Saturday, 10 December 2016

Strolling around the East End

During our recent visit to London we started with the Whitechapel Gallery, and then proceeded up Commercial Street to explore parts of Spitalfields.

Christ Church looked stunning in the sunshine, elegant and imposing.  It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built between 1714 and 1729, in English baroque style.  Built in an area that was dominated by Huguenot immigrants at the time, the aim of the build was to establish Anglican authority.

The church was closed so unfortunately, we were unable to go inside.

We then walked down Fournier Street admiring the Huguenot weaver's cottages. Escaping prosecution, a quarter of a million French speaking Calvinists came to this country in the 17th century and 25,000 settled in  London. The silk weavers came to Spitalfields and brought French fashion with them. The increase in the availability of silk affected British upper class fashions as new styles became popular incorporating more of the readily available material.

The wealthier Huguenots built large houses both for their families and for the weavers they employed. The houses are extremely distinctive, with enlarged windows in the attic to let in maximum light for the weavers.

Because different builders were involved, all the houses look different. They are 5 stories high, with three windows across as this was the length of the timber used. A law was passed at the time decreeing that windows should be recessed by one brick, but this was ignored in Spitalfields.
Some of the houses are only one room deep.

Curtains were rarely used before the 19th century, so the houses had shutters.

By 1760 the area had lost its prosperity: competition from France and changes in fashion meant that master weavers could not pay journeymen anymore and family members had to undertake the work. Strikes and protests followed and journeymen started breaking into the cottages and smashing the machines. In 1773 the Spitalfields Act was introduced fixing wages and forbidding imports but this resulted in the sacking of more workers and the Act was repealed in 1824. The introduction of the Jacquard loom in the same year resulted in factories taking over the cottage industries and terrible poverty became the norm.  Jewish immigrants started coming in, sweatshops were introduced and people lived in abject poverty so much so that panelling in the cottages was ripped up and used for firewood.

This was Jack the Ripper territory - 1 in 17 women was a prostitute.

I chuckled when we saw these two houses

Nos. Eleven and Eleven and A Half.

At the end of Fournier Street is the London Jamme Masjid (Great London Mosque). Originally, this was a Huguenot chapel, built in 1742. By 1809 it was used by missionaries as The Jews' Chapel, where Christianity was promoted to the expanding Jewish population. It was then adapted as a Methodist Chapel in 1819 for Protestant residents and in 1889 the building was consecrated as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1976, it was adapted again as a mosque to serve the expanding Bangladeshi community. All the changes of the area reflected in one building!

We then turned left into Brick Lane, a street that has a rich history.  The first immigrants were the Huguenots, followed by the Irish and the Ashkenazi Jews. Jewish immigration continued into the early 20th century, followed by the Bangladeshis in the later 20th century who today are the predominant group in this part of the East End.

In the 1970s the National Front made their presence felt. The racist murder of Altab Ali in May 1978 led to a resistance movement beginning with the first ever Bengali march when some 10,000 Bengalis took to the street, supported by anti-racist organisations, trade unions and the anti-Nazi League. The resistance of  these groups against the National Front are legendary and continued until the early 1980s.

More recently the area has broadened to being a vibrant art and fashion one, with considerable exhibition space. There were a lot of native and foreign tourists around when we visited, many more than three years ago when we were last there.

This gentrification of the area is best exemplified by this chocolate shop which has doubled in size since we were last there.

Their chocolates are exquisite:

We walked on up to the Truman brewery, which was established in 1683

stopped here for some delicious street food

and then turned right into the indoor market.

We then retraced our steps, through Fournier Street, and onto Commercial Street, 

and entered Spitalfields Market, which is opposite Christ Church.

There has been a market on this site since 1638 when King Charles gave licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold on Spittle Fields, which was then a rural area on the eastern outskirts of London. After the rights to a market had seemingly lapsed during the time of the Commonwealth the market was re-founded in 1682 by King Charles II in order to feed the burgeoning population of a new suburb of London.

The original Victorian buildings and the market hall and roof have been restored and today Spitalfields is one of London's major markets.




table tennis outside one of the pubs,

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, a witty name for a coffee shop.

It was impossible to walk through the food and beer sections of the market due to the crowds, but I did linger by this food stall where everything looked so stylish and delicious

By then we were overwhelmed by the crowds and left, having only seen a fraction of what was on display.

We walked past the All Saints store, the original, I presume,

wondered who the artist of this sculpture was,

caught a glimpse of the Gherkin

admired the roof of this building and walked on to Norton Folgate to catch our bus.

Friday, 9 December 2016

A new Banksy?

A piece of street art has recently appeared in Leamington on a wall behind the Helping Hands charity shop on Gloucester Street. Many suspect it's by Banksy. When the piece of street art first appeared it had Banksy's signature at the bottom of the work, but when I took this photograph the signature had been deleted and 'fake' written underneath.

The work depicts former Chancellor George Osbourne with a red nose, and the value of the UK's national debt of £555 billion.

The charity - which supports homeless and vulnerable people - say it could be a fake. They have tried emailing Banksy but so far have had no reply.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Anselm Kiefer - Walhalla

'Art is difficult, it's not entertainment'. Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer - Walhalla, at the White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey.

An awe-inspiring exhibition that is totally overwhelming. A total experience. The exhibition refers to the mythical place in Norse mythology, a paradise for those slain in battle, as well as to the Walhalla neo-classical monument, built by Ludwig I King of Bavaria in 1842 to honour and mourn heroic figures in German history. As with all of Kiefer's work the exhibition interweaves themes of history, politics and symbolism through different forms and media; it conflates and connects themes, resonating with the idea of history as one continuous cycle.

The exhibition is consequently also about our time, a dire warning, an expression of the impending doom so many of us feel our world is heading towards. In the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, in these times of austerity, of increasing violence against women, of racism becoming acceptable, of the heartless abandonment of refugees fleeing the horrors inflicted on their countries by the West, of drones killing civilians and children, Kiefer offers us an image of where this will lead. In entering the exhibition we entered the world of the Apocalypse - a grey, colourless world filled with ashes, where the detritus of our civilisation lies in ruins. Is this exhibition about Auschwitz or is it about Aleppo? The lines are blurred, and here lies the greatness of Kiefer's art.

A harrowing experience, yet, because it's such great art, because the artist's vision is so overwhelming, this experience is strangely exhilarating.

No titles or writing of any form accompanies the art works, and I was too immersed in the experience to consult the written information given by the gallery, so the images that follow are not titled.

The exhibition consists of installations, sculptures in vitrines and paintings but the whole of the exhibition is an installation in itself, so a few words on the lay-out of the gallery is in order. The entrance leads to a long corridor with three galleries on the right and three on the left. The long corridor and the three galleries on the right are dark: lit by bare light bulbs, the spaces gloomy, the walls, ceilings and floors covered with oxidised lead. The galleries on the left are white, bright and airy, a total contrast, like night and day.

The central corridor space:

We enter the dark, dimly-lit corridor, a sepulchral metallic cavern, which seems to go on for ever. It's a gallery of the fallen. Rows of fold-up steel beds are set close together and draped with dark grey crumpled lead sheets, pillows and covers - all the beds look like they have been slept in. It's like the last days of a world war. Rusty machine guns rest on some of the beds. All of the beds are marked, the last one, Brunnhilde.

The lead walls occasionally lit by the bare light bulbs

Piles of lead bedding stacked up in corners.

 Gallery 1:

A small gallery, a tree branch inside a vitrine, in the middle of the space

a snake in the box at the bottom of the vitrine

on our left as we enter another lead bed, with lead sunflowers sprouting from the bedding

looking closer

on the right of the door another bed, with a pool of water in the middle - water, the source of life, just like seeds. It's not all doom then, there is hope

Two more beds in this gallery.

We leave gallery 1 and we're back in the long nightmare corridor of hospital beds - this is the point you return at every stage of this exhibition. You are not allowed to forget.

Gallery 2:

This was totally unexpected and because of the crowds, difficult to make sense of it all when first entering. An archival chamber

loaded with documents, some on shelves

some in rusted safes

old machinery

discarded film reel

spilling down from shelves

on the floor



Everything, rusted, rotten, dusty, bullet-holed - war salvage.

Back to the long corridor, and then to

Gallery 3:

Another leaden tomb-like chamber where a German eagle lies on a sickbed, its immense wings spread out, but its body is an immovable rock. This is the tomb of nationalist folly: an eagle doomed to crash.

Back to the corridor of the fallen and we now have reached the end

and on the wall, a blown-up photograph of a soldier walking away, a departing ghost.

Gallery 4:

The largest gallery showcasing paintings and sculpture in vitrines

I have included some images with people in front so as to show the sheer scale of these paintings

Kiefer's use of paint is sculptural and in these paintings he has also used molten lead

that sits like sculpture on the surface of the paintings

Bullet-holed wheelchairs are another recurring theme in this exhibition

Lead and an eerie light above these painted fields whose ploughed furrows reach away in vast perspective. Above a poisoned sky

while on the ground red and pink flowers create a vivid contrast

Another poisoned, molten sky, ruined towers

and bright flowers in the field

A devastated city of bombed towers, a recurring image in Kiefer's art - a memory of German cities in 1945, or an image of Aleppo now?

In this sculpture

a snake down the base

and a sunflower above



The boundary between painting and sculpture is blurred

seen most clearly in this sculpture

looking closer

Art made out of junk and refuse: ragged old clothes, beautifully arranged. Beautiful, but the air of doom and danger is never far away.

These monumental paintings are so weighted with the stuff of the world that they seep out into three-dimensional space. Molten-lead has been poured on to them, as well as Kiefer's more conventional materials such as broken glass and dried plants.

The ever-present ruined towers

A side view

Rusty old hospital beds piled on top of each other

and the odd, lead pillow

We come out into the long corridor again before entering a small gallery

Gallery no. 5:

with a single installation

A rusty spiral staircase, reaching up to the sky, empty clothes, caked with the muck of time, hanging: the clothes of women, men and children caught up in history's storm

more old film reel

the stuff spilling on to the floor

the detritus of a world that's been destroyed.

Gallery 6:

A devastated city of bombed towers, an intimation of apocalypse, evoking the horrors of the concentration camps and the devastation occurring today in the Middle East.

Another painting of ruined towers

the blue of the sky the only bright colour

Finally, a vitrine with books,

made out of clay.

We were devastated, exhausted and at the same time, exhilarated when we left the gallery.