Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

There’s a wonderful exhibition at the Royal Academy, running until the end of January. I’d never heard of the Glasgow Boys before, but I was struck by one of the posters on the tube, and found the time to go this week.

These comments are from the Royal Academy website, where you can also find the opening times, etc.

The Royal Academy of Arts presents the first major exhibition in London for over 40 years to celebrate the achievement of the Glasgow Boys, the loosely knit group of young painters who created a stir at home and abroad in the final decades of the nineteenth century.

The exhibition features over 80 oil paintings, watercolours and pastels from public and private collections by such artists as Guthrie, Lavery, Melville, Crawhall, Walton, Henry and Hornel. Together they presented a new art, which had a major impact at home and abroad in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The resultant works were, from c. 1880 to 1900, among the most experimental and ambitious to be produced in the UK.

Taking inspiration from such French Naturalist painters as Bastien-Lepage and also from Whistler, the Glasgow Boys produced some of the most revolutionary painting in Britain, drawing praise in London, Munich, Vienna and further afield. Their symbolist pictures were admired and emulated in secessionist circles in Germany and Austria.

The exhibition maps the Glasgow Boys’ responses in both subject matter and technique to developments in art which were taking place in Paris in the 1870s and 1880s. These artists sought to liberate their art from the staid, dark toned narrative paintings being produced in Glasgow and Edinburgh in order to explore the effects of realist subject matter and the particular effects of light captured through working out of doors, directly in front of the motif.

The themes of the earlier works were certainly naturalistic, but many of the figures had a formality and stillness that reminded me of the paintings of Piero della Francesca.

Here are people caught up in the most ordinary activities (waiting for a ferry, digging potatoes, walking home from the fields), yet somehow involved in a hidden ritual, a carefully choreographed dance – as if their inner poise resulted from an assurance that they had a place in a larger order. Something contemplative about them. I don’t think this is just the artist (or myself) romanticising rural life. I think it’s about a human dignity that has been rendered visually through the individual compositions.

And I loved the colours. As maymay1 commented on the Guardian website (see below): “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many beautiful shades of green.”

There are interesting reviews here from the Guardian, and the Telegraph; and you can see a slide show here of eight of the pictures.

It’s well worth seeing.

Read Full Post »

Some glorious images in this exhibition of aerial photographs of Britain now showing in Bath.

This isn't from the exhibition!

I haven’t been able to see it myself, but you can just spend five minutes watching this beautiful slideshow with commentary from the BBC website.

From glacier-carved mountain valleys to jagged saw-toothed coastlines, the UK’s diverse physical and human geography – as seen from above – is being celebrated in a new street exhibition in Bath. More than 100 colourful aerial images – showing Britain’s natural and human landscapes – are being showcased in Bath city centre. Take a look here with the Director of The Royal Geographical Society, Dr Rita Gardner.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes, especially when I am tired, I can become paralysed in front of the Pret a Manger sandwich displays; utterly incapable of deciding whether my life will be marginally more fulfilled by eating a healthy-looking falafel and humous on seeded-bread or a dolphin-friendly tuna and cucumber baguette or a good old-fashioned cheese and pickle – and that’s without getting even more confused by the sushi and the soup; and the only thing that snaps me out of it is not hunger or the need to get anywhere soon, but the sudden realisation that I have been standing like an Antony Gormley sculpture for what seems like six hours in a public space where it is socially unacceptable to pause for longer than six seconds – a mixture of self-consciousness, shame at this psychological dysfunction, and fear that the police or medics or anti-terrorist squad will be arriving at any moment to carry me away.



In these very limited circumstances (Pret a manger, tiredness, etc. –  now I am feeling defensive and trying to backtrack…) I am what they call an indecider. A recent report from the University of Bristol called ‘Confused Nation’, cleverly sponsored by Confused.com, reveals that many of us feel more confused than we did ten years ago, and 42% of the UK population lie awake at night trying to make decisions.

The report also shows that nearly half of all Brits (47%) confessed even little decisions can be hard to make, largely caused by an overwhelming amount of choices hindering the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently.

The extensive research has also identified a term for this state, dubbed the ‘Indeciders’ – collectively described as “a group of individuals suffering high levels of confusion whilst displaying an inability to be decisive, leading in some cases to depression.”

Professor Harriet Bradley from the University of Bristol comments: “With a constant stream of new media, daily technological advancements and aggressive multimedia advertising, it’s no wonder that over half of Britain thinks life is more confusing for them than it is for their parents. We really are becoming a nation of ‘indeciders’.

It is not only the ‘big’ areas of life that are causing confusion. Although politics is the area people find most confusing, with 65% of the UK reporting confusion over the policies of major political parties, the survey also found 69% of the country failed to understand bankers’ bonuses and interest rates. What to wear at certain occasions, predictive text and flat pack furniture were also identified as key areas of confusion.

The report also revealed:

Women are more prone to confusion than men, with 84% admitting to experiencing confusion, compared with 72% of men;

Those from Northern Ireland are the least confused in the UK, compared with Wales, which is the most confused region;

The most confused person in Britain is likely to be a 17 year old girl living in Cardiff, whereas the least confused person is likely to be a 60 year old man living in Edinburgh.

Let’s hope they don’t have any Pret a Manger outlets in Cardiff.

Read Full Post »

I’ve finally been to see the Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. (Note: British Library not British Museum). It runs until 19th September, so there are still a few days for you to catch it. And it’s free.

They are absolutely beautiful objects, beautiful works of art in themselves. What came across to me very strongly was a philosophical idea that I pondered a lot when I was writing my Aquinas and Sartre book: As human beings, we don’t just see the world, we see our own seeing, and then we are able to look back at the world and compare this new mental/physical representation with what stands before us.

This feedback process doesn’t just affect the representation itself (which is obvious), it also affects the way we see this ‘objective’ reality we are facing. There is no such thing, in other words, as a neutral vision of what the world is like. It is always affected by our thoughts, our preconceptions, our culture – and in this case by our maps. It doesn’t mean there is no such thing as truth or objectivity. It means that we will only ever reach that truth through the medium of our own understanding and language.

Every map in this exhibition was created for a purpose – that’s what comes across so clearly. It shows your power (the boundaries of your land are clearly marked), your patriotism (other countries are seen in relation to your own), your military intention (you want to see what the hedges and ditches really look like, so you will recognise them on the battlefield), your faith (Jerusalem is placed at the very centre of the world in many of the medieval maps).

I took particular personal delight in examining a map of Rome by Leonardo Bufalini, a woodcut from 1551. It’s the first large-scale map of the city to have been been created since 200AD. Peering around the bottom half of the map, almost mid-way between the Vatican and Circus Maximus, just above the ‘VIA IVLIA’, I found the plan of a building marked ‘S. TOMAS’, which is the seminary where I trained to be a priest from 1992-97 – the Venerable English College. Fantastic to think that all those centuries ago this particular building, one of thousands in Rome, was caught in the gaze of Bufalini, and sits there now in the British Library. But this was just a few years before it became a seminary for English priests.

Here are some thoughts by Rachel Campbell Johnston about the exhibition:

The art of map-making is an ancient one. It’s hardly surprising: over the centuries, as cartographers crept their slow way across the surface of the planet, the pictures that they created helped people to fit the myriad scattered fragments of a sprawling geographical puzzle into place. But, as the face of the world has grown ever more familiar, have we come to think of the map merely as a literal translation? Accurate, objective and useful it may be but where, many may wonder as they anticipate the British Library’s latest exhibition, is the creative flare that can turn a dry topographical record into a fertile territory for imaginative exploration?

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art is a show to overturn such expectations. It leads the visitor — a bit like some erstwhile explorer — on a creative adventure around the back of that flat piece of paper we think of as the world. Drawing on the finest collection of maps on this planet — the British Library has more than four million to choose from, the vast majority of which are only very rarely, if ever, put on public display — the exhibition sets out to make clear that these pictures are about far more than mere physical description. They are a series of subjective images, each shaped by the beliefs and desires, the ambitions and prejudices, the passions and anxieties of its period.

The spectator looks at the world from myriad perspectives. “Which is more important — the Last Judgment or the correct placement of Birmingham?” asks the curator Peter Barber who, even in the 30 years that he has worked at the library, has probably managed to examine barely a third of its collection. What tells you more about a country: a picture of a dog-headed cannibal or a description of its coastline? The visitor is invited to wander through a world before it was charted, into lands where the unknown is as vivid as the observable fact. […]

Their artistry serves a purpose. Far from objective, scientifically created records, these images have an imaginative agenda. Together they tell a story of power, plunder and possession. They are made to keep watch over spreading dominions, to assert forceful ownership or project a sense of civic pride. Maps — from the medieval visions of a king as a godlike power to the blatant posters of the Bolsheviks — serve as propaganda. The more ornate, the more striking, the more pleasing they look, the more persuasive and easily swallowed their message becomes.

Read Full Post »

Despite enjoying Toy Story 3, I am still not convinced by 3D cinema. In fact the reason I managed to enjoy the film so much was because the 3D was far less intrusive than with most films.

David Mitchell has a rant here about 3D films. It’s well worth watching. There are some serious points amidst the humour, e.g. that the effect of 3D is to make you more conscious of your own relationship to the medium, and less able to lose yourself and escape into the world of the narrative.

He draws a parallel with painting and sculpture: when you go to see the Mona Lisa you don’t come away disappointed by the fact that Leonardo didn’t present you with a marble carving of the subject instead. You went to see a painting, and you were happy with that.

My main gripe is about picture quality – it simply isn’t as good with 3D films. And I think this is unavoidable, it’s not to do with the present state of technology. It’s because of the double image that you are seeing. You might say that our eyes see the natural world stereoscopically, which is true. But part of the wonder of painting, of 2D cinema, and of any flat visual surface, is that it gives you a clarity that is not possible in the natural world, which has the effect of highlighting the scene before you.

Painting and 2D cinema allow a depth, or rather a super-imposition of different depths, which creates a sort of hyper-realism. They allow you to focus on what you would not, naturally, be able to focus on. 3D, by making the experience more like the real world, takes away the magic and immediacy of the artistic surface, the same magic that they discovered 20,000 years ago in the caves of Lascaux.

I dread the day when all the films at the local Cineworld will be in 3D…

Read Full Post »

Why is it that tourists want to see Michelangelo’s Pietá in St Peter’s Basilica and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre, but show little interest in searching out other staggering works by the same artists just a few minutes away? Only certain stellar works have this mysterious power to attract huge crowds.

Tourists in St Peter's Basilica, Rome

Martin Gayford thinks it’s because contemporary cultural tourism is not about our appreciation for art or the pleasure we take in visiting new places, it’s about a raw obligation we feel to pay homage to certain objects, and to tell ourselves and others that we have fulfilled this obligation. He recalls standing in front of the Pietá:

Around me there broke a ceaseless tide of humanity. Some, a minority, simply looked at it, one touching family — from, I think, South America — holding tiny children up to gaze at the distant Madonna with her dead son. Most simply took a photograph, often on their mobile phones. As I stood there, a burly American shouldered his way forward, bent on displacing a small man of East Asian appearance who was busily snapping on his iPhone, and as he did so he assertively barked out, ‘Next!’

He had, I realised, understood precisely what was going on. This mêlée in which we were jammed together had nothing to do with art appreciation. It was a queue to take a photograph. The urgency of the desire to capture the famous object on your camera makes it nearly impossible to contemplate. Every day at the height of the season, thousands of pictures are taken of this object, all largely identical and all bad — since it is impossible to get a good image of a work like this from 20 feet away through glass.

Gayford notes the suffering that the tourists have endured to get this close to the sculpture: the Roman heat, the queues, the airport-type security. It’s like Dante’s Inferno.

But in a way, modern tourists are more like pilgrims than the damned. They share the same focus on a few closely defined sights. I saw a similar torrent of humankind — indeed much greater — at the shrine of the eighth Shia Imam at Mashhad in eastern Iran, all bent on getting to the grill that surrounds his tomb. Once there — a place too sacred for unbelievers to intrude — they cling on to ironwork, which is worn away steadily by their touch so that every few decades it has to be replaced.

The contemporary tourist-pilgrim must visit Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, ‘Pietà’, and ‘Moses’, just as in France they must form a crocodile round the flower beds of Monet’s garden at Giverny, or in Egypt sweat it out at the Pyramids of Giza. Enjoyment has little to do with it.

The mystery, perhaps an insoluble one, is what anyone gets out of mass cultural tourism. The appeal of other varieties of popular travel — the beach, the pool, the ski slope — is obvious enough. But what satisfaction can be found in pounding round hot and packed streets, probably following a guide with a little flag, and stopping at certain points to take a photograph of something the appearance of which is completely familiar to almost everybody alive in the first place?

The difference between modern tourists and the visitors to shrines and relics is that religious pilgrims get some spiritual benefit — at its most concrete, so many years less to spend in Purgatory, a step towards salvation. Whereas the 21st-century, postmodern tourist gets nothing but a digital photograph, perhaps to be posted on a social-networking site sometime later. As a reward for the expense, the weariness, the sunburn, the boredom, the hours spent at airports and in coaches, the sore feet, the headaches, it just doesn’t seem enough.

It’s the same for me whenever there is a new ‘five-star’ exhibition in London. Yes, a genuine excitement, but also a sense of obligation, and a fear that if I miss it this will be a failure of duty, and I will be forever relegated to the ranks of the culturally unwashed – those who were simply ‘not there’. Our language reflects this, when we talk about a ‘must see’ event.

I’m getting better at saying to myself ‘What would you actually like to see this afternoon? What would you enjoy?’ Perhaps this is just part of growing up.

Read Full Post »

Six entries have been shortlisted this week to be the next sculpture on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth – ‘probably the most important single public sculpture in Europe’ (Hew Locke).

Meerkats at the Fourth Plinth by Swamibu http://bighugelabs.com/onblack.php?id=2300966128

An older meerkat proposal by Tracey Emin

You can see a photo gallery with some critical comments here at Time Out, and some extra shots of the models with their artists here at the Guardian. And you can visit the models themselves at St Martin-in-the-Fields church crypt foyer from now until 31 October.

I like the blue cockerel for visual impact and fun; the mountainous map of Britain because I love maps and mountains (and I like the way it simply doesn’t fit on the plinth). But I’m persuaded by Adrian Searle that the rocking horse child should be the clear winner:

Elmgreen & Dragset‘s golden boy on a rocking horse is by far the best. Like Fritsch’s cockerel, but unlike Locke’s work, it avoids being kitsch. The simplified detail and expression feel just right. Leaning back and with one arm raised aloft, he’s more than a toy boy. This is the child as hero of the battles of his imagination.

There’s something poignant but unsentimental about the relationship the sculpture will have with all those sombre bronze generals on the other plinths.

Golden boys don’t always grow up to be heroes. They might end up cannon fodder or unemployed, or fighting only private wars against the world. It’s a rich sculpture, playful but also serious. This is the one.

But they might grow up to be heroes, or ruthless leaders. So this isn’t just about innocence and unknowing – it’s also about the quiet genesis of war and violence, from the playroom to the battlefield.

Read Full Post »

I heard trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra at the Barbican recently. They played a string of bebop classics from composers like Neal Hefti, Charles Mingus, Ernie Wilkins, Gerry Mulligan, and some of the later works by Duke Ellington and his composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn.

It reminded me why I love jazz so much. I’m sure this has been said many times before, but no other form of music manages to exemplify so well the meaning of human freedom, as something that hovers between those two elements of the human condition: on the one hand, order, structure, necessity, tradition; and on the other hand, chaos, innovation, creativity and chance.

When you see the soloist stand up from within the orchestra and take the music in a direction that even he doesn’t know where it is going to go (this orchestra was uniformly male). When his improvisation reaches some sublime heights without betraying the rhythm and tonal structure of the piece. And when the solo finally finds its way back into the formality of the notes that are written on the page, and the player sits down to become again just one part of the ensemble. Then you have an insight into the true meaning of freedom.

Here is the Jazz at Lincoln Center promo:

And this video gives a better feel for some of the music:

Read Full Post »

A man passed me in the street this morning walking eight dogs. I think that is the most I have seen. And this is central London, not some park in the home counties.

I already posted about the elephants that have been stationed around the streets and parks of London for the last few weeks. You can now see them all in one place, a herd of over 200 life-size baby elephants painted in glorious technicolour. This is for three days only, part of the ‘viewing’ process before they are auctioned off. It’s open today (25th June), tomorrow (26th) and Monday (28th). 10am to 7pm at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Admission is free. See the poster here.

It was extraordinary, driving down the embankment on Wednesday morning, to peer through the railings as the elephants were being put in place. And to see two of them flying through the air, a good 40 feet up, as the cranes lifted them into position. You won’t get a chance to see a sight like this very often.

Read Full Post »

I was in Trafalgar Square and got to see “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”, the new fourth-plinth sculpture by Yinka Shonibare.

It’s what it says on the tin: an enormous scale model of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory from the Battle of Trafalgar, inside a 5m long perspex bottle. Shonibare writes:

For me it’s a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom.

It’s great fun! The only shame is that you can’t see the ship very well because of the height of the plinth, and because they have painted some fake sea on the bottom of the bottle that obscures the view even further.

It made me reflect on how certain objects don’t just represent particular moments in history, they actually change them. This is part of the theme of the wonderful Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects which I posted about a few weeks ago.

And it made me wonder about the boat that brought my Chinese grandparents from Hong Kong to the UK in the early 1930s. (They were from mainland Canton, but had to stay in Hong Kong for 18 months to wait for their visas.) What kind of ship was it? What was it called? Where is it now? It’s part of my family history, part of my own personal story. I wouldn’t be here to write this post without it.

These are Adrian Searle’s reflections on the work:

Nelson on his column looks distant and far away. Yinka Shonibare‘s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, which has fetched up on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, looks delicate and small in its clear plastic bottle, stopped by an oversized cork and sealed with wax. Less a sculpture than a symbol, it is almost kitsch, and mounted on a vaguely nautical wooden stand whose portholes are actually air vents, whose hidden whirring fans prevent the whole thing from steaming up with condensation – though I rather like the idea of the ship looming in a bottled fog. Shonibare’s work is the sort of thing one might come across in a coastal shopping mall, and it sits on the plinth as though on a mantelpiece. I suppose I oughtn’t to like it; but I do, very much. It brings out the little boy and the sailing pond admiral in me. Perhaps it appeals to a rather conservative sort of artistic taste, like Jeff Koons’s giant, flower-covered puppy, which stands outside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (and which has led locals to dub the museum “the doghouse”). But then I’m fond of the mutt too.

Shonibare’s Victory aims for seafaring accuracy, though those bright batik-print sails would have been unwise should Nelson have tried to hide from the enemy. Nor is Nelson recorded as having said: “Pimp my Victory.” But for all its seeming obviousness and disconcerting, almost camp, appeal, the latest fourth plinth commission does manage to celebrate both Nelson’s success at Trafalgar and the postcolonial multi-ethnic mix and mingle of Britain today. It is an ironical corrective to Rule Britannia patriotism, as is the artist’s insistence on using his MBE, which is printed on the wax seal alongside his name (the British-born Nigerian artist was awarded the title in 2004). But the thing about ships in bottles is that they’re not sailing anywhere. Perhaps this is a further symbol of Britain today: a message no one wants to read.

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago I posted about the largest work of art in the world – a project in the Nevada desert by Jim Denevan. I just came across Denevan’s own website, which has a beautiful set of photos of some of his finest sand art – caught on camera before the sea washed them away.

I love this most primitive form of graffiti on such a huge scale – carving into sand, earth, ice or rock. One of the best scenes in Ridley Scott’s disappointing film Robin Hood was an aerial shot of the English forces coming together at one of the white horses carved into a southern hillside. For a moment the mythology of Robin Hood became part of something deeper and more mysterious – the urge to create, the desire to leave our mark.

You can see a short documentary about Denevan’s work here:

Read Full Post »

I was coming home on the bus past Green Park and saw a line of multi-coloured elephants over the fence. What a beautiful sight!

Elephant Parade is a conservation campaign that shines a multi-coloured spotlight on the urgent crisis faced by the endangered Asian elephant. Brought to you by www.elephantfamily.org, the event sees over 250 brightly painted life-size elephants located over central London this summer.

Each decorated by a different artist or celebrity, the elephants brighten and beautify the city, enhancing every park, street corner and building they grace. Running from May to July 2010, this is London’s biggest outdoor art event on record. With an estimated audience of 25 million, we aim to raise £2 million for the Asian elephant and benefit 20 UK conservation charities.

All of our elephants are for sale by auction and every bid you place is a bid for habitat. Mini elephants are available at Selfridges, 80 Regent St, 36 Carnaby St and Greenwich Central Market or at the elephant parade online shop. Happy elephant spotting!

You can see a slideshow of some of the more interesting designs here. There is a routemap here. And here are some photos:

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

In my previous post I used a photo of some London graffiti by Banksy to illustrate the theme of surveillance. It’s of a child painting an enormous political slogan about Big Brother society on a wall that is being scanned by a real CCTV camera! (See the images below.)

This is how he did it:

Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to produce what is believed to be his biggest work yet in central London.

The secretive graffiti artist managed to erect three storeys of scaffolding behind a security fence despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

Then, during darkness and hidden behind a sheet of polythene, he painted this comment on ‘Big Brother’ society.

Yesterday the scaffolding gang returned to remove all evidence – again without the camera operator stopping them.

The work, above a Post Office yard in Newman Street near Oxford Circus, shows a small boy, watched by a security guard, painting the words: ‘One nation under CCTV.’

Andrew Newman, 35, a businessman from Dulwich, who works locally, said: ‘It was only on Sunday morning that the Post Offices guys realised what had happened.’

One nation under CCTV by David Boyle.

And then, of course, it got removed, and the camera could get on with its business again:

Read Full Post »

It’s six months since I started the blog — so I’ve kept my resolution, and seen this experimental period through to its end.

I won’t give another profound reflection here on the nature of blogging, the transformation of human identity wrought by the internet, the psychology of self-doubt experienced whenever the stats page opens up, etc. This is just to say that I’ve decided to keep going and see where it all ends up.

I thought of changing the name to ‘Bridges, Tangents, and Piers’. I was in Llandudno this morning; a beautiful seaside town on the north Wales coast. It’s got one of those classic British piers, beloved of so many childhood holidays.

Llandudno Pier by Welshdan.

Llandudno pier

As a child, for me, piers were up there with bridges and tangents as objects of fascination and awe. I suppose a pier is quite literally a bridge to nowhere, a tangent caressing the curvature of the earth’s surface. It’s a suspension of disbelief — walking on water, gliding with the seagulls, and for just a moment believing you could keep walking and step out into the beyond.

My first ever screenprint for O-level art was a pier. The first layer of ink created a dark and slightly frightening latticework of pillars and crossbeams reaching down into the waves. And then in the next layer of colour, leaping from the end of the pier, was an Icarus-type figure — his wings splayed behind him like an angel, caught in that split second of uncertainty before he discovers whether he will sink or soar.

Read Full Post »

An old friend, Fr Martin Boland, has recently started blogging. Do take a look at his site: The Invisible Province.

Provincetown Harbor horizon just after dusk (folded) by Chris Devers.

I couldn't find an image of The Invisible Province, so here is Provincetown Harbour...

Here is his mission statement (I’m sure he would hate that phrase):

An attempt to map some of the features of the cultural landscape while challenging the current orthodoxy that culture and faith inevitably exist in opposition. The Invisible Province seeks to show that modern culture cannot sever itself from questions of transcendence and faith and nor can faith distance itself from culture. In surveying the fault lines between culture and faith, The Invisible Province reimagines this relationship and suggests avenues for mature dialogue.

Just to give you a taste of his writing, these lines come from his post about fashion designer Alexander McQueen:

But McQueen’s importance will not be based on his preoccupation with mortality or the tragic nature of his own death. His importance will lie in the fact that he could take a roll of fabric and in his mind’s eye, he could see how it might transform the human form: lengthen legs; broaden shoulders; pinch a waist. Combining this interior knowledge with his store of cultural references from history, religion and society made for new levels of creativity. McQueen understood that in societies where the visually crude and crass predominate, a garment of transforming beauty could still seduce us. Fashion, for a brief moment, could make us pause and wonder. His legacy is not death, but beauty.

And here is the opening paragraph of his review of the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain:

A common criticism levelled at contemporary artists is that they don’t know how to paint. Chris Ofili certainly does. The current retrospective at Tate Britain presents him as the most painterly of painters. His works are all about the sensual layering of paint; the celebration of virtuoso technique; the fusing of colour and pattern that calls to mind the printed textiles of Nigeria, Ofili’s ancestral home. Not content with exuberant brushwork, he decorates his works with an infectious rash of psychedelic ornamentation, a multi-coloured braille. Collaged magazine images and glitter fizz and spark. Images are sampled from popular black culture (the pimps, dealers and prostitutes of blaxploitation films) or religious iconography (the Virgin Mary, the Last Supper) and then mashed up on the canvas. And, somewhere, you will find the unmistakable signature of the artist: a lump of elephant dung elevated to the status of a modern totem. “[Using the dungballs is] a way of raising the paintings up from the ground,” explains Ofili, “and giving them a feeling that they’ve come from the earth rather than simply being hung on a wall.” In Ofili’s hip-hop aesthetic the beautiful and the degrading, the sacred and profane, history and culture bump and grind to a sweaty rhythm.

I think the blog will be well worth following.

Read Full Post »

I went to my first proper poetry reading this week. The editor of the magazine ‘Poetry Wales’ introduced a number of poets she has published recently, including an old friend of mine, Samantha Rhydderch. You can see her website here.

It was a dingy basement in a west London cafe (the Troubadour), full of atmosphere and history. It became an unexpected pilgrimage from me, as three of my teenage heroes had played within these very walls: Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix. There were faded photos to prove it.

The whole event felt countercultural, even subversive. A group of wonderful, talented people, who could have shared their words with two billion people over the internet, simply by recording themselves at home and posting to YouTube. Instead of that, they chose to travel six hours on a train from Wales so that a tiny audience (50 at the most) could actually hear the sounds of the words as they came from their mouths, feel their breath, see them in the flesh, and taste the experience face to face.

magnetic poetry by surrealmuse.

Paper publishing itself is almost an anachronism. But the editor gave a lovely speech about how the printed word, above all for poetry, gives you a stillness and space in which to hold the words, that is simply not possible in any digital medium.

My favourite first line of the evening: ‘Every crashed marriage has its own black-box…’ (I’m writing from memory; and I apologise that I can’t remember the writer’s name – perhaps he can post his poem here…) My favourite newly discovered fact: That the lettuce was a sacred object in ancient Egypt.

Read Full Post »

BIGBANKGIRLBALOON by David Boyle.There is a wonderful exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum called ‘Fakes and Forgeries‘. I’m sorry to be recommending it so late in the day – it finishes this Sunday (7th Feb).

The exhibits ‘belong’ not to some rich collector or charitable foundation, but to the Metropolitan Police, and they are all items that have been used as evidence in recent forgery trials.

In the first room there are some masterpieces by de Staël, Chagall and Giacometti – but they are really by John Myatt, one of the greatest forgers of the late 20th century. And as an example of changing fashions within the art market there is a ‘Balloon Girl’ stencil print in the style of Banksy, the contemporary graffiti artist.

It raises so many questions. If John Myatt can paint as well as de Staël, Chagall and Giacometti, does that mean he is the greater artistic genius (because unlike them he is not trapped within a certain style)? Why should the price of a luminous painting crash just because the certificate of authenticity is shown to be worthless? (I know, because it’s a market, and we are paying for the connection with the artist and for the investment).

A lovely twist arises from the fact that some of Myatt’s paintings are now becoming collectors’ items in their own right because of his fame and the notoriety of the cases.

I learnt some legal definitions. A ‘fake’ is an ‘innocent’ object that is later tampered with, e.g. by adding a fake signature. A ‘forgery’ is an object that is ‘guilty’ from the start – it was created in order to deceive someone. A ‘copy’ is a replica of a work of art that is created without any intention to deceive. A beautiful ‘Matisse’ is displayed here, even with his signature copied in the corner – but this is perfectly legal, because no-one was trying to pretend that it was really a Matisse.

blatant forgery by Yersinia.

Much of the skill lies in creating a false provenance: fake letters of authentication, false stories about how the work passed from the artist’s studio to the present-day, even tampering with archives in order to create the impression that a non-existent work really did exist in the documented history.

I know forgery is wrong, but the exhibition had all the fascination of a good heist film, and I couldn’t help admiring – not the dishonesty of the forgers, but their artistic skill and ingenuity.

Read Full Post »

I had a magical moment yesterday. I was at the British Museum with some friends. They were there to see the Egyptian mummies, but I was keen to visit the stone tools that have been selected as the first exhibits in a new Radio 4 series: “A history of the world in 100 objects”. [You can listen here].

I walked into the room, and a member of staff had some objects out on the table in front of her: A chopping tool, that would have been used to cut meat and smash bones to extract the marrow, and two handaxes. I assumed they were modern copies. But they were authentic — and we could touch them!

I need to stop myself using too many exclamation marks here. I held in my hand, the same hand that is typing this post, a chopping tool that was about 1.8 million years old, and a handaxe from about 1.2 million years ago — both found in the Olduvai gorge in Tanzania. What a staggering thought, that this object in my hand was crafted and used by some early hominid nearly two million years ago.

The shape of the chopping tool was almost identical to that of a computer mouse. It was long, curved and smooth on the top, to fit the palm of the hand; the bottom was rugged for smashing, but more or less flat; and there were even slight indentations on the two long edges where the the curve met the base (just like a mouse) so the thumb and fingers could get a grip.

Stonehenge HDR Panorama by V for Photography.

I’ve held a Roman coin before, and many years ago as a child (when the site was completely open to the public) I ran my hands along the side of one of the stones at Stonehenge — making that connection, taking me back a few thousand years. But this connection over so many hundreds of thousands of years was something of quite a different order, and I catch my breath just thinking about it.

Read Full Post »

Burj Dubai by Joi.

The Burj Dubai opened yesterday. It is staggeringly tall. Yes, the record for the world’s tallest building is broken every few years, as politicians and engineers try to inch their way ahead of their rivals. But this is not an incremental step, it is a quantum leap. This building is hundreds of metres higher than anything within shouting distance. At 828m it is about twice the height of the Empire State Building, and nearly three times higher than the Eiffel Tower.

Steve Rose captures some of the excitement and ambiguity about its construction:

We’re going to need a new word. The Burj Dubai doesn’t scrape the sky; it pierces it, like a slender silver needle, half a mile high. It’s only because Dubai never has any clouds that we can even see the tower’s top. And, judging by the images released so far, the view is more like looking out of a plane than a building. It has made reality a little less real.

The facts and figures about the tower are equally surreal – like the one about how it could be eight degrees cooler at the top than at the bottom, or the one about how you could watch the sunset at the bottom, then take a lift up to the top and watch it all over again. It’s a new order of tallness, even compared to its nearest rival, Taiwan’s Taipei 101, which it exceeds by more than 300 metres.

But, beyond height, is there anything to celebrate here? From our current perspective, the Burj Dubai symbolises catastrophic excess – of money, confidence, ambition, energy consumption. And the fact that it will most likely stand empty for years to come has been noted with great satisfaction here in the west. But isn’t this how we’ve responded to every tall structure of note, from Babel onwards? And even its many critics have to admit the tower is a rather stunning piece of architecture. Chiefly designed by Adrian Smith, formerly of skyscraper specialists SOM, and engineer Bill Baker, it is beautifully sleek and elegant, rising in a graceful series of silver tubes of different heights. It looks less like a single tower than a cluster of towers, an organic formation rather than a self-consciously iconic object. This is surely the best-looking tall building since New York’s Chrysler and the Empire State in the 1930s.

I remember building towers as a child, out of alphabet bricks, wooden blocks, lego pieces, cardboard boxes – anything at all. And digging holes in the sand on holidays to see how deep I could go: deeper than my own height, deep enough for it to get dangerous. Dad broke my heart by ordering me to cave them in when we left the beach, in case anyone fell in during the night.

Burj Dubai Aerial Shot 103 by Sgt Caboose.

There is something primeval about height and depth (and span…bridges again!). There is a purity about the sense of wonder one experiences within these encounters. I recognise all the social and economic and political ambiguities, but I am still awestruck by this building.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

With my love for circles, tangents, prehistoric art, and monumental gestures, I can’t resist linking to these images of Jim Denevan’s enormous desert art project – which also happens to be the largest artwork ever made, dwarfing Christo’s wrapped buildings and even the greatest of the anonymous crop circles (if they are human art rather than a form of alien communication…)

All the images I can find are in copyright, so I can’t paste them here; but please take the time to click on the link above and look. Here are some other sand images by Denevan – but they are nothing to compare with this latest project:

Spiral I by ChibiJosh.

Sand image by Jim Denevan on Ocean Beach in San Francisco

Spiral III by ChibiJosh.

doing the denevan V by dotpolka.

Read Full Post »

The art of drawing lies more in being able to see the world as it is than in having any special technical ability with the pen or pencil. This was the idea put forward at an exhibition I went to last week of the New English Art Club.

It runs like the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: Any artist can submit their own work. They pay a small fee, face a panel of judges, and see if they are lucky. A friend from my home parish was delighted to have one of her collograph prints accepted (see it here) – and so I got an invitation to the private view.

The New English Art Club is committed to figurative art. There is a range of media and styles, and not every work contains the human figure; but they are all realist works that have some recognisable subject.

drawing in colors by Bern@t.

The reflection on ‘seeing’ came as one of the members did a plug for the classes put on by the New English Drawing School. What he said applies to writing and thinking as much as drawing. I’m paraphrasing from memory:

We teach people to draw what they see, and this involves an education in seeing. We teach people to look, to concentrate. People have to be trained to pay attention and to notice things. When children come to the classes I don’t sit them down on the floor with a sheet of paper and a big stick of charcoal and tell them to express themselves. They are already very good at expressing themselves! Instead, I teach them to observe what is there, to make distinctions within their field of vision, and then to put this down on paper. The rest will follow.

The exhibition is well worth a visit – it runs until 7th December. It’s at the Mall Galleries in London, on the Mall, at the end near to Trafalgar Square.

Read Full Post »

You have probably seen plenty of ‘word-clouds’ before. But just in case you haven’t yet discovered the addictive Wordle website, here it is: http://www.wordle.net/  You go to the ‘create’ page, paste some text into the box, and out comes your own cloud. The programme analyses your text, counts the number of times you use any word, takes out the ordinary words that everyone uses (‘the’, ‘and’, ‘but’, etc.), and then makes the size of the word in the cloud dependent on the number of times you have used it relative to the other words. So you can see in a flash what thoughts are coming up again and again, what ideas obsess you, and what verbal ticks you have picked up.

I’ve been blogging for just over two months now, so I copied the text from all my posts into Wordle (15,881 words so far!), and this is what came out. I’m not sure what to make of my own thoughts:

Untitled-1 copy from http://www.wordle.net/

It’s a poor person’s form of psychoanalysis: You just speak, or write, and the computer tells you what is really in your heart – or at least what buzzes around in your head. Or you could just be lying…

You can then spend hours pressing the ‘randomize’ button, which gives you a new cloud with the same words:

Untitled-2

Or you can manually adjust the settings and choose your own font, colours, alignment, etc.:

Untitled-3 copy by http://www.wordle.net/

Try it yourself – with those poems you wrote as a teenager, with that half-finished novel under your bed, or simply with the last few emails you have sent. You can also paste in a web address and have it analyse the text on that webpage.

Hours of fun, and wasted time, together with a tiny gain in self-knowledge.

Read Full Post »

I don’t like the concrete worms and the piles of pigment, but it’s worth paying the entrance fee at the Royal Academy just to see four of the installations at the Anish Kapoor exhibition.

Madness: A huge, fetishistic cannon, like something out of a Terry Gilliam film, fires twenty pound shells of red wax across an exhibition space into the next room. The wax gloops down the wall and creates its own work of art below. The crowd waits in anticipation for the next explosion – the hiss of compressed air reminds us of roadworks and operating theatres. Then the bang; the brief moment of after-silence; and the gasps and giggles and conversations. It is just great, mad fun. It feels slightly anarchic, teenage. Then you realise that the antique-looking door-frame through which the pellets fly is a false one put in to protect the real one behind; they couldn’t take the risk of blowing up the real Royal Academy. The disappointment and the simultaneous delight in discovering that it is all a sham. The same as realising that Doris Salcedo’s crack in Tate Modern’s concrete floor was really a construction in an artificial platform.

Anish Kapoor by gerard@neogejo.

Magic: A mirror – nothing more. 20 feet long, 8 feet high, slightly curved. But curved so cleverly, and polished so lovingly. If you stand 12 feet away, you are upside down; but you can see all those at 8 feet, who are the right way up. Walk closer, and you invert. If you stand 20 feet away, and look at someone just 3 feet from the surface, their face is so large and clear you feel you could reach out and touch it. Every shift in posture or position brings a new image, a new perspective. Everyone is looking at everyone else, without self-consciousness. Smiling. Frowning. Shuffling along to get the effect, even dancing. Where else do you dance with strangers in the clear light of day?

Mysticism: A wall, hollowed out and painted yellow – nothing more. But the precise curves and pigments, and the lack of definition, make it impossible to focus on anything properly. It’s not just the uncertainty of whether it is concave or convex. It’s the fact that you seem to be looking, at one and the same time, into a place of infinite distance, and into a presence that is just before your eyes, even a part of you. It suggests the mystery of knowledge, of what it is to know anything – which brings into your own experience what is really apart from you. It hints at a deeper mystery, a mysticism, of how something or someone Absolutely Other can remain other and still approach us in our physicality, our humanity.

Anish Kapoor by huhuguy.Something of all three: And the showpiece and central folly manages to combine some madness, some magic, and also something of the mystical. A vast block of red wax, thirty tonnes, the size of a railway carriage, moves almost imperceptibly along a track laid across five rooms; gets to the end; and then turns around. Of course it’s mad. There is a lot of magic too. Not just in the questions raised (how does it move? is anyone controlling it? will it collapse?), but also in the visual experience of trying to track the movement of an object that seems not to be moving – like the Millennium Wheel. The mysticism took me by surprise – and it was in the attitude of others rather than my own personal response. As the wax got near the final room, scores of people were there waiting. The innocent excitement of the hall of mirrors had disappeared, and there was a solemnity in the air. It was like waiting for a God to arrive. A sense of religious awe – even homage. As if we were investing an event with meaning even though we had no understanding of what it meant. Fascinating and disconcerting.

Yes, you should go and see the exhibition. And if you don’t want to pay just go for the reflective spheres in the courtyard.

Read Full Post »

people in the queue by Kewei SHANG.The two longest queues in Britain last week were outside Liverpool Catholic Cathedral, and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Both sets of people were waiting to see relics: in one case, the bones of St Thérèse of Lisieux; in the other, the priceless collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and jewellery just found in a Staffordshire field. It shows that the urge to connect with the past in tangible ways is not just confined to religious devotees.

The breathtaking scale of the discovery has stunned archaeologists and historians – almost 1500 gold and silver items thought to date from the 7th or 8th century. We know so little about ‘the Dark Ages’, and this find promises to open up and transform the way we understand a civilisation that is still largely unknown. You can read more here and here.

The real story for me, however, is Terry Herbert.

Britain also has the world’s most fanatical treasure hunters, who, immune to the ill-concealed scoffing of professional archaeologists, now account for almost all the worthwhile artefacts found around the country. Last week’s disclosure that Terry Herbert, a 55-year-old, unemployed metal-detecting enthusiast from Staffordshire, had discovered a priceless trove of Anglo-Saxon gold and jewellery put the treasure hunters in the national spotlight. But most of them, frankly, would prefer to be quietly tramping the fields.

“Hardly any of these characters are in it for money or glory,” says Julian Evan-Hart, one of Britain’s foremost treasure hunters and author of The Beginner’s Guide to Metal Detecting. “There’s something in their psyches, a sort of acquisitive impulse that make them go out and look for things. When you talk to them you’ll find a lot of them collected eggs or stamps when they were kids. They’ve never quite lost the urge.”

In the hierarchy of despised pastimes, metal detecting must come just a couple of notches below train spotting and stamp collecting. Yet this window onto a vast unknown world was opened not by an expert, not by a team of trained archeologists, not by an American funded research institute, but by a man who wandered around fields on his own looking for buried treasure.

Golden Ticket by Witheyes.It is the attraction of the lottery – that you are an ordinary person, that you have no more right to win than anyone else, but there is the slim possibility that in your ordinariness you can achieve greatness. It’s the lure of all forms of gambling. It’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – with the famished little boy tearing open the chocolate bar in the sweet shop and discovering that it contains the Last Golden Ticket. It’s Lucy falling into the wardrobe and finding a passage to the magical world of Narnia.

It’s also, by a strange coincidence, the spirituality of St Thérèse: Ordinary people doing ordinary things with great love and great care, in the full knowledge that this kind of love is what transforms the world and makes a new one possible. Without a trace of sentimentality. The same ruggedness, resilience, and sense of purpose that sent Terry Herbert across the fields each morning.

Read Full Post »

London Fashion Week has just wrapped up. You get a taste of what it’s all about in this “behind the scenes” article. And if you are feeling a bit left-behind you can research the big “25 trends” here.

I’ve not idea whether it was a success or not. The only real piece of non-fashion news that leaked out into the mainstream press was the stir caused by Mark Fast’s decision to use size 14 models. These normal looking women are called ‘curvy’ in the fashion industry.

Over exposed @ London Fashion Week by Swamibu.

Fashion and architecture are probably the two art forms that impinge on our everyday lives more than any others – whether we notice it or not.  There was a lovely scene in the film Coco Before Chanel where the famous designer walks into a crowd of people wearing one of her revolutionary new outfits. She looks simple, elegant, alive; and everyone else around her is trapped in the musty formality of their grandparents. It’s uncritical and overstaged. But in that scene you have the sense that through the creative genius of one individual the world was pulled from one century into the next in just a few dazzling hours.

Some people try, but I doubt it’s possible to opt out completely and escape the influence of contemporary fashion. Our culture, our social imagination, is formed by fashion – it’s the air we breathe. For many, the overriding concern is not to be fashionable but to avoid being unfashionable. For some, the decision to be unfashionable, the commitment to uncommitment, is a way of avoiding the pressures.

I can’t help thinking of the Carmelite nuns that I visit every few weeks. They live in an enclosed monastery in West London, giving their lives to prayer, silence, and contemplation. Part of their commitment to poverty and to simplicity of life is wearing a religious habit. Now, it has its own style and elegance – and its interesting that in the film Chanel’s radical vision of simplicity is partly influenced by her observation of the dress of religious sisters. But the point is that the Carmelite sisters renounce their own stylistic preferences and commit to wearing whatever is given to them. This little act of detachment is not a form of repression, it doesn’t depersonalise them. Quite the opposite: It allows the heart to be free, and the person to shine forth.

St Therese arrives in Birmingham by Catholic Church (England and Wales).

This doesn’t mean that we would all be happier and more truly ourselves if we burnt our wardrobes and all adopted Maoist suits. Clothes can quite rightly be an expression of our deepest personality; they can bring flashes of beauty into the ordinary world. But it does point to an inner peace and intangible joy that can only be found with a certain detachment of heart. If we are free from the need to hold and possess, then we will be more free to give ourselves to what is truly important.

Read Full Post »

Comic Book Struck by SheWatchedTheSky.With today’s Guardian you get a free facsimile copy of the children’s comic Whizzer and Chips – the edition from 8th April 1978. Holding it in my hands sent a wave of nostalgia rushing over me. I remember racing down the hill every saturday morning to the corner-shop, clutching my pocket-money – enough for a comic and a bag of penny sweets. I’m sure there were others, but my strongest memories are of Whizzer and Chips, Bullet (adventure stories in serial), and then 2000 AD – with the groundbreaking science-fiction art. I have the first two or three hundred copies stashed away somewhere with my old toys and schoolbooks; they must be collectables worth a fortune by now.

 

There is a lot to learn from the structure of the classic one-page comic strip. It forces you to think clearly. You have tVintage Ad #401: How's Trix? by jbcurio.o tell the story in a few simple frames. Each frame has to be clear and interesting in its own right. And each frame has to flow out from the previous one, while still containing some element of surprise. It’s this delightful combination of novelty and inevitability that keeps the story moving. Above all, it has to create a satisfying arc that takes you from A to B in a few simple steps. In other words, the comic strip is an education in how to structure and present a good argument. Most of us teachers would be more effective if we had to learn the discipline of creating a good storyboard.

Powerpoint is meant to help us do this. But for most people its effectiveness is diminished by projecting too many words. A friend of mine who lectures in law has found the perfect solution: She only uses images; ten or twelve for each hour long lecture. She vowed not to use a single word of text on any of her slides. It sounds mad, but apparently it works. Each image represents a single key idea. The result – she tells me – is a presentation that is entertaining and memorable; and the discipline of using only images forces her to tell a good story, and present a sound argument. I wanted to try this in my theology lectures this semester, but I left it too late, and went to the classroom this week with a pile of weighty texts in my hands…

Read Full Post »

I finally got to Trafalgar Square to see One & Other. The artist Antony Gormley has signed up 2,400 ‘ordinary people’ to occupy the Fourth Plinth for an hour each. You can see what is happening on their webcam in real time now.

Here is someone as an example:

One & Other by erase.

I saw a middle-aged man in a baseball cap throwing fluorescent plastic men into the crowds below. Each figure, about 2 inches tall, had a parachute. If he was lucky, he threw them over the safety net. Part of the fun, the tension, was not knowing if the daring plastic soldier would make it. And part of the ‘art of unintended consequences’ (or perhaps he had cunningly thought this through beforehand) was that the figures that didn’t make it down were stuck in the net, hanging there, like those films where paratroopers are off course and stuck in the trees. Each figure had to be unwrapped before it could be thrown. The guy looked noncholant, a bit bored; like a street vendor shelling his hot chestnuts. The greatest unspoken thrill of watching was wondering whether he would jump over the edge with his own parachute when the hour was up.

There was so much to enjoy and reflect on. The children below were having a ball; with a frisson of danger too, because the parachutists were landing on some steps – so you couldn’t lunge easily. And the sociologists could have had a field day. At first it was an image of innocent, playground fun. Then I realised the complications: their parents. They had the height advantage, so it became a contest between which parent was tallest or most desperate; they then passed the toy onto their child, who took it not as a personal victory but as a reward for having a pushy parent. Eventually, the parents got bored, and it was back to the children – genuine, devlish innocence.

The star of the show is the JCB crane/tractor/digger that swaps the participants over. It is a thing of beauty: that JCB yellow/orange, polished by the sponsors; the grace of a carefully designed machine; the awesome size of each tyre; the memories of Tonka-toys; and the performance itself – people in fluorescent jackets parting the crowd like circus artists going before an elephant.

There was a palpable sense of disappointment when the next person got up and the crowd realised she was going to do… nothing. Nothing but sit in a pink chair, take photos, write some notes, and wave to the crowd now and then – without any regal affectation. I went through a surprising range of emotions: frustration (why can’t you do something interesting?); anger (you have had weeks to think about this – and now it’s wasted); forgiveness (I guess you have every right to do what you like); to appreciation (wow – you are just there). And perhaps that’s the point, if there needs to be one: she is there; with enough self-confidence to just sit on the plinth and look at others, at us; to invert the artistic experience; a middle-aged woman in a green T-shirt and jeans looking at the artistic event of Trafalgar Square itself. The banality, the glory, the sheer fun of humanity itself – up there on the plinth, and down here in the crowd.

And the first person who ever stood on the plinth? Christ, in the form of Mark Wallinger’s sculpture Ecce homo in 1999. All the same questions about is it art and who is he and why is he there and what is he doing; only with the added poignancy that he stood for everyone. The only photo I can find is copyrighted – see it here.

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: