Friday, May 05, 2006

Bertie Berlin... and Last Weekend

Bank Holiday Saturday was a bit of a right-off... which was a shame as I did want to go to Duckie, but only the spirit was willing. The weekend had started with lashings of lager beer (what a surprise!).... as I was lured at lunchtime by my friend Big Nose. We put the world to rights outside a tiny Olde City pub behind Aldgate in the sunshine over several freezing Carling Extra-Colds... Friday evening I'm ashamed to say we did more of the same with the added pleasure of Mrs Big Nose in attendance at Ye Olde Watling by St. Pauls. It's tres Dickensian: lots of dark corners and old wood. If you're ever looking for a pub near St. Paul's go there instead of one of the blond-wood brigade in the new Paternoster Sq.

I did however purchase a fantastic pair of Raybans in Selfridges (part of my grand plan to revive 'The Glove' photo-shoot fashion: polka-dots, shades, white jackets, and tiger tooth necklaces) but I did get to spend the rest of the day on the sofa (wearing said Raybans) with a bunch of art magazines and Bertie Marshall's new book 'Berlin Bromley'. I've been waiting for this to come out since the reviews started appearing weeks ago (how annoying is it when stuff you want gets reviewed ages in advance !!) and anything club-cultural generally has me hooked.

Bertie (or rather Berlin) was a Bowie fanatic 'Scenester and Rent Boy' and an original member of the Bromley Contingent. He was befriended by the pre-Banshees Siouxsie and Steve Severin. Siouxsie is referred to as SS throughout the majority of the book but not all of it... I don't know whether that's Berlin's pet name for her or perhaps she sues..... Anyway, they hung out at Louises Club and Seditionaires and idolised Cabaret and Christiane F and danced the nite away at Sombrero's on Ken High St and clipp-clopped their way around the West End in a haze of Vodka and Purple Hearts.

The book lurches from Bromley to Soho and back again and there are some lovely moments especially if you're a Banshees fan. I met Siouxsie and Budgie once at an Alan Bennett play of all places at the Piccadilly Theatre. Budgie was chatty and we discussed the lighting and the sets, Siouxsie floated up, all long black fur and gauloise, saying 'Who's it TOO?'... which was slightly embarrassing as I hadn't asked for an autograph and nor would I but we had a good chat for half an hour or so. Once she'd stopped being Joan Collins I enjoyed her lively mind but I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how interesting she was. I remember being struck by her big beautiful face, like a large square moon.

Anyway back to Bertie Berlin... Boy George lends his celebrity endorsement having written the forward... Amazingly there are a few spelling mistakes and the page-and-a-half chapters don't seem to work after a while (it sort of feels as though it was left unedited); there aren't any pictures either which is a shame cos that would add a lot in terms of texture and I bet he's got tons of great ones. In fact the only pic is the one Steve Severin took on the cover in which Berlin is posing on a bed in a kind of half-drag (but with hairy legs).

Berlin's early rent boy scenes are pretty brutal and the book really does only focus on about two years of Berlin's life experience and I wanted to know more about what happened to him afterwards. There is an epilogue however and he actually travels to Berlin for the first and only time, the place that fostered and informed his attitude and personal culture, probably to recoup something of his earlier energies or at least to connect in some way with the place that so much of what moulded him came from but he seems downbeat and depressed and is running out of funds. We don't really get to find out what happened to him between the two years covered by the book and the recent depression of a squat in Berlin with no money, no fags and no german and probably the crushing realisation that you never get the carefree years back.

It's punchy and short (which suits me due to my damaged attention span) and very readable. It's got BAGS of atmosphere and although I've read quite a lot about 'that scene' it was interesting to read something believable and in the first person rather than something ghosted or distant. I think to call it the 'Post Punk Naked Civil Servant' (as it says on the cover) is being a bit generous... the Marketing Dept I guess. But it's published by SAF, who I think are pretty cool having published 'England's Hidden Reverse' about David Tibet, Coil, Throbbing Gristle and that rather astonishing cast of avant-garde characters so it's worth investigating for that alone.

Artistically I am currently wrestling with collage. I'm up to my neck in repeated images of blown up childhood photos, holidays, my brother and sister, the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, model villages and pixie houses with 5' high boards and enough spraymount to asphixiate a small city.

I completed a HUGE repeated image of a photograph of the Boscastle flooding on Sunday while G was at 'the last home game of the season' (whatever THAT is). I felt emotionally pulled by this large printed riot and set about attacking the board with paint.

I have had some success with my collage explorations and I maintain that the only way to make something worth looking at is to to go mildly mad behind closed doors and lose youself. Normal people would call it 'getting into it'... I mean I make car noises when I paint street scenes for god's sake. Idiot child or serious artist?! Probably idiot child.

Talking about going mildly mad, on Monday we went to Gothic Nightmares at 'Ye Olde Tatey' which thankfully we caught on it's last day... it's a lavish show (but closed now so no point in raving about it) centred around the darkly romantic paintings of Fuseli, William Blake and other loony visionaries. It didn't really tell me anything new, and I'd seen almost all the Blake's before. I was looking forward to finding out more about the connection between literature and dark gothicky painting, but the show didn't really expand on that. I was surprised quite how much the dark romance seeped into popular culture with cartoonists and satirists borrowing well known art-imagery for their cartoonic ends. I guess the print culture was massive and people would have known the paintings from prints that would have been all over the place. I hadn't seen the Fuseli's much and was struck by how practised they were. He's a better painter than Blake for sure, but while Fuseli has technique in spades he didn't have Blake's vision. This was apparent in the last room of the show called 'Revelations' as in the 'Book of'. It was obvious that Blake HAD seen all this stuff, Angels and Devils, or thought he had. He had the ability to see beyond the usual, whereas Fuseli could copy it and inject some playful imagination. I still adore bonkers William Blake.

We also saw the Tate Triennial, which I wasn't expecting to enjoy as it's had such bad reviews. They do it every three years and it's all about new developments in British art and although she's one of my cultural heroes quite what Cosi Fanni Tutti is doing amongst this gang of mid-30-somethings is beyond me! But I was THRILLED to see her... But I would suggest that it's not one for the fainthearted. From the website:-

"For this Triennial, Cosey Fanni Tutti presents her live actions from the late seventies. During this period, she consciously utilised the pornography industry as an apparatus to convey multiple identities. Modelling in the sex industry was one aspect of a wider art project. As founding member of the performance art group COUM Transmission and the Industrial band Throbbing Gristle, Tutti's changing self-image was deployed equally in the worlds of art, music and pornography.

Some of the material you will see beyond this wall was first displayed in 1976 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London in an exhibition entitled Prostitution mounted by COUM Transmission. Tutti's accompanying captions provide an anecdotal chronicle of and reflections on her lived experience".

I never ever thought I'd see stuff from 'Prostitution'. Cosey was/is terrifically brave and the work is powerfully self-exposing. It must have caused such an outcry at the time.

Needless to say I had to give more than one person a 'Paddington Bear Stare' for nervous tittering...

It's on until 14th May.