Monday, 12 September 2011

AND Festival: Tattoo Event by David Shrigley

I’ve always had a soft spot for David Shrigley, ever since my older sister gave me some of his books when I was a teenager. Apparently my drawings were reminiscent of his, a fact I find rather worrying now. Mad, odd and very funny, Mr. Shrigley’s only crime is to spawn herds of half arsed wannabe doodlers without his uncanny and disturbing wit.

I’ve had tattoos for almost ten years now (do the maths, I started illegally young), and in that time have considered getting some odd images. The only thing that stopped me getting a tattoo of a bat when I was 20 was a terrible bout of tonsillitis coinciding with the appointment. By the time I was off antibiotics I had thought better of it.

Not that I think I would have regretted the bat, in fact I still think it would have been pretty awesome. I strongly believe that you live with your tattoos, and even if you wouldn’t get them if you had the chance over again, that’s no real reason for regret. I’m happy that I’ll be an old lady with wrinkly tattoos and dangly great earlobes.

For the upcoming AND Festival David Shrigley will turn his hand to the tattooist’s art at our favourite cards and nickknack shop, Utility on Bold Street. Well from the information of theAbandon Normal Devices website, I assume he’ll be designing the tattoos, and a properly experienced professional from Liverpool studio Tattoo studio Dermagraffiti will be doing the painful part (hopefully upstairs in their nice clean airy studio).

I won’t lie to you; my mouse did hover over the link to make an appointment. But then I reconsidered, where the hell would I want a tattoo like that? Wouldn’t go with my flowers and arty abstractions at all!

However, I understand the appeal. A few years ago would have leapt at the chance and I doubt I would have regretted it… and if it seems right to you now, I doubt you’ll regret it either!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Miro in Mallorca

That’s it northerners, it’s not even May and our summer has already been and gone.

What now? Perhaps you’ll consider nipping down to London town for a zingy dose of Spanish sunshine, Miro-style at the Tate Modern... but then, looking at the pricey confusion of ticket prices for a train ride down south, you might like to think again.

How about jumping on a Ryan Air flight to Mallorca? I know it’s grim while on the plane, but it’s about the same price and time as a ride on a Virgin Pendolino from Liverpool to London. Set aside all the boozy beach front bars and sun-cancerous stretched of crowded sand - for a day at least (I know, they are so much fun!) - and hop on a 2€ bus from Palma to the Pilar and Joan Miro Foundation.

You won’t be disappointed! As well as an enviable collection of paintings by Miro in a standardly nice contemporary gallery space, this place offers you the chance to glimpse the work and workings of a true master of modern art beyond a stark gallery setting.

This is the place that Miro spent his artistic maturity, and his workshop is lovingly (although I cannot attest to any authenticity) preserved. Designed by the architect Josep Luís Sert, it’s wonderful to see a collection of paintings by Miro set among homely detritus of what was once a working artists studio. The paintings may not be considered by the art world to be “significant”, but I challenge anyone to say they are not intrinsically beautiful and essentially Miro.

This room might be as carefully curated as any formal gallery setting, and I’ll still assert that an artists biography isn’t never that useful for looking at art, but to see paint brushes, folders, stools and smocks stacked side by side with extraordinary canvasses, displayed so perfectly faux-casually, is a sheer pleasure.

Up the hill, past stunning views of the Mediterranean sea and shores of Mallorca, is another house. Purchased especially for Miro to work in, it’s walls are covered with the artist's scrawled doodlings and sketches. Together with pinned-up postcards and newspaper clippings, as well as tins, pots, jars and pans on shelves, these are delicious fragments of Miro's life and, if you are so inclined to think so, his thought-processes. Whatever the story or argument about the artist being made here, it’s fascinating.

So, if the South Bank is within easy reach for you, I’ll envy your trip to see what is undoubtedly an impressive and worthy retrospective, but this Spring I’ll hold tight to my trip in the Spanish spring sunshine to see where a master of modern art spent his later years working.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Crystal Palace

You know those lists of contingency options we all keep? You know, what music to play at your funeral? What you would do if you won the lottery (despite not even playing)? If you absolutely, absolutely had to kill someone, who would it be? and, of course, what to say when Doctor Who eventually turns up and wants to whisk you off through time and space?

Oh, it’s just me then...?

Come on, If you could get the TARDIS to drop you anywhere in the world at a culturally significant point in history, what would you ask for? For me, there is only one option: Thursday 1 May 1851, to see the opening of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations at the Crystal Palace.

The Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, published 1854.

Characteristic of the finest Victoriana, the Great Exhibition was both an anomaly and typical of the time. What we understand as the “Victorian” style is actually a massive spectrum of appropriated and hybrid historical styles in modern techniques. The fact that the 1851 Exhibition included an “Engine in the Egyptian taste” (I shit you not) is almost too perfect to be true. This is what I find most fascinating about the Victorian world, the way it defiantly leapt forward, all the time anxiously looking to the past.

When we think of the Crystal Palace you probably think of faded grey prints in neglected corners. With a little imagination perhaps you could introduced some sparkling monochrome to the picture. But just think, as the exhibition opened, of the 293,655 panes of glass that comprised the structure glittering in the spring sunlight.

It’s easy to imagine the Victorian world with a muted palette of monochrome, supplemented by muddy ruby reds and holly greens, and apply this thinking to the Crystal Palace. What colour do you think the structure was? Grey metal or perhaps white like a tasteful conservatory? In fact, it was painted in the full range of primary colours. It was red on the undersides of girders and behind the gallery railings; yellow on the diagonal faces of the columns and on certain projections; blue on the concave parts of the columns. Positively, and gloriously, gaudy!

Within it must have been utterly and overwhelmingly dazzling, with the glass ceiling letting in so much light a canvas barrier had to be constructed to keep the reflected light from blinding visitors. Among the 100,000 objects on display there was a giant fountain made entirely out of glass, large chandeliers hung throughout the building, stained glass hanging up in sheets in their very own gallery... and not to forget the bloody Koh-i-nor! Doesn’t it sound fabulous?

The Crystal Palace persisted for many years, falling into disrepair, until burning down in 1936. In that period it was used again for the Great Exhibition of 1863 (we don’t talk about that one), as well as the world’s first cat show in 1897. However, I’d most dearly like to see it on that spring day in 1851, when it was opened by Queen Victoria herself.

So Doctor, if you are reading, pick me up tomorrow, about 12.30, and get me back in time to pop down to Matta's for some herbal tea and be back at my desk before my lunch break is over. Deal?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Lady Digby on her Death-Bed by Anthony Van Dyck (1633)

I recently made a a few changes in my living habits, which have resulted in me sleeping like I have never experienced in my adult life. For weeks now, most nights I’ve fallen into deep, oceanic slumber that insomniacs can only dream of. It would be a happy consequence, if the tendrils of sleep didn’t linger throughout the day. A dullness and melancholia, somehow worse that sleep deprivation or hangover, haunts me.

Where am I going with this? I feel, perhaps, that this is an instance where a painting can describe, if a little abstractly, what I’ve been experiencing better than words. A kind of reverse ecphrasis. It might be a little self indulgently morbid, but when struggling out of bed this morning I found myself thinking about Van Dyck’s posthumous portrait of Venetia Stanley.

A little background first: The painting was commissioned by Venetia’s husband, Sir Kenelem Digby. The popular story is that her death was caused by excessive arsenic consumption, taken for cosmetic purposes, encouraged or aided by her shallow or ignorant (or Machiavellian) husband. I don’t know how much of this story is a Victorian construction, who loved a good cautionary tale, although the fact an autopsy was performed suggests there was some suspicion about Venetia’s death at 33.

Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby on her Death-Bed (to use its full name) was painted from drawings made two days after her death. I suspect this painting avoids truth in the photographic sense. There are no signs of rigor mortis or decay, her hands and facial features haven’t contracted. Nor is there any evidence of the plaster casts that were made of her face and hands or the hair cut from the head as a relic. In fact, the only indication she is really dead, and not sleeping, is the slightly open left eye, a subtle and morbid detail. Despite it's obvious beauty it is at complete counterpoint to Van Dyck's numerous portraits of strutting cavaliers and blossoming ladies. Is this a fantasy of death or of sleep?

However, these are just the facts, as far as you can call this smattering of historical titbits and opinion facts. Like many paintings by Old Masters - and indeed all art which is not of our era - we cannot suppose that our initial reaction and interpretation has any relation to what was intended or interpreted at the time. What I do feel free to ponder, is the haunting beauty of this painting and the immutable mysteries of sleep... Sorry, getting melodramatic, what's I'm basically trying to say is see that picture, that's how I feel at the moment.

Perhaps I should just cut out the Sleepytime Extra tea?

Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby on her Death-Bed, by Anthony Van Dyck (1633), is in the collection of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. According to their website it currently needs restoration to which you can contribute by ‘Adopting’ the painting... it’s a little more expensive than a baby panda though.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Glee - A Confession

For someone who used her 4 years at university to grapple with the most esoterically, historically pointless subjects she could find - Victorian polar explorers, Crimean war memorials and mezzotints anyone? - I am completely intellectually lazy. I weekly rediscover, and then fight to conceal, the fact that I am the worst kind of Guardian skimming snob, misanthrope and hypocrite.

So, in an effort to move away from having to leave the flat to find something to write about, I’ve decided to fess up, come clean and interrogate some of my less surely held opinions.

First up Glee. I’ll freely admit I’ve said some pretty harsh things about this television show. It’s marketed as colourful, plasticy sub-High School Musical trash, and without watching it for yourself there is nothing to make you think otherwise. I only deigned to watch it because I was in a bit of a blue funk and was looking for the televisual equivalent of sitting in a bath with a bottle of gin and a massive bag of Haribo... and of course I was pleasantly surprised.

If you watch it you don’t need me to tell you that despite it’s many faults, it is thoroughly engaging and utterly endearing. Inside it’s sugary shell, it must be one of the most generous shows in terms of characterisation out there. Glee frequently accepts difference where other shows would have ponderously dwelt on it, instead agilely shifting the plot forward for more high jinx and toe tapping pop numbers.

Setting aside that the majority of the cast are offensively beautiful and talented - it is produced for US network television after all - and that it is often uneven in tone, inconsistent in plot and the (sometimes obviously and direly auto-tuned) music out of context is utterly execrable, I can no longer pretend I don’t have a massive soft spot for this show.

Now I’ve admitted this, does Glee no longer count as a guilty pleasure?

(However, you try to play the music in my presence, I’ll push you out the nearest fucking window.)

Thursday, 31 March 2011

British Art: 1880-1950 @ Walker & Knowledge Lives Everywhere @ FACT

Recently it’s seemed like nearly everything is geared towards children and their keepers. I’ve known since I started writing this blog that if I was chronicling my ongoing adventures with a small creature that had escaped from my womb, I’d be giddy with the fumes of incoming links.

I guess it makes sense, I think there are more of them than me. The yummy mummies undoubtedly outnumber the misanthropic singletons, or perhaps they just carry more legislative weight?

Tonight I’ve been to two very different new exhibitions in Liverpool, both of which are decidedly family friendly.

The Walkers new room, British Art: 1880-1950, makes brilliant use of the neglected space beyond their displays Victorian and Impressionist art. Showcasing some wonderful paintings by luminaries such as Jacob Epstein, LS Lowry and Lucian Freud, the display includes a particulary beautiful painting by Paul Nash, a long standing favourite of mine.

Together with complementary lighting and a sympathetic hang, there’s enough interactive claptrap to entertain the young and those who don’t have the attention span to simply enjoy looking at art. Usually I’d be vehmently against this kind of thing, but it is discreetly and well implemented enough not to distract from what is most important in the room - a fantastic, and very impressive, selection of British painting.

The British Art: 1880-1950 room in progress, from National Museums Liverpool 

If you have neither children nor a well developed sense of social responsibility, Knowledge Lives Everywhere, the new exhibition at FACT, probably isn’t for you.

Downstairs a series of stridently playful interactive installations set the mood, highlighting the work of seven groups that work with FACT. I wouldn't say there was anything wrong with them, other than purely not being to my taste. I like art that seductive invites engagement, not demands participation to be appreciated. It feels like an invasion of my intellectual space.

Despite some flimsy rhetoric, as timely platform to publicise their community work, and to anchor their gallery space within that programme, it’s probably a great success for FACT... but as art its all a bit meh.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Anxious about the arts...

Anyone else feeling a tad demoralised?

Yesterday, as Arts Council England announced it’s funding settlements for what are now National Portfolio Organisations, was pretty nerve-wracking.  As it turns out the situation was not as dramatic as feared, but hardly encouraging for anyone who cares about the arts in this country.

When fantastic small groups like Urban Strawberry Lunch lose what little funding they did receive from Arts Council England, it puts the cuts to some of my favourite Liverpool arts organisations –for example 4.9% for the Everyman and Playhouse and 11% for FACT (both in real terms over 4 years) – in a rose tinted context.

The official announcements, the tweets of relief and outrage, the newspaper and blog scramble to assess the impact, was utterly overwhelming, especially for someone who isn’t used to thinking about things politically or mathematically. Thankfully, Seven Streets do a very good job of summarising the headline figures for Merseyside organisations.

When Liverpool City Council recently handed out a flat 20% funding cut for all arts organisations, the dialogue was often pushed in the direction that it was a question of either/or…  that it’s education and public services against the arts. If you force even the most ardent artinista to weigh the value of a rape crisis centre against an arts centre, there is absolutely no choice. Yesterday this worrying rhetorical trend continued, with my friend and LIPA lecturer Maria Barrett commenting in a tweet: “'Arts Funding or NHS & education?' premise of #radio2 call in disgusting. Looking forward to 'TV Licence or food?' next week. #artsfunding

I won’t roll out that trite quote from Winston Churchill about arts funding that is doing the rounds, but I will suggest to fuck over the arts is the effectively neuter any city outside of London. This didn’t happen yesterday, but feels like a step towards it. We will be discovering what the decisions announced yesterday really means for the arts in the follow months.

Let’s upgrade demoralised to anxious.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Farewell A Foundation

Farewell A Foundation, we barely knew ye…. Well, I – still a fairly recent import to this city – did anyway.

With the news that A Foundation is now no more, I was initially reticent about joining in with the general wailing and gnashing of teeth, but like the proposed sell-off of the collection of Southampton Art Gallery, I find myself feeling both somewhat quizzical and absolutely disgusted.

Yes, not every experience I had within A Foundation’s industrial walls was gilded. I can count some of the most queasily gauche, self aware and un-self-conscious example of contemporary art that I’ve seen in recent years as elements in exhibitions at A Foundation.

But still, it’s a great shame that it’s been wound up with a whimper, noticed only by premiere Liverpool blog Seven Streets. Whatever the consistency of the work on display, Seven Streets are so right to recognise it’s programme as possibly the most dynamic, challenging and exciting in the city.

Beyond the clearly discernible tragedy for contemporary art in Liverpool, I’ve got two burning questions:

One. What the hell is the point of the Baltic Triangle now? Apart from CUC it has very little to tempt me, and it’ll take something very special to tempt me into the oppressive confines of the Novas Centre. Now, unless I'm buying a shed or getting my non-existent car painted, why would I go to the Baltic Triangle?

Two. What does this spell out for the Biennial? After Biennial Artistic Director Lewis Biggs’ volatile blog about funding cuts back in November – which made the organisations seem to be visibly floundering even before the axe has fallen – the closure of A Foundation can only seem like a body blow. The loss of such a space (in addition to whatever funding disaster it will have to pass through in the following months) will surely have a huge impact on what the Biennial can offer in 2012. 

But right now I can only mutter and sigh and ponder what this means for quality visual art in Liverpool. I have no more information than Seven Streets, and I am very aware of the brutality of cuts that are painfully imminent and will be on going for the foreseeable future. Overshadowed by the nose drive the Liverpool Boat Show just took, this won't be the last asset to disappear from Liverpool's cultural ecosystem.

Anyway, bye bye A Foundation, I hope your legacy is more than a swathe of Big Society art students who couldn’t curate their arse from their elbow. Where else in Liverpool would I have been able to re-encounter Jacob Dahlgren’s Colour Reading Context?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

What would be in your dream art collection?

A Collector's Eye is an exhibition of paintings from the Schorr Collection assembled by a private collector, and it opens at the Walker Art Gallery next week. The exhibition promises to feature five centuries of art ranging from 15th-century devotional images to 19th-century French Impressionist landscapes. Old Master artists Rubens, El Greco, Delacroix and Cranach are included alongside Impressionists such as Pissarro and Sisley.

It’s an interesting departure from the on going trend for exhibitions based upon extremely didactic concepts, an emphasis on telling art as a heavy handed biographical or teleological story I've always round annoying. Some might find a basis in the personal tastes of a private collector problematic, but I hope the selection of works in an exhibition curated along these principals will be much closer to the diverse and changing relationship with art that most of us have.

The organisers also ask the question, what would be in your dream art collection? and I feel compelled to day-dream up an answer. 

To start with, if we are allowed to get greedy, can I have a couple of the Marie de’ Medici cycle by Rubens (1577-1640)? If I had to pick just one, give me The Disembarkation at Marseilles (1622-25), deliciously dripping with allegory and bursting with bizarre perspective and plentiful cavorting sea maidens. In a skinny-obsessed world I find the expanses of doughy flesh positively refreshing!

I’d follow this with a healthy slice of Victorian life which a complete de-emphasis on the bloody Pre-Raphaelites. Give me some monkeys and polar bears by Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) and my favourite Polar pin-up Sir James Clark Ross (painted in 1834) looking young and dashing in a dead animal’s skin. Throw in some late J M W Turner (1775-1851) too, to dazzle and shimmer.

Next I would like to get a little patriotic and whimsical, and place the illustrations of John Bauer (1882-1918), Tove Jansen (1914-2001) and Elsa Beskow (1874-1953) next to each other - a delightful flock of trolls, fairies and woodland creatures. Equally whimsical, I’d compliment the visual dreams of Odilon Redon (1840-1916) with the Art Deco graphical delights of Edouard Benedictus (1879-1930).

What else? Getting a little more modern, let’s have a healthy serving of Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) and Paul Nash (1889-1946) - skipping over anything too war-focussed for some of their lovely organic-architectural fantasies.

I’d also pinch Eduardo Paolozzi’s (1924-2005) Collage from BUNK from the Tate Modern, and ship Frida Khalo’s (1907-1954) Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird over from the US.

To round things off give me Rodney Graham’s (1949- ) Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, and finally all on it’s own in a big blue room, in absolute pride of place, let's enjoy Henri Rousseu’s (1844-1910) languorous Sleeping Gypsy.

I could go on... but it’s a little akin to torture. Like most people my art collection is just a hodgepodge assortment of tattered posters and prints... *sigh*

Collector's Eye is at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 18 February to 15 May 2011

Saturday, 1 January 2011

2010 in Art, Theatre, Film, Music and Meme


2010 started as the year that my anti-Bansky rant was distributed around London in The Blog Paper and continued with getting very pleasantly freaked out by Ron Mueck's Wild Man at Manchester Art Gallery, discovering Liverpool's Culturepool, becoming reacquainted with an old friend at the A Foundation through to my first ever Liverpool Biennial, which began in August with Laura Belém's Temple of a Thousand Bells

It will also be the year that technology and art finally coalesced - at least for me - and ended a history of uneasy tolerance and awkward plundering. In October I was enchanted by Rafeal Lozano-Hemmer’s installation Pulse Room (2006) at Manchester Art Gallery. I didn’t know it then, but Lozano-Hemmer’s work shares many of the delicious tensions and delights with earlier digital art pioneer Nam June Paik, as I found in December at Tate Liverpool and FACT.

Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer from Manchester Art Gallery on Vimeo.


In October I did not want Slung Low Theatre’s almost unimpeachable Anthology at the Everyman to end. Brilliant in both conception and execution, I doubt I will ever forget the experience of standing in some university gardens just off Hope Street, holding a feather, in a sudden downpour, watching Eileen O’Brien tell her character’s heart breaking story. Yes, I shed a tear or two.

Honestly, I felt utterly bereft after my last one and envy those who got to experience them all. Short, often sharp, bite sized ghost stories, the experience was somehow more like a radio play than anything else and yet so much more.


Although there were plenty of main stream cinematic treats this year - Scott Pilgrim, Another Year, The Illusionist - I need to maintain my status as a bit of an intellectual snob. My film of 2010 is Skelletons, a very British supernatural comedy that really did deserve to be a box-office hit. A cute, quirky and yet fairly psychologically dark film, the evidently low budget effects added to the charm and never once detracted from an adorably loopy high-concept storyline and well realised adorable characteris. Love Film/Amazon it now, bitches!


Unquestionably my musical crush of the year is Janelle Monae. What make could you want from a beautiful, talented musician who crafts perfect pop albums drawing heavily from a spectrum of sci-fi, pop culture and high brow sources... that most importantly makes you want to dance round the office like a sexy robot loon. *Sigh* If you need more convincing, listen to The Archandroid on Spotify.

Honourable mention also has to go to Quatuor Ebène and their incredible album of film music Fiction (also available on Spotify).


It might have started in 2008, but with fucking bed bugs Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno and Seduce Me series came to everyone’s attention this year. Add to that a demented interview in Vanity Fair, where the interviewer seems to basically plead with Isabella to say she wants to shag animals, and my meme for the year is set.