Friday, 27 November 2015

Vermeer's Little Street Identified...

New stop on Delft tourist trail after Vermeer's Little Street identified
Dutch art historian tells how he solved centuries-old mystery – and local people report a sightseeing invasion

Gordon Darroch
Thursday 26 November 2015

Few artists have left such a deep imprint on their birthplace as Johannes Vermeer on Delft. In the summer, tour parties weave through the Dutch town’s cobbled streets ticking off Vermeer landmarks. But until last week only the most devoted would have made a trip to the handsome townhouse at No 42 Vlamingstraat, noting that the artist’s aunt, Ariaentgen Claes van der Minne, once lived in the same spot and made her living selling tripe.

All that, however, has now changed. After two years of painstaking detective work, a Dutch art historian has identified the spot as the location of Vermeer’s Little Street, resolving a century-old mystery. “The whole street’s been talking about it,” said Lenie Gerbrands, whose house stands beside the spot where Vermeer sat four centuries ago, painting his aunt’s house across the water. “It’s a good piece of news to have in these difficult times. It’ll give the area a lift.”

Historians have been trying to identify the Little Street ever since Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum acquired the painting, formally known as View of Houses in Delft, in 1921. Frans Grijzenhout, professor of art history at Amsterdam University, spent many months combing through land registers and legal documents to pinpoint the location.

His quest began when he came across a tax ledger dating from 1667 that gave exact measurements of the canals and houses in the town. The information was used to calculate how much households should pay towards the upkeep of the waterways. Grijzenhout realised it could be the key to identifying several well-known Delft street scenes.

In the 17th century Vlamingstraat was the heart of a poor neighbourhood, named after the Flemish migrants who lived there. Vermeer knew it well, having grown up in poverty nearby. His aunt and his sister both lived by the canal.

But almost nothing is left of the scene that Vermeer painted in 1658 or thereabouts. His aunt’s house at No 42, with its crow-stepped gables and the passageway known as De Penspoort (Tripe Gate), was torn down in around 1870. The house to its left has also been demolished and replaced. All that remains from Vermeer’s time is the canal itself, just out of view in the painting, and the doorway leading to Tripe Gate.

Historians could tell from the light in the painting that the facade of No 42 faced south-east, while the distance between painter and subject indicated it was a canal street rather than an alleyway. The distinctive double doorway between the houses was another significant pointer. Finally, the style of the house in Vermeer’s painting predated a devastating fire that raged through Delft in 1536, destroying much of the street.

“We think of Delft as an old town, but most of the buildings date from the 18th or 19th century,” said Grijzenhout. “When I first stood opposite the house two years ago I couldn’t see any of the features in the painting. But the dimensions of the house at No 42, the height and width, combined with the two doorways, matched the details in the book. I knew this had to be the place.” The clincher came when he found a map in Delft’s Prinsenhof museum made after the 1536 fire, which showed that No 42 Vlamingstraat was one of the few buildings in the area to have survived.

A reconstruction of Vermeer’s scene, at the location of the Little Street, as identified by a Dutch art historian.

The historian first visited the house back in February, but kept his true purpose a secret. “I wanted to be absolutely sure before I told the owners,” Grijzenhout said. “And I didn’t want to burden them with the knowledge. They were very friendly and helpful, but people find it difficult to keep these things secret.”

Grijzenhout kept up the pretence for several months. “He told us he was researching 19th-century buildings in the area,” said Myra Hillebrink, who lives in the house with her husband, Gijs, and their four children. “Then he came back in September with a copy of the painting and said: ‘Do you recognise this? This is where it was painted.’”

Hillebrink, 46, has already had a taste of her home’s new fame, having seen tourists and journalists tramp through the street in the days after the news broke. “I have to say we were taken aback by the response,” she said. “It’s very special to have this connection and the children are very excited about it, but I’m wondering when the hype will die down.”

Grijzenhout’s biggest source of doubt was the fact that the house had a family connection with Vermeer. “People thought it was naive or stupid to suppose it was the house just because his aunt lived there,” he said. “It seemed too good to be true. But it turns out it was correct. Vermeer was probably inspired by the memories he had of growing up in the area. The people in the painting aren’t models or members of his family; they’re not portraits. It’s just a typical street scene.”

Delft’s tourism officials are already discussing how to market the latest addition to the Vermeer canon. Tourist maps are being redrawn: until now most gave the probable location as Nieuwe Langendijk, a filled-in canal street running parallel to Vlamingstraat.

“It’s an opportunity for the whole town,” said Marjan den Boer of Marketing Delft. “Delft has three big selling points: the porcelain, William of Orange and Johannes Vermeer. The Japanese especially go in for Vermeer, I’m not quite sure why, but we get visitors from all over the world. We expect this will be another boost for tourism in Delft.”

And in other news:

On the Kromme Wall, Amsterdam.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Just My Imagination
Sylvia's Mother

Da Elderly: -
Through My Sails
Into The Light
You've Got A Friend

The Elderly Brothers: -
Walk Right Back
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
When A Man Loves A Woman
Medley: Sweet Caroline/Hi Ho Silver Lining

A lively evening at the open mic with several new players including a young lad (Life On Mars? and Blowing In The Wind) and a more seasoned campaigner (Winter Song). Ron debuted a song by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show and the Elderlys dug out a Percy Sledge classic from 1966 which was well received by The Habit crowd.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Philip Larkin behind (and in front of) the camera

Larkin book jacket
Larkin with his camera. He used photography to sharpen his connection with ‘that fuller and more sensitive response to life as it appears from day to day’ towards which he was also striving in his poetry. In photography, as in poetry, his aim was, ‘to construct a ... device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it.’

The photography of Philip Larkin - in pictures
Best known as a poet and librarian, Larkin was also a dedicated photographer, whose pictures kept a deadpan, erotic and mischievous record of his life. A new book gives the inside story

Philip Larkin aged 14, with his sister Kitty, during one of the family’s trips to Germany, in 1936. Larkin didn’t say much about the political situation they would have encountered there, but he wrote that their father, Sydney, “liked jolly singing in beer cellars, three-four times to accordians…”

Eva Larkin

Larkin’s mother Eva. The poet wrote to Monica in 1954: “you must never come back ... till she is dead and gone if you want a quiet life, which suggests that some morbidly humorous intent went into his carefully posed photograph in a museum of wartime memorabilia near Loughborough.

Hilly Kilmarnock, sunbathing in Swansea, at the time when she was married to Kingsley Amis. She wrote to Larkin in 1950: “I’m sick to death of all the men I love and admire going off with other women, usually much better looking than me. There’s Kingsley with Barbara and Terry … I’ve got a weekend off in April, when I shall be going to London. I dream that I’m meeting you there, and that we’ll have loads to drink and then go to bed together, but alas, only a dream.”

Monica in the bedroom of Larkin’s Pearson Park in Hull, in 1957. References to her clothes feature habitually in his letters to her. He revelled in her willingness to play the role of sex-object, to become as much the figure of his fantasies as the individual with whom he talked about literature and architecture. She too enjoyed shifting between these roles and was happy, often flattered, to pose for the many mildly erotic photographs he took of her.

Larkin shaving

This self-portrait is one of four taken on the same day in 1957, as if to record a day in Larkin’s life. The others show him reading the newspaper over breakfast in his dressing gown, smartly dressed for work, and back at his flat in the early evening in casual clothes.

Larkin with the Amises and Anthony Powell
Larkin (right) with Hilly and Kingsley Amis and Anthony Powell (left) after a lunch at the Ivy in London in 1958. Though Powell came from a different era and class, he admired the new generation’s apparent commitment to elegant readability. Larkin wrote of Powell, that he was charming and funny, “at least he never says anything really funny, but he’s full of droll anecdotes and laughs a lot, so one imagines he’s funny. He dresses in a country style and has a big red spotty handkerchief to wipe the tears of laughter away with.”

Maeve Brennan

The writer Maeve Brennan at breakfast in a hotel in Hornsea where she had spent the night with Larkin in 1963. Brennan was the subject of his unfinished poem The Dance, about a university social evening she had persuaded him to attend against his will at Hull. He wrote: “Chuckles from the drains/ decide me suddenly: Ring for a car right now. But doing so// Needs pennies, and in making for the bar/ for change I see your lot are waving, till/ I have to cross and smile and stay and share/ Instead of walking out.’

Larkin and Betjeman
When The Whitsun Weddings was published in 1964, John Betjeman wrote in The Listener that Larkin had become ‘the John Clare of the estates’. Here Betjeman chalks up he final stanza of Larkin’s poem, Here, for a BBC film portraying the poet in the industrialised landscape north of Hull: ‘Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands /Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,/ Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken...Here is unfenced existence:/ Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.’

Philip Larkin

Larkin in Scotland, photographed by Monica, whose reflection is visible in the window pane. Although the barn-like church in the background with its strident cross is unlike the gently decaying buildings that informed his poem, Church Going, this carefully composed image reiterates Larkin and Monica’s interest in the vestiges of faith.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ally May - Love is a serious business

Love is a serious business

It is a freezing afternoon
and I'm walking down
the full length of Shields Road, Byker.

I have no appetite
too much wine last night maybe?
Me and cash never stay
friends for long.

Later it rains long and heavily.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Bill Murray at The Baltic, Gateshead

‘I’m interested in his Murrayness': Bill Murray exhibition opens in Gateshead
Artist Brian Griffiths says it was Hollywood star’s attitude that inspired him to create the show at the Baltic centre for contemporary art

Mark Brown
Thursday 19 November 2015

A20-metre image of Bill Murray looks out over the river Tyne; inside the Baltic centre for contemporary art the actor is everywhere for an exhibition he probably knows little about.

“I’m interested in his Murrayness,” explains Brian Griffiths, responsible for the show, Bill Murray: A Story of Distance, Size and Sincerity, which imagines the pastimes of the Hollywood actor.

Using Murray as his muse, the artist has created a sculptural show with objects scaled both up and down as a way of exploring how we experience and measure things.

Outside the Gateshead gallery is the Murray banner; inside Griffiths has created a Murray-inspired fantasy landscape of model houses and imagined Murray activities involving a miniature whisky bar, a helicopter and a grand piano.

“He is very good material,” says Griffiths who is known for using found objects, among which Murray could be counted.

Griffiths says it was Murray’s attitude that inspired the show. It is “Bill the global superstar, the guy-next-door, the anti-brand brand, the irrepressible Lothario, the lovable gruff, the wise cracker, the emotionally brittle, the lost man, the free-wheeling guy, the uncle you-never-had, the dignified clown, the droll philosopher and the hopeful.”

It opens to the public on Friday, although the huge photograph of Murray taking a photograph of photographers at the Cannes film festival was placed on the riverside front of the Baltic on Monday and has been a popular selfie background all week.

Inside there are pictures of both a smiling and a serious Murray everywhere you look, along with nine model houses installed on tables, including a Los Angeles beach house, a faded art deco mansion and an ocean adventure dome.

If visitors put their ear close to one window they might hear classical music coming out of the clock radio. “It is a fantasy landscape,” says Griffiths. “I would call it a metaphysical adventure story with Bill. For me, Bill is an object in the show and an image in the show... we all know Bill. He has to some extent become my leading man.”
The show is also an exploration of scales and sizes, so it is a huge room with a big star and small houses into which visitors can peer as if they were giants. On the mezzanine level, people can look through a graphoscope at the ant-like visitors down below.

Similarly Murray is a big, Hollywood star who is very unlike a big star. He is known for his films - among them Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation - and for his eccentricities. He reportedly has no agent or manager which makes it tricky for people to send him scripts.

Griffiths says: “The ambition is that scales, points of view and sizes are all in flux. In the end you have to measure up to the works. I’m fascinated by how scale and size works generally.”

He has tried to make contact with Murray but does not know if he was successful. “He is difficult to get hold of ... he seems to live a very particular life.”

The actor’s eccentricities have inspired a website that documents incidences of him just turning up to things. Whether he makes it to Gateshead remains to be seen.

• Bill Murray: A Story of Distance, Size and Sincerity is at the Baltic centre for contemporary art from 20 November to 28 February 2016

BILL MURRAY: a story of distance, size and sincerity20 November 2015 – 28 February 2016

In BILL MURRAY: a story of distance, size and sincerity, artist Brian Griffiths presents an ambitious new commission that takes in BALTIC’s vast Level 4 gallery with a contrastingly small-scale production. A series of nine different style buildings, including a lavish LA beach house, a historic Scottish mansion and an ocean adventure dome, imagine Hollywood actor Bill Murray’s activities and pastimes.

A complex assemblage of these architectural models, light, everyday objects and a documented performance of Bill Murray creates a metaphysical adventure story and a fantasy caricature complete with whisky minibar, grand piano and helicopter.

BILL MURRAY: a story of distance, size and sincerity is an exhibition that enjoys and considers the effects of small, miniature, big, gigantic, the scaled up and scaled down, detail and overview. It is an exhibition that questions how one experiences and measures things. It encourages comparisons and differences, instabilities and slipperiness and attempts to use exaggeration as a means of revelation. This exhibition strives for both intimacy and grandeur, to present production and consumption and hopes for imaginative flight from humble objects.

Griffiths has also reproduced an image of Bill Murray at Cannes Film Festival as a 20 metre-long banner, which will appear on BALTIC’s north facade for the duration of the exhibition, playing once more with degrees of scale.

Since the early 1990s Brian Griffiths has been making sculptures and installations with overblown theatricality and pathos. He uses found and made objects to consider our complex relationships with the material and social world; how we use objects to make meaning, to make and re-make ourselves, to organise our anxieties and affections, to sublimate our fears and shape our fantasies.

Bill Murray is always authentic. He is consistently ‘BILL MURRAY’. His singularity breaks into irreducible ambiguities and contradictions – Bill the global superstar, the guy-next-door, anti-brand brand, irrepressible lothario, dignified clown and droll philosopher. This exhibition takes these and many other characteristics as an approach, turning them into a fantasy caricature and a poetic tableau of scaled down architecture and collections.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Dion and Paul Simon - New York Is My Home

Dion and Paul Simon record a duet together
The track will appear on Dion's forthcoming album, New York Is My Home.

Michael Bonner
November 10, 2015

Dion is set to release a new studio album next February.

The album, New York Is My Home, is due for release via Instant Records through The Orchard.

The title track is a duet recorded with Paul Simon, which is set for release as a single this Friday (November 13, 2015).

Paul Simon, Dion

Dion said: “It’s my ‘street rock ’n’ roll song, my love song to the city and my girl.

“To my eyes the city is pure; it lifts me to a higher reality. I experience the fullness of life in New York. It’s all here.”

The video for the track features Dion and Simon and was filmed on the streets of New York in late October.

Dion said: “Early on, I knew I had to sing it (the title track) with Paul Simon. I knew Paul would ‘get’ this song. And he did.

“Soon after I sent it to him (Paul Simon) called and said he’d become obsessed with it and added his own distinct touches to the production. This was a labor of love for us.”

Dion and Simon have previously played together, performing Dion’s “The Wanderer” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Dion was inducted by Lou Reed in 1989.*

*Those of us with a better grasp of these two gentlemen's work will remember that Simon guested on Written On The Subway Wall/Little Star, one of two standout tracks on Dion's Yo Frankie album - and, as if by magic, here it is:

Friday, 20 November 2015

David Bowie at the Neon Social Club, Jarrow

A Jarrow working men's club has launched a recruitment drive - backed by a VIP member.

The Neon Social Club on the Scotch Estate wants fewer cloth caps and more bright circus clothes in the lounge and bar.

Rock icon David Bowie, a committee member, agreed to take part in a promotional video.

He said: "I love to fly in from LA for the meat draw and the bingo of a Sunday.

"But the numbers have been dropping off, so I thought I'd get me best claes on and give the lads a boost."

Catch the Neon promo below

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Autumn Leaves
The Way You Look Tonight
Can't Help Falling In Love

Da Elderly: -
In The Morning Light
I'm Just A Loser
Into The Light (new song)

The Elderly Brothers: -
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
When Will I Be Loved
Love Hurts
Bye Bye Love

Another busy night at The Habit open mic, players outnumbering punters at one point. There was the usual eclectic mix on offer including a young lass debuting on uke and a chap with a loop machine who started off on guitar and changed (mid loop) to mandolin! Yours truly played 3 originals including a debut for Into The Light, written last Sunday and favourably received. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin's Photographs - review

 Philip Larkin
One of a series of self-portraits taken by Philip Larkin on the same day in 1957

The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs by Richard Bradford – review
Philip Larkin’s astute pictures make a tantalising companion to his verse

Sean O'Hagan
Sunday 15 November 2015

In October 1947, Philip Larkin wrote to his friend Jim Sutton about a recent “act of madness” – he had spent £7 on a camera. The British-made Purma Special had cost him more than a week’s wages, but it was state of the art compared with his previous model, a box camera that had been given to him by his father in 1937, when Larkin was 15.
Philip Larkin
“I am so far awaiting my first roll of results,” Larkin told Sutton in the same letter. “If they are bad, I shall feel I have been rather a fool.”

The results were in fact good, despite the fact that the Purma was, as Larkin put it, “a ‘fast’ camera, that is, best suited to swift scenes in bright sun” and: “I like poor light the best and I don’t think it will do any good in that line.” It seems somehow apt that Larkin, who once said “deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”, should be drawn aesthetically to “poor light” – all the better to see some essence of England by, perhaps? Larkin later graduated to the altogether more classic Rolleiflex, on which he made many of his pensive self-portraits. Throughout, his visual style, like his poetic one, tended towards what the literary critic John Bayley called “a glum accuracy about places and emotions”… and people.
Philip Larkin
The photographs collected chronologically in The Importance of Elsewhere are culled from some 5,000 prints and negatives in the archives of the Hull History Centre. They are not, in the main, groundbreaking. They do, though, trace Larkin’s progress from an amateur enthusiast to a formally astute photographer with a keen eye for composition, whether making portraits of his friends, family, lovers and coterie of literary friends or casting his cold eye over the English countryside. There are moments of peculiar beauty here, mostly to do with his cool observation of English vernacular architecture: an austere Wesleyan chapel in East Yorkshire caught in stark monochrome; tall obelisks casting long shadows in a country graveyard in Oban.

The most Larkinesque series, apart from the many studied self-portraits, centres on the names of Yorkshire villages – Laxton, Faxfleet, Kiplin, Yokefleet. The poetry of place names, familiar from his verse, is here rendered in stark black and white, the silhouettes of buildings looming in the background behind these functional, yet lyrical, signs that nestle on well-tended grassy verges.
Philip Larkin's photograph of Monica Jones
Of Larkin’s lovers, Ruth Bowman, Monica Jones, Patsy Strang and Maeve Brennan are each given a chapter, but it is Monica who emerges most strongly as a forceful presence in his portraits. Whether staring down the lens while curled up on an armchair, wearing horn-rims, jumper and vertically striped tights, or gazing in profile out of the window of her flat in Leicester in the early 1960s, she seems utterly at ease before Larkin’s camera. In contrast, there is a striking portrait of Maeve Brennan, looking up from a book, melancholy and almost Victorian in a high-necked, long-sleeved dress. It was taken shortly after they had agreed to end their relationship and seems to carry all the weight of that decision in its sombreness.
A photograph belonging to Philip Larkin
Larkin also photographed the world around him wherever he went: his chum, Kingsley Amis, at Oxford and beyond, portraits of friends who had been conscripted during the second world war, Orange marches in Belfast in the early 50s, shipyard cranes and shopfronts in Hull a few years later. Here and there, the images and the poems seem to chime: a vibrant street scene in Dublin captures a crowd of children and adults watching a passing parade or funeral. Only one young girl stares suspiciously at Larkin’s camera and you can almost see him though her eyes, a nerdish outsider observing. One wonders if the image was echoed in his late poem, Dublinesque, in which he described how “Down stucco sidestreets,/ Where light is pewter/ And afternoon mist/ Brings lights on in shops/ Above race-guides and rosaries,/ A funeral passes”.
Hilly Amis
A fascinating and tantalising book, then, and one that sheds light on a great poet and tricky human being, who seems to have found, in photography, another altogether less fretful – and perhaps kinder – way of preserving what he experienced.