Tag Archives: artist

Three ways to be beside the seaside—in London, now!

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside—especially when it’s in London, in February. Well, if Margate and Hastings can open art galleries with urban style, why shouldn’t London steal some of their holiday fun?

Magnificent Obsessions, Barbican

Classic gem: one of photographer Martin Parr’s retro seaside postcards, on show at the Barbican Art Gallery.

Every seaside foray starts with a stroll along a breezy promenade. I let the blustery winds on the Barbican’s High Walk blow me to its art gallery’s Magnificent Obsessions exhibition where 14 artists’ private collections are on show. Magnum photographer Martin Parr’s trove of 1950s and 60s seaside postcards got me straight into the sun-and-sand mood. There were, of course, the cartoon images of busty blondes in polka dot bikinis scaring wimps with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads. But I most enjoyed the nostalgic scenes that Parr himself might have captured when working as a rookie photographer in a Butlin’s holiday camp.

Many of the postcards were of seemingly mundane scenes such as the new motorway service stations that drivers en route to Bognor would have sent to impress friends. Others showed hotel rooms with candlewick bedspreads—the ultimate in postwar style. As a collection they skewered a vanished era, of innocence lost and luxuries gained.

Parr’s sharp eye was just one highlight of an exhibition that ranged through Howard Hodgkin’s ravishing Indian paintings, Arman’s African masks and Edmund de Waal’s netsuke, including the hare with the amber eyes.

But soon I was off to seafront attraction number two: Swingers crazy golf.  This uproarious tee-party took place inside an abandoned printer’s warehouse near Old Street roundabout. Stepping inside I walked past the bar serving craft beers, the stalls cooking artisan street food and on to the nine-hole course. I grabbed my club from a wooden shack and tapped my ball up and under bridges, along teetering ledges, past miniature windmills and around swerving bends. I’m proud to have steered round the water hazard but confess to landing in a bunker twice.

Swingers crazy golf

A player circumvents the water hazard at Swingers crazy golf.

The last stop on my seaside jaunt was Novelty Automation, a witty take on the amusement arcade. This new “museum” of slot machines in Holborn is all screams and wry laughs. I slipped my tokens into “Micro Break”, and settled into a mechanical armchair that rocked and rattled as it took me on a simulated package holiday by a palm beach. At the adjacent machine, Is it Art?, I put my house keys before a model of Tate Director Nicholas Serota and was disappointed when he shook his head.

Novelty Automaton

Tim Hunkin’s Micro Break slot machine experience at Novelty Automation.

Novelty Automation

Place an object in front of a model of NIcholas Serota and he will tell you whether or not it’s art.

 

Novelty Automation

Sadly my keys did not make the grade.

These were just two of a clever collection of machines created by cartoonist and wacky engineer Tim Hunkin. Some I had enjoyed before, in his arcade on Southwold Pier. But with the many coastal capers going on all around, they now seem perfectly placed in their new home at London-on-Sea.

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery until 25 May; Swingers Crazy Golf is a pop up open until 26 February, then returning in September; Novelty Automation, 1a Princeton Street, London WC1A 4AX 

Butlin’s Bognor Regis postcard courtesy of Collection of Martin Parr.

 

London Slant: Bournemouth—art, fantasy and haddock by the beach

Art is now as much a part of the English seaside as fish and chips on the beach. Margate has Turner Contemporary, Hastings has The Jerwood Gallery and then there’s Bournemouth—with the granddaddy of them all. So, one sunny Saturday found me heading out of London Waterloo bound for a splash of culture on the south coast.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The Russell-Cotes Museum, set in beautiful gardens.

Jumping down from the train, I made straight for Bournemouth Pier—then turned to look back inland at what I’d come to see. Perched high above the promenade was the flamboyant former East Cliff Hall—now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum—the treasure-stuffed extravaganza of wealthy Victorian entrepreneur Merton Russell-Cotes. Owner of an adjacent grand hotel, he built the mansion in 1901 as a gift for his wife, Annie.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The Dining Room of the Russell-Cotes Museum.

If I was impressed by the turrets and balustrades of its fanciful exterior I was even more dazzled when I went inside. This was once home to a couple who travelled the world and brought back curiosities from every continent. When they went to Japan in 1885 they returned with 100 packing cases stuffed with objets d’art, many now displayed in The Mikado’s Room.

Russell-Cotes manga

Page from a “manga” produced by the museum, based on Annie Russell-Cotes’ travel journal of the couple’s trip to Japan.

The couple’s enthusiasm for culture and life itself pours out of every artefact and architectural flourish. Golden peacocks strut around the wood-panelled dining room ceiling. A fountain surrounded by torchères sits at the centre of the Main Hall, its walls hung with lavish paintings including Rossetti’s sultry Venus Verticorda. There’s a Moorish alcove inspired by their visit to the Alhambra, a fanciful boudoir where Annie had tea with Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice and a room full of memorabilia associated with Shakespearean actor Henry Irving whom Merton greatly admired.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The grand staircase leads down to the Main Hall, with its exotic pool.

Victorian portraits, landscapes and genre scenes cover every surface; four art galleries unfold one after another, with sculptures, ceramics and works by artists like Alma-Tadema and Lord Leighton. Ethnographic pieces range from a Norwegian sleigh the couple brought back for their children to an Ashanti wisdom stool and an impressive model of a Maori canoe. It’s a heady mix, but there are seats among the palms in the conservatory to take a break and admire the sea views.

Russelll-Cotes Museum

The Upper Gallery, crammed with art.

Russelll-Cotes Museum

Even the elaborate ladies’ loo is a work of art.

As if the permanent collection was not reason itself to visit, the Russell-Cotes is currently hosting an exhibition of works by William and Evelyn De Morgan: The De Morgans and the Sea.  This display of paintings and ravishing Arts and Crafts ceramics is every inch as exuberant and colourful as the house in which they currently find themselves.

Russell-Cotes Museum

William De Morgan: sea snake tile panel.

 

Rusell-Cotes Museum

Evelyn De Morgan: The Sea Maidens.

The Russell-Cotes sits in beautiful grounds that include a small Japanese garden and a grotto. I sat there in the sun, then wandered down to the beach below. And there, right on cue, was a Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips shop offering haddock in crunchy batter to complete my classic day out beside the sea.

 

Journey from London Waterloo to Bournemouth takes just under 2 hours, then 15 minutes’ walk. The De Morgans and the Sea continues until 28 September 2014.

 

 

London Slant: Sensational spectra lights up the night

On Monday night London switched out lights all along the Thames—with one amazing exception. Streaming up into the sky from Victoria Tower Gardens, 49 huge spotlights sent glowing white columns soaring into infinity. Spectra, an installation by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda, is visible from all over London. But the main experience is close up—so I headed towards the adjacent House of Lords.

spectra with tower P1020930

Spectra marks the centenary of the First World War; its beams stream up over the Union Flag fluttering on the House of Lords.

Spectra is supported by Artangel, known for its strong track record of exciting events. The work launched to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Approaching along the Thames, I first spotted it rocketing out Tate Modern’s chimney.

spectra, artangel, London

Spectra above Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge.

Then as I went upstream it appeared behind the National Theatre. The Southbank complex was glimmering blood red and scrolling on its illuminated sign Sir Edward Grey’s poignant words “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. Further on, spectra rose above the London Eye, three orange lights burning at its top, like a candle flame.

spectra, artangel, london

Spectra shoots through the night sky like a wartime searchlight. Three orange lights atop the London Eye evoked a candle flame.

 

Between 10 and 11pm the whole city switched off lights to remember the start of the First World War. The Houses of Parliament were barely discernible in the dark, apart from the clock face in Big Ben’s Elizabeth Tower, floating like a moon. Now I was close enough to see dazzling specks of light flitting through spectra’s beams: birds and insects which, like me, were being drawn in. A helicopter flew straight through, its rotating blades turned into a whirling silver plate.

Entering Victoria Tower Gardens I roamed among the giant lights. Strange sounds—pings and hisses—emerged from speakers to add to the other-worldliness. Moths and butterflies hit the lights, sizzled and died. Just like all those young men who eagerly signed up to go and fight in the trenches a hundred years ago.

spectra, Artangel, London

I lay on my back and looked up through the trees.

Spectra continues every night until sunrise on Monday 11 August.

London Slant: A day out in Ditchling, home of art and craft

A couple of weeks ago The Art Fund announced its Museum of the Year 2014 award. The six-strong shortlist featured winner Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Tate Britain, Portsmouth’s Mary Rose Museum…and Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. How come I hadn’t been to the last one? Given its illustrious company, clearly I had to go and check it out.

Ditchling Museum

Entrance to Ditchling Museum in a former coach house close by the church.

A pretty South Downs village near Brighton, Ditchling makes a great day trip from London. I hopped on a train at Victoria and in less than an hour had disembarked at Hassocks station and was striding past a white windmill above meadows full of poppies along what’s known as the artists’ walk. I soon arrived at the cluster of old cottages that have attracted a community of creative luminaries from sculptor Eric Gill in the early 1900s right up to today. The village has a strong association with the written word: in addition to the man behind Gill Sans lettering, other craftspeople with studios here have included Edward Johnston, designer of the London Underground typeface, and printer Hilary Pepler.

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Display of work by Edward Johnston, creator of the London Underground font.

There has been a museum in Ditchling since 1985, when it was set up by two sisters who knew many of the artists whose work is now on show. But it was transformed by a major refurbishment and reopened in September 2013 with engaging, fresh displays and those other must-haves of the modern museum, a cafe and shop.

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Edward Johnston’s desk and painter David Jones’ serene Madonna.

The displays bring together hand-printed books, paintings, wood carvings and rural implements. I enjoyed the woven textiles by Hilary Bourne who, when reluctantly approached to make costumes for Ben-Hur, tried to dissuade MGM by asking four times the going rate—to which they promptly agreed.

It was also fun to encounter a display by silversmiths Pruden & Smith, which also has a workshop and boutique in the centre of the village. Its co-owner, Anton Pruden, is the grandson of the silversmith who was part of Eric Gill’s original craft guild. Visitors to the shop may be invited to tour the warren of work rooms underneath. Be warned, though, that once you’ve seen what goes into these stylish pieces you are unlikely to emerge empty-handed.

Ditchling tea rooms

Pretty cottages and tea rooms: a slice of Ditchling village life.

On a ramble around the village I stopped at the churchyard to admire lettering in stone carved by Gill. A visit to one of the tea shops was another must. I then walked out into the fields and up onto the South Downs, en route to Brighton on the other side. From there, it was easy to catch the London-bound train—but not before I’d come across an extraordinary sight, which I’ll tell you about next time…

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, open daily from 11.00-17.00 (Sun from 12.00).

 

 

 

LONDON SLANT: CANTERBURY TRAILS

It’s a centuries old tradition that come the warmer weather travellers set off from London for Canterbury. It was a rambling ride in Chaucer’s day. But thanks to the Mo Farah and Sarah Storey Javelin trains that zoom out of St Pancras, the journey now takes under an hour.

So, one bright Sunday morning I found myself sharing a southbound carriage with two young women on the Walk of Shame. Both were curled up asleep. Two pairs of sparkly, spiky heels formed a decorative arrangement on the table.

The conductor appeared and they confessed: “We have an issue”. Cue cleavage-waggling and an elaborate yarn about how they’d lost their tickets when some clothing went missing the previous night. Duly ejected at the next stop, they tottered off along the platform in their remaining party gear.

Our train plunged into the most beautiful bucolic scene: lush water meadows with cattle grazing among reeds and flowers. Eventually the towers of Canterbury Cathedral reared up behind, but the goal of my journey lay elsewhere. I’d come to see the newly refurbished Beaney House of Art & Knowledge—a rather academic name for a museum-cum-giant cabinet of curiosities that was huge fun to explore.

Beaney Canterbury

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury.

Beaney Canterbury

Inside the newly refurbished galleries.

A fanciful 1899 building on the High Street, The Beaney’s doors open to some wonderful paintings, ranging from old masters to contemporary works. But I was equally taken by more unexpected displays. I admired a mummified Egyptian cat, a stuffed armadillo, a Venus flower basket (the skeleton of a sponge) and ancient garnet brooches dug up when the building was restored.

Venus flower basket

One of many curios: the Venus flower basket, a sponge skeleton.

But what I most enjoyed was making the acquaintance of two eccentric Victorian gentleman travellers and the quirky treasures they brought back.

One, Stephen Lushington, was both MP for Canterbury and Governor of Madras. Jane Austen wrote of him: “He is quite an MP. I am rather in love with him. I dare say he is ambitious and insincere.” He returned home with a huge collection featuring a sword guard with a demon devouring an elephant and a mace decorated with intricate flowers.

And then there was the Reverend Henry Landsell, whose adventures took him across Asia during the 1870s. There are photographs of him posing in outrageous local costumes in Siberia and the Stans. From Kashgar he brought back a leather face slapper, captioned “for slapping naughty women’s faces in prisons”. From Burma came decorative objects ransacked from the Royal Palace of Mandalay. More practical were the embroidered trousers he bought in a Tashkent bazaar, which he found “warm and useful” when travelling by horse.

I could have spent hours sitting on the Beaney’s little portable stools, peering at every detail of these intriguing objects. But a late lunch called, so it was off to The Goods Shed, for melt-in-the-mouth roast beef and a vegetable platter. We sat at wooden tables on a dais above the farmer’s market in full swing to one side. I’m sure that every carrot, splash of oil and slice of bread came straight from the organic stalls busy with shoppers down below. Great atmosphere, great food.

The Goods Shed Restaurant

The Goods Shed Restaurant, close by Canterbury station.

As I sipped my locally brewed beer I suddenly remembered those two girls on the train. Were they still staggering back home on their stilettos? Or had they managed to bamboozle another ticket inspector with a more convincing Canterbury tale?

LONDON SLANT: NEW AT KEW

No matter how many times I visit London’s Kew Gardens (and it’s a lot) every time I go I see something new. I never cease to be amazed at how somewhere so seemingly “natural” can be so innovative. But since Kew’s all about plant life tamed and put on show, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s so cutting-edge.

Orchids at Kew

Part of a fabulous wall of orchids at Kew.

I always try to catch the annual Orchid Festival, and last week provided the perfect day for this eye-popping adventure. The sun streamed into the Princess of Wales Conservatory, lighting up walls and giant bowls dripping exotic blooms. I loved the columns of vibrant colour reflected in the central pool and archways draped in flowers.

Orchids at Kew

Orchids in and around the pool at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew.

The petal paparazzi were out in force, snapping away as these showy stars strutted their stuff, flaunting their finery full force. Outside the conservatory though, nodding in the shade, much more modest flowers were also causing a stir. There may still be a nip in the air, but spring is coming and snowdrops, crocuses and even a few camellias are starting to appear.

Snowdrops and sculpture at Kew

The alien has landed: a scattering of snowdrops and looming David Nash Black Sphere sculpture at Kew.

This leads us gently into the other excitement of my visit: David Nash’s extraordinary sculptures, artfully positioned around the grounds. Nash has been doing amazing things with wood in general and whole tree trunks in particular for 40 years. He was recently invited to create new works from wood available from Kew’s tree management programme to display around the grounds alongside other pieces from his long career. One of the most exciting aspects of this show is how it makes you look at Kew’s living trees in a different, more detailed way, as if they, too, are works of art.

David Nash sculptures at Kew

Scuttlers: A David Nash sculpture on show near his outdoor studio at Kew where it was created.

In addition to works around the grounds, there are dramatic pieces in Kew’s elegant buildings. They look particularly striking among the lush foliage of the Temperate House where, as Nash says: “The exciting thing for me is to see my works in the jungle. To put them among plants, which is where they come from”.

David Nash sculpture at Kew

David Nash’s Throne in the Temperate House.

David Nash sculpture at Kew

A flame-like cone of cork bark in a Kew conservatory

A pyramid of cork bark looks terrific in an otherwise empty conservatory and there’s a fascinating display of smaller pieces in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. The gallery also details the evolution of Nash’s career and includes photographs of other site-specific works, including a circle of living trees which the artist has bent inward to interweave and form Ash Dome.

David Nash sculptures at Kew

Clams? Magritte-like bells? These strange shapes seem to float in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.

The last thing I expected to do on a sunny day at Kew was to sit and watch a film, but I was totally riveted by Wooden Boulder, the story of a huge “rock” that Nash carved from a tree on a remote hilltop in Wales in 1978. Beginning with still photographs and developing into an exquisitely shot art film, it relates how Nash cut the huge slab of wood, tried but failed to move it downhill, how storms eventually did the job for him and how by 2003 it had reached a river and was washed out to sea. The tale began with grainy snaps of a young man in flared trousers desperately trying to dislodge this giant piece of wood and ended with beautiful – yet rather humorous – footage of his boulder bobbing on the waves of a vast seascape. It’s a wonderful comment on the artist and his life.

Orchids at Kew, until 3 March. David Nash at Kew, until 14 April.

There’s an excellent catalogue, David Nash at Kew Gardens, to accompany the show, as well as an iPad app.

LONDON SLANT: LIGHT SHOW – JUST GO

“The artwork is designed to stimulate the senses. If at any stage you feel uncomfortable PLEASE LEAVE THE SPACE.” Having read this notice you can imagine that I couldn’t wait to pull back the black curtain and go inside. But as this was the last of the 25 works in the London Hayward Gallery’s stunning Light Show, let’s return to it later.

This new, incandescent exhibition has quite appropriately, spawned glowing reviews. So much so that on the Sunday I visited advance tickets had all sold out. The swell of visitors means you really need a game plan: get there at the 10am opening time and head straight to James Turrell’s Wedgework V. Here you can sit and ponder the angry crimson rectangle projected at an angle onto a wall, with blueish light suggestive of an unreachable exit on the far edge. After this, you should nip up the stairs and into the mirrored, light-studded “phonebox” that is Ivan Navarro’s Reality Show. Having got ahead of the queues at both of these installations, you can return to the beginning of the show and amble through the remaining works.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery

Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez: three rooms lit blue, red and green trick the eyes and mind.

Full marks to the curators. Every single item on show is either scintillating or stimulating – and usually both. I can’t remember ever getting into so many conversations with strangers in an art gallery, but these works prompt you to interact and exclaim, as did one toddler who came flailing towards me: “Awesome!”

You and I Horizontal by Anthony McCall: step among rotating beams that seem solid enough to touch. Photo by Linda Nylind.

You and I, Horizontal by Anthony McCall: step among rotating beams that seem solid enough to touch.

Works I especially enjoyed were Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal, a dark, disorientating, haze-filled room shot with rotating beams of white light. Despite being mere projections, they seemed sufficiently solid as to pierce and break. I also lingered in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation: three white spaces with lights coloured blue, red and green that created extraordinary visual effects both individually and where they met. They couldn’t express more clearly how light can trick the brain to see what isn’t there.

David Batchelor's Magic Hour uses lightboxes to capture the look and atmosphere of a city at sunset.Photo by Linda Nylind.

David Batchelor’s Magic Hour uses lightboxes to capture the look and atmosphere of a city at sunset.

I could go on, but let’s skip to that last room: Model for a Timeless Garden by Olafur Eliasson, creator of the hugely successful Weather Project giant sun at Tate Modern some years back. Here at the Hayward, strobe lights and a soundtrack create a magical, sparkling garden scene, that I won’t describe in more detail because you’ve got to go – and be amazed.

Until 28 April. Adult tickets: £11.

Photographs by Linda Nyland:

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosaturation (1965-2013) ©the artist/DACS,Cruz-Diez Foundation.

Iván Navarro, Reality Show (2010),©the artist, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris.

Anthony McCall,You and I, Horizontal (2005), ©the artist courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London.