Pop Art Design – Barbican Art Gallery

I headed to the Barbican Art Gallery for the first time last week. I visited in order to check out the exhibition on Pop Art Design, which sounded interesting.

Pop Art flourished mainly in the mid-20th century, and grew up as a reaction to the austerity of the wartime era and the dawn of the media age. Artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and others created iconic works inspired by advertising slogans and incorporating bright and bold colours and designs. I don’t know if Pop Art is really ‘me’, but I found the exhibition interesting nevertheless.

Paul Klee: Making Visible – Tate Modern

The EY exhibition at the Tate Modern is Paul Klee: Making Visible, until the 9th of March. I didn’t know a great deal about the artist, so took a chance and headed down to Bankside to check the exhibition out.

Klee is an important figure of 20th century art. His breakthrough came during the First World War, following which he taught at the Bauhaus before moving to Düsseldorf and subsequently being dismissed from his teaching position by the Nazis, who labelled his works ‘degenerate’. Though I’m not a particular fan of twentieth-century art, anything labelled negatively by the Nazis gains merit in my eyes!

Paul Klee, They
Paul Klee, They’re Biting, 1920 (Tate Modern)

Most of Klee’s works are very small; this came as a surprise to me as for some reason I always imagine modern works of art to be huge. I saw a lot of them as ‘cute’ – this might sound like an odd thing to say about art, but many of the works were warm, attractive, with a sense of humour – something drew me into them and made me interested. I particularly liked the fish pictures, and the related ‘They’re Biting’. I loved the way his later works seemed to comment on Nazism and contemporary culture, and his late works – such as ‘Walpurgis Night’ and images of witches – had a distinctly darker tone. Despite my initial misgivings, I really enjoyed the exhibition and admired the variety in Klee’s work.

Somerset House in January

Somerset House, the magnificent 18th century building on the banks of the Thames, is home to a variety of art exhibitions and other interesting facilities. I paid a visit to check out some of the exhibitions they had going on.

I began in the Terrace Rooms in the South Wing, with Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War. Spencer experienced the First World War and painted from his experience, both as a hospital orderly in Bristol and as a soldier on the Salonika front. This exhibition displays canvas panels on loan from the National Trust’s Sandham Memorial Chapel, as well as a projection of the altarpiece which was too fragile to remove. The Chapel was designed specifically for the panels, and was built by Spencer’s friends, John Louis and Mary Behrend. Here, they have been arranged in a way that echoes their original layout, and gives a good impression of how they look within the Chapel.

The paintings took six years to complete, and were finally finished in 1932. Unusually for images of war, they represent the domestic side of wartime life – scrubbing floors, washing clothes, making tea and inspecting kit. Spencer wanted to show how these ordinary chores became miraculous in the face of wartime danger – creating “a heaven in a hell of war”. It’s an intriguing idea, and I like it – seeking something positive in the face of such horror is a kind of defiance.

Next I ventured into the intriguingly-named Lightwells & Deadhouse, reached via the South Wing and taking me below the Somerset House courtyard, to explore Julian Stair: Quietus – The Vessel, Death and the Human Body. This unusual exhibition was made up of ceramic works in the form of coffins, jars and funerary urns. The strangest exhibit was a white urn containing the ashes of Stair’s uncle, shown alongside video and audio snippets from his life.

Finally, I went to the Courtauld Gallery to see the exhibition The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure. This was an interesting take on the artist’s journeyman years, when he honed and developed his style.

“Unplug for a whole weekend” – easier said than done

Another of my Day Zero challenges was to unplug for a whole weekend. That meant no phone, no computer, and no music player. No camera either, meaning I couldn’t take any pictures at the Melanie C gig I attended on the Saturday night (this could be construed as a good thing – at least I was able to focus on the show and not on whether or not I could get a good picture).

It’s weird how nervous I felt about it. I’d purposely chosen a weekend when I was busy, so even if someone had texted me with plans it wouldn’t have mattered – I wouldn’t have been able to go anyway. And yet I kept wondering if I was missing something! In some ways it was a relief to get back on the Internet on Monday morning (not to mention catching up with the last episode of Sherlock).

And yet, I found the experience quite a relaxing one. I was able to concentrate fully on what I was doing, and take in more of my surroundings. Perhaps I’ll turn off the technology more often in the future – though probably not for a whole weekend!

Sporty’s Forty – Melanie C’s one-off gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

I never did get to see the Spice Girls live, and they were my favourite band once upon a time so this saddens me. Most of them aren’t even making music any more, but Melanie C (‘Sporty Spice’) has had a steady solo career since leaving the band, which in recent years has even encompassed musical theatre – she had excellent reviews for her role as Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers and has recently been touring as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar.

In a move that made me feel very old indeed, Mel announced on Twitter that she was about to turn forty and was hosting a one-off concert at Shepherd’s Bush Empire to celebrate. I thought it might be fun to see Mel sing live, so I went ahead and bought a ticket. Just as well I bought it when I did, as the concert was sold out.

I wasn’t sure what I would think of the concert: I know of Mel’s early solo stuff (Northern Star, I Turn To You) and I have her most recent album The Sea, but I hadn’t paid much attention to her solo career in between. I needn’t have worried, though: I knew most of the songs she sang, and even the ones I didn’t know were catchy enough for me to like them instantly.

Mel sang with several guests during the night, including Ben Forster and Chris Moyles from the recent Jesus Christ Superstar production, and collaborators such as Adam Argyle. The biggest surprise came when she sang Pure Shores with Natalie Appleton – given the big rivalry between the Spice Girls and All Saints back in the day, this is something I never thought I’d see. Right at the end, Emma Bunton, who’d been watching the show from the circle all night (and waving to fans below) came on stage to sing 2 Become 1 with Mel. Maybe I never got to see the Spice Girls, but at least I got to see the next best thing!

Setlist

  1. Think About It
  2. Stupid Game
  3. Weak
  4. Northern Star (featuring Andy Burrows)
  5. Burn
  6. Loving You (featuring Ben Foster)
  7. Be The One (acoustic)
  8. Don’t Let Me Go (featuring Adam Argyle)
  9. Four to the Floor (featuring James Walsh)
  10. One By One (featuring James Walsh)
  11. Only Girl (In The World)
  12. You’ll Get Yours (with Peter Vetesse)
  13. Drown
  14. Ga Ga
  15. Beautiful Intentions
  16. Never Be The Same Again
  17. When You’re Gone (featuring Chris Moyles)
  18. Goin’ Down
  19. Next Best Superstar
  20. Enemy
  21. Pure Shores (featuring Natalie Appleton)
  22. I Turn To You
  23. 2 Become 1 (featuring Emma Bunton)

I loved the show and it has inspired me to buy Mel’s other albums. Another awesome thing about the show was the chocolate cake we all got at the end, handed out by aproned staff as we left the venue!

Not spending any money is hard… even for a week

As part of the Day Zero project I signed up to complete 101 challenges in 1001 days. Time’s up at the end of March, and at New Year I realised with panic that I still had several things to tick off the list.

One of these was to go for a week without spending any money. This proved rather difficult. I had to ensure I’d bought enough food to last me the week, which involved some forward planning. Luckily I’m also trying not to drink any alcohol in January, so at least I wasn’t tempted to spend on booze.

I completed the challenge, apart from a couple of blips which I am going to excuse: a theatre ticket and a selection of Lush goodies. In both cases I didn’t have to buy anything, but if I’d waited the theatre tickets might have sold out, and I thought I might as well buy the new limited edition Lush products while I was passing a shop, rather than waiting and making a special trip. So although I didn’t exactly keep to the letter of the challenge, I stuck to the spirit of it.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway!