Two East End Buildings

One of my main objectives during my mooch around Spitalfields last week was to have a look at a couple of Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau buildings  in the area, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. He was a Scouser – well, almost, he was born in Birkenhead – who moved to London in 1880.

The first of the two buildings was the Whitechapel gallery, a short distance down Whitechapel from Aldgate where I’d been working. I’d been there a few times before to visit exhibitions and always admired the building with it’s twin towers and massive, off-centre round arch above the front door.

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It’s creamy stone stands out in a street of dark brick buildings. In a number of ways, with it’s solid stone construction and relatively but curved surfaces, it rather reminds me of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, particularly the Glasgow School of Art.

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Originally, it was intended that the upper part of the facade would be filled with mosaics by the renowned Arts and Crafts designer Walter Crane, but these were never completed. However, today there’s a lovely metallic frieze of leaves and branches by Rachael Whiteread that was installed just a few years ago.

The gallery was founded  1901, intended to bring art to the working classes of East London, and was one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in the Capital.

The second building was on Bishopgate at the far side of Spitalsfields and close to Liverpool Street Station – The Bishopgate Institute.

Like the Whitechapel Gallery, it has a broad semi-circular arched entrance and twin towers, in this case topped by ornate, multifacetted turrets. It has a different look, though – a little more traditional, more ornate and influenced by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.

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There are beautiful friezes above the entrance and towards the top of the towers, representing the Tree of Life. It was difficult to get a photo of them – the street was busy with commuters at rush hour, but I’ve done my best to enlarge sections of my pictures of the building

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According to the Institute’s website

The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall and meeting rooms for people living and working in the City of London. The Great Hall in particular was ‘erected for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’.

So both buildings reflect the Art and Crafts Movement’s dedication to the cause of social progress (and, in may cases, Socialism) by providing facilities for the education and enlightenment of the working class. It’s good to see that both buildings are still being used for the purposes originally intended.

Charles Harrison Townsend designed another Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau building, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, South London. I’ve had a look at some pictures of the Museum on the web and it’s now on the bucket list. It’s not so far from the Dulwich Picture Gallery so perhaps I can arrange to combine a visit to both of them.

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Street Haunting in Spitalfields

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Last Tuesday I was working in the east of London, in Aldgate. After work, I still had 2 and 1/2 hours to kill before my train so, as it was a pleasant afternoon, I decided to have a wander around Spitalfields, a short walk away.

In the 17th and 18th century the area was associated with silk weaving after Huguenots fleeing from persecution in France settled here and brought their skills with them. Later, Irish linen workers settled here. In the Victorian period, following the decline of the silk and linen industries it became something of a notorious slum. There were further waves of Jewish and then Bangladeshi immigrants bringing new cultures and energy to the area. Today, like much of the East End it’s become somewhat gentrified. The old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped.

It’s an interesting place to walk around, with some historic buildings and modern street art to look at.

For me, the star of the show is Hawksmoor’s magnificent gleaming white Christ Church

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one of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known.

There’s an interesting war memorial in the church yard.

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Close by, on Commercial Street,  the Fruit and Wool exchange building has been controversially redeveloped against local opposition, over-ruled by the former Mayor of London and current “Clown Secretary”. The white neo-Classical façade has, fortunately, been preserved.

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A number of old commercial buildings nearby  have also been preserved

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I quite liked this building with it’s neo-Gothic features

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and these more modern flats with an Art Deco look

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There’s street art dotted around the redeveloped market. Here’s a selection I spotted.

The Spitalfields Goat by Kenny Hunter

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A pear and a fig by Ali Grant

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Dogman and Rabbitgirl with coffee by Gillie and Marc

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Wooden Boat with Seven People by Kalliopi Lemos, features an authentic boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to the shores of the Greek islands. The installation aims to reflect Spitalfields’ rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of migrants across the centuries.

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I couldn’t find out who had created this “steampunk” motorbike

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Night Time City

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Last Friday I had to go down to London for a meeting. As it was scheduled for the afternoon I got the first off peak train down so the first train I could get home left at 7:30 p.m. Luckily there’s always something to do in London and on Friday evening Tate Modern is open late. As my meeting was on the South Bank, that seemed like a good option, especially as I quite fancied seeing the Red Star Over Russia exhibition that was coming towards the end of its run. A review of that to follow, but while I was in the Tate I got the lift to the viewing platform in the Switch House to take a look over a night time view of the City.

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Cezanne Portraits at the NPG

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The Thursday immediately after the Christmas break I had to go down to London for a meeting so we took the opportunity to have a short break in the Capital as there was a couple of exhibitions we particularly wanted to see. We were lucky in managing to book a room in the Euston Premier Inn for less than £60 – a remarkable bargain these days.

After my meeting in Southwark had finished late afternoon, I crossed the river and took the bus from near St Paul’s

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over to Trafalgar Square to meet my wife in the National Gallery where she’d been spending a few hours. We went back inside for a quick look at some favourite paintings and the small exhibition of paintings by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela of Lake Keitele in his native country. No photos allowed but I downloaded this picture from the National Gallery’s website (under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons licence)

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Lake Keitele (1905) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The National Gallery’s website tells us

For the first time in the UK, this exhibition unites all of Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’ landscapes. They are displayed side by side, showing the gradual shift of the composition, between naturalistic landscape and highly stylised, abstracted image. They also illuminate the various influences, Finnish and foreign, absorbed by this highly distinctive and versatile artist.

The National Gallery closes at 6 so we made our way out onto Trafalgar Square and past St Martins in the Field

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round to the National Portrait Gallery which is open late on Thursday evening.

We had a look round taking in some old favourites – the Elizabethan gallery and portraits of some of my “heroes” including William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Humphry Davy – and some new discoveries before purchasing tickets for the exhibition of Cezanne portraits.

This is a major exhibition with 50 portraits by Cezanne, which has already been shown in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris and will later move on to National Gallery of Art in Washington.

As usual over here no photos allowed (how different it was in Australia where we could take photos even in paid exhibitions) but there’s a short youtube video showing highlights

The portraits are mainly of his family and friends with some of other people he knew – including workers from around where he lived, one in particular who posed for some well known paintings. There are also a good number of self portraits. Covering the whole of his career, it’s possible to see how Cezanne’s technique changed and evolved. Some early portraits, including one of his uncle Dominique, have been painted with a pallet knife rather than a brush.

One person who appears more than anyone else in the exhibition is Marie-Hortense Fiquet  his wife,  who he met in Paris when he was 30 and she was 19. He painted her about 30 times and a good number of these portraits are included in the exhibition.

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Portrait of Madame Cézanne with Loosened Hair, c. 1883 – 1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source: Wikipedia)

It’s very interesting to see how his portrayal of her changed over the years. She doesn’t look particularly happy in any of them and the later portraits are far from flattering to say the least. What does it say about their relationship? He married her against the wishes of his family and stuck with her until he died so he surely can’t have hated her and in those days wealthy men could easily discard a wife or lover. It’s well known that he was a miserable so and so, so perhaps that was reflected in his paintings of her or does it just reflect how his art evolved.

If these portrayals are hardly “attractive” in the conventional sense, and Cézanne has been accused of  “cruelty” in his painting of his wife, with whom he had a difficult relationship, he would no doubt have painted her in exactly the same way had the pair been in the first flush of romance, such was his obsession with pure form and shape.   (Mark Hudson writing in the Telegraph)

 

 

Clocking in

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A little before we clocked in and joined the production line in Tate Exchange we’d seen a series of 8,627 photographs and a film showing someone clocking in on the hour, every hour,  24 hours a day for a full 12 months during 1980-1981. One Year Perormance was undertaken by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in his studio in New York.

Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance

At the beginning of the project he shaved off his hair and we can see it gradually grow back in the series of photographs and the film.

It seemed such an odd thing to do. It meant that he was unable to sleep properly for a full year. He missed 133 clock-ins, and the reasons are documented on a note which is displayed amongst the contextual materials included in the exhibition along with letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, the punch clock itself and a time card. The main reason given was, not surprisingly,  sleeping through.

According to an interview in the Guardian the artist, the work

recalls the labours of Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a rock repeatedly up a mountain, only to watch it fall down again

while it may seem to convey a message about the tedium and conformity of industrial labour, he tells Guardian Australia he is “not a political artist, although people are at liberty to interpret my work from a political standpoint … I’m interested in the universal circumstances of human life”.

Although clearly a crazy thing to do, there was something rather fascinating about the project and, personally, I can certainly see a political message about the alienation of work and how people are enslaved by work that is certainly relevant in this day of zero hour contracts and so-called self employed status workers employed by the likes of Uber and courier services.

Back to Borough Market

A few days after our short break in the Peak District I was down in Dartford with work. I’d travelled down by train via London so we decided to combine work with pleasure and the other half travelled down on the Friday morning and met me in London for a short stay. We were staying in a Premier Inn at Southwark near Borough Market. It’s a really “buzzing” area during the evening with plenty of places to eat and lots of pubs and bars, all of which were busy on an autumn evening. The terrorist attack by zealots who don’t like people having fun only a few weeks ago doesn’t seem to have stopped people getting out and enjoying themselves – and that’s the way it should be.

We had a rather nice contemporary style Leabanese meal at a busy Arabica , a restaurant under the railway arches on Rochester Walk near the market

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followed by a stroll along the South Bank before turning in

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The next day, after breakfast we went for a wander around the market.

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Giacometti at Tate Modern

I’d been looking forward to seeing the retrospective of work by Giacometti, a favourite artist of mine, that opened recently at Tate Modern. So when I was down in London a couple of weeks ago, I made time to visit the gallery on London’s Bankside.

Giacometti is a favourite artist – I like his trademark sculptures of elongated figures – walking men and standing women – with their rough, textured surfaces. The exhibition included plenty of those, with works from the Tate’s own collection, like Man Pointing  (1947)

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with other examples from public and private collections. As usual with these paid exhibitions, no photos allowed so the pictures in this post are either photos I’ve taken during previous visits to Tate Modern, or from the exhibition website.

As a retrospective, it included earlier works before the Swiss artist developed his signature style. In particular, his surrealist works from the 1930’s

The first room contained a large table covered with a large number of sculptures of heads in different styles and made from various materials – some quite tiny – covering his career, Being displayed in this way really allowed visitors to see how his style developed – initially relatively ‘lifelike’

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Head of Isabel 1936

they evolved into more abstract, fatter forms, eventually becoming flat and featureless rectangles from his Surrealist period. Then the later sculptures in the style for which he is best known. The heads included sculptures of his family members, friends and some famous individuals, including Simone de Beauvoir.

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Bust of Annette IV (1962)

Moving on through the other 9 rooms was a progression through his career. The next few rooms displaying abstract and Surrealist works – sculptures, decorative pieces (lamps, vases, jewellery and wall reliefs) and sketches in his notebooks.

Probably the most Surrealist of the works in the exhibition was the rather grusome Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932)more of a weird insect than a human being

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After WWII, he returned to Paris where he began to produce the elongated figures for which he is best known. These dominated the final 5 rooms

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Three men walking (source: Wikipedia)

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The dog (1951)

This is what I’d come to see. They’re simple, almost like 3 dimensional versions of L S Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ in their complex simplicity

The thin figures that emerged like wisps of smoke out of Giacometti’s conscience in the second part of that murderous decade seem barely to exist. They are not so much statues as mirages of people glimpsed far away, shimmering on a horizon of ash. The human form, starved, bereft, but somehow standing tall. (Guardian)

There were paintings too. Again, he has a distinctive style. The figures are made up of a series of lines which merge to form an image rather like the dots in a Pointillist painting

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Seated Man (1949)

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Caroline (1965)

This was a marvellous exhibition that didn’t disappoint.