Friday 30 November 2012

Thursday 29 November 2012

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Monday 26 November 2012

Saturday 24 November 2012

Thursday 22 November 2012

Somewhere else

Even though I'm too tired, too fat, too scruffy to leave home. Even though I lack clean clothes and need a hair-cut. Even though I'm not really here enough to have a clear idea of being elsewhere. Even though I seem to have lost touch with wanting anything. Throwing an insufficiently thought-out and probably just plain insufficient selection of clothes and books and techie bits and pieces required for work into a small back-pack. Leaving tomorrow for a week (not very far) away, escaping the migraine-inducing paint fumes that the otherwise pleasant and considerate decorator is about to start creating in the confined hall-and-staircase space outside my front door. Perhaps a small detour to somewhere else will be... something else.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Ernest Cole

In the current Barbican exhibition of photographs from the 1960s and 70s (too big, too much, too disparate, but some wonderful stuff), I saw for the first time the beautiful light and form of humane, often angry, often unforgettable photos by black South African photographer Ernest Cole. I'd never heard of him and watched with difficulty the old and clunky US documentary on show in an adjoining room - with difficulty because the film included an interview with Cole and I thought perhaps I'd never such seen a personable, articulate, determined man so nervous and unable to look at the camera. What a hard story to contemplate: superb work done against all odds all over Apartheid South Africa; his banning and exile; the publication of his book, The House of Bondage; the acclaim, the grants, the commission not completed; the too-early death of that haunted man in the old film and the disappearance of his negatives, found and shown and admired only in recent years. I hope his work will continue to be exhibited and published and appreciated.

Saturday 17 November 2012

This is yesterday

Reason for no blogpost yesterday: computer mouse died. Died attached to netbook at house of friend. Friend lives close to large computer chainstore. Went there on way home and bought new mouse. Small, sweet, wireless mouse. Home with mouse, spent half an hour with various knives and scissors fighting way into seamless, super-resilient, moulded-plastic packaging. Further half an hour opening battery cover. Same again to close it. Instruction leaflet shredded in course of battling way into packaging. Reassembled leaflect with sticky tape and read. Plugged minuscule thingy into USB drive. First three attempts to install driver software 'not successful'. Computer says fourth, and identical, attempt successful. Mouse, however, not working. Tried things suggested in leaflet - not easy to read due to being lots of small pieces stuck together with tape. Mouse still not working. Went online with difficulty using netbook touchpad - hate touchpads. Read several help forums on reasons wireless mouse may not work. Decided rather buy another mouse - not wireless - than start uninstalling and reinstalling possibly clashing software. Picked up mouse one last time and prayed for inspiration. Noticed very small 'connect' button on base of mouse looking battered
after increasingly violent attempts to open battery cover. Poked connect button with end of scissors. Mouse now working. Very late by now. Very bad mood. Disinclined to blog. Sigh.

Thursday 15 November 2012

The Art of Sleep

Preoccupied as I am with getting enough sleep, how could I resist Zarina Liew's small book, The Art of Sleep, when browsing the stalls at the Comics Festival? The heroines go to bed to brood, read, eat, web-surf, love, bicker and dream their own fantastic tales and tableaux - a painted dreamworld for grown-ups that I felt very drawn to. She's a commercial fashion artist, as well as producing her own online strips,comic books, postcards and prints. Her work - often stylised, elongated drawings painted in wonderful colours - is polished, technically accomplished and almost in the commercial mainstream, but with a spark of eccentricity and moodiness that make it something more touching and provocative than most. I'll be keeping an eye on Zarina's work via her website, blog and online strip, Le Mime.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Sunday 11 November 2012

Comic arts

Continuing the theme of simultaneous light and depth, it occurred to me as I wandered round the crowded stalls at the Comiket Festival that this is just the blended quality I look for in comics and graphic novels.

Among the impressive/exciting/daunting array which ranged from the most commercial to the most 'home-made', my friend Natalie d'Arbeloff was there with her latest work. Hindsight is a four-page graphic story that draws on memories of artistic and romantic awakening in Mexico, with a warm, subtle palette of Mexican sunshine and a rueful, equally subtle emotional palette. She's selling a set of four postcards of the original artwork (see link above). Also absolutely gorgeous is the new printed book version of her illustrated novella, La Vie en Rosé, which first appeared on her blog. Here the full-colour drawings have morphed to black and white, sometimes blended with old black and white photos. It makes a beautiful book - order from Blurb at the link above.

I also fell in love with the work of a couple of artists new to me, which I'll keep for another time since I'm trying to post something here every day in November.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Snail trails

One of the weirdest things about living in a megalopolis is that you never go to most of it. You have your habitual tracks between where you live, where you work, where you know someone and a few preferred public places - your private, sticky snail trails on which you persistently criss-cross the city, while the rest of it exists only as a vague hypothesis in far recesses of your mind. 

Today, to get to the Comiket Festival at the Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street Station (of which more later), I caught a bus and then walked right across the City financial district, which felt odd both because it's so busy all week and so quiet at the weekend and because I never go there now, on busy days or quiet days. 

There have been times when one of my trails came this way, when necessity compelled me to take a short-term job in some corner of the financial world. That job with the Argentinian banker, for example, in a pleasant, old converted house - long since demolished - in a street with the wonderful name of Crutched Friars (which is even better with a heavy Hispanic accent). That was so long ago - time and space slip and slide on a long-disused snail trail.

 photo of Crutched Friars statue in the street of that name from Wikipedia 

Friday 9 November 2012


The lovely things at Kettle's Yard and the care and flair of their curation have an odd effect - the loveliness extends itself, to the smallest detail, to the trees outside and to reflections in the windows. And it extends towards other lovely things. I've been reading the Kettle's Yard blog and Facebook page and today the latter took me to the work of artist Kathryn Faulkner, who works with pinhole photography. Her images from some years ago of Kettle's Yard are of such simplicity, and, though light incarnate, of such weight. And on her website is much more beautiful work. I especially loved the photographs of meditators, and of a house in Storey's Way, a once-familiar quiet enclave of old houses and gardens hidden between two main roads just behind my old Cambridge college. Such resonance - capturing the magic of the everyday.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Wednesday 7 November 2012


A meal last night at the new Greek restaurant in Dulwich. Kind of in solidarity - for lack of anything I could do for friends in the US on their election day - with all the Greeks striking and protesting this week. What an entirely spurious gesture. Better if I went there, in the Spring perhaps, to see the Spring flowers on Lefkada or Keffalonia. Make sure all my money goes to local hospitality providers.

Poor Greece. None of it the fault of any ordinary, hard-working, forthright Greek I've ever met, of that I'm sure. I wish I understood more. Economics is more foreign than any country in southern Europe. Victimising the oldest Greeks who've already lived through occupation, civil war, dictatorship, too much horror for one lifetime, cutting their modest pensions to starvation level and levying outrageous taxes on the village houses that are often all they possess: that can't be right.

I've always supported the European Union, seen it, for all its faults, its bloated bureaucracy and democratic deficit, as representing the welfare state consensus demolished in the UK by Thatcherism. How, then, can it be doing this?

I know I remain, in the pragmatic medium term, a Keynesian, and in the broader, deeper sense a Marxist (whatever that means these days... I was moved by Andy Merrifield's book, Magical Marxism. He's also John Berger's biographer, impressively brainy as well as a dreamer). I'm against 'austerity' - as useless as it is cruel - in my own country and all the more so in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Not the best thoughts to go with a heavy meal. The Kleftiko sat undigested for a while on a stomach stiff with sadness.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Orhan Pamuk: objects and other subjects

Orhan Pamuk was briefly in London last week. He spoke and read at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to mark the recent publication in English translation by Robert Finn of his second novel, The Silent House, written in 1983, as well as of The Innocence of Objects, the 'catalogue' of his Museum of Innocence.

It's not an unalloyed pleasure, I have to say, to hear the great writer speak English. He talks too fast and grunts and stammers and mispronounces. But a lot of what he said was so unexpected and interesting! It gladdens my heart, really, in a cultural milieu where self-presentation is all, that the large and enthusiastic audience hung on his every awkward word: this is the love a writer can inspire.

Ease is not what Pamuk is about. "Fiction should be slippery ground", he said, "and the reader uncomfortable, but rather enjoying his uncomfortable position". And that is how his talk made me feel - uncomfortable, but rather enjoying it.

Who were the other Turkish writers the English-speaking world should know better?, an audience member asked him, hoping perhaps to hear of someone new and exciting. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, said Pamuk firmly. His greatest teacher and inspiration. He's translated, but not much read (Beth has written about Tanpinar). Tanpinar is not new. A slightly baffled pause ensued.

He talked about objects in fiction, the importance of objects that appear through the eyes of the characters, that travel through a novel and appear again later. These he referred to as dwelling in a third dimension of the reader's imagination. These are important anchors in a 'slippery' narrative. He named Joyce, Tolstoy and Proust as novelists who address us through objects, through our visual imaginations. How often does someone say something you've never remotely thought about in relation to such great names?

The centrality of objects to Orhan Pamuk's imagination is something he's now brought to all our attention, of course, through the Museum of Innocence project. I liked the novel very much, and hope to visit the museum one day.

Monday 5 November 2012

Sunday 4 November 2012

Lollipop colours

lollipop colours -
here today
gone tomorrow

Saturday 3 November 2012

Winifred Nicholson: unknown colour

Inspiring me to actually make it to Kettle's Yard was the current exhibition in the adjacent gallery of paintings by Winifred Nicholson. She was a close friend of the founder and the collection includes a lot of her work - too much to keep it all on permanent display. I loved a number of these paintings a lot. In truth, though, she's not the best subject for a blogpost, since online reproductions don't remotely convey the subtle fire and ice of colour in her work.  

This is from an article, distributed at the gallery, that she wrote in 1937:

" Any true colour picture gives out light like a lamp. In twilight it looks like a luminosity, in a better light the difference in the colours begins to tell, and they grow more and more distinct, markedly individual, as the light intensifies to fall back again into a luminosity, a glow if the light wanes. It is only in the clearest, most unclouded light of the sun that you can see the greatest attenuation and differences of hue. The same yellow is quite a different colour on a clear grey day than it is is on a day of Mediterranean sunshine. So, the scale of colour is held within the fullness of sunlight, which is forever breaking apart, revealling its diverse hues, contrasts and affinities and then closing again upon  this scale in the oneness of white light. "

More of her writing is here.

Friday 2 November 2012

Into the past

This is the final photo from the Kettle's Yard post, of course. What on earth made me start playing with it in this particular way, I've no idea. But I like the result. The best impulses often come from somewhere indefinable and in no way conscious.

Kettle's Yard is, paradoxically, both an intense experience of presence (this very moment's light, through a window or reflected in a mirror, on picture, sculpture, furniture or carpet placed with infinite skill and care) and a direct link to the past.

It's a link to my own past, arriving as a student in Cambridge in 1972, the last year that Jim and Helen Ede were still living there and welcoming students and the public to view their art collection in their own home (and did I appreciate the full wonder of this then? Alas, no. But I did visit). And it's a link to a farther off past, to the 1920s and 30s, when Jim Ede was a curator and friend of many of the artists whose work he began to acquire - being there brings them, and their time, close.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Sepia reflection: for Mindful Writing Day

Sun on water: flickering sepia reflections in the surface of a muddy puddle resolve into the outline of a tall, nearly bare tree.
Today is Mindful Writing Day: follow the links to join us and to download a free Kindle copy of A Blackbird Sings, the new anthology of 'small stones'.