sandwich spread

I’ve often entertained the grandiose dream of being invited to decorate those vast membranes that are wrapped around buildings under construction – just to perk things up a bit;

so the idea of acres of red and white checked cloth laid over green fields naturally appealed.

BignikThis picnic – or bignik  – was organised by a pair of Swiss twins, artists who set about gathering in one place at one time enough people with enough red and/or white rectangles of cloth to spread a giant checkered tablecloth on the meadows of Stein. The premise was of a participatory artwork. The checkerboard was laid out and sewn together and the festivities began – what wonderful fun – have a look here!


Giant-ness seems to be a bit of a theme for me: I have recently spent a few working days in Kuwait and Dubai, where it seems the local population really enjoy life on a large scale – gargantuan chairs, giant sofas, beds I’d need a ladder to climb into.

dubai bed

The gents in particular like to sit around on acres of sofas – in a diwaniya (is that where the word divan comes from I wonder?) – smoking shisha and discussing the business of the world. Outside these gracious reception chambers the buildings too are of magnificent proportions – indeed the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – dominates the city of Dubai. Did you think the Shard is big? At 310m high it’s positively squat in comparison to the Burj’s 828. And at the foot of that great sparkling spear, every half-hour on the dot, the water show rises forth, spurts and pulses, waves and suggestively sinuates, choreographed like a Busby Berkeley routine. You get my meaning I’m sure.


Everywhere one looks there is pattern and design, from the shopping trolleys to the shadows on the floors. The buildings are fantastical palaces to wealth, clad in gold and turquoise, shimmering mirror, black and white stripes. 


shopping trolly pattern

dubai shadows

The metro track snakes overhead with every station shaded by a tiled canopy as though a Titan had kindly laid a circular cloth on top and magicked it solid.


dubai windowsInside the glistening shopping malls – the focus of my business there – the massive sparkling pillars soared and the make-believe breeze cooled us as we pounded the pastiche streets. Men sauntered in their white dishdashas and elaborately folded kufffiyeh, groups of women deep in black wrappings carried public messages of personal riches in their brand of handbag – plus ça change in that department!

colour tabs

In the soukh it was rather comforting to come upon this card of colourways in a tailor’s window, a display of sparkling glamour and these green seedy necklaces.

green necklace


I have an interest in the ubiquitous use of Milton Glaser’s iconic graphic slogan: I ♥. The other day in Sainsbury’s I saw an impressive bosom festooned with the words ‘I s the ‘DIFF’; when I asked the wearer what it meant she said “That’s Cardiff that is” – it was a rugby match day. In Dubai the slogan was reversed on these tees and picked out in diamanté!


Back home I saw two different theatrical performances each requiring only a simple set of plain chairs. First Shakespeare’s sonnets – they were read, in order, all 154 of them, at The Royal Festival Hall by a distinguished company of ten actors. By hearing them spoken in sequence we were given a touching picture of the poet’s thoughts revealed as he loved and lost and aged. Wonderful words and phrases, some known –116 for instance – but many newly heard, came to life for me, lit up for a moment by the reader. 


The second set of chairs – eight this time – were used at the Blue Elephant Theatre for a performance of Bloomsound. This again was poetry, and an epic journey, though of one day only – the result of the Poetry School’s “own literary odyssey through [James] Joyce’s Ulysses.” Another cracking evening.

sophie herxheimer

Each character’s name was inscripted on cardboard and held up for us to know who was who as we went along. The very last sign, greeted with laughter, read “Bar upstairs” sporting large glasses of wine and Guiness decorated with sparkles and a little blue elephant.

sophie's sign

The next day I went to see the Folk Art exhibition at the Tate; you can see it here. I had been somewhat incensed by the, in my opinion, astonishingly patronising tones of the critics on BBC Radio4’s Saturday Review programme, who seemed surprised that sailors could sew and that everyday people make extraordinary things when they have the chance. Anyway, seeing the shop signs there I was reminded of Sophie’s painted bar advert and had a flash of recognition about this art needing to give a message – so many of the pieces in this exhibition were striving to tell stories of use, histories of meaning, accounts of lives. Artists make signs, sign-makers make art.

folk art

The mark of the hand: funnily enough in this computerised day and age the most highly sophisticated security at a country’s border relies on the most primitive graphic gesture – the imprint of our finger.


For myself I’ve been glad that my fingers have been nimble lately; the clockface I decorated for The ArtRoom’s exhibition Face Time raised £2500 for them, and was rather flatteringly snapped up by the exhibition sponsors themselves – the Threadneedle Foundation – thank you!

FTMAnd the ‘My Mexico’ assemblage is now on show in The Art of Mexico exhibition at the FTM along with very many beautiful rebozos, paintings, stories and artefacts. I’ll be running a workshop there taking inspiration from the Mexican cut-out flags the papel picados – come along on August the 7th and make your own garland to celebrate summer, a special occasion or just for the fun of it. Later in the year I’ll be running a workshop for younger people at the V&A – painting on fabric; more details of that nearer the time.

cut out birds

And I’m rather pleased with my new jacket that the marvellous Faye made for me from a length of silk I painted. Actually I didn’t do quite enough at first so when we needed more for the sleeves I took the opportunity of painting the cuffs and pocket in contrast, rather as I might make a doodle on paper – old folk art?


By the way, to get to the Folk Art show we walked through the rooms filled with Phyllida Barlowe’s colossal constructions. I can’t think of a column more opposite in nature to the glinting pillars in Dubai’s glamourous airport than this very likeable cylinder clad in brown paper and coloured tape!

phyllida barlow

Thanks to Molly, Steve and WestElm for sending me on such a fascinating journey.



18 thoughts on “sandwich spread

  1. Oh I just found your blog and I adore it! I can’t wait to see both the Mexico exhibition at FTM and the Folk Art exhibition, they both look fabulous. That jacket your friend made up for you is wonderful, and I think all the better for the contrasting cuffs and pocket! X

  2. Ah, that kind of sandwich spread…was scrolling down in search of the now unobtainable (probably for very good reasons) but much loved sandwich staple of my schooldays.

  3. I completely and utterly adore this blog – so wonderfully colourful and varied & captivatingly descriptive! I love the way literature is woven into the visual arts. Keep on creating! & Thanks to your niece Sophie for the link

  4. I love the bignik, Sarah – reminds me a bit of Christo’s work, yes? And how wonderful that you were able to go to Dubai and Kuwait, places that I’ve always imagined as drab and artless . . . but in your hands, and in your vision, the environments spring to colorful life – so energetic. I now have a completely different perspective! For some reason, the photo of the colorways (and the beads) in the tailor’s shop window especially caught my eye. Seems you had a wonderful trip, and I’m glad. Love from Wendy.

  5. There’s a lot of construction work going on at Cambridge Railway Station at the moment and much of it is clad in those wrappings you mention, though they are imprinted with the images of the buildings they are about to become … how cheery it would be if your designs appeared there instead!,

  6. Hi there Sarah. You have done it again and brought a place to life. No complaints about the heat, the flies, the congestion but an illumination of the core of the place – lovely and thanks, I even want to go!! Also is there chance we could meet up at lunch time at Tate Britain on 3rd July for a coffee and sandwich between 1 to 3pm? Love Dave xx

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