Sunday, 31 July 2016

TADS #5:The South Downs Way II (or Seven Sisters shooting skyways for the sun).

I said last month that the TADS would be back to Sussex to finish off the South Downs Way walk and I was true to my word. Alas, Adam was unable to complete the stretch he started and Teresa and Virginie, too, were both unavailable to take part. Imagine prioritising a visit to Cuba or giving birth over a TADS walk. Seriously though we all send a big welcome into the world out to Jamie.

So while some of the regulars weren't there we did have the pleasure of welcoming a new TAD into the fold. Rachel joined Shep, Pam, Kathy, and I for the first (though hopefully not last) time. We all convened on the train from East Croydon and alighted at Polegate before hopping into a couple of cabs to take us to Alfriston where the walk was cut short in June and would reconvene this time.

Alfriston looked lovely in the sunshine and we soon picked up the path along the banks of the Cuckmere. Again a much more pleasant experience when your shoes aren't full of water and you're not drenched to the bone. We saw snails and Pam identified some of the local butterflies for us.

There was a white chalk horse on the hillside to our right. Legend has it created by three brothers in 1924 over the course of one night so as to surprise the locals the next morning.

I was curtly dismissive of the Cuckmere river. In places it seemed barely more than a ditch. We even saw someone kayaking along it. There'd be more of that later on.

Leaving the Cuckmere for a while we entered into the cute little village of Litlington. There was a produce stall set up selling preserves, juices, and marrows to hungry villagers and walkers. We partook of an elderflower drink and stocked up on a selection of flapjacks whilst the young lad on the stall, warming to his front of house duties, advised on how to make best use of courgettes. Cakes and soup apparently.

Our first (but by no means last) climb of the day took us past a field of horses. Apparently the masks they wear are to keep the flies off. Not, as one of our party suggested, because they're fans of Mexican wrestling.

The horses were complemented by some shade loving sheep hanging out in a field load of tiles and a green telephone box in the 'secluded medieval' village of Westdean.

The steps leading up and out of Westdean were pretty steep and left me a little out of breath but, oh, the reward was worth it. On reaching the top a panorama of Cuckmere meanders was laid out in front of us leading all the way down to the sea.

I felt silly about dissing the Cuckmere now. There was a visitor centre, more kayaks, and tourists from all around the world. We heard an Indian visitor ask her tour guide if there was anything of historic interest in the area. He said the cliffs were a couple of million years old. Would they do?

The gentle stroll along the banks of the river took us to Cuckmere Haven and from there we walked up, up, and up some more. The beauty of the views making it all worthwhile.

Our party stopped for a snack and to enjoy the vistas. The Seven Sisters sat before us like a rollercoaster ride. We could see Beachy Head 7k ahead and knew we were in for both a scenic, and a strenuous, switchback stretch.

People had piled pieces of chalk on to the hillside to spell out messages. We assumed THE MORPISSEY MEN had begun life as THE MORRISSEY MEN. Although even that doesn't make much sense.

It didn't seem a bad spot to get some wedding snaps but we were worried about 'Selfie Stick Guy' who seemed to take great pleasure in standing near the edge of an eroding clifftop where people regularly plummet to their death. I could barely watch him when I took the photo.

This is the area French composer Debussy came to to complete his work La Mer. He was inspired by the wilderness of the surroundings. Despite the sea, the gulls, and the amount of people enjoying the spectactle it was remarkably quiet. As if each valley held in its own noise.

After an ice cream stop at the Birling Gap we headed up to the Belle Tout lighthouse.

Belle Tout was like a starter for the main course which was, of course, Beachy Head itself. It is, obviously, a beautiful spot but the crosses, memorials, and signs with Samaritans numbers on testify to its well known grisly and heartbreaking history.

Chaplains are stationed around the area and the pub has a huge phone mast outside it. Our assumption being that they may have some visitors who need use of their phone in an urgent, literally life or death, situation.

It was a nice pub though. Free water. Beer garden with predictably stunning views. A fine selection of ales but after those hills I craved a drink of that free water washed down with a cool, cold pint of Estrella lager.

Following the final stretch of the South Downs Way into Eastbourne Pam gave us a blast of Veronica Falls' Beachy Head followed by some Toots & The Maytals. For no other reason than it's bloody good. I was unable to access Kevin Coyne's Eastbourne Ladies or The Laughing Gnome.

We reached the end of the South Downs Way. 100 miles from Winchester. We'd only come a few of those miles but wouldn't it be great, to one day, walk the whole thing. I know of a man who ran it once. Don't think I'll be doing that.

Now it was time for an ale. Purity's Mad Goose. A zesty pale one enjoyed in Eastbourne's Buccaneer. Inside one of those seaside pubs with a lot of floor space and the potential for a dodgy live band. Outside seemingly influenced by the onion domes of a Muscovite cathedral.

A very short walk took us to Ashoka for Indian food. It's been a standing TADS joke that the best curry we ever had was in Salisbury's Anokaa. It seems to taste better every time the story is retold. General consensus was Ashoka ran it a close second. Plenty of poppadums, friendly service, and, for me, a veggie dhansak with some of the tastiest, crispest, naan breads this side of Dungeness.

It was, again, another success. The start of the day felt a long way away as we opened up our off-sales and had a crack at the Guardian crossword on the train home surrounded by opera fans returning from glistening Glyndebourne in their glad rags and finery. I'm sure they'd had a rewarding and cultured evening but I wouldn't have swapped it for the day I'd had.

Until next time.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Muticoloured Memphis.

I find it anachronistic how black and white photography continues to dominate the artsier end of the market even to this day. Perhaps it generally is more aesthetically pleasing. Or perhaps it's the Keep Calm and Carry On brigade with their nostalgia for a time that never was. Either way it's remarkable, and a little disappointing, how monochrome continues to dominate over colour.

Before 1978 colour photography was actively looked down on. There were a few notable exceptions but the man who did the most to change that perception was Memphis, Tennessee's William Eggleston and his show, that year, at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

His subjects came from around the world but often from Memphis itself and the nearby Mississippi delta. Some are strangers but many were friends and family. Some of the 100 photos at the NPG's current show are from his personal archive and haven't been shown in public before. Another scoop is that this exhibition also reveals the identity of some of the sitters (if they could be called that, Eggleston worked quick). The artist had been reluctant, in the past, to name names.

Straight away we can see his non-posed 'snapshot' approach. His mother and Lucille Fleming, their housekeeper (below), appear in an early 60s set when he still worked in black and white.

Friends featured too. Eggleston moved with hippies, blues musicians, and gay activists. He used to hang out at Trader Dick's in Memphis with the band Big Star. The bar had a reputation for fights and Quaalude abuse. Eggleston drew a picture for Alex Chilton in which you can clearly see the influence he took from Kandinsky, the Blaue Reiter Group, and American Abstract Expressionism.

He'd also hang at TGI Friday's with the less well remembered bluegrass band Crawdad. He seemed to like bars. On road trips from Memphis down to New Orleans he'd photograph people he found in them. A friend, Chick Reeder, recalls Eggleston entering churches around the delta and playing Bach on the organ for hours on end.

He wasn't just there for the good times though. He caught the ups and downs of life too as evinced by his 1974 image of his girlfriend Leigh Hazlip crying her eyes out. A much warmer portrait is the one of his daughter, Andra, with her face painted taken a decade later. She looks confident and studious and, somehow, proud of her dad and his work.

Family shots of breast feeding, sleeping toddlers etc; suggest a contented, if still questing, man. This 1969/70 photo of his uncle Aydn Schuyler Senior with his 'house man' Jasper Staples at Cassidy Bayou in Mississippi speaks volumes about the times whilst managing to remain masterfully understated. It's a great snap.

Novelist Eudora Welty and cult turned mainstream actor Dennis Hopper were both friends and subjects of Eggleston. He met Joe Strummer for a beer (the guy in the Clockwork Orange t-shirt is surely not an accident) and played piano on a Big Star album. His interaction with country blues musician Mississippi Fred McDowell, however, was a bit of a one sided affair.

Perhaps Eggleston's oddest friend was the eccentric dentist and casual nudist T.C.Boring whose home was covered in spray painted graffiti. On Mother's Day 1980 Boring's house was set on fire with Boring inside it. He died.

It's this house that's the subject of Eggleston's most famous photo The Red Ceiling. It's not in this show because it's not a portrait but I've included it anyway. Not least because they wouldn't let me take photos (of the photos) in the gallery.

That aside it was an interesting look at one of America's most innovative photographers. Eggleston would complain that he wasn't particularly interested in things but that he liked taking photos. Take photos of the dull things was his friend's response. So he did and the strange thing was that the results were anything but boring.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

A meeting with the makers.

One of my regular little art excursions is to the Camden Arts Centre. Can't remember how I first found out about it but it's been a pleasure since the start. Exhibitions are free. It's got a great book shop and café and, if the weather is clement, the garden is a treat. Also, vitally, it's a short walk from Hampstead and it's charming array of pubs. Even when I fainted there, I'd run a half marathon and not eaten, that was still fine. A story to share.

Currently they're showing Making and Unmaking. Curated by Nigerian fashion designer Doru Olowu  (born Lagos, 1965). Clothes, as expected, feature heavily alongside jewellery, textiles, ceramics, and more traditional art media.

You begin with Anya Gallacio's 'sculpture', "I will walk down to the end with you if you will come all the way down with me", in the aforementioned garden. Its meaning unclear but on a purely aesthetic level a treat.

In the main galleries there's a LOT of stuff. On the walls. On the floor. Hanging from the ceiling. I was drawn to the two portraits below. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's 2016 Tie The Temptress To The Trojan and Meredith Frampton's 1921 Winifred Radford. I'd been entranced by Yiadom-Boakye's work before, at a recent Serpentine show, and was new to the older artist. I liked both works but, most of all, I was taken by how two such different approaches to portraiture could complement and play off each other.

Embah's whimsical Burroquet II  (2001) appeared to be cowering in the corner. Perhaps overwhelmed by these strong female artists and their sitters.

Equally Embah could be said to represent Olowu's interest in folk art. Nobokho Nqaba's carrier bag mosaic and Alexandre da Cunha's fur gloves underlining this tendency.

There's a weak, by his standards, Alighierro Boetti print positioned just along from Tony Armstrong-Jones' bromide of Jacqui Chan in Venice and an entire wall of spray painted silk rayon.

Dorothea Tanning's Glad Nude with Prawns (1978) sits close to Yinka Shonibare's Butterfly Kid and Wangechi Mutu's Panties in a Bunch, both from last year. They act as a kind of foreplay to the next room.

Ivorian palm leaf skirts, Isaac Julien ink prints of dapper dudes, Claude Cahun's surrealist photography, more curtains, hats, and a Chris Ofili watercolour surround Tanning's Etreinte, below, which is, in turn, eyed suspiciously by Leonce Raphael Agbodejou's muscle men. Something sexual is afoot here and I'm not sure what.

If you need to cool down you're out of luck. But if you want to sit in a room heated like an oven and watch Luis Monteiro's videos of models showing Oluwu's outfits you've come to the right place.

It continues. Peacock feathers, Congolese raffia, hemp fibres, knotted linen, porcelain vases etc; etc; A lot of it is very pleasing to the eye but as someone who tends to come at things from an art-historical perspective I sometimes find it tricky to process this type of, possibly, purer curation.

Olowu has been described as having 'a fluency with diverse aesthetics' and, for once, the bumf makes sense. That's exactly what this is. This isn't about the mind. But about the eye. I needed to leave my preconceptions aside. Forget, for once, about 'learning' and simply enjoy this celebration of creation.

Eventually I did and the more I look back on it the fonder I am of it. A fluency with diverse aesthetics indeed. Cheers, Doru.