Monday, 25 February 2013

Food: Polpo

The best restaurant I have eaten in recently is Polpo in Smithfield, London. Polpo defines itself as a 'bàcaro' – a humble restaurant that serves good food and fine young wines. A beautifully rustic decor and unexpectedly bold electronic soundtrack greets diners as they are shown to their prospective tables. The cuisine is simple and fresh Venetian, presented on generous sharing plates. The idea is to order two or three dishes per person and share the delicious delicacies around the table. The plates arrive at non-specific intervals – together or separately – to ensure that dinner remains a decadently laid back affair.

We enjoyed Campari cocktails before our first plate arrived, and later accompanied the meal with a nice warm-bodied red. The Fritto Misto – an irresistible selection of lightly battered seafood – was a particular favourite of mine and I also loved the Goat cheese, curly kale & pine nuts pizzette. Scrumptious. Desert was an exquisite flourless orange cake, and an elegant ice cream cone. Needless to say, we left feeling full and warm and content. For delightfully languorous dining and a brilliant atmosphere, highly recommended!

Polpo, Smithfield | Photo: Polpo

Polpo, Smithfield | Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

Polpo has restaurants in Soho, Covent Garden and Smithfield. There is also a lovely cookbook containing recipes for their unique brand of Venetian cuisine, available in most good bookshops.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Man Ray Portraits

In the summer of 1929 Lee Miller, a beautiful young model and photographer from New York, approached an avant garde artist who was sitting on a sunlit plaza in Paris and announced that she was to be his assistant. She consequently became his apprentice and lover for three years. It is in this beauty-hazed and romanticised context that we have the chance to view Man Ray's artistic legacy.

Cover of Photographs by Man Ray 1920 | Paris, 1934

Man Ray (born Michael Emmanuel Radnitzky) was an influential part of the Surrealist and Dadaist set of 1920's Paris, which included Marcel Duchamp, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie and Hans Richter. His conceptual works, paintings and photographs remain among the most iconic of the twentieth century. His photography is innovative and moving; the solarised and early colour images being particular favourites of mine.

That is why I was excited to hear that the National Portrait Gallery is currently hosting the first major retrospective of the artist's photographic portraits. Covering Man Ray's career in America and Paris between 1916 and 1968, the exhibition showcases over 150 prints (most of them vintage originals) and archived contributions to fashion magazines. The sultry air of twentieth century Surrealism is breathed out slowly by models and personalities who stare at us through frames – some of them beautiful art deco originals – with alluring expressions.

There is an appropriate mix of eccentricity and simple beauty in the collection. The artist had an enviable pick of beautiful women, incredible personalities and famous friends to photograph, and a room full of them is undeniably atmospheric. The stylish Peggy Guggenheim; Virginia Woolf the literary genius; the erotic Meret Oppenheim; trapeze artist Barbette and Suzy Solidor with their blurred sexualities... The list goes on and it's a seductive cast. And Man Ray's life the ideally licentious and bohemian setting.

Despite the crowded space, maze-like progression of walls and the small size of many of the vintage prints, I inevitably fell in love with everything about Man Ray, who he knew and the way he lived. A truly brilliant exposition.

Self-Portrait | New York, 1916

Woman Smoking A Cigarette | New York, 1920

Jacques Rigaut | Paris, 1922

Peggy Guggenheim In A Dress By Paul Poiret | Paris, 1924

Adam and Eve (Marcel Duchamp and Brogna Perlmutter) | Paris, 1924-5

Le Violon d'Ingres | Paris, 1924

Antonin Artaud | Paris, 1926

Helen Tamiris | Paris, 1929

Solarised Portrait Of Lee Miller | Paris, c. 1929

Jacqueline | Paris, 1930

Erotique Voilee (Meret Oppenheim) | Paris, 1933

Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray | Paris, 1933

Self-Portrait With Camera | Paris, 1930

Man Ray: Portraits is open until 27th May 2013.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Persephone Books

Wandering around the outskirts of Bloomsbury on Saturday took me to Persephone Books on Lamb's Conduit Street. With rough-warn floorboards underfoot and stacks of beautiful volumes along the four walls, this charming shop is any book-lover's dream

Persephone Books was established in 1999 by Nicola Beauman who wished to print unfairly neglected works by twentieth century (mostly female) authors. The collection is purely reflective of Beauman's personal taste, which is a fine one, and is appropriately evokative of the spirit of the Bloomsbury Group of writers, artists and philosophers that included John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, Leonard Woolf and his wife Virginia Woolf.

One of the volumes I picked up was actually a copy of  Virginia Woolf's diaries as edited by Leonard in 1953. It perfectly encapsulates Woolf's wit and experience of writing and reading the literature of her day. What a brilliant collection! And because I couldn't resist the pleasing grey books with their beautiful individual cover linings, I also picked up Tell It To A Stranger, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berridge, and Hilda Bernstein's The World That Was Ours, an acclaimed autobiographical account of the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1930s (one of Beauman's favourites). 

I left feeling creative and inspired, and also honoured to have copies of these rare volumes, each one so beautifully crafted. Persephone appeals both to literature enthusiasts and aesthetes who can value the books purely for their appearance and feel. Most of all, I am looking forward to discovering illuminating prose from two authors (Berridge and Bernstein) previously unknown to me.

Persephone Books is situated at 59, Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Photography: Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

It seems that when I come to London, I have to visit as many exhibitions as possible - there is just so much to see! Yesterday, I had an hour to kill so I mooched along the Strand and up to the National Portrait Gallery. I hadn't seen the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, so nipped in to have a look.

The annual competition is open to photographers from around the world aged eighteen or over, and awards four prizes and a New Work award. For me, there is nothing more vivid than a photographic portrait. Photography captures a moment – perhaps a swift glance or part of an intense gaze – with true honesty. But also with impenetrable mystery.

Each portrait had an enlightening story behind it, but I preferred to stare at the photograph before finding out if I had interpreted it 'correctly'. Often, the mystery of the photo is enhanced by an unexpected context.

FIRST PRIZE: Margarita Teichroeb | Jordi Ruiz Cirera

SECOND PRIZE: Lynne, Brighton | Jennifer Pattison

THIRD PRIZE: Mark Rylance | Spencer Murphy

FORTH PRIZE: The Ventriloquist | Alma Haser

Davita, Sitali and Paul | Gandee Vasan

Silence | Elizabeth Haust

Christopher and Harriet | Laura Cooper

PC David Rathband | Justin Sutcliffe

Julie Hill | Peer Lindgreen

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London until Sunday. Visit:

Art: Becoming Picasso

I am finally back in London after two long months away, and so happy to be here! Yesterday I decided to head over to Somerset House for the Courtauld Gallery, which is currently showing some early works of Pablo Picasso. As I made my way through the arches into the courtyard I enjoyed glimpsing the pre-London Fashion Week buzz and the colourful video projection of past catwalk shows.

The Blue Room (The Tub) | Picasso 1901

In Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, the Courthauld is exhibiting works from the artist's debut in Paris. Pieces from a single year of artistic output adorn the walls, filling the intimate space well and demonstrating a clear evolution in style: from the broad and bold brush strokes of a confident self portrait, to more defined textures in Girl With A Dove. The well-curated exhibition reveals a range of influences for Picasso in this one year; the likes of Degas, Van Gogh and Gauguin are evoked in the canvasses. 

It was brilliant to discover new visions from such a well-known artist. I personally only recognised one of the paintings exhibited (the famous Girl with a Dove), and may not have associated some of the others with Picasso at all. The Blue Room, certainly, very closely resembles Degas and seems a far cry from Picasso's later works, particularly the cubist pieces. And the Dwarf Dancer reminds me of Degas again – a parody of his elegant ballerinas perhaps – but is hugely contrasted in texture and colour. It is an enlightening exhibition that demonstrates Picasso's wonderfully diverse style and confidence in using an incredible range of techniques within just one year.

Self Portrait | Picasso 1901
Dwarf Dancer | Picasso 1901
Portrait of Bibi La Purée | Picasso 1901
Seated Harlequin | Picasso 1901 
Harlequin and Companion | Picasso 1901
Girl with a Dove | Picasso 1901

Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 runs until 26th May 2013 at The Courtauld Gallery, London.
For more information visit:

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Self Portrait: objective honesty -vs- tainted egotism

The self portrait is the unwritten rule and right of every artist. Although they are often sidelined by art historians or left sitting in the inside flap of a dust cover, we recognise them. We consume them. We study them. Artists replicate themselves on their own canvasses and a 'brand' is created. Or rather, they transform themselves on their own canvasses. For an artist can never be objective. Art is emotion. And emotion is purely subjective. Debaters and haters may say the self portrait is mere egotism; tainted egotism. But that can be quickly disregarded when you consider that art itself is egotism, and that the artist is narcissistic by very definition. What is art, if not a display of self? The self portrait is perhaps the purest and most revealing kind of art there is, then, and by that very merit is the only way the artist has of being truly revealing about themselves: their own kind of objective honesty. After that the artist stares at us. And asks us to create our own meaning for that look. As with any art, the meaning becomes our own translation of the work's original purpose. This is what makes it endlessly fascinating.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Peter Blake (b.1932)
Tracey Emin (b.1963)

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Sarah Lucas (b.1962)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)

Vincent Van Gogh (1953-1890)
David Hockney (b.1937)
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)