Tag Archives: London 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

A Note To Our Readers:

It has come to our attention that some of you think we’re being too “safe” in our entertainment choices. “Pawn: Please, think outside the box. Get off the straight and narrow, the safe choices, and try to sample some of the outré offerings Modern London provides.” reads a typical note.

Okay, your wish is our command. Prepare yourself for the next few reviews of events from Saturday, 25 and Sunday, 26, to see what London really holds in store for the adventurous.

The Paper Cinema, Odyssey

Paper Cinema is a hard concept to express briefly, but let’s give it a try: Paper Cinema are an artist collective who produce original, live, animated performances with live musical accompaniment, utilising paper cuts with inking, shot via video cameras before black backgrounds, digitally composited and projected onto a screen.

The Paper Cinema - Odyssey

For this project, begun almost a year ago, there were two hand animators, three musicians, light and sound technicians. There were a few dozen musical instruments – piano, drums, violin, saw, Makita cordless electric drill, thunder plate – and a few hundred pieces of cut paper, card, etc. Through these tools, with no spoken word at all, they told the classic Homeric tale of Odyssey and did so with such originality, wit, love and passion that we hung on every graceful, carefully choreographed move.

Paper Cinema - James Allen

The show began with a lead animator stepping up to a light table and, putting pen to well and then to paper, drawing for us a guide to the major players in the drama. After this introduction, the real animation began. One cannot do it justice with a verbal description, so please take a look at their website: http://thepapercinema.com/

Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre BAC

We saw a Saturday matinee, with several children as young as 4 in attendance, and the show held their attention for the entire 85 minutes. We thought this was an exceptional show, and would love to find a way to introduce this art to our own, local audiences.

Panta Rei Theatre Collective: Rocinante! Rocinante!

Not edgy enough yet? Okay, bus down to Rye Park Lane and the CLF Art Cafe @Bussey Building where Panta Rei want us to climb inside the minds of some seriously sick folk. Sick in the head, that is, like Don Quixote sick, like Hamlet sick, like wandering OCD scrubbing their hands without end sick. What do they do? The conceive a site-specific work, a promenade piece in which we, the audience, wander mostly un-directed through the performance space, while blinds, sheers or scrims are occasionally drawn to partition off a space.

Panta Rei - Rocinante! Rocinante!

What is the action, it is Don Quixote, with Rocinante, his loyal horse, Sancho Panza, his trusty squire and donkey; but no, it is Gary and Lolly, the gravediggers from Hamlet, given more character here than Shakespeare ever did, but different, also. They are discussing whether or not Dolcinea (rather than Ophelia) deserves a Christian burial, a matter of grave concern to Angustias, the cemetery keeper, who is ever and always rinsing raiment properly to wash the dead.

Don Quixote is cracking up, as he rants in Spanish (sometimes with translation, via Sancho, sometimes not) we are treated to the lushness of his dreams, when they are not overrun by the waking dreams of the other characters. Gary, played by the exceedingly petite Ciara D’Anna in a standout performance of mind over dialect, is madly devoted to Lolly (Anna Zehenbauer), but Lolly wants to die, convinced that her life will be more complete once dead. Gary prevails to convince Lolly, via a burial ceremony (books as soil, what does that tell us) that she has now been buried and passed, and this brings at last some measure of tranquillity to their relationship.

Meanwhile Quixote drifts into a feverish dream wherein Dulcinea, in form of a beautiful, diaphanous jelly fish, appears to him, but always between the two are seven dark, evil jelly fish, blocking their reunion.

That is just a sample of the effect with which Panta Rei has brought off their goal: “Interdisciplinary collaborations beyond the realm of performing arts to explore on a deep level issues and topics that are relevant…”

How successful was this effort? Very, for the most part. Aside from Gary, other stand-out performances belong to Daniel Rejano as Sancho and Almudena Segura as Angustias. The staging is plagued with difficult compromises, mostly due to the exigencies of getting actors and audience in and out of the same spaces at the same time. Little accommodation is made to audience comfort, and this maybe should have been made more clear to ticket purchasers. In the second scene, were are seated on two rows of hay bales, set along the long side of a narrow rectangular space; unfortunately, the action is placed alternatively on one end or the other of this space, rendering those in the front row with stiff necks and good views only of their seat-mate’s scalps.

In reality, tho, these are minor beefs. This was a very ambitious undertaking, and we were moved. The beauty of the Dulcinea dream, with draped umbrellas sculpted into sea creatures was alone worth the price of admission.

Silent Opera: La Bohème

Silent Opera - La Boheme - Emily Ward as Mimi

Still with us? Okay, after a day at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, we trundled back down to the Old Vic Tunnels this evening for Silent Opera production of Puccini’s La Bohème. We first visited the Tunnels last weekend for Eugene O’Neill’s The Sea Plays, which were staged in “The Screening Room” in the upper levels of the Tunnels’ space. For Silent Opera’s piece, we have to thank a couple of developments of the modern age: Digital archival and frequency hopping, spread spectrum radio.

The former has freed up these spaces, specifically “Archway 236~9, Network Rail, Archival and Storage”, which was no longer required by Network Rail and may now be given over to the drug pushers, anorexic models, tarted up showgirls and waifish writers who make up the dramatis personae of the opera.

The latter? Well, Silent Opera is a “peculiar and eccentric idea to come up with…” writes director Daisy Evans in her notes. “I looked at the world around me, and to the modern day fascination with the iPod. Teams of people plug into a world and walk around with a personal soundcloud. Apply this to opera, and you have a personal filmic sound world that enables you complete freedom within the world of the opera.”

We, the audience, are given high-end wireless headphones, pre-tuned to the proper channel to bring us the original orchestral arrangement produced for this project. The performers wear both wireless microphones and earpieces, allowing both for them to hear the music and for the sound crew to mix their voices in for our listening. The effect is profound.

Silent Opera - La Boheme

We are ushered up to Rudolfo and Marcello’s loft space, strewn with the detritus of bachelor living, but more – this is all specifically made for the production, notebooks are filled with Marcello’s sketches, magazines feature his love, Musetta, computer monitors are filled with Rudolpho’s website designs. Soon enough the performers crash into the space, and the game is afoot. The music wells in our ears and the singers engage. They engage! They are amidst us and are engaged with us. This continues throughout the entire performance, and I won’t belabour all of the details, but the point is this: Here is opera, on a professional level, in a compelling performance, right in the middle of us, and that is different and new.

How successful? Very.

Listen, every one of these shows is sold out, solid! What’s more, they’re all filled with a magical thing; Young People! This is what theatre, opera, arts need; Young People! Habits built in your 20s and 30s, attending live shows, will carry throughout lifetime, and this bodes very well indeed for London and for all of us.

Tis Pity

While Pawn finds himself most at home with New Work, there is plenty to be admired in a well executed revival or classic. Monday night brings your intrepid travellers to the latter, John Ford’s “Jacobethan” Tis Pity She’s A Whore, revived and restaged by Cheek By Jowl at Barbican’s Silk Street Theater. Ford was a contemporary to Shakespeare, writing in a similar style, albeit seldom in iambic pentameter.

We were most impressed by Cheek By Jowl’s 2009 production of Jean Racine’s Andromaque and so were expecting similar quality. We were not let down. The large cast performed in brilliant ensemble form…

If I may take a moment aside, that is a recurring theme of the best of the shows we’ve taken in, of late – fine ensemble work. This is great to see, and must be encouraged.

The scene opens with Annabella, marvellously played by Lydia Wilson, as a teenage emo girl, walls bedroom covered with Vampire Diaries posters and the like, dancing wildly on her bed, whilst surrounded by her suitors. Her father, Florio, David Collings, is eager to marry her off, and is pushing her to choose.

Lydia Wilson as Annabella

Her brother Giovanni, Jack Gordon, has other plans. He courts his sister, wins her and after a night of passion, virtually abandons her, telling her to choose her husband wisely and always keep this their secret. Bereft, Annabella first tries to simply avoid marriage, but when her father insists, she chooses the nobleman Soranzo, played ably by Jack Hawkins.

Lydia Wilson and Jack Gordon

There is much drama: teenage pregnancy, unrequited love, jilted cougar (Hippolita) and such. Much sturm und drang. As in any good tragedy, by the time its over pretty much everyone is dead.

The single set, designed by Nick Ormerond, which serves this all is Annabella’s teenager’s bedroom; all action comes and goes through this single, simple setting, and is brilliantly managed by Declan Donnellan’s brisk direction. The show is taughtly choreographed and compellingly staged. Wilson’s performance, especially, stands out for its unending, boundless energy.

Not usually one for morality plays, Pawn seems to be finding himself in more and more of them lately. Tonight, as much fun as the immorality was, the morality was much bloodier, and in the end, that was just what the playwright ordered.

Memories Light And Dark

Saturday brings more visits, this time with A, artist/friend whom Pawn met in 2009 at her stall in Sunday UpMarket up Brick Lane. There, A sells tee shirts, bags and such emblazoned with her whimsical figures and clever words. Since last we met, A has taken up photography in a quite serious way (something she blames on moi) and in correspondence leading up to this visit has asked/offered for Pawn to sit for a portrait. Fright!

Having packed a shirt or two with French cuffs of course means not having packed any cuff-links. Thus a trip back and forth across Lower Marsh street ensues. First to the pawnshop, who carries only gold, thus quite dear, then to menswear shop, which doesn’t have the right thing, sadly, but does have a very nice gent behind the counter. Next to rock shop, which has mad great crystals in the window, and a few pairs of amber links, but too dear for “emergency” use (as pawn broker put it). Lastly to vintage shop, Radio Days which is just the ticket. Pick out a pair of lovely amethyst links, “I’ll wear them home!” Tip of the hat to proprietor Lee for all his help.

Bus up to Stoke Newington and A’s in-home studio. I haven’t seen her since that May of 2009, other than a Skype chat now and then (detest Skype; all that technology to produce a result worse than a century of telephony). She welcomes me with a warm embrace, a lunch of quiche and salad, and hours of conversation. Finally we settled down into the reception lounge, refitted as a studio, with paper drops, massive flash towers and all.

I won’t bore the reader with a full account of the sitting process, but to impart this. A note from A the other day read, “Would you like to sit for a [Photographic] portrait in the style of a painter of your choice? My recent shots are here.”

“I’m quite flummoxed by your portrait offer. I’ve been pondering all night just which artist that would be, and all I can come up with is Francis Bacon. Is that even doable? Colour me perplexed! :(“ I wrote back the next day.

“Do not be flummoxed. It has to be fun and I am quite a beginner. I am happy to try Bacon – maybe we can use a mirror to make parts of your body disappear or look cut off. If this does not work, we could go for a Futurist or even Cubist artist with a similar technique or with Rear Curtain flash technique if i can master my new flash in time.” was her response. Okay then, let’s go.

An hour or so of sitting and flashing and such, and then another hour or so sitting at her kitchen table editing, leads us to this:

Pawn has never sat willingly for a portrait before, but must admit that this entire process was fun, and the result is a better portrait of myself than I have reason to expect. I’m not fond of how I look in photos, but this I like. Well done!


Now it’s off to Arcola Theatre and Philip Ridley’s Pitchfork Disney in Studio 1.

Nathan Stewart-Jarret as Cosmo Disney and Mariah Gale as Haley Stray

It’s hard to know where to begin with a tour de force like Pitchfork Disney. The performances were amazing. Chris New, as Presley Stray, one half of the nightmare~and~chocolate addled twins who make up the heart of this tense drama, is an absolute amazement. Starting long before the house lights go down, you’ll find him sitting on stage, picking at imaginary lint, and fidgeting like a heroin addict. If you saw New in Weekend you know what a talented actor he is, but you’ll be wholly unprepared for the depths of character he mines here.

Nathan Stewart-Jarret as Cosmo Disney and Chris New as Presley Stray

The other half of this demented, drugged and lost duo is Mariah Gale as Haley. Her tormented soul is all too real here, leading to her brother’s constant need to protect her, against what all we’re never sure. Both twins are prone to slip into discourse for long soliloquy on real or imagined trials and travails, trips to the shops for chocolate which end with packs of rabid dogs and religious upbraiding; apocalyptic dream worlds which are somehow more comforting than the reality, absent their parents, who are missing why?

Into this tortured maelstrom comes Cosmo Disney, played by Nathan Stewart-Jarret with such graceful movement he rather dances the part. He slithers across the stage, seducing Presley, and us along with him, but with his eyes constantly on the slumbering Haley. Cosmo is an apparition, isn’t he, from Presley’s fevered mind, right? And Pitchfork Cavalier, Cosmo’s driver all done up in full-body latex bondage wear, played almost as Frankenstein’s Monster by Italian actor Steve Guadino, lurches about the final scenes, throwing abject fear before him like he is casting jacks in a children’s game.

I can’t even begin to describe the plot here, nor am I sure I even understand it all. “Curse Arcola for last night’s dreams!” said X upon awakening this morning.

Nods must go to the entire production staff, from the phenomenal direction of Edward Dick to the pitch perfect sets and costumes of Bob Bailey and the exceptional lighting of Malcolm Rippeth. This production team has moulded a fantastic and thoroughly believable space for their actors to perform an out of this world evening.

This is the first show I’ve seen in this new Arcola space, and old artist’s paint factory between Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingshead stations in Hackney. The Reeves Paint factory on Ashwin Street, dating back to 1766, seems to have taken over nicely from the Arcola Street location Arcola were forced to leave after a decade, back in 2010. So far, aside from the fact that every door in the place seemingly must slam, it does just fine.

Moving Things

Back in 2009, Pawn saw a piece of art which was particularly moving. Days later, he brought friend L back to see it, and she, too, found it moving. Finally, on the last day of the visit, he met up with new friend A, and she convinced him to buy it. Shortly before leaving for the airport, Pawn returned one last time to the Crypt of Saint Pancras Church, and uttered the fateful sentence, “If you can figure out how to ship it to me for a reasonable price, I’ll take it.”

Short Stories in crate

It took several weeks, but the intrepid Claire Palfreyman, maker of said artwork, found a shipper worthy of the task, and Short Stories, Volume 1, was on its way across the Atlantic, safely ensconced in a custom made crate, protected from buffeting. Shortly thereafter it was installed in Pawn’s state-side offices, and he has shared an office with it ever since. Pawn LOVES this piece of art, and is proud to have it in his collection.

Short Stories, Volume One 2009

Also on that last day in London, May of 2009, was fortunate enough to meet Claire, creator of Short Stories and to have a brief chat with her. Upon returning this year, I reached out to see if she would be up for a visit, so that I could see her other work, and chat about art. Yes, and yes, and today that happened.

I hopped the train, first the tube to Paddington and then the Heathrow Connect to Hanwell, where Claire and Charlie, her Parson’s Jack Russell, met me and led me to her home. We chatted over tea in her lovely kitchen while she told me of her current craft projects, built around her We Make Here classes, “Workshops where you meet, eat and create” as her website touts. We discussed her ceramics work, of which Short Stories is but one component, and about how art moves life just as life moves art.

In her studio, Claire shared sketches of work both realised and not, as well as stories of the late, missing partner to Short Stories, and a photo of this poor, ceramic soul. I admired the maquettes of work planned but not (yet) made, and, back in the house, some beautifully realised works.

Some more chat, and a lovely stroll, with Charlie along, back to the station to wait for the train back to London. I treasure making friends abroad. Claire was an artist whose work I bought, but after an afternoon of chat and shared appreciation of the role art can play in our lives, I’d like to think she’s a friend, too.

Friendship, and thing which move us, is also at the heart of tonight’s entertainment, Port Authority, at the Southwark Playhouse Vault. If there is a theme to our shows, last night and tonight, is of hidden vaults, dank and beautiful in their decay. Last night it was Old Vic Tunnels, under Waterloo Station. Tonight it was the vaults under London Bridge Approach. Southwark Playhouse has been using this space for some time, so it is not as “fresh” as OVT, but OMG what an atmosphere!

Port Authority - Southwark Playhouse

The play, by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, is entirely constructed of long soliloquy, a McPherson trademark. It wasn’t that long ago that both X and I saw The Good Thief, presented by Theatre Gigante, with Malcolm Tulip in the sole role, making a 60 minute address to the audience seated around him in the pub, as though he were merely talking to friends and acquaintances. Tonight we watched as Dermot (Ardal O’Hanlon), Joe (John Rogan) and Kevin (Andrew Nolan) each, separately, and with no regard or even awareness for each other, told us of those with whom they were close, loved, idolized or ignored.

Kevin is a young man, telling us of his first attempt to fly the coop, and of the woman he loved, and the woman he shagged, and of the difficulty of maintaining that distinction, all whilst following his mate’s bands and drinking to blinding excess.

Joe is an old man, living in care, who has a secret, well almost a secret, with which he has lived for over 40 years. He knows he is near the end of his allotment, and he knows his God will judge him (He knows), but he has a totem now, a keepsake, which speaks to him of a road not taken.

Dermot is a likeable buffoon, a poor, pitiable man whose life takes an unexpected turn, and then doubles back to leave him just where he was. His life has been full of these types of turns, but he hasn’t even realised it until he finds his head falling, falling into…

Well then, that would be giving it all away, wouldn’t it? No, the text is too good, the acting too real, the space too perfect and the production too effing well done. Go see it yourself!

Spots, Shops and Ships

Lower Marsh is a short little street along the southern side of Waterloo Station in Lambeth North. The street is anchored at each end by a Gregg’s Bakery, which seem to proliferate here like Starbucks does… everywhere. The entire north side of the street has patches marked out on it which are rented by street vendors of all sorts.

When we first got here, not knowing which flat to ring, and having no signal for our mobile phones, a gent, Ian, staffing the Wallabooks stall across the path from our door, offered to call for us, and has been a friendly face on the street ever since. There is food of all kinds – Mexican, Moroccan, Indian, etc. – as well as clothes, linens, miscellany. Every day the vendors start setting up early, many of the food vendors actually cook in the stall, having brought raw ingredients, or those slightly prepped. There are grocers set up at each end, near the Gregg’s shops.

We chose, today, to head over to Tate Modern for Yayoi Kusama. We walked over to Southwark along Southbank and Bankside, passed the tourist shrines of The Clink and The Golden Hinde. Tate Modern is in an old power plant (arts centres are a common re-use of these facilities) looming large on Southbank across from St. Paul’s majestic presence.

The show itself was a bit of a disappointment. We knew little about Kusama going in, but the Guardian had raved about the show, so we took it on faith. In brief, her work is compulsive, obsessive, derivative and in some ways exploitative. Kusama herself suffers from mental illness, and has most of her adult life. Inspired by the Pop-Art movement in the 1960s, she took her obsessive works, her “Infinity Net” series and parleyed that into fame through a series of very out, sexually expressive be-in type events: Kusama’s Self Obliteration.

Her sculptural works involve the application of thousands of fabric phalli attached to everything from row boats to couches, suitcases, tunics, shelves… Or macaroni, she liked to stick that to everything in sight, too. Hmm.

Her whole room installation pieces are the most successful in my eyes. She toyed with “Infinity Rooms” of various type, including one filled with typical living room objects – telly, couch, coffee table, lamps – yet covered with the little round day-glow stickers of the type used to tag goods in a tag sale. The whole room is then bathed in black-light. In another of the rooms, lights of varying colour are suspended in chains from the ceiling all around you, as you tread a reflective path between pools of water, surrounded by walls of mirror. The whole effect is quite pleasant and disorienting.

Well, enough of that. Famished, we headed next further down-river to Borough Market where our pockets were thoroughly picked by the various floggers of food all about. We sampled and bought with reckless abandon, coming back to the flat with a lovely Norfolk Hen, humongous baking potatoes, fresh cut sage, garlic, cheeses, prosciutto, cookies, and some of the most pungent licorice you will ever find. (“It’s okay, feel free to spit it out. I’ve seen that plenty.” said the candy seller to the woman who took a sample after I exclaimed how good it was.)

Back at the flat, X cooked up the hen, roasted a tater (one was big enough for two) and I dealt with salad and Brussels sprouts. Oh, what a feast had we! Yowser!!

A little wine with dinner, then off we stumbled down Lower Marsh street to the well hidden entrance to the Old Vic Tunnels, where we were to see The Sea Plays, by Eugene O’Neill. The tunnels are 30,000 square feet of abandoned rail tunnels, storage vaults, and drainage caverns underneath the Waterloo Station. Vast dank catacombs, sprawling for acres. We found a perch in the bar, on an old overstuffed, and waited patiently. Suddenly a team of firemen marched through the crowd. Not fire-engine and dalmatian type firemen, no the men who stoke the fire of a steam driven ship.

Soon, a bell, and we follow down a dark corridor towards the engine room of the ship. The air is acrid and dense with smoke. Bright orange and red light flashes from the great maw of the fireboxes as the men, streaked with sweat, shovel coal into them. The sharp clank-clank of the engine’s fills the air. We’re shepherded further into the ship, till we left gazing into the main hold, a calm night, just some fog in the air.

A sudden lurch signals the arrival of heavy weather, and the entire ship lunges first to one side then the other. Duct work swings down from the rafters as great washes of waves break over the sides of the ship, scuppering the gun’lls. We see a man washed into the hold, tumbling the vast distance from the deck ’till he disappears from view into the dark depths. There are the cries of his fellow sailors as they struggle to rescue him.

Finally, the storm subsides and we’re left in the fo’c’s’le, the men in their bunks, but one lies alone, on a stretcher. He is tended to by his friend and fellow seaman…

That is how dramatic our introduction was to O’Neill’s 1916 masterpiece, Bound East For Cardiff, and it never let up for a moment. The staging was nothing short of brilliant, the acting roundly good, the production values exceptional and the entire experience left the audience gasping for breath, holding onto our seats, and utterly absorbed into the experience of the show. Wow!

Cannot really pick out any particular performance here. It was a tight ensemble of 16 actors for the three pieces. The first act, in addition to Bound included In The Zone, a taught drama involving men on a merchant vessel trying to avoid U Boats during WWII. Act 2 brought The Long Voyage Home, set at port, where just-paid sailors try to find some R&R in a port of call, and some try to escape the sea at last.

One might ask, but what about the inevitable noise form the working station up above?  Well, for this show at least, it is an ever-present but not at all distracting or out of place sonic accompaniment.

We’ll be back to the Tunnels once more this trip. Silent Opera perform La Bohème next week, and we have tickets. Can’t wait!

Master Class

Quick note here on Master Class with Tyne Daly at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand.  We scored two in stalls from TKTS in Leicester Square for half-price yesterday, and found ourselves in the same seats we had for Duet For One back in 2009.  Odd, that.

The show?  Well, a revival, so no new ground broken here.  Daly was stirring in her portrayal of Maria Callas, past her performing years and teaching a master class to aspiring young performers.  Daly’s performance is almost mask work, something which is alluded to in the script when she tells a student, “Always wear the mask.”  Playwright Terrance McNally tells us as much about how he sees opera as he does about Callas herself, and to be quite honest it is the scenes of instruction, Callas one-on-one with a student, which are the most enjoyable.

There are two long scenes of exposition — about her relationships with Ari Onassis or her first husband — which while quite revealing windows into her soul, slow the pace of the show and risk losing the audience.  The instruction, however, is the thing.  In the first act Callas is working with Sophia, a young soprano who lacks confidence.  What is striking about this scene is how much Diane Pilkington, under Stephen Wadsworth’s brilliant direction, is able to get out of the few lines she has.  Through the character of Callas, McNally channels his true love of opera.  He dissects, one after another, great aria, like so many Faberge eggs, revealing that inside, under all that surface beauty, lies all the basest of human emotions.  As he teases through the entrails of the wounded animals he finds inside, we see Sophia gain new appreciation for the words she has been singing but seldom understanding.  Tears don’t just fall, they spring from her face (and ours) and rain down her blouse.

All the singing performers were well within their range and beyond capable to their roles.  Garret Sorenson, as tenor Anthony Candolino (“Call me Tony!”) nearly brought down the house.  Soprano Naomi O’Connel, after nearly losing our sympathy with her obstreperous manner, finds her match with Lady Macbeth’s letter scene from Verdi’s opera.

All in all a good show.  Interesting that our first art exhibit was Big Art, in the form of Freud’s Portraits at NPG, and now our first show is Big Theatre on the West End.  Don’t expect much more of this — we have several more shows booked, but all are off or off-off West End.

Wiring For Freud

The early bird gets the worm, or in this case the tickets. Following a typically fitful first-night’s sleep in travel quarters, Pawn was first to rise and after breaky of eggy~weggs and a rasher, with croissant and pot of forgettable coffee, was off blazing trails through Jubilee Park (home of the Eye) and across the footbridge to Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery and the same-day ticket queue for Lucian Freud Portraits, the enormous show (with some enormous portraits of some enormous bodies and some enormous egos) which just opened.

Lucian Freud - Evening in the studio - 1993

“…we tried going to that yesterday too! No luck. Our first ticket is 21 March… too many people in London.” wrote CP, yesterday, when I whined about a lack of tickets via the online ticket site.

Allow me a moment to rant about crap online ticket sites. This one, for NPG, is run by Ticketmaster, who with their monopoly and all you’d think would know how to run such a thing. But you’d be wrong. Their site is crap, and not at all easy to operate if you’re looking for an available ticket to a long-term event. One must keep drilling down into a date, and then back out again, with no opportunity to simply ask, “how `bout the next day?” Crap, utter, useless crap!

So with the gallery opening at 10, and the knowledge that they hold back tickets for same-day sales on-site, I head off and get on queue. Send a message to X, back at the flat (no comment here on her early rising record…). What I wrote was “Queuing for Freud: They’re saying 30 minutes but definitely tickets for today.” but what my inaptly named “smart phone” decided I meant was “Wiring for Freud…” Gotta love technology.

That was at 10:08. Turns out they had let people start queuing at 9:00, so I wasn’t exactly at the start of the queue, but by 10:33 I wrote, “close to counter. Will ask for 12:30 entrance time.” which would leave time for lunch prior to entering massive exhibit of massive portraits of massive people and massive egos. I’d been warned, “130 works! wow. Give yourself plenty of time for that one…” D wrote, jealous of my opportunity.

Lucian Freud - Nude with leg up - 1992

A few minutes later, tickets in hand, I strolled out into the BRIGHT SUNSHINE of Trafalgar Square and took my perch near the Fourth Plinth to wait for X to arrive fresh from her restorative ablutions. Lunch in a strange little diner (“MD’s where we don’t hide our ingredients behind a second slice of bread!”) and then we’re in, in amongst some of the largest canvases of some of the largest naked bodies you’ll ever see.

Lucian Freud - Benefits supervisor sleeping - 1995

Okay, in all seriousness, it was a fantastic show. While it’s easy to joke about Freud’s willingness – hell predilection – to paint large people, that’s really quite beyond the point. What Freud has taught us, perhaps more than any other portrait artist, at least in the 20th century, is how to see the human form for what it is. Freud’s portraits are almost entirely de-eroticized, lacking any prurient aspect and though stylized, fervently true. He will worry a face or a shoulder or… anything, to the point of nearly obscuring it beneath the many layers of paint, but he will pierce through to the core of that thing, and that person whose thing that is.

Lucian Freud - Naked girl with egg - 1980-81

Take women’s breasts, for example. Many painters (and photographers, sculptors, etc.) will pose their female subjects such that their breasts, if exposed, will be flattered, if not idealized. Freud, however, seems almost to strive for poses which show the breast in its most elastic, uncontrolled form. Pressed against the arm of a sofa, or flopped to the side, or cupped atop a sleeping subject’s arm. There is no romanticizing here, “Just paint it like I see it, “ one can almost hear him saying.

But the same fervour for authenticity carries over to all aspects of his portraiture – chins have waddles; foreheads, bony promontories; dimples, unflattering asymmetries; feet, bunions. Freud’s subjects, he tells us time and again, are normal people, just like us. When The Brigadier, 2003-4, sits for 200 hours for a portrait, Freud has him wear the same uniform he wore when he retired, some twenty years earlier after a victorious military campaign. An older man now, the uniform no longer fits as comfortably as it once did. The man cannot breath for these long, repeated sittings, so Freud suggests he unbutton the tunic. The result? The Brigadier’s paunch is prominent, it draws the eye, and what we see is not the idealized heroic figure, but the relaxed, retired and all too human man who lead others into battle and was brave or skilled or lucky enough to make it back in one piece so that twenty years later he could pose for this portrait looking like the relaxed, retired and slightly corpulent man that he has become.

Lucian Freud - The Brigadier - 2003-4

Freud has made us like this man, has found that part of ourselves, our everyman, within this man.

In his early work (which the exhibitors have thoughtfully but not rigidly arranged to make the most sense of an artist who’s work has matured as he has, not linearly but with parallel tracks, echoes forward and back, ripples which reflect off the mileposts of his own life) we see an artist who is working within constraints of the form as society understands it, before he begins to find his stride and his own true path. His wide-eyed portraits of the Girl in a dark jacket posed quite artificially, with unnaturally situated objects at once show him strain against the form of pose meets still life, yet also find new figurative language which suits him. He starts to break away in earnest with some self portraits, “Reflections” which are often truly that, from mirrors.

Lucian Freud - Girl in a dark jacket - 1947

By the time we get to the large commissioned and non-commissioned work for which he is best known, we are looking at iconic and iconoclastic work. There is no more Francis Bacon here, unless he chooses to show us that, there is no more of anyone else – just Freud and his models – even when the model is his dog, Eli.

Lucian Freud with Ria Kirby upon completion of Ria Naked Portrait - 2006-7

Something which merits mention is that until witnessed in person it is hard to appreciate just how much paint Freud slathers on to the canvas in his later work. In Ria Nude Portrait, 2007, the model’s right eye bulges out from the canvas so far she appears, under close examination, disfigured. Of course one doesn’t routinely view the great canvas up close and obliquely, so it may well go unnoticed. Faces, profound musculature, and genitalia are most likely to receive this treatment. I’ve mentioned already how de-eroticized Freud’s work is, and yet genitalia receive much attention under his brush. Women’s pubic areas are almost sculptural, three dimensional, in many of his works. Not surprising, perhaps, given his well earned reputation for prolific appetites, shall we say.

One last note, and then this essay shall close. Freud painted many self portraits, but his sense of reflection seems to go beyond this. When one considers the length of his sittings, into the hundreds of hours in many cases (some canvases took years) it’s easy to understand why he would make himself the subject so often, as he developed techniques or understanding. One thing which struck Pawn, however, is how often his own work figures in his work. He painted almost always in his studio, and often the studio itself is as much a subject as his models. It is not at all unusual to see one or more earlier, or incomplete canvases in a piece. For example, Two Men in the Studio, 1987-9, prominently features Standing by the Rags, 1988-9, made more interesting by the fact that the included painting was not started when the including work was.

Lucian Freud - Two men in the Studio - 1987-89

The Rags, of the latter pieces title, are well featured in both. Freud used recycled hotel linens for his paint rags, a fact which the unobtrusive but helpful exhibit text points out to us.

Lucian Freud Portraits is a exemplary exhibition, and well worthy of the crowds and praise it is thus far receiving. National Portrait Gallery have done themselves proud, and we were much the happier for having seen it.

Down To London – Day 1


Soot and dirt and a general sense of dissipation.

Much can be learnt about the state of a people, a place’s psyche based upon the the state of cleanliness one experiences on the ride in from the airport. Here, London 2012, that sense is one of stress, weariness… exhaustion perhaps. Or was that us?

Fairly uneventful flight over. Hit a patch of turbulence over Greenland sufficient to awaken X from her fitful slumber. Sitting in our separate rows (bless half-full flights) we each completed the in-flight crossword puzzle whilst being buffeted about by the gods of flight and wind. Pawn would like to think his accomplishment more complete, as pen was employed, but truth be told the challenge was minor at best.

Train into Paddington then taxi to Waterloo station where we left luggage at Left Luggage and then wandered the area of Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Crowds were simply mad! Spring half-term break is to blame, combined with Valentine’s Day, to be sure. Swarms of kids and families awaited us in Covent Garden, which kept the buskers all well employed, and surely some pick pockets too. Leicester Square, in contrast, was all hustle and bustle mixed with monumental public works. The whole square is currently larded under works, making navigation even more of a challenge, not to mention cutting off access to the most accessible (and actually fairly nice) public loos.

Not found in Covent Garden is the Cornish pasty booth which used to stand near the northeast corner. Oh well. To the Strand and Pret-A-Manger for a quick sandwich before descending to Waterloo and our flat on Lower Marsh. Landlord is there to meet us, and after a quick tour of the upscale digs we begin to settle in. The flat is very nice. In contrast to many London and New York flats, this one has an abundance of space, wide hallways, wasted space. Two bedrooms, one en-suite. Fancy fittings, nice kitchen, Sky cable. Yikes! We may never need to leave!

Not much more for day one. A trip to Sainsbury Local around the corner to lay in some essential supplies (hm, pleasant enough Pinot Grigio, 2 for £10), sausage rolls from Greggs bakery downstairs and a tea pot and ice cube trays from housewares store across the street. Then up to our lair to munch and plan and surf the vast wasteland that is British telly.

Slumber comes on like a lumbering freight train in the switchyard, and Pawn is bedbound by 8:30. >Yawn<