Friday, 30 April 2010


Being Dutch and renowned for the Paris and Provencal scenes he depicted, people often don't realise Van Gogh lived and worked for a number of years in England. Before truly abandoning himself to his artistic destiny,
Vincent attempted to tame the Ravenous Straight World Beast by working in the Dutch art dealership Goupil & Cie's London office and bewilderingly, as a teacher down in the Kentish coastal outpost of Ramsgate. His preacherly religious aspirations - luckily - proved equally unsuccessful.

Visiting Van Gogh's plaque at 87 Hackford Rd, Stockwell, I was struck by the quiet beauty of the street and peaceful ambience he must have enjoyed there. Then, three attention-seeking-6-million-volt-I've-got-a-tiny-penis boom boxes drove past in quick succession, spewing out their earth-shattering music and I remembered it was south London, 2010, yes yes oh yay.

Other iconic London plaques include Oscar Wilde's fashionable residence at 34 Tite Street, Chelsea. The prominent aesthete lived in the townhouse for 11 years prior to his arrest. It was in this house he wrote a number of his finest literary works including The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Ernest. 

Alfred Hitchcock's four-storey gaff is on the Cromwell Road, number 153. Snaking through west London from glamorous Knightsbridge, this road must have been much prettier in the Lord of the Manor's time than the traffic-choked six-lane arterial nightmare it is today. The plaque is suitably Hitchcockian, surrounded by a sickly creeping vine and shifty-looking down at heel Earl's Court bohemians. 

The photographer and surrealist muse Lee Miller lived at 21 Downshire Hill, Hampstead with her English partner Roland Penrose. Living here at the outbreak of World War 2, Miller began photographing London during the Blitz, witnessing the horror of war which was to culminate in her stark series recording the liberation of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Miller settled in East Sussex at war's end, seeking solace in her new-found love of cooking and suffering from the post-traumatic stress and alcoholism caused by the extraordinary life she had led.

London's finest blue plaque however, has got to be Gavin Turk's. The artist's plaque does not actually exist (authentic plaquists must be dead for 20 years or have passed the centenary of their birth) but is in fact a piss-take commemorating his three years at art school and the final work submitted for his Royal College of Art degree. According to the V&A Turk's work 'questions the value and integrity of a coherent artistic identity' but the piece also quite simply takes the piss out of the stuffy, traditional institutions such as English Heritage and the Royal Collage of Art who refused to award the artist his degree upon submission of the work. Rule Britannia indeed.

Images 2, 4 and 5 courtesy of Google

Saturday, 24 April 2010


I moved into a typical student houseshare when I was 24 - lovely people but I didn't have loads in common with two lesbians and a continuously stoned guitar-strumming hippy. It was a very communal house and I found the obligatory vegtarian korma dinners and trips to the local student pub quiz night constricting to say the least. The final straw came when my flatmates developed an unholy addiction to Dawson's Creek and every Tuesday they would gather round (even Stoner Dude emerging from his garret), to watch that god-awful programme.

It was around this time I started hiding up in my room making little collages to avoid the appalling spectre of the Dawson's love-in. Usually they featured images of my boss at the photo lab where I worked with his hand up a customer's arse or something similar. I had discovered John Heartfield's photomontages at university and loved their anti-nazi subversiveness as well as their stark black and white simplicity. I also liked punk artist Jamie Reid's imagery so heavily associated with the Sex Pistols aesthetic.

I've been collaging for over a decade now with something like thirty or more scrapbooks in existence, from fashion to interiors, Amy Winehouse to black and white imagery. It truly feels like a compulsion at times, with endless piles of tear outs from Vogue and god knows what other publications cluttering up my 'workstation'. Work created from magazine imagery seems to be an increasingly cultish artform, both easily produced and extremely accessible. Check out these two great examples : John Paul Thurlow and Nate Page
Images 5 and 6 courtesy of Google


Last weekend I saw Luca Guadagnino's stunningly decadent film I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. Set within a wealthy Milanese textile dynasty, the film features scene after scene of extravagant bourgeois elegance - perfect houses, perfect clothes and ostensibly perfect lives. Most impressive of all however, were the sumptuous interiors of the Recchi family's Milan palazzo headquarters.

Italy's ornate palazzi were originally used as the historic residences of generations of nobility. Built in a wide variety of architectural styles, they are dotted throughout the country from Venice and Bologna to Sicily. Evolving during the Renaissance, this new type of urban building was usually several stories high with rooms grouped around a courtyard. Many today are luxury hotel conversions such a the Palazzo Gherardesca in Florence.

The American artist and designer Julian Schnabel's Palazzo Chupi in Greenwich Village attempts to create a fusion of vintage palazzo ambience and contemporary New York luxury. Architectural purists may view Schnabel's project as sacrilege but his interiors (pictured below), give the building a modern edge neccessary to address the authenticity it lacks.

Take a look here at the renovation project of the Palazzo Pizzo in Calabria, southern Italy.

All images courtesy of Google

Sunday, 18 April 2010


Riflemaker was one of those galleries on my listings I'd never got around to visiting. Their shows always sounded pretty avant garde - nothing too traditional or old school. I assumed they were part of the proper East End art massive I would discover as soon as I could be arsed going beyond Liverpool St on the Central line.

So imagine my surprise (and self-loathing) to realise that not only was Riflemaker squarely in the middle of Beak St. Soho but also one of the most fascinating and original gallery spaces in London.
Set within the magical post-ironic Dickensian ambience of Riflemaker's rickety four storey hovel-turned-gallery space (a Georgian riflemaker's workshop dating from 1712), Alice Anderson's ginger hair installation was a fascinating, dream-like experience. Luckily the pretentious, long-winded catalogue notes explaining whatever the piece was meant to signify escaped me and I was able to read the exhibition at face value. Which essentially meant a ginger's revenge on her insufferable mother/nanny-figure by turning herself into a lifeless doll...sigh....The nine minute film 'The Night I Became A Doll' - despite moments of self-conscious amateurism - was a reasonably effective companion piece to the installation.

Anderson's wax or rubber 'life mask' was creepily disconcerting behind glass in the manner of a Victorian bell jar. Still, what was meant to be read into it I could only guess and though I did find each separate element of the show interesting, they seemed to lack an overall cohesion (especially the upper-level stand alone sculptures). Even without the film and mask, Anderson's work still packed a powerful punch on account of the show's grandiose centrepiece hair installation. This was the truly macabre draw-card, the visually arresting auburn explosion magnetising all manner of Saturday afternoon Beak St pedestrians into the premises. Riflemaker's lovely friendly attendant even had to concede that it was not the possibility of rain that was an issue of concern for the gallery owners, rather the possibility of Soho's shitfaced pub revellers damaging the delicate piece. Luckily, so far people have been remarkably respectful.



Ever since I learnt how to use a camera I've been fascinated by reflections. Initially, I lost my passion for photography when I moved out of that industry but the final straw came when I dropped my SLR in a hungover stupor in the pretty town of Kecskemet, Hungary - where men dressed up as teapots and the local kids gathered in the town square on a Saturday to cut each others' hair. From then on it was strictly party shots on the crappy £20 emergency camera I picked up in Slovakia.

Of course the 'digital revolution' has proved to be the great equaliser in terms of enabling all kinds of amateurs to take decent photographs. And London in the springtime is just too tempting not to photograph, especially after The Coldest Winter In Thirty Years. I really like the juxtaposition between two incongruous elements in these reflective photographs. Essentially these images are nothing more than a basic digital collage. I love traditional collage techniques (30 scrapbooks can't be all wrong) but their production is labour intensive. The reflective photograph on the other hand, is instant gratification. Nice!


Wednesday, 14 April 2010


I love Irina Lazareanu. I love her mysterious Romanian heritage. I love the fact that she attended ballet school and was reportedly engaged to a certain ramshackle bohemian scoundrel by the name of Mr Peter Doherty - not once, but twice. Irina's midnight black gypsy hair and striking charcoal eyes make her the perfect Chanel model and Lagerfeld muse. Her boyish '20s figure and 'unique' or even 'weird' face only make her MORE rock n roll. She cites Leonard Cohen as a major influence on her own music career. If only Nick Cave would come to his senses and do a duet with this Transylvanian hipster! Long may the lovely Miss Lazareanu reign.
All images courtesy of Google

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


One of the Tate Modern's major spring exhibitions is a retrospective of the modernist Armenian-American painter Ashile Gorky. The show's ubiquitous tube advertising features a striking two-dimensional double portrait of the artist and his mother in delicate, flat, muted pastel tones. The image appeared somehow haunting, even under the harsh fluorescent lighting of the Piccadilly line. I was eager to get to the Tate one sunny Saturday to view the work in the flesh.

The story behind Gorky's mysterious painting made the work all the more poignant. The piece was based on a 1912 photograph the artist rediscovered at his father's American house, many years after witnessing his mother's death from starvation during the 1915 Turkish Armenian massacres. Gorky reworked the painting over many years, beginning a parallel second version in 1929.

This seemed to me a beautiful example of the emotive power of artistic expression and the creative process towards healing. It also illustrated the importance of allowing personal tragedy to inform an artist's output, something done so effectively by the likes of Tracey Emin and Frida Khalo. This emotional expression infuses a work with far richer and more evocative layers of meaning than that of works concerned purely with aesthetics. Hence, the sterotype of the tortured, long-suffering artist.

The Tate's Gorky show featured more light-hearted works such as the whimsical Portrait of Myself and My Imaginary Wife (above). Again, Gorky uses flat, bold blocks of colour in a messy, unfinished style to eke out an impression of himself with some mysterious future love. Is the artist's evasive downward gaze symbolic of his fears of troubled horizons ahead, or merely expressing a hope that love will repair the damage caused by his turbulent past? I like the fantasy element of the envisioning of an imaginary wife - it seems such a feminine, almost adolescent subject to paint. Something which makes Ashile Gorky all the more charming and endearing a character.
All images courtesy of the interweb

Sunday, 11 April 2010


The Wapping Project is a classic example of the type of venue which makes London an amazing city. The old hydraulic power station closed in 1977 (the year punk broke - RIP Malcolm) and now houses an atmospheric art space and restaurant.

While the conversion of London's industrial architecture is nothing new, the Wapping Project remains one of its finest examples. The space retains all of its original authentic character and visitors are able to wander amongst the heavy machinery featured throughout. The furniture is minimal and modern, allowing the stunning industrial ambience to utterly absorb the senses.

At dusk, the indigo twilight disappears through the great skylit roof, replaced by the delicious warm glow of a million candles burning throughout the space. The original bone and green colour scheme is a location scout's dream and the distressed walls are Hollywood-set perfect, without inducing an asbestos-related panic attack. Even the eerie gallery space set in a back room away from the main restaurant area emanates an authentic, earthly smell of industrial toil. This sensual patina no doubt created from the blood, sweat and tears of the workers' endless grind throughout the power station's 87 year history.

If you can manage to navigate your way through the DLR replacement bus service (not to mention the estate badlands of Shadwell - don't wear heels!) the Wapping Project is a wonderful location to spend a few hours within the ghostly remains of a disappeared era.

Friday, 9 April 2010


One of my favourite pursuits to indulge in these days is a spot of guerilla manbagging. Essentially, guerilla manbagging involves the taking of surreptitious photos from behind of fashion-forward chaps sporting manbags. It steals the concept of photographing hip-looking people on the streets in their cool outfits from The Sartorialist but its as though the photos have been taken by an anxious, sweaty stalker suffering from social phobia.

I find the British man somewhat unapproachable at the best of times, never mind when you're trying to capture an ironic picture of his natty knapsack. That's why surreptitious is best. Occasionally you might get a guy clocking you suspiciously from the corner of his eye (the same expression dogs get when they take a shit and they know someones watching), in that case I just pretend I am sex-texting my nextdoor neighbour. These stylish men are hardly likely to blow their cool and challenge you to a manbags-at-dawn duel anyway.

Guerilla manbagging can brighten up a really boring walk to the tube or trip home from work and can be done wherever there are well-dressed post-modern chaps about. Just whip out your phone and get snapping. The best guerilla manbagging I ever managed was on New Year's Eve in Lisbon in 2006. It seemed the entire city was strolling back through Baxia from Rossio Square post fireworks, the streets awash with happy drunken Portuguese people celebrating the turn of the calendar. In front of me stood an unpretentious little local man all trussed up in his Sunday best, complete with an early edition manbag draped over his shoulder - a study in casual nonchalance. Total poetry in motion.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Ok I've decided to ditch the pseudo-alphabetical tip I was on and get down to serious business!! Couldn't think of anything for 'E' anyway (nothin' legal that is). Right. So Winchester. I'd been hankering to visit this delightful southern city for a few years now but Brighton, Brussels or Barcelona always seemed far more exotic destinations than boring old Winchester with its poncey cathedral, identikit high street and awful fat chavs. How wrong I was!!
The town boasts The original Public School in the 'posh twat' tradition - Winchester College. Less famous than Harrow or Eton, retaining the likes of journalist Martin Bashir amongst its famed alumni, the school reflects Winchester's status as the ancient capital of England with its long-held traditions.

Even more exciting was the unexpected presence of King Arthur's fabled 'knights at the round table' in the actual table...or at least a touristically acceptable version of said table - who could tell, there was a distinct lack of information about the place as to why the table was hoisted up against the wall...anyway, very cool it was.
Pretty Winchester also featured an historic working mill generating a picturesque bubbling stream through the town. The ancient roman high street contained a range of quaint architectural styles towering above foreboding dark narrow passages. The use of flint within many of the town buildings gives Winchester a distinct architectural flavour I have yet to see employed anywhere else in the UK (though it must be...surely!) The Masonic centre pictured right provides a great example of this beautiful style.
Go to Winchester! Apparently they have a cathedral there. But no rifles.