Monday, 23 November 2009

Location Sketches, Nicosia

I have always loved drawing Nicosia from rooftops, and when I lived there I spent many exciting hours seeking out rooftops which would give me a panoramic view of this beautiful city, with its minarets, assorted church spires, and tiled rooves. Many flats there have flat rooves, and I wandered the streets seeking out buildings that might have the potential for a great view. I often entered unfamiliar buildings, climbed the narrow stairs to the top, and checked out the view. Then I would sit on the roof, amongst washing and pots of plants, and make my drawings or watercolours. All around I could hear the traffic, and voices below on the streets, and I loved being a silent observer. I always liked to find new viewpoints, and this quest was not without hazards. The closer you ventured towards the Green Line dividing the city, the more suspicious you might look if you were seen drawing from a rooftop. One time I asked to draw from the Delphi Hotel, which was not particularly near the Green Line, and the Manager was waiting to see my drawing as soon I came down from the roof. I never knew exactly what he thought I could see and draw from there, but he was extremely relieved when he saw the vagueness of my drawing, saying 'It's modern art, isn't it?'

I never ceased to be enthralled by the endless shades of gold and yellow walls, red tiled rooftops, the ever-changing blue of the distant Kyrenia mountains, and the swaying palms and Cypress trees. It's a theme that still inspires me, though now I can sit in the 6th floor cafe, in the Shacola Tower, and draw or paint from there . Now no one cares what I'm painting, except perhaps tourists.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Living on the Green Line, Nicosia

At the time I lived in Nicosia, from 1984 to 1998, the memories of the Turkish Invasion of 1974 were still fresh in people's minds. We were always aware of scuffles and tensions along the Green Line, the line that divided the Turkish-Cypriot northern third of the island from the Greek Cypriot southern two-thirds. I lived not far from the Green Line that ran through Nicosia, and I was inspired to write a novel about life in an unstable country from an artist's perspective. Here is an excerpt from my novel:

'At four in the morning we heard a man chanting a Turkish prayer from one of the mosques in the other side of Nicosia. The hauntingly beautiful melody sent a delicious shudder through my warm, naked body as I lay next to Tom. Drowsily, I thought about the Green Line, and the many people hidden from us beyond it. Hearing the same prayers, breathing the same fragrant night air.

From the Guest House you could see the flags that marked the Green Line. It was only since I moved there that I had become truly aware of its presence. The long street ended abruptly, cut by blue and white striped barricades and an unyielding check-point. I lingered nearby, squinted to try to see the derelict yellow villas and walls of broken windows trapped in the buffer zone beyond the check-point. I glanced in disbelief at the young soldiers standing there with their guns tucked casually under their arms............ Is this real? It looks like a scene from a film! Surely these angry young men were partying at some nightclub last night?

Sometimes, when I wandered along the section of old Nicosia that lined the partition, I looked at houses on the other side and imagined figures moving behind the curtains. Were they also looking at me, wondering about life on this side of the wall?

Deserted houses merged seamlessly and silently into the partition. Then it continued its determined path behind and between crumbling buildings, and meandered along the top of ancient, stone walls, mutating into barbed wire and sandbags. Its uncompromising form glared at me, taunting: 'On my other side, not very far away from where you stand, you could see...'"

Now the Greek Cypriot side of Cyprus is in the EU, and attitudes have changed along with the interest in MTV, and the internet. I often wonder what changes another 10 years will bring. In my opinion artists have a lot more freedom than they did when I lived there. I used to paint on the streets and get chided by Tom's friends!