To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago

To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago

Sitting in a darkening room yesterday as evening came on, I sensed snowflakes falling beyond the window. Torn by a western wind and rain that had fallen throughout the day, the falling shards of ghostly white were the petals of the magnolia tree that stands in our front garden, planted by us thirty years ago. Every year since, its trunk has thickened and its branches have spread; and every spring before coming into leaf it has put forth its creamy-white, goblet-shaped flowers in growing profusion. This year it reached full maturity, putting on a display that has lit up our window and the entire street. Seeing this annual unfolding fills me with great happiness. Planting this tree three decades ago strikes me now as being one of the most satisfying and valuable things I have ever done.   Continue reading “To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago”

Public View: celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat

<em>Public View:</em> celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat

The Bluecoat is 300 years old. Miraculously, the oldest building in Liverpool city centre has twice survived the threat of destruction (post-war city planners thought it would be a great idea to replace it with an inner-city ring road) to become one of the UK’s oldest arts centres. Completed in 1725, after two centuries serving as a charity school, in 1907 the building was taken over by a group of artists determined to stimulate Liverpool’s artistic and intellectual life. Two years later they hosted the First Post-Impressionist exhibition that featured work by Matisse, Picasso and others. Today, the contemporary arts continue to be showcased in this Grade One listed building. I went down to have a look at Public View, the first in a series of events celebrating the Bluecoat’s first 300 years. Continue reading Public View: celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat”

Yves Klein at Liverpool Tate: vision of cosmic infinity – or a crock of shit?

Yves Klein at Liverpool Tate: vision of cosmic infinity – or a crock of shit?

In 1961, Piero Manzoni filled ninety tin cans with his own excrement. A label on each can identified the contents as ‘Artist’s Shit’, contents 30gr net freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961.’ Each was numbered on the lid (the Tate owns number 004).

Yves Klein’s work, currently on display at Tate Liverpool, is prettier and, no doubt, sweeter-smelling – but just as provocative. Coming away from this exhibition with its po-faced, art-speak commentary (‘Klein’s vision was to express absolute immateriality and infinite space through pure colour’), I did wonder who was conning who. Described variously as a joker, prankster, provocateur, and ‘a dandy in a black silk suit, who dreamed of cosmic infinity,’ Klein once sold empty gallery space for gold; later (in a scene witnessed by an art critic), the buyer destroyed their certificate of ownership while Klein threw the gold into the Seine.

As a young man Yves Klein, lying on the beach in Nice, declared that ‘The blue sky is my first artwork.’ In 1949 he created his Monotone Symphony: a single twenty-minute sustained note followed by a twenty minute silence, in his view a representation of a monochrome painting. In his 1957 show, Monochrome Proposals, Klein displayed eleven identically sized blue monochromes, each priced differently, to ‘focus attention on the sensitivity of artistic expression and the role of the audience.’ Then there are the paintings which form the centrepiece of the Liverpool retrospective: his Anthropometries, works made using nude female models smothered in blue paint as ‘living paint brushes’ while Klein – dressed in evening wear – directed their movements as they transferred a ‘material imprint of life’ directly on paper while musicians played his Monotone Symphony. Continue reading “Yves Klein at Liverpool Tate: vision of cosmic infinity – or a crock of shit?”

An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’

An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’

I received an email from the Victoria Gallery & Museum alerting me to the fact that an exhibition of work by Adrian Henri was ending that day. Henri has a special place in my heart because I arrived in Liverpool just at the tail-end of that moment when Liverpool in the1960s was a focal point for popular culture. Henri was the leading figure of a multimedia scene in which art, music and writing were closely connected. Continue reading “An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’”

John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)

John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)

Until I have time to gather my thoughts in response to the death of John Berger – here is a re-post of my appreciation to mark his 90th birthday in November.

(Avoid at all costs the mean-spirited obituary published by the Guardian. Instead, try these two perceptive pieces:

Continue reading “John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)”

Paul Nash at Tate Britain: searching for a different angle of vision

Paul Nash at Tate Britain: searching for a different angle of vision

Paul Nash first discovered Wittenham Clumps, two ‘dome-like hills’ in Oxfordshire with a ‘curiously symmetrical sculptural form’  in 1911. Between 1912 and 1946 he would paint them repeatedly as he sought to encapsulate there and in other places (such as the South Downs and the stone circles of Aylesbury) the idea of a ‘spirit of place’. Yet his engagement with the mystery and magic he found in certain landscapes was only one strand in the rich legacy of work left by Paul Nash. In his time he was official war artist in two world wars, and a pioneering figure at the heart of a group of artists who brought surrealism into British art, a painter who utilised photography, collage and assemblage in pursuit of his vision.

All of these aspects of Paul Nash’s work are explored in depth in Tate Britain’s vast and definitive exhibition which we saw while in London. It is a huge show of more than 160 works which convincingly presents Nash as not only a war artist of great importance, and a pioneering figure of the British avant-garde in the 1930s, but also as a romantic in the tradition of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, who, like them, created visionary landscapes drenched in symbolism and painted as if in a dream. Continue reading “Paul Nash at Tate Britain: searching for a different angle of vision”

Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature

Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature

We approached Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature, last night’s documentary on BBC Four presented by Dr James Fox, with great anticipation since its subject was a form of art that has inspired us both – and provided the subject of many blog posts here. Fox didn’t disappoint, focussing on just a few brilliant examples of what is often labelled Land Art – art that is made directly in the landscape, from natural materials found in situ, such as rocks, tree branches or ice. Travelling across Britain, he discussed artists whose work explores our relationship to the natural world such as David Nash, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, and James Turrell, in some cases watching the artist in the process of creating a new work. Continue reading “Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature”