Wednesday, 30 September 2015

C. K. Williams RIP

C.K. Williams, Pulitzer-winning poet, dies at 78

Martin Weil
Washington Post
22 September 2015 

C.K. Williams, an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was known for extended lines that captured conversation and provided ample room for emotion, died Sept. 20 at his home in Hopewell, N.J. He was 78.

Author Joyce Carol Oates, a close friend, confirmed the death to the Associated Press. The cause was cancer.

Over a career that produced at least 20 books of poetry, Mr. Williams was compared to Walt Whitman for the length and expansiveness of his flowing lines, and for their ability to track the twists and turns, of human feelings and consciousness.

On the other hand, he could not be simply categorized; shorter, briefer lines characterized many of the poems in “Repair,” the collection that won the 2000 Pulitzer. What both styles had in common, critics noted, was keen intelligence and restless curiosity about people and the world.

Mr. Williams was known for possessing a broad and passionate vision of the potentialities of poetry, giving attention to such matters as civil rights, the Vietnam War and the hazards of atomic power. Poet Robert Pinsky once noted that Mr. Williams was sometimes associated with “ferocious, boldly topical poems.”
C.K. Williams, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2000. (Benoit Cortet)

In “Tar,” a poem about Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, he had himself wondering:

if and when to make a run for it and where, then a coming bolt awake
at seven
when the roofers we’ve been waiting for since winter sent their ladders
shrieking up our wall,
we still know less than nothing: the utility company continues making
little of the accident,
the slick federal spokesmen still have their evasions in some semblance
of order

Mr. Williams also parsed the significance of small glimpses from daily life, about chance encounters, about families and how they worked.

In “On the Metro,” he gave another demonstration of his ability to infuse the gifts of the poet into the most seemingly mundane events. The poem also represents what was for him a major theme: the human wish to establish connection.

On a train, in the poem, a woman’s arm brushes his. It evokes the memory of a girl he had desired, who was sitting across a library table from him in school:

our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I
craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time
had pressed, but a table leg.

Then woman leaves the train, prompting Mr. Williams to ponder,

though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps
there was a moment I was not.

Such poems appeared to exemplify what he described to an interviewer as his “effort to find a way to put back into my poems a lot of the materials of ordinary speech and of ordinary thought.”

But this was not an easy task, he noted. Observations of daily life, or indignation over global problems, or any of the myriad matters that might serve as inspiration do not become poetry until a suitable means of expression comes to hand, until the language and the diction were right, Mr. Williams would say.

More succinctly, he added, “A poem doesn’t exist until it has its music.”
Aggressive pursuit of pleasure

Charles Kenneth Williams was born in Newark, on Nov. 4, 1936, and grew up in South Orange, N.J. His father, who sold office machines, provided a comfortable suburban upbringing, but his personality was mercurial. He said his mother was ascetic and withdrawn.

“I wasn’t a particularly intellectual kid,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “What I was, was a really bored kid. I read everything I could get my hands on.”

He also grew to be 6-foot-5 and was recruited to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to play basketball. But his interest in the sport waned, and he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1959.

His college interests were philosophy and English. He also began dabbling in poetry, initially at the behest of his then-girlfriend. Privately, he immersed himself in the works of Charles Baudelaire, William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke.

While working on his own prose, he was a part-time psychotherapist for young adults and held down brief editing and writing jobs in Pennsylvania. He also married and had a daughter, all the while embracing the freedom of the sexual revolution.

He described his private life as a volatile mixture of excitement and guilt and, in his verse, he made connections between his own aggressive pursuit of pleasure — “sexual madness,” he called it — and the raging war in Vietnam.

“Lies” (1969), his first volume of poetry, was published with the endorsement of poet Anne Sexton, whom he had met at a reading in Philadelphia. It contained one of his most noted early poems, “A Day for Anne Frank,” which linked the civil rights movement of the 1960s with the Holocaust.

“Flesh and Blood” (1987) won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry. Several volumes later, Mr. Williams’s collection “The Singing” won the 2003 National Book Award. In addition to his poetry, he published a memoir (“Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself”), works of criticism and two children’s books.

He worked at George Mason University from 1982 to 1995 and retired recently from the faculty of Princeton University, where he taught courses in poetry writing and in translation. He divided his time between New Jersey and France, his second wife’s native country.

His first marriage, to Sarah Jones, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Catherine Mauger Williams; a daughter from his first marriage; and a son from his second marriage. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.

In interviews, Mr. Williams often discussed the alchemy of turning emotions into words.

“Something happens when you write — especially poetry, of course, and prose, too,” he told “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” in 2000. “There’s a kind of a feeling of something happening to you that’s a kind of fusion of will and submission and inspiration that’s quite marvelous, where something sometimes will — at its very best — seems to be happening through you and to you, rather than you making it happen.

“And there’s very little in the world that’s like that,” he added, “and very little that’s so close that’s coming out of your own consciousness into something else.”

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Jerry Lee Lewis - 80 today!

Jerry Lee Lewis, Farewell Tour, review: 'the old dog has lost nothing of his irascibility'

James Hall
7 September 2015

You can’t move for nostalgia in London’s West End. There are currently ten shows running in the area that are either jukebox musicals or multimedia review-style shows based on musical legends of the past, from Sinatra to The Kinks. It was refreshing, therefore, to see a bone fide pioneer in the flesh in he West End's most famous theatre, albeit for one night only.

Jerry Lee Lewis is on his farewell tour after eight colourful decades. He is, as host Mike Read reminded us, the "last man standing". Over those years, "The Killer" helped to invent rock n’ roll with songs like Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On and Great Balls of Fire. A wild performer at the piano, he was part of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ along with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. And he — famously — fell from grace after marrying his 13-year-old cousin.

Precisely 59 years and five days after his 19-year-old self travelled to Memphis to audition for Sam Philips at Sun Records, Lewis shuffled onto a sold out Palladium’s stage wearing a black suit and his trademark white shoes. It was immediately clear that the old dog has lost nothing of his irascibility. His first anecdote referenced his infamous 1958 London tour when he went home in ignominy due to his unconventional marriage status.

He opened with Stick McGhee's Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee. His voice may have been a touch frail but his hands were as agile as ever. That heavy left at the bottom of the keyboard and the dancing right at the top: they were, at times, lightning.

There was a tremendous amount of goodwill at this show, enough to forgive the odd rambling country ballad and a few wayward melodies.

And during Whole Lotta Shakin' he gave the song a literal interpretation as he tremblingly drank from a Coke can.

Lewis played for a respectable 50 minutes. At times the evening had a distinctly cabaret feel to it which distracted somewhat from the aura of the legend on stage. Did it add anything to the evening when Read told us that Great Balls of Fire, his final song, was Princess Diana's favourite, beyond the fact that the DJ was once close to her? Not really.

As a birthday cake was presented at the end, Robert Plant, Ringo Starr and a host of other musicians came on stage to applaud Lewis. It was a shame they didn't all play together. It would have been a fitting demonstration of just how influential Lewis was to both Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, and hundreds more bands since.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Friday Night Boys' Stalinist Period...

A brief interlude that, in true Stalinist style, we have wiped from our collective memory...

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Van Gogh and Munch Exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam review...

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) by Vincent van Gogh; and Self-Portrait with Palette (1926) by Edvard Munch.

Side by side, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh scream the birth of expressionism
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
The exhibition Munch: Van Gogh shows the two artists, who never met, shared a passionate desire to paint the savage intensity of life – and it casts fresh light on the Dutchman’s tragedy

Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 23 September 2015

 A gunshot and a scream reverberate through the yellow house, echo across the fjord, and fill a new exhibition at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam with pity and terror.

In 1890 Vincent van Gogh fatally shot himself in the French countryside. Three years later the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was walking near Oslo’s fjord at sunset. As the sun went down, he remembered years later, he was seized by a dreadful vision:

“The air became like blood – with piercing strands of fire ... I felt a great scream – and I actually heard a great scream.”

Munch’s 1893 crayon drawing The Scream, on loan from Oslo’s Munch Museum, now hangs near Van Gogh’s Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, which he painted in the last months of his life. The sky for Van Gogh has become a gorgeously thick and wet, yet oppressively dense and massive smear of blue and white. Meanwhile the sky for Munch, in The Scream, is a sinister aurora borealis, a radioactive blaze. We are left to guess what Van Gogh’s blue soup of a sky says about his emotional state. Munch leaves no such ambiguity. He portrays himself as a robed, monk-like figure, his eyes dots of pain in a hairless skull, his mouth an oval of anguish.

Other walkers stand insensitive before the fjord. Only the isolated artist can hear the scream that is tearing nature itself apart.

Seeing Munch and Van Gogh side by side is a journey to the birth of expressionism. They never met, and Van Gogh never knew Munch existed – although Munch, who lived until 1944, certainly got to know eventually about Van Gogh. Yet both artists intuited something similar. They felt the world crying out to express itself in colours. They heard a music, or a scream, in nature that connected artist and sky, artist and fields. The way they set down this holistic, extreme sensitivity created a new kind of art.
 Vincent van Gogh’s The Yellow House (1888); and Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), by Edvard Munch 

Munch: Van Gogh compares some of the greatest masterpieces of two of the greatest modern artists. Munch, besides one of his four versions of The Scream, is represented by his even more terrifying vision of a house that seems to drip blood, Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), his darkly erotic Madonna (1895-97), and many more such shocking revelations of the fin de siecle. Van Gogh replies with works like Starry Night over the Rhone (1888) and The Yellow House (1888). It is like a drama by Strindberg in which the two most intense artists who ever lived rage in mutual madness.
Munch - Starry Night, 1922-1924

StarryNight over Rhone 1888-3600x2849px-nett-crop2
Van Gogh - Starry Night over Rhone, 1888

Munch was the friend Van Gogh never found. The one man who might have understood him. When he rented the Yellow House in Arles and decorated it with bright paintings of sunflowers, Van Gogh was dreaming of utopia. He hoped this house would become an art colony where painters worked like brothers. Instead he got Paul Gauguin as a house guest and the dream ended in self harm and hospitalisation. Would Munch have been a better painting companion? In his 1889 painting Summer Night: Inger on the Beach, nature is a numinous, living presence that infuses the painting with inner light, just as Van Gogh’s stars spark in the blue.
Detail of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, left, compared with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bridge at Trinquetaille. 

Both these northerners were set alight by French impressionism and both admired Gauguin’s abstract, symbolic boldness. Munch’s nightmarish lithographs of lonely souls and depraved sexuality owe more to Gauguin than Van Gogh does, even though it was Van Gogh who lived with Gauguin. But the similarities between Munch and Van Gogh are ultimately less telling than their differences.

This exhibition casts a radically new light on the tragedy of Van Gogh. If a psychiatrist were asked which of these painters was affected by mental health issues, which was most troubled, the diagnosis would be easy. Obviously, Munch is the morbid, seriously disturbed artist here. It is Munch who wears sickness on his sleeve. It’s not just his self-portrait as a screaming ghoul. What about his print Jealousy, in which a bearded youth gazes big-eyed into nothingness while a woman shows her body to a voyeuristic man? Or Red Virginia Creeper, in which blood covers a house and seeps into a muddy path, while the same tortured face gazes into an abyss of horror?

By comparison Van Gogh is free from all morbidity, despair, or self-pity. He liked to close his letters “with a handshake” and recommended smoking a pipe, like he did, to stay sane and happy. His paintings, next to those of Munch, are golden dreams of harmony and hope. He sees a magic in nature, a divine energy. The sound he hears is not a scream but a shout of exultation.

Munch is a macabre poet of darkness, vampires, murder. His art is erotic and perverse. Van Gogh, in the cornfield, is a believer. He is all love.

Until the crows come screaming.

Munch: Van Gogh is at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, from 25 September to 17 January 2016

Friday, 25 September 2015

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Brian Sewell RIP

Brian Sewell's pungent views got people arguing – that’s what matters
The controversial art critic railed against so many things because he knew newspapers and criticism should be great popular entertainment

Jonathan Jones
Sunday 20 September 2015

Newspapers – and critics – love to pretend otherwise, sometimes even headlining the opinions of their arts commentators as “verdicts” as if we were high court judges, but in reality, a review at its best is just a bloody good read. It is a stimulating, provocative or plain annoying blast of verbal adrenalin whose purpose is to create enjoyable discussion about the arts, not to make or break artists in some terrifying Old Testament way.

Brian Sewell, who has died aged 84, understood that and played the part of a critic brilliantly. He was the profession’s equivalent of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, a hugely entertaining old monster. His ratings were on the Downton scale too. He was genuinely loved by legions of readers, a national celebrity. The first time I ever met him, as we waited to board a train in the early morning, a commuter came up to him to thank him for his work. That kind of enthusiasm is rare for a reviewer to experience and it was genuine and very widely shared.

When we got on the train, he said he enjoyed my work but he had imagined me as someone much younger. I sensed he also meant better looking. He was disappointed I was not someone he could take under his wing. And he was comically open about that. Sewell was as uncensored in person as he was in print.

His act may have matched the posh bitchiness of Lady Grantham but it also anticipated Jeremy Corbyn’s less elegant “authenticity” roadshow. Sewell’s own highest value as a critic was “honesty”. He believed it was honesty that distinguished him from the rivals he saw as mealy-mouthed frauds. He reviled Andrew Graham-Dixon and Waldemar Januszczak in an absurdly mean way. That was part of his honesty, as was expressing outrageous opinions that – he believed – others shared but feared to utter. Try this one for size:

“Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50% or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

The problem with this opinion is not that it is offensive but that it is nonsense. It’s a load of cobblers. It was also baloney for Sewell to refuse to see the merits of great modern artists like Cy Twombly. He once upbraided me in person for writing an article in praise of Twombly. He couldn’t distinguish between overhyped artists who deserved to be shot down and the true modern greats. His vision, as a critic, was narrowed by this blindness to what is powerful in modern art. He had a very silly side. But so what? His views were pungent and got people arguing and that’s what matters.

We are constantly being told criticism is dead but Brian Sewell disproved that spectacularly by making himself famous for being a critic and always a critic. He was as well known for being Mr Nasty as the judges on reality television shows. The delight audiences take in seeing Paul Hollywood devastatingly dismiss a meringue is another proof that criticism is very much alive – and Sewell had the same popular appeal. Criticism is a healthy symptom of a democratic society and has been since the 18th century when reviews started appearing in magazines and newspapers. Brian Sewell kept the art of reviewing alive with panache. He is being mourned as a brave anti-populist. Actually he was a great populist.

He invented his act before the internet age, yet anticipated this new era’s appetite for provocation and argument. Sewell had the good fortune to be denouncing conceptual art in the early 90s at a time when Damien Hirst, Charles Saatchi and the Turner prize were making it notorious as never before. The Young British Artists, as much as anyone else, needed someone to express total hostility to their work, to act out the part of the arch conservative. They thrived on controversy, and so did he. Sewell slagged off trendy art far more wittily than typical conservatives who merely sounded old and tired. He assailed the schlock of the new with energy and glee. He was Punch to Tracey Emin’s Judy.

Like a thread of 10,000 hostile online comments might be today, the letter was the making of him

It was naive of art world types to write a letter to the Evening Standard in 1994 denouncing him. Like a thread of 10,000 hostile online comments might be today, it was the making of him. Sewell really scared these people, it seemed. But by the time he stopped writing he was beloved by many in the same art world that once loathed him. Contemporary art triumphed and Sewell could not stop it. Not a single word he wrote held back a Hirst or Perry or Banksy. Knowing his words were harmless, artists came to enjoy them more than anyone.

That is what I mean about Sewell being a great entertainer.

The truth is that he is as much part of the history of modern British art as any artist he dismissed. He helped to make modern art the mass entertainment we know, love or loathe. Criticism is much poorer without him, as is his former paper the Evening Standard. How will it replace such a distinctive voice? Will any paper even try to? We were royally entertained. May the old bastard rest in peace.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Leonard Cohen - 81 yesterday!

Paul looks like he's had some work; Leonard and Keith need some. Chuck's thinking about the cost (and of installing a "surveillance system" in his bathrooms - allegedly).

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Silver and Gold: Metalpoint drawings at The British Museum

Leonardo da Vinci, Bust of a warrior, c. 1475
Bust of a Warrior, c 1475 by Leonardo da Vinci

Drawing in Silver and Gold review – a stupendously rich gathering of great art
British Museum, London
Some of the finest drawings in history were done using silverpoint. A new exhibition is proof that this artform is ingenious, magical – and will stop you in your tracks

Jonathan Jones
Tuesday 8 September 2015

The equivalent of an iPad drawing app in Reformation Germany was a leather-bound sketchpad with its pages coated in paste. A thin metal stylus fitted snugly into a clasp on the spine of the book. Using this stylus, you could draw delicate sketches wherever you happened to be.

A surviving example of this clever artists’ technology is on display in the British Museum’s engrossing new exhibition. It belonged to the 16th-century painter Hans Baldung Grien, who is notorious for his perverse fantasy scenes of witches’ sabbaths. In his sketchpad, though, he drew faces and places and everyday life. It’s like looking into a visual diary drawn yesterday, but it is nearly 500 years old.
Albrecht Dürer, Head of a Boy, inclined to left, c 1505/1507.
Albrecht Dürer’s Head of a Boy, inclined to left, c 1505-1507

Moments of disarming spontaneity hijack this show and stop you in your tracks. Near the little sketchbook is a portrait of a sad young man whose immediacy and intensity are so modern, so of the moment. It was drawn by Albrecht Dürer in about 1505-07. Using a silverpoint nib, Dürer was able to build up the youth’s face in shaded detail. Yet he left his ear and hair as a loose sketch. The effect is disturbing – perhaps this turbulent face, fraught with feeling and isolated in space, is that of someone torn apart by spiritual and religious anxiety in a Germany that was soon to explode in the Reformation.
Rogier van der Weyden's portrait of a young woman, c1430.
Portrait of an Unknown Young Woman, c1435 by Rogier van der Weyden

Centuries later, in 1934, after Hitler had come to power, Dürer’s modern heir Otto Dix took his silverpoint gear into the countryside and drew a gentle pastoral view. But sinister clouds are obscuring the sun, and at the heart of the valley before us is a Jewish cemetery. Dix, who had already been sacked from his teaching job by the Nazis for his angry depictions of war, sees the future in uneasy silverpoint.

But Drawing in Silver and Gold is not only about German art. It is an exhibition with many paths, byroads and meanders – a stupendously rich gathering of some of the greatest drawings in history. You can explore how Jasper Johns hid a sperm whale in a drawing of the Queen and Prince Philip, or discover the ornate album in which the Renaissance art critic Giorgio Vasari assembled one of the first ever European collections of drawings. But before that, you have to work out what a silverpoint drawing actually is.
Self-portrait holding a copper plate, c1589 by the ‘bafflingly underrated’ Hendrik Goltzius.
Self-portrait holding a copper plate, c1589 by Hendrik Goltzius.

I’d seen scores of drawings in this exquisite medium, and even held them in my hand, long before I knew how they were made. No one would ever guess from looking at these marvellous sketches that to make them is such an ingenious, almost magical process. This is art as alchemy. The artist first has to create a special potion from boiled-down animal bones, then paste it thickly on to paper before taking a stylus of soft metal (silver and gold are preferred for their softness, not their expense) and applying it to the “prepared” surface. Molecules of silver are rubbed off and stick to the paper, resulting in a drawing made of precious metal.
Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464), Head of the Virgin. Metalpoint, on prepared paper, mid-15th century.

A film explains it all, and then you can wallow in the ethereal results. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first artists to see the full potential of silverpoint. His drawing of a battle-hardened warrior, posed in furious profile with his armour sprouting dragon wings, animal heads and swirling vortex patterns, exploits to sublime extremes the medium’s capacity to create very precise lines, delicate suggestive flourishes and soft meadows of shade. He also saw how it could be used for quick sketches in the open air. His life drawing of a horse swaying its head from side to side is a case in point: Leonardo shows multiple positions of the restless head in a blur of motion.
Avigdor Arikha, Anne pregnant, 1969

There are enough silverpoint drawings by Leonardo in the Royal Collection to fill this exhibition easily. The curators have selected choice examples, along with masterpieces by artists from Petrus Christus to Bruce Nauman from many of the world’s best museums. In straitened times, when all too many “blockbusters” turn out to be taken solely from museums’ own collections, this is a deeply researched exhibition studded with true rarities borrowed with great difficulty. It’s a chance to see some spookily exact portraits by Hans Holbein the Elder – the father of the Hans Holbein who worked for Henry VIII – that turn art history on its head. It turns out that Hans Holbein the Younger got all his ideas from his dad. The cool, accurate, frank portrait style that Holbein the Younger is so famous for was invented by Holbein the Elder. The son merely perfected it.
Hans Holbein the Elder, Portrait of the artist’s brother Sigmund, 1512.
Hans Holbein the Elder’s Portrait of the Artist’s Brother Sigmund, 1512.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of silverpoint is its durability. Many of these drawings are so perfectly preserved that they could have been made specially for the show. In about 1450, the north Italian artist Pisanello drew two monkeys, using shading that seems to show every soft hair on their thin bodies and long tails. The monkeys have their backs to us, like sad zoo animals on a rainy day. Their appearance is preserved forever but their thoughts are private.

I have never seen an exhibition that so joyously reveals the beauty and mystery of the art of drawing.

At  British Museum, London, from 10 September to 6 December.

Dog Resting
Albrecht Durer, Resting dog, circa 1520

Mysteries of metalpoint explored in British Museum exhibition
First large-scale exhibition on technique used by artists including Leonardo, Dürer and Raphael arrives from Washington in September

Mark Brown
Wednesday 1 July 2015

They rank as some of the most admired drawings in the world yet many people will be blissfully unaware of how artists including Leonardo, Dürer and Raphael made them: with a metal stylus over an abrasive surface often made from carbonised bone.

The mysteries of a technique called metalpoint are to be explored in an exhibition covering 600 years of art history, the British Museum will announce on Wednesday.
Lucas van Leyden, Two nude allegorical figures, circa 1515

Remarkably, it is the first large-scale exhibition on the subject. “Like many great ideas, when someone comes up with it you slap your forehead and think: why hasn’t this show been done before?” said Hugo Chapman, the museum’s keeper of prints and drawings. “It just hasn’t, so I’m very glad that this will be the first time.”

The show arrives in London from the National Gallery of Art in Washington in September.

Metalpoint drawings are normally made with a silver or mostly silver stylus used on roughened ground in a way that ensures a trace of metal is left on the surface.

“In my wicked schoolboy days you used to be able to draw on a newly painted wall with an old 10-pence piece,” said Chapman. “It’s the slight roughness of the wall and metal … it just drags off a little bit of the metal on to the surface.”

The show will bring together more than 100 examples of the best metalpoint, or silverpoint, from collections around the world. One of the finest is in the British Museum’s own holdings: Leonardo’s remarkable and detailed A Bust of a Warrior, which is so accomplished that experts believe it was a demonstration piece, showing the world his brilliance as a newly independent master.
Susan Schwalb, Strata No, 407, 2005

The exhibition will explore metalpoint’s fitful history up to its use by contemporary artists including Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman and Susan Schwalb.

The technique first became popular in the 14th century, although its precise origins remain obscure. “There will be Italian historians who say it definitely started in Italy,” said Chapman. “Whereas the Germans and the Dutch would say it definitely started north of the Alps … who knows?”

Italy became particularly keen on it in the 15th century, used in studios for training and preparatory studies. And then, with the death of Raphael in 1520, “it dies out. Italian artists want to do big things, they want a lot of contrast between light and shade, so it disappears never to rise again. This incredible flowering and then extinction,” said Chapman.

It continued in northern Europe, however, with examples in the exhibition by artists including Hendrik Goltzius, Hans Bol and Rembrandt.

Chapman said there were significant differences between Italian artists and northern European artists, with the latter using it in the home – whether drawing a loved one or, in the case of Dürer, a dog he likes.

“The Italians are very conservative: silverpoint is something you do at work, you don’t take it home.”
Raphael, The Heads of the Virgin and Child, circa 1509

Metalpoint fizzled out in the 17th century before making a comeback in the 19th century, popular with pre-Raphaelite artists such as William Holman Hunt and Edward Burne-Jones.

One of the most poignant examples from the 20th century is a 1934 metalpoint landscape drawing by the German artist Otto Dix, who had been sacked from his teaching post and whose art was condemned by the Nazis. The drawing shows a Jewish cemetery in the countryside with dark clouds hovering overhead.

“By using silverpoint he is making a statement, saying: I do belong to this great German tradition which goes all the way back to Dürer, I am part of this, whatever the Nazis say I am a German artist.”
Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1984

The London exhibition will be announced at a briefing to mark publication of the British Museum’s annual report, the final one launched by Neil MacGregor, who steps down as director in December.

Chapman hopes the show will be something of an eye-opener. It is a simple yet difficult technique, no good for any artist who does not like making mistakes. When done well, the results can be astounding. “In a way,” said Chapman, “you’re going behind the scenes of an artist to see the raw creativity.”

• Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns will be in room 90 of the British Museum from 10 September to 6 December, entrance £8.

See also

Thursday, 17 September 2015

This week's set lists

Tuesday: -
Ruby Tuesday's open mic, Sotano, York: -
Love Song
Southern Man
One Of These Days

Wednesday: -
The Habit, York: -
Set 1:
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Out Of The Blue
I'm Just A Loser
Through My Sails
Set 2:
In The Morning Light
You've Got A Friend
I Don't Want To Talk About It
Tell Me Why
Set 3:
Need Your Love So Bad
Things We Said Today
The Only Living Boy In New York
Only Love Can Break Your Heart

A now rare visit to York on a Tuesday night provided the opportunity to attend Chris Helme's Ruby Tuesday open mic. Plenty of punters and players plus some cracking vinyl from Mr. Helme's collection.

Wednesday night in The Habit suffered from the effects of freshers' week and an unusual dearth of players; i.e. the host plus 2 for most of the night. So we played turn and turn around until saved by some latecomers. The bar filled up too eventually!

P.S. Ron Elderly is away.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Art Garfunkel on Mike Nichols

Where Have You Gone, Mike Nichols? Art Garfunkel Gives Perspective On The Late Director

Jim Clash
25 November 2014

My recent interview with singer/songwriter Art Garfunkel was one of the most enjoyable and informative encounters I have ever had.

Like all baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of Simon & Garfunkel and the power of The Graduate, The Sound of Silence, Mrs. Robinson – all heady stuff that captured the spirit of a unique, thoughtful generation. So earlier this week, I was delighted to see the release of a new CD set, Simon & Garfunkel – The Complete Albums Collection.

In a 45-minute telephone chat with Garfunkel, we covered that release – and the intricacies of his volatile relationship over the decades with writing partner Paul Simon. But more immediate in our discussion was the passing Nov. 19 of Mike Nichols, who directed seminal movies Garfunkel was involved in, including Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge and The Graduate.

Jim Clash: Mike Nichols was not just a business associate, but a long-time friend of yours. Are there words to describe the world’s collective loss here?

Art Garfunkel: Words fail. You’re in the business of words, you have to catch things you write about and capture their essence. It’s a chancy business. Words don’t cut it when it comes to certain extraordinary things. Mike was about the greatest of them all. He was singular. [It’s rare] to encounter a person and ask, ‘Could this be the most intelligent, extraordinary man I have ever met?’ You need to step back and have confidence in your own judgments to capture when something is extraordinary. Mike was a man who seemed to have many extra IQ points and floated a little above reality. He never sweated because the power of intelligence is a calm thing.

JC: He was generous with his talents, no?

AG: I read a story recently where he was called in as a show doctor to sit with the audience to help. They were very frustrated, the production company. Mike watched the whole thing and said nothing. He then asked, ‘Can you do the play over again?’ They did the whole thing over, and he quietly spoke one sentence: ‘Move the chair into the center.’ The power of intelligence! When you are a smarty, you connect the dots with simple straight lines. Mike was never ruffled.

JC: You owe your own acting start to him, correct?

AG: My association with Mike was that of a mentor who plucked me out of a structure called Simon & Garfunkel and said, ‘I think you’re an actor as well.’ He found down time in my life while I was waiting for Paul to write new songs and offered me a role in Catch-22. Prior to that, we had made the sound track for The Graduate. As we worked – Paul, myself and Mike looking for songs to go in and liking on Mrs. Robinson – he must have been saying, ‘I could use Arthur as an actor. I know he has no acting experience, but he’s quick enough to work it out if I cast him appropriately.’

JC: And sure enough, he did!

AG: Mike came by my apartment on 68th Street in New York one day in 1968, rolled down the window of his limo and handed me the script to Joe Heller’s Catch-22. He said, ‘Read this, look for Captain Nately, I see you in that role.’ ‘But Mike, I’ve never acted,’ I said. ‘Just read it,’ he said. When you do read it, you find yourself suddenly able to empathize with Nichols’ call. I can see myself doing these lines, I am this guy. I can just be myself. Nately is an innocent. You have to like him when he’s there as a bit of a mama’s boy, and when he’s shot up you have to miss him when he’s gone as if you had never expected it. I get a catch in my breath when I say that. And so it is with Mike – you have to miss him when he’s gone.

JC: We all collectively miss him, I guess. The Graduate is my own favorite movie.

AG: Yes, New York lost a leading star. We don’t have Jackie [Onassis], we don’t have Truman Capote, we don’t have these really bright top-of-the line social beings that are so clever and so damn wonderful. They’re gone now, and Mike stood at the beacon. New York took a hit – we are a little flatter town now.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Bob Johnston RIP

Normal service is resumed at last...

Bob Johnston obituary
Record producer who played a significant role in the recording career of Bob Dylan

Richard Williams
Tuesday 18 August 2015

Bob Dylan’s curious decision to begin To Be Alone With You, a track on the album Nashville Skyline (1968), with a casual remark to his producer – “Is it rolling, Bob?” – ensured that Bob Johnston’s significant role in the singer’s recording career could not go unnoticed. Johnston, who has died at the age of 83, himself underplayed his contribution – “All I did was turn the tapes on,” he told an interviewer – but it was he who had helped redirect Dylan’s music two years earlier by taking him to Nashville, where the singer encountered a very different style of working from the one he had known in New York.

While recording tracks for the album Blonde on Blonde in that more relaxed environment, Dylan was able to keep a group of highly paid session musicians waiting most of a night in February 1966 while he finished the verses of Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. At four o’clock in the morning, after 10 hours of inactivity, the players were finally summoned from the studio lounge to pick up their instruments and deliver an 11-minute performance whose air of stately exhaustion perfectly suited the song, which turned out to be one of Dylan’s masterpieces.

‘Is it rolling, Bob?’ Dylan asks Johnston at the start of To Be Alone With You

Johnston was about as far from the kind of record producer exemplified by Phil Spector – the producer as control freak, as auteur – as could be imagined. Chiefly associated with artists whose origins were in the folk and country idioms, he was a facilitator, an enabler, a creator of sympathetic ambience. His list of credits included six albums with Dylan, three with Leonard Cohen, seven with Johnny Cash and two with Simon and Garfunkel at a time when those artists were at the height of their fame and productivity. His other clients included Marty Robbins, the Byrds, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Loudon Wainwright III, Willie Nelson, John Mayall, Carl Perkins, Alvin Lee and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

According to Cohen, Johnston’s contribution, while not obviously assertive, was crucial to the success of a session. “It wasn’t just a matter of turning on the machines,” Cohen told a writer for the music magazine Goldmine. “He created an atmosphere in the studio that really encouraged you to do your best, stretch out, do another take, an atmosphere that was free from judgment, free from criticism, full of invitation, full of affirmation.”

Johnston’s own description of his modus operandi was more pragmatic. “If Dylan wanted to record under a palm tree in Hawaii with a ukulele,” he said, “I’d be there with the tape machine. I’m an artists’ producer. I give my artists lots of freedom, and if they fuck up – it’s their life.”

His methods were not universally admired. Al Kooper, a New York musician who played the Hammond organ on Dylan’s sessions, dismissed him as “the kind of guy who just pats you on the back and says you’re fantastic and just keeps you going”.

He was born Donald William Johnston in Hillsboro, a small town in central Texas, to Diane and Jay. His mother and grandmother were songwriters, and after serving in the US navy he began a career in the music business, recording several rockabilly singles under the name Don Johnston. By 1964 he had moved to New York, where he worked as a producer for Kapp Records and as a freelance arranger and songwriter. He married a fellow songwriter, Joy Byers, some of whose songs were recorded by Elvis Presley for the soundtracks of his Hollywood films; later Johnston claimed to have had a hand in writing several of them.

After joining the staff of Columbia Records, an early assignment with the pop singer Patti Page delivered a top 10 single called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and an album titled Patti Page Sings America’s Favorite Hymns. But his career took off in June 1965, shortly after Dylan had fallen out with the producer of his previous three albums, Tom Wilson, following the session at which Like a Rolling Stone was recorded. The nature of the dispute remains a mystery, but Johnston was invited to take over and his first day with Dylan delivered Positively 4th Street, which became the follow-up single to Like a Rolling Stone, and two other tracks, Tombstone Blues and It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, for the album Highway 61 Revisited. The remainder of the album, including the epic Desolation Row, would be completed under his supervision.

With Dylan, Johnston went on to produce the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, New Morning and Self Portrait. His work with Cohen included Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, and a live album. With Cash he recorded the successful albums taped in Folsom and San Quentin prisons. He produced all but the lead track of Simon and Garfunkel’s album Sounds of Silence (the exception, their first hit single, had been supervised by Wilson) in 1966 and the entirety of the following year’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Most of his work was now done in Nashville, his success refocusing the spotlight on the city’s self-contained and somewhat neglected music industry, to its lasting benefit.

Brought to London by Tony Stratton-Smith, the boss of Charisma Records, he helped the Newcastle group Lindisfarne to their biggest success with the album Fog on the Tyne (1971). His output diminished in later years, but he helped Willie Nelson to record a solo acoustic album sarcastically titled The IRS Tapes (1992), whose royalties went towards paying the singer’s tax debt, which amounted to several million dollars.

Johnston died in Nashville, his home for many years, where he is survived by Joy and his son Kevin; his sons Andy and Bobby predeceased him.

• Bob (Donald William) Johnston, record producer, born 14 May 1932; died 14 August 2015

Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw remembers producer Bob Johnstone after his death aged 83
The American producer worked with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen as well as the North East music legends

Sam Wonfor
23 August 2015

The man who helped Lindisfarne sing their way into the record of collections of people all over the world has died.

Bob Johnston, who produced the much-loved band’s platinum-selling breakthrough album, Fog On The Tyne in 1971, passed away aged 83 at his home in Nashville earlier this month.

With a back catalogue of production credits featuring the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, Lindisfarne drummer, Ray Laidlaw remembers feeling pretty excited when he found out who would be producing the band’s second album, a follow up to their 1970 debut, Nicely Out Of Tune.

“I was gobsmacked,” he says, speaking from his home in Tynemouth. “His pedigree was incredible. He’d worked with all these great musicians and as far as I was concerned, at that time, had produced Dylan’s best record, Blonde on Blonde.”

After being a staff producer at Columbia Records for many years, Bob became unsatisfied with his salary arrangement, which included no royalty payments for the string of hit albums he’d produced. By the time he came over to work with Lindisfarne, he had become an independent producer.

“Of course we thought it was a big deal. I mean we were full of ourselves as you can imagine,” Ray said. “We were getting lots of nice press and all that, but we hadn’t sold a huge amount of records at that time. It wasn’t until Fog on the Tyne was a massive success that people started buying our back catalogue.”

Ray says he and the band, Alan Hull, Simon Cowe, Rod Clements and Ray Jackson, enjoyed working Bob, who had “a light touch” when it came to collaborating in the studio.

“He was enigmatic. None of us had really met a proper American, high flying music personality. We’d met the lawyers and that, but they were just bloody lawyers. We’d been to the States a couple of times, but for him to be working with us in England was a really big deal.”

Lindisfarne travelled down to Trident Studios in London to record what would become Fog On The Tyne in the summer of 1971.

“We’d been away and rehearsed - rehearsing what we thought was going to be the album, and the first day in the studio, we played it for him (Bob) and he said ‘Great. What else you got?’

“I remember thinking ‘bloody hell, he doesn’t like it’. But it wasn’t that, he wanted to hear every song we had.

“So we spent the whole first day playing him everything. Every song, every half song, every bit of a song. I think the final album ended up being half of what we had planned and half of the stuff Bob had picked out from what we played him.

“That was his job. He wasn’t a Phil Spector. He wasn’t a control freak. He’d encourage and prod you. He let us be ourselves... his role was more of an editing process.

“When you look back at our first album now, it’s a bit like a sampler with loads of different styles on. Bob realised that for people to get us - especially in America - we had to have more of a streamlined style.

“And him coming from the country and folk side of things, he took away all the extraneous stuff and stripped it down to the basics. That was his gift to us. He focused on what we were good at got us to play to our strengths.”

When it was released, Fog On The Tyne, which, as well as its eponymous anthem also included the hit single, Meet Me On The Corner, topped the charts in early 1972.

“That album made all the difference,” said Ray. “It was enormous. Everybody had it and Bob had a big influence on how it ended up being. I found out just recently that Fog On The Tyne was the most successful independent production that he ever did. He did lots of other successful stuff too, but nothing which had the same level of success as he had with us.”

After the massive impact of their second album, Lindisfarne teamed up with Bob again for their next long player, Dingly Dell, released in September 1972.

“By then we wanted to be a bit more ambitious. So the first three songs were all segued together,” says Ray. “There was some strings and stuff on too.

“We’d actually recorded Dingly Dell for Fog on the Tyne, but it didn’t fit, so we kept that one back and used it as the title track for the next album.”

Ray, who is gearing up to embark on the latest chapter of The Lindisfarne Story tour - a history of the band in words and music - which he performs with the band’s former lead singer (1995-2003) Billy Mitchell, says he has kept an eye on what Bob was up to over the years.

“He was hot to trot in the UK and Europe for a few years, in the seventies and then he went back to the States, working with Willie Nelson and people like that.

“I would always have a quick check up on whether he’d been up to anything, because we do a bit about him in the show. How could we not? He was a big part of the Lindisfarne story.”