Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Late words – Christopher Hitchens

Vanity Fair have continued their generous practice of making some of their finest commissioned writing available at no cost via their website.

One of the very last essays by Christopher Hitchens is a meditation on the supposed quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’ Christopher did not agree and his essay will convince you with his argument. It is one of his bravest texts and will stun you with its honesty.


The final paragraph of Christopher’s great essay begins:
‘I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stärker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker.’

Here is a distinguished writer who knows that Yiddish can express meanings that no other language can share so effectively.

Photograph of Christopher Hitchens courtesy of the blog of Charles P. Peirce and Esquire.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Chris Levine’s Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

One of the most inventive and important photographers working today is Chris Levine. Born in 1972 in Canada, his work is internationally acclaimed for both its human insight and its astonishing intimacy.

During 2004, Chris Levine was commissioned to make a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

In the course of one day, there were a few minutes of rest and repose. During those moments, he produced an unforgettable image of the Queen with her eyes closed. This image must rank as one of the most memorable images ever made of the world’s most famous woman.

To access Chris’s work refer to his website:

He recounted for The Guardian in 2009, the situation that led to his portrait of Her Majesty -

Here are Chris’s comments from The Guardian:
“I was commissioned to make a holographic portrait of the Queen in 2004, as part of Jersey's celebrations of its 800-year-old relationship with the monarchy. She was tickled by the idea of having a hologram done. I assumed there would be layers of bureaucracy when it came to telling her what to do — but the truth is, if she wants to be involved, it goes straight on to her desk. She is in control, there's no question about that.

I also assumed there would be committees dealing with what had to be put into the image: props, or iconography, or costumes. But they asked me what I wanted her to wear, so I got the opportunity to style the Queen. I looked at the crown jewels, and picked out a clean, simple crown with a cross. It was quite a thrilling moment when she walked in the door, wearing exactly what I'd asked her to.

During the shoot, there was a lot of bright light, noise, and each exposure took eight seconds, which is a long time to have to sit still. I wanted the Queen to feel peaceful, so I asked her to rest between shots; this was a moment of stillness that just happened.

Meditation was having a profound impact on my life at the time. I told her about how I'd go off on 10-day silent retreats, and she was very interested. I timed the exposures around her breathing – it seemed a way of tuning into her. Later, this image really stood out – it has such an aura about it, a power.

The challenge was to make an image that was modern, and to convey the Queen's relationship with the new millennium. It didn't have to be an oil painting or a conventional photograph. Why not have her eyes shut? We all close our eyes: this picture takes us into the Queen's mind, her inner realm.”

At Chris’s website you can see him discussing his great portrait:

Image copyright to Chris Levine.
With sincere thanks to the artist.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

More about Diane Arbus

I found some wonderful quotes by Diane Arbus that are totally underknown. You cannot escape Arbus's art, it is searing and unforgettable. She created some of the scariest images ever made by an Amercian artist.

I cannot reproduce any of her photographs here as her estate like to determine where her brilliant images are accessed.

Arbus on work
I hated painting and I quit right after high school because I was continually told how terrific I was… it made me feel shaky. I remember I hated the smell of the paint and the noise it would make when I put my brush to the paper. Sometimes I wouldn’t really look but just listen to this horrible squish, squish, squish. I didn’t want to be told I was terrific. I had the sense that if I was so terrific at it, it wasn’t worth doing.
Radio interview with Studs Terkel, 1968

In the beginning of photographing I used to make very grainy things. I’d be fascinated by what the grain did because it would make a kind of tapestry of all these little dots and everything would be translated into this medium of dots. Skin would be the same as water would be the same as sky and you were dealing mostly in dark and light, not so much in flesh and blood… It was my teacher, Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it’ll be…
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.
from a letter to Davis Pratt, Fogg Museum, Cambridge, 1971, in response to a request for a brief statement about photographs

On her subjects
I am working on something now, the eccentrics I have so long thought of, or rather people who visibly believe in something everyone doubts, and remembering A Commodity of Dreams [the title of Howard Nemerov’s collected short stories, published by Secker & Warburg, London, 1960] I wondered if there were any such anywhere round your vicinity which would provide me the excuse and oppty for a visit… Any impostors, or people with incredibly long beards, or ones who believe in the imminent end of the world, or are reincarnations or keep lions in their living room or embalmed bodies or even skeletons, or have developed some especial skill like a lady in Florida who is meant to eat and sleep underwater, or affect some remarkable costume or other, or collect things to the point of miserliness? Don’t trouble about it, or bother to answer, unless when you look up from the page the Messiah comes wandering out of the woods…
Letter to Howard Nemerov, her brother, 1960

One summer I worked a lot in Washington Square Park... The park was divided. It has these walks, sort of like a sunburst, and there were these territories staked out. There were young hippie junkies down one row. There were lesbians down another, really tough amazingly hard-core lesbians. And in the middle were winos. They were like the first echelon and the girls who came from the Bronx to become hippies would have to sleep with the winos to get to sit on the other part with the junkie hippies... I got to know a few of them. I hung around a lot. They were a lot like sculptures in a funny way. I was very keen to get close to them, so I had to ask to photograph them. You can’t get that close to somebody and not say a word, although I have done that.
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

I was riding my bicycle on Third Avenue and she was with a friend of hers. They were enormous, both of them, almost six feet tall, and fat. I thought they were big lesbians. They went into a diner and I followed them and asked if I could photograph them. They said, “Yes, tomorrow morning.” Subsequently they were apparently arrested and spent the night in jail being booked. So the next morning I got to their house around 11… The first thing they said was, “I think we should tell you” – I don’t know why they felt so obligated – “we’re men.”
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

On life
I suppose freedom is a bit eerie. It’s what I want but something in me tries to pretend I can’t. And there is so much work to working that there are moments, moments, where I stop and look around and it seems too arduous to go on. It isn’t of course. But that is why people have jobs and pay checks... it helps keep you from unanswerable questions.
Letter to her friend Carlotta Marshall, circa November 1969

I used to think consciousness itself was a virtue, so I tried to keep it all in my head at the same time; past, future etc. Tried even to feel the bad when I felt good and vice versa as if any unawareness was a Marie-Antoinette sort of sin. It’s like throwing ballast overboard to only do what there is to do NOW. A kind of confidence that later will bring its own now… It makes Sunday more Sunday and even Monday is better…
Letter to ex husband Allan Arbus, 1971

(By the way - I know underknown is not an English word, but I need its meaning – underknown says a lot).

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

For Christchurch

Wishing you peace on today's anniversary, and sending you hope and heart.

Pat Hanly, Hope Vessel and Heart, 1986
colour lithograph, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the artist, 1990

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Model as Muse?

A colleague once told me that I was addicted; addicted to words. I was not so happy to hear their diagnosis but grew to appreciate that not everyone can be a bibliomaniac that reads dictionaries for relaxation.

One such 'big word' is hypnagogic. Chances are you haven't used that word in conversation today.

Maybe if you were at my home, you might say it or read it or even hear it. As a word it takes me immediately to near Dr Freud's couch. You know the one, covered with the tribal rug made by the nomadic Arab Khamsah circa 1875. Freud took his cherished rug to London with him and you see it lying on his patient's couch in the consulting room of the house that is now his museum. In that room he would write and talk about 'hynagogic' as being the stuff of waking dreams.

You would never have heard Dr Freud utter hypnagogic in English, he would have said it in German. The meaning of the word intrigues me: an image that seems like one is seeing something on the cusp of an hallucination. Involuntary, persuasive, irreal.

Emil McAvoy made me think again of this word when he told me he was interested in photographing dreams.

Who isn't into photographing dreams today? Ryan McGinley is, Ryan Trecartin is, Ryan Gosling is. Even Ryan Reynolds is, when he acts as if he is living in a coffin.

There are many others who are interested in cusping dreams and their names are not Ryan. Take James Franco channelling Hart Crane or Alan Ginsberg or James Dean. Is James going to play Gore Vidal as an hypnagogic incarnation? If not Gore, then maybe Joe Orton with a Brooklyn accent? That would be hypostatic.

These photo-portraits are of one of the 19th century's great creators of self-induced dreams were commissioned by the sitter from Pierre-Louis Pierson. They are part of a large sequence entitled Scherzo di Follia (Game of Madness) and were made between 1863 and 1866.

They show Virginia Oldoni, Countess of Castiglione (1837-1899). More about this unforgettable musette later...

Friday, 10 February 2012

For your beloved - or yourself

Valentine's Day tends to polarise people.  If you're a cynic like me and don't celebrate this manufactured holiday, here are some artworks from our collection that offer a decidedly non-soppy take on love:

Fiona Pardington, Soft Target I

Louise Weaver, New Romantic (Golden Hare)

John Waterhouse, Lamia*

Gavin Hipkins, Romance: Houhora (Sheep) 2003

*On first glance, Lamia may appear to be a touching, romantic scene between a knight and his fair maiden... but don't worry, it turns out she's a man-eating serpent.

If you're an unabashed romantic, however, you might like to take a look at what's on offer in the Gallery shop:

Even the café's got in on the action:

The best part about these cookies is that they work equally well for the anti-Valentine's brigade - what better way to protest the day than by symbolically devouring a heart?

Whatever your outlook on romance, we've got you covered here at the Gallery...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Where was Mear’s farm?

I am not an expert in searching property titles, especially historical ones. The Gallery has a watercolour made by William Eastwood (1821-1877) on 2 January 1864 of Mears Farm near Mount Eden. Does anyone know where this property was?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Guess who's coming to town?

If you’ve been keeping up with the Gallery via Twitter or Facebook you might have noticed some teaser posts letting you know which high-profile artists will be ‘coming to town’ as part of Degas to Dalí… but if you haven’t, here are the names we’ve shared so far:

  • René Magritte
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Francis Bacon
  • Edouard Manet
  • Auguste Rodin
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Max Ernst
  • Georges Seurat
  • Andy Warhol
  • Henri Matisse
  • Lucian Freud

Remember, they’re just some of the highlights out of 62 artists whose work will be winging its way here from the National Galleries of Scotland. Keep an eye on our social media feeds as we continue to hint at what will be on display.

If you'd like more information about the exhibition or about buying tickets (which are available now via the EDGE) check out the dedicated section on our website.

Image: Edgar Degas, A Group of Dancers, 1890s
Oil on paper, laid on canvas
Scottish National Gallery
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

Alexander Turnbull

This is Alexander Turnbull (14 September 1868 – 28 June 1918) at the age of 23.

If you want to know more about him read Jim Traue's short biography

or tackle E.H.McCormick's full scale biography.

On Turnbull's death, his bequest to the National Library led to a research library established in his name. His gift included over 55,000 books.

Turnbull is sometimes described as a dandy.