Thursday, 13 November 2014

Unsuitable authors beginning with M; Alistair Maclean's HMS Ulysses

Continuing cataloguing my books - probably in a totally unprofessional way which would have librarians all over the world shaking their heads sadly. My alphabetical list of fiction authors now runs from A-Y - Ben Aaronovitch to Frank Yerby; no authors beginning with Z. No Q or X for that matter. What am I missing? Who am I missing?

Anyway I've now realised that I have a lot of novels - 56 - by authors beginning with M - Rose Macaulay to Julie Myerson. I especially like Julie Myerson's style of writing and her strange and sometimes cruel stories, but I've got more novels by Alastair Maclean than by her! This dates back to my early teens, before I became more interested in romantic historical fiction - hence the Frank Yerby. I'd been a tomboy as a kid and Maclean's simply plotted espionage and adventure stories appealed to me, a sort of grown up continuation of The Famous Five.

However the first Alistair Maclean I ever read was not an adventure story. It was his very first novel, HMS Ulysses, and I became obsessed with this rather grim and compelling story of the Arctic Convoys in WWII.  Maclean had served as a seaman on these convoys during the war and his descriptions of the hardships and perils captured my empathy and my imagination. I read it time and again. The strange thing about this book is, I had my paperback copy of HMS Ulysses with me at school and it was confiscated.

I was told it was unsuitable and I shouldn't be reading such things. I protested that there was a copy in the school library, which was true, but I was ignored. The book was returned to me at the end of term, without comment. For years I was bemused by the whole episode, until it recently occurred to me that this particular member of staff might have been confused and thought I was reading James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. If she'd really known anything about either book she would have known that the cover illustration, of shipwrecked men huddled in a lifeboat, was not likely to be set in licentious Dublin. School matrons obviously didn't need to be educated.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Authors Beginning With ?...

I've begun cataloguing my books - I was going to say my library but a) that sounds pretentious and b) can it be called a library while it is un-catalogued?

I haven't got very far. I began with fiction author's books. So far, beginning at the beginning I have :-

A - 25 Adams to Auster - seems a normal number of books, I mean you wouldn't want me to miss anything by Douglas Adams, would you. And I could do with more Atkinsons and Attwoods...

B - 47 Bainbridge to Byatt - maybe quite a lot but I can't blame Iain Banks, with or without an M, as the poor guy is dead.

C - 15 Calman to Crosthwaite - not so many C's, I wonder why. Who is missing?

D - 21 Dahl to Dunmore - You can't have too many Dumnores!

E - 5 - what? Yes that's right - Eggars to Evaristo but why only five and why have I only read one of them? Ok, Dave Eggars' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius took some reading but still....

I need more Authors Beginning with E... any suggestions?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Still Life, With Waders - my poem for National Poetry Day

It was National Poetry Day on the second of October, this year's theme was - Remember.

This poem was conceived a long time ago, as part of a much longer thing I tried writing in memory of my father. As the longer thing still isn't even remotely satisfactory, I've re-worked this bit into a very short poem. I think it works.

Still Life, With Waders

I remember he was a twitcher
before there was twitching.
But not just a list of sightings

ticked off like train numbers.

Love seeps from his lists of Lapwing,

Linnet, Greylag, Goosander and

the great, Great Bustard.

After life, comes life.
There are still sunset waders
near the shore
up to their Redshanks
in  a skin of light.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

'The Quarry' by Iain Banks - book review

Not Iain Banks most exciting book, though I found it very readable, with interesting characters and some great dialogue. In a way it's the author's full circle, returning to a rather claustrophobic world inhabited by a first person narrator who is a teenager, as in Banks first novel, the Wasp Factory. The Quarry however is far less gruesome than the Wasp Factory, though it deals with cancer and the ultimate death of the teenage boy's father.

The Quarry won't necessarily be an especially easy read for some people, cancer is a tragic issue in many peoples' lives. As Iain Banks was himself dying of cancer when it was published, this makes the story sadder still. However he insisted that was purely coincidence. I wonder...

I'm very sad that one of my favourite authors will never write another book, but at least there are a couple of his which I haven't read yet - and I've still to get through all of his very dense 'Culture' novels written in his other guise as SF maestro Iain M. Banks. This man had an imagination the size of the universe!

For loads of information on Iain Banks (with or without the M) his website is -

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Louise Nevelson, the 31 Women number 31, her birthday is 23 September 1889

Number 31 and I've saved the best until last, well in my opinion anyhow. But I need to admit that I've also left Louise Nevelson until the end because I've found her the hardest to write about. I have several excuses...
Louise Nevelson by Richard Avedon

Nevelson was the first of the 31 Women I knew about, as I came across some of her smaller work in an exhibition when I was a teenager. I was mesmerised and captivated by several of her wooden box sculptures, filled with pieces of wooden artefacts some recognisable and some mysterious and obscure. When I eventually saw one of her huge walls I was truly intimidated by her colossal talent. Reading about her life, her struggle for recognition, her ferocious determination to be unique, I have continued to be intimidated; I would absolutely hate to say anything she would dislike!

This post is not complete, obviously. I've already written a lot about Louise Nevelson and my writing's not good enough to post. I'm currently reading 'Dawns and Dusks' which is as close as she came to writing an autobiography, she didn't really trust the written word, putting this down to her disrupted early childhood when she had to cope with three languages Russian, Yiddish and English. This marvellous book contains her words, recorded and transcribed by her friend Diana MacKown, so if I can't write about her art after reading what she herself said about it, there's no hope for me!

My other excuse is that aiming to post actually on Ms Nevelson's birthday is possibly a forlorn hope as she wasn't entirely clear about when she was born, although I'm sure she'd despise my lack of punctuality.

Louise Nevelson described her working process as composing. From Dawns and Dusks I've so far found two great quotes which help to reveal her creative motivation -

"I always wanted to show the world that art is everywhere, except that it has to pass through a creative mind." That creative mind, obviously, was her own.

She proudly regarded herself as a scavenger -

"You're taking a discarded, beat-up piece that was no use to anyone and you place it in a position where it goes to beautiful places... These pieces of old wood have a history and a drama that to me is  like taking someone who has been in the gutter for years, neglected and overlooked. And someone comes along who sees how to take these beings and transform them into total being."

This recycling of existing things, which have had a purpose before the artist came along, is something done by many artists in both 20th and 21st centuries. It began with the Dadas such as Duchamp and Baroness, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and continues today with almost everyone. My current favourite is sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker, but no-one has yet taken it to the sublime heights achieved by Louise Nevelson.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Book Review - Headlong by Michael Frayn

I've just finished reading this very entertaining novel - shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize  - ok so I'm not reading this year's shortlist!

Anyway, Headlong is an interesting novel, funny almost farcical action contrasted with erudite and convincingly accurate looking research on the Dutch painter Breughel, his paintings and his times. I assume the research is factual, why make it up? The stories around Breughel were fascinating and kept me reading the book; he's one of my favourite painters and I originally picked up the book because of the Breughel scene on the cover.

The infuriating protagonist in the novel part of Frayn's book is a would-be art historian who believes he has found a previously unknown painting by Breughel which, if genuine, is worth millions, but it belongs to his ignorant and bombastic neighbour. He devises an increasingly convoluted scheme to get hold of the picture, but even his name, Martin Clay is soft and amorphous, you know the project is somehow doomed! The action proceeds at pell-mell pace towards tragedy - although nobody dies - except Icarus.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Esphyr Slobodkina - the 31 Women number 30. Her birthday is 22 September

Russian/American painter, sculptor, designer, illustrator and author
22 September 1908 to  22 July 2002

In the late 1930’s New York artistic circles, a great contest between Abstraction and Surrealism erupted, in the art establishment at least, though this had been running in Europe for more than ten years as a debate amongst friends. The American public were bemused by both. Esphyr Slobodkina was apparently an artist with a foot in both camps. Her left foot was rooted firmly in the camp of abstraction, she was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, a group which began in 1937, and her superbly composed, hard-edged abstract paintings on modern materials (she painted on plywood and masonite, hardly ever used canvas after joining the AAA) epitomise the Modernist, non-objective aims of the group. However one glance at her marvellous found-object sculptures seems to show that her right foot has hopped into the camp of the Surrealists. Many of the artists at the time, from Duchamp, Tanguy and Kay Sage through to Dorothea Tanning, Buffie Johnson and Jean Helion enjoyed both camps, but Slobodkina’s sculptures are more abstract than they might at first appear. Their forms are highly designed, their creation may have been influenced by the Constructivist ideas which followed her out of her native Russia - only her toe was dipped delicately into surrealism.

Esphyr Slobodkina was born in Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, Siberia, the youngest child in a well-to-do Jewish family. Solomon Aronovich Slobodkin, her father, was manager of the MAZUT oil corporation and when his youngest daughter was seven, Solomon’s work took the family from the windswept plains east of the Ural Mountains to the more sophisticated provincial capital of Ufa. Their life in Ufa was comfortable, though Esphyr’s childhood was plagued by illness. Her earliest creative activities were creating cut-out dolls and doilies and, when allowed outdoors, making personal adornments from leaves, acorns and flowers, an inspired extension of the childish art of the daisy-chain.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Leonor Fini, the 31 Women Number Twenty Nine. Her Birthday is 30th August.

Leonor Fini, Argentinian/Italian. Born 30 Aug 1907 in Buenos Ares, died 18 January 1996 in Paris. 
Painter, novelist, illustrator, costume, film and theatre designer.
Leonor Fini is yet another extraordinary artist who has been largely forgotten by the wider art world because she was a woman. In her lifetime her superbly outrageous dress sense and scandalous lifestyle kept the press confused and fascinated; although Leonor the celebrity was one of the most photographed women of the day, there was less interested in her art, outside the galleries and collectors.

Within the Surrealists she was also affected by sexism from the male artists, Dali typified the attitude when he said of her work, "Better than most perhaps. But creativity is in the balls." Fini's art became less acceptable amongst the art-critical elite during the 1950's and 60's as she had no interest in moveing into vast abstractions. She has gradually been downgraded and underrated ever since, becoming merely regarded as a 'niche' artist, while the male surrealists - particularly Dali - continued to be valued.
Eleonora Fini's nationality is confused; from Argentina she moved to Austria, then Italy, and spent much of her productive career in France.  Born in Buenos Aries, she had a disturbed early childhood; she was spirited way from her tyrannical father, Herminio Fini, at the early age of 4 and taken by Malvina, her mother to Europe.  Malvina Braun Dubich was of Serbian, German and Venetian extraction but her family home was Trieste, then an important Austrian seaport. The city was passed to Italy as a result of the treaty of Versailles after World War I.  Herminio refused to divorce his wife, he never gave up demands for the return of his daughter and tried to have Leonor kidnapped.  Malvina only managed to secure a divorce in 1919.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Vieira da Silva; the 31 Women number Twenty-Eight, her birthday is 13 June.

born 13 June 1908 in Lisbon, Portugal, died 6 March 1992                                  

Vieira da Silva working on stained glass, C1966
Portuguese/French painter, abstraction, mosaic, murals, tapestry, stained glass 

Maria Elena Vieira da Silva is an unfamiliar name to many in the English speaking art world but this lack of recognition is completely undeserved. She was Portuguese by birth, though her career is mainly identified with the School of Paris and her work is highly regarded throughout Europe, especially in France and Portugal and also in Brazil. She has had a large number of exhibitions both in Europe and Latin America. In a sixty year painting career she exhibited almost every year, beginning in a joint exhibition with Hungarian painter Arpad Szenes, in Lisbon in 1929 and with her first solo exhibition in Paris in 1933.
Szenes became her husband in 1930 and was possibly the only example in the twentieth century of a male artist suborning his own talent in favour of his wife’s. Although they exhibited together, he promoted her work ahead of his own, effectively acting as her manager. She was naturally shy and reclusive and he protected her from day to day worries, whilst introducing her work to the outside world. Most importantly, he was able to dispel much of the self doubt that often struck her down; she was constantly concerned that her increasingly abstract interpretations of time and place were becoming de-humanised and hence devalued, though their creation actually involved a huge emotional commitment from the artist.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Leonora Carrington; the Celtic Surrealist

Book cover with cut-out showing detail of "Three Women With Crows."
This mysterious book is a handsome, well illustrated and knowledgeable (if slightly expensive) catalogue for an amazing exhibition which I made a trip from Yorkshire to Dublin in December 2013 especially to see. Leonora Carrington was a British artist who spent almost the whole of her career Mexico. She is one of the 31 Women; I try to catch as many exhibitions as possible containing their work.

The Dublin exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art was probably my only chance to see so much of Carrington's work in one place, most is on the other side of the Atlantic. I couldn't miss this huge retrospective of one of my favourites. It was wonderful to have free access to the three floors in IMMA's garden gallery and enjoy her boundless imagination in over 50 paintings, plus drawings, books, sculpture and tapestries by Leonora Carrington. Most of this work I had never seen before and much I hadn't even seen illustrated. With so much to see, I visited the exhibition on two successive days, would have liked to go back, but we had a flight to catch!

Tapestry "Iguana and Fox" with sculpture "Albino Hogg."
Carrington's extraordinary work is incomprehensibly underrated in the UK, though she is one of only a few British women artists whose work can fetch over one million pounds. She was a magical, mysterious and sometime surrealist painter, illustrator, writer and in her later years a sculptor. Her work is not to be confused with the very conventional and tasteful paintings of another Carrington - no relation - who was a member of the Bloomsbury set.  Leonora could only be described as a conventional artist because she used the more conventional medium of paint, rather installation or performance art.

Was my trip worth it? Definitely! The exhibition was suitably marvellous and even without the exhibition, I hadn't been to Dublin for 25 years. Despite the recent recession, it's still a lively and immensely charming city. We stayed in the George Frederic Handel Hotel, on the site of the Great Music Hall on the wonderfully named Fishamble Street, where Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in 1742. Hallelujah!

 Was the catalogue worth the money (45 Euro)? Yes, it gives fascinating insights into the work of this fascinating artist, including an interview by Hans Ulrich-Obrist and comment by her son, Gabriel Weisz-Carrington. I will look at this book again and again.  n                                                                                                                                                                 *">Leonora">Leonora

Monday, 28 April 2014

European Elections, 22 May

This is a post aimed at any UK readers of this blog, apologies to the rest of the world for being boring!
Are you registered to vote in the European elections? You can register up to 6th May so it's not too late. And polling day is Thursday 22 May. If you can't be bothered, just remember that Ukip can be bothered and they are very good at getting all their supporters to the polls. That's how they gained thirteen European MEP's last time. Yes I did say thirteen! The UK only has 73 Euro MP's and Ukip are expected to do even better this time. The EU can affect policies on human rights, animal rights, consumer rights, the environment, international trade, economic development, workers' rights etc. Why should we care? Well, do you really want the ukips to represent your views on those matters? I know I don't.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Aline Meyer Liebman; The 31 Women Number Twenty Seven was born in 1879.

Aline Meyer Liebman 1879-1966. American painter, photographer, collector and patron.

Aline Meyer Liebman
(photograph from the cover of
her daughter's book)
At 64, Aline Meyer Liebman was the oldest of the artists who exhibited at the Exhibition by 31 Women. As an artist, she is unknown. Like Peggy Guggenheim, Aline’s main importance was as a dedicated collector and patron of artists and galleries. A number of other wealthy American women were keen supporters of modern art during its eatly years, including Katherine Dreier, Florine Stettheimer and Louise Arensberg. Aline Meyer was the earliest, beginning her collecting before 1900 and continuing to support modern art, particularly photography, for more than sixty years.

Aline recorded in her diary on 11 December1942, that Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim visited her studio to choose a painting for the forthcoming Exhibition by 31 Women. This was unusual, Ernst is usually said to have visited the women artists alone and although Peggy and Aline probably knew each other, there is no indication that they were more than acquaintances. Also unusual was this particular artist's reluctance to lend the pictures they wanted.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Barbara Poe-Levee (Reis), the 31 Women number Twenty Six. Her Birthday is 4th March.

Barbara Reis 4 March 1922 - 13 Sept 2013  -                    

    Later known as Barbara Poe-Levee – American painter and collector.

Barbara Poe Levee at 88
Barbara Reis was born in New York City in 1922 and was almost destined to be an artist. Her parents were amongst the NY cognoscenti who, in the early 1940’s, welcomed exiled European artists fleeing the War in their homelands. Her mother Rebecca was a painter, her father Bernard’s profession was as an accountant but both were keen collectors of modern art, an enthusiasm that Barbara followed them into. The family had travelled in Europe during the 1930’s and Barbara was educated at a Rudolph Steiner School in New York, the Tyler School of Fine Arts, Philadelphia and the Ecole Internationale, Geneva, Switzerland.

The Reises befriended Peggy Guggenheim in around 1940 and while their parents attended each other’s parties and soirees, Barbara became friends with fellow painter Pegeen Vail, Peggy Guggenheim’s daughter by her first marriage to writer and artist Lawrence Vail. Barbara’s first contact, as an impressionable teenager, with the European artists, especially the Surrealists, made a lasting impact on her as an artist.  Her other friends in the 1940’s included artists Luchita Hurtado, Anne Alpert, Matta, Wolfgang Paalen and Robert Motherwell.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Shelfies - How many books do you own?


This 'shelfie' shows just a few of the books I've acquired since I started the 31 Women Project.
I know which books I have, roughly, but I probably ought to catalogue them all properly.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

National Libraries Day. But do you support your local library? Do I?

Today is national libraries day. Every day seems to be national something-or-other day, I usually ignore them, but this one struck chord, and not a comfortable one. I last visited my local library almost a year ago, which is too long. And that was just to borrow a travel guide to take on holiday to Crete because I didn't want to entrust my laptop to the kindly carefulness of baggage handlers.

I like to tell myself I live in the wrong place. If the local library was within walking distance of my home, I'd go every week. That's what I tell myself because I used to live within easy walking distance of out local library in Stony Stratford, but that was almost two decades ago. When we first moved there, the library was tiny, housed in a little Victorian gothic building which had originally been the fire station. The rise of the new town of Milton Keynes led to Stony Stratford being given a larger modern library and I visited twice weekly and introduced my three children to the joys of libraries, all before they were two years old.

But the children grew up, we moved and my tastes changed. Today I read less fiction and I mostly need academic libraries for my research, and I buy books from bookshops, rather than borrowing them. I admit to also buying books online, but from Abebooks rather than Amazon. And my favourite bookshop is the Oxfam bookshop in the town centre. I probably own as many books as some small libraries.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Happy Birthday to Sophie Taeuber-Arp!

Although today she is not amongst the most famous of the 31 Women, Sophie Taeuber-Arp is arguably one of the most significant. In honour of Sophie's birthday I have updated my blog post from last year.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Birthdays of the 31 Women

This list is of the artists whose biographies I've so far posted. All entries remain on the blog and I may update them from time to time if something needs correcting, or if some kind reader contacts me with further information. The object of the project is particularly to get the lesser known artists into the public eye, so information about these is especially welcome.

The remaining six of the 31 artists are listed at the  bottom, they will appear on their birthdays later this year.

1 - Gypsy Rose Lee   8 Jan 1911(or 19 Feb1912?) - 26 April 1970
2 - Sophie Taeuber-Arp  19 Jan 1889  - 13 Jan 1943     

3 - Buffie Johnson    20 Feb 1912  - 11 August 2006    
4 - Julia Thecla        28 Feb 1896 - 29 June 1973       

5 - Elizabeth Eyre de Lanux   20 March 1894 - 8 Sept 1996 
6 -   Valentine Hugo  26 March 1897 - 1968

7 - Leonora Carrington  6 April 1917 -   25 May 2011   
8 - Sonja Sekula   8 April 1918  - 25 April 1963       

9 -  Hazel McKinley   13 April 1903  - 15 June 1995    
10 - Suzy Freylinghuysen   7 May 1911  -  19 March 1988 

11 - Djuna Barnes    12 June 1892 -   18 June 1982  
12 - Meraud Guevara   24 June 1904  - 1993   

13 - Kay Sage   25 June 1898  - 8 January 1963  
14 - Frida Kahlo   6 July 1907  - 13 July 1954        

15 - Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven   12 July 1874  - 14 Dec 1927     
16 -  Hedda Sterne    4 Aug 1910 - 8 April 2011        

17 - Irene Rice–Pereira  15 Aug 1902  -  11 January 1971        
18 - Pegeen Vail        18 Aug 1924  -    1 March 1967  
19 - Dorothea Tanning  25 Aug 1910 -  31 January 2012      
20 - Xenia Cage   28 Aug 1913  -   26 Sept 1995     
21 - Meret Oppenheim   6 Oct 1913 - 15 November 1985          
22 - Milena Barili   5 Nov. 1909  - 6 March 1945      
23 - Anne Harvey   Nov 1916  -   1967        
24 - Jacqueline Lamba  17 Nov 1910  -  20 July 1993    
25 - Gretchen Schoeninger Corazzo  born 18 Dec 1913 and celebrated her centenary in 2013 

The remaining artists:
Aline Meyer Liebman - painter, photographer, patron
Barbara (Reis) Poe-Levee - painter, collector
Esphyr Slobodkina - painter, sculptor
Leonor Fini - painter, designer
Louise Nevelson - sculptor
Maria Elena Vieira da Silva - painter

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Another new header picture - Yinka Shonibare

My latest header picture shows Fabric-Ation, a work by British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, in the formal garden of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year.

Born in London in 1962, Yinka Shonibare moved to Nigeria when he was three, later returning to the UK to be an art student. He graduated from Goldsmiths in the 1990's. His colourful, witty sculptures and installations comment particularly on the history and effects of colonialism and post-colonialism.

"His work shrewdly explores and confounds stereotypes of race and class, engaging with ideas around identity and authenticity as well as dislocation, multiculturalism, global food production and revolution, often addressed through playful conceits." YSP website -