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Sunday, 15 October 2017

DAVID HOCKNEY IN BRADFORD




The renowned contemporary artist David Hockney was born in Bradford (West Yorkshire) in 1937. In the suburbs of Bradford, there is an art gallery, Cartwright Hall, which Hockney used to visit in his youth. He said of this place: “I used to love going to Cartwright Hall as a kid, it was the only place in Bradford I could see real paintings.” He used to visit it as a schoolboy and young student during the 1940s and ‘50s. In July 2017, the establishment opened a new gallery dedicated to Hockney’s works. It was to see this that we set off by bus (a ten minute ride) from Bradford to Lister Park in which the Hall is located. What we found exceeded our expectations.

The building of Cartwright Hall (as a purpose-built art gallery) was financed by Samuel Cunliffe Lister (1815-1906), the son of a Bradford textile mill owner. Lister became wealthy through the development of new and improved textile mill technology. The house was named after Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823), an inventor of various textile processing machines including one for wool combing, which contributed greatly to Lister’s financial success. Modestly, Lister named the Hall after the inventor rather than himself.

Lister Park is extensive. It includes a fantastic feature, The Mughal Garden. If it had not been for the miserable grey sky and the absence of the Taj Mahal, with a little bit of imagination one might mistakenly believe that this garden was a replica of the water features that the Mughals delighted in creating in what became (in 1947) India and Pakistan. Opened in 2001, this garden, designed in conformity with Mughal gardening convention, reflects the cultural affinities of Bradford’s large South Asian community. This exotic-looking place, set within a conventional British municipal park, is in harmony with the multicultural range of exhibits within the Gallery.

The neo-classical Cartwright Hall was designed by the architects JW Simpson and EJ Milner Allen, both from London. Its interior is spacious, not in the least bit stuffy or airless (as for example is the National Gallery in Edinburgh).


Stained-glass by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


We began by looking at some of the works that Hockney might have examined during his youthful visits. These include paintings by well-known artists such as: Romney, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Vasari, Reni, and many of the Pre-Raphaelites. Mingling with these, there are paintings by some of Hockney’s predecessors from Bradford. One of these was Richard Eurich (1903-1992), the son of Dr Frederick William Eurich (1867-1945). Dr Eurich, who arrived in Bradford from Chemnitz (in Germany) aged seven, pioneered a method of cleaning wool so that it became free of the deadly anthrax spores that had taken the lives of many wool workers in Bradford. His son Richard studied at Bradford School for Arts and Crafts, where Hockney also studied later.

Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) attended Bradford Grammar School, where both Richard Eurich and, later, David Hockney were pupils. He studied art at the Slade School in London. He became a war artist in WW1. At least one of his war paintings was on display. Rothenstein was a son of Moritz Rothenstein, one of several Jewish entrepreneurs who came from Germany to Bradford in the mid-19th century. These entrepreneurs played important roles in promoting the city’s textile industry. William’s painting “Carrying the Law” has a particularly Jewish theme.  In the 1930s, William, by then in London, hosted the Indian Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, who dedicated his collection of poems “Gitanjali” to him.


By William Rothenstein


This brings me to something that I really liked about the Gallery. The paintings (and stained-glass) by European artists, both well-known and not so famous, are hung side-by-side with works by artists with South Asian heritage. This is done so successfully that one does not feel that there is any cultural clashing between them. It made me think how wonderful it would be if people of different origins could coexist so harmoniously. 


By Sylvat Aziz


The South Asian artists, to mention but a few, include Jamini Roy (whose pictures we did not see on display during our visit), Salima Hashmi, Arpana Kaur, Sylvat Aziz, and Gurminder Sikand. In addition to these paintings, we saw one Indian film poster on display.  Just opposite the main entrance on the ground floor, there is a reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor.



By Anish Kapoor


The new Hockney Gallery is itself a masterpiece of gallery curation. It contains some of Hockney’s earliest works done in the 1950s. These works, somewhat more conventional than his later creations, show him as a highly skilled draughtsman and artist. They portray his home town beautifully. The gallery also contains some of Hockney’s more current work, including a series of paintings done during one of his visits to his native Yorkshire. There is also one of his famous swimming pool pictures. The gallery features a ‘recreation’ of one of Hockney’s studios. This display includes a couple of the artist’s sketch books and pads.  I was particularly intrigued by two publications on display, which were illustrated by Hockney: one was a Bradford telephone directory, and the other a guide book to Bradford.


David Hockney: Self-portrait (1954)


Our visit to the Cartwright Gallery was enjoyable, and left me thinking that even if one saw nothing else in Yorkshire, this place is a ‘must’.


The town of Saltaire is a short bus ride from Lister Park, and another mecca for lovers of Hockney’s art. Before 1851, this place did not exist. It was built by a benevolent industrialist Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876) as a model village for the workers in his textile factory, Salts Mill, which neighbours it. The place’s name derives from Sir Titus’s surname and the River Aire, which runs close to the mill. The mill is separated from it by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Saltaire is a well-preserved ensemble of Victorian buildings. It has been designated a ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’. 


Salts Mill painted by David Hockney


Hockney lovers might focus only on the enormous Salts Mill, but this is a mistake because it would mean missing the fascinating little town, an industrial forerunner of ‘idyllic arcadian’ garden suburbs and cities, such as those in north-west London, Letchworth, and Welwyn.  It is also an antecedent of garden cities designed to house factory workers such as: the Bata village at East Tilbury; Zlin in the Czech Republic; and Zelenograd (i.e. ‘green city’) near Moscow in Russia.

Victoria Street leads down towards the railway, the mill, the canal, and the river. The upper section is lined with attractive stone buildings on one side. On the other side, there is a rectangular green space, Alexandra Square, surrounded by more buildings, alms-houses. The former ‘Sir Titus Salts Hospital’ (dated 1868) stands where Victoria and Saltaire Roads cross each other.

Further down the hill, we reach the Salt Building, which is marked as ‘schools’ on an 1889 map. It was a ‘factory school’. Mill owners were obliged by laws (passed after 1833) to provide their child-workers with education. Now a part of Shipley College, it still serves an educational purpose.

Opposite this architecturally whimsical building, there is a larger one set back from the road. With two storeys of windows topped with circular arches and a grandiose central doorway surmounted by a tower, this is Victoria Hall. This was completed in 1871 for Sir Titus to the designs of Lockwood and Mawson. Originally, it was an educational institute, but now its grand hall and other rooms are also used for special occasions such as weddings.



The Salts Mill stands almost at the bottom of Victoria Street. Ignore this for the moment, and enter Albert Terrace. But, before doing so, you should take a look at the Saltaire United Reform Church, which stands in its own grounds close to the canal.  This interesting Italianate building with a circular tower mounted on a circle of Corinthian pillars was built for Sir Titus in 1859, designed by Lockwood and Mawson.

Albert Terrace runs along the lower ends of several steep streets where the mill employees lived in houses of different sizes according to their inhabitant’s ranking in the firm’s hierarchy. The streets are separated by the backyards of the buildings on them, and between them the narrow back alleyways, which are now crowded with ‘wheelie-bins’ used for placing domestic refuse.

Some of the buildings on these streets are taller than their neighbours. These housed lower-paid workers. Those houses between them, which have small front gardens, were homes to foremen and supervisors. Senior members of the firm had larger houses with bigger front gardens.

On Titus Street, parallel to Albert Terrace but at a higher altitude, there are small terraced dwellings without front gardens whose front doors open straight out onto the pavement. These residences were the homes of the lowest paid workers and their families. Although different classes of mill employees were allotted different kinds of houses, all of them from the humblest to the highest lived together in close proximity.  It is interesting that the founders of Hampstead Garden Suburb in North London, where I grew up, tried to achieve the same social mixing. I do not believe that it was ever achieved there.

The school on Albert Road, now a primary school, has been present since 1893 if not before. Near the south end of Albert Road at its meeting with Saltaire Road, there is a stone building whose two sets of enormous doors are surmounted with triangular pediments bearing weather-worn coats of arms. Now a restaurant, this was formerly a tramway depot.



The Salts Mill, the former textile factory, is now home to a huge exhibition of works by David Hockney. This is arranged on three floors of the building in what were once huge halls where William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ churned out the materials that made Bradford prosperous. Actually, this particular mill seems to have been quite well-lit.

On the lowest floor and the one above it, the walls are hung with works by Hockney, mostly prints, but, also some paintings. Much of the floorspace in the ground floor gallery is filled with tables containing merchandise for sale, including, appropriately, artists’ materials. On the second floor, there is a vast bookshop, also lined with works by Hockney.

The uppermost floor is a huge exhibition space without merchandise. Its walls were lined with Hockney’s pictures. They can be seen at their very best in this spacious hall supported by cast-iron pillars. This gallery leads to a café, where ‘light bites’ and drinks are available.

Beyond the café, there is a permanent display of objects relating to the history of Salt Mill. These include items such as: old factory equipment; examples of textiles produced; a dental chair from the factory’s own dental clinic; and a small fire-engine. On one wall there was an old notice informing workers what to do if fire broke out. This was printed in English, Italian, and Polish. The factory closed in 1986, long before Poland joined the European Union and the recent influx of working people from Poland. The existence of the Polish instructions suggests that even in the 1980s Bradford had a significant Polish population. According to an article published on a BBC website (in September 2014): “In the 1940s it was immigrants from Poland who came to Bradford. They viewed themselves as political émigrés so it was important to maintain a national identity, traditional ideas, values and customs, all of which were being suppressed in their homeland which was under Nazi rule.”



Some decorative porcelain in the museum bears the crest of the Salts family. It includes an alpaca, whose wool, combined with other animal’s fleeces, was an important contribution to the prosperity of Sir Titus’s family.  Near this display of porcelain, there is a cleverly devised portrait of Sir Titus made using fabric from which pieces have been removed selectively to produce the image.

We did not eat at the café, but at Salts Diner on the floor with the gallery/bookshop. The Diner’s menu cards and napkins are designed by David Hockney. The diner’s walls are lined with the artist’s works. We ordered two dishes: a smoked chicken with mango salad, and steak with chips and Béarnaise Sauce. We washed these down with a lovely beer specially created for the Saltaire Diner. Without hesitation, I can say that this was the best quality food that we have ever eaten in a café or restaurant attached to a museum or gallery.


Napkin with a drawing by David Hockney


Although there is no shortage of works by Hockney at the Salts Mill, I much preferred the smaller but exquisitely curated gallery of his art at nearby Cartwright Hall. However, a Hockney aficionado will be missing a great experience by not making the trip ‘up north’ to see the Hockney exhibits just outside Bradford.


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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

FRESTONIA lives again!




Overshadowed by the charred remains of Grenfell Tower (built in 1974 as part of the Lancaster West Estate), Freston Road runs close to Latymer Road Underground Station. During the early 1970s when tower blocks, such as the ill-fated Grenfell, were being built, Freston Road was a jumble of run-down, mostly vacant, Victorian dwellings.

Squatters moved into these empty houses in the early 1970s. When the Greater London Council (‘GLC’) wanted to redevelop the area that included Freston Road, all of the residents adopted the surname ‘Bramley’, so that the GLC would be faced with housing a very large family. When the Council threatened compulsory eviction at a meeting attended by more than 200 residents, the residents under threat declared that the area around Freston road should become an independent republic, separate from the UK. Thus, was born the ‘The Republic of Frestonia’ in 1977.

The Republic, which applied for membership of both the UN and the European Economic Community, survived for several years. Life in the ‘Republic’ was recorded in photographs by the photographer Tony Sleep. An exhibition of his beautiful photographs of life in Frestonia opened this evening (11th October 2017) at the Frestonia Gallery at 2 Olaf Street, W11 4BE. It will continue until 10th of November. The gallery is housed within the Peoples Palace (built 1902), which is almost the only remaining building amongst those which existed during the lifetime of the Republic.

In addition to the wonderfully composed black and white photographs, there are also display cases containing documents relating to the Republic. These include contemporaneous press-cuttings, the application to the UN, and special postage stamps issued by the Republic. The exhibition is a worthy homage to a fascinating episode in London’s complex history.


Tony Sleep with one of his photos projected behind him


The opening of the exhibition was a very special occasion. Not only was Tony Sleep present, but also some of the now ageing inhabitants the short-lived Republic.

This is an exhibition well worth visiting – not to be missed.



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Sunday, 8 October 2017

AN ALBANIAN CONDUCTOR IN LONDON



CONCERT 7th OCT 2017 AT ST STEPHENS CHURCH SW7 4RL

Last night (7th Oct 2017), I attended an orchestral concert performed by the London City Philharmonic, an orchestra whose players come from all over the world. The conductor was the Albanian Olsi Qinami, a founder of the orchestra. The programme, “Tales from the East”, consisted of music by eastern European composers with one exception.

The concert began with a sensitive rendering of Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances”. This was followed by Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei”, Adagio on Hebrew Melodies”. Bruch was not an Eastern European, having been born a Protestant in Cologne (in 1838). He was fond of using ‘exotic’ themes in his compositions. The piece for cello soloist and orchestra, which we heard last night looks eastwards in a romantic way at a prayer of the Ashkenazi Jews, which is recited at Yom Kippur. The cellist, Alexandra Fletcher, a Londoner, played beautifully.

These two well-known pieces were followed by two compositions, which deserve to be better-known. The first was a piano concerto (“Concerto for piano and orchestra in one movement”) by Fatos Lumani (born 1983), a Professor at the State University of Tetova in Macedonia. The soloist in this powerful, invigorating piece was Shkelzen Baftiari, an Albanian Macedonian who lives in Skopje (Macedonia). His playing of this complex composition was masterful. The orchestra accompanied him skilfully, seemingly with great ease given how difficult this piece is to perform.

The evening continued with an orchestral piece, “Arbereshes Sime”, by the Albanian composer Gerti Druga. He was born in Kuçovë (Albania) in 1986. The first part of this beautiful composition was based on the melody of a song sung by the Arbëreshë people, descendants of Albanians who escaped from the Ottomans in the 15th century and settled in Italy, where, to this day, they speak an archaic form of Albanian and maintain the traditions of their ancestors. During second half of the piece, the music livened up considerably. It reminded me, and I mean this in a positive way, of the best of the stirring propagandistic music that the former Communist regimes used to inspire their people. The orchestra was accompanied by Shkelzen Baftiari on the piano and featured solos by the orchestra’s leader, the Finnish-born violinist Alina Hiltunen. I was not alone in enjoying this piece; the audience loved it.

After the interval, the orchestra, as always directed skilfully by Olsi Qinami, gave a great performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4. Lasting just under an hour, the orchestra never flagged. Their account of this moving piece was exhilarating.

If you did not attend this concert, I feel sorry for you because you missed a great musical experience!


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