tgpibp #5: Lichtenstein

Since the poll is not to find the best painting in a British collection, but the best-loved, I thought I’d mention the first favourite painting I remember having.

It’s the choice of a young boy – Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein. It used to hang prominently in the old Tate (i.e. what’s now Tate Britain), before they split off the modern collection into a separate building. Somehow I don’t think my appreciation for it had anything to do with the semiotic interplay between pop culture and ‘Fine Art’. I just thought it was cool.

The text in the thought bubble is a bit hard to read at this scale, but I can still remember it by heart: “I pressed the fire control and ahead of me the rockets blazed through the sky”.

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new links list

You’ll notice on the left of the page that I have a new links list. It will get longer – those are just the ones I did before getting bored.

  • Post category:Me

tgpibp #4: Manet

The Execution of Maximilian is an Impressionist painting that seems to form a link between Caravaggio and Picasso. The Impressionists weren’t always at their best painting people, but this is an exception. I also think the fact it’s in fragments adds to the appeal, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why.

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IRA ends armed campaign

Which is a rare piece of good news in the War on Terror. Having pledged to stop using violence, the next natural step would seem to be disbanding. Though I suppose the IRA could continue in existence as a social club. They could hold cake sales and charity auctions. Like the WI, only with balaclavas.

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ground by ground comparison

England’s win/loss ratios for Test matches at different grounds in the past 30 years.

The stat is W/L ratio. You can get full details at cricinfo’s remarkable StatsGuru.

Edgbaston (all) – 1.57
Edgbaston (vs. Aus) – 1.00

Headingley (all) – 0.83
Headingley (Aus) – 1.33

Lord’s (all) – 1.07
Lord’s (Aus) – 0.00

Old Trafford (all) – 0.71
Old Trafford (Aus) – 0.67

The Oval (all) – 1.25
The Oval (Aus) – 3.00

Trent Bridge (all) – 1.00
Trent Bridge (Aus) – 0.25

Hmmm. Having come up with those stats, I don’t really know what to make of them.

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a couple of interesting articles

From Wired (via Daniel Green), an article about the economics of the ‘Long Tail’ in online sales. Apparently, over half of Amazon’s sales are books outside the top 130,000 titles – i.e. too obscure to be sold in a typical Barnes and Noble. The relevance for poetry publishing is clear, but it impacts on film and music and so on as well. And the NY Times (via Londonist) queries whether the London bombers were actually suicide bombers or just dupes.

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tgpibp #3: Hockney

I’ve been finding this paintings-choosing business a bit frustrating, because in the spirit of the poll, I’m limiting myself to paintings in British collections, and many of the finest paintings I’ve ever seen in London were in temporary exhibitions. So you’ll just have to imagine all the El Grecos and Matisses and Whistlers I’m not including here.

Anyway, on to Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney. I think Hockney is a genuinely great artist. He’s done a lot of stylistic flitting over the years, and not all his work is equally successful, but the best of it is fabulous. The use of light, colour and composition remind me of Vermeer – they have very different palettes and rather subject matters, with Hockney generally favouring exterior scenes, but they both produce paintings of everyday scenes that have a poised, luminous quality. I went for Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, although if I wasn’t restricted to paintings in the UK I’d be tempted by various others including this one.

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tgpibp #2: Rembrandt

Another one from the National and another obvious choice. Self Portrait at the Age of 63 by Rembrandt. It’s so human. This isn’t the kind of thing people normally mean by ‘minimalist’ but I think it is a kind of minimalism. The best kind, perhaps.

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The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll #1: Holbein

The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll is being run by the National Gallery and the BBC to find the best-loved painting in a UK collection.

I’m using it as a reason to post some of my favourite paintings. No. 1: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1527. It’s technically brilliant, it has cute animals in it, and it’s vaguely surreal. Why has this impassive-looking young woman been painted with a starling and squirrel? The colours don’t look quite right on either version I found. There’s a larger (but rather washed out) version where it’s easier to see what’s going on here.

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straws to clutch at

England are a better side than we saw at Lord’s. On another day, the top order will bat better, Hoggard and Jones will be more consistent, and the fielders will hold some catches. Australia will not always be as good. Even by Glenn McGrath’s standards, that was an exceptional bowling performance. He can’t possibly bowl that well for the whole series, and if he does – he’ll win them the Ashes and they’ll deserve it. If the right combination of circumstances comes together (England playing better, Australia playing worse, and a bit of luck), England could still have a good win in the next Test. Then the whole psychological balance could change, and I think the teams will suddenly seem a lot more closely matched.

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The New Hampshire Review

Seth Abramson has a post at his blog explaining the aesthetic basis for the new online poetry journal, The New Hampshire Review.

Specifically, he thinks that too many online publications are too gimmicky, too self-consciously ‘web’ and have lost touch with the qualities that make a good print journal. So no advertising, no Flash, no wacky layouts or un-navigable sitemap. The NHR is designed to showcase the content, not the ingenuity of the designers.

All those ambitions are admirable – although it’s worth pointing out that they are the ambitions of any good web designer. I don’t think its necessary to invoke the idea of ‘a print journal on the web’ to see the merits of clean design, a clear layout and an emphasis on the content.

More seriously, for me, the emphasis on ‘print’ virtues has lead them to produce a site which not only looks like a print journal but looks like an old-fashioned one. The painting on the front, the typeface of the title and the general look of the thing all make it seem decades out of date. It doesn’t need to be bleeding-edge design, but it could certainly afford to be a bit sharper, a bit less stodgy-looking.

I nearly posted a comment to that effect on his blog, but it seemed like rather tactless timing.

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shot man not a terrorist

Apparently he was Brazilian and unconnected to the bombings. I appreciate the difficult position of the police, but this is why we didn’t have armed police in the first place. I don’t know what to say.

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Inter Milan cancel tour to England

Inter Milan have cancelled their pre-season tour to England, citing security fears. How’s this for weasel words: “The club has decided to cancel the team tour in England so as not to further stretch the already severely occupied security services”. Fuck ’em.

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I’ve been following the discussions about eclecticism (of taste, of anthologies) among the poblogs.

My initial reaction was that it was being intentionally divisive – in the Silliman mode of needing to denigrate the competition to justify yourself. But I just remembered how true it seemed when I once heard someone say “I just don’t understand how you can like both the Pre-Raphaelites and Vermeer”.

That’s a pair that means more to me than the ones KSM has come up with, which either involve poets whose work I don’t know very well, or jazz musicians. It would be an interesting game making up similar pairs, although I’m still uncertain whether people’s taste is as coherent and predictable as that.

A different question is whether one should embrace these divisions as an inevitable truth, or try and cultivate a broad appreciation of different work. You don’t want to be so open-minded that you blunt your critical faculties, but an insistence on the impossibility of eclecticism is likely to be self-fulfilling.

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Ashes day 3

It’s going to take a pretty remarkable bit of batting (and indeed some decent bowling) to win this one.

But then we always knew it would take some remarkable performances to regain the Ashes. Is there anyone in this side who could provide an Atherton-like two-day batting performance? Or alternatively Freddie and Pietersen could knock it off together in a couple of hours.

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suspected suicide bomber shot on Tube

The police shooting dead a suspected suicide bomber (who, as it turns out, wasn’t a bomber, even if he turns out to be linked) on the Underground. Now that’s unnerving. It’s so un-British.

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Folk Archive

A couple of days ago I went to see an exhibition called Folk Archive at the Barbican.

That website includes lots of the exhibits but the pictures are annoyingly without all the contextual information that helps make sense of them.

It was an exhibition of contemporary British folk art, but that term was interpreted extremely broadly; the exhibition includes (some of these are photos rather than the actual object): trade union banners, graffiti, prison art, modified cars, costumes from traditional festivals, prostitute calling cards, sectarian murals, shop signs, painted false nails, football fanzines, protest placards, crop circles, sand castles, flower arrangements…

The sheer range of objects makes it hard to know what to say. Many of them were complete tat – unremarkable examples of mundane objects – but seeing them all together one did get a sense of a huge wealth of amateur, unofficial creativity. I enjoyed it and found it curiously cheering.

Some mad video of people running through the streets of Ottery St Mary carrying burning tar barrels on their shoulders to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. And the Burry Man of South Queensferry. And other oddities. It made the modified car rallies and the Mods and Rockers reunion look like part of a long tradition.

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Ashes day 2

You know it must have been dire when 155 is a pleasing total. It’s a lot of fun watching KP smack the ball around; it’s even more fun watching Harmison and Jones do it.

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irony vs. self-awareness

Jonathan, Laurel and Emily have commented on whether it’s possible to write (read) a poem without a layer of irony.

What I find odd is a tendency to conflate irony with self-awareness. Self-awareness may be a necessary condition for irony, but I can’t see that they are the same thing.

I’m English and middle class, so I live among people for whom, in everyday life, sincerity is often a faux pas. Irony is the default mode of conversation in social situations. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn it off.

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