Spiro and Leveret live in Liverpool

The week after our trip to Amsterdam the “Beast from the East” arrived bringing freezing cold weather and heavy snow. Much of Britain was paralysed as we aren’t geared up to deal with it. A concert by El Brooke’s at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall was cancelled as she was stuck somewhere down south in the snow. But the same evening we drove over to Liverpool for a different concert at the Phil, in their smaller venue, the Music Room. We had tickets for a concert by Two instrumental folk bands, Spiro and Leveret, the first date of their national tour. The north west was lucky in that although it was bitterly cold, we only had a smattering of snow. So our journey over to Liverpool was uneventful. Less so probably from the bands who’d driven up from the south (Spiro are based in Bristol) and the next date of their tour, in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales, had been cancelled due to the snow over there.

I discovered Spiro when a track of theirs was played on the Cerys Matthews show on BBC6 Music and since then I’ve been a fan. So I was keen to see them live.

In Liverpool they were on first, with their minimalist take on traditional tunes. The four piece – fiddle, mandolin, accordion and guitar, take a traditional tune as a starting point then weave complex riffs and melodies around it. Although the accordion player largely stays seated occasionally standing up, the other three prowl around the stage, at times duelling musically with each other.

Leveret are also accomplished musicians who play traditional tunes. A three piece – a fiddle a squeezebox and an accordion – staying seated throughout their set, they’re much less animated, except for the fiddler whose legs move almost like he has ants in his pants! Their approach to the tunes is different than Spiro, more traditional.

Both sets were excellent and I especially enjoyed seeing Spiro playing live.

As an encore both groups returned to the stage to play together.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. We stepped back out into the cold. Some snow had fallen while we were inside the venue but hadn’t stuck on the road. Driving home down the M62 and M6 it started to snow. But we got off lightly. It had gone by the morning when I had to drive to Chester.

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UCG by Degrees

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The reason I was visiting Galway was to deliver a talk and a workshop at the University – NUI Galway. It’s situated on a very pleasant campus, not far from the city centre and although the University’s buildings are mainly relatively new, there’s a grand Tudor Gothic style Quadrangle, modelled on Oxford’s Christ Church college.

Near to the Quad, I found another plaque from the Galway Poetry Trail with a poem by Terry McDonagh

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Red Star Over Russia

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November 7  2017 marked the centenary of Russia’s October Revolution when the workers and peasants overthrew the oppressive Tsarist regime. The apparent contradiction arising as Russia at that time still used the Julian Calendar which was several days behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West so as far as the Russians were concerned the date was 25 October.  This exhibition at Tate Modern featuring posters, prints, photographs and other images collected by the photographer and graphic designer David King, who died only recently in 2016, is meant to mark the historic event.

The Revolution started with great hope and optimism about creating a new kind of Society, unleashing enormous creativity by artists who supported its aims. Sadly in the face of counter revolutionary forces supported by the west the early idealism turned sour leading to the vicious dictatorship of Josef Stalin.

David King collected over 250,000 books, journals, posters, documents and newspapers dating from the Russian Revolution to the Khrushchev era which were acquired by the Tate just before his death. A cross section of the collection is included in this exhibition, which uses them to give visitors a glimpse of life in the Soviet Union during this period. As the Guardian’s review puts it, it’s

a condensed vision of five decades of Soviet hopes ending in devastation and despair.

 

I’m not going to attempt a full survey or critique of the exhibition but, as photography was allowed, here’s some of my favourites from the items on display.

From the early optimisitic days of the Revolution, the first room included this banner

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and a wall covered with prints and posters

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which included El Lissitzky‘s well known Supremacist poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919)

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The red triangle driving into a white disc against a black ground, urging the revolutionary Bolsheviks to defeat the reactionary White Russians. 

Underneath, this imaginative work – a photomontage making up a hammer and sickle by Yakov Guminer

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The next room was my favourite with the photographs and graphic work by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky both of who also produced works in collaboration with their wives, Varvara Stepanova and Sophie Küppers respectively.

There were a number of extraordinarily brilliant ground breaking photographs by Rodchenko

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and a series of abstract graphic works by El Lissitzky

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There were also examples of the journal, USSR in Construction, to which both couples contributed photomontage and other design elements.

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In the next room the walls were lined with a series of photographs providing snapshots of the history of Russia from 1905 until WWII.

Unfortunately the period of experimentation and radical art didn’t last long. 1934 saw the dawn of “Socialist Realism”, the Stalinist State dictating that artists should use realist styles to create highly optimistic depictions of Soviet life. There was a typical example of this in the next room with a series of large paintings by Alexander Deineka  produced for the 1937 International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris, portraying   which “fused reality with aspiration”.

The next room brought us back down to Earth. Here there were “before and after” photographs showing us how leaders and other individuals who fell out of favour with the Stalinist regime were “erased from history”. And there was a particularly moving display of photos of some of the many hundreds of thousands of people, many of them true Revolutionaries, who were murdered by the Stalinist State.

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The final room featured posters and photographs from the period following the German invasion in 1941when artists were mobilised to create propaganda, in some cases reworking images from the early revolutionary period.

I enjoyed looking around the exhibition and was pleased that I’d had the opportunity to catch it before it closed. And I still had an hour or so to spare to look round some of the free displays before I had to leave to catch my train.

 

New Year’s Day 2018 at the Hepworth

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I’m still far from finished writing up our trip to Australia, but I’d thought I’d take a short diversion to report on our trip to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield on New Year’s Day. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to drive over a quiet M62 to visit this excellent gallery. Last year we didn’t make a subsequent visit so it’s a while since we were last there – well, 12 months exactly!

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There had quite been a few changes with new exhibitions in four of the galleries and a temporary exhibition of work by the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow which was coming to the end of it’s run.

Gallery 1 featured a range of works from the Wakefield collection, including the beautiful elm sculpture by Henry Moore shown above and works from Barbara Hepworth, and Nuam Gabo,

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The next two galleries concentrated on works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, both born locally in Castleford and Wakefield respectively.

In the first room, works by henry Moore included this unusual (for Moore) bronze head Open Work Head No. 2 (1950)

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some of his drawings of miners from local pits during WWII

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and a series of lithographs of Stonehenge that he had personally donated to the Wakefield collection.

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The next, large room, was a comprehensive survey of Barbara Hepworth’s work including sculpture, drawings, prints and even her library of books

 

We had a brief look around the next two rooms which  explore Hepworth’s working methods and display examples from the Hepworth’s collection of her plasters as they’re on permanent display and we’ve seen them many times before. But the next two rooms had new displays – more works from the Hepworth’s collection

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and an exhibition Daughters of Necessity by British artist Serena Korda, featuring some of her own works displayed together with ceramics from the Hepworth’s collection. The Hepworth website tells us

Working with ceramics for several years, Korda combines her experimental approach to the material with her interest in the acoustic properties of objects. For The Hepworth Wakefield, Korda has created a new work, Resonators, comprising five large, richly glazed vessels with openings at each end. Visitors are invited to interact with the work by placing their ears to each vessel to hear a range of bass-like tones.

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The exhibition also features a new presentation of Korda’s ceramic sound installation Hold Fast, Stand Sure, I Scream a Revolution, which was premiered at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in 2016. This work is made up of 29 individual porcelain mushrooms suspended from the ceiling, which will be played as bells in public performances during the Ceramics Fair in early May 2018.

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I really liked these works which were a combination of art, science and music.

There were some beautiful ceramic pieces selected by the artist too

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The temporary exhibition Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes was an extensive survey of the work of this Polish artist and

highlights how the artist’s work developed from classically figurative sculptures to her later ‘awkward objects’, which are politically charged and overlaid with Surrealist and Pop Art influences. (Hepworth Website)

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 features more than 100 works created between 1956 and 1972 including drawings, photography and sculpture, incorporating Szapocznikow’s characteristic use of cast body parts, many of which she transformed into everyday objects like lamps or ashtrays.

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Hopefully, I’ll find some time to write up more about this.

Occasional Geometries at the YSP

The exhibition at the Longside Gallery, at the other end of the park from the Underground Gallery, was coming towards the end of its run. It was much more “traditional” than the one we’d just seen featuring the works of Alfredo Jaar. Occasional Geometries, was curated by Bangladeshi-born artist Rana Begum who has selected works from the Arts Council Collection.

Immediately outside the gallery Zero to Infinity by Rasheed Araeen is an interactive work. A series of cuboid structures made of wood and painted a bright yellow, visitors are allowed, encouraged, to rearrange them, with the potential to create a massive number of possible combinations

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Inside the gallery, the large open space was filled with sculptural works

Some favourites included

Single Line (1976) by Norman Dilworth

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Hybrid Drawings (2017) by Ayesha Singh

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Better Days (2010/17) by French artist Flore Nové-JosserandIMG_3130

Soda Lake (1968) by Nigel Hall

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and this little kinetic sculpture,  + and – (1994) by Lebanese artist, Mona Hatoum

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One of the rotating metal paddles creating grooves in the sand which are swept away as the second paddle passes over them. Continual change – creation and destruction.

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting in Dublin

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I’m back in Ireland this week and on Sunday I got up early to drive over to Holyhead and caught the 9 o’clocferry so I could spend an afternoon in Dublin. I was keen to visit the newly refurbished National Gallery of Ireland and take a look at the exhibition of Dutch Genre paintings that was coming to the end of it’s run.

I’d heard of this exhibition, which is a joint project with the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington and curated by Dr. Adriaan Waiboer, Head of collections and research, National Gallery of Ireland, when it was showing in Paris and I was hoping I’d have the chance to see it in Dublin. I thought I was going to be disappointed as a week’s work I had planned in Ireland was postponed, but when it was back on again it gave me an opportunity to see it before it closes on 17 September. Luckily I sorted out a ticket on the internet at the same time as I was sorting out my ferry as it sold out a few days before I arrived.

Vermeer’s name dominates the adverts for the exhibition, but the majority of the 63 paintings  on show are by other artists. However, 10 of them are by Vermeer – a fair proportion of his work as only 34 paintings are firmly attributed to him, with question marks over a further three. The other artists represented are his contemporaries, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Caspar Netscher and Jan Steen. I’ve become more familiar with the Dutch Genre style ever since we visited Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2012 and I’d seen, and learned to appreciate, a number of the paintings previously, particularly works by ter Borch and Metsu.

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Woman writing (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The theme of the exhibition is to

explore the fascinating network of relationships between Vermeer and Dutch genre painters of the period 1650 to 1675, and will give visitors an insight into how Vermeer and his contemporaries admired, inspired and rivalled each other. (NGI website)

The Netherlands is a small country and it would be ridiculous to think that Dutch artists in the same period and living in relatively close proximity wouldn’t know each other, be aware of each other’s work and be influenced by each other.

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Woman with a balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Each wall in the gallery takes a different theme – women writing letters, women with their backs to the viewer,musical duets, women with lutes, astronomers, lace makers, and even a woman holding a parrot. For each of these themes there are a small group of paintings by different artists and the audio guide and accompanying booklet outlines connections – who came up with the idea, who was influenced by it, how they changed the composition etc.

There wasn’t a Vermeer in every group, but when there was it tended to stand out. There’s something about his work – the composition, the more natural, relaxed posing of his models, the way he uses light – that appeals to modern taste. However, in some of the groups I preferred the work of a different artist. For example the group of men and women writing letters. This included Dublin’s own Vermeer and two paintings they own by Metsu. I actually prefer the latter. But these were exceptions.

I hadn’t seen six of the ten Vermeers in the exhibition and many of the other paintings were new to me. So a worthwhile visit from that point of view.

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The Geographer (Staedel Museum, Frankfurt-am-Main)

As the exhibition was sold out I’d expected to be in the middle of a scrum and straining to see the pictures. But that wasn’t the case. The gallery space was quite airy and the number of people had clearly been restricted, making this a pleasurable experience. When a group were around a particular painting or group of paintings, after a few minutes they had moved on and it was posisble to get a closer look. And it was also possible to move backwards and forwards taking a second, third or fourth look at individual pictures.

So a much anticipated exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed. It was worth getting up early!

Dazzle Ferry

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During our recent visit to Liverpool I spotted “Everybody Razzle Dazzle”  pulling into the Pier Head ferry terminal. The light was better than last time I photographed the ferry so I snapped a shot.

The jazzy design was created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the First World War commemorations and was inspired by the Dazzle camouflage used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic during the First World War as a way of confusing U-boats.