MK Gallery has established the good habit of giving the exhibiting artist the opportunity of making over its shoebox exterior. Here’s the Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwanger‘s take on it for his Soft City show.
It’s an absorbing exhibition, one I spent considerably longer with than most of the gallery’s offerings, and not just because you get in its entirety all 154 original pages, displayed in cabinets, of his Soft City graphic novel (1969-75) – a very early example of the medium. It looks familiar; were pages featured in the underground press at the time? The simple, repetitive depiction of a robotic existence in the Brave New metropolis – get up, take a Life pill, road queues, work mundanity (with sinister end product), traffic , back to little box, wife and babe, sleeping pill – is made all more effective by its opening scene of the baby filling the page, waking first in its cot, looking to explore the world, even if it is only the apartment. It’s the shifting scale of the drawings – from baby, to couple getting up, to face in the crowd, office block production line metropolis – that is so effective. The power of simplicity and repetition.
The Self Portrait (1973-93) featured above is incredibly detailed in ink, the spiral is made up of hundreds of figures trudging along, the backdrop stack upon stack of balconies full of observers. Flashback: on the opening page of the very first reading diary I maintained, late ’70s – an exercise that evolved into this blog – I pasted this panel cut of from … I think it was … the Garth strip the Evening Standard (I was living in London then). Couldn’t resist slipping that in, it’s such a great example of the comic art.
Self Portrait is one of the seven dramatic paintings – “intricate and obsessively detailed” the guide calls them – that make up The Apocalypse Frieze, which is a show in itself, assembled within a substantial sumptuous dark wood framework. It’s the mesmerising Jobkill therein that I found it hard to move away from (and I shall return). Futile to put a small picture in here. The centre piece is a battleship-cum-luxury liner, making its way down an urban waterway, weapons ablaze as the pianist sitting at a grand plays on for those dancing and dining on the upper deck. All around in incredible cartoon detail, Bosch-like, the logical partnership for Pushwagner of commerce and the war machine played out in all its destructive varieties – factories, road building, steam rollers, homes under attack while the wheels of industry grind on, skeletons abound while armed paratroopers drop in from the sky, the odd crucifixion, babes, bombs, naked women running, beneath a burning silhouetted horizon, pink against blue and black: the catalogue is endless. And bottom centre, not the first thing you see, a palm tree, someone on a desert island? Eden? In the same room a bonus of some of the artists’ sketchbooks; always a treat, and these with real charm, broader in aspect.
Star of July’s Scribal Gathering (“a fantastic feast of musical mastercraft and poetical proficiency, bringing together lachrymatorially lyrical live talent and perfervid performers from perfurther afield” it says here – thank you Richard Frost) was performance poet Alan Wolfson, who entertained mightily with or without sombrero in a wide-ranging set. Open mic as varied as ever. Compere Richard’s words when Justin lurched to the long end of a new poem – “Write stoned, edit sober“- were received well by all (including Justin).
I have to mention The Big Bang Theory to justify that Soft city, warm kitty title to this post. In this television era of endless repeats it never fails to hit the comic spot, and in its best episodes achieves what all the greats do, of a). making you wonder how they cram so much narrative and so many jokes into less than half an hour, and b). being endlessly watchable. Four geeks (physics and superhero comics) of varying otherworldliness and inadequacy, and the gal in the flat opposite. Inevitably as more characters are introduced there is a danger of its losing its perfection, but in Penny and in particular Sheldon (borderline OCD and functioning Aspergers) we have comic performances of genius. Not to mention the writing.
Disappointed with the new Tom Jones album, Spirit in the room. Whereas 2010’s Praise and blame had a hard-edged intensity that was riveting, the rediscovery of that blues and soul mojo that he’d started with in a beat group in the early ’60s, here with the same producer he’s relaxing into this newfound ‘real me’ and it’s a bit ordinary in too many places. So, second post running Leonard Cohen gets a mention! The slight re-tooling of Laughing Len’s Tower of song doesn’t fit right. And somehow those lines about being “born like this / I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice” just do not work if the singer actually has got one. Not sure either whether the church choirs (treble then full) in the arrangement of the enigmatic and intriguing Charlie Darwin are there to put a specific meaning on the song (they do sound like church choirs), but I do know it sounds better than the slightly whining and sloppier original Low Anthem version. There are endless internet discussions as to the meaning of the song: Darwin, for or against; God, dead or alive? Either way the regret and despair at its heart cannot be denied. A humanist Dover beach? Says Wikipedia: Upon its re-release, vocalist and guitarist Ben Knox Miller stated that “listening to the record is akin to taking shelter during a lightning storm among nostalgic remnants in a water-damaged church, whose new tenants – rats, owls, stray dogs and snakes – comprise a burgeoning, cacophonous, dog-eat-dog ecosystem.”
One of our local eco-systems – the Stony Stratford nature reserve – held a nice surprise this week. We’d been watching a pair of nesting Great Crested Grebes for a while now, the nest precariously surviving on a breached archipelago; more rain and the nest would have been a goner. Then one day a grebe alone but no-one on the nest, minded no more. Deflation in the bird hide. But, oh we of little faith. Later in the week two little grebe-lings I did espy, dipping under the water for themselves already. Sorry about the quality of the photo, but I want to give nod to nature, to celebrate.