Tuesday 28 January 2014

Pete Seeger RIP

Pete Seeger performs live
Pete Seeger obituary
US folk singer and songwriter whose radical politics made him a target of the anti-communist blacklist in the 1950s

Paul Buhle
The Guardian
Tuesday 28 January 2014 

The singer, banjo player and songwriter Pete Seeger, who has died aged 94, popularised folksong performance during the 1940s and 50s and was a key figure in the folk revival from the 60s onwards. He wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and helped make famous We Shall Overcome. A multitude of artists recorded his work across six decades, including Odetta, Bruce Springsteen and Peter, Paul and Mary, and he recorded more than 100 albums himself. But above all, Seeger, blacklisted in the mid-1950s at the height of McCarthyism, was a deeply radical American.

Seeger made his first recordings in New York in 1940 with the Almanac Singers musical collective. The album Talking Union (1941-42) was adopted by American labour activists for generations, and the group, which was soon joined by the folk singer Woody Guthrie, also recorded anti-war ballads, which proved embarrassing when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the American left became ferociously patriotic.

However, the Almanacs regained some respectability with their musical tributes to the war effort. The Sinking of the Reuben James, written by Guthrie, became an anthem of battle courage, the Office of War Information hired them to sing for overseas broadcasts to US troops – and the FBI watched them closely. The group dissolved as various members were called to second world war duty. Seeger was drafted into the army and went to the Pacific in 1942. The following year he married Toshi Ohta.

In December 1945, a group of musicians, choral directors and union educators met at Seeger's New York apartment to form People's Songs. A quasi-political movement with far-flung chapters and a booking agency, People's Songs furiously promoted the "hootenanny" – informal sessions where musicians and fans traded songs and shared leftwing political enthusiasms. At first welcomed by the press and labour organisations, People's Songs fell victim to the cold‑war atmosphere. It was left badly exposed politically by its participants' intense involvement in the radical 1948 Progressive party presidential campaign of Franklin D Roosevelt's former vice‑president Henry Wallace.

The successor to People's Songs was Sing Out!, a mini-movement and magazine of topical songs. It was never as successful, but it kept the radical flame alive through the 1950s McCarthy witchhunts. Indeed, Sing Out! survives to this day.

In 1948, together with Lee Hays and other veterans of the Almanacs, Seeger formed the Weavers. A brief triumph followed. In 1950 they had a multimillion sales chart success with Goodnight, Irene – first popularised by Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) – and a string of other hits followed including So Long, The Roving Kind, On Top of Old Smokey and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. They were one of the most successful musical acts in America.

Then came the blacklist. The Weavers were banned from radio and television, and even some concert halls. With their scheduled appearances and commercial recording contracts cancelled, the group dissolved in 1953.

On Christmas Eve 1955 the Weavers, back for one concert, appeared at Carnegie Hall, New York. The event was packed out. But in that time Seeger retreated to the small, leftwing world of summer camps and radical unions, for which he performed and recorded steadily. Most notable in retrospect was his music for children: American Game and Activity Songs for Children (1962) included such numbers as Skip to My Lou and Yankee Doodle.

In the 1960s came the folksong revival, and later the folk-rock boom caught up with him. Covers of songs he wrote or recorded became global hits. There was most notably Peter, Paul and Mary – but also the Kingston Trio and Trini Lopez – with If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Meanwhile, his rendition of We Shall Overcome became a virtual anthem for the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, and Seeger marched and provided entertainment for numerous desegregationist demonstrations

That newer generation of commercial folk musicians owed him a deep debt: Peter, Paul and Mary regarded themselves as the Weavers' successors, and singers from Joan Baez and Judy Collins to Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan – a self-described disciple of Woody Guthrie – appeared on stage with Seeger and honoured him with tributes. If I Had a Hammer, written by Seeger and Lee Hayes for the Almanacs in 1950, seemed to express the idealism of the younger generation for revived liberalism and even for the martyred President John F Kennedy.

Pete was born in New York City, the son of Constance de Clyver Edson, a concert violinist and teacher, and the musicologist Charles Seeger, who chaired the music department at the University of California at Berkeley and was one of the originators of ethnomusicology. He was also deputy director of the Federal Music Project, set up as part of Roosevelt's new deal in the 1930s and legitimising labour and left-leaning songs as part of the basic American folk repertoire. Constance and Charles divorced, and in 1931 he married the musicologist and composer Ruth Crawford. Of their three children, Peggy and Mike followed Pete in becoming active in collecting, playing and disseminating folk music, though only Pete achieved stardom.

He started playing the ukulele aged eight, and played the tenor banjo in the jazz band at his private school. He heard the five-string banjo for the first time when he was 16 at a folk and dance festival in Asheville, North Carolina, which inspired his choice of instruments.

Seeger went to Harvard University to read journalism and sociology, and joined the Young Communist League there. He was to drift out of the Communist party of the United States in the 1950s but continued to describe himself quietly as a communist with a small "c".

In 1939, during his second year, Seeger dropped out of Harvard, persuaded by Guthrie that he could "learn more from hitting the road than from hitting the books". The musicologist and great promoter of American folk music Alan Lomax introduced him to Lead Belly and helped him join the staff of the Archives of American Folk Music, at the Library of Congress, travelling widely to seek out legendary blues and labour singers.

The following year he met Guthrie again at a migrant-worker benefit in California. During their travels across America, Seeger learned much about Guthrie's style. After returning to New York, Seeger set about finding ways to promote the ideals they shared.

His second political apex, after his blacklisting, came in the 1960s, with the challenges to liberalism and the division of the US over the Vietnam war. In one of the media scandals of the day, he appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to sing the anti-Lyndon B Johnson song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, though his segment was cut from the broadcast version. Undaunted, he appeared again in a later show. Soon after, the Smothers Brothers themselves, one of them rumoured to be a Trotskyist sympathiser, were dropped from the CBS network.

Although overshadowed by political-minded rock'n'roll, Seeger remained a favourite of peaceniks at demonstrations, teach-ins and sing-outs of all kinds. With surprising nimbleness, he continued to adapt to changing situations and political issues. In 1969 he and friends launched the sloop Clearwater in the Hudson, beginning a decades-long campaign to clean that river, which was close to his long-term home in Peekskill, New York, and to publicise the ecology movement.

Meanwhile, folk music increasingly became a sort of permanent counterculture of political intention. It was popular from campus and urban neighbourhoods to the small towns where ageing new leftists embraced the music of their new neighbours.

Rounder Records, Flying Fish and others took over the territory of Seeger's old producer, Folkways, even as musical boundaries blurred. Newer, radical-minded singers such as Holly Near, Don McLean and Bruce Cockburn drew fairly directly upon the Seeger legacy, but it would also be difficult to detach the underlying tradition from the supercharged sounds of Springsteen.

In 1979 the Weavers reunited for a concert at Carnegie Hall, filmed for the much-admired documentary, The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time (1982), the event found the media, including the New York Times, downright sentimental and perhaps a little guilty toward the formerly persecuted artists.

Through all this, Seeger endured and performed steadily, in later years most often with his grandson Tao Rodríguez. A popular radio series biography about the artist and his music, Pete Seeger: How Can I Keep from Singing?, aired on more than 200 stations in the summer and autumn of 2008, and 40 artists (including Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Taj Mahal and Dave Matthews) joined to celebrate his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2009.

During the inauguration weekend for Barack Obama in 2009, Seeger, on stage with Tao and Springsteen, delivered a rousing version of the Woody Guthrie favourite This Land Is Your Land. It was an extraordinary moment in American life with the singer-rebel at the very centre.

Toshi died last year. Seeger is survived by his son, Daniel; daughters, Mika and Tinya; Tao and five other grandchildren; a great-grandson; and Peggy.

• Peter Seeger, folk musician, born 3 May 1919; died 27 January 2014

Almanac Singers
The Almanac Singers in the early 1940, including Pete Seeger (middle) and Woody Gurthrie (first left)

Pete Seeger: the road goes on for ever
The folk singer believed in handing on the traditions he had done so much to save, so that others could carry them forward. It was his greatest achievement

Richard Williams
The Guardian
Tuesday 28 January 2014

You didn't have to listen to Pete Seeger's music to feel his effect on the popular music of the last 70 years. It was his influence that set the moral compass of many great singers and songwriters, ensuring that even in the times when the music industry threatened to be washed away by the tide of its own most bloated, celebrity-worshipping, money-grubbing excess, the voice of a social conscience could still be heard.

Along with Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, he brought the music of the dirt farms, the sweat shops and the lonesome highways into America's – and later the world's – living room. By refusing to allow traditional forms of musical expression to die, by "sowing the music of the people", as he put it, he ensured its availability for infusion into later developments, serving to keep a sense of moral purpose alive even when that seemingly fragile element appeared to have been asphyxiated.

He was not a crusader on behalf of some academic notion of authenticity; he knew that music had to evolve, but he preferred it to retain a core of accessibility and potential relevance to a mass audience. Yet although his own style of performance – lively but dignified, informal but literal, paying no heed to the devices of showbiz stagecraft – may have been rendered obsolete by the discoveries of those who owed him a great deal, nevertheless everyone knew the lanky, unstylish figure and what he stood for, and that was more than enough.

When Bruce Springsteen and Ry Cooder released albums during the run-up to the 2012 US presidential election, using their songs to make strong and unequivocal statements on behalf of those weakened and dispossessed by the activities of the super-rich, they were following the example of Bob Dylan, whose early protest anthems, such as Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They Are a Changin', emerged from the scene that Seeger had done much to nurture.

The unknown Dylan had benefited from Seeger's patronage, and all acknowledged his crucial role. When Springsteen recognised the need to drag himself out of a becalmed period at the start of the new millennium, it was to Seeger's music that he turned for inspiration. The Seeger Sessions, with their joyful singalong versions of We Shall Overcome and Jacob's Ladder, would be the catalyst for his artistic regeneration.

It was the perfect of example of Seeger's belief in the folk process, the invisible but enduring mechanism by which source material survives being handed on and transformed at the hands of successive eras. Speaking to Alec Wilkinson of the New Yorker, Springsteen remarked that Seeger "had a real sense of the musician as historical entity – of being a link in the thread of people who sing in others' voices and carry the tradition forward … and a sense that songs were tools, and, without sounding too pretentious, righteous implements when connected to historical consciousness".

Where did the story begin? The day in 1936, perhaps, when the 17-year-old Seeger heard Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the "Minstrel of the Appalachians", play the banjo at a festival of folk music in North Carolina and took up the instrument with such aptitude and devotion that his own subsequent book, How to Play the 5-String Banjo, became and remains a standard text for students of the instrument. The son of a composer-violinist mother and a father who was an eminent musicologist, Seeger embarked on a lifelong mission to demonstrate that seemingly archaic forms could be absorbed and recycled by younger performers. They might never have picked a boll of cotton or worked in a turpentine camp or come any closer to a southern prison farm than the dean's office at an Ivy League college (Harvard, in his own case), yet they could achieve a degree of transformative empathy with those who had direct experience of such things.

Or maybe it was when, in 1940, he was introduced to Woody Guthrie by the great musicologist Alan Lomax, a friend of his father and for whom he was working as an assistant at the Library of Congress, putting his enthusiasm to good use by sorting through and untangling various forms of American vernacular music. Guthrie and Seeger would come to represent different poles of the same world: one a self-mythologising drifter with an outsider's wild charisma, the other a steadfast, reassuring figure amid turbulent times.

A year later, Seeger joined the Almanac Singers, whose repertoire expressed their identification with the struggle of labour unions; within a further 12 months he had become a card-carrying member of the American Communist party. Soon he would be helping to found the People's Songs organisation, with the aim of spreading the gospel of songs dealing with the lives of real people in the real America, the miners and mill workers and sharecroppers on southern plantations, a world away from the sophisticated classes celebrated in the songs of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley.

He accomplished that with the Weavers, the group he formed in 1950, and who would establish a template for the folk revival of that decade and its transmutation in the early 1960s. Despite maintaining the focus on songs of social relevance, they often wore formal dress in concert and their recordings were lavishly orchestrated by the Broadway arranger Gordon Jenkins. Their hits included Lead Belly's Goodnight, Irene, the Israel folk song Tzena, Tzena Tzena and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine: hardly the anthems of a coming revolution, but in 1952, at the height of the anti-communist witch hunt, their known sympathies got them blacklisted by radio and TV stations and concert promoters. Seeger's refusal to divulge his political beliefs in front of the House Un-American Activities committee that year exposed him to the kind of ordeal unimaginable to any popular singer today, its last echo probably coming in the vendetta waged against John Lennon, an opponent of the Vietnam war and other US-sponsored conflicts, by J Edgar Hoover's FBI.
Pete Seeger at the House Un-American Activites committee in 1952

At a time when the word of the gathering folk revival was spread by magazines, Seeger wrote a column for the influential Sing Out! and co-founded Broadside, which published Dylan's songs. With his own compositions, including If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All the Flowers Gone, he and his co-authors gave younger folkies – the Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, Peter, Paul and Mary and their legions of imitators around the world, at first clean-cut but gradually more picturesquely dishevelled – the cornerstones of a basic repertoire, soon to be augmented by the Dylan songbook. An idea of his standing among his contemporaries at that time could be gauged from Johnny Cash's words when introducing Dylan to the audience at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival: "We think he's the best songwriter of the age since Pete Seeger."

In the eyes of some members of later generations, Seeger assumed the role of a politely tolerated uncle who would seldom be asked about his heroic deeds in past wars. He can be seen in that role in Murray Lerner's film of Dylan at Newport, an event which Seeger co-founded and on whose board he served. In 1963 Seeger is standing discreetly behind Dylan and alongside Joan Baez, the Freedom Singers and Peter, Paul and Mary during the festival's finale, singing Blowin' in the Wind. A year later he is sitting to one side of Dylan, listening intently and tapping his foot to Mr Tambourine Man, his thoughts only to be imagined as the singer's new visions unfold – "Then take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind/ Down the foggy ruins of time" – with no reference to iron-ore miners or civil-rights marchers. In 1965, Seeger is not seen but we know he is behind the scenes, arguing with the sound crew as Dylan's new electric band blasts out Maggie's Farm and Like a Rolling Stone. In the first and most enduring version of the story, Seeger attempted to take a fire-axe to the electric cabling in order to cut the amplification. Thereby, the tale implies, he would restore the music to its prelapsarian state of acoustic purity.

As a foundation stone of that particular hall of the many-mansioned Dylan legend, the incident ranks second only to the enraged fan's cry of "Judas!" at Manchester's Free Trade Hall the following year. But Seeger's own version, told in No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary, was slightly different. "I was the MC that night," he said. "He was singing Maggie's Farm and you couldn't understand a word because the microphone was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said: 'Fix the sound, it's terrible!' The guy said: 'No, this is what the young people want.' And I did say that if I had an axe I'd cut the cable. But I wanted to hear the words. I didn't mind him going electric."

Powerfully affected by the widespread publicity given to the incident, Seeger resigned from the festival board, retreated from music for a while and turned his attention to the environment. Once again he was setting a trend followed by younger performers, such as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and their fellow members of Muse – Musicians United for Safe Energy – featured in the No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden in 1979.

As Lauren Laverne, the BBC6 Music DJ, succinctly put it, it was Seeger's destiny to be "loved and hated by precisely the right people". He was on the side of working people, refugees from fascist regimes, nuclear disarmament and the earth's threatened natural resources, and against segregationists, Stalinists and the military-industrial complex. Nor, despite advancing age, did he cease from mental fight. He and Springsteen sang Guthrie's This Land is Your Land together at Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009, and four years later, aged 92, he recorded Dylan's Forever Young with the Rivertown Choir, a group of deprived kids he had been mentoring for the previous five years. And when thousands of Norwegians gathered in Oslo in 2012 to mourn the victims of the mass murder on Utoya island, they sang My Rainbow Racewhich he had written in 1972, when his country was engaged in criminally murderous activity in south-east Asia: "Some want to take the easy way/ Poison, bombs – they think we need 'em/ Don't they know you can't kill all the unbelievers/ There's no short cut to freedom".

Pete Seeger took the long road, a road that never ends, and which he lit so that others might find their own way along a righteous path.


Van Gogh's Sunflowers at the National Gallery

Identical twins Ella (L) and Eva pose fo
Two Van Gogh sunflower paintings displayed together at National Gallery
Two versions of same subject reunited for first time since 1947 and will be on show for three months

Mark Brown
Friday 24 January 2014

"I've counted six so far," said a visitor examining what will be one of the rarest and most stupendous spot the difference challenges imaginable – two of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings side by side for a once-in-a-lifetime display at the National Gallery.

The two versions of the same subject have gone on public display for three months, reunited in London for the first time since 1947 when they were brought together for a Van Gogh exhibition at what is now Tate Britain.

The reuniting is an undeniably special moment. One is owned by the National Gallery and the other by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and both are among the most popular paintings they own.

"It has taken 65 years to happen and will probably take another 65 for it to happen again because both paintings are so central to what our museums do," said the National Gallery's curator of post-18th century paintings, Christopher Riopelle. "I'm sure there are people in Amsterdam now swearing because they've gone to the museum and Sunflowers isn't there."

Visitors entering Room 46 of the National Gallery will see the London Sunflowers, one of four that Van Gogh made to decorate a bedroom in his "yellow house" in Arles for his visiting friend Paul Gauguin. On its right is one of the three copies that Van Gogh later made.

Martin Bailey, author of the recently published The Sunflowers Are Mine, said people would inevitably compare the two to see what changes he made.

The differences are both subtle and obvious: the copy is a bit taller for example, because Van Gogh wanted more of a margin at the top. His Vincent signatures are in slightly different places on the pots, to maybe give a better balance, and the colours in the Amsterdam version are more stylised – botanically incorrect but perhaps more interesting.

Bailey said there was no big revelation in having them side by side "but it is more that people will appreciate them in a deeper and more meaningful way".

Senior conservator at the Van Gogh Museum, Ella Hendricks, knows every millimetre of the paintings but even for her seeing them side by side "was also an eye opener". She said: "It is almost like a spot the difference game and the differences became obvious."

The National Gallery bought its Sunflowers direct from the artist's family in 1924 and it has become an integral part of its collection. In the gallery's shop you can purchase nearly 100 different types of sunflowers merchandise – from a single handmade chocolate square (£1.25) to a coaster (£6), a cushion (£35) and a pearl bangle (£125).

Of the four original sunflower paintings, only three still exist after one was destroyed in an American bombing raid on Japan during the second world war. The remaining originals are the one in the National Gallery, another in Munich and a third that has been squirrelled away in a private collection since 1948, the last time it was seen in public.

The three copies are on public display in Amsterdam, Philadelphia and on the 42nd floor of a Tokyo skyscraper.

Getting two together is remarkable. Getting more than that would be "everyone's dream" but unlikely, said Riopelle. "I don't think it's going to happen."

Amsterdam's loan follows a reciprocal one by London last year, marking the reopening of the Van Gogh Museum after renovation. Also on display are the results of recent scientific research by both institutions giving new insights into how he painted his sunflowers and what materials he used.

The gallery is anticipating big demand and, because only so many people can be in the room at one time, will operate a queuing system at busy times.

The series come from Van Gogh's most infamous year – it was 1888 that he had his nervous breakdown, cut off part of his ear and went into an asylum.

People have their own reasons for adoring Sunflowers and it often has something to do with the cycle of life feel to them – there are buds, flowers in full health and dieing ones.

Bailey said: "I hope that people will look afresh at something we all think we know. Superficially it is such a simple image but it has enormous power."

• The Sunflowers are at the National Gallery from 25 January-27 April. Admission is free.


Monday 27 January 2014

Allen Ginsberg - Photographer

Bob Dylan

Paul and Linda McCartney

Neal Cassady driving The Merry Pranksters' bus

Cassady and Natalie Jackson

Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters




William Burroughs

Iggy Pop

Peter Orlovsky, Burroughs and Paul Lund


Warren Beatty and Madonna

Philip Glass

All images from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasfisherlibrary/collections/72157639631395733/ - except the Dylan photos, which are from http://sashusha.tumblr.com/post/74075736792/1990

University of Toronto's Allen Ginsberg Photography Collection

Video narrated by Fisher Librarian John Shoesmith about the Ginsberg Photography Collection, along with some examples of the photographs from the collection. 

The University of Toronto announced today the receipt, thanks to a bequest by the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation, of 7,686 photographs and 236 silver gelatin prints (including many original snapshots and uniquely-inscribed prints), making them now home to, undoubtedly the world's largest collection of Allen Ginsberg photographs. 

The photographs span the years between 1944 and 1997 and comprise pretty much a complete collection of Allen's extraordinary picture-taking career. 

"This is an exciting and remarkable gift", declared U of T President Marc Gertler, "(a)..truly fascinating collection". Others went further, "This fabulous collection provides both scholars and students alike unique entree to Ginsberg's passionate eye and helps to confirm his status as a major 20th-Century American poet with the camera", declares photography and new media professor, Louis Kaplan - "One cannot overestimate its [the collection's] photo-historical, pedagogical and cultural value."

This Fall the two institutions will collaborate to present an exhibition of Ginsberg photos.

Major Collection of Allen Ginsberg Photos Donated to the University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is home to the world’s largest collection of photographs by the late beat poet Allen Ginsberg thanks to a donation by the Larry & Cookie Rossy Family Foundation.

The 7,686 photographs housed in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and 236 silver gelatin prints at the University of Toronto Art Centre include portraits of figures as prominent as John Cage, Bob Dylan, William de Kooning, Paul McCartney and Iggy Pop.

Comprising a nearly complete archive of Ginsberg’s surviving photographs, the collection, spanning the years 1944 to 1997, includes original snapshots and prints of various sizes. The silver gelatin prints are unique in that they are hand-captioned by Ginsberg. All of these images will be available to scholars and some will be on display.

“This is an exciting and remarkable gift,” says U of T President Meric Gertler. “It builds on U of T’s strength as one of the world’s greatest research resources, and our global stature in the humanities. We are very grateful to the Larry & Cookie Rossy Family Foundation for entrusting us with this truly fascinating collection.”

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was an American poet and nonconformist whose influence extended far beyond the United States. Along with his friends Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, Ginsberg was at the centre of a network of writers and artists dubbed the Beat Generation. In the 1950s and 1960s their work and their personal example would forever alter the cultural scene. The Beats also influenced postmodern and avant-garde Canadian poetry.

Although known primarily as a writer, Ginsberg was an avid photographer. The collection includes images of writers Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones), Paul Bowles, Doris Lessing, Josef Skvorecky (who was a professor of English at U of T) and Evgeny Yevtushenko. Other Ginsberg subjects were photographer Robert Frank, psychologist R.D. Laing, author and activist Dr. Benjamin Spock and psychologist and drug guru Timothy Leary. Ginsberg’s friend and fellow writer Burroughs appears in more than 300 photographs. Another frequent subject is Ginsberg’s lifelong partner, Peter Orlovsky.

The Ginsberg prints provide visual insight into New York’s urban landscape from the 1950s to the 1990s. They also document Ginsberg’s international travels to Canada, France, India, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, the USSR and many other nations.

“This constitutes the ultimate ‘insider’ group of photographs on the Beats,” says Anne Dondertman, Associate Librarian for Special Collections, University of Toronto Libraries. “It contains important research material for the study of the life, family, work, travels and friendships of Allen Ginsberg from the 1940s to the 1990s,”
Jack Kerouac and curious cat

“This fabulous collection provides both scholars and students unique entrée to Ginsberg’s passionate eye and helps to confirm his status as a major 20th-century American poet with the camera,” adds Louis Kaplan, Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media, Graduate Department of Art. “One cannot overestimate its photo-historical, pedagogical and cultural value.”

Many of the prints have been digitized and are available via the Fisher Library’s Flickr site and the UTAC Collections Online portal which can be accessed from the University of Toronto Art Centre’s homepage.This fall UTAC, in collaboration with the Fisher Library, will present an exhibition of the Ginsberg photographs.


Saturday 25 January 2014

David Hockney and Poetry

David Hockney: Henry At Table, 1976

David Hockney: the poets that make me paint
A new retrospective reveals Hockney's 60-year obsession with literature – especially poetry. From Walt Whitman to William Blake, here are the writers that mean most to him

Blake Morrison
The Guardian
Friday 24 January 2014

He still does not really believe that an artist needs occasionally to use words," wrote David Hockney's exasperated English teacher at Bradford grammar school about his 13-year-old student. Previously a star pupil, Hockney was in an unco-operative mood at the time, having failed to get a transfer to Bradford School of Art. But his English teacher needn't have worried. Once in art school, Hockney was never lost for words. He could talk for hours on almost any subject, one friend reported. And the early paintings – those that come nearest to pop art – are awash with writing: brand names, advertising slogans, quotations from poems and names of friends, as well as titles spelled out in large capitals across the middle of the canvas or curving more discreetly round the edge ("Dollboy", "Heaven", "Queen", "Life Painting for a Diplomat" etc). Only when Hockney became more unashamedly figurative did his logorrhoea disappear.

Do artists need words? In a famous anti-conceptualist polemic of four decades ago, The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe argued that late-20th century art had become so dominated by art theory that it was now less a visual medium than a literary one: "The paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text," he claimed. But painters have always been inspired by words – whether classical myths, biblical narratives, or phrases encountered in novels or poems. Hockney is no exception. Indeed, one of the main lessons of his forthcoming show at Dulwich Picture Gallery, in south London, is how literary an artist he is.

The show is a retrospective of 60 years of his printwork, stretching from lithographs he did of his parents when he was a teenager, of himself and the local fish and chip shop, through etchings of friends and lovers (Celia Birtwell, Henry Geldzahler, Peter Langan, Gregory Evans, John Kasmin) to the Xeroxes and inkjet-printed computer drawings of recent years.

His relationship with print began almost by accident, because he was poor. For a student of limited means, especially one who worked so prolifically, oil paints and canvases became expensive. As a teenager in Bradford, he had raised money through dares ("Give me sixpence and I'll jump in the canal"). At the Royal College of Art, he took the safer option of working in the printmaking department, which handed out materials for free. Once he left art school, with his reputation more or less made, money was not such a problem. But he has continued experimenting with different kinds of printmaking throughout his career.
David Hockney: Lilies (1971)

One of the few other constants has been the influence of literature. Though his Bradford working-class upbringing was modest, the house was never short of books, most of them borrowed from the local library. And according to his biographer, Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney was an avid reader – "everything from Biggles to the Brontës, the local classics to Dickens". Grimms fairytales were part of his childhood too, and he later illustrated them in a series of etchings, the darkness of the subject matter brought out by the use of cross-hatching. Blake, Proust, Flaubert and Lawrence Durrell are other authors to whom he has alluded over the years.

But the first writer to appear in his art was Walt Whitman. He read him in the summer of 1960, between terms at the Royal College of Art. And in the 1961 etching Myself and My Heroes, Whitman appears as one of the two haloed figures standing beside the young Hockney (the other is Gandhi), along with the words "For the dear love of comrades" from Whitman's poem "I Hear It Was Charged Against Me". Another Whitman line is daubed across his oil painting We Two Boys Together Clinging, with the next line of the poem "One the other never leaving" reduced to the word "never" – a wry admission from Hockney that the crush he had on a fellow student, Peter Crutch, who was straight, could never come to anything. Most of Whitman's crushes weren't reciprocated either, and Hockney clearly identified with him, to the extent of adopting the code Whitman had used in a journal to disguise his love for the confederate soldier Peter Doyle, where 1 = A, 2 = B and so on. The figure 3.18 shown in Hockney's painting Doll Boy translates as CR (Cliff Richard), while the two men penetrating each other in his picture Adhesiveness have the numbers 4.8 and 23.23 – David Hockney and Walt Whitman.

Whitman helped Hockney to acknowledge his homosexuality, but only in a teasing, hermetic manner. It took another poet, CP Cavafy, to make it explicit. Hockney was no less obsessed with his work than he had been with Whitman's, and before embarking on his etchings to 14 of Cavafy's poems he met his ageing English translator, visited both Cavafy's native Alexandria and (a better model for the atmosphere he wished to evoke) Beirut, and commissioned new translations from Stephen Spender and Nikos Stangos. It is fascinating to compare Hockney's images of naked men in bed together with the poems that inspired them. The prints don't so much illustrate the poems (an impossible task in any case) as convey the eroticism underlying them; they make plain what Cavafy was forced to disguise. For instance, in his poem "In an Old Book" Cavafy describes finding an old unsigned watercolour and how:

The young man depicted there
Was not destined for those
Who love in ways that are more or
less healthy,
Inside the bounds of what is clearly
permissible –
With his deep chestnut eyes,
The rare beauty of his face,

The beauty of anomalous charm,
With those ideal lips that bring
Sensual delight to the body loved,
Those ideal limbs shaped for beds
That common morality calls shameless.

David Hockney: Two Boys Aged 23 or 24, 1966

Despite his admiration for Cavafy, Hockney found his poems "slightly old-fashioned. They never describe sex." In his etching to the poem above, he removes the shame and depicts the young man lying back contentedly, arms folded behind his head, with his penis (the key body part unmentioned in the poem) frankly exposed. Attitudes had changed in the 40 years since the poem was first published. Even so, had Hockney's etching appeared any earlier, he would have been liable to prosecution: it was only in 1967 that homosexuality in Britain was finally decriminalised.

Hockney's celebration of gay sex was propagandist as well as personal, helping change the climate of opinion. He became the artist Cavafy had imagined in a poem that describes two male lovers parting furtively after an illicit encounter:

… what profit for the life of the
Tomorrow, the day after, or years
later, he'll give voice
To the strong lines that had their
beginning here.

Hockney's departure to California was part of the same process of liberation, and here again he took his bearings from literature – not from Thom Gunn, who made the same journey but whose poems weren't candid about documenting his sexuality for another two decades, but from John Rechy, whose novel City of Night was published in 1963, the year Hockney first visited LA. Excited by Rechy's descriptions of downtown hustling, Hockney set off on a bicycle to find the action, not realising – till he reached Pershing Square 17 miles later – what a vast sprawl the city was. Sprawling or not, LA captivated him, in part because of its newness, and, deciding that no one had yet found a way to depict it, Hockney appointed himself its Piranesi.

The first lithographs are too busy poking fun at the Hollywood art scene to achieve very much: Picture of Melrose Avenue in an Ornate Gold Frame, Picture of a Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass etc. But once he began to portray Californian swimming pools, Hockney came into his own. Behind their joyful hedonism, they are an attempt to solve an almost insuperable formal problem: as he put it, water "can be any colour, it's movable, it has no set visual description", so how do you paint it? It is the acrylics from this period that people know best, but the Dulwich show contains some equally colourful lithographs from the"Afternoon Swimming" series. Portraits of Californian friends are here too, including Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy at opposite ends of a sofa.

Another portrait, or double portrait, in the Dulwich show is of his dealer, John Kasmin, who on a visit to his studio one day asked to be shown how etchings are made. "Sit still and I'll do one now," Hockney told him, and scratched away on a copper plate until he had a likeness. Since the other half of the plate was empty and it seemed a pity not to use it, Hockney persuaded Kasmin to strip down to his vest and made a second etching. The result, Kasmin Twice, gives us two seemingly different men – a behatted, bespectacled middle-aged professional, and a butch, young, hairy-chested stud, united only in being portrayed from the waist up.

It is fascinating to see how Hockney fluctuated between etching and lithography at different points of his career. It wasn't just personal whim but depended on his contact with different master printers and their workshops. In California, for his lithographs, it was Ken Tyler. In Paris, where Hockney lived for a time in the 1970s, it was Aldo Crommelynck, who had worked with Matisse, Braque, Miró and – most important from Hockney's point of view – Picasso. The new technique for colour etching devised by Crommelynck (a technique described in detail in the catalogue for the show by the curator Richard Lloyd) allowed for more spontaneity than had previously been possible. Picasso died before the technique was perfected, but Hockney took to it at once, and paid homage with two etchings of himself as Picasso's student and model.

Further homage came in his series "The Blue Guitar", inspired by Wallace Stevens's long poem "The Man with the Blue Guitar", itself inspired by Picasso's The Old Guitarist. In the poem, Stevens meditates on the relationship between art and reality:

They said 'You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.'

The man replied, 'Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'

It is obvious why this attracted Hockney. That reality is transformed by the medium in which it is represented is a cornerstone of his aesthetic, and it is why he has worked in so many media – to keep finding new ways to reveal "things as they are". However realist Hockney's art, we are never allowed to forget that we are looking at an image, not the thing itself, and that the content is partly determined by the form. "Poetry is the subject of the poem," Stevens writes, a line that Hockney steals and reworks as Etching is the Subject, for the title of one of his Blue Guitar etchings.

The art Hockney produced on a Xerox machine, back in the 1980s, proceeds from a similar premise, that even a photocopy is never just a copy – "Everything is a translation of something else, no matter how it's done." Working with a photocopier also appealed to him because it cut out the need for the master printer in his atelier: the artist doesn't have to negotiate or compromise but has total control.
David Hockney: Rain on the Studio Window (2009)

More recently, Hockney has been working on an iPad, where the autonomy is even greater, and where the distinction between an original and a reproduction is eroded – a drawing made in a printing machine is both. The Dulwich show is iPad-free, more's the pity, but it does include some fine examples of Hockney's inkjet-printed computer drawings, including one of rain on a studio window – a humble Velux above a white radiator, with the shadow of a neighbouring house visible through the streaked grey pane.

Hockney's art is often seen as a conversation with artists of the past, whether Picasso, Van Gogh, Hogarth, Caravaggio, Monet or Claude Lorrain. Even when painting the Yorkshire Wolds, say, he can't help alluding to landscapes painted by artists before him. The Dulwich show is all about copying – about imitating painters, quoting from writers, representing the world he sees and making duplicates of a single art work. But as Hockney likes to say: "There's no such thing as a copy, really." Whatever the starting point or the medium, the originality of his vision shines through.