Monday, 25 March 2013

Two go mad in Temple Place

When we first started this blog it was intended that we would witter blithely about the trials and tribulations of two ladies of a certain age living in East London, hand wringing about the difficulties of finding enough room in the freezer for spirits and generally not taking things too seriously. Trouble is one of them, we'll call her "me" is a lazy mare and has rather neglected the writing of late. And the having adventures. And being way to serious.

Which is why I was persuaded to go to Temple Place to find something interesting and from Cornwall.

I only know of two things that come from Cornwall, ice cream and pasties. Oh, and a two faced lying midget that displeased a number of my friends. But that's another story.

So off to Temple Place I went dreaming of crusty pastry and delicious fillings whilst leaning against a sandcastle as a the warm breeze washes over me. Or not. It was quite warm on the Northern Line. No sand. Plenty of tourists.

I did a thingie some time ago, I tried to find out how long it won't take to get to somewhere in Cornwall using the veritable Google Maps and... It didn't work. Admittedly I was asking it to tell me how to get there using public transport and, apart from a pony and trap combo run by a bloke called Arthurwho had that Merlin in the cab last week, there isn't much. At least not according to Google. Not that this is relevant to the tale as, actually, I'd not bothered to ask Clare where I was going. Ditz.

At least I still know how this Contrary thing works.

Now then, I've never been to Two Temple Place and was so busy eyeing the crenellated madness of it that I failed to notice Inspector Clouseau's style guru hovering outside waiting for me. Oh, I found it! It was at this point Clare explained that she really wanted me to see the building, for once the art and music were actually secondary to the location. If you've never been, you should go, it really is a wonderful place and I'm looking forward to going back when my head is less muzzy.

And then there was the art...

I'll admit it, when I first went in I realised she had finally lost her renowned grasp of the art world, this really was putting the corny in to Cornish. Twee didn't quite cover my initial impression. But I'm not going to put it down because, actually, it wasn't that bad. Trouble was, the first image I looked at I hated. It's not that it was bad, technically it was superb, but it lacked imagination, passion, drama. It looked too... Wrong. And I couldn't put my finger on what exactly. Interestingly, from a distance the image felt almost photo realistic, but still left me with a great feeling of meh. Not good.

But then I wasn't allowing for the context. The exhibition itself was looking at the period, between about 1880 and 1920 when artists discovered the hoary heads and horny hands of gruff Cornishmen before swooning a little and paying them to pose for pictures. To be fair this was also smack bang in the middle of the arts and crafts movement and, sadly this does show in quite a few pictures.

As I meandered the room it became obvious that there were some real gems here. A number of images struck me as being synonymous with the stark motivational pictures of the soviet era. That the subject was semi-enslaved working men wasn't really lost on me. Another image showed the sheer terror of the work with an impossibly steep rail track leading in to the bowels of the earth. This image was quite haunting, not just because of the text explaining that this particular mine had a terrible disaster with a runaway truck, but also because of the sadness of a woman watching the living dead of the menfolk. There was also a pasty.

These gems aside, I still had an issue. None of the pictures were badly done, indeed many had been feted in their day. My problem was this, they just didn't feel right, that magical something that sets the eyes dancing and the heart racing. The apparent drive for almost photo-realism , paradoxically, gave a faux, almost parody, feel. Simply, life was portrayed as too clean.

Whilst Clare has just been raving about the fabulous Clay Pit, for me though the single most impressive image was a simple one, an etching of a woman, bent and laden. A candid view of the raw suffering, a true portrayal of the grim reality of a difficult life. I was stunned.

We spent a little while listening to the live music and chatting about what we'd seen before, inevitably, heading home to Contrary Towers and ponder food. As you do.

Trouble was I still couldn't think of what to eat. Not a good sign. Fortunately my flatmate spends a lot of time thinking about meat so she suggested pork chops. And mash. Oh yes. A quick(ish) scoot around the District Line, a brisk march to the House of Lidl and we were ready with all the essentials, pork chops, brocolli, spud, butter, mustard. And an apple.

It's been quite a while since we last made a meal together so whilst I fiddled with spud (because I look like a potato), Clare did things to the pork, fried the apple and made mustard gravy ready to go with my whipped garlic mash. It was yummy. We might have also had a glass or two of teh winez.
Just to be sociable you understand.

I never did get a pasty. Pfft.

Amongst Heroes is on until the 14th of April 2013 at Two Temple Place.

Fish wives night out

It's been a while since we had a girl's night out and a real giggle. So I had a look round for something really fun and interesting. This can mean a couple of things. It could entail something really new and special, or merely critically acclaimed with red carpets and champagne. Obviously.

So when I told Vicky to expect really bad art and fortify herself with a nice cornish pasty and a pint of cider, she thought I was joking. I wasn't. I'm always deadly serious when it come to art. I'd seen an advert for 'Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall' at 2 Temple Place. This spectacular venue specialises in exhibiting art from galleries outside London and this is what it said about this exhibition:
‘Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall’ will explore artistic representations of the Cornish figure at work, primarily between 1880 and 1920. These powerful depictions of working Cornish men and women produced by visiting artists to the region played a significant role in the national development and recognition of Cornwall as a centre for the production of a particular kind of realistic, rural art.

Realistic rural art from 1880s onwards is always guaranteed to provide entertainment in a bad way. Now I appreciate I'm being a little bit unfair here so let me tell you what was going on in my mind. Many of the artists going to Cornwall at this time were establishment and very highly regarded artists, usually working under the auspices of the Royal Academy. This was not going to be cutting edge salon des refuses, modernist painting but good old fashioned Art in the proper, Times of the times, approved manner. I tend to avoid this stuff simply because it doesn't do anything for me but after a continuous diet of new and interesting, it can be quite refreshing to return to the basics and see how it makes you feel. 

Which is why Vicky and I were standing a room full of salty sea dogs, seascapes, pilchards and very heroic women. Feeling all at sea. 

To relieve the large scale paintings, there were models of ships, a large boat and a cabinet of curiosities which I shall return to. Upstairs in the main gallery, there were fishing crafts (net making/mending etc), portraits, metal working, mining and farming themed paintings. Most of these paintings were from various galleries in Cornwall, some from private collection. The paintings, I cannot deny, were well crafted, admirable and picturesque, however, just not speaking to me.

In that first room the items in the cabinet were very striking. Using the new technologies of photography along with newspaper illustration, these small , domestic size black and white images were incredible. The photo portraits of fishwives were immediate and appeared uncontrived, whilst the newspaper series on fishing industry seemed lively and dynamic, incorporating people and operations. It seemed that the new imaging technologies was more appropriate to capturing the business of fishing than the large scale, heavily worked oil paintings. 

The paintings of mining operations upstairs were fascinating and seemed familiar to someone who has seen the modernist art of the futurists, for example, a group who  were obsessed with new technologies. I imaged those artists turning their back on the horse drawn carts and fishing boat vistas, to gleefully capture dirty mining operations and ugly new harbour developments. Some of the photographs of the time seem to speak the language of change far more than the paintings.

© Harold Harvey, Bridgeman Art Library
© The Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro
None the less, there was one chap called Harold Harvey who really stunned me. His portrayal of miners pushing carts was light years away from the foamy sea and nets of fish downstairs. These worker were non specific 'every men' and they speak of a time where men were essentially machines, slaving for the production of stuff which had to be dragged out of the soil. Dangerous, hard, and definitely not picturesque. It also turns out that he was the only Cornish native of this group, wasn't an academician and hated going to London. I wonder if this is why his work has an authenticity?

I'm not suggesting that oil painting is an inappropriate medium to capture scenes of a world which was dying out. Indeed conversations revolved around tales of country grandparents continuing to farm with horses until well into the 1950s. However the world has changed, and many of these farming, mining and fishing scenes have receded into history, along with this style of painting. I find it's hard to like, if not hard to appreciate.It's important to sometimes step out of your comfort zone and just take time to compare painting styles. 

Now where is that cream tea?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Emergency soup

After a long day studying I was hungry. Not bear pit, gut wrenchingly so but definitely in need of sustenance. As I had been in Italy all day mentally, all I could think of was bean and pasta soup, swirled with a good olive oil. So when got home I chopped, simmered and whizzed this all together.

1 large onion
3 hairy parsnips
2 carrots of dubious provenance
Several very dodgy potatoes
Tin butter beans
2 vege stock cubes
Salt and pepper
A spot of oyster sauce

Fry off the onion and veggies until soft. Add stock cubes, water and let simmer for as long as it takes for you to speak with your mum (about 45 mins). Add half a tin of deskinned butter beans. And purée taking care not to make baby food, ie leave texture.

Check seasoning. Add handful of macaroni and a bit of milk to loosen the soup. Add the rest of the beans. And cayenne pepper obvs. Gently simmer, stirring to prevent sticking until the pasta is done.

Ladle with a load of the bits into a bowl and swirl with extra virgin oil. Eat whist watching mindless stuff on tv.