Bill Mitchell’s Wool Secretariat mural receives Nationally Listed Status.

January 24, 2016 1 comment

The listing announced last week of 41 postwar outdoor public sculptures was not only excellent news for the arts in general, but also for my friend Bill Mitchell whose wonderful bas relief “The Story of Wool” was amongst the works deemed worthy of official protection…

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And quite right too. I first wrote about this amazing piece back in April 2011 noting at that time how little I could find out about it online, I wasn’t even certain it still existed…

Jump forward 5 years and as the word continues to spread not only about our phenomenally rich post war artistic heritage, but also about the oeuvre of Mr. Mitchell himself, the number of sites and references to his work seems to be increasing at an exponential rate, which is obviously welcome news indeed….

Located in Ilkley, West Yorkshire the new headquarters building for the International Wool Secretariat was designed by local architect Richard Collick and opened in 1968. Bill was commissioned to create a work to wrap around the lecture theater which Collick had placed over the main entrance. Taking the themes of wool and textiles as a starting point, Bill created what is undoubtedly one of his finest works, and certainly one of my most favourites.

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Rich in detail and imagination with his trademark, deeply recessed and figured surfaces, it was one of the first sculptures Bill made using bronze-faced glassfibre, a material he was involved in developing during the mid 60’s and which he also used to impressive effect on his entrance doors for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral completed the year before in 1967.

The large abstracted ram motifs to the front and the stylised microscopic cross sections of wool fibres on the side, are tied together by layers of patterning and texture that take their inspiration from the many forms that knitted wool can be transformed into.

So huge congratulations to Bill, as his work continues to get the recognition it so richly deserves. I for one am very pleased to see his name alongside those of Epstein, Moore and Hepworth, great and gifted artists whose work has quite rightly been recognised as worthy of preserving for the enjoyment of future generations.

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Two likes in one…

January 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Mr Bowie in the Scottish new town of Cumbernauld in 1976… Not sure why he was there… doesn’t really matter now I suppose.. probably just doing his usual thing of looking effortlessly cool without even trying…

RIP to both the man and the megastructure…

Cumbernauld

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Tove Jansson’s Illustrations for The Hobbit.

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

18lv1dy7q3ph8jpgI came across something recently, that I had no idea existed… It was a collection of illustrations by a Finnish writer and illustrator for a Swedish edition of book by an English writer and illustrator…

Growing up, I was a huge fan of both Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll stories and J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of The Hobbit and in fact still have all of my old 1970’s editions on the shelves here, having dragged them around with me over the years.

So it comes as something of a surprise to find out that the two are so directly linked…

Originally commissioned in 1960, Jansson took the best part of two years to produce the illustrations, however upon publication of the book in 1962, her black and white drawings did not attract the universal acclaim that the publishers had hoped for.

Whilst many of the illustrations were regarded as successful interpretations of the story, there was criticism that Jansson had ignored much of the intricate and detailed descriptions that made Tolkien’s writing so beloved by so many.

For instance, think of Andy Serkis’s portrayal of Gollum in the recent Peter Jackson films, widely regarded as uncannily spot on, and compare that to this image of a not very skinny, and not very obviously something that once was a Hobbit…

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Similarly the figures in image below don’t really bring to mind the elegance, finesse and otherworldliness of the beautiful elven folk of Mirkwood…

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Still, the other images I’ve found are all rather wonderful, rich and evocative of the characters and story…. I’ll have to see if I can find an original copy for sale somewhere online, oh and learn to read Swedish as well…

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Facebook Challenge: 7 tracks, 7 days, 7 nominations: A snapshot of my friends’ musical histories

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

You may have heard about it, you may very well have participated, but over the last week/ 10 days or so, my friends and I have have been trawling through our memories in a quest to choose a track a day for seven days explaining why it is important and then nominating someone else to carry on the challenge…

I think it’s fair to say that we were all initially rather skeptical. None of us are really Facebook challenge type people, but we were each nominated by someone we knew and respected, and more to the point, it was all about music, and if there’s one thing boys can’t resist, it’s making lists of tunes to share and compare.. On reflection it’s all been really very enjoyable, and I for one am a little bit saddened now it’s done. I think Danny even called it cathartic in one of his posts…

As for the lists, Darren did his chronologically, Danny thought of a track that would appeal to or remind him of, his next nominee, Ralph is sticking to 135bpm+ Electro, Dermot chose some live performances from TV shows, Matt chose guitar based tracks (obvs), Ewa & Kieth seem to be just sticking to Pearl Jam (obvs again) and Sarah F has only just started, so her approach is not clear yet, but The Fall is a strong opener…

The link above is to my list on Spotify. I tried to capture a taste of each of the sounds and styles that have meant the most to me over the years: new wave, techno, electronica, drum and bass and yes, inevitably there’s a prog rock track in there… But it was difficult, and looking at the list now, I can’t believe whose not there, Underworld, Kraftwerk, Fila Brazillia, Soundgarden, Peace Division, Yello, LCD Soundsystem, The The… etc. etc. ad infinitum…

I’ve also made a playlist of my friends tracks. This is not exhaustive as not all the tunes chosen are available on Spotify. It’s also a work in progress and will need updating as the challenge progresses. But as a snapshot of what makes my closest friends tick, I think it’s wonderful. I didn’t know some of the tracks, I was this close to choosing one or two of them for my own list, and there are a couple that I wouldn’t have chosen in a million years…

But that’s not important. These records all mean something to the person that searched Youtube for the video, and as thankfully no one chose Coldplay, I’m very happy to share them all on my blog. As a random selection, they make for very eclectic and interesting listening.. (although if you’re of a nervous disposition, approach the Converge track with caution, cheers Matt…)

Musicless Videos….

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Short and sweet this one.

Its a simple idea and there are a fair few of them around, but these three amused me greatly this evening, especially the Jamiroquai one, I just love the squeaky shoes…

The Cenotaph by Edwin Lutyens: Entasis in Action…

November 15, 2015 Leave a comment

With this years Remembrance Service at The Cenotaph in central London being somewhat hijacked by the shamefully childish and pathetic (but sadly typical of the right wing press here in the UK) “how respectful was the bow” debacle, I thought it might be worth thinking about the actual monument itself, highlighting an aspect of its design of which you may not be aware…

Orighinal wood and plaster versionOriginally commissioned by the then prime minister David Lloyd George just two weeks before the London Victory Parade (or Peace Day Parade) planned for 19 July 1919, Sir Edwin Lutyens’ design was necessarily simple and quick. Famously taking only six hours from that initial meeting to acceptance of sketch proposals, the appointment of a suitable contractor followed within days, and a full size temporary timber and plaster structure was constructed in time for the event (see photo to the left).

It was the simplicity of the design, a 35ft (11m) high, unadorned stepped block with an empty tomb at it’s summit and wreaths and flags around the perimeter, that visitors found so moving. Everyone who saw the monument (and by all accounts that was millions over the summer months) was able to project their own feelings of loss and grief onto the clean, unadorned planes, resulting exactly a year later and after huge public pressure, in the unveiling of an exact replica in portland limestone…

Very few people however knew that this permanent version, was not in fact an exact replica. Lutyens had used the intervening months to refine his original ideas, and although not immediately visible to visitors, the principles of entasis were in full effect…

Drawing by Andrew CromptonEntasis is the “application of a convex curve to a surface for aesthetic purposes” which at The Cenotaph, results in no parallel verticals and no flat horizontals. The base in fact forms a small segment of an imaginary 900ft (275m) diameter sphere buried below Whitehall, whilst the sides of the monument taper inwards and upwards meeting at a point 1000ft (300m) above the street.

So why would Lutyens go to so much trouble? Firstly he was supposedly something of a Theosophist, that is someone who seeks to understand the mysteries of the universe in terms of both the human and the divine. One key tenet of this belief is that everything is part of an eternal cycle of birth, death and regeneration.

The curved bands of the Cenotaph’s base form part of such a circle, one that not only embraces us all, but whose center is rooted deep in the earth. At the same time the extended vertices of the upper block high in the air, create a direct connection between heaven and the grave.

Note also that the upper mass of the cenotaph could be seen to resemble the hilt of a sword. Andrew Crompton (whose article here fired my initial interest and from where the above drawing is borrowed) suggests that lines from Rudyard Kipling’s 1922 poem “The Kings Pilgrimage” (written two years after The Cenotaph was unveiled and after Kipling’s tour of the Cemeteries of Northern France) comes closest to capturing this aspect of the design…

And the last land he found, it was fair and level ground

About a carven stone

And a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross

Where high and low are one

This sentiment also links into the idea that Lutyens may have been influenced by that most English of heroic tales, King Arthur, with echoes of a hilt referencing Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur, whose magical powers and ownership came to define the rightful sovereignty of Britain. Looking at the photo below, there could be something in the sword iconography…

Or maybe it was more mundane than either of these two concepts. When asked to explain his use of entasis, Lutyens replied that it was for aesthetic reasons, explaining that “The difference is almost imperceptible yet sufficient to give (The Cenotaph) a sculpturesque quality and a life that cannot pertain to a rectangular block of stone”

I’ll leave you to make up your own mind as to whether one of this countries foremost and gifted architects was playing clever games or had deeper, more secret intentions….

Simon Stålenhag

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Another find by my good friend Mr. Wong in the form of some rather fine paintings by the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag.

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Wong emailed the link below saying you’ll like these, and he was not wrong. We both agreed that the juxtaposition of the achingly familiar (landscapes, cars, kids, junk yards) with more, other worldly entities was a winning formula, bringing a sense of the humdrum to what should in all normal respects, be life changing events…

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Im also a fan of the style in which Stålenhag paints these images, not hyper real or neon coloured, but low key, with an almost sketchy quality that only adds to the feeling that these could be real happenings that the artist has somehow managed to capture…

In a similar vein (but this might just be me) I can see echoes of the Ladybird book illustrations that meant so much to me in my childhood, illustrations that made the mundane and everyday, seem somehow more special.

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More of these wonderful images can be found here

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