Saturday mornings are for all the best things in life. Mornings which don’t start with the alarm clock ringing at 7 am. Long, lazy breakfasts, ideally involving something like blueberry pancakes or hot chocolate. Reading the Saturday papers (so much better than the Sunday papers) and doing the crosswords. Mooching to the shop and buying something frivolous like flowers or cake. Having more cups of tea than is strictly necessary. Listening to the radio while you float around the house, polishing things and thinking about stopping for a ginger biscuit or two, while you contemplate what you might do later on in the afternoon or in the evening - usually something cheering involving going somewhere and seeing friends. And there are the traces of the excited feeling of childhood Saturdays too - the Saturdays which involved things like riding round the village on my bike (a turquoise Raleigh Bianca), penny sweets in a paper bag, ballet classes and going to the bookstall on Chorley market and spending all my pocket money on paperbacks. Most of all, the lovely sense of possibility. After all, it’s still only Saturday morning. There’s still all of Saturday afternoon and evening, not to mention all of Sunday still to come.
Today I am recovering from a super-busy week I am catching up on domestic things (the War of the Green Taps continues), reading the paper, re-reading The Weather in the Streets by Rosamund Lehman, drinking cinnamon tea, knitting and resolutely ignoring the university work I am supposed to be doing. I am listening to a bit of Radio 4 or, when it annoys me (and/or Any Answers? is on) Radio 3. I am looking forward to going round to my friends’ house for dinner later on.
And in between all of that, I’m just doing absolutely nothing. Except maybe breathing. And sipping my tea. And watching the birds out of the window. It’s very, very good.
I love Nick Knight's amazing editorials for UK Vogue, especially this quirky 1940s-inspired shoot from the March edition: "Chocks Away." The lighting, colours and compositions are beautiful, and Lily Donaldson makes the perfect contemporary re-imagining of a classic 40s pin-up/wartime heroine.
Knight has also been responsible for some of Vogue's most adventurous and innovative editorials in the past, including the "Unbelievable Fashion" feature in the December 2008 issue. The photographer has developed a reputation for pushing boundaries - whether technical, artistic, or in terms of posing a challenge to the fashion industry by questioning conventional ideals of beauty. As well as working on stories for Vogue, Knight has worked for everyone from Yohji Yamamoto to Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood to Christian Dior, as well as shooting record covers for David Bowie, Paul Weller and Massive Attack.
Phew. A few good things anyway. And maybe Tuesday will be better. How have your Mondays been?
There’s something more than language, though, that bothered me about this book - which, when Dahl relaxes and lets herself go, is actually rather gracefully written. I think the closest I can come to it is a very classic and clichéd piece of advice (which I have been given myself in the past...perhaps, dare I suggest, many of the things which disappointed me most about Dahl’s writing are the very things that frustrate me about my own?) and that is “murder your darlings”. What’s really wrong with Playing with the Grown-ups is that there’s no sting in the tale, no bite. In spite of the rather tedious roll-call of the usual ‘misery-lit’ ingredients - drugs (check), alcohol (check), sex (check), dysfunctional family life (check), hints at eating disorders (check), self-harm (check), tragic beauties (check) nothing seems to have consequences. Far from being dark, it’s actually all rather glossy and well-lit: you can imagine everyone a little bit wooden, but with perfect hair, like characters in a made-for-TV movie. In spite of all, at the end of the book, the now supposedly well-adjusted grown-up Kitty seems to have a cringingly ‘nice’ relationship with her family, whilst Marina herself is rather too neatly ‘punished’ for her insensitive ways by turning out to be a bit of a sad case. Dahl has been quoted as saying how much she hates “bitter books and bitter people” and I’m the last person to advocate for the grim and the joyless in the books I read, but it all just seems a little bit gooey – like eating a lot of cream cakes - maybe whimsical pink ones, possibly with some kind of star-shaped sprinkles on top?Now I don’t mean to imply that Dahl ought to have written a misery memoir (let's just say I am not a fan of those), and of course, a lovely, light-as-air, enjoyable cream-cake of a book, even if it is a bit sugary at times, is not automatically a bad thing, especially when it has that extra touch of magic-wand sparkle to it. However, by the end - I’ll admit it - I was desperate for something to take the edge off all that sticky sweetness.
The common factor in all of these situations is that suddenly (painfully) I am forced to confront the truth that when I write things here, they don’t just disappear into a lovely invisible void. They are actually out there, public, available for anyone and everyone to read. I think the weird thing about anything you do online is that in spite of the web being possibly one of the most public spheres that has ever existed, it has a way of tricking you into thinking that what you’re doing is completely private - or at least, relatively intimate. Sometimes I feel that writing here is not so different to writing in a personal diary - I’m just happily chuntering away to myself, not really expecting anyone to be listening. Or other times, I feel that I’m talking directly to just one or two imagined “kindred spirits” (see L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables) who are always sympathetic and never critical, and to whom words like “self-indulgent” or “trite” are utterly unknown. At the very most, I feel I am writing to a very small audience of people I have never met, and am never likely to meet, who don’t me and who in any case probably live in, like, a whole other country.
Actually, of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Writing a blog is nothing like whispering into a sympathetic ear: in fact, it often feels more akin to standing up in front of a room full of people, including everyone you’ve ever met, and repeatedly shrieking “look at me!” Which if you do know me, or if you’ve ever read about my thoughts on stuff like this, you’ll be aware is possibly the Last Thing On Earth I Would Ever Do.
It’s easy to forget that though, when you’re sitting cozily in your room, by yourself, in your pyjamas, just happily wittering away, much like I am doing right now. After all, there’s rarely an instant audience reaction - no applause, no chorus of boos. And so you forget that there’s a real audience out there, which inevitably consists of both the loyal front-row seaters, who turn up to every show without fail, and those sitting at the back, rustling their programmes a bit impatiently and sighing and looking at their watches and wondering when it will be time for the interval so they can go and get an ice-cream or have a cigarette. (Or maybe even people like the man I remember seeing once when I was about 15 and was at the theatre, watching a double-bill of Tom Stoppard plays, who nodded off as soon as the lights went down and slept solidly, complete with quite audible, entirely unembarrassed snoring, through the whole show.)
Maybe that’s one advantage of blogging though. It does force you to be a bit braver about getting up there and saying something - anything - and I am basing this on the assumption that saying something is always better than saying nothing at all. But every now and again, when you remember where you are, you can’t help getting a little stage fright, especially when the spotlight is not exactly your natural habitat. So don’t be surprised if every now and again I have a ‘bashful blogging’ moment. If I go quiet for a few days - even a week or two- you can guarantee I’ll soon forget where I am and be back to my usual meandering self.
[exeunt stage right]
It's Monday again... and Monday is the time for brightly-coloured, cheering things, especially when it's February and toes are cold, and spring still feels an unfeasibly long time away.
Today, I am admiring these beautiful illustrations by artist Charley Harper. Inspired by the simplicity of Inuit art and movements like Cubism and Minimalism, as well as the mathematics, geometry and physics, Harper developed a style he termed "minimal realism" which aimed to capture the elements of his subjects (usually animals and birds), reducing them to a series of simple visual elements such as shapes, patterns and colours. Working in direct opposition to conventional "superrealistic" illustrations of nature and wildlife, he characterised his unique approach as follows:
When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.
I am currently coveting this fabulous (and enormous) monograph of Harper's work, entitled Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, which brings together images from all five decades of his career - however with an RRP of £99.95 I think it's going to have to stay on the wish list only!
Other things that have cheered up my Monday include: the first spring daffodils; blueberries and strawberries in my fruit salad; fleeting moments of sunshine; my growing addiction to we heart it; button earrings and black satin bows; soya hot chocolate as a mid-morning treat; the excellent Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl; and the prospect of maybe checking out this when I go down to London later this week.
What has brightened up your Monday?
Curated by Anna Dezeuze and David Lomas, Subversive Spaces: Surrealism & Contemporary Art is the result of a collaboration between the AHRC Research Centre for the Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies, and The Whitworth Art Gallery. This ambitious exhibition sets out to explore the legacy of the Surrealist project, bringing together work by artists such as Dali, Magritte, Ernst and Atet, and setting it alongside works by contemporary artists exploring similar territories. The exhibition is organised into two distinct spaces: Psychic Interiors investigates and destabilises the domestic space of the home, exploring themes such as female hysteria, anxiety, claustrophobia and the unheimlich; whilst Wandering the City follows the Surrealist’s interest in exploring the city streets to discover hidden social spaces and the secret territories where our unconscious fears and desires reside. These locations, both private and public, personal and social, are the “subversive spaces” of the exhibition title - the familiar, everyday places that the Surrealists attempted to disturb and reconfigure, exposing the hidden narratives at work within the spaces we inhabit.
Ambitious it may be, but from what I have seen of this exhibition so far, it certainly delivers a lot. Whilst some of the connections made between historical and contemporary works were undoubtedly more interesting and revealing than others, the exhibition is beautifully presented and very well thought through: exploring the twisty network of rooms and passages is itself an appropriately destabilising and disturbing experience. Of the contemporary works, some highlights for me were Lucy Gunning’s strangely atmospheric video of a woman in a red dress crawling around the walls of the room without touching the floor (pictured above) evoking the archetype of female psychic disturbance (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper particularly came to mind) whilst simultaneously re-visioning children’s games. Robert Gober’s unexpected sculpture of a very realistic male leg apparently emerging from a wall was pleasingly unsettling, as were some satisfyingly unheimlich works by Tony Ousler, Sarah Lucas and Tacita Dean, whilst Katie Houlten’s crotchet wall-patterns, Francis Alys’s Railings and William Anastasi’s Subway Drawings represented playful attempts to map the apparently random and ephemeral traces of urban life. It was also interesting to get close to some classic works including original illustrations for André Breton’s Surrealist novel Nadja, Ralph Rumney’s 1958 "study" of his wanderings in Venice and Guy Debord’s psychogeographic "map" of Paris. Overall, this exhibition is an interesting assemblage of a variety of work related to the Surrealist movement and its themes: whilst the connection with some of the contemporary works occasionally feels a little tenuous, overall it makes a compelling case for the continuing relevance of the Surrealist project in all its complexities, emphasising the revolutionary intent at the movement’s heart.
Subversive Spaces is showing until 4 May, and there's also an accompanying conference taking place next Friday and Saturday which I'd love to go along to if I can make it. You can read some other responses to the show here and here and also here there's a flickr set of work from the show here.
bad for bunnies
about being slow
the best moods
disaster owl knitted hot water bottle
sculpture of pineapple by the road
tra la la lingerie
bunnies are the best
red shoes perfect for yellow party dress
when is paraphenalia good?
best things about brick
enchanted shoes stuck on her feet
So pleasingly random, and also strangely inspiring - I feel I'd like to write a story featuring enchanted yellow party dresses, slow but cheerful bunnies, disastrous owls, musical underwear and pineapple sculptures.
In other news, follow the yellow brick road has ventured into uncharted waters - the somewhat baffling world of twitter. I'm still not really sure I get it, but I'm working on it (I mean, if Russell Brand and Fearne Cotton can manage it, I'm sure I can). For twittering, tweeting and other general bird-type noises, find and befriend me here.
Any expert twitterers out there with any tips/insights to share?
Monday is a day to look at pretty things... especially when you're still full of illness and have very cold toes and need something colourful to brighten up your day.
Today I'm loving these fabulous illustrations by Rene Gruau, which capture so perfectly the spirit of late 1940s and early 1950s fashion and design, evoking all the glamour and elegance of the post-war "New Look". Famously self-taught, Gruau took inspiration from diverse sources, looking to art nouveau, traditional Japanese prints, and the work of artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec to develop his distinctive graphic style and colour palette. Today, he is probably best remembered for his fashion illustrations for Dior, which epitomise Parisian chic: Dior first commissioned him back in 1947 for the launch of the Miss Dior fragrance. However, he also worked for a range of other "grands couturiers" including Pierrre Balamin, Marcel Rochas and Givenchy, illustrated for magazines including Harper's, Vogue and Elle and designed posters for Paris institutions such as the Lido and the Moulin Rouge cabarets, as well as iconic French brands including Cinzano, Martini and Air France.
Other things which have cheered up my Monday include: perfect orange tulips; leopard print socks; a new blog find, little brown pen; dairy-free chocolate brownies; and of course, watching the snow fall - the view from my window has been transformed into a white fairytale world. (So much better of course when you don't have to go anywhere and can sit at home under the blanket, listening to reports of snow related chaos on Radio 4)
What has brightened up your Monday?