Tuesday, 29 May 2012


If a bus, a train, a plane, a coach and a ferry all do what they should be doing tomorrow, I'll be having a late supper beside the Aegean Sea on  the Greek island of Symi, a boat trip from Rhodes.

Most days we'll walk up some or all of the 500 steps of the main road, Kali Strata, past two- or three- storey houses with elegant wrought iron balconies overlooking the sea, beautiful pediments and pebbled and paved courtyards. On the right hand side you can see how many are still in ruins as a result of bombing during WW2.

We come back a couple of days before the next Greek election. Let us hope for a just settlement between the nations of  Europe.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

169. AMERICAN TRILOGY: stars and stripes, Elvis Presley and Coco Cola by PETER BLAKE

STOP PRESS: the portrait of the Queen on the Royal Souvenir Issue of the Radio Times is by Sir Peter Blake.

Now read on...Sir Peter Blake, an honorary doctor of the Royal College of Art and knighted in 2002, is (was) perhaps most widely known for his amazing album cover of the Beatles LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). He celebrated his 80th birthday recently with an exhibition at the Railings Gallery in Marylebone. He announced, 'At 75 I said I was in my 'late period'. Really it's a way of giving myself more excuses for doing what I want to do. That was my finale. Everything else is an...encore'.                          And what an encore! Above is one of a trilogy of signed, limited edition prints featuring 3 American icons: stars and stripes, Elvis Presley and CocoCola, signifying the mass cultural revolution America led in the 1950s.

The other two images display Blake's versatility and invention. Faith, Hope and Charity, like the album cover,is a collage made from found objects, in this case Victorian postcards. It’s based on his lifelong belief that everyday objects - things as valueless as old cigarette packets, packaging from children's games, match boxes etc - can become the subject matter of high art. By re arranging pictures on postcards for us, Blake illustrates the three Christian virtues which St Paul urged the inhabitants of Corinth to practise in his first letter to them almost 2,000 years ago. Think again about sentiment, and  the power of words to change lives, Blake seems to be saying.
‘Faith’ has cherub heads and children making music, reminding us of innocence and joy. The rectangular panel at the top is taken from a work by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1787). Each panel includes the design of a hand holding a message: Remember Me – Forget Me Not – A  Tribute of Love, which would have been the centrepieces of the original postcards.
In Four Men Up Blake's skill with compostion and pattern-making transforms a revered city landmark into a surprising carnival.  In the crowd in front of the Grand Palais in Paris there are native Indians, school girls, rugby players, bagpipes and kilts: a surreal circus scene with ethnically diverse people from past and present posed as performers, music makers, spectators - or simply looking out at us.  The image manages to confront the viewer while being witty and evocative at the same time.
http://www.nme.com/news/the-beatles/62997 for the story of how Peter Blake 're-ceated' the original Sgt. Papper's Band LP cover in April this year.


Saturday, 19 May 2012


 Architecture Space, Royal Academy
The dog on the left looks out of the picture, perkily showing off his black eye to the canvas. The gentlemen on the right has seen better days, indeed it doesn’t look as if he’s seeing much at all at the present moment, for he’s sporting another sort of black eye. Everything looks as blurry to him as the graffiti does to us.  Centre stage is a stocky woman. Her eyes are on something outside the picture, something we can’t see.  But then we can see what’s behind her. She’s framed as if in a portrait, by one of Nicholas Hawsmoor’s fabulous London  churches.
Jock McFadyen writes: ‘In the early 1980s when I began to make work which was based on observation, I was living and working in the East End. St Anne’s Limehouse was a 3 minute walk…standing as a counterpoint (to) a landscape of mediocrity and I couldn’t resist making a series of paintings to celebrate the contrast.
McFadyen's painting is one of many exhibits bringing to life a small show at the Royal Academy, which is celebrating the 350th anniversary of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s birth (1662 –1736).  Alas, exhibitions of architecture are often hard work, for they only give us drawings and models and photographs, which are but pale imitations of something standing full square out there in the real world. Here Hawksmoor’s astounding London churches are brought to life by being  surrounded by the cultural heritage he inspired. Images of his churches are juxtaposed with artworks, films and writings by poets, critics and novelists.  There are fragments from T C Eliot’s Wasteland and Horace Walpole; Charles Dickens and Phillip Pullman; Peter Ackroyd and Ian Sinclair.
The show is a refeshing reminder of the originality and spendour of those ‘restless facades and extraordinary disruptions of scale (which) make their presence felt in the London visions of Hogarth and Dickens’, as Thomas Marks wrote in The Daily Telegraph.  Here is Hogarth's Gin Palace.

The block-busting shows you hear about at the RA mostly come with a not insubstantial price tag.  I found this exhibition  by going into the RA and asking if I could see any free art. (I used to be a Member but blogging now takes me to less well known sites). The show is scrunched up in a glorified corridor on the ground floor  (which happens to be to the left of the Ladies loo). It’s easily missed, but well worth the effort

Tuesday, 15 May 2012



This is my 167th blog , and the first time I have not, strictly speaking, chosen the image.

Why is it here?

This is the 100,000th portrait image added to the online collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

It's a signed, limited edition bromide print, (428mm x 329mm) taken in 2009, and  recently given to the Gallery by Dave Brolan on behalf of Jimmy Page, legendary guitarist and song writer. It's part of a portfolio of 5 photographs: the others are Page performing with Led Zeppelin (known at the time, at least by some, as 'the biggest band in the world'); Jorgen Angel in Copenhagen in 1970; Dick Barnatt at Earls Court Arena in 1975; Neal Preston at Chicago Stadium in 1977 and Baron Wolman at Oakland Coliseum in California also in 1977.

This print marks a digitisation milestone for the National Portrait Gallery. It began to digitise its collections in 1996. starting with the Primary Collection and moving on to Archives and Photographs in 1999. At that point money from the then Culture, Media and Sports Department meant that the team was expanded to two people...

A substantial donation from the Lerner Foundation in 2008 enabled the Gallery to dramatically increase the number of works available to us, the general public, via its website. 2012 will continue to be a significant year in that money from the Garfield Weston Trust will build a dedicated photographic studio which opens up all manner of new possibilites.

 It seems like the moment to congratulate everyone involved in the National Portrait Gallery's  achievements. And why not stop now and visit the website to explore the Collection or search for you own favourite sitter or artist?

Saturday, 12 May 2012


 Saatchi Gallery Chelsea

The work of 38 photographers from 16 countries is on show at the current Saatchi exhibition, some of which I love - and  one or two for which I would pay good money not to have on my walls. Either way it's true that much contemporary art offers a serious critique of society: green issues, warfare, colonialisation, capitalism, gender matters and so on.

But I have chosen this work simply because it’s  beautiful and it’s fun.

 A beautiful women, in a white diaphanous gown, is weightless and free. Her pose is that often used by the illustrators of childrens’ fairy tales.  She’s flying and tumbling through pure water and the silver bubbles glow like stars above her head. We know instinctively that deep water is dark and claustrophobic and life-threatening, but here reassuring light streams through the windows. And the room itself is reassuringly earthy, with  a comfy chair and  elegant furniture, even bric a brac.

Phoebe Rudomino is based at the Underwater Stage at Pinewood Studios, the only facility of its kind in the world. She has a rare combination of talents: she’s a commercial diver and an underwater photographer. She specialises in behind-the-scenes underwater stills and video for feature films, TV and commercials. This photograph is a still taken from a shoot for a commercial for Johnson & Johnson’s Imagine body wash.

The image I’ve used is taken from the Saatchi Exhibition Guide. A better definition can be seen on

Monday, 7 May 2012


A couple of minutes’ walk away from Piccadilly Circus is a pretty hidden garden. So hidden in fact that it took 2 trips for me to locate it. St James’s Piccadilly is a landmark church whose courtyard is covered with stalls selling crafts and antiques, plus the spill-over tables and chairs from next door CafĂ© Nero. The way through to this little oasis of peace and quiet, the Southwood Garden, is not obvious, but its lawns, steps, statues and benches are worth finding. It’s dedicated to the bravery of Londoners during World War II.

In one corner stands Large Owl (for B), a preview to Houseago’s debut exhibition at  the Hauser & Worth Gallery in September. It will be there until July 22nd. It’s a head and shoulders portrait, as it were, with all the bits (like wings) associated with lightness and flight cut away. Delicate  feathers are transformed into ‘weighty cylinders, coarsely daubed onto the surface to build the sculpture into one cohesive form’.
It’s cast in bronze and stands on a redwood plinth. So with those great empty gaping eyes  contrasting wth its solid appearance, it’s a watchful presence, unceasingly vigilant, a sentinel. But even its tough, rough surface - which retains the marks of trowel and hand - is a paradox. As I run my fingers over Large Owl, I feel the texture of a sand castle.

Saturday, 5 May 2012



 When Collishaw’s son was born his flat had to be cleared of an infestation of bugs. He pressed the remains between 35mm slides and projected them on the wall with microscopic detail: vibrant yellow, green and blue wings together with crushed bodies. I first saw them in 2009 at the Haunch of Venison Gallery.

Beauty and destruction. ‘Matt Collishaw can always find the instrinsically evil in photography.’ So runs the text on the Saatchi Gallery website. Perhaps his most famous image is a close up of a head wound caused an ice pick.  

Here Madonna’s beautiful face is cropped from a photograph of an Indian woman, taken after her village had been destroyed by floods. How do you make an impact with something as flimsy as a picture when it is so heavily freighted with grief and loss? He takes us back to one of the oldest art forms, the way that for centuries gods, saints and martyrs were immortalised in sacred space. He transforms a fleeting photograph into a monumental mosaic (425cm x 258cm)made up of tiny ceramic tiles. It’s said to be a parody of computer pixellation.

One of the most shocking images in the whole show, Eighth Day,  is given similar treatment. It’s a reproduction of a photo Collishaw found in an old book of a real lynching. It's also been transformed into a mosaic and as you stand in the gallery and face its 354 x 279.6 dimensions, you  instantly become one of the  spectators joining the crowd, a voyeur hanging around in a cluster of ordinary-looking men, none of whom came out that morning without first putting on their hats. Do you stay and try to figure out what's happening? Or do you walk away in disgust or distress or both? It is decision- time.
P.S. It may be worth looking back at Blog 129  to compare Collinson's treatment of Madonna with


Thursday, 3 May 2012


There is an interesting story behind this beautiful photograph. The artist was commissioned to commemorate Jersey's 800 years of alliegance to the Crown by a holographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. This was a complicated process (it meant the camera taking 200 images) requiring the Queen to sit motionless for 8 seconds each time. In between the Queen closed her eyes to rest. Levine was struck by 'the beauty of the meditative state' and took this picture.

Levine puts it this way:'During the shoot there was a lot of bright light, noise and each exposure took 8 seconds, which is  a long time to have to sit still. I wanted the Queen to feel peaceful, so I asked her to rest between shots, this was a moment of stillness which just happened.
Meditation was having a profound impact on my life at the time. I told her about how I'd go off on 10 day silent retreats, and she was very interested. I timed the exposures around her breathing - it seemed a way of tuning into her. Later this image really stood out - it has such an aura about it, such a power'.

It is a remarkable image. People in portraits are almost invariably wide awake, alert, very present, possibly self-conscious. We are used to seeing allowing images of great musicians and singers  closing their eyes, lost in the depth of another world. Otherwise  the only  closed eyes we see are part of the ecstasy of scoring a goal or winning a championship.  
The colour of the image is perfect too, gentle skin tones - and perhaps because of the lighting, the fur stole - warm the silvers and greys. The Queen's lips make an arresting splash of colour in the centre of the frame, particularly as they are not shown with  fashionable but unrealistic symmetry.
Here's a link to more of the artist's fascinating account of the process of making this artwork 
, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/aug/19/photography-chris-levine-best-shot
Chris Levine is one of 38 artists from 14 countries currently on show at OUT OF FOCUS: PHOTOGRAPHY at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea.