Archive for April, 2013

Build your own Richard Neutra House…

April 30, 2013 1 comment

Neutra CoverNow that’s a blog post title to grab the attention of architects with a love for Modernism..

Richard Neutra, one of the best American architects of last century gained a reputation for designing beautiful and elegant houses, mostly on the West Coast, mostly with large overhanging flat roofs and azure blue swimming pools but always with an enviable style and conviction.

Well I’ve just read on Architizer, that thanks to a new partnership between the Neutra Architectural Office, Richard Neutra’s son Dion (who took over the office after his father’s death in 1970) and the California Architecture Conservancy, it’s now possible to buy a licence that allows you to build a brand new house from the original plans of 12 of Richard Neutra’s finest designs, including the Lovell Heath House, The Richard Bailey House and the Kaufmann House (click on the document to the left to find out more…)

I’ve been thinking about this rather intriguing offer, and I can’t work out who I think it’s aimed at.. Will a 60+ year old Neutra house designed for a specific site in California, work as well (or at all) in contemporary Dubai, Coventry, Moscow or Buenos Aires? Surely local constraints would make an exact replica impossible, and arguably inadvisable: flat roofs in Oslo, swimming pools in Reykjavik…

At college we talked much about the Genius Loci of a place, the spirit or uniqueness of a location that should inform any development proposed there. Despite the usual lazy criticisms of Modernist architecture being a universal solution and non site specific, Neutra’s version of Modernism was most definitely a tailored response. Not only to the immediate landscape and the client brief, but also to the technical innovations available at the time, and you only have to look at the Case Study Houses programme to appreciate the variety and quality that Neutra brought to his designs and which can be seen in these images below of the Kaufmann House from 1946.

kaufmann House view

Kaufmann House floor plan

Kaufmann House_1

Maybe this project is more about taking the essence of the original design (the key moves if you like: flat planes, rectilinear geometries, lots of glass) and then using them to make another building, which by definition won’t be the first building, which takes us back to the beginning of the conundrum (who is this aimed at) and which then begs the question, why don’t the design office of Dion & Richard Neutra use their skill, knowledge and experience to, wait for it… create a brand new house designed specifically to fit the clients requirements…

Still it would be pretty cool to own a Richard Neutra House, and if you were fortunate to own a site overlooking the sea, in a warm sunny climate (and this is no longer available) then why not…

Lovell Heath House_2

Bailey House_1

Obama, The Movie…

April 29, 2013 2 comments

This made us smile on last night’s TV…

A short trailer in which Steven Spielberg explains that for his next film project, after the success of Lincoln, he has decided to stick not only with Biopics of American Presidents, but also with that great chameleon actor, Daniel Day Lewis….

What a top bloke Barack Obama seems to be, sending himself up with great aplomb. It’s a crying shame that we don’t have anyone of his caliber in UK politics. Instead we have to settle for a load of silly Oxbridge posh boys.

Hey Ho…

Jacob Epstein: Portrait Sculpture @ NPG

April 24, 2013 4 comments

Jacob EpsteinA couple of weekends ago we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the recently opened exhibition of Jacob Epstein sculptures. Regular visitors to these pages will know that I’m a bit of a fan of Mr. Epstein and his amazing ability to create wondrous shapes from stone, and this small but perfectly formed display of sculptured heads does not disappoint.

It took me a while to get past the large photo of Epstein near the entrance to be honest. Depicting a man who doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the photography experience in the slightest, what caught my attention (apart from being strangely reminiscent of Picasso) was his left hand.. A huge and slightly misshapen thing, presumably the result of thousands and thousands of hours of holding chisels and stone cutting tools..

The heads here however were all made firstly by being modeled in clay and then cast in bronze. Rather than produce a faithfully realistic image, Epstein aimed to capture the psychological and physical presence of the subject, which when you see the works collected together here, is undoubtedly what he did, as despite all of the subjects being long dead, the heads seem very much alive…

R.B. Cunnighame GrahamThere are maybe 12 or 15 sculptures on show, each of a contemporary of Epstein including George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, Vaughan Williams and Epstein himself, and each is accompanied by a photo and in some cases a short story about the sitter and the sitting..

My favorite quote is actually about someone I wasn’t aware of. As Epstein wrote later in his autobiography… “Imagine Don Quixote walking about your studio and sitting for his portrait! This was R.B. Cunninghame Graham. In the head I modeled he seems to sniff the air blowing in from the Sierras, and his hair is swept by a breeze from afar”.  Look at the photo to the right and tell me you can’t see what he means….

As an aside, C-Graham was on the commissioning panel for the so called “Atrocity in Hyde Park” that was Rima, a monument to W.H. Hudson that Epstein completed in 1924 (a year after this portrait sculpture) and which C-Graham expended much energy defending against a largely hostile press, due in no small part I would like to think, to his appreciation for this portrait. And as a further aside, looking at Rima now (below) it’s difficult to see what the all fuss was about…


I’ll leave you with a selection of some of the other portrait sculptures on show.. all of them magical, and all well worth going to see…

Joseph Conrad

R. Vaughan Williams

G. Bernhard Shaw

Jacob Epstein_1

Chuck Close at The White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey.

April 17, 2013 2 comments

f30db5c84f4655c65333cef7c8cec5af_0Last weekend we met Wong at the rather fine and spacious White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey to see the Chuck Close exhibition of Prints & Portraits.

To say it’s the best art exhibition I’ve seen in ages would be an understatement. I’ve written about Chuck before here, about how he started out as a hyper realist portrait painter in the 1960’s, until a collapsed spinal artery in the late 1980’s severely restricted his movement and left him wheelchair bound, after which he had to reassess how he could continue and modified his techniques to suit his new condition.

The man is without doubt an inspiration and his work is truly stunning. Large in scale and varied in media, it focuses solely on the human face, how it’s made up, how it can be divided up and yet still retain its identity. Close is a master of colour, understanding how different, and often surprising combinations can create tones that we can easily recognise and organise in our minds as a face.

That this whole exhibition of over 150 works is comprised of maybe less than 10 different faces, is I would suggest to miss the point of what Chuck Close does. The image of Close himself in a rather fetching yellow anorak above, is offered as a photograph, a tapestry, and two or three other different styles of painting, and they all offer a unique visual experience, as in this close up of the dot version of the painting…


The tapestries especially are unbelievably lovely. There is a black and white image of a crazy haired and bearded man (Lucas) that once transformed into a tapestry, becomes a riotous celebration of colour, as can seen on the images below, the second of which is a close up of his beard believe it or not…

P1200871_b copy


The things that Chuck does with paper mulch are also very impressive, creating layers of tone and depth that defy description. And as for the carved timber panels created to get the colour separation for the screen prints of the baby’s face, mesmerising (apparently it took a Japanese woodblock carving master the best part of three years to complete)..




As a big fan of the craft in art, I really enjoyed seeing all these constituent parts to the works, such as wire frames, square grids and hand drawn divided sheets marked up to show tones of grey. It’s always good to see a bit of process, as personally I think this gives the work more weight.

And whilst it could never be argued that Close makes all his own stuff (he’s wheelchair bound for a start don’t forget) it certainly comes across that his involvement at all stages of the work is intrinsic to its finished state. Unlike say the Hirst’s, Koon’s and Quinn’s of this world, who you get the impression just think of something sitting at their desk, commission someone else to make it and then sign it when it’s delivered to their studio.

Sadly the exhibition finishes this weekend, but if you can make it along, I would urge you in the strongest terms to do so, it’s a revelation and you will not be disappointed…


April 17, 2013 1 comment


A number of my friends seem to be doing cool art stuff at the moment.

Take Sarah Faraday for example. A photographer by trade, Sarah is working on a project based up in Liverpool called Possessed, in which she is considering issues around the value and status of a photograph of a thing, compared to the actual thing itself, and asks the question, which of your own possessions could you give up in exchange for a photograph of it…

Good question eh?

There are obviously different levels on which this can be considered. At one end is the ridiculous. Giving up a body part (although I see someone has offered their wisdom teeth.. ouch) or a million dollars or your flat/ house in exchange for a photo of it, would I suggest be a step too far.

At the other end of the spectrum is the very easy thing to swap. Sarah can have as many of my old Weekend Guardians, Kit Kat wrappers or as much household dust as she likes in exchange for one of her lovely photos…

In between these two extremes however, are some real conundrums… A love letter for example. As long as you could still read it, do you really need the actual paper with the words on? Or a present from someone who is no longer around. If it’s just sitting on a shelf, or even worse, shut away in a box in the spare room, wouldn’t it be better (or at least as good) to have a picture of it in a little frame on the wall?

I’ve thought about this for a while now and have decided to send in some of my favorite stamps…

They were issued in 1957 and celebrate the World Scout Jubilee Jamboree. Whilst they may not look much to you, I’ve had these for many years as they were given to me by my parents when I was an, erm,  Boy Scout.

There seem to be a number of  levels at which this issue operates, and the image below is an attempt to represent some of them. Firstly there’s me holding the actual, real set of stamps I’m proposing to send in, then a (not very good) photo I’ve just taken as a record of my stamps before I send them off. Then there is a stolen digital internet picture of the high value stamp which is far better than my effort, and shows the finer details of the design. And finally another internet picture this time of a first day cover, which in terms of value alone, could be argued would be a far nicer thing to own…

Stamps combined

So four versions of the same thing. The ones I’m holding I’ve owned for at least 35 years and although it will be a wrench to give them up, I know I can easily get some more, and to all intents and purposes no one (except me) would ever know the difference, certainly not my parents (unless they read this of course) and anyway, whose to say that’s not what I’ve done already…

In the end, it all comes down to the attachment generated by sentiment, how much emotion we have committed to the object in the first place before we are asked to give it up, although monetary value I suspect will usually have a part to play.

All in all I think it’s an excellent idea, one with huge scope for argument and discussion about the value we put on things.  This post for example is now record of this process, and having spent a couple of hours putting it together, it has already accrued some value that may help soften the blow of losing my stamps….

One final thing, I’m a big fan of the ambigramic project logo, very clever…

William Mitchell’s Autobiography – availaible very soon…

April 15, 2013 5 comments

Bill Mitchell - The Eyes Within book cover.My friends Bill and Joy Mitchell have just emailed to let me know that the autobiography they have been working on for the last few years, has finally been given a publication date at the end of July and is now available for pre-order on Amazon

This is most excellent news indeed. I’ve played a very small part in helping them in the final stages of the project and Bill has done me the HUGE honor of using one of my photographs for the front cover… (it’s a detail from the doors of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral)

Bill has produced a whole series of beautiful new drawings to illustrate the various chapters of his life… from childhood illness to service in the Navy, from Art School to his pioneering sculptural work for the GLC, from regular appearances on TV and hobnobbing with royalty, to his work abroad and long time Directorship at Harrods…

Without doubt, the man has had a pretty eventful life and produced some truly stunning and timeless art along the way. I’ve written about William Mitchell in these pages a number of times before (here and here for starters) and what’s more I shan’t stop until more people are aware of his name and the huge contribution he has made to our artistic, social and cultural heritage.

I’m happy to report that there is evidence that this is indeed starting to happen, as over the last year or so, several Flickr pages (here and here) and numerous write ups on personal blogs have started to appear and this autobiography is another exciting step towards the recognition that I believe Bill so rightly deserves.

If you are interested in his work, Bill’s own website is here, but keep your eye on these pages, as we are currently looking into the possibility of organising a number of supporting events later on in the year…

george mitchell_cement concrete assoc_1

Three Tuns Wall_Combined

Mitchell Stations_1

Kirby Library_seva-nmb


Margaret Thatcher: A Different Sort of Legacy…

April 9, 2013 23 comments

7D721F7C-6A75-4252-BA53-37FFF9E648E9_mw1024_n_sCelebrating the death of another human being will never be the right thing to do. Regardless of your own personal politics, most people are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands and presumably were loved by at least some of these people at some time in their life…

I will start by stating for the record that I am no fan of Mrs. Thatcher. I’ve always seen her as a destroyer of things, much more than she was ever a creator, and someone who placed too much importance on the individual over the community.

Anyway, coming into work this morning I read an excellent piece by John Harris in the Guardian. Entitled Singing Songs of Rage, Harris eloquently examines one aspect of Thatcher that has always fascinated me. You can (and should) read the full piece here, but to summarise, it’s the conundrum that a woman who famously didn’t have a cultural or artistic bone in her body, and in many cases actively moved to weaken and diminish our cultural heritage and creativity, was responsible nevertheless for a huge “cultural earthquake” in the fields of arts and music, one that still reverberates to this day.

The atmosphere that Thatcherism generated, feelings of mistrust, betrayal and fear, galvanised a generation of musicians and artists alike to focus their anger on something tangible, a proper enemy. In so doing they created a culture that was alive with energy, intelligence and power. Sharp tunes, clever words, and above all a conviction in the things they were singing about.

Today we’re living through the toughest times I’ve experience in my adult life, and where is the protest music? Where is this generation’s Billy Bragg, Paul Weller or Pauline Black? Where can we experience feelings of alienation and struggle and hear tales of strength through adversity…

Not on BBC 2 for a start, where a recent Radio 2 Top 100 albums poll (find it here) asked listeners to vote for their favourites. I’m still finding it hard to come to terms with the Top 5 to be honest, which included 2 of the most contemptible bands of all time Coldplay and Keane along with that insightful commentator on contemporary life and love, Dido. Anodyne, derivative, lowest common denominator schlop for people with obviously no interest in music.

Similarly (if not more so) with comedy. I mean John Bishop, Michael MacIntyre and Alan Carr? Give me strength, sub standard comedy for apathetic punters. It’s no wonder there’s such a huge resurgence of interest in Eighties bands and culture at the moment, when today’s offerings are so weak and pathetic in comparison…

And whilst I’m not saying that Thatcher is directly responsible for all the great bands of the late 70’s and the 80’s, and all the alternative comedians, I do think that in her divisive policies and her apparent revelling in the role of figurehead, she was someone onto who feelings of hatred and anger could be focused. Unlike the wishy-washy and grey, middle of the road politicians that seem to be in charge at the moment (and I include my lot in that as well sadly. I quite like Ed Balls, but he’s no leader in waiting…)

So after all that, maybe I should also be more appreciative of her, as most of this mornings obituaries seem to be. It would appear that her formidable strength, singular vision and iron grip on politics during her reign, not only destroyed our industries and communities, but also gave birth to some of the best and most enduring aspects of contemporary music and culture…

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