Posts Tagged ‘London’

Hilma af Klint - Painting the UnseenJust a few days ago, a new exhibit opened at the Serpentine Galleries in London.  It features a group of abstract and symbolic paintings from a Swedish painter by the name of Hilma af Klint who lived from 1862 until 1944.  The images of her work on display are quite captivating and intrigued me enough to look further into her work.  It’s an interesting case.

She was trained in the 1880’s in Sweden as a traditional artist and for most of her life supported herself with naturalistic landscapes and portraits.  This work is well done and attractive but unremarkable.  She considered this conventional work as a means of supporting her “life’s work” which were the many spiritually inspired abstract pieces produced from the 1890’s up to the time of her death in 1944.

Hilma af Klint YouthInterested in spirituality and theosophy, Hilma formed a group of women who met on a regular basis to hold seances to attempt to contact and channel the spirits from other dimensions.  She claimed to have been “commissioned” by one of these spirits to create a series of large paintings which occupied her for a number of years.  These paintings consisted of geometric and organic forms and a distinct visual vocabulary expressing a deeply spiritual element.

At the time of her death, there was a huge group of work, over 1200 paintings of varying.  Some are epic in their size, measuring over 10′ in height.  However, none were ever displayed publicly in her lifetime and she stipulated that it not be allowed to be exhibited until twenty years after her death. for fear that it would not be understood in that present time.  Little did she know that it would actually be more than forty years before it came to light in an exhibit in 1986.  In recent years there have been two major exhibits of her work, including this current show at the Serpentine Galleries, which have really pushed her work into the spotlight.

Her recent discovery and the depth of her work has created a quandary fo art historians who struggle to place her in the timeline of art history.   Her work was formed independently of and, in most cases, before the abstract movement pioneered by Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian.  They don’t know how to categorize her: Is she a pioneer or simply an outsider?

I don’t think this categorization matters.  Just take a look at some of these works on display and most likely you won’t care either.  The work definitely is in the present and alive. And that is all that matters.

Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction3 Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction 2 Hilma af Klint - Painting the Unseen2 Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction

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I came across a group of photos that caught my eye on Luminous Lint, one of my favorite sites to visit and one that I have mentioned here a number of times in the past.  They were by a photographer who I was not familiar with, not that is an unusual thing.  The name was Alvin Langdon Coburn and the photos were scenes of London from the turn of the  twentieth century.  They were quite beautiful and evocative, gray and misty in an artistic way that captured all the preconceptions one might have about London of that time.  The photo shown above, one of Hyde Park from 1905,  was the first one I saw and it immediately struck a chord with me.  I loved the composition with the way the trees jutted into the picture frame and how the ghostly carriage hovered in the background.

Coburn was an American from Boston who had a most impressive biography photographing the great men and places of his time  over the course of his life which ended in 1966 at the age of 84.  He eventually became a British citizen and lived  the last 54 years of his life in Britain.

Here are some of my favorites from his London scenes  as well as a wonderful portrait of sculptor Auguste Rodin, best known, of course, for his  The Thinker sculpture .

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There is an internet broadcast that started in 2007 and is ongoing called the Black Cab Sessions.  It features a musical guest performing one song as they ride through the streets of London in the well known black London hackney.  It has had a tremendous variety of artists over the year, from the very well known to not-yet-quite-there, all performing in the compact confines of the cab’s back seat.  Grand pianos and harps don’t play a big part in these performances.

Here’s one of my favorites, Richard Thompson, perfroming in the Black Cab…

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The Great Smog of ’52

If you watch the TV series Mad Men, you probably know that the London Fog referred to in the name of the famed outerwear company is a myth.  London does not get particularly foggy but it makes a romantic notion for selling raincoats.  However, London has had a different sort of fogginess at different times in its history.


It was on this day, December 4 in 1952, that a heavy smog descended on the city and stayed there for four dark days.  A coinciding series of events led to this.  First, was a hig pressure mass that stalled over the Thames River Valley, bringing windless conditions.  Next was a drop in the temperature which made many of the residents increase their burning of coal to heat their homes.  The particulate pollution from the residential chimneys combined with normal industrial and automotive emissions to form a thick, unmoving fog that blocked out sunlight, eventually bringing all transportation to a halt. 

The worse effect of the Great Smog, as it came to be known, was the human toll.  There are no definitive numbers as to how many people perished in the four day event, which finally came to a halt with a changing weather front that blew away the smog.  Most agree that it was at least 4000 and some suggest that the number is much higher, with some estimates reaching 12,000 victims. 

 Even if it is the lowest of these numbers, I find it astounding that such an event took place a mere 59 years ago.  Even more amazing is that even though measures were taken by the government to lower factory emission and to deter residents from burning coal, a similar, but smaller, event took place ten years later which killed over 100 people in London. 

It brings to mind memories of riding in the family car around Cleveland in the 1960’s when it was still in its industrial heyday.  The factories that crowded the shores of Lake Erie spewed huge plumes of  dark brown mist that gave the sky a sepia soupiness and the smell was sulphury and intense.  Eventually, it would come to light that these factories and others were responsible for the acid rain that defoliated large chunks of the Adirondacks.  Thankfully, regulation took place and driving through Cleveland today is a much different affair with clear skies and views of the lake. 

Take from this what you will.

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Sometimes when you think about what you might write down on a list of your favorite movies there are some that evade your memory until you see it again and, like a desert flower, blooms again in your mind.

Such is the case with 84 Charing Cross Road.

It was on TCM last night and we flipped it on just to glimpse a few moments and ended up watching the whole thing.  I was immediately reminded of how much I like the film.

From 1987, it’s a movie about books and the written letter.  Hardly an action-filled two hours.  It’s the true story of writer Helene Hanff and her 20 year correspondence with a London bookshop, Marks and Co., located at 84 Charing Cross Road.  In 1949, Hanff an aspiring and struggling NY playwright responded a small classified ad from the bookseller.  She was seeking obscure British literature and was unable to locate her desired works in shops.  The movie follows the correspondence between Hanff over the next 20 years with the staff of the shop and how they effected each other’s lives with small acts of kindness and humor.  Hanff never made the trip to London until after the manager she primarily corresponded with had died and the shop had closed.

It’s a small quiet film that celebrates two things that are racing to obscurity- books and the posted letter.  Just a lovely and charming film.

The great Anne Bancroft stars in the film as Hanff and as usual, is wonderful.  I have had a longtime crush on Anne Bancroft to the point that when I think of Mel Brooks I don’t think of his great movies but instead find myself thinking what a lucky bastard he was to have married Anne Bancroft.   It also stars Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel, the main man at the bookshop and Judi Dench as his wife.

If you love the feel of an old book and still get excited when you receive a hand-written note,  you most likely will enjoy this film.  It remains one of my sometimes forgotten favorites.

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