Elizabeth Price, video still from User Group Disco, 2009
The Baltic art gallery in Gateshead is currently showing three large-scale video installations by Elizabeth Price that deal with the suggestive language of advertising via beautiful imagery and intense usage of sound. I stood in the dark in front of these big screens and allowed myself to be bombarded.
Kathleen Stenning, Keep Warm Travel Underground poster, 1925
As a cold spell threatens Europe, here’s a simple message conveyed beautifully via the medium of graphic design. It also happens to be a cracking album.
A.W.N. Pugin, Wallpaper, ca. 1840-1844
The great Gothic revivalist Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin had a long, illustrious name and a short, illustrious life. I watched an engrossing BBC 4 documentary about his life last night and although his buildings (including Big Ben and much of Westminster) were mind-blowing works of art, I wanted to post a picture of his garish, complex wallpaper that dominated the hallway to his own (self-designed) house. Although he was shy of blowing his own trumpet, professionally, in his own home, he created a monument to his skills and talent – his design features a black bird from his own coat of arms and his motto, ‘en avant’ – ‘move forward’!
Gary Hume, Pink Rent, 2011
I was reading about Gary Hume, whose glossy surfaces I’ve always admired, in the Guardian newspaper. He’s a straight-down-the-line sort of chap and so are his paintings, to a certain extent, but there’s a richness and resonance that underpins them. These flowers appear to revel in their own plasticity.
Ghostly yet perky, like a pop Meredith Monk (i.e. still not pop).
Super-cool video for a nagging tune that builds and builds, but never breaks into a sweat.
Robyn Hitchcock is generally, and unjustly, hovering beneath the general public’s collective radar. This song has a surreal clarity, if that makes sense.
I saw The Lost Honour of Katherine Blum (1975) tonight, on the same day as our tabloid press is being called to account for its more despicable practices. It concerns the fate of a young woman being hounded by the press after being arrested for spending the night with a suspected terrorist. In the context of 70s West Germany, the film is explosive and indignant and I exited the cinema feeling similarly about the power of tabloid newspapers in our society. Aside from that, the polemical, melodramatic aspects of the film are appealingly over-the-top and it is carried by a striking performance by Angela Winkler.
My friend Susie Green is an artist and she recently had an exhibition called Sexy Being in her house. Her walls are swaddled with photographs and nuggets of inspiration:
I particularly like her recent splodgy paintings of Dogtooth patterned fabric:
I attended a screening of Alan Lomax films at the Star & Shadow cinema in Newcastle last week and saw these two stunning clips amongst many others. Throughout his life, Lomax collected examples of traditional American song and archived them. The first piece of footage is from a 1978 journey through the Mississippi Delta and the second clip is from a 1982 trip to North Carolina. If you want to see more incredible performances there’s a Youtube archive.
Heartfelt, simple music from Lucinda Williams’s eponymous 1989 album. When she sings “It’s okay to feel good” there’s so much implied hurt in that line, casting the whole song into a new light.
Le Corbusier, Les mains, 1951
This tapestry by the great architect and artist, Le Corbusier, leapt out from a book that I have called Cold War Modern. It reminds me of some of Picasso’s more illustrative works and I like the sparse patches of colour that make it feel like a tracing-paper collage.
Sonia Delaunay, Design for catalogue of the Stockholm exhibition, Nya Konstgalleriet, 1916
Sonia Delaunay’s work had a lovely sense of freedom around it, even though she was working with patterns and geometric shapes, which are often depicted more rigidly, necessarily so in the case of fabric patterns or other designs for mass production. Her use of watercolours and gouache, as seen above, makes her work seem playful and fluid rather than traditional and staid. It’s hard to capture how they look and feel in this reproduction, but I particularly like the haphazard looseness of the text – I find it really involving.
This unusual album sleeve came to my attention on Altered Zones. By following the link, you’ll find all the information and you can listen to a sample. I liked the bright-but-faded colours as well as the futuristic rambler look. Maybe I’ll adopt it next season…
I watched some interviews with Billy Mackenzie and the lack of respect he was afforded was disgraceful. His vocal range and the way he used it still sounds quite shocking to me today. There’s a seam of alienation that runs through the smooth funk and white soul music of The Associates. Club Country makes it all sound so fun.
Recently, I attended a lecture by the poet Paul Muldoon where he discussed the subtle subtexts and influence on their work contained within the letters of fellow poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop lived part of her life in Brazil and this poem about a local festival was key to Muldoon’s analysis of her work. I, like Lowell, thought it was magnificent; a poem of fire and restraint.
The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop
for Robert Lowell
This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,
rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars –
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,
or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it’s still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,
receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.
Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair
of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.
The ancient owls’ nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,
and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! — a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.
Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!
Maureen Gallace, Cape Cod October, 2002
With the October turning of the weather I thought it appropriate to post this painting, which carefully chooses what and what not to include.
When I bought the latest Gillian Welch album on CD I didn’t realise how special the cover insert was. Here’s the story of how it was made and how much love goes into every aspect of the release.
This beautiful song is featured in the third part of Terence Davies’s Trilogy, Death and Transfiguration (1983). Davies uses music to moving effect in his autobiographical film about growing up as a closeted gay man in post-war Liverpool, but this clip takes us back to the golden age of Hollywood musicals, evoking a certain naivete that Davies possibly yearns for as he looks back at his harsh upbringing.
Isami-ashi, Wait behind the white line, May 1979
I’ll stand up, July 1979
Frieze magazine linked to a whole bunch of these Japanese Subway Manners posters yesterday. On the surface, Japan loves etiquette and respect, which is charming in itself, but these posters take a particularly offbeat look at do’s and don’t's on the trains and on the platforms. They’re all notable, but these two, in particular, caught my eye. Simple and weird.
My pal Paul Rafferty (of ace band Hot Club de Paris) did the graphics and music for this charming short documentary about Dutch beachcombers. It’s a bit funny and a bit sad, but mostly interesting.
Richard Forster, Three verticals at approx 30 second intervals 21 Jan 2009, 11.42 – 11.43am, Saltburn-by-the-sea, 2010, pencil on card
As is customary, I went to mima, Middlesbrough’s modern art gallery prior to Sunday’s football match in the town. Aside from the brilliant exhibition on collage art, there was a solo exhibition of the meticulous, thoughtful work of Richard Forster. The blurb on the wall mentioned something about appreciating ‘slow time’ as opposed to the ‘fast time’ that otherwise occupies us in a highly-developed society – something that struck a chord with me. Seascapes are common enough in art but the series of monochrome drawings of random tidal intervals that ran in sequence around the white gallery walls contained so much detail that I was compelled to absorb and reflect rather than gloss over their similarities. It’s a soothing room.
David Tindle, Head Study (1993)
This painting reminds me of Lucian Freud’s mid-period portraits (if I can refer to them as that). It was presented to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by the artist in 1993, but the canvas has the artist’s address from 1955 on the back, so I’m not entirely sure when it was painted. Mysterious stuff.
I really like the cover layout of the new Rapture album on DFA Records. The poetic title is a bonus, too.
Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) is a shortish, slow film showing life in the mid-seventies around a Los Angeles black community. It’s full of awkwardness and memorable images of aimless summer days, at times feeling like a documentary and, at others, like a stilted stage play. It reminds me of the early work of other US independent film-makers, but the subject matter makes it quite unique for its time.
I was cheered by this cheeky bit of sauce today! Old-fashioned technicolor glamour and wise-cracking Jane Russell make this song and synchronised dance pop out of the screen. Howard Hawks’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) is full-on great entertainment, folks.
This song is beautiful and minimal, attributes enhanced by its video. Cello reverberations swallow up a sorrowful song, calling to mind luminaries like Low who prefer to write songs that unfold at their own pace.
Turn the lights down low and put this record on. Female vocalisation at its best with killer songs and deep, spiritual Philly soul, made for hot summer nights. Nyro was a one-off and Labelle’s harmonies were the perfect complement for her on this gorgeous album. Have a listen to Desiree for a taste:
Lucian Freud, John Minton, 1952
I used to constantly gaze at this oil painting in a book in my Sixth-form art room. Maybe I thought by studying it, some of the late Lucian Freud’s talent would rub off on me. I remember thinking Minton looked like the singer Jonathan Richman who I had recently seen play at Middlesbrough Cornerhouse, which, I suppose, illustrates how works of art can intertwine with our lives and memories.
The choppy waves of hair, the slightly gormless expression, the big eyes containing worlds just beyond our knowledge – there are so many fine details in this painting yet it remains mysterious.
Tom Sandberg, Untitled, 2004
One of my brothers sent me this in response to the photograph I used for my album and single covers. It’s mysterious and beautiful.
Yesterday, I heard the Megamix version of this song, which is more dancefloor-friendly, but this video has a retrospective charm (and a comedy cordless phone). The drum track is brilliant and I’m a sucker for the fey vocal over the top of such a house-y tune. No wonder it did well in Chicago at the time.
I laughed at the ‘free’ dance moves, but I should give these people from the past full credit for bravery. Hot tune from Veronica Falls who put the jingle into jangle.
Cor! What a mover! Any excuse for a bit of Dame David in his pomp.
Robert Rauschenberg, Cy at Black Mountain College, 1951
Hearing of Cy Twombly’s death this morning, I remembered being mesmerised by his paintings in a Tate Modern retrospective three years ago. I allowed myself to switch off from my surroundings in the gallery and be taken under by the rhythms and harmonies in his huge paintings, often created by a mixture of the haphazard and the precise. It’s apt that his nickname, Cy, is derived from Cy ‘Cyclone’ Young, the baseball legend since his later paintings often look like the aftermath of an oceanic storm.
Scraps of poetry and mythology run through paintings such as this:
Outrageously controlled emotions from Mickey Newbury here as he performs his arrangement of a medley that Elvis made famous with his over-the-top-but-brilliant rendition. The steadily-plucked nylon strings are the perfect complement to Newbury’s elastic, velvety croon and what could’ve easily been jingoistic cheese is actually a poignant mediation on war and death.
When I was growing up, I played a lot of basketball. My mates and I all erected hoops wherever there was a spare piece of concrete outside our houses. Patrick Ewing was seven feet tall and, with a personality to fill his huge frame, he became one of my favourite players, inspiring the obligatory shout of ‘Ewing!’ whenever the back yard bore witness to a blocked shot. American culture was such a big influence on me growing up and I would’ve loved one of these posters – there’s a whole article on US sports posters on Jay-Z’s plush website, Life + Times
I saw Bill Porter’s work on the super-cool website It’s Nice That. Principally an animator, he seems to be a jack of all trades and a master of a fair few of them. To illustrate here’s a still from Dance The Way I Feel, his 2010 animation for a Fatboy Slim tour video, which has a really simple, bold quality:
I heard a new song by Gillian Welch tonight, from her latest album, The Harrow and The Harvest. It’s called Tennessee and it’s starts like a Southern Gothic movie waiting to happen, or maybe a musical interpretation of the opening scenes of Terence Malick’s Badlands. She has a beautiful, crisp voice and a way with words, in addition to a complete grasp of traditional country and folk music from the American South. Welch certainly knows how to set a scene while remaining economical with her language:
“I kissed you cause I’ve never been an angel
I learned to say hosannas on my knees
But they threw me out of Sunday school when I was nine
And the sisters said I did just as I pleased
Even so I try to be a good girl
It’s only what I want that makes me weak
I had no desire to be a child of sin
Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek”
Last night I listened to Nite Flights by The Walker Brothers, their final album from 1978, that featured distinct sections by each of the three ‘brothers’, with Scott Walker’s music taking the more avant-garde form that he’s developed to date.
The Electrician, in particular, stands out, being both chilling and spectacularly beautiful: