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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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Expo ’58

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Atomium ashtrayOne of the things I remember growing up was a small metal and plastic souvenir that my Gran and Grandad used to have. It spent most of its life safely out of child’s reach on a shelf above the dining room door along with various other odds and ends that they’d collected on their travels (and that I really wish I’d had the gumption to ask them about whilst they were still here..).

Anyway, every time we visited, without fail, I would ask if this wonderful object could be brought down so that I might admire it… The souvenir was a model of the Atomium in Brussels, the center piece of their Expo 1958 extravaganza. It’s long since disappeared, probably to a charity shop or in the bin knowing my Gran (who was the least sentimental of people I’ve ever known). I haven’t thought of it for at least 30 years, but after a quick look through the internet I’m pretty sure it looked like the one above…

expo58The reason for this mini bout of nostalgia is that I’ve just read Jonathan Coe’s rather fine novel of the same name. Part cold war spy parody, part comedy of errors, part unrequited love story, Expo 58 conjures up post war life at the end of the 1950’s, which as any one who reads this blog might tell you, is where my interests lie…

Expo ’58 was the first such post World War 2 event, and came at an very interesting time in world history. The horrors and enforced austerity of the Second World war were finally beginning to fade across Europe, allowing its citizens to begin to think about the future, rather than dwell on the past. At the same time however, political instability in various regions was creating it’s own new set of global concerns: The Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold war was in full effect, the various wars across south east Asia and Vietnam in particular were escalating, whilst recent conflicts in The Suez, Hungary and North Korea had all contributed to a growing feeling of unease and insecurity.

bruxelles58-bigIt was always naive to suggest that a six month long party, at which more than 50 countries attempted to distill their very essence into a purpose designed, temporary pavilion located within 500 acres of prime city center land in Brussels was ever going to address or solve these huge political differences, but one can’t help but admire the determination and commitment that drove the participants to make it such a hugely successful event with over 41 million visitors passing through the gates…

Interestingly despit ethis huge success and popularity of Expo 58, Coe highlights the paucity recognition that it has received over the years. He references a number of recent post war social histories (Dominic Sandbrook’s Never Had it so Good and David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain) that completely fail to make any reference to it, and I would also add Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain to that list.

Coe’s book and the memory of my grandparents little souvenir (and the implication that they went there of course) has fired a desire to look further into this event. I’ve written about Expos several times before (Monorails at the New Your Fair of 1964  and   Basil Spence’s pavilion at Expo 67) and I’m unquestionably drawn to the idea of trying to represent a country and its culture with(in) a single building…

A future post (probably centering on the amazing Atomium itself) is more than likely, but until then, I’ll offer you a selection of stylish graphics and images from Expo ’58, and a recommendation to read Mr. Coes’ entertaining and (for me anyway) thought provoking novel…

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Expo 1958 paviljoen van Engeland / United Kongdom

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Grayson Perry : Playing to the Gallery…

September 18, 2014 2 comments

indexReaders of these pages will know that I’m a bit of a fan of our most famous Transvestite Potter

Well we went to see him give a talk at The Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday night and very entertaining he was too… It was an hour long presentation essentially promoting his new book “Playing to the Gallery”, a copy of which was thoughtfully included in the ticket price and which I’m reading at the moment.

Subtitled “Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood”, it continues the themes of his recent Reith Lectures and considers such important issues as what is an artist, does art matter and that most pernicious of questions, whose judgement counts in assessing whether it’s good or bad…

Grayson suggests there are 15 key points that all artists might think about as they set out on their chosen path, including turning up on time, making mistakes, being angry and putting in the hours. The precariousness of his position as a successful and wealthy artist lampooning his own profession, is not lost on Perry and other than a little dig at Norman Foster for hanging one of his tapestries in a  garage, he was careful not to be critical of anyone specific, instead highlighting some relatively unknown artists as inspiration and pointing out what the internet tells us about culture… (try typing “art” into Google images and see what comes up..)

Mr Perry did not disappoint in his choice of clothing for the talk either, as he bounded onto the stage in a suitably over the top decorated pink clown suit with yellow boots and purple pig tales…

Photography was banned but I, like a few others (given away by tell tale, back lit screens suddenly flaring out in the darkness of the auditorium) managed to snap a couple of shots. The one below is so poor however, that I’m hoping that neither Grayson nor the Southbank will be in touch instructing me to take it down…

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The Modernist Magazine. Issue 10 – Dictator… (or me and Mr. Meades)

April 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Modernist-10-Dictator-Cover-with_borderThis rather fine redacted front cover is the latest edition of The Modernist, the quarterly design based magazine based up in Manchester that is gaining both plaudits and acclaim for its style and content..

MMDictator_Contents_trimThe theme for this issue was Dictator, and the editors were once again kind enough to include a piece I submitted, about the almost comical Benito Mussolini, who virtually alone amongst dictators, was either unable or unwilling to choose a definitive architectural style to define his misguided idealism, a situation which resulted in a wide range of styles and building types being constructed throughout the inter war years.

And in something of a personal triumph in this edition, I have the very great and unexpected honour of seeing my name on the same page as one of my literary and televisual idols, Mr. Jonathan Meades who when recently asked by the editors to become Patron of the Society, is reported to have said that he was “honored… and given some of the things I’ve said about Manchester’s recent architecture, bemused.”

Meades is a man whose contribution to the ongoing cultural debate is immeasurable. He makes idiosyncratic documentaries that are in equal measures odd, entertaining, annoying, amusing and informative. And even if I have to admit that, due to his penchant for listing and connecting seemingly disparate names and ideas, I often find myself losing the thread of his arguments (which I suspect is a deliberate ploy), I could easily listen to him talk about architecture all day…

 

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Towards the back of the magazine, you’ll also find my review of William Mitchells’ excellent new autobiography “The Eyes Within”, a hugely enjoyable read from a man well into 80’s whose ability to make and draw things has taken him all over the world…

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William Mitchell – The Eyes Within…

December 23, 2013 Comments off

WM coverJust a quick holding post today, until I’ve read it through and can give a proper opinion..

I’ve just received a copy of the newly published William Mitchell autobiography, The Eyes Within.

First impressions are very good. It looks really excellent, large format with lots of photos and pictures, many of which I know he drew especially for the book. Not bad for a man nearing 90 years old… I can’t wait to get started…

But that will have to wait until later, as I am meeting Bill and his wife Joy at Harrods for a special book signing between 12.00 and 2.00pm today. It will be good to see him in the surroundings of the Egyptian Halls at Harrods, as I believe he considers this huge and impressive installation as his Masterpiece…

I would personally put forward his work at the cathedrals of Liverpool or Clifton/ Bristol or his stunning wall murals at The Lee Valley Water Co. or in  Coventry for that accolade, but that’s beside the point.

Suffice to say Bill Mitchell has created an untold wealth of work over the years and I am very much looking forward to reading the back stories of what he has hinted to me as having been a very interesting life…

The Scary Mind of Guillermo del Toro…

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment

61YVRAr+-MLI read a short article over the weekend about a recently published book by Guillermo del Toro, the hugely talented Mexican film director and writer who’s brought such strangeness as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage to life on the big screen…

This new book entitled Cabinet of Curiosities takes pages from his many and ever present note and sketchbooks and uses them to explain how, why and where the various monsters, deformities and horrors that he creates, fit into his filmic vision…

What’s made me stop and think, are the similarities of some of these pages, to the books made by the protagonist of David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven. With their intense and finely detailed drawings surrounded by dense areas of almost illegible text, they are a dead ringer for the leather bound volumes that were found when the police broke into John Doe’s flat. The image below is a compilation of pages from John Doe’s books I found online…

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In case you haven’t seen the film, John Doe (played by a very detached Kevin Spacey) is the coldly calculating, highly intelligent, deluded and misguided individual who sets out to create his life’s masterpiece via a series of killings arranged over a year long period that reflect each of the Seven deadly sins. It’s a great film with the ultimate revelation of the sins of Envy and Wrath still having the power to shock…

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I obviously need to be careful here. My intention is not to cast any aspersions in Mr. del Toro’s direction (who always comes across as pretty nice guy in the interviews I’ve read and seen). But if it wasn’t for it’s output via his films and writing, what might such a highly creative and let’s be honest, warped imagination be capable of? The differences between a mind like del Toro’s and John Doe’s, must be relatively small, with only del Toro having the moral control aspects required to be a valuable and productive member of society…

It’s probably not a book I’ll be buying however, it’s all a bit on the dark side for my tastes. I like Sci-Fi, fantasy and graphic novel escapism, but I’m not much into horror, tortured souls and deformity…

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Guillermo Del Toro

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Lazy Post No. 7: Patrick Hruby

October 29, 2013 1 comment

CHarper_MemoryGameWe’ve had my sister and her two youngest staying with us and we’ve been playing Charley Harper’s memory card game seemingly non stop since they arrived…

And bought me it for Christmas several years ago now and after we’d marveled at its loveliness and played it a few times, it ended up in pretty much pristine condition on the book shelves… Until my little niece said she wanted to play a game and we remembered it…

Anyway, my sister fell in love with it and rushed to Amazon as she just had to have one. Whilst looking around, we came across the wonderful work of Patrick Hruby who also has a memory card game made by the same company, Ammo (where the work of artist Alexander Girard can also be found, a definite contender for a future post).

Patrick Hruby is a Californian based freelance illustrator and designer who has an “insatiable appetite for color.” His work has a naive, pseudo vintage quality that appeals to my sense of aesthetic, although I would guess that it is made using thoroughly modern techniques and software.

Bright colours, big shapes, dragons and space ships, and with an undeniable nod to the geometric stylings of the great Charley Harper, what more could you ask for in an illustration…

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Alien – The Illustrated Story: Original Art Edition

October 24, 2013 5 comments

CoverI found this online at virtually half price recently (here) and couldn’t resist it…

It’s the Original Art Edition of the 1979 graphic novel, Alien: The Illustrated Story, and it is a truly wonderful thing to behold. Made possible because the artist Walter Simonson kept all his original art boards, these have all been faithfully reproduced at their original size. There are also some additional early mockup pages and all of Archie Goodwin’s typed out script pages are set out at the back. These are fascinating to read, creating a totally different experience on their own without the pictures.

P1000801_aI first saw this huge, hard back book about a year ago at Forbidden Planet. Despite spending about half an hour reading it, I managed to persuade myself that I couldn’t afford the full price at that time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, but I must say that now I actually own it, I can’t believe I didn’t just buy it there and then…

The standard size coloured version of the comic is an absolute classic. Issued in 1979 and based very closely on the story of the first film, it was the first graphic novel to make it onto the New York Times best seller list. I’ve enjoyed it for many years now but I must say, I think this black and white version is actually better than the coloured version, even accounting for the size of it.

In many respects it’s more expressive, and with the differing weights of the pen lines clearly discernible, you can actually imagine Simonson drawing and inking it all in. I like that you can see all the mistakes and changes, redrawn over the Tippex, and the differing colours of paper where new bits have been stuck over a wrongly drawn face. There are even coffee stains and bits of sellotape on some pages, all of which just add to the magic of the whole thing…

Now as And has pointed out, there’s just the matter of finding somewhere for it to live…

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Lazy Post No. 3: Henry Flint. Now there’s a man that can draw…

September 11, 2013 1 comment

I haven’t written about a comic book artist for a while, so today I’m adopting my new lazy post strategy to put up some of the dizzyingly involved and detailed work of Henry Flint, a wildly talented British artist responsible for work primarily in the 2000AD comic, where his work on such classic strips as Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante and Shakara to name just a few, has undoubtedly created some of the most memorable images of the last couple of decades or so, and brought these often complex stories alive for may thousands of people…

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Flint was also responsible for the rather fine sleeve for DJ Food’s Search Engine LP of a few years back on one of my favorite labels, Ninja Tune…

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So whilst I fully accept that explosions, guns, mutants and destruction on a huge scale are not to everybody’s tastes, I’m sure with a closer look, there are aspects of Flint’s work that can be appreciated by anybody, as he is undoubtedly one of our finest comic book artists…

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John Betjeman on the Isle of Dogs…

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

P1210527aI recently discovered that the nations favorite poet (certainly mine anyway) John Betjeman, that esteemed arbiter of good taste, sensible architecture and Gentlemanly manners, visited the Isle of Dogs back in the Spring of 1956.

Writing a piece for his regular “City & Suburban” column in the Spectator Magazine (a facsimile copy of which can be found here), Betjeman describes my chosen little bit of London as “a cut off kingdom”, remote and populated by proud people and ruined buildings… I get the distinct impression that his visit so far east of the city was something of a novelty, a change from the more leafy suburbs and halcyon times of which he always wrote so eloquently.

Along with this more usual interest in churches, public houses and dockside wharfs, its interesting to note that Betjeman writes about a then recently completed housing scheme, Castalia Square, comparing it favorably with the more widely known Lansbury Estate in Poplar at the top of the Island. Lansbury was a key aspect of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and is a subject I’ve written about in detail previously.

I must say I’ve walked through the Castalia Sqaure area many times, and although the houses are indeed nicely proportioned with now well established gardens and tree lined courtyards, the square itself must have looked very different 60 years ago, as since its refurbishment back in the 90’s, the large commercial building fronting the square looks rather nondescript and undistinguished, or maybe this is a later addition and wasn’t there at the time of John’s visit…

He’s dead right about Island Gardens though. A beautiful little park with an amazing view of Greenwich and well worth a visit, especially from the south with a walk through the foot tunnel, which I’m surprised Betjeman didn’t mention in his article. Maybe it was still closed after being bombed during the war.

Anyway I’ll leave you with a picture of the great man himself, as full of life as always, and the complete text of his piece…

John Betjeman“In the evening sunlight on Monday, I went to that least visited part of London, the Isle of Dogs. It’s more than a square mile of docks, houses: shattered Victorian churches, no train service, no cinema, a bus service, and only approachable by swing bridges. The people on the Island are proud of it and don’t like living anywhere else. Poplar people on the mainland don’t like coming to live on the Island.

It is a cut-off kingdom, the remotest thing you can find in London, and was very badly bombed in the war. Among the ruins three sights well worth the journey are to be seen. (1) Coldharbour, near Blackwall Basin, where some fine Georgian merchants’ houses have the water washing up to their walls and where a public house looks over Blackwall Reach. (2) Island Gardens on the southern tip of the Island, which commands the best view of Greenwich Hospital there is. Reflected in the water one sees the doomed Union Wharf beside the Hospital, with its weather-boarded houses, Queen’s House, and in the background the trees of Greenwich Park and the outline of the Observatory.

(3) One of the best new housing estates I have seen since the war, comparable with Lansbury, intimately proportioned, cheerful and airy and yet London-like. It is called Castalia Square and makes one realise. when one compares it with the gloomy blocks of ‘artisans’ dwellings’ of the mid-war and pre-1914 periods, how good modern architecture can be. In all the destruction I record in this column, it is a pleasure to be able to write about something newly built which makes one’s heart rejoice.”

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