Sunday, January 25, 2015


         The way old buildings work is incredibly simple. Before the days of cavity walls, structures had 'solid' walls built of breathable materials. Where bricks and stones were used, they were generally bonded with weak and permeable mortars made of lime and sand. the external walls were often coated with lime render which was lime-washed so the structure was able to 'breath'. When it rained, moisture was absorbed a few millimetres into the external surface but was able to evaporate as soon as the rain stopped, helped by the drying effects of the sun.   

              Old House Handbook, A Practical Guide to Care and Repair. Roger Hunt and Marianne Suhr (Francis Lincoln Ltd) 

In 'The Wisdom of Sustainability, Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century'  Sulak Sivaraksa says 

If I were to go to the Buddha and ask for a simple formula to resolve our modern dilemmas, he might say: " I breathe, therefore I am." Breathing is the most important element in our lives and in the life of every living being. Without breathing, we die. Breathing goes on day and night, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 

Ice from the top of the rainwater collection tank's bucket used to flush the outside toilet
During the February break I plan to take delivery of a quantity of 'breathable ' hemp, to insulate the attic room between the roof joists, and lime mortar and sand to begin patching up interior walls where necessary ready for a final coat after all the rewiring is done. I will also use this lime mortar to point the exposed exterior walls of the small terrace ( binnenplaats) weather permitting. 

Upstairs the remodelled door is finally painted with a coat of white primer and set in its frame - it just needs the hinges screwed in. I have used a fully 'breathable' clay paint in a matt broken white on the walls which seems to both absorb and reflect light on the uneven surface. Exploring the nuanced qualities of various different whites and other natural muted colours and textures which complement them within various frames and spaces is a preoccupation both of my painting and decorating.  

Fugitive 7, 40x30cms. Oil on Wood 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Geometric Neo-Abstractions...

Have just this week finally completed a series of playful neo-abstract works for F.  Each one measuring 30 x 30 x 0.5 cm is painted with acrylic on a prepared gesso panel using layers of transparent glazes and a masking technique. By combining abstract shapes in dynamic compositions with elements including primarily the circle, square and the triangle, they explore both the tension and harmony between forms and a range of relationships of balance and contrast between complementary colours and light within the spectrum.

Elsewhere, in Bruges, I have been stripping walls back to masonry in preparation eventually for a fully breathable lime morter/plaster which I will be using both inside and out to patch, render and re-point walls as well as consolidate the surface of composite walls with a range of historic layers of lime, cement/lime mix and gypsum.  This kind of 'domestic archeology', stripping back, subtracting layers in order to build up a neutral space is all about surfaces and materials but with an entirely different range of natural materials, earth colours, textures and qualities  

Sample of Unilit lime plaster 'chaux de finition' from Ecobati

In some areas layers of history in the form of newspapers and decoration forming 'collage' on various walls have been peeled back and revealed before being replaced by a white clay based breathable paint as a unifying primer. 

 I have tried to remodel and refit existing doors, rather than replacing them with new - here is a work in progress before being scraped back, sanded and re-painted. 

Reading the following words this weekend by Thich Nhat Hanh they will perhaps be helpful to recall when I am 'absent', 'loose it' and am 'not at home' in either sense of the term.  

The four establishments of mindfulness ( Satipatthana Sutta)  are the foundation of our dwelling place, without them our house is abandoned, no one is sweeping, dusting, or tidying up. Our body becomes unkempt; our feeling full of suffering, and our mind a heap of afflictions. When we are truly home, our body, mind, and feelings will be a place of refuge for ourselves and others.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Spirit Level

Over Christmas my Dad presented me with an old spirit level and a collection of brass hinges which had been languishing in the garage for some years. Cleaned up and polished this small elegant instrument it is a beautiful object, both functional and aesthetic, and with both metaphorical as well as practical applications. I like to think it will remind me of the importance of  establishing balance when making judgements based on careful observation and assessment of conditions. Perhaps in the mid 19th century JB, whose initials appear stamped deeply on both sides, like my grandfather who was an engineer, made the tool himself with some spare mahogany and brass. It feels good in the hand, sides easily in the pocket, carries a human story and a tactile charge from all who have handled it over time.  

Transforming the old house into a suitable dwelling involves a principle of repairing, salvaging and recycling as much as possible. It is remarkable how one things becomes another in a process of constant change and transformation, growth and decay, creation and destruction ........

I have designed and made a prototype kitchen cupboard door using more recycled tongue and groove pine panelling and some mouldings from Brico. Perhaps I can use the brass hinges for these? 

Eating dinner is an opportunity to consider each item of food; bread, cheese, soup, salad, apple juice - each thing arises as a result of a complex matrix causes and conditions linking seemingly separate and disparate elements together into a temporary relative identity - being consumed and absorbed into the  body and it's systems and processes, supporting feeling, thought and perception, mind and consciousness, various conditions arising and ceasing, which in turn supports the renovation of the house.......

 Even the wood lice, not particularly welcome house-guests, which occasionally to cross my path as they head away in search of new homes from the few remaining crevices that have been peeled back and dried out in the ongoing  transformation, have a part to play in this infinite chain of causation, although what exactly remains a mystery still to me.....

Working throughout the day without the distraction of radio, television or the internet, one can observe various thoughts and states of mind as they come and go amidst the changing light and dark, heat and cold, and the background sounds of human voices, birds, bells, and cars........ I am getting to know how it feels to be present here in time as well as space.   

Only when the walls are returned to the original undecorated surface, stripped back, patched up and rendered 'neutral' can one start to appreciate how the changing qualities of light and colour are calibrated to the spaces. Making a wall 'white' with a 'breathable' lime based paint is not so much an addition as a subtraction. What an effort is involved in taking 'something' back to 'nothing'.