Australia 1992

…is the name of a free exhibition currently to be seen at Tate Modern. I went along to see it by chance, mainly because a friend let me know that she’d be up in town at relatively short notice, but I was very glad that I did.  I learned a lot, saw some fabulous art and appreciated again what a disaster colonialism was for just about everybody but Europeans ( particularly, but not exclusively, us Brits ).

Eddie Mabo1992 is an important year in Australian law and history because the High Court of Australia delivered a landmark ruling known as the ‘Mabo decision’. This overturned the legal concept of ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to nobody – which was used to justify taking over the land, occupied for thousands of years by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, that subsequently became known as Australia. Eddie Koiki Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander, a Meriam man, who, along with other Islanders, filed a claim in the High Court for native title to portions of Mer Island. After ten years, on 3rd June 1992, the High Court found for Eddie, who had died of cancer five months earlier.  3rd June is celebrated as ‘Mabo Day’ in the Torres Strait Islands and there is an ongoing campaign to make it a national Australian holiday. This exhibition looks at artworks inspired by the relationship between land and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, sometimes created in response to land disputes and colonialism.

I was unaware of the sheer number of different groupings of Aboriginal people and Islanders in Australia, somethingAiatsis Map of Australia one sees at the very start of the exhibition on the Aitsis Map. I had understood a little about the connection between the Aboriginal people and the land, a reciprocal and custodial relationship. They do not ‘own’ it in the European sense of dividing and apportioning pieces of land, but have an ongoing cultural connection with it, which underpins their history, spiritual beliefs, language, lore, family and identity.  This is inherent in the art of contemporary artists like Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dale Harding and John Mawurndjul ( I loved his woven female ancestor ).

I was also unaware that there was an Aboriginal flag!  It is red, black and gold and can be found in Gordon Bennett’s Possession Island ( Abstraction ) 1991, a reflection, from a different perspective, of the British history paintings depicting the raising of the Union Jack on the ‘virgin’ land. It is also, briefly, in the tall man, 2010 of Vernon Ah Kee, a video installation of great power which depicts in ‘documentary’ style the events on Palm Island, of Queensland, in November 2004, following the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee a local man. The police station, police barracks and local court house were burnt down.

a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005 by Judy Watson born 1959

I was particularly impressed with Judy Watson’s series a   preponderance of aboriginal blood, 2005, above. This is a series of  reproductions of official documents and letters from the  Queensland State Archive, including electoral enrolment  statutes which excluded people with ‘a preponderance of  aboriginal blood’ from voting. It’s astonishing that these forms of institutional racism and discrimination continued until the 1960s. There were also some fine photographs from Tracy Moffatt in her Up in the Sky series from 1997 capturing the heat, dirt and poverty of an outback town, with references to the scandal of the ‘Stolen Generations’ which saw aborigine children removed from their parents and placed with white families. Although not displayed in any narrative order, these pictures clearly tell a story about that town and the people in it.

This exhibition is FREE and runs until Spring 2022. It is well worth seeing, though booking is, currently, required.

‘Oracle’ Art

Given the antiquity of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and the cultural influence it has had over the millennia it’s not surprising that large numbers of visual artists have been inspired by it.  Followers of my twitter feed will know I have been collecting and sharing images of Delphi, the Temple of Apollo and the various historical or mythical beings who came there, drawn or painted by famous artists.  So, we’ve had Gustave Dore’s Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes or Furies (left), Edward Lear’s water colour of the Phaedriades, the massive cliffs which loom over the Temple site and William Blake’s illustration for ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ showing ‘The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods’.

I’ve come across plenty of works, from ancient times onwards,  which portray events or characters from Greek drama set at Delphi. On Greek redware (right) for example, showing the sleeping Erinyes being roused from their Apollo-induced slumber by the vengeful spirit of Clytemnestra, urging them to hunt down her son, and murderer, Orestes ( from Eumenides by Aeschylus ). Later paintings include Orestes being pursued by the same furies by, among others, John Singer Sergeant, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Flaxman and Franz Stuck, until we’re up to date with John Wilson (after  Bouguereau).

So popular did the image of this pursuit become that cartoonists soon created their own versions, like that in Puck magazine (1877) or in Punch (left). In this instance it is the Rt. Hon. John Bright MP who is in the Orestes role, being pursued by the vested interests which he opposed through the Anti-Corn Law League. It was Bright, famous for his oratorical skills among other things, who coined the phrase ‘Mother of Parliaments’. He is also credited with first using the phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’ to illustrate the pointlessness of certain activities (in Bright’s case this meant getting the House of Commons to consider Parliamentary reform – ’twas ever thus).

As figures of terror and myth the Erinyes feature strongly across the ages. Wenceslas Holler etched them in the seventeenth century (right) and they have re-emerged in modern day gaming ( though with a rather different, sexy, look which speaks to who it is who plays those games rather than any mythological authenticity ). Naked the furies may have, traditionally, been, but not looking like a set of pouting, come-hither dominatrices.

The Pythia, or priestess of Apollo who spoke, as the Oracle, with Apollo’s voice is also a favourite subject in paint and in sculpture.  Eugene Delacroix showed Lycurgus consulting her, John Collier made her a hooded, pre-raphaelite religious perched high on her tripod or three-legged stool (left).  Note the gases swirling upwards from the crack in the floor of her underground room, the inhalation of which led to her madness and prophecies.  No such crevice has been found at the Temple site, but, as a character explains in the book “geologists have found that two geological fault lines cross beneath Delphi, with fissures under the Temple itself which allow small amounts of naturally occurring gas to rise to the surface. Rock testing showed ethane, methane and ethylene − formerly used as an anaesthetic − to be present. These would create a calm, trancelike state and, if a lot was consumed, a form of wild mania.”

I will be posting more of the images I have found – of the Erinyes, of characters from the Orestia and of Delphi and the Temple of Apollo in the coming weeks on my twitter feed and Facebook page.  Look out for some of those mentioned above, as well as works by Klimt, Claude Lorraine and others in the run up to the publication of ‘Oracle’ on 5th May.

Second Time Around

…and things are more familiar. The activity which accompanies publishing a crime fiction book was new to me with Plague, but this time, with Oracle, it’s less so. There are fewer decisions than last time because much has already been determined, Oracle will be consistent with Plague, in size, in print, in design.  It even has approximately the same number of pages.

I’m having fun choosing, and helping create, some of the promotional images and these days such images come in various forms – Facebook banners, Instagram posts and Twitter headers – and some come with animation.  The one on the right is an Instagram post, which uses a photograph of the Treasury of the Athenians at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, as well as a copy of the cover and its tagline – ‘Blood calls for blood’ on a background of a full moon rising above a hillside. There is an animated version of this too.

As I did for the launch of Plague, I’ve uploaded a new Facebook and a new Twitter Header, using the new banner shown below, which also now lies beneath my email signature.  This includes the same images as the Instagram post, with the addition of a rather wonderful artwork by Gustave Dore. The engraving is one of the French master illustrator’s pieces for The Divine Comedy, Canto IX ( 1867) and it shows Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes, or Furies. It is entitled ‘Megaera, Tisipone  and Alecto’, so I would imagine this might get used quite a lot ( it’s also out of copyright ). I’ve always been a Dore admirer and I’m not alone. As the Tate’s exhibition on Van Gogh showed, the Dutch painter loved Dore’s work and collected it, basing some of his own compositions on Dore engravings. This image appears in the banner, with the others, set against a background of black, with a wisp of blue/grey smoke curling across it and the tagline, which is in red this time. Very dramatic. I think it’s eye-catching. I just hope that the book isn’t mIstaken for a vampire novel (because of that tag-line). A number of early readers of Plague thought, from the blurb, that it was about a pandemic.  No fear of misunderstanding the title this time, the blurb makes reference to the ancient oracle, but who knows what else people with think of.

There are some differences too, in part because I’ve learned from experience. So, for example, there’s an Oracle postcard to send out with review copies (last time I exhausted my personal stock of notelets). Claret is having the ARCs printed at the moment and I’ll be looking to take receipt of boxes of books in the next week or so.  The other, more exciting thing is that readers are telling me that they’re waiting for the book to come out ( the virtue of having a series ). Also, it seems, there are a lot more media events – interviews, talks, blogs, podcasts – than last time.  In part, I suspect because I have more media contacts now (and I’m good value i.e. or the most part, free), but also because I’m no longer an unknown.  That Oracle is ‘the further adventures of…’ helps.

If any of the readers of this post has a book group which enjoys crime/mystery books and wants an author to come along and chat, let me know, I’m already doing some of these around the country (via the magic of the internet).  You can find out about them on the Events page of this web-site.

For more on Oracle                            Adieu to Delphi                   Crime Scene                Myths & Legends                     Zemiology                    Art and life – again!

 

Crime Scene

My new crime thriller Oracle is set in Delphi, Greece, close to the ancient Temple of Apollo half way up Mount Parnassus.  The crimes happen during an international conference taking place at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside the town of Delphi. The ECCD is a real place, which I visited at the end of last century when I attended a conference there.

The Centre was founded in the 1970s, as a way of taking forward the modern Festivals held at Delphi in the 20s and 30s which were, in turn, a revival of the Festivals and Games held here in classical times.  Now the Centre is home to the Delphi Academy of European Studies which hosts symposia on European subjects, puts on performances of Greek drama ( in the ancient Theatre as well as the new, purpose built one ) and has an excellent collection of modern art. You can read more about it here.

It has a stunning and scenic position, high up and looking down to Itea on the Gulf of Corinth.  The Conference Centre and Guesthouse nestle among the cypress trees on the mountainside and there are private suites (one of which is occupied, in the novel, by a government Minister and his party).

Aside from the view and the nearby ancient Temple, I remember its fine, confident modern architecture, using local stone as well as concrete and lots of glass – making the most of those spectacular views.  My heroine, Cassandra, occupies one of the rooms in the Guesthouse (left) above the restaurant on the ground floor.

It was November when I was there and the weather wasn’t kind – it was mostly raining, but the mountain peaks were snow covered.  As I sat in that same restaurant with a storm raging outside and the lights flickering, briefly, a fellow conference goer suggested that it would be a tremendous place for a murder mystery. Over twenty years later, when Claret Press suggested that I write one, the ECCD and the beautiful ancient temple nearby immediately sprang to mind.

So it was Delphi, not London, which was the setting which I thought of first, but it soon became apparent to me that my first book, introducing the recurring character of my detective and her associates, should be set where most of the books would be taking place and that was London.  From there on it had to be Westminster and Thorney Island, places which I knew very well, having trodden the streets there for years.  Thus was Plague born. At the end of Oracle it is where Cassie returns to for the third book in the series, Opera, although I confess that I do have a yen to take her off to Rome at some point in the future, another city which I know very well.

I should point out that the title of this article is misleading, however. The ECCD is not, in fact, the scene of the crime, although it is there that both murderer and victim(s) meet.  And that, I’m afraid, is all you will get out of me about the plot.

Oracle (Claret Press) will be published on 5th May 2021.  It will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon and via the Claret Press website.

Political movies

Maybe it’s because I’m preparing a talk on Politics and Prose for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries ( it’s free and happening on 25th January if anyone is interested, see Eventbrite Politics and Prose ) or it may be coincidence; but over the holiday I’ve been watching a number of excellent films depicting the world of power and politics, some based on real events.

First was The Death of Stalin, Armando Ianucci’s 2017 very black political satire of the Stalinist Soviet Union. It is a fiction, but its characters are based on real people who were part of the Stalinist ruling elite. These are played by a stellar cast which includes Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin and others. The crude and barbaric terror of the Stalinist period is shown, full throttle, where the answer to any problem was murder and truth was what the most powerful said it was.  It’s a mesmerising and very funny film, in an absurdist way, but it’s also not comfortable watching. If you haven’t seen it, I can definitely recommend it.

The second film was The Ides of March, (2011) a George Clooney contemporary political drama starring Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, himself and others. This was less of a hit than The Death of Stalin and my other choice, but it’s an efficient and, in its way, thought provoking film which captures the tight-knit nature of U.S. politics – the intern is the daughter of the Committee member, the rival campaign managers are well-known to each other (each trying to exploit the other’s known foibles ). It’s a quieter film which depicts an inhuman and corrupt world – hardly news – but does so through the prism of one man’s ambition and where it leads. Again, recommended.

My third film was The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Aaron Sorkin’s 2020 depiction of the trial which followed the anti-Vietnam War riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Directed by Sorkin after Stephen Spielberg, whose project this was, had to withdraw, the film was on restricted release in September, but, given the COVID pandemic, went onto Netflix only weeks later.  If I hadn’t known that this was based on real events ( and court transcripts ) I wouldn’t have believed it possible. The real Chicago Seven plus Bobby Searle, the eighth defendant (and only black man) and their lawyers are portrayed by another stellar ensemble cast, including Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton and others. Like The Death of Stalin, this has attracted criticism from academics about it’s veracity, but, again like The Death of Stalin, it has been critically very well received.  Anyone who remembers the wit of The West Wing won’t be surprised by that on show here, it made this viewer laugh out loud a few times, though with a bitter twist. This truly was a ‘political trial’.  It’s also a clever depiction of a moment in time rather in the way that the TV series Mrs America captured the spirit of the 1970s political backlash to the 60s. I strongly recommend you watch this film.

The real events in Trial, like the shooting by police of Fred Hampton, Black Panther supporter of Searle, in circumstances not dissimilar to the shooting of Breonna Taylor by police in 2020 Kentucky make it very relevant to today. As does the ‘truth is what I say it is’ attitude of the Soviet powerful in Death, not unlike that of Trump and other populists. Political stories have a gripping relevance and political storytelling deepens our understanding of our world.

The first two films were based on written stories; The Death of Stalin on La Mort de Staline, a two volume graphic novel by French writer Fabien Nury and artist Thierry Robin, The Ides of March on Farragut North, a play by Beau Willimon ( Farragut North being the Washington DC metro station at the heart of think tank and consultancy territory ). The Trial of the Chicago Seven was written as a screenplay by Sorkin. Incidentally the U.S. TV version of House of Cards had an executive producer by the name of Beau Willimon. Now there’s a book about politics and power which has been translated to the screens, small and large, to very good effect.

I’ll be exploring how politics is depicted in stories, as well as discussing what a ‘political novel’ is in my talk on 25th January.

Meanwhile, may I wish that 2021 be a year in which we return to life as we used to know it, but that we appreciate it more; that the vaccine is given to everyone and the dread COVID is either eradicated, or mutates into something much less dangerous. Happy New Year!

Troy: myth and reality

Terrific exhibition at the British Museum, which, among other things, tells the stories of the Iliad, the Odyssey and, to an extent, the Aeniad, through the artefacts of the ancient world, I recommend it very highly. Beginning with the marriage of King Peleus and sea-nymph Thetis, to which the goddess Discord was not invited, through to depictions of the characters in the Trojan epics in more recent art, this exhibition immerses the visitor in the world of Troy, the imagined as well as the archaeological city.  I spent several happy hours in it yesterday (and will be returning next week).

The words of Homer’s epic poems feature through-out, as you would expect, though Virgil gets a look-in too. The exhibition begins appropriately, with the opening lines of the Iliad ‘Rage – Goddess sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles‘.  Quotations sprinkle the show and there are recorded readings, in Greek and English.  The Roman bust (left) of Homer as blind poet can be found at the start, it is a copy of an older Greek original.  Statuary, in marble and, on a smaller scale, in metal and on stone sarcophagi features.  So do ceramics.

I had forgotten just how exquisite the painted decoration of Greek ‘red ware’ and ‘black ware’ was, from the coloured figures, like those on the large two handled pot depicting Achilles killing Amazon Queen Penthisiliea (right) or the Judgement of Paris on a wine krater, to the delicate line drawings showing Briseis being led away from Achilles’ tent.  I will also remember the stone bas relief showing this scene, with Achilles looking away in anger, but Patroclus placing a consolatory hand on Briseis’ shoulder as she is collected by Agamemnon’s soldier. A tender gesture.

It is testament to the power of the ancient story that the characters live so vividly again. But then, the story has been told and retold, as evidenced by the lines from the epics scribbled by ancient Roman children on the papyri copy books displayed. Its retelling is brought bang up to date with the poster from the, much derided, 21st century Hollywood film Troy and modern versions of The Judgement of Paris – photographic – and The Siren’s Song ( see left for the ancient depiction, below for the modern collage by Romare Bearden ).  Aficionados of the male body please note, Brad Pitt has quite a lot of competition in the buffed masculinity stakes, though it’s interesting that, even where a ‘hero’ such as Odysseus is obviously beyond youth and is depicted on artefacts with an older face, his body is still drawn as youthfully ideal. Hollywood’s fixation with perfect bodies is nothing new.

There is a very interesting section on the real city of Troy, or what we now believe is the real city. Not Schliemann’s much too early, if appropriately burnt, discovery but a later version. I didn’t realise just how many Troys there were, built on top of one another, but there are informative graphics showing just how these cities developed and when.  Indeed the whole exhibition is  well organised, with clearly written and illuminating captions. Technology, from the annotated drawings in light of various pieces of complex decoration to help the viewer unscramble some of the detail, to the videos showing the massing levels of the different Troys is used cleverly and well.

Personal favourites – the bas relief in which Paris looks thoroughly bored as Helen is loaded, along with the other treasures, on to his ship and the wonderfully evocative Fuseli drawing of the grief of Achilles as he kneels over Patrolus’ body.

The exhibition runs until 8th March and costs £20 to enter ( concessions £17 ). It is popular, so don’t leave it until the last minute, it will be very crowded. It took us two and a half hours to go round, taking a look at just about everything, ( though there were at least two school parties to deal with ).  It may take longer if it is even more full.

Very last chance to see…. wonderful…

…exhibition by Olafur Eliasson In Real Life at Tate Modern. It ends on 5th January, so if you live in or near to London and have a little spare time I strongly recommend that you go (but check ticket availability first, this is a VERY popular show and there are only a few days left so tickets might be hard to come by ).

People may remember Danish-Icelandic Eliasson’s brilliant, single The Weather Project bringing sunrise to the Turbine Hall of this same gallery some years ago and he has returned since then with his blocks of Greenland ice melting on the Thames-side forecourt in Ice-Watch to illustrate and draw attention to global warming, but this is a major show. It can be found on Level 2 of the newer part of the Tate ( although there is also a waterfall/fountain to be seen outside in courtyard ).

The first room is a collection of Eliasson’s models for larger works, often created with mathematician collaborator Einar Thorsteinn. Many of them are beautiful in themselves with lots of natural shapes, based, one imagines, on fibonacci sequences.  One model is of a finished work Your spiral view (2002) shown later in this exhibition. Room 2 contains early works and already we see the cleverness and simplicity of Eliasson. Window projection (1990) has the silhouette of a window shone, in light, on to a wall. At first sight the viewer imagines the light is coming through a window from outside, but no, there are no windows it’s just a lamp with a cutout on its lens. In Rainwindow (1999) the artists uses a real window but recreates the effect of the weather. These are typical of Eliasson’s interest in light and weather.

Room 2 also contains trickery in mirrors and glass, an insect’s eye glass and a mirror which is actually a hole.  This leads on to the Kaleidoscopes Room ( via a very interesting corridor which challenges the senses – I’ll say no more ). Here there are hanging reflective spheres and a walk-through corridor of reflections. Thence to a room with a projected, slowly transmuting image – all calm and tranquillity – followed by a room full of energy in which viewers find themselves part of an ever-changing art work on one of the white walls. It is so simple it seems effortless, but of course it isn’t.  Like Big bang fountain which is found in a small curtained-off room with no light at all save for a periodic strobe which illuminates a fountain, freezing the water into silver metallic images before the viewers’ eyes.

This exhibition is child friendly and there were plenty there today, many eagerly experiencing the changing light and reflections, most especially in the room with the mirrored ceiling and an, apparently, circular sculpture. This exhibition is also great fun (but heels are not a good idea ).

There are serious points to be made with the twenty year sequence of photographs showing the withdrawl of the ice-cap in Iceland and very beautiful works capturing the impact of melting ice on paint wash and colour discs which use the palette from two of Caspar David Friedrich’s romantic nature paintings. In The Expanded Studio room we see the genesis and development of a number of projects, the design and creation of a solar powered light, the measuring of the disappearing ice and other environmentally engaged work, through film, artefact and notes.

It’s impossible to describe it all. Suffice to say that the visitor will come away with a new perspective on how one uses one’s senses, especially sight, as well as having learned a lot ( I certainly did ).  I have been wanting to see this exhibition since it opened and I’m glad I caught it. I’m only sorry that I didn’t go before and could return again!

Olafur Eliasson In Real Life is at Tate Modern until 5th January. It costs £18 for non-members and is worth every penny.

For more on Art see    Portrait of an artist        Bonnard Colours       Zubaran Impossible Light 

Less than two seconds….

… that’s the time a potential reader gives to the cover of each book when scanning a bookshop display or online screen.  So say the publishers. In that time the individual takes in the design, the title and whatever is written – tag-line or glowing review – on the front cover. If it doesn’t get their attention, their eye moves on to the next. So the pressure to make the cover arresting and appealing is intense.

The new novel from yours truly – a contemporary political thriller set in Westminster, entitled Plague – is due for publication in the Autumn of 2020, with review copies available in the Spring.  So I am currently engaged with publisher Claret Press and designer and artist Petya Tsankova in deciding upon the cover. Petya is a freelance graphic designer who frequently works with Claret Press.

I am used to working with cover designers. Readers of my blogs at The Story Bazaar will be familiar with the work of Andrew Brown, who designed the cover for Reconquista  see ( Reading a Book by its Cover ) and that of Dan Mogford ( Final Touches ) who designed the cover for The Silver Rings. Both are excellent designers who created covers which, in my humble opinion, have stood the test of time, with arresting images, bold and interesting lettering and sufficient of a theme to link the two together. Credit for this must go to Dan who designed the second of the two  and continued the pattern – quite literally when it came to the tracery at the foot of each cover.

Incidentally, both books in the Al Andalus series can be had half-price, for less than the price of a cup of coffee, at the Smashwords Christmas Sale which runs from Christmas Day until the New Year.

This time around, however, it’s not just the cover for Plague ( a very early version of which can be seen above left ). Plague is the first in a series of novels with the same protagonist, so there must be commonality in the designs for each of the covers, thereby establishing a brand. A quick visit to Amazon or any other online bookstore to take a look at a long running series will show how that translates in design terms.

So I have received not one, but three covers recently, for the first three books in the series. For Plague, but also for Oracle, the second in the series, which is set in Delphi, Greece and Opera the third, which returns to central London ( and which I have not yet started writing – although I know its last line – I have my writing life mapped out until December 2022! )

The covers aren’t final and they will change and develop ( the photo right does not do that cover justice ).  The title needs to be clearer I think, especially of Plague – two seconds, remember, and the eye moves on, the gaze won’t linger to decipher a word which isn’t understood immediately.  I do like the fractured nature of the space in the first set of covers,  the jagged edges which promise the excitement of the thriller within which remind me of film titles of the nineteen sixties.  But there’s a way to go yet….

In the meanwhile Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!

 

Flamenco in north London

So to Sadlers Wells Theatre for the annual Flamenco Festival in north London. This time I had only returned from Jerez de la Frontera the day before and I went to see Santiago Lara and Mercedes Ruiz who hail from that city.  I have written about this married couple before ( see Lamento and The Guitar in Time ) and I listen regularly to Lara’s guitar playing.

On Saturday they were performing with dancers Maria Moreno, from nearby Cadiz, and Eduardo Guerrero, who I have tried to see several times at the Jerez Festival, only to be stymied by the schedule.  Accompanied by rising singing star Maria Fernandez Benitez, known as Maria ‘Terremoto’, and male singers, Emilio Florido and Ismael ‘el Bola’. They were billed as the Gala Flamenca and it was excellent.

Lara was the musical coordinator and he led the musicians on stage, a second guitarist, Javier Ibanez and percussionist, Paco Vega.  The artistic director was Miguel Linan, renown dancer and regular performer at the Jerez Festival ( see Reversible ).  Linan’s choreography is distinctive, although the three dancers were undoubtedly also contributors ( and listed as such ).

The programme began with Morena dancing an alegria. As is always the case with British theatre audiences, while the dancing was well received, there was little feedback between performer and audience until the end of each piece.  This contrasts with watching flamenco in Jerez, when the audience is supposed, even obliged, to clap, shout encouragement and cheer during the performance. I was very pleased therefore when a particularly spectacular series of steps ended with a sweeping flourish and a spontaneous cheer from the audience.  I noticed Lara, who was nearest the edge of the stage, start to smile.  The performance had ‘taken’ and the audience were bound in.

The show continued with a remarkable pas de deux between the young singer,  and Mercedes Ruiz.  Ruiz, dressed in black, male garb performed accompanied only by the singing and her own castanets  and stamping feet. She was outstanding.  The audience was well and truly captured by now, so much so that Ruiz could be playful, making us laugh as well as astounding us with her artistry.  How could anyone top that?

Well, then came Eduardo Guerrero, long black hair flying, in a stunning Cana.  Guerrero’s arabesques were straight out of the Miguel Linan playbook, athletic, fluid and captivating.  What was not was the truly amazing footwork which followed, which had the audience, by now half way to behaving like Jerezanos, applauding and cheering with every flourish.  As a female member of our group said afterwards, he was gorgeous and absolutely commanding ( and the dancing was pretty good too ).

There followed another pas de deux, this time with Moreno and Guerrrero in perfect synchronicity and a final Solea from Ruiz.  All three dancers returned to the stage for a rousing finale and, by the time the stage lights went down, everyone was on their feet and applauding.  At the curtain calls I was pleased to see the recognition of Lara’s stunning guitar playing and Miguel Linan was also invited on stage to take the applause. He brought with him a birthday cake with lighted candles, it was the birthday of one of the company  and he was persuaded to dance along with the mini-encore.

We left the theatre buzzing, but exhausted, that’s what watching flamenco does!

For more articles about flamenco, in London and Jerez, try         2018 Festival Round-up              Flamenco Fix            Paco Pena

Portrait of an artist…

as a young man, not the James Joyce novel but Tate Britain’s summer exhibition, on Vincent Van Gogh and his time in in south London. Van Gogh arrived at the age of twenty in 1873 and lodged in Brixton ( though it’s described here as Stockwell ) where he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter. He worked for two years at the offices of Covent Garden art dealers Goupil, before turning to both teaching and preaching, when he was dismissed from his job.

Any number of Impressionists and post-impressionists fetched up south of the Thames at some point in their lives ( usually during the Franco-Prussian War and the time of the Paris Commune ). So his was a path well-trodden, by his almost contemporary Pissaro in Norwood, Sisley at Molesley, Monet at the Savoy or Tissot in St John’s Wood (okay, that’s north of the river).

The exhibition is a large one, with nine rooms, containing Van Gogh paintings, drawings and washes, but also many works of contemporary, or near contemporary, artists who were living in London at that time or which Van Gogh would have seen while he was here.  It includes works and prints which Van Gogh owned and there is cross-over here with the Tate’s winter exhibition of 2017/18 The Impressionists in London.

The Van Gogh also includes later, British artists clearly influenced by him.  So, for example, his Sunflowers, in Room 7, is juxtaposed with paintings of sunflowers by William Nicholson, Frank Brangwen and Jacob Epstein, among others.  I very much enjoyed these – the whole is joyous and up-lifting.  I enjoyed too the paintings of later artists, like those of the Camden Town School and David Bomberg and Francis Bacon, who acknowledged their debt to Van Gogh ( see study, by Bacon, left, of his painting of Van Gogh in the sun-bleached landscape of the south of France ).

I am insufficiently knowledgeable to be able to draw any but the most obvious of parallels between Van Gogh and the artists who influenced him while he was here.  That the river-scapes of Whistler, with their floating fogs and twinkling lights, had an influence, especially in the depiction of lights in the Rhone, doesn’t surprise me and there are obvious links to be made with Pre-Raphealite paintings like those of Edward Millais.  Some of the other connections are less obvious, indeed they may seem tenuous to the untrained eye, though I have no doubt that the scholarship behind this exhibition is excellent.

That Van Gogh adored Dickens and his works was new to me, though it fits, some of his portraits have the gnarly yet fluid quality that one perceives in some of Dickens’ descriptions of his characters. That he collected British prints and reproductions – the ‘black and whites’ – over 2,000 of them, often of modern subjects, like the workhouse, the prison or the deprivations of the poor, also feels fitting.  As he said ‘I often felt low in England… but the Black and White and Dickens, are things which make up for it all.’

The exhibition is at Tate Britain and runs until 11th August.  It is very popular, we visited at 4 o’clock on a Friday, when we thought it would be quiet, yet it was anything but.  Afterwards a steward told me that, in relative terms this was quiet!  So beware the crowds.  Entry costs £22, with concessions for students, seniors etc. and if you are not a member you will have to book.  It’s well worth a visit.

For more on art and exhibitions see            Soane and Kapoor          Art on the Underground                 John Ruskin, The Power of Seeing