Friday, 25 January 2013

Royal West of England Academy, Bristol: Reigning Cats & Dogs

This afternoon I wrapped up against the freezing cold to make the short journey from my little flat to the Royal West of England Academy. Currently showing is Reigning Cats and Dogs, an exhibition dedicated to art that showcases our domesticated animal allies.

Dogs and cats have appeared – both incidentally and centrally – in art across the ages, and the RWA is showcasing a range of mediums, eras and themes side-by-side. From ancient Egypt – through Valequez, David Hockney and Lucien Freud – to local contemporary painters, it is a far-reaching and enlightening exhibition. And pieces featuring loyal mutts and feisty felines tackle a surprisingly large portfolio of themes – religious devotion, sexuality, the family portrait, abstraction in landscape and mechanical sculpture among them. 

The works of Ben Hughes – an artist who complements the realist painting of subjects with starkly plain line-drawn backdrops – particularly appealed to me, as did Oliver Canti’s humorous The Bark Ascending, Marcelle Hanselaar’s striking oil paintings and Lukasz Pazera’s work in computer graphics, Zone Dog

The exhibition is largely a presentation of dualisms: the domestic versus the feral; the controller versus the controlled; Victorian sentimentality versus modern kitsch; and – in some of the cases – human versus animal.

Dog of Zone from Lukasz Pazera on Vimeo.

Reigning Cats and Dogs, RWA | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Leslie Glenn Damhus | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Reigning Cats and Dogs, RWA | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Bobbie Russon | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

A Satyr Mourning Over a Nymph | Piero di Cosimo

Family Viewing | Ben Hughes

Lily | Ben Hughes

Girl with a White Dog | Lucian Freud

Self Portrait With Legs | Sarah Francis

Marcelle Hanselaar

A Dark Silence in Suburbia | P.J. Crook

The New Yorker, 27th September 2004

Reigning Cats and Dogs runs at Royal West of England Academy until 15th March 2013.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Playlist: Patti Smith

Patti Smith is the definitively cool – and enviably timeless – female beat poet, visual artist and androgynous style icon of our time. Yes, her earliest music is from another era, but the album release last year demonstrates how her soundworld resonates as strongly today as it did in the 70s. The first album Horses was released in 1975, with Radio Ethiopia in the following year, and the acclaimed Easter in 1978. Eight studio albums and 34 years later Smith released Bangra in 2012; an album inspired by her own "unique dreams and observations". She is still undeniably cool.

Patti Smith | Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe

For me, her art, poetry, politics, style, music and photography – not to mention photographs of her –  so perfectly compliment one another as to be inseparable. She is the very embodiment of an artistic existence. With her 2013 'Japan Tour' and a photography exhibition showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Patti Smith is still making waves.

Patti Smith | Horses, 1975

Patti Smith | Radio Ethiopia, 1976

Patti Smith | Easter, 1978

Patti Smith | Wave,  1979

Patti Smith | Dream Of Life, 1988

Patti Smith | Gone Again,  1996

Patti Smith | Peace and Noise, 1997

Patti Smith | Gung Ho,  2000

Patti Smith | Trampin',  2004

Patti Smith | Twelve, 2007

Patti Smith | Banga, 2012

Patti Smith: Camera Solo will take place from 9th February until 19th May 2013. Visit:
For tour dates visit:

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Birdcage, Bristol

Picture credit: Alex Lucas for The birdcage, Bristol

The snow set in this weekend and on Sunday afternoon we sought refuge and warmth in The Birdcage. The stylish home of "yesterday's clothing, today's coffee and tomorrow's music" in the centre of Bristol, the delicious haunt opened in September to house traditional café culture and a creative social space. Food and drink is consumed from luxurious leather chairs; mannequins stand nearby in vintage regalia; and up-and-coming bands provide fresh soundtracks on Wednesday open mic nights.  Lampshades provide seductive lighting and beautiful Moroccan-style carpets lie over the wooden floor. Among the choices for idle page-flicking with your coffee are vintage copies of Playboy. As the snow thawed from our feet I enjoyed the spiced apple juice with brandy whilst Lizzie indulged in a seasonal hot toddy. A place that incorporates coffee, clothes and arts under one roof is bound to be a favourite of mine. I look forward to returning for some retail therapy and live music very soon.

Snow in Clifton | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Lizzie reclines in style | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Lizzie | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Lighting | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

I gaze at rails of vintage fashion from our table | Photo: Elizabeth Metcalfe

The Birdcage | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Birdcage opens seven days a week (10am - 10pm Monday-Saturday; 12pm - 8pm Sunday).


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Photography: Donald McCullin

On Wednesday a friend took me to Watershed, Bristol's cultural cinema on the harbourside. We went to see McCullin, an incredible documentary about the life and work of the iconic photojournalist. Directed by Jacqui Morris, the film is a powerful combination of archive video footage, interviews, and emotive photo montages; all synchronised with a brilliant soundtrack.

Don McCullin worked for The Observer and, most famously, The Sunday Times Magazine and produced some of the most hard-hitting photojournalism of all time. Images of war, famine and neglect from across the globe (and at home) landed on the breakfast tables of middle England with a sharp thud.

Hearing from McCullin himself about witnessing atrocities and such horrific suffering through the lens was enlightening and pretty upsetting – and where many of us may ask why? How could you do this? – he explained the impulse and instinct behind his job. His nightmares come during the day and will never leave him. Just watching the film was a sobering – but somehow uplifting – experience. Incredible.

Hartlepoole, 1963 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Somerset, 1991 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Britain, 1962 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Bradford, 1970 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Vietnam, 1968 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Ireland, 1971 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Cambridge, 1973 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Cypres, 1964 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Cypres, 1964 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Bangledesh, 1971 | Photo: Donald McCullin

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Art of the Album Cover

Today I spent some of my lunch break – as I often do – perusing arts journals and culture news, and came across a reaction to the cover art for the Yeah Yeah Yeah's new album Mosquito. The album is available to pre-order, and with it: the art work. Designed by Beomsik Shimbe Shim, it has widely been described as a 'bad' and 'horrendous' example of album art. But can there actually be 'bad' album design? The design is (at least traditionally, and I hope it is considered to remain) an integral ingredient in the perception of the music – just as artists' fashion, settings and props in performance are. It is the choice of the musicians how ironic or sentimental or simple or sensational (etc, forever) they want their art to be. Surely? We have yet to hear the album, but I am sure there is reason behind the Yeah Yeah Yeah's choice: if not reason, pure ART. (Remember, art doesn't equal universal taste).

Synchronicity of music and visual art is usually considered in the context of the avant garde; in intellectual forms such as Fluxus that combine the two. But when popular music came to eminence it was in album covers that we saw the relationship presented explicitly: now in an accessible and prolific form. The history of music and art through album covers is an interesting – and inevitably – colourful one. Cover designs encapsulate political movements, trending controversies, turbulent relationships between individuals and morality campaigns – all of this along with some desiring to seem banal.

Velvet Underground, Velvet Underground and Nico | Andy Warhol, 1967
Patti Smith, Wave | Robert Mapplethorpe, 1979
Nirvana, Nevermind | Robert Fischer, 1991
David Bowie, Alladin Sane | Maurizio Vetrugno, 2003
The Beetles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band | Peter Blake, 1967
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours | Herbert Worthington, 1977
Van Halen, MCMLXXXIV (1984) | Margo Nahas, 1984

King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King | Barry Godber, 1969
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon | George Hardie, 1973

The Stokes, Is This Is | Colin, 2001
Red Hot Chili Peppers, By The Way | Julian Schnabel, 2002 
Two Door Cinema Club, Beacon | Damien Ropero, 2012
The Clash, London Calling | Pennie Smith, 1979 
The Vaccines, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? | Jonay Matos, 2011

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito | Beomsik Shimbe Shim, 2013