Saturday, September 26, 2009

Private Quarters

August Strindberg has been at the back of my mind, like a stern shadow of Northern European wind-chill, since the show at Tate Modern four years ago. I occasionally pick up the catalogue, particularly when I want to look at really free, small-scale painterly landscape. Somehow his worked is twinned in my mind with the young German painter Uwe Henneken whose work is little known in this country but who shows frequently in New York and Berlin, and whose non-figurative works are sometimes strikingly similar. Henneken also uses the form of the oval and and paints landscapes with foregrounds that inhabit the edges of the picture, that look like a doorway, a surround. Landscape as gateway. I look at reproductions of their work together; turning pages simultaneously. They shed light on each other.

I was recently in Stockholm, land of Strindberg, and took the opportunity to visit Strindberg's apartment, now preserved as a museum. Strindberg lived in some 25 apartments in Stockholm however the Strindbergsmuset is the last surviving and where he spent his final years before his death in 1912.

The apartment at the top of a grand house, reached by rickety old lift, but I preferred to take the stairs. An adjoining flat is a museum proper, with paintings and papers, posters of Strindberg plays and props in display cases. There is also a small bookshop and on a separate floor the Strindberg library, but the flat is what people really come to see.

You have to put covers over your shoes and you enter into a small hallway, off which is a tiny neat bathroom. The flat is dark, bookish, masculine; it comprises only three small rooms, and would be musty if it were not so well kept. There is a hushed reverential atmosphere as tourists, a handful at a time, pad through the preserved three rooms in their big plastic slippers. A sign tells you the furnishings are mostly replias, as close to the originals as possible, but that the furniture and books, the fixtures and fittings, are all Strindberg's.

I enjoyed looking around the sitting room, which with its piano and dining table looks like it has played host to a thousand earnest conversations. It is all dark reds and greens, brass gas lamps, and heavy drapery. The scene of a séance. I inspected the writing desk, which is as he left it but I was beginning to feel voyeuristically ghoulish. We were at one stage alone in the flat, but even so I was beginning to have the very odd sensation that I was being watched, and when I turned into the bedroom, that most personal of spaces, I apologised inwardly to Mr Strindberg. The flat is interesting, but I'm not so sure how valuable it is to look over a dead artist's effects; I realy felt as though I was intruding.


Drottninggatan 85
11160 Stockholm

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kettles Yard

In 1993 I went to Cambridge for a day-out with Peter Ackroyd, who was writing a catalogue essay on my paintings. I remember enjoying the Fitzwilliam Museum, though I scarcely appreciated it then, and Kettles Yard, former home of Jim Ede, champion of the avant-garde and author of one the best books on an artist, Savage Messiah: the memoir of Gaudier-Brezeska. I revisited Cambridge recently, at the invitation of a friend, and found Ede’s house more magical than I remembered. It is only open for a couple of hours a day, just as it was when Ede lived there. It is actually three small cottages knocked together to make one rambling space and you ring a tinkling bell on a pull-cord to gain entry. It is a gentle place, all natural wood, pale creams and off-whites; grey stones are arranged artfully on table-tops and the bay windows are hung with lights and crystals so that when the sun is shining beads of light reflect around the creamy whiteness. It is left much as Ede enjoyed it, and best visited on a hot summer’s day when it turns into a place of cool refuge.

It houses Ede’s fine collection of early-twentieth century artists, and the bleached colours punctuated by Miro and Ben Nicholson paintings. It’s probably not a place for a flying visit; it’s small but marvellously labyrinth and a place to linger, with hidden treasures. It is the best place, perhaps the only place, to experience Gaudier-Brezeska’s sculpture and drawings; particularly in the attic room full of Gaudier’s drawings, where his scowling portrait of Ezra Pound dominates, and throughout the house his sculptures Bird Swallowing a Fish, Red-Stone Dancer, and The Wrestlers (above), and a small but brilliant sculpture of a Dog on the stairs. There is sadness in this work when one understands Gaudier’s inquiring mind was cut so cruelly short in the trenches of the Great War. But Kettles Yard is not a dead museum and is often home to contemporary work, including film and video. Michael-Craig Martin no less has just painted one room puce pink, which shocks amongst the drift-wood, and under an arts and craft’s bench sits an installation of plastic coffee-cups, twisted and torn into shapes. So the house is a show-case, but it is also very much in use, in a way that Ede would have approved of.

Kettles Yard

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stephen and Sadie

The distinguished artist Sadie Lee and I, outside Retro Bar last night.