Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Roger Wood's Biblioblog: Good & A Nightingale Sang... - C P Taylor

Roger Wood's Biblioblog: Good & A Nightingale Sang... - C P Taylor: C P Taylor was a Glaswegian Jewish Marxist autodidact playwright who lived and worked in Newcastle and who died ridiculously young in 1981. ...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

William Henry Hunt - rural studies at the Courtauld Gallery

Hunt (1790-1864) is one of those rare painters more esteemed in his lifetime than subsequently. That does not mean he was rich, but he certainly sold a lot of paintings. Overall, he was considered inferior only to Turner as a watercolourist. That said, the drawings on show at the Courtauld are not what paid the bills and kept him in relative comfort to the end of his days. Known as ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt, he was famous for his intricate paintings of flowers and fruit. His handling of bloom on fruit was his signature technique (colour stippled over opaque white). Like Turner, he was actually a thoroughly urban Londoner, born near Covent Garden. In his early years he painted scenery in Drury Lane, and you can’t get much more London than that.

He was typically Victorian in appearance, that is to say, unusual. His growth was recognisably stunted from an early age and he may never have topped five feet. His head was large for his body, his shoulders disproportionately bulky. He could not walk far and painted sitting down. He is said to have taken as long as a fortnight to finish a watercolour, a combination of detail and disability.

His nature paintings are not what is on show here, though. This exhibition focuses on Hunt’s single figure studies of rural life, the men and women who work with and try to control nature. It consists of twenty watercolours and drawings. Some of the drawings are worked up into fine watercolours; others are clearly preparatory drawings with washes of colour added as notes for future reference.

I doubt very much that Hunt ever intended the latter for show. Certainly for me they are the weakest things on show.

The images of women – of which there are only two or three – are feeble and contrived. Hunt married and had a daughter, but when creating these images he overlooked any claims women might have to character or even individuality. The men are very different – distinctly characterful and carefully posed. Thus the broom-maker positively bristles with energy. I particularly enjoyed the paired images of poacher and gamekeeper. There was also a little sketch of the gamekeeper’s gun and the way it is typically held which showed the lengths Hunt went to in his quest for rural reality.
Some of the drawings are clearly unfinished.  I feel the commentators who describe them as expressionist are deluding themselves. Some are frankly dreadful – probably only kept by the artist because he forgot where he threw them. The maltster, for example, is either a giant or possesses a very indistinct dwarf cat.

In the finished pieces Hunt is very good at simulating texture and scraping-out, often for textural effect. There are several salt glaze pots where the scraped-out highlights are especially evocative. The Courtauld tries to make the case that Hunt anticipates the pre-Raphaelites. Had they used watercolour that might have been true. It might also be more relevant to his flowers and berries or his seascapes, albeit they were painted while the pre-Raphaelites were at the height and their powers and notoriety. I can’t help thinking the thesis relies more on the similarity of names – two William H Hunts, albeit no relation to one another.

I don’t want to be downbeat. About half of these images are well worth seeing, with the rest as a sort of supporting cast, illustrative of Hunt’s process. It is exactly the sort of close-focus display that I hope the Courtauld will continue to mount in their fabulous new drawing gallery.

I would like to have learnt a little more about the man himself. He sounds fascinating. In the 1850s his work was selling in Paris for more than that of Delacroix, yet he delighted in the company of tramps and street entertainers.

Funnily enough, as I was heading back to Euston I spotted Hunt’s blue plaque on Marchmont Street – next door to the flat where Kenneth Williams used to live.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In the Dark

I had been looking forward to the new midweek cop drama on BBC 1 for some time. That needs to be put in context. First, anything new and more interesting than the national weather forecast was ringed on my calendar during the wall-to-wall onslaught that is the BBC's coverage of Wimbledon. On the other hand, I like Mark Billingham's novels - I am currently reading one, as a matter of fact - and I have long been keen to see what MyAnna Buring can do outside the corsets and wigs and over-cooked dialogue of Ripper Street.

So ... a slam dunk winner then, surely? God no - it was dreary old tosh. The script, by the slightly overrated Danny Brocklehurst, was functional at best. The lack of pace on the page was faithfully reproduced on the screen. I don't know who directed it but whoever it was needs to binge-watch Lethal Weapon (the TV series) to see just what can be achieved with a thinnish premise. The casting, other than Ms Buring, was the usual rent-a-prole that TV in general adheres to in dramas northern. Basically, anyone who can talk down their nose and, in women, can diet down to heroin skank proportions.

It only lasted 52 minutes. It seemed much longer. I was so detached, I'm not really sure what the inciting crime was supposed to be. I got the message that Buring's character was pregnant, but that could have been via the endless trailers over preceding weeks. If that's the only twist on offer, In the Dark can stay there as far as I'm concerned.

Now that Lethal Weapon has ended its run, thank goodness for Walter Presents and the upcoming new thriller from Jane Campion, the successor to her magnificent Top of the Lake with Elizabeth Moss.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fahrelnissa Zeid at the Tate Modern

Fascinating mini documentary from the Tate. There's a compelling comment towards the end, when her pupil says "She is excluded from history because of her gender and where she came from." I suspect it was more a question of where she came from. But she's back now, big time.

The exhibition is at Tate Modern until October 7 2017. I hope I can get there.

Monday, May 29, 2017

American Gods - Black Dog - Neil Gaiman

Conundrum: should I review Black Dog here or over on my biblioblog? It is a book, after all, albeit an ebook in my usage. On the other hand I reviewed the graphic novel here, as media and culture, and it was definitely that stunning cover image by Swedish artist Daniel Egneus that attracted me. Decision made: it has to be both.

So Black Dog isn't a graphic novel, it's a novella (short, even by novella standards) within the American Gods series. It features, front and centre, the flawed hero of the series Shadow Moon, who seems to have wandered into a mash-up of American Werewolf in London and Reservoir Dogs. My favourite kind of hangout. He duly admires the mummified cat they dug out of the pub foundations, he pals up with odd couple Moira and Ollie, who literally provide Shadow with shelter from the storm. Ollie is big on local folklore, primarily the black dog, barguest, boggart or padfoot, the demon dog who brings death to your house the way lesser dogs bring fleas. Moira used to be an item with Cassie, who now seems set on becoming an item with Shadow. This causes Shadow no misgivings whatsoever as Cassie reminds him of his old flame, the Egyptian cat goddess Bast.

Gaiman is truly on top of his game with this one. The ideas fizz. Take for example how he draws the parallel between the folkloric black dog and Churchill's anthropomorphised depression. I loved the cats and dogs material. I loved every minute of it. But I'm still not forking out to watch the TV series on Amazon Video. I will, however, fork out regularly for more of the source material, especially if it features artwork like the above.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Herman Wouk - 102 today!

Of course I'd heard of Herman Wouk. Who hasn't? He wrote The Caine Mutiny, for goodness sake. But did I know, 66 years on from the publication of Caine, he was still alive? No. I'm amazed, impressed, and glad. I've celebrated by ordering a copy of Caine, which like many others I expect, I have never read. I've also given the movie a wide berth and suspect I will continue to do so.

I did read his other biggie, though, back in the 'Eighties. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, both star-studded TV mini-series. Back then, of course, Wouk was only in his late sixties. Who would have imagined he would still be publishing books (Sailor and Fiddler) in his centenary year?

Herman Wouk is making a valiant attempt at living forever. Good luck to him. So far so good. This year I will be celebrating by reading the novel that made him. In their works, it goes without saying, all writers live forever.

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