Archive for April, 2011



[Picture of Alexander Stoddart working on a bust]It was extraordinary. It really was. Back in the early 1990s Glasgow was basking in it’s year of culture and garden festival.  Architects Page and Park built the Italian Centre and kicked off the whole idea of a new quarter to the city — an addition to the arrondissements municipaux for Glasgow, what-is-now-known-as the Merchant City. The crowning glories of this building are the commissioned statues by Sandy Stoddart.

Imagine — a massive classical statue was transported from a workshop in Paisley to Glasgow city centre — traffic was in disarray!

I really admire Sandy Stoddart as a sculptor, but mostly for rebelling against the rebellion, for being true to sculpture – and that for me is incredibly important; this is not 2D, not a painting or illusion, this is grand public sculpture, and I have always held that genre aside for special respect and attention.

I like that Stoddart slags off Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst.  I like that he did excel in the modern ways before calling a halt and going full-out for the ancient traditions.

From Wikipedia:

Stoddart went, aged seventeen, to train in fine art at the Glasgow School of Art where he studied from 1976 to 1980.

There he settled on sculpture and initially worked within the modernist vogue.

Stoddart has recalled an epiphany moment several times: when, after finishing a riveted metal pop-art sculpture (praised by his tutors) he found a bust of the Apollo Belvedere,

“I thought my pop-riveted thing was rubbish by comparison. It’s extraordinarily easy to pop-rivet two bits of metal together and extraordinarily difficult to make a figure like the Apollo, but I thought I had to try.”

Stoddart wrote his undergraduate thesis on the life and work of John Mossman, an English sculptor who worked in Scotland for fifty years. His work remains an influence on Stoddart.

Stoddart graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, first class, though he was demoralised by his peers’ ignorance of the art history: “the name Raphael meant nothing to them”.

He went on to read History of Art at the University of Glasgow.

Afterwards, he worked for six “difficult” years in the studio of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Although Hamilton Finlay is considered one of the most important Scottish artists of the 20th century, Stoddart profoundly disagrees with his working methods:

“Finlay was the godfather of a problem that’s rampant everywhere today. He called the people who made his work ‘collaborators’. What we call them nowadays is ‘fabricators’. They’re talented people who are plastically capable, but they never meet their ‘artist’. They’re grateful, desperate and thwarted.”

Sandy’s work is just wonderful, and I actually love that people don’t even realise that this style still lives, that new works are around — the statue of David Hume on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh and more.  Most folks I guess would imagine these to be Victorian.

I like his work, I like his approach and I like his attitude.  His statues enrich where I live, and are quickly assimilated into the background — which is nevertheless a grand background.  The Second City of the British Empire deserves Alexander Stoddart’s work!




[Picture of the members of Radiohead]I heard Creep in the early 1990s and was more intrigued than hooked.  I saw Radiohead on Jooles Holland’s Later, and was struck by their prog rock sensibility.  I even remember saying “I bet these guys went to some posh public school” — not in a derogatory way, but simply because they reminded me of Genesis and the like. I was right.

So anyway, as one does, one moves on, and Radiohead keep releasing records.  These keep getting played, they provide a soundtrack to the passing times — and before you know it, you are a fan.

[Embedded video of Radiohead’s High and Dry on You Tube]

This realisation hit me after OK Computer.  I gave in, and went to the chops to buy it in CD format. It was only once I had got home that I realised I needed more.  So I went beck out and got The Bends!

Earworm central — if it wasn’t Karma Police or Anyone Can Play Guitar, it was Creep, No Surprises or Fake Plastic Trees.

This really is a band of songwriters.

[Embedded video on YouTube of Best of]

So what is it with these guys?  Why do folk group them with Yes and Genesis — or with Coldplay and Muse?  The only similarity they have to my mind with Coldplay is that they are sad-sounding, to Genesis and Yes, that they are not delivering simple pop or rock, and to Muse, they have falsetto vocals and anthemic moments.

Radiohead are themselves. Thom Yorke is as much of a natural frontman as anyone in Muse, Genesis or Yes.  They all prove Simon Cowell wrong about what is required to be a hit.

  • I admire Radiohead for trying to get to grips with copyright, digital rights, and so-called piracy.  In fact I just admire Radiohead fullstop.

Radiohead are Thom Yorke lead vocal plus  guitar and keyboards; Jonny Greenwood on guitar and keyboards;  Ed O’Brien playing guitar; Colin Greenwood on bass, and synth; and Phil Selway on drums. I like that they have not listened to marketing, to record company profiling.  I envy that they found themselves to be what they are, and that that was something distinct that sold.

They do things their own way, and thank goodness for that!




[Photo: Beaton by himself]At times in my life I have been overawed with certain artistic figures, almost to the point of being overwhelmed.  Cecil Beaton is like that for me. I once drove across the country to (of all places) Pittenweem to see an exhibition of original Sir Cecil Beaton photographs — it was stunning!

[ Photo: Princess Natalia Paley by Cecil beaton]A few years before this trip, I saw my first ever Cecil Beaton picture — it was of Princess Natalia Paley, and it stopped me in my tracks because of the background — I stared for a while before I realised that it was a bed, a frame of bed springs turned upright! I began to look out for his name.

So I knew some of his work before Pittenweem, but I could only have guessed at the depth and breadth of this man’s creativity!  It was an inspirational show! I immediately bought an SLR with different lenses, filters, a tripod, case, and darkroom equipment and took up photography.  Thanks to Sir Cecil Beaton!

He seemed to have been born at exactly the right time; he managed to photograph just about everyone of any worth since during the entire 20th century.  He caught war, he captured fashion and the movies, celebrities, personalities, stars, sportsmen, artists, writers, poets and musicians — and more besides, even Royalty! I think he took the best ever pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn.

[ Photo - Monroe by Beaton] [Photo: Garbo by Beaton]

Photography was a troublesome and expensive process, yet Cecil Beaton seemed to have more than his fair share of iconic, classic pictures.  He had a great eye for composition, he seemed to see in monochromatic, to really understand lighting and depth of field. This is no voyeuristic Weegee, no artsy Rodchenko, no Capa war pictures. This is glamour, style, styling, beauty — polished refinement.

I read that he was not overly technical and used only a few cameras, and I like that because I can identify with the relationship to things over the long term.

[Photo: Julie Andrews by Beaton]A well-known snappy dresser, he worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, but he also did costume design for movies and stage, was a noted set designer, a renowned interior designer and he designed book covers as well as being a noted diarist.

He was in with the jet-setting in crowd himself, and that’s a pretty unique twist in today’s weird paparazzi -v- celebrity world. He knew everyone who was anyone, and they all knew Cecil.

Considering his high profile, his “circle”, and the times in which he lived, Cecil was a well-known and accepted bisexual — he had many affairs with men and women, and a very long and steady non-sexual relationship too (with Peter Watson), even that is kinda cool.

[Photo: Candy Darling and Andy Warhol by Beaton]Naturally he garnered loads of awards and accolades, and I can remember well the day his death was on the news in early 1980, only a few months after I had started taking pictures and developing them myself in my new flat. This really was the end of an era, a real golden era.  No one can ever be able to take pictures of the Queen AND Candy darling with Andy Warhol, who else has managed to capture personalities as diverse as Yul Brynner and Twiggy, or Winston Churchill and Margot Fonteyn?

He took risks, did quirky things (such as the upturned bed springs), used mirrors, smoke, lighting, and all sorts of ad hoc techniques to get the pictures he envisaged.  But mainly, he got the best out of his subjects; they seem to be unposed, disposed, and relaxed — even when he has them in this very strange environment. A real genius, seemingly born to record that period of taste and time.

[Photo: Twiggy by Beaton]

Everyone ought to have a Cecil Beaton coffee table book, for there is nothing better than to flip through a collection of his pictures, to get lost in them, to think about them, to be inspired, but mainly just to appreciate the whole experience of another world long ago.