Out of Africa

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,”

And so in the lilting Danish accent of Meryl Streep, opens Out of Africa, a 1986 film directed by Sydney Pollack.

With sweeping plains of East Africa in view, an attractive cast including Streep and Robert Redford, bolstered by a beautiful musical score by John Barry, ‘Out of Africa‘ went on to win 7 Academy Awards and box office earnings of over USD $227 million.

Based on the memoir with the same title by Danish author Karen Blixen, [Isak Dinesen] the original book was first published in 1937, and recounts events of the seventeen years when Blixen made her home in Kenya, then called British East Africa. The film script was adapted with additional material from Dinesen’s book Shadows on the Grass and other sources.

The book’s title is probably an abbreviation of the famous ancient Latin adage,

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi.

Pliny, The Elder

Out of Africa, always something new.

The book and film are a lyrical meditation on Blixen’s life on her coffee plantation, as well as a tribute to some of the people who touched her life there. It provides a vivid snapshot of African colonial life in the last decades of the British Empire.

Noted for its melancholy, nostalgic and elegiac style, biographer Judith Thurman describes Out of Africa using an African tribal phrase:

clear darkness.

The tale covers the deaths of at least five of the important people in Blixen’s life, and is a meditation on her feelings of loss and nostalgia. She describes her failed business, and comments wryly on her mixture of despair and denial, of the sadness she faces there. A brave and hard working woman for whom almost nothing flows smoothly: marriage, love, business, health. Everything is challenging, even crushing.

Why then is such a story, so sad and so melancholy, yet so enduringly popular among movie goers and readers?

Perhaps in true modernist and existentialist style, Blixen captures the feeling of living, the sights, smells, and sensations of a foreign land and the strange and diverse people she meets there. The bitter-sweetness of existence is shared with us through her experience, marked by love, loss, desire, knowing, holding and surrendering.

Blixen was admired by her contemporaries including Ernest Hemingway, who is reported to have said on winning his own Nobel prize in 1954,

I would have been happy – happier – today if the prize had been given to that beautiful writer Isak Dinesen.

The Poet Who Painted With His Words

Guillaume Apollinaire [1880-1918], part of the Modernist set of artists, writers and thinkers who gathered in Paris around the turn of the century, was a unique poet who combined text and images into a new form of poetry, the Calligramme.

Champion of the avant-garde, writer and art-critic Apollinaire explained and defended Cubism and other experimental art forms to a suspicious public.  At a time of rapid change and a growing gulf between classical forms of traditional art and the emerging popular art forms of cinema and the phonograph, Apollinaire sought to bridge the divide and express Modernism with his poetry.

Through the Calligramme, Apollinaire created a “written portrait”, a “poem picture”. He sought to express the unfolding Modernism and unchain his readers from the conventions of poetry – to read and see something new.

You can see more about Guillaume Apollinaire via this brilliant video from TED-ED.

Folkenroth Fever

We are pleased to share this next guest blog by Damien Shalley. 

Damien Shalley enjoys breathing the cold air of solitude – as long as he’s got some company whilst doing so.  He’d hang an original Folkenroth in his apartment if he could afford one – an original Folkenroth or an apartment.

If you have a piece to submit to Bear Skin please don’t hesitate to contact me at jennifer@bearskin.org


Folkenroth Fever!


Damien Shalley


The dull corpus of your Bear Skin correspondent was infected by a fever in the mid 2000’s, a fever which to date has not been cured.  No, not Influenza “A” or “B”, but something heretofore unknown called Influenza “F”.  “F” for Folkenroth – Caroline Folkenroth, to be precise.  This utterly underrated artist (married name Taulbee) first made her presence felt in the early noughties and by mid-decade was regarded by art commentators as one of the then ascendant “New Gothics”.

With her modernist works depicting a stylised and sometimes confronting take on female beauty (and her later, somewhat alarming surrealist pieces depicting abject despair – or her version of it at least), Folkenroth enjoyed a degree of success due to the relative accessibility of her painted imagery.  You didn’t need to be an art scholar to appreciate the emotions present in her work – she seemed to transfer her feelings directly to the canvas for viewers to experience directly.  Her pieces possess a wondrous feminine elegance.  And of course, some have been controversial – but not for the reasons you might think.

FOLKENROTH-folkenroth - mermaid


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Too obvious? – “Water of Life”

Folkenroth’s early pieces were defined by an obvious folk art style that some critics suggested was deliberate – a commentary on art snobbery or at the very least a pre-meditated ploy to create ripples of controversy with “outsider art” that would ultimately lead her to wider recognition.  Others with less kind assessments suggested that her style was the unfortunate result of a lack of training –artistic naiveté.  It is difficult to look at “Delphian Waters” and not agree.  (Folkenroth did have some formal training but is largely self-taught).

FOLKENROTH caroline-taulbee-FAIL-delphian-waters

Folkenroth fail – “Delphian Waters”

She also commonly utilised fantastical themes at this time – fantasy is prevalent in this phase of her artistic journey – but was also accused by some of relying on clichés.  “Oh Caroline, no!”  What’s a girl to do girl?  Well…

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“A Simple Sight for Sore Eyes”

FOLKENROTH-folkenroth - confrontation of guilt

As her self-awareness grew, Folkenroth’s work took on a new tone and complexity. In the mid 2000’s her output took a sudden, feverishly exciting turn guaranteed to put critics into a flat spin.  Her whimsical, lightly-coloured, quietly emotional art took a sharp left turn into oppressively sombre black and grey surrealism and warning-sign red nightmare images.  And it’s great!  She delivered some truly striking and often unnerving works.  The critics took a second look, the galleries clamoured for her pieces and the art world’s “Lilith” faction adopted her as a cause célèbre.  The viewing public were energised and inspired, and Folkenroth was knocking on the door of art world fame.  And then…nothing.  (Well, nothing much).

Art – modern art in particular – can be as fickle a business as pop music.  Trends come and go, and those in the right place at the right time get to ride the wave – for a while.  Unless your career is well-managed (like Damien Hirst’s, whom some might argue is more “managed” than it is “material”), you can flounder.  For whatever reason, Folkenroth never hit her stride and never succeeded in the way that many felt she could have.

FOLKENROTH-folkenroth - vulnerabilty

Folkenroth faded to a very significant degree after her mid 2000s peak and has most recently taken up sculpture.  Some of her works – she is fond of smiling angels – are very technically accomplished and as evocative as her best paintings.  (She also works in wax to a lesser extent).  Folkenroth has had involvement with A.R.T Research Enterprises – a bronze sculpture foundry working closely with the arts community to deliver highly technically accomplished sculptural capabilities.  Her paintings and her sculpted works almost never appear together though and must be sought out seperately.  The Lilith Gallery in Toronto, Canada holds a significant collection of her paintings, ensuring public access to her legacy pieces.  Folkenroth prides herself on having created her own “stylized visual language” as she call it and continues to work towards creating “a visually beautiful, sensual, and emotional euphoric experience” for viewers of her pieces.  Let’s hope she keeps doing just that.  Ultimately, what her artistic future holds is anyone’s guess, but we’ll always have her remarkably evocative early efforts to contemplate and to remind us that the ethereal female mystique will beguile artists forever.

FOLKENROTH - creation-caroline-folkenroth-taulbee

Babette’s Feast

“An artist is never poor.”

Babbette’s Feast is a short story written by Isak Dinesen, the author of “Out of Africa.” Otherwise known as Karen Blixen, the Danish  author was a contemporary of and admired by many modernist greats including  Hemingway, e e cummings, Truman Capote and others.


Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, Hemingway declared the prize really belonged to Isak Dinesen.

Babette’s Feast’ recounts how a fugitive of the bloodshed and revolution in late 18th century France arrives in a small and humble religious community in Denmark, seeking asylum. Unmarried sisters Martine and Phillipa, daughters of the elderly minister, are unable to pay the woman but accept her as their cook. The woman Babette, cooks faithfully for them for 15 years, serving the simple fare their religious community allows.

babettes feast

Every year her friend in Paris enters Babette into the lottery and one day, when she wins 10, 000 francs her sole request is to cook a delicious meal for the small community in celebration of the minister’s 100th birthday.

Babette determines to cook a ‘real French dinner’ and begins to order the ingredients through merchants. As the unheard of fare begins arriving in the village, Martine and Phillipa discuss whether the feast will become a sin of sensual luxury to their small religious community. In compromise, the sisters and congregation agree to eat the meal but to never discuss their pleasure nor mention the food during the meal.

Although the attendees of the meal refuse to comment on the earthly pleasures of it, Babette’s gifts breaks down their distrust and superstitions, elevating them physically and spiritually. Old wrongs are forgotten between villagers, ancient loves are rekindled, and a mystical redemption of the human spirit settles in the community.

Once the meal is completed, Babette reveals that she once was the chef of Cafe Anglais in Paris and at this restaurant, a dinner for 12 people cost 10, 000 francs. Despite her winnings she is now still penniless.

babettes feast 1

Martine in tears delcares:

“Now you will be poor the rest of your life”,

Babette simply replies,

“An artist is never poor.”

I wonder how many artists see their work as a gift to the world – a source of restoration to a community rent by distrust and superstition, a means of elevating them physically and spiritually, a source of love and mystical redemption?

Thank you Ernest Hemingway!

An earlier post, Pied Beauty,  touched on the sensory experience of language. Good writing lies in the authors’ ability to make the reader see, hear, taste, touch and feel. Unlike logic and rhetoric, the power of story is in its ability to make us feel, and so, to remember.

One such writer who has a genius for making the reader feel, is Hemingway.

Hemingway (1)ernest he

Ernest Hemingaway was born 1899 and was second of six children of a Chicago Doctor, Clarence and musician, Grace.  In his youth, he excelled at English and sports and spent his summers swimming and hunting with his father. He was a journalist before a writer, and  left school to work as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. The paper’s style guide informed much of his later style,

 use short sentences … use vigorous English. Be positive.

He worked only six months before volunteering for the Red Cross to become an ambulance driver in Italy. He left New York in May 1918 and by June was at the Italian Front.

ernest hemingw

His experiences are recorded in several of his works. In Death in the Afternoon [1932] he recounts searching through rubble in Milan for fragments of bodies. His wounding by mortar fire and susbsequent convalescence in a hospital in Milan is recounted in his semi-autobioraphical novel Farewell to Arms [1929].

The young Hemingway fell in love with American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky. In his novel, the young solider and nurse, escape Italy to Switzerland overland and by boat where she dies in childbirth. However in reality, Hemmingway was discharged and returned to the USA in January 1919, intending to marry Agnes. By March she broke his heart by writing to him that she was to be married to an Italian officer.

ernest h

Back in the USA, Hemmingway worked again as a reporter and editor but he was restless. He met and fell in love with Hadley Richardson, the sister of a friend and they married in 1921.  Two months later he accepted a role as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star and the pair sailed for Paris.

Post-war Paris was a cheap place to live, the American dollar being strong. There Hemmingway fell among a gathering of  “the most interesting people in the world”. Writers, artists and thinkers gathered in Paris to enjoy a golden age of intellectual and cultural fervour. Here Hemingway wrote some fiction and poetry while working as a reporter for the Toronto Star. He covered contienental politics and completed some travel pieces.


The group of modernist artists and writers among whom Hemingway found solace in Paris is recorded in A Sun Also Rises [1926] his first novel.  These included Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F Scott Fitzgerald among others others. In the novel he captured the feeling among his peers of the post-war “lost generation” but he qualified that he felt his generation was “battered but not lost.”

Disciple of the modernist set, particularly Gertrude Stein, Hemingway developed a minimalist style which delivered maximum sensory experience in a lean, pared back sentence style. So famed is he for this economy of style, that there now exists a Hemingway App which promises to

make your writing bold and clear.

Hemingway’s writing is peppered with his love for drink and for women and for food. His work is a sensory feast. As his words amble, so do his feelings – the way a drink makes him feel, the meal he eats as he waits for his son to be born, the feeling for a woman he cannot have, his disgust for his compatriots behaviour, the weather, the feeling of the weight of a fishing line, the methodical rthyms of a day, the passions a man gives to his work.

ernest heming

Everything is recounted in a beautiful spare style, the writing takes the reader along on a sensory journey through experience, without judgement. Hemmingway does not moralise. There is no right and wrong in his world, no good and bad, just feeling, feeling for the women he loves, feeling for his sons, feelings for his friend and colleagues, feelings for his work, feelings for the nations he encounters and the people along the way, feelings for the drinks that transport him into a sense of wellbeing, the meal that caps off the day.

Hemingway 2


Between trips to Paris, Spain and Africa where he love game hunting, Hemingway published Farewell to Arms [1929], Death in the Afternoon [1932], The Green Hills of Africa [1935], To Have and To Have Not [1937] and other short stories.  For Whom the Bell Tolls [1940] was written during World War II and between 1942-1945 Hemmingway took a break from writing to act as foreign correspondent in Europe. After this time Hemingway began to struggle both in health and heart as his literary friends began to die one by one. In the 1950s, now with his fourth wife, he began The Old Man and the Sea [1952] . Of this he saidit was,

the best I can write ever of all of my life.

It won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1952.  In 1954 he suffered a series of accidents while in Africa and newspapers prematurely published obituaries of him. After these injuries caused him much pain and his heavy drinking turned into alchoholism.

ernest hemin

In October 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, a prize he is reputed for declaring belonged to Isak Dinesen and other writers. His health deteriorated greatly from here.

In 1956 he traveled to Europe and discovered a trunk of notebooks in the Ritz which had been left there from his Paris days. Excitedly he began the memoir of the time,  A Moveable Feast [1964], and completed Garden of Eden [1986] and Islands in the Stream [1970]. By 1959 he had slid into a depression from which he did not recover.

In the morning of July 2, 1961, shortly before his 62nd birthday, Hemingway shot himself with his favourite gun. A heavy drinker he likely also suffered from a genetic condition causing an inability for the body to metabolise iron, resulting in physical and mental deterioration.

ernest hemingwahemingway


Hemmingways’ writing is poetry. Poetry to life and all the senses. His existence in the early 20th century was something magical and something lost; free from social constraints life was filtered through the senses, fully experienced without judgement. His drinking and poor health perhaps took the better of him, or perhaps his sensitive heart could take no more of life.

Nevertheless, his life is an essay to his philosophy of being. A song to his generation, who had jettisoned the certainty and moralism of the 19th century and lived adrift and alive, experiencing the shocks of wars, of loves and losses. What a piognant full stop to his life is his suicide and death. Hemingway seemed to not care about the end, only the living.


Subsequent generations have moved beyond modernism into post-modernism and we currently experience an awakening of spirituality in arts and culture. Thoughts again are given to death as well as to life, to morality beyond immediate sensory experience.

Nevertheless, Hemingways’ writing remains a lovely collection of impressions,senses conveyed through word and syntax.

Thank you Ernest Hemingway.