Arts and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 25 Feb 2014 11:30 pm

The Trunk is a new piece by Savio(u)r and Crow Theatre, at The Space, in Isle of Dogs.  We know little about it beyond these few comments,

Inspired by Chekhov’s short stories, The Trunk paints a blackly comic portrait of our everyday introspections.  It tells of five characters forced out of their routine by the peculiar, unexplained actions of a sixth.

We arrive at The Space a bit early, after a mad rush-hour, packed-in-like-sardines tube and bus trip from Soho, and grab a quick bite at Hubbub, the bar and café upstairs (quite good food!).  As we emerge from the café, we are greeted by travelling waifs, a card sharp dealing Three Card Monte on a trunk, and other assorted characters who people the courtyard around the building, an old church.  Once we finally file into the building, we find a charming performance space and some inhospitable looking folding chairs.  I lunge for a well padded one, front row, and X slumps into a less friendly looking one next to me.  You’ve gotta be fast to save your tuccus in this town, I tell ya!

The show is an ambling, and wander, by five characters – a maid, a professorial type, a bag woman, a traveller and the station master.  Oh, and a trunk, a large, heavy trunk, which the maid, after great effort, positions centre stage.  There is a small stage-like area to the back end of the space, but most of the action takes place before that, on the floor.  Where the trunk sits.

We are to believe that there is a man in the trunk, Dimeitravitch, whom the five other people inveigh upon to come out and reveal himself.  They talk to him, singly and in pairs, and seem, for the most part, ignorant of each other.  There are times when these people interact in pairs, but that’s about it, they are otherwise in their own worlds, and we are brought along on their musings and meandering thoughts.

No real point to this, at least as far as I could tell, but that doesn’t really matter.  It was a fun night of theatre, not deep, but sometimes deep, not powerful, but sometimes…

I liked it, I guess, but sometimes not.

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Art and Arts and Review and Travel — nic @ 25 Feb 2014 04:38 pm

The Photographer’s Gallery is a true gem of London, and one to which I keep returning.  This trip we find a trio of iconoclastic artists exhibited here who are primarily known for their work outside photography; William S. Burroughs, David Lynch and Andy Warhol.  Of the three, only Warhol based much of his regular art practice on the form.

First, however, we need food, so go to the Coach and Horses, formerly frequented by Jeffrey Bernard, a dissolute and dissipated writer for Private Eye and The Spectator.  They’ve gone all veggie, however, so we quickly flee and find succour at Thai Cottage nearby.  They are renown for having caused a terrorist alert several years ago whilst cooking down chilli peppers for a special condiment.

Once at the gallery, we start at the top, literally, with David Lynch, The Factory Photographs, on Floor 5.  These images, about 90 in total, are from abandoned factory-scapes in Lodz, Poland, England and the US.  All black and white, the mood of these photos seems not the least out of character for Lynch, whose eerie industrial score accompanies the exhibit.

David_Lynch_Factory David_Lynch_Factory_Photo

Floor 4 houses Taking Shots: The Photography Of William S. Burroughs, a collection of the prominent author’s personal photography, collages, constructions and some commercially exhibited works.  Mostly amateur in feeling, one can still see Burroughs literary techniques in visual form here, too.

burroughs-portrait-in-mirror burroughs_collage


The Andy Warhol exhibit, Photographs 1976 – 1987, is much closer to his familiar work than that of Lynch or Burroughs.  Some of Warhol’s most memorable pieces, after all, the boldly coloured portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or Joan Collins, are based on photographs after all.  Several on exhibit here, such as this piece featuring Jerry Hall, are stitched together (literally, by seamstresses) in arrays of 4, 6 or 10 images:


All in all, a nice day at the gallery.

We followed this up with wanders around Cavendish Square and a visit in a Soho wine bar with friend C, who had come in from Hanwell for the day.  So nice to see her again!

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Arts and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 24 Feb 2014 11:04 pm

A favourite venue here in London, for our theatre viewing pleasure, is Arcola by Dalston. This year they are in the midst of a Spanish play series, which don’t much interest either of us, but also host In Skagway, by KTR Productions & Irish theatre company Gúna Nua. This four-hander, all-woman show by Karen Ardiff, directed by Russell Bolam, occupies the small Studio 2 space.

In Skagway

This is a story of four women in Alaska at the end of a late 19th century gold rush, in the lonely village of Skagway, as the claims have been spent. May (Geraldine Alexander) is taking care of her sister Frankie (Angeline Ball) following the latter’s stroke. Frankie is a faded dance hall performer who had also relied on prostitution to get by, May her younger (?) sister who follows her slavishly from Ireland to New York to Alaska — and all points between — fawning over her and taking whatever scraps may fall to the floor, be it food, funds or men. T-Belle (Kathy Rose O’Brien) is May’s daughter, a miner herself, and as we learn the issue of Frankie’s one-time pimp, to whom she had sold May for a night or two.

The script has its moments, but is in general a confused muddle with May’s worship of her sister the only apparent motivation for half the action that unfolds. We’re given hints as to the origins of this madness, but not enough to be able to sort it out satisfactorily. Adding to our confusion is the age indifferent casting. May looks quite a bit older than Frankie, but the script seems to imply she’s younger. Frankie is a vivacious young woman, but described as a wretched old krone by T-Belle. T-Belle returns from weeks in the wilderness, of mining and frolicking with her Indian lover, Joe, but looks ready for a night on the town with her plucked eyebrows and perfect face.

T-Belle and Nelly

A breath of reality comes in the form of Natasha Starkey in the role of Nelly, a local barmaid and dancer with whom T-Belle tries to hatch a scheme. Starkey is believable in the role, and provides a depth to the performance which seems lacking elsewhere. Not that Ball, Alexander and O’Brien turn in poor performances, but they have great heights to scale to overcome the casting, make-up and costuming choices which have left them at a distinct disadvantage.

Not our best night at the theatre, I dare say.

A special note, too, for Arcola. This small studio could be a nice space, but the seating is atrocious. This 87 minute, one act play was about a half hour too long for one to sit comfortably on these terrible plank benches. There have been nice improvements elsewhere in the facility — the new toilets, well appointed bar and evolving lobby — but the seating in the studio is in desperate need of upgrading. I shan’t come back here until that’s been done.

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Arts and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 24 Feb 2014 11:30 am

People thought I was mad, mad, when I suggested it, but now that it’s done, I say Brilliant!

X and I had already planned our trip to London when I first heard of Kate Tempest, an amazing young poet and playwright from South London. Tempest is the winner of the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in British poetry, and well deservedly, for her epic poem The Brand New Ancients. It was on Charlie Rose on 16 January that I first saw her. I highly recommend that you watch that clip, and you’ll understand a lot about this young writer. Tempest, at the time, was in the midst of a 9 day stint at St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York (BAM). No way I could make it to see that.


Upon searching YouTube for that clip, so I could share it with others, I came across this clip, from Battersea Arts Center. That lead me to the BAC home page, where I learnt that her tour of the UK would be ongoing during our visit. After telling X of this, she checked the venues and we found that they either were sold-out, or close to it. Our first choice of Oxford — just an hour by bus — was already out of reach, but Manchester — 3 hours by train — was still available. This meant an overnight hotel stay, in addition to the not-cheap train fare, but I had a feeling that this would be something special. Plans were made, tickets and hotel booked, train timetables consulted. We were set.

Was it worth it?

In every trip, one hopes to find an event — a show, exhibit, event — which all by itself would make the entire trip worthwhile. In London, 2012, it might have been Pitchfork Disney, or shows by Paper Cinema or Silent Opera, or even a Punch & Judy show. In New York, 2013, it was Event Of A Thread, by Ann Hamilton at Park Avenue Armory. This trip? Well, it’s not over yet, but so far — as good as everything has been — I’d have to say this is it, The Brand New Ancients has set a new bar which will be hard for anything to surpass.

X was nearly speechless (and if you know X, that’s saying a lot). The 2,000 people who came to Manchester to see Prince performing in the arena next door to Contact Theatre may have thought they were seeing the best show in town that night, but they’d have been wrong. Tempest is a powerhouse performer and Brand New… is just that good of a piece.

Tempest starts out by asking us to accept a fairly simple premise:

In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves,
the things we’ve made ourselves into,
the way we break ourselves in two,
the way we overcomplicate ourselves?
But we are still mythical.
We are still permanently trapped somewhere between the
heroic and the pitiful.
We are still godly;
that’s what makes us so monstrous.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that now is somehow all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry —
but the life in your veins
is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it
Take it from the tears of the poets.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

Tempest takes to the stage with her 4 piece ensemble behind her: Kwake Bass on percussion, Jo Gibson on Tuba, Natasha Zielzinski on cello and Emma Smith on violin. This band will provide the pulse beneath her words, and a pace through those portions where Tempest falls silent and recovers a bit. For hers is a titanic performance of mostly rapid fire delivery over an hour and twenty minutes. These silences from Tempest are rare, but necessary for her and for us.


The poem itself is a story of two families and several side players, and takes place across some 25 years or so. The lives of these people are at once banal and heroic, simple and convoluted, noble and shameful. Theirs are real lives in real places with real consequences and are described in a performance style which struck me as operatic, but plain spoken.

You’ve heard of “Rock Operas” like Tommy (by The Who) but this is something different; this is a hip-hop flavoured, jazz laced, epic non-stop aria, a spoken-word tour-de-force. Tempest’s voice, one moment plaintive and thin, is then vengeful and sharp. Using her voice with all the temper of a well trained singer, she moves us with her, the ups and down, the epic peaks and disastrous crevasses.

When complete she is spent. The blackout seems almost gratuitous, for we know the journey is over. We’ve met the gods, and have celebrated and mourned them in equal measure. We have seen ourselves and our loved ones, and she has shocked, entranced and taught us.

The audience stood almost as one, a rare sight indeed in England, where ovations are more parsimoniously given than in the states. Also worth noting is this; Tempest rarely deploys flowers of language or clever turns in her work, it is much more spare and plain than that, but when she does hit us with a beautiful phrase, one hears the snapping of fingers in the audience, redolent of the coffee house reception of the beats.

I don’t know if or when Kate Tempest will come back to the USA, but if she does I will go see her, and encourage you to do likewise. The Brand New Ancients is available on Picador.

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Arts and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 21 Feb 2014 11:23 pm
Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity.

We always manage to fit in at least one West End production whilst in London, and this trip we’ve chosen the recent musical adaptation of From Here To Eternity, known to most from the successful 1953 film by Fred Zinnemann, from the novel by James Jones. The musical has music and lyrics by Stuart Brayson & Tim Rice and book by Bill Oakes.

A musical of From Here To Eternity? you might well ask. Well, yes, and as it turns out it works as such pretty well. To answer the question of Why?, just read this paragraph from the WikiPedia page:

Jones’s novel From Here to Eternity was a best-seller and well known for its successful movie adaptation. Jones’s manuscript was heavily censored by his publisher to remove profanity and references to gay prostitiution; the unexpurgated version was not published until 2011. Once it was, composer Stuart Brayson thought it might be adapted as a musical, and proposed the project to Tim Rice, who acquired the stage rights and wrote the lyrics.

And there you have it; a sub-plot of gay/straight relations, and the tension therefrom, take a significant role in this telling of the tale.

A scene in the barracks.

A scene in the barracks.

A mid-afternoon visit to the Liecester Square TKTS booth yielded three in stalls (7th row center) for X, A and I. A hasn’t been to a West End show in years, so appreciated the treat. Also appreciated was the American-style “Proper” burgers at Byron before show. (note to Byron, American pickle spears are dill, not sweet, and while our malts may be made in the steel cup, they are not served in it).

The show was a joy to watch, quite beautiful and great story telling. The sets, costumes and lights were all one expects, the usual high West End standard. Choreography was quite good, especially near the end of the piece (not giving anything away, as this will likely transfer stateside).

The Boxing match.

The Boxing match.

No stand out performances from this cast, although I quite liked Ryan Sampson’s portrayal of Private Angelo Maggio and Siubhan Harrison’s Lorene. The entire ensemble is strong, however, and acquit themselves well throughout the 2:45 (with interval) performance.

All in all, I’d give it 4 stars, and know that X & A loved it, too.

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Art and Arts and Pop Culture and Review and Travel — nic @ 21 Feb 2014 06:11 pm

Neither X nor I had been to Saatchi Gallery, nor had A, so there we went on Friday, the 21st. As the title of this post implies, we were in concordance that Mr Saatchi’s wealth exceeds his taste, at least where art is concerned.

Oh, we did all seem to agree on the impactful nature of Marianne Vitale’s Markers (2011):


X liked Kasper Kovitz’s Carnalitos (2010):


A liked Kate Hawkins’ Hans Heights (2012):


I liked some of the Tanyth Berkeley photographs (those reminiscent of Sargent’s work):


Okay? ‘Nuff said…

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Arts and Review and Talk Amongst Yourselves and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 21 Feb 2014 08:49 am

A bit of a break has ensued since last we’ve written, but now that we’re back on it, here’s a continuation of Thursday, the 20th.

Following the advice of the shopkeeper from Book Arts Books, we strolled back down to the Shoreditch high street and Merchants Tavern for a lovely and extravagant dinner and cocktails: cauliflower croquettes, seared scallops, leek and bleu cheese tart and X had encrusted fillet of cod with creamed celeriac root. Yum YUM!! It helped, ho doubt, that we were being served some well made Martinis, which are a rarity here.


Dinner settled, it’s back to the theatre, a double bill of works by Doug Lucie. First up was a revival of Doing The Business, in which Peter (Matther Carter) a smarmy City Boy in a bright red tie and tight hip-riding blue flood pants held up by braces tries to explain to Mike (Jim Mannering) a grammer school chum newly in charge of a theatre company dependent upon Peter’s largesse, that if they would just make some changes (not compromises) to the company’s plans, there would be cash aplenty to sort their debts and deficits.

This is a taut play of speeches, mostly, with very little actual back-and-forth dialogue. Written in reaction to the draconian cuts to government arts funding in the late 1980s, this is a sermon preached to the choir. These two, while hard to imagine as schoolboys of the same cloth, have matured into archetypes of the most severe sort. Peter is smug and self privileged, father of two young girls, who are the receptacles of his only true charity. Mike is self righteous and suffering, with high-minded ideals uncompromised by the vicissitudes of real-world life.

While predictable in its story arc, the play none-the-less forces us to consider all of the issues involved with corporate grant giving and the necessary deal making that goes on alongside it. Of course we want to hate Peter and side with Mike (we wouldn’t be in the audience otherwise, would we?) but we see Mike willing to throw away his high morals when presented with the wealth he needs to achieve his (now lowered) goals. Despite the short comings of predictability and convention, this was a bracing piece of theatre. The performances were stunningly clear and utterly believable — we saw two characters on stage, but no actors — as it should be. The technical aspects of this show, as with Blind, are of workshop standards and not to be criticized one way or the other; they sufficed.

Blind, the second half of the double bill, is a newer piece, and has as its subject the interrelations between patrons and artists, and the differences between the commerce of art, the commercialization of art; between the valuation of art and the value of it; between a patron and a sponsor, a buyer and a dealer, a dealer and a market maker; between an artist responding to their muse and an artist responding to a market. This is diamond-hard naval-gazing for the truly ennobled artists among us; and a fun bit of drama for the rest of us around the periphery of that.

Alan (Cameron Harle) is a young artist put up in a studio he could never afford by his patron, Mo (Jon McKenna), an older man with an ill wife and a whole closet full of skeletons. Mo is sitting (nude) for a portrait and as Alan paints, we get the exposition to setup the story of Mo taking a liking to Alan’s work, and deciding to support him via the rental of the studio. We get a sense, too, of a bond, call it paternal, between them; Alan is an investment, true, but more of a spiritual than a monetary one, for Mo.

Maddy (Janna Fox) is an in-your-face artist-cum-anti-artist in the mould of Tracey Emin, and is making work of stark contrast to Alan’s classicist painting. Her’s is a denial of art (i.e. “turd in a teacup), more meta and conceptual, and her personality is half the story. Clashes with the press, insults slung across galleries at stodgy arts types, explosive addictions and abuse of all around her. She takes a liking to Alan, however, and introduces him to her sponsor, Paul (Daniel York) a smarmy, Charles Saatchi type, who eyes art with dollar (or pound) signs in his eyes, always thinking of how an artist can get him to the next market nexus.

As we know it must, a romance of convenience (for which side?) develops between Alan and Maddy just as commerce of convenience develops between Alan and Paul. Where does this leave Mo? A scene of conflict between he and Paul revealing the skeletons in Mo’s past (not as shocking as the playwright may have wanted) is quickly followed by a détente of convenience between Mo and Maddy, who is redeemed by her evident mastery of drawing (a conceptual artist with actual artistic skills, who knew?!?) and as the play comes to and end, we see the depths to which Alan has been drug by the devils he has chosen, Maddy elevated by her return to art’s roots, Mo on the verge of life changing events and Paul has simply vanished, much as the whims of the art world change from season to season.

It is dense and knowing, this work, and presumes both an acceptance of convention (and classical themes) and I dare say an agreement with Lucie’s interpretation of the validity of one take on the art world over another. While I enjoyed the night of theatre, I do not accept the false dichotomy presented therein. Art and commerce are inevitably intertwined whenever the artist seeks to make a living from art. This must be so, whether it is patronage or sponsorship or selling portraits in a market stall, commerce is commerce, trade is trade, custom is custom, money is money. If we monetize the creation of beauty, then we have commercialized it to one extent or another.

If an artist chooses to make art free of commerce, there is ample precedence for that — look at the vital world of what Pawn calls “Private Art”. Often classified as “naïve,” “self-taught,” “visionary,” or “folk” art, this may veer to the commercial (crafty art sold at tag sales) but is often conceived, executed and kept for the artist’s private use and enjoyment. Occasionally hoards of private art are discovered, brought to the world’s attention, and (often posthumous) celebrity rains down upon the artist. Henry Darger and Vivian Maier are prime examples of such private-made-public collections.

All in all, Doing The Business and Blind are fine theatre and represent an ambitious undertaking by Triple Jump Productions. The performances were all stellar. Jon McKenna was a breath of fresh air as Mo Dyer in Blind in that he was age appropriate, as is too rare these days from smaller companies. Daniel York brought just the right level of sneering smarmyness to the role of Paul Stone, and we hated him for it, as with Matthew Carter’s turn as Peter (the City boy).

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Art and Arts and Review and Travel — nic @ 21 Feb 2014 07:25 am

Art is… Industry, Work, Opportunity, Fun, Corrupt, Expensive, Social, Isolated,

Lots of fun today with friend A and her young charges, D (11 year old boy) and F (5 year old girl), the children of friends, whom she minds regularly. We made arrangements to meet at Whitechapel Gallery for the Hannah Höch exhibit. We had also planned to meet sculptor Claire Palfreyman there, from whom Pawn bought a lovely piece a few years back.


We thoroughly enjoyed the Höch exhibit, which focused on the prolific collage artist and original Dada-ist. Seeing how Höch’s work evolved over her life, from the early work in the 19-teens, up through the pre-war and war years, and then on to the end of her life, was like reading a memoir; that closely did her work track her life. Having the young ones along to share that with was instructive, too. Young D, himself an avid drawer, was at first somewhat cold to the work, but as we discussed Höch’s use of humour (he hadn’t quite got it initially) and he looked more closely at the sometimes yellowed paper, he came to appreciate it more and more.

F, however, was more fascinated with her game/camera toy she had brought along. Seems the art was hung just too high for her to see it well, amongst the crowd. Once people had spread out a bit more, though, we convinced her to try looking at the work from a couple paces back, and then she could see it without straining her neck too much. She was also quite good at reading the placards by each piece, which gave her a sense of accomplishment.

One thing which D came to appreciate, especially as we progressed through the galleries which focused on Höch’s war time existence. We talked about the concept of “degenerate” art and how demoralizing it was for artists like Höch to have to essentially hide in their own country during the war. Then the joyous release which followed the end of the war. We talked about the nature of political art, and he contrasted themes of the pre- and post-war work with the apolitical pieces done during the war. One phenomenon we both noted was that within a couple of years of the war’s end, she largely abandoned political themes, seemingly content with the state of things, or disinterested following her wartime cloistering.

The kids were particularly entranced by some of the later work, from the 60s, made with colourful magazine pages.One incorporated the bare bum of a woman on a beach. “Butt Cheeks!” became the repeated exclamation of little F, as she taunted her older, and ever so slightly scandalized, brother.

A helpful gallery staffer insisted on bringing the kids a “family trail” publication, which included materials and instructions of making one’s own photo-collages. A nice gesture, and the kids jumped at it.

As it was approaching our meeting time with Claire, we proceeded down to the street to feed the kids at a nearby café, and wait for her to arrive. Alas, our meal (quite good, at Café Dulcé) came and went and still no Claire. We messaged her, and called, but to no avail.

Back at the gallery we ventured into Kader Attia’s installation, “Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs Ladder.” This is a fabulous assemblage of shelves, books, museum cases, artifacts and such. The focus is putatively on the mythos of discovery and invention, the wonderment which fuels scientific inquiry and artistic endeavour both, that special magic which seems to envelop these pursuits with romantic import so much more than our own prosaic activities.

Kader Attia - jacobs ladder

Floor to ceiling shelves create walls of books — many in foreign languages — on everything from anatomy to philosophy, botany to astrology, phrenology, biology, zoology, travels of discovery and pursuits of wealth and machismo. On the far side of these walls of books, 10 metres on a side, is an opening which leads to an inner core of museum display cases, filled with scientific intruments; telescopes and microscopes, philosopher’s stone, chemistry set artifacts from centuries past, taxidermy samples, more books and illustrations, photographic plates and microscope slides.

kader attia whitechapel

“If you could see inside your own mind, do you think it would look like this?” D asked me, as his little sister sat on a ladder rung thumbing a volume on osteology. I pondered his question for a moment, baffled both at its depth and its obviousness. This young man had succinctly and elegantly distilled my own wonder at the assemblage into one simple thought, masterfully. “Yes,” I answered, “exactly like this, and the cases in the center would hold whatever it was I was thinking about at the moment.” “Right.” said D, happy that he understood things properly.

Finally we gave up on meeting Claire and started to trip up to Vyner street, and our appointment with the fine folk at Degree Art for tea and more new art. On the bus, my phone set to vibrate, and messages suddenly delivered through Whatsapp revealed that as Claire was trying to meet us, she was mugged and robbed just two blocks from Whitechapel! Shaken and dejected, she had gone to police station, and then to her husband’s office and home. Oh how we were all shaken and upset at this news. The kids set to scheming the proper punishment for the perpetrators of such a crime, while I messaged back and forth with her to make sure she was okay.

“Vyner Street has changed so!” A exclaimed as we started down the narrow close from Cambridge Heath Road in north east London. A had sent me when first we met, back in 2010, when I had asked for tips of where to see new work in town. Now, some years later, she didn’t much recognize the place. A few of the old galleries were still extant, such as ¢ell, but many more, like Monica Bobinski, are relocated or gone entirely. Degree themselves have moved from where I first encountered them to a smaller but more flexible space.

Degree are close to my heart in terms of their approach to art and artists. Their focus is on young, emerging, artists, and they work closely with art schools and colleges across southeast England. Please check out their impressive website for more details.

For the second time in as many years, they are hosting X and I for tea, and we rewarded them by dragging A and the kids along, too! :-) This is a bit of a shopping trip for me, truth be told, and they likely sense that. I’ve asked to see certain artists’ work which I’ve admired over the past couple of years (since our last visit) but which I’ve hesitated to buy based only on web images. A & X both suspect I’m shopping, and needle me sometimes on my profligate spending on art (tho A has benefited from it, too).

D asks, as we walk down the lane, if I’m planning to buy anything. This sets X and A to scheming, and X instructs D, “If you see me signal, like this,” she drags an index finger across her throat, “then you speak up and say `But daddy, we need new shoes, and we haven’t a thing to eat!’ Can you say that for me?” D and F practice this prank, as we continue towards the gallery.

Once inside, Isobel and Elinor busy themselves with welcomes and can we take your coats and set out glasses of water and such, some sticky buns for the kids. The gallery is a fright; “we are in a bit of a dusty, dishevelled state today!” Isobel had written, earlier, “we are having refurbishments at the gallery, they were due to start next Monday, but they in fact have started earlier.” It was fine, in fact, and amidst the stacks of art, all carefully bundled and wrapped against the dust and disturbance, and the temporarily displaced furniture.

Over to one side a divan was pressed into service as a temporary display easel, and on it were works by the artists I had requested. Last time Degree had brought in Sophie Derrick, a fovourite artist of mine, to have tea with us, along with some of her work. No artists today, however, just the work, which allowed for a less formal, and more frank discussion of the work. Up today were Becky Boston for her underwater photography series, Corrine Perry for her moody monochromatic photo projects, Melancholia and Delirium, and Andrew Newton for his obliterated portraits.

When I left the art for a moment to grab a glass of water from the table, where the kids were industriously working away, D on sketches and F on writing sentences in a workbook, D asked me if I was going to buy anything; “These cakes are quite good, so I think you should buy something.” So much for the scheming.

We had a wonderful time at Degree, and talked widely about art and commerce. A discussed her work — fine art, cartoons, photography — with Elinor, and we all shared links and thoughts on favourite artists, artists’ tools and the like. But finally it was time to go. The kids were prety worked up from the long day, the sugary cakes and all the new experiences. We said our goodbyes and tottered on back down the lane to the heath road, and parted ways. A and the kids to walk to their nearby home, and X & I to north London and the Courtyard Theatre for this evening’s fare.

A bus across to Hackney and then a short stroll brought us to the theatre, but we had hours to spare, and hungry, so went in search of something to eat. Along the way we came across Book Art Bookshop, and couldn’t resist entering. Oh my! What a treat this little shop! Floor to ceiling shelves hold a full collection of handmade, small press and other artist books. We won’t detail all the shopping which ensued, but suffice to say I could have used little D and his plaintiff cries to dissuade me from spending as much as I did!

The shopkeep did recommend a fine place for dinner and cocktails, which we mightily enjoyed. Then back to the theatre for the shows. More on that later…

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Art and Arts and Music and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 19 Feb 2014 07:58 am

We just have one thing to say to all of you hangers-on out there, living vicariously through us, our intrepid voyagers; Art Is Hard! This is hard work, what with all of the gallery-going-to, art-looking-at, admiring-comment-making, thoughtful-shrug-giving, donation-avoidance-scheming. There’s the endless-queuing, ticket-wrangling, schedule-management, compatriot-negotiation, stealth-cameraphone-operation, snivelling-kid-dodging. Aircraft, buses, water taxi, subway, funicular, skateboard, walking, whatever means of transport is required to get us before art so that we may systematically observe, appreciate, admire, dismiss and glom onto the art which you so desire us to tell you what to think about.

It is hard work, but we do not shrink from it. No, my good friend, we embrace the challenge and rise to it. Or, as is the case today, we ultimately cower and wither from it. Some days it’s just too hard!

Such it turned out to be today.

We started our day rather late. Neither X nor I slept well at all, and X was in bed so late that A, calling at the civilized (to some) hour of 9 said, “Wake her, she must get onto GMT!” To which X replied, “A has put the MEAN back in Greenwich Mean Time!” Indeed, a stern taskmaster is A.

Finally dragged ourselves from the flat near 1pm, and forged a path to the Design Museum for a gander at their new Paul Smith exhibit. Ooph! What a steaming hot load of design was Mr. Smith wielding!! There is a charming little recreation of his original shop stall, “3 x 3 square metres” says he, and it is a cramped little room to navigate, what with all of the too-too visitors holding their iPhones and Androids out at arm’s length to snap photos. How many fashion victims armed with cameraphones does it take to ruin an exhibit? That I’ll leave you to ponder.

Smith in his first stall

Smith in his first stall

Proceeding on from the reproduction of Smith’s original market stall is a recreation of his study, which is festooned with all of the bric-a-brac and detritus of a messy office (the sign of a healthy mind). From there we enter a reproduction of the cutting room, where all the striped designs Smith is so famed for come into being. A sound track of Bowie loops endlessly from one of the many vintage iMacs in the exhibit.

Smith's study

Smith’s study

Thankfully that’s the end of the recreations. They’re fine for what they are, but are more olde-timey anthropology-museumy than a design exhibit calls for. The next gallery displays the results of collaborations Smith has forged with others, such as Mini, the car brand, or John Lobb, the handmade British shoe label. This room brings design alive with result, while the earlier rooms brood with intent. Input: outcome.

One is struck, almost immediately, by the exhibit text; it is all written in the first person, as if by Smith himself (perhaps it is?). This is quite effective, as he is speaking to us as if we are aspiring designers, ourselves, and not just accolytes or interested observers. He pulls us into his passion for good design, and thus allows us to better appreciate the path he has taken, the decisions he has made, but also leaves us room to say, “Aye, but I’d do it a bit different.”

Smith inspiration wall

Smith inspiration wall

Other prominent parts of the exhibit are a large gallery whose walls are simply covered with images, few of them from Smith himself, with which he adorns all of his personal spaces, be they rooms at home, the office or even on the road. These are images which inspire and motivate him. Some are related to friends he has made over a lifetime, such as Patti Smith and David Bowie, Talking Heads, etc., others are famous artists such as Hockney or Warhol, and then there’s the tons of images sent to him, anonymously or not, unbidden, from people all over the world. This includes oil paintings large and small, photographs, and even childrens’ sketches.


Of course there are the clothes, from across his career. Here’s some of my favourites:

20140218_145407 20140218_145351 20140218_145311


From there we repaired, via a long walk westward along the River Thames, to Tate Modern.


We were too late for it to make sense to pony up the £15 each for both Paul Klee and Richard Hamilton exhibits (that’s £15 each per exhibit, or £60 total) as we would barely have had time to see them. So we decided to be happy with the permanent collection galleries and some special features in those.

There was a great hubbub by the railings over the Turbine Hall, a central and dramatic feature of the converted power plant, and saw that preparations were underway for a runway show (it’s Fashion Week here in London) for Top Shop, we think. There were loads of chairs each with a swag-bag, and glitter and lights and risers and such. A crowd was held back, by red velvet ropes, from entering, and were all gazing at their smart-phones. Smaller gaggles of fashionistas were milling in the hall, and were quite easy to pick out from the rest of the art-loving crowd, including the photographers with their telephoto lenses of obscene dimension hanging about their mid-sections, little stair step units to stand on, the better to capture the perfect runway shot.

We ambled through the galleries and enjoyed the Gerhard Richter “Artist Room,” featuring his “14 Panes of Glass – 2011″ and also a gallery devoted to the “Cage Paintings,” six of his large dragged pieces from 2006. What a treat to see them all together in one room, where one can dissolve into them.

Cage (1) - (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

Cage (1) – (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

A pleasant feature of the Tate regime is that they will put up, next to the traditional item identifier plaques, an extra plaque with the thoughts of a volunteer curator, guide or docent. These folk tend to spend a lot of time with particular pieces in the collection, and their notes are accessible and often elegiac in nature. One wishes more museums offered these insights.

Also enjoyed during this visit were several other classics of the modern collection, such as Picasso and Braque, Bacon and Giacometti, etc. etc.

Okay then, enough fine art, we have a performance to attend — Opus, by Australian cirque group Circa and French musicians Debussy String Quartet. We marched further west along the Thames to Blackfriars bridge, north across the river, and then ducked into the tube station for the Circle Line eastbound, via Liverpool Street and Kings Cross, to Barbican. Once there we were able to flag down a slavic water carrier and slake our formidable thirsts with icy carafes of water and sloshing tumblers of vodka and gin (well, okay, they were Martini glasses). Tapas ensued, and once sated, we repaired to the theatre, still feeling weary from our travels, but somewhat deadened by the booze.

This show is hard to explain, but perhaps a brief excerpt from the programme (Yaron Lifshitz, of Circa) will help:

It began when the perceptive and courageous programmer Marc Cardonnel pulled me aside after a performance of one of our works and mentioned that our creations made him think of Shostakovich.

I replied that Shostakovich is the composer I hold most dear. It is his music that I’d like performed for my funeral… I longed to stage some, or even all, of the string quartets. And so this project was born.

So three of Shostakovich’s string quartets are herein deployed by a rather game quartet of viol players — who are, at times, moved about the stage as if chessmen by the cirque performers — and 14 cirque artists, 6 women and 8 men. These performers are stunning in their physique and their prowess. They mystify and amaze us with both the flexibility and strength of their bodies, their beauty and their guile. The choreography is inspired, if a little gymnastic at times (think Olympic floor exercises, but with 14 people all on the matt at once).

opus--2 opus

The aerials are illuminating and not too rarely seem death defying.

We were more than once left gasping, and I often heard nearby audience members let out a sigh of relief or of shock. Oh, and did I mention these performers were, to a one, absolutely ripped? My god! The abs on one young man looked as if they were appliqués of clay, put there by Michaelangelo as if onto a David. I suggested to X that we wait by the stage door to see if we could meet one of these visions (Saturday night we encountered Saskia Portway — Hippolyta/Titania — taking a post-performance smoke out there) and she replied, “Having a smoke? I doubt it buster. Move along!”

Move along, indeed. My back ached from the hours of walking and standing, not to mention the sideways seating in theatre, but I felt I had no right to complain after what we’d just witnessed these brave and foolish souls perform.

So here’s to Brave And Foolish souls, because Art Is Hard!

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Art and Arts and Review and Theatre and Travel — nic @ 18 Feb 2014 07:39 am

Monday! What have we today? Juliet Stevenson is performing down the way at the Young Vic in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. X simply adores Ms Stevenson, and is crestfallen that there are no tickets for sale online. So we wander down the street to see if she can work her “Poor elderly me” routine on the box office staff. Alas, they prove immune to her valiant attempts. The run is sold out past the time we leave town.

Juliet Stevenson in Beckett's Happy Days

Juliet Stevenson in Beckett’s Happy Days

We then wander up Lower Marsh to Westminster Road to hop a bus to Tate Britain. We’re to meet A there, and artist met some years ago with whom Pawn has kept up. A is preparing to shoot a young couple’s portrait in the style of David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and we made plans to meet her at the painting in the Tate’s new Walk Through British Art exhibit (gallery 1960), where it rests near a stunning Francis Bacon triptych and Brancusi and Moore and so much more.

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Test photo

Test photo

A looks dashing with her stylish artist hairdo bundled off to the side in a ribbon, and her dangling camera bag. She forces us to pose before the painting, miming that we’re holding the main figures up in our arms, while she backs up to some delicate sculpture or other and dares the guards to restrain her from snapping photo after photo. If she shares any of those, we’ll post them here.

We proceeded to survey the history of British art from 1970 (the next gallery) back to 1930, then crossed over to 1540 and worked our way forward from there. A was quite determined that we do things in proper order, but then couldn’t wait to escape from the 1800s.

A takes photos, that's what she does

A takes photos, that’s what she does

A break for tea and we continued on with Chris Shaw and Moriyama: Before and After Night Porter. This is a brilliant exhibit of photographers Shaw and Daido Moriyama and their separate but similar (philosophically) work. Shaw showed three portfolio, including his suburban housing estate series, Sandy Hill Estate, the wonderful Life As A Night Porter and the new Weeds Of Wallasey. Moriymama’s contribution is more sober and painful. We loved it all.

NightPorter_0006 500

Our art-itites sated, we grabbed the tube up to Euston Square and a quick bite at Crown & Anchor before ducking into New Diorama Theatre for the last of two performances of a new work, Missing by (e)ngineer Theatre Collective.

Missing Poster

Missing Poster

This is a difficult work, and difficult to explain. This young company prides themselves on their deeply collaborative method — the members list themselves as “devisers” in the program — and have brought that to bear fully here. The subject is the title, and has to do with a statistic cited in a news report a few years back, that 275,000 people go missing each year in the UK. This is the population of Plymouth, and a truly daunting number. Now, of course, many if not most return to their homes, families, lives, still others are found dead — murdered, suicide, accident, natural death — but some are never heard from again. This work focuses on a select few cases and recreates, from interviews, the emotional roller-coaster the families and friends of the lost are subjected to.


There is no way in a brief blog post I can convey the intensity of this wallow in pathos. We all were deeply moved and left positive feedback on their questionnaire. The sound was poor — the right speaker kept cutting in and out, and when working sounded blown — but as this seems to be a mid-process workshop phase, one can’t complain too much. I have high hopes for this work, and for the young company behind it.

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