Monday, 31 December 2012

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman painted what I would call his first proper stripes around 1948/9. Just think he was painting these while the rest of the world was playing tiddlywinks or running about as below.
This one's called Onement II. Many questions arise when one begins to consider Barnett's stripes (not least the titles) and if you consider them enough and finally lie down to have a rest on the day bed, all you can see is stripes when you shut your eyes. Imagine what they were doing to him.
Meanwhile if you leave a book of Newman's open on your table, why you are possessed of an irresistable urge to to tidy up? And he didn't use a ruler but he did use sellotape. And that is not even beginning to wonder what these paintings do to you when you see them in the flesh (the best collection I've seen is at the Menil in Houston) where they tend to make you all weak at the
I don't buy all the transcendental stuff about these paintings very easily, I like them as investigations of paint and colour and balance that would appropriately sit next to Mies's first MOMA show in 1947,  but I do love 'em, and I'm lucky enough to have been given all of them in one book, the Catalogue Raisonne, just about the heaviest book I've ever owned, I have the whole set, every stripe he ever did, and that of course (ignoring the early work where he was just finding his way not doing stripes) was all he did, all of his life, every day. That, for post modern generations, is worthy of great respect. It is a truly wonderful book.
But as I lay on the day bed today, with it being January 1st and it being exquisite with nothing happening- I even resorted to 'sorting LPs' (loud ones on the top shelf, quieter ones on the bottom shelf, those in between at the ends-if you're interested) I realized it all went tits up for Barnett in 1968/9, when he suffered a momentary lapse of reason and inexplicably started painting the stripes in triangles. It just goes to show you should quit while you're ahead, at cards or in art. He was wobbling. He died of a heart attack in 1970.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Restless, William Boyd on TV

The problem with Restless, the pseudo spy story flung out fairly glamorously last night and the night before, was that the story is just stupid. Far be it for me to come the storming modernist, but it would seem extremely unlikely for even the most hardline of Soviets not to want American intervention in WW2 in the depths of 1942. They were baying for a second front way after that according to every history book I have come across. Secondly, it is most peculiar to assume that a map is authentically British because it features a spelling mistake, since as far as I know Britain has always been historically considered rather good with maps, especially since the OS. These two issues, plus dramatic implementation of the most ghastly stereotypes and Downtown Abbey characterization, make you wonder where history has gone.
Sure, the fun of history is that you can twist it about, you can stress, for instance, that architect Walter Gropius, known for functionalism, was good in bed until dawn, that is simply an unusual emphasis, but this particular dramatization gave me the creeps, not because the subject was satisfactorily rendered complex, but because it was rendered stupid (see post below).

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Big Screen

The TV blew up just before we left for the holiday. Everything went in to sepia- it had to go- it was second hand when we acquired it ten years ago. Of course this made an ample talking point with family, between ourselves on walks, when stuck in strange bars, and gliding through Tescos. Techy stuff seems to interest everybody.
I remember in particular The Angel in Bourne, which drags customers in on the premise of it being 'More than a Hotel...' and where if you venture so boldly, you find yourselves sat in a purple blancmange. Julie and I stared at each other in disbelief. The next place we tried even the dog was dying.
But one thing Bourne is blessed with is BIG FLAT SCREEN TV's, through every window you see them, beaming Viva Forever! (or suchlike). It is tempting to see a reciprocal correlation between size of TV and decline in content, that HD might inversely relate to interest, that LCD stands for lowest common denominator, and this particularly nasty piece was just about the worst thing we had to sit through this year, a documentary that proved the Spice Girls were just about the most self serving creatures of all time, and had unfortunately remained so. However they were big. It proved the monumentalisation of twelve year old egos is just fine with everyone.
But these big screens!? What to do? Certainly without a room filling flat screen you might feel a little unambitious. In Bourne you'd be letting down the street.  A cursory glance at the paper gave little information, only glittering 40" prizes in the SALES. I couldn't work out any of them actually did, apart from take over your sitting room with every celebrities pimple.
But as soon as we got home sanity came too. It was clearly a case of return, while you still can, to CRT, then pick the finest manufacturer (little debate there...surely Bang and Olufsen) and go on E-bay. Within seconds we knew, we might get one of the 'prettiest TV's ever made' (see above) for £100, OK a bit more in the end, then it was just a schlep down to South Kensington where it had apparently sat in a spare bedroom, to retrieve it. Now here it is, quite a sparkling thing, a design classic, and we're watching Zulu just like everybody else. Of course the screen being what it is, we'll miss half of Auction Hunters, literally, but that's a small price to pay.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Welcome to the Modern World

Photo by Julie Cook

Last night was the first time I've seen somebody check their mobile phone between shots while playing ping pong. She was admittedly playing doubles. You know my feelings on ping pong. This event happened in Shoreditch, in the newly cool London Apprentice, at around 7.30pm, and I'm claiming it as art.
It was also the night somebody on Newsnight admitted, well nearly, and after a lengthy pause, and almost choking on the fact, in fact being unable to speak (thereby guilty by association) that everything was now about advertising, that there was no other kind of artistic production, and then a guy in dreadlocks from Paolo Aalto said that couldn't, just couldn't, be so, that advertising was all there is. He looked upset dreadlocks or no dreadlocks, and I thought, well thank god somebody's twigged the awful truth.
And then we looked at some pictures of last weekend's Christmas party in happy valley. The two under tens above are on their Ipads, and the sister (out of shot) was on her mobile phone. Welcome to the modern world.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas 24

Julie's well into Christmas 24, a new TV channel as far as I can see, It relays really depressing US Christmas movies and she loves it, it's like total distraction. They always involve a home town Christmas and blatant challenges surrounding horrible ambition. They are horribly Faustian. I keep reminding her my parcels are stuck in Bow depot and I'm sure I'll have to end up with specials from Boots again. And of course she's ill, I'm ill, everybody's ill for Christmas, it's a tradition.
You have to go to parties, that's where the adult males stand around and talk about their default WiFi settings and the kids fool around on the sofa with multiple ipads under suddenly blue flashing Christmas lights. It's very problematic. One of the kids said to me yesterday rather cuttingly 'I mean what are we doing?' I have no idea what we are doing. He was twelve.
I know that if I have to do this stuff it means missing half of every film I might nearly like. Over the weekend we were just halfway through Back to the Future 2 and we had to go and do something else, I mean that's almost research for me- I have a student writing a dissertation on flying fucking cars - then on Sunday I was just getting happy with Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (one of their best I think)  and the same thing happens. The only films we get to complete are those on bloody Christmas 24.
I really do worry, but I got a new kitchen tap, and kitchen taps are important, it's a Franke Eiger, and some pictures framed, one in walnut, that will do nicely, and then I shall attempt to recline.
Watch out for my Playboy review in January's AR, and today I've nearly licked Brunelleschi for February, it's a relief I tell you.
Meanwhile Happy Holidays (as they say, ad nausea, on Christmas 24)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Woke up dreaming I was working for Alison and Peter Smithson. It was not a good dream. No doubt my subconscious was reminding me fairly vividly that I might be viewing modernism through rose tinted spectacles (see below post). True, my experience of working in the serious modern architectural office was awful. First I was stuck in an attic and asked to draw the plan of a church for weeks, then I was stuck in a basement and asked to draw a design for a bathroom, including chrome traps, for what seemed like months. I was, I think, judged pretty poor at both, so I was quickly dispatched to colouring in, where I excelled.
It was only when I went to work for a small practise where the partner did just about everything with a Monte Blanc fountain pen and admitted his desire to come to work in doublet and hoes did working life become bearable, and later when I worked with Tim Pyne at the righteously named (and Shoreditch based) WORK we just did it all in the pub. That was quite excellent.
I don't want to give the impression we just went out and got pissed, not at all, the pub is quite a jesuitical learning environment. Whilst any plonker can talk shit in a bar, the cultivation of more learned dissidents in say, the Coach and Horses in Soho took about ten years, it was the Oxbridge of informal education. You started low in the cheap seats with your notebook thinking about your novel, and ended up by osmosis taking your place rightfully in your particular spot, with the novel safely unpublished and certainly no notebook, tossing wisdom like hand grenades at others who mooched in with exactly the same purpose in mind. It was a terrific way to spend the day, and now I think about it, getting up in the morning with the express intention of doing little else but go to the pub was terrific (if a little short sighted). Similarly the Great Eastern Dining Rooms in the nineties.
So as you can see, the idea of FLW's fellowship (like going to church) or having Mies peer over your shoulder for ages in total silence (like working in a factory) or, as in my dream, not being able to either work out Alison's porch detail or her paperback book cover design or the priority I should give to either under threat, is impossible.
I can only conclude that if I were asked entry level advice to the world of work (not WORK) I would have to say perhaps certain characters can only be happy working for somebody they think they are much better than even if they are not, it rather puts the oweness back on employer, leaving you to relax and get on with the task at hand until hopefully, at five pm or thereabouts, out comes the fizzy wine.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Pop Ups

I was on the bus home and I saw the sign 'Pop Up Art' just past the Pop Up Mall which sits at the bottom of Bethnal Green Rd. There are actually two pop up art shops down there, changing their contents with remarkable swiftness just as they might their location. I suppose and I wonder has it all become too easy? Of course I was wondering this further just as I put my own finishing touches (and touches I promise of the lightest consideration) to my latest art piece; a model of a Honda Gold Wing next to an 8oz brass weight sat on a hand painted picture of a girls face peering through a door which I bought off E-Bay, once I got home.
It's clear that the younger generation's idea of creativity rests largely on the ability to play ping pong at all times- as evidenced all the way up Redchurch St and no doubt across all other contemporary metropolitan artistic milieu- rather than wrestle with the traditional demons that dog the territory of artistic production. I say this just as it appears the bar staff of The Star at Bethnal Green are almost universally and happily interested in puppetry, mime, masks and other crap they download continuously on their phones, rather than being cantankerous bastards. These new artistic folk smile to a disconcerting degree, and I blame it all on their connectivity. This connectivity, their very sociality, where ping pong is more a metaphor than a contest, means any ghastly feeling from the depths of the artistic abyss is just put down to 'Sophie having a bad day', not the fact that she's struggling with colossus, or trying to paint a knee.
Since time in memorial artists have been portrayed as the difficult and unkempt who hate the world. Vasari's Lives of Artists is full of misery. Modern artists were so clearly in penury so often as to hardly afford the next round, as most wonderfully exemplified in the character of Gulley Jimson in the terrific Horses Mouth (Joyce Cary) a book recommended to me so much in my youth that I was fundamentally embarrassed when I found it's brilliance only at age forty eight, far too late.
My friend Scott is of course the last aficionado, trampish, furious, and giggled at by Bonnie the barmaid.
He draws, he paints, he finds it agony, he finds even walking to his studio a dread, and then occasionally, manically, grabs the ecstasy and celebrates and then he's barred again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Great Christmas Gift

Our quite lovely Reno book seems to be getting a new lease of life. All sorts are referring to it, and it bares credence to self publishing as a decent way to do things. We have a few copies left at £20, signed and editioned. It's not a big book size wise, but it packs a decent punch as the story of us two muppets spending Christmas in Reno in 2004. To buy use the link below.

Reno ‘The biggest little city’ did not disappoint.
Refugee hippies from San Francisco; marvellous
bar tenders (the book is dedicated to one of them, a
certain Doug Twist) taxi drivers playing BTO
steering with their knees; goats in Santa costumes
riding in cars; big trucks; fantasy girls; fights; dope;
antique markets and seductive, beautiful,
dangerous, surviving ‘Americana’ where you
nervously watch your back.

It's also nice it's part of Paula's  exhibition at the excellent Stockwell Studios.

Arranging a Library

For us, any new bit of shelving is like a safety valve on a reactor that's about to blow. Now Scott has finally finished his work, the last last bits of shelving slipped, thumped and downright bashed in to place yesterday after far too long, I stand delighted, but of course now I have to shuffle around the books.
You might not think people contrive their bookshelves but I think they do. There are questions of size, questions of theme, those of location and those of value. It can get mighty ponderous if you let it. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the architectural fit called deconstruction, an old student of mine arranged all his kitchen shelving according to the dates of the Napoleonic wars (stupid).
So I find myself moving books up and down and around. For instance, if I put Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Houellebecq (as sets, not complete but at least of the same size) next to each other on the new shelf above the front door, will we look like a couple of sex obsessed nihilistic psychopaths to any casual visitor? Just putting those two next to each other, while they fit perfectly, is bad enough. However, since they are both classed, in my terms, as not quite good enough for the real indoors, that's really where they belong.
The real indoors is the stuff people will stare at if they are sat on the sofa, and that seems to be art books and, more lamely, rock books. The fact that Davis's Hammer of the Gods and Motley Crue's (hardback! slipbound!) copy of The Dirt sit right at elbow is disturbing, but I do refer to them more than to most books, so that's where the rock books will stay. Meanwhile accommodating the art book collection has been one of Scott's preoccupations for what seems like years.
Upstairs, I couldn't fling all the Ian Fleming sixties Pan's, presently next to our bedroom, or the John Le Carre's in to the front lobby even though it was especially designed for them. This was a dismal moment for the architect, having to think better of himself, but I'll happily ship all the Ed McBain down there, even though in many ways he's a better writer. And meanwhile, how come all the black spined serious books, the Homers and the Hazlit's find themselves in the bedroom? That is definitely an error, as probably is worrying about all this in the first place- except that I did once live in the house of a Cambridge academic where books were everywhere and there was no order at all, and it was hell, and I slept in the library.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Andrew Holmes 2

Andrew Holmes pictures are really quite extraordinary. You stand there and feel your head moving towards the surface of the paper. They are quite big, and you are sort of sucked in, and your eyes go all screwy losing and regaining focus, until your nose is about to bash in to them, then you recoil in horror that you might actually touch one, and then you are drawn in once again, unbelieving. For those interested in mark making, his pictures are the equivalent of CSI Las Vegas. They are hypnotic.
There are thirteen of them on show in the gallery (see below) in Chelsea, and a snip at £16,000 each, you've have thought the best thing that Ashley Cole could possibly do would be to buy the lot with his pocket money and dig out his basement garage in to some contemporary version of the Pazzi chapel - a long thin white space I am imagining, quite unashamedly Grand Designs, and show them off as one. They would certainly show up his car.
I'm not joking about a chapel, Andrew calls his latest work the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. They are pictures of the end of autopia, and the last (he said to me) he will do in colour. That's Andrew for you to a tee. The last he will do in colour.
There is something demonic, something eminence gris, about him, and there was a very nervous looking photographer there who looked as if he was suddenly placed in the presence of the antichrist, muttering things like 'I really must understand more...' to himself over and over again as he fiddled with his suddenly insignificant digital camera. Andrew is after all the kind of artist, like Gericault, who once in his studio, famously doesn't say a word to anybody, doesn't notice anything else at all, once for three weeks solid.
The congregation, clergy, gathered last night were indeed no doubt top rank of a certain architectural scene, a scene that would probably have employed Andrew back in the day for all their dirty work- the renderings that he was famous for, and the kind of scene that might still use the word scene. The man who's name I can never remember who always wears red from Richard Rogers was there, wearing red. Why he always wears red somebody, probably Andrew, will eventually tell me. It was all most peculiar, they looked, well, sort of 'beaky' as a collection.....alert, entitled, vaguely unpleasant, those elders of the High Tech and the AA, the men behind things, all finely tuned to their position in life, a secret society somehow before you, stroking the palm. It made me quite queasy, a generation below, a generation comparatively in rags and accomplishing rather little, but then I don't get out to West London much and, lets face it, it's a different world, and it always appalls me.
Go see, absorb it all, before we all die!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Andrew Holmes at Plus One Gallery

I filed my copy on Playboy. Filing is good. However there is nothing better than the response the writer is hanging on the end of his or her seat for from his or her editor for the next twenty four hours - in this case terms such as 'very funny' and 'the first time camel toe has been used as a verb' mean I dine on filet, I sip good rustic Cotes du Rhone, and I watch 'Inside West Coast Customs' with great satisfaction.
My students are also cueing up for gratification, I've got a pile of potential dissertations hanging on my desktop (hence lack of posts) all waiting for the fateful final submission and a bit of last minute advice. Last minute advice with something like a dissertation of course is a bit daft, but when it's all done, THEN it's amazing what you can suddenly say about it. Well done to those who have completed the canvas.
Talking about a dissertation for life, Andrew Holmes has a no doubt fabulous exhibition (above pic) at Plus One Gallery (SW1). Andrew has been making these amazing drawings of US autopia for years and years, I mean he hasn't stopped, this guy just selected his topic and did it obsessively from year dot. His work sends a message to all artists who prefer instant gratification, basically, don't bother. Not that he would care. Andrews work is drawn real slow, and he just keeps going like the cats at Jack Daniels, it's just I suspect he's more genuine. He has a very big country and western record collection. It's all done in pencil.
If you want to see some real art, check this stuff out.