Saturday, 28 November 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

The more I look at it, the more the lobster resembles a handset. An impossible handset, I will give you that, but a handset nonetheless. Of course I am talking about Dali’s “lobster telephone”.

The surrealist object was on my mind recently because I have been following Sky Arts series “Landscape Artist of the Year”. I have not watched the final yet, so, please, no spoilers, if you, too, are keen on the show.

There have not been any surrealist paintings per se so far (well, none that I would call “orthodox surrealism”, which in itself would be an oxymoron, since surrealism was a mould-breaking movement). There have been a few “surprises”, though. This is where the “lobster” comes into the picture (pun almost intended). When it comes to landscaping, we expect the finished work on the canvas to match the view in front of it. In the semi-final, the view contestants had to work on was Tower Bridge. Two of them, however, did away with conventions and came up with bizarre but highly creative pieces. Their risk-taking approach was all the odder when one takes into account that Tower Bridge has been one of London’s most easily recognisable landmarks for almost a century and a half.

This is not a lobster
From a layperson’s point of view, when I see a painting of a land-, city- or sea-scape, I unconsciously expect it to resemble the geography it represents. I should clarify that that was maybe thirty-odd years ago before my first brush with impressionism. Ever since I discovered that movement I began falling more for the “mood” of a piece than for the painter’s “loyalty” to their surroundings. If we are to believe arts specialists – and I see no reason why not to occasionally – visual art began as an aesthetic response to the artist’s environment. Look at those drawings in caves and think of our ancestors attempting to capture the exact physical features of bisons, perhaps without the skills that evolution would provide them with in years to come. Nevertheless, the intention was there already. The impulse to leave a mark behind, a mark that was faithful to the landscape that gave them shelter and food.

This is what art did for so many centuries. It created reality-based patterns that were easily recognisable. Familiarity won over risk-taking. Impressionism, Dadaism, surrealism and modernism brought new challenges to the game, not just for practitioners, but also for us, art lovers. Suddenly, a pipe was not a pipe and a urinal could be displayed in an art gallery. Back to Sky Arts’ “Landscape Artist of the Year” and what I have enjoyed the most is how contestants have been given free rein to “ruin” a perfect view. I am joking, of course, for all works have been, in my humble opinion, of the highest quality. Yet, a few have defied convention and their owners are the ones who have been rewarded with a place in the final and the opportunity of a ten-thousand-pound commission from the National Trust. Reminds me of that lobster somewhat and the role of crustaceans in the development of visual arts in human history.

© 2015

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 2nd December at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

London, my London

This post is about that crossing. But before we get to that crossing, let me take you by the hand and give you a mini-tour of a very peculiar corner of north-west London.

Golders Green is a recent, 19th century development with a Jewish-rich history. If Hackney’s Stamford Hill is better known for its Orthodox Jews, then, Golders Green’s “people of the book” are more representative of the middle-class families who settled in the area after Golders Green tube station opened. From Ashkenazims to Sephardims, it is thought that by the late 50s a quarter of the population in this area was Jewish.

Cycling on Finchley Road is one of the ways to discover this lesser-known London gem. Just a little curious fact: when you hear the word “avenue”, do not think of a wide, big, long road, but very often, think of a small, narrow one. Finchley Road would be called an “avenue” in any other city, including Havana, but here it is merely a “road”, or at most, a “high road”.

If this post were about the usually impressive-looking British countryside, I would be using terms such as hedgerow trees, pastoral land and woodland. Instead, I must resort, dear reader, to urban adjectives such as gentrification, young professionals and café culture. The well-kept tarmac made for a smooth surface on which to cycle. At some point I felt almost as if I were gliding. This coupled with the fact that Finchley Road is long and slopy made for interesting double-takes of little shops and businesses. In fact, Finchley Road felt like a preamble to West Hampstead. At the traffic lights with Fortune Green Road on my right, I recognised the area I was in immediately. I used to work here.

West End Lane has changed beyond recognition. It had already changed drastically by the time I joined the travel agency where I spent five and a half years of my life as a tour-operator. Still, one landmark remained almost intact amongst the Nando’s and Japanese eateries: West End Lane Books. This was one of my favourite stops after work on the way to the train station. I still remember the musty smell inside and on this day I could not resist saying hello to this old friend. I strolled into the building and it felt as if every shelf in the bookshop had leant forward to acknowledge my presence. That of an erstwhile regular who has not been in for almost twelve and a half years. West End Lane Books is in a league of its own. At any point the visitor will have access to approximately 10,000 titles in stock. The staff are still knowledgeable and polite.

The nostalgic-tinted encounter with the bookshop gave me the special oomph I needed to complete my journey and that I did. Straight down district-splitting West End Lane I carried on. On one side the blurred boundary with still-Irish stronghold Kilburn where the Tricycle Theatre has provided a fertile ground for up-and-coming left-of-field playwrights.

A distinctive element of London’s urban geography is its confusing and bizarre postcode system, as I mentioned in a previous post. After turning right from West End Lane onto Compayne Gardens, I cycled alternatively between NW6 and NW8. Of course, part of the reason was that, as I explained at the beginning of this series, I was focusing more on the discovery of what to me London’s hidden gems were (not necessarily landmarks or tourist sites). Culture and history over fame. Even with a little bit of architecture thrown in for good measure. All in all, the journey along these mainly deserted roads with picturesque houses and flats was an enjoyable experience. So much so, that all of a sudden, that crossing appeared and… Well, I shall stop my narration here as I leave you pondering who made that crossing as renowned as it has been for many decades. And if you do not know the answer to that question then, well… I cannot help you, reader. You are on your own.

© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 28th November at 6pm (GMT)


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