Double Fantasy – John and Yoko

Last Saturday evening we watched John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky a documentary film on Channel 4 which tells “the untold story” of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. The film also “explores how the art, politics and music of the pair are intrinsically entwined.”

I was particularly interested to watch the documentary as only a few days before we’d visited an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool – Double Fantasy – John & Yoko – which covered much of the same ground. 

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The multi-media exhibition covers John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship from when they  first met in November 1966 at an exhibition of Yoko’s work at a London gallery right up to John’s death in December 1980. Like the film, it tells their story in their own words, but also includes personal objects alongside art, music and film produced by both John and Yoko drawn from Yoko’s own private collection, and which

explores the personal and creative chemistry of this iconic couple and their ongoing Imagine Peace campaign (exhibition website)

In many ways John and Yoko were an unlikely couple. John a famous popular music star from a lower middle background from a working class city in the north of England, and Yoko a Japanese avant-garde artist from an upper class background. But they clicked with John, perhaps, seeing in Yoko what he really wanted to be (a cosmopolitan avant-garde artist, not an upper class Japanese woman!). The exhibition shows how they influenced each other’s work, with Yoko perhaps having a bigger influence on John than John on Yoko.

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For many Beatles fans, Yoko was not popular, to say the least. Many of them blamed her for the breakup of the band. John took her with him to recording sessions and she, allegedly, offered her own musical suggestions and tried to join in on some of the songs. This certainly didn’t go down that well with other members of the band and probably widened rifts that were already starting to open.

My own view is that Yoko’s input probably accelerated what would have happened in any case rather than being the primary cause. It’s rare for a creative partnership to last forever and the Beatles were already starting to drift apart as they developed their own interests. Yoko was, for many, an easy scapegoat, and some of the antagonism was no doubt because she was Japanese. There was an underlying racism and the memories of WW2, which only ended just over 20 years before, meant that many people had a dislike of the Japanese.  Attitudes have mellowed over the years, but probably hasn’t completely gone away.

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The exhibition was chronological, taking in all the key events of their relationship from their first meeting at Yoko’s exhibition illustrating them with artefacts, works of art and song lyrics, a rolling programme of films and music videos and a music room, overlooking the Mersey, with tracks from albums playing and featuring album cover art. 

Exhibits included costumes they wore at their wedding

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Art works by Yoko and reproductions of drawings by John

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handwritten drafts of song lyrics

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Their politics were really rather naive, but well intended and their Bed-Ins for Peace protests in Amsterdam, not surprisingly, featured prominently in the exhibition

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The story of the music that John created after he left the Beatles, in most cases working with Yoko, featured heavily. It was an opportunity to reappraise what John had achieved after he had left the Beatles. Inevitably not everything was a classic (and that’s true of every act, including the Beatles) but there were some songs which were as good as anything he had created during his partnership with Paul McCartney,   –  Mind Games, Jealous Guy, Watching the Wheels, Woman, Happy Xmas (War is over)  and, of course, Imagine

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An autumn day at the YSP

A few photos taken during our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last Saturday.

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Black Mound (2013) by David Nash
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Large Two Forms by Henry Moore, in the distance
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Wilsis (2016) by Jaume Plensa
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Square with Two Circles  by Barbara Hepworth
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Albero folgorato by Giuseppe Penone
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A new work by Peter Randall Page Envelope of Pulsation (For Leo) 2017
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Square with Two Circles at sunset

Sean Scully: Inside Out at the YSP

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Last Saturday we drove over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was our third visit this year but we wanted to see the Sean Scully exhibition that had recently opened in the Longside Gallery, with some additional works outdoors. We’d seen them starting to install one of the latter during our visit during the summer.

Sean Scully was born in Dublin, grew up in London and currently lives in the USA and Ireland. He’s best known for his abstract paintings made up of coloured stripes, rectangles and squares and we’ve seen many of his works in various galleries we’ve visited. I wasn’t aware that he also produced sculptures, so I was particularly interested to see the examples included in the YSP exhibition.

We arrived around 11 and after a brew and a cake set off over the park heading over to the Longside Gallery, which is at the far end of the park, about a mile or so walk from the main Visitor centre and car park.

There were four of his large sculptures outdoors in the park and we encountered the first of these just before we reached the lake.

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Crate of Air (2018) is a large construction made of Corten steel. Unprotected from the elements it’s surface covered with red iron oxide, it’s appearance will change over time as the metal is affected by the elements and also by the light conditions, the red colour particularly standing out in the sunshine. It looks rather like an unfinished industrial structure, the sort of think that I often see during visits to some of my clients.

Carrying on down the slope we crossed the dam at the end of the Lower Lake, following the path and climbing up David Nash’s Seventy One Steps

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and then walked the woods along the top of the hill, past several works of art by artists including Andy Goldsworthy. 

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Descending down towards the Longside Gallery we passed a group of locals who were curious to have a look at us too

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Outside the Longside Gallery there was another Corten steel sculpture, Moor Shadow Stack

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We entered the gallery where there were four more sculptures together with a large selection of paintings, works on paper and photographs.

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Coin Stack (2018) is inspired by Scully’s  childhood when his father, a barber, would bring home his tips and count them in stacks on the kitchen table. There was a sketch of the stack together with a poem which explained its origin

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The other three sculptures were also stacks, but of rectangular rather than round slabs – one of wood, one of painted metal

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and the third of unpainted metal, neatly stacked

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The exhibition guide tells us that

Their stacked format retains the simplicity of Scully’s reduced visual language. He describes a job he did as a student, stacking flattened cardboard boxes from a supermarket into a lorry – hard, filthy work, with protruding staples lacerating his skin – but aware all the time of creating teetering sculptural forms that gradually filled the vehicle’s void with mass.

The paintings were very representative of his work – coloured strips and squares

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There was also a series of photographs of dry stone walls. My immediate reaction was that they reminded me of those I’d seen during my several brief visits to Galway, and which are very different from the ones we see in the English countryside, so I wasn’t surprised to find that they’d been taken in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, where Scully is a regular visitor

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Looking at the photos it was clear that these structures, together with the horizontal patterns produced by the landscape and sky, influenced the style of Scully’s work.

After spending a good hour looking around the gallery we set off back down the hill towards the other side of the park, taking the alternate route back through the fields. At the bottom of the slope, just before the bridge between the two lakes, we saw the third of the outdoor sculptures, Dale Stone Stack, which is constructed of local stone.

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The final open air work was in the lower park on the other side of the lake. Wall Dale Cubed is a massive structure also made of Yorkshire stone

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My first thought was that it looked like something from the Flintstones! The Yorkshire Post compares it to 

Stonehenge-style prehistoric architecture or even an ancient Inca temple.

Like his paintings it’s made up of rectangular blocks in different orientations. Lit up by the autumn sunshine, there were different colours evident (although of a more limited range than his paintings) and variations in texture. There was plenty of interest and, like the other outdoor works, it’s appearance will change over time and also with the light.

We’d seen the main exhibition in the Underground Gallery a couple of times now, so spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the grounds, looking at the outdoor sculptures, having a brew in the Visitor Centre cafe and also taking the opportunity to have a look at the exhibition of prints by Norman Ackroyd. Enough scope for another post, I think.

Kendal Castle

After we’d finished looking around the exhibitions at Abbot Hall, as it was a bright sunny day, we decided to wander up to Kendal Castle, which is a short walk, over the road and up a hill, from the gallery.

The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house  for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power.

The most well known family to be barons of Kendal were the Parr’s, whose most famous member was Katherine Parr, the sixth and last Queen of Henry VIII. Although some locals claim that Katherine was born in the castle this seems unlikely as it was no longer the family’s main residence at the time she was born.

On a fine day, there’s normally a great view over the nearby Lakeland fells, but although there was a beautiful blue sky the hills weren’t really visible. They were covered by cloud that drifted over to Kendal later in the afternoon. But the light was good while we were by the castle it I was able to get some decent snaps.

Afterwards we wandered down into Kendal town centre and warmed ourselves with a hearty bowl of soup at Baba Ganoush (our first visit, and it was very good indeed)

before having a browse in Waterstones and picking up a bit of shopping in Booths.

Alison Watt: A Shadow On The Blind

The main exhibition currently showing at Abbot t Hall at the moment features the work of the Sottish artist, Alison Watt. During our visit last week, perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t attracting as much attention as the tapestries by the much better known Grayson Perry, but we spent some time looking at her meticulously painted pictures.

The Abbot Hall website tells us:

Her work first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s coveted annual award, and in the late 1980s and early 90s she became known for her paintings of figures, often female nudes. In the late 1990s her focus shifted away from the figure and she began to explore the possibility of painting drapery as a surrogate for the human body.

They were mainly monochrome trompe d’oiel images of relatively simple objects – mainly plain fabrics and electrical flex. They were very convincing, particularly when viewed from a few feet away. Simple, but very effective. They really need to be seen “in the flesh” to be properly appreciated.

Alison Watt: A Shadow On The Blind from Lakeland Arts on Vimeo.

The Life of Julie Cope at Abbot Hall

Last week I managed to take a day off and we decided to drive up to Kendal to have a look at the current exhibitions at Abbot Hall in Kendal. They’re currently showing a pair of linked tapestries by Grayson Perry illustrating the life of Julie Cope, a fictional heroine from his home county of Essex. Her life from her birth during the floods on Canvey Island back in the 50’s through growing up in Basildon, getting married and having children, separating from her husband, becoming a mature student, finding a new partner and being killed in her early sixties in an accident with a moped.

The tapestries have been acquired by the Crafts Council, and they’re touring them round the country. They’re on display at Abbot Hall until 16 February next year, audio recording The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself telling the story illustrated on the tapestries.

A Perfect Match, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.18. Purchase  supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

In Its Familiarity, Golden, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.19. Purchase supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

In a way, Perry has reinvented the tapestry for the 21st Century, taking modern themes and telling stories through a traditional form of woven comic strip. He’s a very astute observer of society and this is reflected in many of his works which are commentaries on various aspects of contemporary British life and society, of which these tapestries are another good example.

Rather like the animator, Nick Park (of Wallace and Grommet fame) there are many small details incorporated into Perry’s works that really bring out the flavour of the times and the places he’s illustrating – everyday objects, architectural features, musical logos, fashion to mention a few.

In conjunction with the Abbot Hall exhibition, Blackwell, 20 minutes drive away, are showing three of Grayson Perry’s pots which they have on loan. We drove over later in the day to take a look. No photos allowed of these works but they do have a press photo of one of them

Melanie, (2014) On loan from York Museums Trust

A walk on the Far Eastern Fells

After a good meal in the Brotherswater Inn on Sunday evening I settled down with a good book before bed. I woke to a beautiful, sunny, if frosty, morning. Down to a hearty breakfast with a great view over the fells.

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After checking out I drove the short distance to the car park at the end of Hartsop village. There were already a few vehicles parked up but the overnight stay meant I was able to get a decent start (and a car parking space) without setting off from home at an early hour and enduring the traffic on the M61 and M6 where the rush hour starts around 6 o’clock! The plan was to head up Hayeswater Gill and climb up towards High Street and take in the Knott, Rampsgill Head, Kidsty Pike and High Raise.

It was a glorious morning as I set off on the steady climb up Hayeswater Gill. There were great views back towards Fairfield, Helvelyn and the neighbouring fells.
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But I could see thick cloud gathering over in the west.

On the way up the gill I passed this curious shepherd’s building with a moss covered roof.

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I reached the bridge that crosses the beck just before Hayeswater and stopped to take a photograph back down the valley

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I crossed the bridge and took the path up the side of the hill. It was rather boggy in places.

Looking down to Hayeswater as I climbed

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and another shot of the fells to the west

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The path climbed until it reached the track from Angle Tarn which is part of the Coast to Coast route. Consequently it had been “engineered” and much drier underfoot. Turning along this path I continued to climb heading up towards the Knott. I bypassed the summit (but would climb it on the way down), carrying on to the ridge known as the Straights of Riggendale.

Reaching the top of the ridge I forked off left heading towards my first summit of the day Kidsey Pike.

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The end of Haweswater, the most easterly of the Lakes, also came into view.
The lake is actually a reservoir, constructed by the Manchester Corporation back in the 1920’s and 30’s. This was highly controversial at the time as the remote Mardale was considered one of England’s most beautiful valleys. Originally there were two smaller lakes – High and Low Water – which were engulfed along with the village of Mardale Green by the rising waters after the dam was constructed at the end of the valley. This summer the long dry spell led to the waters falling and remains of buildings in the drowned village including the Dun Bull Inn, the Public School, Riggindale Farm became visible, attracting curious visitors.

This was the view to the east from the summit

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and over towards High Street

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To the south west I could see Raise, my next objective

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The cloud I’d seen earlier during my walk over to the west had finally blown over and the sky was now overcast and grey.

It was a relatively easy walk over good ground to the summit of Raise,

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where I stopped for a while to grab a bite to eat, taking in the views over towards Martindale and Ullswater.

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I set off to head along the ridge towards Rampsgill Head and on to High Street. Doing so I would be treading in the footsteps of the Romans who’d built a road, High Street, over the fells between their forts at Penrith and Ambleside, which is how the fell known as High Street got it’s name.

The summit of Raise is covered with loose rocks and as I was starting off towards Rampsgill Head I lost my footing. I couldn’t regain my balance and fell over, somehow cracking my mouth on a rock. As I regained my feet I realised that as well as a few minor cuts and scrapes on my hands and shin, a cut just below my mouth was bleeding quite heavily. I managed to staunch the bleeding with a tissue but decided my little accident wasn’t serious enough to warrant abandoning my trek (it was a long way back to Hartsop in any case) so I carried on, continuing to soak up the blood from the cut below my mouth with a series of tissues until it eventually eased. Anyone who saw me must have thought I’d been in a scrap! I guess I was lucky as a fall up on the fells can be much more serious.

Despite my little incident, I was still able to enjoy the views down Martindale from Rampsgill Head

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Traversing the ridge towards High Street and looking down Riggendale towards Haweswater

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and view over Rough Crag towards Harter Fell and Branstree

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Looking back down to Hayeswater from the route of the Roman road.

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High Street is a long, broad ridge without a clear summit, but OI made my way to the trig point at the highest point of the fell

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Heading back, I decided to more or less retrace my route down to Hartsop, but followed the wall along the top of of High Street rather than taking the route of the Roman road. Walking along the ridge over the Straits of Riggendale I diverted slightly for the modest climb to the summit of the Knott. This was the view back over to High Street.

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It was downhill all the way now back down to Hayeswater Gill and the car park in Hartsop

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