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What freedom is… Nina Simone

This is one of the best films available on Netflix. I’m reposting, as a friend of mine saw it recently and was just as profoundly shaken and stirred by it. Totally absorbing.

Comma And

Last night I more or less idly began watching a documentary on Netflix about Nina Simone – and was right from the start transfixed by her words: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – no fear!”

From those opening comments in “What happened to you Miss Simone?” I was glued to the screen.  One of the words most used by the singer herself is “compelling” – and it fits her appearances.

Musically, she is electrifying: confident, powerful, emotional, unpredictable, distinctive.  Like all great artists in any genre (and this is something someone needs to tell warbly teenage wannabe popstars)

  • she inherited powerful art skills through her family (literature words and performance as her mother was a Bible preacher)
  • has invested depth into her art by years of studying and acquiring classical technique (classical piano study),
  • responding to her times and national culture (Civil Rights),
  • bringing in her most personal…

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silent movie, clown, Buster Keaton, Neil Brand

Review: Neil Brand Presents Buster Keaton

Last night, I went to see a Buster Keaton movie, ably accompanied by his musical partner for the evening: Neil Brand.

It was an early Christmas treat for me – and it was terrific in that quiet, enjoyable way of being served a delicious meal, where every course is a delight, but the chef isn’t in the room, waving his hands and being dramatic about it.

Right at the start, Neil introduced us to the public face of the actor – but explained that actually there were quite a few Busters in his own lifetime – and that the relaxed way he is represented in this photo (featured at the top of this post) belies the fact that Buster treated life as something to be attacked with energy.

As the first clip began to roll on the screen, Neil naturally began to play the piano alongside – no big dramatic announcement – it just happened, and was a beautiful, natural segue.

The “Silent Movies” of course weren’t silent when viewed – there would be a pianist, or organist playing – or if it was a posh cinema for the release of a major new film, perhaps sometimes a small orchestra.  The film itself had “titles” where a piece of card with words on it would appear on the screen, interrupting the moving picture – to let us know what was being said.

The first half of the night was introducing Buster the man and some delightful clips of his short films (the one in which he’s changing into swimming togs in a cubicle together with a large, hectoring man, where there is barely space for one skinny man is a particular joy).  It’s viewable on Youtube, but with an unsubtle organ accompaniment which I personally don’t enjoy so much as live piano accompaniment.

The full-length film being shown last night in the second half of the evening was “Steamboat Bill, Jnr“.  This is a classic – it is THE one where he stands, stone-faced, and the front of a house topples over him – his body going through an upstairs window.  It was a genuinely dangerous part of the movie.

This particular film was what began Neil Brand on his accompanist career – it was the first film he played music to.  He’s now able to play along with the film without having a musical score on the piano.  In fact, he teaches other people to accompany silent movies – and gives the same advice as to us the viewers – “Just hang with the main character – hang out with Buster Keaton.”  And then we simply spent the next hour with an ingenious, charming clown who made us laugh, gasp and watch in wonder.

Although I’m a Buster Keaton fan, have read Paul Merton’s books “Silent Clowns” (which features Keaton, among others) and though our family have a DVD of “The General” and watched it many times – this presentation by Neil Brand still had fresh joys to offer.

So – keep an eye out for silent movies with live accompaniment at your local independent cinema – they’re becoming more frequent.  And if Neil Brand is making a presentation – do go out and see it, even if it’s -5 degrees at the bus stop on the way home! (which it was, last night).  It will be worth it.  Here’s a taster introduction by the man himself.

Alternative Christmas Tree - if you prefer to leave them uncut - get a Sandra Jordan photograph! Feature on the photographer's contemplative winter landscapes photos at www.commaand.co

Winter Photography: Alternative Christmas Tree

If you prefer your Christmas trees left in nature, unchopped, au naturelle – then an alternative for December decoration is to buy yourself a print from Sandra Jordan Photography.

The print featured is “Winter Forest #1”.  And, encouragingly, that number would lead you to assume that there are other photographs in a similar vein.  And you would be right.

With a touch of the poetic and humorous, this particular series is called Cabin Fever – and Sandra describes it thus:

cabin fever noun

a term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period.

I live in a busy city, I live with a busy mind, sometimes I feel trapped within my own limited space and have an urge to run away, to escape. Photographing this series allows me to stop, breathe and take stock.  I hope that my  photographs allow the viewer to experience the same sense of space, serenity and peace.

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A sight for the ears – exhibition tie-in

Edinburgh, Scotland: Last night, I was at the book launch of a pamphlet book of poetry “Seen/Unseen” written in response to the artworks in an exhibition “Hidden Gems” at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh.

There was a brilliant turnout, in part due to the fact that there were 30 poets involved and most of them were there to read their poems.  Kate Hastie mc-ed the event, having curated the book and the writers – all like herself drawn from the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities.  Or, to put it another way, many doing Masters and PhDs in Literature or Writing.  And to put it another way, rather likely to be our next generation of published professional writers.

The poets were responding to artworks such as the picture and sculpture shown (photos from City Art Centre website)

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David Bomberg (1890-1957) current Exhibition

David Bomberg currently has an exhibition at Pallant House, Chichester until 4 February 2018.  It then reopens at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne  (17 February -27 May) before going on to the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London NW8 in the summer of 2018.  Bomberg drew and painted in a variety of styles throughout his life:

It’s difficult to believe that these pictures were all made by the same man.  But David Bomberg (1890-1957) is a vital artist, who didn’t stay in the same painting style – or indeed the same place – travelling from poverty in London to the First World War, to Jerusalem, to Spain, to London then Spain again.  Once again, we are looking at that period through and just after World War One, a hundred years ago, when so many writers and painter’s lives changes forever.

There’s a very clear and interesting brief 3 minutes video introduction to David Bomberg’s life and work by the curator of the current show, Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall:

And for those who are seriously interested in finding out more, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has made a compelling one-hour documentary on the artist.  We learn of his connection with Sir John Singer Sargent, Sickert, The Slade School of Art and how Bomberg himself became an art tutor and affected the thinking and practice of the next generation of art-makers.  This programme is currently available to view if you live in Britain (and pay a TV licence fee) on BBC i-player here.  The title for the programme is: “David Bomberg: prophet in No Man’s Land”.  If outside the UK, sometimes you may find copies of BBC arts programmes uploaded to Youtube.

 

Creative Takeaways

If you are a visual artist, look at Bomberg’s pictures, and pick one style very different from your own – try it!

 

Making art from a wheelchair

Chuck Close, in conversation,  describes his working process.  His interviewer is a particularly excellent interviewer and art commentator (and Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Arts) – the knowledgeable and always watchable Tim Marlow.

Chuck is known for his immense scale portraits, his work has sold internationally for decades.  Mid-career, he suffered a sudden catastrophic paralyzing physical event – but continues to work from his wheelchair, very successfully, in his seventies.

“Virtually everything I’ve done has been driven by my learning disabilities.”

Chuck Close

This is a quote from a note to his younger self, in a 5 minute CBS special video.

 

Creative Takeaways

  • “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work”
  • “Every great idea I’ve ever had, grew out of work itself”
  • “Sign on to a process and see where it takes you”
  • “No one gets anywhere without help.  Mentors – including your parents – can make you feel special even when you are failing in other areas. Everyone needs to feel special”
  • “The absolute worst thing in life can happen and you will get over it, you will be happy again….”
  • “Losing my father at a tender age was extremely important in being able to accept what happened to me later, when I became a quadriplegic”
  • “If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a problem, break it down into bite-sized pieces.”
  • “There is always someone worse off than you”

 

 

Paul Nash – war artist

Appropriately, at this time of remembering the world wars – Armistice Day – the BBC has rereleased an excellent documentary of the war artist Paul Nash, viewable here.  This reminds me of my personal view of a retrospective of his life and work, earlier in the year.

The BBC one hour programme, presented by the great TV art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, provides depth as well as breadth, surveying the artist’s life.

Screen shot 2017-11-12 at 17.25.23Here are summary notes on the BBC programme –

Paul Nash: The Ghosts of War

On 25th May 1917, war artist Paul Nash climbed out of his trench to sketch the battlefields of Flanders near Ypres. So focused was he on his work he tripped and fell back into the trench, breaking his ribs. Stretchered back to England, Nash missed his regiment going over the top at the Battle of Passchendaele. His regiment was wiped out.

Above all Nash painted war-torn landscapes: the mortar-scarred mud of Flanders, festooned with barbed wire and awash with pools of viscous, oily water. He left out the dead and the injured, partly because their wounds were so horrific that he believed it would have been disrespectful to depict their mutilated faces and bodies: instead, he anthropomorphised the landscapes of war, depicted scorched earth and churned up soil with a violence that implied the disfigurement of flesh.

Nash was scarred by the war and the ghosts of those experiences haunted his work throughout his life. A lover of nature, Nash became one of Britain’s most original landscape artists, embracing modern Surrealism and ancient British history, though always tainted by his experiences during two world wars. A private yet charismatic man, he brought British landscape painting into the 20th century with his mixture of the personal and visionary, the beautiful and the shocking. An artist who saw the landscape as not just a world to paint, but a way into his heart and mind.

After the war, Nash turned to Surrealism, an art of enigmatic forms and mysterious, nightmarish juxtapositions which seemed, to many, the perfect reflection of a world gone mad. His lungs had been damaged by mustard gas and his life would be sadly cut short while he was still in middle age. But Nash lived long enough to see the Second World War and become one of its greatest chroniclers in paint. Totes Meer, or Dead Sea, his depiction of a great wave of downed German fighter planes, is one of the most haunting British paintings of the twentieth century. It was also, sadly, one of Nash’s last creations.

 

Earlier in 2017, I visited the large Nash retrospective at Tate Britain and was suitably blown away by the experience.  See previous, substantial blog post on that here.

This exhibition was running at the same time, and overshadowed by, the blockbuster restrospective of the better-known artist, David Hockney.  I’ve had people who visited it saying to me “Did you see the David Hockney show?”  And I tend to reply “Yes – did you see the Paul Nash one?” Because I happen to have books by Hockney and he is well-covered by documentaries and of course, his work still appears in large shows like the RA Summer Exhibition, as he is a living, practising artist.  However, to see so much work by Paul Nash was a more unusual treat.