Saturday, 23 November 2013

Dylan Thomas / Peter Blake

By strange coincidence, the same week a friend introduced me to a brilliant recording of Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry, I heard a review on BBC Front Row (21 Nov) discussing a new exhibition of illustrations/collages/constructions by Peter Blake, to accompany Thomas' 'Under Milk Wood'. The exhibition is in Cardiff, at the National Museum, until March 2014.

I find it hard not to read any of 'Under Milk Wood' without imagining it in Richard Burton's voice... a recording Blake says he still listens to at least twice a week.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Invisible Bike Helmet

This looks like an immense piece of innovative design - an 'invisible helmet' for cyclists. It is effectively an airbag, worn around the neck.

More here.

That said, I'm glad this guy is wearing at least a full helmet... I'd wear one to WALK down the route he takes...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Tribal Photography

An impressive (but not, perhaps, unproblematic) series of photographs by Jimmy Nelson documents his travels around the world to view remote groups of indigenous peoples.

View the site advertising his book (feel free to buy me a copy, it's only £5500 for the limited edition...) for more information.

Alternatively, 32 highlights can be seen here. There's some interesting controversy in the comments at the end of the article (when isn't there). Several people suggest that it is misleading and demeaning to present such peoples as 'disappearing' in posed photographs, wearing ceremonial outfits they may no longer use on a daily basis. What do you make of them? Are such photographs truly 'documentary'? Does it matter, if it preserves evidence of cultures in decline? Or do we simply become tourist voyeurs, being wide-eyed at social difference so foreign to our own lives?

Here's a bizarrely cheesy 'trailer' video with more content about the journey and the photographs...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Reith Lectures

I hope you've been listening to Grayson Perry's current series of BBC Reith Lectures - his often whimsical or humorous tone belies the fact they're extremely informed and full of provocative questions.  (Much the same could perhaps be said about the usual media coverage of his bright and zany cross-dressing, which often distracts them from the artwork he creates.)

Download or subscribe to the BBC podcast here.

A recent article in The Independent sums the lectures up pretty well - 'refreshing' and 'accessible' as he explores the big questions so-often sidestepped in contemporary art: issues of taste, quality, and concept.

There's some good stuff on the British Museum site regarding Perry's recent exhibition there last year.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Old skool computer game brilliance from PES:

Sunday, 6 October 2013

"Calcified" Dead Birds at African Lake

Both National Geographic and New Scientist recently ran features on these arresting photographs by Nick Brandt recently.

He took the photographs at a remote African lake, after finding strangely preserved dead birds and animals washed up along the shore. Although I'm not sure what I think about such 'posed' photographs by an otherwise perhaps 'documentary' photographer, they're certainly astonishing images. Temperatures in the lake can reach 60c, and it has a pH value of around 10 - it's a hostile environment for wildlife. Nearby locals claim they've seen birds crash into it, confused by its mirrored surface.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Japanese Capsule Apartments

I saw this brilliant little article on 70s Japanese capsule apartments, this weekend, source here.

Photographer Noritaki Minami documented the Nakagin Capsule Tower, of 1972, in this superb series of images. Each apartment offered 'micro-living', being just over 100 square feet each.

The photos are recent however - and perhaps reveal a tension between the ideal the architects felt offered residents, versus the reality of contemporary life. You can see the whole series here.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Other Art Fair

Time for a shameless plug.

In about a month, I'm exhibiting at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, as one of 100 currently unrepresented artists showing at The Other Art Fair.

The event takes place during Frieze Week, and over 10,000 visitors are expected. The selection panel included Yinka Shonibare MBE (Turner Prize nominee), Rebecca Wilson (Director of the Saatchi Gallery) and David Jaffe (Senior Curator, The National Gallery).

More information can be found on my Other Art Fair profile page, here,  and also on my own site, here.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

John Bellany

Sad news - given other international news, currently rather under-reported, but the great Scottish painter John Bellany has died, 'brush in hand'.

John Bellany, 'The Obsession'

There's a great BBC clip of an interview with the painter here in their report of his passing.

Super-naff dated intro in an old tv interview here, but some great content once you're past it -

Monday, 29 July 2013

Hermit Crabs

It's been quite a while since I last posted - oops.

Today, over on old favourite, the Colossal blog, I saw these bizarre pieces of art interacting with nature, by Aki Inomata.

Using scanners, Inomata designed translucent plastic shells that would successfully and healthily accommodate hermit crabs (which constantly change shells as they grow), and added skyline sculpted features to them, before waiting for the hermits to move in. More here, as well as on her site.

A little while back, the BBC screened a great little documentary on the secret life of the rockpool, which included a segment on the hermit crab, and various experiments to show their intelligent selection of shells not only for their size, but their camouflage suitability. Here's a clip:

Excellent little creatures.

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Just back from a few days in Florence, Italy. It merits a proper post - some astonishing Art and Architecture of course, but for now, here's a few images from the fantastic zoological museum, 'La Specola', probably the oldest scientific museum in all of Europe. Great taxidermy and wax anatomical models!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen dies at 92

What a shame - Ray Harryhausen has died this week, the BBC reports. A legendary film-maker and animation/VFX pioneer - if you didn't know his name, then start brushing up!

I'm a massive fan of his monsters - how could anyone not be?! If you weren't too clued up on his massive output, there's no finer place to start than with 'Jason and the Argonauts', and of course, the superb feat that is the skeleton fight towards the end of the film. Fantastic work. Enjoy.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Chris Killip at the Photographers' Gallery

Yesterday I called briefly into The Photographers' Gallery to have a quick look at this year's Deutsche Borse prize shortlist. I admit that little held my attention this year, but I did really enjoy seeing more work by Chris Killip, whose photographs I have admired for a while - I hope he receives the award.

Killip's black and white images tell of the social history of the fading industries of the North, with work here predominantly showing images of Newcastle and its environs, and North Yorkshire, from the 1970s and 80s.

My favourite are taken from his 'Seacoal' series, examining the lives of the families who lived on and by the beach at Lynemouth, whom he lived with in the early 80s having finally obtained their permission to photograph. Knowing that area as I do, it's astonishingly transformed today, and these images provide a rich archive of a recent social history now completely extinguished.

Storm Thorgerson

Designer Storm Thorgerson died this week, the BBC reported.  If you weren't aware of his (brilliant) name before, you'll almost certainly know some of his many, many superb pieces of artwork for some of the greatest albums ever made. He has a particularly strong association with Pink Floyd, creating ambiguous, enigmatic images full of surreal influence. Here's a few of his very best.

Pink Floyd 'The Dark Side of the Moon', 1973
Muse, 'Blackholes and Revelations', 2006
Pink Floyd 'Wish You Were Here', 1975
Phish, 'Slip Stitch and Pass' 1997

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Salgado: Genesis

Sebastiao Salgado, in my opinion probably the greatest black and white photographer working today, has a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London, that will run until 8th September.

This is Salgado's first show focussing on the natural world, having built up an immense reputation as a documenter of issues around displacement and alienation of communities. 'Genesis' is the culmination of eight years' travel around the world; the beautiful prints tour the viewer through such extremes as Madagascar, the Antarctic, remote Brazilian rainforest, North America, and remote Russian islands.

I can't really speak highly enough of this astonishing exhibition - it is deeply immersive, and there are several hundred photographs to study.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Giant Squid

As regular readers of this blog will now, I'm a sucker for anything to do with natural history. The recent Discovery tv show about the filming of the giant squid is worth tracking down, but this TED talk is only a few minutes long and shows you most of the actual footage:

What's unfortunate is that filming these beasts in isolation means there's little comparative scale. This film is not only the first footage of a giant squid ever, but it is of a creature the same length as the height of a two storey building!! Absolutely remarkable.

A few years ago I visited a behind-the-scenes tour at London's Natural History Museum to see their preserved giant squid - a sad, wrinkled sight in formaldehyde perhaps, but it still had impact because of its astonishing size.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Chuck Close

I heard a brilliant interview with American painter Chuck Close on BBCR4 the other day - listen to it here - and was delighted to learn that White Cube Bermondsey is holding an exhibition of his work, until the 21st April.


Chuck Close is of course famous for his shifting process in his painting - from his slick, smooth photorealism to the 'pixellated' paintings of later years, borne out of the necessity to shift technique following what he refers to as 'the Event' - partial paralysis caused by a stroke.
What I didn't know however, until listening to the interview, was that Close also suffers from prosopagnosia, 'face blindness', which in part gave him the motivation to take up portraiture as his central artistic focus - helping him to remember particular faces through the process of rendering them into two dimensions. Nor did I realise that his 'pixellated' portraits actually emerged prior to computer imaging - indeed, MITs research project into how to digitise images at the beginning of the computer era was even known as the 'Chuck Close Programme'!
White Cube is exhibiting a range of Close's prints, which are usually less well-known.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Warsaw Old Town

I've posted about the fantastic '99% Invisible' design podcast on this blog before, but I wanted to draw attention to the most recent episode on Warsaw.

Warsaw's 'Old Town' was pretty much levelled in the bombing campaigns of WW2, following a direct order by Hitler to utterly destroy it as part of his subjugation of the Polish.


What is fascinatingly revealed in the podcast though is the quite bizarre process of re-building, and indeed re-imagining of the historic town centre, to give it the look it has today.

Much of the rebuild was directly based on the 18th century paintings of the city, produced by Italian artist Bellotto - who had 'prettified' his vision of the city while documenting the skyline (adding extra windows or storeys to buildings, cleaning up confusion etc). His vision of Warsaw was 'better' than the reality, an approach taken by those responsible for the post-WW2 rebuild too. The buildings we see today are simple facades - fake fronts dropped onto modern buildings.

I'll leave it to the podcast to take you through the story - a highly recommended piece of social history and architecture. Go and subscribe to the podcast and download the back catalogue: there's some superb things to hear.

Skyscrapers in Reverse

Due to the incredibly tight confines in the world's most populous city, Tokyo, engineers have come up with an extremely novel way of taking down a famous landmark hotel - from the bottom up.

The process is said to be both safer and cleaner than typical demolition processes involving wrecking balls and explosives.

Over the weeks, the building has been shrinking, much to the surprise of nearby residents.  

The BBC has an interesting page about skyscraper demolition, here, that's worth a read.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Witchcraft at the National Gallery

I called into the National Gallery this afternoon to escape the rain (but not the crowds, unfortunately) and revisit a few old favourites.

I stumbled upon a painting that somehow I have never seen before - Salvator Rosa's 'Witches at their Incantations' (c1646).

It is a fantastically bizarre and nightmarish nocturnal scene. A body hangs from a tree, incantations are pronounced over a dead body, strange skeletons lurk behind, while a stolen baby is held above a strange creature.

This Salvator Rosa painting probably caught my interest due to all the Goya 'Black Paintings' I've been looking at again recently, after a trip to the Prado a year or so ago. I'm particularly drawn to 'The Fates', below:

The occult rarely seems to feature in painting around this period as a central subject, other than perhaps through literary associations. Henry Fuseli offers plenty though - he claimed his visions were provoked through eating lots of raw pork (not the massive quantities of opium he consumed though...)

In this scene, from 1799, the 'night-hag', or goddess Hecate, who presided over witchcraft, appears to visit the witches of Lapland - all derived from a passage taken from Milton's 'Paradise Lost'.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Etch-A-Sketch inventor Andre Cassagnes Dies

Last month, classic toy inventor Andre Cassagnes died, at the age of 86, the BBC reports.

Over 100million units have sold since the product first went to market in 1959, and the bright red rectangle with two white knobs has become an icon of nostalgia. The product underwent an upsurge in popularity after featuring in Disney Pixar's 'Toy Story'.

The mechanical operation behind the device is relatively simple - turning the dials moves a stylus behind the screen, which displaces aluminium powder, thus leaving a clear line.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

New Disney Short

Check out Disney's new short film animation, 'Paperman', seven minutes of perfection!

More detail here on the Telegraph site.

And here's the film:

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Circular Tube

In short, I like this. It doesn't really seem to have any particularly exciting functionality,  but it seems fresh and fun, and unites London more somehow. Good stuff Maxwell Roberts.

More here. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Rain Room

The Rain Room at the Barbican Centre in London has been causing quite a stir in Arts press in the last few months, and despite queues regularly stretching well over the two-hour wait time, some 60,000 people have been for a visit to this innovative installation.

As you enter the installation, you follow the sweep of the aptly-named 'Curve' space of the Barbican, drawn in by the gradually lifting light levels and growing noise of rushing water - turn the corner and see a wall of rain. A black grid of heavy downpour lies ahead, but miraculously, as you walk slowly through it, the water stops around you as you walk - and you stay dry as if in your own personal forcefield space. It's not simply like walking under an umbrella - you pause and look up in wonder that there is nothing but air above you.

Yes, there are limitations to the (considerable) technology invested in the piece - if you walk too quickly, you won't beat gravity, and rain already in the system will soak you; droplets continue to fall in some areas; if you are wearing too much black the sensors won't pick you out as clearly - but all-in-all there's something quite uplifting about walking towards the powerful light on the far side of the installation, picking up shimmering light through the droplets all around you.

I'm not convinced I'd have been quite as happy had I queued for several hours. Perhaps a comparable experience was Gormley's 'Blind Light' at the Hayward a few years ago, which drew similarly huge queues, even just to get into the exhibition, before you faced queueing again for specific elements of the show. This seemed less substantial - Gormley's piece was incredibly immersive, but here, while the technology is deeply impressive, it remains a little too similar to daily experience of huddling in a shelter from the rain - although of course the interaction is the draw. Both share the same value in watching others as they interact with the piece - our group seemed to spend more time doing that than wishing to walk through it again themselves, which is telling perhaps.

I was fortunate to be at an after-hours event hosted by Love Art London, so had the benefit of skipping the queues, and getting to hear design collecive rAndom International talk about the premise for the piece, the inspiration behind it, technological difficulties they encountered, and their upcoming work. Particularly interesting was conversation on the programming of empathy into technology. I'd urge you to check out their TED talk too.