Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Art
Fact about London that is little known by those who don’t live there or don’t go there: black cabs, at least as likely as not, aren’t.
Here are four that I photoed recently:
The Easyjet taxi is orange all over. The other three have adverts only on their sides, but two out of three of them aren’t even black on the bits of the taxis where the adverts aren’t. Only two of these “black cabs” are even partially black, and the RAW taxi is only partially black (ish) because the advert is (ish).
Quite a lot of taxis can be seen which have no adverts, but are just a different plain colour. White, grey, blue, red, whatever. I realise that those who live in London or who visit London from time to time know all this, but the world does contain people who do not fall into this category, and maybe you are one of them. Unlikely, I know, but there are people like this who do read this blog, even if most of them are only spam commenters.
Adverts on vehicles strike me as very photoable, because in a few months the adverts will be replaced, and even the enterprise itself is liable to be gone in a few years.
Speaking of taxis which aren’t advertising anything, but are just not black, how about this one?:
I spotted that one recently, outside Victoria Station. I was in a hurry to meet someone, so I had no time to scrutinise it carefully to see if an advert is actually buried in there, somewhere. But, I rather think that if that is an advert involved, it is an advert for the artist who did it. Maybe the artist was paid, or maybe the artist paid.
It might make sense for the artist to pay. I recently asked a black cabbie how much he got paid for his black cab to be embraced by an advert, and he said it was around seventy quid a month. That might be worth it for an artist, to put himself about, by flashing pictures of the cab that he had unblackened around amongst his mates and potential customers. But, what do I know?
Whenever I see an old car, of the sort that was the latest thing when I was a kid, I photo it, or I try to.
See, for instance, those delightful old Citroens in Roupell Street. Which were there, I have since learned, not because someone in Roupell Street is collecting them, but because someone in Roupell Street is repairing them.
And see also, this ...:
… which I saw earlier this week, while on my way to a violin and piano recital at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. A Rolls Royce, on the way to what turned out to be a Rolls Royce performance.
I used to have a Dinky Toy version of that car.
I am increasingly coming to believe that many of our most powerfully felt aesthetic prejudices are formed in the nursery. And that a lot of Modern Art is the recreation of those happy sensations, in an enlarged form, suitable for the enlarged people that the nursery dwellers turn into.
But Dinky Toy cars don’t have to be enlarged, because they already have been. Enlarged Dinky Toy cars are called: cars.
Come to think of it, I also had a couple of Dinky Toy Citroens, a DS19, and a 2CV. Yes, this explains a lot.
Here are some pictures I took in the main part of Tate Modern, while on my way to and from the New Extension.
Once again, what I saw in this grand building, now even grander, is this amazing paucity of Art. I presume there is plenty of Art in this place, if you go looking for it. But I have never before visited any Art gallery where you have to go looking, half as determinedly as you have to in this one:
Art being somewhat lacking, the people came into their own. I photoed people. And I photoed people photoing people.
The lady with the blue hair and the blue fingers is herself a work of Art.
Yesterday evening, London burned, and people lined the river to watch:
That being a horizontal slice of one of the pictures here. A big wooden sculpture based on the London that was destroyed first time around was put on a barge, floated into central London, and burned.
The work of Artichoke.
I just opened up my camera to look at the latest snaps I’ve been snapping, and it turns out that, last Friday, in addition to fretting about my meeting and then being pleased about my meeting, I also, while out shopping for my meeting, took this:
If you like that, then you should definitely be a regular visitor to this blog. I’m thinking of postings like: this, this, this, and this. To name the most recent ones with pictures of a similar sort. Trawl back through his archives and you’ll find many more.
In fact, I reckon that had it not been for Mick Hartley’s infuence, I would probably not have taken my photo, of this Hockneyesque, Hartleyesque sort.
Indeed. Photoed by me yesterday, inside the original bit of Tate Modern:
Actually, if you look carefully, you see that these people aren’t exactly the same distances apart. The ones further away are a bit further apart. Which only adds to the effect.
More fundamentally, my picture shows people, but no Art. The contrast, between the bigness of these buildings - Tate Modern, Tate Modern Extension - and the almost complete absence of Modern Art in most of these huge spaces, is truly bizarre. Modern Art dwarfed by Architectural Modernity, you might say. There are these pokey little collections of stuff in medium sized spaces, off the big main spaces, and I looked in on one of these shows. I thought it was downright pathetic. Not offensive or nasty, you understand. Just feeble and totally underwhelming. It looked like a few giant toys, that someone had forgotten to tidy up, lying about in a giant nursery. And I don’t think it was just me. I heard others commenting along similarly underwhelmed lines.
The only popular enthusiasm that I observed was being expressed for the view from the top of the new Extension building. London is as fascinating and variegated to gaze out upon as Modern Art, to judge by the stuff I saw, is dreary and banal.
Friday here used to be a day for cats and kittens, and it still is, but I have recently been broadening it out to give other non-feline creatures a mention. Which I do anyway, but now it’s official. So, this Friday, I show you a pig, photoed by me about a year ago:
This pig was to be seen outside Casa Manolo in the King’s Road. There are several Casa Manolos in various parts of London, and it took me a while to work out which Casa Manola this was. (I had photoed the shop sign, but had no record of which road I was in.) But the photo here is definitely of the same group of shops in one of my photos. No pig in that photo though. Either the pig is now gone, or, more probably, the photo at the other end of that link was taken before the pig arrived. Or, the pig lives indoors and only comes out sometimes.
And here are a couple of dogs, in Tottenham Court Road a few days ago, in the entrance to Heal’s. I don’t know what they are supposed to be doing there. “Chanel” says they’re advertising perfume, but that seems strange. Whatever, I like them:
It’s like someone saw a dog with one of those muzzles on it, and thought: I could make an entire dog that way.
There is also a cat inside Heal’s, advertised outside, which Heal’s claims is famous, even “infamous”. More about that (maybe – I promise nothing) after I’ve taken a look at it myself, and had a go at photoing it.
I realise that none of these creatures is actually alive, but that’s what comes of living in London. Plenty of alive creatures, but also plenty of pretend ones.
I also realise that all the Art in these photos (see below) is in what is photoed. But that’s fine.
6k writes about the long journey from journeyman amateur snapper to Artist:
I don’t pretend to be a photo ninja. I can point, and I can shoot, and sometimes the results can be pretty good. Very occasionally, they can be startlingly good, but only very occasionally. I need to work more at not just pointing and shooting to increase the percentage of those startlingly good shots. We’ll get there.
There follows a picture of a bird spreading its wings. In other words, the capture of a fleeting moment.
6k photos his family quite a bit, as they do things like explore the spectacularly beautiful coastline near where he lives, in South Africa. Photoing your loved ones is also a matter of capturing the exact right moment.
With me, I think I get nearest to Art when I’m lining things up with each other. I have a mental list of things I like, and a picture counts double in my head, if I can line a couple, or maybe even more, of these things. The most characteristic of such alignments over the years have typically involved a digital photographer, with a London Big Thing in the background.
Here are a couple of efforts I might pick out to enter a competition, if someone told me I had to do that:
In these two cases, there is also an element of me waiting for the right moment, or more accurately me snapping lots of promising looking moments and picking out the best one.
Those two are from this huge collection of unrecognisable photographers, which I doubt many of you scrutinised in its entirety. So there are two of them again. I particularly like the one with the blue balloon.
And here is another exercise in lining things up, captured just a few days ago. This time, the object at the front is a plastic water bottle, resting on the anti-pigeon netting in the courtyard outside and above my kitchen window. Behind the bottle is a thing that regulars here will know that I like a lot, namely: scaffolding! This being the scaffolding at the top of the big conversion job that’s being done across the courtyard from me:
That picture involves something I don’t usually like to do, which is cropping. The original snap was rather bigger.
I don’t know what exactly I’ve got against cropping, but it feels to me like only one or two notches up from cheating. Maybe I take rather excessive pride in (the Art of) getting the snap I want to emerge straight from the camera, no muss, no fuss, no photoshop. The truth, of course, is that cropping is itself very much an Art. But because I don’t do cropping that much, I probably could have cropped this photo a whole lot better than I actually did.
Taken by me earlier this month:
Blackfriars Station being the one that has its own bridge.
I’ve not yet checked out this edifice, but of course I will, Real Soon Now. Equally of course, it’s what I will be able to see from it that now excites me, rather than any of the stuff I might encounter in it. That top layer of windows looks like it has an open balcony in front of them. I hope to get out there. You can read all you want on the internet about arrangements like this, but there is no substitute for actually going there and seeing for yourself.
But, there is also the matter of other photoers to photo. They may be photoing the stuff inside. If I come across them doing this, then I will, even more of course, join in.
One of the more intriguing consequences of the not-now-so-very-recent (what with another one coming along) Scottish independence referendum (which happened in September 2014) was that, rather suddenly, the world (by which I really mean: I) suddenly found itself (myself) contemplating the idea of the Union Jack flag disappearing into the history books. Had Scotland gone separate, the Union Jack would surely have had to be redesigned. I would not have regretted Scotland detatching itself from England, in fact I would have voted for this if I could have. But, I would have regretted the passing of the Union Jack, if only because it is such a great design, so recognisable that it is capable of being endlessly mucked about with, while still remaining the Union Jack.
The new, non Scottish version of the Union Jack might have looked a bit like the bag on the left here, as we look:
That snap was snapped in 2015, after the Scottish referendum, but I don’t think those designs have anything to do with politics. They’re just simplified and rather dull variations on the Union Jack theme. The one on the left just happens to look a lot like the Union Jack minus the Saltire. (Saltire is the Scottish flag, right? Yes.) But what does the one on the right signify? In terms of the flags that go towards the Union Jack, it takes the blue stripes from the Saltire and turns them into a background for the red bits of the Welsh and English flags. So actually, it’s just a blue bag, with bits of red Union Jack-ish stuff on it. Maybe there was also a red one with white Union Jack-ish stuck on, to complete the red white and blue set. I might never have bothered showing the above photo here, if it hadn’t been for the Saltire subtraction angle.
I had already been snapping Union Jack snaps, since quite a while before that moment of the Union Jack’s possible moment of disappearance. I long ago added “funny things being done with the Union Jack” to my mental photo-category list, alongside such things as bald blokes taking photos, utilitarian and commonplace footbridges, taxis covered in adverts, Big Things seen from a long way away in among foreground clutter, and so forth and so on. But, since that earlier referendum, I have been taking photos of Union Jacks with particular zeal.
Here are a couple of very recent Union Jack snaps I did. The first is of some flip-flops, on sale at the Parliament end of Westminster Bridge:
I reckon it’s the cellophane that gives that its artistic effect.
And here is a London taxi wing mirror:
That taxi décor isn’t part of an advert. It is just a taxi decorated with the Union Jack.
And then, while I was ruminating on a posting along these lines, came this piece of graphic Union Jackery, from the Spectator, to decorate their decision to back the Leave campaign in the forthcoming EU referundum:
This reminded me of a picture I took in East London five years ago, of some Art:
I could continue, with yet more Union Jack snaps, but I will end with some more Brexit propaganda. Still on the flying theme, just before I took the above snap of how fabulous Britain will be and will feel if we Leave, here, taken just moments earlier, is another Artistic-type picture of how ghastly things will be and will feel if we Remain. That’s the EU there, trying and failing to take wing, because its bureaucracy is far too big and heavy and its wings far too feeble and misshapen, crushing us as it plummets to earth:
Are you thinking that there really needs to be a Union Jack on that car, to make this point even clearer? But that’s exactly point! The EU scrubs out the Union Jack. Look! The Union Jack is nowhere to be seen! The EU has totally obliterated it! What could be clearer?
Slightly more seriously, the EU’s rulers will not be happy until they have driven the Union Jack into the history books, not by breaking up Britain, but by swallowing it and turning it into either fuel for itself, or shit. The only Union they want, and want celebrated with a flag, is their own.
I love to write about digital photography, and have been tracking the selfie phenomenon since long before the mere word was invented, way back in the days when I referred to digital photographers as Billion Monkeys (which I don’t anymore (because some people thought I meant Muslims)). (But also way back in the days when I didn’t worry about showing the faces of strangers, the way I worry now.) And I also enjoy often public sculpture, especially of the more recent and less abstract sort.
So, I love this:
There have been complaints, of course, such as from all the commenters there at the Daily Mail. God forbid that vulgar people should find this vulgar statue so much fun. Sculpture is Art, and Art isn’t supposed to be amusing.
One of the Daily Mail’s other photos is of bloke photoing himself with his own mobile, in front of the selfie statue. But I prefer the more subtle response that consists of simply being photoed joining in, thus:
For once, the statueness, so to speak, of the statue, the fact that it is made of monochrome metal rather than realistically painted to look like real people, works really well, because it contrasts so nicely with the real people. It helps that it seems to be exactly life size.
One of the idiot grumpy commenters at the Daily Mail said that Sugar Land is a stupid name and they were obviously desperate for some attention, which they have never had until now. But wasn’t there a Goldie Hawn movie called The Sugarland Express, or some such thing? Yes there was. Early Spielberg. But, is Sugar Land the same as Sugarland?
According to a later Daily Mail report, it isn’t only their grumpy commentariat that objects to this statue. Could this be because a lot of people heard about this story partly through the Daily Mail, and those people being the sort that hears about things via the Daily Mail, immediately started objecting, because they object to everything. Whereas, the ones who liked it hadn’t heard about it so much.
I first found about the statue via Amusing Planet, so of course I was already self-identified as the sort who would be amused. It was just that the Daily Mail had better pictures.
So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies. I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did. I find myself wanting to comment. But, can I be bothered?
And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:
The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.
Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread. How about that?!
The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 1700s until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).
Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow. Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble. About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:
Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.
What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time? And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?
I love signs. They communicate a lot, by their nature, but they are not considered Art, so they aren’t preserved. They come and go, and stuff that comes and goes is how a photographer who is only an okay photographer makes his photos count for something.
So, I gathered together all the sign photos I took, to do a big collection. But that was taking too long, so I picked out the long thin ones, and here are those ones, in chronological order. I really did take the first one first:
Click on each to get the bigger pictures.
No coincidence that two of them - arguably three of them - are in English. There’s quite a bit of English to be seen in French shops, just as there’s quite a bit of French in English shops.
Byrrh is the local drink of Thuir. It’s a lot like Port. I’d link to the website, but it makes noises that you have actively to silence. I hate that.
What “lefties” means, when on the front of a shop, I have absolutely no idea.
LATER: This was all done in great haste, and I neglected to mention that the “lefties” sign is actually in Spain, in a big shopping centre we visited (and got stuck in because of traffic jams all afternoon (don’t ask)). But, I still like the sign and am still baffled by it.
Circumstances had placed me at the Angel Tube. My business was concluded and the weather was wondrous. So, where to next? There is a canal near there, but I didn’t fancy another canal walk, so instead I just walked along whatever road presented itself to me, in the general direction of the Big Things of the City (one of them (the Heron Tower) having been turned blazing gold by the early evening sun). The road turned out to be Goswell Road. A place of slightly down-at-heal struggle, where you felt that for some, the struggle wasn’t worth it, but for others, maybe. That kind of in-between sort of a place. Not as affluent as you’d expect for something that close to the City, but trundling along as best it could. Big, shabby-modern university buildings. Building sites. Ethnic shops.
And then in amongst all this middlingness, a glimpse through what looked like a shop window, into a world of money-no-object designer gloss and nouveau riche ostentation. What is all this stuff?
It all looked rather Zaha Hadid, especially this shiny but strange object, presumably for sitting on:
And hey, look, there’s a picture of Zaha Hadid. This is obviously a place that takes Zaha Hadid pretty seriously, and is very saddened by her recent death:
Zaha Hadid, I should explain, is the world-renowned starchitect and designer, who recently died at the shockingly young age of 65. When a starchitect dies at 65, that’s like a rock star dying at 22. At 65, starchitects, rather like classical conductors, are just getting started. The thing is, starchitects need power, and their target demographic is old decision-makers, so they tend to be old too.
What was this rather strange place? I stepped back to see if there was any clue on the outside.
Here was a clue:
Good grief. This is an actual Zaha Hadid place of work.
I crossed the road, to photo the whole thing:
To be more exact, this is not the one place where Hadid and all her underlings did everything. This is the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, which opened in 2013 (I now learn), which would perhaps have been open for me to walk into had I encountered it earlier in the day. The place displays many of Hadid’s numerous designs for Small Things, like furniture, lamps, sculptures, jewellery, paintings, and suchlike.
Considering what a wacky designer Hadid was, that’s a surprisingly prosaic building, isn’t it? I’m guessing that it was not built specifically with her in mind, but was adapted.
So, no wonder that this place now contains memorials to Zaha Hadid, like this:
There is some reflection of the outside in this next snap, but it gives you an idea of what the place as a whole is like, and what kind of stuff is in it:
Frankly, for me, all this indoor small stuff does not show Hadid at her very best. For that, I think, you have to go outside.
Her only building in London so far is the Aquatics Centre, which I photoed, very hastily, when I visited the top of the Big Olympic Thing. Had I know then that Zaha Hadid had been about to die, I would have taken more photos of this building, and more carefully:
I would, for instance, have placed it in a gap in that safety netting, rather than just randomly. Another time.
But notice that even in that casual photo, the beauty, I think, of the building still asserts itself. It’s like a sports helmet, of the sort worn by cyclists, and by some cricketers.
Even more remarkable is this amazing ancient-modern juxtaposition:
This is now, apparently, nearing completion. It might be worth a trip to Antwerp, just to see it.
Zaha Hadid’s underlings are going to try to keep the Zaha Hadid enterprise going, at least the architectural bit. Good luck people, but you’re surely going to need it.
The rumour I heard is that Hadid was “difficult” to work for. Maybe this was just an example of that law that says that bossy men are masterful, but bossy women are bossy. But maybe she really was difficult to work for. If so, this difficulty looks like it was all of a piece with the sorts of designs she created.
The thing is, Hadid was not some logical, everything-has-a-reason systematic, machines-for-living in, presider over a system of architectural problem solving. She was the kind of architect who unleashed drama, excitement, at vast extra expense, if what you’re comparing it all with is a big rectangular box. You only have to look at her stuff to see that any logic involved is just an excuse for a cool looking design. Why does it look that way? Because I, Zaha Hadid, say so, and I’m the boss, that’s why. I make beautiful shapes. Other people like them and buy them. Deal with it.
That’s going to be a hard act to replace.
As regulars here know, I am fascinated by unusual vehicles, and by almost all commercial vehicles. Whereas cars tend to be reticent about making any sort of personal statement, commercial vehicles have to communicate. They have to radiate an atmosphere. They have to dress themselves like they’re going on the pull in a nightclub. Well, they don’t have to. But most commercial vehicles are an opportunity to do marketing, so why turn it down? And these vehicles consequently radiate as many different atmospheres as there are commercial purposes being pursued in and with them.
Here are a couple of vans I spied today:
Both are somewhat self-conscious, I think. There is a lack of earnestness here, a certain ironic distance, a certain slightly bogus artifice, not to say Art, involved.
But, all part of what makes wandering about in London such an endlessly entertaining pastime.
Sausage Man website here. I tried googling “Oliver London”, but all I got was a lot of stuff about a stage musical. The small tricycle van looks oriental to me, and that its presence outside an oriental restaurant is not coincidental.