Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Picture of the Month: E for Enigma – A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Un bar aux Folies Bergère

Un bar aux Folies-Bergère - Edouard Manet (1882)

The most striking thing for me about Un bar aux Folies-Bergère, the last masterpiece by Édouard Manet, painted in 1882 for exhibition at that year’s Paris Salon, are the green booties. What on earth are they doing up there? What kind of night club were they running? Some wild place that they’ve got trapeze artists flying about overhead and no-one gives a monkey’s – no-one is even bothering to look up at them. Circus Circus 90 years ahead of its time. That pair of bright green booties top left and the pink leggings – some kind of surreal joke on the part of M. Manet? Always gets a wry smile out of me. You can see this painting in the Courtauld Collection in London’s Somerset House, London.

I’m currently reading Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (appears on a lot of people’s Books That Changed My Life list so thought I’d give it a bash) which includes a scene of a visit to the Folies in post-Global Economic Meltdown Europe i.e. the early 30s . It’s in the context of a bit of a night crawl where a bunch of posh folk trawl the nighttown for thrills from the rough. The sense of classes colliding is strong in this picture, questions of power balance looming large.

Looking and not looking seems to be a preoccupation of Manet.  The barmaid stares straight out at you the viewer – the last of a long line of such enigmatic stares. Olympia gives a challenging enigmatic stare in the eponymous painting [below]. As does that cheeky naked picnicker in Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe [below] (a quick tribute here to recently, dearly departed Malcolm [McLaren] who had fun with Manet’s woman in his Bow Wow Wow period). Manet gets his female protagonists to give as good as they get from staring males, no matter how much at a disadvantage they are (e.g. a bit light on the clothes front).

Now in this picture, Manet puts us, by a bit of mirror jiggery-pokery, in the position of said staring male. You, evidently, are that moustachioed, top-hatted, red-nosed chap reflected in the right-hand corner. Whether you’re more interested in the young barmaid or a bottle of Bass Pale Ale (spot that familiar logo, Britain’s first trademark) is debatable. But she is evidently giving him a run for his money on the gazing front, much like naughty, bold Olympia and the naked picnicker (though interestingly not the woman on The Balcony [below] who is altogether elsewhere – this barmaid’s stare is not quite as bold as picnic woman, not as insouciant as the odalisque, a tad more vulnerable and a little bit less there. That is where my fascination for Manet resides – it’s all in the eyes, eye and eye, and I and aye, what a rich mix of stories contained in the women’s eyes, looks and stares.)

Also in common (and common is the operative word – to reiterate, there’s a lot of class stuff going on around here) in common with Olympia is the fact that the barmaid is wearing a black ribbon. Why is Olympia wearing just the ribbon and the odd adornment – a bracelet, a hair ribbon, slippers? The answer can be found in the writing of poet Charles Baudelaire, a contemporary of Manet, just some ten years older – he had a conviction that Nature is much enhanced by Artifice – whether that artifice (Paradis Artificiels) is a ribbon or a reefer doesn’t much matter, it is the contrast which enlivens.

Interest in Manet should be livelying up in certain quarters with the announcement this week that one of the only two self-portraits of Manet (Self-Portrait With A Palette) was put up for sale this coming June, also staring in the mirror but without quite the enigma of E. Manet’s women…

Olympia-1863

Olympia (1863)

Manet Picnic on the grass

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863)

Le Balcon (1868/69)

Enigmatic Malcolm, you done good

Last Picture of the Month: Merry-Go-Round

Picture of the Month: Merry-Go-Round

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler (1916)

With The Hurt Locker vying for the Oscars and a new offensive under way in the dragging out war in Afghanistan, Mark Gertler’s Merry-Go-Round seems an apt, timely starting point for this occasional series. I first came across Gertler at the Ben Uri Gallery in Dean Street, Soho in the mid-80s, such an old school collection that I was shown around the wooden racks in the backroom where Gertlers and valuable masterworks of other prominent Jewish artists lay idle, waiting for space in which to be brought to light. The collection, which I believe had origins in the East End – like Gertler himself – has since moved to St John’s Wood. This painting had only recently been acquired by the Tate when I first came across the collection – it was purchased for the nation in 1984. Back in 1916 D.H. Lawrence (with whom I share a birthday) had written to his friend Gertler: “Get somebody to suggest it be bought by the nation – it ought to be”. It took seven decades for Gertler to be recognised in this way, he is still not widely known and this, arguably his masterpiece, got little recognition at the time, other than from the likes of Lawrence.

Lawrence also wrote: “This is the first picture you have ever painted. …it is the best modern picture I have seen: I think it is great, and true. But it is horrible and terrifying.” Of course, it was not literally Gertler’s first painting, he had been painting since his teenage years and had trained at the Slade with a great generation, the one that crashed into the Great War, including Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash (currently being exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery), Richard Nevinson, William Roberts, Dora Carrington and Edward Wadsworth – but it was his coming of age and his passage to modernity.

The scene is infused with the spirit of Futurism. It was Gertler’s friend and rival in love Nevinson who had most fully embraced the credo of Futurism preached by the Italian Marinetti. But the spirit of it is here in the grinding mechanisation of the fairground attraction, spinning, speeding up, going nowhere fast. Gertler lived in Hampstead and seemingly took inspiration from the annual funfair which still takes place there. (I too found it very striking as a child when my father, who grew up beside the Heath opposite where Ruth Ellis shot her lover and next to the pond with the V1 crater at its edge, drew back his arm to fire the wooden coconut shy ball and whacked me on the head. With funfairs as with art – always think about where you stand.)

Gertler stands at a disorienting Cubist angle, the top is front on but the circular base simultaneously from 45 degrees. The overwhelming sense is of circularity and uniformity – literally, red-blue-yellow in three of the four groups of servicemen. The faces look more like those fairground stalls where you have to fire something into the mouth than normal faces in all their variety – these uniform uniformed men screaming in excitement or terror, who knows which, not even they themselves.

I’ve always found it slightly disturbing that the soldier on the right, coming straight at us, looks like Corporal Hitler. Talking of whom, I don’t think the horse’s arse is an accident. This was a generation being lead by donkeys or horses’ arses into a manic mechanical war which in 1916 – the year of the Somme, 20,00 British lost on Day One, 400,000 British casualties by the time the offensive was abandoned five months later in November, no progress made, a circular campaign of winning and losing ground to no net effect beyond death and destruction of a generation of young men – was grinding. to a. halt.

Gertler had a similar fight on the home front – a can’t live with her, can’t live without her love affair with fellow Slade artist Dora Carrington aka Carrington, her preferred form of address indicative of such a striving to be treated on a par with men that her femininity became confused. She loved Gertler but somehow couldn’t give herself in love, frozen by a highly conservative bourgeois background and the donkey in a carrot field effect of having men falling for her left, right and centre – Nevinson, author Gilbert Cannan, Lytton Strachey et al. Canaan wrote a roman-a-clef (Mendel) depicting Gertler and Carrington’s crazy love before the war drove him into madness himself.

Gertler and Carrington were drawn into the vortex of Bloomsbury, boarding the merry-go-round of Garsington, Lady Ottoline Morrell’s country house salon satirised mercilessly by Aldous Huxley in Chrome Yellow (after having of course enjoyed her hospitality, such being satirists). The Bloomsbury circles were broadly pacifist in inclination so this painting by Gertler is very much in line with their thinking.

So as we watch the bodies cycling back through Wootton Bassett, as we hear the radio report we hear over and again that the family has been informed, as our children level up in Call of Duty and our politicians reiterate the party line that our security depends on some God-forsaken patch of foreign land that is forever being fought over – Britain/Soviet Union/USA Blue/Red/Yellow – Gertler’s picture can remind of where all this ultimately gets us…

Now that’s what I call blue

by Jaume Plensa

Photograph sent to me today by director Mike Christie of Carbon Media

Dream by Jaume Plensa created through Channel 4’s Big Art Project

See Dreaming the Dream

Dreaming the Dream

the dream by jaume plensa

The Dream Realised (courtesy of me)

Some great news just in at Channel 4 HQ – the Big 4 sculpture on the doorstep of the Richard Rogers designed home of C4 has been given an extension of 5 years by the planning department of Westminster City Council.

The public artwork – a 50-foot-high metal ‘4’ – was originally constructed in 2007 to celebrate both the Channel’s 25th anniversary year and the launch of the Big Art Project and was granted planning permission for one year, during which 4 artists were to decorate it. The installation is based on the Channel’s on-air identity, with metal bars forming the logo only when viewed from a particular angle and distance. It is basically a framework over which to date photographer Nick Knight, Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui and recent art graduate Stephanie Imbeau have added a skin.

Nick Knight, known for his work with Kate Moss and Bjork among many others in the realm of fashion & music, covered it with bare chest skin of various hues, adding the sound of a beating heart at its core. I recently did an Amazonimpulse and bought Knight’s new book, imaginatively entitled ‘Nick Knight’ – at £32.50 one of the most expensive tomes I’ve ever shelled out on. From an Allen Jones-like Suede album cover to exquisite nude shots of Kate Moss, it’s a lively spectacle.

Mark Titchner skinned the Big 4 with panels inspired by trade union banners and advertising, the slogans questioning the on-going role of television: Find Your World in Ours, Find Our World in Yours. He came in one lunch time to talk to C4folk about his work, shades of The Waterboys’ Mike Scott about him. My second encounter with him was a great rum cocktail-fueled chat with at the Tate Summer Party this year. Guardian photographer Vicki Couchman took a top class photo of me in front of Mark’s Big 4 for a Guardian piece on the inaugural Media Guardian Innovation Awards in 2007 (which Big Art Mob won).

El Anatsui paneled the 4 with metallic newspaper colour printing plates. What I remember most about when El (as he’s known to his friends) came in to chat about his career in The Drum, the basement space beneath the Big 4, was his generous championing of young, emerging artistic talent from Africa like Nnenne Okore.

Stephanie Imbeau won a competition to provide what was to have been the final iteration. Her Shelter saw the Big 4 fleshed out with umbrellas of a myriad colours. This is the version currently in place – it’s best viewed at night when it is illuminated from within [see below]. The umbrellas all come from London Transport Lost Property Office so no pissing away of public money there then.

The Big Art Project from which the Big 4 sprang started life as a regular, if very ambitious, TV documentary series. In the original visually rich proposal for the project from Carbon Media a space was left for the cross-platform treatment. Into that space went the Big Art Mob and a bunch of interactive ideas I put together inspired by the wonderful public art works that punctuated the proposal. The Big Art Mob was born of my messing about for 18 months with Moblog‘s mobile picture blogging software after an initial encounter with Alfie Dennen in the basement of Zero-One in Soho. I was on the look-out for the right project to which to apply Moblog and Paint Britain which evolved into the Big Art Project proved the one – the first use of moblogging by a broadcaster and one of the first uses of Creative Commons licensing by a UK broadcaster (the first use was PixNMix, a VJ project I commissioned in 2004).

Besides the TV, web and mobile stuff, at the core of the Big Art Project was the creation of six actual works of public art, seed funded by Channel 4 and the partners we gathered. One of these was Dream by renowned Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, located high up on the site of the old Sutton Manor colliery overlooking St Helens, a 20-metre-high north-western rival to Gormley’s Angel on the opposite side of the country. It is the head of a nine year old Catalan girl with her eyes closed (I found that out by asking Plensa directly at the capping off ceremony, he was very cagey about who she was and reluctant to reveal much in that particular respect). Dream was Plensa’s response to a brief developed through conversations with ex-miners and other members of the local community. Initially he came up with a huge miner’s lamp but the miners themselves pushed him out of his comfort zone or at least nearer his true self

Dream most deservedly has recently picked up a couple of major prizes. Last month it won the prestigious annual Marsh Award for Public Sculpture which is given to a work of permanent public sculpture erected in the UK or Ireland. The definition of public sculpture is loose, but the location must be openly visible to the public without having to enter a building or gain prior permission. The award was presented at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Plensa also picked up the British Creativity in Concrete Award for 2009 for Dream at a special ceremony at Southwark Cathedral. This award is presented each year to an architect, designer or artist in recognition of a particular achievement for the creative use of precast concrete. It’s difficult to convey the photograph-like subtlety of the face, no more than a pale reflection in photos like above.

The moment I walked round the corner of a forest path and first saw Dream in April was one of the high points of this year and indeed of my career at Channel 4, and made every second spent on the Big Art Project over the 5 year lead up worth it. It was a moment shared with my former colleague Jan Younghusband (ex-Commissioning Editor of Arts at C4, now Head of Music at BBC) who proved so open to the multiplatform dimension. It was indeed a dream come true.

stephanie imbeau

Night Shelter (courtesy of Tom Powell)

More on Big Art:

The launch

The mobile dimension

Mark Titchner’s iteration

Big Art Mob

Violence erupts in the Art world

Remix of a video made by students at Kingston Uni inspired by Big Art Mob

That was the week that was

Golightly

Golightly

Gowest

Gowest

Not the easiest of weeks as I walked around half deaf and drowning in my own snot but here we are, Friday evening, made it. And it had its moments. Highlights included two awards ceremonies. Last night I presented the Multi-talented Award at the friendliest awards in town – the 4Talent Awards – to Oli Lansley who combines acting, writing and directing in the theatre and on TV in a way full of energy and promise (“that dirtiest of dirty words” – just been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time, Holly Golightly is my beloved sister-in-law Bronagh, right down to the take-out cwofee). I judged this category with Dan Jones of Maverick TV – we have both been building  4Talent (formerly Ideasfactory) since the early days, over the last 6 years painstakingly developing it across the UK with James Estill and the dedicated crew to the point where it has the warm, creative vibe that was suffusing the room yesterday evening. Oli has a new series going out on ITV2 early next year called FM based on the Comedy Lab he did for Caroline Leddy at C4 in 2006. He also has a series in development at the Beeb with Matt King of Peep Show called Whites. On top of all that, he leads his own theatre company called Les Enfants Terribles who did a show entitled The Terribles Infants at Edinburgh this year and last, due to tour it in 09. So a multi-talented, multi-channel man to keep an eye on.

The 4Talent Awards  were hosted with great aplomb by stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall, talented well beyond his 19 years, with fine comic judgment. Other entertainment came from the versatile jaw of Beardyman.

Winners were a rich mix ranging from Hollyoaks’ Emma Rigby for Dramatic Performance to Rose Heiney for Comedy Writing, from Dan & Adrian Hon of Six to Start for Multiplatform to Robert Glassford & Timo Langer for Directing (this last presented by my colleague Peter Carlton of FilmFour with whom I had a lovely rabbit before the presentations, the two of us equally infectious so no danger of adding to overall global germ activity).

To start the week I had the pleasure of attending the announcement of this year’s Turner Prize winner at the Tate. I arrived with Jan Younghusband, fellow Commissioning Editor for Arts & Performance TV, who introduced me to the ITN team that was shooting the event live for Channel 4 News. The looming gothic cowboy with the handle-bar moustache who walked by me with his looming gothic girlfriend was Nick Cave. He first entered my life with the Bad Seeds on The Firstborn is Dead over two decades ago now. On this night he passed by in the flesh like an extra from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which I watched again recently – fabulous film, Kris Kristopherson was perfect as the Jim Morrison-style gunslinger-cum-rock messiah).

A while later another messiah, model for that humungous roadside crucifixion that is the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry who was wearing a fetching art student-designed post-it note dress. Not too often I get the chance to say stuff like ‘Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry’ or spout my theories about avant-garde art 1900-1970 to two luminaries of that world but we had a great chat and a consensus on how difficult it has been to innovate in the wake of that huge Modernist arc that went to the roots of every aspect of painting and art over those seven decades.

That was, of course, the Biggie but other chats included John Woodward of the UK Film Council (who agreed, through not quite gritted teeth, that FilmFour has had an awesome year with its string of Irish tales of waiting), and TV types like Roy Ackerman of Diverse and Michael Waldman (Operatunity). Art critic Richard Cork (The Listener – why on earth don’t they bring it back?), Alan Yentob of BBC’s Imagine (the Woody Allen of British TV, gets to make whatever he wants, quietly, no questions asked), Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine, were all swilling around. Enjoyed the walk home past the neon courtyard of the Chelsea College of Art and through the rainy backstreets of Pimlico

A final high point of the week takes us from art to architecture. I was having a meeting with RDF, who make Secret Millionaire, and Zopa, the interesting online finance service (interesting and finance – not words I often invite out to the same sentence). The fella from Zopa was asking about the Channel 4 building as we headed up the particular red of the stairs (the colour is lifted from the Golden Gate Bridge which is a delightful thing to think about every morning) – were Channel 4 the first occupiers? was it purpose built? etc. – I told him what a fine building it was bar a few flaws which I’d love to pass on to the bloke who designed it, like there’s no Gents on the side of the floor I work on, two Ladies instead. The delicious irony was that the RDF rep was Zad Rogers, son of Lord/Richard, the architect of C4 HQ in Horseferry Road – we revealed this after a while of course as – as in that essay on Iago by WH Auden in The Dyer’s Hand (Joker in the Pack) which velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch (RIP) drew our teenage attention to – there’s no satisfaction in a practical joke without the final revelation.

to be or not to be?

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel

What kind of pencil shall I use?

Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I’ll draw a sketch of thee,
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?

Painting: Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)

Poem: by Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

Violence in the Art World

Office Stationery takes on Art Materials in a battle to the death…

created by: Lafeya Agwosi, Aimi Awang, Jihge Baek, Sally Barrett-Spring, Sarah Cupitt, Alice Dupre, Jonathan Harris, Blair Mowatt – winners of Germ 07

inspired by: Big Art Mob

Under Dog

BAFTA award

Hot off the presses – Big Art Mob has been nominated for a TV BAFTA in the Interactivity category (the only interactive/cross-platform category in the TV Awards). Now that’s lifted what started out as something of a drudgy day a bit!

The competition is:

  • Dr Who Comic Maker
  • Spooks Interactive
  • The X Factor

So no problems there then… ;-)

Congratulations to the small but perfectly formed BAM team at Moblog:tech, Edition Design and Planet Freelance (headed by Nick Pearson).

[Picture courtesy of AFP]

Too Long in Exile

stolen paintings

I’m sitting here in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich with in front of me a copy of ‘Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the year 1904’ published in Dublin by Thom & Co. (Limited) of Middle Abbey-Street. 1904 is the year in which Joyce’s Ulysses is set. This big red volume is the reference book Joyce used to recreate the detail of Dublin from exile here in Zurich. Joyce came to the city on leaving Dublin in 1904 (hence the choice of date for the novel – it is Dublin as fixed at the point of exile) accompanied by his other half, Nora Barnacle. They moved on to Italy/Trieste, back to Zurich, and on to Paris. Much of Ulysses (1922) was written here in Zurich. Joyce left occupied France in 1940 for Zurich where he died in 1941 (aged 59) and is buried.

So I’m flying in this morning with my iPod Shuffle on and up pops Van the Man singing ‘Too Long in Exile‘ with the line “just like James Joyce, baby / Too long in exile” – one of those meant to be moments.

And on the subject of Abbey Street and occupied France, in my hands is a copy of a classy thriller ‘The 6th Lamentation‘ by William Brodrick whose two central characters are a monk and a victim of the occupation of Paris. Another key character is a refugee to Switzerland. So I’m psyched for the Stiftung James Joyce.

I’m welcolmed by a friendly American academic and by the Director and prime mover of the Foundation, Fritz Senn, a Joyce specialist and as near as a Swiss man can be to being Irish.

In the back of Thom’s is an advert for Uska-Slan – Water of Health – in the form of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Table Waters. Just the kind of ad Leopold Bloom would have dealt in. I’m fresh from a lunchtime conversation which included the benefits of Badoit and the insanity of bottled still water. There’s a wonderful passage in Ulysses about water I heard declaimed atop the martello tower in Sandycove, South Dublin on the centenary Bloom’s Day on 16th June 2004.

I can, for example, look up my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough (PoorTown) and see exactly who lived there in 1904. Mrs Grace at No. 24. A draper at No. 1, a jeweller at No. 14 and Mr John Killen of the GPO at No. 16. It tells you where the pillar boxes were (“Pillar Letter Box adjoining Raglan-road”). I’ve just spotted my father-in-law’s namesake (Murphy, James, esq.) at No. 26 Clyde-road which was valued at 70 pounds – and a certain William McGee at Cobourg-place (next door to Jasper Monahan the spirit grocer, which I assume is a far more colourful name for an off-licence).

My wife has now lived in London – many miles away from the cemetry at Kilbroney, Co. Louth where James Murphy after James Murphy is buried – for more years than she’s lived in Ireland – she went past the mid-point a couple of years ago, very significant really.

When I was in Ireland for the summer holidays last year, staying at said sister-in-law in Ballybough, I picked up a copy (at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham) of ‘That Neutral Island‘ by Clair Wills about the Irish home front in the Second World War. I often wonder what similarities and differences there are between the Irish neutrality and the Swiss. Joyce spent most of the First World War (July 1915 to October 1919) in Zurich, as well as getting the permit for entry from occupied France in late 1940.

A few weeks ago there was a big art robbery just outside Zurich from another Foundation – the Emil Buhrle Foundation. Buhrle was a Zurich-based, German born industrialist who sold arms to the Third Reich. After the war 13 paintings in the collection, which was raided in February by armed masked men, appeared on a list of art looted by Nazis from Jews and eventually he handed them over, getting some compensation from the Swiss government. The provenance of other works in the collection remains shady. Much like the Russian collection currently on show in the Royal Academy, London (in the From Russia exhibition), where the British government had to provide an official ‘safe passage’ document to insulate the dubious pieces from any chance of investigation and return to their rightful owners – Russia’s art galleries are peppered with works ‘nationalised’ after the Revolution or looted in the Second World War, many ultimately from murdered Jews. So one has limited sympathy for the Emil Buhrle Foundation as whose work the masked raiders with the Slavic accents actually stole is a moot point.

I recently came across this quotation by the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and man behind another foundation, this one a Foundation for Humanity, which bears his name) Elie Wiesel (through A.Word.A.Day – a daily email with an interesting new word – might have been Joyce’s cup of tea [my philisophical Zurchner taxi driver earlier today was tickled pink by this British idiom]):

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And this popular one attributed to Edmund Burke also comes to mind from the Last Message SMS competition on Lost Generation:

“It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Reckon I’ll give the last word to Van the Man (not to be confused with White Van Man – the Buhrle robbery was carried out in a white panel van) and his collaborator on ‘Song of Being a Child‘, Peter Handke (not Swiss but Austrian like Adolf Hitler and Simon Wiesenthal, born in 1942, also a collaborator with Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire], a writer who has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the US and for the last two decades Paris):

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you
Why am I here and why not there
Why did time begin and where does space end
Isn’t what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream
Does evil actually exist in people
Who really are evil
Why can’t it be that I who am
Wasn’t before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am

A little more magic from the Hiberno-Germanic melting pot.

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort?

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