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Posts tagged ‘London’

9
Oct

All at Sea? The Migrant Painting

I recently was invited to an intriguing exhibition in London’s trendy Shoreditch area, renowned the world over for its wonderful street art over the last two decades or so. Although much remains, to the delight of tourists and others, it’s currently in the grip of gentrification that is affecting so much of the capital and rents have rocketed so that impoverished street artists can no longer afford to live there. One of the few remaining is Stik, so named because of his simple yet evocative stick figures, and he’s just produced a large new work high on a wall near Old Street station. He has paid his landlord rent in canvasses for many years (probably a shrewd investment on the landlord’s part), but who knows how much longer this may last.

Anyway, I made my way past the trendy bars, cafes and restaurants to the Jealous East Gallery where an ethical online money transfer company, Azimo, were exhibiting a specially commissioned work of art alongside four large black and white photos. The title of the exhibition and the main painting: “Can a work of art define the word ‘migrant’” set about tackling the centuries-old problem – that of the negativity surrounding migration, whether it be for political, economic or other reasons. In a different corner of the arts world, Richard Bean’s 2009 controversial immigrant satire at the National Theatre tackled the same issue, which doubtless will surface again and again.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-18-21-41The remarkable painting by Eleanor Barreau is an imagined interpretation of seven famous migrants in a wooden boat surrounded by iceberg tips. The boat itself evokes the current daily tragedies of Africans fleeing their continent and attempting to start a new life in Europe. The migrants are an interesting choice, particularly as it’s questionable whether they should be associated with the word. I ask myself is this because they are all, in their way, famous, or even celebrities? They are Lionel Messi, the footballer who left Argentina as a 14-year-old to join FC Barcelona; Marie Sklodowska, who emigrated from Poland to Paris when she was 24, then married Pierre Curie and discovered polonium and radium; Mo Farah, a devout Muslim who came to London aged 8 as a refugee and who has become a sporting hero; Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for 21 years where he was a lawyer and civil rights activist; global superstar Rihanna, who moved to the USA from Barbados to further her career; Angela Merkel, born in East Germany under the communist regime and who then found herself a citizen in the united Germany; and finally Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, not a migrant himself, but like so many US citizens the son of migrants, in his case, Syrians.

The young people present at the exhibition, including the founders of Azimo who set up the company because they were appalled at the way traditional money transfer companies were charging such high fees to cash-poor people sending money back to their families, and the artist herself, were passionate about their cause. They were further inflamed by the current spate of racist attacks on migrants living in Britain following the Brexit vote, and were really committed to finding a way to make a difference. Perhaps one small painting won’t change attitudes or the world, but I had to applaud them for their commitment to what seems at times a problem with no solution in sight. And perhaps we should live in hope that from this, and other, little acorns, mighty oaks will grow.

Jeannette NelsonArts critic with special interest in theatre

2
Dec

Take a Magical Walk Round Kew Gardens at Christmas

Santa's Grotto at Kew Gardens

Santa’s Grotto at Kew Gardens

Many years ago, in my youth, public displays of Christmas in London would amount to festive scenes in department store windows and a visit inside to Santa’s grotto. Selfridges and Harrods spring to mind, though I’m sure there must have been others as well. The main shopping streets in London, Oxford Street and Regent Street, would be adorned with Christmas lights, and that would be about it.

These days it’s very different.  Every main street in the neighbourhoods, as far out as the suburbs, boasts Christmas lights (the splendour of which depends on the affluence of the area).  Somerset House, some years ago now, hit on the idea of an outdoor skating rink surrounded by flickering torches and the beautifully illuminated old buildings surrounding the courtyard (which not many years previously had been a car-park for inland revenue officers).  Now it seems almost every venerable institution with the space has gone along with this idea and skaters are spoilt for choice of where to go for their double axels and salchows.  Also, for the last few years, Hyde Park has had its own Winter Wonderland, with a Magical Ice Kingdom, Christmas Market and Big Wheel.

And this year Kew Gardens is also getting in on the act with Santa’s Grotto, some Christmas Market stalls, a Helter Skelter and a lovely old-fashioned carousel. But its main attraction is unique:  an evening 1.4 mile illuminated walkway has been created amongst the trees with imaginative light and sound installations.

Illuminated walk

Illuminated walk

Particular trees have been picked out with glorious colour that enhance their bark and leaves.  A Mediterranean Garden is alive with birdsong and hung with colourful glass lanterns.  Tall bamboos grace the Asian garden where the wintery atmosphere reflects the shapes, noise and growth of bamboo. And after a secret cluster of beech trees where you can create your own sound and light show, a strong scent of incense leads you to the Fire Garden. This is ablaze with flames from 300 torches creating a huge circle of fire in the shape of a Mandala, a spiritual symbol  in Hinduism representing the universe.

Sound and lights

Sound and lights

Along the way, to keep younger (and young-at-heart visitors) amused, are wonderful ‘plant whisperers’, surrounded by the paraphernalia that allows them and those they invite to participate to communicate with the greenery that surrounds.  The lakes shimmer with light and reflections, the coots adding to it all by gracing the evening waters in what they perhaps believe is a strange daylight. The grand finale is the famous Palm House with changing light colours and haunting soundscape.

The Palm House Illuminated

The Palm House Illuminated

It’s a magical, almost mystical experience, only slightly marred by the sound of too many low-flying jets on their way to nearby Heathrow;  we were however assured that that particular flight-path is not used every day!

Notwithstanding the planes, in this age of hustle and bustle, Kew is a haven in the capital to commune with nature, on display in all her glory.

The Christmas at Kew evening trail ticket costs £12.50 for adults and £8 for children, with family tickets for 2 adults and 2 children aged 5 – 16 at £38.  Under 5’s go free.  It opens at 4.45 on the following dates:

  • 28 November – 1 December
  • 5 December – 8 December
  • 12 December – 15 December
  • 19 December – 23 December
  • 26 December – 4 January 2014

Full details on the Kew website

jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

Images provided by RBG Kew

8
Oct

Winter Culture in London – theatre, art and literature

The still balmy days of autumn mean that the hot, sunny days of summer are not yet a distant memory, but promises of imminent cooler weather are a reminder that winter is not a distant prospect.

So now’s the time to shake out the winter woollies and consider options for the darker, shorter days.

Perusing the listings online and in the press, one word resonates in my head: Vienna.  Perhaps it’s because this is the city my parents hailed from, but undeniably, it features in various aspects of culture this season.

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 16.59.02First, and most obviously, is the exhibition at the National Gallery in London entitled Facing the Modern – The Portrait in Vienna 1900, which is showing from 9 October 2013 to 12 January 2014.  Check it out on www.nationalgallery.org.uk and if it appeals, go and luxuriate in the works of Klimt, Schiele, Gerstl et al.

The second, perhaps more oblique reference to that once powerful city centre of empire is perhaps more problematic to see. It’s the production of Hysteria by Terry Johnson who also directs what I believe must be the definitive version of his 20 year old witty and intelligent play.  Unfortunately, it is only playing until 12 October, but tickets have been hard to come by throughout its entire run.  This is largely due to the critically acclaimed performance of Anthony Sher as Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis. An added frisson is that the action takes place not in his famous Berggasse rooms in Vienna but in his consulting room in Hampstead, a matter of a few hundred yards from the theatre itself. Unbelievably, the play treads the difficult line between farce, surrealism, intellectual debate and the Holocaust with extreme dexterity.  One minute you’re laughing (especially at the mention of a ‘Freudian slip’ referring to an item of underwear), the next you sit back in your seat in shock and horror.  It is a play that only ever so often is revived; catch it if you can.  Meanwhile, if you’re in that part of London, why not visit the Freud Museum in Hampstead, where the Bergasse is recreated in minute detail and includes the famous couch www.freud.org.uk.Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 17.01.42

My final reference to Vienna is cheating a little, as it concerns a book written about 50 years ago that I came across recently via the BBC website.  In the run-up to the centenary of the start of the first World War, there apparently had been a piece on the Today programme about the fact that in the year running up to the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Vienna had been home, albeit temporarily for some, for several well-known figures: Freud, obviously, but also Stalin, Hitler, Trotsky and Tito.  At the end of the website report, reference was made to the aforementioned book, Thunder at Twilight by Frederic Morton, and a trawl through Amazon secured me a second-hand copy.  It makes utterly fascinating reading and has been passed on to several relatives and friends who have all been enamoured by it. Check if your library can get you a copy, the origins of ‘the war to end all wars’ have never been more clearly explained to me.

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 17.05.17Which leads me to mention a production that has not yet started, although tickets have been on sale for a while already. The Theatre Royal Stratford East, created by the grande dame of people’s theatre Joan Littlewood, is reviving its production of Oh What A Lovely War! to mark the centenary. It’s comforting for me to know that nestled in the new buildings, immense shopping centres and the Olympic stadium, this theatre, one of the oldest in the capital, can still put on plays that wrestle with the conscience. It’s playing from 1 February 2014 to 15 March 2014. Check it out on www.stratfordeast.com

jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

31
Mar

Rare Picasso Lithographs in London

 

Lithograph making fascinated Picasso and you can see a few of the prints, some of which were never intended for sale, at a London Gallery for the next few weeks.

Details of the print above: Femme au corsage à Fleurs (3rd State), 27 December 1958 Lithograph using crayon, wash drawing, drypoint and scraper on zinc, on Arches wove paper
Paper 74.3 x 54.9 cm / Plate 63.0 x 47.0 cm to 64.5 x 48.6 cm
Third and final state
Unique impression on grey Arches wove paper aside from the edition of 50 and six proofs reserved for the artist and printer
Mourlot catalogue reference 307
Bloch catalogue reference 847La Femme au Fauteuil No. 1 (d’après le rouge) 2e état, 13 December 1948
Lithograph making fascinated Picasso and you can see a few of the prints, some of which were never intended for sale at a London Gallery for the next few weeks.

I have always loved Picasso’s ability to create an image with a few lines. I once copied a drawing of his son, Paolo, and even after five attempts couldn’t get really close to what he had captured.

I lusted after one particular image in this exhibition but at £50,000 I will just have to make do with the image in the catalogue!

The Woman in the Armchair No. 1 (from the red) 2nd State

 

Lithograph using sandpaper, needle, pen, crayon and brush on zinc on the red plate of Woman in the Armchair, Mourlot catalogue reference 133, on Arches wove paper
Paper 76.2 x 56.0 / Plate 69.8 x 54.5 cm
One of six proofs reserved for the artist and printer
Initialled by Fernand Mourlot, inscribed 2e état (2nd state) and numbered 6/6 verso
There was no edition of this state
Mourlot catalogue reference 134
Bloch catalogue reference 586

La Femme au Fauteuil No. 1 (d’après le rouge) 9 e état, Le Manteau Polonais, 30 December 1948

The Woman in the Armchair No. 1 (from the red) 9th State, The Polish Coat
Lithograph printed in black and blue-grey from the red plate of Woman in the Armchair, Mourlot catalogue reference 133, on Arches wove paper
Paper 76.0 x 56.2 cm / Plate 69.5 x 54.5 cm
One of six proofs reserved for the artist and printer
Initialled by Fernand Mourlot, inscribed avec un gris (with a grey) and numbered 6/6 verso
Aside from the edition of 50, which did not include the background colour
Blue-grey is one of two colour versions, the other being grey-green
Mourlot catalogue reference 134 (grey-green version illustrated)
Bloch catalogue reference 587

The Picasso Lithograph exhibition at the Alan Cristea Gallery is on until 21 April. Catch it if you can, it’s unlikely these prints will be seen together again once they have been sold.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
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