Wednesday, 25 April 2012

More scary clowns...

Of all the posts I've ever posted, the one on scary clowns has had the most views. So, to scare all those clown-phobics out there -- just a little bit -- here are some more creepy clowns.
I absolutely adore this louche chap. And he wobbles too...
The rest of today's boys are from a Funny Face board game. I like them because they look to me as though they're based on real people.
Look at the sadness in those eyes...
In this game all the eyes, ears, mouths, noses and bow ties pop out and you spin a pointer to see which body part you replace next. By swivelling eyeballs and mismatching ears you can make some real grotesques. But the moveable parts have never been pushed out in my set, so I intend to keep them mint, I think. They're so beautiful, I've half a mind to frame them and hang them up.
Which one do you like best ... or fear the least, children?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

"Wicked cathedral" -- a day of art

Yesterday I had a day in London doing galleries. It started very instructively. I got the train into London at 10.30 and it was full of Arsenal fans going down for the home match. Across from me were four Arsenal supporters, all men in their forties or fifties with buzzcut hair and football shirts. At a certain point I heard them start talking about Banksy so tuned into their conversation. They were big fans of Banksy and knew about the latest Banksy pieces to be discovered. One of them had seen the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop (very good film in my view). Then they moved on to Van Gogh and how he had never made any money from his art while he was alive. Finally they had a good old chat about Gaudi, Barcelona, Parc Guell and Gaudi's 'wicked cathedral'. I recount this not to laugh at them but, on the contrary, to celebrate their awareness of and enjoyment of art, a happy thing.
Ron Mueck's woman carrying sticks
So I managed to get to five galleries in total yesterday, but two of them only had four artworks each on display. First I went to see Thomas Ruff at Gagosian then I walked a couple of minutes round the corner to Hauser & Wirth to see four new sculptures by Ron Mueck. The gallery director was giving a talk about the work, so at least I found out that Mueck's name is correctly pronounced 'Moo-eck' (and not 'Mook' or 'Merk' as I had tentatively thought). There's a debate about whether Mueck's incredibly lifelike but smaller- or larger-than-life pieces are 'not really art' because they are somehow 'just models', but I like them very much. There's no 'shame' in an artist aiming for realism and the pieces carry 'meaning' in just the same way as a photograph or a realistic painting might. In the new show, there was the woman carriying a bundle of sticks, pictured above, whose pale, blotchy skin was scratched by the jagged wood she was struggling with. What context should we imagine for her? Is she a primitive woman or someone living in a naturist commune in the backwoods of America, perhaps? She stood so beautifully on her pudgy feet, tipped back to counterbalance the weight of her load but solidly grounded. The other pieces were a half-sized man with his arms outstretched on a lilo who, having been mounted on the wall, resembled an odd kind of crucifixion, a very small model of a boy in jeans examining a stab wound in his side, and a huge chicken hanging upside down from a hook. Apparently Mueck makes all the items that his figures are adorned with himself -- their watches, sunglasses, clothes and so on. Everything looked absolutely authentic but on an altered scale. I don't think it would be enough if one's only question on seeing this art was, 'How does he do it' -- but it evokes a strong sense of presence and you feel a connectedness to these imaginary people as you stare at them. There's an element of the uncanny, too, but more of a sense of shared humanity (pace the chicken).
     Next I went to a gallery I hadn't heard of previously, Pippy Houldsworth, just off Regents Street. The gallery was hosting a show where artist couples collaborated on a piece together. It was very lively and stimulating. In some of the work you could see two different hands at work, in others the collaboration was completely enmeshed.
     Gallery 4 was Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery, still really busy well into its run. Since I've started trying to paint people, I couldn't not go to this. You don't need me to tell you he was an amazing painter. Just his ability to mix colours was extraordinary. Looking at his images of nudes, both male and female, completely laid open, the artist I felt he connected to was Sickert, who had a similarly consuming gaze. There were some incredible late paintings where the 'bodies' were just laid around the artist's studio like corpses, in one case there was an extra body sticking out from under the bed where the main model lay with a dog. The paint gradually took on a rather terrifying blistered appearance as though it was reacting on the canvas, bubbling and scabbing. It was very powerful. You felt the rather fetid atmosphere of the studio with its grubby mattresses and piles of rags and it seemed like a ward in a field hospital where the 'disease' of art was being battled like a burning fever.
Finally I caught the bus to the Serpentine where Hans Peter Feldmann has a show. I've had my eye on Feldmann for a while as he is interested in things I'm also interested in -- found images, things grouped into sets, little books of found images. Quite a lot of the people at the show seemed to be rather nonplussed by it. I overheard quite a lot of people expressing disappointment or confusion. (I was also very amused by a woman who was 'mmm'-ing so enthusiastically to what her friend was saying that she was virtually singing: 'Mmmm...mmmm...MMM...MMMMM'.) A lot of the work did seem rather inconsequential. The room, pictured above, where rotating discs with arrangements of odd objects (an Eiffel Tower, a doll, little figurines) cast ever-changing shadows on the wall was rather gorgeous. You imagine a child watching it as they went to sleep and being captivated. His latest thing is to acquire old-master-ish portraits and repaint the eyes with a squint or add a red nose. Hmmm. It was the sort of show where you think, 'Damn the art world -- why isn't this me?' But it isn't.
Absolute final port of call was the actual Scandinavian Kitchen that I had the mail order stuff from before. This time I was able to buy fresh cheese as well as tons more crispbreads and some more sweeties (I am LOVING Skum Banan, a mallow & chocolate banana not done any favours by its name). Why can't I live next door to this place? I also got the proper scandinavian cocoa powder to make the addictive-sounding cake on their website at the moment -- Kladdkaka...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Away Down to Lamorna

Last week we were lucky enough to stay in a rented house down by the sea at Lamorna Cove in Cornwall. The hedges were full of blossom and the broom was out, splashing everywhere with bright yellow. Above is the view from the path above the house.
We were right down in the cove at the end of the wooded valley where quite a lot of artists have lived or stayed in the past. At the Village Hall the artists' group started by Samuel John 'Lamorna' Birch was still going strong and having a show which included work by Lamorna Birch's grandson and his wife -- they still live in the same house that Lamorna Birch owned, which I think is the white house towards the top right of my photo above. I talked to the lady looking after the exhibition and she lives and works in the 1920s studio built for Laura Knight by Alfred Munnings. I spotted it from the road later and it looked beautiful. I was so envious! Apparently a film crew had just finished filming Summer in February which is a novel based on the arty goings-on in Lamorna Cove in the 1920s -- I've just ordered the book. It sounds wonderful and I'm looking forward to the film as well (out in September)
     Alfred Munnings' own house has been converted into a very lovely upmarket (but friendly) hotel called The Cove now. We ate at the restaurant there one evening and were so taken with it that we went back another night. These are the gorgeous drinks we had before we ate:
Mine was the capairinha with all the limes. Hooked on those now. The middle one was alcohol-free for Dora with sorbet and strawberries...
     We had the writer A.N. Wilson as a neighbour for a week which was interesting but we all kept ourselves strictly to ourselves -- no 'Tamara Drewe'-ish vibes! I can't help but think of Posy Simmonds when I go down to Cornwall.
These giant triffids were growing in the stream just outside the house. Gunnera, I thnk?

We had a pretty free-form week, dotting about here and there. St Ives  was not the same as I remember it from Christmases there with my Mum when it was wonderfully quiet and mild -- this time it was crazily busy but we went to the Tate to see the exhibition by Simon Fujiwara who, his Japanese heritage notwithstanding, grew up in Carbis Bay, just along from St Ives. It was a very strange assortment of installations based on fictionalised aspects of the artist's life. The room I liked best was where he had created huge models of lighthouses taken from paintings by Alfred Wallis. These reminded me strongly of the lighthouse that appears at the end of Marianne Dreams, one of my absolute favourite childhood books.
We had some beautiful walks, which almost killed me, so unfit am I (in spite of continuing to run round and round downstairs nearly every morning...). Some were along the coastal path and some ventured inland. This painting by Lamorna Birch really captures the sun and the fresh air of these walks:
We even came face to face with a real cow when we had to cross a farmyard:
Of course I fancied myself in a pair of 'artist's trousers' painting en plein air, like this chap...
portrait of Stanley Gardiner by Richard Copeland Weatherby
... but I only got as far as drawing a few shoes one rainy morning.
spooky derelict engine shed nr Cripplesease
We went to view an art sale in Penzance, thinking that if there was a picture we really loved we might go to the auction and see if we could get it -- we used to be keen on auctions before we had kids. It was a big sale with about 500 paintings, some of them by well-known artists such as Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Terry Frost, but they all looked a tiny bit shabby and insignificant, hanging cheek by jowl in the auction room. It was very interesting to view the pictures in that non-museum context -- you could handle most of them and really scrutinise them. The estimate prices were quite high and the only one I felt any feeling for was this one by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham:
But the estimate was £2-3K and that was out of my price range!
Mousehole from Raginnis Hill by William J. George
We went to Mousehole one day -- absolutely lovely, much closer to how I remember St Ives being. And to Cape Cornwall which, in a similar way, was how Land's End should really be, but it's just a bit further up the coast. That was beautiful too. We saw General de Gaulle having a float in the sea there:
Penzance is nice, with some mad second-hand emporia, and a very nice place to have breakfast: the Artist Residence (also a hotel -- looked very cool). It was a very lovely coincidence that while we were there I was reading Patrick Gale's novel, Notes from an Exhibition which is set in Penzance and is the story of a woman artist and her family. I can't recommend this novel highly enough for anyone who loves art and/or Cornwall. It was the best holiday read I could imagine and even includes the author's personal tour of Penzance in the back.
St Michael's Mount seen across Penzance Harbour
Well, I think that's about it. I'll just finish off with a few stray photos.
fishing nets
crow on a roof in St Ives
shadows on the wall in our holiday house

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Giveaway results

Thanks so much to everyone who left a comment for the giveaway. It closed last night and tonight Dora drew the names out of a bowl for me.
     So here are the results:
I'll just use your comment-tag-names:
Notebook: Kitsch and Curious
Ladybird book: Menopausal Musing
Hanky: Linda
Purse: Colleen
Hat pins: Joanna
Cactus candy: Ellen
Needlecase: James
Papier poudre: Jee
Little letter: Printed Material
Belemnite: James

Congrats everyone. If I need your postal address I'll get in touch via email in the next couple of days.

Jane x

PS Lesley -- I made those muffins just now -- very nice, quite peppery. Easy to do. I'll try to remember to include a copy of the recipe when I send your bits and pieces.