Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: February 2015

Transport for London demolishes Paolozzi murals

The news has just come through from artlyst that Transport for London and architects Hawkins Brown have gone ahead with the demolition of several of the wonderful Paolozzi murals at the Tottenham Court Road tube re-build, despite massive opposition and the attempted intervention of the 20th Century Society. Beggars belief. When will these clowns realise that art in the public domain is a public asset and not their private toy?

TFL Demolishes £100,000 Eduardo Paolozzi Mosaic Arches At Tottenham Court Station - ArtLyst Article image

Read about it at artlyst here.

pressoffice@tfl.gov.uk

mail@hawkinsbrown.com

eBaying off the life work

A while back, in a post on Alan Wycliffe Wellings, I lamented affectionately all the eBayed leftovers from life drawing classes, most headed, ultimately, for that great gallery at the landfill. I’m not being snobby; I’ve been clearing out folders full of life drawings myself, and it’s nearly all gone in the bin. (A great sheaf of drawings featuring male models went long ago to a gay friend; I’m not sure exactly what purpose they may currently serve.)

Yes, I’ve haunted some life rooms in my time. It’s a valuable discipline; it’s important that we continue to construct images, by observation, out of marks, especially when fine art degree courses now seem to award the photographic image a monopoly of virtue, as if it were somehow more authentic. When the reverse is clearly the case.

But life work can be bloody aggravating. Most classes I attended were cluttered up by annoying geriatrics (and I speak as a pensioner myself) who signed up year after year, but whose work never improved in the least. And who hadn’t the least intention to improve it.

Some, frightened of the scale and verticality of the easel, disdained it, laying flat their A3 pads on unnecessarily massive donkeys plonked right in front of the model. God forbid they should ever have been obliged to wrestle with a side or back view, and heaven strike down any optimistic and tactless tutor who tried to confiscate their HB pencils and get them onto charcoal. Some routinely chattered all session through about where they would be going on holiday this year and what they’d had for tea, making concentration impossible for everyone else, but coming on all victimised if ever asked to pipe down. I stalked out of the last class I ever did, after asking the worst offender if he’d mind shutting the **** up, and that’s not like me. Well, not much, anyway.

The high point of this purgatory involved a donkey codger who huffily refused the most basic guidance on matters of proportion, and whose drawings, as a result, were always hilariously top heavy. Redrawing and re-erasing the model’s legs week after week, he finally solved his problem by sketching her into a pool of water from the mid-thighs down. This lateral thinking was much admired by his mates.

Anyway, here’s pretty much what I’m left with. (Click to enlarge.) The girl pushing out her bum is Natalie from Aldridge, who was the best model ever. The upside down reclining person is a pleasant woman whose name now escapes me, but I did leave out her breast tattoo and nipple ring. (I’ve found that piercings are a distraction when you’re trying to even out your attention across all parts of the body. Male models with a Prince Albert should definitely be banned.) The big canvas with two figures involved a mirror, of course.

Rimg0018Actually, the two single figure images are currently up for grabs if anyone’s interested – go here and here. They start at merely a tenner on – you guessed it – eBay …

Brando and Eliot in shadows

My brush with Brando was gratifyingly bizarre. I was helping to run a college cinema club; shortly before one evening showing, there was a phone call: Marlon Brando was in the area filming (news to us), and would he be able to see our film? Was this a hoax? But no, a couple of minutes before kick off a young man appeared who claimed in a stateside accent to be Mister Brando’s fixer. Passing across a slab of notes he explained that the great actor and his party were outside. Only one thing: the lights should go down just before his entrance; Mister Brando preferred to go incognito.

"Mistah Washizu - he dead."

“Mistah Washizu – he dead.”

Brando (his profile dimly recognisable) and entourage filed in as arranged. They sat in the semi darkness of the front row, speaking little and in low voices, only among themselves. We were showing Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. At the end, after Washizu, Toshiro Mifune’s Macbeth character, had undergone his spectacular downfall, punctuated by more arrows than a single human frame might seem able to accommodate, the lights were kept down while they left the same way. Later the college porter told me that on his way out  Brando, at the head of the line, had paused before the massy mediaeval oak of the college gate, and had stroked it with his fingertips, in thoughtful veneration. To a man, his entourage had followed suit. The porter had been amused not so much by his original gesture as by their sycophantic mimicry.

The great oaken gate had presented itself to him, perhaps, as a signifier of Albion, of ancient wisdom, of a more authentic, pre-American world, a world maybe not too far from feudal Japan.

This was (I think) in 1969. Brando’s career was in a strange place at that time. What could he have been filming over here? I’ve no idea. (This was too late for Pontecorvo’s under-rated Burn!, I think, which in any case was filmed partly on the continent, and not in the UK.)

Brando in shadow

Brando in shadow

After seven years, Brando was back mumbling in the shadows, this time as the largely invisible Colonel Kurtz on the set of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Millions of words later, we are still not much clearer on quite why the filming went so famously pear shaped (as if we care), but in an interview Dennis Hopper has said that Brando’s refusal to be filmed with him came after he had ranted at Brando in a cinema in the Philippines where cast and crew had gone for a night out. Interestingly, from my viewpoint, they had chosen to see Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, featuring Toshiro Mifune.

As the rows rumbled on, Coppola and Brando abandoned the Apocalypse script and improvised Kurtz’s dialogue. Brando may or may not, as alleged, have prepared himself by reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, on which Apocalypse was based, but he seems to have found his way around T S Eliot. It’s well known that Eliot’s epigraph to The Waste Land, at least in draft, was the death of Heart of Darkness’s Mr Kurtz, prototype for Brando’s Colonel Kurtz:

“… He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath – ‘The horror! The horror!’”

In early 1922, Eliot had returned to London from a spell under the shrink in Lausanne – “… an aboulie [aboulia, loss of motivation] and emotional derangement” was his self-diagnosis – clutching a wadge of pages for Ezra Pound to hack and snip into something resembling a coherent poem. “The horror” was the first bit into the bin: “I doubt if Conrad is weighty enough to stand the citation,” grumbled Pound. Eliot sniffed back that “It is much the most appropriate I can find, and somewhat elucidative.” “Do as you like about Conrad,” snarled Pound, but the passage was cut anyway.

Pound also axed 90% of the original “Death by Water” sequence, leaving few hints of Conrad in the finished Waste Land, though there is still a dripping echo in the sweating river and drifting barges on the turning tide in the “Song of the Thames-daughters” in the “Fire Sermon” section. Both The Waste Land and Apocalypse Now were a mess, a mass bubbled up in chaos and derangement, warping out of control, both requiring merciless chopping down into something the shape of poetry.

Eliot got his own back by prefixing his next poem, The Hollow Men, with an equivalent but more cryptic quote from Heart of Darkness – “Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”

Coppola may have allowed the camera to pass knowingly over copies of Eliot’s other sources for The Waste Land – Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and Frazer’s The Golden Bough – lying around rather posily in Colonel Kurtz’s shadowed den, but it’s The Hollow Men that Brando / Kurtz reads brooding in the shadows, in a sequence largely cut, Pound-wise, from the film as released [link below]. (It has sometimes been noted that this otherwise complete reading of the poem omits only the epigraph “Mistah Kurtz – he dead”, in order to avoid an unfortunate reality loop; as a fictional character about to die, Colonel Kurtz can hardly read about the death of another fictional character on whom he himself is based.)


It seems to me that in this reading Brando strokes the words with his fingertips, in thoughtful veneration. As Anglified American, Eliot has come to represent the man transplanted to the authentic waste land, a discoverer, like the Kurtzes and now like Brando himself, of a far older wisdom, of primal vision. We touch the ancient wood, we feel the immeasurable truth of it, and, with a cry like a whisper, we suspect the horror.