Friday, 30 May 2014

Playing along with the art school boys, part three


Much as I would love to claim to be the artist behind this poster, all credit must go to Simon, who was in the year above me at college and designed and drew this for a party in 1980. (If you should happen to stumble upon this, Simon, then I hope you won't mind me reproducing it here. I also hope you're still drawing!)   I think it's a great piece of graphic illustration, especially considering he was only 18 when he created it.

I've kept it for the last 34 years because, much to my great surprise at the time, a good friend and I were immortalised in it. That's me, apparently, top centre, wearing fishnets and brandishing a cutlass, showing more feistiness (and flesh) than I think I ever did in real life. My beautiful college mate is nearby looking suitably sultry in a Cleopatra get-up. There are one or two others in the crowd which are wonderful caricatures of our fellow students, and I like the fact that Bowie and Jordan (the original) have made a guest appearance in the pic; sadly they never made one at college. All in all it kind of sums up 1980 art school life for me.

Even though I didn't make it to the actual party (I can't remember why), I can probably tell you fairly accurately what would have been played there. Musically 1980 had some interesting things to offer. A quick look at the year's indie charts reveals that the best-selling bands included acts as diverse as Dead Kennedys, Spizzenergi, Joy Division and Crass (I owned them all!) but in December's UK Top 40 you could hear Abba one minute and AC/DC the next (I owned neither!), not forgetting singles by ELO, Kate Bush, Clash, Madness, Spandau Ballet, oh and... St Winifred's School Choir... what an odd mixture.  That month, John Peel aired sessions by the Raincoats, Theatre of Hate and Red Beat.

The murder of John Lennon just a couple of weeks before this party was shocking but, you know, I remember it didn't really touch me in any significant way at the time – unlike the deaths of Malcolm Owen and Ian Curtis earlier that same year.


A great dubby track from Red Beat.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

A portrait of the artist as a young man

You know how sometimes you can see a photograph, and there's just something about it that affects you in a far bigger way than you expect? It's not always possible to explain what the effect is or why it's got to you, why it's got in there, it just has. There's one that's doing it for me now and it's this:


I don't know when this photo of the artist Amedeo Modigliani was actually taken but he died in January 1920 so that helps to put it in a time-frame. Perhaps what's getting to me about it is that it just looks so contemporary... somehow it's not like most other images you see from the early 1900s. His relaxed pose, his clothing and the background just make me feel as if I've stepped into his studio and seen him sitting there like that in the last few minutes. I'm touched by Modigliani's personal story anyway, his much talked about use of drugs and alcohol being believed to have been exacerbated by the need to suppress and disguise the symptoms of the TB that eventually killed him at the age of 35. I'm moved by the tale of his beautiful, besotted young wife, Jeanne H├ębuterne, who threw herself out of a fifth-floor window soon after his death, killing herself and their baby to whom she was shortly due to give birth. And of course I love much of his work, and remember how struck I was on first seeing one particular painting on display at one of my favourite museums, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. Full of scratchy marks and loose brush strokes, the portrait of a woman shows her with blacked out eyes, presumably influenced by the African masks he admired, but somewhat unnerving.

Up until seeing this photo of the man, the name Modigliani only conjured up boldly-coloured linear paintings of reclining nudes in my mind, but now I'm just seeing him. The jacket, the boots, the paper on the floor... and a face, a warm face, that I wish I could have known.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

ABC

I've just wrapped these chaps up in stiff card and sent them on their way to Australia, along with 40 others, including such exotic creatures as a numbat, a quetzel and an ibis, painted with what I can only describe as love (erm, and paint...).  They're going to form part of some Antipodean alphabet puzzle books.  Working on this thoroughly enjoyable project reminded me of learning the alphabet too. I vaguely remember a long frieze on the primary school wall with the letters and relevant pictures, A for Apple, etc. Can't remember what we had for X, though...  for this commission it was an Xray fish, but I'd never heard of it before.  Thinking about it, it's quite stunning really, isn't it, how young brains are able to learn a sequence of 26 letters when there's no pattern to latch onto, no rhyme, tune, story or logic, just a list of discrete components that have to be learned in order?  I'd struggle with an equivalent now....














Sunday, 11 May 2014

Smelly cheesy platform boots sniffing?


A random post deserves a random title. You know in Blogger stats where you can sometimes see what search words someone's entered which caused them to end up at your place? I have no idea why 'smelly cheesy platform boots sniffing' helped one particular visitor to find their way here today, or what they looked at when they did, but I suspect they were disappointed. I hope they found what they were searching for elsewhere, but I think at this point it would probably be best all round if we put it out of our minds. Unless it's you... in which case I suppose you found your way here quite easily this time.

Anyway, talking of what you're looking for (I still haven't found it but it sure as hell isn't going to be that song) a lovely, recently-divorced friend of mine has just joined a dating site. I think you know me well enough by now to appreciate that I would be lying if I said I'm not intrigued to know how she gets on and that I'll want as many juicy details as possible. She's had lots of responses already apparently and this weekend she was off to meet a deep sea diver, which sounds terribly exotic. I may have been happily married for the last 103 years but it doesn't stop me feeling sort of vicariously excited at the thought of being in such an unknown and potentially adventurous position. Oh, you know what I mean – the idea of it is just a reminder of being young and 'on the pull' again I suppose, wondering who's out there and what they're like and enjoying the attention. I'm sure the reality of it is a lot less glamorous.  It also made me think about how hard I'd find it to describe myself if I had to set up a dating site profile. I'm terribly fussy, you know, and I'm sure I would need a potential new mate to be all sorts of things that are really quite subtle and couldn't be described in a just a few key words. Like, I'd want someone to understand what it was like to live through punk (or something similar), and to get how it is to feel you're on the outside of the mainstream. They'd need to have a creative talent even if it was untapped or unrecognised, and to be tolerant of my fondness for small, creepy, ugly creatures (whilst that category would not necessarily include them).  There's art as well, of course, and music could definitely be a sticking point. I would need to write in a clause along the lines of, 'If you actively hate Eric Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight' and you understand perfectly why it is so loathsome - even if you can't put that reason into words - then you're in with a shout.'  God, I hate that song with a passion. I had it going through my head this afternoon for some unfathomable reason; I had to reach out for a piece of chalk and drag it down a blackboard to ease my pain.

In my early teens I did once go out with a boy whom I knew could not possibly be right for me when he laughed at my copy of 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' (however sub-Springsteen it may sound now, it was perfection for me in '77) and said The Commodores were his favourite group. There really was no hope for us. We went to the pictures to see 'Sweeney!', which was fine, but then he took me to Macdonalds which wasn't so fine. And he talked about football. Looking back I have no idea what I saw in him apart, perhaps, from his motorbike, but more to the point I have no idea what he saw in me. Surely not my smelly, cheesy platform boots?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

You think: I won't ask for it back just yet, they won't forget, they'll return it to me when they're ready.

Then the days turn into weeks turn into months and maybe you forget about it yourself, it's not top of your list of things to do, you haven't really missed it anyway. It flitted into your mind for a moment when you were having a sort through some old bits and pieces: oh I wonder if they've forgotten... but then.... nah, how could they?

And then maybe the months turn into, well, more months, perhaps even years... and it's just too embarrassing to bring up something you really should have mentioned long ago. Too embarrassing. For whom? For you? Or for the friend to whom you lent that... whatever it was you lent them. In my case, various friends, whose lives have taken them on journeys far more shambolic than my own, so much so that I really would feel like an insensitive idiot now asking if they could return that tatty old paperback I lent them five years ago. So I let it go. Think of it as a gift, maybe; it's only 'stuff'.

Some of the stuff I (and in some cases, we) have let go of include two little shaped wooden badges depicting Yellow Submarine style images of Paul McCartney and George Harrison (bought during a hilarious 'Beatles' weekend in Liverpool), a 1980s drum machine (hours of fun!), a packet of gig photos from a night at The Pink Toothbrush, a bootleg video of 'A Clockwork Orange' from the days when it was still banned, and a Be Good Tanyas CD. But then, does the fact that I even remember them mean I haven't really let go after all?!




Saturday, 3 May 2014

The bee's knees


Some more nature nerdism this week (well, it was either that or nerdy naturism but that can wait).

I have a buzzing box. I mean - a bird box, which has been used by its intended hosts for a few years and from which many a cute little bluetit has stretched its wings and flown. They haven't been interested in it this year, though, and when I was pruning the honeysuckle which grows around it I realised why. I accidentally tapped the box and immediately after I heard a strange sound. A kind of hissing, sizzling, zzizzing. I thought maybe there was someone playing a Kazoo nearby – which would be fun but unlikely – it wasn't Pink Floyd's Corporal Clegg anyway, that's for sure. I tapped it once more, deliberately this time, and there it was again – from inside. Seems that the bluetits have lost out this year to a bumblebee.

I can't wait to see the comings and goings of a colony of bumbles! Right now I presume that Queen Bee is in there, tucked away safely under the mossy remains of a previous bird nest, having survived hibernation somewhere over the winter. She will lay eggs and start up a new colony, which will last for only one season. She didn't hear my tapping – she doesn't have any ears! - but she would have felt the vibration and her buzzing was a warning for me not to pop in there and lay my own eggs. Still, I have nothing to fear as I'm not a bluetit and bumblebees very rarely sting, so I welcome the presence of this lovely, unassuming but important insect, especially as their numbers are in serious decline.

What is it they say - that if all the bees died, humans would have only four years to live? Seems a bit extreme but we get the gist. There's some hope for us yet, anyway.


The Bees:  Voices Green and Purple

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