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At age 80, the painter Gillian Ayres is just hitting her stride - Times OnlineClipped from: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article7006860.ece
At age 80, the painter Gillian Ayres is just hitting her stride
A legend of the bold school – with no plans to retire
Gillian Ayres at Alan Cristea Gallery, London
If there is a formula for contentment at 80 it must be said that Gillian Ayres has achieved it. She spends her life doing what she enjoys most: slapping oil paint on canvas. She lives in remote Cornwall, in a 15th-century wattle-and-daub cottage at Morwenstow, in a forested hollow at the bottom of a cliff. Her studio wall has a tall slit cut into it, to get her larger canvases out, to be delivered to Cork Street, London, where next week, on the eve of her 80th birthday, they will fetch up to £55,000 apiece.
She will again be fêted and lauded, admired for her 60 prolific years of dedication to abstract art and loved for the good cheer she exudes. Her devotees include Andrew Marr (he has described her as "probably the finest abstract painter alive in Britain"), Lynn Barber and Eric Clapton.
Her paintings were leaning against the gallery wall and at one point I stepped backwards, my boot-heel narrowly missing a canvas. "Don't worry, nothing can damage my work," Ayres said blithely. She wouldn't even mind if a popping champagne cork hit one.
Like David Hockney, she is a defiant smoker: of Player's Navy Cut, full strength, untipped (she started at 16, and not even a heart attack nine years ago deters her). She may walk with a stick but her bold work requires a controlled eye, a deft brush and physical energy. She has all the gusto, verve and enthusiasm of youth. "One is just terribly lucky. And lucky to be alive, too, anyway. Some of us do paddle on."
We were to have met at her colourfully cluttered cottage but when the day arrived she was snowbound; then she managed to get out, up the track marked "Not suitable for motor vehicles" in her trusty Subaru, through the tangled forest of ancient twisted oaks, and on to London.
Her works are exuberant, full of colour, look nice on walls and make people feel happy. She spouts no nonsense about concepts. Only when she's finished an exhibition-sized batch does she think up the titles: a line from a poem, a song title, a place name. Friends make suggestions: Finnegan's Lake, or Runcible, or Some of These Days. "They have to suit the ruddy painting, of course," she says. "Then I just plonk them on." Sometimes she forgets how the name came about — Widsith, for instance, or A Breeze Cuts a Pause. My favourite in her new show is called Sang the Sun in Flight. It blazes with colour.
Ayres loves the prospect of a day without an appointment, and may work on into the silent watches of the night. "You can get very eccentric on your own. Well, people think that being an artist is itself eccentric. But it's lovely."
She was born in Barnes, southwest London, when it was still a village, "full of prams like tanks", and lived there until she was 50. The third of three daughters (like the traditional fairytale heroine), she went to a free-and-easy Froebel school where she "cleaned out the goats and made pots", and then to St Paul's Girls' School, West London, a near-contemporary of the two Shirleys, Williams and Conran. Resisting the Paulinas' fiercely competitive academic ethos, and taking no exams, she went to Camberwell School of Art, a contemporary of Euan Uglow. They were both 16, surrounded by demobilised ex-servicemen. She hated life drawing: "I wasn't much interested in the human body." Much later she saw Quentin Crisp in the Chelsea Hotel in New York and told him "I used to draw you"; he had been a regular model in the life class. Students were told to take a sketchbook everywhere. She remembers drawing working men's cafés with tea urns in the Euston Road.
Instinctively she always preferred paint. In the 1950s she and her then more famous husband, Henry Mundy, were paid £5 a week to help out at the AIA gallery in Soho. They sold their paintings and had two sons. People reacted violently, sometimes, to pioneering abstract art. "The gas man would arrive and say, 'What's all this rubbish?' "
When she first saw photographs of Jackson Pollock in action, she was inspired. In 1957 the architect Michael Greenwood paid her £100 to decorate the dining hall of South Hampstead High School. Using buckets of Ripolin house paint, which she had heard that Picasso used, she flung it over the panels. "They think you're a lunatic," Greenwood told her. (The panels, later papered over, have been restored and are now in the staff room.) For years she taught in art schools and examined students, despite her own aversion to "bourgeois" exams. Among her students at St Martins School of Art were Yoko Ono and Gilbert and George. In midlife she became ill, left her job as head of painting at Winchester School of Art and went off to Wales to paint full-time. Her work was reinvigorated.
Her marriage had ended — but then her husband "just turned up" at her Georgian rectory. The children were pleased and the two have lived together, as companions, ever since. "There was no great coming together," she says, "but we talk, about books and things. It's just the same as being married, really, except there's no hellfire any more. We met when I was 18. We get on. So there it is." At 91 Mundy still paints every day. But Ayres makes the money. "Well, people need money. And you don't turn it down, do you?" She adds: "In a funny way, in retrospect, should artists have all these things, marriages and children? It's a big bloody question anyway. Possibly not. A lot of artists don't. I can't answer it."
Behind the candyfloss fluff of her white-blonde hair is a steely and resolute practitioner of "painting in a painterly way". People persist in seeking meaning in pictures: in the new collection there are recurrent shapes, suggesting petals, gourds, pods, wings, fans, mitres, funnels, stars and spatulate things. She shrugs helplessly. "I say, no, no, I'm abstract — but there they are, ruddy fir trees and stars and moons." She has been to the Nile, and to Yemen, where those palm shapes perhaps insinuated themselves: "You can't stop things getting into you." But you will never find in her work anything that approximates to a horizon.
Once, in the mid-1950s, she cared enough about drawings to knock on the door of Windsor Castle with a small son in tow and asked to see the Leonardo, Holbein and Poussin drawings. She says that it was Anthony Blunt himself who told her to "Come this way" and then left her with the drawings, merely warning her not to let the little boy touch them. "I'm sure one couldn't do that any more," she says.
Her son Sam, also an artist, was at Goldsmiths with Damien Hirst, who offered Ayres one of his works. But she claims that she is too undomesticated to look after paintings properly. "Clearly I am not the right person to be in charge of other people's wonderful art," she says.
There is a dotty-old-lady flavour to her conversation, in upper-class tones, often tailing off vaguely into "Well, you know ... I don't know". It is, after all, impossible to explain her art, except as life-affirming and full of vitality. How does her short round figure stretch to the corners of a 6ft canvas? "I can't climb a ladder, dear. Sadly. I'm a bloody cripple. After the heart attack I thought I'd get better, but I've stayed the same. I didn't go in for three days. If you ever have a heart attack, go in quickly."
The writer Angela Carter was a great friend. They were both "fanatical atheists" and would talk till 4am. The last time they met, Carter said: "Well, goodbye. We may be wrong, and if we're wrong we might meet again."
Peace has been restored with the Royal Academy, from which Ayres resigned over the Sensation show — specifically over the Myra Hindley portrait, moved "as a mother" by the sight of Winnie Johnson, whose son was murdered on the Moors, outside with her placard.
Ayres used to love "paddling round exhibitions" but now she has to be wheeled, and vanity stops her. "It was such a part of one's life, just looking. And I loved going over to Paris. But conceptual art doesn't really interest me, probably not since Yves Klein in the 1950s. Not that some of it isn't exciting and wonderful, but they do seem to need to say "what's it about?" They don't love the visual." She does. The portraits of Picasso and Matisse, and the work of Léger, are the kinds of things that she admires.
"I look at colour and shape and that's what matters to me. I mean, one can't ignore what things are about, it's true. And something that matters might cause the art. Other people seem to need this understanding, a story. But what is important right now might fade. Women's lib, anti-Iraq, it may all matter terribly, and it might cause something great. But does Look Back in Anger still have the same impact now? I don't know."
Gillian Ayres at 80: New Paintings and Works on Paper is at Alan Cristea Gallery, Cork Street, London W1, from February 3 to March 13. alancristea.com
Monday, February 1, 2010
Oysters - the Tudor version of cinema popcorn - Yahoo! NewsClipped from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100129/od_nm/us_shakespeare_snacks
Oysters - the Tudor version of cinema popcorn
LONDON (Reuters) – Elizabethan theater-goers chomped on an exotic array of foods while enjoying the latest plays of the day, new evidence found at the sites of Shakespearean playhouses in London suggests.
Archaeologists say choice Tudor snacks included oysters by the cartload, crab and other shellfish like mussels, whelks and periwinkles.
Dried raisins and figs, hazelnuts, plums, cherries and peaches were also consumed in great quantities, according to experts who excavated The Rose and The Globe theatres on the south bank of the River Thames.
Baked blackberry and elderberry pies and sturgeon, common in British waters at the time, were also popular with the masses who packed the playhouses.
New published research also suggests that the theater diet varied along social and class lines.
Commoners, referred to then as "groundlings or stinkards" who paid just a penny to stand in the yard or pit regularly chomped on oysters.
"Oysters were in fact the staple diet of the poor, right up to the Victorian period, and certainly we find oyster shells by the thousand on nearly every archaeological site we do," said senior Museum of London archaeologist Julian Bowsher who excavated the two theater sites.
The gentrified classes, who paid more to sit on cushions in the galleries, were more likely to have munched on crab and sturgeon, he said. Sturgeon may well have been slightly more expensive than other fish at the time.
"Underneath the gallery seating, we found fragments of crab which could also have been more costly," he told Reuters.
There is evidence the better-off could also afford to snack on imported foods like peaches and dried fruits.
Museum of London Archaeology has published the findings in a book of the excavations, which began in 1988, called: "The Rose and the Globe: Playhouses of Shakespeare's Bankside, Southwark."
Authored by Bowsher and fellow archaeologist Pat Miller, it contains decades of research on all aspects of the playhouses from superstructure to dress accessories of the classes who attended.
The Rose was originally built in 1587 as a 14-sided polygon where many of Christopher Marlowe's plays, including "Doctor Faustus" and "The Jew of Malta," were first performed.
The Globe, home to many of Shakespeare's plays, was first built in 1599 by the Bard's playing company, burned down in 1613, was rebuilt in 1614 and, like all other London theatres, was closed down by the Puritans in 1642.
A modern reconstruction was opened in 1997.
J.D. Salinger's Long Goodbye - WSJ.comClipped from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703389004575033192658885922.html
By ADAM KIRSCH
Ordinarily, when a great writer dies, it is easy to know what to feel. We are grateful for everything he has given us, and we grieve that he will not be giving us anything more; in time, we start asking the questions, about the nature and quality of his books, that constitute a writer's real afterlife and the best tribute we can pay him. That is more or less what happened when John Updike died last year, and when Saul Bellow died in 2005.
But when the news came this week of the death of J.D. Salinger, possibly the most beloved and certainly the oddest writer of that postwar generation, it was hard to know how to react. How can you grieve for a writer who has been, for all practical purposes, dead for half a century—one defined by his refusal to publish or even to appear in public? As for gratitude, no writer has earned it more or wanted it less. Since "The Catcher in the Rye" was published, in 1951, millions of teenagers have felt about Salinger the way Holden Caulfield feels about his favorite authors: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author . . . was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."
No wonder that, from time to time over the past 60 years, readers took Salinger up on the implied invitation, making the pilgrimage to Cornish, N.H., to meet their imaginary best friend. To the most persistent fans, the very ostentatiousness of Salinger's privacy—has any writer ever been so well known for refusing to be well known?—must have seemed a kind of flirtation. Surely if you ignored the famous fence and went right up to the hermit's door, you would prove by your very persistence that you were the reader Salinger was looking for, the one genuine soul in a million "phoneys." How great the disappointment must have been when it turned out that Salinger really meant his refusals, that he would make no exceptions—not even for Ian Hamilton, the English man of letters whose attempt to write Salinger's biography embroiled him in a lawsuit that led all the way to the Supreme Court.
Salinger's death is unusual in another way, too. For most writers, dying means the end of their work; for Salinger, it may well mean a new beginning. He did not publish a book after "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" in 1963, but he made very clear that he had not stopped writing. In an exceedingly rare interview, in the mid-1970s, he said: "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." It was enough to hold out the possibility that some day—if Salinger changed his mind, or when he died—a secret hoard of stories and novels would be revealed. If that turns out to be true—if we now, finally, get to see what Salinger was working on all these years—then his death will, paradoxically, convert his long absence into a new presence.
The great question, of course, is what those books might look like. And here the evidence is not encouraging. Before he stopped publishing, Salinger seemed to be growing more and more entranced with the Glass family, the intellectually and spiritually precocious clan that populates his later work. As critics like Updike noted long ago, there is something unwholesome about the way Salinger treats the Glasses: They seem to become not a way of exploring reality, but a substitute for it.
The obsessive inventory of the family's apartment in "Franny and Zooey"—there are page-long lists, one of which includes "three radios (a 1927 Freshman, a 1932 Stromberg-Carlson, and a 1941 R.C.A.)"—is not the kind of detail novelists use to capture social or psychological truth. It is more like the gratuitous, self-delighting detail children use when inventing fantasy worlds. The Brontës spent their childhoods making up stories about the land of Angria—but that was before inventing "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." Salinger, uniquely among major writers, seemed to go in the opposite direction, from public storytelling to private, until he reached the point where it was unnecessary to admit any readers into his fictional universe.
The purpose of "Franny and Zooey," with all its Zen exhortations, was partly to predict and justify this development. When Salinger declared that he was writing for himself, not for the world, he was echoing the words of the Bhagavad Gita that Seymour and Buddy Glass posted on their wall: "Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender." Yet this philosophy seems incompatible with the writing of fiction, which is nothing if not an engagement with the world and the self. It seems highly unlikely that the books Salinger wrote for his own pleasure—if they exist—could be as lovable as the books he wrote for the pleasure of his readers.
And while "The Catcher in the Rye" is not a book that grows with us, no book gives as much pleasure if you read it at the right age—say, at 16, Holden's age when he can't stop wondering what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter. He hasn't yet learned that they, like us, have to keep moving if they don't want to end up frozen in the past.—Mr. Kirsch is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Tablet Magazine.
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