The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 19 September – 13 December 2009

Posted in Art, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2009 by joeshervin

George Bellows, A Stag at Sharkey's, 1917

George Bellows, A Stag at Sharkey's, 1917

The American Scene chronicles American printmaking from the early 1900’s through to 1960, a timeframe of vast economic, political and social change. The vibrancy of the Jazz Age was culled by the crippling Depression, before the Second World War consumed all, and the post-war period slowly clawed away at regaining stability. All of which is detailed by this very real, very gritty exhibition.

Beginning with the urban, everyday etchings of John Sloan and the dark, brutal works of George Bellows in the early 1900’s, we are confronted with a harsh reality of violent American gutter life, from grubby prize-fighting to chaotic asylum wards and overcrowded high-rise tenements. It is a very savage, yet very honest, portrayal, as much engrossing as it is gruesome.

Cloud-piercing skyscrapers embodied the construction of the Modernist, industrial ideal in the 1910’s, especially the formidable, angular skyline of New York City. Louis Lozowick and Charles Sheeler’s precise, geometric representations of the Big Apple underpin the enormity and scale of such a bold industrial programme.

The optimism of the 1920’s, however, was swept aside following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, as the country itself crashed into economic hardship. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programme, however, in particular the Works Progress Administration, promoted the worth of the graphic arts, and commissioned the outlay of socially-centred prints, aimed at recording the economic plight and championing its recovery. We are thus presented with representations of both bleak working conditions, and bright illustrations of hope and prosperity.

The epic struggle of The Second World War demanded patriotic support, and printmaking was employed to promote the necessity and virtue of the war effort. Colourful nationalistic pride boasted of American might and the assurance of victory.

Following the realism and horror of war, abstract expressionism was elevated as a creative escape. The spontaneity of the works of Jackson Pollock offered a new, exciting release from the drudgery of the Depression and the war, honouring the experimental above the ordered.

This shift is outlined brilliantly by The American Scene, an exhibition that not only reflects the social conditions of the time, but doggedly drags us in to experience them ourselves. We feel the grittiness of underground city life, witness the sorrow of the Depression and sense the patriotism of the Second World War. It is an engaging, sometimes sombre, sometimes exciting, timeline of real American life, dark and dirty, yet passionate and busy.

Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism. Manchester Art Gallery, 26 September – 10 January

Posted in Art, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2009 by joeshervin
Claude Cahun, Self Portrait, 1927

Claude Cahun, Self Portrait, 1927

Angels of Anarchy is a bold, flagrant celebration of female surrealism, proudly bursting out from the shackles tightened by its overbearing male counterpart. For, whilst male surrealism challenged order in art, it accepted domestic tradition. This exhibition unearths the abundance of female surrealist creativity that thus simmered beneath the surface from the 1930s onwards. Works by renowned artists such as Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim and Lee Miller chart the subsequent rise of the surrealist woman.

Split into themes, the exhibition guides you from the seemingly benign, restrictive ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ ideal to a fantasy, dream-like escape. It is an adventure wherein the norms of female subservience are subtly challenged and then aggressively dismissed.

Portrait / Self Portrait is a theme that mocks the notion of the passivity of women, instead offering a variety of photographs and paintings that promote the complexity and fluidity of the female body and mind. Still Life gnaws at the usual banality of still life subject matter. Here, bowls of fruit, upon closer inspection, transform into mucky female genitalia, fiercely biting at the objectification of women. In Landscape, again, erotic body parts are teasingly merged into mountain ranges and deserts, whilst Interior, in which dark and dingy confinements reflect the confinement of the home, is laced with brazen anatomical hint.

Fantasy, however, is the last step of the journey, representing the liberation and potential of the opened female mind. It mixes folklore and myth to provide a stirring and unexpected finale to a collection that was in danger of becoming a little too stern and repetitive. It is a burst of colour that perhaps highlights the exposure of female surrealism that Angels of Anarchy here affords.

The exhibition offers a different side to surrealism. Little mention is given to Picasso or Dali, so those wishing to discover the core of the movement may be best advised to search elsewhere. What it does provide, however, is a glimpse into a background movement that challenged misogynistic artistic norms. And what is surrealism, after all, if not a defiance of the ordinary and accepted?

Girls, Album

Posted in Music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 6, 2009 by joeshervin

girls_album

Album is the sun-soaked, whimsical debut offering from Californian duo Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White, aka, Girls. It flits between chirpy and downtrodden melancholy, resulting in a relaxed psychedelic record bristling with summertime angst. It is effortless San-Francisco folk-pop that whistles along breezily and chirpily.

The undoubted highlights are album opener ‘Lust for Life’, a poppy, blissful ode to teenage insecurity, and “Hellhole Ratrace”, a lengthy, sober plea for better times. Whilst the remaining songs never quite scale the heights of these heartbroken peaks, the album skips along nice and prettily, and Owens’ broken lyrics and Elvis Costello-like delivery sit happily above Beach Boys-esque harmonies.

Rumour has it that Owens, as a child, was once a member of the Children of God cult, where allegations of child abuse have since been whispered. Owens ran away from the group when he was sixteen, explaining, perhaps, his vulnerable and yearning demeanour. It is the influence of the Golden State, however, that looms largest over Album. It’s hippy, laid-back vibe could only be conjured from a surrounding so idyllic. As such, it is the perfect Summer drenched record.

Dig!

Posted in Film, Music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2009 by joeshervin
Unearth Dig! at pitchfork.com this week

Unearth Dig! at pitchfork.com this week

Available for free, for one week only, thanks to pitchfork.com, is the engrossing 2004 documentary Dig!, a raucous insight into the egotistical, self-aggrandising, yet ultimately spell-binding profiles of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner collated almost seven years worth of material, stretched across both bands, charting the simultaneous rise of the Dandys and the dramatic self-destruction of the BJM, as both endeavoured, with drastically differing success, to revolutionise the money-manacled, market-driven music industry.

At its core, Dig! parallels the careers of the bands front men, the scuppered genius of the BJM’s Anton Newcombe, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the Dandys self-obsessed, image-conscious talisman. Beginning their respective careers as friends and peers, both seem seduced by the others charms, yet obsessed by the success of each others band. As the Dandys take off, Newcombe appears begrudgingly jealous of Taylor-Taylor’s exposure, whilst Taylor-Taylor remains constantly in awe of Newcombe’s boundless and effortless creativity. As the Dandys tour Europe, playing to thousands of expectant fans, the BJM scuttle across America in a battered van, performing for mere tens of bemused, beer-drenched barflys.

Yet, it is Newcombe who is the pivotal anti-hero throughout. An unashamedly, devastatingly talented musician, he is as equally obnoxious as he is compelling. A rampant heroin addiction overshadows his intense charisma. His self-prophesising selfishness outweighs his musical prolificacy. Whether he be attacking his band mates on stage or fighting his girlfriend at home, Newcombe seems hell-bent on destroying not only his bands chances at stardom, but his personal relationships too. It is a touching portrayal of a man so consumed in his own warped rock n’ roll cliché that his talent is kept at arms length from mass circulation.

At once engaging, funny and traumatic, Dig! is a must-see for any aspiring musicians looking to break into the industry, but wanting to also keep their musical morals intact. If you don’t catch Dig! at pitchfork.com this week, be sure to unearth this buried treasure in the very near future.

Blue Rinse, Manchester

Posted in Fashion, Lifestyle, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 3, 2009 by joeshervin

IMG_9560

A welcome addition to the cluster of vintage stores sprouting up around Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Blue Rinse is a neat, compact, beneath-the-pavement shop peeping out onto Tib Street. It stocks all of the essential ingredients of the formulaic retro offering, similar to, say, Ryan’s Vintage, but minus the clutter. Split almost in half between pretty dresses and accessories for the ladies, and funky indie and sport chic for the lads, it is a cosy setting for both trendy boys and girls to root out hidden gems.

Alongside the mandatory neckerchiefs and plimsoles, there are to be unearthed quirky printed tees (Michael Jackson and The Modern Lovers being particularly hip), beside stretchy patterned vests and even sleeveless denim jackets. The shop is smartly compartmentalised, and so is simple to navigate, yet chaotic enough to add that necessary rock n’ roll tinge.

The original Blue Rinse shop was established in Leeds in 1997, cottoning on to the idea that a rise in cheap, conveyor belt clothing was harnessing within the cunning fashionista a desire for the return of the classic and sustainable vintage ideal. It has thus pioneered the vintage revival that has engulfed the last decade, and now, luckily for us, has decided to disperse its troops across to Manchester. Not only does Blue Rinse advocate vintage, it has also adopted the notion of ‘re-made’ clothing, in essence the transformation of vintage garments into new designs, and ‘new clothing’, which is the use of contemporary fabrics to create its own unique lines.

To sum up, Blue Rinse is an exciting new little fixture on the Northern Quarter’s trendy streets, adding to an already burgeoning vintage scene but bringing its own dynamic ideas and honourable values. A sure-fire hit pocketed away within the fashion epicentre of Manchester city centre.

The Miser by Moliere, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Posted in Theatre with tags , , , , on October 1, 2009 by joeshervin
Griffiths gets to grips with his role as Harpagon

Griffiths gets to grips with his role as Harpagon

The set may be dusty and downbeat, yet the performances in The Miser are spritely and splendid. The play races along through two hours of relentless laughter with breathless energy. The fulcrum of Robert Cogo-Fawcett and Braham Murray’s adaptation of the late 17th Century French comedy, is Harpagon, brilliantly and overwhelmingly brought to life by Derek Griffiths, who grumpily stalks the bleached-wooded floor boards, terrorising both cast and audience members alike. Simon Gregor provides a lighter, cheekier touch as the frenzied valet, La Flache, himself leaping and bounding about the stage with equal vigour.

The energetic performances, of those two in particular, offset handsomely against the sparse backdrop and powdered and tatty, yet effortlessly stylish, costume. Designer Ashley Martin-Davies has remarkably juxtaposed bleak, colour-drained dress with a spiky, New Romantic-influenced exuberance. It looks as though the characters have spent the afternoon excitedly dusting down old chalkboards in preparation for a night at an eccentric ball dance. It offers a punky elegance to a brittle background.

The story centres upon Harpagon, a wealthy scrooge, obsessed by money and insensitive to the feelings of others. Especially, it transpires, to those of his son, Cleante, and daughter, Elise. Cleante wishes to marry the beautiful Marianne, whilst Elise has fallen for the cunning steward, Valere. Harpagon, however, is more concerned with marriage dowries than wedded bliss, and has chosen for his daughter the prosperous Signor Anselme, and has cherry-picked the lovely Marianne for himself. Thus follows a series of shocking twists and hilarious consequences, all maneuvered by the powerful Harpagon.

Only the slightly silly and bemusing conclusion deflects from the overall vibrancy of this comedy, accompanied by rather stale and misinformed performances by the statuesque Tim Barlow as Signor Anselme, and the laborious Julian Chargrin as dopey chef Jaques. Chagrin is reminiscent of gormless Nanny in TV cartoon Duckula compared to fleet-footed Gregor and the mesmerising Griffiths.

Nevertheless, The Miser is a triumphant addition to the Royal Exchange this year, extolling juvenile farce and mixing it with offbeat glamour. It is a ferocious rollercoaster on which you’ll be glad to ride.

Friendly Fires, Hockey and Boy Crisis – Kentish Town Forum

Posted in Music, Nightlife, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2009 by joeshervin

Friendly Fires 

Glitter rained down upon Friendly Fires and into a sea of swooning, bedazzled fans as ‘Paris’ brought to a close a remarkable show, a three-pronged attack by a clutch of excellent new bands.

Such now is the allure of the St Albans four-piece that the sizeable Kentish Town Forum was crammed full of hip-swingers, eager to absorb the bullets expertly shot by Friendly Fires. “They’ll be out for us,” bellowed energetic frontman Ed Macfarlane, and out in our droves, we certainly were. Whilst an insurmountable queue for the bar was a no-go, a bustle into the centre of the jostling stage-front was a must. Personal favourites ‘White Diamonds’ and ‘On Board’ pumped and thronged, whilst massive singles ‘Jump in the Pool’ and ‘Skeleton Boy’ shuddered and reverberated across the baying crowd like rolling thunder. Faultless.

Headband-ed hipsters Hockey topped the undercard. On this performance, however, it cannot be long before these frantic fellows are headlining their own glitzy gigs. ‘Learn to Lose’ is a sprinkly, funky Rapture/Razorlight romp, and ‘Too Fake’ is their first sauntering, snarling single. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many. Expect big things from these pretty Portland punks.

Crisis? What crisis? There’s certainly not one as far as the laid-back boys of Boy Crisis are concerned. Their lackadaisical appearance is matched by their sleazy, sexy beats, shone no brighter than on awesome track ‘L’homme’. Atmospheric synths coy and giggle throughout. “You can do me like Bruce Springsteen” titillates one line in ‘Dressed to Digress’. Aces.

Three magical bands for £15? Climb on, climb on board!

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