Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some paintings

Royal Doulton Up The Spout 1
(Acrylic, oil, tea & transfers on canvas) 25.5cm x 25.5cm

Royal Doulton Up The Spout 2
(Acrylic, oil, tea & transfers on canvas) 25.5cm x 25.5cm

Royal Doulton Up The Spout 4
(Acrylic, oil, tea & transfers on canvas) 41cm x 51cm

Royal Doulton Up The Creek
(Ink, oil, tea & transfers on canvas) 19cm x 56cm

Blue Flow Birds
(Oil and tea leaves on canvas) 27.5cm x 22cm

Jamini Patel

Another interesting artist...Jamini Patel, who had a show at the V&A Museum of Childhood in 2007. Can't find out much about her, but this article by Niti Acharya from the 24 Hour Museum ( gives a flavour - and there are some photos of the work:

"Sculptor Jamini Patel explores the relationship between colonial trade and architecture and the way it has shaped our cityscapes in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

"Her early sculptures of buildings remaining from 18th century colonial Britain are highly detailed and thought-provoking. Built using the commodities which financed their construction and were the bedrock of colonial trade, the sculptures provoke a realisation of the riches empire trading brought and the servitude exploited in far-flung colonies.

"The scramble for sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, spices and tobacco during the sugar and spice era has led Jamini to recreate the Glaswegian Gallery of Modern Art, Sezincote House in Gloucestershire and John Pinney’s Georgian House in Bristol.

"Though small in scale, this exhibition asks questions about the social and economic cost of commodities trading and how the landscape is still dominated by those who have know how to play the financial game to their benefit."

Other Criteria

My artist friend Maria Clemen sent me this link to Damien Hirst's art merchandising website Other Criteria, who sell limited editions and multiples, clothing, jewellery, photographs, posters, prints and books by Hirst and a number of established and emerging artists...

Specifically, she sent me this page featuring work by Latin American artist Eduardo Sarabia:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Global trade

Here are a few selective, slightly abridged or paraphrased excerpts from Tom Standage's book A History of the World in Six Glasses (mentioned in previous post), that I found illuminating (my school history education was very poor) and which sent me down the Tea and Burberry route:

"The (East India) Company's first tea imports from the East Indies arrived in 1669...It was initially a minor commodity as the company concentrated first on importing pepper, and then cheap textiles, from Asia. But opposition from Britain's domestic textile producers encouraged the company to place more emphasis on tea; there was no problem with offending domestic producers, since there were none."

A new approach to manufacturing, pioneered by Richard Arkwright in the 1770s "turned Britain into the world’s first industrialised nation". Skilled labourers and craftsmen were replaced by machines situated together in one place around a source of power such as a waterwheel or steam engine. Employees were housed nearby and use of shifts ensured maximum utilisation of expensive machinery. "Each labourer in Arkwright’s mill could do the work of fifty hand spinners, and as other aspects of textile production were automated...production soared. So cheap and abundant were British-made textiles by the end of the C18th that Britain began exporting textiles to India, devastating that country's traditional weaving trade in the process."

The workers were given tea breaks. "Tea kept workers alert on long and tedious shifts and improved their concentration when operating fast moving machines...Factory workers had to function like parts in a well-oiled machine and tea was the lubricant that kept the factories running smoothly". Tea’s healthy properties also meant the workforce could "be more densely packed in their living quarters around the factories in the industrial cities of the British Midlands without risk of disease".

"The popularity of tea also stimulated commerce by boosting the demand for crockery and bringing into being a flourishing new industry. Ownership of a fine tea service was of great importance for rich and poor alike...The most famous of the Staffordshire potters was Josiah Wedgwood, whose company produced tea services so efficiently that it could compete with Chinese porcelain, imports of which declined and eventually stopped in 1791."

"Wedgwood was a pioneer of mass production...No longer did individual craftsmen in his factories make each item from beginning to end; instead, they specialised in one aspect of production and became particularly skilled at it. Items moved in a continuous flow from one worker to the next. This division of labour enabled Wedgewood to use the most talented designers...without requiring them to be potters too." ***

"The political power of the British East India Company...was vast...The company had many friends in high places, and many of its officials simply bought their way into Parliament. Supporters of the EIC also cooperated on occasion with politicians with interests in the West Indies; the demand for West Indian sugar was driven by the consumption of tea. All this ensured that in many cases company policy became government policy."

"The EIC's fortunes revived in 1784" (after Britain's loss of the American colonies) "when the duty on tea imports to Britain was slashed, which lowered the price of legal tea, doubling the company's sales and wiping out smuggling. But the company's power was gradually curtailed amid growing concern over its enormous influence and the corrupt and self-enriching behaviour of its officials...the company's monopoly on Asian trade was removed, except for China. The company concentrated less on trade and more on the administration of its vast territories in India; after 1800 the bulk of its revenue came from the collection of Indian land taxes. In 1834 the company's monopoly on trade with China was removed too."

"The cultivation and preparation of opium in India was, conveniently, a monopoly controlled by the company, which had been quietly allowing small quantities of opium to be sold to smugglers or corrupt Chinese merchants since the 1770s...the company set about increasing the production of opium in order to use it in place of silver to buy tea. It would then, in effect, be able to grow as much currency as it needed."

"Of course, it would never do to be seen to be directly trading an illegal drug in return for tea, so the company devised an elaborate scheme to keep the opium trade at arm's length...(this was) state-sanctioned drug running on a massive scale, which created millions of addicts and blighted countless lives merely to maintain Britain's supply of tea."

An attempt by the Chinese to clamp down on the trade, resulting in the British being expelled from Canton, "caused outrage in London, where representatives of the company and other British merchants had been putting pressure on the British government to force China to open itself up to wider trade...On the pretext of defending the right to free trade, war was declared."

" further wars were each case Chinese defeat entailed additional concessions to the commercial aims of foreign powers. The trade in opium...was legalised, Britain took control of the Chinese customs service; imported textiles and other industrial goods undermined Chinese craftsmen. China became an arena in which Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and Japan played out their imperialist rivalries, carving up the country and competing for political dominance."

The beginnings of the cultivation of tea in India began around the time the EIC lost its monopoly on trade with China in 1834. "Proponents of the idea argued that...British consumers would be assured of a more reliable supply...and it would provide plenty of jobs for Indian workers, a great many of whom had lost their livelihoods when the company's imports of cheap cloth from British factories wiped out India's traditional weaving industry. Furthermore...the people of India might be encouraged to consume it, which would create an enormous new market."

"...The traditional Chinese manner of producing tea was anything but industrial and had remained unchanged for hundreds of years." There were also many middle men involved in bringing the raw material from the country to the foreign traders "that brought the price paid for each pound of tea to nearly twice the original producer's selling price. An enterprise that produced its own tea in India, however, could pocket the difference...Furthermore, applying new industrial methods...(would) boost productivity, and hence profits, still further. With the cultivation of tea in India, imperialism and industrialism were to go hand in hand."

By 1851, after difficult beginnings, "a tea boom ensued as dozens of new tea companies were set up in India, though many of them failed as clueless speculators bankrolled new ventures without discrimination...production really took off when industrial methods and machinery were applied. The tea plants were arranged in regimented lines; the workers were housed in rows of huts and required to live, work, eat and sleep according to a rigid timetable. Picking the tea could not (and still cannot) be automated, but starting in the 1870s its processing could be...

The rise of India's tea industry had a devasting impact on China's tea farmers and further contributed to the instability of the country..."

"India remains the world's leading producer of tea today, and the leading consumer...(23%), followed by China (16%) and Britain (6%)."

*** And Wedgwood allegedly got the production line idea from reading Père d'Entrecolles, the French Jesuit missionary whose letters recording the processes of Chinese porcelain production were published in 1735. See my blog: January 8, 2009 - A Note on Wedgwood.

Extracts from Around The World in Six Glasses by kind permission of Tom Standage.

A Short History of Tea

If anyone is coming to this blog as a result of A Cup of Tea Solves Everything (which it doesn't, really) and is interested in the history of tea, may I recommend A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, in which there are two chapters on tea that offer a concise socio-political story that is a quicker read than other books on tea (listed on this blog). You may want to go on to read those other books (or you might go on to find out about the other beverages Standage covers - coffee, Coke, beer, wine and whiskey).

It's published by Atlantic Books and available on Amazon for seven quid. Standage is business editor of The Economist, is an expert on technology, and is just about to bring out a book about food called An Edible History of Humanity. He has written three other books including The Victorian Internet (described by the Wall Street Journal as a "dot-com cult classic"). He writes a blog at and describes his speciality as the use of historical analogy, offering a way of seeing the past in the present, and the present in the past. Right up my street.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Cup of Tea Solves Everything

20th February – 14th March 2009

A diverse range of artists were invited to interpret the statement “A Cup of Tea Solves Everything” in this exciting multi-media exhibition. Tea as time, tea as etiquette, tea as mathematics, tea as war, tea as peace, tea as Empire and more…

Artists include: Lorna Robertson /Raksha Patel /Emma Scarpa /Mathilda Holmqvist /Vanessa Louise Jones /Sonalle /Carol Mancke /Sonia Paco-Rocchia /Gabo /Joanna Kerr /Adnan Mirza /Wendy Couchman /Melissa Stott /Kathy Taylor /Tea Appreciation Society /Helena Wee /Mirei Yazama /Rekha Sameer /Sue Lawes /Paul Taylor /Shafique LeFreaque /Ed Huxley /Fatima Hussein


Friday February 20th - Opening Night:
Free Tea for all and welcome tour.
Film Screening: The River (1951) Dir: Jean Renoir
Set in Bengal during the colonial era. Features 38 tea encounters. The key influence that launched Satyajit Ray’s foray into cinema. Described by Martin Scorsese as “the most beautiful film ever made in colour.” Starts 7pm.

Saturday February 28th
2pm onwards
Tea and Politics, the collaboration of artists Missy Mitchell-Hynd and Naimh Moor, question society’s relationship to politics through the creation of events. Influenced by the culture of coffee houses of the 17th century, they invite you to come and discuss the political events of the day over a relaxing cup of tea.

Saturday March 7th
10.30am – 12.30pm
Qualified Art Therapist Sue Briffa leads 2 art therapy workshops around the exhibition. Materials provided.

Friday – March 13th
A night of short films, plays, animations, performance, songs, discussion and more… around the world of tea.

All events are FREE. No booking required. First come, first serve basis

Venue: DEPARTURE, 649 Commercial Road, Limehouse, London
E14 7LW

Travel directions: 1 minute walk from Limehouse DLR & National Rail/ Buses: 15, 115, 135/ Opening hours: Tues – Fri 11am-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Breaking The Ice

A haitus - or freeze, rather - has occurred on this blog...due to Christmas, I suppose, and freezing conditions in the studio, with predicted yet still amazing SNOW, a huge tax bill to pay and the even more desperate need to earn some money in a depression... So I find myself studying the MANGA style for a commissioned education pack, and the BANGLA style for a design tender - everything seems outside the remit of this blog.

The photo above is Greenwich Park on the second day of snow (Feb 3rd 2009) and the photos below show China Blues under snow at Creekside Centre, kindly taken by Nick Bertram - he reckons it looks like surf as the snow melted, and apologised for walking all over the piece when it was covered in the white stuff.

I have been asked to submit some photographic documentation of China Blues for an exhibition in East London - A Cup of Tea Solves Everything. This opens on Friday 20 February and is the brainchild of some young St Martins graduates who have organised the show through Facebook. I had to join Facebook to take part and I have no idea whether non-FB members can see this:

Meanwhile I still need to explain the Burberry connection of earlier posts and why it has any relevance here...I shall attempt to do that in the next post.