By MICHAEL CAINES
Whitechapel art gallery hosted the London Art Book Fair for the sixth year running last weekend, and a very fine affair it was too . . .
By MICHAEL CAINES
Whitechapel art gallery hosted the London Art Book Fair for the sixth year running last weekend, and a very fine affair it was too . . .
By DAVID COLLARD
“The Skin Project”, launched in 2003 by the American artist Shelley Jackson, is a 2,095-word short story “published exclusively in tattoo form, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers”. The first word – which is “skin” – adorns Jackson’s wrist in Baskerville font, and she stipulates that each volunteer, once issued with their word, should likewise employ a “classic book font such as Caslon, Garamond, Bodoni, and Times Roman”, adding that the tattoo “should look like something intended to be read, not admired for its decorative qualities”.
Prompted by my belated discovery of this I’ve been looking (and often flinching) at online images of other “literary” tattoos, of which there are thousands. The same “decorative qualities” proscribed by Jackson are very much on display as, wrenched from their printed context, lines of prose and poetry are elaborated with baroque fonts, fancy scrolls and curlicues and much use of faux-Gothic script, more Motörhead than Montherlant.
By CATHARINE MORRIS
Is there anyone in the art world more instantly likeable than Grayson Perry? He seemed to fill the room with good cheer as soon as he crossed the threshold (or emerged from the green room) of Foyles bookshop on Monday evening, resplendent in clown garb accessorized with an umbrella and a pink wig.
He was there to open the Art department of Foyles’s new flagship shop – 107 Charing Cross Road, next door to the old one – and he began by telling us that he once shared a high-class squat with a really good shoplifter. Foyles was deemed easy pickings in those days, he said, and this man was a regular. He was eventually caught holding a bulging bag, and he subsequently found (the shoplifter, that is) that he was more embarrassed by the pretentiousness of the books – the titles were read out in court, I think Perry said – than by the crime itself.
Photo: M. Caines
By MICHAEL CAINES
One day in March 1742, the aspiring artist Joshua Reynolds, not yet twenty years old, was attending an auction in Covent Garden, when the crowd parted and somebody both very great and very small walked in: the poet Alexander Pope.
Reynolds remembered him as being “about four feet six high; very humpbacked and deformed; he wore a black coat; and according to the fashion of that time, had on a little sword”. By that point in his life, only a couple of years before his death, Pope, a victim of Pott’s disease, would probably have been wearing a corset to support his weak, crooked spine, and he only rarely appeared in public. Perhaps the most striking thing about Pope, though, apart from his stunted height and the fact that everybody (“by a kind of enthusiastic impulse”, according to Boswell’s version of Reynolds’s anecdote) wanted to bow to him or shake his hand (depending on which source you prefer), was his face. Understandably, Reynolds, the future portrait-painter to the elite, thought it an extremely interesting one:
“[Pope] had a large and very fine eye, and a long handsome nose; his mouth had those peculiar marks which always are found in the mouths of crooked persons; and the muscles which run across the cheek were so strongly marked as to appear like small cords.”
Dr Johnson in Albert Street with his Cat Hodge (2000, oil on board) © The Estate of Beryl Bainbridge
By MICHAEL CAINES
"Turning, he was confronted by an image of himself in the vast mirror on the gallery wall and did not recognise his features. It was as though the shaving glasses at Streatham Park and Johnson's Court, deceived by familiarity, had presented a false portrait, for here the mouth that he had privately considered generous appeared licentious in its fullness, and his large eyes, at home seemingly so expressive of candour, were lit with a sly regard, as of a man fixed on himself."
Which, as portrayed by Beryl Bainbridge in this paragraph from According to Queeney, Dr Johnson really is. The oil painting above, however, is also her work. It has Johnson, by contrast, sitting for his portrait at the table of her house in London, stroking his cat Hodge, and looking back at us.
He is a guest here as he is in the Thrales' house (as depicted in the novel); his head seems to me to be pretty much dead-centre on the canvas, but the scenery around him draws attention to itself, too, in the details of the cut-work, the flowers rising over him and the beaded lamp, as well as the aslant rectangles of the table and the window before and behind him. Perhaps something similar is going on in the passage I've just quoted from According to Queeney: Johnson's disturbed view of himself comes in the middle of another spectacle, a royal dinner; relief only comes when he escapes into the outside world where "white clouds flapped the heavens", "like sails in a blue sea".
This painting is one of two Johnson portraits Bainbridge produced as she was writing that novel about him and the Thrales fourteen years ago. Those who know According to Queeney and Bainbridge's other novels (Young Adolf, say, in which the protagonist describes himself "bitterly", following his rejection by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, as a "painter of postcards") will perhaps find much "harmless pleasure" (Johnson'sseemingly grudging praise of his friend David Garrick's achievements as an actor) in the exhibition Art and Life: The paintings of Beryl Bainbridge, presented by the Cultural Institute at King's College London.
Curated by Susie Christensen, it opens next week, on May 22, in the Inigo Rooms at KCL, Somerset House East Wing, and runs until October 19. Bainbridge had no formal training as an artist, but drew and painted all her life, apparently, and made a little money from that work, too, before she made any from her writing. She's by no means unique, I suppose, in being an adept in both visual and verbal media (step forward, Mervyn Peake, Ian Hamilton Finlay et al), but the close ties between the two are intriguing. Out of the associated talks, I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Brendan King talking about working with the novelist and his forthcoming biography of her, but also about a painting that depicts the same shooting incident from life that Bainbridge put into The Bottle Factory Outing. As above, such connections prompt the thought that maybe the concision and acute observations in the fiction are the result of her having, in some other sense, seen it all already.
By MIKA ROSS-SOUTHALL
Back to the Georgian season, taking place in London and Hanover this year (see part 1 from last week): The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714–1837, the exhibition at the Lower Saxony State Museum Hanover, begins with two coins. “Rosssprung” (1714) shows a heroic, Hanoverian horse (“Ross”) leaping across the Channel from Germany to Britain, marking the accession of George I. The coin next to it, minted over a century later at the end of the Georgian reign, depicts a rather more sedate steed plodding its way back to Germany. British humour from the German curators of the exhibition, perhaps.
And that’s not all we share – at first, the information panels, paintings and objects on display (similar to Queen Caroline’s fascinating closet of curiosities at Kensington Palace) are colour coded to indicate two separate nations (red for Hanover, blue for Britain). But the colours increasingly overlap as we progress through the eighteenth century. Key figures, other than the Kings and Queens, are featured, such as Jonathan Swift (I was surprised to hear from one of the curators that many Germans only know of Swift as a children’s writer), Handel, Johann Christian Bach (the eleventh son of Johann Sebastian, and the organizer, with Carl Friedrich Abel, of the Bach-Abel concerts in England), Captain James Cook and Jane Austen (who dedicated Emma to George IV). Pieces from the extensive art collection founded by George II’s illegitimate son, the Count of Wallmoden, are reunited since 1818, on loan from galleries including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.
One of the stand-out objects, for me, is a letter written in Burmese script on pure gold, decorated with twenty-four rubies and contained in an elephant-ivory case sent from King Alungphaya of Burma to George II on May 7, 1756 (it took almost two years to travel from Burma to London). The Burmese King proposed a trade relationship: "kindest greetings to the English King who rules over the English capital . . . . When close friendship prevails between Kings of different countries, they can be helpful to the needs of each other which we are eager to fulfil" (this content was deciphered in 2011 after three years of examination). But George II wasn’t interested and sent it to his treasure store in Hanover.
Herrenhausen Palace, the summer residence of the eighteenth-century Hanoverians, has been rebuilt by Volkswagen after being bombed by the RAF during the Second World War. The exhibition it now houses looks at the period leading up to George I’s accession; in particular, at his mother, Electress Sophia of the Palatinate. She died in the palace’s baroque gardens during a thunderstorm, and there’s a memorial sculpture to mark the spot, alongside a fountain (one of the tallest in Europe) designed by Gottfried Leibniz and the mausoleum where George I is buried.
Ornate baroque architecture, frescoes and spiralled stucco ceilings of the palace’s original orangery (see photo above) and outdoor theatre provide the back-drop for the KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen; a summer festival, that aims to showcase unconventional interactions between art forms. In 2011, Vivienne Westwood provided grunge-rococo costumes for the director Ludger Engels and the dramatist Andri Hardmeier’s bold take on Handel’s opera Semele, with catwalk-type staging.
Just outside the city of Hanover sits Celle Castle, the oldest residence of George I's ancestors. An exhibition on the Hanoverian dynasty is happening here, too. The surrounding town is pretty, with colourful, half-timbered houses (a “Latin school” from 1604 is still in use) and cobbled streets. At the entrance of a public park, I also came across “öffentlichen Bücherschrank”, a cabinet of free books – I’ve noticed them in Berlin before – and I saw a man with a stack, sitting on a nearby bench. If only the Hanoverians had brought this idea with them to London, all those years ago . . . .
By MIKA ROSS-SOUTHALL
George I’s behaviour was awful. He locked up his wife Sophia Dorothea in a remote German castle for adultery with a Swedish count, took their children and his mistress to England when he succeeded to the British throne in 1714, and made sure his wife was forever kept away from the family. He would later kidnap his grandchildren from the future George II and his wife Queen Caroline.
These were just a few of the anecdotes about the Georgians related to us by Lucy Worsley (the Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces) at a preview of The Glorious Georges, a year-long celebration to mark the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession to the British throne. A season of exhibitions and events will take place at palaces in London and Hanover, where Celle Castle and Herrenhausen Palace will form part of The Hanoverians on Britain's Throne 1714–1837.
George I was an unlikely king – he was fifty-second in line to the throne and fifty-four years old. But his mother was the granddaughter of James I and, more importantly, George was the nearest Protestant. Unremittingly German (he could only speak broken English when he first arrived), and flanked by his mistresses “The Maypole” and “The Elephant”, George told the British that they were “the best-shaped . . . and lovingest people in the world”.
Rivalry between the four Georges (here’s a helpful song to identify them) provided endless entertainment to the British court and the public; not least because George I and his son were always trying to trump each other’s parties. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s polemic sonnet “England in 1819” turns against George III (“old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king”) and the Georgian reign (“leech-like to their fainting country cling”). The period defines much of modern Britain and Britishness – such as tea drinking, coffee-houses, newspapers, the birth of consumerism, art galleries and the cult of celebrity – all of which could only be enjoyed by well-to-do, white, Protestant males (some of this is, perhaps, still the case . . . ). Georgians Revealed, a recent exhibition at the British Library, offered a prologue to the anniversary; as Norma Clarke put it in her review for the TLS, “It is acknowledged that Georgian Britain was a kingdom of ‘extremes’, but the poor feature only in parenthesis and the gargantuan wealth of the few is underplayed . . . . In this the exhibition obeys the dictates of Georgian etiquette. The inescapably ‘low’ aspects of life lacked style and were best not noticed”.
Gin, gang culture, addiction and slavery are far from evident on the London leg of the season, too, but each palace has been cleverly curated to represent the king who lived there – Hampton Court Palace focuses on George I, Kensington Palace on George II, and Kew Palace on George III and George IV – as well as the lives of the courtiers; not always as glamorous and refined as I’d thought. George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard wrote in her diary that her rooms in Kensington Palace were so damp she could have grown mushrooms, Tracy Borman, joint curator at Kensington Palace, said. And as we toured the King’s public dining room at Hampton Court, Worsley described the crowds of courtiers as “stinking in abundance”, jostling to get closer to the King and Queen (there will be a “Smell Map” at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace recreating distinct court scents, such as wood smoke and herbs used in the rushing floor to mask body odours). Elaborate white napkin sculptures adorn the tables and a chicken-wire barrier protects the royals from the crowd – just as it did in the eighteenth century. Restored paintings of feasting and food, by artists such as Rubens, hang on the crimson damask silk wallpaper.
The conservation work in the newly opened state apartments of Kensington Palace and Hampton Court is fascinating. Each detail required extensive research and specialist makers, from gold-gilders for the cornices to limewood experts to restore a carving by Grinling Gibbons (known in the 1680s as the “King’s Carver”) that now decorates the fireplace of the Presence Chamber in Kensington Palace.
During the restoration process, the builders found tools, rags, cigarette butts and bottles in attic rooms, left behind from when the palaces were first built and decorated. At Hampton Court they also discovered hand-prints and graffiti by Christopher Wren’s workers, and, on a wall in its restored Chocolate kitchen, you can see a crude pencil sketch of the view up a female courtier’s skirt – probably, Worsley said, drawn by a bored page boy “below stairs” waiting to serve drinking chocolate.
We saw a magnificent mantua made from silk and woven with untarnished silver thread (thought to have been worn only once by Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham when her husband Charles became Prime Minister in 1765) and a pink linen, whalebone hoop (an undergarment used to extend women’s hips at court, usually to a metre wide), both of which will be on display at Kensington Palace. (No doubt these women would have looked otherworldly and elegant, but I imagine they couldn’t do much – there are contemporary descriptions of the ladies at court slowly gliding about as if they were on casters.)
“Revisionists of the revisionists”, Borman explained, now say that the Hanoverians created an environment for culture to thrive, championed by Queen Caroline and her circle of intellectuals (which included Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Gottfried Leibniz and Sir Isaac Newton). Reviving this spirit, the palaces will be running “salons” with guest speakers debating Georgian and twenty-first century issues.
Many other events are scheduled for the next few months, for example choral anthems, oratorios and chamber music from the Gabrieli Consort and Players; cookery and chocolate-making classes; Georgian “selfies”, if you make it to the centre of Hampton Court’s maze; a performance from a thirty-piece orchestra of George Frideric Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks”, accompanied by a sculptural firework display (recreating the original commission for George II in 1749; see picture, below); and there's also the alluring invitation to learn everything you need to know about the royal “wee” . . . .
By CATHARINE MORRIS
One of the many things I didn’t know about Malta until a fortnight ago, when I joined the audiences of its second International Baroque Festival, is that to English ears a Maltese accent can sound strikingly Welsh. Among the first local people I heard speak at length was Kenneth Zammit Tabona, the Festival’s director (who is also one of Malta’s most popular painters, one with a vaguely Beryl Cook-esque charm), and I imagined that he had spent time in the Valleys, perhaps . . . . But later I noticed a similar lilt in the voice of our tour guide Mariella.
I wonder what accounts for the similarity – coincidence, I suppose; I’m guessing not British rule (from the 1800s until 1964), though that period is very much in evidence – in red telephone boxes, three-pin plugs, driving on the left-hand side, names and, above all, the use of English, which remains an official language. Signs are in English, and almost everyone speaks it. (And in Malta’s capital city Valletta, you’ll see Marks and Spencer, Peacocks and Accessorize – no wonder the British expat community feels at home . . . .)
It’s almost difficult to reconcile such – for some of us – homely touches with Malta’s more distant past: Malta may be small (a fellow Londoner compared it fondly with the Isle of Wight; and I happened to meet a retired teacher who had taught both the Prime Minister of Malta and the Leader of the Opposition), but it is certainly rich in cultural history: its rulers have been Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Arab, and on the island of Gozo (twenty-five minutes from Malta by ferry), you can visit what is thought to be one of the oldest free-standing structures in the world – a clover-shaped temple built around 3,400 BC. You can walk inside it – almost unaccompanied, if you go in winter – and contemplate its sacrificial altars. By the entrance you’ll see the spherical stones on which the limestone walls were transported, looking as if they were left there last month, or the month before.
A defining moment for Malta came with the Great Siege of 1565, and the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (described with some colour in this TLS review of Malta of the Knights in 1929) have been central to its development ever since. Having chosen Valletta – named after the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette – as their stronghold, they set about building their city in a sumptuous baroque style. St John’s Co-Cathedral (home to two Caravaggios, one of them the huge altarpiece the "Beheading of St John the Baptist") was built between 1573 and 1577 and later decorated by Mattia Preti. Preti was to Valletta, Zammit Tabona told us, what Bernini was to Rome.
“We were in the EU before the EU was invented”, Zammit Tabona went on to say: the Knights came from all over Europe, and each of the cathedral's chapels is dedicated to a different nation. He called St John’s “a repository of our history – it is our Vatican, our Westminster Abbey. We love it passionately . . . . The big concert had to be there”. The big concert was Bach’s B Minor Mass performed by the English Concert and conducted by Harry Bicket. I was among the 1,000 people who gathered for it, and the sense of occasion was as enjoyable as the music.
St John’s is one of a number of churches used as concert venues, but at the festival’s heart is the elegant and intimate Teatru Manoel, built at the personal expense of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in 1731. There we heard the Brandenburg Concertos performed by Concerto Köln, who were using not only newly crafted reproductions of baroque flutes (which had a somewhat placid, enclosed sound) but also the pitch used at the court of the Margrave of Brandenburg – a semitone lower than that used by most baroque orchestras and a full tone lower than that used by modern ones.
It was a rather different atmosphere from that I had experienced in the same theatre a couple of days before, when I heard Hippolyte et Aricie ou la belle-mère amoureuse, a puppet parody of the Rameau opera. It was beautifully staged (see picture, top) and performed by musicians and singers from the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (CMBV) and Teatru Manoel, and it was as winningly silly as the genre suggests: La belle-mère was definitely amoureuse, there was no doubt about that, as she wrestled Hippolyte to the floor. One of the arias was addressed to a passing chicken, who warmed to the role of confidante, if all that clucking was anything to go by . . . .
The English Concert conducted by Harry Bicket, St John's Co-Cathedral, below; and Concerto Köln performing at Teatru Manoel
By MICHAEL CAINES
"Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings." Jarvis Cocker has sometimes had to explain why that polite request has appeared in every album by Pulp bar one – the one in which the lyrics were not included. Why print them at all, then? These were albums that seemed to say the lyrics were worth reading (in silence) as well as listening to, a suggestion encouraged by Faber's eventual publication of a selection of Cocker's lyrics as Mother, Brother, Lover, which sets them out with characteristic reverence.
Deprived of the melody that enlivened them, collections of lyrics in print can often seem redundant, inert. Loretta Lynn's Honky Tonk Girl gets round that problem by becoming a kind of biography: it describes her "life in lyrics", the songs themselves being cushioned by reminiscences about being born in "them hills" or entering a talent contest run by Buck Owens ("I entered . . . and won me a watch!"). In a foreword, Elvis Costello describes working with her and turning over a piece of cardboard that fell out of a concertina file labelled "SONGS", and finding one of her most celebrated hits written on the back. The cardboard turns out to have been formerly part of the packaging for an item of underwear – "all that was available when inspiration struck".
Singing Skies (which appeared earlier this year) is different again, still personal, and rather beautiful. Its creators, Stuart A. Staples and Suzanne Osborne, are husband and wife: a songwriter who doesn't normally write down his song lyrics at all, and a painter who was keen to get back to work after an unproductive period of "stasis".
"Too many songs in my head", the songwriter grumbles in an introductory note to the book by way of explanation for its existence; he went out and bought a typewriter from a junk shop, to clatter out the ones he liked, plus others he didn't, attempting them only once each. So there's a spontaneity to them, which you can see in the vagaries of ink, spelling and spacing, at the same time as some of them are twenty years old.
The painter, meanwhile, for a year from September 18, 2010, undertook daily sky studies, as something that could be carried out wherever she went – anywhere from Istanbul or Limoges to Nottingham or Carlisle. They mainly emerged from her studio in France. As below, the book pairs one of these studies of Osborne's consistently available yet ever-changing subject, with a song by her husband that also ends with a place and a date:
As Stuart Staples says, this seems like a good use for an old song lyric: the processes of painting sky scenes (he watches his wife work "sometimes furiously to catch a moment in a fast-changing sky", tearing off a moment's inspiration) doesn't seem so different from that of writing songs. "I felt they belonged together." Realigned in Singing Skies, words and images seem to contemplate one another, without the connections between them seeming forced.
To extend the experience, you can try reading, say, "Dancing" while occasionally glancing over at the cumulus that happened to be passing that French studio at 6:30pm one October night a few years ago, and listening to Dancing, as recorded many years ago by Staples's band, the mighty Tindersticks. (Some TLS editors prefer to listen to some unstoppable force of narcissism; others like a spot of posthumous revenge; nothing wrong with either, I think, but sometimes it's good to hear something a little more melancholy.) I should have mentioned Tindersticks earlier, perhaps. Because they're the reason this book exists. A great band. A band who have worked with Isabella Rossellini and the French film director Claire Denis. And a songwriter is nothing without all kinds of collaborators, it seems . . . .
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Anyone who has had to confront officialdom or bureaucracy in India will be familiar with backrooms full of dusty ageing files, still present in an age of computers and automation. (Would it be presumptuous to speculate that the bureaucracy is a British legacy, an offshoot of that other parting gift, the civil service?)
The photographic artist Dayanita Singh, who was born in New Delhi in 1961, has admitted to “an obsession with archives”, eloquently expressed in the Museums sequence of her exhibition Go Away Closer, at the Hayward Gallery (until December 15). Archivists, she says, “design their own structures, whether it be metal or wood, and most of the time also design their own catalogue systems. So there is great individuality there, and I love that”.
As the Director of the Hayward Gallery Ralph Rugoff writes in a foreword to the accompanying book, Dayanita Singh has “also chronicled the end of an era in the information age, by photographing bureaucratic archives in India that are filled with piles of disintegrating paper documents”. Geoff Dyer, in his introduction to the book, says of the file pictures, “what cries out to be described as Dayanita’s most ‘substantial’ body of black-and-white work, File Room [is] a documentary record of documents!”
According to the curator of the exhibition Stephanie Rosenthal, “her images are meant to be read, not simply seen; they demand the sort of active looking that engages the mind as much as the eye . . . the images are rarely given captions, since Singh believes that factual information gets in the way of the viewer’s experience of the image”.
"Zeiss Ikon 1996"
There is a poignant sequence of photos of “her greatest friend”, the eunuch Mona Ahmed, who has gone from “being a diva to becoming an outcast among outcastes, living in a graveyard . . . . She asks God, ‘why did you make me like this?’ and tells us: ‘ no one becomes a eunuch by choice. We are not like men trying to be women, we are the third sex’”.
Singh creates “Museums”, beautiful wooden structures, folded like Japanese screens but containing sequences of photographs (nearly all black and white). Thus we have the Museum of Chance, the Museum of Men (which includes a photo of a quizzical-looking Günter Grass in a side street, possibly in Delhi . . .), the Museum of Embraces and so on. Of her Museum of Machines Singh says, “these are not just machines, these are sculptures. There is something organic about them”.
In an exhibition leaflet the visitor is told that the "Museum Bhavan is a collection of museums made by Dayanita Singh. Permanently installed at Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, the museums will, however, travel to other venues . . . . The design and architecture of the museums are integral to the images shown and kept in them. Each large, wooden, handmade structure can be placed and opened in different ways".
For me, the most striking image (not available for reproduction) was that of an indoor swimming pool at night (Singh has talked of working at night, “with the ‘wrong’ film and the ‘wrong’ exposures”), the overhead lights playing on the surface of the black water, while large arched doorways, their shutters pulled back, open on to the darkness outside with a couple of lights in the distance; there are three small starting blocks and, just visible in frame, a diving board. The whole scene is pervaded by a sense of mystery.
Go Away Closer occupies the upstairs gallery of the Hayward. Downstairs are the Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta’s earthy and blood-soaked images, which Judith Flanders reviewed in the TLS of October 14.
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