Monday, October 31, 2011

Felicity Powell at The Wellcome Collection

'... wax gives rise to thoughts of mortality; it burns, it melts down, it suggests the vanity of the world, the weak candle flame of hope, the deliquescence of flesh. The material implies organic change ... Wax cheats death, it simulates life; it proves true and false ... " (Marina Warner, from Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media (Oxford Universty Press, 2006).
On Saturday, along with our friends Barbara and Sue, we paid our very first visit to the Wellcome Collection in Euston Road. It certainly won't be our last.  The current temporary exhibitions Mexican Miracle Paintings and Felicity Powell's Charmed Life - The Solace of Objects were both stunning, two of the most memorable we've seen here. 
Powell's exquisite wax images on circular black glass (actually the backs of mirrors) are essentially her response to the Wellcome's collection of over 1400 amulets or charms that were amassed by amateur Edwardian folklorist Edward Lovett. 
Her exhibition also incorporated an installation of a selection of these amulets grouped loosely into categories, including hearts, miniature shoes, horse shoes, etc. Some were beautiful, some like the dried mole's feet sheep's heart with pins and nails rather less so. Still, it was possible to sense the potency all of these much touched objects must have had for their original owners.

Images from top:
Water, Stars, Antlers, 2006
Tentacled, 2006
Spaghetti Head, 2006
All wax on glass, 5.9 cm/15 cm diameter

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leighton House

In the 70s I lived for some years in the Holland Park area of Kensington. Nineteenth century Leighton House was a leisurely and scenic walk away, through beautiful Holland Park. It was (and still is) one of my favourite places. The house is named for its original owner, the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). It was designed by George Aitchison, although Leighton added extensions and alterations over the next 30 years.
Justifiably, it is best known for the extraordinary Arab Hall, which displays Leighton's astonishing collection of over a thousand Islamic tiles, most which he brought back from Damascus in Syria.
Other interiors incorporate equally opulent peacock feather-coloured tiles by William de Morgan. Leighton's impressive studio, with its huge northern facing window, dome and apse, are located on the first floor. Paintings and drawings, mostly by Lord Leighton, are on view throughout the house. It is several years since I last visited, and it was even more gorgeous than I remembered, with the added bonus of an additional room being open to the public: Leighton's pretty, but (compared to the rest of the house) small and relatively simply furnished bedroom.
Leighton was one of the leading High Victorian artists, and walking around his house is uncannily like stepping into one of those impossibly exotic paintings that typified the era. I'm not as much an admirer of his work as I am of this house, which in my opinion is his masterpiece. Never much of a minimalist myself, for me a visit there is always a sheer delight.

Pictured above, from top: Leighton House (exterior view) and two views of the Arab Hall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

London and a visit to Kenwood House

Being back in London feels like being home. It's been wonderful reuniting with old friends with whom I share so many memories and revisiting old haunts, including the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, the National Film Theatre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Leighton House, the Dover Bookshop, London Graphics Centre (an amazing art supply shop in Covent Garden) and many other places. Visiting both Tate Galleries has included long walks along the Thames, still majestic, still enduring. It's as if I have never been away (even though I have, for far too long). 

On October 10 my Australian friend Leigh Hobbs and I made our pilgrimage to Kenwood House to visit the William Larkin portraits that we both admire so much - it was a very special day. The photos shown here don't do them justice (not that reproductions ever do). Because of staff shortages, they can only be viewed between certain hours. Those hours can change on a daily basis, so calling Kenwood in advance is advised. 

We still haven't toasted our good fortune with great champagne (see previous blog entry)  but now that my partner Shane has arrived in London, the three of us have a date to do just that at the Savoy Hotel on Thursday evening.

Images from top:
Pilgrim's Progress: DK and Leigh outside Kenwood House (photographs 1 and 3 by Leigh Hobbs)
Leigh and DK 
Diana Cecil, Countess of Oxford (1614) by William Larkin
Isabella Rich (1614) by William Larkin
Dorothy Cary, later Viscountess Rochford (1614-18) by William Larkin 
Leigh, lost in admiration among the Larkins
Leigh, Contre-jour