One of the things I’ve really been enjoying here in Sweden is playing with all my new toys, including my aforementioned fabulous slide scanner. It’s main purpose is to get my years of artwork digitally recorded and logged, but it’s also helping me rediscover thousands of my old general photos.
Between 1977 and 1991 I visited Israel about a dozen times and I never went there without at least half a dozen rolls of high quality slide film.∗ The pictures included here (presented in no particular order) cover most of those seventeen years and present a portrait of a diverse and multi-textured little nation.
∗Cameras used: Canonet 28 and Nikon FE / Film used: Kodak Ektachrome and Agfachrome.
With only ten days to pick our olives and prune around a thousand vines, among many other farming chores here on our Andalusian finca, this post has few words and is all about the pictures. Suffice to say, I always felt the dry chalkiness of thickly applied gouache was a perfect medium for expressing the tonal aridity of the fabulous Atacama Desert. As ever, I hope all of you who pass this virtual way agree! Wishing all my visitors, readers and followers a 2018 as epic as the incredible Chilean desert itself…
My continuing trawl through thousands of old slide films for scanning is proving to be not merely a trip down memory lane, but more a long voyage of haphazard, bitter-sweet (mostly sweet) rediscovery.
Because the films are all mixed up in no chronological or subject order , the experience of going through them is somewhat dreamlike in its lack of thematic anchorage. One moment I’m back in my childhood town of Edgware looking into the eyes of my first girl friend; the next, I’m hurtling down an Italian Alpine ski slope with the Martini ad music playing in my head before finding myself on a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound. By the time I’ve completed a couple of hours scanning I feel emotionally jet-lagged. And so it was the other day when I came across one single complete black and white film of a lazy April bank holiday spent in Regent’s Park around 1983.
However, unlike so many of the mostly hazy memories evoked by this process, I found I recalled this particular day in almost every detail. For whatever reason that day is a vivid memory and being suddenly confronted by visual images of it was akin to being back there in the park. And, even more mysteriously, the fact the photos were monochrome merely crystallized my recollections .
For all of that, whether or not they are worthy of illustrating one of my posts, I am not so sure. However, if this does turn out to be simply an exercise in self-introspection, I do hope my that my regular readers and followers will indulge me this once. After all, at their core, these posts form an autobiography, and as such it would be incomplete without memories as colourful as this – albeit, in black and white…
In 1992, at an exhibition of my poster style paintings, someone remarked to me in a disparaging tone, ‘you know Adam, these sort of pictures are to fine art what film music is to classical music…’ She meant the observation as an insult, and at the time, although I basically agreed with the premise of her analogy, I felt duly insulted. But soon afterwards I realised that it was her intent and her tone that had upset me, not her premise.
The fact was, I had always been a huge admirer of film music and its composers, several of whom I believed then, and continue to believe today to be geniuses in their own right, every bit as accomplished in their own way as their “classical” contemporaries (after all, what will be more listened to in a hundred year’s time, Elmer Bernstein’s score to The Magnificent Seven, or Pierre Boulez’s “explosante-fixe”?). So, having my work compared to movie tunes was for me, in its purest sense, a unintended complement.
Sure, it can be argued that poster artists are merely creating visual mood music to the given theme, but that is no bad thing, and if executed well, and with feeling, a great poster can be at least as impressive an image as any piece of “pure” art. Ultimately, as with the best film music, if the piece lives on in the memory and has the power to stir deep feelings then surely this means it is good and worthy art.
However, unlike my commissioned advertising work, my non-commissioned posters were a bit like movie music without a movie. And some time after this particular exhibition an album of exactly that type of music called Eternal Echoes was released by that greatest of British film music composers, John Barry (Lion In Winter, Zulu, You Only Live Twice, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free and The Ipcress File to name just a few masterpieces). I was initially quite dubious, but then, after listening to the record, I realised that it worked in exactly the same way as my “free” posters, with bags of atmosphere, lyrical content and just enough emotion to stir the blood.
As things turned out this style of work became my most enduring, heavily influencing the pictures I am making today (e.g. see my work now available at http://artcatto.com/artists/adamgreen/), and my love for movie music continues unabated.
Here are a selection of posters with architectural themes, another post, of more “human-centric” works will follow shortly…
When I was 19 and around the same time a similar thing was happening to the Woody Allen character in the film Manhattan, my partner of the previous two years left me for another girl. No jokes; she really did, and more unsettling than that, she destroyed my two old teddy bears; and all because – according to her sister – I refused to marry her.
To this day I can’t quite get my head around how a denial of a heterosexual wedding led almost instantaneously to a life of lesbianism? The teddy thing on the other hand, I sort of get.
The reason I mention this is because in the process of resurrecting much of my old artwork with the aid of my new slide scanner I recently came across several portrait sketches in various media I made of that very individual. They were all done in the space of a few days a short while before she broke up with me, and looking at them now it’s not hard to see how she was feeling about me. But whether her glumness and anger was because of my refusal to wed, or because she had already discovered her true sexuality, or just due to some sort of resulting confusion, I will never know.
Whatever, the drawings make for an animated and highly expressive montage, and represent a vivid emotional snapshot of a dramatic moment in our then-young lives. And the good news is, although we are no longer in touch, I know from my sources that she has been living happily with that same “other girl” ever since. Hopefully there have been some smiles along the way and no further damage to innocent teddy bears.
Stick a building – any building, on the edge of the land, where it meets the sea; on a sunny day, beneath a vast dome of blue sky, and something magical happens. Colours seem more intense; shadows seem darker; and tones seem more dynamic; making – often humble – utilitarian structures appear like architectural masterpieces.
During my many years of travel I’ve often been struck by the allure of these sun-kissed lumps of timber, steel and concrete. And without further ado, presented below are a small selection of those I was fortunate enough to be able to record in photograph.
In the summer of 1979 I spent two weeks with a friend in his apartment on the south western outskirts of Jerusalem. My host shared a studio with me at art school (in London) and had been whetting my painterly appetite with descriptions of the scenery in the hills close by his apartment. Although I was already developing into a studio-based artist, the thought of walking out into the Jerusalem forest, portable easel on shoulder and painting box in hand seemed exotic and enticing. And so it proved to be.
Every day for around a week we rose at the crack of dawn and walked across ancient pine-wooded terraces to a shaded clearing perched dramatically above the picturesque village of Ein Kerem and sketched madly from morning to sunset. The combination of the dappled light, the changing colours and tones as the sun traversed the sky, the constant humming of the cicada and the aroma of pine needles intoxicated our spirits. And as we ate our rustic picnic lunches, washed down with wine and then dozed, we dreamed we were reincarnations of Gauguin and Van Gogh.
I did all my sketching in pen and coloured ink. I found the intensity and the fluidity of the ink perfect for expressing the colours of the landscape and capturing the immediacy of the given moment. Then later, early the following year, back in my studio in London I found I could use the ink sketches to transfer that sense of moment onto canvas – thus capturing the moment and giving it both permanency and with expanded depth and breadth.
Presented here is one of the original ink sketches, and the culminating oil painting I made from them. I felt that the device of a triptych would give me the scope to represent not just the colours, and flow of the landscape, but also its altering mood across the course of a single day. This was my first attempt at a triptych and looking back at it now, although far from fully resolved,the sheer unadulterated joy of it does nevertheless bring a smile to my face. Whether or not Paul or Vincent would smile or smirk is another question altogether.
Followers of this blog might remember the posts I did last year featuring my old greetings cards designs, and how I highlighted the problems artists had (and I guess still have) ensuring that their designs are not stolen by card publishers . After being ripped off myself – https://adamhalevi777.com/2016/11/05/christmas-cards-the-polar-series/ – I resorted to sending in preliminary rough sketches only for consideration. Although this did not necessarily stop unscrupulous publishers stealing the concepts, or the jokes themselves, it did at least mean they had to come up with their own finished style. With my “polar” series, I was as upset with the fact the company stole the distinctive look of my designs – and then ran with them for decades, as I was by their theft of the individual jokes.
Anyway, with the Christmas card examples posted below at least, my new method worked. The company in question signed a contract with me before receiving finished colour plates for the images they chose. As things turned out, they went with most of them, except I think for two, which, as I recall, they informed me were a “bit too irreverent for our customer base”. See if you can guess which two? A clue to one of them is that I went ahead and coloured it for myself anyhow…
When I first saw the movie The 300 Spartans I was only seven-years-old but it made an impression on me that has endured for the following fifty years. The story of King Leonidas and his heroic stand at the Pass of Thermopylae lit a touch paper in my young spirit that shaped the course of all my future careers, and even perhaps the way my life has panned out.
Most peoples and nations on Earth have their own such iconic tales of heroic defeat, which seem to lend themselves to idealistic notions of ultimate sacrifice for the sake of freedom. For instance, the (European) Americans have their Little Bighorn, the British, their Charge of the Light Brigade and the French, the last stand of the Old Guard at Waterloo.
The thing however, that distinguishes the action of the 300 at the Hot Gates back in 480 BC from all of the above, and gives it such universal and lasting allure to most peoples of the Earth (with the possible exception of Xerxes’ modern heirs) was its almost total contextual non-ambiguity.
The actions of Yankee Blue Coats against the Plains Indians, Cardigan’s “Cherry-Bums” in the valleys of the Crimea, and Napoleon’s “grognards” (grumblers) in a Belgian wheat field; for all their undoubted courage were primarily in the interests of conquest — the very thing that Leonidas was attempting to halt. Custer, Raglan and Napoleon — their widely varying military abilities notwithstanding — were all closer to Xerxes than to Leonidas in the context of their respective battle objectives. Thus, in many ways, the Spartan King offers us an historical rarity; a genuinely noble defeat in the purest of causes — defense of the homeland; more of a Wounded Knee than a Little Bighorn.
About two years after my young imagination had been fired by the story of Leonidas and the 300, I became familiar with an account of a similar military engagement in the even more ancient annals of my own people’s narrative. And so enthralled was I by the story of King Saul and his son Jonathan’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines on the slopes of Mount Gilboa I actually wrote a book about it some forty years later. (That book, among other things, led me to setting up this blog and so it’s probably high time I posted an article along these lines.)
And just as Leonidas’ death was a powerful inspiration for the following Golden Age of Greece, the defeat of Saul and Jonathan actually secured both the concept and the durability of Israelite, and then Jewish nationhood.
However, while Leonidas is lauded by the modern Greeks as their consummate national hero, for reasons too complex to go into here, the only monuments to Saul’s act of ultimate sacrifice at Gilboa are the exquisite seasonal wildflowers which annually defy the curse of David upon the mountain’s slopes (2 Samuel 1:21). My book was a vain attempt to rectify the situation; to raise the status of Saul within the national consciousness of modern Israel and Jewish people everywhere, so that instead of heading straight from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem and the other “holy sites” ; they would instead make for Gilboa, where a nation was forged in the blood of its first, and most noble king. So noble in fact, his own usurper felt obliged to concede as much in his timeless lament (abridged here)…
I should point out that now poultry fats are once again in vogue, and have even been declared healthy (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-j-wurtman-phd/saturated-fat_b_5107298.html ) one can purchase ready-rendered duck and goose fat in most supermarkets and grocery stores. But unless one has access to a kosher butcher, rendered chicken fat remains mysteriously elusive. This is a shame, for when made properly it is not only lighter and every bit as useful and tasty as its “posher” cousins, but also indispensable to genuine Ashkenazi (central and eastern European Jewish) cookery.
Fortunately, making schmaltz is as simple as it is rewarding. Turning a heap of chicken fat and skin into a refined golden liquid is as close as a cook can come to culinary alchemy.
When we’re in Spain, our market butcher Pepe, gives me bags full of skin and fat which would otherwise end up in the stomachs of the local pigs. This saves me the work of butchering a chicken myself and means that I can make months worth of schmaltz at a time. When in the UK however I normally do everything myself from scratch.
The kind of schmaltz one ends up with depends entirely on the type of chicken the skin and the fat originates from. The best quality schmaltz comes from old boiling hens, but these days, in Spain and England at least, these are hard to get hold of, and extortionately expensive when available. The rendered fat they yield has a mildly gamey quality, ideal for cooking things like gedempte beef, while the grieven (resultant pieces of fried chicken skin) is slightly chewy. The next best choice would be any kind of free range chicken, and corn-fed birds produce an especially golden schmaltz. But, if one is economising, then a large, fat supermarket broiler will do the job just fine, with the added bonus of a light grieven that melts in the mouth.
The illustrated recipe below was made using the latter variety of bird, but is applicable to all types of chicken – although with an old hen you will need a cleaver in addition to a very sharp knife. If shopping from a proper butcher, one could of course ask him/her to prepare the bird for you and proceed with the rest of the process from there.
The small amount of effort required to make schmaltz is more than worth it, and its uses are almost limitless. From humble egg and onion, to chopped liver, to kneidlach, to chicken blintzers, to latkes and potato kugel and all kinds of ein-gedempte meats and fowl, or just scraped on your breakfast toast with a little salt, schmaltz is to Ashkanazi cuisine what butter is to Belgian and olive oil is to Spanish. It is the essential flavour constant that gives Yiddisher cooking its distinct, and moor-ish character.
My mother and grandmother only used koshered chickens and would drop finely sliced onion into the grieven for the last few minutes of the rendering. While this resulted in a salty and rich flavoured grieven, it also made the grieven slightly soft and greasy and in addition gave the schmaltz a salty, oniony taste. I, on the other hand use non-koshered chickens and omit the onion, giving a more neutral tasting schmaltz (similar to unsalted versus salted butter) and a lighter, dryer and crispier grieven. It’s all a matter of taste, and completely dependent upon the whim of the cook, though I would suggest, if using a koshered chicken do be careful about adding extra salt.
Finally, once made, one can store the schmaltz for months, either in the fridge (where it will become opaque and solidify) or in a cool, dark pantry.