Lady Lilith, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain is, hands down, one of the best exhibitions I have seen recently. This beautifully-curated show brings together a wide range of works by the Pre-Raphealites, presenting them as an avant-garde group with a radical project of overcoming artistic orthodoxies.
Seen in this new light (and in the flesh, rather than as yet another reproduction) familiar works like Millais’ Ophelia seem full of a new intensity: jewel-coloured and rich with imaginative possibility.
Arthur Hughes, April Love
John Everett Millais, Ophelia
I love the powerful, magical images of women in this exhibition: from the exotic Lady Lilith as imagined by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to the softer and more romantic girl in a blue dress depicted by Arthur Hughes in April Love. Yes these women are beautiful but they are also characters – women that we glimpse at interesting points in their stories, leaving us to imagine the rest of the narrative.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Beloved (‘The Bride’)
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant Garde is at Tate Britain until 13 January 2013
It’s rare that I get chance to visit any of the West End’s commercial galleries, so I enjoyed having the opportunity to pop into Ronchini Gallery on Derring Street this weekend to take a look at The Other Sun, the first UK solo exhibition by artist Jacob Hashimoto.
The major work in the exhibition is a site-specific installation, made up of hundreds of small, colourful kites constructed from bamboo and paper, and strung together in multi-coloured cascades and clouds. Hashimoto uses traditional kite-making techniques to create his distinctive sculptural installations, which create a beautiful and playful environment for visitors to explore. Perfect for practising my photography skills too!
Jacob Hashimoto: The Other Sun is at Ronchini Gallery until 28 August 2012.
Here’s another set of five cultural delights that I’ve recently been enjoying:
1. THE ROBINSON INSTITUTE
I really enjoyed this immersive and thought-provoking exhibition from Patrick Keiller at Tate Britain. The Robinson Institute documents a walk through Berkshire, Buckingham and Oxfordshire undertaken by the mysterious Robinson, a fictional academic and ‘scholar of landscape’ who has featured in various films previously made by Keiller. Here, the Duveen Gallery is filled with clues to Robinson’s journey and which point to his strange disappearance – potent photographs of cloudscapes and pylons, offbeat maps, unusual artefacts, landscape paintings and quirky black and white film clips, creating an intriguing web of ideas and references.
2. MARIA KALMAN
I love Maria Kalman‘s beautiful illustrations for Why We Broke Up, a new young adult novel from Daniel Handler (who is perhaps better known as Lemony Snicket). Kalman is the illustrator of numerous books for both adults and children, and has also created many covers for the New Yorker: I love the way she combines brightly-coloured illustrations with handwritten texts in her artworks. Pictured above is one of her images from The Pursuit of Happiness, a fascinating ‘visual column’ she wrote and illustrated for the New York Times in 2011: read it here.
3. A MONSTER CALLS
If you haven’t read A Monster Calls yet, you must. Based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, this is an extraordinary and deeply moving children’s book, in which a beautifully-written text by Patrick Ness mingles and merges with incredibly powerful illustrations by Jim Kay. It’s no surprise that the book has just become the first ever to win both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway Medals. (I interviewed Patrick and Jim about winning these prestigious prizes here).
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5. WRITING BRITAIN
I’m never entirely convinced by the British Library’s exhibitions: displays of beautiful old books are all very well but it might be more fun if you could actually read them. However, their latest exhibition, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, certainly has some real treasures in it for bibliophiles to enjoy. My highlights were a 1940s first edition Famous Five, the notebook in which Daphne Du Maurier planned Rebecca, the manuscript of Jane Eyre, a first edition of Mystery at Witchend by Malcolm Saville and the original manuscript of Cold Comfort Farm.
From a Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay
This interview was first published on the Book Trust website http://www.booktrust.org.uk
A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, has become the first book ever to win both the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals. I spoke to Patrick and Jim about how it feels to share this remarkable honour.
‘One of the defining books of its generation’ is how Rachel Levy, Children’s Library Services Manager for Sutton Libraries, and Chair of the 2012 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judging panels, has memorably described A Monster Calls – the first book ever to win both the Carnegie and Greenaway medals.
In winning the Carnegie this year, former Booktrust online writer in residence Patrick Ness also becomes the second author ever to win the award in two consecutive years: he also won the medal in 2011 for the third part of his acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men.
‘Sharing the honour with Jim is great,’ says Patrick. ‘I never expected to win the Carnegie again, but I hoped they might give the Kate Greenaway medal to Jim this year. That was my best case scenario. I never thought they would give both medals to us, so it was a huge surprise.’
Remarkably A Monster Calls is only the second children’s book Jim Kay has illustrated: he credits it with ‘changing my life’. Of winning the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, he says: ‘It was great to even be shortlisted. To win the award was just fantastic and not at all expected. It’s a wonderful feeling and it still hasn’t really sunk in. For anyone in illustration, this is a big deal. The list of winners is like a “who’s who” in illustration and it’s fantastic to think my name will be on that list alongside people like Michael Foreman.’
Patrick also acknowledges the prestige of winning the Carnegie. ‘It’s the oldest prize. CS Lewis won it, Ransome won it. It has an incredibly august history.’ But for both Patrick and Jim, it’s ultimately the Carnegie and Greenaway judging processes that set these prizes apart. The judging is rooted in the professional expertise of librarians across the country, who nominate titles to be considered for the shortlist. Patrick explains: ‘Children’s librarians are the ones who are right on the frontline, talking to teenagers and children every day about books. They are the real experts.’
The CILIP Carnegie Greenaway shadowing scheme, which sees children and young people in book groups in schools and libraries all over the country read amd discuss the shortlisted books, is also key to the prize. Patrick says the scheme is ‘brilliant: it’s one of my favourite things in the whole world…. Yesterday I spoke to several shadowing groups in Berkshire and there were a couple of hundred kids there, who were all arguing about the books. They’ve read the books – they are are excited about them, they disagree about them. It’s fantastic.’
Jim adds: ‘We’ve spent hours going through the comments on the shadowing website. I don’t have that much direct contact with readers, and what’s really interesting to me is how well they understand the books. And they’re so honest! It’s fantastic to read their comments.’
One young reviewer from the shadowing scheme described A Monster Calls as a book that ‘not only has the ability to break your heart, but to heal it as well’, touching on the emotional power of a book that Rachel Levy has described as ‘outstanding in every way… a book that readers will remember and return to over and over again.’
But for both Jim and Patrick, it’s also the format and illustration of this beautifully-presented book that make A Monster Calls special. Patrick explains: ‘Books for teenagers and older readers rarely get illustrated – almost never. We thought: why not try to break those rules? Illustration isn’t just for picture books, though picture books are glorious things. Illustration is for everyone.’
Jim adds: ‘Walker didn’t limit us to plates… I was allowed to flow in and out of the text, and that’s a hugely liberating thing for an illustrator. It’s a very rare thing – you see it more in graphic novels.’ Both hope that the book will help to set a precedent, encouraging other publishers to be more adventirous with illustrated books for older readers. Jim comments: ‘I hope it does kickstart a bit more freedom in the way that we see illustrated books, and give illustrators the opportunity to do things differently.’
Of Jim’s illustrations, Patrick says: ‘I think the reason they work so well is that they are suggestive. You never see Conor, for example – you only see silhouettes. Jim’s illustrations give you space for imagination. They create an atmosphere but they don’t tell you how to read the book. Instead they provide a landscape in which you can read the book, and that’s an important difference.’
Jim adds: ‘The text gives you a certain degree of ambiguity and the description is quite sparse. It allows the reader to evolve the story in a very personal way. As an illustrator it was great because not every character is completely pinned down. It gives you that manouverability to build a stage set around the characters and that’s really what we were trying to do.’
The book is also particularly special in that Patrick created the story from the final idea of the late children’s writer Siobhan Dowd, who died in 2007, herself a Carnegie Medal winner (posthumously for Bog Child in 2009). Patrick is specific about how he sees the relationship between Siobhan’s original idea and the finished text:
‘I don’t want to suggest that I’m somehow a conduit for Siobhan. I always think of writing as secret. You have to create a really private space to be free to create, that can’t be seen by other people. For me, in the process of writing this book, it was about bringing Siobhan along to that secret place with me.
‘Even for the best reasons, you cannot write a book as tribute… The risk of that is that you write a bad story, which would be the worst tribute. But in the introduction to the book I talk about running with the baton, and I think that’s the spirit of it. I wasn’t trying to guess what Siobhan would do, but just to grow the story as she would have done. In the end, I hope it isn’t a final tribute but something better, because it keeps people talking about her. It keeps people going back to her other books and reading them; it keeps her name in discussion. It’s a living thing, not a memorial.’
One question that many people will now be asking is whether the two have any future plans to work together. Jim explains: ‘We don’t have any concrete plans yet but I would love for us to work together again in future. I would be delighted and honoured. ‘
Better late than never, some thoughts on the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern…
I first encountered Japanese artist Kusama’s gloriously wacky artwork in the Hayward’s group show Walking in My Mind back in 2009 and was instantly struck by its colourful eccentricity. But the Tate exhibition proves there’s much more to Kusama than the distinctive polka-dot installations for which she is best known. Starting with her early works, the exhibition traces her artistic development chronologically through the 50s, 60s and 70s, following her from rural Japan to the heart of the New York art scene. The work here is incredibly varied, ranging from semi-abstract works on paper influenced by traditional Japanese artwork to trippy films of 1960s art ‘happenings’. If one thing is clear from these early works, it’s how quick Kusama was to absorb contemporary influences, continually reinventing her work and finding new directions in response to other artists and their works.
Since 1977, Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution in Japan, marking something of a turning point. From here onwards, her practice seems more consistent, and we encounter works that might seem more familiar – from her soft, sculptural forms to the dizzying polka-dotted domestic space, I’m Here But Nothing. This is work that is vibrant, unexpected and often very enjoyable, yet the final installation Infinity Room – a disorientating, darkened, mirrored space which we must pass through before leaving the gallery – makes it quite clear that Kusama’s work is about more than entertaining eccentricity and jaunty coloured spots. Ultimately, this is work which challenges our perceptions of mental illness, exploring the ways that art can begin represent the disturbing experiences of psychological trauma, neurosis and obsession.
Yayoi Kusama is at Tate Modern until 5 June.
[Image: Yayoi Kusama Kusama posing in Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show 1963 installation view, Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York 1963 © Yayoi Kusama and © Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc.]