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I love the way Leeds always has so many varied environments & buildings to enjoy. Roundhay Park is probably one of the most beautiful public parks in the UK, it's so well laid out. Headingley has a great array of architecture to appreciate & one of the very best Oxfam bookshops anywhere. I've always been intrigued by this late modernist church, such an inviting building: it's near a wonderful overgrown Victorian church yard too. I'm lucky to live in such a great city with so much to look at. [gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]
Shops and Bazaars:
The streets of Beyoğlu running off Istiklal Caddesi have a thrilling, disparate and highly unexpected mix of tiny shops. These range from businesses where a living is being eked out in grubby artisanal workshop surroundings to small chic upmarket bookshops or clothing and furniture boutiques all mixed in together as if they’ve simply been randomly pulled from a tombola. It makes the streets a very visually satisfying & stimulating place to experience.
Each shop is punctuated by its owner often standing outside smoking & watching the street, waiting for business to eventually come. In the meantime the stray cats in varying degrees of health wander in and out of the shops quite at home & not at all unwelcome visitors.
Some streets however specialise in one type of product and all cluster together as if for comfort. I walked along a lengthy road of lightbulb sellers with every variation of any bulb imaginable. It’s as though the Internet had never been invented. I guess Amazon simply doesn’t work here in these traffic clogged streets & labyrinthine passageways and bazaars. Internet shopping would ruin the life of face-to-face commerce and all these micro-businesses that create a vital character for their neighbourhoods.
There does seem to be so much waiting around from these shopkeepers who mark time with their cigarettes, papers and endless sugared teas and coffees. I wonder what kind of living each of these traders actually makes? How do they expand their market, improve their product? Do they bother? Do they need to? Some of the shops are in the most hidden away of neighbourhoods, in the UK they’d simply fail swiftly – how many of these businesses are ever easily found? You need a good working knowledge of this city gained by walking it extensively: piecing it together like a giant jigsaw.
The Bazaars are another sensory overload. Luckily for me I largely have no interest in anything being sold in them but they are astounding in their scale and atmosphere. How you tell one stall from another I’ve no idea – I negotiate them by walking swiftly and looking into the distance to avoid being sold to or chatted up. I much prefer to watch what people are doing rather then looking at the goods. The Spice Bazaar is more interesting to me as it sells things to eat, and the smell is intoxicating.
Men and women:
Women are hardly present in public life: walking into the Grand Bizzare is like going to a football match or men’s changing room in a gym. There’s the same easy cocky complacent male camaraderie in evidence everywhere. It creates a very faintly predatory atmosphere, even for a man. It’s slightly boring seeing all these similar looking men as much of the pleasure in people watching is removed when there are so few women around. In the mosques women are relegated to a sort of ‘crèche’ at the back of the ground floor and of course they have to cover themselves up. This is a society where equality evidently doesn’t operate, and probably never has given the religious and political imperatives to segregate the sexes and ensure the men remain privileged.
What superb inspirational buildings to experience. The sense of symmetry, contemplative space and sensual appeal of the interiors is a captivating mix. The courtyards of the mosques allow appreciation of the proportions and design of the building away from the busy bustle of the city street. The mosques have a solidity and sense of self-containment that is confident, reassuring and inspiring. The texts that adorn the interiors are exquisitely rendered in beautiful calligraphy that has dynamism and authority. It’s a pleasure to be relieved of following a pictorial narrative as you do in a church or cathedral. The levels of abstraction employed are sophisticated and compelling, even without any real working knowledge of Islam. The decorative tiles seem to use the energy of patterns drawn from nature making the interiors sumptuous and enveloping: I soon realised how derivative of this tradition William Morris was.
The call to prayer is always an extraordinary moment: the voice of the müezzin is plaintive, powerful and very beautiful. It’s a sound that unfolds across the city at the appointed hours. To have this kind of active religious observance must provide security and a binding together of people that I have never experienced in the UK.
The Hagia Sophia is one of the most memorable and powerful buildings I have ever experienced. The initial moment of walking into its vast domed space is literally breathtaking and continued to unfold over the two hours I spent there: the powerful sense of proportion, light, volume and form all work together to be so much more than the sum of their parts. All architects must feel humbled when they enter it for the first time. It’s a building in which it’s hugely pleasurable to spend time looking at how it was conceived and marveling at its construction and coherent interior.
The Blue Mosque for me is more impressive outside than in. Its symmetry is satisfying and the blue and white ceramics inside are impressive but after the Hagia Sophia anything would struggle to compare.
The Topkapı Palace is a fascinating group of buildings with beautiful enclosed gardens, inviting libraries and chambers all exquisitely decorated. It’s positioned to command a wonderful view of the sea and city: the perfect base for power to demonstrate the wealth of the Ottoman Empire.
Bronze at the RA is an exceptional, fascinating and hugely enjoyable show that’ll reward several visits. I loved the interpretive freedom created for the viewer by omitting chronology and lengthy didactic labels in favour of clear groupings such as gods, heads or vessels. Each exceptionally well-chosen work was rewarding to spend time with and there’s a dizzying thrill in moving between centuries & cultures in a matter of feet as one goes from one work to the next. Bronze is the simple rubric for the show but this exhibition’s complex content opened up and created many unexpected connections that left me marvelling at the sheer creativity and powerful inventiveness of what’s displayed here.
It’s a show full of sinuous, straining, writhing, triumphant bodies, mad powerful gods and heroes, weird mythical beasts and inventive observation and feeling. I moved from room to room and then had to double back on myself several times over to enjoy new connections and take-in more. It’s a pleasurably exhausting show mixing the familiar and unfamiliar in such surprising, joyful and sometimes disturbing ways.
The bronze itself often had a buffed, oiled bodybuilder sheen that unites form and materials and brings its own seductive transformative power. There is a precision, solidity and permanence, yet at the same time movement and spirit are also hugely evident in these works.
To name just a few that lodged in my memory: horses galloping in a tight frenzy with cowboys in the saddle, a calm Indian goddess with large breasts suckling an infant, a wonderful serene Roman ram, a pair of simplified powerful leopards from Benin, a madly energised and visceral golem-like de Kooning figure, a deeply sinister, supernatural, Germaine Richier work of a praying mantis/human hybrid. Of course it was thrilling to see a Barbara Hepworth work in the mix too, holding its own in among so many other powerful works made for so many fascinating reasons – some of which we can only guess at. This is an unmissable show and a great way to open up to a vast array of inspiring work in a fascinating context.
More on the show at this link: Bronze
Wandering around The Wallace Collection, in part, as an antidote the numbing effects of shopping on Oxford Street is always a huge pleasure. It’s as though you’re allowed to just pop into some mad aristo’s huge townhouse to case the joint (I always have a thrilling sense, retained from childhood, of ‘why on earth did they let us in?’ when I visit places like this). One of the things I really like is the very intense shades of different flock wallpaper in each room: it makes white cube galleries look even more like dentists’ waiting rooms, or places where works of art go to convalesce. I love collections that are richly varied and idiosyncratic, so that it simply doesn’t really matter where your eye rests, it’s all so rewarding. I rarely read the labels, I just flit and graze from one amazing thing to another and make up my own stories as to what they might be.
This time I was engrossed by: weird muskets inlaid with ivory – great to have such aesthetically pleasing weaponry, as though a gunfight could be won on the quality of craftsmanship alone rather then a hole in the head. Or perhaps they’re just perverse toys? A strange decoratively encrusted small canon – presumably captured from a fairy warship? Some characterful bronze busts of men with wigs giving them intense and luscious 1970s progrockers’ hair. The superb Gainsborough of some very dozy pretty young aristo sitting alongside her lovely bright alert dog in a florid cartoon broccoli forest (Gainsborough’s brushwork is always so full of enlivening energy). Some wonderfully depressing and oppressive dutch landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael: the dampness and greyness are miserably palpable – I’d love to live with one and enjoy looking at it to a soundtrack by The Smiths – perfect miserablism all round.
Here’s the link to the place if you’ve not been, it’s free & always so inspiring: The Wallace Collection
There’s a wonderfully evocative small early Lucian Freud painting to see of a man in a hospital ward bed, his face disconcertingly vacant but hopeful. These galleries of post war art have a palpable sense of trauma & recovery about them – artists emerging from a period of conflict and a society trying to reinvent and rebuild itself. There’s very little abstraction as the figure asserts itself again as the site of all that is important: it’s an existential moment of crisis that re-examines the experience & value of the individual. Many of the sculptures are nervy creations, spiky, defended and scuttling. I enjoy their small scale, it’s as if they are weird alien pets.
There is so little colour evident in galleries 1, 2 & 3: a muddy-toned, scrap-using, feeling of austerity pervades the spaces: the pre-pop, pre-consumer society mentality of rations & making do & getting by. It’s all wonderfully compelling, sincere and striving for something better and meaningful.
The Auerbach looks like seething molten lava from which the figure gradually emerges, the Paolozzi has a John Wyndham sense of nature’s persistence and regrowth. The Sutherland is an alien freak, fascinating and ugly. The Bacon portrait is hysterical. Figures disintegrate, fall and lie down throughout these works – they stumble through life, or are lost in combat. They are funny, tragic and hopeful. There’s a narrative in each of these works of art that somehow seeks to tell an acceptable story for the human condition after the years of carnage, atrocity, conflict and duty to forces seemingly greater than the individual.
These displays will have an interesting dialogue with out two new shows opening on 26 October more at these links: