Saturday, 22 July 2017

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Freesias I - Nerys Johnson

We bought another Artwork at the weekend: this is it.

It is in fact a print, number 95 of 95 . . . the very last one.

Don’t suppose anyone has ever heard of Nerys. I met her once when she was Curator of the DLI in Durham. From memory she was in a wheelchair at that time, she was quite ill for sure. Someone gave us two of her original paintings; I didn’t really appreciate them at the time to be honest but they must have been easily worth £1000.00ea then; £3000.00 plus now.

Briget Riley was her contemporary and is on record as describing her as a master of colour.

Nerys herself said of her work: ‘For a long time, flowers have been a major source of inspiration for my work. They are alive, and I try to convey that sense of living. They grow, change, decay and metamorphose. In a drawing, the sense of movement, structure and rhythms is expressed through the marks and lines; in a painting, this is achieved through the balance and contrasts of colour. Whether the flowers are grouped in a riotous bunch or [shown] singly, my aim is to reveal the particular feeling of that image - a potent lily, a burst of spring or the battered remains of winter’.


Wednesday, 12 July 2017


Image result for bamiyan buddhas
Anyone ever heard of Dan Cruickshank? He is a Historian. A bit more than that, an architectural historian: very interested in and a leading figure in the Building Conservation movement. He still appears regularly on TV and last Saturday he came to South Shields to give a lecture, which he illustrated with images from his new book, A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings.

Interesting and erudite; his thing was whether it is important, or not to reinstate buildings which had been destroyed. He started off with Bamiyan, where I have been and then Saqqara, where I have been, them Palmyra, where I have never been. His image of Bamiyan was post-destruction of the Buddhas whereas when I went, the demolition had not yet taken place. He said that the local Hazara people didn’t seem to be bothered by the destruction; he said the tourist dollars had never filtered down to them. Then he talked about Palmyra and became rather emotional about that. He had several before and after pictures and to be quite honest, I could get quite emotional myself about the demolition of Palmyra. He said and I had not heard this before that it was done very professionally; it wasn’t just a few cowboys with some gelignite. So somebody or several somebodies who knew what they were doing were involved. Then he showed an image of Warsaw in 1947, almost entirely obliterated by the Germans when they retreated from the City in 1945: 85% of the buildings annihilated in a horrendous act of cultural vandalism. Then he let us see what has happened since. Completely rebuilt and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. He had images of other Historic buildings that had been faithfully rebuilt, several Russian Royal palaces which was kind of surprising to me. I’ve never visited Russia and would not have expected the government there to sanction the millions of Roubles it must have cost to reconstruct these emblems of privilege that their Revolution was all about.

Cruickshank then said that he thought the Bamiyan Buddhas would never be reconstructed. The Afghan government didn’t have the money and the Hazaras didn’t care anyway. He thought the reason that Warsaw was rebuilt was because of the determination of the inhabitants and the support of the whole nation; the City and its buildings were a testament to Polish Culture, which up until then had lasted for millennia. The loss of the buildings represented the loss of their culture; the loss of their country . . . as the German High Command must have known when they ordered the destruction of the City [at huge cost of course, the time and resources spent on destroying Warsaw could have been more usefully deployed elsewhere].

So, this was his message. If the people want it, it will happen, even if it takes decades or even generations. Do the Syrians and Iraqis want Palmyra rebuilt? If yes, then it will happen. If not then it will end up inert like Bamiyan, a forgotten byway on the great Silk Route. Maybe the Chinese will take it on particularly now that they are recreating their own version of the Silk Route.  

I think the message of Saqqara was that even ruins have a value.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Photo: B Beaven

This is a picture I did on Saturday in oil pastels.
The teacher said it was dark and brooding. Said she liked it.
I haven’t done oil pastels in what - - twenty-five years? I used to be quite good at it but I almost never use my artistic talent now. As I have mentioned before . . . in fact quite recently . . . I used to spend every waking moment drawing, painting, sketching-out comic-strip cartoons and generally doing Art. But no longer. I suppose it all got channelled into product design. See my October 2014 Post - - My Life Before Now
But someone drew my attention to an art class scheduled for Saturday called, Using Pastels in the Landscape, just up the road at Horsley Arts Centre, so I decided to give it a go. Everything was provided, crayons, paper, coffee and biscuits, plus teaching of course. I thought we were going to be sitting outside in the sun but in fact we were inside all day in the Studio, copying pictures torn out of magazines. No matter. Teaching was okay; you could have one-on-one if you needed it.
I thought the standard was high: everyone could draw well and apart from one person, who attempted to reproduce the magazine image exactly, in pastels, everyone was sufficiently creative to get their own personality across in their final work. My magazine photo for example was of a bright dawn just coming up over the horizon; not dark and brooding at all.
God, I was so rusty. Foolish to think I could get straight back into it after 25-years. It’s harder than it looks, actually. Don’t know yet if I want to pick it up again; it can take over your life.

Thursday, 6 July 2017


Image result for almodovar films

Clouds of Sils Maria. I thought that this was pretty good. It’s a French film but spoken entirely in English [no subtitles] starring Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Stewart and has received mostly excellent reviews but no major awards: it was nominated for Best Director at Cannes a couple of years ago. It’s wordy and actressy, very much up my street and unusually for these days features wealthy, sophisticated people with the sort of problems wealthy and sophisticated people have. We see them constantly in the best hotels eating the best food and being waited on by always-available handmaidens. They are chauffeur-driven everywhere and in the case of Mlle Binoche, flattered and fawned upon by almost everyone around her although there is a strong sense that she is still respected.

Briefly, very briefly it is about a famous French actress who shot to stardom twenty-years earlier when cast in a play in which she was given the role of an alluring young girl who drives her older boss and mentor to suicide. She has now been offered the role of the older woman in a new production of the play and has to work opposite a new, American starlet playing the alluring young girl. She and her personal assistant played by Kirsten Stewart, travel to Switzerland to rehearse the lines and that is where the dramatic tension largely lies. That is why it is actressy and wordy.

Early on, we are told that Binoche has a husband and that he recently died and soon after is given a line in which she says something to the effect that she has never been even slightly tempted into a lesbian relationship. Perhaps this is to assuage audience expectations over the casting of gay icon, Kirsten Stewart. But it is there. Kind of hovering.

The screenplay proceeds of course as a mirror of the play: older woman/younger woman; one dominant and needy the other cautiously respectful but increasingly irritated by the other woman’s self-absorption. It all becomes extremely intense and when late in the film in a terrific mise en scene [I’ve been re-reading McKee recently!] Binoch meets with the American starlet in London, all of Stewart’s submerged emotions are revealed.  

Much is made in the reviews of how great the lead performances are and if acting is interesting to you, then yes there are two amazing performances going on on screen but I don’t care that much. I recognise bad acting when I see it but great acting can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk film.

It’s something different; worth a look but as usual with French cinema you only get out of it what you put into it.

Fortunately, this is a silk film.


Ilo Ilo. Another super film. Just loved it.

This is set in Singapore. I went there once; can’t remember when, late nineties, I think. I went on business, long story, but yet another Police State. Like Iran. Like Amerika, in my opinion. Seems superficially normal, people like us then you say something or see something and you suddenly realise that you don’t know the coded rules that everyone around you knows by heart.

Rural Northumberland, it ain’t.

I digress. This is about a working Singaporean family: Dad, Mum, brat of a child that they can’t control who live in a modern apartment block together. The film opens just after the death of the grandfather, the Dad’s father who up until then had been the live-in child minder for the boy. With both parents working and the wife pregnant, they need help and take on a Filipino maid to both care for the child and carry out domestic tasks. This alters the dynamic of the family.

At first they treat the maid as little more than a slave forcing her to cook and clean until midnight. The maid has a twelve-month old baby back in the Philippines so she has little choice but to accept the terms on offer. The boy is horrible to her and the parents never rebuke him.

But things change and as the narrative develops the maid and the boy form a kind of alliance as she increasingly takes over the role of the stressed-out mother and the boy becomes her substitute child. As for the father, well he is stressed out too. We see a short scene of him at work, trying to sell unbreakable glass to a client . . . which duly breaks. Then he resigns but cant get another job and loses money by gambling, in an attempt to maintain their standard of living and retain the services of the maid.

And that is more or less it. A man cannot serve two masters. It’s just a One-act structure with only four characters but the Emotional arc is so beautifully realised that one is drawn in completely.

Filmed almost entirely on hand-held cameras with probably no scene lasting more than 60-seconds it turns out that it is a directorial debut. The woman who plays the mother won Best-supporting actress at Cannes in 2015.




Not my favourite Director . . .  but who is these days? He’s an auteur which I think means doing everything yourself; writing the script, directing, editing and relying largely on a repertory cast of regulars to populate the film.  And work with not against, the tantrums.

As usual, there are obligatory scenes of graphic sex at the beginning. In a way, I don’t mind: people have sex. But does it move he plot along? Maybe, maybe. The scenes on the fishing boat seem fairly gratuitous to me but given that the guy is cheating on her at the time I suppose they show her bonding [in no uncertain way] with a charlatan. And yet . . .  this is Almodovar’s USP . . . he doesn’t need a reason to show gratuitous sex; if you don’t want to watch, don’t go.

I haven’t read, at least I don’t think I have, the original Alice Munro short story collection upon which it is based but I’ll lay any odds there is zero gratuitous sex in the book.

What’s it about? A Mum in Madrid whose only daughter goes on a summer break to a mountain retreat, then is so indoctrinated that she never returns home. She completely disappears in fact and breaks her mother’s heart. Eventually, after twelve years of no contact she finds her living in Switzerland but we only discover this in the dying moments of the film. We don’t see any reconciliation or emotional meeting. There is too much sex to be gotten through to be bothered about a resolution.

The film contains two of my pet hates in TV/Cinema: in one scene, she turns on the television and just at that moment . . . the very second she turns the thing on she hears an announcement that is incredibly important to her. Yeah, yeah she would have got there eventually but it is lazy lazy writing. And the other thing: the whole plot is set in motion by an unbelievable coincidence. She bumps in to an old acquaintance who is only in Madrid [pop 3.1 million] for one day. Robert McKee in Story talks a fair bit about coincidence. He will allow it say in the case of the television if it shortcuts the narrative and doesn’t become a deux a machina. But he would definitely not permit a plot-turning incident like bumping in to someone by pure chance in a city of over three-million people.

It’s not bad, it’s not bad. I am making it sound worse than it is. He is reflecting Spanish society as he sees it; in the present, with phones, with the Internet and the daily struggles we all have. All of which is refreshing and if it takes Alice Munro’s short stories to make a decent basis for a plot, then I’m fine with that.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017


photo: Susan Gray

This is a picture of the Nile Cataracts which my friend Susan took last month in 54deg of scorching heat. She flew into Khartoum and then travelled across the desert in a group of [4] Landcruisers mainly to see the Upper Egyptian tombs and monuments. Susan lived in Cairo for four years and is more familiar than most with ancient Egyptian culture. Having said which, she has never visited Abu Simbel just down the road from the Cataracts, which I have.

In Victorian times when Richard Burton and other famous explorers were trying to find the source of the Nile, they thought the Cataracts were it but of course we know now that they are only the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Even now, it is an incredibly difficult place to reach.