Archive for the ‘sixties’ Tag
My mum is called Marilynne Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that. My grandfather couldn’t spell the name, got it wrong on the birth certificate, wasn’t allowed to cross it out, so had to have a second go. Marilynne Marilyn is a blonde.
Today I have been reading about Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo Affair notoriety. Another blonde in the world. Her real first name was actually Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that.
Marilyn Monroe, as the biggest star in the world and the epitome of late 50s female sexuality (at least as far as men were concerned), was a popular subject for Pop artists on both sides of the water.
Monroe died (or was hounded to her death, as Boty might say – she considered Marilyn “betrayed”) in August 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates. Warhol spent the rest of ’62 creating images of her, all derived from a publicity photo for Niagara (1953). The right-hand half of the diptych speaks of fading and mortality.
Monroe died at just 36. Boty only made it to 28.
Marilyn features on the centre line of one of the most famous of all Pop images, the one that was actually just a millimetre or two from the pop itself (in the form of black vinyl). She’s just above Ringo and Johnny Weissmuller, swamped in a sea of men.
‘Randy Mandy’ wrote of her bubbly blonde public image: “Every man’s sexual fantasy – it’s a curious role to play in life. I meet men who were schoolboys when my picture was front page news and they greet me as a figment of an erotic dream. There is nothing I can do about this, it has nothing to do with the real me. That Mandy is a pert blonde who is all things to all men. Perhaps that is her secret – she never disappoints.”
The big David Hockney exhibition opens at Tate Britain in a few hours, a retrospective of 60 years of painting. The Hockney generation at the Royal College of Art (at which I’ve been privileged to be working recently, under Neville Brody, Dean of the School of Communication) lusted to a man (bar presumably Hockney himself) after Boty who was every inch the attractive blonde.
The blonde in Boty’s painting is far from the only one in the world. The title is ironic. It’s Marilyn. It’s Pauline. It’s Mandy. It’s Diana. It’s any number of fantasy blondes.
In ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ Marilyn is contained within a flat, abstract space – both the left and right green panels are higher than Marilyn’s panel. The designs of that space have echoes of Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism which was shown in London around this time.
The 2D green abstract panels slide open to reveal a glimpse of a ‘3D’ space in which Marilyn positively buzzes with energy. Her famous legs are descendants of Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (1912).
I’m not sure where Boty’s Marilyn image is drawn from. Some critics and commentators say Some Like It Hot but I can’t find any such image – I think it may be from the premiere of The Seven Year Itch. It doesn’t really matter where exactly it came from, the point is I’m pretty sure there will be a specific photo out there that she used as a source, one in a magazine, to align with the popular culture focus of British and American Pop Art.
The vibrating energy of Boty’s Marilyn reflects her genuine admiration of Monroe as a woman mythologised through pop culture. The grey background, which links out to the lines and swirls of the abstract framing image, picks white Marilyn out like a spotlight at a Hollywood premiere. She’s a flash of white brilliance as she crosses the gap. The journey between the two green panels is short but Marilyn still steals the show, as she did in her tragically short life.
Little did Boty know but her own would also be cut tragically short. They found cancer when she went for the first scan of her first child. The brevity of her life has left her to a large extent written out of British art history. ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ is the only Boty in the Tate. Otherwise the only British public gallery holding a Boty is Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The bulk of her paintings languished for many years in a barn. She was an exact contemporary of Hockney (born the year after him). She went to the Big Studio in the sky just three years after capturing’The Only Blonde in the World’. Had she lived and had time to evolve I wonder whether it might have been her massive retrospective opening at Tate Britain tomorrow…
(That’s a young Hockney bottom right having a smoke.)
(Birtwell was married to fashion designer Ossie Clark)
The last Picture of Month – also touching on the Profumo Affair
An earlier Picture of the Month featuring a young Hockney at the RCA
A recent Profumo walk related to Mandy aka Marilyn Rice-Davies
This weekend’s wander had the theme of Profumo, a pole to pole stroll from Stephen Ward’s house at which the Profumo Affair kicked off to Peter Rachman’s love nest for Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies where all the pieces of the puzzle assembled.
The signs weren’t good. I lost my favourite pale blue & grey scarf, given to me years ago by Una, on the tube from Hampstead (where Rachman lived) to Oxford Circus. I got shat on by a pigeon (supposedly lucky but I’ve never bought that). And then I got to Stephen Ward’s house at 17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone and it had been killed by developers. Has no-one got any respect for history any more?
Above you can see the place on Friday 14th December 1962 after Johnny Edgecombe lost his shit with Christine Keeler and fired at the door in a vain attempt to get in to where Christine and Mandy were cowering. The bottom picture was taken on Friday 14th December 2012, exactly 50 years on, by Euronomad. Whilst it had been modernised by 2012, it’s now been ripped to pieces by barbarian property developers.
Lost scarf, bird shit, desecrated history – the walk wasn’t going so well.
I headed westwards through Marylebone, across Baker Street, towards Montagu Square and Bryanston Square. In the corner of a mews by the latter is the small house where Peter Rachman installed first Christine and later Mandy.
Rachman of course was dead before Edgecombe fired those fatal shots but that didn’t stop the press and establishment making him the second scapegoat of the Profumo Affair, alongside Ward who they would hound to his death soon enough.
Here’s where Rachman lived when life was a little rosier for him. He’d pop down the hill to Bryanston Mews for a shag or a chat.
To raise the tone of the walk I made a small diversion a couple of streets away from Mandy’s shag-pad to one of the London homes of T. S. Eliot. TSE died in January 1965, just after the Scandal. According to Frederick Tomlin (in T. S. Eliot: A Friendship) Eliot was disturbed by the serious corruption in public life indicated by the Profumo Affair. He strongly disapproved of the letter Kenneth Tynan and Angus Wilson had written defending Ward (although that might have been on account of the review Tynan had written of The Elder Statesman).
Eliot must have enjoyed living on Homer Row (not his official postal address but as much his street as Crawford Street, the entrance to his block being on that side). Eliot read Homer at Harvard and borrowed some of his characters throughout his career. Tireseus from The Odyssey, for example, makes an appearance in The Waste Land.
And there on poets’ corner my own mini-odyssey came to a more salubrious but less colourful conclusion. Personally I would have liked to see an intact 17 Wimpole Mews with its very own plaque, indicating respect for modern epics.
I had a bit of an art blow-out earlier this week with three thoroughly enjoyable exhibitions in a day:
You Say You Want A Revolution? at the V&A which looks at “records and rebels” from 1966 to 1970 – I went with my friend Kathelin Gray who was present at many of the events showcased and knew many of the people referred to, including Allen Ginsberg who is the person who first brought us together when I was on sabbatical writing in 2013-14. Walking through this excellent display with her certainly added a special, personal dimension. For a while we kicked back on beanbags to watch highlights from the Woodstock movie, including Jimi Hendrix’s era-defining rendition of the Stars & Stripes, perfect for US election day.
The Path Beaten at The Halcyon which for the second time in as many years brings together in London a collection of Bob Dylan’s paintings and sculpture. The images which most appealed were ones like ‘Endless Highway’ which seem of a piece with his songs and how they capture the essence of America. Also perfect for an election day when that could easily get lost.
Sandwiched between was a visit to Bowie / Collector at Sotheby’s, a last viewing of Bowie’s personal collection (minus the stuff of sentimental value) before it went under the auctioneer’s hammer on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th November (yesterday and the day before). I went with my friend Doug to whom I picked out a single painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat as The One. As it turned out that canvas went for £7.1M, the top price at an auction which raised double the expected revenue, in this case more than doubling its top estimate of £3.5M. So I reckon I’ve got a good eye. And what that good eye spied on the day were these…
ONE Lot 22: Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)
For all the bullshitWar(se)hol(e)hype around Basquiat, the young man was a really dynamic artist with a beautiful sense of colour. Bowie played Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s biographical movie. The canvas displays Basquiat’s usual mix of lively paint (acrylic) and fat chalky lines (oilstick) looking like the bastard offspring of a blueprint and a Brooklyn wall. The white ladder shape on the chest and body of the main figure reminds me at once of one of those bone breast decorations Red Indians wear and a railway line reaching westwards. In other words JMB seems to really capture that essence of America.
TWO Lot 4: Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)
Hot on the heals of the excellent Lanyon exhibition, Soaring Flight, at The Courtauld last Christmas, Bowie/Collector afforded an encounter with another group of Lanyon’s fresh, original landscapes, of which this stood out the most. Trevalgan is a landmark work in Lanyon’s journey of reinvention of landscape painting, tilting it up to become a fusion of map, aerial photo and abstract expressionist take on the Cornwall countryside, the horizon curved around the picture surface on which sea, fields, cliffs and sky are transformed into a gigantic emerald of England.
THREE lot 43: Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)
I’ve always had a soft spot for Caulfield as one inclined to a very graphic style in my own drawing and painting. This large acrylic captures much about modern life in a bland space of the hotel lobby variety (which is not much variety) – to get to anything of interest or colour you have to penetrate to the bar, a small bejewelled space of coloured glass and decorated alcoves, tucked away small in the background distance of the image.
FOUR Lot 101: David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)
I suspect Bowie bought this one because the artist shares his real name, plus of course Jones was a highly accomplished religious artist in the vein of Eric Gill. This sparse, stripped down pencil and watercolour drawing captures the agony of the Crucifixion, remembering even to bloody the knees, not just the stigmata. He achieves something truly ancient and in touch with the roots of Christianity.
I felt two things as I left the exhibition. (i) There was so much of it. Too much for any one person to own. It made me feel a bit sick being amongst so much. It must have been a relief for Bowie and his family to offload All This Stuff. David Jones #1’s Christ departs with just a delicate blue loin cloth and a crown of thorns. (ii) Having gone to so much trouble assembling some very fine sub-collections among his overall Collection (mainly of the 20th Century British Art I really love) I wonder why he broke it all up again? Why didn’t he donate little groups to museums to keep them together? I suspect his family don’t really need all £33M of the proceeds.
What Bowie did give – from my little perspective – was an introduction to my ideal drawer and one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. I heard him talking about this artist (who I, like most people at the time, had never heard of) on Radio 1 around the time of his Lodger record, the last of the Berlin trilogy. From there a life-long love sprouted. If Bowie had any Schiele’s he kept them back from the sale. The nearest is a single Oskar Kokoschka litho and an Eric Heckel woodcut figure with long boney hands. He certainly had a heroic eye for art. (Though he could have gotten arrested by the design police for his taste in furniture.)
The other day I got to touch this chair…
The year I was born this chair got to touch the bare bottom of Christine Keeler.
It was as the scandal of the Profumo Affair was exploding in Britain, marking the end of the age of austerity and heralding the new age of permissiveness.
I’ve been writing a script over the summer in which Keeler appears as a minor character so have been immersed in the era of which this photograph is an icon.
The photo session was in Lewis Morley’s studio above The Establishment Club in Soho (18 Greek Street) which was the spiritual home of the emerging anti-establishment of the early 60s. It was founded in 1961 and presented among others, on the small stage on the floor below Morley’s studio, Lenny Bruce, Barry Humphries and Dudley Moore. The club was part-owned by Moore’s partner in crime Peter Cook, another defining character of the era.
Morley was born in Hong Kong to English and Chinese parents, coming to England straight after the war in 1945. He eventually emigrated to Barry Humphries’/Dame Edna Everage’s native Australia in 1971.
The Keeler session was set up to produce images for a film that never happened (The Keeler Affair). Present were Morley, his assistant and the producers.
I recently came across another such movie that was never made featuring Keeler’s partner in crime Mandy Rice Davies. Her picture, by contrast in costume, was shot by Terence Donovan (1936 – 1996), another of the key photographers of the Blow Up generation. His first major retrospective – Speed of Light at the Photographers Gallery, London this summer – brought to light this magazine cover:
Morley decided to use one of a number of chairs he’d recently bought at (probably) Heals as a prop. They are cheap knock-offs of a classic Arne Jacobsen design, the 3107. The chair is more crudely made than its original and has a hand-hole introduced to get round copyright infringement.
At the beginning of the session Keeler was dressed in a leather jerkin, covered (just) but still plenty sexy. Morley shot three rolls of film on the day – on the first two he shot her dressed in this way both on and beside the chair.
Keeler had been a model in her early years in London before getting sucked in to The Scandal. She had also been a showgirl and good-time girl, all these activities and aspirations adjacent in England in the late 50s/early 60s.
The producers then demanded that she pose nude. They insisted that was in her contract. Morley was reluctant and protected Keeler, both with the back of that chair and by clearing everyone but himself out of the studio and averting his eyes while she stripped off and mounted the chair. In this way he protected her dignity whilst fulfilling the terms of the contract.
He then shot the third roll. He tried various angles which you can see on the contact sheet which now lives at the V&A. Morley recounted the end of the session thus:
“I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film. Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete.”
Last shot of the last roll – suitably mythic.
The shot in question can currently be seen in the first room of the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 exhibition at the V&A. As can the chair.
What’s powerful about the shot is the X-shaped composition made up of her upper arms and thighs, bright in the high contrast, combined with the echo of the top half of that white X (those upper arms joined into a curvaceous triangle by her shoulders) which matches the sensual curved triangle of the chair back. The hands and wrists also make up a mini X, reinforcing the power of the central shape. The dark V of the chair back is a massive amplification of that hidden famous vagina. But topping off the shot is an alluring yet refined face. And a strong one, as challenging as any of the enigmatic eye-to-eye starers of Manet. [see E for Enigma – Manet Picture of the Month]
Morley used the pose again two years later with Joe Orton, the playwright who best captured the essence of the 60s in Britain. I first came across Orton in the Lower 6th (the freest and best year of school) when I was looking for the subject of a project and came across Orton by chance. I’ve loved him since. But I don’t find that the Morley portrait captures him well as it gives no sense of his cheekiness or humour.
Morley also used the pose with TV personality David Frost (in the same year as Keeler), but in a less still way, capturing something of the energy which was to land Frost a chair opposite President Nixon in the next decade (in the famous 1977 interviews which did for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth). Frost, The Establishment, Cook, Private Eye were all part of the same Swinging Sixties circles.
Circles which overlapped with the establishment with a small e and their interface with Soho, pretty girls, gambling dens, sharp-suited gangsters, swinger parties, all the ingredients in the explosive brew that was Profumo.
For a very particular moment – arguably one key frame – Morley managed to transform a 21 year old (who grew up in a converted railway carriage, abandoned by her father), a 21 year old swirling helplessly in a maelstrom of post-war British politics, the Cold War and the breaking down of the class system into a strong and dignified woman, the epitome of Sixties British beauty.
So I’ve been sitting here all day in the back room with the sun streaming in after the morning rain and then the Christmas tree lights on once the greyness returned, the last official day of little white lights, squeezing out the last drops. And trying to counter the new term feeling that the main back to work day always brings with it.
All day was spent revising/polishing Chapter 1 and fact-checking as I go along (some points I marked up as I was writing which I didn’t want to labour over for the sake of fluency). I’m also labelling up the main points/sections as Comments so that I can double-check that the final structure is right.
I’m only doing a dozen pages a day which is probably too slow but I’m just getting back in the swing I guess. I’ll finish this chapter tomorrow.
Next step will be to insert some more material from interviews with the likes of David Amram, the musician closely associated with the Beats, and Hettie Jones, Beat publisher, the woman behind Yugen, the influential literary magazine, set up with her ex-husband LeRoi Jones (aka Amira Baraka, author of the key 60s play that is Dutchman). I also set up a couple more interviews today, one with a big counter-culture figure of 60s London which I’m really looking forward to. By my calculation he’s 70plus but his voice on the phone was amazingly strong and energetic.