Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Around Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

From top to bottom: the new Cabinet gallery; Ashley Bickerton Bali painting; staircase, Newport Street gallery; Pacman Ghost on side of pub, Lambeth High Street; terracotta and glazed tiles, Southbank House

The last time the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens contained any kind of pleasure – of a legal, civilised kind anyway – was round about 1850. Since then it’s fallen into despair but, lo and behold, the area is being regenerated. We visited on a fine afternoon, the day before St George's Day, and there was a St George's festival on and it felt like a village fete, with a Punch and Judy show, sword fighters and stalls. There were donkeys on display, come from Vauxhall City Farm on the other side of the gardens. Old style jazz was billowing out of the lovely Tea House Theatre cafe (which blissfully doesn't serve coffee), where a slice of their stale cake sets you back £5 (worth having once for the experience).

I’d been earlier in the week to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to visit Cabinet, the gallery having recently moved from east London and now residing below offices in a purpose-built structure on the corner of the gardens. Though I was none too inspired by Pierre Guyotat's childlike sketches of figures with huge dicks, it's nice to see another gallery in the area. Five minutes walk out of the park in a converted Victorian building, once a school, is Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery on Newport Street. We popped in to see their current exhibition, Meditations on the Anthropocene, which consists of huge black and white screens in large dark rooms, slowly animating, with discordant, creepy music. In other words, a Disney horror movie shot by Tarkovsky (perhaps). There's a nice vegan cafe downstairs.

Damien Hirst's Newport Street gallery is at the other end of the road. My usual stock response to being asked about his gallery is the staircases are better than any of the art, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playful new Ashley Bickerton exhibition. The shark in a strait jacket on the exhibition’s website homepage does no justice to Bickerton’s work which encompasses sculpture, photography, sculpture and graphic design. My daughter naturally preferred the scary monster heads with bird of paradise flower tentacles coming out of their heads, but I loved the lurid Bali paintings with their ornate wooden frames depicting traditional Balinese life, whilst the painting themselves show a kind of psychedelic modern Bali.

An interesting interview with Bickerton by Paul Theroux (how has his talentless son, Louis, eclipsed his father, one of the best travel writers of his generation? Oh yes, because pa writes books and son is on TV. Louis' recent film, My Scientology Movie, is a Nick Broomfield-esque textbook documentary about failing to make the documentary you intended; Tickled, by contrast, a recent documentary about competitive tickling, is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism where both you and the filmmaker start off thinking it's going to be about one thing, only to discover it's about something else entirely) can be read on the Guardian website.

On the corner of Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road is the spectacular Southbank House, the only remaining example of the Doulton pottery complex in the area. This Grade-II listed building is being turned into flats, of course, but the ornate exterior will presumably remain. The outside is covered with reliefs, glazed tiles, moulded terracotta and polychromy, all to show off how great Doulton were at pottery (read a better description here, with photos). Nearby is the huge art deco Fire Brigade Headquarters on Albert Embankment, which has fine reliefs. A quick look at White Hart dock, across the road, concluded our tour. The dock was made around 1868, and used as an emergency water supply during the Second World War. Anyway, we were hungry by now and went to get lunch in a nearby cafe.

Really, I enjoy London's art and parks more than anything else in the city. I quite like the area around Newport Street – there's hardly any people or cars compared to the mayhem around Vauxhall.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Barngain of the day: Flora by Nick Knight

I found this book in a charity shop in Croydon. It was priced at £2.50; already a barngain until the shop assistant informed me there was a half price sale, so it was £1.25. I've vaguely wanted this book for years (first published 1997) not because I'm that interested in flora, but because it's a beautiful and elegant book (and tall; it doesn't fit in my bookshelves).

Nick Knight is British fashion photographer who came to prominence in the 1980s with his book of photos of skinheads; a stint at i-D magazine led to photographing Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto's fashion catalogue (like this book, in collaboration with Peter Saville). He has also photographed album covers for the likes of Massive Attack and directed music videos.

Peter Saville art directed the book (though Paul Barnes actually designed it; presumably he did all the actual work). Never one to rush his work, Saville's poster for the opening of the Factory nightclub in Manchester famously turned up late for the event. His own website has been 'under construction' for years.

Photographers from Karl Blossfeldt (whose book Art Forms in Nature was very successful when it came out in 1928) to Irving Penn (whose book of flowers was published in 1980) have produced books of flowers and fauna in close-up, exploring their beautiful forms in much the same way Georgia O'Keeffe did with paint.

Flora is a result of Knight visiting the herbarium (library of pressed flowers) at the Natural History Museum and sifting through thousands of samples; forty-six of the 'most beautiful' were chosen. They are stunning; a riot of colour, texture and shape, all beautifully arranged. The second half of the book has text by Sandra Knapp explaining each plant photographed. Most interestingly, though, it lists when and by who each sample was collected. Amazingly, some date back to the 1800s, and as Knapp rightly states, the stories behind how they were collected would fill volumes and be almost as fascinating as the plants themselves.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Moomins in London

2017 seems to be year of the Moonins in London. Over Easter Kew Gardens are hosting Moomin Adventures, with the creatures hiding among the flowers, and there’s an Easter Trail and craft workshops too.

There’s still a few weeks to go to see the South Bank’s ‘immersive, interactive’ Adventures in Moominland exhibition which I think I enjoyed more than my daughter. Entering through a large Moomin book cover, we entered different Moomin and Tove Jansson environments, from tents and rocky islands to snowy forests and cabins, with rare illustrations and insights into Jansson’s life along the way. Appropriately situated under the stairs in the Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Level. Thoroughly recommended.

Still a while to wait for the Dulwich Picture Gallery to house the first major retrospective of Tove Jansson’s art in the UK. Beyond the Moomins will showcase newly discovered artwork by Jansson from 25 October 2017 to 28 January 2018. If that's not enough, the magical Moomin shop in Covent Garden is one of my favourite shops in London.

Frank Cottell Boyce, writing in the Guardian, sums up Tove Jansson's unusual life pretty well: “Jansson was an upper-middle-class bohemian lesbian, living on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland”. Unfortunately when I was in Finland, I wasn’t able to go to the island where Jansson lived, but managed to fill my bags up with as much Moomin memorabilia as I could get. I probably own more Moomin stuff than a grown adult ought. Yes, I have some books of course, but also, erm, a mobile (no, not a phone, but you know, the 'type of kinetic sculpture constructed to take advantage of the principle of equilibrium' – Wikipedia's useful description), pillow covers, towels, notebook, a soft toy and a pack of teabags.

I had a great dream about Moomins when I was in Finland. They were riding on the back of a giant hare through the snowy streets of Helsinki at night. You had to be there, obviously.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The start of basic income for the Finnish
Illustrated children's books (for parents)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Graphic Designer URGENTLY required

Fabulous, unbelievable and once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a niche but perfectly formed 360 degree omni-platform boutique agency, based in a lovely yet somehow hollow office somewhere near an area someone in Time Out said was cool… once. This cutting edge yet utterly pointless company URGENTLY require a Graphic Designer to URGENTLY start last month. Must be able to time travel and have strong design and Adobe CC skills, along with UX design, Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, Sketch, embroidery, nuclear physics, juggling, Microsoft Word and Excel, video, web, espionage, psychotherapy and civil engineering. A knowledge of HTML, CSS, SQL, KGB, BBC and NASA essential. A PhD in thermal dynamics is handy but not mandatory.

The job will entail designing beautiful layouts with the crispness of a Peter Saville, the roundness of a Rubens and the vigour of a Picasso. You will be designing for print, web, apps and holograms. 

Should you get an interview (though you won't, as the response will be predictably overwhelming), you will be required to do a one hour test which will involve jumping through hoops, general circus skills, and begging like a dog, plus be grilled on your entire life by a panel of five interviewers, all with less experience than yourself, then you will probably never hear back from us. You will be expected to be informed and passionate about the company which until ten minutes ago you didn't know existed. Should by a miracle you get the job you will reap the rewards of a £22,000 p.a. salary. All we require in return is your talent, soul, blood and time. Must be a team player i.e. enjoy being told what to do by people half your age.

Your portfolio will consist of only the best brands from the best agencies otherwise we don't care if you have a decade's worth of experience in publishing or some such dying industry.

Please apply elsewhere with CV, portfolio, shoe size and bank account details.