less clear it will create the first thirty degrees which reduces your need to burn fuel.

And the fuel we burn is wood. We have two large bio-mass boilers that take up to one meter lengths of timber (reducing our need to cut so much). And for the timber? Wel,l we are lucky enough to have sufficient land to more or less provide all we need. The rest we scavange from the forest, the broken trees from last year’s heavy snow which now only represent fire hazards. The fuel is bio-mass, it represents the carbon which is already in the biosphere and therefore does not contribute to green house gases.

We have started to collect acorns (before the wild boar) to germinate and put back on the land ahead of predation and susceptibility to drought. Next year we want to experiment with solar ovens, reducing our need to burn wood too.

Now there are endless books out there advising us on how to deal ecologically with our human waste and they all have witty titles to get you past the taboo nature of the subject. Sewage Solutions, Liquid Gold. They are all good and have been a good source of reference for our own system. We wholesale divided our grey water from our black. What I mean is that when we renovated the house we built completely differnent waste pipes for the loos, lavatories, toilets, or whatever you want to call them, to the basins, showers, dishwashers etc. So, the black water goes off to a septic tank and from there to a system of reed beds which cleanse the water to up to 98 percent. This water we intend to use as irrigation to grow a coppice to provide firewood for the kitchen range.


The grey water leaves the house and is used to irrigate an orchard of fruit and olive trees. And all these wastes leave the house with the aid of ecological detergents. There will be no toxins put on our land.

For water we have no well. Well we have a well, some distance from the house and it’s dry. Juana from the village used to live here when she was a girl. She tells me that the well could produce 20,ooo liters of water in 24 hours. When I asked her what happened, why is it dry, she tells me it stopped raining? Southern Spain in particular is on the European front line when it comes to climate change. Here there is a real risk of desertification. We have a permaculture scheme on the way to try and rebuild a water table and make the well productive again. You will have to visit us again to see how successful we are.

For water we harvest rainfall from the roof and store it underground in a 50,ooo litre deposit. We like taking a shower in rainwater which has been heated by the sun.

Our business from this ‘eco-guest house’ is creative holidays, painting holidays if you like, but very stimulating ones. They are designed around themes of art and ecology. What is more we are hosts to JOYA a residency for artists working within transition culture. Artists are coming from far and wide to spend time with us, to use the studio to pursue their practice whether it is painting or sculpture. Their concerns have to be ecological


their roll as artists is one to interpret ecological change. Theirs is the most human response to the challenges that lie ahead.

The environment here at Los Gázquez has determined what systems we could utilsise to make this property ‘green’. Houses everywhere, of all shapes and sizes, can utilise what resources their environments create for them and in return we can reciprocate by not polluting the very source of our health and wellbeing.

And when the media tell you (as they constanly do) that you will have to wait 20 years before it starts paying you back, don’t believe them. We don’t apply the same principle to an extension, a new kitchen, a car, a conservatory so why to renewable energy systems?

The sense of fulfilment we have achieved, sometimes in the face of adversity, to make this project truly ecological is profound. And if you are tempted to do something similar do it properly, no token gestures, go all the way, make a change.



The Isaac Jackson Football Team 1913-14

Isaac Jackson football team

My brother Paul sent me this postcard. His friend from school, Mike Brown (who I believe is one of these fantastic enthusiasts who volunteer their time to the Glossop Heritage Centre), bought it on EBAY. Isaac Jackson was our great grandfather who had a steel working mill in Glossop in the Peak District. The gentleman on the far left (in the rather fine Homburg) is the half Scottish half German from Latvia, Richard Alfred Beckmann, our grandfather. He married a daughter of Isaac.

These photos from this period instantly make me feel sad because we know what happened to most of these young men probably very soon after the picture was taken. Off to Ypres or Passendale.

But possibly not. Isaac, as a steel fabricator, was commissioned to make armaments for the war effort. Along with all these young men they were essential workers and may have avoided the call up. I don’t know for sure. It would be nice to know.


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A Short Walk Around the Sierra Larga

maxi in mudJoya resident artist Gordon Senior, Maxine our Giant Schnauzer and I went for a walk. Six hours in duration it was a perfect day to head out around the Sierra Larga. 18km in total from our front door and back, we climbed at least another 400m to 1400m or there about. The first 9km were on the north westerly forested slopes with views out into the provinces of Granada and Murcia, especially in the direction of Caravaca de la Cruz, the fifth most Holy Place when celebrating the jubilee year to perpetuity along with Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de la Compostella and Camaleño. The celebration is every seven years with 2010 being the next.

But that is a digression. This first section is high but deeply forested with aleppo pine and scrub oak disguising the many wild boar and ibex living in these mountains.

sierra larga

The temperature was around twenty six degrees centigrade with large cumulonimbus clouds to cool you down now and then. It’s a place to observe detail, colour and form.

forest floor

From this point there was a gentle climb in a southerly direction, but in the shade of the mountain, until we came out upon a view of Vélez Blanco, Sierra Maimón and the Sierra María- Los Vélez.

viewFrom here the walk is to the west with this view perpetually in sight. The air is silent except for the smarting call of choughs on the cliff face or the little, distant trampling of cloven hooves belonging to the ibex. To the south is La Hoya de Taibena it’s fields of stubble and terraces of almond. It’s one of those walks, especially with good company, that is good exercise for the soul as well as the legs.

Hoya de Taibena


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