All about sky

I am intrigued by this painting of urban landscape but skewed to feature the sky:

“Berliner Himmel” by Helge Windisch  at

Frustratingly, this oil painting is not for sale.  There are works also on urban landscape and sky by the same artist – for sale at Saatchi art –  but none so mysterious as this.  I suspect that the artist has realized that this is a key painting in her development and is holding onto it.

As I look at the picture from top to bottom, the tall building seems to transform into a door with impenetrable dark panels.  All the texture and movement is in the sky, which pools and dredges and pulls the eye.

As far as I know, “himmel” is German for both sky and heaven, so I wonder if this has a spiritual interpretation.  It certainly intrigues and points heavenwards.  It would be particularly interesting to view if it was fixed high up on a wall.


Xponorth is a festival of Scotland’s Leading Creative Industries, held in Inverness, annually in June.  This year it opened Wed 7th and runs Thurs 8th.

IMG_2922.JPGToday’s word for the day on my calendar was “ragout – or ragu – a well-seasoned mixture” – and this is a fair description of the festival – which manages to mix Shetland craft knitting, scriptwriting opportunities, showcases foreign short films, platforms new musical talent, has producers, editors A&R men, Icelandic Designers, publishers, writing agents, plenty of leaders of industries and entrepreneurs – creative producers speaking to new talent and motivated people keen to learn how to take the next steps in their production.  A rich mix of new music, new films, seminars and discussion panels.

I went along to the “Starting your television Writing Career”, followed by a talk by Patricia Van der Akker who crowdfunded a book of craft. (I’ll put up separate posts on these as there was just too much excellent info to cram into this blog post.)


Today, I discovered the first rule of Festival going – travel solo if you want to have smooth travel.  I was sharing transport with 2 others, and plans had to change to suit one person’s lateness in getting up.  On the plus side, it was good to reconnect at different times through the day and compare notes on the varying talks we went to.


Everywhere you looked there were people talking animatedly, some crouched over laptops, and cameras everywhere.  A definite buzz.


Festival organizer: Amanda Millen (holding lanyard)

John Singer Sargent – painter

New exhibitions opens 24th June at Dulwich gallery to celebrate the work of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) – who is famous as a portrait painter.  Here, his watercolour pictures are shown – and they are also fabulous, with a great sense of light.

There’s an article on this exhibition by the co-creator (and Sargent’s great nephew) Richard Ormond on the gallery’s website – and he features in this 2 minute taster video.

Songs from Home

A 2 minute video of Nik, a busker in Bath with Serbian background.

“I love the way that busking as an art-form surprises people and it changes public spaces.  No matter where you’re from, there’s a universal language in song”

This video by Lewis Jelley was made using a mobile phone with fish-eye lens.

The story it tells is compact and rich.  In merely 2 minutes, it has themes of how music carries a culture and story; how music transports us somewhere else; that it is made by music lovers rather than beggars; what it is to be a immigrant.

Songwriter – Carly Simon

Just watched a BBC documentary on the making of the album “No Secrets” – which includes the song “You’re so vain”.  Absorbing.


We get to hear from the producer, bassist, sound engineer, drummer, lead guitarist, her manager and most of all Carly herself.  What were her inspirations for her songs?  What was it like to be at the centre of recording such a phenomenally successful album?

A great insight into songwriting and the team effort which is recording an album. And also of the personal and emotional toll it takes on the performer, in the concentrated pressure chamber of the studio. Should be watched by all wouldbe musicians.

Much of the documentary is about the single “You’re so vain” because there are so many little separate elements which made it special.  One of these is backing vocals by a very young Mick Jagger, whom Carly randomly met at a party shortly beforehand, and brought into the studio.

Carly also talks about how she was influenced by the soul stylings of singer Odette (photo featured above).  The photo on the album and its title were not chosen til the very last minute.  The photo used on the front cover was literally as Carly left the photo shoot, dressed in her own favourite clothes, to go back to the studio to work.

Much of this album and its making are indeed life and art combined – the life of one particular musician, at a particular phase in her life and in the technology of sound recording.

This one hour documnetary is available to view on BBC iplayer but only until 5 June – so watch or download soon.

I’m on the Riviera…..

with film star Richard E Grant.  And the painter Matisse.  And a BBC camera crew.

As you’ve probably guessed, I am watching a BBC Arts documentary – “The Riviera: a history in pictures”.  (We have only seen episode 1.  For UK viewers, episode 2 is on Monday at 9 pm, BBC4).



Joyfully, our companion/presenter/guide, Richard, is obviously glad to be there in the sunlight (he has holidayed there over many years) – and explains how the South of France coastal landscape influenced the artworks painted there by Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Cross, Signac, Matisse and Braque (co-creator of Cubism with Picasso).  Richard is not only pleasant company, he has really done his homework well and unfolds an insightful story of art.

Through what he says, you can see the influence of the particular light and harsh rocks landscape on the way these painters made art.  And you feel like you’ve been sitting in sunshine, with a delightful, charming and witty companion.

Kaleidoscopic mixed media – Jill Ricci (NY)

Just met Jill’s work this morning, and I’m a fan.

Jill Ricci’s one of a kind collages immediately stand out with their unique and playful shapes & figures.  –

Vim and Vigor  30 x 40 cm

“I am exploring the place between “high art” and popular culture, text and image, figuration and abstraction, past and present, and two and three-dimensional space.”

– Jill Ricci

“Champion” 10 x 20 cm

Jill Ricci is inspired by peeling walls, layered posters and says:

“I want the pieces to evoke the walls of Morocco, a Renaissance Church, a NYC subway wall, and a hint of Malibu Barbie all simultaneously existing on one canvas.” – Jill Ricci

Her website is at

If you’re in New York, you can call in at the gallery she co-owns, Parlor Gallery, Asbury Park.



Film: The Great Dictator (1939)

If you like watching classic movies then HMV stores in the UK have got an interesting mix of classic and recent DVDs: 2 for £10, 5 for £20.

Having just recently pruned our home DVD collection, I wheeled into the store with my housemates, crying: “we can look but buy nothing”.  Ten minutes later, we walked out – they had indeed bought nothing; I was clutching 5 newly purchased DVDs.  But one of them was “The Great Dictator” and I have over-justifications for all the others….

This film was made in a very different time to ours, when world leaders were preoccupied with trying to look more important than each other, minorities were being persecuted periodically for no reason, leaders made sweeping decisions which brought misery to millions on a whim, world leaders were living in huge palatial houses while security forces carried out random acts of bullying violence in certain neighbourhoods and…. oh wait….


Well, at least satire can make us laugh at times.

“The Great Dictator” is Charlie Chaplin both thumbing his nose at Hitler and Mussolini (who were at the apex of their power and looking unassailable), and urging people to maintain human rights.

Is it worth watching?  I’d say a hearty ‘yes’.  It’s always healthy to see posturing world leaders being self-important and ridiculous at the same time.  And to appreciate that we have the freedom to view it – France did not see the film until after its occupation was ended, in 1945 – they loved it.  The iconic scene is where the Dictator plays with a globe of the world.  But as well as that, there is fun to be had from the start, where the character of the little German Jewish barber fights in WW1, through watching the arrival of the self-important Mussolini-type character, and of how the two dictators wrangle for the upper hand, and the interactions of Mussolini with his sidekicks.  There is also a food fight.  More seriously, but important to see, are the random thuggish attacks of violence against the Jewish ghetto – how this comes and goes in unpredictable waves – and what it is like to be on the run for your life.  The violence is obviously sanitized as it is a comedy – but there is enough pace and attack to get a fleeting sense of the randomness and unexpectedness of what happens to those on the receiving end.

Be aware: The running length is 2 hours, which does feel long to our eyes.  But bear in mind that this film was made 80 years ago, for an audience used to a whole evening at the cinema – with double bills, B movies, and newsreels.

As it is a budget buy, unsurprisingly there are few extras.  There is an interview with the Greek/French film director Costa-Gavras (who specialized in political and comedic films) who gives key comments on the times in which the film was made.  He points out that Chaplin wrote the script in 1937/8, when Hitler was viewed as someone who had brought full employment and stability to Germany, with large firms keen to do business with Germany.  However, Chaplin was “a visionary – he saw what was going to happen later.”  

“While Charlie Chaplin, film-maker and clown, in a certain way looked into history and he saw the future – while the great spiritual and political leaders of the world couldn’t see it and remained on Hitler’s side”    – Costa-Gavras

He began writing and planning it, aware of some of the persecutions of Jews, as the stream of European refugees reached America.  However, later, he apparently said that if he had known the full scale of the genocide, he would not have made a comedy around the figure who caused it.

As Britain scrabbled to try and make peace agreements with Hitler, the plans for film production were proceeding to begin….. so by the time Britain finally declared war with Germany, 6 days later the shooting schedule began.


It was a gamble.  The great silent film actor made his first fully talking film.  He also jettisoned his familiar tramp character.  And in the film, he makes a serious, rousing speech. He poured his own money into it – around 1.5 million dollars.  And it was personal – he was working in it with Paulette Goddard – and on its opening night, he formally announced she was his wife.

In my personal opinion, it is worth watching as a film, because it speaks to its times and, more worryingly, it speaks to ours also.