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 - http://www.iain-banks.net/

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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.