Leeds Art

“I hope you become comfortable with the use of logic without being deceived into concluding that logic will inevitably lead you to the correct conclusion.”

This marvellous quote from Neil Armstrong, who has just died at the age of 82, appears in Claire Lawton’s Blog entry on the website of the Phoenix New Times.

Last week I visited Leeds Art Gallery to see the exhibition of ‘Art in our Time’, selected highlights from a century of collecting. The delights on show included several Spencers (Stanley and his brother Gilbert), the ‘Searchlights’ painting by Nevinson, a portrait by Wyndham Lewis (which takes me back to Ezra Pound’s Canto CXV excerpt in the Faber Book of Modern Verse) and the Paul Nash painting of a Quarry. Another striking picture of an imaginary ruin was John Armstrong’s painting ‘Phoenix’, which would be ideal as the cover image for a volume of Surrealist Poems.

There were other notable items: a painting from Charles Sims’ Mystical Period, Drink Deeply of Wine, a collision of angels and perfect Middle-Class Edwardians. And Canova’s statue of Venus, a perfect being made of fossilized light.

One collection of modern works included a photo by Boyd Webb, who specializes in imaginary landscapes where wrecked furniture floats on a carpet ocean. Photography is fast becoming an art form; ‘the camera never lies’ but at the same time a perfect rendition of a person or a place can be utterly misleading. Picasso’s Avignon hookers are more alive in that picture than they would be in any of Bailey’s faithful portraits.

Back in the late ‘80s I found a magazine article about Vincent Serbin, a photographer who creates montage pictures – compelling surrealist landscapes with a beach overlapping with the interior of a bedroom (rather like the abandoned office in those ‘Industrial Ruins’ pictures, where a tide of spilled receipts and dockets lies motionless in the doorway). And more recently I noticed the work of Lucas Simoes, whose techniques include layering of printed images to generate smeared portraits.

Journal Entry, 31 Dec 02:
Posted letters to Sheila & Dave, Heather & Mark, and a cheque to Cred Card Co.
In the news: Donald Rumsfeld (US Defense Secretary) has been outed as one of the key suppliers of plutonium, anthrax, electronics etc to some guy called Saddam Hussein (‘Well, he seemed like such a nice man’).
It is not clear whether DR didn’t know that he didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to do this…
Cases of Syphilis, Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia in Manchester up by 200% on last year.
Halifax Bank says that house prices in the NW will show a 16% rise during 2003.
While tidying up and chucking out I came across that 1990 photo of me holding my newly-acquired Driving Licence.
A quiet night in, listening to Radio 2, white wine, chorizo, olives, fromage, salad, and reading John Brunner.
There are seventy flood warnings throughout the UK: tonight’s forecast – rain & snow.

Journal Entry, 25 Apr 03:
Compiled a beautiful report about our trip to B’pool – analysed the numerous defects in existing formulations and why they would give rise to our problems. Suggestions – put the missing (!) driers into the alkyd primer, grind the primer instead of using HSD to get rid of lumps, reduce pigment loading in CR, and increase the plasticizer level – lots more chlor paraffin and Lankroflex.

Journal Entry, 5 May 03:
Sat morning rode off to Kearsley for the Nightmare Rally – Seventh Seal and Scavengers MCC. Bands: Rolled & Stoned (v good early Bowie, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mick & Keef etc).
Last night: Poison Whisky and Are You Experienced, tremendous Hendrix cover band who cremates his guitar at end of show.
Brett rang to tell me that on Fri afternoon there had been a chemical spillage from Sterling Tech: ‘residents within four miles are advised to stay indoors’.

Journal Entry, 7 May 03:
Arrived at work to find factory intact. Damn! Gill had been brought in to carry out QC during my absence and left a list of complaints about the state of the lab.
She had also been comparing drying-times on various batches of CR paint, the infamous B’pool Tower stuff.
Apparently last Friday’s drama was a resin exotherm which spewed out a plume of styrene and then turned into seven tons of useless rock.

Decline UK Manufacturing

There have been reports from a number of sources that the UK manufacturing sector, far from being in terminal decline, is actually performing strongly. According to PWC, the focus has shifted from basic commodity manufacturing to high-end production, and the overall value of goods has increased. The number of people employed in manufacturing has fallen sharply, but this is dismissed as being unimportant; the overall value of goods produced has increased, which means greater value to be shared throughout the whole economy.
This cheerful scenario strikes me as being rather simplistic, for several reasons:
The mass production of low-end commodity products provides employment for semi- and unskilled workers, who may find it difficult to get jobs in the more specialised engineering and IT industries;
The PWC report concentrates entirely on the value of what is being produced and takes no account of what is being made or where it is being sold. ‘High-value’ production can include nuclear and aerospace components, together with the associated technical knowledge, all of which are very popular among despotic regimes around the world;
and the increase in unemployment brings associated social problems.

Some of the more depressing news items in the papers recently include the story of Abdul Esfandmozd, who spent ten years falsely claiming benefits which he spent on a property portfolio and lavish holidays. Despite having been filmed dancing at a holiday resort, he arrived at court in an electric wheelchair protesting his innocence.
Another grim episode took place in Eastbourne, where a man was beaten to death for refusing to buy alcohol for a group of teenagers.
Since the UK benefits system is so (apparently) generous, manufacturing employers have no qualms about transferring production overseas and leaving their workforce on the dole.

The ongoing success of UK manufacturing is a good thing, but it must be placed in context: our commitment to advanced technology leaves us dependent on other nations for basic commodity items, while the vast army of jobless adults in Britain will probably cause ever-increasing social disorder as the legal system struggles to cope with them.






Bliss Symphony

Last week I spent two days at work carrying out Taber abrasion tests, and after several frustrating attempts, I finally managed to persuade Microsoft Excel to create a graph containing the weight-loss data from four different samples. Then I noticed that the lines on the chart had been picked out in red, blue, green and purple – the names chosen by Arthur Bliss for the four movements of his Colour Symphony.

The boring chart on the screen suddenly began to shimmer with possibilities; I imagined the regular axis markings replaced by musical staves flecked with notes and treble clef motifs in the four colours, gleaming softly in the light from a distant star.. The five black lines, tired of holding the music in place began to quiver like plucked strings, plaiting themselves into ornate Celtic knot designs.

The structural formulae of pigments – carbazole violet, pyrrolidone reds, phthalo greens and Prussian blue – appeared in endless faint repetitions like the watermark in a foreign banknote, occasionally stuttering into bold colour and tumbling off the screen…

Bliss, bliss, bliss I thought; ‘which is the bliss of solitude’. And this reminded me of Alex, the grim anti-hero of A Clockwork Orange. He was fond of declaiming ‘blissety-blissety-bliss’. After Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, the film made a brief reappearance on the UK cinema circuit.

Journal Entry, 28 Mar 2000:
Got train up to Preston then B’pool, went to West Coast Rock Cafe; a bit like the Great American Disaster, great chargrilled burgers. Went to Trades, booked in, went round pubs and back to hotel.
Next day went to see ‘Clockwork Orange’. Cinema unchanged since the seventies – three quid to get in, wood-panelled auditorium (with toilets inside the cinema!), dusty glass counter and elderly usherette selling bags of Revels – perfect for watching an old film! The ruched curtains in front of the screen made a harsh whirring noise as they were drawn up. Afterwards, I joked that ‘an intellectual is someone who can’t listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the orgy scene from Clockwork Orange’.

William Tell? I recall a few years back hearing (on Radio Three) a Sunday afternoon concert from the Royal Albert Hall at which the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Bobby McFerrin. As part of the performance he sang the cello line from one of Vivaldi’s concerto pieces, explaining that since musical instruments were so expensive back then, all the girls at the convent would be expected to learn to vocalise solo parts in this manner.
As an encore, the brass players delivered the opening fanfare of Rossini’s William Tell overture; but then, instead of playing the rest of the piece, the members of the orchestra sang the lines (da-da-dum-da-da-dum) in perfect, ornate harmony. It was glorious to hear, and was greeted by wild cheering at the end. My diary entry for the occasion reads simply: Sun 7 Sep 2003, ‘Have just heard the Vienna Phil playing Bolero and singing William Tell. Fantastic!’
McFerrin’s remarkable achievement is discussed in a business research paper by Donna Ladkin entitled Leading Beautifully (The Leadership Quarterly, v.9, 1, Feb 2008) as an example of excellent communication.

And since Vivaldi was called The Red Priest, and Rossini means ‘little redhead’, we return to the ‘Red’ movement from the symphony by Bliss….

Goodbye, Mr V

Today’s papers carried the news that Gore Vidal, giant of the US literary scene for over 50 years, has died at the age of 86.
The various obit notices described him as being unkind, scathing and vile towards anyone he happened to dislike (pretty much everybody, then). However, I like to think he was making a plea with this endless spleen; perhaps he really wanted someone to challenge him by pointing out that the population of the US includes millions of people who are intelligent, hard-working and conscientious.
I have read only two of his books, but they made a great impression on me; both were secondhand copies from charity shops, one bought in London, the other in Birmingham. My hardback copy of ‘Julian’ sat on the shelf for nine years before I got round to reading it, and my diaries from the time carry brief references to his work.

Journal Entries: 29 May ’88:
Back in B’ham after spending six weeks working in Oxford. Last week had lovely barbecue in the Isle of Dogs & met all Steve’s friends. Been reading ‘Colour out of Time’ by Michael Shea, ‘2010’ by Arthur C Clarke, ‘Messiah’ by Gore Vidal. Fortnight ago was offered interview by Courtaulds who had already arranged accommodation and dinner for night before.

6 Feb ’89:
Went back to Brum for weekend, lunch with Pam & John on Sunday. Bought a Philip Gibbs novel and ‘Julian’ by Gore Vidal and a Van Vogt and scientific biography. Today bought two Dickens books from kidney shop and at home had Xmas card from Steve Rhead.

5 Aug ’89:
Awful! The bestselling pop record in the UK is a medley of fifties songs over a disco beat. It’s like 1981 all over again!
Wellcome shares rocketing.
Perhaps PSB (the Pet Shop Boys, Messrs Tennant & Lowe) should change their names to Steven Shorter  and John Cave.
Will Willy Goddard turn out like Bam-Bam in The Flintstones?

27 Mar ’97 (Maundy Thursday):
On Tuesday, Du Pont takeover of Carrs Paints should be announced.
Last night went to T’ai Chi – learned ‘hands moving like clouds’ in short form.
At work am reading Julian (Gore Vidal) and reciting the Balcony Scene from memory, cos Stewart keeps saying that Shakespeare is overrated. At home reading Iain Sinclair, Whitechapel Scarlet; Jack the Ripper didn’t regard himself as an antiquated Victorian – he was a smart, modern man-about-town.
The Emperor Julian unwittingly saluted his Generals; they went wild because he’d overturned the established order. On the eve of Good Friday Jesus turned servant to His disciples to make the same point.