History of Our World

Joseph Beuys and the Celtic World

Posted in Art, Object, Performance by R on May 19, 2010

Joseph Beuys (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Beuys completing the Brain of Europe drawing for his Hearth installation at the Royal Feldman Gallery, New York 1975 (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Beuys at Sandycove, where James Joyce lived before leaving Ireland for Europe (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Beuys investigating the plant life of Ireland, November 1974 (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Performing Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony, 1970 (photographed by Richard Demarco).

Beuys at the Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland, c.1970 (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Forrest Hill Poorhouse doors, c.1980 (photographed by Caroline Tisdall).

Caroline Tisdall in conversation with Sean Rainbird, 2001.

Sean Rainbird: Is there a single work in the Bits and Pieces collection that has an especial importance for you?

Caroline Tisdall: There are many themes running through the collection; lots about alchemy, humour, about plants and the transformation of energy. Interconnecting Vases [Two Vases with Precious Water 1975] is probably one of the definitive images in this collection. It was made with blood and insulin, when Beuys was in hospital in 1975 following his heart attack. He was having treatment in Düsseldorf before he went to the spa in Bad Rothenfelde.

SR: So it commemorates a private event, when his health was endangered and he was physically at his most vulnerable?

CT: It is a symbol of love, friendship and reciprocity. ‘C’ and ‘D’ [Cosmas and Damian] with the cross, the triangle and, at the bottom ‘J’ and ‘C’, which could be Joseph and Caroline. The triangle is usually a trinity symbol. In all my earlier writings, I must confess I rather suppressed the Christian angle, but should acknowledge it more now. We did talk about it a lot. Fundamental to his work was the transformation of material and I think you almost have to be brought up a Catholic to use that as a creative principal.

I am a Celt and a total pagan. We often talked about spirituality. By the 1980’s he was certainly not a practicing Catholic. … But there were many elements of Catholicism he kept, like the reincarnation of souls. He also had some fundamental ideas about death and what it means as a destination. In this collection, on an ironic level, is the Hat For Next Time [1974]. After his encounter with the Dalai Lama in 1975 he was very attracted, in later life, to Buddhism. It led to the Amsterdam conference Art meets Science some years later.

It shows in his work with Nam June Paik – particularly the works with the flame. It wasn’t exclusively a Buddhist flame though; think of his saying ‘schütze die Flamme’ (guard the flame). That connects to German philosophy and produces echoes in different cultures. He was confident talking about things which were very difficult to talk about or even taboo; Braunkreuz [‘brown cross’, the distinctive brown pigment Beuys used], the German oak. He felt himself to have grown up in a Catholic, Celtic enclave [in Cleves]. The Lower Rhine is a strange spiritual place, literally quite cut off from Germany like a bend in the river.

SR: What part does language play in this?

CT: He was very deeply rooted in the German language. His whole idea of rehabilitating Germanic imagery and symbols was because he felt that any country which cannot look at its own history is built on foundations of sand and will turn more and more to modern materialism which completely denies spirituality. He felt that was really dangerous not only because of materialism, but also because of a backlash; politically, a spin back into neo-Nazism. One so wishes he had been there when Germany was reunified [in 1989] and the whole spiritual vacuum was exposed, comparing the legacy of both forms of materialism; capitalist materialism and de-spiritualised, grey, Eastern materialism.

SR: Do these sentiments come to a head in any place in Germany you visited, or in any symbolic taboos he confronted?

CT: We went to Externstein in 1975 when he was still recovering from his heart attack. It was a day trip to an absolute taboo place, as it was one of Hitler’s shrines to the Germanic spirit. All the Germanic gods were meant to be there; one of those fat fertility goddesses was dug up there. He wanted his photograph taken with his hand over his heart. What came out was a de-politicized image. It was tongue-in-cheek but like an oath-swearing gesture. He has the confidence to do that. just like the 7000 Oaks project [1982, Kassel] which was growing in his mind at the time. The oak is the symbol that you find on the Iron Cross [a military decoration]. The Nazis had really tried to subsume it into their hierarchy of symbols. As Beuys always said, it is terrible to deny the ‘oakness’ of your countryside just because of the Nazis. If you do that, you deny your own culture, your own history. In Bits and Pieces, the earliest work is an oak-leaf drawing from 1957, a collage, the earliest I have ever seen [Untitled]. I think it is an incredible drawing, so perfect. It has his old-fashioned signature, the early sort, on the bottom right.

SR: Can his use of Braunkreuz be viewed in light of your comments about national identity?

CT: The same goes for that brown colour. That terrible Nazi thing of ‘blood and earth’ [Blut und Boden]. He actually dared to take materials like that and use them, and he reinstalled them in the canon of their ‘Germanness’.

SR: I have always been intrigued by his use of Gothic script at certain points in his career.

CT: Gothic script has its own history. If we were German we would feel sad it fell of of use because of the Nazis. Beuys wanted to undermine the misuses and reappropriate the sources. You have to remember Heinrich Böll too, doing a huge examination of the German spirit in his writing, in books like The Lost Honour of Katharine Blum and Faces of a Clown.

SR: How well did they know one another?

CT: Beuy’s friendship with Böll was very significant. You can follow it through the decades. Böll always used to apologize for being boring! Beuys always had difficulty reading his work, of getting beyond Chapter One. They knew each other well enough for him to feel how it went on after that. The Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum and the Free International University for Interdisciplinary Research [FIU] were both collaboration with Heinrich Böll. It was was great for Beuys to have a kindred spirit like that on his level, and vice versa…

SR: At what point did he intimate that he was building a collection for you. Or did it become obvious over time that this was happening?

CT: That’s a very interesting question. I’ve never thought about it. Everything with Beuys happened in such a natural way, but I imagine that by the time whole sets of things came, like the four botanical drawings Rosemary, Calendula (Marigold), Nasturtium, Pomegranate [all 1975], he was obviously building up to something. Rosemary is obviously for remembrance. And he was very fond of my mother, who was a Shakespearean actress in her younger days. And I was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. So rosemary features in the botanical things. Then calendula, which is an incredibly important homeopathic plant. When he sent it it was an amazing orange like the sun.

The collection reflects pretty accurately what was going on while it was being formed. He then actually suggested exhibiting it, and we showed it at Paul Negau’s Generative Art Gallery in 1976. By then it had its main themes: its Celtic and botanic themes, its mystical theme, alchemy and politics. The other thing there from the beginning was his interest in language: plays on words and the examinations of puns, differences between languages and curious things about English. Like the riddle in Three Hares 1975: ‘Drei Hasen und die Ohren drei und doch hat jeder seiner zwei’ (if there are three hares and three ears, how can each hare have two ears?).

SR: What strikes me is that it is a very practical lexicon, not a set of instructions, but a densely planted approach to someone’s art. You can read a lot of these objects very directly.

CT: Absolutely. It gives you the homeopathic, the herbal, Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics, concerns with nature as a whole, the environment, the imbalance of the spirit and the material. These run through the whole block.

SR: He seemed to have a special gift of allowing a small object to speak volumes about complex issues and projects.

CT: Take the bandage, for instance, issued to German soldiers during the war [Untitled 1977]. If you put that in a vitrine it becomes monumental; it gives you the theme of the war and a whole phase of his autobiography, and in signing such an object, he claimed it’s whole history.

Bits and Pieces 1957-85, [is] a rich body of objects, drawings and multiples compiled over a decade by the artist for the writer and filmmaker Caroline Tisdall. Numbering around 300 items Bits and Pieces constitutes a comprehensive lexicon of the artist’s material and ideas.


Joseph Beuys and the Celtic World | Scotland, Ireland and England 1970-85

Sean Rainbird

Tate Publishing



Joseph Beuys

Sean Rainbird

Tate Publishing



A Line in the Water | Norman Ackroyd & Douglas Dunn

Posted in Art, Literature, Print by R on January 16, 2010

Atlantic Sunlight, Kerry
2008 · 20.5 x 33 cm · [579]

Sailing very close to Little Skellig, the rock is relegated to a backdrop by the size, noise and smell of the birds.

Tay bridge
1988 · 14.5 x 18.5 cm · [1988/3]

The Tay Rail Bridge, a replacement for the infamous bridge that collapsed in 1879, killing 75 train passengers, links the ancient kingdom of Fife with the northern regions of Angus and beyond.

St. John’s Head
1996 · 15 x 19.5 cm · [1996/9]

At 1,134 ft. the spectacular cliffs of St. John’s Head in the Island of Hoy in Orkney are the highest in Britain. The Old Man of Hoy, close to Rackwick Bay, is the highest sea stack in Britain.

Oranmore, Evening
1998 · 18.5 x 26 cm · [1998/5]

Oranmore Castle, which dominates the inner reaches of Galway Bay, was commandeered as barracks by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-seventeenth century.

1996 · 15 x 20.5 cm · [1996/3]

The remaining standing stones at Stenness on the Orkney mainland are at the heart of an enormous consecration of early remains dating back 5,000 years.

Atlantic Rain
2000 · 19 x 27 cm · [2000/4]
The islands of Inishkea stand in an exposed position in the Atlantic off the Belmullet Peninsula in West Mayo.

Rora Head, Hoy
1997 · 15 x 21 cm · [434]

Rora Head forms the northern bluff of Rackwick Bay on the Island of Hoy in Orkney.

Stiffkey Freshes
2004 · 19 x 32 cm · [2004/5]

Stiffkey, pronounced ‘stookey’, is an old established settlement on the North Norfolk coast.

Blakeney Church
2004 · 19 x 32 cm · [2004/8]

Blakeney Church sits on one of the highest points of the moraine ridge that defines the northern edge of Norfolk.

Study of Sun and Rain I, Skellig Rocks
1999 · 45 x 61 cm · [460]

In extreme weather conditions, when landing is impossible, the two Skellig Rocks, which are a mile apart, appear and disappear behind waves and sheets of rain in a disconcerting manner. The scream of seabirds mixed with the thunder of the Atlantic, the taste of of salt and the stench of rotten fish from the gannets of Little Skellig is all-pervading.

Dun Caan, Raasay’s Cap
2005 · 19.5 x 32 cm · [2005/3]

James Boswell climbed Dun Caan and danced a jig on its flat, 1,400 ft. summit when he visited the Isle of Raasay with Dr. Johnson in 1773.

In the culture of candlelight,
An inward scholarship –
Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and fingertip
Poised close to the point of the flame.
And this is how I feel tonight
In a monastic solitude,
One who has known his life subdued
By the sensory, his name
Dipped in envanishments
And their collected moments
All left unedited,
Unsifted, in candlelight
Where the many dead
Prowl, and stars ignite,
Frost silvers shrubs and grass.
All will pass. All will pass.

I do not guarantee
My resignation to all of this.
There are the memories of kiss,
Remembrances of harmony.
These pass only from me.
There will be echoes.
I sense them from centuries ago.
There’s no such thing as
I don’t know much, but that I know.
Look at the towering night-sky.
Look at the waters, this firth
Powering birth and rebirth.
And seen from this small cell
Built for discomfort,
Penitence and prayer,
Islanded, seagirt,
infinite and celestial



A Line in the Water

Norman Ackroyd [CBE, R.A] : Douglas Dunn [OBE]

Royal Academy of Arts



Norman Ackroyd

Douglas Dunn

Royal Academy of Arts


Rollercoaster / Silverblade, The Jesus & Mary Chain, 1990

Posted in Music by A on September 22, 2009

Rollercoaster / Silverblade

Rollercoaster / Silverblade, The Jesus & Mary Chain, 1990.





Tower of Song


The Jesus & Mary Chain

Blanco Y Negro