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Part disciplined craftsman, part warehouser of beautiful things, I've learned that a well upholstered piece of furniture, like a great bag, repays you time and time again

Al loves…

Ed Kluz

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Laura Knight Portraits, at the National Portrait Gallery until October 13th:

Well worth a visit, 4 weeks left. So who was she? Definite vibes along the Nora Ephron and Erica Jong lines here, which might be misleading… she didn’t use her relationships as material for her art, nor was she an American writer (why do I love my New Yorkers so much..?) What I mean is that her work speaks to me as that of a woman who, despite societal pressure:
1. Managed to live as an artist;
2. Opened a dialogue on pockets of the world that intrigued her  (gypsy camps, women in factories, aristocratic families);
3. Embraced new directions, and indeed the doors her relationships opened, to nurture that sense of purpose;
4. Won (by all establishment accounts), becoming the first woman to be elected as a Full Member of the Royal Academy.

But it was not an easy path, with Knight having to learn to fend for herself from an early age. Though she is famed for following her subjects around in later years in a battered Rolls Royce, there were no silver spoons cluttering her paints box as a young artist. She bravely enrolled for Nottingham Art School aged 13, her father having died when she was 6, and in the same year she graduated, aged 18, her mother died of cancer, leaving no inheritance. Fortunately by then, however, Laura had met her husband, Harold Knight. He was 2 years older and the star student.

Someone who knows far better than I what made Knight tick and what part her marriage to Harold played, is Rosie Broadley, Associate Curator of the National Portrait Gallery and faithful warrior in the fight to bring Laura Knight to the nation’s attention. Rosie and I puzzled how Knight pushed forward in a male dominated sphere:

“She used to copy everything he did to improve. When they got married, it actually helped her to learn more about art, spending lots of time with Harold and his male artist friends, listening to their talks about art late into the night, which she hadn’t been allowed to do before. Their style and subjects were very similar until they moved to Cornwall, when Knight emerged from Harold’s shadow.

She always said he was the better painter, and he may have been a technically better painter, but he was a very different painter. Quieter and less interested in exploring different styles and subjects. He was very influenced by Vermeer and 17th century dutch art and liked to paint quiet, contemplative women very unlike his wife! He mainly painted domestic interiors and lots of portraits for mayors, businessmen, universities etc.”

The sale of each of their paintings and commissions kept her and Harold going, but it’s not clear how it worked out practically week by week.

“She does write about seeming to be affluent, but that she and Harold sometimes didn’t know where they would get the next months studio rent and that all the money from painting sales went into the canvas/materials etc for the next painting.

She said that she was only made RA a year before him, and got all the media attention because she was a woman, and so was better ‘press value’.”

The Rolls Royce she was famed for tracking the gypsys in was ‘vintage’ even in the 1930s. She hired it from a man who usually used it to drive weddings parties in Brixton. He also chauffeured the Knight’s around a bit. So grand, but not that grand.

Her unfulfilled ambition was to mount a big exhibition of his work. There has never been one because he’s perceived as being a teeny bit dull – certainly compared to Laura. They always kept separate studios, and she said they never showed each other what they were doing, but sometimes they painted the same person, and sometimes you can see Harold’s influence in her work. Often Harold didn’t approve of Knight’s subjects (circus) or style (painting too fast) and seems to have been a bit of a stick in the mud. But she writes adoringly of him in her book and of how necessary his support was to her.”

“Stylistically, even at art school she was accused of ‘painting like a man’ as though that was inappropriate. Later in her career, her pictures were criticised for lacking a feminine quality. It offended them that they couldn’t tell the sex of the artist from looking at the painting. She would have been far more palatable to the male establishment if she’d painted dainty flowers – and thus not been eligible for the type of success a man got to achieve. I don’t think she adopted a male style strategically, but she certainly refused to change and defended herself against the hypocrisy of it.

“She definitely approached her career in much the same way as any male professional did. I don’t think she ever questioned that she couldn’t have the same aspirations as her husband Harold, for example. As an orphan, she was unconstrained by family disapproval (although they had always supported her) and her husband supported her, and after women got the vote in 1918 there seemed to be a decade or so of real enthusiasm for women’s career potential. One contemporary critic noted that the Royal Academy needed her as much as she needed them.

“And she was great company, which helped her ingratiate herself with the men – Munnings, Lutyens etc, all loved her. Also, and this is just me surmising, as she was not overtly sexy or conventionally attractive she wasn’t sexually threatening, so was able to play a ‘man’s game’, without the complication of scandal or innuendo”.

Get thee to the NPG.

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Girls that get their story…

Documentary maker Treva Wurmfeld was paying attention on the set of Fair Game back in 2009. Respect to the then EPK girl who followed her nose and kept in with Sam Shepard, on set playing father to Fair Game’s protagonist Valerie Plame.

Fast forward a year or so and Shepard agrees to Treva making a documentary about him, or more specifically, his friendship with one Johnny Dark, having already taken the decision to publish years of letters between the two old friends. The result, Shepard and Dark,  a celebration of the lost art of letter writing,  opened this month at Woodstock film festival, (Shephard’s home town) scooping Best Feature Documentary and Best Editing of Feature Documentary. More screenings in NYC in November 8-15.

While ‘the letters forced them to look into the past and confront the choices that they have made, both good and bad’, Screen Daily suggests Shepard is the more closed of the two: ” The differences come into sharper, more resonant focus when Dark recounts their past. After Dark married an older woman named Scarlett, Shepard married her daughter, O-lan Jones, and the two couples lived together for years. When Shepard fell in love with Jessica Lange, he abandoned the family in 1982 and left Johnny, the homebody, to help raise Shepard’s son at the vulnerable age of 12.”

Having since split with Lange, that’s some serious material to get Shepard on camera talking about, and I really wish I could see this film.

Treva’s a smart girl so you can stop reading and listen to her interview here . But for everyone else and in her own words, “without giving away too much, he ended up copping to things which I think it takes a lot of courage to.”  It sounds like a case of making room for the subject to tell their own story, which maybe is easier to do when your subject is a Pulitzer winning writer, actor and director, but I guess I just have to find a way to see it.

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Nico, in her modern day form.. Lissy Trullie.

If I’ve got to spell it out, this video is calling me. The long cream pleats, the metallic collars, and Lissy’s bone structure and barnet. Boiling.

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Quite a lot about New York, Gillian Welch and jazz pianist Elan Mehler. It’s interesting to me when someone approaches something that is already amazing, and adds what they have to the equation to produce something new and heart stoppingly beautiful. Respectful reinvention is a really enjoyable productive process. Is it because it was the finest ingrediants to start with, or is it that you produce your best work when truly inspired by the subject? Either way, I think it’s a timely question with the current debate over whether the design copyright period should be extended from 25 years – a thorny issue which deserves a lot longer consideration than this post.

I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Elan in New York many moons ago and then on one of his trips to London I introduced him to my dear and beloved friend Mike. Within half an hour the two were like lifelong buddies and had headed off in a taxi together on some musical mission. Who knows how that meeting influenced their work. I’ve taken a lot of joy from bringing like minded people together, painful though it may be when life, and death, reminds you how unique they actually are.

But we can’t always meet, let alone recompense, the people who inspire us – the designers and artists whose products, unbeknownst to them, drive forward a productive relationship for other designers. I’ve studied and practised law for long enough to understand the necessity and profitability in having ones efforts protected, but I also see that any artist worth their salt won’t let someone elses good work go to waste. I’m not sure I support a change in the law so as to champion the rights of anyone 70 years after they’ve died over those who seek to learn and earn. Copying is as inherent to the creative process as it is prevalent in the market, and to fear rather than accept that reality is as limiting as believing you could never learn another language.

This one’s for you Mikey.

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Apprentice to the late, great cordwainer Stefano Bemer… Daniel Day Lewis. 

Now I’ll say upfront, this isn’t a crush on a hollywood powerhouse (I can’t stand Luvvies, as I used to mutter at Jez Butterworth on a regular basis, just to get a rise). This is a crush on a hollywood powerhouse’s work-life balance. I’ve burnt my lot trying to see what I could do with the cards the dealer dealt me, then Day Lewis saunters into the game with the royal tennis balls of a hand. News is, one week he’s an oscar winning actor, the next, he’s a shoe maker in rural Ireland. That’s right folks, after spending 10 months apprenticing to Bemer in 2000, DDL now allegedly spends much of his time in his workshop stitching leather shoes, sometimes cycling to the pub for a pint.

I am haunted by Day Lewis. I’m not saying I have nightmares about the guy, just that my go to reaction when I recognise someone is, and has been for some years, “is that Daniel Day-Lewis?” One boyfriend likened it to a kind of facial dysmorphic disorder. Truth is, the revelation that Dan bashes away at his cordwaining in a remote workshop in Ireland fits well with my hopelessly romantic ideal of someone noisily mending their sole.

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Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine. Again there is a cranking handle involved, this time it’s as organ-grinder for the original twittering birds machine. Deep.

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www.irisvanherpen.com..

Upholstery

Traditional or modern rehauls, be it family castoff, online find, or holiday souvenir. I upholster, recover, patch up, or design from scratch.

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Get organised with custom crafted sleek leather accessories. Every day seems a little easier with an organised bag, work journal, bookcover, or technology protection. Great as gifts or just for you.

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