Thursday, 29 November 2012

Articles for magazines.

I've been asked to write another article for QS Eye magazine.

This magazine is aimed at quantity surveyors, a branch of professionals in the building industry whose work is concerned with figures. The content of their magazine is quite dry and my job is to liven it up slightly, although the subject must be broadly related to the construction indistry.

I've had articles published there about, amongst other things, seaside piers, pylons and most recently about the listed structures at London Zoo (which I've previously published a version of on my other blog - to read it go to my blogger profile and click on Expertslife blog).

Now I have to decide a subject for the next article, and I've only got five days to submit - so I'd better get on with it!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Shell Beach - (part of the Aden Collection)

In Aden we had a good car.
Opel Olympia Estate
which took a family of 5,
friends, fishing tackle,
beach gear and picnic to
the place we called shell beach. 

Near naked under the sun
we gathered the shells,
limpets cowries,winkles,
fished from the reef,
bathed in the clear shallows,
shrieked at reef sharks.

We returned with shorts full
of white sand, pockets full
of light shells, buckets full
of bright fish and once, a box
of big, khaki crabs still alive,
claws tied together with raffia.
Amazing what we could fit
in a car without restraint,
without shoes and no one
cared for the upholstery.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

These are the 31 Women. How many have you heard of?

When I first began looking at the Exhibition by 31 Women, which was the first art exhibition dedicated to the women artists of the avant-garde, I found I'd only heard of three. I'll list those three at the bottom of the list. Who have you heard of ? At least two of them are better known for having a different career!

The 31 Women

1          Djuna Barnes
2          Xenia Cage
3          Leonora Carrington
4          Maria Elena Vieira da Silva
5          Elisabeth Eyre de Lanux
6          Leonor Fini
7          Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven 
8          Suzy Frelinghysen
9          Meraud Guevara
10        Annie Harvey
11        Valentine Hugo
12        Buffie Johnson           
13        Frida Kahlo
14        Jacqueline Lamba
15        Gypsy Rose Lee
16        Aline Meyer Liebman
17        Hazel McKinley
18        Milena Barilli
19        Louise Nevelson
20        Meret Oppenheim
21        Barbara Reis
22        Irene Rice Pereira
23        Kay Sage
24        Sonja Sekula
25        Gretchen Schoeninger
26        Esphyr Slobodkina
27        Hedda Sterne
28        Dorothea Tanning
29        Sophie Taeuber
30        Julia Thecla
31        Pegeen Vail
The only three I'd heard of at the start were Louise Nevelson, Frida Kahlo and Gipsy Rose Lee - And yet I thought of myself as an art scholar and a feminist! Pretty feeble I'd say. I now know a fair amount about the careers and lives of almost all of them.
Those better known for a different career are Gypsy Rose Lee and Djuna Barnes.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flash Fiction - Just Fish

           Westway is never deserted, even at three-fifteen in the morning. I’ve driven up from the coast, two hours on empty motorways, but London roads are never empty. The squad cars are bored, one has decided to tail me.

           The ice is melting.

            I’m travelling at a steady thirty-eight, the limit is forty. My lights work, other things don’t, including the refrigeration. That shouldn’t interest the police. But the blue light flashes in my wing mirrors.

Weeeooooooow, weeeeoooow.

The ice is melting.

The Atlantic Ocean surrendered their lithe, goggle eyed grace to the net, the gaff, the ice packed hold. Trawlers gathered around the jetty like remora around a welcoming shark, unloaded their cargo. Trays of dead and dying fish surged along the rollers, a mechanical death rattle to agonised gills fighting for water in the cold, arid air.

Weeeooooooow, weeeeoooow.

They are so beautiful, these fish. Mackerel glisten, shimmer in a hundred shades of green and gold between gloss black stripes. Herring pour from tray to tray, a priceless cascade of silver, tainted gut red, some crushed by the weight of tons of their companions in the bowels of the ship. The majestic cod flicks its huge head feebly, in death its silvery sheen and snow white belly will bland to grey.

‘Is this your van, sir?’ Menacing tone, a torch deliberately shone in my eyes.

            ‘Yes, officer.’

The ice is melting.

            ‘Going somewhere nice are we, sir, at three o’clock in the morning?’


            If the ice melts too fast, these exquisitely streamlined creatures will not be fresh. They’ll be rejected by fishmongers, restaurateurs and go for cat food; all that beauty and death for the delectation of the city’s pampered moggies.

            ‘So your van is full of fish fingers, is it?’

            ‘Just fresh fish.’

            ‘Yeah right! Have you got sole, or are you floundering?’ He’s a joker, this cop.

            The ice is melting.

            ‘Would you like to take a look, officer?’

            I open the back of the van. Semi-frozen water slops onto the policeman’s feet as he stands too close to the rubber seal when it sucks free of the door. He steps back, swears. The second policeman shines a torch in. A thousand golden, alien eyes glint, a million perfect scales glimmer.

            Striped Mackerel, they have clouds named after them, the mackerel sky you see at the end of a long, clear day. The humble herring, destined for kippers, rollmops and fertiliser, swirl in the water like smoke, the seals and whales make no impression on their numbers. Codfish were the kings of the northern oceans, once.

            ‘Just fucking fish,’ says the cop with cold, wet feet.

‘Yes, officer. Just fish.’

            The other cop likes fish. He gets three glossy mackerel, wrapped in yesterday’s Express.  I get on to Billingsgate. The cats will go hungry tonight.

What is Flash Fiction?

This is a question which writers seem not to have agreed to agree on. The name Flash Fiction first emerged in the early 1990's, according to Wikipedia, so who knows when it actually emerged. As for what flash fiction is, short certainly. How short is up for grabs. I've seen competitions which ask for one sentence and other places which say 750 or even up to 1,000 words, so anywhere in between could work, depending on context. However for me, over 500 words seems too long, flash fiction should certainly fit on one page.

I suppose the generally accepted idea of Flash Fiction is that it should be sparing with words. A flash fiction story should be pared down until it says exactly what it must to form a perfect story and nothing more. Flash fiction is not a prose poem, there's little room for lyricism and it's more than anecdote, because anecdote lacks a sense of journey and completeness. Flash fiction's different to the traditional short story, because by definition flash lacks the rounding out of place and the minutiae of personality which can be so pleasing in a good short story.

I've tried consciously writing flash fiction, but more often than not I've been displeased with my results. I do better if I just write and let the short story find its own length. However writer David Gaffney has suggested taking existing stories and paring them down to the bare essentials, he should know, he's had a book of flash fiction stories published. So I will give that a go. I'll post some efforts here later.

Flash fiction can be sharp and devastating. I've read some very short ones - micro fiction - tweet length or less, which can make me draw a short breath. But I don't remember them. The memorable ones are a bit longer, with a bit more substance, a character I can empathise with. 

Some interesting pages/sites about flash fiction : - article by David Gaffney - good site with lots of flash science fiction. The genre seems to appeal to a lot of sci-fi writers. This page has a great comment by Kathy Kachelries about how to create good flash fiction. - a university based magazine which publishes flash fiction, essays and articles all up to 350 words.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Leonora Carrington's not Forgotten!

It's very interesting that my (fictional) Monologue for Leonora Carrington has more pageviews than anything else I've posted here and it's only been up for six days!

Great to see that Leonora definitely isn't a forgotten artist. She was successful and admired in Mexico and even in the US for many years until she died in 2011. She's one of too few women artists whose work can sell for over $1 million. Sadly, most people in England, where she was born, grew up, came out as a debutante, attended art school and ran away with surrealist genius Max Ernst, have never heard of her; this is their loss.

If you are one of those who have never heard of Leonora Carrington, you may be in for a treat -though there's no accounting for taste! Google her paintings - she seldom explained her art so don't expect an explanation of her extraordinary imagery and don't believe any that you find, it probably wasn't written by her or even with her approval.

I've written about Leonora before, she was a feminist and a review of a programme about her was published at:-

I won't post any pictures of Leonora's here. They're copyright and I respect this, unlike some. A website by her son gives a decent biography, links and some other details, although not so many pictures as you might like:-

After her death in 2011, a good obituary appeared at:-

Sunday, 11 November 2012

There were avant-garde WOMEN artists before 1950: The 31 WomenProject

For anybody who sometimes wonders what I do when I'm not engaged in playwrighting or fiction (which I haven't done much of this year), here's an explanation.
For several years I've been working on an art-history project which I've kept more or less under wraps, for not very fathomable reasons. It's about time I talked about it! My aim at the outset was to accomplish the completion and publishing of a book on this subject. Most research is now complete. A number of chapters are already written, so here's an introduction to the project. 

The 31 Women Project – early days

This was the first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the women who had participated, largely unacknowledged, in the progress of avant-garde art movements over the earlier decades of the twentieth century.

The exhibition was titled simply An Exhibition by 31 Women. If you read any large book that purports to give an overall view of art history, it is often difficult to find mention of three women artists, let alone thirty-one.  Yet when this exhibition opened on the fifth of January 1943 at 'Art of This Century', which was the name Peggy Guggenheim gave to her new art gallery in New York, there had been no difficulty in finding 31 artists to exhibit. The art on display may not have all been truly ground breaking, but much was and also diverse, extraordinary and colourful.  So were the artists.
I first discovered the Exhibition by 31 Women while studying at the University of Leeds. A module involved researching an art exhibition which I considered ground-breaking.  I found mention of the 31 Women and managed to acquire a checklist for it from MOMA in New York. I was horrified to find that I had only heard of three of these women. I’ve since asked more scholarly people and even they can only recognise a dozen or so. I decided something had to be done to recover this exhibition from obscurity and, more importantly to rescue the artists who had disappeared from view. Project 31 Women was born.

It took me four years to identify all the 31 artists, because some names on the checklist were spelled inaccurately and one was simply wrong. There was never an exhibition catalogue, but I now know who they all were and which media they worked in. I have looked at illustrations of works by them all and seen actual works by thirteen.  I have listed many of their exhibitions and obtained biographical information on all of them, some more complete than others. I have researched the context, style and progress of their work and know that although some of these 31 women have been dismissed as dilettantes, all were hugely creative and very serious about art and most were innovative and highly talented.

There are half a dozen star names here, artists who are not likely to vanish any time soon; Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Louise Nevelson, Sophie Taeuber and Meret Oppenheim are all well respected in the USA and/or Europe. Others were and are almost totally unheard of; the hardest to pin down included Barbara Reis, Anne Harvey, Milena, Gretchen Schoeninger and Aline Meyer-Liebman.  And then there was Gipsy Rose Lee. Artiste yes, but artist? Well, Gipsy was an art collector and exhibited her own artwork at least twice at the gallery started by her friend, Peggy Guggenheim.
I’ve been working on the 31 Women project since 2004. It continues…, more later.



Thursday, 8 November 2012

Monolgue for Leonora Carrington, 1917-2011

Leonora Carrington, artist and writer who died in 2011

Monologue/ Interview
(following a comment, I must point out that this is a fictional interview, based on some known facts and my huge admiration for Leonora Carrington's rebellious spirit and her remarkable art)

I do vaguely remember her, that journalist.  What was her name..?  Joyce… something. Whatever it was, she would insist on asking me the silliest of questions:

“Leonora, how does it feel, to be your age?” 

I mean really!  What does she expect me to say to that?  ‘I’m eighty-nine, you know.’

Of course I didn’t say that.  In any case I may not have been eighty nine, I can’t remember exactly.  If anyone asked me now, I’d have to adapt the stupid cliché.

“I’m actually dead, you know!”

She said my life, in those days, would make a great a movie script.  Absolute tosh of course! Mind you, I haven’t been to the cinema for years.  That Hollywood stuff was so unreal and I don’t suppose it’s changed.  All those unconvincingly goodly heroes and unfeasibly villainous villains and the women relegated to be either grieving mothers or simply useless and fainting in coils all over the shop.

I was always determined to be much more useful than that.

Not that father saw it.  I was destined to be beautiful, rich, make a good marriage; that was all I was expected to achieve.  A girl, you see, was not expected to do anything for herself.  Daddy was rich, a clever, self-made man and so desperate to become acceptable in ‘proper English society’.  He wanted to be a Toff and decided that he could buy his way in.

What Daddy decided, was so.

So. I was expected to stop being a little heathen and become a lady. I went to Saint Bride’s, an exclusive convent school.  The nuns failed to comprehend my difficulties; they were quite incapable of recognising any process which was not theirs.  I made up nonsense rhymes.  I painted a picture of Jesus carrying the ass, which apparently was blasphemous. I was expelled.  And another convent, expelled again, for smoking cigarettes.  Also, I wrote with either hand and composed mirror writing, which was obviously the Devil’s work.  I could draw with both hands too, and paint… but that came later.

I told her, that Joyce… what’s her name.  Told her that I was born into a one-hundred-per-cent Philistine family!  My brothers were hunting and shooting types, Father believed a female couldn’t be an artist, it was improper.  Although mother painted quaint little scenes which she would donate to her latest cause, but even she wasn’t so certain it was proper to be an actual artist.  Girls were supposed to be quiet and do what they were told, but of course I was a rebel of the most committed and superior variety.  

Eventually I was sent Florence for the summer to study classical painting.  This was in 1923 you realise, I mean who studied classical painting?  On the streets of Europe were Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst.  Classical painting my eye!  And even this was dependant on my compliance.  I was to wear a silken gown, bow to the King and attend a coming out ball.  What a ludicrous malarkey! 

Well I’m a writer, you know, so I had to write a nasty story about that!  I called it The Debutante.  I made friends with a beautiful hyena at London Zoo, and I took her home with me.  She agreed to take my place at that ludicrous ball, and I dressed her in my gown, but her face was a slight problem.  She took matters into her own hands, or rather her own teeth and she ate the poor maid who had come in to help do my hair.  Ate the maid all up except for the face which she wore to the ball!  And of course everybody was far too ‘polite’ to comment, until the hyena grew hungry again and ate the face too, before leaping through an open window and escaping.

I even had to attend ladies day at Royal Ascot, wearing the most ghastly hat.  I managed to lose that to a convenient gust of wind, so I was hidden in a corner, which suited me.  I sat and read Evelyn Waugh.  That wasn’t the thing at all, there was so much whispering and tutting! Quite hilarious!

When I was nineteen I fell for Max, almost before I met him.  It was mother’s fault, she gave me a book with a marvellous painting of his on the cover; “Two Children, frightened by a nightingale.”  Of course I was at Chelsea Art School at the time, mother probably thought I’d find the book useful.  It was certainly that!

The book pointed me straight towards the exhibition and there was Max, blond and graceful and intense with that marvellous beaklike nose.  Max, the bird superior and I became his bride of the wind, it was almost immediate.  We escaped to Cornwall for the summer.  Eileen was there, and Lee and Roland.  Lee photographed us all, I think Paul and Nush came over from Paris.

Was Breton there? I don’t believe so. And Dali?  Of course not!  Why on earth would you ask about that little pervert?  In any case Dali and Breton were seldom on the same continent if they could avoid it!  Thus a surreal meltdown was usually avoided.

Father interfered of course, once he tracked us down.  Max went back to Paris rather rapidly before father could have him arrested for abduction of a minor or some such rubbish, as if I was one of his horses!  I borrowed ten guineas and went to Paris and that’s where I began painting seriously.

I never saw father again.  He actually made that “Never darken my door again” speech!  Can you believe that?  I hardly ever saw mother again either, which was the worst of all that.  But I did write to her sometimes and I spoke to her on the telephone years later, when I was in Mexico.

Why did I never return to England?  What would I want to return for?  What had England, ever done for me, with all its petty class lunacy and snobbery?  In any case I was born Irish, hence those wretched convents, all those nuns, vapid and fluttering nuns or vicious and screeching nuns.  My childhood was miserable.  The smallness of all that wretched nonsense!  That’s all I could write about for years, you know.

My painting was freer.  I owe that to Max, I suppose and to Mexico.  I had two husbands in Mexico, neither of them were Max.  I’m glad I lived and died the best part of my life in Mexico.

I beg your pardon? Was that the exciting, film script part of my life?  The Mexican part?  Of course it was not! I’m an artist not a film star.  The so called ‘movie script’ part, that’s the story that people always ask about.  My love affair with Max Ernst.  You think that’s the only excitement I ever had?  Certain forms of excitement are over-rated, I can assure  you of that.  I’m too old to care for it.

 I’m not talking about any of that, not to you.  Why should I?

I need a cigarette, do you have one?