Category Archives: art

Ooh. I’ve done “new things”….

After years of barking at cameramen and laying shopping lists of demands on tape editors (most of whom I can still only recognise by the backs of their heads), I sat a two-week shoot/edit course at the Frontline Club.

I came out with a certificate that says I know what a camera does and that computers are not just for Googling prospective boyfriends.

And the little film below. It’s W.H. Auden’s “If I Could Tell You” as read out by a friend I shanghai-ed into the job.

Many thanks to Anthony Wood, Simon Ruben, Vaughn Smith, and Alec S Loth.

Still images courtesy Westminster City Archives (who gave me some darling white gloves to handle photographs with. I felt like Michael Jackson rifling through high school yearbooks).

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Poet Keats’ Home To Reopen

The public has waited and we’ve urned it. It took around two years and half a million pounds, but the London home where poet John Keats composed On a Grecian Urn, On Melancholy, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci is set to reopen this Friday. The Grade I listed house in Hampstead (a museum since 1925) is also where Keats (the man who knocked up the girl next door) wrote Ode to A Nightingale in the garden. Now schoolchildren around the world know where to direct their molotov cocktails of ire.

Miserable young lad who wrote a bit and coughed to death.

Miserable young lad who wrote a bit and coughed to death.

Keats House has been restored to its original 19th century decor and will house various artifacts such as the engagement ring he gave Fanny Brawne (the aforementioned girl next door with whom he had a less than amicable split). It will also house Keats’ life mask, prints, drawings and other poetic tat English Literature teachers can hum and haw to in deference.

Having lived in the Regency villa yards from Hampstead Heath between 1818-1820, he then set off for Rome, had his portrait done staring pensively askance with his chin on his hand, and died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.

The City of London has been responsible for the house since 1997. The restoration project involved the City’s London Metropolitan Archives team and a £424,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Michael Welbank, chairman of the City’s Hampstead Heath management committee, said: “The house and garden have been been beautifully restored to a living environment that John Keats would have recognised almost 200 years ago.”

Sure. Until you GoogleEarth the fucker. Or try to explain to him what electricity and a Dyson hand dryer is. Still, Welbank is confident that the house will be a “relevant and powerful landmark” and looks forward to “welcoming even more people from around the world”. Great. More Americans.

The house, which Keats shared with his friend Charles Armitage Brown, was last renovated in 1976.

I’m expecting deferential crowds rubbernecking over cordons. Not the “insight into Keats’ life and loves” the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Wesley Kerr is hoping for. After all, where’s the negative capability in that?

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Republished on the Who’s Jack Magazine Blog. All rights reserved.

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Turban Warfare (Tehran Street Art pt.2)

My friend is tired. Having spent the day erecting over 400 street pieces throughout Tehran’s concrete, steel, and rage-lined arteries. Having run away from angry men on motorcycles wielding batons towards angry men wearing green and throwing rocks.

The world has been introduced to a new lexicon. The Guardian Council, the Basij, Khomeni, Khameni, Khatami, ValiAsr, Supreme Leader, Ayatollah, Mousavi. We knew about the other guy. The one everyone called Dinner Jacket. We knew about Iran. Or at least we thought we did. Something to do with nukes and Islam and not liking Israel very much. Strange race. Don’t they speak Arabic? No? Farsi? What the fuck’s that it all looks the same. Threatening. Angry. Alien.

The phones are dead. Dying. Or gasping. They’re not good. The internet is equally dodgy but proxy servers are still operating. So, for now, the internet is providing either a vital means of communication or a useful weapon for control.

The Guardian Council is probably eyeing Burma and North Korea enviously. It seems they are trying to emulate their regime cousins by restricting communications and limiting foreign presence.

I received more images and a note from Tehran’s street art Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve been asked not to reprint the discussion.

The text on the top photo reads “Where’s my vote?’

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All photographs and artwork are by [REDACTED]. Names and identities have been withheld for the security of those involved.

Should you choose to repost these images, please drop me a line with a comment I can forward to the artist(s) involved.

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Images For A New Age (Tehran Street Art)

Sometimes the best presents you receive are the ones that show you people are not alone in fighting for what is right. Weapons of this battle? Feet. Minds. Paint. Words.

If you wander through the streets of Tehran, you may encounter some of these images. Look closely.

If you wander through the streets of Tehran, you may encounter a country whose population is primarily under the age of 35. The beards who ran the Islamic Revolution had an issue with condoms around 1979. And since nobody could go out and have a drink and a dance to bide their evenings, young couples took up more amourous pursuits. The result is a country with a young population. A population with ever increasing female university students. A country with people who know how to dodge firewalls. A people imbued with a passion for self-expression and a rich artistic tradition.

Nothing – not a beard, a Basij, a club, or a gun – can repress the creativity and flair I’ve seen with my own eyes in Iran.

This video was shot from a balcony in Tehran. The pictures below are of art recently placed on the streets of Tehran.

musavi sticker

scream

doctormahmood

mola

fone

dictatore-with-beard

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All photographs and artwork are by [REDACTED]. Names and identities have been withheld for the security of those involved.

Should you choose to repost these images, please drop me a line with a comment I can forward to the artist(s) involved.

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Art for Bank Workers

Tucked away in a soulless building in Islington’s Upper Street is the unexceptionally named Business Design Centre – home to the 21st London Art Fair.
Look on it as the Ideal Home Show for the art world.

Not as slick or suave as Frieze, nor as flea market as the Affordable Art Fair.

Of all the art fairs that vie for Londoners’ attention, this one is an unashamed melting pot of 112 galleries from Europe and the UK showing (okay, selling) 20th and 21st century art from the likes of Marc Chagall and LS Lowry to Banksy’s Bristol nemesis, Nick Walker.

The work ranges from £20 “high-quality, editioned video art” to a Henry Moore for a cool one million pounds – although when you start talking figures that sound like mortgages, the ticket on the label always reads “price on application”.

Jonathan Burton, London Art Fair’s director, insists that the art market is still relevant despite a looming recession. He takes the phrase “art fair” quite literally.

“Art is not for a wealthy elite. The reason we have such a mix of galleries, styles and projects is to prove you don’t have to spend a fortune to own something unique,” he says.

He also suggests that a downturn could be the best time to start collecting: “Galleries are more flexible with price, something they wouldn’t have been a year ago.”

The heaviness of economic uncertainty seems to waft away as the serious collectors stream in for the buyers’ preview – an art world convention or condescension depending on which end of the black you’re in. The conversation drifts from “hmm” to bandying numbers while omitting the words “thousand” or “million”.

Polite nodding-a-plenty coupled with saccharine smiles and power-handshakes.

But what of the art? Modern masters and the contemporary canon. Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Sir Peter Blake for the former. Gavin Turk, Jeremy Deller, Rob and Nick Carter for the latter.

Art that appeals to buyers who work for banks.

Of this, Burton is unashamed: “City buyers are very important to us. They’re our best repeat customers.”

The art school idea of using creativity to challenge and reflect the world you experience goes straight out the window here. That is, until you ascend a few staircases, meander through a few corridors and ascend a final set of stairs to Gerry Judah’s work.

Gerry’s work stabs you. Destroyed cityscapes turned on their side on paper and canvas – meticulously modeled down to inner stairwells and water-tanks.

A passing electrician commented “It’s Gaza, innit?” Or anywhere wrecked by man or nature.

Despite the obvious sculptural effect that harks to his Hollywood set design days, Judah calls these paintings.

“They’re directly influenced by war zones from the Middle East to eastern Europe. I’m Jewish and my family comes from Baghdad. I set out to address a feeling, not an issue – I don’t like leading people by the nose. It’s political with a small ‘p’.”

Your eye, your body, your mind – all wander through the monochrome of Judah’s deliberate destopia. Repulsed at the grotesque yet magnetized by the beauty of detail.

After spending the best part of two hours despairing that the word ‘art’ had gathered the unwelcome suffix ‘market’, seeing the fragile power of Judah’s work renewed a sense that art exists beyond art’s sake.

:: The 21st London Art Fair is open to the public until 18 January 2009 at the Business Design Centre, Upper Street, Islington, London.

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This article was first published on Sky News Online on 14 January 2009. All rights reserved.

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Banksy Sets Up Shop In Big Apple

Banksy, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the art world, is in New York. Or was.

Whoever Banksy may be, he’s opened the Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill in New York’s West Village.

It features animatronics developed by “some Hollywoodish company”. Set in a shopfront Sweeny Todd would own if he were into animals, a rabbit paints its nails, chicken nuggets feed from a dish of sauce, fish fingers swim in a bowl, hot dogs burrow and frolic in terrariums, CCTV cameras look after their young, a leopard print coat perches atop a tree, and a bald, caged, suicidal-looking Tweety swings back and forth in his cage.

Banksy is no stranger to installations. In 2005 in London’s Notting Hill, he filled a shop front with live rats and his painted reworkings of the sort of thing you would see in the National Gallery and called it Crude Oils.

The difference here is that nothing is for sale. Nothing is signed, nothing is commodified. The actors manning the shop play every bit the New York pet shop owner.

One of the pet shop owners is a tutor at the School of Visual Arts, Marty Abrahams. His son was approached by Banksy’s people with an offer of a short term job for Marty with some “acting involved”.

Reaction from the natives has been anything from asking to buy the entire show (nothing is for sale, but the “souvenirs” will probably end up on eBay) to befuddlement to “it’s a metaphor – we start off as chicken nuggets, graduate to hot dogs then turn into the masturbating monkey”.

Banksy gives his own reasons for the show. “New Yorkers don’t care about art, they care about pets. So I’m exhibiting them instead. I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming, but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing. I took all the money I made exploiting an animal in my last show and used it to fund a new show about the exploitation of animals. If its art and you can see it from the street, I guess it could still be considered street art.”

Banksy stalkers and “those in the know” have been chattering about “something big” by Britain’s favourite vandal for months. However, his publicist and anyone “official” will only say that there is a new pet store in New York.

The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill is open to the public until 31 October on 89 7th Avenue, New York City and can be viewed any time day or night, inside or out.

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This article was orginally published on Sky News Online on 10 October 2008. All rights reserved.

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Bring Your Mind (Open Your Wallet)

From LS Lowry’s bleak northern landscapes to pieces by Pete Doherty featuring syringes, crack spoons and his own blood, the London Art Fair feels like an upmarket boot sale for 20th Century art.

It’s white paint and money-scented floors can feel intimidating, especially if this is your first jump into the polo-necked world of modern art.

Go along and you will see everything from non-descript paintings of fruit to a dizzying 3D piece by Patrick Hughes of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark that seems to move as you walk past it.

Yes, you will hear plummy voices from people called Camilla but you will also feel colours from the slums of Brazil and the alleys of the East End.

There’s a non-too-subtle money side of things – everything here is for sale.

That, as well as the myriad of arty types swanning through corridors can be off-putting – butthat commercialism is also the saving grace.

What’s most striking is the sheer volume of work on show.

Unlike the Frieze Art Fair, there’s nothing worthy here … nothing hits you over the head with the pretensions of conceptual art.

Nothing makes you feel stupid. If you don’t like it, you can move on and find something you do like.

The popularity of modern art means you probably know more about it than you give yourself credit for.

Should you go? Should you care? London Art Fair’s director Jonathan Burton says: “You don’t have to buy, you can just browse and soak it all in.

“Since the Fair’s been around for twenty years, we have a very good idea of what people will like to see.

“We have over a hundred galleries and try to offer something for the experienced collector and someone who’s never been to a gallery in their life.”

I overheard someone say: “Art is like sex, if you fancy it you want to grab it.”

Either way, you don’t have to have an open wallet. Just an open mind.

:: The London Art Fair is from 16-20 January at the Business Design Centre, Islington.

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This article was originally published on Sky News Online on 15 January 2008. All rights reserved.

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