Mac Conner: The Man who drew the American Dream…

April 5, 2015 Leave a comment

We went along to the House of Illustrations Gallery in Kings Cross on Good Friday to see a small exhibition of the work of the commercial artist most closely associated with Mad Men era New York.

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Macaulay (Mac) Conner was a Madison Avenue based illustrator whose work graced the pages of the many 1950’s and 60’s lifestyle magazines published throughout North America, a country swollen with pride and full of optimism for the future, where success, wealth and a perfect family life in the suburbs were the corner stones of the American Dream, readily available to everyone who read the articles and features that Conner’s work accompanied.

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And whilst we may look back at those times now as more divisive, with their conspicuous racism, latent sexism and rampant consumerism, in the simple terms of what Mac Conner was commissioned to illustrate, his ability to capture the very essence of those heady times is unquestionable…

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As with many exhibitions, the images accompanying this post, wonderful though they are, do not really do the originals justice. Almost all the paintings on show were produced using gouache on board, allowing Conner to paint faces and figures with a confidence and ability that is endlessly impressive.

Conner was also something of a stylist, using devices such as a limited use of mid tones for skin or a single block colour such as the green above or the purple below, to give the images greater presence.

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And in his own small way he was also a rebel. The restrictions imposed by commissioning editors were, as I understand it, if not draconian then certainly restricting and Conner’s inclusion of strong women, intimate positions (for the time) and black faces is certainly worthy of credit..

So an excellent little show and a marvelous insight into an era that we really only see these days, through the filters of the 21st Century.

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The Android Invasion: William Mitchell & Doctor Who…

April 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Don’t ask me why, but I started watching an old Doctor Who the other evening. I’d scanned the TV page looking for something to watch as I ate my tea, and as I read the title “The Andrid Invasion”, a vague recollection of a faceless, robot version of the lovely Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) popped into my head…

Elizabeth SladenDating from the mid 1970’s and starring my personal favorite Doctor, Tom Baker, it is to be honest, a rather shonky affair that probably would have been better left as a memory.

The acting, the sets, the story, the effects, all conspire to produce something so frighteningly low key (even for the 70’s) that I’m amazed we all watched these shows so avidly at the time. And as for the androids and their alien masters … men in white boiler suits and crash helmets with guns built into their pointing finger, and little trolls. Hmmm…

Anyway, about half an hour in I was just about to give up when what should the Doctor walk out from behind, but something that looked remarkably like a sculpture my friend Bill Mitchell might have made…

A couple of screen photos and an email to Bill and sure enough, a genuine Mitchell it turns out to be…

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Bill tells me this work dates from the early 1970’s and was created using his sand blasting technique to carve away at solid lumps of brickwork. It’s located at the Harwell Atomic Center near Oxford and at the time was a very hush hush commission for him, due to the nature of the atomic research and the secrecy of the Cold War. he sent me this photo he took after it was finished. Bill also did some work inside the building apparently, but that didn’t appear in the show…

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The building itself looks quite interesting to my eyes. Beautifully made precast concrete panels clad the walls and as for the cantilevered entrance canopy above, very stylish…

Bill tells me the commission came from the War Office, for whom he also did work at a “secret tank factory”. I think I’ll have to ask him to tell me more about that one..

Sadly like many of his external sculptural works from this period, Bill doesn’t know if it’s still there and from online aerial sites it’s difficult to tell, as the greenery has matured considerably since the BBC set up their cameras to film a man in a long scarf running past.

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Having looked at aerial photos trying to work out where Bill’s work might be on the campus, I couldn’t help but notice the massive, doughnut shaped building that goes by the intriguing name of The Diamond Light Source. And so the seed of another post is planted…

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Secret 7″. Still not good enough…

March 29, 2015 6 comments

Sadly my three submissions for this years competition have been rejected once again, which apart from being disappointing, is a bit of a shame as I’d tried to assess why last years efforts didn’t make it and do something more in keeping with those that got chosen, i.e. less photos, more colours, less realism, more graphics…

Maybe I shouldn’t feel too bad. There were over 4500 entries for the 700 sleeves available, which if you’re new to the excellent Secret 7″ project, equates to 100 separate, individual designs for each of their seven chosen songs. I also imagine that another 100 or so sleeves will be allocated to guests and invited artists submissions (which is totally fair enough btw) so the actual sleeves available for the rest of us is probably nearer 600.

Still as with last years, I really enjoyed making them, so I’ll probably give it another whirl next year… It’ll be interesting to see the exhibition at Somerset House in a couple of weeks time, see what I can learn this time around.. (which is probably that I will always be a year behind in terms of style…)

My submissions were a suitably psychedelic sleeve for Let Forever Be, by The Chemical Brothers: JA_Chemical Brothers_smlThe imprints of hammer blows for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer:

JA_Peter Gabriel_smlAnd the silhouette of a greyhound for Underworld’s Born Slippy…

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The Kensington Air Terminal…

March 18, 2015 3 comments

 

My And is currently reading a Miss Marple novel, one of the last ones that Agatha Christie wrote I think. Entitled At Bertram’s Hotel, it was published in the mid 1960’s and tells the tale of the now elderly (was she ever anything else…) detective’s stay in a swish London hotel, and the usual fatalities that seem to follow the redoubtable detective like a bad smell…

wlat-k65-108-aerial-view-1965I digress. The reason for this post is that in the story, reference is made to The Kensington Air Terminal… Intrigued, And went off to the internet to investigate and sure enough such a thing actually existed, moreover, it would seem that it is now almost totally forgotten..

Situated overlooking the Cromwell Road, on the site of what has been a Sainsbury’s since the 1980’s, and almost equidistant between The Albert Hall and Earls Court, was a group of buildings that together formed a direct link between Heathrow Airport and the city.

Before the rail link was completed in 1977, getting to Heathrow could be a time consuming business by all accounts. BEA (British European Airways) hit upon the idea of creating a central hub where travelers could check in and relax before being transported along with their baggage by luxury coaches to the airport proper, making good use of the recently opened M4 motorway.

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Cut away illustration of temporary terminal from The Illustrated London News

The first temporary two storey building (above) was completed in 1957 and proved so successful that a more permanent solution was soon being planned. Designed by Burnett, Tait & Partners, this new facility included additional parking (via some impressive circular access ramps) restaurants and retail opportunities, airport style waiting areas and departure gates, along with a residential tower above. It was finally opened in the early/ mid 1960’s to great fanfare and excitement…

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Sadly due to increasing security regulations, land prices and airline takeovers, the building was only in operation for around 15 years or so before being redeveloped by Sainsbury’s.

There is very little online about this intriguing building. The excellent post at The Library Time Machine by Dave Walker is where I found all of the images and much of the info.

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How the building (now known as Point West) Looks today

How the building (now known as Point West) Looks today

 

Exhibition of Mid Century Latin America Architecture…

March 6, 2015 2 comments

Arch Daily have just informed me of an exhibition which starts at the end of March. Unfortunately for me it’s at the MOMA in New York …

Entitled Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980, it sounds like something right up my street, full of idealistic 1960’s and 70’s designs, when imagination was only limited by the ability to which it could be drawn

These two images in particular caught my attention.

The first is from 1969 and is a magnificent proposal for a hotel at Machu Picchu, Peru by Miguel Rodrigo Mazuré. Having been lucky enough to visit Machu Picchu a few years ago, I can imagine where this was probably going to be located, on the slopes above Aquas Calientes, where the buses on the switchback road slowly take you up to the citadel and a sight that I will never, ever forget

As such my heart tells me that I’m quite pleased it wasn’t built. But my head absolutely loves it.. all those cantilevers and cable cars and funicular railways and dynamic concrete planes.. ohhh, yes please…

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This second image is slightly more conceptual in that it appears to have a record cutting lathe acting as a central civic hub of some form, with routes in and out being represented by oil refinery pipework.

It still looks bloody marvellous though…. I can’t find anything about this image from the exhibition blurb, but it looks a little bit like it’s sitting in the beautiful Peruvian valley of Cusco, so again, probably a good thing it never made it off the drawing board…

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So all in all, it looks like it could be a good exhibition, although unless it crosses the ocean, one I won’t get to see. I’ll have to find out if there’s a shiny and informative, fully illustrated book to accompany the exhibition (and let’s face it, there usually is..) and be satisfied with that…

My own small contribution to spreading the word of South American post war architecture was a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the Modernist Magazine, about the Argentinian Brutalist architect Clorinda Testa, whose work in Buenos Aires, I found particularity memorable and deserving of far greater recognition worldwide…

It’s the wrong sculpture and it’s gone wrong: The Fourth Plinth

March 6, 2015 2 comments

Shrigley435_0The public is always right.. except of course, when it’s wrong.

David Shrigley’s proposal for the Fourth Plinth was far superior in every way to the overly literal horse skeleton with its barely visible ticker tape nonsense unveiled by the Clown Prince himself yesterday.

Like the excellent big blue cock, Shrigley’s giant thumb had humour, panache and style, things that the city can never get enough of..

Hey ho, roll on next years competition…

Jesse Wong & Rouge @ Nambucca, Holloway

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

20150218_204847I was in Holloway this evening to see my friends eldest play his first solo gig.

Jesse Wong has been in several bands before (Major League and Rude Health to name but two) but was playing tonight unaccompanied.

An exceptionally talented young man with a voice that you just can’t forget, he is definitely a name to watch out for in the future. Having already been on tour as the bass player for Big Deal, to my ears it’s only a matter of time until he becomes a name in his own right…

The second band on were called Rouge and they were really quite something.

Think of a big guitar driven sound that encompasses Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins and you’ll get the idea. Brimming with enthusiasm, energy and ability they seemed to really enjoy their time on stage.

I must have seen many hundreds of bands at mid week gigs over the years but only a few have triggered that “Hmm they’ve got something special” feeling..

With any luck these girls will go far…

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As a small contribution to their hopefully inevitable success, I bought their new single as a hand made limited edition CD, and as Dan looked them up online in the pub to find out a bit more about them, I was well chuffed to find out that by chance I’d bought the exact same sleeve they used for their Facebook page.

Double plus good……

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