Minggu, 28 Februari 2010

Sabtu, 27 Februari 2010

Yesterday on Twitter I asked Yoko Ono this question:
'What were your expectations from life as an artist before John walked into the Indica Gallery?'
Not sure if this was the answer I was looking for, but she replied:
'John walked into Indica for confirmation that we were on the same page.'
So there you have it.

Talking of pages, I've just started reading 'Suttree' by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is one of my favourite authors, for his immensely detailed descriptive powers and sense of time and place. His strength of imagination leads you to believe that he always writes from personal experience even though you know that can't be possible. Two of my favourite books are 'The Border Trilogy' (ok that's three books - but one story) and 'The Road', a powerful and heart-breaking book recently made into a film starring Vigo Mortenesen.
I was immediately hooked by the first short paragraph of the prologue to 'Suttree' for it's alliterative poetry, a hallmark of McCarthy's writing:

DEAR FRIEND now in the dusty clockless hours of the town
when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the
watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have
washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and
cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters
about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors
where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no
soul shall walk save you.

Kamis, 25 Februari 2010

Went to see the Chris Ofili retrospective at Tate Britain yesterday. On the train on the way up I sent a Tweet to Danny DeVito (as you do) in response to something he'd said on Twitter, and immediately received a personal reply from him. Made my day. Chris Ofili came in second after that.

The exhibition is split into two parts. The first deals with the works that brought him international recognition as a young Brit Artist, the decorative pieces that make reference to his Zimbabwean roots and contemporary Black culture. The second section of the show has his more recent work that has left the decorative, elephant dung-adorned works behind. I like the first - large scale works layered with intricate patterns and collage elements - not sure that every piece needed the statutory lump of elephant dung attached to it, but all the major collections around the world that these are on loan from probably disagreed. Here is 'Afrodizzia' 2.4m x 1.83m. The medium is given as 'Paper collage, oil paint, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, elephant dung':

The second part of the show dealt with his recent series of works since his move to Trinidad alongside his mate Peter Doig. I'm sure I could detect a Doig-like influence breaking through these works, and much as I like Doig's work too, I don't like either of their post-Trinidad-move pieces. These are truly large scale works - the size of warehouse walls, and very disappointing. I just don't think he'd have made it on the back of these works alone. The jury's out. Here's one of the better one's I don't have the title of:

Rabu, 24 Februari 2010

Still in San Francisco, here is my photo essay of Alcatraz [taken in 2006]:

Selasa, 23 Februari 2010

Aoccdring to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Senin, 22 Februari 2010

Minggu, 21 Februari 2010

Still in San Francisco, and following on from Raoul's Café in Little Venice, here is the next in occasional pieces on my favourite cafés and bars. Vesuvio's bar on the corner of 255 Colombus Avenue and Jack Keroac Alley, sits next door to the famous City Lights Bookstore founded in 1953 by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the first all paperback bookstore and still the home of the Beat movement. Vesuvio's was established in 1948. In 1955 Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarity in 'On the Road' by Jack Keroac) stopped at Vesuvio's on his way to a poetry reading and at this point it became the official bar of choice for the Beat writers.

It was here that Jack Keroac once spent a long night in 1960 when he should have been on his way to Big Sur for a meeting with Henry Miller. Miller had written to Keroac saying he'd enjoyed reading The Dharma Bums and would like to meet the emerging writer. Keroac continued drinking and calling Miller on the hour saying he was delayed. They didn't meet that night.

The interior is warm and woody and welcoming. A long bar on the ground floor is overlooked by a gallery running around the first floor. The walls are covered in photographs and an impressive original art collection. Two friends and I managed to get a regular table on our visits at the far end of the bar, sitting beneath a portrait of Keroac himself. This is the very table, and I'd quite like to be there now:

Our visits to this great bar inspired this poem at the time:

Sidetracked by Keroac

In the dingy darkness
and dark dinginess of Vesuvio's
his ghost is omnipresent.

Would-be poets and writers
cloak themselves in the atmosphere,
connect with the fabric, the myth,
hoping something will rub off,
stain their imagination.

Libby brings another pitcher -
Where are you guys from?
They make small talk but only see
her bare arms and shoulders,
the way her breasts sit snug
in the skimpy red top.

Across the road the neon flickers -
Adult DVDs - love eggs in their nest.
The Tiffany lamps and the photos
lend a cosy ambience to the bar,
warm against the rivulets of rain
tracking down the windows.

Libby brings another pitcher -
she has a winsome smile.
Later, three would-be poets negotiate
the length of the bar, stagger
towards the exit, none the wiser.

Jumat, 19 Februari 2010

Quirky Corner No. 2

A parking meter I photographed in San Francisco:

Kamis, 18 Februari 2010

Sixty-two years after the end of the British Raj in India, when the Indian National Anthem was God save the King, it's still possible to get a flavour of the time. At the old Hill Station of Munnar high in the Western Ghats in Kerala, the High Range Club was established in 1901 by planters.
It was the first planter's club to be electrified and was one of the few clubs built as a residential club. Telephones and a library were installed in 1916.

The First Class compartment of the Kundaly Valley Light Railway, which was considered too heavy for the use for which it was built, was used as a Bar on the Gymkhana ground after the Railway became defunct in 1932. The last Coolie Gymkhana was held in 1940 and was attended by the Maharajah of Travancore. My photo of the road sign pointing to the club one way and a tea factory the other:

The club is still going and very little has changed apart from the membership now being open to the local population. The building and interiors look untouched - the library, billiards room and dining room sit like Miss Haversham's parlour, frozen in time. The bar is something to behold, and here is where you step right back into the Raj. The walls above the massive and splendid bar are covered in Solar Topees, left behind by planters as mementoes as they came and went, their plantation numbers painted on the brim. All around the room animal trophies look glumly down on you, tigers, ibex, and the biggest buffalo heads imaginable gather dust. I sincerely don't believe such big buffalo exist any more - easily two metres from horn tip to horn tip - probably all shot and hanging in the club.

We were shown round by a steward who had worked at the club for thirty-five years, and his father had worked there before him. He showed us the silver trophies being polished for an up-coming annual golf tournament to be held on the immaculate nine-hole golf course that lay in front of the club, rolling down to a river (three rivers meet in Munnar). One wonders if the legacy of the Raj will ever entirely disappear. I think it would be a shame if the the High Range Club went, it serves as a reminder of the past and functions to the benefit of Munnar today. The steward in front of the club:

A landscape with a self-explanatory title 'Jacaranda nr Munnar':

Selasa, 16 Februari 2010

Quirky Corner No. 1

A front garden spotted in Hanover Road, Tunbridge Wells:

Minggu, 14 Februari 2010

I guess it's in my Danish blood, but ever since I can remember, I've been attracted to what could only be described as Nordic gloom. At art school I used to go the Arts Cinema in Cambridge to see all those black & white angst-ridden films by Ingmar Bergman starring Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow. I like the understated colour and the mysterious beauty and sadness in the paintings of the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (I really enjoyed the retrospective of his work appropriately entitled 'The Poetry of Silence' at the Royal Academy in 2008). Interior with a Girl at the Clavier. 1901 :

Amongst my very favourite listening (probably my favourite) particularly when I'm painting is the haunting sounds of Icelandic group Sigur Rós. Here is Glósóli. Love the video too:

Then we have Inspector Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell's great detective creation. I haven't actually started on the books yet, but I am going too. Good as the Kenneth Branagh TV series have been, they were far outweighed by the original Swedish series starring the dour Krister Henriksson. Much bleaker, they held a fascination for me and a longing for those minimalist Swedish landscapes around Malmö, and what I think of as 'Early Ikea' interiors (I remember the furniture from my childhood - Ikea was established in 1943).

Which brings me to Stieg Larsson, the latest publishing phenomenon. Three books in his Millennium trilogy delivered to his publisher just before he died, and they've gone on to sell something like 25 million copies so far. I am a fan. I think they're a great read, featuring a most unusual and original heroine in the shape of Lisbeth Salander. That's all - read the books. The novels have been made into films already, with Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev directing. The first one, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", already well received abroad, opens on March 12 in this country. I'm looking forward to it.

A graffito I photographed in Faversham in Kent:

Rabu, 10 Februari 2010

Last April we arrived in India from Bahrain at two in the morning. Three hours later at five in the morning, we were banging on the door and trying to wake up Jose and Daisy at their Plantation near Kothamangalam in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Kerala. We had arranged a Home Stay at their beautiful bungalow (built by Jose's father, who had been an an MP in the Indian Government) for a bit of rest and recuperation en route to Munnar, an old Hill station higher up the mountains, for what was left of the night and the following night.

They greeted us rather bleary eyed in their pyjamas and welcomed us in, immediately followed by one of frequent power cuts you experience in India. We sat making small talk to Daisy in pitch blackness while Jose looked for a torch - a rather surreal introduction to what turned out to be a memorable stay for all the right reasons. The plantation is principally rubber, but also coconuts, pepper, cashews, bananas, pineapples, jackfruit, honey, milk and butter from their own cattle - they were almost self-sufficient. After waking at midday we spent the day wandering the estate and taking tea on the magnificent veranda, all marble and teak, overlooking a very pretty garden that had monster butterflies flitting about it. Within 24 hours of arriving in India for the first time, we had found somewhere we thought we could live quite happily. A view from the veranda, where an immaculate Royal Enfield motorcycle is kept:

In the evening, as the swelter and humidity cooled a tad we wandered off the plantation to the scattering of houses along a dirt track. This young girl was one of a bunch of barefoot kids we came across. The most amazing eyes.

Here's another painting from the India series: It's an old tea planter's bungalow in Bison Valley near Munnar. Bungalow nr Munnar 80 x 60 cm

Nostalgia is not what it used to be. I'm all for progress as the expression goes; I like modern minimalism and glass and steel. As ever it's all about finding the right balance between old and new. I love 30 St. Mary Axe in the City, otherwise known as The Gherkin, which sits quite happily alongside more traditional buildings. Sometimes though it's good to hang onto the old. I read recently that one of the last 'train car' steel diners in New York, the Empire Diner, has been taken over by a coffee shop after thirty years in the previous ownership, and there are worries over what they may do to it. Not too much hopefully.

It sits on the corner of 10th Avenue and 22nd Street in Chelsea and is a classic icon of the genre and a great place to go for breakfast, if you can understand the language. 'Do you want your eggs easy over or sunny side up?', 'No, on a plate please.' This is me at the counter:

And here is a poem from my first collection 'Shades of Grey', that is self explanatory:

Empire Diner

She said she'd be there.
Snow like cold ashes
blowing in his face.
The all-night diner -
all streamlined cool
downtown on tenth -
throws warm beacon lights
like an ocean liner.
He picks up the pace.

She's there on a stool
at the long black counter -
all sparkling chrome
and Chrysler lines.
It's three-thirty by
the restless clock
and the coffee's perking.

She smiles, he sits,
lights two cigarettes
like Bogey would,
hands one to Bacall.
They watch the smoke
spiral towards the polished
black ceiling, see themselves
looking back down.

Selasa, 09 Februari 2010

I love magazines. I mean quality magazines that have good design and good writing. It started as a student - I used to buy a men's magazine (no not that sort) called Town; excellent typography, fashion, and articles by writers like Jeffrey Bernard (though I think he was feeling unwell even then). Other now defunct mags of the time were Nova, and an excellent German one called Twen. For a while after college I was Assistant Art Director of Harpers Bazaar when Queen Victoria was a subscriber, and then did some work on Andy Warhol's Interview in NY.

Another magazine that Queen Victoria may well have actually subscribed to is Country Life (est.1897), the magazine so beloved of waiting rooms everywhere, where we peruse property we can't afford and read announcements of the engagement of girls called Annabel to boys called Tarquin. But it is a really excellent magazine, and here's why. In a recent issue they invited the actress Susan Hampshire (aka Lady Kulukundis) to talk about her favourite painting and guess what, yes, she chose one of mine called Serrato II, Andalucia. I know, of all the paintings in all the world ... I really like Susan Hampshire. Her short piece was accompanied by a longer piece written by the Sunday Telegraph Art Critic John McEwen.

For the hard of hearing, here's what she said:
"I'd always gravitated towards the French Impressionists, and artists such as Chagall and Matisse; then, about 15 months ago, I discovered Poul Webb at Francis Kyle Gallery, and suddenly thought how much I'd love to own a work by this living artist. He paints places that you'd love to go to, and uses such vibrant colours. This one, which was on the front of a calendar my sister sent me, is such a splash of joy"

Talking of actresses, another one, the lovely Maureen Lipman has become a supporter of my work over the last few years. Here I am trying to think of something intelligent to say to her. I think I failed.

This got me thinking about what I would have chosen as my favourite painting, and that turned out to be much harder than I'd imagined. The Van Eyck Altarpiece in Ghent, a landscape by Grant Wood or Peter Doig? A few years ago I went to a retrospective show at Tate Modern of the American Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman. It was a revelation, and I loved all the work, but the biggest impact was made by the sheer scale and bravado of one work, a wall of red - Vir Heroicus Sublimis (no, I don't know what it means either) - which at 18 feet x 8 feet wouldn't fit in my living room.

Senin, 08 Februari 2010

We went to visit our daughter Nina at the weekend. She lives at the southern tip of St John's Wood in north London. After lunch at her flat, a short hop across Maida Vale took us into 'Little Venice'. What a great area - grand stuccoed terraces nestled along wide tree lined avenues - a sprinkling of deli's and restaurants. Gordon Ramsey's pub The Warrington is here with its splendid baroque interior, which is more than I can say for the food. (Did you hear about the scandal of food being cooked off premises and then brought in by van? But at least the van had four Michelin tyres.) The area is better still in the summer when your ears are not icing up from the arctic breeze we encountered. We passed along the canal full of houseboats down as far as The Waterway, a trendy restaurant where in high season you have to scramble for table on the outdoor terrace that overlooks the canal (as we were leaving the first time we went there we realised Kelly Osbourne and friend were waiting for our table).

Turned into Clifton Villas for a visit to Clifton Nurseries, established in 1815. Tucked between and behind more stuccoed houses. You walk in through a passage lined with big topiary bushes to a nursery stuffed with plants, a café, and shops full of fashionable gardeny bits. A real hidden gem. Metal chairs at Clifton Nurseries:

Turned again into Clifton Road up to Raoul's, a terrific little independent café where you can get have lovely European style pastry to go with your coffee, or they'll whip you up a full English Breakfast. In the cosy interior we sat beneath a large framed black & white photo of the artist Francis Bacon joshing with the Beat Generation writer William Burroughs (author of The Naked Lunch). Now that's my type of coffee shop.

To end with, here are two quotes from William Burroughs I rather like:

"I'm getting so far out one day I won't come back at all."

"After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say 'I want to see the manager'."

Minggu, 07 Februari 2010

Warning: This blog may contain nuts.

It will be a random selection of musings through time and space that will have no logical reasoning, probably. Where to begin?

Late 'sixties - the summer of love. All you need is love. Love is all you need. Well you get the picture. I was at Cambridge Art School - Syd Barratt in the year above had moved to London and Pink Floyd played at the Christmas party for about five shillings and a free hot dog. Most weekends I could be found strolling along the Kings Road from Sloane Square to World's End via "Granny Takes a Trip" and "The Chelsea Antiques Market", wearing a kaftan and beads.

February 1968 and I look enviously at The Beatles in their kaftans and beads sitting at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his Ashram in India - the peace, the love, the colours, the sunshine, the whole Thing of it. I wanted to be there. I couldn't afford it. After art school I made a left turn and ended up sitting at the feet of the Maharishi Warhol Yogi at his Factory Ashram in Union Square, New York - but maybe I'll come back to that at a later date. The point is I finally made it to India just last year albeit a tiny corner of it on the southernmost tip - Kerala, formerly an area known as the Malabar Spice Coast.

The state motto is "God's Own Country" and you can see why. It may be a slightly overblown statement but there is no denying the natural beauty. Stunning pastoral landscapes covered in tea plantations, coffee, bananas, rubber trees, coconut trees, pepper trees, cashew trees, kapok trees, acacia trees, jacaranda trees, tulip trees, teak trees - there are a lot of trees in Kerala, and beautiful people. Inspirational and inspiring.

This trip is now forming the basis of my next exhibition of oil paintings at the Francis Kyle Gallery in Mayfair, London, probably later this year. I will be posting images of work at intervals. The first (above) is "Ellapatti 2" 80 x 150 cm.

6000 feet up a mountain in the Western Ghats near the border of Tamil Nadu in equatorial forest on a little hotel veranda overlooking miles and miles of rolling hills as the sun went down, listening to the tremendous racket of the crickets and frogs, (sipping a Kingfisher beer) inspired the following poem:

The Veranda

Cloying, the very stickiness of it clinging
to her skin. Sitting still she felt the air cool
as evening shadows of acacia and jacaranda
lengthened over slopes of shimmering cardomom.

Below, on the rust red track that wove between
the trees she saw Anish returning from temple.
A flourescent trail of dust raised by his naked feet,
the skirts of his dhoti delicately held aloft
in his fingertips, the sinews proud on his muscular arms.

Across the valley the landscape became punctuated
by pinprick lights of lanterns. Soon the crickets
ceased their melancholy symphony and a silence
as heavy as the burden of all knowledge lay upon the darkness.

Her eyes, black and round as pebbles rolling
in the deepest oceans became moist, and as she turned
from the veranda she felt the first tears on her cheek.