Saturday, 27 February 2010

A 17th century Dutch desk drenched in light and silence

Vermeer: A Lady Writing (Schrijvend meisje) (detail)
c. 1665-1666, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

I am widening the field a bit here; I hope that's acceptable. Here is one of several desks that have fascinated me. Virgina Woolf's in her writing shed in Rodmell will probably follow soon, but I shall leave that gem to Sir Arthur (Streeb-Greebling).
This is Vermeer's Lady in Yellow Writing a Letter from c.1657. The sujet of the writing or letter reading female is prominent in 17th c Dutch and Flemish painting, but I always loved this particular one because the girl is looking up at the viewer with the most mysterious facial expression. The golden light coming from the invisible window strikes not just her face and the expensive clothes she is wearing but also her hands. The desk is covered with a thick, sumptuous throw, there is a heavily decorated wooden casket, a band of pearls with a yellow ribbon, writing paper, a quill and, most importantly, utter silence. I always wanted to know what the letter says. The painting also makes me want to put away the computer and make way for old-fashioned letter writing...

Full view.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Claire W's desk at home

This is my desk at home on a surprisingly tidy day ( Feb 4 2010 ). I am obliged to say, it is usually much more cluttered than this, but I must have had a bit of fit the day before this image was taken, as I was inspired to clear up the piles of papers which tend to mask every square inch of the IKEA plank. Anyway… on this special day, we’re left with my laptop, some lovely picture books on Indian and Oriental art (I’m loving being an art historian at the moment), and only one plastic wallet with miscellaneous papers in it. Elsewhere, we have a selection of photos (mainly still wedding dominated) and some cards, including one from my sister - Picasso’s Girl with Dove, a poster of which we had on our shared bedroom wall as children.

There is also a random selection of ‘tourist art’ (my latest project) - a Zulu beaded mug, a mini bicycle from Zimbabwe, and a terracotta cha pot which I upgraded from its status as a throw-away disposable cup when I was in India two years ago. They are crude, rough vessels, meant for only one use, but I was quite struck by the effort that must go into making them, just for them to be discarded into the gutter in their thousands, so I kept it. There is also a carved wooden head crouching behind the flowers which I was sold as ‘authentic’ indigenous craft by some cheeky museum shop sales assistant when I was in the Andaman Islands . It was made by a Bengali settler, for sure, but I keep it as a sober reminder of my general silliness. There is also a plastic chicken that my dad put in my Christmas stocking this year. Weird.

Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot the B&Q ear defenders (nicely contrasting with the bone china tea-cup, non?): what is a girl to do if some chap decides to build a house next to yours when you’re trying to finish your PhD? Ear-plugs didn’t cut it and the habit has stuck. Silence is golden…

Sascha Loske: Royal College of Art, Colour Reference Library

Yes, there is such a thing as a specialist colour reference library. It is small but beautiful and I feel very privileged that I can use one of the two or three workspaces every now and again. I was there yesterday, for the second time. The library is in the modern RCA in Jay Mews, next to the Royal Albert Hall. The archivist/librarian is immensly helpful and knowledgeable, the space is small but has all you need, including a Mac, and at a pinch you can see Kensington Gardens from where I was sitting. Below is a mid-18th century copy of Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty, with the fabulous fold-out prints. I do cherish those days spent in libraries and archives in London.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sarah Maddox's Desk on 18th February 2010

Another location for my desk in my house is here. This room is warm and sunny. There is also a handy armchair in here and TV in case work gets a bit too trying. I don't really like Flaming June (top left) but she was left over from the bric-a-brac stall I was manning at the Church Christmas Fair and had a nice frame.

Leila McKellar's desk on 18th February 2010

Like Sarah's, my desk often assumes the form of a bed. Like all good offices, mine is equipped with computer, phone, tea and choccy biccies. There is nothing nicer than doing a bit of work, then gradually sinking down into the pillows until one reaches a horizontal angle and drifts into sleep. Ah, the joys of the mid-afternoon doze...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The British Library desk

I cheat slightly here. This is not a desk in one of the reading rooms, where I think photography is forbidden, but in the café, run, as are the refreshment facilities in nearly every London cultural institution, by Peyton and Byrne.

They serve espresso in a huge mug. A waiter tried to remove mine before I had even half-drunk it. The wifi signal was feeble and the café full of people who did not look like scholars to me. But as I was composing a blog post on castrating cats, perhaps I should not be too censorious.

When I was made redundant the first time, in 1991, I used to frequent the British Museum Reading Room. My membership of the Library Association entitled me to a reader's pass, then hard to come by. I would read in the morning and then go to the pub. The British Council ended this idyll by offering me a job.

Sacha Loske: Two owls and a pussycat

My partner has a habit of giving me owls. His children also give them to him, so there is a high decorative owl population in our house. My classic Wade owl (left) was last week joined by a near twin in a shade I have never seen before in a Wade owl. They make a nice pair on my Swedish desk and oversee my work. Also visible here my late uncle's 1960s wind-up watch, a vintage holepunch and lots of DUST. Below a picture of the same desk in 1998, complete with pussycat and sans computer.

My Swedish desk in February 2010, with the new Wade owl in a strange shade.

The Swedish desk in Brighton, ca. 1998, when my fat white cat was small and fluffy. Note that there is no computer on it. I recognise a fountain pen and a silver pocket watch a friend once gave me, as well as two odd volumes of a late 18th century edition of Joshua Reynolds' Seven Discourses of Art.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A desk entrained

Once one starts looking, one finds desks everywhere. I spend at least three hours every working day at this one, the sumptuously appointed table in a Southern Railways carriage. This picture was shot early in the morning, about 6.45, as I sat down at my accustomed place and waited for the arrival of my fellow passengers. There's a man who brings his breakfast with him to eat on the train, muesli in a tupperware box, and a plastic container of milk. He always raises the tupperware to his lips to propel the last drops of milk into his mouth, belching thereafter. He leaves the half-finished milk behind when he gets off the train. I don't know whethere I'm more irritated by the mess or the waste.

I work here, blog posts, some idle writing and reading, some Greek study, even sometimes work connected to the day job. The days of jolly sociable commuters belong to a past time, when trains had compartments. We all hate one another


There's a post in gestation on the definition of a desk.

I wish I had a cool user name, like cockatrice or vir beatum (Psalm 112, set by Monteverdi perhaps?). I long to be known as gratindauphinoisboy or archaeopteryx but every time I'm confronted by a web page that wants me to choose a username, originality deserts me and I end up using my real name. My best attempt in these matters is the persona of Sir Anthony Streeb-Greebling, as Sascha Loske sometimes knows me, but that I stole from Peter Cook

Sarah Maddox's Desk in her office 10th February 2010

And this is my final desk - a real one this time where I have to remain upright. Strangely enough I always thought I was really tidy at work...

Notice just visible on the noticeboard my 'Hot Priests' calendar bought in Rome when on a study trip with the first year students. Also on the corner of my desk beneath purse and make-up bag poster for our next Swish on campus put on as part of diversity week. Hooray for free clothes.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Vir Beatum's Desks Away from Home, Feb. 8, 2010

The life of the itinerant academic has many advantages, but one significant downside is not having a proper office to call one's own. I therefore present my two desks away from home, one a darkened corner in a rare-books reading room, the other an inadequate bookshelf with a ledge. Still, the pages of beingmanly get produced from these poky spaces, as well as a lot more besides.

Countway Library for the History of Medicine

Home 'comforts'

Tom Roper's work desk 8 February 2010

By way of contrast, here's my desk at work.

It's bleak and ugly. The computer tyrannises the space, and squats between me and whoever might be unfortunate enough to have to sit opposite. If I had the imagination, I might think of ways to make this space more human, but it's beyond me. The difference between this and disorder of my desk at home, my view of garden and sea, are a large part of the discontent I feel at the moment.

It's part of a new building, opened this autumn. As with all new buildings, we tell the world breathlessly how 'state-of-the-art' it is. In truth, it's a shed, with furniture.

Sarah Maddox's Desk (in alternative location) 08th February

As you can see my desk is not static.

Any bed can easily become my desk. The location of my desk usually depends on the weather. If very cold like today (snow) then it is necessary to move to the spare room which is a couple of degrees warmer than my usual room which today is like a fridge. The method of working at a moveable desk merely involves being a. flexible (although not in a yoga type way) and b. happy to strew required items on any available surface that is within arm's reach of laptop and then hunkering down with laptop on lap (funnily enough.)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Tom Roper's desk, evening, 4 February (Jacques Prévert's birthday)

I take no pride in the state of my desk. This disorder doesn't encourage creativity, but impedes it. Nevertheless...

In the centre is my MacBookPro, downloading an update to iTunes. To the left, an old hard disk that used to be used for back-ups which I can't bear to throw out, and a copy of George Thomson's Aeschylus and Athens which I'm reading before I go to the Kings College London Greek Play, the Persians, next week. There's my running watch, and my iPhone. The red object to the rear was my mother's writing case. She was a great letter-writer. I wish I could emulate her.

To the right is an old pestle and mortar, in case I need to grind any drugs in the night, and a pile of books, Robert Darnton's The Case for Books at the top of the pile. Now I type this up there's a wine glass there too, but that wasn't there when I took the picture.

And as for the desk itself, it was my father's.


He was a doctor, a Cambridge GP, and this desk was in the surgery. He sat on one side, with stethoscope, ophthalmoscope and prescription pad. On the other side, patients would listen to diagnoses and prognoses. I have no idea how old it is.

Sarah Maddox's Desk on 04th February 2010

This is my desk with me at it (in it perhaps). I always work from bed, mainly because my house is so bloody cold, but also because it is the most comfortable place in the house and I am cleverer when lying down, maybe because I don't have to concentrate on being upright. There is a very useful blanket box at the end of the bed which is a lovely height for my laptop and elbows and for this little girl to use as a work surface too.

Leila McKellar's desk on 4th February 2010

Click on piccy to enlarge.  

Completely uncensored: my sitting room table - which I have only just realised actually IS a writing desk. This reflects the maxim by which I live my life: a place for everything and everything in random piles that I have to rifle though and swear at on a regular basis.

Notable items among the clutter include the fabulous shoe calendar (a Christmas present from my aunt. Open on the wrong day, natch); the button bracelet made by my lovely friend Rachael; silk poppies, a pressie from Mrs H; Tour Eiffel earrings.

My favourite item on this table is the pencil drawing of me, which was drawn by my mum last week. I love the way the big sleeves of my cardigan make me look like a Victorian lady.

The pile of random stuff including obsolete mouse and hands-free is waiting to be freecycled. Any takers?

Sascha Loske's desk on 24 January 2009 and 2010

My desk on 24 January 2009 (top) and 24 January 2010 (bottom).

As usual a complete mess. Note the bright red calfskin gloves, an heirloom from Auntie Traudel. I lost my black gloves in Morrison's last week, so now it's red gloves for the rest of the ice-age. Propped up on the desk a print from 1850 called "Winter" by a little known artist/engraver. It i...s in a terrible state but for £10 at a flea market you cannot complain, and I think the lady is worth saving. I have since cleaned her up a little bit and decided to leave her in her original frame, despite its battered state. The morbidity is quite fitting for a high-Victorian artwork.