Art Stuff

Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)

Going on a Safari, almost

Today’s google safari begins with the word,

Caudle

I discovered this word from an online article about historical birth rituals and customs for our queens and nobility. The article went through some rum goings on. Unbelievably, royal births were not considered private affairs. This apparent tradition lasted until our present Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Charles. The Home Office minister’s presence was usually required but she put a stop to that nonsense. Earlier years saw a free-for-all when ‘The obstetrician yelled out,

‘The Queen is going to give birth!’ – at which point hundreds of courtiers poured into the room”.

Jaw dropping! However, Caudle, a spiced and alcoholic oatmeal gruel, was once prescribed post partum to queens as a restorative. The word caught my attention specifically because there is a village near here called Caudle Green, and I wonder if there’s a connection (could it be like Soylent Green or possibly drinking it made one feel queasy? But seriously, there may be a reasonable connection).

Royal Birth Traditions: from drinking caudle to audiences of 200

image: detail of a portrait by Franz Winterhalter of Victoria holding Arthur, and probably not being offered caudle, and probably not by the Home Secretary.


Miserden to Caudle Green and Brimpsfield round

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with finding the origin of the naming of Caudle Green and became fed up flicking through all the property sales and airbnb adverts in the village. Incidentally, there’s a quaint little Tudor cottage in the village, if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not for sale; I noticed it while out walking some years back.

So, I’m distracted by a google result which happens to be for a detailed 9.6 mile walk taking in Caudle Green. The website turns out to be a true labour of dedication to long walks around the British countryside; there appears to be hundreds of them, from Scotland to Cornwall. Each of the ones I viewed are accompanied by an informative and well-written introduction, then a detailed description of the walk itself, a little map and some useful information on OS maps, parking, refreshment stops etc. What more could you need?

Well, it goes further. Not only are the photos exceptionally well produced but some of the walks have associated videos (via youtube). I suppose if I were to be unnecessarily picky, I might suggest some link to GPS navigation but maybe the authors are old school, like me.

It’s called Walking with the Taxi Driver which I think is intentionally funny-ironic. It looks a great site and I’ll be back.


Walk to Caudle Green

Look at this painting by artist, Janet James, which came up in the search under “images”. It makes me want to put my boots on and walk. I love James’ style with paint: uncomplicated yet evocative. I feel as if I know the subject.

There are many more wonderful paintings at Janet James.co.uk

Google safaris don’t usually end after three items but blog posts do. Well, mine do anyway. Maybe more safari another day.

Useless Eustace

I don’t know if it’s another thing with my age but I’m seriously becoming jaded with this internet thing, or world wide web (strictly not the same but de facto synonymous). Once when it seemed the whole depth of the universe was simply a few clicks away, now all seems like wading through a swamp of irrelevance and superficiality. I guess popularity has won the day again.

I still try the odd safari: thinking of something I’d like to know, googling it and following whatever hyperlink looks interesting. Sometimes something unexpected turns up, other times, not a lot.

I was reading with dismay the comments of followers on some amateur leftwing political blog – it isn’t the politics that dismayed but the tone used in their rhetoric, if I can call it that – when one of them referred to the Tory MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, George Eustace, as “useless Eustace”.

Useless Eustace!

This is the kind of thing I like. Not the unnecessary, vile and puerile name calling but a call from the past. Cultural history.

My Dad used to take the Daily Mirror (he also took The Sun, and the Sunday Mirror, Sunday People and the News of the World – we never discussed politics much and I haven’t any idea why he bought papers from both sides of the spectrum. Maybe, like a lot of working men, he liked to follow the sports pages. Good old Dad). Of course, these were the papers I would read too as a small boy, although flipping through would be more accurate.

I would be seeking out the cartoons and strips. I love drawing and I love cartoons and strips. Now, the microsecond after I read “useless Eustace” it came back to me that Useless Eustace was a regular cartoon character from the Mirror. I could picture it precisely in my mind’s eye. Here’s an example I found by googling.

I find it was drawn by John “Jack” Greenall who submitted the single cell cartoons regularly from 1935 until his retirement in 1975. I can appreciate the style more now than I probably did, the art of the cartoonist in conveying a mood with a few marks: the simple way a cigarette is suspended in front of a character’s mouth to express surprise, as well as the feet off the ground, implied by the shadow. It’s quite a geometric style too, as if he used a straight edge.

I don’t know how it never occurred to me to become a cartoonist. Perhaps I was too lazy or complacent, thinking it was too hard and not rewarding enough. I knew a boy at school who towards the final year, told me he might become a cartoonist. It surprised me – in caricature, I would have adopted the same position as the guy on the right, minus the fag. For starters, it was the first I’d heard that this boy even drew cartoons – I never saw any – and secondly, it was the first time anyone had connected cartooning, something I dabbled in, with a viable career option.

What ifs, eh? Utterly useless.


Here’s a link to some other cartoonists and their cartoons I’ve admired (Pinterest)

More, more world wide watchables

Maltese: The Mafia Detective (Italy, 2017)

Delighted to have the random selector pick out this Italian cop drama. There doesn’t appear to be many Italian shows featured, not in proportion to German ones, say. The Italians are naturally theatrical: whatever they do, however mundane, like ordering a coffee, it all seems like a catastrophe which could have been averted. It’s as if argumentative is the default dialogue style. Maltese: The Mafia Detective is no exception.

The story is set in 1976. Commissario Maltese is a Sicilian born detective who’s been working in Rome for the last twenty or so years. His boyhood best friend, also a senior cop, is getting married and so Maltese returns to his home town. After a family dinner, his friend and his fiancee are shot by a hitman on their way home. Maltese, suspecting Mafia involvement, is determined on justice and requests a secondment to take command of his old friend’s squad.

Despite what I say in the first paragraph, this is a polished drama with a good script and storyline; nothing is too implausible.


Inspector Falke (Germany, 2016)

Like I said above, it seems German shows are over represented on Walter Presents.

Inspector Falke is not a stereotypical German: he’s scruffily dressed, doesn’t drive a nice car, he drinks glassfuls of full-fat milk instead of coffee, he gets easily stressed and doesn’t appear to be intellectually, emotionally or psychologically in-tune with his rank. My first impression was he isn’t played to be a likeable character but as the show progressed, I felt more sympathetic towards him.

But the show is really odd too. The first episode deals with something quite mundane, normal grist for the procedural mill. Thereafter though, in each subsequent episode, Falke, and his more reasonable partner, find themselves dealing with all kinds of implausible police cases like hi-tech espionage, an anti-terrorism plot, and a mass hostage situation.

Judging by the last episode, there must be a follow up series but it’s not available on All4 yet.


Locked Up (Spain, 2015)

The Spanish title being Vis-à-vis (Face to Face), and often I don’t understand why they need to tinker with titles for the benefit of English speakers. I mean, Locked Up – how ham-fisted was that committee meeting? It’s also, I feel, a tad condescending.

Never mind, this is good telly, if a trifle on the long side – 35 episodes over two series. For me, when things run on for too long I tend to develop viewer fatigue, the drama begins to feel like a soap opera and I can sometimes detect diminishing performances in the key players. There is also a tendency to “jump the shark”. I’d say this just about manages to survive to the last on the plausible side of shark jumping but I trust there’s not a further series in the offing.

It’s a drama set in a women’s prison but with a parallel story running on the outside with police and family. There’s also a third angle, presented within the series, which takes the form of interviews of the principle actors in character, as if a documentary or a journalistic piece on women prisoners was being made by persons unseen. This is strange as it offers some light relief from the tense and often harsh drama, but is compelling too as it offers backstory to the drama as well as commentary on prison life for women.

Without giving too much away, the story is centred on Macarena Ferreiro, a young naive businesswoman who finds herself sent to a high-security prison for fraud and embezzlement after her boss hets away with the firm’s cash. Naturally, she is out of her depth and a target for the harder, experienced lags. Matters are made worse for her when she accidentally finds information on hidden loot from a robbery committed by a cellmate. She then becomes the focus of Zulema Zahir, a ruthless murderer and the most fearsome inmate on her cell block. Intense stuff to begin with and manages quite well up to the end.

(oh, no – I’ve just noticed two further series, another sixteen episodes. Not yet available here and likely won’t be watched by me anytime soon.)


Maltese: The Mafia Detective (IMDb)

Inspector Falke (IMDb)

Vis a Vis (Locked Up) (IMDb)

The Abstract Truth

I had watched a clip featuring the late British art critic, Brian Sewell, in a discussion about abstract paintings. I got the impression he wasn’t overly impressed by abstract art but, after a pause in the conversation, he said something like,

“Well, any painting is an abstract, really.”

I can’t explain what he meant not having had, as he had, an education in the fine arts. While I can have a good guess at identifying an abstract work for what it is, I can’t tell you what makes any other work not an abstract, especially if the clues aren’t obvious.

But I was thinking, after writing a piece of flash fiction, whether, in a similar observation to abstract painting, all writing is fiction.

Or at least a version of it.


image: “Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

More World Wide Watchables

More from All 4’s Walter Presents…

Deadly Money (Germany, 2018)

When this one came up on my random selector, I thought there must have been a mistake. One series and only two episodes, less than 50 minutes apiece?

It’s a concise drama explaining a fictional version of the 2008 banking crisis. A high-flying executive investment banker expects to take over as CEO.

It’s portrayed as a ruthless business and our banker has to secure a big deal with a Middle Eastern organisation to improve the bank’s share price. He has a team of acolytes to help him but one in particular is a young protege, Tom, who has a talent for maths. Things appear to be going their way but, as we know from the real events, it’s all a dodgy business.

In true German style, the Frankfurt finance quarter appears here as a highly polished, ruthlessly efficient, awesome monster. It makes Wall St. look like the City of London, and the City of London look like the Post Office.


The Team (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, 2015)

I think, perhaps they bit off more than is chewable with this international crime drama. Three senior detectives and their respective bagmen – or women in most cases – go after a Lithuanian human trafficker following a spate of identical murders of sex workers in each of the detectives’ countries. This latter guy has aspirations about being a city banker, running his own respectable bank. Reluctantly, on the nefarious business side, he is in partnership with his ex wife, a rather callous bitch on her own terms.

It’s not bad but it’s not as cool as old Walter made it out to be. One problem I had with it was because the three protagonists had different native languages, interaction is done in English and it sounded a little awkward, like people reading something they didn’t fully understand. Of course, this is probably what would happen in real life, difficulty in communicating, and had they played it that way all would be well, but they didn’t. Also, there were implausibility issues, but I’d let that go as its a drama, and each detective had a messy life story running concurrently, which was, well, messy.

Hey, dismiss those niggles and it isn’t a bad series, and a majority of lead roles for women for a change.


Liberty (Denmark 2018)

Set in Tanzania in the 70s, I initially thought this was made in the 70s. Or my broadband wasn’t functioning as it should. It had a real low-fi feel.

Centred on a social group of Scandinavian expats comprising of exploitative businessmen and do-good aid workers, the brevity and abrupt changes in fortune of the characters saves the drama from being a soap opera in my view. Everyone’s life is dysfunctional and everyone’s hopping into his or hers neighbours’ bed, but fear not, there’s only a modicum of explicit sex.

The main story is the friendship between Christian, the teenage son of aid workers, and, Marcus, the “houseboy” servant of a neighbouring couple. They share an interest in music and getting stoned. Marcus makes mix tapes to sell on the side and aspires to be a DJ. The two then have the idea to set up a dance club in town. They name it “Liberty”.

With the adults falling out and falling in with other spouses, Christian drops out and falls more in with the Tanzanians. Naive, exposed and vulnerable, he finds he has to deal with violent rival forces and a corrupt police force, all the while testing his new friendships.

Yes, I had to check the year of production. 2018. But it’s the 70s. Africa is backwards and corrupt and the whites are exploitative and openly racist. Nevertheless, it’s a drama which has its moments.


Mama’s Angel (Israel 2016)

I have to say this is more like it. If it were a stick of seaside rock, it might have plausible written right through it. Yet there is still a great sense of tension.

The setting is a suburb with a mixture of white and black residents. The police chief has a twenty-two year old daughter in a casual relationship with a young Ethiopian art student who himself intends to leave to study in Holland. The police chief in turn has a tense working relationship with the able head of the criminal forensics team. While she is away undergoing surgery, a seven year old boy from a neighbourhood family turns up dead on a nearby hill, beside a monument upon which someone has recently sprayed graffiti. The police chief exploits the absence of the capable forensics head to arrest and accuse the Ethiopian of murder, ignoring all other likelihoods. When the forensics head returns to work, she finds she has this mess to contend with.

So if the Ethiopian didn’t do it, who did? Our suspicions are teased.


Deadly Money (All4)

The Team IMDb

Liberty IMDb

Mama’s Angel IMDb

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.


Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning