Category Archives: Exhibition

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019

I attended this exhibition through a Radio Times private viewing event, and enjoyed a glass of wine and an informative talk, before taking in the artwork. It was through the Radio Times I experienced my first foray into this historic event, my other two attendances being facilitated by the Royal Society of Chemistry Summer Party. Having indulged in “private viewing only” nights, I can’t face the idea of mixing with the general public now.

On entering the Wohl Central Hall it was clear the displays were hung a little differently, and during the talk we were told this year’s pieces were hung in a more traditional way, reflecting the early days of the Summer Exhibition so “skying” was very evident, with many smaller pictures being placed high up in clusters. Quite a bit of standing back and craning the neck was required as a result, but I still managed to locate some beauties I’d noted. My overall favourite was displayed in this way, 103 Feline Focus a stunning acrylic painting of a lynx (I think), by Susan McWhinnie.

103 Feline Focus-   Screenshot

Two years ago I discovered (after the event) that the exhibition pieces could be viewed online. So for 2018 & 2019 I did my homework and reviewed the artwork beforehand, and this helped enormously in enjoying the experience. I had an idea what to expect, knew where to find some favourites, and generally felt a lot less overwhelmed by the whole thing. But the highlight of the evening had little to do with the art on display; it was meeting and having a chat with Alison Graham the Radio Times TV editor.

I had read a couple of critic reviews online that were polar opposites in opinion, one loved it, and one loathed it. But both agreed there was a general theme going on, one that reflected today’s society with its environmental concerns and political issues. Frankly, as I said to Alison Graham, we are beaten over the head enough about this when you read the paper, switch on the TV or radio, I don’t need it hammered home in art installations as well! I admit though, that if the Summer Exhibition is ever meant to reflect the era it was created in, several pieces certainly lived up to that expectation. Many obviously said something about the state of British policy today, some examples being:

39 KEEP OU with a rat hammering a padlocked shutter with the T by Banksy created from a customs arch salvaged from Heathrow Airport

522 We Are All Immigrant Scum by Jeremy Deller a textile banner that says so much

36 Blinkered a white horse with a union flag face, walking alone through a seemingly darkened forest, I guessed had a Brexit affiliation.

979 Rule Britannia Etc… a pencil drawing by Liam Walker was haunting as it depicted a destitute woman on her knees, above her a distinct woman’s leg with stiletto heel about to stamp down hard. It wasn’t hard to fathom whose leg it might be, though the heel was too long!

But the most disturbing piece of all was a crow installation 938 Parliament (The Voices In your Head) by Tim Shaw, which was accompanied by the Donald Rumsfeld known/unknown dialogue. The combination was quite terrifying; I dodged past the artwork as quickly as I could and refused to listen to the sound bite. Environmental issues were themed, in my opinion, through animals pictured in their death throes, several skeletons (extinction) and emaciated looking polar bears (endangered species), which I found upsetting.

A few pieces reminded me of the styles of Edward Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein and I really enjoyed seeing them. Hopper has an evocative feel to his work and frequently shows people  clearly in a world of their own, lonely gas stations and buildings-733 Overly Excited About Oil by Tim Goffe. Lichtenstein with his pop art displays clean lines and great colour giving a poster type quality just like an advert-448 Graffiti Standard With Socket by Jason Barron.

Give me some whimsy, beauty or nostalgia any day, something that makes you appreciate living in this multi-faceted world and brings you joy. So I clung to wonderful depictions of animals, fantastic scenic views, art with great pops of colour, tactile looking sculpture, and pieces that either made me think of something in particular, or garnered a sigh of utter contentment. For fun, I like to pick out pieces I’m particularly attracted to, and create a hypothetical arty shopping list. Having viewed around half the exhibition over the couple of hours I was there, and despite the “agenda” pieces I ruefully passed by, I managed to find 46 pieces that would cost around a minimum of £297, 013. Two items were not for sale and two piece were “poa-price on application” so far too expensive anyway. But compared to my 2017 blog tally, I had 11 more items and saved almost half a million pounds.  I’ve noted some of my hit list here:

18 Freddie (bullfinch) & 19 Bob (robin) were small but intricately beautiful needlepoint and stumpwork pieces by Stella Knight. (£795 each)

124 The Owl Is Wisest… Because The More It Sees The Less It Talks oil on linen painting by Jane Eva Cooper. The best owl spotted (I adore these birds); the others seen were hideous/disconcerting. (£700)

132 Easy Tiger-Mach Brothers a resin and foil sculpture of a very lifelike looking tiger, although his stripes were created using red & silver Tea Cake wrappers (non Tunnocks ones but M&S!). Pure nostalgia and the sculpture was brilliantly done too. (£57,600)

213 Young Hokusai Meets Old Hokusai In Middle Age a fun beautiful watercolour by Chris Orr. I have a real soft spot for Hokusai, so this was special to see. (£8,500)

227 Glasgow Subway by Paul Crook acrylic painting that made me think of Lichtenstein and my home city. (£3,800)

270 My Birthday Flowers by David Tindle a simple understated yet lovely acrylic painting of flowers on a window ledge that made me smile and sigh contentedly. (£10,000)

753 That Severe Frontier, Meta Incognita Peninsula, Baffin Landscape by Nicholas Jones a simple, beautiful landscape acrylic painting. Sigh. (£11,000)

856 Eye Test by Sir Michael Craig-Martin a great fun pictorial test that is more one of memory to name the items. Pure whimsy that really got me thinking “what’s that again” (£10,300)

868 Mallaig stunning piece showing a huge moon hanging above the tiny dimly lit town by Jock McFadyen. I’m instantly attracted to moon pictures and find them incredibly evocative (£1,275). Digital pint was  much cheaper than its big brother (350) at a whopping £55,000.

1213 Early Light a linoleum relief print by Joseph Winkelman, gorgeous moonlit trees. Sigh (£350)

1257 Cameras (linocut) by Hannah Forward as I love photography this couldn’t fail to please me, pure nostalgia. (£750)

1353 PC From Venice San Trovaso (acrylic on canvas on wood relief) by Joe Tilson shows a postcard poking out of an airmail envelope. This made me fondly remember writing abroad to relatives and pen pals in my younger years. And I recalled a piece of art work I did in first year English for something related to the book we were studying, and the teacher thought it was good enough for the headmaster to see it. I never got it back, it was a once only hand drawn effort, but I remember EXACTLY what I did, and in some ways my idea wasn’t too dissimilar to this piece. As I chortled, I wondered if my effort made on a larger scale could earn me £45,000 today!

For posterity I’m going to list all my 46 hit list pieces by number, for although the exhibition has finished now, you can still see them online using the Royal Academy Explorer.

18; 19; 30; 31; 43; 54; 103; 124; 132; 136; 213; 215; 227; 241; 244; 270; 274; 277; 281; 337; 362; 448; 458; 733; 736; 753; 797; 821; 856; 868; 873; 890; 911; 1037; 1091; 1133; 1153; 1182; 1209; 1213; 1222; 1257; 1353; 1377; 1445; 1573

When Rob and I left the venue we were both given a rather nice goodie bag which contained a Radio Times magazine, tea-towel, postcard and marker pens, a small high-brand bar of chocolate & discount voucher, flower seeds and a Sherlock Holmes book. It put the finishing touch on a very pleasant evening.

32 Easy Tiger-Mach Brothers- Image credit abmj

 

Hear Here 1: World Voice Day

I’ve just discovered April 16th is designated World Voice Day, an initiative to celebrate the most fundamental skill humans use to communicate. Everyday our voices are used to impart information and express thoughts and emotions, so when it goes wrong it’s a big issue. So any advice we can find on how to use the voice properly, giving it care, and knowing how to rehabilitate it correctly is essential, especially if you use your voice a lot professionally, or enjoy leisure pursuits such as singing.

Being married to a university lecturer, whilst doing hospital radio and football commentating myself as a volunteer, I’m only too well aware of the ravages the family vocals can suffer. Yet I know nothing about proper voice projection, nurse through the gremlins in an amateurish way and keep my fingers crossed. I’m hoping to pick up some tips online now I’m aware of this initiative.

Thinking about the voice, I was reminded of a wonderful free exhibition that was held in the British Library from late 2017-May 2018. This audio delight celebrated 140 Years of Recorded Sound and featured numerous examples from the earliest days of audio recording. These included a 1889 Ludwig Koch recording of the family pet a shama cage bird, an indigenous tribal song (late 1800s) and  a 1911 acoustic /1927 electric recording of the same orchestral piece highlighting the development of recording techniques, and a Radio Caroline sample. You could sit in two or three record booths and listen to a large selection box of vocals through headphones. The ones I noted hearing: a ropey recording of Florence Nightingale from 1890; Suffrage of Women Christabel Pankhurst 1908; Empire Exhibition speech by George V 1924; a very faint Amelia Earhart 1932; Great 1935 Radio Luxemburg Cashmere Bouquet Trio with piano excerpts. More modern sounds I enjoyed were Tony Blackburn introducing Radio 1 in 1967 and LL Cool J from 1985.

Mediums used to enable the audio to be heard were also displayed, such as gramophones, boom boxes and mp3 players, as well as the formats used to store the audio such as tapes, records and discs, alongside some more unusual and innovative forms. I was surprised to see X-RAY FILM records used to make bootleg audio from the late 40s to early 60s in Russia, playable STAMPS from Bhutan 1972 and VOICE LETTERS from the war years. The size of the audio paraphernalia varied enormously, from a gigantic 20 inch Pathe disc weighing over 2kg used for loudness at outdoor venues, to a miniature gramophone designed for the Queen Mary dolls house, complete with a 34mm 78rpm disc with a 22 second recording of God Save The King sung by Peter Dawson. Apparently 35,000 of these tiny discs were created in 1924 as souvenirs at 6p each!

Going back to the idea of large sized gadgets guaranteeing loudness in outside venues, I was struck by the sheer scale of the Sharp GF-777 radio cassette from 1983. Weighing over 12kg and at nearly 73cm wide it certainly lived up to the description boom box, and made me think of the opening credits of the TV show “Fame” with music blasting down the streets from music systems as students danced. Colour was added to the displays with pictorial record sleeves and maybe the odd small poster too.

Another element to the exhibition was a small section dedicated to how we used to listen to the radio, for so long the main form of entertainment in households before TV was commonplace. I was interested to see old Radio Times editions and fascinated to read excerpts from Alfred Taylor’s audio log from the 1920s. You see I had an audio log myself from the mid 70s to very late 80s, for my short-wave radio listening. My husband followed this pursuit too as a child/teenager, and he still has some of his paperwork. Alas, my childhood logbook is long gone now, but I resumed the activity in adulthood. It was lovely to think that an interest in radio, the ultimate vocal medium, traversed the decades to bring Alfred, Rob and I together in shared delight.

Art Impressions Over The Last Two Years

There have been five exhibitions I’ve viewed over the last two years that have made a distinct impact on me, and it’s about time I write about them. All evoked emotions within that I didn’t always expect and I’d like to articulate and acknowledge that fact.

Three exhibitions in 2018 all have a definite French flavour: Impressionists in London-French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 (Tate Britain); Monet & Architecture (National Gallery); Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece (British Museum). I realise today that my love of the Impressionists (especially Monet) & Rodin stems from my first visits to Paris with my fiancée/husband Rob. I recall my first visit to the Pompidou, a vast chasm to traverse, and not being particularly keen on what I’d viewed, except for a fun Henry Moore sculpture on the roof. My feet were killing me, I was tired, hungry and grumpy, and I was led into a small annexe. My eyes fell upon the Impressionists and it was love at first sight, I was totally enchanted. I understood these “dotty” pictures of colour (Pointillism) and was transfixed by works of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro etc. My mood lifted immediately and I remained in the annexe for some time, taking it all in. Another place we visited was Rodin’s home now a museum, where I encountered his wonderful sculptures including The Thinker and The Kiss. Once again I was enthralled and couldn’t help but notice the distinct “classical” fundamental basis of Rodin’s work. The similarity to the art, architecture and sculpture I was studying at degree level with Classical Studies was uncanny. So the chance to see my French favourites within defined contexts was too good an opportunity to miss.

Stepping into the “Impressionists in London” I was surprised to discover the historical backdrop to their “exile”. In 1870 France unwisely declared war on Prussia, Napoleon deposed, three month siege of Paris, a popular uprising (Paris Commune) and a brutal government response. No wonder artists left in droves desperate to avoid the war, conscription, famine and political reprisals if you were deemed “on the wrong side”. Apparently and I quote “these artists faced no entrance restrictions: anyone, regardless of nationality, could come and stay indefinitely, including political exiles”. How different Britain approaches the idea of “refugees” today! My dismay at this thought mingled with the knowledge of the conflict backdrop, and I viewed the exhibition with a deep feeling of melancholy that I hadn’t expected. There were a few gruesome paintings depicting the ravages of war and some views (I think early photo’s) of a decimated Paris, which was very sad to see. These acted almost like picture bookends to the remainder of the exhibition which displayed portraits, scenic views and depictions of “society life”. I loved the paintings showing the countryside around London (Pissarro-The Avenue Sydenham 1871 & Saint Anne’s Church Kew 1892, Hampton Court Green 1891), the portraits (Tissot-Empress Eugenie & Prince Imperial 1874-75) and the elements of Victorian society life (Tissot-Hush 1875, London Visitors 1873, The Ball on Shipboard 1874). Of course London featured prominently as well particularly the Thames, Westminster and fog (or should I say smog from pollution). Monet’s House’s of Parliament series cover all these bases well and I also appreciated the lovely subtlety of Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Silver-Cremorne Lights 1872. I viewed these more endearing paintings with an added appreciation, having been made aware of the tumultuous circumstances that brought the artists to London in the first place.

The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot     The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot

The “Monet & Architecture” exhibition brought together paintings the artist made of   buildings in London, Venice and various parts of France. It was thrilling to view so many works that have rarely been seen, never mind all together. Although the Thames and the Venetian canals were well documented, other less well known delights were on display. I was captivated by the Cliffs at Varengeville 1875, The Ball-Shaped Tree Argenteuil 1876, Antibes, Morning 1888 and Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers 1874. All had that unmistakeable Monet “touch” of dancing colour and a wonderful play on the light. I much enjoyed seeing the architecture within the larger context of its more natural framework. It was somehow soothing and definitely was nourishment to the soul, especially in these dark politically troubled days in Britain.

Sailing Boat at Petit Gennevilliers 1874 Monet Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers

“Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece” was terrific and explained exactly WHY the Frenchman’s work had that “classic” feel. Throughout his life Rodin looked toward the ancient sculptures for inspiration, buying them from dealers, studying them and then making his own interpretation of the various forms. Suddenly all the headless torso models and limb fragments made sense, and the flow of movement and dynamics of form become easier to understand. Pallas With The Parthenon shows a beauty (Athena) the deity of sculpture seemingly wearing the Parthenon like a crown. The Age of Bronze looks incredibly lifelike and uncannily similar to an ancient Greek boy carrying a spear. Being able to view The Kiss and The Thinker up close and from various angles was a very moving experience. In fact seeing The Thinker in various sizes including a miniature version on the Gates of Hell, reinforced the idea of motifs being reused in various guises, just like on the Parthenon marbles. It also made you question the context in how you viewed a piece, as Rodin seemed to play with the emotion, gender and meaning of his classical muses. Seeing the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum clearly had a profound effect on Rodin, who until then had relied on photo’s and plaster copies at the Louvre as reference points. To see Rodin’s work alongside the classical masterpieces that inspired him was magical for me.

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin.jpg                                  The Thinker Rodin

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin               Two Thinkers Rodin

In 2017 I viewed an unexpected delight at the National Portrait Gallery The Encounter Drawings From Leonardo to Rembrandt. I thought I’d go along to see it as I’m a member of the NPG but had no great expectations. It was absolutely fantastic and I was somewhat awestruck. Here I was face to face with exquisite portraiture of extreme clarity produced with a deftness of touch that at times used nothing more than simple charcoal on paper. Pictures that were intimate, so delicate in form and nature (the oldest artist was born around 1394) that I marvelled they still existed. Paper was a relatively new and expensive medium to use during the artists lifetimes, and it was prepared with washes to produce different effects, before charcoals, chalk and inks were used to draw the picture. I just couldn’t get over the idea I was viewing something created as much as 550 years ago (Study of a Young Man by Pisanello (c.1434-8). Mind-blowing is all I can say. I marvelled at two Metalpoint drawings Woman Wearing A Hood by Domenico Ghirlandaio (c1485-90) and Boy With Curly Hair by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1460). The latter one made me think of a photograph negative due to the way the paper had been prepared. It was near black but then the boys form seemed to come through in shafts of silver to beautiful effect. Young Man In A Hat, Probably A Self Portrait by Peter Oliver (c.1620) made me think of Shakespeare in style. And Young Man Wearing A Cloak by Francois Clouet (c.1560) and Francesco Salviati Young Man Looking to his Left (c.1540) were simply gorgeous with photographic type clarity.

Young Man Looking To His Left                        Under the Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Young Man Looking To His Left   Under The Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Finally the Hokusai beyond the Great Wave exhibition at the British Museum was possibly the most emotional and biggest highlight for me. I’ve known Under the Wave off Kanagawa commonly known as the Great Wave picture since I was nine years old, when I spotted it in an encyclopaedia section describing volcanoes/earthquakes and the possible after effects including tsunamis. The chance to see the real Great Wave picture was amazing and I viewed the exhibition twice. It was incredibly busy the first time, much quieter for the second which allowed me the chance to soak up the experience better. What overwhelmed me was the amazing intricacy of Hokusai’s work and that of Japanese woodblock art in general. After producing detailed drawings, these were painstakingly carved onto woodblocks, a different one for each main colour, and together the woodblocks would be used to print the overall picture. Eventually the woodblocks would wear out, the original picture form was usually destroyed during the carving process, and the mass produced product that sold for a nominal sum wasn’t usually of the highest quality. So the fact these pictures still exist in any number is quite miraculous. The nature, flora and fauna pictures were beautiful, the landscapes sublime, mesmerising and evocative, and then I came upon the Great Wave. Compared to my encyclopaedia motif (large postage stamp size) this was huge, and yet I found it oddly small for such a gargantuan iconic symbol. Of course I seen details I’d never noticed before, three boats not two, Mount Fuji so small in comparison to the stormy sea and monumental wave with fronds of foam. It appeared to emphasise how mother nature can destroy both her own creations as well as manmade ones.  As I stood taking in this iconic scene I was silent, aware of the beauty, intricate detail, simple colours and the powerful statement being made by this fragile artwork about our own tenuous hold on life, and the tears rolled down my face.

RSC Summer Party at the RA Summer Exhibition

The Royal Society of Chemistry summer party was held at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on July 20th this year. As my husband Rob is acting Head of the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences at Keele University, we had the pleasure of an invite to this select event. The dress code of “black tie and decorations!!!” meant we were dressed formally for the occasion, which turned out to be great fun. We were on our own most of the time amusing ourselves, but it was nice to bump into a handful of Rob’s science acquaintances as well.

Having been to see the Summer Exhibition before, Rob knew my tolerance/opinions of the art works involved can be limited to say the least. On entering the first room Rob said “I’ll be interested to see what you think of these”. He smiled as I looked around, drew breath and said as I eyed my first two pieces “I like these, I GET them”. I was looking at the Mick Moon pieces 95 At Sea and 97 Dusk, quirkily made I thought in muted colours with a simple yet beautifully expansive design due to the faintest of details. Then I spotted 88 Untitled (Violin) a massive piece of bold coloured acrylic on aluminium by Sir Michael Craig-Martin. This violin seemed bigger in size than a double bass and I thought “violin on steroids with a psychedelic dress sense”. I loved the colours and the clean elegant lines and it certainly grabbed the attention, as did the selling price of £120,000.

We managed to see about half of the exhibition because my attention was distracted by the lovely food buffet provided. Prosecco flowed all night and dainty canapés did the rounds first. As I was examining the artwork in another room I spotted someone with a small bowl of curry! That was it; culture was forgotten as I sought satisfaction in culinary appreciation instead. I unearthed small bowls of vegetable rice with succulent white fish, mini chicken and full sized vegetable kebabs, gorgeous herby prawns, walnut & apple salad and mini buckets of parsnip and sweet potato chips. These were devoured with vigour and thoroughly enjoyed by us; though I’m glad I didn’t come face to face with the duck/blue cheese dish someone waxed lyrical about as we left the venue.

Having had 3 glasses of Prosecco I switched to the delightful non-alcoholic elderflower and raspberry option and returned to the artwork. Unusually Rob stayed on the Prosecco though white/red wines were available too.  Further exploration of the exhibition yielded more praise than grumble from me and my all round favourite (from what I viewed) was 274 Heligan by Christine Woodward. A nicely sized acrylic piece of what seemed a beautiful garden (or mountain foliage) with gorgeous greens and yellow hues, with swathes of navy blue and light purples that are almost shimmering on a bright summer’s day. Positioned in the middle of a vast array of other pictures on the right wall of a room, my eyes alighted on it almost immediately and I was transfixed.  At £500 it seemed a bargain to me. Another stunner was 138 Calton Hill 3 by Jock McFadyen where an enormous moon hung over a small settlement on a hill, a scene I found very evocative and quite moving. Multiple classical references in 835 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (After Piranesi) by Emily Allchurch was extremely clever and 544 Yellow Mimosa, July 23 2015 by Donald Sultan simple colourful beauty. My attention was caught by the date which was my Mammy’s birthday.

Just as I came upon two lovely sculptures that appealed to me, a waitress appeared carrying a tray of desserts. This included dinky meringues, tiny mouth watering lemon sorbet cones and delightful milk chocolate lollipops with fudge and salt. Of course I had to try them all (more than once) as I closely studied the sculptures. 770 Venus De’ Medici by Yinka Shonibare was a good looking shapely fibreglass gal with an all over Dutch wax pattern (I thought tattoos but better class) and a hand-coloured globe head! I spotted the globe first as I adore anything with maps but was surprised to see it was attached to a female body. It was sort of radical yet establishment as well and I thought it was terrific, and by far the most expensive item that caught my eye at £162,000. 909 Living Doll by Cathie Pilkington was elegant, graceful and classy and made me think of the little mermaid in Copenhagen.

Whenever I’ve been to the Summer Exhibition before, I’ve made a tally of the items I’ve liked just for fun. This year notched up 35 pieces to catch my attention, ranging from £250 to £162,000, which together totalled £784,195. And I only viewed a fraction of the displays, so I wonder if my appreciation of art is increasing?

In closing this was a lovely evening and I’ve enjoyed revisiting my favourites online where all the display pieces can be viewed at http://www.roy.ac/Explore, until at least 20th August.

              Enjoying RSC summer party at Royal Academy

 

The American Dream Pop to the Present Exhibition

This exhibition held at London’s British Museum contains prints from the Pop Art 60s euphoric period, up to today’s offerings which seem to reflect more dark and disturbing times.

I loved the vibrant colours exuded from the Pop Art works that reflected a somewhat enhanced version of real life, and portrayed issues such as Hollywood (Andy Warhol “Marilyn” 1967), consumerism and political subversion. Two colossal displays of shimmering colour immortalised two main aspects of 60s America pre-occupation, the space race and Vietnam. Robert Rauschenberg’s “Sky Garden” (1969) showing a Saturn V5 rocket to the moon with surrounding symbology such as Aldrin’s footprint, was clearly influenced by the American space program. The depiction of a huge weapon used in Vietnam incorporated a mix of images, involving war horrors and an idealised sense of utopia for the everyday American lifestyle. It seems the confused moral issue here was perpetuating the myth that the US lifestyle was somehow perfect, whilst the government was trying to obliterate Vietnam! Another example of this underlying political subversion within art could be seen in the hilarious depiction of President Johnson and Chairman Mao as drag queens (Jim Dine “Drag-“Johnson and Mao” 1967), especially when it emphasised the uncanny facial similarities between the two men.

A small room within the exhibition screened video of the times in American history, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Obama, with depictions of an idealised family life with all mod cons, Vietnam protests etc. These were juxtaposed with examples of art work from the exhibition displayed on another wall. I was intrigued by a Luther King speech accompanied by a beautiful Negro silhouette head and what I thought was an oddly placed but pretty cage (Kara Walker “Restraint” 2009). The cage turned out to be a form of punishment used on slaves that prevented them from talking, swallowing or sleeping, not so pretty after all.

Jasper Johns” Flags” 1973 print of two vivid American flags hung side by side had a surprising tonal grey graphite version as well. Whilst made in 1973, the darker one seemed much more contemporary and oddly prophetic considering America today. As my husband and I moved through the exhibition we both felt that the displays became far more abstract, dark and quite disturbing.  Meaning became more obscure and despondency came over both of us that hadn’t been evident at the start. As I observed several geometric prints in the latter modern section, I deliberately quelled the voice in my head saying “ok it’s a square so what? A five year old could do that”. Instead I tried to interpret what the artist was trying to convey with the black outline of a shape with white interior. Could it be symbolically depicting conformity in society with no heart or soul, or a stark emptiness despite the bold solid looking exterior!

I’ve always said that America lost its innocence with the Kennedy assassinations. The process began with the JFK murder in 1963 and ended with the loss of King and RFK in 1968. The country has yet to recover from this assault on its national psyche. A more cynical, less trustful and hopeful nation took its place. Obama’s inauguration seemed to offer a ray of hopeful optimism that sadly did not deliver. Now the world watches as the days of President Trump take hold. This exhibition for me conveys that lost 60s exuberance and belief in a bright future and catalogues the journey toward today’s unknown and worryingly dark times.

The American Dream   Exhibition

A Year of Firsts In 2016

I managed to achieve a few personal “firsts” in 2016 which I feel should be acknowledged, and it all began in January at the Burns Night Supper, where I recited two poems in public for the first time ever. I felt a nice sense of accomplishment after that. You can hear my efforts from both 2016 and 2017 Suppers here:

https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/burns-2016-robert-burns-mcgonagall-to-a-mouse

https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/burns-2017-address-to-a-veggis-haggis-to-a-daisy-to-a-louse

On a regular basis I attend exhibitions but I NEVER thought I would witness the technology that effectively began the space race. Seeing the “Cosmonauts Birth of a Space Age” in the Science Museum London was incredible. Viewing Sputnik, hearing the signal she sent and seeing all that pioneering technology and reading about the history was amazing. That was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. I also managed to see the 175 Faces of Chemistry exhibition at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Here I had the surreal experience of knowing about six of the faces through Rob’s work as a chemistry lecturer. But my “first” was considering one of them a good friend who is still only in the “first phase” of her career. Dr Suze Kundu has achieved so much for her tender years and I’m sure will continue to fly high. I felt quietly proud of knowing this clever young woman who I first met as a bubbly PhD student at the Aberdeen Science Festival 2012.

During the spring I saw The Three Degrees perform at the Crewe Lyceum Theatre for the first and probably only time. Although I’ve attended many concerts and theatre shows, I never cease to marvel at seeing acts I’ve known about since childhood. I still pinch myself at the wonder of it. The Three Degrees were as beautifully attired as I remembered, with vocals as wonderful as ever, and a real class act. At the same theatre in the autumn I witnessed a Q&A with Dame Joan Collins a style of show I hadn’t seen before, although I had seen Joan do pantomime a few years ago.

Toward the end of the football season 2015/16 I decided to get into “pre-season” training immediately. I had thought of doing it before but dismissed the idea fairly quickly. But doing football commentary from the top end of the main stand at Gresty Road needs stamina, and a three month layoff is no good for the body at the start of a new campaign. So I began a proper exercise routine the day after Crewe Alexandra’s last home match. With the aid of a few home exercise DVDs’ I devised my own workout sequence and kept at it, even when I discovered muscles I didn’t know existed and found general movement (especially sitting down/getting up) difficult. Gradually the shock left my system and come August I bounded up the main stand stairs like Rocky in the film. It was with great restraint I didn’t throw my arms aloft and start dancing around. But I did emulate Rocky inside my head which felt good.

The big sensation of the summer was the Pokémon Go craze and Rob jumped on board within a few short weeks. It got him into exercise as well because walks were suddenly on the agenda and I joined the Pokémon bandwagon the third week of August. I had never done any kind of real computer gaming before, and my coordination is such I don’t use the phone much whilst walking, as something is bound to come a cropper. So I learned a new game and by doing so vastly improved my general coordination. And a bonus is the wonderful sunrises, sunsets and morning/evening birdsong I’ve enjoyed witnessing so much. For a while the walks replaced the workout sessions, although I’m trying to mix the two together now, because each has its place. The added bonus to all this activity is I’ve managed to shave a number of inches and pounds off my frame as well.

Captured on Camera Keele Squirrel
                                Captured on Camera Keele Squirrel

I finally got around to visiting the observatory for the first time, to witness the transit of Mercury in May, a few months short of my 25th Keele arrival anniversary. The observatory was always somewhere I was going to visit but never got round to it. Another Keele first was finally getting a really good photo of the areas main resident, the grey squirrel. Armed with a new digital camera with a huge optical zoom, I at last captured decent images of these distinct Keelites. I’m also working on some bird photography too.

Little Robin Redbreast
               Little Robin Redbreast

Last year was particularly good for moon watching and I can hardly believe I’ve got images which make me think of films from the lunar landings. It was the first time I had ever considered turning my camera toward the moon, but I’m so glad I got the idea.

Super Moon
                                                           Super Moon

In November I had the pleasure of being a volunteer at the local Fenton Manor Sports Complex. My first time ever at a table tennis event, and it was an international European qualifier match England v Greece. I know absolutely nothing about the game but learned quickly as I undertook my duties as a “live scorer”. England was victorious after a nail biting tie-break set and as we wrapped up the evening, I discovered that 600 had been in the venue and 2.2 million had watched on Bible Sport!! Next day I Googled the site and came across footage of the match (with me in it from a distance), and managed to glean some screen shots for the photo album, another first from the experience.

I’ve always felt privileged to have seen Torvill & Dean perform their Olympic winning routine Bolero after they turned professional and went on tour. I didn’t think I would see another Olympic performance again. But at the London International Horse Show at Olympia I witnessed Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro perform their Gold medal routine from London 2012. I didn’t see it at the time nor afterwards. What an honour to see this pair perform together for one last time to say goodbye. My first ever equine Olympic experience was simply sublime to witness and a glorious way to end my year of “firsts”.

Valegro's Last Performance
                                 Valegro’s Last Performance
Goodbye Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro
                        Goodbye Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro

One Woman, One Man in War

The woman referred to is Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt the First Lady of the United States during World War Two, and the man referred to is Simon Weston badly injured in the Falklands War. During an overnight visit to London, I became even more aware of the stories involving these two people caught up in two separate wars forty years apart.

Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt

In the small intimate setting of The Kings Head Pub Theatre, I attended the last performance of the one woman play Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Actress Alison Skilbeck had crafted this dramatic story having had access to Eleanor Roosevelt’s diaries. She performed all the characters within the play (including Churchill and The Queen Mother) with minimal props, but with an uncanny accuracy in accents.

The premise to the plot involves an elderly Eleanor living in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As she laments the possible end to peace, and even the world, the audience are taken back in time to the former First Lady’s visit to war-torn London in October of 1942. Through flashbacks we learn about her tour around Great Britain, meeting dignitaries, attending formal functions on behalf of President Franklin D Roosevelt, and visiting US troops and ordinary British people. We also learn in part something about the private person, and how a traumatic childhood and a husband prone to infidelity had shaped Eleanor as a woman. It was fascinating to watch the play and I came to have a deep respect for Mrs Roosevelt, and all that she had tried to achieve.

Until seeing this play my only real reference point for Mrs Roosevelt in recent times was from the film Hyde Park on Hudson. A peripheral character in this movie, I got the distinct feeling that Eleanor was a somewhat cold, unfeeling, distant and slightly eccentric character “full of causes”. The President’s infidelity wasn’t glossed over, but you couldn’t help feel that he had good reason to wander!! However, having seen this play I can well understand why Eleanor devoted herself to causes, and perhaps seemed a bit distant at times. She had offered to divorce Franklin on discovering his first affair, but had been told that wasn’t an option as it wouldn’t be good for his political career. So Eleanor was effectively trapped by the necessity of keeping up appearances, and as a way of coping threw herself into campaigns not particularly fashionable at the time.

Eleanor Roosevelt championed women’s rights and the rights of black people in the US long before it was a common cause. And on her visit to Great Britain she insisted on seeing for herself how the ordinary man/woman/child coped and dealt with the effects of war. The First Lady’s itinerary included visits to factories, land girls tilling the fields, bombed streets, air-raid shelters, docks, WRVS and many other places the length and breadth of the country. Far from the cold and unfeeling character I thought Mrs Roosevelt was, I came away with a sense of someone with a tremendous empathy for those less fortunate. I was particularly struck by a small part in the play, when the First Lady speaks of the horror of witnessing bombed out streets. Her thoughts went along the lines of “although these houses were probably no more than slum dwellings (a civic wrong in itself), they were home for these people. Now they have nothing at all”. Compare that to what the Queen Mother said when Buckingham Palace suffered minor damage from a bomb blast, “glad of it, now we can look the East End in the face”. I was far more moved and affected by the consciousness from Eleanor Roosevelt than the pretentious uttering from our Royal family.

Aware of being someone of privilege, Eleanor Roosevelt strived to put her status to some good use by shining a light onto issues and concerns affecting those less well off, and using that status to try and change things. Only a First Lady could attempt to bring the issue of “wrong socks” for US troops, or black servicemen pay and conditions, to the attention of the US Army General. Through her speeches, news articles and publications Mrs Roosevelt brought many issues into the public domain.

After the war ended Eleanor became the chairwoman for the Commission of Human Rights and its inception, and announced the template for the Commission in 1948. She also became the US ambassador at the United Nations. Now as the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened to envelop the Western World, an obviously dying Mrs Roosevelt wondered aloud had she done any good during World War Two, and had she tried enough to make a difference. I think the answer is an unequivocal YES.

Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Image credit offwestend.com
Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Image credit offwestend.com

Simon Weston

The day after seeing Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London I went to the National Portrait Gallery, with the express intention of seeing the David Bailey Stardust photo exhibition AND taking a look at the new People’s Portrait of Simon Weston. Last year a competition was held to find a portrait sitter elected by the general public; (a first for the NPG); and Simon won the accolade. Probably he’d be the first to admit a wish that the circumstances which brought his likeness to canvas had not happened.

In 1982 during the Falklands Conflict Simon Weston suffered 46% burns to his body, when the ship Sir Galahad was bombed by the Argentineans. Miraculously Simon survived his ordeal but many of his comrades perished. Over the years Simon has been a tireless fund raiser for charity, and his badly scarred face has become a familiar sight on TV.

The artist chosen for the People’s Portrait was Nicola Jane Philipps, who I believe did a superb portrait of Prince William & Prince Harry a few years ago. I liked the royal picture very much so I was intrigued to see how Nicola would portray Simon. On setting eyes on the newly commissioned portrait I was not disappointed. I found the simple and yet powerfully styled setting with muted colours and soft lines very appealing.

In the portrait Simon is holding his medals, standing behind a chair that has a soldier’s beret sitting on it. Simon’s badly damaged hands are prominent holding the medals, a symbol of his (and other soldiers) courage and bravery. The beret on an otherwise empty seat is a tribute to those who have passed. The standing position of Simon could be interpreted as “standing for justice and fairness to all”, or as a position of strength I suppose. Dressed in a simple open necked shirt and jacket, rather than the pomp and circumstance of a full military uniform, Simon is shown as an ordinary humble man. The one thing in the portrait that I couldn’t take my eyes off were Simon’s eyes, which had a depth of colour and clarity to them that mesmerised me. The distinctive line and the striking blue colour of the eyes stood out from the fudged framework of earthy shades. The only other sign of bold colour in the portrait came from the patriotic medal ribbons (red, blue and white).

You could say that Simon Weston having endured horrific burns to almost half his body is aesthetically half the man he was, when he embarked on a ship bound for the Falkland Islands. But having survived that extraordinary experience, those eyes tell you that Simon Weston today is twice the man he was before.

People's Portrait Simon Weston. Image credit Nicola Jane Philipps
People’s Portrait Simon Weston. Image credit Nicola Jane Philipps