Well, even if I haven’t got to see everything I would have liked, it’s been a good year, especially for encountering artists I hadn’t come across before, Rana Begum for one. Her work somehow combines facets of minimalism with various kinds of patterning, some of her pieces (many?) depending for their effect on a kind of optical illusion. You thought you knew what this was? Then look again. And again. Whereas her show at the Djanogly gallery in Nottingham gave a fuller sense of her overall practice, at Ketttle’s Yard in Cambridge she filled a chapel annex with baskets you were forced to bend your way under and around, and at Tate St. Ives, in addition to a selection of small paintings, she hung painted fishing nets from the walls and filled a table with a variety of white sculptures based on different shapes and sizes of fishing floats. Fascinating.
Camden Arts Centre has a knack of presenting interesting work by lesser known artists and this year’s exhibition of abstract work by Amy Sillman was no exception. Great use of colour in the larger abstract pieces, set off against cartoon-like and politically (small p) figuration. I nearly missed Heidi Bucher at the Parasol Unit, a medium-size gallery next to Victoria Miro off City Road and was so pleased that I didn’t. Not dissimilar in some ways from the working practices of Rachel Whiteread or Anthony Gormley, Bucher [she died in 1993] made latex casts of building interiors (doors, windows), objects and clothing, the resultant ‘skinnings’ hung from ceilings or displayed on walls. Beautiful and deeply, deeply unsettling.
Just about as unsettling as the huge paintings of faces – mostly faces, overflowing flesh and faces – in the brilliant exhibition of Jenny Saville’s work at the Scottish National Gallery. I’d never seen as much of her work in one place before and the effect was close to overwhelming. But brilliant.
Caroline Walker is an artist whose development I’ve been happy to follow for quite a while now [ever since those days when I could afford to buy it!] and the paintings that comprised Home, again at Kettle’ s Yard, are amongst her best, not least for the care and dignity she gives to her subjects, all of whom are/were female asylum seekers living in London.
Finally, mention of three near-perfectly curated [to use the word in its proper sense, for once] shows : Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Permanent Collection rehang at Tate St. Ives.
Much of my reading time this year has been spent working my way through a two-volume edition of D. H.Lawrence’s Complete (?) Letters. Currently, I’m up to page 945, November 1926. 301 pages and four years to go. Other large works that have happily taken my time are Thomas McGuane’s Collected and New Stories, Cloudbursts, weighing in a 556 pages and two books about Abstract Expressionism and the art world of New York in the middle of the last century – de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan and Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, which concentrates on five women artists who kept their heads above water in an otherwise all-male tide: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. Pretty much the subject matter of the PhD thesis I never got around to writing, in fact, save that I would have concentrated more on the work and less on the biography. I think.
I was pleased that Robin Robertson’s noirish The Long Take won the Goldsmiths’ Prize for fiction that “opens up new possibilities for the novel form”. As far as I can see it’s a long poem sequence hemmed together with occasional sections of prose: a poem in the form of a novel – new possibilities, indeed. Also short-listed for the Goldsmiths’ was Gabriel Josipovici’s enigmatic and beautifully written The Cemetery in Barnes – at a fraction over 100 pages more (less?) a novella than a novel and, in these days of overblown fiction, all the better for it. The Long Take was also on the short list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which was won by Anna Burns’ Milkman, which I found oddly compulsive in parts – chilling and funny – but by my take overly repetitive and just, yes, too long. I haven’t yet read the Daisy Johnson, but intend to as I very much enjoyed her short story collection, Fen. After greatly admiring Sarah Baume’s A Line Made By Walking, I began Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither with considerable anticipation which the first section, Spill, did nothing to allay – quite superb, in fact – but after that … oh, dear, what a falling away …
Amongst the crime fiction I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed new novels by Eva Dolan, Kjell Ola-Dahl, Mick Herron, Attica Locke, Garry Disher and John Lincoln (Williams), as well as rereading Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series and Jamie Harrison’s delightful The Edge of the Crazies. Best of all, Ross Thomas’ 1984 novel, Briarpatch. So good I read it twice.
And, overall, the book that impressed me most this year – and one that I went back to with no little trepidation – was Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Even better than I’d remembered.
Here they are, in order of seeing, the best, to my eyes, of this year’s new releases; the films I enjoyed most and would happily see again.
Loveless : Andrey Zvyagintsev Western : Valeska Grisebach BlacKkKlansman : Spike Lee Cold War : Pawel Pawlikowski The Rider : Chloe Zhao
The Miseducation of Cameron Post : Desiree Akhavan Lucky : John Carroll Lynch Nae Pasaran : Felipe Bustos Sierra Skate Kitchen : Crystal Moselle Shoplifters : Hirokazu Koreeda Disobedience : Sebastian Lelio Roma : Alfonso Cuaron The Old Man and The Gun : David Lowery
Okay, I know the last mentioned is a little on the lightweight side, especially when compared to a heavy-duty [but brilliant] film like Loveless, or Cold War, or Cuaron’s Roma, but it does have an absolutely sparkling performance by Sissy Spacek, who – excuse the cliché – lights up the screen whenever she appears. And hey, I’m of the age when I can happily take sustenance from watching someone of, shall we say, advancing years running the screen and living a mostly happy and fulfilling life – even if that life does comprise robbing banks. I felt the same about the Harry Dean Stanton character in Lucky, just as I did about the real-life Rolls Royce workers who refused to handle airplane engine parts that were destined to be used by the Chilean government against their own people. Watch those deeply principled yet otherwise ordinary, now elderly men finally getting their due recognition in the final scenes of Nae Pasaran and hold the tears back if you can. More movies for old geezers, that’s what I say!
And the most disappointing film of the year? For me, without a doubt, Nuri Bilge Ceylon’s The Wild Pear Tree. After watching his marvellous Once Upon a Time in Anatolia for the third time just a few days before, I was hoping for something more striking and cinematic than his previous effort, the dull, overly-Chekovian and aptly titled Winter Sleep, which won the Palme D’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, no such luck. Until – far too late – the last twenty minutes or so, Ceylan’s latest film revolves around three hours of argument and aimless conversation, relieved only by his trademark shots of empty and beautiful Turkish countryside.
The third part of Ethan Iverson’s Kings Place residency during this year’s London Jazz Festival went under the name of Ethan’s Last Rent Party, but rather than it being a bring-a-bottle, pay-what-you-can-at-the-door event being put on in order to assuage the venue’s doubtless huge rates bill, it turned out to be – with Iverson joined on stage by British pianists, Adam Fairhall and Alexander Hawkins – an exhilarating, sometimes thrilling, examination of the links between British music in the first decades of the last century and jazz, between the likes of Percy Grainger of English Country Garden fame and syncopation. And one of the most musically satisfying and surprising, enjoyable, educative and entertaining musical events I’ve attended.
Iverson – he late of The Bad Plus – clearly knows, as anyone familiar with his blog, Do The M@th, will know, a lot about a lot of things, things musical in particular; one of his more obsessive areas of interest [about as obsessive as his interest in crime fiction] seeming to be British music & composition. Who knew, for instance [well, obviously, Iverson did] that when Will Marion Cooke’s African-American revue, In Dahomey, played London’s Shaftesbury Theatre on the 16th May, 1903, Percy Grainger was in the audience and was inspired to write a piano piece of the same name in a syncopated, ‘raggy’ style. Nor that in 1923 Constant Lambert went to the London Pavilion to see Dover Street to Dixie, featuring the orchestra of black musicians led by Will Vodery. An experience, Iverson says, which led Lambert towards the use of syncopation in his work, including the 1929 Piano Sonata.
The link, Iverson says, between Cook, Vodery, Grainger and Lambert is the Duke, Duke Ellington. But, instead of me further pillaging his blog, why don’t I step aside in favour of Iverson’s own words?
Duke Ellington is a linking theme. Will Marion Cook and Will Vodery were two of Ellington’s teachers and mentors. Both Grainger and Lambert knew and respected Ellington. There’s a picture of Grainger with Ellington when Grainger invited Ellington to he NYU classroom in 1932. Lambert (who had a major career as a feisty critic) was one of Ellington’s most vocal supporter in the 1930s, writing in the famously caustic Music Ho! that Ellington ” … has crystallised the popular music of our time and set up a standard by which we may judge not only other jazz composers but also those highbrow composers, whether American or European, who indulge in what is roughly known as ‘symphonic jazz'”
So, what actually happened? Iverson introduced the subject before chatting a while with Fairhall and Hawkins. Then he played Grainger’s In Dahomey and the first movement of Lambert’s Piano Sonata; Hawkins [stretching further back in time] played William Byrd’s ‘First Pavan & Galliard’, with a nod towards the recording by Glenn Gould; Fairhall, to my delight, played Winifred Atwell and Billy Mayerl; they each played a composition by Ray Noble, Iverson doing the honours with ‘Cherokee; and, finally, all three sat at the same piano to take Grainger’s ‘Country Gardens’ to places I doubt it’s composer would or could have envisaged.
It wasn’t until daughter Molly tweeted a notification that another batch of her New Zealand photographs had gone up to view that I remembered a batch of photos that she’d taken during a visit to Hastings in the summer. No sooner remembered than resized and on display – interesting place, Hastings, not all sunshine and shingle.
Four years ago, not so long after the final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, was published, I was invited to be a guest on the BBC Radio 3 programme, Private Passions – a sort of (mainly) classical version of Desert Island Discs, only, since this was to be broadcast alongside the London Jazz Festival, there was to be a somewhat higher jazz content than is often the case.
I was delighted to be asked [understatement!] and thoroughly enjoyed the process, from making the choice of music to be featured to the interview itself, which was conducted with little or no preamble or rehearsal, the presenter, Michael Berkeley, making me feel immediately at my ease. The pair of us sat in a relatively small studio space, listening together to the pieces as they were played on air, which meant that one’s immediate response was, well, immediate.
I wanted to choose music that meant something in particular to me, while being conscious of delivering a broad ranging selection I thought people might respond to, and which might include some pieces with which listeners might be less than familiar with – Jocelyn Pook’s Tango with Corrugated Iron, for instance, or James P. Johnson’s Victory March.
Here’s the full list …
Mean to Me [Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk]
Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra inc. Lester Young (tenor sax)
When, in the early 1960s and recently graduated as trained teachers from Goldsmiths’ College, my friends and I were looking for somewhere outside London to ply our trade, and we decided, after a relatively small amount of research, that Nottingham was just the place. Rents were significantly cheaper than in the capital [nothing changes] and, according to the back pages of the TES, there were jobs. A couple of brief visits aside, however, our knowledge of the city and its environs was less than well-informed. We’d seen, and been braced by, Tony Richardson’s film of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning; seen and just managed to stay awake through Jack Cardiff’s tame version of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers, a novel I would have read as part of my English studies, Lawrence being more academically respectable then than I believe he is now. [Except at the University of Nottingham, of course.] We’d heard and half-believed the rumours about there being 10 young women for every man – or was it a baker’s dozen? What clinched it, however, was the opening, in 1963, of the newly designed Nottingham Playhouse – Peter Moro’s modernist building, John Neville’s fine profile and artistic reputation … if the city could support a theatre like that, well, there had to be something special going on … and it was only a few hours away from London.
As it happened, my friend John Phillips and I ended up getting jobs in South East Derbyshire, some ten miles west of Nottingham in the small mining town of Heanor, just across the Erewash Valley from Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood.
I was born nearly forty-four years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some three thousand souls, about eight miles from Nottingham, and one mile from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire. It is hilly country, looking west from Crich and towards Matlock, sixteen miles away, and east and north-east towards Mansfield and the Sherwood Forest district. To me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside, just between the red sandstone and oak-trees of Nottingham, and the cold limestone, the ash-trees, the stone fences of Derbyshire. To me, as a child and a young man, it was still the old England of the forest and agricultural past; there were no motor-cars, the mines were, in a sense, an accident in the landscape, and Robin Hood and his merry men were not very far away.
D. H. Lawrence: Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929
Most mornings, unless we chose the alternative route through Ilkeston, John and I would drive out, often in thick fog, past the hosiery factories on the outskirts of the city, on and on towards Eastwood, then down into the valley and up again into Langley Mill, on the edge of Heanor, which was where both our schools – secondary modern in my case, primary in John’s – were situated. It was a journey rarely undertaken without another section of Lawrence’s essay playing somewhere at the back of my mind.
Now Eastwood occupies a lovely position on a hilltop, with the steep slope towards Derbyshire and the long slope towards Nottingham. They put up a new church, which stands fine and commanding, even if it has no real form, looking across the awful Erewash Valley at the church of Heanor, similarly commanding, away on a hill beyond.
So, somehow, those sentences, that essay ‘placed’ the area for me in a writerly way, gave it a kind of added resonance, just as, I suppose, Sillitoe’s writing did for much of inner-city Nottingham. I continued to read Lawrence for my own pleasure [The Rainbow & Women in Love] and read his poems – Snake! – and the short stories with my classes – Sillitoes’s stories, likewise. All of this without any suggestion, any idea or ambition that I might one day attempt to be some kind of writer myself; that was to come later, more than a decade later, and from a quite different direction. Though I suppose, in retrospect, what was learned, what was carried through, was some belief that story and character were best told, best seen and understood, when they were most closely allied with place. Which, in my case, has most usually been Nottingham – that and the few other areas I’ve spent enough time in to feel I know beyond the lines and contours of a map.
And speaking of maps …
The above is ‘borrowed’ from the newly redesigned website of the Haggs Farm Preservation Society – https://haggsfarm2.wixsite.com/lawrence – an organisation dedicated to encouraging the preservation of the farm buildings and reinforcing the vital importance of Haggs Farm to the early formative years of D.H. Lawrence’s development as an internationally renowned writer.
The farm was the home of the Chambers family, both farm and family being inspirations for much of Lawrence’s early writing; the daughter, Jessie, being the clear model for the character of Miriam in Sons and Lovers. The farm, unfortunately, has been uninhabited for over 50 years and is on private land with no public access. Despite being a Grade ll listed building since 1966, the house is in a serious state of disrepair and I would encourage readers to log on to the society’s site and pay the small amount [surely, it should be more?] it takes to become a supporting member.
Looking at the map above took me back to the many times I’ve walked, usually with friends, from the site of Moorgreen Colliery, north along the sparsely wooded side of Moorgreen Reservoir and then across the open fields towards Felley Mill, with Haggs Farm off to the west, turning then towards Beauvale Priory and round in a sweep back to Moorgreen. Beautiful country, indeed.
Since the summer, I’ve been reading – a group at a time – through the two-volume Heron Books edition of Lawrence’s Collected Letters, and just recently came across the following, written in response to a request from H. A. Pilcher, a writer of travel books.
from Del Monte Ranch, Questa, 17 April 1925
Dear Sir: I received your letter only last night.
The scene of my Nottingham-Derby novels all centres round Eastwood,Notts (where I was born): and whoever stands on Walker Street, Eastwood, will see the whole landscape of Sons and Lovers before him. Underwood in front, the hills of Derbyshire on the left, the woods and hills of Annesley on the right. The road from Nottingham by Watnall, Moorgreen, up to Underwood and on to Annesley (Byron’s Annesley) – gives you all the landscape of The White Peacock, Miriam’s farm in Sons and Lovers, and the home of the Crich family, and Willey Water, in Women in Love.
The Rainbow is Ilkeston and Cossall, near Ilkeston, moving to Eastwood. And Hermione, in Women in Love, is supposed to live not far from Cromford. The short stories are Ripley, Wirkswoth, Stoney Middleton, Via Gellia (‘The Wintry Peacock’). The Lost Girl begins in Eastwood – the cinematograph show being in Langley Mill.
Today’s the day. Well, yes, in the United States the main focus is on the mid-term elections. And it’s been welcome, inspiring even, to read of the number of candidates from diverse backgrounds who are standing – black, Native American, bisexual and transgender included. But it’s also the day that Pegasus Books, my US publishers, have chosen to launch the 4th and final Frank Elder novel, Body & Soul. The omens are good; early reviews have been more than kind. Nothing now for me to do, the odd squawk on social media aside … what will be, will be. But those reviews …
A story of deep emotional truth, with good people seeking to restore lost things and regretting their memories. There’s enough tension in this book to please any lover of a good detective story and quality writing that will satisfy general fiction fans.
– LIBRARY JOURNAL [starred review]
Harvey writes with great power about the disappointments and tragedies of living, and he always digs deep into the emotional recesses of his characters – all of which makes the devastating ending of this remarkable novel all the more powerful.
– BOOKLIST [starred review]
Fans of John Harvey’s books are already familiar with his signature sharp dialogue construction and subtle character development. This novel is not an exception. A good read from a master a crime storytelling.
– MYSTERY TRIBUNE
Well-rounded, sympathetic characters have always been a hallmark of Harvey’s work, and he’s at his best here.
– Marilyn Stasio, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Before the first of my radiotherapy sessions at UCLH yesterday, the nurse asked me what kind of music I would like played from Spotify while the treatment was in progress. Oh, just some jazz, I said. What I got was James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison. I trust they’re targeting of my prostate was more accurate.
Two playlists this month … the first, the more usual selection from the good old iPod Shuffle …
Tell It Like It Is : Aaron Neville
Honky Tonk [Pt. 2] : Bill Doggett
Suite #4 in E Flat Minor/Bach Six French Suites : Joanna MacGregor
Beale Street Blues : Alex Welsh & His Dixielanders
Tea For Two : Lester Young w. the Nat King Cole Trio
Crow Jane : Skip James
Variations on a Theme by Thelonious Monk #1 : Eric Dolphy
String Qt #22 in B Flat – Menuetto/Mozart : Talich Quartet
Too Far Gone : Emmylou Harris
Getting Ready : Patty Griffin
And here is the newly chosen for the month of November playlist labelled simply New Stuff …
I was alerted to the music of the Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke when I heard in playing in Engocha, the Ethiopian vegan restaurant conveniently just around the corner in Tufnell Park. And I’m grateful to Tim Adkin, of Counterpoint fame, for reminding me of the pleasures to be gained from listening to Kevin Ayres – a bit of a favourite in my long-off Stevenage days.
The final painting is invariably, to borrow Picasso’s phrase … ‘the sum of its destructions’, with numerous earlier paintings – or perhaps better to say images, forms, shapes, fragments – buried or lost beneath the surface. And whilst these moments are variously submerged, obscured or obliterated, traces remain. There is is still a presence, a memory of each of these events and objects hidden behind the image, beneath the ground. Like a sediment, a past, an unconscious perhaps – still active, still agent.
Camden Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark
That paragraph is about the paintings of Amy Sillman, whom I wrote about in my previous blog post, but reading it again made me think of Heidi Bucher, whose work is currently on show at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art until December 9th.
These are not paintings, though their effects are not dissimilar, nor are they exactly sculptures (though there are also sculptures on display), they are ‘skinnings’. Latex works made by covering the surface of a chosen object – doors, windows, walls – with gauze, pressing liquid latex against and peeling it off again just before it finally dries. Peeling it off not completely clean, but bringing with it traces of the object being skinned. Streaks and patches of paint; fragments of wood or cloth; memories.
For me, there are two outstanding pieces in this fascinating exhibition, one on the ground floor, one the floor above.
Bucher’s dragonfly costume is fixed to the centre of the upstairs wall of the gallery, with large plate glass windows to the sides looking out onto the trees of the garden at the rear. An extravagant, almost impossible costume for some wild and wonderful gala evening; a giant insect that has pullulated to fleshy, iridescent abundance.
In a dominant position to the left as you enter the main room of the gallery, hangs what is perhaps the quintessential Bucher art work – and the one that harks back most obviously to the quotation in opening paragraph, with its references to the lingering presence of memory, to a unconscious, mainly hidden past.
The Bellevue Kreuzlingen was a psychiatric sanitarium in Switzerland, the one to which Freud sent one of the patients, Anna O, the subject of one of his first case histories, to be treated. A short film showing at the gallery shows Heidi Bucher in the act of making this work, this skinning; tearing away the vast sheet of latex from where it has been clinging to the surfaces of wall, wood, window and glass and, as it is freed, covering herself with it as she crouches beneath it, smothering herself in it as if to inhale the air, the vestiges of breath that still cling to it, as if to hear the kaleidoscope of whispered conversations, troubled minds. In a later moment from the same film, she runs along the corridors of the building, pulling the latex skinning behind her like a shroud; like a wedding dress with its heavy, flowing veil – some half-mad Miss Havisham caught up in the fevered consciousness of others.
Heidi Bucher : Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW, till December 9th, 2018.
Amy Sillman : Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW36DG, till January 6th, 2019.