WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…

“I loved it! This is a great story with a wonderful concept and excellent background.” Readers’ Favorite 

BookCover5x8_BW_420

As they continued slowly down the centre of the aisle Omri resumed his photography taking pictures of each of the six apses, of the ceiling, of the floor and the seating and then the stairs leading up to the transept and the choir.They passed behind the raised altar and stared up at the cupola before arriving at the two marble slabs denoting the tombs of Franco and de Rivera, about ten yards apart.‘So where exactly is our object?’ asked Omri in a lowered voice.‘You’re standing on it now’ Alex said looking at the slab beneath Omri’s feet. ‘You’re right on top of it.’

 

The Ark Mosaic Continue reading “WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…”

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SHATTERED CRAB SHELLS – and dreams…

For some reason, the scenes I remember most vividly from books and films usually involve food and / or drink. The movie example which immediately springs to mind is The Ipcress File, which for me basically comprised just three scenes (and John Barry’s hugely evocative theme music of course): The famous coffee making opening title; the “champignons” exchange in the supermarket and finally; the omelette preparation scene with the girl. The rest of the film and its tortured plot line remains mostly visual white noise.

Perhaps the most famous cup of coffee ever made…(and that superb music!)

The author of the original book, Len Deighton was a gourmet who, like many good thriller writers, enjoyed building scenes around food and drink, seeing them as useful tools for creating mood and atmosphere. Deighton knew Ian Fleming who had an equal penchant for including food and drink in his James Bond novels. But whereas Deighton was a stickler for gastronomic and oenological “correctness”, Fleming could be more mischievous; his unorthodox Vespa martini – “shaken not stirred” et al – being the classic case in point.

Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) and the tin of champignons – sadly no video available.

Talking of Fleming, and all the many culinary delights enjoyed by his super-spy hero; the one which always stuck in my mind from the first moment I came upon it in the novel Live and Let Die, was soft shell crab with sauce tartar served up to him at the Regis Hotel in New York City. For some reason, the idea of this particular dish stimulated my mental taste buds more than most and I longed for the chance to try it one day, and naturally, Stateside.



(Courtesy of Jesper Sahner Pedersen)

Aspiration and reality rarely meet exactly as preconceived, and my first encounter with soft shell crab in America missed the mark in several details. For instance: for the Regis Hotel, NYC, read a spit and sawdust crab shack on Chesapeake Bay and; for tartar sauce, read an acrid powdered spice seasoning. However, I doubt that I would have been any more enthused by the crab itself, whatever the accompaniment, for soft shell crab turned out to be a fiddly, messy seafood with a sparse and disappointing meat. My long-held fantasy of replicating James Bond’s tucking into succulent, sweet crab-meat was instantly shattered together with the shells that littered our table.

This was actually the table next to ours (hence the lack of drained beer glasses), but I thought it created a still life that encapsulated our experience perfectly.

Nevertheless, that lazy, messy lunch on the Chesapeake shore remains a magical memory in its own right and my disillusionment with the crab was short-lived. A couple of long cold beers soon washed away the nasty taste of the industrial spice mix and the setting was as stunning as it was serene and remarkably photogenic, even the debris from the unfinished meal.

EASY MONEY

THE dream commission WHICH went like a dream…

Checking back on posts dealing with my experiences as a commercial artist they nearly all describe dealings with dreadful and unscrupulous characters. They comprise a rogues gallery of capricious and lazy agents; self-adoring ad men and women; inarticulate, jargon-laden briefs; slow-paying and non-paying clients and, worst of all; copyright and ideas thieves.

However, there were some good and honourable people out there too, and small wonder that it was they who got the best results out of me. Significantly, ALL the latter worked in book publishing as art-directors and had a grounding in art, while ALL the former worked in advertising and publicity-related companies with little if any understanding of art processes.

I first crossed paths with George Sharp, the art-director at Pan Books in 1987* when he hired me to do the cover for The Fruit Palace (by Charles Nicholl). It was at the outset of my career as a professional illustrator and the process went so smoothly, from brief to payment, it lulled me into a false sense of security about my future in commercial art.

Sadly, as I was to find out during the course of my very next commission for the UK’s then-top advertising agency everything about working for George and Pan was atypical – from George’s clear and concise briefing to Pan’s prompt payment .

Especially during my time with artists’ agents, as a commercial artist I was exposed to a higher proportion of jobs from ad agencies than book publishers (something I endeavoured to rectify once a freelance), so when my agent called me early in the Spring of 1989 with the news that George Sharp wanted me for another job I was naturally delighted.

My excitement increased however, when I met up with George in Pan’s West End offices and he told me the nature of the commission – to illustrate the book cover for the UK edition of an American best-selling novel. The fact that the author was E. L.. Doctorow and the novel was Billy Bathgate (his take on the New York City gangster, Dutch Schultz) was virtual fantasy land for me. It was exactly the kind of illustration job I had dreamed of doing when I left fine art for commercial art. The £1000 fee was simply the icing on the cake.

Then, unbelievably, the job went even more smoothly than the Fruit Palace. George talked to me for no more than ten minutes as he must have sensed my innate feel for the brief, which I began working on the moment I arrived back at my house in West Hampstead. After about half-an-hour I was already faxing a sketch of my idea through to George, who immediately phoned me with a enthusiastic thumbs-up. A mere twenty minutes later I was waiting for my finished gouache painting to dry.

I was back in George’s office less than two hours after I had left it earlier that morning, and he was as thrilled with my image as I was. In fact, it remains the only illustration job I have ever done which did not require even the slightest of tweaks.

Within a month I had the pleasure and pride of seeing Billy Bathgate, plus my cover in the window of every book store I passed and my image on posters advertising the book throughout the Tube. Within six weeks (super fast relatively) I also received a cheque from Pan for £2500, far more than I had expected. Then my agent explained that I had earned an extra £1000 for the poster rights, plus another £500 syndication fee from a Danish company who wanted to turn my gangster image into some sort of comic strip (I never did find out what they eventually created…).

Although Billy Bathgate did not enjoy the same success in the UK which it had in the States, and that the movie of the novel two years later was a total flop (despite the best efforts of Dustin Hoffman and Bruce Willis), I was more than happy to console myself with the knowledge that it had seen me earn the quickest, easiest fee of my career. I think that even Dutch Schultz would have been impressed!

* Many of you may be familiar with George’s own book cover artwork…* https://www.tikit.net/Later%20PANs/George%20Sharp.htm

HELSINKI’S MODERNIST “FIN(n)ISH”

THREE ARCHITECTURAL ART déco and modernist GEMS IN FINLAND’S CAPITAL CITY…

One of the ironies of preparing many of my travel-related posts is that the process of the travel itself often leaves me little time to devote to writing my pieces for these pages. Right now for example we are in Jönköping having returned from a week in Finland, and preparing for a flight this evening to London, to then catch a plane on Friday for Malaga. And that’s nothing compared to what we have coming up over the next two months (many trees have been and will be planted!).

In other words, the next several posts will return to being more picture based and less wordy (a good thing many might feel) and fortunately, our recent stay in Helsinki provided me with some excellent visual material.

Parliament House or Eduskuntatalo (Neo-Classicist / Modernist) – Johan Sigrid Siren – 1926

In this post I wanted to show off some of the Finish capital’s superb examples of early 20th century architecture, which were something of a surprise, to me at least. While I had a preconception of elegant 19th century waterfront facades, spectacular cake-icing churches blended with hard-edged, glistening glass and steel temples of contemporary Nordic minimalism, for some reason I had arrived ignorant of Helsinki’s handful of Déco and Modernist jewels.

Central Train Station (Art Déco ) – Eliel Saarinen  – 1919
The station’s interior matches the exterior, and reminded me of Grand Central in New York. Thus, perhaps appropriately it provides one of the more spectacular settings for a Burger King that I have come across, and certainly enhanced the enjoyment of my Whopper!

My being so uninformed is especially damning when one discovers that the Finish parliament house ( Eduskuntatalo in the native idiom) is itself as bold a statement of Neo-Classical lines as one is likely to see anywhere this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And while that building might prove a tad brutal for some (not for me though as I’m a sucker for “power architecture” of all eras and styles), the two other examples I highlight here should prove charming enough for most tastes…

Currently, the Virgin Oil Company Building
(All additional information regarding the Architect, the building’s original purpose and its date are welcome…)
Sadly, I have no idea who designed this exquisite building which these days is the home of the Virgin Oil Company and their restaurant. Any additional information welcome…

THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 3

SOUP AND SANDWICHES

By the final day of his visit to Dublin Simon had become aware of the lunchtime omnipresence of “soup and sandwiches” on offer throughout the city.

Soup; Hot, thick, cream-of-whatever, mostly from cans, served in ubiquitous, small, deep bowls made of chunky catering porcelain, like large handle-less coffee mugs. And sandwiches; sliced white slices (as often as not), separated by processed cheese squares and a little salty butter (as often as not). This was of particular interest, bearing in mind the ever-growing profusion of exotic eating establishments in the city, including everything from Mexican cantinas and sushi bars to Michelin approved temples of “modern Irish” cuisine. And not to mention the overflowing platters of traditional meat, veg’ and spuds available at every pub and bar. Yet, in spite of this, by far the most popular lunchtime fayre was soup and sandwiches.

            So it was, on this third day when Simon opted for a bowl of soup, only to be asked by the barman if he would “be having a sandwich to go with it” that he finally realised that this austere combination of glutinous liquid and chalky dough was in fact, a national dish, on a par with Dublin Coddle, Irish Stew and Guinness and oysters.

            Like some latter-day sacrament for the wayward Irish. A subliminal jog to their collective guilt for their drifting inexorably away from their Mother Church. Amidst all the wealth and opulence of modern Dublin, lurking behind stacks of Texas ribs and Thai prawns was the frugal bowl and the modest plate. The blood and flesh of Christ at large – an omnipresent reprimand to sophisticates and a daily rebuke to trendies.

            However, it was all for nought, as the process of drift had started at the very same moment of the Church’s inception on Irish soil, since when it had begun its epic yet ultimately doomed battle. To be sure, Saint Patrick’s anchor had sunk deep into the ancient fibre of the land, but this had merely delayed the drift and increased the pain as its hooks grappled hopelessly against the constant inexorable shift of the sands.

            There could be little doubt thought Simon. He could see it on the pale, wind-swept faces of the young Irish girls incongruously bearing Gucci handbags. He could see it too in the ruddy cheeks of young Irishmen projecting awkwardly from their Dior suits. He could sense the awakening phoenix behind the sad and fiery eyes of a people for whom the Cross had formerly represented the only ladder from which to ascend from the bog of despair – but who now, with a tenacity borne from centuries of interminable struggle and hardship were reclaiming their pre-Christian birth-right of Celtic gold.

            As he sat at the bar that fresh sunny afternoon, Simon had this thought; That the day might not be so far off for Irish men and women, when soup would be simply soup, and bread would be bread, and by which time nobody would want to eat it anyway – and Ireland would at last be replete and content.

Adam Green, Dublin, 2004

THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 2

past present

(NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRELAND)

His head was spinning with a myriad of impressions, smells, textures and emotions.

            Simon had just finished a gentle amble through the museum and he had been aware throughout of the sensation of being screamed at by the inanimate objects on display. Walking past the perspex cabinets, crammed too full with gold, faded bronze and rotted wood; it was as if the spirits of the fashioners of these ancient artefacts were imprisoned together with their creations, within the humidity-controlled, cubed confines. The disingenuous information labels with their bland, “safe” explanations of these sexy reminders of Ireland’s colourful prehistory, appeared as anaemic, awkward interlopers – like royal visitors at a soccer match.

            Simon continued in apparent calm meditation, yet swooning internally beneath the claustrophobic pressure of “things”. Thousands of things, silently protesting – proclaiming their lost histories and absorbed destinies.

            More than any museum he had ever visited, the National Museum of Ireland epitomised the inherent schizophrenic quality of such institutions. But, whereas places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Met, by reason of their vastness achieve a dilution of the unavoidable coarseness in juxtaposition of exhibits, Dublin’s national house of treasure was box-like by comparison. Boxes within bigger plastic boxes, all within a greater box of stone. A sarcophagus writ large. And thus, Simon’s sensation of walking through a huge coffin among smaller coffins and his subsequent feeling of suppressed panic.

            After having made good his escape out into Merrion Square he reflected on this Irish snapshot of itself; prehistory, Celtic, Christian, Viking, British, Independence and – Ancient Egypt.

            As he made his way briskly along damp streets, he fancied that for a brief moment he had grasped in this incoherent arrangement the mystery of Ireland. A past whose pagan sexuality is wilfully ignored, obscured by its dazzling horde of fabulous gold. And a present whose intellectualism, violence and misery form the lifeblood of the modern state. In the middle stands the Cross – a stern and conditional bridge linking Ireland’s ancient, gilded and rural mysticism with its modern legacy of blood and books. And above all of this hover Ra and Amun in their sombre recess, as if to remind the present-day Irishman and Irishwoman of their pagan souls.

            He thought that in this museum was the eternal, painful and glorious contradiction that is Ireland, laid out and entombed in restless stasis.

THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 1

Art and Fish
(National gallery of Ireland)

Simon entered the gallery together with no fewer than three large groups of primary school girls. Giggling, squealing, pushing; their teachers straining to maintain order. One group wore tartan skirts, another wore tracksuits of royal blue and the last were in grey cardigans and slacks. As they entered the vestibule all together there was a moment when the three groups intermingled in seeming chaos, but then separated like so many distinct shoals of fish.

            Thus, they swam the morning long, throughout the galleries and halls, occasionally hovering before paintings deemed worthy of consideration by their smiling, earnest teachers.

           He remembered this unchanged ritual from the days of his own youth. A ritual, like so many school customs, with the noble intention of stimulating curiosity and enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of the young, yet in reality, sure to have quite the opposite effect. The bored expressions on the children’s faces were a constant and uncomfortable reminder to Simon of his own half-hearted presence in the gallery; the presence of a professional artist on vacation in a great city with too much time to kill and no excuse not to visit its national galleries and museums.

           Then it happened:

           Simon found that he had drifted into the neighbouring Yeats Exhibition, and in spite of himself he was instantly hooked by its presentation of the evolution of Jack B. Yeats’ genius and his work. Traversing along the limped, fluid surfaces as they gradually, naturally evolved from grave lucidity to pulsating abstraction, he felt for a moment that his life had begun again. The graphic exposition of the artistic momentum and imminence of Yeats’ painterly development reminded him of the sublime possibilities of art.

            One picture in particular seemed to radiate this quality. It was of a window, somewhere in Italy, thickly applied paint, like butter, with a half-inch palette knife. Beyond the open shutters, a warm, summer light, primrose and white.

            Standing before it, Simon smiled for the first time that day, virtually squinting at the muted brightness. The daubed light itself seemed to laugh gently, echoing his mood, and then, as he stepped back from the painting, tartan fishes once more engulfed him. A happy, excited shoal now, equally rejuvenated by the peculiar power of these truly great paintings.

            Perhaps, in the future, one or two of those little fish would return to this particular ocean by choice? After all, he had.

FROM ARABESQUE TO ARABESQUE – Dido’s 30 year journey from clinical ‘OT’ to tenured professor…

On New Year’s Day 1989 I had the great good fortune to meet a beautiful ex-ballerina called Dido Nicholson. Almost exactly two years later, on New Year’s Eve 1990 we were married at Marylebone Registry Office in the West End of London, by which time I had got to know and fall in love with the extraordinary mind, personality and character behind that beauty.

The pictures of two Dido arabesques which head this post roughly frame her career – at least the travel-related episodes of her career – with the first executed on the desert dirt outside San Pedro de Atacama in 1991 and the second, just last winter (2018) on a frozen lake in our current location of Jönköping in Sweden. Dido had been injured out of the ballet several years before we met (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2014/12/23/before-we-met/) and, after having dabbled with things as disparate as biochemistry and estate agency she settled on a career in occupational therapy. By the time of our wedding she had been qualified only a few months, but it didn’t take long for her colleagues and employers to realise that Dido’s medical and scientific skills weren’t going to be limited within the regular parameters of her new profession.

Naturally, Dido’s background in dance and the arts was always going to make a significant and innovative contribution to her work as both a therapist and a researcher, from the outset of her career until the present day. Thus, it was no surprise when, as early as 1991 Dido won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to go to Chile to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool to support social integration and participation for children with learning problems (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2016/11/14/my-gal-the-fellow/). However, the ultimate acknowledgement of Dido’s unusually creative contribution to her science was when in 2014 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Among Dido’s many qualities, aside from her scholarship and devotion to her work, is her academic modesty and generosity – almost to a fault. The main reason it’s taken her until now to gain tenure (apart from the fact she came into OT ten years later than most of her colleagues) is her strict professional integrity and a deep reluctance to blow her own trumpet. Happily, I don’t share that reticence; hence this visual celebration of her illustrious career. These pictures (one or two of which have featured in earlier posts) offer a fun glimpse into Dido’s remarkable progress, from clinical occupational therapist to leading child neuroscientist, from the one arabesque to the other…


Chilean Lake District with Volcan Osorno in the background – 1991
Although we didn’t know it then, the Chile adventure proved to be the first of numerous work-related trips far and wide; with yours truly in-tow to provide what’s become a visual record spanning the best part of three decades…
First Morning in India – Chennai – 2003
By the time I took this photo (one of my favourite portraits of her), Dido ‘s expertise in child autism was already so internationally respected that she was brought over to southern India to design and set up a specialist clinic in the Tamil Nadu city of Coimbatore…
Dr. Dido’s First Trip as a PhD – University of Ghent – 2007
Despite the strenuous demands of her clinical lead position at Guy’s and St. Thomas Hospital (a London teaching hospital) Dido somehow found the time and energy for research into developing our understanding
of movement disorders and motor learning in children . In 2007, this aspect of her work was rewarded with a PhD from the University of Leeds…
Dido at Point Sublime – Blue Mountains – Australia – 2007
Unquestionably, one of Dido’s most pleasing and relatively regular destinations has turned out to be Australia. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel there three times, and each trip has been memorable; professionally, socially, culturally and scenically…
Dido and Jaffa – Tel Aviv – 2009
Dido’s first full-time academic post was at Tel Aviv University where apart from enjoying about two years of vibrant and dynamic research she established some of her most enduring relationships, professionally and socially…
Dido Working in the Library – Finca Carmel – 2012
Since 1993, our mountain home in southern Spain has been something of a sanctuary for Dido, and the place she goes to recharge her batteries – physical and mental…
Emergency Sun Hat – Stockholm – 2016
This picture was taken – during an unexpectedly sunny early winter’s day – on one of several work trips Dido made to the Swedish capital. Little did we know as I took this snap that Sweden was soon to become our latest base of operations…
The Ferry to Denmark – Femer Bælt -2017
This picture shows Dido on the ferry from Germany to Denmark en-route to take up her latest post at Jönköping University, where her full professorship was confirmed last month. As for the technicolor pencil case Dido’s holding; well, that’s a whole other story…

BRICKS – a pictorial tribute to the humble building block of civilisation…

If, as has recently been shown to be true, that the evolution of our human species is intimately connected with our relationship with, and domestication of, the dog, then our development from hunter gatherers to sedentary building dwellers is founded upon our mastery of the humble brick more than any other material.

ROME

We first started making and building with simple mud bricks over 7000 years ago and ever since, both in mud form and the far more durable fired clay variety they have comprised the fundamental building blocks of most urban societies across the globe.

GRONIGEN (THE NETHERLANDS)

Cheaper, and easier to shape than stone and marble, and more durable and weather-proof than timber, clay-based bricks have been mass-manufactured for over four millennia. From China in the east to Rome in the west, bricks were the chosen material to house the citizenry of the world’s mightiest empires.

MONTREAL

While in many cultures, the brick was regarded as purely functional and considered ugly; best concealed beneath layers of plaster and cement; by the late Middle Ages, in northern Europe in particular, a skilfully laid brick rose to aesthetic acceptance.

DUSSELDORF

Among the Western European cultures especially, the brick came to be the defining municipal texture of the “Anglo Saxon” / “Germanic” north, in the same way stuccoed walls evoke the “Latin / Mediterranean” south.

MATFIELD (UK)

As a native Londoner with his main home in Spain I like my bricks both ways – proudly exposed, or peaking out from behind a peeling stucco skin. The pictures presented here are my homage to both. Please enjoy the gallery below…

SAN GIMAGNANO (ITALY)

STILL LIVES (AND STILL BOTTLES) – the evolution of my study of still life…

In a long-lost period of art (except perhaps, for those attending Royal Academy Schools – in the UK at least), both the formal study of the human form (alive and dead) and the formal study of inanimate objects, known under the coverall of still life, formed the foundation of an art education. In exactly the same way as the great literary figures and music composers of yesteryear relied upon solid groundings in grammar and notation respectively, a mastery of observation was regarded a prerequisite for an aspirant artist.

TELEPHONE WITH VASE – oil on paper – 1977
Dramatic, but little feel for the space between the objects…

My own time at art school, beginning in 1976, coincided with the end of that ages-old period, so that even during my foundation course it was the finished image that mattered and not so much how it was created.

BOTTLES AND LEMONS – oil on paper – 1979
Jazzy, but obsessed with the spaces between at the expense of solid drawing…

How much this matters is a debate that has continued unabated since “Modernism” in art began, about the time of my birth in 1960, and not a subject I wish to go into now. However, my own opinion of the matter is well known to regular readers and followers of these pages and evidenced pretty obviously by the pictures displayed here.

FRUIT AND VEG IN BASKET – charcoal on paper – 1980
Sober but with a touch of drama and some half-decent drawing…

Lacking any formal/traditional grounding/tuition in the skills of my trade, early on in my time at art school I began to resort to self-education. As the pictures here attest, at first, I was pretty rudderless, but gradually, over about three years began to evolve a reasonably articulate language built upon a fairly solid visual and observational grammar – albeit, and with apologies to RA Scholars everywhere – personal to me.

BOTTLES WITH FRUIT AND VEG – oil on canvas – 1981
Formal composition, but with contained elements of painterly expression.

FIRST AND nearly LAST – the evolution of my painting on canvas…

One of the many surprises thrown up by my recent digitisation of all my photographs of old artwork was how – once chronologically sorted – it vividly revealed the development of my painting skills – or, if not skills exactly; at least of my comfort with the medium of oil paint. Additionally, they exposed something even more interesting – at least to me – of the dramatic alteration in my spirits and emotions from that heavily pressured time at art school to my days as a confident, free painting spirit.

The two paintings I have chosen for this piece graphically illustrate what I mean:

Soho Buildings was the first painting I ever made on canvas, and how it shows! Thin washes, tentative drawing and clumsy composition. Looking at it now, even in photographic form, I can still feel my fear of the canvas, and my hesitant application of the paint. Plus there was the added pressure of being surrounded by – at least – equally talented artists, most of whom were already familiar with painting on canvas. So, I was desperate for it to appear like I knew what I was doing and that I was at ease with the process, which clearly shows in the picture. But, for all that, the painting has some merit; some lucky accidents; like the two white painted windows on the shaded side of the near building…something quite lyrical about them. Plus, it serves now as a powerfully symbolic and accurate reminder of my gloomy mindset during those first terrifying days at Saint Martins…

SOHO BUILDINGS FROM SAINT MARTINS – oil on canvas – 1978

Girl Fastening Sandal was painted in 1988 and is evidently, everything the Soho picture is not. By this time I was confident and comfortable with both the oil paint and the painting surface and, more crucially, unencumbered by being part of any “art scene” – I didn’t have to worry about peers and rivals watching me over my shoulder. Whereas, with the Soho painting it was all I could do to produce any kind of image on the canvas, with the Girl painting I was preoccupied with expressing the joys and thrills of both the subject and the paint itself. It should look almost as if the paint flowed directly from my mind to the palette knife; a visual stream of consciousness; like a happy, joyous thought. The two paintings here graphically represent a pretty dramatic 10-year transition from student to artist and from teenage hesitancy to adult assuredness.

GIRL FASTENING SANDAL – oil on canvas – 1995