Sculptor Emily Young

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

My favourite retreat in St. James’s at the moment is the Southwood Garden next to St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, because Emily Young’s sculptures are there, until January 2018.  The garden is always deep shady green and restful, but now it is framed by silent stone heads with flowing hair, and they look as old as eternity and, in their striated colouring, as alive and warm as the next hand you will hold.  The very striations in the stones tell their ancient age as well as the potent energy they seem to contain.

And there is colour, so much colour, just as there once was on the statues of the the Aparthenon:  green and white brecchiated onyx, blue purbeck marble, white and coppery clastic igneous.  Every time I climb the steps to the garden, I feel drawn to the Rouge de Vitrolles Head, made of rich red-orange rouge de vitrolles stone.  This one has no hair and the littlest of ears and closed eyes, and, in contrast to its glowing smoothness, a large beige indentation in its forehead that reveals what the stone probably looked like when Emily first found it.

http://www.bowmansculpture.com/exhibition/emily-young-at-st-james-piccadilly/104b?title=rouge-de-vitrolles-head

All of Emily Young’s stone heads have such apparently unfinished bits, parts of the sculptures that, in an uncanny way, revel in what might be called their imperfections — like a face with massive scar or birthmark — and at the same time disclose the majesty of impersonal rock and how well it hides its inner secrets, its colours and crystals and cavities.  Emily has said that she will sometimes buy twenty pieces of stone in an Italian quarry “because they wave at me, saying, ‘Hey, I’m really beautiful’ or ‘I’ve got lots of moss growing on me and nobody knows what’s inside me.'”

Working with hammers, chisels and power tools in her London studio or Santa Croce one (in a disused hillside convent), Emily then investigates:  “I may open in one knock something that took millions of years to form:  dusts settling, water dripping, forces pushing, minerals growing — material and geological revelations:  the story of time on earth shows here, sometimes startling, always beautiful.”

Born in 1951, Emily has been declared by the Financial Times to be “Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor”.   Her grandmother Kathleen Scott, who sculpted in clay, was famously a colleague of Rodin, and Kathleen famously was the widow of Captain Robert Scott who died exploring Antartica.  It was Emily’s wide travels in the 1960s and 70s, after Chelsea Art School and Central St. Martins, that inspired her to give up painting and sculpt stone from around the world.  The 1960s also saw her meeting Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, leading to his writing, “See Emily Play”.

All that fame aside, none of Emily’s stone heads are of recognisable individuals and they never will be.  “I don’t want to make stone my servant”, she has said, distancing herself from the sculptors of the past who subordinated their work’s earthly matter to the lives they were meant to commemorate.  For Emily, the stone sculpture should instead commemorate time and our planet.  Her angel heads are messengers to man, telling us how precious the earth is and how we ought to be far better caretakers.

Emily Young’s statues can be found all over London and Europe, but one that cannot be easily seen is The Weeping Guardian, a twelve-tonne piece of carved Carrara marble that has been laid eight metres down on the sea floor off the coast of Tuscany, at Talamore.  It is one of 25 pieces of stone being put there to prevent the illegal dragnet trawling that empties the sea floor of so much vital marine life.

 

Harland Miller

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

Fill giant white walls with bright colours and big words on painted book covers and I’m hooked.  Like most people, I’ve probably come across Harland Miller’s work in the past but paid more attention to the faux Penguin book titles than the artist’s name.  But then Miller has also liked to style himself as “International Lonely Guy” and that man we all know well.  

The White Cube’s current exhibition of Harland Miller’s work, One Bar Electric, on until 9 September, contains more paintings of giant book covers with clever titles.  Some of the most interesting and, dare I say beautiful, use just one word so that the type itself and the shape of the letters becomes paramount.  I especially liked Up, Pot and Ace, how the letters seemed to change into other letters briefly and then revert back to a solid word, if any word can be solid.  I probably liked even more the vague contemplation of what Up, Pot and Ace might be about.

Born in 1964 in Yorkshire  and now with a studio in south London’s Bermondsey, Miller spent much of the 1980s and 90s in New York, New Orleans and Berlin.  He’s written a novel, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty (2000), about a young man who travels around northeast England with a David Bowie inpersonator, and a novella, First I was Afraid, I was Petrified (2001), about OCD, inspired by coming across a box of photos of the knobs of a cooker on “off”.  In 2001 he found himself in Paris needing things to read and could only afford second-hand Penguins, so he bought a stack, and those book covers gave rise to Miller’s breakthrough moment as an artist.

For with book covers, he saw a way he could paint words onto his paintings and it looked to him like they really belonged there.   His work does recall other word painters like Ed Ruscha, famous for Oof and Music from the Balconies or Mel Bochner’s fabulous kinds of Blah, blah, blah.  But those artists don’t use book covers and book covers change everything, suggesting an infinite unknown that is paradoxically digestible and, certainly in the case of Miller’s covers, much more limited than it seems to be trying to be.

Miller’s covers aren’t clean and neat, but they once were, especially those that look like self-help style psychology books of the 1960s and 70s with geometric designs.  Where the covers were once white they are now grey, or yellowy grey, and, despite all the strong lines and colours of the book title and design, the bottom of the paintings look a drippy mess. Think very rainy, cold England day when the book in the bag got wet, and you pulled it out in a warm cafe over a mug of tea and began carefully to turn the dampened pages.   That’s what the dripping is supposed to evoke, but then it might suggest all kinds of wonderful creative chaos that underlies many a neat and tidy product.   Some covers in the current exhibition are a positive painterly mess as if the book stayed in a puddle for a week, like Thought after Filthy Thought and In Shadows I Boogie.

Miller’s book covers, or paintings of book covers, are funny in a wry, smart sort of way:  I’m so Fucking Hard, by Ernest Hemingway, Tonight we make History (I can’t be there), Death — What’s in it for me?  From the current exhibition, I especially like Reverse Psychology Isn’t WorkingImmediate Relief . . . Coming Soon, The Future — You Might Not Like It Now . . . But You Will, and the pair, Why Breathe In? and Why Breathe Out?  The need to laugh out loud is just there in an exhibition of Miller’s work, but sometimes that’s not easy in an art gallery.  Go ahead, see the exhibition and do it anyway, or come on my tour and we can laugh together.  The world needs a lot more laughter at paintings, with paintings and in galleries.   

 

 

 

 

Richard and Maria Cosway

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

 The story of the London public’s initial exposures to art is a crazy, odd one that I’m still exploring, and on this exploration I’ve come across an intriguing artistic couple, Richard Cosway (1742-1821) and Maria Cosway (1760-1838).  Richard Cosway was Britain’s first and one-and-only superstar celebrity miniaturist.  He was considered an overdressed “Macaroni”, and could be often sighted in a scarlet coat, gold-laced waistcoat and cocked hat.  His wife Maria, eighteen years his junior and beyond brilliant at multi-tasking, could paint lovely miniatures and was also a fine composer, singer, top-flight society hostess and, perhaps most importantly, she was a keen promoter of women’s education.  She also perhaps had an affair with Thomas Jefferson when she was married to Richard Cosway.

 

 

 

In the 1780s, the Cosways lived in Schomberg House on Pall Mall next door to Thomas Gainsborough, a few doors down from James Christie’s new auction house.  They moved in when a sexual therapy establishment known as the Temple of Hymen moved out, and the Cosways seem to have only relished the cachet conferred on the address by the Temple.  For no sooner had they moved in with all their paintings and tapestries, and no sooner had Richard resumed his routine of staring at 12 to 14 sitters a day at half-hour intervals and painting their delicate features onto small ivory pieces with watercolour blues, then Maria started giving the best parties in London.  

 

 

 

 

These highly musical affairs were on Sunday nights, and they are actually said to have caused London’s first traffic jams, thanks to all the sedan chairs and carriages blocking Pall Mall.  Maria would sing on these evenings and often she hired other singers and musicians to accompany her.  The Prince of Wales (the future George IV) was a regular attender, and many suspected that Richard Cosway was actually hoping the Prince might himself begin an affair with Maria because Richard might benefit financially from such an arrangement.   Richard did serve as the Prince of Wales’s court painter and painted the prince’s own image more than forty times.

 

 

 

 

Richard’s exquisite combination of a stipple technique on the heads of his sitters and freeflowing brushstrokes on their clothes and the background make his miniatures still appear so stunning today.  The eyes of his sitters are slightly enlarged as well.  Some of Cosway’s miniatures are on display in the National Portrait Gallery as well, but they are not at present well lit.  Fortunately Philip Mould collects Cosway’s miniatures and his gallery is on Pall Mall, so there is a decent chance of seeing a Cosway miniature on my Pall Mall Art Tour.  

Retail Love

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

Last Friday I was in Jermyn Street earlier than usual because, rather than arriving in time   for the late afternoon tours of the street I have recently started giving, I had an appointment to take a tour with the archivist of Fortnum and Mason, Dr. Andrea Tanner.  I wound up learning more than I expected from this tour, not just about Fortnum and Mason, but about a commitment to retail that verges on an inspiring love.  

After covering the store’s three hundred years of history, Dr. Tanner proceeded to show me around every floor and demonstrate an astonishing knowledge of the latest products on offer along with histories of most departments.  Her passion for retail was inspiring largely because it was very much based in human stories, in individual designers who were creating Fortnum and Mason’s hats or particular groups of mothers who loved Fortnum and Mason’s tea-tasting parties.  When I awkwardly asked what she thought about the fact that some of the enticing foods were rather expensive, she did not disagree but pointed out that the jam near us was selling for under £4.  

In turn, I couldn’t disagree that there was something for everyone on most of those floors, even if that something might be simply soaking up the atmosphere.  That afternoon, I was left with a lot of longing, and not just for some rare China tea and vodka-flavoured marmalade to be tasted while wearing a black and white feathered hat tilted winningly.  I longed more than ever to know more about the exquisite products on sale in so many of Jermyn Street’s shops.  Indeed, I now think I feel the need to acquire this better appreciation almost as a duty to the street that gives our theatre a home. 

TrumperOutside

As Jermyn Street Theatre’s representative, I have been hoping for over a year to find many means to unite the history of the street’s inhabitants with the individual histories that surround its shops, restaurants, art galleries and beautiful church.  My tour is a start, and it, of course, has required that something or other be said about what type of goat cheese is on sale at Paxton and Whitfield or what fedoras at Bates.  Yet last Friday, as I found myself lingering in Floris in the midst of giving the tour, I felt a certain weight of responsibility added to the urge to pick up one of the beautifully wrapped perfumes and explain its ingredients, trace its origins to the European monarch who paid for its creation and name the bygone celebrities who loved it.  The spray of one scent calls forth all of these very human stories just as it elicits desire itself.   For the deep past tangibly lives in so many of the products we can smell, taste or hold in our hands on Jermyn Street. 

There are people, as we know, who never think of walking down the street because they imagine its products on sale to be all too pricey or, perhaps, just too male.  Yet those same people might happily admire the objets d’art in the British Museum or V&A.  Would that they understood the wealth on offer to hungering eyes and ears in a retail atmosphere that is welcoming, personal and, above all, kind.  These are stories of craftsmanship and its highest ideals, as one visit to the shoe workshop above Foster and Son makes plain.  The street’s salesmen and women are doing much more than selling, and their presence demonstrates a concern for values that can never be easily measured on a spreadsheet.  In some sense, they are all the best archivists, selling a living past in the form of products whose high currency needs no apologies for its price tag.  

This Tour Guide Can’t Stop Researching

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

I am really delighted and excited at present, and a little overwhelmed, because this odd street tour of mine is becoming ever so surely a grand passion.  I just feel it.  I’ve given three tours now of Jermyn Street, each one so different, and none of them allowing time to say all that I’ve learned, each one throwing up new questions that demand answering — if not this week then next, or next month, or when I can find time to get into an archive and surround myself with wrinkly paper.  That monk-like existence is the one I’ve known for so much of my life, and for many years that merely meant being home surrounded by books, aware that the kids would need to be collected from school soon.  Of late I have been so busy promoting the tour that I’ve missed my books and burying myself in some archive or other.  I missed people a lot in that old life, but the surprise to me now is that I actually miss doing the research and I must get back to it or go a little mad.

Fortunately, The Jermyn Street Experience has got me wondering about so many things that I need no further excuse to retreat to my study.  Top on the list is to learn more about Beau Brummell.  I stand by that gorgeous statue at the front of the Piccadilly Arcade and I start to rattle off the familiar and not so familiar facts, yet feel forever as if the Beau is escaping me, much as he escaped England in 1816 under a cloud of debt.  He died decades later of tertiary syphilis, leaving a nation to shake its head over his mistakes and miscalculations, but really everyone just missed him, much as they missed Byron, similar stars who appeared at times too bright for their native spheres.  To conjure up the magic of a man like Brummell in a few sentences can seem at times, well, an act of magic, and I long to be more familiar with the details of tying a Regency tie as much as as I want to know about his lovers and pursuit of love.

Then there is the interesting riddle of Aleister Crowley:  magician, mountaineer, philosopher, occultist.  Aleister CrowleyI only learned this week that the man lived on Jermyn Street above Paxton and Whitfield’s cheese shop, which during the war had become a grocer.  Here was one of the most controversial Brits of the twentieth century, called a wicket “Satanist” in the press, hearing the bells of St. James’s and enjoying the battling aromas of the various fruits and vegetables as he entered his lodgings daily.  Here he was, continuing to write and publish on magic while a stone’s throw from the shops and clubs frequented by some of the most powerful men in the land.  Perhaps he was still involved in some kind of espionage, as some of his biographers have speculated.

There’s also more to learn about the Duke of Marlborough and his Battle of Blenheim; about Thomas Gray and his poetry; about Walter Scott and his last years.  The story of Rosa Lewis is likewise not easy to sum up in a paragraph, yet somehow I find I leave people smiling when I say what I do know.  The mixture of wealth and poverty on the street is becoming a recurrent theme, and yet, to many upon entering and looking through the shop windows, Jermyn Street can seem solely the preserve of the better off.  

The individual shops tell a much different tale:  one of skilled and dedicated craftsmanship developed over more than a century, especially in the case of shops like Turnbull and Asser or Floris or Foster and Son.  These privately-owned businesses where long-term employees take pride in knowing their talents are appreciated has produced a quality in dress and adornment that the world has long respected.  Taking notes while I listen to their tales, I am only beginning to grasp the fine detail.  Yes, I am very happy to be here on Jermyn Street, eager to learn more from everyone and celebrate the stories of the shops and their workers as much as the great personalities who, in many cases, boarded above those shops.  

Sometimes I feel as if I could tell so much of the history of England’s last 350 years simply by telling the history of this one street — but that’s a crazy idea.  It can only be a slice of English life, yet it is a rich, colourful and sumptuous slice of that life, and it’s still going on, still beautiful and challenging and fluctuating.  Keeping the past present is what Jermyn Street is all about, and, I guess, it’s what The Jermyn Street Experience is about.  If you are free some Friday afternoon before 4 pm and find yourself near Piccadilly Circus, turn that corner into Jermyn Street and wait for me outside the theatre.  Or if that day and time won’t do, ask me for a private tour and I’ll see if I can arrange it.  I want to share this very special experience of a street with as many people as possible.

 

Jermyn Street History

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

I have this idea — not original, not new, but still, an idea that feels so deeply my own that I can’t shake it and have to act on it.  Yet I’ve had the idea for over eight months and am only now getting around to clearing the decks and saying to myself, “It matters enough to you to do this and do little but this until it’s done.”  So, yeah, I guess there’s a been a real ambivalence, a sort of sheepishness about putting it and myself forward.  But here it goes. 

I have to tell the story of one street in London, Jermyn Street.  It’s not a long street and it’s not by London standards a very old street.  We’re talking late seventeenth century, 1680s roughly.  But when it came to life, it did so fairly quickly, again, by London standards.  I suddenly had a vision of Main Street in a Wilde West town, built over night with shoot-outs at noon the next day.  No, nothing like that for Jermyn Street.  The street let itself be filled by those seeking to serve the slightest needs, desires and whims of the wealthy, be they members of Court or the aristocracy who began to populate the grand houses of St James’s Square.  The finest wines, the best cigars, the sweetest perfumes could be found on Jermyn Street, and hotels sprung up for those who couldn’t get enough of the ambience of the place.  Sir Christopher Wren designed its beautiful church and, uniquely for Wren in London, had the land space to design it exactly as he wished without being cramped by neighbouring properties.  There were prostitutes round the corner on Bury Street, and the enviable doings of the Court and the gentlemen’s clubs nearby, and, as the centuries passed, all this activity resulted in Jermyn Street acquiring an interesting cachet.

Along with all the shirt shops and shoe shops and hatters, the street drew to it Turkish baths and entertainers, hotels, cigar shops, perfumeries, art dealers, restaurants, and, most important of all for me but so often forgotten by Jermyn Street’s frequenters — a theatre.  As part of my work for Jermyn Street Theatre, I am digging up and integrating all this history into a series of talks on the street that I am hoping to give to anyone willing to listen in the near future.  A lot of famous people have had sex on this street (including many of the bibulous guests of Rosa Lewis’s Cavendish Hotel)– or tried to (like Rock Hudson, before he was thrown own of the Savoy Baths in 1952); slept on this street (like Isaac Newton and Walter Scott); and many have died on the street (including the 1930s crooner Al Bowlly from a 1941 German bomb).  And somehow, when the street becomes the focus of the tale, their lives serve as a kind of tribute to the evolving, open personality of the place.

Its great church, St. James’s, allows homeless people to sleep in its pews.  It is filled with fashionable mensware shops spouting the finest quality of clothing and accoutrements imaginable.  It can all feel very expensive and distant for those of us walking down the street with little or no money to spend.  Basically, you walk to admire but don’t feel you can walk in, really, or are a little reluctant to.  Working on this history, “working the street”, as it were, is helping me overcome that reluctance.  I walk into shops, have these odd little chats promoting our odd little theatre, and walk out, having enjoyed being for a few moments surrounded by shirts and ties of every design and colour arranged in the most satisfying manner possible.  Everyone is very kind.  And somehow the humanity and wide tolerance of the place that comes from its history comes through in these not-too-awkward moments.

To hear the whole story of the street, you’ll have to find a way to come to one of my talks, scheduled to begin in April 2014 on Friday afternoons (watch this space).  But suffice it to say for now that it all began with one Henry Jermyn, who may well have been the father of Charles II, and who was without doubt much beloved by Henrietta Maria.  Jermyn was the Queen’s closest companion, her stalwart during the Civil War and the Commonwealth, and he was rewarded well, with a huge grant of land from which he had carved out St. James’s Square and its surrounding streets.  Scandal had surrounded his name for years, but in the end he was fabulously wealthy and able to get Christopher Wren to build his grand church while he lived close by in suitably grand style.  Needless to say, the church became the most fashionable one in London with a congregation so well dressed that, in the eighteenth century, many attended services solely to see and be seen.  There’s nothing puritanical about this street, nothing dry or condemning, and, in knowing that, the fact that there’s a lot of beautiful stuff on sale that most of us cannot afford doesn’t seem to matter quite so much.  At least we can go in the shops, look at those costly goods, touch, taste, smell and admire many of them, delight in the atmosphere much as we might in a public art gallery — except that on Jermyn Street, there is this zing of exclusivity.  And we can feel, I guess, a little privileged, even a little blessed, for having simply walked in, out and around.

 

 

Pinter on too much communication

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

DUMB WAITER
Clive Wood as Ben and
Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

On Friday for the fifth time during this production run of Harold Pinter’s Dumb Waiter at The Print Room, I read my favourite bits from a speech Pinter delivered in 1962 in Bristol at the National Student Drama Festival, and I heard some wonderful woman grunt in agreement after the final sentence — which made me feel that supreme sensation of having shared something profound with strangers and it having hit home.  Then I forgot all about it as Director Jamie Glover and Clive Wood, who plays Ben, came on stage together with two members of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, and we were able to run an incredibly provocative half-hour discussion on the play.  IRA safehouses were mentioned, and how the terrorists had to be prevented from having any kind of human contact in order to carry out their mission.  The dumbwaiter as a kind of alimentary canal came up for discussion, along with the idea that the toilet and kitchen off to the side left rather unpleasant associations.  We got to Freud and the id and superego, as well as Ben’s complex state of mind, his contentment or lack thereof as he prepares to kill, and then farce, music hall sketches, comic timing, and 1950s jazz got a look in.  Clive thrilled me when he said that in rehearsal it became so obvious how every “a” and “the” in Pinter had precise importance and couldn’t be dropped.  We have to remember the man was a poet before he became a playwright.

But to return to that favourite quotation from that 1962 speech by Pinter . . .  when the post-show session was over, a man from the audience came over and asked me to repeat it because he hadn’t felt sufficiently alert when I read it and now he wanted to copy it down.  I gave him the second paragraph below, but I will add a previous paragragh here:

“There are two silences.  One is when no word is spoken.  The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed.  This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it.  That is its continual reference.  The speech we hear is an indication of what we don’t hear.  It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, shy, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place.  When true silence falls we are still left with echo but are nearer nakedness.  One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.

“We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase:  ‘Failure of communication’ . . . and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently.  I believe the contrary.  [Here is the bit I wish I could burn into my memory]  I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves.  Communication is too alarming.  To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening.  To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.”

Not to disclose any more of my own poverty, I think I’d better say no more, at least for today.

Geraldine Alexander’s new play, AMYGDALA

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

I have had a heady autumn dealing with four plays by four great male playwrights, two dead (Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter), two very much living (Steven Berkoff and David Pinner).  And now the season is closing with a play by a relatively unknown, new playwright, Geraldine Alexander, and I find myself more excited about this play than any of the others —

David Pinner and his Russian Plays

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

We had a good pre-show discussion with David Pinner at Getti on Wednesday night, and he pricked interest with comments that a few decades ago would have got people fairly worked up —  about Communists infiltrating the the Labour Party in the 1970s, about him not being able to produce his play on Stalin at the

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