Abandoned Russian Monuments

These abandoned Russian buildings and monuments manage to look simultaneously like space craft from another dimension and megalithic constructions from thousands of years ago.

Either way, they fascinate.

Bigger Trees Near Warter

On our recent visit to York, we took the time to check out the latest piece of work by David Hockney. It’s on tour at the moment (I think) after being unveiled at Tate Britain last year and is on show at York City Art Gallery.

We visited the gallery in sparklingly bright spring sunshine and seeking out this particular piece of art was top of our to do list. We weren’t disappointed either. The sheer scale of the work hits you as soon as you walk into the entire gallery that has been dedicated to it due to its size.

It’s essentially a play on one of Hockney’s ‘things’ – a larger painting made up of smaller paintings or images. He’s done plenty of this in the past and I feel pretty sure he was the first artist to do this kind of thing. He’s worked it pretty hard too using other media to explore this really quite commercial thought. The key difference here is scale with each component canvas being 918 x 1225mm in size and then 50 of these making an overall finished image size of 4.5 x 12m. That’s pretty big.

Technically, it’s a remarkable thing to pull off and that’s the first thing that hits you. There’s a lot of skill and technique involved in pulling this off and there are documentaries on screens showing how he painstakingly set about his task (in fact there was a documentary on TV last year which is also playing).

Once over the level of skill required, my mind then started to take in the work itself. Trees are amazing in all guises and apparently they are notoriously hard to portray in film and photography in terms of their scale. Hockney has almost created a life-size copse of East Yorkshire trees, so he’s pulled that off and there’s almost a sense the viewer is looking at a real scene due to the size of the artwork. The bleakness of the landscape is certainly far away from California swimming pools or vivid coloured images of late and there is a serene bleakness to it. The colours heighten the sense of realism too.

It’s brilliant to see yet again world-class art right on our doorstep in Yorkshire.  It’s well worth a look if you’re in York (free too) and unlike the recent Plensa exhibition at YSP, don’t try to take any pictures or you’ll get accosted by the over zealous attendants.

Hans Otto Wendt

Famous for his hand drawn movie titles in the 1940’s and 50’s, Wendt was an old school ‘commercial artist’ (there weren’t graphic designers in those days) plying his trade in a booming Hollywood, creating typography for some of the top movies of the day.

This was back in the day where everything like this had to be hand drawn – here’s just a couple of great examples, including one of my favourite films of all time, Casablanca. I think they are lovely examples of craft and although the styling reflects the fevered, pulpy subject matter of the day, they still stand the test of time for me and act as a perfect design time capsule.

It wasn’t that long ago – when I started out in the design industry, OK so it is some time ago – that anything unusual had to be drawn especially and we had a ‘lettering artist’ and in our PFB studio we had a couple of guys who could knock something similar up using nothing more than a few sable brushes and indian ink.

Those were the days.

My famous missionary zeal

I’ve had this line bouncing around my head since I saw the incredible Simone Felice perform on his live acoustic tour at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds last week.

I’ve written about Simone before and I just couldn’t not write about seeing him again – he is simply one of the most mesmerising and hypnotic performers. The Guardian hit it right on the head when they said:

“These are songs of memory and regret, of reminiscence and desire, songs that reflect on love and childhood and Americanness and, more than anything, on time passing… each song somehow sounds like a classic, each live performance suggesting we are in the presence of a rare, fiery brilliance.”

Unlike the previous performances when he was with his ‘full’ band Duke & The King, this was the man himself and a couple of musicians delivering pared back and powerful renditions of old and new songs. The wonderfully lo-fi surroundings of the Brudenell completed the picture and made for a memorable and engaging performance, each song deeply etched with passion and belief, the battle-scarred singer delivering emotional punch with every song.

It was one of those gigs where the songs fly by and before you know it, the performers are leaving for the stage only to return for the encore. Beautiful.

I also bought a preview copy of Simone’s new book too, it’s called Black Jesus.

According to the book jacket its ‘Part love story, part protest at the broken promises lying at the heart of the American Dream. A passionate, twisted hymn to the marginalised and forgotten’

I liked the sound of that.


This Thing of Darkness

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson

This book was a gift from my good friend Streety earlier this year – in fact a good three months ago. The combination of my heavy workload and the regular book club books has meant that I’ve not had a good run at this book, it’s a bit of a beast at over 750 pages.

The last few days off work and a fairly short book club choice in March (The Princess Bride by William Goldman he of Marathon Man fame and yes it was very good) has meant that I managed to get my head into Darkness and get it finished.

This Thing of Darkness is a book of grand scale and epic storytelling, spanning Britain’s growth as a nation and expansion across the globe with a backdrop of scientific progress underpinning the multitude of stories playing out .

I’m a huge fan of Napoleonic naval tales and in particular Patrick O Brien’s books in the same vein, so in one sense this book delivers plenty of British sea power (sorry) derring do and adventure. On the flip side, this book is a serious study into the human condition, sacrifices made in the name of progress and how this period in our history was an unforgiving and brutal chapter in our history.

Essentially this is a true story and the events that unfold around it are historic and fascinating in equal measure. At the heart of this book is the relationship between two men – Fitzroy, captain of the Royal navy ship The Beagle and his unassuming passenger, Charles Darwin and the relationship between the two men is the fulcrum of the book.

Both men are God-fearing and as the world they know begins to change forever, only one of is ready to adapt and change with it. There are some beautifully put theological arguments threading through the narrative and one can almost feel the world shaking for these richly described characters.

This intense and personal relationship is played out against events of a grand scale – from the industrial revolution in England to revolution in South America on to scientific discoveries that formed the basis of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

The story touches every aspect of the development of modern civilisation from slavery to capsizing the basic tenets of religious faith. The scientific advances of this time were so dizzying that in some ways it reflects our era too, with all the things we know to be true constantly changing, almost like we’ve got used to that idea where our forbears had a series of enormous ‘shocks of the new’ and then struggled to get over that.

This is a book that starts off in the certainty of another age and then finishes in a time where everything is up for grabs, where uncertainty and change is almost palpable. It’s rich and satisfying in terms of the stories told and real people brought to life and offer a mirror to our relatively safe existence.

It feels like another world and another time, yet this book is set only 150 years ago. It’s funny, but books about our incredible history make you think about our future in equal measure – what will our lives be like in 150 years?


OK – now you’ve warmed up on the superhero alphabet, why not try the airline tailfin test?


Jaume Plensa at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a wonderful place.

Right on our doorstep in West Yorkshire, it really is one of the county’s world class visitor attractions. I’m amazed that I still talk to people who haven’t been yet. The combination of sculpture and Yorkshire landscape is not to be missed.

I’d been looking for a reason to reacquaint myself with the Park and when the invitation to the new Jaume Plensa exhibition landed in my inbox, I responded immediately.

Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist who is internationally acclaimed – this is a very big deal as it’s is the largest collection of his work all in one place. The first glimpse you get of the art is as you enter the park from the road with two enormous silver human forms standing guard. These are a statement of intent and a sign of the drama to come.

The artworks are strategically placed around the landscape in a curated route that takes the visitor on a journey of discovery. The outdoor interaction with the artworks and the landscape is breathtaking from gigantic forms made out of metallic letterforms to tree hugging iron men.

On a vividly bright spring afternoon, the large silver life forms were striking against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky.

The human form takes centre stage in Plensa’s work and they speak of multicultural storytelling and perhaps the universal truth that we’re all made up of stories and have stories to tell.

The galleries inside hold more enticing treasure with a row of galleries behind a typographic curtain of poetry, each exhibit encouraging – no, demanding – to be touched, caressed, jangled, struck. It’s rare and refreshing when we are actually encouraged to interact with art this way. It shows that art can be fun and human too.

One darkened room contains a series of eminently bangable gongs and as I’d seen this work before in Palma and it was great to be reunited once again and then it all fell in to place as some of the other works I’d seen before in Madrid.

I don’t want this review to be too highbrow – because this is no highbrow show. This is art for the masses and definitely for everybody, with a depth that can be plumbed if you wish to.

I urge you to visit this exhibition on the next sunny day and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park again and if you’ve not been before, I guarantee you’ll be besotted.


Photographs by Jonty Wilde

Superhero Alphabet

This is nice…can you spot the costumed heroes that make up each letter?


Poetry and Parking Fines

On Friday night we went along to the opening night of the very first Sheffield poetry festival. We made the whole evening even more complete by eating at The Milestone before the readings (if you haven’t been yet, it’s fabulous, just go) and then we soaked up the culture at The Showroom in Sheffield’s cultural quarter.

Headlining poet was Marsden’s most famous son (I think), Simon Armitage, who I have seen before in rock band mode with his 80’s throwback outfit The Scaremongers. This was a concert I despised, by the way, and yet subsequently loved the album – go figure.

Alongside the almost Laureate was a couple of local poets, Ed Reiss from Bradford and Nell Farrell from Sheffield.

Ed was up first, nervous and edgy. Clearly not as practised as other poets, his prose was fast and modern. His experience as an educated white lad living in BD10 had a large influence on his nervously delivered but powerful collection.

Nell was up next: middle-aged, relaxed, funky in a Mohican kind of way. The laughs she delivered came as a welcome antidote to Ed’s confrontational and challenging prose. I was so taken with the title of her most recent pamphlet that I bought it. I love that they use and indeed revere this word in poetry – pamphlet in the normal world is peripheral and transient, but somehow in poetry it is a badge of permanence.

The title of Nell’s pamphlet is ‘A Drink With Camus After The Match’ which caught my ear, given we’d read “L’Etranger” last year in book club, one of Camus’ most well-known books. Camus was a footballer for those of you with lives and I just like the link –  it made me smile – like Nell’s poetry.

Next up was the man himself, poetry royalty, here in Sheffield. Armitage is one of the modern greats and his unpredictable performance was bang on the money. He said he’s never read new stuff before, that he’s always ‘called on his little darlings’ – the previously published banker poems that always give the punters what they want. Fair play to the boy – he delved into new work that was slow and reflective, speaking of night shifts ending in bus shelters and mortality looming. He did dig out a couple of crowd pleasers at the end of his set including Sir Gawain – just as Mozza would play Girlfriend in a Coma or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now to the faithful acolytes.

Armitage’s flat vowells and deadpan delivery was note perfect and not even a gang of curious booze hounds pressing at the window could put him off his pace – this was an impressively relaxed performance, delivering fireworks and mundanity in equal measure. He knows how to read his work, that’s for sure, and I wonder what Ed Reiss might be like when he’s had as much experience – quite good I expect.

Finally, I thought I’d have a go at explaining the second half of the title of this post, in the form of a stanza…

Stuck to the windscreen, we didn’t see it

A parking ticket

But we thought it was free

From a reliable source, from Sheffield

via Leeds.