Salford Museum & Art Gallery – Superb Fun, Manchester

Salford Museum & Art Gallery – Superb Fun, Manchester

Salford Museum and Art Gallery sits atop the famed Peel Park which is itself well worth visiting. My friends and I went here as our first stop in what was to be a jam packed Friday. See below my personal highlights.

Somehow the museum managed to re-create a street in late 19th Century Salford. This was a show stopping triumph for me. Going down the cobbled street (which smelled much better than it must have done at the time) and being able to look into a dozen different shop and home fronts was wonderful. I felt like a child discovering something wonderful. See above a brief shot of what to expect.

Bokelmann, Christian Ludwig; The Gambler

The Gambler by Christian Ludwig Bokelmann (1844–1894) was one of the highlights of the gallery for me. This struck me in its sentiments which seem to be anti-gambling. You see a smokey room with a young father clinging onto his betting slip, not taking notice that he has knocked over his pint. His probably wife is holding one of their progeny while the other, horrifyingly, is playing cards on the floor – seeming to get into her father’s nasty habit. The father is so engrossed in his habit that he fails to hear the dogs fighting in the background, indeed this blissful ignorance is shared by his floored daughter, seeming to echo the concern that her father’s habit can extend to children. Finally, the gang of old men in the background seems to point to what this gambler will become. In addition to being technically excellent, the sentiments behind this painting are clear and damning. A powerful painting.

Montague, Alfred; Ship on Fire off the North Foreland

Ship on Fire was the second piece in the gallery which struck me. I love ships at sea and I love motion. This is a dynamic combination of both. The ship on fire itself is not the main focus of this piece, the main focus is those escaping from it. This distinction is important. The spray on the top of the waves, the motion and the light are, combined, very powerful in denoting the chaos which ensued following the fire. What is particularly potent for me is being able to see what is under the water as well as above. The light from the sky illuminates hints of bodies beneath the water and parts of the ship. This for me is beautifully rendered and a powerful depiction of a frightful scene.

Lowry, L.S, Bandstand at Peel Park

Sadly the Lowry at Salford Quays was closed at the time of our visit but I did get to see a few Lowrys (or is it Lowries?). Peel Park’s bandstand was the subject of many depictions but this one was my favourite. There is something haunting to me about Lowry’s works, they seem to be hinting at something deeper. The looming buildings behind the park, one of which I believe now houses the Salford Museum and Art Gallery, are almost sinister.

Cheddar Gorgeous drag installation

There are a great number of drag queens in Manchester and one of the more famed ones is Cheddar Gorgeous. I have been a fan of Cheddar’s for some years, following them on instagram when I had the misfortune of being a member of this application. Cheddar is described as a “gender divergent drag artist, producer and self-confessed unicorn-idealist”. I’m not sure whether I am able or willing to go further into that. However, seeing a piece of drag art close up was quite a moving feat for me. Often I see these through the medium of television or on You Tube but seldom up close. The dress was constructed well and fit within the fantasy that Cheddar created following research into a local fable.

Overall this museum was an excellent use of time, was supremely economical (free admission) and fulfilling. It was likely one of the highlights of my trip.

Five Favourites – September Edition

Five Favourites – September Edition

The time has come again for my five favourite album covers of the month .The below are a collection of covers which I have enjoyed on my musical journey through August. It has been a wild month for me which included much wonderful travelling. I look forward to September even more.

Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age of Wireless (1982)

I – I don’t believe it!
There she goes again!
She’s tidied up, and I can’t find anything!
All my tubes and wires
And careful notes
And antiquated notions

There’s something excellent about the idea of a stamp on an album cover with Thomas Dolby, then slightly less bald than he is now, tinkering with his tools. I have reviewed a Dolby cover in a previous Five Favourites and indeed reviewed The Flat Earth a very long time ago. Even the bottom ‘Fig. 1 Thomas Dolby’ is excellent. This is just great for me, especially the comic book quality present on many of his album covers.

Peter Tosh – Legalize It (1976)

A few Partners and clients of my firm subscribe to this blog so I shall not espouse a view in agreement or dissent with the sentiments of this album cover. However, I think we can all agree a cover this excellent should be illegal. There’s something so honest about the nomenclature of this album but also the idea of Mr Tosh, off his rocker, in the middle of a field of cannabis. I just find it so funny I felt I needed to share it with you. But humour aside it does make the point visually and concisely. A terrific cover.

Tool – Lateralus (2001)

Tool were one of my many re-discoveries this month. On my way back from Hull I listened to Fear Inoculum and Lateralus. The latter cover did strike me as, well, human, and also superhuman at once. There’s something really trippy about this cover. Perhaps the artist took a leaf out of Peter Tosh’s book (pardon the pun). There is something close to Todd Rundgren’s 1974 live masterpiece Utopia about this cover. The kaleidoscope background, prominence of eyes and striking blue which runds through the cover are quite impressive to me.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)

The team devised a concept for the cover involving two men — record execs fashioned in a style suggested by the album’s “Have a Cigar” — shaking hands to seal some unknown deal. Hipgnosis explained a handshake is often seen as an empty gesture, void of meaning or purpose. And the flames? A visualization of people’s tendency to remain emotionally withdrawn (or absent) for fear of “being burned.” Floydianslip

Well if there isn’t a more haunting cover from 1975. Two studio execs meeting in the middle of a row of large hangars which look like film studios, shaking hands on some unknown deal, while one of them is one fire. This is inspired to me. When listening to this album, I did feel like the man on fire. The quality of this record is off the charts, but the cover is also equally impressive.

Grace Jones – Muse (1979)

Produced by disco legend Tom Moulton, the cover of this album is most interesting. This cover was designed by a close friend of Grace’s, Richard Bernstein who created the covers of Interview Magazine from 1972-1989. This is so interesting to me, the scaled effect is repeated on the cover of Inside Story some ten years later. The extreme contrast and colourful ribbons mimic the colours at either side of Grace’s face. This is fun and colourful and excellent, as usual for Grace – though I am biased.

See you again next month!

Iconic Album Covers – 5 Favourites – April 2021

Iconic Album Covers – 5 Favourites – April 2021

Following on from a highly enjoyable 5 Favourites post in March, I have decided to make the feature a running one.

Sparks – Propaganda

The brothers Mael find themselves in a series of tricky situations for the cover of their 1974 album, Propaganda. The middle sleeve is the photograph I used for the cover of this post, but these two can also be found gagged and bound in the back of a car on the back cover of this wonderful album. The album itself is an astonishing and flawless work of art, please do listen to it.

Supertramp – Crisis, What Crisis?

These three famous words, misattributed to Labour leader Jim Callahan in 1979 during the Winter of Discontent ( who actually said “I don’t think other people in the world would share the view [that] there is mounting chaos”), were the inspiration for the dramatic cover you see above. Although if we look back further the line was Zinneman’s 1973 film The Day of the Jackal. Anyway, the cover itself is quite striking. The background was a still taken from a Welsh mining town which brings home the point the cover is trying to make even more.

Thomas Dolby – Aliens Ate My Buick

This is one of my favourite albums ever, it is flawless start to finish, inventive and novel. It is the kind of album which leaves you feeling like you’ve been missing something your entire life when listening for the first time. But in terms of the album artwork, this 1950s comic book esque cover with Dolby and his girl in the foreground is just great. Aliens are destroying buildings and eating his nice Buick, while nicely dressed people are running for their lives. It’s just great. The back cover is even better, the faint outline of the car and some fiery traces, at a drive in movie about aliens stealing cars is totally inspired.

The Kick Inside – Kate Bush

“…and then I find it out, when I take a good look up. There’s a hole in the sky, with a big eyeball, calling me….come up and be a kite, and fly a diamond night…” Kite, Kate Bush

Jay Myrdal was the photographer who gifted us with this wonderful cover. The idea is said to have come from Pinocchio, when Jiminy Cricket floats past the whale’s eye using his umbrella like a parachute (Kate Bush News). Kate, a then relative unknown, came to Myrdal’s studio, driven by her father with a car full of wooden sticks and yellow material. The rest, as they say, is history.

Grace Jones – Hurricane / Dub

Another one of Jean Paul Goude’s masterpieces and lessons in photography, the cover of Hurricane / Dub shows Grace in 2008, then 60 years old, wearing a rhinestone studded bowler hat and smoking a cigarette. The open mouth and position of the head are reminiscent of the cover of Slave to the Rhythm, which we will certainly cover later. This stunning hat was the focal point of the below performance in 2010, where Grace became a self styled disco ball. Having seen Grace live myself (a quasi-religious experience), I can understand why the crowd absolutely lost their minds.

 

Tune in next month for 5 further favourites.

The Captive Slave – John Philip Simpson

The Captive Slave – John Philip Simpson

John Phillip Simpson (1782–1847) was a British portrait painter. Until his death he was a frequent exhibitor at Royal Academy and was even the appointed painter to Portuguese royalty. Today I want to talk about a piece of his which has moved me rather. I wanted to include this in Black History Month back in February but almost feel it is more impactful being seen as a stand alone piece some weeks later. After all, the issues highlighted in Black History Month are suffered year round.

Despite enduring critical neglect and eventual obscurity, Simpson was a gifted artist, capable at times of venturing beyond the parameters of society portraiture and his position as a studio assistant. And in one particular work, The Captive Slave, John Simpson produced a painting of iconic status, which can be regarded today as his masterpiece and as a worthy emblem of the aims and achievements of the Abolition Movement.

Martin Postle

Britain did not abolish slavery until 1833, some six years after The Captive Slave was painted. Plantations in the far reaches of the British Empire were still profiting from slave labour when this was painted and those profits, of course, made their way directly to London. With this in mind, let us have a look at the above painting. Take some time to examine it. The subject is a black man, chained at the wrists, looking into a dark negative space surrounding him. He seems to be looking towards the source of the light which reflects on his brow, perhaps a window outside the scope of the canvas. His chest is exposed which puts him in even more of a vulnerable position. There is a wetness in his eyes which seems to indicate tears have been shed. And in contrast to the above, he is wearing a striking orange jumpsuit which shocks us with colour.

The colour of the jumpsuit is very effective in highlighting the shocking captivity that this slave finds himself in. This painting hit me with some force. Simpson has used a mastery of technique to convey a deeply human portrait of the slave, which renders his captivity all the more shocking to the viewer. He, and the millions of others in his position, were people, not merchandise, as was believed at the time this was painted. This belief is conveyed beautifully in a striking way by Simpson.

Striking hand detail from The Captive Slave

The model Simpson used for this striking painting is said to have been Ira Frederick Aldrige, a famous Shakespearian actor of the time, pictured below, who had several notable performances including one as Othello and another as King Lear. Overall I am struck by this painting. It is a masterpiece and iconic (in the old sense of the word) emblem of the abolition movement. It stirs so many emotions and allows the modern viewer to reflect on the horrifying racial injustices which are still pervasive in modern times.

This post was not intended to make broad generalisations about a deeply complex issue, or to push any semblance of an agenda, but rather to share a beautiful, meaningful and sadly contemporarily potent piece of art. My sincere apologies if this did not come across in the above. 

Bacchus – Caravaggio 1596

Bacchus – Caravaggio 1596

Dyonysus, otherwise known as Bacchus, is the god of, wait for it: grape-harvest, winemaking and wine, of fertility, orchards and fruit, vegetation, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. The frenzy he induces is referred to as bakkheiaThe Romans also referred to him as Liber, meaning free. Partaking in his wine and ecstatic dancing is said to free the reveller and in turn be possessed by Bacchus himself. Caravaggio’s work was commissioned by Cardinal Del Monte, owner of the Palazzo Madama in Rome. This palace is now the home of the Italian Senate. I walked past it frequently on my way to Gelateria Giolitti when living in Rome.

Why have I chosen Bacchus? Well in many ways I thought this enigmatic rendering of the god of wine (etc) was and is all of us during this third and ostensibly final lockdown. We are one and all indulging in excesses of our favourite vices (wine in the case of Bacchus), looking invitingly out into the infectious wilderness, waiting for someone to come and visit us. Our youth is fleeting and evaporated in a seemingly lost year, as exemplified by the rotting apple and overripe pomegranate, which Caravaggio here uses to hint at the theme of vanitas, which I talked about in the Boy with Bubble post a few weeks ago. The message is clear, youth is fleeting, wine is plentiful, why not give yourself away to excess and abandon while you can? I suspect that this will be a theme of the roaring 20s-esque resurgence of base hedonism which is to capture the world come July.

But what Caravaggio characterized was a body dedicated to sensuality rather than a soul infected with Christianity. The sly, dreamy eyes speculate on carnal things and promise gratification of the senses, not of the spirit, as “love cools without wine and fruit.” Yet the possibility of an underlying moral, bizarre as it may seem and contradicted by appearances, cannot be totally ignored. The touches of corruption in the still life – the wormhole that has spoiled the apple, the pomegranate that has burst from overripeness – hint again of the Vanitas theme, that the boy is triumphant only in his youth, which will vanish as quickly as the bubbles in the carafe of freshly poured wine. Caravaggio

The homoerotic themes are evident in Caravaggio’s Bacchus. Whether this was the maestro vocalising his own homosexual desires (bedding younger men was acceptable in 1596) or insinuating that Cardinal Del Monte was partial to them is up for academic debate. Either way the sensuality which comes through is striking. The feeble effort to make himself decent, the inviting gaze and proffering of the wine goblet are together masterfully rendered. I am always agog at how Caravaggio seems to present the finger nails of his subjects so successfully also, as an aside. The Carmen Miranda-esque headpiece is also fantastic.

“An explosion of fantasy, energy and playful eroticism”

Overall I think this is becoming one of my preferred paintings. I will see if I can have a fridge magnet made of it. It is the perfect subject for excess and abandon and I imagine Cardinal Del Monte was thrilled with it. Bacchus currently resides in the Uffizi art gallery in Florence.

Dante and Virgil – Hellish Bouguereau Masterwork

Dante and Virgil – Hellish Bouguereau Masterwork

William Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French academic painter. His works comprised mostly mythological themes and modern interpretations of Classic scenes. His most famous work is of course the Birth of Venus (seen below), painted in 1979. There is a bit of nudity in this piece so please scroll very fast if you do not wish to be startled. The piece I will be discussing today is Dante and Virgil, painted in 1950 when the artist was just 25. It shows a scene from the Inferno where Capocchio, and Gianni Schicchi are fighting. The former is biting the later rather aggressively.

Having failed on two occasions to win the Prix de Rome (1848 and 1849), Bouguereau was hungry for revenge. His early submissions to the Salon reveal this fierce desire to succeed. After his ambitious Equality before Death (1849), the young man aimed to create an impression once again. He put forward an even larger painting inspired by Dante whose work was much loved by the Romantics and who captured all its dramatic beauty. This painting was inspired by a short scene from the Inferno, set in the eighth circle of Hell (the circle for falsifiers and counterfeiters), where Dante, accompanied by Virgil, watches a fight between two damned souls: Capocchio, a heretic and alchemist is attacked and bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi who had usurped the identity of a dead man in order to fraudulently claim his inheritance. Museé D’Orsay

Dante and Virgil can be seen in the background witnessing this horrifying scene. The theme of terribilita and horror is one to which Bouguereau would not return. But what a painting! The devil/ demon floating in the background, the anguished look of Dante and Virgil and the mound of tortured souls to the right makes for quite a frightening scene. Of course the main attraction, as it were, are the two fighters in the central foreground. The bite itself is quite beautifully executed. One can see by the exaggerated contortion of the cheek muscle and throbbing vein in the biter’s forehead that he is putting a lot of effort into this act of facial vandalism. The muscles and tendons as well as the poses themselves are exaggerated by Bouguereau to maximise the principle themes in this painting. This is the artist pushing the boundaries of the medium. Notice how the muscles are almost distorted form the strain in a most unnatural way. the interplay between shadow and light added with the mound of souls in the right background is quite startling.

Overall this was a striking piece which I could not quite take my eyes off of when I first saw it. It is masterly done and daring for someone so young. This is a testament to the talent of Bouguereau, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.