Editorial – November 2017


Remain alert to the possibilities, eyes up instead of down, looking about instead of transfixed by a small screen, and daily life will furnish marvels, often in unexpected places. Exploring the streets and free institutions of a city like London is a journey through natural and man-made masterpieces, ingenuity everywhere apparent. To stand any chance of impressing in such a sweetshop official Contemporary Art needs to try a lot harder than it has so far.

Here are some sights that have captured my attention in only the last few days: the perfect functional simplicity of a clinker built signal box standing high over a complex railway junction; Lindsay Clark’s war memorial on Borough High Street – a crouching Tommy advancing through slutch and rotting flesh, death imminent; sublime choreography courtesy of Kevin de Bruyne; the chin-dropping magnificence that is Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris experienced on the big silver screen; Burnet and Tait’s ‘Egyptian’ Art Deco masterpiece, Adelaide House, on London Bridge, the tallest building in London in its day; an American F15 Eagle dogfighting an RAF Typhoon over the Wolds; pianist crooners Hoagy and Dooley in back-to-back Bogarts; Gwen John’s The Student in Manchester City Art Gallery, a delicate portrait of young Dorelia clutching dog-eared set texts; a double-act of canny jays in the ash outside my window, flashing sky blue and checkerboard; John Byrne’s brilliant display of characters at the Fine Art Society; The Black Friar; the chrome dream of a Harley shovelhead grunting at the New Oxford Street lights; ornate reliefs on a column drum in the BM from a temple perhaps touched by Alexander himself; a plain ash Gretsch in Denmark Street; Robert Krasker’s graphics in Odd Man Out; the suicide of a fraudulent City banker in Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, still relevant 150 years later; the gleaming, rail-blue Deltic Alcydon switched off in a siding; Peggy Sue Got Married … in the Co-op; the arch-forming planes along Rosebery Avenue; Chimes of Freedom live at the Newport Festival; a sleek bicycle stronger than steel and weighing less than a bag of sprouts; prankster Bruce McLean’s brilliant four-minute video I Want My Crown in Leeds Art Gallery; the De Chirico block that is Mount Pleasant Post Office; that special old girl, Betty Higden, taking to the roads in Our Mutual Friend; a goldcrest in a suburban garden; the physics-defying flying monster, all Mekon forehead, that is the aircraft specially designed to carry Airbus wings from Hawarden to Toulouse; Gilbert Bayes’s sculpted frieze on the Odeon cinema, formerly the Art Deco Saville Theatre, on Shaftesbury Avenue, recording the history of drama and dance through the ages; Rex Whistler’s masterpiece of panoramic trompe l’oeil muralism at Plas Newydd; darting swallows in Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd…

And then every night on the television or on YouTube or catch-up, and almost free, we can watch the greatest works by the greatest artists in the greatest art form of the 20th century that is popular cinema. In the last fortnight alone Michael Curtiz, Welles, Coppola, Fellini, the Boulting brothers, Kubrick, Michael Powell, Tarantino, Tarkovski, Marcel Carné, Scorsese, Vittorio De Sica, Eastwood, René Clair, Visconti, Mike Nicholls, MGM, Renoir, Sergio Leone … Stories and spectacles galore, collaborations of vast teams of those uniquely skilled with paint, music, sounds, costume, movement and make-believe, all with a powerful urge to entertain.

Everywhere, in our free galleries, at home, on line, in the sky and in the street, and from the top deck of the 73 bus, we are gifted the miracles of geniuses making our lives better.

And yet the shower placed in charge of visual art supposedly for our benefit gush critical superlatives – in deluded expectation of eliciting the same response from us – about a plaster cast of the inside of a hot water bottle or the space underneath a chair. Really, who do these gullible twerps think they are kidding? State Art and its creepy synod of apostles needs to get out more: the world’s amazing but what they show us is not. Public indifference to what they insist on forcing upon us is hardly a surprise. And this is the reason they had to make Rachel Whiteread’s Tate exhibition free when all their other shows cost a small fortune, otherwise the place would have been a ghost town. Any death mask is more stimulating than Whiteread’s entire oeuvre.

David Lee
The Jackdaw Nov/Dec 2017