Monday, 20 December 2010

Gimme Moore

 The Millenium Galleries in Sheffield have pulled a couple of blinders this year. This summer's 'Watercolour in Britain' exhibition was a beautiful  specimen to behold. I lost count of the lunch hours I spent gazing at the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhoods paintings. Rossetti, Hunt and Millais were peppered with some more contemporary peices, Chris Offili and Anish Kapoor standing out amongst the rest.

But this Autumn, they've shunted the Long Gallery around to make way for 'Restless Times: Art in Britain 1914-1945' an exhibition that in the curator's own words 'looks at the preoccupations of the period and draws parallels with today'. Having studied the Modern Period in the last term of my Literature degree I hoped I'd be able to put both the art and the literature into a wider historical context. This little (and slightly geeky) personal goal was a natural process when walking around the exhibition, helped along by the ridiculous ambitions of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists who wanted their fingers in every pie, and definately upped my appreciation of the work. The early 20th Century was wracked with political instability, technological progression, glamour, sin, rage, passion, anger and a crippling guilt at the abandonment of the past. T.S Eliot, Virginia Woolf and D.H Lawrence all embraced such contradictions with darkness looming over every line of their work.

The exhibition's Vorticist paintings helped put Modern Manifestos into practice. Blast is perhaps the most well-known of these, written in 1914 by Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, the magazine's title meant the 'the blowing away of dead ideas and worn out notions'. This tirade on the past included the condemning of the French (their little trees causing the most frustration), Victorian London and all it represented; the suffragettes, the circus and codliver oil (really). If you ever have a spare minute, it's worth a look if only for its absurdity. Such frustration and forward looking is reflected in many of the works in Restless Times; mechanical shapes, vortexs of bold lines, dark colours permeated by bright reds and oranges all hint at modernisation and destruction at the same time.

But what gives the entire collection its weight is the few Henry Moore sketches that line one wall. Most of us know Henry Moore for his large, no massive, sculptures that are scattered around the country. But his finest work in my eyes is the series of sketches he made whilst in the Underground during the Blitz. The scratchy pencil, ink and charcoal drawings, sometimes illuminated by thin lines of colour, are exquisite. Somehow their beauty transcends the horror of the subject; rows upon rows of slumbering Londoners clinging to one another in the dark. Tender moments shared by men, women and children whilst they escape from noise and terror outside. The static, corpse-like appearance of the bodies suggesting the fine line of life and death of war-time existence. Despite suceeding TS Eliot's 'The Wasteland' by almost twenty years, the etchings of people in a brick walled wasteland encapsulate the sentiment behind his words:

Unreal city,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
                                                 (Eliot, The Burial of the Dead, ll.60)

Despite this, I couldn't help but think that the exibition's curators had missed a trick. No doubt, the period was haunted, sandwiched between two world wars it was bound to be. But I missed the secret decadence of the Bloomsbury group that appears in so much of the literature, the international influences of absinthe and Africa, the revolutionary spirit. There was more underground than just the trains in this period.

The exhibitions on till January.*
*it's even suitable for the colour blind. Tried and tested.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

À bout de souffle...

Breathless 1960
Jean-Luc Godard

A recent University study has concluded that we spend 46.8% of our waking hours daydreaming. Godard's 'Breathless' is the onscreen equivalent to those glorious moments of distraction. Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo spend most of the film lazing around in clouds of cigerette smoke and unmade beds, occasionally meandering along noisy French boulevards. The hand-held arriflex camera used to shoot the sequences makes the images seem lilting and hazy, sometimes uncertain but always romantic. She's gorgeous, he thinks he's Humphrey Bogart, they're on the run from the police. It's only in the final sequences that the dreaming comes to an end...and Michel's Parisien life and American girlfriend retreat to the smokey apartment, leaving him to face cruel interrogation alone. Sadly, I don't think I could carry off a pixie crop...even in a daydream, but next time my mind starts to wander I'll definately be trying on a pair of those capri pants.

Have a gander at the US Study into daydreaming here:

Friday, 5 November 2010

Red Light 'Dirk'-strict

German artist Dirk Stewen caught my eye this week, his work is melancholic but strangely soothing at the same time. His assemblages consist of old photos, grainy photocopies, watercolour and ink...often tied together with strands of thread which flit through the collages.

The young artist says that the range of colour he uses is inspired by the red-light district of Hamburg where he lives and works.  But instead of neon lights and seedy decor, his palette is more if the image is watered down or fading from sight. His highly visual environment undoubtedly influences his constructions. In the first piece below the combination of angular lines and fluid watercolour shapes hints at the female form being constrained or framed (think windows...) This notion is mirrored in the adjacent image, where a leaf is tied tightly to the leg of a chair. Something natural is attached to a harder, solid entity. Nature is constrained, like a woman peering out from a window, or glass box.  The second work also hints at the erotic, with the inky black hat alluding to sexual aggression  and fetishism.

'A thing or two'

from 'Droplets'

'Bronx Monkey II'
Thankfully, Bronx Monkey can't be explained by erotic means, but the grainy photocopy with its spangled threaded edge is tentative, delicate and a little bit kitsch. Stewen compares his work to decorations at a party, 'they look gorgeous at the beginning of the evening, but fade fast'. I think he might be selling himself a little bit short, I can't stop looking.  

Thursday, 4 November 2010


A few bits from Paris...



Friday, 22 October 2010

Heaven on Ecclesall Road

It's not strictly art, but 'Cocoa' on Ecclesall Road is certainly a feast for the eyes.

Bought by two young graduates several years ago Cocoa is a chocolate shop, cafe and now the setting for the latest trend in lock-ins. Nestling snugly in the middle of a long terraced block, Cocoa is certainly the jewel in the crown where Sheffield's sweet treats are concerned. As we arrived the baby blue shop front glowed enticingly in the dark, its chequerboard tiled steps and candy striped awning winking at passers by. 

Once you've pushed open the door, it's a bit like stepping into Kath Kidston's larder. The shop is overwhelmingly 'vintage' but in a charming and somehow unpretentious way. The front room is where the goods are kept, row after row of glass jars full of sweets, shelves of truffles and countless boxes and bags of chocolate. The products look expensive and so do the fittings and fixtures, large wooden counters fill what little space there is and enhance the painstaking detail that has gone into the displays. Hand written labels, pretty bags and flyers all add to the comforting atmosphere.

Greeted by big smiles we were ushered through into the back room and the setting for Cocoa's new tasting evenings. A rather clever concept which allows groups of people to learn about and taste different types of chocolate. The evenings are not exclusively for women but I'm guessing very few men succumb to such indulgence in public. Much like the shop floor the second room is crammed to the ceiling with trinkets, teapots and cake shaped gifts. The walls are lined with frames full of vintage prints, packaging and adverts from yester-years and bring a certain retro charm to proceedings.

The session itself was as nostalgic as the decor. Sat on pastel wicker chairs and a comfortable old settee, our host for the evening introduced herself and the shop before launching into the history of chocolate. The chatter that accompanied the evening was informative, interesting and lovingly executed. Kate and Anne seemed dedicated to their enterprise, demonstrated in particular by a recent trip to Grenada where they have forged links with a self-sustaining chocolate factory. Chocolate samples were served in delicate teacups and each was explained with care, we were teased with chilli, strawberry and liquorice flavours and appalled by the Cadbury bars that we previously enjoyed with X-Factor. Saturated by Black Forest Gateau tea, all six of us were converted by the end of the night. A group of rather loud Rotherham ladies seemed equally as transfixed by their evening in the larger room upstairs.

Leaving the shop clutching our party bags (a selection of the shops truffles in case you wondered) the autumn air felt a bit less sharp. I'm not sure whether it was the warmth of the tea or the lingering impression of hard work and excitement that put a smile on my face, but I do know what everyones getting for Christmas.

Cocoa Wonderland can be found at:
462 Ecclesall Road

...and I thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Wish You Were Here

‘It’s very hot. CU soon.’

The holiday text is usually short, rarely sweet and sent to fulfil a promise to your loved ones, made as you kissed them goodbye at Manchester Airport. It’s often an afterthought, hastily written as you hit the streets in search of dinner or dash to your sun-bed after breakfast. It may be swift, it may be easy, but does it fill the void left by the ever decreasing number of postcards being sent back to Blighty from foreign lands?

A trip advisor survey suggests that only 11% of travellers still send postcards home, with 60% preferring to send a text. Admittedly, it has been a while since I’ve sent a postcard but I do still feel a small frisson of excitement when one appears in my letterbox. My most recent communication was from the sunny climes of Cornwall and boasted a pretty fantastic picture of a pasty. Once it’s in your hands, the guessing game begins, where it’s from, who it’s from, what they’ve written (because the writing is always partly obscured by the name of the beach in ten languages)…all of which you know the answer to because you demanded that they send you one before they left. It’s still nice to receive a 3” by 6”inch picture of a flamenco dancer with a net skirt though isn’t it?

That’s what the brains at BA thought when they launched their ‘Save the Postcard’ Campaign last week. With the trip advisor statistics in mind they enrolled the help of various artists, designers and, strangely enough, singers to create a collection of postcards that are to be auctioned off in aid of Comic Relief. Reviving a classic and raising some cash for charity, what honourable people BA employees are when they’re not striking.

So who’s onboard? Florence (of Florence and the Machine fame), Jack Vettriano, Liberty Illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve, Giles Deacon and Tracey Emin have all contributed to the surprisingly exquisite collection. Some are predictable, Manolo Blahnik’s vibrant watercolour shoe for example, others are more symbolic. Vettriano’s dada inspired collage includes a scrap of a map, a newspaper clipping about St. Tropez and the shapely legs of a socialite. On first glance you might miss the snippet of paper that links the French President with Vanity Fair, on second glance it could help you read the card as an encapsulation of all things French. Florence Welch’s contribution is just plain lovely, tiny stars and swirls surround an image of the Trevi Fountain with her swirling handwriting proclaiming ‘Ciao Bella’ across the night sky. It’s safe to say that the designs are simple, economic usage of space is the dominating theme. Tracey Emin’s is, some might say, naturally the highlight of the collection. A roughly executed, navy blue monoprint of the words ‘Margate Just a Kiss Away’ is perhaps a bleak take on the jaunty holiday tradition, but the words sear with meaning. The blue ink against the white paper suggests clear skies and frosty seas, softened by the mention of a kiss. A holiday kiss is always something to write home about, even if it happened in Margate. The scratchy image penetrates the mind as, like in many of Emin’s works, a familiar object is presented in an uncomfortable form. The current bid on ‘Margate’ is £625.

The most disappointing and all things considered the most offensive postcard in the auction is Diane von Furstenberg’s effort. You’d think the designer behind a highly successful and frankly wonderful global fashion house would be able to do better than a love heart with ‘UK’ scrawled inside.  The token sportsman’s childish image I can forgive, but Diane I cannot. If you can design a collection for New York fashion week you can do better than a marker pen and a signature. No one wants your signature, we want an image that can help us relive a holiday romance, revive a Victorian tradition and convince us to pick up a pen next time we’re by the pool.

See the full collection here:
Try Again Diane 

Or read the Guardians take on it here:

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Amy Grace Nagy

I’m a postgraduate Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Sheffield. I turned down a place at Art School in favour of a proper degree. Mistake? Maybe. That’s something we’ll never know. However my love of art, literature degree and vast array of thespian friends means that I’m pretty immersed in all things cultural. Culture? In Sheffield? I hear you cry. Why yes, it does exist and it’s not just steel workers after some easy cash either. The purpose of this blog is to review and reveal the exhibitions that grace the walls of the city and any other little arty stories that you might have missed in the National press.