Archive for July, 2011

DURAN DURAN

25 July 2011

[Nagel's artwork for Duran Duran's Rio]Duran Duran are known as an ’80s band.  In fact, they are probably the first ’80s band — and the first band of the modern era.

To us, the seventies were done, and the 1980s were about doing something with all this new stuff, the stuff that had burst forth during the ’70s. Duran Duran caught that wave.  They seemed to have grabbed handfuls of  ’70’s artistic creativity and moulded something unique for themselves.

They seemed happy to use the new synthesisers and sequencers, big drum sounds, guitar effects, fretless bass slides, and typical ’80s stereo noise effects — and in that respect they fitted right in with the period and the likes of Paul Young, Nik Kershaw, Grace Jones, Paul Simon, Robert Palmer, and loads more — however, they wrote some good songs that were big hits around the world and which still stand the test of time.

They got Patrick Nagel to do their album cover for “Rio”, this was a throw-back to progressive rock bands being associated with artists — for example, Woodroffe, Rick Griffin, Mouse and Roger Dean. The choice of Nagel was interesting also because Nagel was closely associated with Playboy Magazine – and Duran Duran were promoted into the USA through Playboy. Nice twist.

Their big intro was “Girls on Film” — that set the dangerous / sexy tone.  Madonna was Lesbo-dominatrix, Frankie Goes To Hollywood were gay, so Duran Duran were the heterosexual male balance. It tied in nicely with Playboy clubs and TV station, and got them the initial media scandal they needed to get on.

[Embedded video from Youtube of Girls of Film by Duran Duran]

Although they rode in on the UK New Romantic wave, that was quickly lost when they started to gear up for world domination. They changed to the epitome 1980’s male fashion statement — the suit and pastel colours.  This was generated by Miami Vice, and taken up by Playboy and the wave of new male magazines starting up (Maxim, and the refurbished GQ (Gentlesmen’s Quarterly), and revamped Esquire).

There was a mood for male grooming and male fashion that Duran Duran tapped into.

They were a real (some say the first) “Boy Band”, in that every one was a pin-up for young teen girls. There was a David Bowie style androgynous-ness  with the dyed hair, sharp cuts, jewellery and the use of make-up.

Their artistic credentials were sealed when they got approval from art legend, Andy Warhol. I remember thinking that Duran Duran were everywhere, doing everything with everybody – and (annoyingly) enjoying themselves.

At that time in the UK, ordinary people began buying shares (British Gas etc) as Thatcher sold off the socialist Nationalised industries.  There was a feeling in general of prosperity and selfishness — the personal computer, the personal number plate, the personal mobile phone and so forth.  On the new Channel Four,  Harry Enfield’s character “Loadsamoney” was seen each week boasting about his wealth. Duran Duran seemed to arrive already rich and successful!

The video for Rio had them larking about on a yacht.  This was Miami Vice, this was Wham, this was Playboy. This was aspirational marketing.

[Embedded video from Youtube of Rio by Duran Duran]

Duran Duran then clicked at just the right time with the music television take-off, MTV, and both went into the stratosphere.

To cap it all, the band were also closely associated with fashion designers, and the rise of the “supermodel”. They were on mark in the same way and at the same time as Basquiat and Haring, doing a lot of the same things as Madonna and Malcolm Mclaren. They were sharp, savvy, and not ashamed of it. Duran Duran were a luxury brand.

But they went further — they did a Bond film theme (A View to a Kill) — and it was massive (the only James Bond theme to go to number one in the USA)

The band was said to be the favourite band of Lady Di/ Princess Diana — the world’s most famous woman at that time, so they were in with serious royalty on top of everything else!

What Duran Duran did not do well was adapt and change; they were too closely defined despite their broad media range — it was all flashy, sexy, sunny, stuff — young, good-looks,  fame and fortune.  Just where does one go from there?

The nearest they came was when their singer, Simon LeBon participated in Live Aid.

In the end, Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes went off on a project called Arcadia, while Andy Taylor and John Taylor joined up with Tony Thompson and Robert Palmer to form The Power Station. I have to say that I quite liked The  Power Station as well as Arcardia’s “Election Day”, and was disappointed when nothing came of these bands.

Duran Duran are loved and hated in equal measure. They could only possibly exist for a short period, they shone brightly while they did, and they absolutely defined an historical cultural period like no other group of people before or since.

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JANE MORRIS

18 July 2011

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Rossetti]Jane Morris is probably the most anonymous famous model ever.

She was born Jane Burden, but married William Morris and flirted and modelled her way into art history as Jane Morris.  Her “relationships” with the Pre-Raphaelites means that her face graces so many of the worlds art galleries, arty coffee table books, art course work plates, posters, carrier bags and more besides.

[Sketch of Jane Morris by Dante Rossetti]The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were into photographic quality detail and likeness and so Jane Morris is recognisable irrespective of which artist painted her.

For me, she is the face of the Tractarians and the Oxford movement, the face of Pre-Raphalites, the face of the catholic movement in Anglicanism, of High Church, of High Victorian Britishness.

I had posters of her before I knew it was her.  I can see the charm she held over Rossetti — and I can appreciate the resemblance with Elizabeth Siddal and Sarah Cox (Fanny Cornforth)

She certainly has very sculptured features, particularly the “Roman Nose”! She was apparently the epitome of beauty according to the brotherhood.

Personally, I don’t see it quite like that; I see her as a perfect depiction of allegory — the type of artists’ model who would be perfect for representing an ideal, such as “Generosity” or “Chastity” and just about anything else, even “War”.  There is something about Jane and Elizabeth Siddal that makes them seem beautiful in the aesthetic sense, rather than the erotic sense.

For me, and I suspect for most men, Morris is an idealisation, not something to be desired.  More of an archetype really, and that is fascinating!

A mate of mine years ago suggested that Jane Morris was a bit like those strange manly females painted by Michelangelo, the classical nose, the strong limbs, the polished marble complexion. I disagreed because Siddal and Fanny had the amazing red hair, and both, but Jane especially, had the listlessness, the boredom and aloofness of the idealised female, not a bastardised man!

The really fun thing when studying these people and this movement is that there are letters and even photographs available.

[Photograph of Jane Morris] [Photograph of Jane Morris]

This blew me away. Obviously you can compare the paintings with the photographs, but the photographs are of an actual — real — wife and mother, not the painted allegorical or historical figure.

  • If you want to compare paintings and sketches with real photographs of Jane Morris, check out the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website — it’s a great place to start looking into this fascinating movement and era.

Rossetti married Siddal and when she died, Fanny moved in as housekeeper/lover despite everyone’s view of her as a common lass.  They both grew tremendously fat together.  Through both relationships, Rossetti had a long-term “relationship” with Jane Morris, but it was a secretive affair because Morris was Rossetti’s social equal and colleague in the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

If that little paragraph doesn’t whet your appetite for further research and enquiry, then I don’t know what would do the trick!

The whole thing is fascinating, fascinating ideas in fascinating times.  The high church artistic values of spires and stained glass, against the frugality of the stricter protestant faiths.  The strictness of Victorian moral values with the affairs of the people involved in painting them.

All of this is fabulous, dramatic and well documented.  There are many characters, many perpetrators, many artists, but in the end the face that stands out, the face that represents it all is Jane Morris’s. 

Women may not have been equal in terms of votes and inheritance (etc), but it is absolutely clear from Queen Victoria’s time, that women played a massive part in the various artistic, religious, moral and political movements of the time.

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DEVINE

11 July 2011

[Picture of Jean-Paul Bataille playing acoustic guitar]I thought I would share this little guitar study with you.  I came across it simply because it is has my surname as a title, “devine”.

It is by Jean-Paul Bataille, and is a bouncy dropped-G tuning swing study Enjoy!

I cannot seem to embed the video, so the link is www.guitar-tube.com/watch/jean-paul-bataille-devine

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KEITH HARING

4 July 2011

[Picture of Keith Haring's Radiant Baby]Having done an article on Basquiat, I had to follow up with a Keith Haring tribute!

He became famous for his graffiti, especially his “Radiant Baby” symbol. It was not paint, just chalk drawings on the New York underground system — but it was just amazing!

Keith was a trained and studying artist, and he grew very successful indeed in the early 1980s. He had become a friend of Andy Warhol and Basquiat and was always in the news for getting up to all sorts.  He looked kinda geeky and nerdy too — which helped a great deal, as this was a sought-after look in those days.

He seemed always to be in some country or other doing a mural. He painted weird pop star Grace Jones as I recall.

OK, all that aside, I LOVED his work. It was doodles, almost stick men, but somehow it was just brilliant.  I couldn’t get enough of it. It always cheered me up.

[Picture of a wedding invitation by Haring] [Picture of Keith Haring's dancing people] [Picture of parent and baby by Keith Haring]

They are simply a joy!  He used cartoon lines to suggest movement, but I love it when he does a very old Beano trick of lines representing wonder, beeling, astonishment, embarrassment, amazement, and even love.  How else does one transfer that in art? It reminds me of Oor Wullie more than Lowry. It is personal and personable yet anonymous — you cannot even tell the gender of the adult with the baby – parent? possibly, probably, but more importantly is the love for the baby. (I have had people tell me that it is a mother [pink] with a son [blue], but I am not convinced, and I think it is meant to be open to interpretation — I certainly identify with it as a father.

Haring rode on the street art bandwagon of the early 1980s, but he was very commercial, and marketed well.  However, today he and his work is more firmly identified with AIDS — which I feel is a shame. He was such a great pop artist, and had he lived his art and products would have built him an empire and massive brand identity.

Haring is one of those whose work is immediately identifiable — as such his influence tends to be more in avoiding producing any art that could be mistaken for Haring’s!  I like that he is so much a part of it — yet my kids can copy his work (anyone can).

For me there is a slight irony in that his work began as chalk line men in the subway, and that usually means a crime scene, an homicide, a dead person… yet Haring made the chalk man come to life.  When I see a chalk line today, I more think of happy Haring than of Weegee’s Hell’s Kitchen’s homicides.

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