My Picture Book Days

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I wanted to go to Vienna. In November. For no reason really other than to see the misty outline of national monuments against the cold of a morning sky and wake to know that I could wrap up warm and spend all day looking at them.

You lined up empty metal film canisters, like bullet casings, across the glass dresser top and filled each one with paper scraps ripped from your notebook covered with bits and pieces, patterns of thought, observations of endless fields through train windows, nothing special, nothing particularly revealing, just little written trinkets ready to be given away.

After each one was loaded you would pass a dozen to me and keep a dozen for yourself and we would duck below the wooden window ledge of our fourth floor room in the Bristol Hotel and toss the canisters out as gifts to the city.

Christ Almighty people don’t half kick up a fuss when confronted with the milk of human kindness, consumed by the unruly nature of the presentation rather than the contents, hammering at the door, summoning porters and night porters who would flee their elevator homes throwing back the cage doors with a flourish calling for explanations and room keys.

You were all frowns and vapour in the wardrobe mirror as I threw your overcoat and you threw me back an inflatable beach ball, all the colours of the rainbow and you told me to let it down or leave it behind because we couldn’t move quickly with that and I decided to let it down.

In the street I slipped on our own canisters and you cursed me with one of those words you’d picked up while working the zeppelins in that brief period during the twenties when you could make an honest living checking tickets up there.

And I seemed to be recognised in the street, you weren’t, but I seemed to be, everyone seemed to be looking at me and I didn’t know why. Perhaps they recognised me from my television days? My radio days? My Kinetoscope days? My picture book days? You waved your hands and gestured towards me to hurry up and I did and then I fell backwards and I slipped away again.

Love Streams

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Susannah? When did I see her last? We’ve been through all this. Haven’t we? Outside Peter Jones. We’d been to Cadogan Hall and she’d just been offered an international tour playing second cello in a Candide revival. We’ve discussed this. I set it up for her. You’ve got to be a fixer in this life, there’s nothing better to be than a problem solver, to take on other people’s burdens seamlessly, confidently, because you have all the answers.

I had all the answers. I scribbled them all down in a notebook. I was one of those insufferable people who kept a notebook, a diary. Chatto and Windus published it and the book topped the New York Times bestseller list. I was a bestselling writer. I sat on the set of The Tonight Show, talking to Johnny in my Brooks Brothers suit, smoking my Lucky Strikes, talking about how Henry Miller had considerably altered my perception of life, even though I’ve never read him. My publisher gave me a gold watch because I’d sold so many copies, all while Susannah was playing second cello in second-rate cities across America. She must have seen my face on the television, she must have, appearing through the static on one of those motel sets as a Missouri cloudburst rattled the metal blinds in her bedroom.

She used to take me to concerts, Mahler and Bruckner and Charles Ives, even though I liked rhythm and blues and only rhythm and blues she insisted that I gave these things a try. They played Mahler’s 5th Symphony and I hated it, apart from a couple of seconds, a bar I suppose, of the Adagietto, about eight minutes in when the strings made me feel like I’d stumbled into a universe full of pillows. So, tired, in other words.

We went to a Venetian coffee bar. After the concert. Did I mention we were in Venice? For her birthday. It was the Feast of the Redeemer, the Festa del Redentore, and there were fireworks exploding everywhere, coloured light licking the top of terracotta steeples and terracotta tiled domes, and it was too crowded. Oh, how I hate crowds, nothing beautiful should ever be crowded, don’t you think? Well, Venice was full that weekend, people were surging through the piazzas shouting and yelling and carrying colourful streamers and all the boats out on the lagoon were blaring their horns.

I said something meaningful to her, like, ‘I’ve never been so happy in all my life’, or some such thing, but she didn’t hear me. I can always say something meaningful amid a clamour, but I can never speak my mind in total silence. Strange that, isn’t it?

We kissed by the Lido. There was too much noise and someone kept tugging at my sleeve trying to sell me firecrackers. We made love in The Gritti Palace. We flew home.

A year or so later her depression set in and I arranged for her to get away and the last time I saw her was after that concert. At Cadogan Hall. Outside Peter Jones, remember?

Funny, every single vestige of that night that I had on my person when we returned to London Airport is still collecting dust on my writing table. The ticket stub for the concert, the receipt from the coffee bar and a couple of matchbooks from here and there, little pieces of a night that I had little recall of and didn’t even like all that much at the time. It all seemed to mean so little to me then, but means so much now.

I’m losing track of things. I can’t remember where I left my cigarettes, my loose change. The love streams of my life have stopped leading anywhere in particular. People still ask me to sign that book, its purple dust jacket increasingly battered in the copies I see these days. Please tell me I haven’t written something enduring, something abiding, I couldn’t cope with that, no, never. Time shows up all dishonesty in the end.

The Orders of the Night – Anselm Kiefer – Royal Academy of Arts

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From the lingering drone that opens Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’ to the riotous satire of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Three Penny Opera’, German culture is nothing but consistently stirring and the work of Anselm Kiefer stands at the forefront of the Germanic cultural panorama. But in the years since the Second World War, this stack or artistic riches has not always been fully acknowledged by Germany’s own people, a fact Kiefer has been instrumental in correcting.

Like many who have visited the current Royal Academy retrospective of his work, I was acquainted with Kiefer’s art, but perhaps was not aware of the breadth of his practice or the scope of his influences. Over a forty five year career he has embraced painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, woodcuts and architecture, examining universal questions of belief and meaning as he progressed with each of these disciplines.

Addressing the Nazi tyranny is another considerable plank of his work something every German artist emerging in the immediate postwar years had little choice but to consider. At the same time as producing an examination though, Kiefer has also participated in an act of reclamation, retaking the iconic fields and forests and mythological heroes of his homeland for use in his work, freeing them from the Nazi propagandists who had twisted their meaning.

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The best examples of this attempt at reclamation can be seen in his ‘Occupations’ and ‘Heroic Symbols’ collections. ‘Occupations’, created for an exhibition in the late 1960s features self portraits of the artist in his father’s World War II uniform performing the banned Nazi salute in front of historic European sites. Naturally the paintings caused outrage, but they were not devised to shock, rather to make the point that the Nazi legacy could not be cloaked in a veil of silence and forgotten about, rather it had to be approached. Kiefer made plain that his generation owned their nation’s past whether they liked it or not and willful ignorance would not be the best foundation on which to construct a new Germany.

Kiefer again slips into the guise of a Nazi in ‘Heroic Symbols’, depicting himself standing in front of statues of Roman warriors while performing a Nazi salute. As well as raising a subject that had been cloaked in a grim public silence, Kiefer also dons the uniform in order to try and reenact what his forebears did in an attempt to understand them and to try and conclude if, in their position, he would have participated in the horror.

Some have tried to label Kiefer’s work as ‘Neo-Romantic’ a title that has been challenged, but does bear some credence when one considers his often barren landscapes. In ‘Winter Landscapes’, Kiefer depicts a snowy scene, the white stained with blood that drips down from the severed head of a woman that floats ethereally over the forests and fields.

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Trees figure in many of Kiefer’s landscapes, Germany being a nation where the forest is as important to its national identity as the sea is to Britain. Kiefer’s trees reference ‘Yggdrasil’ the Norse myth that depicts an immense tree of life linking all the worlds of the universe.

This mythological, almost alchemistic element, is a theme that is consistent throughout Kiefer’s practice and in the 1970s he began to examine the link between the earthly and celestial more closely. In ‘The Orders of the Night’ the artist portrays himself lying beneath huge sunflowers which embody the connection between the Earth and the sky as the flowers follow the sun. “When I look at ripe, heavy sunflowers, bending to the ground with blackened seeds,” Kiefer says, “I see the firmament and the stars.”

Kiefer was particularly inspired during this period by Robert Fludd, the Elizabethan astrologer who believed that for every plant on Earth there was a corresponding star in the sky. Fludd famously published his ‘Diagram of the Spheres’ in ‘Utriusque Cosmi’, one of the most famous occult symbols ever created. The diagram is constructed from a series of concentric spirals, each representing angels, stars and elements, which stretch downwards from God to our own terra firma. The document resembles the rings of a tree trunk, a Kiefer influence already discussed, but half circles, arcs and crescents are also recurring in his work.

The artist shows himself lying beneath an arc in one painting representing the progression of life, while in another painting Kiefer draws inspiration from the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, noting that clay writing tablets in the area were created from the same material as bricks, questioning if building bricks, like tablets, can contain the notes and memories of a lifetime. In ‘The Ages of the World’, a piece of sculpture created by Kiefer especially for this exhibition the artist presents a funeral pyre representing geological time and the history of art and culture, a totem pot-marked by meteorites and fuel, suggesting the cyclical nature of our planet’s birth, death and rebirth.

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In the final gallery of the exhibition the artist turns to the primary inspiration of many German artists throughout history and the lifeblood of the country, the River Rhine. He presents the river in woodcut form and in doing so remembers the role it played in his youth when the Rhine would regularly flood the basement of his childhood home near the French border and he would wonder if the neighbouring nation had invaded his house in liquid form.

One of the most impressive elements of Kiefer’s work is that it exists at all. The German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote in the wake of the Holocaust: ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,’ and the quote bears testament to the challenge Kiefer faced, as a young German born  just two months after Hitler’s death, when he chose self expression as his life’s work.

In his 1981 works ‘Margarethe’ and ‘Sulamith’, Kiefer attempted what Adorno had deemed impossible and approached the Holocaust in two paintings. On the two canvases of oil, acrylic and straw he depicted the mythic ideal of German womanhood Margarethe on one and Sulamith representing Jewish womanhood on the other. Margarethe and Sulamith were both referenced in Paul Celan’s poem ‘Death Fugue’, which he composed in Czernowitz, a German labour camp after his parents had been murdered by the Nazis. The poem depicts Jewish prisoners referring to the two women in a song as they dig their own graves under the watch of a blue-eyed German commandant holding a serpent in his hands. The words of the song note that the women’s hair, once beautiful, was now streaked with ash from years of war.

Margarete (Kiefer 1981)

Kiefer unites the two in the artworks. He does not depict the women themselves but instead the Margarethe canvas references the once black hair of Sulamith with shadow curving and worming its way through the painting, while the Sulamith canvas is streaked with golden straw, a reference to the lost lustre of Margarethe’s blonde hair, the two paintings together reunifying the Germany the Nazis tore apart.

“The Germans have cut themselves off from half of their culture,” Kiefer said in response to his work, “they have disabled themselves. One thing is the Holocaust, the other this amputation of oneself. All the culture of the 1920s and thirties, in all its fields, theatre, philosophy, cinema, science etc, disappeared.” It is not too much of an overstatement to say that Anselm Kiefer began the German people’s reacquaintance with their artistic soul.

All photographs courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Corn Relish

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I was sat with him, him being my father, in the Cine Gaumont, watching The Living Daylights, when he grabbed my hand and pulled me up the aisle, mid-picture, making for the swing-doors and the street as election flyers fluttered through the evening air.

Back at our tiny flat in the Barrio Norte, I watched him rifling through the utensil drawer, lording it over our next-door neighbour who shouted obscenities through the fibreboard kitchen wall.

After a glass of milk and a handful of macadamia nuts we ran back into the Buenos Aires night, a blade stuffed down his black leather jacket with the cross stitched green dragon on the back that once, age four and a half, I had tried to unpick with a knitting needle and a pair of bevel edged scissors.

We stopped for a hot dog, at the silver-plated stand by the Casa Rosada with the picture of Ronald Reagan on the back wall stuffing his face with a foot-long showboat.

My father ordered the same and asked, “Hey, what’s this crunchy shit they’ve sprinkled on top of it?”

“Corn relish.”

“Corn relish? What the fuck is corn relish?”

Finished, but still hungry, we made our way down to the Chacarita burial grounds where the moonlight glints off the filing cabinet tombs of our nation’s dearly departed and cursed a group of those squeaky arsed part-time delinquents who were kicking the living shit out of a life-sized Eva Duarte doll, as we cut our loose-limbed, mad-eyed path along 9 de Julio Avenue, with the ragged descamisados, who were hauling their weathered wares down to the swap meets at the Pares La Plaza.

Frank Brown, the popular English clown, was there to meet us at the cemetery gates, all made up in the garb of his trade, a frilly white shirt with the multi-coloured pom-poms sowed onto the front and his hair lacquered back into a kind of pompadour.

And who was that with him? Vito Dumas. What a dumb-ass. The first man to navigate his way around the Southern Seas single-handed.

“Navigate this!” And my daddy shot him a Corte de manga.

“Juan Peron, Juan Peron, Juan Peron,” my father thumbed through the directory for the directions to the tomb, and off like a shot, we clambered over the tomb-tops, dead flower heads bursting and wilting in a flash as our trouser pleats caught the petals broadside on.

And then we saw the man himself, a marble frieze in sculpted stone, cow-towing to the Virgin and a host of her heavenly angels. We started to cup at the soil with our bare hands. “Knock, knock,” my father shouted as the dirt piled up beside him. “Knock-y bleedin’ knock!”

Ray Milland’s spirit sauntered past, tuxedoed, lowball glass in hand, sloshed of course, muttering something about tennis, “and how dare Pat Cash wear knee length shorts at Flushing Meadows,” and what the hell was Ray Milland doing in Argentina anyhow? “Playing tennis in dungarees,” he spluttered.

“Piss off Ray,” my father said, and he disappeared into a puff of smoke and glitter.

After an hour or so our muddy fingers struck the coffin top, Argentine sun-lady atop the casket winking and looking like the advertising mascot for a particularly bad brand of orange concentrate.

Gun shots sounded, pursuing security guards, frothing at the mouth, their ceremonial tam o’ shanter bobbles bobbling about on their heads as they ran towards us. My father pulled me downwards and we clambered for coffin cover coffin-side, suavely though, like the floppy haired English bastard in that Living Daylights film at the Cine Gaumont.

“Hang on, d-d-d-d-don’t shoot,” my father shouted, “I’m Timothy Dalton!”

When he flung open the coffin there was a tingling in the air, a kind of half arsed tingling, like the mystical forces of the Earth had conspired to create a moment, simply for the sake of it, because he was a former head of state after all yada-yada-yada.

To be honest I was surprised he was really in there, Generalissimo himself, Captain Courageous, looking like a pickled walnut in a naval uniform as a few apple-cider spiders scurried across his potpourri strewn forehead.

“Good-a-Evening, Mr President, you look just like you used to on the television,” my father said, finding himself making a difference, bullets ricocheting off the lead lined casket-top.

He told me to look away and it was about then that he started hacking. Yeah, it must have been about, then.

That year, on my birthday, my father bought me a little red steam train that worked its way across the living room floor, back and forth, chug-a-lugging, from the chaise longue to the fire place grate and back again, vapour pouring out of its metal spout. A little boy’s dream with its steam, that little steam train. It must have been that birthday that Juan Peron’s hands appeared propped up on top of our kitchen fridge, flipping the bird, green middle fingers pointing up to God in heaven. Yeah, the steam train birthday, it must have been then.

Waking Mr Aiton

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William Aiton opened his eyes on a shimmering scene, kaleidoscopic clouds fluttering across a glass sun, a bright summer sun that burned his bare head.

He was lying on his back and he started to feel around his sides, his palms dusting the warm wooden boards. He lifted his head but the heat and his headache forced it down again and his thoughts were soon back with the multicoloured clouds.

“What are those,” he said aloud. He thought he could make out little winged particles amid the moving mass, little creatures with stained glass wings. One of the winged creatures detached from the cloud and landed on his nose and started to strut towards the bridge. Then he realised, he’d gone to sleep pissed in the butterfly house again.

This was William Aiton, His Majesty’s Gardener at Kew and Richmond and he’d been out swilling and carousing all night with some Dutch sailors at The Frog and Fox on Bucnan Street.

The Frog and Fox on Bucnan Street

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“Ale, ale, ale, ale!” William chanted, banging his fists on the bench as one of the Dutchmen brought over a tray of freshly filled tankards.

“You’re quite a drinker for a flower man,” Bork, the officer of the party said to William in a heavy Dutch accent, slapping him on the shoulders, “please tell them down at the flower house that we,” he gestured towards his crew, “are fine drinking fellows too.”

“Well, I will,” William answered, “now, put your cups up,” his request was drowned out by the rising levels of backslapping and yelling going on around the table.

“I say fellas,” banging the palm of his hand on the wooden table, they all stopped and turned to face him, “fellas, put your cups up and let’s make a toast, huh?”

“A toast, a toast,” came the sarcastic grumblings of all those gathered, protesting at any unwelcome ceremonial transgressing on their swilling.

“To King George III, may he never lose his nose for a good posie, and to the Prince of Orange, may he,” William paused abruptly and searched his wanting knowledge of current affairs for a suitable addendum. “Uhm, may he, keep up the good work!” A sentiment that the Dutch seemed to go for.

The Kew Butterfly House

“Will someone oil those pissing hinges,” William shouted, nay screamed, to his assistant, Mr Darlington, who was now clip clopping his way towards his upturned frame which lay half in and half out of a flower box.

“Good morning sir,” Darlington said.

William sighed, looking from shiny shoe buckles upwards, “Good morning Mr Darlington, how about you oil those hinges once in a while, huh, how about you do your job, once in a while, Mr Darlington?”

“I’ll get to it straight away,” and he made off, without a clue what William was talking about, but with his eyes on an early break and a tot of gin, his tail coats brushing the tip of William’s nose as he made a theatrical about face.

“Oh, for God’s sake Mr Darlington, stop being an arse and help me up.”

Putting William upright was an easy task for a man built like Darlington, a man who had trained under the great strongman Thomas Topham at the Apple Tree Inn and could still stand on one leg, for several hours while holding a barrel of malmsey wine over his head, and did so, as an act of contrition, every Good Friday.

William steadied himself while Darlington reached into his coat pocket for his diary and after flicking through the pages for a few moments, looking for no particular destination, he cleared his throat and said, ”You know you have the Board of Green Cloth at eleven, don’t you?”

Reader to Writer: What was The Board of Green Cloth?

Writer to Reader: Picture this:

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The Board of Green Cloth, now there was an institution that would put the fear of God into any well meaning public servant’s heart. The Cloth met on the second Thursday of every month at St James’s Palace in order to settle the Royal Household’s financing, the King’s gardens at Kew and the monies allotted to it falling under their remit. William had to testify before them during their meeting to ensure his allowance was not reduced.

The six who sat around the table were certainly not a particularly welcoming assembly, resplendent in their long curly white wigs and golden robes of office, not one of them underweight, the gathered treasurers would sit grunting to each other while casting their eyes over a silver platter of cream cakes that was placed upon the green table cloth at the start of each meeting by a genuflecting flunkey.

The tray would contain an enviable mixture of French Fancies, Cremeschnitte, Tarte Tatin and always one impressively large Chocolate Eclair, which was purposely avoided by the subordinate members of the committee. This allowed the Lord Steward, the gout ridden Duke of Dorset, the opportunity to shout at the top of his voice, as he consistently did just before the first order of business, “will no one take the eclair!” This was always followed by the Duke reaching across the table, knocking over several goblets of wine in the process, yelling, “oh very well,” as he stuffed the cake into his mouth amid an explosion of cream.

The Kew Butterfly House

William stopped dead in his tracks, turned to Darlington and put his hands on his brick built shoulders.

“The Cloth,” he whispered, a look of sheer panic breaking out across his face, like a raging bull bursting through a paper wall, “the Cloth, today, of all days?”

“The Cloth, at eleven,” Darlington repeated, calmly, his eyes darting towards the little beads of sweat now appearing on William’s forehead.

“I dreamed I was having lunch with President Jefferson,” William said, lapsing into remembrances in order to dodge his panic, “after seeing a sign on the White House gates that said ‘Mister Jefferson today is having a buffet.'”

William remained silent for a few moments then huffed an elongated “Christtttt,” before marching off towards the door and declaring, “I am ready to work!”

“Oh, William,” Darlington called as his charge made his way out, clouds of butterflies darting about his moving outline like petals on fishing wire, “you have a paper donkey’s tail pinned to the back of your coat.”

William stopped, turned around and tore the paper impression from behind his back.

“Bork,” he cried to the heavens, brandishing the tail in a clenched fist, “damn you to hell!”

Exploring MALBA – Buenos Aires

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Sitting in England, staring at an atlas, if people still have those, Buenos Aires looks like it’s sitting at the end of the earth, but get there and you feel at home very quickly. Wandering around the cobbled streets of San Telmo, soaking up every cliche coming true, in a good way, you swagger around like a local, forgetting the fact you’re lost, as a man in a muted post horn tee shirt sells you prog tango records, while a woman in a kaftan, next door, stuffs blood sausages and slaps veal cutlets into breadcrumbs. All this in a market hall where Eva Peron playing cards sit next to mangoes, in season, or out and bottles of wine and wooden cups crafted every which way to sip Yerba mate tea out of. If you’re willing to brave the never ending plane flight to get there, then Buenos Aires presents itself to you on a plate. You don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to get a gob full of Argentinian culture, be it viewing the bear pit down at La Boca where Maradona used to spirit dance his way around La Bombonera, or admiring the tango dancers down on Caminito, while the River Plate sits, like a millpond, at the end of the street.

Up in Palermo, amid the wide Park Avenue style boulevards, where stylish bars mingle with craft bakeries and coffee houses on streets named after near neighbours like Costa Rica and Uruguay, you will find the excellent MALBA museum. Devoted exclusively to twentieth century Latin American art, the museum is something of a revelation, not least because of the riot of colour you will find upon its walls, Latin American art it seems rarely does drab and when it does the passion bowls you over and kicks you in the knackers anyhow.

Created by Argentine moneybags Eduardo Constantini and designed by AFT architects, the sleek halls take visitors on an artistic journey from the modernism of the early twentieth century when South American artists took their cues from European Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism to the surrealist twenties when artists began to look to South America’s own ancient stories of magic and fantasy for inspiration. The exhibition culminates with the turbulent 1960s when art became a weapon against a brutal dictatorship. Here are some highlights from the collection.

Oscar Bony – El triunfo de la muerte

Oscar Bony was one of the most influential of all Argentinian artists, becoming a key figure in the Instituto Di Tella scene, an art school in Buenos Aries, which was an artistic hotbed. Bony emerged and flourished in Buenos Aires in the early 1960s in the brief period of unfettered artistic freedom between the fall of Juan Peron and the arrival of the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía in 1966. The rise of Ongania would prompt an intensifying of artistic power in Argentina starting when Eduardo Ruano famously smashed a photograph of John F Kennedy as a protest against American action in Vietnam, but this would ultimately give way to censorship, with the police shutting down anything that carried even a hint of an anti establishment message. This prompted Bony to flee to Milan, where he became a music photographer for a while. El triunfo de la muerte (The Triumph of Death) features a number of images of a man being shot in different theatrical poses, the bullet holes are actually visible in the glass to add to the dramatic effect. The piece offers no real continuity, it is not a comic strip despite appearances, instead it offers the message that there is no escape from death, this is not a picture of a process, rather it is a visualising of finality. There is though a political element, the bullet holes match those fired by a Walther PPK handgun, the same weapon that was used to kill Rodolpho Walsh, an Argentine investigative reporter who was murdered in Buenos Aires in 1977 as he was about to file his famous ‘Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta’ which exposed the damage the regime’s economic policies were having on the Argentine people. This work offers an image of a man reaching the peak of his expression right at the very moment of his death.

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Maria Freire – Sudamerica No.10

An example of how South American artists, despite their own rich tapestry of culture, were sometimes inspired by European history. Maria Freire, an artist from Uruguay, was often inspired, when creating her Sudamerica series, by Medieval imagery, which is surprising given the utterly modern feel of her work. Created in 1958, the Sudamerica series features a relatively reserved colour palette, something that she would go on to expand in her later work. Rhythmic patterns and chains of symbols are featured throughout her portfolio.

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Oscar Bony – La familia obrera

This piece prompted something of a controversy when it was first shown in 1968, a time when Argentina was in the grip of military dictatorship. The work was originally live action, with Bony ‘hiring’ a mother, father and son to sit on a platform at the Instituto Di Tella, while sounds from their everyday life played behind them, creating a kind of staged voyeurism. MALBA honours the work’s original power by displaying a six foot still of the instillation. La familia obrera was of course a mould breaker, blurring the lines between performance, art and sculpture, but it was more than that, it was a particularly bright spark, in a year full of bright sparks, 1968, which further spread the flames of political tumult already raging around the globe. It was also a piece about the exploitation of the working classes of Argentina. They were Evita’s power base, she called them the descamisados, the shirtless ones, pouring money into charity programmes to help, while docking their pay checks to fund them. The people presented in this picture are representations of the working classes of Buenos Aires at the time, the working classes of wider Argentina must surely have not looked nearly as well healed, but perceptions are everything. The original work proved so controversial that it was shut down by police.

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José Pedro Costigliolo – Forma

Costigliolo was one of the most important artists in Uruguayan Modernism. He dipped his toe into Cubism, Purism and Russian Suprematism, producing both figurative and non-figurative works. In 1952 he co-founded the “Non-Figurative Art Group” in Uruguay with his artist wife Maria Freire. He is considered to be a pioneer in his home country and his work is never dull, but always a sharp explosion of pop colour.

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Lilliana Porter – Wrinkle

Wrinkle is all about perceptions, it presents pictures of crumpled up pieces of paper next to some typed dialogue, which suggests that the viewer reconsider the beauty of wrinkled paper. Born in Argentina in 1941, Lilliana Porter’s work has a sense of aesthetic austerity running throughout it, sometimes she uses little to say a lot and sometimes she uses little to say nothing at all. The printed conversation between ‘emm’ and ‘ett’ kicks off with:

“emm: so are they wrinkled pictures or pictures of wrinkles?

ett: well to begin with, they’re not pictures.

emm: and what would you call them?

ett: i’d call them still-lifes of action paintings.”

Before concluding:

“emm: who needs wrinkles?

ett: you may not need them, but you’ve got them.

emm: that’s what I mean, wrinkles aren’t very nice. Wrinkling things up is messy….destructive.

ett: don’t moralise. So is god……”

Before going onto describe all the majestic things that are wrinkled, ripples of water, your pants, the surface of the moon, oh and this article, when you rip it up and go, ‘that’s enough of all that!’ But, it will still be beautiful and there’s nothing you can do about that, sorry!

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The Cloth Nixon

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I was on one of those sightseeing trips out to the caves in Arizona with the Native American paintings on the walls, with Alison Gordon, a friend from LA. Well, I think we got on the wrong bus, because it was full of Second World War veterans each offering hurried salutes, as they filed past us in their garish yellow zoot suits.

We could have made it right there and then, in the semi-darkness of the cave, but I found myself pulling away and making my excuses.

“Something about this cave seems to creep me out,” I said, gazing around open mouthed and I held out my bare arm so she could feel my goose pimples.

Of course we missed the bus back, the veterans waving their sarcastic goodbyes, rubbing mock tears out of their eyes and wah-wah-ing through the open windows as the bus disappeared into a cloud of dust.

I flagged down a fleet side half ton 1973 Chevrolet pick-up truck and asked the driver, Chardeene, a long haired fellow wearing a West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band t-shirt, if he’d be able to take us back to Phoenix. He accepted and told us, as we clambered in, to mind the electric jug that
was deposited in the passenger side footwell.

The seats were covered with old beach towels and the air within the cab was thick with marijuana smoke. Chardeene said he was on his way to see The Morris Majors, an underground West Coast pop sensation, who were appearing in Phoenix that night.

Alison was transfixed by the thought of seeing the Major’s bassist, Declan de Ver-a-Tay, in person, he was something of a dreamboat by all reports, who would furl tiny coloured fairy lights over his Hofner Ignition during gigs to add to his appeal, the natty bastard. Alison declared that we had to go.

“Are you crazy,” I remember saying to her, “have you lost your mind?”

Chardeene snapped, sneering some rubbish about the Supreme Court, leering around the cab with his swimming eyes, pegging me, with just one look, as one of those ya-hoo-ing ‘let’s keep shipping the lads off to Indochina,types.

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Realising I had little choice, I quarter-heartedly assented to the trip. It was one of the stages in my life were everyone appeared to be spineless and I put my foot through his electric jug in retribution.

The car hit the kerb in front of the Kino Club as it came to a full stop, and the jolt knocked the radio into life, a jazzy saxophone part and a lyric about Mexico City forcing its way through the crackly static. We got out and I eyed the club’s neon sign, a geisha girl with a parasol doing a Charleston on the wing of a Sopwith Camel and I blushed, my mouth gaping at the freewheeling mix of cultures there.

Alison walked ahead with Chardeene who shepherded her deep into the Kino. The first room appeared to be some kind of boxing club, an oblong shape with four rings crammed in sideways. I broke away to watch the sparing, an older, balding man and a younger man, both jumping from side to side in black plimsolls and yellow shorts with a white stripe down each leg. The younger man had gag squeakers in his gloves, which let out a comedic eek every time he took a punch.

The air conditioner units thudded overhead (squeak) and a man wearing harem pants, sandals and a tie-dyed turtle neck jumper with the words ‘Dress British, Think Yiddish’ stenciled across the front, approached me. He introduced himself as A. Newton Taylor (squeak), “I’m the owner of the joint,” he announced, leaning on the ropes, taking puffs on his stogie (squeak).

“Do you know that broad who came in with Chardeene, just then? “

“Sure do compadre,” (squeak), I answered.

“You ever get over to Chavez Ravine when you’re in LA,” he asked me, motioning towards the boxers, sprinkling fag ash all over the ring side, “because that’s were all the prize fighters are.”

“Don’t you mean Dodger Stadium?” I said.

And he was struck dumb (squeak), these small town folks sure don’t have a clue.

A. Newton Taylor liked to introduce his acts onto the stage in a verbal torrent of old British music hall slang and he introduced The Morris Majors amid a shower of ‘without further ados’ and ‘ladies and jelly spoons’. The crowd lapped it up, someone even threw a negligée. photo(3)

I wandered into the main room and Alison was idling by an amp, smoking a cigarette as The Majors chugged through a twangy version of Slip Inside my Gilded Octopus House and I thought about the couple of times we’d been out back home, put on our real good looking clothes and taken on the town.

The music got duller, but the drugs were plentiful and the coloured festoons were soon glinting, their multicoloured beams smearing into the wooden ceiling. Alison looked beautiful in the quarter-light, swaying gently to The Morris Major’s pitiful blend of bland muzak.

I considered the side of her face, while she made dreamy eyes at Declan and I wondered what had made me shy away from her earlier. I turned, distracted by a phrase, unusual to these parts, Hudson-Mohawk Dutch slang by the sound of it, I thought that had died out, but hey-ho, and by the time I’d turned back, A. Newton Taylor, the greasy old rooster, was all over her, a trail of black feathers leading from his wilting gilet.

“Hey Django shit-face,” I shouted, “get off my girl!”

That was pushing it a bit, I know, and Alison seemed to be enjoying being with him, but I bet she was thinking about Declan, or maybe me, yeah perhaps she was thinking about me.

“I didn’t even know you two were together,” A. Newton Taylor said, shamelessly, clicking his fingers as he spoke, as if he were auditioning for West Side Story.

“We’re not brother, we’re not, but she clearly wasn’t in to you.” 

He was all ‘yeah, yeah,’ and he was married anyway, to the kind of girl who liked to wear an inordinate amount of woolens and I told him to fuck off back to Chavez Ravine.

A shout went up over the shoddy stoner musak, followed by a chorus of kazoos and slide whistles, which everyone carried around on their person in those days just in case a slapstick situation should develop.

Everyone started to dash outside and Alison followed and grabbed my hand so she wouldn’t leave me behind and we moved with the people, all gabbling away in their Hudson-Mohawk Dutch, until we reached the parking lot and Alison lit a cigarette, and offered me one, can you believe, and I said no thank you very much.

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Out of the low hanging desert fog came a military helicopter dangling a cloth Richard Nixon from its left landing skid.

“They’re taking it to Pope Paul in Rome for exorcism,” said some stoner in a Bud Cort t-shirt standing next to me, motioning toward the effigy and I nodded ‘yeahhh’, real solemn like, you know, like I gave a shit.

Stitches, the Morris Major’s drummer, had brought his snare drum outside and performed a drum roll as the copter landed on the lot, overturning Chardeene’s truck in the process. A. Newton Taylor approached the door as the rotors slowed, bowing and curtseying, bowing and curtseying and the crowd, several deep in places, performed an impromptu Mexican wave.

I held Alison close and she had her arm around me, but that didn’t mean anything, and then out of the copter appeared a man wearing some fly duds, priestly garb, his purple and gold vestments covered in brass buttons and crumpled up magazine pictures of pin up girls from the 1950s, I could clearly pick out Lili St. Cyr, Bernie Dexter, even poor old Dotty Dandridge. With an inflatable crucifix in one hand, he made the sign of the vinyl record with the other, just a mid-air circle and a finger jab, and then he led us all in this reverent prayer for musical resurrection: ‘We don’t want Jim Morrison, we want The Electric Prunes, we don’t want Jim Morrison, we want the Electric Prunes.” 

Once the holy man and his retinue had processed inside, with A. Newton Taylor at the head of the group, the helicopter was up for grabs and I motioned towards Alison that she jump in and we take it for a spin.

“I don’t like the idea of stealing from a consecrated reverend,” Alison yelled over the whirling rotors as they started up.

“He’s not a consecrated reverend,” I said, maniacally flicking switches, “well, he is, but of his own church, recognised by a few bus stop dwelling crackpots, downtown.”

“You don’t understand, you’re an atheist,” Alison said, clicking her seatbelt in place and adjusting her seat.

I clapped the headphones on, pulled the collective and the helicopter began to rise, the cloth Nixon springing into life beneath us.

“I don’t think I’m taking advantage of my life enough to be able to say I’m an atheist, even though I want to,” I shouted over the noise as I began to bank over the low rise rooftops. “I’m the kind of guy who needs the reassurance that he’s got a shot at a second chance,” we took a dramatic dive as I spilled a can of beer, “you know, it just takes the pressure out of everything.”

I decided to make for our hotel and then, given that we now had the means, head for home. When Frank, the doorman, appeared running across the car park with our cases, he didn’t even bat an eyelid at the helicopter with the cloth Nixon bobbing about beneath it, he just politely informed me, knowing me to be a New Yorker, born and bred, that Hank Arron had hit the home run that night, which brilliantly rescued a haphazard day.

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As we approached the Sierra Nevada, I reached over and started caressing Alison’s thigh, then I thought fuck it and switched on the radio, Quick Silver Messenger Service, fucking primo. I looked down as Los Angeles began to twinkle into view and the cloth Nixon appeared to have its arms wide, with a big grin on its face, like it was embracing the entire city. I was the man who was bringing Richard Nixon back to Los Angeles and he was hugging the city and the city was hugging back.

In LA we landed on top of Don Pedro’s all night delicatessen. I realised too late that the Don had converted his roof into a garden to grow watermelons for his fruit terrine and great big watermelon explosions were soon sending fleshy pink fruit innards shooting upwards in geezers at either side of the copter. The cloth Nixon was covered in an unpleasant fruity gunk and I smiled sheepishly at Alison as slimy pips and assorted bits of goo squeaked down the widescreen.

We went into the shop and Don Pedro offered us spongecake, the coloured icing a papery mixture made from confetti he’d scooped up from outside the registrar’s office in Beverly Hills and then mixed with milk.

“None of that stuff for us, sweetheart,” I told him, “but we’ll have a couple of pieces of your strawberry cheesecake, if there’s any left, ” I said, pointing at the counter, “I know it’s late?” 

We ate the cheesecake on Hermosa Beach golf course, as a cold shower of sprinkled water returned us to our senses and then Alison said that she didn’t want to see me anymore. As the sun came up, the golden beams eviscerated, for a moment, the flapping red flag that marked out the ninth hole in front of us. We really exist at the behest of the universe, I thought, and then I thought of Don Pedro failing to put two and two together when he saw the watermelon footprints we’d left behind us. What a sucker, just wait until he goes up stairs.