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Essay | The Wild Side of Town by Alexis Self

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Urban pastoral: The borderlands of Wormwood Scrubs. Photo: Alexis Self

There are millions of miles of Montessori walls filled with quotations about the virtues of sharing. But you don’t want to get to your favourite restaurant and find you have to wait for a table. In the stifling urban environment it’s only natural to crave a no man’s land. This is how I feel about Wormwood Scrubs. I’ll extol its life giving benefits to all I meet, but I hope they won’t be so inspired when I go for a Sunday morning stroll. Luckily for me, a large part of the Scrubs’ charm derives from its unconventional beauty — like an obstreperous puppy, it has to earn your affection. Those unwilling to look beyond skin-deep might find its two hundred acres of rough, uneven ground too bleak for a picnic; while the lack of any retail opportunity probably renders it pointless to visitors from afar.

The 1879 Wormwood Scrubs Act legislated for its “perpetual use… by the inhabitants of the metropolis for exercise and recreation.” But that temple to consumerism Westfield, just down the road, is where more Londoners go for such things. On weekend mornings, the Scrubs is a panoply of wholesome endeavour: football, rugby and hurling in the winter; softball, kite and model aeroplane flying in the summer. At all other times it is near-deserted, save for scattered formations of dog-walkers, who dutifully patrol its perimeter year-round. Its utilitarian pretensions seem apt, since the Scrubs was originally intended as a military exercise ground close to the city. The army’s green jackets have long since been replaced by those of parakeets, which conduct intricate twilight manoeuvres during summertime.

The name attests to its agrestal nature: “worm” comes from the Old English for “snake”. Ominous things still happen here. In 2013, while out walking his dog, fleece and corduroy empresario Johnnie Boden found a dead body in the woods. The southwestern edge was the site of the Massacre of Braybrook Street in 1966, when the brutal murder of three policemen led to nationwide calls for the revocation of the recently abolished death penalty. This verdant strip is rarely used as a thoroughfare, especially at night, and not just because of its lack of electrical lighting. In the evenings less savoury pursuits leave bins filled with empty Red Bull cans and kamagra packets.

Strangely enough, this urban wilderness is ringed by bureaucratic institutions. There is, of course, the eponymous prison, built between 1874 and 1890 by convict labour and dismissed by Pevsner as an “array of suitably forbidding buildings,” it was once the largest in the country. Nick Papadamitrou, a former inmate, describes it as “this vast vat of compressed and frozen evil saturated in prisoner-years spent gazing out over the adjacent lands.” Today its Romanesque towers look decidedly kitsch next to the faceless modernity of Hammersmith Hospital to its east. Both stare dolefully through the gloom towards the huge Old Oak railway depot, which stretches north to Willesden. Stopping at this desolate junction on your way into London gives you cause to reflect on whether you really are entering a bustling metropolis after all.

Photo: Alexis Self

 

On the Scrubs’ southeastern corner, dozens of identikit Portakabins stand testament to more recent local tragedy. Last year they housed students from Kensington Alridge Academy, displaced by the Grenfell Tower fire, whose solemn tented figure you can see in the distance. If you add to this line-up the neat redbrick rows of the interwar Old Oak Estate and the crumbling edifice of the Linford Christie Stadium (named for a local boy done good, then bad), you have a school, prison, hospital, housing estate, sports stadium and railway depot: a veritable inventory of so-called civilisation.

The city seeps into every nook of available space, this is why the Scrubs feels so anachronistic — a neighbourhood-shaped and sized slab of England untrammeled since a time of snakes and convict labour. Attempts to tame it have increased as proximate post-industrial spaces become more coveted. In the late 80s, Great Western Rail petitioned for permission to expand its depot along the Scrubs’ northern perimeter, home to its most unruly woodland. Resistance to the plans inspired a musical, The Wild Side of Town, written by environmentalist and broadcaster Chris Baines. When it comes to opponents of change it is the redoubtable Friends of Wormwood Scrubs, a vocal local minority, which leads the call to arms. Its most cherished acreage is kept completely untended so as to encourage biodiversity: the ubiquitous squirrels, foxes, starlings and parakeets; but also bats, lizards, owls and butterflies. Not to mention the sort of flora long since purged from the rest of the city: blackberries, elderberries, thistles and gorse.

The parliamentary act means its status as a space for recreation is protected in perpetuity. A 2005 reaffirmation of this ensures that any new efforts to alter the landscape must be minimal — the installation of more benches, or picnic areas — and are, therefore, mostly intended to make it accessible and attractive to the wider public. This is, undoubtedly, a noble endeavour. But most friends of the Scrubs, formal and informal, would argue that its true integrity derives from the vast emptiness it affords its coterie of fans. Therein lies the conundrum: as a member of said group, am I happy for this space to go largely underappreciated in order to preserve it for myself? Yes, probably.

Words by Alexis Self.


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Review | Krzysztof Gil: Welcome to the Country Where the Gypsy has been Hunted at l’étrangère

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Installation view, Krzysztof Gil, Welcome to the Country where the Gypsy Has Been Hunted, 2018. Photo: Andy Keate, Courtesy of l’étrangère

On view at l’étrangère gallery in East London is the first ever UK solo exhibition by the Polish Roma artist Krzysztof Gil. Entitled Welcome to the Country Where the Gypsy Has Been Hunted, the show takes as its point of departure the contested practice of ‘Heidenjachten’, literally – gypsy hunting – the legally sanctioned hunting of Roma people for sport that took place throughout Germany and the Netherlands from the seventeenth until as late as the nineteenth centuries.

 

Both legally and socially marginalised throughout their history, Krzysztof Gil’s family originates from the Burgetka Roma community who settled in the Polish region of Podhale in the fifteenth century – at a time when Roma peoples were dissuaded from following their traditional lifestyles for fear of severe punishment or enslavement. Their persecution was then codified in law, as the sixteenth century was marked by anti-Roma legislation passed by the then Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, which meant that any Roma individual captured anywhere throughout the imperial territory could be subjected to torture and extermination. In 1530, Roma were legally banished from England, and in 1540, from Scotland. An official sport in seventeenth century middle Europe, the ‘Heidenjachten’ were a form of public entertainment – organised by the authorities and often with cash prizes awarded for a hunter’s success.

 

Despite the at once horrific and disturbing nature of this practice, many Roma believe their ongoing state of persecution to be both inevitable and unavoidable. Tellingly, as the artist notes, in Roma culture, there is no reflection on history – it is as ephemeral and transient as their way of life. Whilst the history of gypsy hunting might exist in official records, its specific practice is not explicitly part of Roma self-awareness.

 

A diverse yet stateless population of approximately 9 to 12 million people, Roma people speak many languages, practice different religions and have varied customs. A culture that places great weight on language as a marker of identity, Roma traditions are passed down orally through the generations, through songs, stories and folklore that are contained within their community. When asked why Roma history was only spoken and not recorded in writing, the Romani poet and singer known as Papusza is said to have replied: “There is too much pain and too many tears in this history.”

 

As such, their lives do not exist within the narratives of mainstream European history (at least beyond the stereotype of mystical, exoticised poverty), and, importantly for Gil, nor in western art history. For obvious reasons, Roma are left out of the inherited histories that come from those with wealth and land – and the attendant development of visual culture that documents power and visibility.

 

Yet the experience of centuries of persecution manifests itself vividly, and for Gil, his objective is to document and retell these narratives of violence, and in so doing draw attention to their place within both historical and contemporary consciousness. As a fine arts student at the academy in Kraków in Poland, Gil’s teachers tried to convince him that his heritage belonged in the past, and that is was not an appropriate (read: contemporary) subject for his practice. In his work, then, Gil takes up this challenge: how to represent and reclaim these forgotten and often painful histories of displaced Roma people, in a way that is both relevant to his culture and authentic to his artistic voice.

 

At l’étrangère, the notion of being hunted has been used by the artist with powerful effect. The installation, entitled TAJSA Yesterday and Tomorrow (2018) is a shelter-like construction made from raw canvas, animal furs and fragments of wooden planks and connected with threads, ropes and bone glue – imitating the simple, humble and temporary houses erected by itinerant Roma communities throughout history. Stepping inside the structure is a visceral experience: the dirt floor (with soil transported from Poland) under foot, and pungent, animalistic smell assail the viewer’s senses. Inside the shelter hangs a traditional talismanic object made from human hair and wax, surrounded by a large panoramic tableau that, by the light of a slow-moving spotlight, teases out a procession of hunters, animals and human corpses, drawn with white chalk on a black background. More than a little disquieting, a pervasive sense of fear has been brought into the installation with claustrophobic intensity.

 

Gil’s cast of seventeenth century characters have been inspired by the Rembrandt painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), in which Dr Tulp presents a public dissection to members of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. The drawings of the hunters’ trophy heap, which includes a deer, hare and bird, perversely resembles the aesthetisised paintings of the Dutch still life tradition.

 

Played inside the installation is a soundtrack that juxtaposes the remote history of hunted Roma people with Gil’s own family history and the contemporary moment. The sound component consists of a recorded conversation between the artist and his grandmother, in which she tells the story of her father, who was murdered in post-WWII Podhale after making remarks that called into question the quality of work of his Polish colleagues. His death was concluded to be an accident by doctors and the authorities, and the perpetrators went unpunished.

 

Gil interviewed his grandmother as part of his PhD project that researched Roma stories, at a time that coincided with his own increased public presence as a kind of poster boy for ‘good’ or productive Roma members of Polish society. The vitriol and vandalism with which his advertising likeness was met inevitably left Gil feeling wholly persecuted, a kind of modern-day gypsy hunt.

 

The period connections to the seventeenth century are obvious, yet it is also Gil’s sensitivity to materials – the fur, fabric and wood of the shelter, the ornate costumes of his figures – and their tactility that creates a link with the Baroque painting tradition, and what it asked of the viewer. In a reaction against the fixity, stability and feigned classical order of the Renaissance, Baroque painting wanted to grip its audience with theatrical extravagance, believing that art should communicate with direct and emotional involvement. In the second room of the gallery are Gil’s series of portraits in the style of the Old Masters, which overlay notions of self-commemoration and the transience of life onto the experience of the Roma.

 

In this exhibition, Gil presents a historical form of temporary accommodation in the gallery space – which has itself been packed down and transported, piece by piece, from Kraków to London, mimicking the peripatetic journeys of Roma people. The wider ramifications of the notion of shelter then links the past with the present, and to the millions of people around the globe who seek shelter in temporary accommodation; the transitory experience of migrants, the marginalised, and anyone made to feel unwelcome in their homes, whatever form they may take.

 

In Romani language, the ‘tajsa’ of the work’s title is a word that means both yesterday and tomorrow, a compressed conception of time that is significant within Roma culture and also provides a guiding structure for Gil’s installation. As he says,

 

“Romani language does not have separate words for ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’. Instead ‘tajsa’ is used in different combination with other words to describe the notion of either ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’. By taking ‘tajsa’ out of context, I treat it metaphorically, as an expression of the past and the future at the same time. History informs the future, and we still live with the consequences of the laws that were enacted in the seventeenth century.”

 

‘Welcome to the Country Where the Gypsy Has Been Hunted’ by Krzysztof Gil is on view until 5 January 2019 at l’étrangère, 44a Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3 PD. For more details visit l’étrangère. 

Words by Annie Carpenter.


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Interview | 2018 Short Story Prize Judges!

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With only a few weeks remaining for our Short Story Prize for this year, we thought we would catch up with our judges to ask them what they thought makes a good short story, and what they were looking for in the submissions. Read below for what their thoughts!

About our judges:

Samuel Fisher‘s debut novel, The Chameleon, was published by Salt in 2018. He runs a bookshop in East London called Burley Fisher Books, and is a director of Peninsula Press.

 

 

 

 

Layla Benitez-James is a writer, translator and artist living and working in Spain, where she serves as Director of Literary Outreach for the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid. Layla also serves as Podcast Editor for Asymptote Journal, and her poems and translations have appeared in The Acentos Review, Anomaly, Guernica, Waxwing, Revista Kokoro, La Galla Ciencia, and elsewhere. Her audio essays about translation can be found at Asymptote Journal Podcast. Her first chapbook, God Suspected My Heart Was a Geode But He Had to Make Sure was selected by Major Jackson for the 2017 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and published by Jai-Alai Books in Miami, April 2018.

Harry Mount is the Editor of The Oldie. He is author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That, as well as Odyssey – Ancient Greece in Odysseus’s Footsteps.

 

 

 

What do you think makes a great short story?

Sam: A writer that picks the right details. Because of the constraints of the form, details have more metonymic heft than in longer form fiction — they have to do more. The best short stories have an uncanny focus on picking the aspect of a scene (the quality of light, the way a laugh resounds), which cut to the heart of what the scene is trying to convey.

Layla: Well crafted characters, characters that feel real from the very beginning and make me forget that I´m reading fiction. Ryan Harty’s Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down comes to mind as a great short story that pulled me into the life of a couple instantly with just a few lines of good dialogue. 

HarryA proper story with a beginning, middle and end, with a proper feeling of drama and suspense.

What is one thing you’re looking for when reading the competition entries?

Sam: That the story sets the terms for its success, and then meets them.

Layla: A surprising voice or some focus on a slice of life I don´t know well. I´m interested in stories that push against the boundaries of genre and make me reconsider what fiction can do. 

Harry: Brilliant writing.

What inspires your writing?

Sam: At the moment, rage and despair at the mounting inequality and illiberism here and around the world (pretty cheery, I know).

Layla: Travelling, snippets of overheard conversations. I am very inspired by the natural world: geology…foxes…hyenas lately. Spanish has been creeping into my writing more and more and I am definitely interested in multilingual texts and writers who are blending in more creative linguistic play into their work.  

Harry: Think of the poor bloody reader! Be interesting, funny or sad.

What are your top tips for anyone considering entering the competition?

Sam: Share your writing with a reader you trust before sending it on, it’s always helpful to have a critical eye. Read your work aloud.

Layla: Send in something you love to read aloud to yourself, something that makes you happy to have written. Strange to write this as a judge, but don’t think about who will be reading, write something that you have never yet seen in the world and make it your own. 

Harry: Read the short stories of F Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh’s shortest novels.

For more information and to enter The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2018, go here.

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The London Magazine Podcast | Episode 4 | A Discovery of Ancient Literature

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We were recently contacted by Reverend Christian Mitchell of the church of Heathfield in rural Sussex, who had made a remarkable discovery. In one of the rectories attached to an old church in the area, they had found an almost full collection of the original London Magazine, dating from 1733 to 1770, which were believed to have belonged to the Reverend of that era. 

In the collection we discovered not just poetry and literary essays, but maps of newly discovered parts of the world, new inventions of the age, political discourse, and the burgeoning financial movement of the era. 

We went down to Heathfield to inspect the findings, and interviewed Reverend Mitch about them. It was a truly fascinating experience, and we hope to do much more with this newly discovered archive.

For now, listen to the link above for more information. 

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Essay | Shakespeare’s London and the Emergence of the Playhouse

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London from Southwark, c.1630.

Today, the idea of the theatre can evoke tradition and history, having perhaps one of the longest histories of all the arts. But when the theatres first began springing up in London in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, they were places that transgressed and challenged social boundaries, and were considered dangerous by the well-to-do of the age.

The Emergence of the London Playhouse

Although companies of actors had been performing plays for centuries, the first purpose built playhouse was the Red Lion in Whitechapel, built in 1567. Eight years later, in 1575, a spring a theatre spaces began to open across London, of which most were taverns and inns converted into playhouses, such as The Bull or Bishopsgate Street Inn. The Theatre, built by James Burbage in 1576, was one of the first which performed Shakespeare’s plays. This stood just outside the city walls, near Curtain Road in Shoreditch in today’s London. When Shakespeare’s company—The Lord Chamberlain’s Men— lost their lease on The Theatre in the late 1590s, they took the novel step of dismantling the theatre, transporting the wood and other materials to the other side of the Thames, and re-using them to build The Globe on Bankside, which is now famous for being the first theatre to operate solely as a place for plays (previous theatres had all doubled up as homes for other, often less salubrious forms of entertainment, mostly notably bear-bating). 

These theatres, both outdoor and indoor, where located in ‘liberties’—areas of private land free from city authorities and the Crown—which tended to be on the outskirts and margins of the city of London. Liberties were filled with playhouses, brothels, and bear-baiting pits, as well as other places, all of which were spaces of excess and lack of authority. Just as these places occupied the fringes of the city, the activities taking place there pushed social boundaries of morality to the extremities: they were associated with vulgarity, corruption and commonness, and the playhouse was a prominent feature in this scene. As Shakespeare scholar Russ MacDonald notes, if the city authorities had hold over the playhouses, they would have probably shut them down permanently, such was the strong opposition to them from London authorities and members of the population.

The Performance

Early modern performances were different to the theatre performances we know today in several ways, a significant one being the “bare stage” which actors performed on. There were for example, not even curtains to the stage (a much later development). Despite the fact that one of the early theatres used by Shakespeare being called The Curtain, this was in fact due to it’s proximity to the city walls due to anything on the stage.

Unlike the present day, where much effort goes into producing a set that creates a sense of reality for the audience, early plays were self-consciously aware of themselves as a performance, and it seems there was little attempt to convince the audience otherwise. While the stage itself remained relatively empty, the lack of spectacle was compensated for by the extravagant and unrestrained costuming of the actors, which drew much criticism from Puritans for its decadent excesses. Another aspect of costuming criticised by the puritans of the city was cross dressing—men and boys decked out in women’s clothing and make-up—which was seen as vulgar. Although this might suggest a transgression of gender boundaries however (which to a degree was the case), this was in turn caused by necessity, as it was considered socially unacceptable for women to act in theatres until well after the Reformation in the seventeenth century. 

But through the dressing up of actors, who were considered extremely low on the social ladder (not much better than beggars), in costume that impersonated higher classes, even nobility, we see an emergence together of a different class that could probably only occur in the theatre. Moreover, plays often placed characters of different social ranking in dangerously close proximity with each other, a good example being Prince Harry and Falstaff, the working-class drunkard in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Here, class distinction is reduced to mere performance, rather than something that is rigid and fixed. 

The Audience

The concept of theatre etiquette was virtually non-existent in early theatres. Audiences were not expected to be still and silent throughout the performance, rather they were loud, bawdy and raucous, the extent to which depended on subject matter being performed. They were more a part of the play than passive spectators, which is accentuated by the fact that, because of the “bare stage”, audiences had to rely on their powers of observation to discern things like the time of day.

While it is impossible to be certain about the make-up of audiences, Russ Macdonald argue that outdoor theatres would have been filled by most social classes, from ‘apprentices to gallents’. This appeal to various social classes was something exclusive to the theatre, and part of the reason they were seen as a threat to order. However, despite this type of cultural egalitarianism, it’s important to note the structure of theatres did its best to maintain class distinctions: higher paying people sat higher up, with the poorest gathered at the bottom of the stage. Interestingly, the place below the stage was called ‘hell’ and the place above it ‘heaven’, terms implicitly associating the poor with debasement and the wealthy with elevation. So there was certainly tension between the merging of social classes, and certainly resistance to it.

The Crown and the Theatre

Further resistance to theatres as places of freedom from authority is evident in their relationship to the royal Court. King Henry VIII created the Revels office during his reign, which was to ensure that plays were protecting the Crown’s interest at all times. This censorship limited the extent to which theatres were places that challenged authority, and, moreover, the fact that plays were often performed in Court suggests they sometimes functioned as royal propaganda. Indeed, some critics argue that had the Royal family not enjoyed watching plays, theatres would have not been given leeway and allowed to function. The theatre, then, carried a strange duality; it was marginalised to the outskirts of the city, yet its plays were often performed in Court.

While it is easy to read the early modern theatre as a tool to transmit monarchic propaganda to the masses, doing so disregards the genuine threat they were felt to pose to the established order. This was not only in the subversive content of the plays, but through the ability of the theatre to draw together people from all different social standings, the costuming of the actors, and the very location of the theatres, in the outskirts of the city, hidden from the centre.

Words by Khadeeja Saleem.

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Review | A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre

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Fairy tales are not really for children. Bluebeard beheads his wives; Little Red Riding Hood’s beloved grandma is eaten alive and impersonated by a wolf; Snow White’s stepmother is forced to dance to death wearing red hot iron slippers. To justify their violent imagery we tell ourselves that these stories communicate valuable morals to our children: stay away from curiosity, disobedience, and envy respectively. But should children be warned off these feelings? Envy can be a spur to ambition and social reform; disobedience is necessary to confront abuses of power; curiosity is the basis of creative endeavour. Only the authoritarian wants to extinguish these characteristics. And while violence and the threat of violence are the nuts and bolts in the authoritarian toolkit, effective propaganda means you don’t even have to get that toolkit out of the cupboard.

With a seven-hundred-year record of persuasion in the home, it is unsurprising that fairy tales and other forms of folk legend have also been adopted by political propagandists. Der Stürmer founder Julius Streicher published a children’s book Der Giftpilz (The Poisoned Mushroom) whose titular story uses elements from Hansel and Gretel to promote anti-Semitism, while the opening show tune of Disney’s Aladdin (released in 1992, a year after the Gulf War and two years into the Iraq sanctions regime, estimated to have killed half a million children) describes the Middle East as ‘barbaric’. An eighteen-year-old serving in Iraq eleven years later may well have sung along as a kid.

So old are fairy tales and so often retold that they possess an aura of timeless innocence, rendering us ignorant of their darker aspects. This irony has been fruitful ground for a range of writers since the 1960s, including Angela Carter and Robert Coover, who have rewritten fairy tales to reveal how they serve, and how they might subvert, power. Martin McDonagh is alive to these counter-currents and, in A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre, he has written a companion piece to The Pillowman, which explores how the stories we tell our children can both empower and engender tremendous cruelty.

Set in Denmark in the 1870s, it tells the story of an aging Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent) who is revealed to be a fraud. He did not write any of his famous children’s stories, which were in fact dreamed up by Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles), a one-legged Congolese Pygmy he keeps imprisoned in a box in his attic. Marjory is a victim of Belgian King Leopold II’s Congo Free State. She has travelled back in time to ten years before the establishment of this brutal colony in an attempt to stop the Belgians from ever conquering her homeland, only to be captured by Anderson and held captive in his attic.  

Over the course of ninety minutes without an interval, McDonagh indulges his appetite for pitch black humour. Marjory and Hans make an entertaining couple: she is always ready with a quick put-down; he bumbles like a lovable uncle. But even as they banter, Hans continues decreasing the size of her box and we find out that he was the one who cut off her foot. The unsettling contrast between the comic dialogue and the violent action is echoed in the wonderfully gothic set design by Anna Fleischle, which sees puppets hanging by their strings half-shadowed amidst scattered 19th century ephemera, while a computer-generated background image of Copenhagen as seen through the attic window is the only view of the outside world that we get during the play, mirroring Marjory’s confinement. Her box swings a few feet above the stage like a pendulum, opaque wood covering one face, transparent plastic the other and we see her stories, her only means of escape, plastered over every inch of space Hans leaves for her. Snowy rooftops and children’s toys ought to be a postcard picture, but here they are deeply uncanny, and with every sweep of the spotlight I flinched, expecting a puppet to jump out from the darkness.

But despite the fantastic set and fizzy dialogue, including an entertaining scene at Charles Dickens’ house, McDonagh’s script suffers from incoherent plotting, falling far short of his previous successes. The premise itself draws on the well-established tropes of the mad woman in the attic and the captive muse, as exemplified by other works such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Dream Country, in which a frustrated author keeps Calliope locked up in his attic, relieving his writer’s block and making him a highly successful novelist. The same tropes used in this play serve to echo Belgian imperialism in the Congo, of which Marjory is a victim; the occupying state takes the conquered state’s resources as its own, paralleled in Anderson’s theft of Marjory’s creativity. However, the glitch in this parallel is that Anderson is Danish rather than Belgian, and is therefore a member of a state which had no such imperialistic relationship with the Congolese. McDonagh forces a connection between Anderson and the Congo, which left me unconvinced about the relationship between these two strands of the story.

Where The Pillowman weaved its twists and turns into a rivet-tight plot that exemplified fairy tale logic (allowing the play to explore the sinister relationship between fairy tales and cruelty without sacrificing McDonagh’s love of darkly comic dialogue), the plotting of his latest play is much looser. In order to have Marjory come from the Belgian Congo, the script is required to invoke time travel, since Andersen died ten years before its establishment. This is a risky move because time travel is inevitably paradoxical, and unfortunately McDonagh leaves too many loose ends untied, which even allowing for the deliberate tonal absurdity, undermines suspension of disbelief.

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is certainly different in its fantastical and bold nature, and the link between colonialism and the authorship of history is an interesting one to explore. But in its wild historical jumps and over-the-top brashness (particularly the Tarantino-esque climax of violence at the end of the play), it can become difficult to engage with its themes. As such, we never truly get a sense of the depths of the well into which it dips its toes.

Words by Mathis Clément

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Review | The Chameleon by Samuel Fisher

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The Chameleon, Samuel Fisher, Salt Publishing, 2018, pp. 207, £9.99

The Chameleon is a novel narrated by the soul of a book, which can shape shift between any book that it pleases. Stretching across a time frame that goes from the Black Death of the 13th century to the aftermath of the Cold War in the late twentieth century, it is one of the most unusual love stories that you are likely to read.

But a love story nevertheless it is, and a tragic one at that. The book centres on the British Cold War spy Roger, stationed in the USSR far away from his long suffering wife Margery.

It is perhaps not surprising that its author, Samuel Fisher, is a bookseller, one of the proprietors of the excellent Burley Fisher Books in East London. The novel is heavy on literary allusions and references, particularly to Jorge Luis Borges and Virginia Woolf, whose novel Orlando serves as an obvious inspiration. But while the ability of the protagonist in Orlando to travel deathlessly through time is centred around gender, and serves as a (magisterial) exploration of that subject, Fisher’s act of locating the voice of his narrator within the binding of a book focuses The Chameleon on storytelling itself. The novel is a celebration of its form, the power of storytelling, and the book as physical object, not to mention the personal relationships that people have with books.

This can be seen in the way that the shape-shifting narrator (who at one point introduces himself as ‘John’), can believably know the secrets of all the characters whose story he tells, being ever-present in inside-pockets, and on tables in hotel rooms.

This narrative technique enables Fisher to seamlessly weave together a complex and secretive family history, with an inventiveness which evokes Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. But while Marquez’s magical realist epic veers wildly between different strands of the fantastical, the real-life narrative in The Chameleon centres around a very believable Cold War drama that would appeal to fans of noir fiction and literary realism. In this way, Fisher is able to transfer between worlds in a way that never feels disengaging. Indeed, the author has the uncanny ability to paint a poignant pictures of an age which he did not experience:

The Blitz had left wounds in South London and everyone who had come through it together was knit together in the scarred tissue of the community.

And despite the innovative technique with which the story is told, it is Fisher’s handling of tone, dialogue and prose that allows the story to be the star of the show. The narrative of Roger and Margery’s relationship, and the affect of the wars of the 20th century on multiple generations of their family is compelling and genuinely pulls at the emotions, while the depiction of 1950s Moscow and London creates an atmospheric noir backdrop. The book’s playfulness and wit allow the novel time to breathe and to entertain. Its stylistic peculiarities augment and bring depth to the plot, rather than usurping its role as the main event.

As a co-director of the excellent Peninsula Press and having previously been a judge on perhaps the most forward thinking of all UK literary awards, The Republic of Consciousness Prize, it is perhaps no surprise that Fisher’s debut displays a stylistic inventiveness and historical scope that belies his age. The Chameleon is an ambitious but accomplished debut, and we certainly hope that Samuel has enough time in between selling and producing books to write more of them.

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Words by Robert Greer.

Review | Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at The Barbican

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George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Jared French, 1937.

The centrifugal drive behind much of the work featured in the Barbican’s Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde is enunciated by Rodin in the first gallery: ‘I express in a loud voice what all artists think. Desire! Desire! What a formidable stimulant.’ By exhibiting the work of artistic couples, including letters, books, music, and visual art, the show aims to demonstrate how desire affects artistic practice, and how artistic practice affects desire; we see how each inflames, distorts, inspires and destroys the other.

Auguste Rodin, Mask of Camille Claudel, 1889.
Frida Kahlo, La Venadita, 1946.

The show begins with two couples, sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, and composers Gustav and Alma Mahler. Both relationships took place at the end of the 19th century and retained patriarchal inflections which subsequent artist-couples strove to shed. Rodin encouraged Claudel’s work and collaborated with her on some fine clay miniatures of lovers entwined like tree roots. But the bust of her featured here, with the joins of the cast visible, hints at the cracks beneath the surface; in 1905 she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and confined by her brother to an asylum for the last 30 years of her life, despite doctors trying to convince her family that she was well enough to leave.

The case of Alma Mahler is probably the only instance in the show of one half of a couple trying to inhibit the work of the other; Gustav felt his wife ought to support him to an extent that would leave no time for her own compositions. However, after consulting with Freud he relented and we have the results here; beautiful and haunting next to the bombastic scores of her husband, Alma’s work is a highlight of what this exhibition does so well: show us the unknown work of the other half.

The majority of the exhibition is dedicated to avant-garde artists of the early 20th century: couples like Salvador Dalí and Federico Garcia Lorca, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch. It is in this period when notions of desire began to open up alongside artistic visions: we have ménages-à-trois or more, polygamy, gay and lesbian relationships, swapping, transsexualism, and interracial affairs running in parallel with Surrealism, Rayonism, Orphism, and the birth of photography as an art form. The exhibition’s strongest and weakest points are to be found as we progress through this period. Its exploration of large networks allows us to make new connections between disparate artists; I came to Romaine Brooks’ portraits of Luisa Casati and Natalie Clifford Barney in the context of a cross-Channel network of lesbian artists including Woolf, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein. What drew me to Brooks’ paintings were the backgrounds, indistinct but hinting at underlying structure. We see the features of an English coastline and a Paris street blurred by mist, a technique which aligns these prosaic settings with (in the portrait of Casati) an abstract Erebus in which the subject appears as sorceress or Fury.

Fritz G Walker, Emilie Flöge in Chinese Imperial Costume from the Qing Dynasty in the Gardens of the Villa Paulick in Seewalchen at Attersee 13th or 14th September 1913, 1913.

However, as we expand beyond the well-trodden paths of modernist Paris, London and Vienna, the show loses its focus. That’s not to say there isn’t wonderful work here: the photography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Jared French is beautifully composed, and Sonia and Robert Delaunay’s respective textiles and paintings echo one another with ecstatic vibrancy. But as couple after couple is introduced with only enough space to show a few works, the exhibition fails to give a wide enough representation of their respective oeuvres or only includes minor work, and I left feeling overwhelmed with small portions. I understand and encourage the desire to go beyond the familiar, but when introducing lesser known artists like Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt it would have been advantageous to allow their work more time and space. The sheer scope and ambition of the exhibition can make individual pairings feel rushed.

Sonia Delaunay, Stroll, 1923.

That said, though several couples failed to make an impression, there is such a range of work in different mediums and different styles here from so many artists that whatever their background, visitors are bound to be pleasantly surprised by at least one new discovery. I came away with amazement at Delaunay’s textiles, handmade with colourful repeating patterns which pop and fizz like champagne and fireworks, and with an appreciation for Eileen Grey and Jean Badovici’s efforts to create a fluid, interactive architecture against Le Corbusier’s ‘machine for living’. And despite Claude Cajun’s letter to Marcel Moore in which he said ‘I am the work of your life’, the show thankfully resists biographical interpretations of the art. We get the necessary information of who knew whom, for how long and where, but no generalisations such as that art and passion cannot coexist before one destroys the other. In fact on one wall a timeline of each relationship demonstrates the surprising longevity of many of the couples: Benedetta and Filippo Marinetti together from 1918 until 1944, Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko from 1914 to 1956, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov from 1907 to 1962. All three groups remained couples until the death of one of their members.

Modern Couples is a significant show, an extensive survey of modernism that embodies an original viewpoint which genuinely sheds new light on the period, and will hopefully lead to further such explorations. Though somewhat overambitious in its attempt to include so many artists, it nevertheless offers abundant surprises and delights.

Words by Mathis Clément

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde will be at the Barbican Centre until 27th January 2019. More information here.

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The London Magazine Poetry Prize 2018 – Winners Announced!

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A huge thanks to everyone who entered this year’s poetry prize! We had so many high quality entries this year which resulted in a huge longlist, but eventually our judges managed to whittle it down to the following three entries. All submissions were read anonymously.

Here are the winners of The London Magazine Poetry Prize for 2018!

1st prize: The Lean Years by Sharon Black

2nd place Black Fire by Matthew Smith

3rd place: Self-Addressed – Alycia Pirmohamed

As well as receiving prizes of £500, £300 and £200 respectively, each of these poems will be published in the December/January Issue of The London Magazine, as well as online.

Below is a short statement from our judges Les Robinson, Sophie Collins, and Mark Ford:

We enjoyed reading the poems and found it very hard to pick the eventual winners.
In the end we chose The Lean Years as the winner as it contained many strong images and emotions within its well constructed form.
In second place was Black Fire which we liked for its edginess and intrigue.
Finally we placed Self-Addressed in third place, a moving, reflective poem.

Congratulation to the three winners and thanks to all the other enthusiastic poets whose work we read with pleasure.

Full long list below (in no particular order):

The Lean Years — Sharon Black

Faultlines — Sharon Black

Light’s Tricks — Sharon Black

Ash Wednesday — Lois P. Jones

Everything I Know About Atlantic Gigantism and New Prosthetics I Learned at the Fish Market — Rachel Moore

women who dye — Elsa Fischer

Forward-looking — John Gallas

Winter Flounder — Greg Rappleye

Fallow — Jonathan Greenhause

Agave and Pentheus  — Michael Farren

Black Fire — Matthew Smith

The Man Who Became A Bird — Teresa Godfrey

Self-Addressed — Alycia Pirmohamed

Kenmare — Seamus Harrington

The History Section — Rob Sanders

The Parkinson Code — Michael Henry

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To enter our current Short Story Prize, go here.

Interview | Momtaza Mehri — Young People’s Laureate for London

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Yesterday we spoke to artist and poet Momtaza Mehri, who is the second Young People’s Laureate for London, recently taking over from poet and director Caleb Femi in the role which was launched by Spread The Word in October 2016.

In October, Mehri will headline the Be My Next Inspiration Young People’s Laureate for London Tour of six outer London boroughs with 10 of the city’s leading poets, rappers and beatboxers, including Anthony Anaxagorou, Bellatrix, Bridget Minamore, Shay D, Dizraeli, Remi Graves, Cecilia Knapp, Raymond Antrobus, Rob Bradley and Deanna Rodger.

Her specially commissioned poem – No Name Club – weaves unknown history with conversations held with 13 to 25 year olds in libraries in the campaign’s participating outer London boroughs of Kingston, Barking and Dagenham, Bromley, Redbridge, Brent and Sutton. Atmospheric, powerful and beautifully shot, the filmed poem celebrates the richness of culturally diverse communities and questions the upheaval and uncertainty created by gentrification.

Congratulations on becoming the Young Poet Laureate for London! When I heard about the upcoming tour I thought it sounded fantastic and really wanted to talk to you. Can you tell me about it?

Well essentially the tour is building on some stuff that I was already doing when I got the role, which was to go into schools in the outer boroughs of London, places like Dagenham and Barking, to go in and work out the kind of resources that they have around them if they want to put on events – not just poetry events but also other kinds of workshops, to listen to them and just getting to know what they need in their area. Then going back to those areas, performing and taking part but also seeing what they put together.

It all sounds brilliant. I feel like in the last five or ten years in British poetry there has been this amazing surge in new voices, I came across people like Ray and Deanna a few years ago through all the events and workshops that they put on across London. What are your own inspirations?

I think what has happened is there has been a line of continuity. What often happens is that you do a workshop for young people, and then one of those young people is interested in writing more poetry, and then after 4 or 5 years they have gone through a number of initiatives and become established in their own right, so it becomes this circle. Especially because there are a lot more initiatives available right now, obviously things like Barbican Young Poets, but also smaller ones like The Writing Room and things like that. These are all things that I’ve taken part in, but in general you do see young poets coming up through a lot more avenues now, rather than just having say four young poets… For me I was quite introverted really and moved about a lot, so I wasn’t actually able to be at any one place for a long time, but it’s great to see young people benefiting from it.

I really love the poem and film that you were commissioned for – No Name Club. Am I right in thinking that the name came from a 19th century football club in Kilburn?

Yeah, that’s right.

Amazing. Well it was a great poem but I especially enjoyed the video that went with it. I was wondering, as your predecessor in the role Caleb Femi did a lot of work with music and film, whether that was something that you were looking to continue? As in reaching out into other forms other than books and spoken word performances.

It’s an interesting point you pick up on, as each poet laureate of course tailors the role to their own interest. The role really is divided into two different objectives, one is to engage with young people, but the other is for your own personal development, so when it comes to that, I think I’m more interested in working in the art world and with visual arts. So I’ve been doing a lot of things like that, and I have an art book coming out next year for example, and just doing different talks at art fairs, I did a talk at Frieze last week, so yeah, just things like that really. But there are also projects which might overlap, you might be commissioned to respond to something like an exhibition or a film for example. But for me the areas that I’m interested in are mainly cultural criticism and the visual arts.

Are you able to talk a little bit about the art book that you mentioned?

Yeah of course! So it’s commissioned by Book Works, and the editor is a visual artist and film maker. It’s not a traditional poetry or art book, it’s more a fragmentation of some essays, some poetry, some photography, and some things from archives, a whole load of different genres, which is very much in the nature of the kind of thing that Book Works put out.

It’s quite interesting however to have a chapbook out, and then do this before a first full poetry collection, but to be honest that’s just where I’m at at the moment. I’m still doing a lot of poetry and poetry related things in this role of course though.

I think it’s definitely great to diversify in any artistic practise, but particularly in this role! It helps normalise poetry for a lot of people that might have some kind of cultural stigma towards poetry as an art form.

To go back to the poem No Name Club, what I really liked about it was that within the piece appeared all these different image layers of different histories that exist in the city, there’s that great line for example about the room three doors down from the library where the nuns used to live which is now a Paddy Power… To me this suggests gentrification of London and the marginalisation of communities, but I wanted to ask you about what you thought the challenges are to being a young person in London at the moment, and what kind of change you would like to affect in the role?

Well when I was approached with this commission, the theme that we were presented with was ‘change’. My go-to first reaction was that change isn’t always necessarily good or bad, which is what I wanted to come through in the poem… But it’s also that in general recognising that in this role I have gone to many different parts of London that I had never been to, and this realisation that there are many Londons.

To me it was just understanding and trying to understand that London can be a constricting place, but it can also be a source of inspiration. I have had quite a complicated relationship to it because it has been a home base to me for a long time, but I’ve moved out of it quite a lot, but these were the streets that I actually knew best, so I was in that position where you’re always returning to it, and when you do that, when you go away and come back a lot, I think you notice change a lot more. It can be quite jarring. Also for me I associate people with places a lot, and so when people pass away or move away, then that change becomes inevitable. But I think in terms of writing about that change or coping with change as a young person or an artist, I would say the most important thing is having a strong community around you, because then when that change happens, you still feel anchored, because you have those people around you, even when you might feel powerless in other aspects of your life.

Interview by Robert Greer.

For more on Spread The Word go here.

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To enter our current Short Story Prize, go here.

The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2018

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UPDATE: EXTENDED CLOSING DATE 
The competition will now be open for entries until December 21st at midnight.
Over the course of our long history, The London Magazine has published short stories by some of the most acclaimed writers of the form, from Jean Rhys to V. S. Pritchett. In our annual Short Story Prize, we seek out new voices to join them.  
Established to encourage emerging literary talent, the award provides an opportunity for publication and recognition, as well as rewarding imagination, originality and creativity. At The London Magazine we are looking for work from writers around the world in any genre, the only guidelines being that the stories are previously unpublished, and at a maximum length of 2,500 words. 
Information:
Entry fee: £10 per short story | Student entry: £5 per story (entrants must submit their stories using a valid university email address).
Note: There is no limit to the number of entries you can submit.
Opening date: 1st October 2018 Closing Date: 21 December 2018
First Prize: £500
Second Prize: £300
Third Prize: £200
The story that wins first place will be published in a future print edition of The London Magazine. The second and third place stories will be published on our website. Prize winners will also be invited to a reception in London in early 2019.

SUBMIT YOUR STORIES HERE

Judges:
Layla Benitez-James is a writer, translator and artist living and working in Spain, where she serves as Director of Literary Outreach for the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid. Layla also serves as Podcast Editor for Asymptote Journal, and her poems and translations have appeared in The Acentos Review, Anomaly, Guernica, Waxwing, Revista Kokoro, La Galla Ciencia, and elsewhere. Her audio essays about translation can be found at Asymptote Journal Podcast. Her first chapbook, God Suspected My Heart Was a Geode But He Had to Make Sure was selected by Major Jackson for the 2017 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and published by Jai-Alai Books in Miami, April 2018.
Samuel Fisher‘s debut novel, The Chameleon, was published by Salt in 2018. He runs a bookshop in East London called Burley Fisher Books, and is a director of Peninsula Press.
Harry Mount is the Editor of The Oldie. He is author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That, as well as Odyssey – Ancient Greece in Odysseus’s Footsteps.

Essay | Fighting Against Productivity by Anna Aguilar

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Psychogeography: the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment […] on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”

Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955

Despite the academic jargon that is so intricately connected with the term “psychogeography”, its study is not only universally approachable, but necessary in our contemporary reality. London, the nightmarish hive we have created, continues to grow vertically and horizontally while its inhabitants remain oblivious to the intricacies of their environment.

Our lack of proximity to nature in the city requires constant effort to consciously read our surroundings. Despite our understanding of the artificial construction of the city, the inner workings of buildings, cars, computers or anything else around us is illegible to natural beings. We don’t really understand how everything around us functions beyond the superficial. Hence, we associate nature with peacefulness and contrastingly feel the necessity to ‘escape’ from the city towards something less overwhelming.

We often forget, or disassociate, from the fact that London is built on top of the same thing as its green outskirts. The city doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather follows the landscape of its surroundings. When we walk from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus we don’t recognise that we are walking up a hill in the same way as we do walking in the countryside. Concrete skews our perception of topography.

I recently spent a week in an unremarkable town in South West England. Throughout the day, which I spent alone, I found myself feeling trapped and anxious. There was nothing to do because the town centre had no consumer goods that interested me. My life in London had triggered a craving for a constant input of artificial information. I craved being surrounded by intense movement and by people equally hungry for goods; innovation, technology, fashion.


On the last day I decided to leave the house and walk. I found a blackberry bush and had a feast, and continued to wander around the town and its outskirts thinking about how some spaces held similarities to home. I did not do this with any particularly revolutionary intent, but in hindsight realised I had undertaken a dérive; an aimless wander aimed at studying the effect of the environment on the psyche.

The dérive is a far more challenging activity now than it was at the time of its conception. While walking was a common activity in 1950s Paris, it has become an increasingly obsolete form of transportation. London’s immensity and fast-paced movement encourages the use of the quickest form of transport available, walking to a destination that is more than an hour away is seen as an oddity.

As Will Self famously explores through his unlikely walks to airports through barren deserts or busy motorways, walking to certain destinations is becoming increasingly complicated. Entire routes are designed exclusively for motor vehicles, assuming nobody will ever need to walk from one point to the other.

The wide availability of GPS navigation has consolidated the strife for purpose-fuelled movement. Alternative route possibilities are completely disregarded in name of the most efficient one. Our journeys are being increasingly transferred from reality into the virtual world; you are, for the duration of the journey, suspended from your immediate reality. This disassociation is similar to jumping on a plane, where you sit and distract yourself from the fact that you are moving through space, and then arrive at your destination.

Every aspect from our lives is being directed towards this idea of purposefulness. The concept of indoor gyms, for example, is designed to maximise the benefits of physical exercise in a shorter, albeit less enjoyable, period of time. Locking yourself in a room and lifting heavy pieces of metal before commuting to your office job is framed into the idyllic contemporary healthy life-style. Coincidentally, anxiety and depression are steadily on the rise.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that the dérive is the solution to mental health issues, but so much of what causes anxiety in our contemporary society can be eased through movement. Olga Tokarczuk states in her fragmentary novel Flights, “a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity”. I expand this idea by stating that mechanical motion, commuting, won’t suffice— you must be deliberate in your actions.

“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs”.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, 1782

Bruce Chatwin’s novel Songlines beautifully explores the Australian Aboriginal mythology, which lyrically maps the continent’s topography, creating a mythic map that connects culture with place. By singing the song which maps a specific route, one is able to traverse vast distances.  On the opposite side of the globe, Inuit’s remarkable geographic knowledge allows them to navigate lands with equal lack of topographical features. Travel orientation is prioritised as one of the most important means to survival.

The correlation seems clear; the easier something becomes, the worst we get at it. The need for orientation is becoming increasingly null, and with it our capabilities. We can find ourselves completely lost in the city we live, only a few streets down from the path we usually take. Perhaps we should hark back to our origins to realise how important our connection with the physical world is and remind ourselves that we are, after all, animals.

The dérive, in whichever way you decide to undertake it, can be a source of all this introspective knowledge that is currently camouflaged by our capitalist reality. The purposelessness of the act shifts our understanding of our environment, which is otherwise concealed behind the lens of commodity fetishism. Consumption is not only the root of our hyper-productive mentality but itself is a form of productivity. Refusing to consume means refusing to participate in society and is as equally ostracised as refusing to work.

Some critics such as Dawn Foster have made contemporary psychogeography a particularly female action by arguing that women suffer from the social obligation of efficiency more so than men. Furthermore, wandering the streets has distinct implications for women and non-cis individuals who to this day suffer from routine verbal harassment and constant fear of physical violence. Some women may feel empowered by the act of taking up physical space or transgressing their role as the ‘supermother’. The effect of the dérive can vary for different groups of society, making it an intensely personal experiment, but is by no means exclusive.

Despite the rise automation and artificiality, we remain human beings intensely affected by our physical environment. Without understanding how our surroundings affect our behaviour, we become increasingly disconnected from ourselves and from everybody around us, mindlessly buying into what is being sold to us as progress. Through the continued assessment of how our surroundings affect our psyche and instil our awareness of the city, psychogeography can be a key factor in the transformation of social and personal consciousness.

Words by Anna Aguilar.

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Review | Focus Kazakhstan: Postnomadic Mind

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Stepping into Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, originally built in 1890 to power the machinery of industrial London, the similarities between the history of the space and the exhibition currently situated within it become immediately apparent.

With its spaces of former industry now playing host to bars and art galleries, it seems apt that London — the former ‘factory of the world’ — should be the starting point for an exhibition series where post-industry and a changing of national/cultural paradigms are the prominent themes.

The country in this case is Kazakhstan, a vast country which stretches across central Asia, taking up a land mass close to that of mainland Europe. Until visiting this exhibition I was unaware of this, my only ideas and imaginations of the country being deeply rooted in its former being, pre-1991, as a Soviet state.

“Postnomadic Mind” is the first of four exhibitions that make up the Focus Kazakhstan project, the others taking place in Berlin, New York, and Suwon in South Korea. Although the sense of the past life of the Hydraulic Power Station is prominent, the space, near the site of the former London docks, seems almost purpose built for the art currently exhibited within it, dealing with as it does the question of epochal change between the Soviet era and Kazakhstan’s identity post-independence.

A common theme of the exhibition is the mixing of motifs between an idealised vision of a nomadic, rural people, and the transition to a post-industrial nation grappling with the pros and cons of globalisation. This can be seen in the work of artists such as Syrlybek Bekbotayev, whose piece The Modernist Paradigm shows a naturalistic painting of a nomadic family painted on to a series of rotating wooden mechanisms, each with each rotation forming new abstractions of the same image.

While the more conceptual installation work is the most striking and dominating of the range of the art that sprawls through the various caverns of the power station — the felt tapestry piece Labyrinth by Gulnur Mukazhanova being a memorable standout — there is also a strong painterly presence, such as the work of Vladimir Eyfert, whose 1957 painting Blizzard captivated me with its depictions of barren industrial landscapes in the midst of winter, which creates a feeling that is equal parts bleakness and optimism.

But despite the obvious progressive ideas of the artists in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, it is the art which alludes to the victims of the Great Purge in the 1930s th era that give the exhibition its definition. In particular Asel Kadyrkhanova piece Machine, in which endless reams of red emit from a 1930s cyrrilic typewriter, which then pin up hundreds of copies of real arrest warrants from the era, which also line the floor.

It is a moving, tragic piece, but one that gives the scope of Kazakhstan’s development, or at least, the development of its artists. For in this, the first major international retrospective of the nation’s contemporary art, the overwhelming takeaway is the depth and future of its art culture, and the vast possibility for the new identities and histories that its artists are forging, both national and personal.

Focus Kazakhstan: Postnomadic Mind will be at the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, London, E1W 3SG until Tuesday 16 October. Tickets available here.

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Words by Robert Greer

Interview | Richard Hearns

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Richard Hearns at Adare Manor. Courtesy the artist and Cadogan Contemporary

The acclaimed Irish artist Richard Hearns has an upcoming exhibition entitled Journey at Cadogan Contemporary. This will be the artist’s first solo show in London and will feature a collection of abstract oil paintings that are concerned with the alchemy of painting, what Hearns describes as an ‘… internal vision, something inside coming out’.

The paintings, many of which are life-size – literally the same height as the artist and spanning the width of his outstretched arms – are intensely physical acts, drawing inspiration from the discipline of martial arts, of which Hearns is a practitioner, and the rhythmic nature of Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland, the rural idyll where he lives and works.

Physical and instinctive, the canvasses are a flight from tradition. Until 2013, Hearns’ artistic practice was primarily focused on figurative work: still life and landscape. These abstract paintings are in every sense a journey, an attempt to capture something that is not fully understood. Moreover, Hearns’ paintings are a means to create and discover something new and exciting, guided by a belief that through the possibilities of art, there lies an answer to life’s unresolved questions, and that through paint, something fundamental can be revealed to the beholder and the artist.

On the occasion of his exhibition, we had the chance to discuss his practice and inspirations in more detail.

Richard Hearns, Concertina, 2017 © Richard Hearns,  by  courtesy  of  Cadogan Contemporary

How did you become involved in creating art? 

I became involved in art from a very young age. I think that encouragement from my parents, teachers and peers was what set me on my way. As a teenager and young adult I was always drawing. The need to express myself through art, to create, to make something beautiful has always been with me. I believe that it is the same for all artists. The art will out!

What inspires / motivates you?

The sense of discovery. The ‘stuff of paint’. Music. They all draw me to the studio. The chance to use my hands to endeavour to create something new and exciting is a fantastic motivator.

To what extent has your dual heritage, (Beirut & Ireland), influenced your work?

My father served as an Irish Army officer and UN peacekeeper. He instilled in me a love of travel as well as a deep respect for and interest in other cultures. I was raised in Ireland from six weeks so I am aware that nurture has shaped me to be Irish but Dad tells me that I have many positive Lebanese traits too, so nature must be kicking from inside. With regard to my art I believe that if those traits are coming through, whether I am aware of them or not, then my dual heritage must be playing some part. 

How would you describe your artistic practice?

I am an artist with a primary concern in painting. I would describe my practice as disciplined, diverse and eclectic.

When I am in my studio I explore painting by going between figuration and abstraction. The first is more a cerebral exercise where my eyes and my hands guide the paint. These works present a strong pictorial concept from the outset.

When I paint my abstract works there is an altogether more instinctive action. The work comes from some place deep within me. They surprise and present themselves. Working this way is very exciting and keeps me engaged on many levels.

Richard Hearns in his studio. Courtesy the artist and Cadogan Contemporary

Can you say more about your current exhibition Journey?

My exhibition at Cadogan Contemporary on Old Brompton Road is a collection of nineteen works. It runs from September 17th to October 5th.

Many of the works displayed are large-scale informal abstracts which are designed to be the size of my body or a space that my body could inhabit. What is presented to the viewer is a colourful painterly surface where the energy that was transferred is now balanced and floating in meaningful ratios on the canvas.

Richard Hearns Journey, Cadogan Contemporary, 17 September – 5 October 2018

87 Old Brompton Rd, Kensington, London SW7 3LD T: 020 7581 5451 |

For more information, visit Cadogancontemporary.com

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Words by Harry Dougall

Event Preview | HighTide Theatre

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After a hugely successful year in 2017, HighTide Theatre returns to Walthamstow for a second outing. Bringing a varied programme of theatre, comedy, music and activities for children, HighTide has announced an enticing line-up of local vendors and performers to lure residents back to the pop-up festival site of Walthamstow Town Square Gardens. 

The event will take place from 18th-30th September, and will be free to enter. Featuring a large bar and dining area housed in two giant heated tipis, with art pieces on loan from the Walthamstow wonderland God’s Own Junkyard, HighTide certainly looks the part. Its neon fantasies, restored and retro signs, cosy furniture and nostalgic pinball machines will transport you to another time. The bar will be a collaboration between local and national companies, featuring beer and cider from Walthamstow breweries Pillars and The Real AL company, spirits from Hunter’s Gin, and soft drinks from Peter Spanton.  HighTide will also host the local company Velopresso with their famous pedal-powered coffee trike, serving signature blends from the Waltham Forest coffee company Perky Blinders. 

Food will span from speciality sausages from Walthamstow Dogs, Vietnamese street food from Hanoi Câ Phè and Mexican street food from Wood Street’s Homies on Donkeys. At the weekend, Wendy’s Vintage Ices will serve their retro ice creams and lollies and Romeo’s Sugar Free Bakery will provide their trademark sugar-free cakes and biscuits. You’ll be spoilt for choice. 

The festival will host a range of local talent, inviting them to feature in the festival after taking part in Open Mics nights in Waltham Forest on the 4th, 5th and 6th September. Winners from these dates will perform in the bar during the festival, providing free entertainment. Performers aged 18-25 will also be considered for HighTide’s new talent showcase, Stars Over The Forest, at the Festival on the 22nd September. 

For ticketed acts, the programme features eleven family shows, among them the local company Baby Panda presenting Five Little Monkeys, visiting companies such as HighRise Theatre with Lil.Miss.Lady exploring the history of Grime, and Waltham Forest company Stand and Be Counted presenting Where We Began, exploring the concepts of home, featuring an international cast. The comedy programme features work from artists such as Arthur Darvill, Tim Key’s Megadate, and excitingly the arrival of five productions fresh from Edinburgh’s Fringe. 

HighTide’s centerpiece production, co-produced by their associated company DugOut Theatre, is a coming of age tale by Aldeburgh-based writer Tallulah Brown called Songlines, seen by Fest Magazine as riding ‘a wave of gentleness and compassion for teenage awkwardness’, and is elsewhere highly reviewed. Other productions include Jessica Butcher’s two-part ‘Sparks’, Danusia Samal’s gig-theatre piece ‘Busking It’, David Aula and Simon Evan’s ‘The Extinction Event’ innovative examination of what happens when science starts thinking for itself, and finally Harry Blake’s fabulous new comedy musical about Norse gods ‘Thor and Loki’, which has likewise been greeted with rave reviews. 

It promises to be another successful year. 

 

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Review | The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829 by Antonia Fraser

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In an age which has sidelined the Christian faith, the long, bitterly contested campaign to remove the serious discrimination suffered by Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom for nearly three centuries after the Reformation is seldom recalled, except by apologists for Irish nationalism. The struggle for Catholic rights lasted some fifty years, from the 1770s until 1829 when what had come to be known as Catholic emancipation was embodied in law by the Duke of Wellington in command of an obedient Tory government. Even when it was over, Catholics were often told they did not deserve their release from discriminatory laws. The 19th century Tory historian, J.A. Froude, wrote, ‘they who had never professed toleration, had no right to demand it.’

Toleration, however, gradually won the day. The first concessions in 1780 allowed Catholic priests to celebrate mass without fear of arrest and prosecution, and removed the risk of life imprisonment from those who established Catholic schools. The bar on the ownership of land, often disregarded in practice, was formally lifted. With the completion of the process of reform by Wellington, most public offices were opened to Catholics who were also given the right to vote in Britain (they already had it in Ireland), and to sit in both Houses of Parliament.

Left to their own devices, the politicians would have resolved the issue much more swiftly, but they were thwarted by two stubborn monarchs. The virtuous George III was adamant that the oath he had sworn at his coronation to uphold the Protestant faith, coupled with a blood- curdling denunciation of Roman Catholicism, made it impossible for him to permit emancipation. His dissolute successor, George IV, was no less resolute in his hostility, despite marrying a Catholic illegally and going to great lengths to charm Catholic Ireland during a wildly popular visit in 1821. Royal princes cursed emancipation in lurid terms in the House of Lords.

No one seemed particularly surprised or shocked by this display of intense Hanoverian partisanship. But though the crown’s right to determine policy was not strongly contested over these fifty years, its eventual, reluctant submission to Wellington marked an important moment in the shift of power from monarch to ministers.

In her 24th book, Antonia Fraser assembles a large cast of curious and colourful characters, much given to making outlandish remarks and fighting duels. They adorn a vivid account of a little-known historical episode, which unfolds with the verve for which the author has long been famous; at the age of 85, her vigour remains undimmed, along with her voracious appetite for research.

One of her own forebears was among the most intransigent opponents of emancipation. The 2nd Earl of Longford, head of the extreme Protestant Brunswick Club, set out on the hopeless task of trying to make his Irish Catholic tenants ‘love and venerate the Protestant religion and laws as gloriously constituted by the wisdom, and established by the blood, of our forefathers in 1688.’

It was an appeal to which many elsewhere responded enthusiastically. There was no majority for Catholic emancipation in the United Kingdom as a whole, and no threat of disorder from English Catholics. Wellington imposed emancipation everywhere because of the strength of the demand for it in the land where Longford had launched his fruitless campaign on behalf of the Protestant cause.

From 1812 onwards, a restless and eloquent nationalist leader, Daniel O’Connell, made emancipation the focal point of swelling Irish discontent. The case for economic reform, so obvious to British visitors appalled by Irish poverty, was set aside in favour of an issue that stirred even stronger feelings than the most acute hardship to be found in Western Europe. O’ Connell was described as ‘a glass in which Ireland may see herself completely reflected.’ It was in reality a distorted reflection which suited O’ Connell’s purpose of bringing Catholic Ireland under his control and demanding emancipation in recognition of his power.

Britain ended up conceding under duress in 1829 what its political elite would have happily bestowed nearly thirty years earlier at the time of the political union of Great Britain and Ireland, if the conscience of the king had not been so sorely troubled. Wellington handled the retreat in masterly fashion. He secured a sharp reduction in the size of the Irish electorate by revising the franchise to exclude most of O’Connell’s followers. He compelled O’Connell to disband the political organisation that had become the basis of his power. In England, most Catholics, loyal to a fault, felt deeply uncomfortable about achieving full civil rights as a result of Irish recalcitrance.

Antonia Fraser writes benignly about the participants on both sides of the campaign, rejoicing in the bloodless victory that was finally won. Wellington is commended for wearing down the resistance of the bloated George IV. O’Connell, the hero of the story, is forgiven for killing a fellow Irishman in a duel on the way to his triumph that enabled him to become an astute MP, observing that ‘ there is more folly and nonsense in the House than anywhere out of it’. Whig grandees are chided gently for speaking rudely about the pope.

Some rejoiced unduly in the hour of victory. In the holy city, word spread that a new saint had been canonised. Men struck their breasts and intoned, Santa Emancipatione, ora pro nobis.

BY ALISTAIR LEXDEN

The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829 by Antonia Fraser is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 

Fiction | About You by Marjorie Main

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Early on a Saturday morning in October I met Vivian at Liverpool Street Station. Stevie had a painting in an exhibition opening that night, and they were down for the weekend staying with her agent, Alex. I had just returned from a brief visit to Italy and instead of going straight back to Cambridge we had agreed that I would join them. After all, Stevie’s painting was a portrait of me.

I had only a leather weekender bag with me, and Vivian slung it over his shoulder, offered me his arm, and we wound our way out of the writhing crowds of the station. I let him lead me south, not thinking of where or why we were going. Stevie was, according to Vivian, so on edge with agonised suspense about the opening as to be unbearable. He had left her with Alex and fled.

The air surged coldly at us, and I walked closer to Vivian, who wore a charcoal dark woollen coat. When we came across a florist I slowed, thinking of Stevie.

So why did you go to Italy? Vivian asked as we examined bunches of fragrant lilies. Careful how you answer, through: Camille came to dinner while you were away and he seemed rather down in the mouth, and although not even Stevie’s most persuasive attempts could extract much from him, we figured out that you were the cause of his troubles. Have you two broken up?

We aren’t together.

But you obviously are, in some sense. Or have been.

No. I’m not asking you to define my interactions, Vivian. I’m capable of doing that myself, and Camille isn’t my boyfriend.

Well, it looks like he is.

Appearances can be deceiving, mate.

Well, if you’re sure.

Fuck off, Vivian.

So, how was Italy?

Nice, yeah. I met a friend in Milan and we went to Lake Como for a few nights, hung out, took in the sights etcetera.

You hung out. With a friend.

Yes. Next topic. Vivian laughed quietly at this. I threw him an impatient look and crouched down to breathe in the sweet smell of the tumbling late roses. Their petals were tinted with apricot and creamy pinks, and I gathered them into my hands.

These ones? Vivian asked, and I nodded. While the florist wrapped them in swathes of brown paper and tied a pink velvet ribbon around it all, I burrowed into my weekender and brought out Camille’s cashmere jumper, putting it on. Outside, we turned down Threadneedle Street.

I’m not going to comment on your jumper, Vivian said, and laughed.

Good, I replied. Do you have a cigarette?

They should be in my pocket, Vivian said. His hands were full of the flowers, so I dipped my hand into his coat and helped myself, lighting two.

Thanks, Vivian said, as I held one up to his lips. We picked up pace and I tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow. The flowers were gathered between us in a futile attempt to shelter them from some of the wind.

So, how have you been? I said.

Do you honestly want an update on all the thrilling things we old marrieds have been occupying ourselves with while you’ve been flitting around Italy and so on?

Something like that.

Well, it’s more of the same. Stevie panicking, yours truly callously attempting to get some work done.

You’ve been writing?

I have, in fact. Thank god. Finally! Vivian grinned at me and I laughed.

That’s brilliant, I said.

It feels good. I think I’m writing a short story at the moment – at least, that’s what I’m calling it, I don’t want to overthink it.

Cool. Hey, do you mind if we duck into the Royal Exchange? I need a replacement perfume.

By all means, Vivian said, inclining his head comically.

In the store, I asked for a bottle of my standard scent. As I waited for the assistant to hand me my purchase with suitable aplomb, Vivian smelled the tester curiously.

It does smell like you, he said, his expression ambiguous. It feels almost too intimate, he murmured, eyebrows hovering humorously.

Yes, perhaps this was indiscreet of me, I laughed. I do hope you won’t mind?

I’m just trying not to appear too delighted, Vivian laughed.

Perhaps now would be a good time to segue into a discussion of À la recherche du temps perdu?

Yes, we do seem to be preoccupied with olfactory experiences today. Perhaps we should have tea, and partake of madeleines while vigorously debating the finer point of Proust’s navel.

Would teatime be time enough for La Recherche? I asked with mock-solemnity.

No chance, Vivian said. But it’s a start.

We drank tea among the verdite columns of the Ned and then walked west along Cheapside. St Paul’s rang out the hour and we decided to visit the whispering gallery if the crowds weren’t too bad.

It’s interesting to regard the city as a spectacle, Vivian said. I was a boy here, I mean. The city is very familiar to me, but today it appears strange. It must be your company.

I’m curious about the notion of places as legible. Not just in terms of the poetics of space, but as a cultural artefact. One moves through the city and apprehends its signs and markers, the changes in architecture that indicate the evolution of time, the differences of economies, and the jumps in ethnic identity of localised zones. And then too there is so much literal text inscribed onto the city’s surface. All those place names, and advertising.

I really like this idea, Vivian said. The city as a text: it’s interesting.

Like, I often have this sensation when I’m walking through town, or when I’m at the supermarket, being overwhelmed with disparate information. It’s as disorientating as the endless newsfeed of social media. Vivian laughed at this.

I’ve never thought of it like that. You’re right, though. Sound too is another one. The music of the city, or some such: overheard conversations too, and the ebb and flow of traffic.

Right: noise pollution, and the hum of the city. This is also true of light.

Indeed, the city has a filthy halo of light pollution.

Weird, isn’t it? This pollution as a trace of culture, I mean. Also, I think that for most people nature is nowadays the least legible it has ever been.

Because the majority of the population is so urban, you mean?

Yeah. Like, perhaps in cities like this people are still capable of reading the weather, predicting its daily changes so as to dress accordingly. But few people know the names of the trees in the avenues, the birds hunting tobacco crumbs. Let alone anything less urban than that. It weirded me out when I moved to England for university. No one could tell me the names of the trees or birds. I had to buy a book to teach myself the Latin.

It’s actually quite unusual for someone to want to know those things. Vivian smiled. Especially some one of –

If you say something about my generation, I interrupted warningly. He laughed.

Alright, you caught me.

It makes you sound so old.

Wow, thanks.

Yeah, well. Ageism works both ways, mate, I smiled. I’ve read so many fucking think pieces that either malign millennials as the laziest and most narcissistic, entitled generation, or defend their predicament as a social rather than individual challenge.

What do you think?

Perhaps that the dilemma is not one of character but of means; I’m not sure.

What kind of means? Are you speaking financially?

Yes, in a way. I mean, I’m not interested per se in the millennial dilemma, but there is an increasing disparity between income groups that I believe is problematic. One manifestation of this gap is generational, but I also think that this economic instability is fundamentally infantilising in its effect on people.

You mean that a lack of income security renders people dependent? That’s true, whether on the state or parents, I can see that. But what about the emergence of so-called job snobs? People who refuse to work in a role that they think is beneath them?

Honestly it’s more often the salary than the role itself that is objectionable. This depreciation of labour is two-sided, and has financial consequences. The employee doesn’t value the worker, so doesn’t reflect the significance of the labour in the pay. Therefore the worker doesn’t value the labour, as it offers them no material reward. Capitalism is where feelings of solidarity go to die.

You would make a great unionist. I suppose you would support a universal income, too, with your youthful socialist leanings.

You do like misrepresenting my ideas as naïve, don’t you? I suppose it is easier to be amused than provoked into actual independent thought.

I’ve offended you, Vivian said apologetically.

You’ve made me think you naïve, I said, and we laughed.

Well, I am, really. I’m still profiting from the system that limits your peers and perpetuates classism.

Yes, you belong among the ranks of landlords.

Is ownership of property really so malevolent?

Well, yeah. Having to rent, coupled with having to rely on a casual income, is essentially crippling people. It offers no possibility of future security.

So I am the oppressor? Obviously I am speaking from the swampiest of moral grounds; I’ve inherited private means and property so obviously belong to that most despicable class of shareholding landlord baby boomer despots. I know I’d the bad guy.

Well, obviously. Owning a property makes you a card-carrying member of the capitalist bourgeoisie. You are protective of your financial security, and that makes it impossible for people poorer than you to eke out any semblance of security. You harness a profit from their struggle. And economically, people only really matter to society as property-owners, which is to say as shareholders within the economic model our society upholds.

You’re basically saying that poverty has become an entrenched problem within first world countries. I appreciate that these are increasingly inequitable times.

In a sense, yes. Our time is marked by inequity on so many levels: people of colour are poorer than their white counterparts. Men earn more than women. These are issues of race and gender, yes, and have wide-ranging consequences, which at their worst include racist hate crimes, and sexual violence. But the most constant and insidious level at which this inequality registers is economic. And people won’t have the time or means to act as their own advocates unless they have financial security. The threat of losing a job, and not being able to afford a place to live is too real, otherwise.

I’m assuming you also disapprove of rags-to-riches stories as capitalist propaganda?

Rather. Poverty infantilises people, yes. But it condemns them to suffering in multiple and complex ways, while capitalism disseminates this false ideal of meritocracy, which perversely teaches us to think of those who don’t get a to-riches ending, that is to say the poor, as being without merit and therefore deserving of all the suffering heaped upon them. It upsets me so much.

You’re a good person. Of course it upsets you, there is so much that is grossly unfair in the world. And I hate to ask, but how are your socialist tendencies paid for? Aren’t you here on mummy and daddy’s money?

Yeah, I can see how much you hate asking, I said, laughing. But I know what you mean.

We had reached St Paul’s, and came around by the back way, through the gardens, where leaves were already swirling to the ground. The cold wind sent the leaves frisking over the grass and paths, picking up pieces of litter as they moved like a creeping mould over everything.

I thought about how hard I’d tried when I first came to England to assert myself in crowds far worldlier than those I was accustomed to, and how I had grown to despise this. How my stance and voice had betrayed their origins by changing, rapidly and almost beyond recognition. But even at home, even in school, I had been asked this question, had it demanded of me that I state my position in society. I had long accepted the idea that whatever my answer was it would be unbelievable to someone. And now that I felt so far from my former selves I was taken up by a perverse inclination to insist upon my background, to insist that I was an outsider.

Of course, I said, as an individual my ability to pay my own way is reliant on the capitalist model. But no, my parents don’t pay for me. My privilege has a different face. I’m dependent on a scholarship; it pays my university and college fees, and I get a liveable allowance. My so-called academic merit has been deemed worthy of financial support. But I am essentially on the make.

What do you mean by that: on the make? Vivian asked, looking amused.

Oh, just that I am socially mobile in a way that misrepresents my economic status. Education has ruined me in terms of being able to fit properly within the binaries of rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged. It means that I’m a hypocrite, and that the socialist principles I espouse are not reflected materially in my lifestyle. I smiled at Vivian, who looked both bemused by this dissection of things that to his way of thinking shouldn’t be spelt out, and endeared to me.

I rather suppose I am guilty of misjudging you, Vivian said. He looked at me with a wry smile, and I laughed. I just assume that because you’re at a good university, he went on: that because you go to a very prestigious college, because you have read similar books to me and you can talk about Beethoven and Proust and because in the winter you wear a fur coat, I assume that your economic background is one of similar privilege to mine.

Vivian and I were almost the exact same height, and his shoulder felt dependable as we walked beside one another, in a way that I knew was misleading. He was waiting for me to reply, watching distractedly where we went, which was through the leaves towards the front of the cathedral, to the pale steps where a society wedding party was lingering in its finery.

That fur coat cost me six euro at an op shop, I told him.

Okay. But you have to admit, your taste appears expensive, educated: privileged. And then there is your voice.

Fuck you. What’s wrong with the way I speak?

You know, I’ve spoken to Stevie about this – about you, I mean; but in terms of your accent rather than finances.

What a horrifying prospect.

Well, quite. You’re precise, and eloquent: obviously educated and cultured, and speak in a way that demonstrates a rarefied level of understanding. But it is your accent itself that is disorientating. Stevie recognises some Australian idiom in it, but of a bygone era: her grandparents, with their money and post-colonial cultural cringe. But it’s also European in some turns of phrase, modern and Americanised in others, and an utter throwback in its turns of plumminess, which taken alongside your eccentricities has led a lot of people into thinking that you are rather posh. Your accent sounds moneyed.

When really I’m a fraud?

Yes, you really are the most dreadful phony. But no, perhaps an anachronism, but also a bastard child, or changeling: you are something quite new, as well as something out of a bygone time. Not an arriviste, perhaps, but as you say, someone on the make, culturally speaking. A self-made renaissance woman, I suppose.

I think that last bit was the nicest yet most morally ambiguous thing you’ve ever said to me, I laughed.

Well, I suppose that means I shouldn’t go on and say that your physical appearance also suggests a kind of privilege.

I made a face of distaste and Vivian laughed.

It’s true, he said. You are so beautiful that people are bound to assume your life is easy, that things are given to you on silver platters and you will never have to work to prove yourself.

That’s such a revolting misrepresentation, I replied.

Is it? Is it really? I mean, I admit it’s sexist.

Wow, that’s so self-aware, how admirable of you. Should I thank you for objectifying me, now?

We went into St Paul’s together, laughing, and Vivian joked: I’m trying my hand at this new-age man thing. I think I’m really pulling it off.

Please stop, I said.

Vivian laughed and we made our way up through the cathedral until we were standing beside the curve of its dome. St Paul’s was surprisingly quiet, and bore the traces of the wedding that had just taken place. There were very few people about, but lots of flowers.

Up in the whispering gallery we walked away from one another, directing our talk into the stone, sitting down when we heard each other from around the curve. We looked at each other from our positions of distance, and around ourselves at the cathedral itself.

Iris? Vivian’s voice came to me.

Vivian?

You know the story I’m writing, he said, and paused.

What about it?

It’s about you.

My skin went cold, and I knew I could endure anything. When I took a breath it was steady, and I said: aren’t they all?

x

Fiction | The Root of it All by Charlotte Newman

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Pavements slick from rain and a market at night, risen dripping from the oily roads like a brand new continent. Brunch alongside nails alongside jerk fish alongside brooms, alongside bright, bright Iro skirts and sweet and sour £2 and Dark & Stormys £8 and hair removal calls to Russia kale juiced with yogurt is better rubber soles plastic spoons but at least the beans are ethical. Two little boys sit with faces blue from a screen cupped in four warm hands and there’s plenty of music seeping from the decks but it’s the sound of the sirens that makes the little ones dance.

‘London brings out a madness in me,’ she says.

She’s eyeliner-theatrical, tights from last week, teeth brushed vigorously. Bracelets alongside bracelets alongside bracelets.

He doesn’t mind the madness, and when it flies in at the window, he helps it nest and when it’s calm, he helps it sleep. He’s only known 1am chips doused in salt and the way she makes him laugh and the ease at which she puts him and blue mornings nosing at the skylight while the neighbours make their beds, their breakfasts, their lives.

‘What do people see in brunch?’ He asks. ‘Why not just breakfast? Why not just lunch?’

He’s seven-years-abroad, he’s gum in his pockets. His voice is soft and his teeth, white by nature. He favours a tropical shirt.

She replies:

‘Brunch is for those who missed breakfast but love eggs.’

They share a love of filling their bellies. Tonight, it isn’t the subtlety of whitefish or the herbal tang of the Holy Land and it isn’t 2 for 1 at the pub either. Tonight, it is hamburgers, straight from the stall, taste the smoke, washed down with beer. Tonight, it is: sitting on what you can eating as much as you can while steadily slurping from beer cans.

They sit on a cart. Produce-free.

She swings her legs, finds it hard to stop.

They share a love of jokes.

‘What do you call an Icelandic pig?’

Checks her teeth are slaw-free, checks with him, he nods.

‘Pjork.’

‘Awful,’ she says, shaking her head. Laughing. ‘Awful. I love you.’

She does. She loves him pushing his bike so they can walk together in the rain. She loves his hand on hers when he delivers the awful, awful punchlines. She loves the copper of his skin, a new penny she would keep. He is the gentlest of men in the loudest of shirts – she loves his love of palm trees. Of toucans. Toucans mate for life. He told her that.

Little crescendos from passers-by keep them entertained –

Jen’s on here, Sarah’s on here, I can’t find any woman who – oh Christ, ANGE is on here!

Do you remember when we –

Can I just stop you there? No.

They stay later than they should, later than she’d planned.

‘I should go,’ she says, at half past ten.

They talk about the Americas – he’s been and she’s curious – they talk about wet jungle leaves and they talk about the money that they don’t have and then they buy a round at a themed cocktail bar and the bartender gives them the full-lipped smiles you extend to those who are young and floppy arms around each other drunk with it all – ‘Merry,’ she says, ‘just a bit merry’ – and they sit with a cushion between them. The cushion would be hot pink in the light but it’s dark now and they’re the only ones in this Himalayan lean-to in Zone 2.

‘I should go,’ she says, at ten past eleven.

They sip their citric drinks.

‘We should dance,’ she says, at quarter to twelve.

The DJ slows things down a notch and they look at each other in wide-eyed horror mirth and they cover their mouths and they wobble, giggle, squeal, burst. It’s the end of the night, the rubbish bags are piled up and their smell is in the damp air and a rumba takes place just in front of them. There is a woman and there is a man. The woman struggles to see through her black mascara stalks and the man is losing his hair and his rhythm as he rubs against her and mouths wetly in her ear I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry and maybe the BeeGees go some way to mending what is broken between them but that isn’t clear.

They watch each other watching the couple and she considers taking his hand.

He reaches for his phone.

He disappears for a minute or two, and when he comes back, she asks:

‘Hannah?’

And he says:

‘Yeah.’

To which she says:

‘So, are you…?’

And he confirms:

‘Yeah, I am, mate, I am. I should go.’

It’s twelve o’clock and she’s missed her train.

 

By Charlotte Newman

Short Story Competition | Prize-Giving Ceremony

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On Tuesday 28th March 2016 The London Magazine awarded the winners of the Short Story Competition 2016 during a drinks reception on the House of Commons Terrace. The prizes were presented by the guest of honour, Stanley Johnson, who praised the pleasantly unique and vastly contrasting stories. Judge Erica Wagner was also in attendance.

We would like to thank all applicants to the Short Story Competition 2016. The quality of work we received was remarkably high and entries were read with avidity and enjoyment by judges and The London Magazine staff alike. We look forward to holding the competition  again in 2017.

The winners are as follows:

First place: The Match Factory by Emma Hughes

Second place: I Have Called You By Your Name by Anne O’Brien

Third place: The Ideal Husband Exhibition by Dan Powell

All photos by William Reeve


Below is a speech given by Grey Gowrie on the night of the Tuesday 28th March

Thank you all for coming to The London Magazine’s Short Story Prize-Giving at the House of Commons. It has been a sombre week at Westminster. We mourn, and honour, the dead and the afflicted and pray for them.

The TLM is a cultural, not a political magazine but we are absolute that parliamentary democracy is good for culture. At its most basic level it is simply the ability of a large and registered electorate to dispose of one government and choose another. As Keats might have said, negative capability. We should not make many higher claims than this but when we look at other events this week, in Russia, these negative claims race towards the positive dial.

And our present grief at Westminster reminds us sharply of the connection between culture and politics. The dead inadequate man, who choose the most symbolic river crossing, and the most symbolic national building for his assault was not seeking gain. He expected, I imagine, to die. He was seeking identity. He needed to leave a bloody thumbprint on the sadly blank page of his existence. The unwritten poem is the sad thing; and the dangerous thing. W. H. Auden wrote a terrifying essay called “Romanticism from Rousseau to Hitler”. Our political systems do not give us an identity. They are designed to give the freedom to realise one as vibrantly and fruitfully as we can.

Now let’s turn to celebration. TLM continues to retrieve its old reputation as the place where new and young writers can appear beside established ones. We have a warm and generous patron, our own dear Lord Gnome, Burhan Al-Chalabi, has been a great friend of this, his adopted country. It has given him the freedom to forge an identity, to prosper and to pay back. He is happy to provide hospitality on his own. He comes from the most hospitable division of humanity, the Arabic speaking world. But the magazine does not, and must not, depend on him alone. So be sure to pick up, even to buy, your copies on the way out. I have tried to get hold of the Sergeant-at-Arms to lock the doors until you have all done so but I couldn’t reach him. Buy your copies, take out subscriptions. Give these to your children and god children. We do appear online, which is fine, but a disappearance of the printers will do untold harm to culture and civilisation.

TLM does not trouble this building for public money. It does trouble, and it should trouble, the reading public. It wants, for the health of our social democracy, to extend that public.

My fellow Irishman, fellow poet and friend, Steven O’Brien is the Editor. Derwent May, who edited the much-missed BBC Publication, The Listener, and I are honorary editorial advisors. Abi Lofthouse, Katie Yeomans and Lucy Binnersley, our Assistant Editor, run the show. And also – here I may cause a mass walk-out for political incorrectness – adorn the office. Vishaile Patel and Raj Tapa keep us fiscally pure and the show on the road. When I worked for the Tories I was liberal to the point of hysteria. Gay marriage in Westminster Abbey would have been fine with me. I am a High Anglican and where would that denomination be without a dash of gaiety. But I was always a fiscal Conservative. Spend more equals tax more. Keynes’s deficit finance was an intelligent response to an emergency, not a way of life. And as for quantitative easing… well, don’t get me started. I shall therefore end, as I began, with celebration and thanks.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

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“It’s not about how great the collection is. It’s about the photographers who took the photographs…how they changed the art form forever.”

While he still manages to rock over 100 gigs per year, the Rocket Man is also revered in most cultural circles as a tastemaker par excellence. He has always been an early champion of emerging talent, from Eminem in the 80s to Ed Sheeran in the 90s, and last April, he collaborated with Lady Gaga to launch a clothing line. Now, a major exhibition of international modernist photography at the Tate Modern proves that his private art collecting is as chameleonic as the public curation of his hairstyles and sunglasses.

Drawing from Sir Elton’s private photography collection—with over 8,000 works, it is one of the largest in the world—“The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection” surveys photography’s development in the early twentieth century, calumniating in a love letter to an art form. Beginning in the 1920s and ending in the 1950s, the exhibition is the first of its kind to focus on the period of major experimentations that followed the end of the First World War. Charting technological advancements and artistic movements alike, the curator Shoair Mavlian presents formal trials, avante-garde provocations, and pop spectacle that pioneered many of the medium’s movements, from Surrealism to the Bauhaus. Canonical figures such as Man Ray, Irving Penn, and Aexlandr Rodchenko headline the some 200 original prints, all created by the artists themselves. They are displayed in varying arrangements, from gallery-style straight lines, to small and large clusters that reflect the way photographers during this period hung their photographs in order to consider potential edits.

We are privileged to central biographical details behind the collection that shape the trajectory of the exhibition: Sir Elton began collecting photography in 1991, a year after he got sober; the photographs are maintained in the same frames as they are displayed in Sir Elton and David Furnish’s home. However, audiences will be disappointed if they expect any semblance of a tell-all fantasy fandom akin to 2013’s “David Bowie is” at the V&A. An unassuming aesthete, Sir Elton cheerfully demystifies his handiwork behind his possession in the audio guide’s introduction: “It’s not about how great the collection is. It’s about the photographers who took the photographs, what they were willing to experiment with, and how they changed the art form forever.” Indeed, the exhibition title is not a reference to the art buyer’s prescriptive gaze—it alludes to the camera’s altered way of seeing the world.

One of the great British artistic institutions was skillfully illustrated near the exhibition’s entrance—a complicit queue waited to individually inspect André Kertész’ “Underwater Swimmer” (1917). This tiny contact print, hardly bigger than a bag of tea, is all rippling refracted light and slicing musculature of a seemingly cadaverous swimmer—a beautiful male body, the model was Kertész’ brother. In an interview with the Telegraph, Sir Elton declared it to be the most important photograph from the twentieth century. But if Sir Elton had not provided special audio commentary to accompany this photograph, which is so engulfed by its oversized burnt-gold frame, would the general viewer have even noticed it? The exhibition’s double-rootedness in superstardom branding, and its spectacular survey of a visual art form, one that does not typically draw large museum crowds, anticipates polarised responses. But perhaps, for the groupie-cum-museum-goer, whether or not the exhibition delivers on the implied promise of its title is beside the point—it got you to look in the first place.

By M. René Bradshaw


The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection
Tate Modern
10 November 2016 – 7 May 2017
£16.50/£14.50

Hockney in L.A. by Robert Wennersten

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Image: appeared in The London Magazine's August/September Issue in 1973, Vol. 12 No. 3.

To celebrate the opening of David Hockney’s exhibition 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life at the Royal Academy, we’ve republished an interview with Hockney, which originally appeared in The London Magazine‘s August/September Issue, Vol. 13 No. 3, in 1973. Within this lengthy interview, Robert Wennersten talks to Hockney about success, teaching in his early career, and the artwork that hung on his walls many years ago.

David Hockney was in Los Angeles the first three months of this year to do a series of lithographs. On the day of this interview, after the morning’s work, he was off to a café on Santa Monica Boulevard for lunch. He ordered a curry omelette and a litre of white wine, then began drawing on the tablecloth with a silver cigar cutter. A moment later he looked up and smiled: ‘Never drink red wine during the day unless you want to take a little nap.’ His Yorkshire accent is soft, sometimes almost languid.

Hockney is a tall, large man, but well-proportioned and unnecessarily concerned about his weight. His hair, trimmed to medium length, is straw blond; and his pale blue eyes look out through big, round glasses. He wore a white shirt under a green pullover, a loosely-knotted red bow tie, and baggy blue trousers with deep cuffs that swept the floor. Hockney never wears matching socks.

During lunch he talked about London in the early-Beatles era, about his vegetarianism that ended in illness, about one of his Hollywood prints being reproduced in knit on a limited edition of expensive sweaters­­—‘I wouldn’t pay that much for a sweater’ —and about his plans for the next several months: New York for a few weeks and then Paris, to illustrate Flaubert’s A Simple Heart.

The meal over, he lit a cigar and asked, ‘Do you like junk shops? There are two just next door. We’ll go to the second one. The quality of their junk isn’t so good, but their prices aren’t as high as the first one’s.’ Inside the store, he walked quickly, stopping only twice: once to examine a dented tin thermos and again to flip through a book titled Your Mexican Maid, elementary Spanish for American housewives.

Then he returned to the studio on Melrose Avenue. In the room where he worked, some of his lithographs, in various stages of completion, were pinned to the walls. A corner table was stacked with colour Polaroid photographs of him and his local friends. Here and there were things he’d bought on previous trips to junk shops: a 1927 tourist guide to Burma and Rangoon, an old picture post card of Land’s End. Hockney set to work immediately, tracing a design onto a large, flat stone and talking all the while. When one stone was finished, helpers wheeled it out to the press and brought back another. In the intervals, Hockney answered more questions, scrutinised the lithographs on the walls or, chuckling, read aloud some of the tourist guide’s dated advice. ‘I’ve been to Rangoon,’ he said, ‘and the people there still think it’s 1927.’

When he quit for the day, Hockney went to his rooms on the fifth floor of the Chateau Marmont, a run-down, but elegant, hotel on Sunset Strip. It was growing dark, and the billboards outside his windows began to light up. Hockney opened a bottle of white wine and stretched out on the couch. He talked a while longer, then changed for dinner. Thanked for his time, he nodded and said, ‘I’m always happy to answer any question as long as it’s not put by the police.’

R.W: How did you decide on a career as a painter?

D.H: It never occurred to me to do anything else. I always wanted to be one. When I was a child, I was always drawing; and people thought the drawings were quite good. Perhaps I was eight years old when I decided that I was going to be an artist. I didn’t know how you became one, but I thought: Well, that’s what I’d like to be; that’s what I’d like to do. As I got older, I wanted to leave school early and get on with it; but I couldn’t, because you’re supposed to be at least sixteen to leave. But I got out at the first legal opportunity.

My parents wanted me to go to work, because none of my older brothers or sisters had stayed on at school after that age; but, as a child, I’d been quite naïve about how one earns a living, and the difficulty of earning a living as an artist hadn’t occurred to me. So, when I left school, I thought I’d have to be a commercial artist, because that’s how you earned a living doing art. I went around Leeds with a folio of work trying to get a job in a commercial artist’s studio. They all said, ‘Oh, you should go to art school for a bit.’ I only went around to two or three studios, although I told my mother I’d been to twelve; and I said to her, ‘They told me that I must go to art school for a little bit.’ So I went. I went when I was sixteen.

The moment I got to art school, I decided I wouldn’t worry yet about making a living and that I’d spend some time drawing and learning a few things. So when the people at the school asked me what I wanted to be, I said that I wanted to be an artist. They said, ‘Do you have a private income?’ I said, ‘What’s a private income?’ When they explained it to me, I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ And they said, ‘Oh, then you can’t be just an artist. It’s a ridiculous idea, because nobody makes a living as an artist. Be a commercial artist.’ My first reaction was: That’s a terrible thing to tell some sixteen-year-old. (At least you can have some ideals then; you can change your mind later.) But I was reasonably realistic and went along with them for a bit. Then, when they wanted me to study lettering and things like that, I got firmer and told them that I wanted to learn how to paint and draw. ‘Ah,’ they said, ‘what you want to be is an art teacher.’ I said, ‘All right. If that’s what I have to say to study painting and drawing, then that’s what I’m going to be.’ But I never really intended to be an art teacher.

You know, I was probably part of the last generation in England that went through art schools when they were still quite academically run. You simply did drawing and painting from life. They made you draw from a model all the time. The most elaborate thing you did was what they called figure composition: you had to compose pictures with at least three or four figures in them. That’s how I was trained. I don’t think that’s done anymore, because to find an art student who only draws from a model is extremely rare now. But fifteen years ago it was very common in England. I suppose today (though I’m not positive, because I’m not too involved with them) they’re more concerned with modern painting. Then, they weren’t. They didn’t think it was a necessary part of the student’s discipline. They simply felt that you should be taught some technical skills. Now they probably believe technical skills are irrelevant. Which, of course, they are to some kinds of art. But when I was sixteen, I believed everything they taught me; and later I realised that modern art wasn’t like they said it was. So, when I finally got to the Royal College of Art, I abandoned most of the things I’d been taught—other than drawing—and began again.

By the time I came to leave school, I was twenty-five—I’d spent four years in an art school in Bradford, two years National Service (I worked in a hospital) and three years at the Royal College of Art—and I’d already started selling pictures. I found that I could live on teaching just one day a week, so I taught etching at a school in Maidstone. I gave that up after about a year, when I’d finished a kind of ambitious work: I’d done sixteen etchings that made up my version of The Rake’s Progress and sold the whole lot. The publishers paid me £5,000 for an edition of fifty. With the money, I came to live in California and paint. I thought: well, I can live for a while off this money; and when it runs out, I’ll go back to teaching. Of course, what happens is that if you can work for a year on your own, you begin to get going and doing something. I sold more work, and I’ve never taught since.

Actually, you have done some teaching since then, haven’t you?

Occasionally. I taught once for six weeks at UCLA and for eight weeks once at Berkeley. Other than that, I’ve not done much teaching. I’m not very good at it. I don’t like it and get bored too quickly. I resent my time being taken up by teaching. I’m very conscious of time passing, so I’d rather do my own work. I much prefer working away on my own, as I suppose anybody would.

I’m not interested in art education systems. You can’t teach art. Well, you can’t teach it easily. I think you can teach certain skills, and I do enjoy teaching drawing a bit. But I’m not sure what use it is, how artistic it is, or how relevant it is to art.

Did any other students who were with you at the Royal College become prominent later?

Some became very influential. Allen Jones. Peter Phillips. Patrick Caulfield. Those are all people who were there when I was. I don’t know how well they’re known here, but in England they’re known reasonably well.

And do you know the work of R. B. Kitaj? Well, Ron Kitaj was in the same year. I got to know him pretty much straight away when we met there. He was a very influential person—and not just in the style of his painting. When I started at the Royal College of Art I was twenty-two, and he was probably about twenty-seven. That five-year difference in age was quite big then. Somebody who is a few years older usually knows a bit more and is a little more serious about work. That was one of his major influences on me. I mean, I was impressed with the seriousness and the diligence that he went about work. Somehow he was tougher and more serious than most of the students. The other students weren’t as clear in their views, as mature in their aesthetic ideas.

Often it can be a teacher who influences you. But in my case, it wasn’t. I didn’t respect the people who were teaching there at all, because none of them was quite an artist. So when I found somebody who was interesting and very serious about their study, it was stimulating in many ways. It really got me going.

You must realise that the average art student isn’t that serious about studying. In England, for probably, oh, seventy per cent of them, it’s a second or third choice. When I was a student, the only people I was interested in were those who seemed to have passion about art. Of course, that was a minority. It’s not as many as you’d think. But that’s probably true about anybody studying anything, isn’t it?

What did you think of London when you first got there?

When I first arrived from Bradford, I thought it was terrific; but I was a student, and I spent all my time working in the Royal College of Art, and I rarely left it. I used to get up very early in the morning and work there until ten at night, and then I’d just go and have a drink in a pub and go home and read. Very occasionally I went to the opera, in the balcony. I didn’t do much else. I mean, I couldn’t afford to do much else. A few years after that—after I’d come to America for the first time—I thought the city got dull. America was much more exciting. Now I enjoy London; but, you see, I’m always leaving it, I’m always travelling.

In some ways, I live a slightly domestic life there. All day I stay and paint, but in the evenings I do like to go out. I go to the opera—that’s the only thing I see in the live theatre—and I sit in restaurants and bars. There’s always something to do in London. You never get bored.

I’ve had the same flat in London for eleven years now. (In the end, I had to buy the building. Well, I didn’t have to buy it; but it was advisable, seeing I’d spent so much money on it.) Even when I lived in California, I kept it. I just locked it up or let people stay. I paid something like £200 a year for it, so it was cheap enough to pay the rent and go away for a year.

One of the reasons, of course, you don’t give up flats in London is that they’re very difficult to get. But once you’ve got one, as long as you pay the rent, you can’t really be evicted from it. It’s not like here, where you can find another place to live quite easily. In London you can’t; it’s very, very difficult. When I was a student, for instance, I lived in rooms, and at the end of each term I gave term I gave them up and found others. But the moment I found a rather large space to work in, I wasn’t going to give that up so easily. And you’ve got to have somewhere to keep everything—the paints and the books are things like that—and that’s as good a place as anywhere.

I like living in London as a kind of base. It’s very easy to go from there to Paris or Italy, or anywhere, so I do enjoy it.

Who are my friends in London? Well, I’m still very close and friendly with Ron Kitaj. He’s one of the few artists I’m close to. I’m close enough to him that I can discuss art with him a little. But most of my friends are not artists at all. They’re all kinds of people. Do you know Ossie Clark? He designs clothes, and he’s a close friend. Of my, say, twelve close friends, I’m sure you’ll never have heard of eight of them.

Several times you’ve mentioned living in California. When were you living here?

I lived here on and off for about four years. From January 1964 until July of 1968, most of my time was spent here. Say, eight months of each year was spent here and only four months in Europe. People in London thought I lived here. Every time I went back to London, they would say, ‘Oh, how long are you here for?’ I did regard it as going home, but they didn’t seem to think of it that way.

When I first came to California, I came on an intuition; and it was correct. I came because I thought it would be very sexy. One of the things that prompted me to come here was a magazine called Physique Pictorial. I noticed that it was published in Los Angeles, so I assumed that’s what life was like here. The photographs portrayed what a certain life was like in Los Angeles; and, in a way, it was true. They were accurate if you looked for it. So I thought the place would turn me on in many ways, in all kinds of ways. And it did.

I’d never seen a city like this before. In fact, there’s no city in Europe like this. I found Los Angeles quite exciting visually. Architecturally, it’s a fascinating city—especially the rows of houses that were probably put up in the ’thirties and ’forties in different styles and all made of stucco. Driving down streets like that, with the trees in front of the houses and along the curb, is beautiful. And buildings in Los Angeles often amuse me. This is the one place in the world where you can be driving around, and the buildings make you smile—laugh almost. You see buildings here that are caricatures of other styles. That’s funny, and it’s rare in architecture. Architecturally, I’ve always enjoyed Los Angeles. It’s very stimulating, and I’ve painted pictures of it and of life here.

But somehow it’s not as sexy now. In fact, America is less sexy now. At first I thought it was me getting older, but I don’t think so anymore. There was a marvellous, sexy tension here in Los Angeles a few years ago. Now it’s gone. It’s ironic, because today you can go see fuck movies, you can go in a bar and see naked people dancing about, yet it’s not as sexy. With everything being blatant, it’s lost a certain perverse appeal. It’s rather unerotic really. It used to be much sexier.

And people don’t look as attractive as they used to. I keep saying that I hate the Jed Clampett look. I hate moustaches. Or everyone trying to look like Robert Redford. It all seems too bland. I know people say everyone used to look alike in their crew cuts, too; but somehow that was more original, it was more Californian, it was more something you couldn’t see anywhere else. Now people look the same here as in New York. Los Angeles has lost a lot of its original look.

I don’t want to say that drugs have ruined things. Maybe there’s something in that, but I’m not an authority. People look a bit more haggard; they don’t look as beautiful. And they’ve got, or they seem to have, more interest in drugs than anything else. It’s a pity that people should be more interested in drugs than in other people or other aspects of life.

Speaking of fuck movies, have you ever seen a good one?

No, not a good one. Most of them are so awful. They’re all too medical. They look as though they were meant to do the community some good in passing on medical knowledge. I always think that I could make them far better, but I’ve never got around to it. Usually, if I decide to do something, I do it; so I suppose I’ve not yet been that serious about making one. Maybe one day I’ll have a go at it, but I’m too busy with everything else at the moment.

How are you spending your time in Los Angeles this trip?

I’m working away every day making six lithographs about the weather. I’m doing rain, sun, wind, snow, frost, lightning, mist and a rainbow. I’ve not done complicated colour lithographs in a long time, not since 1965. In the evenings I go home and read, which is a bit unusual for me. Although I do go out to movies a lot, catch up on movies I never saw in London. And I go to bars.

I know a lot of people here, but I don’t know many of the artists who live here that well. (Don Bachardy is the one I know best, I suppose.) I know other people better. I know Christopher Isherwood, for example, better than I know most any artist in Los Angeles. Then there’s Nick Wilder* and his friends. Nick’s friends aren’t all artists; they’re all kinds of people. The people I know here are similar to those I know in other places. You always get to know similar kinds of people, don’t you?

You were once planning to build a studio in the south of France. Does the south of France attract you for the same reasons as southern California?

In a way. It’s warm and pretty in the same way southern California is. In a sense, it’s a great deal prettier. Summer evenings in the south of France are very pleasant. Sitting in a little square or harbour and drinking is very nice. But there’s lots you don’t get there: you don’t get the fuck movies, you wouldn’t get the bars. (I mean, not the same kind of bars.) On the other hand, you get better food. I like the south of France a great deal, and I go a lot from London. I don’t think I’d actually live there, but I love going to stay for a month. I’ve taken a house down there for a month at a time and done drawings.

Does New York turn you on?

I’m sure it’s the art centre from every point of view, but it doesn’t attract me as much as California. New York is like a European city without the advantages. New York is quite beautiful if you live in Brooklyn and look over the river to it, or if you fly in an aeroplane above it. On street level, I find it ugly. The views you get are beautiful for a while, but they become incredibly monotonous. Those long, long streets, and all you see is a long avenue. And the buildings are too tall. At street level, New York is not exciting; whereas most European cities at street level are very beautiful. Paris exists only at street level, doesn’t it? Yet life in New York is exciting. Nobody would say it was dull, would they? When I first went there, I thought it was fantastic. I was terribly excited by it, but the more I come to California…

I go to New York frequently. I go to New York more than I come here, because it’s nearer. But I’ve never actually done any work there, other than just draw when I was passing through. I’ve never done any paintings there, never done any prints there. There’ll come a time when I have to try it and see what it’ll do for me.

But I’ve decided that I’m going to try working in Paris first. I’ve never worked there; and it’ll be change, after Los Angeles, to have a bit of French culture. I’ve always enjoyed Paris very much and done a lot of drawings there. But I’ve never stayed longer than a week or a few days; I’ve just made nips over from London. So I want to try Paris before I try New York.

You’ve been talking lots about architecture. Do you have a special interest in it?

Yes. I take a visual, figurative artist’s interest in it. When I travel, I look at architecture. In Europe I’m always interested in architecture, and I usually check guide books when I’m travelling and find out what’s nearby. I know what I like, and I read about certain kinds of buildings. I make the detours and visit Gothic cathedrals or Romanesque cathedrals. I love the one at Vézelay in France. That’s the most incredibly beautiful Romanesque cathedral. As for the other sorts of buildings, I like the turn-of-the-century hotels on the Mediterranean. They look good. And I love the colonnade in the park at Vichy. It’s glass and iron, which is a terrific combination in a building. Locally, one of my favourites—mind you, this is an interior—is the dining-room of the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. That’s one of the prettiest rooms for breakfast in the United States.

I would say that I was a lay lover of architecture. Actually, I suppose my knowledge is slightly more than the layman’s, but it’s nothing like an architect’s. It’s not an incredible passion with me, but it is a strong interest. Architecture is a very solid art. You have to live with it for some time, so it should be good.

What’s the state of English art in general?

I suppose the state of English art is not as interesting as American art on the whole. But, to be honest, I don’t think American art is that interesting either. Perhaps American art is a little more interesting, but it’s like talking about the difference between numbers 35 and 37. The difference is slight.

There are some good things going on in England, and there is lots going on that I don’t have much sympathy for. I mean, I don’t care about it one way or another: I don’t think it’s bad and I don’t think it’s good. There are just lots of things in art that don’t interest me at all. For instance, I get more and more bored with abstract art. It does so little for me that I don’t care about it. I’m not involved in its aesthetic politics, so I tend to ignore it. I wouldn’t rush to any exhibition of it. Conceptual art interests me to an extent—there’s a certain amount of wit which I like—but I’m never moved incredibly by it.

So I have to admit that there aren’t many English artists that excite me right now. Apart from Ron Kitaj, there aren’t many figurative painters working in any serious way. There just aren’t many of us. Francis Bacon, certainly. Richard Hamilton. Peter Blake. Richard Smith. (In a way, Richard Smith is an abstract painter, but far the most interesting one.)

And there are Americans who are still interesting, I suppose. Andy Warhol doesn’t pain anymore, but I love his movies. And I might go out of my way to see what Jasper Johns is doing these day. But the bulk of American painting is abstract. There is all that photographic realism too, but I don’t find that very interesting either. It is for a short while, but it doesn’t offer enormous possibilities. It’s a vision which completely relies on the camera, and the camera has to look at things in a certain way. (What makes photography interesting is its choice of subject matter, not the way the picture’s done.) So you always have to look at the subject in the same way. I cannot see how that sort of vision can be developed a great deal. In short, there aren’t many interesting painters. There’s just not much good art being done. It’s the same everywhere. We’re going through a fallow period.

I used to, as it were, worry about the art activity of my time. Now I tend to withdraw more into my own ideas and carry on with them and ignore a lot of other things. If you don’t, you get a big bogged down in them.

But I’m not pessimistic, because what’s going to get exciting is that there will be a re-evaluation of many things. There’ll come a time when we’ll re-examine concepts which were accepted perhaps a bit too readily in the past. I mean, if in the end what we think of as modern art led up to a sterile intellectualism, then one will trace back to find out where something went wrong. Painting is still rooted in the past—as it probably should be—so one simply goes back a little into the past and re-examines. Perhaps then one will find out what was wrong about this or wrong about that. For instance, I think it was wrong to assume that abstract painting was the great thing it was, that it was the answer and that all modern painting should be abstract. I don’t think it should, because it’s all boring now. So, obviously, to look at it intelligently, one will re-examine it, look back to where it came from and re-examine a few concepts there. I think it was Kandinsky who said—what, in 1915? —that he saw pitfalls, and he saw how abstract paintings could become simply an ornamental art of interest but not very profound. That’s almost where we’ve gotten to recently.

You know, I do think that one thing that’s terribly good—well, it was very good for me—was the fact that living outside your own country for a number of years does put its art into perspective more. I suppose living outside any community does the same thing. If you’re an English artist and you’ve never left England, English art is much more important to you than if you go and live abroad. You’d tend to give it much more importance than it really has, because you’re always more in interested in the art of where you live. On the other hand, if you’ve never been to England, you’d probably go to the opposite extreme and dismiss it when you shouldn’t. You see, a lot of art is never exported; ideas aren’t exported; so one doesn’t know about them. As you well know, there must be artists here in Los Angeles who have quite a reputation locally and outside the city are not too well known; they are not well known, say, in England. And vice versa. There are a great number of English artists who in England are highly thought of as people who have done interesting work; and in America they’re hardly known, on the continent of Europe they’re hardly known. So when you live abroad, you’re able to look at things with more detachment and get a better perspective on ideas. Then you can see what is good, what is interesting, what is not interesting. That you can only get by living abroad for a long time.

What art do you live with? What’s on the walls of your London flat?

Not too much. I have a few things people have given me. I have some Picasso etchings. I’ve some etchings by Helleu, some prints of Richard Hamilton’s, some drawings by Peter Schlesinger and two or three paintings that I bought from a young English artist, Steve Buckley.

You once said that your style changed in 1965. What was so special about that year?

I must have just picked a year. My work didn’t change just like that. If you look at the work, you wouldn’t say it changed instantly. I suppose I chose 1965 as a kind of watershed. That was a year when ideas became a lot clearer, when I somehow made a bigger stride. I think I made a bigger stride in 1965, say, than in 1964 or 1963; and maybe there’s not been a year since then that I felt I’d made such a break from previous ideas.

Some artists, of course, do just stop doing a certain thing and start something else completely. I’ve actually never done that. I don’t think it’s a bad thing; often it’s good. People come up with a slightly different attitude and completely different solutions. I know artists who have done it, and they, of course, could be more precise. They could probably give you the year, the day and the hour. I can’t because it was a rather lengthy process.

Who influenced your early work?

Oh, on the early work there are an awful lot. They’re reasonably obvious. Like in style. One time I was quite influenced by Dubuffet. Quite influenced by abstract impressionist techniques: the way you put paint on, the way you might make a gesture with a brush. I was influenced, I think, by Klee and the people everybody is influenced by: Miro and Picasso. (I might mention that Picasso’s recent work still interests me. I bought a little etching of his from 1968 that’s fantastic. And, actually, Dubuffet still interests me too, as does Balthus.) But the influences did change, because I became more realistic; the style became more realistic.

I still like to fluctuate, but it’s more difficult in painting. In prints I can do it; I’ve found that there the solution is a little easier. For instance, I did a lot of etchings illustrating six stories from the Grimms, and within them they move about an enormous amount. One of them could be completely abstract. (What the design represents is not clear at all. It could be simply treated as these rather weird shapes. It’s only with the title that it becomes clear what it is and what it means.) Some of the others are incredibly literal, taken from the dramatic situation in the text. I found that graphic solutions are easier, perhaps, than painted solutions. I still haven’t quite, I think, been able to do it in paint. That’s why I keep trying.

You once mentioned that your taste was becoming less catholic. In what way?

What I meant was that I was getting more sure of my taste. When you’re a young artist, you go along with the general consensus of other artists and think: Well, yes, that’s very good. You don’t commit yourself too much. It’s a question of committing your taste in the same way you commit your ideas to canvas. You become more committed, more sure.

And as your idea of your own work is becoming clearer, you begin to drop things that you’re not that interested in. Such as, as I’ve said, abstract painting. Now a great deal of that obviously has a natural beauty about it in a sensual way, but for me that isn’t enough. I’m not that much of a sensualist in painting; my own pictures, I don’t think, are like that. So one tends to leave behind ideas about using things like that. Then you find that you’re clearing up, clearing up the edges. The periphery shifts. The whole centre shifts. It’s a natural process. I’m sure it must happen to any artist.

You just said that you didn’t consider your own work sensual. Well, that’s one of the points about your pictures, isn’t it? I mean, you can take an erotic subject—say, a naked boy lying in bed—and treat it in a very detached way.

I treat most of the subjects I do in a detached way. But I think all art is rather detached in that sense. The purely erotic in art isn’t finally, it seems to me, interesting enough. I’m not saying that it isn’t nice having sexy pictures, but the point of the art is not just to titillate. There are all kinds of different purposes for art. So one is better off having a certain distance from things, a kind of detachment. Sometimes I wish I could be more detached than I am. At times I could be as detached as Matisse was when he drew. I don’t think I could, and yet I’d love to. I admire it.

Often art can be better than nature. At times you can improve on nature. But I’m not sure you can in an erotic situation. I’m not sure art can improve on that. I guess the truth about erotic art is that if it’s just the sexiness of it you’re liking, the real thing is always better, isn’t it?

Your work seems to be very English, in that it’s usually narrative. In this respect, do you think of yourself as an English artist?

Well, English art has a narrative tradition more than, say, French art or even American art. (Although American art has a little narrative tradition.) But if you look at it that way, then, yes, my work falls in line with certain known English attitudes to the visual arts. I’d never thought about it, because it’s not something you sit down and think about until somebody asks you.

In English art there’s always been a certain element that the English have liked, and I would say that I fitted in with that a bit. The English have always tended to like artists on their own, rather than schools. Even within what was a very English school, the Pre-Raphaelite painters, there were very different attitudes. They were really quite idiosyncratic. Whereas in other countries—in America now, for instance—people talk about a mainstream of art. If there is an English mainstream, it meanders all over the place. In the American sense of the word, I’m not a mainstream artist at all.

At one time, when I was younger, I thought about that a bit. You know, one wants to be involved in the ideas of your time and what’s going on. Then I sorted things out. I realised what I was up to and abandoned ideas of belonging to a mainstream. It just doesn’t worry me.

What attracted you to the idea of illustrating Cavafy?

I’d liked his poetry for a long time. Some of the very first etchings I ever did were based on Cavafy poems. They were done four or five years before I did the book.

I mentioned earlier that I did a set of prints from 1961 to 1963 based on Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress. That was published as a loose set. I thought about making another group of prints on a particular theme, and then I thought it would be nice to actually make a real book and print them in it. You know, a hand-printed book. All the time I kept thinking of Cavafy. I’d always wanted to illustrate his poems, so one day I stopped painting and sat down and did them. In the end I only did the love poems, though originally I wanted to illustrate a lot of the ones about the politics of ancient Egypt and the Ptolemies. There’s a terrific one called Waiting for the Barbarians. I’m still waiting to do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it one day. I meant to put that one in at the front of the book, but I never got around to it; and somehow the book had got large enough, so I stopped. But I think they’re very beautiful poems.

Poetry is one branch of literature I’ve always kept reading. I once read novels a great deal, then I stopped, and lately I’ve started reading them again. But poetry I’ve always read. I’ve read all the classic poets. I have my favourites, and occasionally they alter. I was a great fan of Walt Whitman, and I did paintings from his poems. And an English poet I like, though he’s not considered that much as a poet, is Thomas Hardy. (People read his novels, and his poetry is rather ignored.) The truth is that I do like poetry, and so I read anything that I come across. But, as I said, I have a weakness for what would generally be called the classics. And it’s the same with novels, because I hardly ever read trashy novels. I used to read other kinds of trashy books: semi-sociological things like The Arms of Krupp. I was always reading trash like that, and I got fed up with it. So I thought: Why waste your time, David, and why don’t you start reading something good again? So last year I started re-reading Proust. I got into it so quickly and enjoyed it so much, I’ve not stopped. I mean, I finished that and then kept on reading novels. Maybe I’ll stop now and go back to trash.

In the Cavafy etchings especially, isn’t there a certain amount of propaganda?

Yes, and I suppose it’s half intended. Earlier paintings contained what one could call propaganda for various things. At one time I was a very keen vegetarian, and I used to do paintings about that. I think I even used the word propaganda myself about them once. But it’s propaganda at a rather low level. If you really wanted to propagandize, you wouldn’t do etchings. Although you could always ask people to see them.

You once said that if you’d been able to find sexual satisfaction in Bradford, you might have become reconciled to the place. So at one time sexual happiness was a determining factor in your life. Is it still a major influence?

Not as much. When you’re eighteen or twenty and just starting out, you move where you think you might get it. It still plays a part; but now I wouldn’t mind, for instance, going to the desert and reading for a year. I’d like that actually. (It’d be something else that’d drive you to do that, wouldn’t it?)

Anybody from a small town, if they want to find out about people and things, naturally wants to leave. I used to think that the only thing that might have been strong enough to keep one back there would have been something that was sexually satisfying. Now I think that’s not true. It wouldn’t have been strong enough; because you’d always think you could get it somewhere else, and you’d want to go off.

Certainly your sexual inclinations have influenced your work.

They influence your life. So, of course they influence everything. And if you paint the way I do, your life influences your work and your attitudes. If you painted stripes, it wouldn’t influence your work too much, would it? Or maybe you’d paint them horizontally.

You’ve said that illusion and artificiality in art were related to illusion and artificiality in life. Were you making a point about your own work and life?

I don’t necessarily think so. What I meant was: What is real life and what is not? I do think that there is a distinction between art and life. Recently a lot of artists have tried to show that there is not, and that art and life are one. I don’t share that view. If art and life are one, then there’s no such thing as art. It’s cancelled out. Maybe life if very rich then, but what we know as art and the experience of art wouldn’t exist.

There are aspects of life that have artificiality about them that’s appealing. They’re appealing in the same way that art is appealing. Look at artificial flowers, for instance. One can look at them with horror and say how awful they look compared to real flowers; or you can look at them with a slight smile and think they were perhaps meant to be art, and that they could have been art. After all, one could do a sculpture of flowers, and, if it were done well enough, it would be art. But a normal artificial flower is not art. So one can smile at it and think that it was a attempt, a strange attempt at art. And you can stick them in a vase, and they do look real until you get up close.

That kind of artificiality, it borders. It borders on art without ever being art. One can see a connection, and things like that interest me. Even in the way, sitting here, I can look outside and there are all those horses galloping on that Marlboro ad. There’s a certain point where you can sit and think there’s a bright cornfield out of your window. Yet you know it’s not; it’s this great big poster out there. Even though I hate billboards and think they’re ugly and spoil things, it’s got some strange appeal. From here, looking through the curtains and seeing that scene, there’s something mad about it that’s terribly nice. There aren’t many places where you can look out and see brightly lit horses galloping through corn. And we’re five floors up!

You know, hardly anyone would have recognised Jackson Pollock, and few people would ever recognise Richard Lindner or Robert Rauschenberg. Yet you’re immediately recognisable. What difference has that made to you? Do you set out to create David Hockney?

Well, I didn’t consciously set out to do it. Often people create themselves, don’t they? I mean, they create the personality; they invent themselves. I probably did that. But one doesn’t do it in the sense that you’re inventing it for other people. You’re inventing the personality for yourself. That’s how it works.

I didn’t mean to be visible, and I can’t say that I enjoy it much. One of the pleasures of coming to Los Angeles is that I’m less visible here. There are people here who say: Oh, yes, I know your work. But certainly the ordinary person in the street wouldn’t recognise me. Whereas in London I’m well aware that some people know who I am, but they would never know a painting of mine. Sometimes it gets you down. At any rate, I don’t give it much thought.

Do blondes have more fun?

From my experience yes. I’ve been a blonde now for twelve years.

Didn’t you go through a gold-lamé phase in your life?

No. I only wore that gold coat twice. Once, because the Royal College of Art gave me a gold medal. I saw the absurdity of that medal, and, walking up Charing Cross Road, in Cecil Gee’s I saw a golden jacket for a band leader or someone like that. I suddenly thought: Oh, that’s what one should wear for a gold medal, because then the medal would disappear. So I went in and bought it on the spur of the moment, simply as an amusing thing to do. The second time I wore it was for some photographs which Anthony Armstrong-Jones took, and of course those made it rather famous. I hated that coat, and afterwards I wished I’d never worn it. I’d never wear it now.

What difference has money and success made in your life?

I don’t think it’s made much difference. Instead of hitchhiking, you can travel first-class. And you can eat better, which is one thing I do like.

I was always happy no matter how much money I had, because money doesn’t mean that much to me. I don’t care about it. I spend all I get. I throw it away. It just disappears. And the more money you have, the more dependants you have. It doesn’t make much difference.

At one time when I’d got quite a bit of money, some lawyer said to me, ‘If you go and live abroad, you won’t have to pay as much tax.’ Then he said, ‘That’s what I’d do too, but I thought I’d advise you.’ I mean, what’s the point? If you earn some money and you can’t do what you want to do, it’s terrible.

I’ve been told that you draw a great deal, and that the people around you virtually jerk the drawings out from under your pencil or pick up drawings you leave behind. Is this true? And if it is, does it annoy you?

It’s slightly annoying. I do draw a lot, because I like drawing. And drawing, for an artist like myself, is the most immediate form of expression. You just do it intuitively, straight away. Therefore, the drawings are the most personal form of expression one does.

I’m well aware that people like them or want them—even things I would consider scraps—so I’m more careful now. If I think they’re bad, I tear them up. A lot of them I put crosses through and keep and decide later. The fact is that they’re very expensive. (Although I’ve always thought my art was very expensive. Even when it was $200, I thought that was very expensive. For a painting, I thought that was a lot of money.)

Now I’m more careful what I let go from the studio. I do give a lot of drawings away; but I give them away, because I think they’re OK. That’s the same as giving them to a dealer. You just give things you’re proud of. I wouldn’t give away lousy drawings; I’d tear them up. People say, ‘Why don’t you give it to me?’ and I say: ‘Well, I’ll give you something else, because I shouldn’t give you something if I don’t think it’s good.’ But then they say, ‘Oh, let me have it.’ If I’ve drawn them, and I don’t like it—especially if I tear it up in front of them—they get a bit annoyed. Then I feel terrible, because I’ve wasted their time. I’ve made them sit for an hour, and then I just tear it up. But I can’t find any other solution. I don’t know what one should do.

Do the business aspects of art concern you much?

No, I never get too involved in it. I’ve stopped worrying about it. I run away from it. I hardly ever discuss money with dealers. I leave it to them and assume they’re trustworthy. I probably could be swindled very easily, but I prefer it that way. I can’t get worked up about money. (Mind you, the truth is I say that because money is the least of my problems at the moment. I have no idea what it costs me to live, but I do know that I’ve quite sufficient money to live how I want to live and work how I want to work.)

And, you know, there’s no fixed price for art. The price, obviously, is simply what somebody will pay for it. If somebody’s willing to pay a high price, that must mean they like it. I know there are other arguments about how they’re investing their money and that they think somebody else will pay more for it. But somebody else will pay more for it only if, in the end, that somebody else likes it. So it seems to me it’s not worth discussing at length. I don’t bother with all that myself. It’s a problem I push under the mat.

Have you ever felt any weariness with drawing and painting and a desire to try something new? Can you imagine a time when you might give them up and move on to other things?

I could imagine it, I suppose. But it’s not likely in the near future, because I still have a few things that I want to do. Ideas, as it were, that will keep me preoccupied for the next two years are still in my head. I’ve not got disillusioned about painting—not yet—not to do them. I’m an extremely visual person, and I believe that the static image has still got great power. Therefore, I’m not likely to reject it easily. Some people, you see, do. They think there’s no real point in painting anymore. They think the static image is not that powerful or that the photograph can do it. Well, I don’t believe that. Photography is pretty good, but there are lots of things it can’t do that painting can do. So I’m a defender of painting, and I imagine I’ll be painting for quite some time.

But I have occasionally thought of making a movie. I was thinking of making a movie based on Huysmans’ novel Against Nature, which I thought would make a good film. It’s a lot about the senses, isn’t it? Somebody could make a good film of it. I thought I could, actually. I assume I’ve not got around to it, because I’m not ready. I realise that I’m a person with a certain amount of energy’ so, as I said before, I usually do what I want to do. If I wanted to make that film very badly, I’d somehow get it together and do it next week. I’ve not done it yet, so…

Transcribed by Laura Garmeson


The London Magazine, August/September Issue in 1973, Vol. 12 No. 3.

This interview first appeared in The London Magazine, August/September Issue in 1973, Vol. 12 No. 3, which was originally priced at 90p.

Iain Sinclair and Will Self on Walking London

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Panorama of London by Claes Van Visscher, 1616

I’ve got a new eternal certainty to file alongside death and taxes: if you walk around London enough, and you know what he looks like, you will eventually see Will Self. My friend Hannah noticed him outside a Chinese restaurant near Charing Cross. My buddy Ben saw him on the road between St. Pancras and Euston. I’ve bumped into him on a stroll through Hampstead Heath. One day, it will happen to you too.

This is because he loves walking. He really loves walking. In fact, he and Ian Sinclair are key figures in the modern incarnation of psychogeography; a field that involves drifting around urban areas with a sense of freedom and philosophical inspection. Whilst it’s Parisian mid-century beginnings imbued it with a radical leftist political edge, it’s now become something more playful and therapeutic whilst maintaining its philosophical bent – i.e., it’s still about people reclaiming the streets, it’s just that the meaning of that phrase has changed.

In the tranquil grandeur of the Victoria and Albert Hall’s Lydia and Manfred Gorvy lecture theatre, Will Self and Iain Sinclair – both notable writers of the art of walking – took a break from their endless perambulations around London to talk about what going from place to place on one’s own feet means to them. The great relief of the evening was that, despite the subject’s arcane academic roots and Will Self’s tendency to announce things like “this whole imbroglio is epiphenomenal” on Question Time, the talk was both accessible and fun.

The crucial argument of both Self and Sinclair is that you never really know a place unless you’ve walked around it. It’s how you change London from abstract spaces around tube stops into a vibrant living city – Self explained how you come to feel the physical geography of London as hills leading up from a valley river that lie beneath so many buildings and roads. You communicate with London’s character: he expressed his (surprisingly optimistic) belief that the current trend for landscape distorting skyscrapers and oligarch-funded planning is no match for London’s ‘anarchic, hallucinatory personality’ – when you walk around it enough, you realise that what’s innately ‘London’ is also eternally ‘London’. He was more pessimistic about technology; he’s upset by the sights of people walking the streets with one eye on Google maps on their phone, their minds full of social media rather than architecture and living history. “They’re only half here, and half present on some virtual plane”. People are losing the ability to get truly, beautifully lost.

Urban walking has a surprisingly serious side. Self spoke about how it helped to occupy him after he gave up drugs, and how teaching the subject to recent immigrants to Britain had helped them become more connected with a land they felt alienated from. Walking really aids the mind in so many ways: it’s not for nothing that Nietzsche said “I never trust an idea that didn’t come to me on a walk.”

Self and Sinclair are persuasive champions of the cause, and it was a fascinating, eye-opening discussion. I’d never realised how much walking did for you, and how much there was to think about it. Incidentally, I’d walked to this lecture to get into the spirit of it; a two-and-a-half hour stroll from Hendon station down the Edgware Road. I can authoritively tell you that it does feel really good, and is both far more interesting and less tiring than you might imagine. I really recommend leaving the oyster card at home next time you have to transverse the city. For a talk about an obtuse academic, philosophical field this was hardly abstract, purely theoretical subject matter: it’s something you can really feel – if you choose to get on your feet.

By Rory McCarthy

The V&A are currently doing a series of evening events that you can find out about here.

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