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hokusai-wave-kanagawa1st July 2017 

The celebrated Japanese artist known as Hokusai (1760-1849) believed that when humans reached the age of 61, their life cycle began again. It follows that his best known work, Great Wave (1831), was produced when he was in his 70’s. Changing his name many times during his long lifetime, he settled on the name he called himself after the North Star, also meaning North Studio.

Hokusai lived in Edo, the former name for Tokyo, with his daughter Oi. They were constantly moving due to poverty. A fervent Buddhist, he produced hanging scrolls of Monk Nicheran sitting on a rock (1811). Everywhere he went, he recited a mantra. 

His most notable works utilised Prussian Blue, a newly acquired import into the Japanese market in the early 1900’s. He blended this pigment with indigo to produce the finest and widest shades of blue. It was the series of 36 views of Mount Fuji that finally gave him a living and made his name. Fuji features in the background of Great Wave and prominently in Red Fuji where the mountain is coloured a fiery orange-red.

At the end of his life he had more than 200 students and would throw his drawings out of the window as good luck charms, fortunately these were retrieved, along with many of his letters. When he was 90, he wrote that just 5 or 10 more years of life would make him the perfect artist. But, he already was a great artist, his unceasing quest to understand form enabled him to recreate the unlimited perfection of nature with a brushstroke.

Hokusai believed that all phenomena have spirit and is interconnected. You just have to look at his nature paintings such as Peonies with Canary, Azalea and Lesser Cuckoo (1834) and his series of Waterfalls to see that. He attributed life-giving powers to Mount Fuji, his talisman and symbol of immortality. He died at 90, his last painting a poignant scene of the spirit of a black dragon ascending his beloved mountain. 


An exhibition of his work is on display at the British Museum until 18th August 2017

September 2016

2016 is the 40th anniversary of Punk Rock and the British Library has a modern collection of punk and new-wave memorabilia on show.

Andy and the clashBy his own admission curators are always trying to draw attention to their collections. So, an exhibition celebrating punk’s 40th anniversary is Andy Linehan's opportunity to show that the British Library collects modern material as well as Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland and the Magna Carta, all recent exhibitions.

The British Library sound archives are amongst the most wide ranging in the world and mirror what the written word archive does. Its ambition to get hold of a copy of everything published in the UK relies on donations from record companies. Andy explained in the sunlit piazza overlooked by Paolozzi’s four metre high bronze statue of Isaac Newton measuring time, inspired by a William Blake  engraving how the exhibition came about.

“We utilised our own collection of records, fanzines, music press, flyers and personal documents, he said. "But some of the material, for example the letter from EMI Records sacking Glen Matlock, the original bass player with the Sex Pistols, we borrowed from England’s Dreaming author Jon Savage’s punk archives stored in Liverpool John Moore’s University.”

How easy was it to organise and who has seen it?

“It’s a complete mix of material and that’s one of the nice things about it. People of an age reminiscing about their youth and younger people discovering something completely new.  

Yesterday someone walked through with a couple of kids aged around 6 years old and one put on the headphones to listen to the Pistols and started reacting to the music, so the idea that kids can get something out of it is brilliant. We got lots of press interest in Japan, France, and America, so tourists put us on their ‘to see’ list."

Read more: Punk 1976-78

Tower of Babel 3
London, November 2015

Barnaby Barford has made his very own Tower of Babel out of 3000 bone china bricks piled high in the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Gallery. Each brick of the six metre high installation depicts a shop front around London photographed by the artist. At the bottom are the abandoned shops and pound shops resulting from austerity and at the top are the high-end boutiques catering for luxury-minded consumers.

It took Barnaby two years to produce the bricks, which represent the great British public’s obsession with shopping. And, it’s a playful swipe at consumer culture being a new form of religion, and a way to find heaven.

I met up with him in front of his Tower smiling and meeting people, full of his own invention, but with a slight hangover. And who can blame him, when he has already sold two thirds of his bricks which rise incrementally the higher you go up the tower: starting at £250, and rising to £6,000 a pop - a clever blend of art and commerce.

It’s great to see a young, living artist enjoying his sculpture in-situ and making money at the same time. Like any good work of art there was a buzz of positive energy around it that really got people talking. My friend and cultural companion Jani Rad's favourite shop Moi 2 is featured about a third of the way up the tower and shop owner Glyn has already brought the miniature version, which she is proudly displaying in her boutique.

Barnaby’s fine bone china bricks are for sale at the V& A’s online shop here:


Read more: Barnaby Barford's Tower of Babel

London, November 2015  chanel 1

Thank God for Charles Saatchi, despite his wife-hating ways! Say what you like, but yet again he has done the art loving public a great service with his beautiful ‘new’ gallery on Kings Road, Chelsea. Housed in the old Duke of York’s headquarters in a grand, Grade II listed building, it is a far cry from his first gallery space, a disused garage in Boundary Road, North West London. 

In contrast with the worthy, but slightly uptight V&A, where gallery attendants go apoplectic if you so much as point at an exhibit, and photography is verboten, the Saatchi is steeped in cool. The sensory experience starts in the wild garden (designed by the Rich Brothers) planted with bees in mind, where bird song piped through overhead speakers impart a sonic tranquility and trees with butterfly leaves lead you to the entrance framed with Doric columns.

I have come to see Mademoiselle Prive, a retrospective of the work of designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971). There is no entry price and the staff, who you do want to speak to you, are ferrying about in black uniforms wearing head microphones. The exhibition begins with a reconstruction of Chanel’s Paris showroom on 31 Rue Cambon, its sweeping staircase lined with multitudinous mirrors indicating her rise from back-room seamstress to influential couturier. In the ‘Deauville hat shop’, her trademark floppy fedora hats are assembled so that an animated miniature Coco, dressed in signature skirt suit and pearls, climbs out from one hat box and walks elegantly across the stand to another. Her disembodied voice informs the space that her relationship with British aristocrat Boy Capel was the catalyst to her opening shop and the success that followed.

Read more: Mademoiselle Prive at the Saatchi Gallery, London

19th October 2015Indigo-guizhou

The recent V&A David Bowie and Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibitions provided insights into the visionary genius of fashion leaders. It’s current exhibitionTextiles of India explores the origins of producing beautiful fabrics from the earth’s raw, natural resources.

Blues, reds, yellows and greens

India has provided the world with cotton and silk for centuries. Indian cotton was known to the Romans as  “woven winds”.  By the 1630’s fine quality, cheap fabrics imported from India by the Dutch and the British caused the complaint: “You can’t tell servant from master.”

The art of extracting colour from nature begins with a nod to indigo dyeing. Indigo is the magical blue colour derived from the leaves of the plant Indigofera tinctoria. And, India’s name is inextricably linked with both indigo and Indikon, the ancient Greek word for dye. Issac Newton named the sixth colour of his prism after it in 1660 when the East India Company were importing the pigment into England. An infinite array of patterns can be produced on cloth by string or wax resist dip-dyeing.

From the deepest red to the lightest pink, the shades so indicative of India’s crazily colourful chintz, are extracts from the root bark of the chay plant (Oldenlandia umbellata) which grows around the southern tip of India and in Sri Lanka. Unlike indigo, chay requires a mordant or a fixative to bind colour with cloth. A vibrant golden orange extract of turmeric flowers, plants  and roots (Curcuma longa) combines with indigo to make green. Surprisingly, pomegranate rind is rich in tannins from which numerous earthy and yellow tones come.

Read more: Textiles of India at the V&A

23rd January 2015

Flowers by Barry Morrisey The Café Art exhibition in the cosy café in Hampstead School of Art on a cold winter night was a heart-warming event. All of the artists taking part have in some way been affected by homelessness. Café Art was set up in 2012 over a cup of coffee by philanthropists Michael and Paul to give this different group of artists a chance to re-connect with society.  

So far around thirty-one cafés in London are participating by lending their walls to Café Art projects ( And, this colourful network has outreached to Bristol, Bath and Bournemouth. The Guardian has hosted a Café Art exhibition in their foyer and Christie’s housed a pop-up event. Picture exchanges between Café Art in London, Fresh Arts in New York and Home Ground Services in Melbourne have also helped to highlight the cause and International exposure is a great confidence boost for the artists concerned.

“Fundamentally, Café Art works because it gives an opportunity for ten different homeless charities to get together without the need for competition amongst them. For us, the purpose is to get the artist to the next level and to get the public seeing their work. When an artist sells a piece of work we connect them directly with the buyer and we don’t take a commission,” explained Michael.

Read more: Cafe Art Where Homelessness, Great Art and Coffee Meet

25th November 2013

isabella blow

The Isabella Blow exhibition is a beautiful manifestation of the creative triangle between muse Blow, designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy of incredible, unparalleled imagination. Two out of three of this formidable team committed suicide whilst still young, and it’s easy to see why with this overload of talent.

Philip Treacy’s variety and volume of hats has to be seen to be believed; a snail hat made of silk net and wire with stalk eyes, a plump green silk orchid hat with feather stamens, a rich red velvet concertina hat bisected by an open zipper partially revealing the face, a purple brocade trilby with an extended brim, black and red masks smothered with veils of swarovski crystals and a clam shell hat. There is an assortment of fascinators garlanded with clouds of red butterflies, cut out pop art red mouths, and white foam anarchy symbols. And feathers are fashioned to wrap around the head like downy snakes.

Rather like the reptile house at London Zoo, a collection of nature inspired installations are set behind glass. A gold mannequin clad in a stunning black corset, Yves Saint Laurent lilac snakeskin wedgies and a stingray teardrop clutch bag is eyecatching. She is entirely submerged in an underwater world of inky blue lobsters and shimmering black sand. Above the Perspex meniscus line, an intricately designed 16th century black galleon hat is sailing on the model’s head, its feather sails stiffening on the wind. 

An Alexander McQueen full length pink and black dress made from yet more feathers on silk with sculptured shoulders and a long train is undoubtedly the star of the show. A taxidermy bird of paradise headpiece completes the ensemble. Kimonos provide a timeless structure for a number of McQueen’s other outfits, notably a wedding dress worn with an ecclesiastical circular hat. And fellow St Martin’s graduate Tristan Webber has cleverly juxtaposed an armorial helmet with a red silk and blue appliqué silk dress teamed with purple suede platforms by Terry de Havilland.

Read more: Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore