Resnick & Nottingham

lonely hearts 2

Self-serving it may be, but I’d like to draw attention to a recent piece on Tony Beale’s blog, Home Thoughts,  in which he writes at some length about the pleasures he has derived from reading the Resnick novels, in particular their depiction of the faces and places of a Nottingham that has changed in many ways between the first – Lonely Hearts way back in 1989 – and the most recent, this year’s Darkness, Darkness.

Tony also discusses the novels in comparison with those by Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and others.

The post can be found here.

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Memoir: Back to Schooldays …

… as Graham Parker used to sing, back in ’76, around about the time I exchanged chalk and a metaphorical mortar board for an electronic typewriter and an equally metaphorical Colt .45. A decade earlier, it was late night listening to John Peel, the Beatles and Otis Blue, and I was living in the centre of Nottingham – Castle Boulevard – and driving out each day across the Erewash to teach in Heanor. To be more precise, Langley Mill. The post in which  I describe meeting up again with two former pupils from that school and that time has aroused more interest than most.

Since that meeting, one of the pair, Mel Cox, has written about his memories of those days and, with his permission, I’d like to quote from his letter here:

Although lots of us in 216 were ordinary young adolescent kids at the time, just becoming aware of the opposite sex, pop culture, and the swinging 60’s we were undoubtedly still products of the austere 1950’s.

But then along comes this brilliant teacher, whose class is a safe place to be, and who listens to our opinions. He gives us a confidence and self-esteem. He introduces us to modern poems and stories in understandable language. He gets us to want to act in class dramas, and puts on ‘Androcles and the Lion’ and ‘The Business of Good Government’ as whole school plays. He publishes school magazines with our creative work in them. He organises poetry evenings, and sends off for us for copies of the class bible ‘The Mersey Sound’. He takes us on trips to the theatre, and marks our folders in enviable green-ink calligraphy.

Not only that, he plays us ’Lovely Rita’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘A day in the Life’ and ‘Silence is Golden’ in form time. To parochial working class Derbyshire kids, whose parents all shopped at the Co-op, here was someone who looked like something out of Carnaby Street (or the Bird Cage at least). Corduroy Jacket, PVC mac, flowered shirt, knitted tie and Chelsea boots. We sort of revered him, though we’d never have admitted it. And he was ours you see, and that was really the coolest thing.

I still remember the day almost all of the class left Aldercar in July’67 to go to Heanor Grammar School, and I know that he was leaving that day too. The very last night of term a busload of us went to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Nottingham Playhouse. Back at school everyone was saying their goodbyes, some for the summer, some for good. I was choked. The whole 216 adventure had ended, and as form captain he gave me this bitter-sweet memento, ‘Paroles’, by Jacques Prévert.

I felt that the clocks should have been stopped, and that school would never be any fun again.

Art Chronicles: Nottingham Contemporary

 

Saturday morning, with the sun shining despite forecasts of day-long rain, I went along to Nottingham Contemporary to see their current exhibition, Somewhat Abstract, a selection of work from the Arts Council Collection, which, to my pleasant surprise, included, in the words of curator Alex Farquharson …

… many examples of figurative art on the verge of abstraction, as well as art that isn’t abstract but that could not have been made without knowledge of it.

So, in Gallery 2, for instance, alongside the casts of Rachel Whiteread and the abstract canvasses of Prunella Clough, there is work by Sickert and Bomberg, as well as Frank Auerbach – one of his marvellous Primrose Hill paintings – and a beautiful – and truthful – little etching of Lucien Freud.

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And also in this gallery is the most moving and disturbing work in the whole exhibition, Gustav Metzger’s To Crawl Into – Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938. One of Metzger’s Historic Photographs series, in which photographs of historic events, often connected to the Holocaust, are greatly enlarged and then covered, usually by a cloth, which the viewer is encouraged to remove or crawl beneath, slowly revealing the image underneath.

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The principal component of this work is a press photograph, taken shortly after Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany in March 1938, that depicts Jewish men, women and children being forced to wash the streets of Vienna as their fellow citizens look on. The photograph has been enlarged to over thirteen square metres – rendering the figures larger than life-size – and is displayed on the floor, covered with a cotton sheet. In order to see it, the viewer is required to crawl on their hands and knees beneath the sheet, mimicking the actions of the Jewish subjects, while the size and proximity of the image makes it impossible to apprehend as a whole.

Feeling too venerable to get down on my belly and crawl, with the help of one of attendants I slowly peeled the cloth down and away.

 

 

Art Chronicles: Laura Knight

Amongst the reasons the painter Mark Gertler gave to his fellow-artist, Dora Carrington, in an attempt to persuade her to marry him,  number five was “You would have absolute freedom and a nice studio of your own.” Own in italics. Nice try, but no prize. Carrington chose to live with, if not marry, the Bloomsbury aesthete Lytton Strachey instead. [“I would love to explore your mind behind your finely skinned forehead. You seem so wise and very coldly old.”] Carrington’s portrait of Strachey, all brains and fingers, is one of the best pieces in the exhibition of British Artists from the early years of the last century just winding down at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

But back to Gertler and his seemingly not unreasonable offer of artistic autonomy, just to consider, in the art world, how unusual it was. One thinks of Lee Krasner setting her own work aside in order to minister to Jackson Pollock’s macho posturings and artistic needs and only really resuming once he had died. Or Rose Phipps, who married the artist Roger Hilton, twenty years her senior, to be told, ‘There’s only one artist in this family and that’s me.’ It wasn’t until he died, some twenty years later, that – now Rose Hilton – she began painting again.

I was thinking of these matters after a second visit to the excellent exhibition of Laura Knight Portraits currently at the National Portrait Gallery. [Finishing there mid-October, but going on to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in November and Plymouth in March of next year.]

Enrolled as a full-time student at Nottingham School of Art in 1890, at the age of thirteen, Laura soon became aware of Harold Knight, thought of as the School’s most able student, and ‘manoeuvre(d) to place my easel directly behind his, to see exactly how the work should be done.’ The proximity clearly worked in other ways and, after spending several years living and working in a small community of artists in Staithes, North Yorkshire, they were married in 1903.

As far as one can tell, the couple continued to the mutually supportive throughout their married lives. [Harold died, nine years before Laura, in 1961.] And through that long period in which both continued to work and exhibit widely, there seems to have been no doubt that it was Laura who was the more acknowledged – certainly, the more famous – and, to most eyes, the finer, more interesting artist. In 1927 she was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, only the second woman so elected since the Academy’s foundation – Harold became an Associate two years later – and in 1936 she was elected a full Royal Academician, the first woman to be so since 1768.

1768 – says something that, doesn’t it?

Acknowledged and popular with a wider public, partly thanks to reproductions of her work being made readily available in such as the London Evening Standard and The Illustrated London News, Laura Knight was quite keenly aware of the singularity of her position. ‘Even today,’ she wrote in her 1965 autobiography, The Magic of a Line, ‘a female artist is considered more or less a freak, and may either be undervalued or overpraised, and by sole virtue of her rarity and her sex be of better press value.’

(c) John Croft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This wonderful painting, titled Self Portrait, from early in Knight’s career, is a statement of intent. Placing itself firmly in the line of artists who have portrayed themselves at  a canvas, together with their subjects [Velasquez et al], thus marking herself out, unambiguously, as a working painter [throughout her life, Knight commented on the actual physical work of what she did], it also – daringly, for its time, 1913, showed her with a living and breathing naked model, whereas the norm would have been for women to have worked only from plaster casts and statues. But then, in the words of a much later lyric, the times et cetera …

And it’s one of the interesting things about Knight’s career that, while she eschewed the various tenets of modernism and remained true to realistic representation – and suffering in some critical circles for so doing – her work was always of the moment, perhaps none more so than in the paintings commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee during WW2.

The most famous of these, Ruby Loftus Sewing a Breech Ring, painted over three weeks at the Royal Ordnance Factory, watching the former tobacconist’s assistant performing the highly-skilled task of making a breech ring for the Bofors gun, was widely reproduced as a testament to the skill and importance of women in the war effort.

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And how Knight’s own skill is evident in the painting’s structure, the direction of focus towards the task in hand; the small, recurring moments of light; the sheen on the machine bottom left of the canvas, the folds and texture of the blue overall; the lime green of the hair net and red of the shirt. A fabulous work by an artist at her best.