Countdown to Christmas 2020

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December 1st

Joyful Christmas  by Viggo Johansen

 

This Countdown to Christmas is the fourth year I have done this. Each year I have to dig a little harder to find pictures I haven’t talked about before However, I make no apologies with this one. Johansen was a Danish painter who is considered one of Denmark’s finest painters in 1890s. 

 

His Christmas tree here is full of life and excitement. The children dance around the tree full of Christmas spirit, awe and wonder. Lit by candles rather than electric light, the painting captures that flicker and dancing of the light. There is little doubt that the tree is the center of the festivities! 

 

As I have been walking around the streets at night, taking my suggested daily exercise, I have noticed more and more houses have their trees up already – they are very early this year!  After such an awful year in so many ways, the spirit of Christmas seems to offer a glimmer of hope and joyousness. And for many households, just like this one Johansen has painted, the tree is central to the fun, excitement and expectation. 

 

So why not start that all going a bit early this year? – We certainly could do with it!

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December 2nd

The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius 1486    Carlo Crivelli

 

Wow! What a painting this is! This altarpiece from the start of the Tudor period is absolutely crammed with details. The story told in the picture is the start of the Christmas Story.

 

The Angel Gabriel (holding the lily) is about to announce to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. But in the painting the Angel has been waylaid by a local Bishop (who would then be a Saint), Saint Emidius (holding a model of the town!)

 

Around them the town carries on. People wondering about, chatting, shopping, spinning wool... all normal activities. Mary is kneeling in daily prayer and study of holy writings. A fairly ordinary day, albeit in fantastical environment.

 

And through all this, what looks like a bolt of lightning, shoots through the air (with added dove) and is about to strike Mary. It’s a representation of the realization of what she is to become!

 

This fairly ordinary young woman’s life is about to be turned upside down. But she accepts it with grace and dignity. 

 

In the ordinariness of our lives the occasional ‘bolt from the blue’ strikes us down. I hope that I can have a small amount of grace and dignity to deal with my thunderbolts.

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December 3rd

 Winter picture  By Ilona Fekete

 

Although not what would be considered a well-known artist, Fekete is one a large number of artists that would call themselves ‘Folk Artists’. Painting in this wonderful ‘naïve style’ her work perfectly captures the charm and innocence of Christmas. It is easy to dismiss this style of painting as simplistic and childlike, with no skill involved in the execution. However, the more you look at the piece the more there is to it. This is way too detailed, with far too much observation of ‘real’ life to be the simple work of a child.

 

This particular scene has lots of lovely little stories going on; radios playing, children heading off to hockey, tree decoration, dog walking, snowman making, tree selling .. everything that you want in a snowy festive scene.

 

The appearance of simplicity and a childlike nature in the painting, to my mind adds to the whole festive feel. Christmas is best looked at through the eyes of a child. In this amazingly busy time of the year, particularly after a year like the one we have had, sometimes it is good to slow down a bit and to look at the world as if through the eyes of a child. 

 

Perhaps we will see a slightly simpler view of what’s going on around us. Simple, but still full of wonderful details! A bit like Fekete’s work!

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December 4th

Football in the snow at Watford 1930s    H.Andrew Freeth

 

This aquatint print masterfully captures the mood of a football match, ‘the way it used to be!’ Snow didn’t stop play! This piece is wonderfully evocative, and the soft shading, and sepia tint achieved by the aquatint effect, gives it that soft focus, nostalgic feel.

 

In the terrace (standing room only!) the slightly sparse crowd watch on, lacking a certain degree of enthusiasm. Could this be a Christmas day/Boxing day match that were so popular at the time? If so, I can imagine that after a full lunch that my enthusiasm for anything that involved standing around in the cold would be disappearing!

 

But looking at the print again I can see that the footballers certainly seem full of enthusiasm, leaping about on the pitch, and poised ready for action. And the crowd rather than lacking on enthusiasm actually seem engaged, you could almost say enchanted, by the match going on. To turn up to a match in the freezing snow (look at those coats and hats!) to support their team shows a certain kind of dedication. 

 

The more I look at the picture the more I can actually feel the dramatic excitement building. I must learn to look more closely at things, and not to judge by a simple glance. 

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Alexandr Levchenkov         Morning of New Year

 

Early in the morning a young child stands transfixed with the beauty of the family Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is bursting with decorations and festive cheer. It’s a giant of a tree, towering above him, but offering nothing but joy. In the background is a table full of what looks like last night’s revelry (too many bottles to be this morning’s breakfast!) Looking at the title of the picture we are past Christmas and into the New Year. But still the Christmas Tree is there splendid, and surprisingly fresh for New Year’s Day.

 

There is a good reason for this. It is not a Christmas tree!

 

This is a Russian artist’s painting. 

 

In the days of the Soviet Union, following the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday and Christmas Trees were criticised as a bourgeois tradition. They were banned until 1935 when high-ranking officials convinced Joseph Stalin that the tree could be utilised for a secular holiday, as a symbol of Soviet children’s happiness and prosperity, and Christmas Trees were turned into 'New Year' Trees! And there they now sit in the former Soviet Union country’s Calendars.

 

Christmas Tree or New Year Tree; either way I love them. I am resisting putting mine up quite yet. But I tell you what, every tree I see in a window at the moment fills me with great joy and hope and optimism. 

 

Optimism that next year, 2021, is going to be a better year than this one!

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December 6th

The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow    1876       Norbert Goeneutte

 

Here we have a painting of a famous part of Paris. This was the area that was the hub of creativity and art for so long. The famous Moulin Rouge would appear just over ten years after this painting was created. Numerous famous artists including Van Gogh, Degas, Picasso and Gérôme made this area their home at one time. A real cultural hot spot. 

 

This painting is a gentle homage to this once chic area of Paris. Goeneutte has painted a symphony of grays and soft browns to create this delicate and gentle view of a street that was key to his and many other’s artistic development. 

 

I love the way the rows of trees in the middle pull you along the road leading you into his world. Then when you are there you can start looking at all the individuals that are dotted around, wrapped up and going about their daily lives. The heavy sky looks ready to cover the area with another layer of snow. What I find interesting is the large expanse of snow. It is flat and very white, with some ‘sludgy’ bits. There is movement in the picture; people walking, cabs trundling along, people even sweeping the snow... but, to me, this picture feels silent.

 

He has captured the silence and muffling that only snow, and such a heavy sky can achieve. Even in this busy part of this capital. 

 

I do hope that I will see snow this year. I know it’s not liked by everyone, but I am looking forward to that all-consuming silence and peace that it sometimes can bring. 

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December 7th

 

Christmas Eve    1906     Carl Larsson 

 

Carl Larsson was a Swedish painter who has become linked with Swedish culture and a portrayal of idyllic Swedish life at the turn of the last century. His wonderfully charming, and beautifully clear paintings are ideally suited to Christmas.

 

Here we find a large family gathering (on Christmas Eve) with the Patriarch of the family presiding over a huge feast. The fire is roaring in such a welcoming way. The Candles are freshly lit, and all is ready. The table is groaning under the weight of the food and drink. I love the neatly arranged cups at the far end of the table. Right at the end is an eager, but patient young child. 

 

The patriarch of the family is being served a few bits and pieces before everyone else (and why not?), but with everyone else there is a great air of expectation and waiting. Who are they all waiting for? 

 

I like to think that the serving girl on the left gives us the clue. She is directly looking at us! 

 

Are we the guest of honour that they are all waiting for? If you look around the room several eyes are glancing our way! Hurrah! Perhaps the feast can properly start. Looking at the Christmas spread on the table I think I would start on that huge piece of meat!

 

Sadly, this year, there won’t be many places in the world where there will be large Christmas gatherings like we see here. For many this is going to be the most difficult part of Christmas - being separated from their loved ones. The cheer of this painting has a strange and slightly removed feel this year-round. Hopefully, all will be well next year.

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December 8th

The Adoration of the Kings 1510 -15  Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)

 

It would be about this sort of time that Schools all over the country would be practicing their nativity play and some children would be learning about the Nativity Story for the first time. This painting shows one of the more splendid moments in that ancient story – the arrival of the kings.

 

Gossart’s painting is an amazing example of phenomenally detailed and skillfully executed painting. The more you look at this painting the more you see. It is worth visiting The National Gallery website and tracking down the picture because they have a ‘magnification’ service where you can focus on small details as if you were standing in front of the painting itself.

 

For me there are some things that stand out. I love the way he paints fabric, whether it is the folds of the fabric on Mary’s outfit, the soft bunched up fabric around the neck of the king on the left, the billowing angel’s clothes or the brushed velvet of the hat belonging to the kneeling king – all these (and more!) are stunning. 

 

The, albeit slightly bonkers, building that this takes place in is incredible. From the towering interior arches right down to the broken, weed filled tiles on the floor, it is faultlessly executed.

 

Spend some time with this painting. It is well worth it. And if you have someone if your life that would normally be performing a nativity play, but this year has found that things are different, share the picture with them. It is certainly a very ‘dramatic’ painting… but, sadly, no shepherds with tea towels strapped to their heads!

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December 9th

View From the Window in Café Osborne up to Frederiksberg Allé    1889  

 L A Ring

 

This painting by the Danish artist L A Ring is a loose and quickly painted piece, very unlike what is considered his normal style. He normally painted in a very naturalistic style and was a pioneer of symbolism and social realism. His work often commented on the reality of rural life.

 

However, here we see more of an impression of a scene than his usual attention to detail. And, I feel, it captures an element of the dull and dreary days on the lead up to Christmas. The writing in the left-hand corner actual wishes the viewer a happy Christmas, but I wonder if that has a touch of irony – Ring had atheist views.

 

 The colour choice is dull; grays and muddy yellows. The people seem to be trudging about, wrapped up from the cold. The snow (if that’s what it is) is muddy and dirty. Trees are baron and sparse, looking dead. Even the sky seems to be the same dreary colours.

 

In the run up to Christmas I usually find I reach a point where it is all a bit too much. The initial rush of excitement makes way for the reality of things. This year an extra layer of stress has been placed over all the preparation, and some days can feel a little like the one painted in this picture. However, for me, I know it is only temporary, and the Christmas Spirit will get things going again. But, this painting reminds me it’s ok not to full of Christmas joy the whole of December, and that some days will be difficult.

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December 10th

‘God Bless Birmingham’    2019   Banksy

 

What a dull world we would have without the mysterious, anonymous ‘graffiti’ artist Bansky. He is a master at drawing attention to things without the usual heavy handedness that some other artists do.

 

Created overnight on a wall in Birmingham’s Jewelry district these magical reindeer tow this ordinary bench into a festive dream world. This bench however is frequently used by the homeless as a bed for the night, and Banksy knows this. He has cleverly drawn attention to the homeless problem we see all around us, without sentimentality, judgement, or shock tactics. His use of humor to highlight many social problems is very British – and on the whole works! 

 

Like many of his works it is a transient thing (some jolly soul added a red nose to the lead reindeer within hours… and many of his works are removed or vandalized) and belongs to the people. 

 

The issue it highlights belongs to the people as well – homelessness, however, it is not a transient thing. It’s a complex issue and not one that is solved easily. I find it interesting when Banksy ‘announced’ this piece of work on Instagram he did it as a video of this man called Ryan settling down on the bench for the evening. The sound track to the video was a recording of the song ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’

 

So perhaps as we settle down ‘at home’ this Christmas spare a thought for individuals like Ryan. If you felt so moved, I’m sure that Centrepoint (https://centrepoint.org.uk) would be delighted if you would get in touch.

In the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

December 11th

The magi and their gifts rendered in mosaic, early 6th century

In the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy

 

These amazingly flamboyant 3 kings are a wonderful example of how detailed and full of expression a mosaic can be. They are full of expression and lots of detail. Each one has their own personality, and the mosaics are as detailed as if they were painted. 

 

There is a distinctly exotic feel about the image. The trees are possibly dripping with dates, the flowers are bold and fantastical. The kings are draped in wonderful cloaks. If you have ever done any mosaic making in your life you will realise what an achievement it is to create those folds of fabric! Every detail is stunning. (although I’m not too sure I like the leopard skin print tights they are wearing!) 

 

What I love the most is the glittering gold mosaic pieces in the background and on their clothes. This must be stunning in candlelight, the flicker of the candles reflected in the shine of the gold. It must bring this whole scene to life. And this is what it was meant to do. If you were in the congregation sat in the Basilica worshiping, the Kings would shimmer and appear to move and be worshiping alongside you. Just in the same way they came to pay homage to the infant Jesus all those years ago.

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December 12th

Snowy Scene   Bob Ross

 

For those that don’t know him Bob Ross was creator and host of an American TV show called The Joy of Painting between 1983 and 1994. His style of presenting and finished pieces are hugely popular. He has introduced countless thousands to the joy and pleasure that painting with oil paints can bring.

 

His calm, almost hypnotic style of presentation, his wonderful afro perm hairstyle, his cheerful nature and his sad death at the age of only 52, have all lead to his cult status; videos of him working are an internet sensation. 

 

But is his work good? 

 

Some would say no – overly simplistic approach, the same style whatever painting he is doing, formulaic composition, idealized unrealistic scenes, and a plethora of ‘happy little trees’ (… a reference there for Bob Ross enthusiasts).

 

However, He has genuinely brought the JOY of painting to so many. Who cares if what is finally produced is not perfect, not a masterpiece? I find that his work is full of genuine delight, often a stylized version of the world around us, the best bits emphasized and built up.

 

This snowy scene makes me want to be there, wrapped up warm, trudging through the snow, with the thought that on my return there might be a roaring log fire and a (‘happy little’) Christmas tree! It genuinely makes me feel happy - Isn’t that really what art should be all about? 

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December 13th  

Cover to American Weekly 1953  Norman Rockwell

 

A Christmas collection of artwork would not be complete without a Norman Rockwell painting. In fact I could do an entire 25 days countdown with just his artwork. His artwork shows a wholesome ‘all American’ family world of the 1950s. His Christmas pictures have come to symbolize the ‘perfect’ Christmas. 

 

I love this picture (more about it later). I did consider showing just the picture itself. But I thought it would be interesting to show it on the cover of the American Weekly magazine -the place where it was intended to be! Rockwell was an illustrator, his paintings were used primarily in magazines, often advertising products. He painted front covers for several magazines, including a 47-year connection to the Saturday Evening Post!  

 

Back to the picture. Today I will be putting up my Christmas tree! I love this day; it is one of my favorite activities of the year. Hopefully I won’t be as puzzled as the man on the step ladder, or as harassed. Lights are easier to do now!

 

But I do remember a time that my, sadly no longer with us, father would sort out the Christmas tree lights! It was a major event, and not without its stresses! Delicately trying each bulb in turn to try and find which one had broken after its year stored away in the attic - it was a very tense time for all the family – my father did not tolerate misbehaving Christmas lights. After the rest of the family had tiptoed around for a while, so as not to add to the stress of the occasion, the lights eventually worked and were draped on the tree. Heaven help any light that decided not to work then! Once they worked, all was well – my father could love Christmas once again.

 

I do also remember the year I was allowed to ‘do the lights’ – a real rights of passage moment! I felt like a proper grown up (by then I was in my mid-twenties)!

 

One of the reasons I love putting up the tree, and especially the lights, is that it always reminds me of my father. Christmas is like that. It helps us remember those that we love the most.

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December 14th  

The Sistine Madonna (1512-13) Raphael

 

Here we have a piece of art by one of the giants of renaissance art. It was originally commissioned by Pope Julius II for a church in Italy. It ended up in Dresden in Germany in the 1700s where it stayed until the second world war when it went to Russia for a short time, then to return to Germany when all was safe.

 

This is a wonderful painting of Mary mother of Jesus, flanked on her sides by Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara. If you look carefully in the background you can see a host of angelic faces looking on to the Madonna and Child.

 

However, it is not all these figures that have earnt themselves a place in art history, or perhaps I should say ‘popular-culture history’. It is the two figures at the bottom. These two angelic figures are possibly the most famous angels in art! I recently found out to call them ‘cherubs’ is strictly speaking not right – the correct term is ‘putti’! But I think that most people would call them cherubs! There are lots of stories of why Raphael painted them - the one I like the best is that they were inspired by the young children of the model he used for the Madonna; as they waited for their mother he loved the way they sat patiently watching.   

 

We see these two cherubs all over the place! They are made into Christmas cards, ornaments, on the side of carrier bags, and indeed an assortment of gifts including socks and t-shirts! They are a fabulous example of how art can be commercialized!

 

What I find really interesting is how it is these two small faces that have been commercialized and over exposed – and the one person Christmas is meant to be all about seems to have been forgotten! 

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December 15th  

 

Victorian Christmas Card

 

If you want to pass a slightly strange half hour or so, try googling ‘Victorian Christmas Cards”. The picture we see here is among the more timid ones! 

 

There are some with the usual collection of snowy scenes, plump white bearded gentlemen with toys, and jolly souls - the start of what we know as Christmas Card designs today. However, this Christmas pudding person is only a hint of what other horrors are to come.
 

You will find the bizarre, weird, worrying and, to be honest, downright terrifying! What better way to share your Christmas greetings with someone than sending them images of horned devils stealing children, frogs stabbing each other in a robbery, a hybrid man/turnip presenting you with flowers and assorted cats doing things cats should not do (even way before the internet ever existed!)?

 

Every time I look at these I realise just how different people were in Victorian times. And how, despite how much we like to think we are very similar, I have absolutely no idea how people of those days thought!

 

I wonder if, in a hundred years or so, people will look back at us now and think the same?

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December 16th

Winter Scene on a Frozen Canal 1620 Hendrick Avercamp 

 

Here’s a painting to keep you busy for ages! There is so much going on in it! It’s like tuning into a 1600s cinematic feature film.

 

I love these sorts of pictures, that Dutch painters seem to do so well. Lots of different stories all happening all at the same time in the same picture. Avercamp was born deaf and mute, making him a natural observer of people, and he seems to have captured the whole of life in this one scene. What I like to do is see if I can work out the story that goes with all the individuals in the picture. 

 

It might be the fisherman who has just slipped and fallen flat on his face, the lady having her palm read by the mysterious foreigner, the lone solemn axman, the mysterious masked ladies, the group playing (what I fancifully think is) golf on the ice, or in fact any one of the multitude of people here.

 

They all have a story!

 

I sometimes play the same game when watching all the those busying by me in the town center! Everyone has their own story.

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December 17th

 

Opening the Christmas Stocking    Jessie Willcox Smith

 

Willcox Smith is considered (I think rightly) as one of the all-time greatest illustrators. Working in the early 1900s she captured many a magical moment (real and imaginary) for a huge number of magazines, books and advertisements. She painted all sort of things but her illustrations with children and motherly love are among her best. She was a great supporter of woman’s rights and used her work to assist the cause.

 

Here we have a scene that is painted with amazing observation. A captured moment in this little girl’s Christmas morning. I’m not entirely sure if all those gifts were from that stocking! We can see many typical toys of the time; toy boat, doll, trumpet, ball, candy cane, tea set and more. The stocking seems to be a bottomless one – a kind of festive Cornucopia Horn of Plenty.

 

The bedding and bed clothes are so wonderfully understated. All white, and just those few delicate lines to perfectly suggest the crumpled look. Even the girl’s hair is wonderfully, and beautifully, dishevelled. 

 

Although I’m not sure if this is Willcox Smiths intention I am picking up a something from this picture. Look at one of her presents. I think it is a dressing up kit - QUEEN. I get the feeling that this little girl is queen for the day (and possibly the rest of her life) Unusually, the gifts she has received are ones that were, typically for the time, both boy’s and girl’s gifts. And why shouldn’t she – a queen can have anything she wants!

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December 18th

 A Christmas Party  1852 George Henry Durrie

 

Durrie is an American artist whose work became popular as lithographic prints. In the 1850s he started painting scenes of America rural life, focusing on winter scenes. It is one of those that we have here.

 

Over the frozen river a stream of horse drawn sleigh head off to the house where, presumably, the Christmas party is to be held. We get very little sensation that anything festive is happening. There are people passing the time on the ice on the river. They seem to have a vague interest in who is arriving for the party, but life continues as normal for them. Not much can be learnt about the guests either. They are just little paint dots in the tiny sleigh. Even the house that is the venue for this party is relatively unassuming (although I am sure it is much grander than the one the folk on the river live in!) If it wasn’t for the title of the picture it would be difficult to know what was going on!

 

No, it is actually the landscape that is the star of this painting. It swamps the picture and puts the Party in its place. The majestic, but not too overpowering, hills in the background give a good sense of place - we are very much in the middle of a wilderness. The rocky mound behind, and to the right of the house gives a suggestion of the rough terrain and the hardship endured in the area. There are wonderfully painted clumps of trees, and the frozen trees at the front of the picture add to the cold and unforgiving nature of the landscape.

 

I think that the artist has cleverly, and sensitively, placed the house into a wild and striking landscape. Human life plods on surrounded by all this wonder and might. The party goers have to pass through this landscape to get to their destination. Sometimes it is good to get out of our houses and go to somewhere that is full of nature’s beauty. 

 

I might not be heading off to many Christmas Parties this year, so perhaps I will go and spend some time with nature instead!

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December 19th

 

Snow at Louveciennes  1878 Alfred Sisley

 

Sisley has captured a single moment in one of the backstreets of this French suburb of Paris perfectly. The thick snow blankets the street, sky gray with the next lot of snow, trees heavily laden and looking that the slightest shake or gust of wind will send everything showering down. Silence fills this painting. 

 

He has used very strong single point perspective to increase the drama of the picture, with a single, lone figure at the far end of the road to help emphasize the perspective. If you look around the painting you can see how he has just blobbed and smeared the paint seemingly indiscriminately around the scene. But, as is the way with impressionist paintings, each mark made on the canvas gives more visual information that makes the picture complete.

 

I have a feeling that this is as close as I will get to snow this Christmas. I personally would love the snow as deep and heavy as this. However, I think I will just have to look at this painting and imagine I am in Louveciennes.

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December 20th

The Nativity 1888. Edward Burne-Jones

 

Here we have a very different type of nativity scene. Painted by the pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones it has a stunning elegance and beauty, however, there is an element of melancholy, and a slightly ominous feel that we would not normally associate with the nativity scene.

 

There is good reason. What Burne-Jones is doing in this nativity scene is reminding the on looker that, for those of the Christian faith, God had a purpose for the birth of Jesus - so that he could die for the sins of man!

 

The three angels rather than singing with joy, as we should expect as the birth of this little child, are solemn and removed. It is when we look at what they are carrying that we may understand why; the crown of thorns that Jesus will wear at his crucifixion, the chalice that he would drink from at the last supper, and a vessel of Myrrh that would be used as part of his burial ritual. This painting is a reminder that to Christians there is a sad end to this story. 

 

With this knowledge, the way that Mary holds onto her baby becomes more potent. It is as if at this joyous moment she can see the future, and has full knowledge of what is to become of her little boy.

 

We don’t know what is to become of any of us. For this I am glad. But this Christmas I am going to make sure I celebrate the family and friendships that I have.  I am going to reach out (almost certainly by Zoom!) and give everyone a (virtual)big hug! I don’t know what’s round the corner!

Jesse Rieser, Happy Birt Jesus, Phoenix,

December 21st

 

Happy Birth Jesus, Phoenix, AZ  2011  Jesse Riesser

 

Riesser is an American photographer who has, through his photography, celebrated the humorous and mundane elements that often go overlooked in day-to-day America. His photographs explore the ordinary, and how it becomes special when looked at in different way.

 

Here we see a photograph of a Christmas lights display on a somewhat ordinary double garage in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The pick-up truck is there ready for action, the ladder that has possibly been used to put up the decorations strapped to its top. Sadly, the message seems to have got a bit lost as part of the display has fallen. The whole photograph has a slightly tacky, kitsch feel. Some might feel that although it was taken quite a while ago, it sums up this year’s ‘broken’ Christmas very well.

 

However, I feel that there is a beauty in this scene. The slightly over exposed super bright lower half of the photograph (the garage) and the dark beautiful starlit night contrast delightfully with each other. The palm trees give it almost a biblical feel. In fact, I am getting a distinct ‘stables at the back of the inn’ feel from the photograph. What’s more, the more I look at this the more the “HAPPY BIRT” become less important and the word JESUS stands out (the word seems to even have its own halo!)

 

Perhaps it’s just me, but I actually really like this photograph. Rather than being depressing and reflecting the mood of how many must feel at this point in 2020, I see hope and joy.

 

Perhaps it’s similar to the glimmer of joy that Mary and Joseph may have felt when they finally managed to get somewhere to settle that night the baby came!

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December 22nd

 

Snow Drawings - Briançon, France  2014  Sonja Hinrichsen

 

This is a photograph of one of many ongoing community art projects that this German artist, Hinrichsen, has been involved with. Taking large snow plains as her canvas, she and a multitude of community volunteers transform the environment to a stunning landscape of spirals and lines.

 

Each participant straps on snowshoes to their feet and walk around in the snow. The artists discusses her vision with the participants, but then it is up to each individual to interpret this in a way they feel is best. She focuses on spirals as she has noticed that spirals, and whorls, are a naturally occurring shape that is all around us in nature, from the mark of our fingerprint to the very shape of the universe. A little google and you can see videos of these creations being made.

 

The process is very much part of the artwork. The act of walking around in the natural world, in this case a huge snow-covered landscape near to a skiing resort, connects the participants with the surroundings, which in turn influences the way they walk/create.

 

I think that the results are mesmerizingly beautiful. In making these lines the participants, and those of us who see these photographs and videos of the finished results, appreciate the landscape and the nature that is all around. I think Hinrichsen is both wise and brave just to let go, and allow the projects to develop in the way they do. 

 

I sometimes wish I had that bravery and wisdom - in lots of areas of life. I wish at times I could just to let things develop how that are going to – rather than wanting to be in control all the time!

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December 23rd

 

It's I, your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?

1915 Arthur Rackham

 

A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most loved and cherished of Christmas stories. Charles Dicken’s tale of the miserly and mean Mr Scrooge, and his visitation from 3 ghosts over Christmas night has been a source for much artistic creation, in paintings, plays, and movies. And whether it is Jim Henson’s Muppets or, as we see here, Arthur Rackham, everyone has a slightly different view of the story.

 

But the idea of redemption and forgiveness is key to the whole plot! Here we see Scrooge after the visitations that showed him the way he was, the way things are now…and the way things could be! His transformation is extraordinary... his nephew cannot believe his eyes, and his nephew’s wife is even more shocked! Fred greets him into their modest home with open arms and a gush of genuine love.

 

What I love about the Scrooge in this picture is the chirpy happy look he has. The twisted ugliness of his face and body has moved away and has been replaced by a jolly almost clown like appearance (look at the shoes!). His nephew has been waiting for this day for so many years, never giving up on the idea that the Christmas spirit would eventually enter Scrooge’s life and turn sadness and bitterness into joy.

 

This Christmas, although smaller, and possibly sadder, I am going to try and let the Christmas spirit in as much as possible. I have many things to grateful for, and as much as possible, I will try and focus on these.

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December 24th

 

Coca-Cola Santa   (every year between 1931 and 1965) Haddon Sundblom

 

Warning…. Adults only to read this!

 

It’s almost Christmas! And children all over the land are hoping for a visit from this jolly old man! Sundblom, an American artist, created a series of different Santa pictures each year for over 30 years, all for the purpose of advertising Coca-Cola (other colas are available!)

 

His images of Santa have become the absolute ‘perfect’ image of what we imagine Santa to be. In this picture he has even been caught short taking a bottle of Coke from the family fridge but is instantly forgiven by the young boy! We can see the turkey, and other bits, all ready for the big day. The look of shock is fantastic. 

 

People often (incorrectly) say that these Coke adverts invented the modern image of Santa. They definitely molded the image and made Santa jollier and more approachable. But Sundblom himself said he was influenced by two main sources:

 

Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas", commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", has a wonderful description of Father Christmas as a cheerful, plump old man, with a twinkle in his eye. It is well worth a google and a read if you have not already done so. 

 

In 1881 satirical cartoonist Thomas Nash created an image of Father Christmas that is pretty much what we see in Sundblom’s Santa.

 

These were the starting point of an advertising legend. I always find it interesting how much advertising/commercialism and Christmas are intertwined, and how much, generally, we neither notice nor care! 

 

I think it is because the advertisers are doing a good job… and making us feel good!

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