Romantic reflections -Shakespeare in the window

Romantic-reflections-Yet-We-sleep-we-dreamOxford Street in London this summer has a visual treat. Selfridge’s, well-known for eye-catching and innovative window-dressing, has teamed up with some world-famous fashion designers to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. There are 12 displays – here are five I managed to photograph between the crowds on a very busy Oxford Street.

The Alexander McQueen interpretation is from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ using the quote “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream”

‘Romeo and Juliet’, was chosen by Christopher Kane with the quote “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” providing inspiration.

Christopher-Kane-But-soft-what-light

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also gives us another romantic, inspirational couplet for Erdem – “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid blind”.

Erdem-Love-Looks-not

Bucking the trend and displaying an alternative, challenging interpretation J W Anderson uses perhaps one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from ‘Hamlet’.

JWAnderson-Hamlet

Although I love the unashamedly romantic frills and ornate prints of the Alexander McQueen window, there is something haunting and long-lasting about the Issey Miyake display. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” from ‘Twelfth Night’ is the chosen quotation. The textured, structural coat shaped from cloth adorned/woven with words from the significant text captures our contemporary engagement with Shakespeare in a most memorable fashion. Particularly striking, I thought, emerging from the reflections of a 21st-century cityscape.

Issey-Miyake-Love-sought-is-good

Advertisements

21st April 2016 – 90 not out, but let’s remember . . .

Look-up-to-the-skiesThere might be a few corners of the world where a certain birthday is going unnoticed, but that wouldn’t be Britain. Apparently, it’s a good news story and folk like a good news story. This morning I heard a radio clip of the Queen when she was very young speaking of the time when, incognito, she and Princess Margaret had joined the celebrating crowds on the Mall during VE Day, May 1945. She would have been 19 years old and it reminded me of a notice I’d recently read when visiting the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London.

More than 125,000 men flew in Bomber Command and all were volunteers. Of this number, nearly half lost their lives (55,573). Most who flew were very young, the great majority still in their late teens.

RAF-motto
The RAF Badge inscribed on Portland stone of the Bomber Command Memorial. The badge has been used since 1918 with the RAF motto ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’ – ‘Through Adversity To The Stars’.

It has taken 70 years for this memorial to be erected and it was unveiled by the Queen on 28th June 2012. The memorial was designed by the architect Liam O’Connor and is made of Portland stone and echoes the nearby 19th-century Ionic Screen gate by Decimus Burton at the entrance to Hyde Park.

Bomber Command Memorial
Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London

Within the central part of the design, raised on a plinth, stands a bronze sculpture of seven statues. These statues represent the aircrew of a World War Two bomber and were created by the sculptor Philip Jackson.

Bomber Command Memorial
Bomber Command Memorial inside the open Portland stone structure stands the bronze statues. Philip Jackson, bronze, 2012
Bronze-seven
From the left navigator, flight engineer, mid-upper gunner, pilot, bomb aimer, rear gunner and wireless operator.

There is a dedication inscription on an internal wall:

This Memorial is dedicated to the 55,573 airmen from the United Kingdom, British Commonwealth and Allied nations who served in RAF Bomber Command and lost their lives over the course of the Second World War.

Aircrew-from-left

But also inscribed on one of the other walls is a message of reconciliation:

This Memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of the 1939-1945.

My Great Uncle Rich was a Pilot Officer who flew Lancasters in 57 Squadron. It was incredible that he survived the war.

RAF-citations

I remember him as a quiet, gentle man who perhaps never recovered from his 80+ active flights. He did receive the Distinguish Flying Cross, but I never heard that he talked about his war experience. And, there are no stories if he joined the celebrating crowds in the Mall on 8th May 1945.

Bronze-Bomber-boots copy

 

 

 

I think I was there!

I recently exhibited at an art fair in Chelsea, London, and the promotional video has now been uploaded. A little word of warning it does contain several seconds of extremely fast cut rate – I’m guessing something to do with fitting images to the soundtrack. Along with myself there were over 50 artists exhibiting and this video certainly shows how busy and crowded the event was showcasing fine art, drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and jewellery.

Art-Fair-video

Sadly, the most outstanding, beautiful pieces are not shown at all – that was a range of glorious blue ceramics by a woman from the west country. And, that isn’t just my opinion. It was the buzz from quite a few of my fellow talented and knowledgeable exhibitors. Looks like the ‘craft’ part didn’t make the cut.

 

Adaptive reuse – art school to apartments

St-Martins-DoorwayWhen I was younger I spent a year attending evening classes at the St Martin’s School of Art in London. I mostly remember arriving at the Charing Cross Road entrance on dark and wet and windy nights although it couldn’t always have been raining.

St Martin's School of Art, Charing Cross Rd brick and steel
St Martin’s School of Art, Charing Cross Rd, London sometime in the mid 1980s.

It was an important experience for me culminating in an end of year fashion show with professional models.  The evening show was extra special as the renowned British designer Zandra Rhodes attended offering her support and encouragement to the student/newbie designers.

Nowadays, St Martin’s School of Art has combined with the Central School of Arts & Crafts and is known as  Central St Martins (CSM) and since 2011 is based in the King’s Cross area of London. This relocation has left the 1939 purpose-built art school site in the heart of London available for renovation and a new lease of life as retail premises and loft apartments.

adaptive reuse of the old art school building
The adaptive reuse of the old art school building – now Foyles bookstore with apartments on the upper floors. November 2015

Although it is not listed the building is nevertheless an interesting construction of steel, brickwork, Cornish granite and Portland stone. It definitely has a 1930s feel about it and fortunately the recent renovations have not significantly remodelled its external appearance. From the street it looks very much like a successful ‘adaptive reuse’ and so much better than being simply knocked down to allow for yet another soulless glass and steel affair the likes of which seem to be springing up all around.

St-Martin's-lofts
Foyles St Martin’s Lofts designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Revival of ‘The Ruling Class’ – bitingly funny

Ticket-Ruling-ClassLast week my daughter, half Scottish, and I went to see James McAvoy’s latest West End theatre performance in ‘The Ruling Class’. I read in the programme that Mr McAvoy had appeared in ‘Breathing Corpses’ at the Royal Court in March 2005, but my daughter was still in primary school and so we missed seeing this ‘exciting young talent’ (that’s a quote from the time by the theatre critic of The Independent). However, since then we have been lucky enough to see him star in ‘Three Days of Rain’ (2009) and then terrify us as ‘MacBeth’ (2013). And now, we have enjoyed watching him lead a strong cast through the revival of the 1968 satirical play ‘The Ruling Class’ by Peter Barnes.

Superb ensemble headed by James McAvoy taking their bows at the end of 'The Ruling Class'.  Directed by Jamie Lloyd.
Superb ensemble headed by James McAvoy taking their bows at the end of ‘The Ruling Class’.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd.

The play has not been given a 21st-century updating, but deliberately offers us the looks and, more importantly, the voices of the 1960s, all strangled received pronunciation (aka the Queen’s English or BBC English). Although I’m not old enough to remember the class politics of the late 1960s, I did recognise and understand the overall context and its resonance for a 2015 audience. As a piece essentially poking fun at the British class system I wondered what many of the younger, overseas visitors made of the play. I was sat between my daughter (21) and a lady who I think had seen the original 1968 production. I think the older lady and I enjoyed the whole experience considerably more than my daughter.

Electrifying - Forbes Masson and James McAvoy. 'The Ruling Class' publicity photograph by Johan Persson.
Electrifying – Forbes Masson and James McAvoy.
‘The Ruling Class’ publicity photograph by Johan Persson.

James McAvoy’s performance as Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, grabs the audience round the neck and shakes it this way and that as he energetically channels his immense charisma into this larger than life character. The play is funny, the humour dark and vicious, and McAvoy appears to relish playing such an unstable, fluid character. It is no wonder he has been nominated for a Best Actor Olivier Award. Almost equalling McAvoy’s mesmerising performance is another Scot, Forbes Masson, who was both versatile and brilliant in the various parts he played. Indeed, the whole talented cast made for a highly entertaining evening particularly if you enjoy a dose of black humour. The play is on until April 11, 2015 at Trafalgar Studios.

And, finally, if you would like a straight from the horse’s mouth comment on the current controversy about elitism in theatre – have a look at this two minute video filmed at the opening night.

Renovating your way out of a recession

Builders in Oxford Street, London.
Builders in Oxford Street, London.

I am sure that there are new building projects being commenced all over the UK, but I was struck by the amount of renovation, rebuilding and new builds I saw last weekend in Central London.

Of course, there is the amazing, ongoing massive underground engineering project Crossrail that comes to the surface every now and then and creates a major building site. Crossrail is a deep underground railway service due to open in 2018 allowing a traveller to cross from an area south-west of London to south Essex without coming up for air! A service more for commuters than tourists, but aimed to relieve Central London congestion.

Elizabeth breaks through at Liverpool Street in January 2015. Photo from Crossrail.
Elizabeth breaks through at Liverpool Street in January 2015. Photo from Crossrail.

But back on the streets many London landmark buildings are receiving a little tlc and maintenance.

neo classical pediment
Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner – ground floor a muddle of scaffolding, but the neoclassical pediment is still striking.

Even the prestigious and pristine Athenaeum on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place has a protective structure over their statue of Athena. It is a gilded work by Edward Hodges Baily and I’m not sure if the cover is due to renovation work or whether it is the statues annual protection to keep the worst of the winter weather from the gilding/gold paintwork.

The Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, London. Pristine neoclassic building designed by Decimus Burton.
The Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, London. Pristine neoclassic building designed by Decimus Burton.

And, down the other end of Pall Mall the building work has spilled out over the pavement and another building under plastic is detracting from the beautiful St James’s Palace.

Despite many buildings being smartened up even in Central London there are some prime position properties awaiting a visit from the renovation ‘angel’.

Part of 90-93 Piccadilly on the other side of the road from these splendid gates opening onto Green Park.
Part of 90-93 Piccadilly on the other side of the road from these splendid gates opening onto Green Park.

These houses, 90-93 Piccadilly are a grade II listed terrace that overlooks Green Park. It has an amazing view through a set of well-maintained ornate gates all the way down to the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.

View across Green Park down to the Victoria Memorial. (Not sure how the glass office tower block behind got planning position!)
View across Green Park down to the Victoria Memorial. (Not sure how the glass office tower block behind got planning position!)

Lions, unicorns and Hawksmoor’s last church

Hawksmoor-spire-detailThe parish church of St George, Bloomsbury, is a glorious example of English Baroque architecture. It was consecrated on the 28th January 1730 and is the last parish church designed by architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Within 20 years the church with its idiosyncratic spire (stepped like a pyramid) was a well-known building on the London skyline and as such appears in Hogarth’s famous print ‘Gin Lane’.

Hawksmoor St Georges
St George’s, Bloomsbury
Stunning portico
Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor
It has a very grand classical portico, but you have to look up 150 ft to the base of the spire to see the sprawling lions and rearing unicorns (best viewed with binoculars). Each 10ft sculpted animal is not an original as these were removed in 1871. The civic minded Victorians feared that in their decaying state a beast could crash down and cause a fatality. Fortunately, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original drawings for this striking architectural ornamentation have survived and as part of an extensive programme of renovations in 2006, the sculptor, Tim Crawley, was able to re-create these dramatic pieces. Hawksmoor’s interpretation of the ‘lion and unicorn’ theme has the animals fighting over representations of the English crown.

spire of St Georges Bloomsbury
Spire stepped like a pyramid with St George at the top and the lions and unicorns around the base.
This provocative imagery displayed on a spire topped with St George was considered inappropriate by the Commissioners who initially refused to pay for the work. It is not that the lion and the unicorn used for architectural ornamentation is unusual, but that they are shown fighting over the crown. The lion represents England and the unicorn Scotland as in the traditional heraldic symbolism used from the reign of James I (1603) onwards. The pertinent point here is that at the time of the design and building of St George’s the dust was still settling on the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland that created the United Kingdom.

'Gin Lane' - Hogarth. 1751 Detail taken from print with the St George's spire clearly visible.
‘Gin Lane’ – Hogarth. 1751
Detail taken from print with the St George’s spire clearly visible.
And, of course, there’s the old English/Scottish/British nursery rhyme:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.

Anonymous aliens arrive

Anonymous-aliens-arrive

The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.
The anonymous aliens release their messages for all humanity.

Well, that was last night the 5th November.

Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.
Screenshot of Twitter last night, 5th November 2014, following the Million Mask March in London which attempted to protest at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.

Protesting in London on the way to the Houses of Parliament, rowdy, serious and in the end a little violent, but in reality it’s still business as usual despite the banking crash and the supposed, virtual meltdown of capitalism! And, back in the very, very ordinary world where I live the local council had a predictable, rather safe family affair ‘fireworks display’ in the community park opposite my street. Only, the tickets were too expensive for many families and so they came and parked down my road and the children stood on the pavement trying to see over the row of houses between them and the park.

Finale-I

Finale-II-burst

I think I'd prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??
I think I’d prefer a visit from some anonymous aliens perhaps a few blue-sky thinking economists??

Double feature, double exposure – no wait, triple!

Agnes-|Ashe-Featured-UKHandmade-2014We have an expression here in England, I used to say it a lot when I lived in London “You wait half an hour for a bus and then three come along at once!”. Well, in this case three pieces of my work have just been featured in three different publications.

I applied to be in the UKHandmade Showcase for jewellery and accessories, and they chose this scarf to fit in with the overall muted colours of their spread. (First bus)

Over the weekend I was checking out the UKHandmade site and looked at the latest edition of their magazine – UKHandmade Magazine Autumn 2014 and, surprise, another of my scarves has been included on the inside front cover. (Second bus)

And, finally, arriving in the post this morning, was the Guild of Silk Painters Year Book 2014 with another pleasant surprise – another scarf, another photo. (Third bus).

Oh, yes and then there are the real London buses!

London-buses

Skylight – Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy

Skylight-NT-WyndhamsA play with a cast of three leaves nowhere to hide and David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ currently enjoying a successful revival in the West End is no exception. I have to admit I went with my sister who had seen the original run starring Michael Gambon and Lia Williams at the National in 1995. My sister was very enthusiastic about the original and was not disappointed by this version either.

I did have my reservations about Carey Mulligan (playing Kyra Hollis) as it is not always a simple shoe-in for a successful movie star to return to her very early theatre days, and this was also her West End debut. She was good as Kyra, but the whole performance caught fire with the over-the-top, florid entrance of Tom Sargeant played by Bill Nighy and the electric interaction between these two mis-matched old lovers.

Skylight set interestingly shows more of the balconies of the overlooking flats when the centre walls are pulled back.
Skylight set interestingly shows more of the balconies of the overlooking flats when the centre walls are pulled back.

Sometimes a revival feels dated and out-of-step, but sadly this play’s themes of social imbalance between those who appear to have everything and those who are impoverished, resonates even more strongly in 2014 than in the 1990s. And, Kyra’s passionate speech supporting the efforts of social workers received a spontaneous strong round of applause at the performance we attended. Although it is essentially a play about serious issues it is also very funny with spiky, amusing lines delivered with exquisite timing by Bill Nighy. All in all an engaging experience at the theatre.

Wyndhams

Just a little afterthought – during the interval whilst sitting admiring the fine late-Victorian ceiling I remembered that I’d also seen Caryl Churchill’s ‘Serious Money’ in this very theatre in 1988. Another play delivering a commentary on our unequal society, but in a more deliberate brash and satirical form. The depressing conclusion is that in the intervening quarter of a century gross inequality has not lessened and, if anything, according to the numbers people, the gap between the super rich and the rest of us is widening.

What you see, what we saw!

Etsy Ad TV acting dog
Greeting the star of the Etsy TV Advert!

I don’t want to bore for England on this one, so here’s my last comment about the Etsy TV Ad business/episode/eye-opener. I understand that it was shown again last night on UK terrestrial television.

This is what you saw on the screen . . . TV, laptop, iPad, phone whatever.

And this is what we saw. Here are a few shots of the ingredients that came together with a sprinkle of film-world magic to produce the finished advert.

On the set.
On the set.

EtsyScene1

No, honestly, I can’t believe it either and I was really there. Oh, the powerful charm and mystique of illusion.

And then there was the endless waiting, waiting and waiting.

The glamorous waiting area at the back of the set.
The glamorous waiting area at the back of the set.
silk scarf model
My model (very patient) feeling the early evening chill as the sun went down on the shoot.