Friday, 29 April 2016

Place Igor Stravinsky

On the other side of the Centre Pompidou in France there is a lovely fountain. Or rather, there is more than one fountain. The first time I went here I was amazed by the bright colours and the sense of fun of this place.

In 1978 the council of Paris decided they wanted a few more fountains in Paris, with contemporary art. In 1981 a commision was given to sculptors Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle to create a fountain for the square behind the Centre Pompidou and it was opened in 1983.

They were inspired by the musical works of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) who became a French citizen in 1934.

They studied the place of the fountain for over a year, looking at the light and the atmosphere of it. The sculptors needed to create a balance with the front of the Centre Pompidou where so much is happening with all the artists and perfomances, and they needed to find a balance between their own characteristic works with Tinguely working mainly in black and white and Saint Phalle in bright colours.

Well, all I can say is that they managed to create a great fountain. I love coming here, to sit on one of the benches next to the fountain and look at the people or the children playing. And I always leave feeling happier than I did when I arrived.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Deep South, Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux, the famous writer of travel books and of novels, decided not to go abroad in 2012, but to travel around in his own country, in the part known as The Deep South.
It was not just one trip, he kept coming back, fascinated by what he saw and the people he met.

The US spends hundreds of millions dollars in Africa and Asia, while in their own country in some parts in the south have to work with just a couple of hundred thousand. 

Nowhere in the country is there such poverty that thirty or sometimes even fifty percent of the people live below the poverty-level. This is largely because the big companies that provided the jobs went abroad and there is nothing to replace those jobs. Literacy is also low and for many people their living conditions are dire.

At the same time there is also a friendliness and a willingness to help that Paul Theroux never encountered before in the US and that is the reason that he keeps coming back.

He drives his car from town to town, stopping where he wants and staying a few days where he likes it. And everywhere he comes, he talks to people and writes down their stories. He does not go to big cities like New Orleans or Charleston, but to thos areas the tourists never see.

Paul Theroux goes to churchservices, barbecues and gunshows. He eats soulfood, talks to the Indian immigrants who often own the motels, the poor white farmers, the poor black farmers, the pastors, the politicians and the people who run the charities. 

He is not afraid to ask questions about segregation back then and now and because of all this he gives a vivid and fascinating account of the south, that is both very interesting, but also great fun to read.

Deep South is a must-read for everybody who wants to know more about the deep south of the US, a place full of contradictions but where there is more than just stately plantations and the Klan. It is a place where family is important, the (lost) Civil War is still an open wound for some and segregation may not have been so black and white as you might think. 

It is a place full of extraordinary people who try to make the best of a difficult situation, while their own government seems to have forgotten them. Deep South is a tribute to all those people who make the South the South.

I did have one little problem with the book though, I immediately wanted to take a plane to the US, rent a car and drive to the South to try some deep-fried chocolate pie myself! J

Published in 2015

Friday, 22 April 2016

The greenhouse effect, UJB April 2016

The theme for Urban Jungle Bloggers this month was plants and glass. And the moment I read this, I rememberd I bought a little greenhouse a couple of years ago. At the moment I did not use it, but I immediately thought how I could use this greenhouse for this month's UJB.

In the gardencenter I spotted these little plants, and i thought they were really cute. I usually do not like a cactus, and I am always afraid that Silvia will get her nose hurt in one of them, but inside a greenhouse they can harm nobody (and no cat) and they look super-lovely grouped together.

I placed the plants inside the little greenhouse and closed the lid.

They now have a place in the sun and I am very pleased with it.

Unfortunately, this palm was too high to fit inside the greenhouse. Poor thing. So I put it into a glass candleholder and now it still fits with the theme of plants and glass. I did not want to leave it out!
Urban Jungle Bloggers (here) is an initiative from Judith (here) and Igor (here), who want to give more attention to our indoor plants. I really enjoy participating in their monthly themes, because it makes me look at my plants differently.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Manderley forever, Tatiana de Rosnay

This is the Dutch cover.
I love that photograph!
Daphne Du Maurier  was born in 1907 in a famous family, her father was a well-known actor and her grandfather was a writer. She herself was passionate about writing from a young age and was determined to earn her own living with writing, so she could be independent.

She was proud of her French roots, was shy in company and loved Cornwall from the moment she first came there when her parents bought a house there. Here she began to write her first books.

Daphne married Frederick Browning, a soldier, who would later play an important role during WWII. Together they had three children, the youngest son was Daphne’s favorite.

When her husband was stationed in Egypt, Daphne went with him, although it was hard for her to be away from her beloved Cornwall. That is why she began with what finally would be her most successful book; Rebecca. The critics were full of praise and the book had record sales.

This success gave her the opportunity to rent the mansion Menabilly, a house she was fascinated by from the first moment she had seen it. The estate Manderley from Rebecca was also based on this house.
She would live here for more than 20 years, and even when her husband lived in London after the war because of his position at court, Daphne refused to leave Menabilly. This was the place where she could write and her love for this house was greater than her love for other things, or even almost, other people. 
Daphne and her children at Menabilly
Critics did not always take her books seriously. Often she was just seen as a writer of romantic novels. This did hurt a little, but it never deterred her from writing new books and exploring new genres and often to shock her readers with her macabre stories.

Manderley forver is the fictionalized biography of Daphne Du Maurier by the French-British author Tatiana de Rosnay.

The other book I read by Tatiana de Rosnay was Her name was Sarah and I thought that was absolute crap, so I was a little hesitant to buy this one. However, Daphne Du Maurier is a fascinating subject and I took the risk.

And I must admit, it was 100% better than I had thought. Of course, the writing style is a bit overly melodramatic every now and then, but on the whole I thought it was a very good and pleasant book. It reads like a novel and this is done very well, Daphne Du Maurier, with all her contradictions and peculiarities, really comes to life.

Tatiana de Rosnay tells about Daphne’s childhood with an overbearing father and a mother who did not really care for her, she also tells about the marriage between Daphne and Frederick and the affair Daphne had as a young woman with a female teacher at the French boarding school she attended and she does this with a lot of feeling for her subject.

There is also a lot of attention how Daphne began to write and how her novels were written and this is very interesting.
Daphne du Maurier when she was older.
Every now and then you read a chapter on how Tatiana de Rosnay is looking for remains of Daphne’s life, for example by visiting the houses she lived in and this is a fun little extra.

If you want to read an academic biography with footnotes, then you should leave this book alone, because this is too much like a novel (with a lot of speculation about what Daphne Du Maurier thought and said).

But if you want to read a very pleasant book about the life of Daphne Du Maurier, that actually does have good research, then pick this one up, because you will not be disappointed.

Manderley forever did awaken my interest in the other novels by Daphne Du Maurier, and that is something I really like in a book, if it is capable of making you want to read more.

Published in 2015

Friday, 15 April 2016

A day in Utrecht

Last Sunday I visited the beautiful town of Utrecht. This is for me only 40 minutes by direct train, so getting there is really easy.
Utrecht was founded by the Romans and the Roman border also ran here.
Stone that markes the border of the Roman empire
Utrecht has many canals just like Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, but characteristic for Utrecht are the cades, as you can see here.

Utrecht is known as the 'Domstad', because the Archbishop of The Netherlands resides here. Unfortunately the Dome is no longer Catholic, but in protestant hands since the Reformation.
Here you can see the Dometower, that is seperate from the Dome itself. It is 110 metres high and you can climb it. I have done so twice in the past and I can say that the view over Utrecht is spectacular!

I was there to visit the museum Catharijneconvent, an old convent that is now a museum of Christian art.
Museum Catharijneconvent.
Here there is an exhibition about Saint Francis. This is one of the most beloved Saints of the Roman Catholic Church, and he was very much beloved in his own time as well.

His love for animals and nature, his poverty, his humility, but also his fierceness are all things that can inspire us even today.
Spring flowers at the museum
Before I visited the exhibition, I listened to a lecture about it and this was very good and interesting and it gave me more insight in what I saw at the exhibition. There were paintings, drawings, sculptures etc, by Rembrandt, Fra Angelico and other famous or not so famous artists. I really enjoyed it.

I bought a couple of good books, one about Saint Francis in the musuemshop, and one in a normal bookshop.
It was so warm that day, people were sitting on the terraces and I could unbutton my coat. I love it when that is possible, it really gives me the idea Spring is coming. The beautiful Springflowers at the museum also gave that idea!
And even more Spring flowers

Monday, 11 April 2016

Some reading and more

The books I read last week. 
Despite the hectic weeks at school, I did manage to read a couple of very good books. The week before I read the new Nicci French with the amazing Frieda Klein, I thought this was a pleasure to read as always, but last week I also finished three very good books.

First I read Manderley forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, a fictional biography of Daphne Du Maurier. I really enjoyed it and I will review it next week. This book also made me want to read more books by Daphne Du Maurier (I only read Rebecca), so I ordered a few. Some have arrived and others will arrive in the days to come, but prepare yourself for some more Daphne Du Maurier in the coming weeks! (or months, you know how this goes)

In the bus to school I read Adieu Parijs, a Dutch translation of a French novel by Leon Wérth. The French title is 33 jours, and it is his account of the days just after the Nazi's occupied France and 8 million people tried to leave Paris and tried to find safety in the south.
Very moving and very, very good. I do not know if there is an English translation.

And on Saturday I read the amazing thriller by Swedish author Jens Lapidus, Stockholm delete. I love his style, once you pick up his book, you cannot put them down. It is filled with action and believable characters. I really enjoyed myself with that on Saturday. I do not know if there are translations in English, but I think there must be!

What am I reading now? 
Right now I am reading two books. One is the new novel by French author Muriel Barbery. I really loved her The elegance of the hedgehog and her new novel was a birthdaypresent.
So far, it is something completely different, but I like it.

And in the bus to school I will start in Deep South by Paul Theroux. I am a little fascinated by the Southern states of America, so I think I'll love this book.

I could buy a Dutch translation for 34 euro's or an English copy for just 16 euro's. So guess what, I bought the English version. I do think that is a ridiculous difference in price though. Very strange.

What else?
Yesterday (Sunday) I visited Utrecht, for a lecture about Saint Francis, and to visit an exhibition about this popular saint. Both were amazing, and I will tell more about this coming Friday and share some photographs of Utrecht.

Coming week there will be a lot of things to do at school, so not much time for other things I am afraid! But I am glad I have the commute to Amsterdam and time to read on the bus.

I hope you will have a great week and you are able to read some amazing books!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Exit through the Gift Shop (2010)

Banksy is one of the most famous and well-known graffiti-artists and makers of street-art. He has done work all over the world. He tries to make people think about what they see.

He made very distinct murals and also did a project where he made one pound bank notes, only with the head of Princess Diana and Banksy of England instead of Bank of England. The problem was the banknotes were accepted as payment on a festival and Banksy realized he could end up in jail for this, since the line between art and a crime was crossed.

We do not know who Banksy is, although there are (very strong) rumours. Contact with him is always through a middle-man.

Thierry Guetta was a French filmmaker who lived in LA. He wanted to make a film about Banksy and followed him with his camera, getting to know him better. He also got involved in some projects, like smuggling a Guantanamobay-puppet into Disney Land.

Bansky started to trust Thierry and allowed him to film him during his projects. There was however one problem, Thierry was a crap-filmmaker. He had a camera, but now idea how to make a film. The end result was unwatchable nonsense.
Street art by Banksy
Banksy realized he was mistaken and asked Thierry to give him the filmmaterial, and suggested that Thierry would go back to LA to do another art project.

Thierry started to make street-art under the name of Mr. Brain-wash and tried to set up an exhibition. This almost went wrong, because Thierry had no idea how to do this either. But with the help of Banksy and his friends, it became an overnight success.

Exit through the Gift Shop is a very interesting film. Bansky is always in the shadows to keep his identity a secret, but the film gives a very good impression of the different projects he is working on and his methods.
The unexpected success of MBW (Thierry) and seeing how street-art works and how an exhibition is organized is also fascinating. Thierry was very lucky to have witnessed Banksy in action and has taken some lessons from him.

Only halfway through the movie you begin to think, you begin to doubt. Is this all real? Or is this perhaps one of Bansky’s many art-projects to make people wonder?
Graffiti by Banksy
The way Thierry becomes an overnight success with what is basically a lot of bullshit, can be seen as criticism on the art world, but it could have been real.
Who is being made fun of? The ‘art-critics’ who ask no questions, the artists who are successful without having to work for it, or perhaps it is us, the viewers?

We do not know, it is as simple as that. On the internet there are many theories about this film, but the only one who know if Exit through the Gift Shop is real or a hoax, is Banksy himself.

This is a film that is worth your time!

Monday, 4 April 2016

The vanishing man, Laura Cumming

For a long time you had to go to Spain if you wanted to see Spanish paintings. Especially paintings from the famous painter Velázques were rare outside the Prado in Madrid.

In 1845 bookseller John Snare from Reading bought a painting for eight pounds on an auction. It was said to be a portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck. Snare believed otherwise, he was sure it was painted by Velázques when Charles visited Spain when he was still the crown-prince.

It was quite a gamble for Snare to think this, he little comparison since there were not many paintings by Velázques in England and he had no modern techniques like x-rays to confirm his beliefs. He could only go on the descriptions he had from other paintings and his own intuition.

When he bought the paining, he had to prove it was a Velázques and try to figure out how this painting ended up in his possession. He did a lot of work to prove this, translating works about the painter from Spanish and visiting known paintings to compare them to his painting.

His claim became known and Snare exhibited the painting. Many were convinced he was right and it was indeed a Velázques, others still believed it was just a Van Dyck.  

And soon things went wrong for Snare, when he visited Scotland with his painting, he was accused of owning a stolen painting and he had to go to court. Finally he left England in ruins, his money and his good name gone, but he still had the painting when he came to the US. He kept on to this painting he loved so much, until the very end of his life.

Laura Cumming is an arthistorian and writes for The Guardian. She is a huge admirer of Velázques. The painter who did not paint that much, but each painting is beautiful. He never made a sketch or a study, but painted immediately on the canvas. He never forgot the people he portrayed were human beings, and not props.

Laura Cumming came upon the story of John Snare and his Velázques by accident, but she was fascinated. She wants to know if this painting could really have been a Velázques and how it could have ended up in Snare’s possession.
In The vanishing man she tells of her enquiry and also tells us in great details about Velázques, his way of painting, the visit Charles made to Spain, the artworld in the 19th century and the difficulties John Snare encountered when he tried to prove what he so firmly believed.

It is almost a detective, and it does not let you go until the very last page. Was it a Velázques or a Van Dyck, what happened to John Snare and where is the painting now? Unfortunately we do not get all the answers, some things have gone lost in the mist of time.

This book is a masterpiece. I loved the obvious admiration Laura Cumming has for Velázques and I felt so much sympathy for John Snare while I read the book. A man who loved art and who had a good eye for it, but in the end those things did not bring him much joy or luck.

The vanishing man is a must-read for everybody who enjoys art and history and who likes a good mystery. I loved it.

Published in 2016

Friday, 1 April 2016

Exhibition: Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
One of the best known sculptresses of the 20th century was the English Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975).

She received her education at an artacademy in Leeds and later at the Royal Academy in London. Here she became friends with that other famous sculptor, Henry Moore.
She went to Rome and married sculptor John Skeaping. Together they worked in their studio, first in Rome, later in London. They were good friends with artists like Picasso, Mondriaan and Brancussi and their work became more and more abstract.

Barbara Hepworth worked with Stone and wood and often tried to capture nature in her works. She said that her sculpting could not be seen without the context of their surroundings. That is why she often took a great interest in where her works would be placed.

Organic forms, seeing through something, emphasizing the emptiness and its form are all characteristics in her work.

She was also known for working without the help of electric drills or instruments like that, she did it all by hand. 

Private life
There were high highs and low lows in her private life. When her marriage to John Skeaping ended in 1933, she married painter Ben Nicholson, but that marriage also ended in a divorce in 1951. Her son Paul died in a planecrash.

Just before WWII she moved to St. Ives in Cornwall and she lived here until her death in 1975. Her death was a drama, she died in an accidental fire in her studio.
Her house and studio in St. Ives are now a museum.

During her life Barbara Hepworth received many accolades and prizes. She could even call herself Dame from 1965.   
One of her drawings

Fourty years after her death there is once again a large exhibition of her work. It shows in the Kröller Muller museum in The Netherlands and this is quite fitting. Here was also her last overview-exhibition in 1966.

The Kröller Muller museum worked together with the Tate Britain in London and  Arp Museum Banhof Rolandsech in Remagen, Germany for this new exhibition.

The Kröller Muller museum already has quite a few of her sculptings, that were carefully selected by Barbara Hepworth herself. She said that she was convinced that there was no better place for her work than the garden of this museum.   

For this exhibition Barbara Hepworth, sculpture for a modern world, about seventy of her works have been brought together, along with about thirty of contemporary artists like Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Jacob Epstein.

But there is more to see than just her sculpting; there are also photographs from her own archive, drawings, designs for fabric etc. 
Fabric design
I visited this exhibition last Wednesday and I was very impressed. I only really knew her works from pictures, but seeing them in reality shows how beautiful they are. I did want to touch them, and feel the contrast between rough and smooth for example. Of course I could not do that, but I was tempted! 

This exhibition showed last year at the Tate museum in London, and the English press was not always positive. There was not enough daylight and why was there so much emphasis on all the other people? Now it looked like Barbara Hepworth never did anything on her own, just followed the men in her life.

This is, as far as I am concerned, not really fair. An artist never works alone or on an island and it is logical the people around an artist influence his or her work, especially if that artist is married to another artist.
I though the works were shown in perfect light, but of course part of them were shown outside, so there is no problem with daylight in that regard. J 

I loved the many photographs from the private-archives that show how she worked. Very special were also the other artwork she made, like her drawings and fabric-designs.

In short, I loved this beautiful exhibition, and if you want to catch Barbara Hepworth, sculpture for a modern world, you have to be quick, it only shows here in The Netherlands until April 17th. Perhaps the next stop is Germany?
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