Tate Britain bill the exhibition as “the first exhibition exploring the history of physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day”. Iconoclasm – deliberate destruction of works – has been around in various forms for centuries, and perpetrators have acted from widely varying motives, whether religious, political or aesthetic.
The exhibition begins with the Reformation and the destruction of stained glass windows and statues in churches and monasteries, the result of Henry VIII’s break with Rome and later the influence of the Puritans. Decapitated statues of Christ, smashed stained glass and fragments of Winchester Cathedral’s rood screen are displayed. However, the room that really made me think was the ‘suffragette’ room. Several suffragettes used to go to art galleries and deface paintings, such as Edward Burne-Jones’ Sibylla Delphica (1898), often in protest at the way women in art were idealised while real women were being denied basic rights. While I am in complete sympathy with the sentiment behind what they did, I can’t stand the idea of art being destroyed.
What surprised me was that I felt the same about the modern art in the next room. A random member of the public threw blue paint on Carl Andre’s Equivalent III (1966) in protest at the fact that ‘such rubbish’ was being revered as art. And he had a point – the ‘artwork’ in question was a group of bricks arranged in three layers. Frankly you could see the same thing on any building site. And yet – I couldn’t help feeling that this was wrong, that vandalising something that another person spent time and energy and care on creating just isn’t right. After all, however little time it might have taken to put the work together (and however much it might look like it was thrown together in five minutes, we don’t know that, it could have taken ages), it would have taken even less time to throw a tin of paint over it. Also, by damaging the artwork so that it had to be removed from public view and repaired, he was depriving other people from seeing it for themselves and forming their own opinion – even if said opinion was simply “this is shite”.
I know of L.S. Lowry, and I’m aware of his work in painting scenes of working class life in the north. My grandparents had a print of his on their living room wall. However, until I visited Tate Britain‘s fantastic exhibition Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, I didn’t appreciate just how good an artist he was.
Lowry (1887-1976) specialised in painting the England of the Industrial Revolution, mainly around the urban centres of Salford and Manchester. His paintings are vivid and distinct, giving a unique impression of people going about their lives. Often he portrays the rituals of the working-class life – going to and from the factory, attending a football match, visiting the market. He doesn’t shy away from brutality – one picture shows a family being evicted, another the ‘fever van’ which took sick children to the infirmary (often never to return) – but there is a stark beauty in his work, which is full of life.
Shunga (the name means ‘spring pictures’) were popular in Japan from around 1600 to 1900. Beyond that, they continued to circulate even though they were banned for most of the 20th century. These works are explicit, sensual, funny and beautiful, combining eroticism and art in a way that wasn’t really matched in the West. Most of the images show men and women in compromising positions, but others are more unusual, such as the lady being pleasured by an octopus, and the men comparing sizes. Shunga influenced Western artists such as Tolouse-Lautrec and Aubrey Beardsley, and continue to influence manga and anime.
The exhibition runs until 5 January and I recommend it – but not if you’re easily offended!
Not knowing anything about the art of Australia, I headed to the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts after work one Friday night with something approaching apprehension. I had no idea what to expect, but I was impressed. The exhibition showcases more than 200 years of Australian art from 1800 to the present, mostly concerned with land and landscape and displayed in broadly chronological order. Both indigenous and non-indigenous art is explored, giving rise to a varied and thought-provoking exhibition.
Before Australia was ‘discovered’ by Dutch explorers in 1606, indigenous peoples had lived there for over 50,000 years. Aboriginal art is closely related to the land, in both substance and subject matter. It is graven on rock, painted on the body and carved into the ground, but as these works would be rather difficult to transport overseas, the art displayed in this exhibition is limited to that created on sheets of canvas or bark. I was surprised at how much these works appealed to me: they were very abstract and in some ways reminded me of modern art, but they were also heavily rooted in Aboriginal mythology (which differs from place to place and from group to group), including the concept of the ‘Dreaming’, a philosophy relating this world to the spiritual one.
Early Colonial Art (1800-50)
The first British settlers arrived in Australia in 1788. Initially they found life very difficult, as the land around Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour, where they lived, could not support crops. Over time they grew more accustomed to the landscape and begun to capture it in paint, often using watercolour. Artists of the period included John Lewin, the country’s first free-settler professional artist, and John Glover, who arrived in Australia in later life but quickly grew to appreciate this new land.
Late Colonial Art (1850-80)
Fuelled by the gold rush of 1851, Australia, particularly Victoria and its capital Melbourne, grew in population. Among those who arrived in the country were a number of artists from all over the world, many of whom were influenced by the German Romantic tradition as opposed to the British watercolour tradition. These included Eugene von Guérard, whose 1859 painting ‘Bushfire’ was one of the highlights of the exhibition for me. In fact, the art of this period was my favourite of the whole exhibition: the colours, and the way the artists captured the unique quality of Australian light and landscape, were absolutely stunning.
Like the rest of the world, Impressionism took hold in Australia. During the late 1880s, several artists, including Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin, worked at outdoor painting camps and sought to capture a sense of harmony between man and nature in their work. A more pessimistic view took hold, however, when the market collapsed at the beginning of the 1890s.
Federation Landscapes (1900-20)
Landscapes continued to be popular during this period, though owing to the growth in urban areas, many artists began to reflect this in their work.
Early Modernism (1918-40)
This era doesn’t appeal to me as much as some of the others, so I spent less time in this section. Strong colours and new forms were the order of the day. I did like the varied images of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which encompassed different angles and styles.
Late Modernism (1940-50)
I found this more interesting than the early modernism section. I particularly liked Sidney Nolan’s iconic images of Ned Kelly, showing the famous outlaw against a backdrop of Australian landscape.
Painting on eucalyptus bark is the core art form of Arnhem Land and the surrounding areas. Inspired by the rock art traditions of the area, these beautiful paintings express a strong relationship with the Australian landscape and evoke Aboriginal myth and legend. As an aside, several of the pictures here reminded me of the terrifying Bunyip from Dot And the Kangaroo.
In 1971 in Papunya, in the Western Desert, a non-Aboriginal art teacher invited members of the Aboriginal community to paint murals on the school walls. Subsequently, they continued to paint on board and canvas, expressing aspects of their Dreamings and of their history and culture.
Early Contemporary Art (1960-80)
The broad-ranging art of this period was inspired both by internationalism, as art exhibitions moved between countries, and a growing sense of Australian nationalism, during which artists explored connections to their environment.
Series and Politics (1970s-present)
Irreverent and political art characterised this period. I was strangely absorbed by the motorbike video, showing the artist with arms outstretched moving along in a vast Australian landscape. Other works examined race and violence.
Many of these works, such as Bill Henson’s photographs, look at the unique quality of Australian light – something I thought was apparent as far back as the 1800s, as several of the earlier works emphasise it.
The Past, Present and Future (1989-2013)
Some of the works in this final section were the most unusual of the entire exhibition. I particularly liked Rosemary Laing’s upside-down house, emphasising that Australia is ‘down under’. An Elysian City by Danie Mellor evokes classical buildings with a Romantic sense of decay.
I really was impressed with this exhibition, it was vast in scope and ambition and contained a huge range of massively varied works. It runs until 8 December at the Royal Academy and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
On the same day I went to Epping, I found the time to go south of the river and take a quick look around Merton Abbey Mills. This is a shopping and restaurant complex near Colliers Wood Station, sited near the William Morris Printworks.
The buildings, most of which are original factories and mills, are sited near the river in a lovely location. There are shops and market stalls, as well as a tiny theatre (the Colour House Theatre), a stage for performers, and restaurants.
In one of the buildings there is a brief museum about the history of the mills, with some interesting exhibits.
I would like to come back here in the future – I think it would be a lovely place to relax over a meal.
The other weekend I decided to complete my exploration of the Central Line by visiting the final station on my list, Epping. Epping is right at the end of the line at the eastern side, in fact it is actually in Essex. It wasn’t always the end of the line though, in fact the Central Line used to terminate at Ongar. You can still see the tracks extending out from Epping station, although they have partly been taken up.
The line from Ongar to almost Epping Station still exists, though, and in recent months a heritage railway has been introduced on the line. This runs between North Weald and Ongar, with another branch extending from North Weald to the end of the remaining track near Epping. The eventual plan is to join up the track again at Epping, and build another station near the existing Epping station to accommodate the heritage railway. In the meantime, a heritage bus service – including both red central London buses and the green ones that were used in the outlying districts – shuttles passengers between Epping and North Weald stations, and are included in the price of your ticket (which is valid all day). The railway itself uses both steam and diesel trains, and I was able to ride on both during my day out.
The Epping Ongar Heritage Railway is a fun day out for the whole family: I saw lots of children who seemed to be enjoying themselves, as well as adults who just wanted an escape from busy modern life. The towns of North Weald and Ongar are sweet, too (but don’t go on a Sunday like I did – nothing is open). I look forward to seeing how it develops in the future, particularly when the awaited extension to Epping is complete.
The exhibition focused on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and mostly looked at monarchs and courtiers, exploring how their costumes displayed social status and other aspects of their culture and personality. At the time, royalty and the elite were trendsetters, and their clothing often influenced fashionable style.
While the majority of the exhibition was made up of paintings, many by important figures such as Hans Holbein the Younger and Peter Lely, some items of clothing were also on display, including gloves, a doublet and a lace collar. There were also some beautiful pieces of jewellery.
I had such a good time on Maggie’s Culture Crawl a couple of weeks ago. Originally known as the London Night Hike, the crawl is a sponsored 15-mile night-time walk around London, with all proceeds going to Maggie’s Centres. These are located in hospital grounds across the country and are designed as places where those affected by cancer can rest, talk and get support – both sufferers themselves and their friends and family. It’s a fantastic cause, although I have to admit it was the walk itself that got me interested – the charity part was a bonus!
I’d received my T-shirt in the post beforehand, with instructions to ‘charge up’ the glow-in-the-dark pattern under a light beforehand. On the night itself, I headed to Victoria Embankment Gardens to register and warm up. There were bottles of water and snacks available, talks from various people and even a little warm up session with music!
We set off at eight o’clock, heading across the river to the first stop which was the London Eye. As part of the walk we were permitted to have a go. I’d not been on it since I was sixteen, and that was during the day, so I thought it would be rather exciting to go on at night I was not disappointed.
After this bit of fun, it was time to walk to the next stop which was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Being in here felt like a huge privilege and the building was certainly beautiful. I also enjoyed the tea tasting, courtesy of Fortnum & Mason!
The next stop, which was quite a way away, was the Roca London Gallery in Chelsea (near Imperial Wharf Overground station). I was rather bewildered by the inclusion of this stop as it seemed to specialise in toilets (well, bathrooms)! Still, it was decorated pretty well and the dancers performing for our entertainment were really talented.
Maggie’s West London Centre in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital was another stop. I enjoyed the opportunity to relax in a deckchair, nibble on a cupcake and take a look around the centre, which seems like a really warm, inviting place. Following this, the Royal Geographical Society building near the Royal Albert Hall was another stop – as well as a tea room, this stop had, rather bizarrely, a silent disco! Some people were actually dancing – personally I was glad of the opportunity to have a rest!
After this, there was an incredibly long stretch of walking. The route took us past Hyde Park Corner and parallel to Oxford Street (it was around 2 am at this point and seeing all the drunk people stumbling out of the clubs was an eye-opener). I was exhausted by this point (I’d totally underestimated how far 15 miles was) but I soldiered on and was hugely pleased to reach the next stop – Bart’s Hospital, the oldest hospital in London and site for a forthcoming Maggie’s Centre.
There wasn’t much of the route to go by this point – I struggled on past the Royal Exchange:
…until I could finally see the end in sight!
I was sooo happy when I finally reached the finish. Food chain Leon had kindly provided breakfast, but alas, the veggie option was yogurt – not so great when the meat-eaters got a bacon sandwich. Oh well, I suppose you can’t complain about free food!
Inside the Gherkin (official name: 30 St Mary Axe) I signed in and was proud to receive my medal. I saw several participants heading home at this point (it was around 4 am after all), but I decided to make the most of the opportunity I had and head up to the top of the building.
The space set aside for us, right at the top, was oddly calming. Lights were kept low, and cushions had been spread across the floor for us to collapse on to (several people were already asleep). I put my name down for a free massage, and settled down to wait.
A big advantage of hanging around up here was that I got brilliant views over London, and was able to watch the sun rise.
After my massage, it was late enough for the tube to have reopened, so I left – not before admiring these guys:
My sponsorship page is still open, so if you fancy donating, I would be really grateful!
After intending to do so for several months, I finally got round to making a visit to the Geffrye Museum in east London. The museum focuses on the history of the home during the past four centuries, exploring how homes have changed and how these changes reflect and are reflected in the way people live.
Open 10-5 every day except Monday (it’s open Bank Holidays though), the museum is free to visit and easy to reach: it’s fifteen minutes away from Old Street tube station, and a couple of minutes from Hoxton Overground station. The building itself is a set of almshouses built in 1714 by the Ironmongers’ Company, owing to a bequest from twice Company master and former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Geffrye. Now Grade 1 listed, the building has been a museum since 1914, after it was sold off by the Ironmongers’ Company who wanted to relocate the almshouses out of Hoxton, which had become one of the most run-down and unhealthy parts of London.
One of the almshouses, No. 14, has been restored and is open to the public (for a small fee) on selected Saturdays and weekdays. Sadly it was not open on the day I visited, so I will have to make a return trip in order to see it. The museum’s past is also evident in the almshouse chapel, which you come across around halfway through your visit.
On entering the museum, you witness a microcosm of its theme: a selection of chairs arranged in a semicircle, each from a different era. Looking at them, you can see how styles have changed in four hundred years.
Most of the museum is made up of period rooms, each of which is made up to look like a typical family room from a particular period. The rooms are arranged in chronological order, and provide fascinating insight into how people lived during those times.
I really enjoyed looking at the development of the rooms and how they changed over time. One important factor in this change was that in the beginning, many middle-class people worked from home, perhaps running their business from the lower floor or front room of their house and living in other rooms. Later, people began to go out to work, and homes were used only for leisure purposes.
Later on, there is a section of the museum devoted to the twentieth century. Another arrangement of chairs greeted me at the start.
These rooms represented shorter spaces of time than the older ones: each portrayed only a decade or so. Perhaps this reflects the more rapid changes in design during the twentieth century.
The last bit of the museum was a small exhibition about the people who live and work in Hoxton, a nice complement to the rest of the exhibitions.
I liked the Geffrye: it is a lovely place and there’s a lot to see considering that it’s free. Definitely worth a visit.
The other week I went to the Royal Academy to catch the exhibition Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-1940 just before it closed. I’m glad I did – I didn’t know much about Mexico in the early 20th century (or Mexico at any other time, come to that), but I found it really interesting.
Revolution and regime change in Mexico inspired artists of all kinds who produced varied work including paintings, photographs, leaflets and woodcuts. Some of my favourite images were those inspired by the Day of the Dead, with grinning skulls and bright colours. I also liked the early 20th century pictures showing the revolution in action.
Some of the images made a particularly strong impact: the photographers did not shy away from portraying the dark side of the revolution, with explicit shots of the dead and injured. While disturbing, these images really brought home the reality of the situation for the revolutionaries, and contrasted with the other images emphasising the positive side of Mexico.