Tuesday, 25 September 2012

More Martin Parr in Folkestone

The School of Life asked me to write a blog post about the weekend with Martin Parr that I went on with them, and they've just published it -- it has some of the photos the others took, but sadly not my favourite ones (by Sue and Gaynor).

Sunday, 23 September 2012

More stars in cars

This is the latest of my paintings of celebrities caught in their cars (Lindsay, Britney and Paris out on the town in LA). It's quite large: 100cm x 50cm. Painted in acrylics on canvas. I've put a thin wooden frame around it because it's going to included in the Open Exhibition at Letchworth Arts Centre from October 3rd, along with my picture of Dannii Minogue in her car. I wonder if people will get the paintings?
     This one (and the Dannii one too) was quite hard to photograph because of all the dark areas -- they tend to catch the light in a weird way and look whiteish. Hopefully they'll look better in the flesh.

Friday, 21 September 2012

A couple of million short of the asking price...

Charlestown Harbour in Cornwall is up for sale. If I had a couple of million quid going spare, I'd love to buy it.
We went there once, back in 2006, just by chance, when we were looking for the Eden Project. I thought it was beautiful -- a working harbour and shipyard that seemed unchanged since the nineteenth century.
But it wasn't the tall ships that really captivated me, but the kids jumping into the water there. I spent as long as D, D and C would let me trying to catch them in mid-air. My shots were awful, but it was the start of an enduring interest in catching people in mid-jump.
This is the Blue Lagoon in WestWales:
This is one of my pictures, based on an old postcard:
I'll be in trouble with my offspring if I include any of my photos of them jumping so I'd better stop there.
I wish I was better able to jump myself -- I feel very earthbound these days.
Oh boy, I just found a whole site of jumping photos!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Before my holidays are gone for ever -- Part 3

a field near our holiday house -- the first time I've ever seen cornflowers in a corn field
The title of my holiday posts is stretching into irony now, because the holidays nearly are gone for ever. Luckily I kept a diary while I was there, so can call on that if some of the details are getting a little blurry. I didn't intend to take so long to get this all down.
just by our house
Just one small caveat before I get back to the E22, where you left me in Part 2, heading for Wallanderland. Not everything that follows will be described in the sunniest terms: there were aspects of this holiday that made me feel quite melancholy (and if I tried very hard I could even turn this into a positive -- you just imagine you're hearing that lilting Wallander theme music as you drive or walk along feeling blue. Suddenly it's elegiac...). I may mention some of these triste moments, but it doesn't mean I've fallen out of love with Sweden. Far from it.
So we drove down from Malmo to the Southern coast of Sweden in our fiendishly hi-tech hire car, ignoring the frequently changing messages in Swedish which flashed up on the dashboard screen and relying on a good old finger on a map to find our way. Through Trelleborg and onto the coast road which revealed a gentle grey sea just across a narrow strip of fields, some of which had a beautiful blue crop (linseed/flax, I think).
The sea never seemed to come in or go out and was strangely still. It was an intensely agricultural area, very flat, with lovely farms dotted everywhere.
We had instructions to find the house we'd rented which were fine until we got to the last sentence, which said, 'after a few hundred metres on the gravel road, turn left and your house is third on the left'. It was the vagueness of the 'few hundred metres' combined with the spine-joggling ruts in the unmade-up road which made us lose our nerve. We weren't even sure we were on the right track -- literally. We took a left turn onto an even less auspicious-looking track. There were a few houses and farms straggling ahead of us -- how to even count to three? You wouldn't think it could be difficult but there were complex clusters of buildings, outhouses, stables -- how to divide them up into separate units? We stopped outside what we thought was the third house and sat nervously looking about us. I didn't recognise anything about it from the photos we'd seen online. I got D to track down the pictures of the house online and I went to have a sniff round. I felt like a burglar, creeping up to the windows to peer in -- I thought I might see a Swedish family inside, having their lunch like a Karl Larsson painting. There was no sign of any inhabitants, which was encouraging. Our instructions said that the key was in the key box and I had the code. Crossing my fingers that this was actually the right house, if I could find the box we'd be in.
Meanwhile in the fields behind us flocks of disconsolate birds were agitating the air. It was quite atmospheric, but perhaps not an ideal accompaniment to the nagging anxiety that you can't find your holiday house. I crept round this suspiciously large house (surely we hadn't managed to rent this?), running my hands underneath creepers and peering under benches, looking for the key box. I didn't really know what I was looking for -- but I didn't find any boxes of any sort. I went back to the car where the others were peering at the agency photos of our house -- which didn't seem to bear much resemblance to this one, or only in a generic way. There were the beginnings of one of those bad situations where you suddenly feel feel all is lost. 'I'm going back for another look.'
This time I scrutinised the postbox by the edge of the road and managed to make out the names of the owners, faded almost to invisibility. 'This is it!' I recognised their names from the emails we'd exchanged at the last minute about the need for us to bring sheets and towels with us (not a good moment).
     There was only the key box to find now and after a determined rootle I found it up on the wall in the garage. 'Yes!!'
peering into our holiday house through the window, hence weird reflection
We were in. And the house was beautiful, much more spacious than we had expected, with what seemed like two of every room and a sauna (which we never got up the nerve to try out). Another not-good-moment, though, was the discovery that the sheets and duvet cover we'd lugged all the way from the UK, via Denmark, didn't actually fit the humungous bed in the main bedroom (I should've remembered IKEA and all their weird-sized beds) so that meant buying more sheets at the supermarket and making a kind of patchwork of bits and bobs. It didn't really matter.
We had a week in which to relax and explore Wallanderland -- the nearest town to the house, Ystad, is where they film Wallander. We had already discovered, in Malmo and Lund, that Skane (and probably the whole of Sweden) has the most incredibly well-appointed tourist information network, with grand bureaux in every town, filled to bursting with free maps and lavish brochures. We had the above brochure, which you can read here in full if you're interested. This magazine became both our constant guide and a bit of an albatross around our necks. It was crammed with tempting things to do and just perfectly conceived to appeal to the sort of holidaymakers we are: a bit of everything -- vintage markets, art shows, restaurants, walks, design shops, book towns. We knew we'd never do it all but we tried to pick out the most tempting things to do. It became a bit obsessive, especially as we kept heading out to what sounded like the most exquisite places and finding them, well, just quite nice.We needed to recalibrate our expectations.
The first thing we picked from the brochure was Lake Gyllbo, which was described as a 'jewel' surrounded by 'herb-filled meadows' and woodland 'dipping its toes in the water'. I cannot resist the idea of a herb-filled meadow. We thought there was a walk all the way around the lake but the path only went a short way in each direction. It was much bigger than we had imagined and the herb-filled meadows must have been in another part. Then it started to drizzle. It was beautiful, though, wasn't it?
     If we have a car when we're on holiday, we always enjoy just driving round taking in the landscape and stopping here and there. There were a lot of places to enjoy fika (coffee and cakes), the best of which was Olof Viktor's bakery and cafe just outside Ingelstorp. This really was an absolutely beautiful place with lots of little rooms to hide out in and gossip the afternoon away. Fantastic cakes too.
one of the rooms at Olof Viktor's konditori
Everywhere we went in the car we saw signs for 'Loppis' which turned out to mean vintage or fleamarket. Every farm seemed to be doing 'loppis' but we were too shy to drive off the road and try these out. We went to some of the larger ones, in old warehouses near Ystad station and out in the countryside, but we resisted their blandishments. We had a lot of sheets and towels to lug home...
The secondhand bookshops were really splendid, though. This one, above, is Mitt i Byn in Ingelstorp, where the owner was charming and looked up the opening times of Olof Viktor for us. Nearby was Borrby, a book town (or 'bokby' in Swedish, which is better still) like Hay-on-Wye but very different in feel, not quite so quaint. It had broad, empty streets and seemed much quieter than anywhere else we went. Worth a visit if you're book-hungry -- you'd be surprised how high a proportion of the books are in English.
'What of the sea?' I hear you cry. Well, here's the thing. The sea was rather sad because it seems to have been invaded by stinky weed which has thrown itself up on the beautiful white beaches, crusted over and become even more stinky. It was a terrible shame and we felt that the problem was probably undermining  tourism in Skane, even though there is so much else to see. You couldn't really sit on the beach. Above is the beach at Beddingestrand. We played at Wallander and found clues to terrible crimes...
One day, in the car, we had a genuine Wallander moment. First we passed a police minibus parked by the side of the road. All around it handsome policemen and women looked to be readying themselves for some sort of intervention. Just a little further along the road we then saw some shifty leatherclad biker-gang types beloved of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, standing round by a church hall of some sort. Further along still were two more biker types urgently talking into two-way radios. Definitely Wallanderesque.
don't you think this could be straight out of an episode of Wallander too?
We couldn't visit Ystad and not go on the Wallander tour. This was a ride around various Wallander-linked sites on a fantastic old fire-engine:
It was brilliant. We were loosely held on with a rope across us and then we swung round the (very beautiful) streets of Ystad whilst our guide (in English) told us that here was Wallander's house, here a baddy had hidden in the hedge, here was the police station (but really the port authority building, I think), here was a murderer's front door and here the cafe where Kurt went with Linda -- I couldn't remember any of it from the telly but I just loved riding round on the fire engine. When it wanted to turn a corner, little indicators snapped out.
     I'm not giving you the blow-by-blow account of absolutely everything we did but I must tell you about the oggkaka. This was something else we picked out from the brochure. Brosarp on the east coast of Skane is the 'home of the oggkaka' or 'eggcake' and it was heartily recommended by the locals, so off we went. We got to the Brosarp Gastgifveri (inn or guesthouse) just in time for a late lunch and ordered the eggcake with bacon and lingonberries without a second thought. When it came it was gargantuan -- one eggcake the size of a hubcap between three of us (one of us cleverly ordered spaghetti bolognaise...). This photo in no way conveys the sheer mass of the thing:
The eggcake was like a deep, deep shield of batter, the same consistency all the way through. It's eggs and milk and flour and enough gravity to pull the moon down. We laboured at the eggface but only managed to eat about half of it. Dear Lord, don't make me ever have to eat it again!
There was nothing wrong with it at all, it was just so relentlessly eggy and cakey. Still, we have eaten the original oggkaka and now we are invulnerable to attack from Swedish penguins.

We went to another beautiful, endless beach, at Sandhammaren, alas also affected by the smelly weed. I loved the lighthouse there:
One last trip to Ystad, which is definitely worth exploring properly. It's full of really interesting buildings, artisans' workshops and quirky shops:
a hat, Sir?

at Ystad train station
I hope I haven't given a negative impression of Skane because it was really lovely -- towns, villages and countryside all pristine and welcoming. So much cream on the cakes! So many cakes! I would go back any time. But I don't think we necessarily made the best of our time there and I left feeling I hadn't quite fed my Sweden bug as much as I would have liked to. I've put down a marker and I would like to go back, but there are other parts of Sweden I'd also like to visit as well. Another time, another time.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A few new paintings

I'm trying to get some paintings and oil pastels done as I hope to hang them all in our local gastropub next month. I'm still exploring the idea of revisiting the moment when the photo that Richard Hamilton's 'Swingeing London 67' was based on, by finding other photos of the same or similar moments and doing paintings based on them. The latest one is above -- it's quite big, 100cm x 50cm, all painted in black and white.
The other three I've done recently, by contrast, are highly coloured. They're oil pastel over digital prints with that ghostly effect that I like so much where elements I've covered over show through.
I haven't had the last one framed yet.
I've made the beach deserted to show up the four figures more. It's funny because in the original photo that red canopied structure was solid with bodies sheltering from the sun and now it's empty.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Before my holidays are gone for ever -- Part 2

Back in September 2010 I blogged about my 'Swedish fantasy', in which I used Google Street View to cross the Oresund Bridge and 'tour' southern Sweden. I imagined spotting Olafur Eliasson's 'Movement Meter for Lernacken' up on the right as I 'drove' towards Malmo. This summer the fantasy became reality and the above photo (actually not much better than what you see on GoogleSV) was taken from our taxi as it came off the bridge and bore us towards Malmo. I just took it to record the weird feeling of virtual reality becoming 'real reality'.

In Malmo we stayed at the Mayfair Tunneln Hotel, which I wouldn't mention except that the building turned out to have a very interesting history, having been a row of medieval shops, a seventeenth-century cellar-inn, the residence of the Governor of Skane (also in the 17th C), a sugar refinery (late 18th C), the offices of Malmo's chief newspaper and a library. The hotel was also very proud of it many famous visitors, including two of the Beatles (I think it was Paul and George) who once had a coffee down in the cellar bar after they had been refused entry to a nearby restaurant for lack of ties.
It was a very pleasant hotel (they changed the big doormat each day so that it read 'Have a good Monday', 'Have a good Tuesday' and so on) and the very best thing about it was the fantastic breakfast which was taken down in the 'Tunnel', the original medieval cellars. Sumptuous doesn't begin to describe it. I had to be dragged away each morning, or shamed into crawling away.
 We liked Malmo a lot, but some of the architecture seemed to cry out to be rendered in black and white. The centre was very good for wandering about in. Streets would open up into big squares or smaller, more intimate ones. We came across a wondrous antique shop which had piles of stuff on the floor, quite a lot of it broken. It drew us further and further in and we found some of the Stig Lindberg Salix cups that we like so much.
We also found some amazing charity shops, so huge that they were almost like department stores. Malmo has a strong recycling policy and has encouraged these big shops to try to increase the level of re-use of secondhand things. I could have spent hours in them but it didn't suit the others so much. I may have to go back for a secret charity-shop OD.
 Malmo has an offshoot of the Stockholm Moderna Museet, the Modern Art Museum, housed in this old building encased in orange mesh. I love the mesh and the strange light effects it makes.
 The beautiful ground floor space was given over to an Irving Penn retrospective, which we all really enjoyed.
 Upstairs there was a Niki de Saint Phalle show. I hadn't previously been a big fan of her work, but this retrospective caught my interest and I particularly liked her large pieces embedded with toys and other objects. These terrible photos don't begin to do them justice. I'd like to read a biography about her as the account of her life on Wikipedia is fascinating.

One of the best things we did in Malmo was to take the train to Lund, the nearby university town. Malmo train station itself was architecturally interesting and I loved the idea they'd had to play films of train journeys on the walls. The images move silently and dreamily and are very absorbing while you await the arrival of the real train.
Lund was beautiful with an older feel than Malmo. The best thing about it, for me, was Kulturen, a museum similar in spirit to Skansen, the highlight of our trip to Stockholm last year.
Like Skansen, Kulturen is an accumulation of old Swedish buildings with authentic interiors, but it had more of a museum element along the lines of, say, the V&A. There were lots of textile displays and an emphasis on handmade objects. It was all delightful. Again, I felt I could happily have spent much longer there. Just a few photos:
an exquisite candelabra
a colour chart -- wish I had it for my collection
At Kulturen, as at Skansen, I again experienced the strange feeling of being connected to a past that isn't that of my own culture. I think it's just that these painstaking re-creations make the past feel very near; also I guess there are some fairly close links between England's past and that of Scandinavia (especially in the North-East, where I come from -- there are a lot of similarities in the local food, for example, such as rollmops and pease pudding...). But perhaps I would feel the same visceral connection if I visited a recreated American Indian site or an Inca city. Maybe it's just the imagination at work.
On our last evening in Malmo we went to a really lovely restaurant right on the waterfront in the newly redeveloped dock area, Salt och Brygga ('Salt and Bridge'). This restaurant serves only organic food and is part of the 'slow food' movement. Not only that, but everything about the place has been carefully thought through, right down to the candles and the seats. The candles are made of renewable materials and don't give off greenhouse gases. The leather on the seats has been tanned using bark instead of chromium. Such attention to detail is apparent in the food as well, which was absolutely beautiful, decorated with edible flowers (which we did eat).
We sat outside and had a beautiful view of the Oresund Bridge as the sun went down.
And I was excited because in the taxi on the way there, we had passed the fantastic Turning Torso tower. I stuck my hand out of the window and snatched a photo which, amazingly, actually caught the tower. What an inspired structure.
Our few days in Malmo were over and it was time to move on. We were hiring a car to drive down to the southern tip of Sweden. We nearly didn't make it out of the city as the car was so high tech we couldn't even start the engine -- then we couldn't work out how to let the handbrake off (a button did the trick eventually, after much stressful consultation of Google Translate on a mobile phone...). But eventually we were on Route E22 and heading for Wallander Land... (stay tuned for Pt 3).