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”
What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
– Bertolt Brecht, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake‘, 1939
During the Christmas break, while reading Fiona Stafford’s engrossing The Long, Long Life of Trees, I was also hearing the news from Sheffield, where residents were outraged when private contractors, hired by the city council under a cost-cutting PFI, began cutting down hundreds of trees lining city streets. Now, luminaries such as Jarvis Cocker and Chris Packham are fronting a campaign to save Sheffield’s roadside trees. In the Guardian the other day, Patrick Barkham was writing about the pensioners being prosecuted under anti-trade union legislation for peacefully opposing the felling of trees in their street. His report included this striking statement by furious local and one-time member of Pulp, Richard Hawley:
This hasn’t got anything to do with politics. I’m a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter. I was on picket lines with my dad. I don’t view protesting against the unnecessary wastage of trees as all of a sudden I’ve become fucking middle class. I know right from wrong and chopping down shit that helps you breathe is evidently wrong. We’re not talking about left or right. We’re talking about the body. It boils down to something really simple. Do you like breathing? It’s quite good. It’s called being alive. What we exhale they inhale and what we inhale they exhale. The end.
Reading a lot of the stuff written in the British press about John Berger following his death two days ago, I have barely been able to recognise the writer that I have known and loved from reading – a writer whose bibliography, according to Wikipedia, comprises ten novels, four plays, three collections of poetry and 33 other books, an unclassifiable blend of ruminations on art, politics and the simple joys and beauty of everyday life. The writer I am familiar with was certainly not the ‘bludgeoningly opinionated man’ of the Independent’s write up, nor the person depicted in the Guardian’s shoddy and mean-spirited obituary.
Berger was certainly one who had very definite views, but who always, it seems to me, advanced them as propositions to be debated, rather than assertions to be simply accepted (for example, the last words of his celebrated TV series Ways of Seeing are ‘to be continued – by the viewer’). He never seemed to demand our agreement as his reader or listener, merely our engagement. Continue reading “John Berger: ‘I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough’”
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”
This weekend John Berger will be celebrating his 90th birthday. For many people of my age, Berger burst into our lives in 1972 with his BBC series, Ways of Seeing, that with flair and imagination challenged accepted wisdom about art and culture. In the decades that have followed, Berger has enlightened and challenged me with more television documentaries, novels,screenplays, drawings, articles and essays. So today’s post celebrates John Berger, who in all the variety of his work has never ceased trying to make sense of the world, searching for a deeper, richer meaning in life and art, a Marxist ‘among other things’ whose words are sometimes those of the angry polemicist, but which invariably celebrate everyday experience and artistic expression with probing insight and subtle tenderness. Continue reading “John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing”
A song of harmony and rhyme
In haunts of ancient peace.
– Van Morrison, ‘Haunts of Ancient Peace’
Last week we spent an all-too-short four nights based in the Black Mountains region at the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons. It’s an area that has inspired poets and painters, diarists and novelists: Bruce Chatwin called this area one of the emotional centres of his life.
For me, the trip had been partly impelled by reading Tom Bullough’s novel Addlands which is set in the Edw valley, north of Painscastle and Hay on Wye. But the literary and artistic connections in a landscape that still seems lost in time are numerous: Bruce Chatwin, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Francis Kilvert, Allen Ginsberg and Owen Sheers, David Jones and Eric Ravilious are among those who lived here, passed through and were inspired by this area. Continue reading “In border country: haunts of ancient peace”
I came across the title of this post in my Twitter feed; despair is the only word that can describe my feelings after the referendum vote on Thursday. Continue reading “Brexit, pursued by despair”
After encountering the artists of the Hague School in the Rijksmuseum, I walked across Museumplein to the Van Gogh Museum where I found further evidence of the connections between these painters. There is so much to absorb at the Van Gogh Museum, and elements of the story are so familiar, that I focussed on the early years of Vincent’s career during which he painted darker landscapes and studies of peasant life in the countryside that reflected his admiration of the Brabizon realists and the influence of members of the Hague School.
Later, in the rooms dedicated to his work in Provence, I felt as if I had emerged into sunlight and colour. Continue reading “Van Gogh: from the dark into the light”
I guess we’re all familiar with the way in which the French Impressionists shook up the art world in the 1870s by depicting landscapes and scenes from modern everyday life often painted outdoors using bright, pure colours applied with rapid, often visible brush-strokes.
What I didn’t know – until I found some of their paintings in the Rijkmuseum last month – was that at the same time a group of Dutch painters were similarly intent on representing the changing modern landscape of their country and daily life of its people; artists who, like their French counterparts, were keen to capture the sensation of the moment, and shifting patterns of light on the landscape by working in the open air.
The key difference lay in the Dutch artists’ initial preference for muted colours. Painting under the grey skies of the Netherlands the group became known as the ‘Grey School’, then later as the ‘Hague School’. Continue reading “Out and about with the Hague School”
It’s one of my favourite paintings. A view of ordinary houses in an ordinary street, the weathered brickwork, window leads and wooden shutters finely detailed, and a few incidental details of everyday life – two children at play, a woman sewing in a doorway, while another is glimpsed in a side passage reaching into a barrel.
In Amsterdam on my way back from the Bosch exhibition in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last month, losing my way in the Rijksmuseum, I chanced upon it in a distant side-room where it was the centrepiece of a small but fascinating exhibit: Vermeer’s Little Street Discovered! Continue reading “Vermeer’s ‘Little Street’ Discovered!”
The first picture that you see when you enter the exhibition, Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius, at Noordbrabants Museum in the painter’s home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch depicts a careworn traveller making his way through the kind of landscape you can still see if you step beyond the town’s medieval battlements. Continue reading “Hieronymus Bosch: visions of Hell and earthly delights in an astonishing exhibition”
Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool brings together fifteen paintings from the Tate collection to provide an overview of the artist’s work across five decades. Its centrepiece is The Snail, the largest and most popular of Matisse’s cut-out works; after this show closes, it will never travel outside London again. Continue reading “Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing”