Saatchi, Tate Britain and Pale Ale



Up The Smoke last week. Train to Victoria. Tube to Sloan Square. Sunshine and sharp clothing. These people must never drink and always get a full nine hours sleep. How else to appear so elegant?

The Saatchi was a disappointment. Some time in the last century it was decided to divorce art from craft. It was possible to be an artist while having no skill to produce art, one merely contracted it out. Jeff Koons exemplified this with his sculpture of a dog made of flowers. Mr. Koons merely looked over the top of his newspaper and instructed his gardeners to get to work. Of course the mere fact that one is a master of one’s craft is also sniffed at these days and, though Jack Vettriano is popular his paintings are universally despised by the critics as having no artistic merit.

In their current exhibits, The Saatchi, have taken these ideas one step further and are exhibiting works by people with neither talent for their craft nor artistic insight. Scrawled, half arsed works sometimes even resorting to either lifting bits of Francis Bacon or the desperate cliché of depicting genitalia in an attempt to shock anyone left alive with 19th century sensibilities. – “A penis! Good gracious Maud, we’re being shocked again! What will our 9 children think?”

My Soul Hath Them In Remembrance

My Soul Hath Them In Remembrance

Having channeled my inner disgruntled old git, I recall that, with visiting modern art, one must take the rough 90% with the smooth. I liked “Baguette” by Maria Farrar. Simple, almost causal but with great lines and, perhaps, an indication of great things to come. David Bryan Smith used colour and abstract pattern brilliantly to build background in his painting “My Soul Hath Them In Remembrance”. Impressionistic but with a vivid reality despite the orange sheep.

Then back to Victoria and emerged to see the splendid job architects are doing to “regenerate” the area so that it looks no different from any other city in the world. If we’d just get rid of those horrid black cabs and red double deckers then London could truly call itself a “Global City”. The great thing about this architecture is that its simple geometry is easily rendered in virtual environments. This, along with the thousands of tiny “dwellings” being built along the south bank, will leave Londoners so inured to confinement and a world devoid of detail that, when they are eventually snatched off the street, stuffed into pods and connected to the Matrix, they’ll scarcely know it’s happened.

Time for a quick pub lunch in The Bag of Nails and then down to Pimlico for Tate Britain. Wandering at random, I came across one of the first works of modern art that I ever saw. Bernard Cohen’s Fall. In fact, I came across a room full of Cohen and it was stunning. For me, one of them, had the feel of the works of Roy Lichtenstein.

By now, I was dead on my feet and so headed for the little garden out the front to spend 20 minutes horizontal, in the sunshine gazing through the trees at the sky and I eventually dozed off.

Then along the river to Westminster. Big Ben wrapped in scaffolding like some Christo sculpture. Great to see people playing football in, and generally enjoying, Victoria Tower Gardens. Despite the threat of terrorism, the seat of British government is not surrounded by a 10 mile exclusion zone. Walked down Whitehall, The Cenotaph looking impressive as was the monument to the Women of World War II which shows only uniforms hung, as if on pegs, and one is led to wonder what happened to the women who wore these uniforms.

Past machine gun wielding coppers behind iron gates and pubs packed with smart, blue suited apparatchiks. My mind drifted back to the 1980s when I’d do tech support for various government departments. Turning up in jeans, wandering straight into offices and, if someone checked your ID, it was unusual. It’s so sad the way that everything must now be protected from mindless violence.

Of course, this was before the Blair Purges. In those days civil servants were an idiosyncratic and disheveled band of faintly distracted and often intellectual individuals. Presumably they have all now been fired and replaced by former employees of Goldman Waterhouse Coopers with brown noses and keen little eyes focused firmly on their bonus.

Trafalgar Square was a bright oasis in the midst of traffic. Then up Charring Cross Road to an office in Soho and a cup of tea. After this necessary revitalisation, we headed for the pub and I spied a Californian friend loitering outside the Dog and Duck. A warm embrace, “what are you doing here?” and remembering a similar afternoon twenty five years ago just a stone’s throw away in the Three Greyhounds. Then pints of Pale Ale and standing outside for a fag, absorbing the steady, humming verve of the metropolis.

Tube back to Victoria and arrived a few minutes before my train was due to leave. Having just acquired Frank Zappa’s excellent “Shut Up And Play Your Guitar”, I dozed off to the sound of enormous guitar solos.

A Visit to The Booth Museum

The Booth Museum of natural history is one of Brighton’s hidden gems. Tucked away up Dyke Road, it is quiet and old fashioned, the way a museum should be. Taxidermy is its thing. Birds, butterflies, fossils, and bones. I visited it this week during an art class and this is the result.



Standing Stones and Cave Paintings in Iberia

Just returned from a bike trip. Ferry from Portsmouth. Pints of Guinness in the bar with a bloke from Lancashire. Next morning, a TomTom guided escape from the spagettic roads around Bilbao and was overtaken by said Northerner on a trike. Caught up with him and a couple of Welsh bikers at a petrol station. All glad of the sunshine but getting chilly and so we drank hot coffee and donned extra layers.

Salamanca cold and wet but by the time I reached a small hotel near the Portuguese border the weather had warmed up. I stood looking at a field of sheep and savouring the peace and quiet. Silence but for the dull sound of bells hung around their necks. In towns and cities we’re used to a monophonic directionless drone. Out here, the sound comes from all around. From left and right, up and down and near and far. Full three dimensional sound is not something we’re used to and I felt like I was hearing properly for the first time in years.

Then south and west and vast mountains rose up ahead. Ominous, snowy and with drifting freezing fog! Had the GPS gone bezerk? Was it really directing me to cross this Tolkienien barrier? Somehow it found a way but the roads deteriorated as I entered Portugal.

In search of the megalithic stones of Almendres Cromlech near Evora, the TomTom led me to a lonely house with an aged gentlemen sitting outside. He spoke no English but, once he understood that I was looking for the Cromlech, he became verbose and explained, in detail, the directions to the stone circle. I could only smile and nod and try to get away but each time I tried he came up with yet more information. He seemed to be saying something about Saint Sebastian and, since this was nearby, I headed there. Google maps had more luck and I parked up and walked the remaining 100 yards to the Cromlech.

On the side of a hill facing sunrise, smaller than Stonehenge or Avebury but impressive. Wikipedia claims: “There are only two latitudes in which the Moon’s maximum declination is the same as the latitude, meaning that at its maximum elongation it goes through the zenith (directly overhead). These two latitudes are 38˚ 331 N (Almendres), and 51° 10′ N (Stonehenge).” – Blimey!

I spent the night at an “earth house” surrounded by olive trees and patrolled by dogs. The dream of a local couple, he an actor, she a translator. The Portuguese economy was so grim that his funding had dried up and they were considering selling up and moving to the city. Portugal is suffering.

The metal gate to my next Airbnb at Castilléjar was closed and behind it stood a stout English woman with a plate of food in one hand. She told me, in between mouthfuls, that she’d stopped doing Airbnb months ago but people kept coming. She said I should go up the road for a coffee and wait for an hour while she phoned a friend. Bloody irresponsible English twat. I left her to her feed.

Hurriedly rebooking an alternative, my TomTom instructed me to take a very dodgy looking road. I trusted it. When the road deteriorated I trusted it still. After about 3 miles riding slowly up and down steep inclines and over sharp rocks in the blazing sun I began shouting obscenities at every jolt……which surprised a local man.

Arriving at Guaro, about 15 miles north of Marbella, I found an English woman, pottering around in a beautiful garden with lemon trees, wild flowers and three, previously homeless, dogs. In the evening, I visited a local bar to listen to a drunken Englishman discuss Hitler and German power stations.

Next morning, a quick look around Marbella (Swish restaurants and smartly dressed people in sunglasses) and then along the coast road. Past Fuengirola and Torremolinos and then stopped on the outskirts of Malaga for lunch. Until now my trip had been mostly through rural Spain. Small towns, sparsely populated and inactive. Now I’d come to busy roads, thousands of apartment blocks and millions of people. Activity in Spain, as everywhere, is focused in the cities.

My next objective was the Araña Caves near Bicorp and I’d booked an Airbnb near a small town named Velez-Blanco.

Late in the afternoon I arrived at an old building which had been beautifully restored and I accompanied the owner, and her Dalmatian, on her evening walk up into the hills around the house. She knew the name of every plant and flower that grew in this dry wilderness. We sat on a rock wall for a rest and looked out over the plain and the hills in the distance. She told me that for thousands of years, this area had been a transit route for people from all over Iberia and this explained why the people here were so open and embraced strangers.


After dinner I stood on the veranda looking out at the silhouette of the mountains against the moon and the starry sky. That line of the horizon, though arbitrary, must have been etched on the imagination of ancient inhabitants. I told her of my plan to visit the Araña Caves where I had heard there was ancient rock art.

El Brujo

El Brujo

She told me of the El Brujo (The Shamen), an image which had been discovered in a cave on the nearby El Maimón Grande mountain and showed me around her studio where, inspired by the land and its history, she creates amazing jewellery.

Araña Caves viewings are by apointment only so I arrived at Bicorp early next morning and breakfasted in a loud café. My guide met me at the Eco Museum  and retrieved her grandfather’s car. We drove for about half an hour along dirt roads, up into the hills until we reached a steep ravine. After a short walk we came upon the caves which had been caged off to protect them. She removed the padlocks and we went inside.

Extraordinary! There I stood just inches away from figures of people and animals drawn around eight thousand years ago by some of the world’s first artists! I’ve visited Lascaux and Altermira which are more impressive but they are reproductions. This was the real thing! The most distinct images were those of animals but the famous beekeeper was still clearly visible.

Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Rupert Murdoch. All can be said to have left their mark but will that mark still exist in 8,000 years time?

After Bicorp I headed for Valencia and the the Prehistory Museum. Ancient artifacts in large rooms bereft of people. Room after room with just me and a sleepy museum warden slouched in a chair. This is how London museums were before we started treating everything as a tourist attraction. No doubt government subsidies are required but at least the Valencia Museum fulfills the role of a museum; a space with the peace and quiet to stare and wonder at the provenance of exhibits.

When I think about these trips I remember the images. The starry sky, the rocky roads and the caves. But I also think of the people; the Airbnb hosts. The teacher in Salamanca sitting by her warm stove watching Netflix on an iPad. The actor and the translator whose dreams of living in the countryside may be coming to a close. The woman in Seville fastidiously explaining which key fits which door. The Swiss couple who had raised their kids in Orkney and moved to Andalusia to provide foster care for troubled teenagers. The English woman sitting with her plate of food in the Spanish sun. The Spanish jewellery maker in tune with the land around her both past and present.

Every life a separate story and my life overlapping theirs for just one day. I know very little of their lives just as I know little of the lives of the people who had made the cave paintings or placed the stones. I suspect that they were not so different front us. El Brujo, the beekeeper and the people gathered on the hills at Almendres perhaps enjoying a bar-b-que on a moonlit night.