The Revolutionary Printer: review of ‘William Blake: Apprentice and Master’

The beauty of an exhibition at the Ashmolean is that it’s guaranteed to be on a manageable scale, seeing as they only have three large rooms for their temporary exhibition space. This must surely have presented some difficulties though when it came to planning their current show on William Blake: how can you possibly contain a man who was arguably the eighteenth century’s greatest visionary, a whirlwind of poetry and printing, polemic and prophecy, into three rooms?

The answer, of course, is that you can’t, and perhaps it is best not to try. So the Ashmolean has taken a single aspect of Blake’s multitudinous talents, and examined his journey as a printer, from his enrolment into drawing school at the age of ten, to his death in 1827. As an avid fan of Blake the poet from my student days, I confess I was disappointed that it didn’t feature more highly. However, it left the path for his equally important, but less celebrated innovations in printing.

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Prints of works by the Renaissance old masters, which the young Blake studied from. 

The first room, admittedly not wildly exciting, lays the groundwork for his later tastes: making copies of old Masters as an apprentice, and sketching medieval tombs in Westminster Abbey to make engravings from would later manifest itself in his taste for the Gothic. It is easy to imagine the teenage Blake sitting in the gloomth of that ancient sacred building, his imagination firing up and darting around in all directions as the statues he was sketching re-animated by the flicker of candle light. Several years after leaving the Royal Academy (where he endured a 6 year stint of formal teaching) he had become an enormous commercial success as a copy engraver. Had he been an ordinary man, content with this artistically modest measure of success, he and his wife might have lived out their lives in relative prosperity and the gradual oncoming of obscurity. However, Blake was the very antithesis of ordinary, and not content with copying other people’s work, he began his revolution in printing.

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An engraving, and corresponding print, of the tomb statuary of the Plantagenet Queen Philippa, drawn by Blake as an apprentice in Westminster Abbey. 

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Blake’s commercially successful print of Hogarth’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, in two stages.

The traditional method of etching learnt by Blake was to cover metal plate with an acid-resistant waxy ground, which the design would be etched into with an etching needle. The plate is then washed with acid, which bites into the exposed metal, leaving behind the design, and the remaining ground is washed off. However, Blake’s earliest printing innovation was to reverse this process: eclipsing the waxy ground altogether, he drew the design directly onto the metal plate using the acid as ink. This was his first experiment in bringing some of the freedom of the paintbrush to the printing process but he was to take it even further but inventing a new kind of colour printing. Using glue based pigments to paint the outline of the design directly onto the plate, the piece could then be finished after it had been printed in pen, ink and watercolour. During the 18th century there were in fact two standard colour printing techniques:

1. Ink a single plate with different colours, using a rag dauber.

2. Engrave different plates and print them one on top of the other in different colours. If one printed two colours on top of each other a greater colour range could be reached. This method allowed for greater precision, but was still difficult to perfect as the images had to be exactly lined up.

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An example of the second colour printing technique, by Christoph le Blon

However, with Blake’s innovative technique different effects could be achieved by scraping lines in thickly applied ink, or using a sponge to create texture; this brought the spontaneity of drawing without the predictability, making it an exciting new media. With this method he dispensed of etching altogether, simply painting directly onto the copperplate. As each impression became correspondingly thinner in ink, he would finish them by hand in watercolour, and so each print becomes entirely unique. Another innovation he began to employ was combining text and image on a single plate, which took many years to perfect.

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All Religions Are One And There Is No Natural Religion, c. 1788, a early example of Blake combining text and image in a single print.

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The Approach of Doom, c. 1787-89. Inspired by a vision of his dead brother, who suggested that Blake try a new approach to etching, this is a very early attempt at his reversed method.

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Details from three different versions of The House of Death, c.1795. The extent to which each print became an individual art work is evident when we examine the differences in the hand of the foreground figure, and the attitude of the background figure’s head.

 These techniques culminated in the production of Europe, one of Blake’s most famous prophecy-poems, which is displayed fantastically along one long wall in the exhibition, allowing the viewer to view them in sequence. The prints are truly exquisite in the flesh: he has perfected his backwards mirror writing, and the images have a richness and intensity of colour hitherto unseen in printing, a result of Blake adding a gluey paint mixture to the surface of the plate before printing, which gave it a more textured, three-dimensional surface. This method breathes life into his narrative of oppression and the dominance of reason over imagination, a thinly veiled criticism of eighteenth century London suffering the effects of war with France, the rise of commerce, and the tyranny of organised religion which sought to banish all sensuality. Also on display at the Ashmolean is a recreation of Blake’s study, helping us to imagine the artist feverishly bent over his enormous printing press, straining to create his illuminations, which would pull back the veil of hypocrisy shading the world and tell the truth about society.

Europe-plates

A selection of plates from Europe: A Prophecy.

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Blake’s reconstructed study at the Ashmolean exhibition.

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

The Architecture of Protest at the V&A’s ‘Disobedient Objects’

I visited the V&A ‘Disobedient Objects‘ on its last, oversubscribed last day at the beginning of this month, expecting to see plenty of makeshift gas masks, defaced walls and posters shouting righteous slogans. All of the above was in plentiful supply, but the real highlight of the exhibition for me was the unexpected role which architecture has had to play in the last 50 years of social activism. Social activism, moreover, which has played a vital role in shaping the society we live in today.

The exhibition entrance features drawings of barricades, and how they have changed over time.

The exhibition entrance features drawings of barricades, and how they have changed over time.

We all remember the year Occupy took the world by storm; it is perhaps the most widespread global protest in history and has been seized upon by a number of activists for any number of issues since its inception. In 2011, protestors in New York occupied Zucotti Park to denounce the growing inequality of wealth distribution in the wake of the global recession.  The camp was built with the skills and knowledge of its diverse inhabitants, including a working group of architects, ’123 Occupy’ (Greta Hansen, Kyung-Jae Kim, Andy Rauchut and Adam Koogler) who designed, amongst other things, an “Inflatable General Assembly”, a model of which was on display at the V&A. The architects imagined a space “made from human movement, as large or as small as the number of people who create and inhabit it.”

A model of 123Occupy's design for a General Inflatable Assembly (c) V&A

A model of 123Occupy’s design for a General Inflatable Assembly (c) V&A

The Occupy movement has grown and swelled its ranks as social discontent and protests have swept across Europe: the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul against an increasingly conservative and prohibitive government spawned “spontaneous” architecture all over the city: barricades, communal dining tables, an open air library and a speakers platform were amongst the structures recorded by Turkish architects in drawings for posterity, as they recognised their temporal nature. They said: “Creating a collective memory is really important when the government is trying to forget everything. The life cycles of these structures were really short so we had to document them. We believe it is a way of passive resistance. We keep remembering what happened in Taksim. In a way we merged the practice and protest by using architecture as a tool to critique.”

Also on display at the V&A was the Acampadasol map of the Indignados movement in Spain, showing the organic urban topography of protest. Motivated largely by the recession and ensuing budget cuts and rampant unemployment, the “Indignants” spoke out against Spain’s current party system, and the disconnect the people currently feel with it. This map helped activists to navigate themselves between different committee meetings in the Puerta del Sol camp in Madrid.

The Acampadasol map, the camp for the Indignados movement.

The Acampadasol map, the camp for the Indignados movement.

A quote from Archivo15, an activist group in Madrid documenting the protests, gives a feeling for the anarchic role urban topography could assume: “Madrid, May 2011. The crowd couldn’t believe it. Who needs them? Making drawings in the street, around the statues of dead kings, maps of places different to the ones we ‘should have in’ IN-SOL-ACTION!!! (Excuse us for ignoring your police lies, we are occupied taking over our squares).”

The scope of the V&A’s exhibition far extended this single aspect of protest, but it is arguably it’s most powerful, as it represents a manifestation of the protest itself, spreading through the streets and parks of our cities, breathing activism into the environment we live in.

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A road sign by Occupy Sandy. They took control of humanitarian aid for the people of New York city after the destruction wreaked by Hurriance Sandy, in the face an incompetent and insufficient government response.

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Advice guides for squatters and “revolutionaries” i.e. social activists clashing with the law.

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Guerrilla Girls banner and gorilla masks; a female group of artists who exposed racism, sexism and corruption in the 1980s art world.They use humour to engage people with their campaigns.

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1960s “bust cards”. Bust cards were pamphlets or cards produced by gay rights activists, giving homosexuals advice on what to do if there were arrested, and listing their rights.

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An arperilla: appliqued textiles produced by Chilean women to document the rife violence during Pinochet’s dictatorship. This example depicts a massacre carried out by paramilitaries during one night in the small Colombian village of Mampujàn.

Gay Bashers Banner

A banner challenging gaybashers to “come and get it”.

Badges Against Apartheid

Badges Against Apartheid

Stencil graffiti by Syrian artists of victims of the civil unrest and political regime there.

Stencil graffiti by Syrian artists of victims of the civil unrest and political regime there.

By Helena Louise Cuss

The Boundary Space Biscuit Experiment

When one of our interior designers returned from a  whirlwind weekend in Brussels last Monday, she was laden with edible treats to satisfy even the largest appetite. Probably most exciting though, was the array of speculoos biscuit products on offer: possibly one of few foods to come in both biscuit and spread form.  A week of experimental elevenses ensued, as we sought to find the best combinations, but first, let’s introduce the ingredients:

The Biscuit

The Lotus speculoos biscuit, thin with just the right amount of crunch and tasting delicately of burnt caramel and cinnamon, this is a favourite with hairdressers all over. Perhaps you recognise it from that little black tray you get accompanying your complimentary tea or coffee.

The Spread (Smooth)

The original Lotus spread, simply a mixture of biscuit and rapeseed oil. Smooth, silky, irresistible.

The Spread (Rough)

The same as above, but with crunchy bits of biscuit mixed in. Sandy.

The Spread (The Interloper)

You may have noticed that thus far this has been a mono-brand event. But here at Boundary Space we like to give everyone a fair hearing, so we threw a challenger into the mix: Jules Destrooper have produced their own version of the spread, blended with butter.

The Spread Contenders The Original Biscuit

The Verdict

Obviously all three spreads needed to be tried in their pure form, unadulterated by biscuit or toast. The Jules Destrooper was noticeably maltier than the Lotus versions, tasting more like digestives than speculoos. Mixed with butter instead of oil, the food snobs amongst us were surprised to find that that was not our favourite (although the writer may be swayed by her excessively sweet tooth).

Out with the new and in with the old then. In contrast the Lotus (smooth) tastes altogether more caramelly, more indulgent, and almost leaves a sort of fizzle on the tongue. The introduction of biscuity crunch into the second rendition was better than expected, adding a new dimension to the gastronomic experience.

Whilst the writer would prefer to always eat the spread like this, with just a teaspoon and a cup of green tea (to cancel out the calories, obviously), there were others in the studio who felt that there was an unmissable opportunity here: the speculoos bourbon. Two speculoos biscuits sandwiched together with spread, this is the ultimate speculoos creation: what was a dry biscuit has been transformed into a delicately buttery, creamy treat. As for me though, I’ll be putting it in my pancakes this evening. Happy eating!

The Spread Testers The Speculoos Bourbon

 

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

Debate: “City, Country or Suburb?” at the Royal Academy

Following on from the ’100 Years 100 Buildings‘ display, I attended a lively and vital debate this week as part of the RA’s Future of House season, where a panel of four experts thrashed out exactly where we should be building new houses. Chaired by the Architecture Programme’s manager Owen Hopkins, James Goff (Chairman of Stirling Ackroyd), Loretta Lees (Professor of Human Geography, University of Leicester), David Rudlin (Director of URBED and winner of 2014 Wolfson Prize for Economics) and Shaun Spiers (Chief Executive of Campaign to Protect Rural Britain) were each given five minutes to put forward their views before the discussion was opened up to the floor.

There were a plethora of arguments for and against building on each area: the claim that cities have been over-densified, warping their social diversity and equality provoked the counter-argument that London is currently back at its post-war population and could easily accommodate more; calls to protect the green belt were met with assertive recitals of statistics, that, for example, a new garden city would only be taking about 6% of green belt land; the opinion we should use green belt land to expand current cities not new ones prompted one speaker to say that suburbs were the “slums of the future” and expanding them was not an option. At one point an architect in the audience cried out almost hysterically that building on the green belt would encroach on agricultural land, and where would all our food come from???! (This was quickly stamped on by one of the speakers pointing out how much food we import).

The debate was further complicated by Lees’ assertion that, far from dividing the land into strict zones of city, suburb and country, it is no longer even relevant to see them as mutually exclusive anymore.  The gentrification of urban spaces, in London at least, brings a kind of kitsch ruralising of local areas; suburbs are becoming increasingly urban as residents want the convenience of inner city living without the environment. In fact, how much improvement does gentrification really bring to an area: in London, Lees argued, gentrification of run down areas has merely pushed the original inhabitants out of the price bracket to pave the way for middle classes. However, in Manchester, stated Rudlin, it brought back the middle classes who had left in droves and let the city fall into disrepair.

However, if there was one common villain here, it was the buy-to-let and right-to-buy systems and Cult of Property, which have caused the demolition of council estates, displaced its inhabitants to new towns miles away, and driven prices up for first time buyers, as well as leaving whole new tower blocks standing empty. Quite a list of crimes for the private sector. Sky-high land values were also revealed as a huge problem, and blamed for the poor quality and design of affordable housing in the UK; land in London is now worth 2000% more than it was in the 1970s, and it is easy to see that house builders are having to spend most of their budget on that, rather than the building itself.

So what are the options for mitigating a housing crisis which appears to be at the top of every political party’s agenda in the run up to this election? Planning, it was unanimously agreed, needs to be reformed. The cult of property needs to be undermined and the government needs to start taking responsibility for building decent homes that aren’t going to be demolished in 50 years and stop allowing demolitions that amount to little more than slum clearances. Land needs to be decommodified, and we need to foster growth in the relationship between property and social mobility, which appears to stagnated by at new methods of building such as self-builds. And, controversial though it is, we need to protect the green belt, because it stops the city sprawling out into endless no man’s lands of suburbs with no character or defining architecture.

On one thing we can all agree: we need more housing, and the time is ripe for change.

Click here to see the rest of the Royal Academy’s Future of Housing season.

 

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

Review: 100 Years of British Modern Architecture at the Royal Academy

You might have visited the Royal Academy this winter for one of their major retrospectives: the revelatory Giovanni Battista Moroni exhibition, controversial Allen Jones or iconic contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer, but did you catch the short and sweet display of British modern architecture? ’100 Buildings for 100 Years: Views of British Architecture since 1914′ was made in partnership with the Twentieth Century Society, an organisation responsible for preserving much of our last century’s most important buildings.

In the case of British architecture, the last century was as turbulent as it was triumphant, and this is aptly reflected in the choices for each year made by supporters of the Twentieth Century Society. Ranging from iconic public concert halls and libraries to vernacular housing blocks and factories, this is a true survey of Britain’s buildings, great and …. not so great. This is partly accounted for by the fact that buildings were chosen not necessarily for their prominence and eminence, but for the connections people have to them, and the fascination they now hold for us looking back in hindsight.

There were of course all the London-centric triumphs of modernism which you might expect to be on display, and deservedly so, for these buildings have helped define our present cultural identity: Battersea Power Station, the BT Tower, the British Library, Lloyds, the Barbican, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, the Royal Festival Hall; in fact the whole of the South Bank could have been one item on the list. However, there are lesser-known gems dotted in amongst these titans,  which are in greater need of the spotlight.

78 Derngate, Northampton, 1919

Built by William Mobbs, plumber and glazier, in 1815, this Georgian townhouse is actually notable for its dramatic interior remodelling by Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916. Archetypally Art Deco, and yet startlingly modern, the dining room is a riot of yellow and gold stencilling on sombre brown panelled walls, and similarly stylised furniture, curtains and items proliferate the house, many designed by Mackintosh himself.

78 Derngate, Northampton, 1919 (c) 78 Derngate

78 Derngate, Northampton, 1919 (c) 78 Derngate

“House in the Clouds”, Thorpeness, Suffolk, 1923

This extraordinarily proportioned house, standing at 70 ft, was originally built to house Thorpeness’s water tank, it was devised as a way of disguising what is usually an unattractive structure, turning it into something whimsical. When it was renovated into a house it was rather aptly redesigned for a children’s writer, Mrs Malcolm Mason, who dubbed it “the house in the clouds, reflecting it’s fairytale like aura. Nowadays anyone can rent it out as a holiday home.

House in the Clouds, Suffolk, 1923 (c) Sylvia Le Comber

House in the Clouds, Suffolk, 1923 (c) Sylvia Le Comber

Shredded Wheat Factory, Welwyn, 1926

This building represents the conflation of country and city: built in a garden city (Welwyn), it nonetheless embodies the commercial industrialisation of the early twentieth century. It’s a structure which I feel evokes nostalgia in the viewer, especially as the buildings have now fallen derelict, unused and unloved.

Shredded Wheat Factory, Welwyn, 1926 (c) Elain Harwood

Shredded Wheat Factory, Welwyn, 1926 (c) Elain Harwood

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, 1935

Set into the foyer floor of this pavilion is a plaque reading: “A modernist building of world renown that will become a crucible for creating a new model of cultural provision in an English seaside town which is going to lead to the growth, prosperity and the greater culture of our town”. This was in 1935, and since then the De La Warr Pavilion has become one of our most iconic Modernist buildings. It is especially fitting that it was in fact one of the first truly Modernist public buildings to be erected in this country, shaking up the sleep Southern coast.

De la Warr Pavilion, East Sussex, 1935 (c) Alan Powers (c) C20 Society

De la Warr Pavilion, East Sussex, 1935 (c) Alan Powers (c) C20 Society

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, 1944

Significant for its story more than its aesthetic, this rather incongruous chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war in 1944, using scrap materials and two Nissen huts. These humble materials were transformed by artists, electricians and metal workers amongst the prisoners, who created trompe l’oeil painted walls, colour glass windows and a decorative facade.

Italian Chapel, Orkney, 1944 (c) Philip Paris

Italian Chapel, Orkney, 1944 (c) Philip Paris

Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre, North Yorkshire, 1992

A visitor’s centre might be a surprising choice for a list such as this, but this one in North Yorkshire proved that utilitarian buildings could also be aesthetically linked to their landscapes and surrounding, juxtaposing bold Modernist  lines (a dramatic diagonal slant for a roof blends into an organic curved roof), and dry stone external walls, set against grassy hills. Uncompromisingly modern, it also manages to respect and converse with its pastoral and historic surroundings.

Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre, North Yorkshire, 1992 (c) Richard Learoyd

Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre, North Yorkshire, 1992 (c) Richard Learoyd

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Oxfordshire, 2013

This building’s abstruse elliptical exterior gives it the mysterious air of a monument to an obscure occult religion but perhaps this aura is fitting for its use as a chapel for Ripon Theological College. Upon entering, one is confronted with the breathtaking architecting of light, which enters through an upper ring of glass and filters down through oblique sources to produce a dappled effect, much like sunlight through trees, so that the chapel appears to breathe as the light outside changes. The interior structure is crystalline, 34 timber columns stretch up from the floor to develop intersecting branches at the ceiling, creating a kind of canopy.

Bishop King Edward Chapel, Oxfordshire, 2013 (c) Niall McLaughlin, (c) Nick Kane

Bishop King Edward Chapel, Oxfordshire, 2013 (c) Niall McLaughlin, (c) Nick Kane

 

To see the complete series, click on the link below:

http://www.c20society.org.uk/100-buildings/

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

Showcase: Architect@Work, Kensington Olympia

Last week we visited the Architect@Work exhibition in Kensington Olympia, which showcased some of the most recent innovations in the industry. Here are 5 of our favourites:

Sensory Sky by Dornbracht

The exhibit most hotly anticipated by the Boundary Space team, Dornbracht’s Sensory Sky rain shower aims to “stimulate all the senses”. Inspired by natural elements and weather, it has choregraphed patterns of warm rain, light, fog and essential oil aromatherapy to make you feel like you’re showering in the open air. With cool minimalist design, this is what we all want in our bathrooms for 2015.

Water Light Graffiti by Antonin Fourneau, in co-production with Art2M

Probably our highlight of the night, Antonin Fourneau has created a wall of LEDs which light up when they come into contact with water. Defying the common perception that water and electricity are incompatible, and definitely the most playful innovation of the night, we spent quite some time with the paintbrush and de-ionised water, marvelling as our names appeared in lights.

Antonin Fourneau Water Light Graffiti

Antonin Fourneau Water Light Graffiti

Magnetic Architecture by Space Group Architects

On first impressions filthy pane of glass with magnets stuck on it, Space Group Architects have created a magnetically controlled “fluid metal” sandwiched between two glass panes, which can be manipulated by sliding the magnets around. It’s a novel and exciting way to control light transmission, solar reflection, privacy and colour.

Space Group Architects

Space Group Architects

Magnetic Architecture

Magnetic Architecture

Cast Iron Prototype by 6a architects

6a architects presented a prototype of a cast iron panel installed with resounding success in Paul Smith’s Mayfair store, and exhibited at the Design Museum for its nomination for Design of the Year 2014. Inspired by the ubiquitousness of cast iron on London streets it is a blend of historical design (the pattern is based on a Regency balustrade), digitally modelled and manufactured through several complicated processes, the design merges London’s past with design technology’s future.

6a architects Cast Iron Prototype

6a architects Cast Iron Prototype

Handmade Portuguese Ceramics by New Terracotta

Handmade by Portuguese craftsman practiced in the art of Azulejo, New Terracotta ceramics has produced a line of beautiful tiles by combining traditional techniques with modern aesthetics. The collection ranges in palette and colour, from the “Basic” and “Matt” colours, to the more unusual “Oxide Explosions” and “Special Firing” effects. We particularly loved the “Vintage Metallics” though, with crackled ‘Old Gold’ and sultry ‘Black Nickel Eruption’.

New Terracotta Portuguese tiles

New Terracotta Portuguese tiles

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

Inside View: Lloyds of London

Last week Boundary Space gained access to one of the most famous City buildings, a skyscraper whose towering status has endured since its unveiling, despite the fact that it has long been overtaken in physical stature by its peers.

A scale model of Lloyds, housed at the top of the building

A scale model of Lloyds, housed at the top of the building

Lloyds of London in its current manifestation was built in 1986 and confirmed architect Richard Rogers’ mounting acclaim. After multiple reincarnations in its 327 year history due to its perennial expansion, Lloyds charged Rogers with the task of designing a building which they would never grow out of, and he responded by designing an archetypal Bowellist building which would be the youngest building ever to receive Grade I listed status.

We were met in the unassuming foyer by our tour guide, the excellent Peter Fletcher, who guided us through the barriers into a magnificent atrium stretching up 14 floors. Faces all round were a little crestfallen when he began by warning us that the tour would be focusing mainly on Lloyds’ insurance history rather than the iconic building we had come to visit (they don’t usually take architects around).

Views of the Atrium, including the roof, the escalators and The atrium and the top of the Rostrum, which houses the Lutine Bell

Views of the Atrium, including the roof, the escalators and The atrium and the top of the Rostrum, which houses the Lutine Bell

However, for anyone who might suspect insurance of being a dull topic, I am here to enlighten you: Lloyds of London, the biggest centre of insurance in the world, had its humble beginnings  in seventeenth-century coffee house culture, set against a dramatic backdrop of piracy and shipwrecks. In 1688 Edward Lloyd set up a coffee house next to the Tower of London, where ship owners , merchants and sailors would gather as the ships came into dock, and rapidly gained a reputation for having the newest and best shipping news and gossip. As British Empire and slave trade rose, so did the need for insurance against disastrous weather and pirates, Lloyd’s quickly became the place to carry out business.

"Boxes" in the Underwriting Room

“Boxes” in the Underwriting Room

The Lutine Bell, recovered from a lost ship in 1858, and traditionally rung when ship's sank.; View of the Lutine Bell in the Underwriting Room

View of the Lutine Bell in the Underwriting Room; The Lutine Bell in the Rostrum, recovered from a lost ship in 1858, and traditionally rung when ships sink.

The coffee house formation of booths for individual meetings, which could be easily passed between, is clearly reflected in the current building’s design: the ground floor and several floors above are all open-plan, filled by the “boxes” (nowadays desks) where the underwriters are waited upon by the brokers bustling up and down the aisles. Combine this with Cold War-esque concrete pillars and light grids, a dazzling glass house roof presiding over the 18th century Lutine Bell, and escalators with exposed innards, and you have an atmosphere that at once breathes history and modernism, both looking back and ever moving forward.

View of the external staircases at Lloyds, and London

View of the external staircases at Lloyds, and London

A view of the City from Lloyds, with Canary Wharf in the distance

A view of the City from Lloyds, with Canary Wharf in the distance

Pipes going from interior to exterior

Pipes going from interior to exterior

A sliver of Gherkin, view from the lift

A sliver of Gherkin, view from the lift

The top of the glass atrium

The top of the glass atrium

Looking down into the centre of Lloyds from the top

Looking down into the centre of Lloyds from the top

View of London and St Paul's Cathedral from the upper floors

View of London and St Paul’s Cathedral from the upper floors

Exposed machinery in escalators at Lloyds

Exposed machinery in escalators at Lloyds

The famous glass lifts on the outside of the building, the first of their kind in London

The famous glass lifts on the outside of the building, the first of their kind in London

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

Review: Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, at the National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG 1078; William Morris by George Frederic Watts

Portrait of William Morris, G.F. Watts, 1870

2. morris by frederic hollyer

Portrait of William Morris, Frederic Hollyer, 1887

This week I visited the National Portrait Gallery’s William Morris spectacular: Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy.  The exhibition successfully displays Morris’s own unique and extensive talents (textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, social activist, Pre-Raphaelite associate, publisher), whilst equally revealing how he informed and inspired the artistic practices of successive generations and of most domestic design since his death; the exhibition takes us right up to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Most welcome is the theme of political activism that runs throughout the exhibition, and for which Morris is as well known as he is for his contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement; in our current atmosphere of political apathy and disappointment, it’s refreshing to remember how far we’ve come since Morris’s time, and to note that art and design played an active role in manufacturing change. For example, on display are suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst‘s Angel of Freedom design for the Women’s Social and Political Union imprinted on Suffragette paraphernalia, as well as Walter Crane‘s banner designs for trade unions.

 Wallpaper by William Morris

‘Daisy’ wallpaper by William Morris

4. WSPU badge

The Angel of Death designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, on a WSPU badge

It’s also invigorating to visit an exhibition with a healthy portion of female subjects:  Arts and Crafts were particularly open-minded and democratic for their time and the curator Fiona MacCarthy has used this exhibition highlight women whose achievements had previously been overshadowed by those of their male contemporaries: from Mary Lowndes (a suffragette-turned-stained glass artist), Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl the Communist) all the way to Lucienne Day, whose instantly recognisable Calyx fabric hangs proudly behind Terence Conran‘s famous basket-weave cone chair. For inhabitants of West London, and for the Boundary Space studio (based as we are in Fulham), there is a particular local interest in this story as well. Morris lived at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith (which can be visited today) and also ran his political activism from that area by setting up the Hammersmith Socialist League there, (on display at NPG is Morris’s membership card designed by Walter Crane) and inspired William De Morgan, an bourgeois gentleman who took up ceramics and was directed by Morris to the Fulham Pottery at Sands End, just around the corner from our base in Fulham Palace, where he created the beautiful lustreware vase on display in the exhibition.

5. The_church_of_SS_Peter_and_Paul_in_Shropham_-_stained_glass_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1761429

Stained glass window at the church of SS Peter and Paul in Shropham, by Mary Lowndes

6. calyx and cone chair

Calyx fabric by Lucienne Day, and cone chair by Terence Conran, on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London

7. kelmscott-house-body

Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, London

The exhibition is an unusual one for the NPG as it includes very few actual portraits of Morris at all; he famously hated his own image and banned mirrors from his house. However, insofar as it is a portrait of a great man and his legacy, it is enormously successful. One leaves the exhibition with the feeling that yes, life would be improved if it centred around the simple satisfaction of artisanal creation. Our advanced technologies, shiny sparkly consumerism and sophisticated metropolitan lives are all very well, but truly Morris must have been right when he categorically stated that happiness and contentment are to be found in the unity of man and nature, and the pride in manually labouring over an object of great beauty and/or utility. If this has proved unachievable in a post-modern society though, at least Morris’s main dream has been realised for the most part: that anyone, regardless of class, race or gender, can have good design in their homes and access to beauty. He famously urged us to “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”, and this challenge was taken up by Terence Conran some 80 years later when he opened the first Habitat store on the British high street in 1964.  It seems odd that we can trace something so commercial and mundane to an artist and craftsman of the highest standing, political activist and theoretician to boot. But this is Morris’s charm: he refused separate high art from everyday lives, and for this, we should be thankful.

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William Morris’s membership card for the Hammersmith Socialist League, designed by Walter Crane

9. bottle kiln at fulham pottery today

The Bottle Kiln at Fulham Pottery today

Anarchy & Beauty. William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960 exbibition, National Portrait Gallery, London, Britain - 15 Oct 2014

Lustreware pot by William de Morgan

The exhibition runs until 11 January 2015.

By Helena Louise Cuss

The Boundary Space Christmas Party

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The Drawing Room at Sir John Soanes Museum

As I settle into the first working day of 2015, I find myself thinking over the festivities of  December. Last month saw the annual Boundary Space Christmas party , which was positively marathonic for 2014! Beginning with lunchtime drinks and nibbles at the studio, we made our way to the Sir John Soanes Museum for a curator-led tour. As dusk fell over Lincoln’s Inn Fields, we moved through the extraordinary interior in gathering gloom, artefacts lit here and there with flickers of light. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the wonderfully preserved works of art in Soanes’ very own picture gallery, including Hogarth’s famous satire the Rake’s Progress, and Canaletto’s spectacular views of Venice. Finally we plumbed the depths of his “death room” in the basement, where he had collected hundreds of artefacts from the ancient world to do with the afterlife, culminating in a magnificent Egyptian sarcophagus carved all over with intricate heiroglyphs.

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Sir John Soanes Museum, London

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The Picture Gallery at Sir John Soanes Museum, with view of Canaletto painting

A speedy Uber took us next to Arbutus Restaurant in Soho, where even the biggest appetites were sated by an inventive and unusual menu, and the most unadventurous eaters found something to tickle their taste buds. I can personally recommend, nay insist upon you trying, the crispy pig’s head starter, a melt in the mouth square of deep-fried terrine, so succulent and flavoursome that it may have almost reduced me to tears. This was followed by a juicy cod fillet accompanied by crispy chicken, cevennes onions and artichokes, a perfectly balanced dish. Many finished with the festively rich pear clafoutis, and we all struggled to eat the petits fours, although special mention must go to the banoffee macarons!

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Arbutus Restaurant, Frith Street, Soho

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Roast Cod with Crispy Chicken and Asparagus at Arbutus Restaurant, Soho

Milk and Honey

The bar at Milk & Honey, Soho, London

A quick pit-stop at London’s famous members cocktail club Milk and Honey had us all refreshed and ready for the finale of the evening: an invitation to the Cheevers Howard Christmas Party atop the Shard at the Viewing Platform. Many of us had visited the restaurants on the middle floors of the building, but nothing could prepare us for the resplendent views of London from the 69th floor. With the city’s many famous skyscrapers glittering below us, and the river parting the metropolis, we danced, drank champagne and enjoyed the novelty of a loo with a view! Tired but well-satisfied, we returned to work the next day armed with biscuits and dressed in our best Christmas jumpers for an end to our festivities.

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View of South London from the Shard

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View of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and East London from the Shard

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The top of the Shard Building, from the Viewing Platform

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The Boundary Space Team at the Shard

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The Boundary Space team at the Cheevers & Howard Launch Party, at the Shard Viewing Platform

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View of the Thames and Central London from the Shard: Blackfriars Bridge, the Millenium Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and the London Eye

London from Shard

View of London Bridge Railway Station from the Shard

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View of London Bridge, the Heron Tower and the ‘Cheesegrater’ Building (Leadenhall Building)

 By Helena Louise Cuss

 

Disclaimer Note: Images of Sir John Soanes Museum, Arbutus and Milk & Honey do not belong to Boundary Space.

Review: Picasso Museum Paris

I recently visited the Picasso Museum in Paris which has just re-opened after a problematic and controversial 5 year renovation.  After so long a wait, the museum opening is the highlight of the 2014 French cultural calendar. It finally opened on 25th October to mark Picasso’s birthday.

Marred by controversy and delays the renovation was rapidly becoming an embarrassment for France.  The intervention of the French Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti and the notorious sacking of Baldassari, the long-time Director, were the denouement of an increasingly  farcical plotline.  The renovation and expansion, which should have taken 2 years, overran by 3 years and went 30 million Euros over budget.

Such a buzz surrounds the museum’s long-anticipated re-opening that queueing starts early in the morning and continues throughout the day.  There is an atmosphere of excitement, with the line snaking around the enclosed Baroque courtyard (on a mercifully sunny day!).

Picasso Museum Queue

Picasso Museum Facade

The museum is housed in the 17th century Hotel Salé one of the grandest and most beautiful old Parisian townhouses.  It is in the Marais, a historic quartier of the city which was untouched by Hausmann’s renovations, and is one of the few areas to retain a feel of the old Paris, with several grand aristocratic buildings from the 17th century clustered around the original medieval street plan. The building has always seemed an unusual choice to house Picasso’s works.  His oeuvre looks strikingly contemporary even today, yet it is housed within one of Paris’ grandest historic buildings.  This provides an interesting backdrop to a body of work which at times draws on the past, and at other times disruptively breaks from it.  The building, like Picasso’s work itself, presents multiple facets and shifting personalities, with sudden, dramatic transitions from Roland Simounet’s modernist white boxes to the opulent grandeur of the historic building, and in particular the Hotel Salé’s masterpiece: the central stairway.

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IMG_1924  The renovation set out to bring the museum in line with new regulation, hugely increase the exhibition space and alter and improve the flow of visitors through the building.  One of the main priorities was also the careful and thorough restoration of the 17th century building.

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After 40 minutes of queuing we got inside.  Upon entering you are struck by the very minimalist, modern and open feel of the interior space; and the dramatic contrast with the embellished 17th century façade.  Every work in the museum is given generous wall space, able to be appreciated individually as well as in the light of the other works in the room. The curation of the exhibition is another aspect of it’s re-opening which has stirred up some controversy. The collection is vast, comprising of 5000 works, and very broad, with examples of work from Picasso’s entire working life, ranging from preparatory sketches to finished masterpieces.  Given to the museum by Picasso’s family, the collection comprises an interesting selection of works: those Picasso could not sell and those he did not want to part with.  In this sense too it is wide-ranging, from his most to his least accomplished work, and gives a real insight into how an artist works and the process behind a finished masterpiece – this was Baldassari’s vision.

Baldassari, one of the world’s leading Picasso scholars of whom Picasso’s son is a staunch supporter, was given the task of curating the inaugural exhibition, in spite of being sacked as museum director. She has chosen a thematic curation, exploring thematic and stylistic ties present across Picasso’s entire body of work.  This is often interesting and engaging, but occasionally obscure and confusing, particularly given the lack of any accompanying explanatory text.

From the first room the chronology jumps wildly, from Picasso’s earliest years painting at the age of 14, to works composed at the end of his life. Initially confusing, this takes some time to get used to.  Apparently (we never saw it) there is an brochure available which explains the curation, but it is not made obvious.  Without any guidance, we were groping in the dark trying to understand the curation and what it was trying to achieve.  This reaction, however, may be precisely Baldassari’s intention.  A visitor on a quest for understanding is far more engaged and active than one who has been told what to think or understand.

In some rooms the arrangement is more obvious, for instance, the room dedicated to preparatory sketches for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, or the room of self-portraits.  Other rooms are more ambiguous.  However, while we were not always able to pinpoint the theme precisely, there was, evident in each room, a pervasive ‘mood’ or an aesthetic resonance which lent some coherence to an often disparate collection of works.

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With no contextual information provided, Picasso’s works are viewed in a vacuum.  They are not shown in the context of artistic movements or historical events, but only in the context of eachother and the artist himself.  The building emphases this. With no contextual relevance, and neither old nor new, it sets Picasso’s work in a timeless isolation; located in the great cultural tradition of France, but without historical reference point.  The only glimpses of cultural context come when you reach the top floor.  Here are a few rooms housing paintings by other artists – part of Picasso’s personal art collection.

M. Le Bon describes the museum’s collection as an “ocean” and here at last is an anchor.  These works interested and influenced Picasso, and suddenly much of what came before makes sense in a broader art historical context rather than a purely aesthetic one.  These were Picasso’s great masters – there are works by Matisse, Derain, Renoir, Jean Miro etc.  Pieces by Picasso which show direct influence from one of these works are hung alongside their counterpart. Here, finally we see Picasso, not isolated in a vacuum, but as an active, engaged participant in an exciting artistic dialogue and ongoing narrative; a participant responding, reacting and carrying forward.

Having some prior knowledge of Picasso before visiting the museum certainly helps.  This is not the place to learn dates or facts about his life, but rather to gain an understanding of his artistic force.  You do not learn about him, but you do learn him. Baldassari draws together threads, which are woven into a complex, energetic, chaotic, relentless artistic mind.  This is not a chronological archive of Picasso’s life – a chapter in a closed book – this is a journey through the mind of the artist; this is Picasso himself, and here he is alive.

Perhaps what Baldassari’s curation really tells us about Picasso’s collection and artistic production, is that it cannot and should not be neatly ordered and contained.  It is a whole lifetime full of ideas and random moments of artistic inspiration. In this sense the collection suits the building.  It jumps from old to new and locates itself in neither, it is unpredictable, surprising and contradictory.  It seems timeless. This space embodies Picasso and the multiple facets of his life and work.  As Le Bon says: “La chance du musée, c’est de montrer Picasso sous toutes ses facettes. Il faut se laisser plonger dans cet ocean”. [The museum has the opportunity to show the many facets of Picasso. Let yourself dive into this ocean].