Thursday, 20 December 2012

Music: The best albums of 2012

With 2012 coming to a close, it is now time to consider the albums that made this year such a great one for music:

Tame Impala – Lonerism

The Australian psychedelic revivalists returned this year with a follow up to their awesome 2010 offering Inner Speaker. Lonerism won’t win awards for innovation, but it is an album bursting with excellent atmospheric song-writing. With tracks like the sleazy glam-rock stomper ‘Elephant’, and the swirling intensity of ‘Endors Toi’, you’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with Lonerism.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
As the follow-up to their boisterous 2009 debut Post-Nothing, Celebration sees Japandroids develop their Superchunk-inspired brand of frenetic fuzz-drenched pop towards something more mature and accomplished. The tumultuous intensity of Post-Nothing is still present, but the listener is given more room to breathe. It’s a short album, but nothing goes to waste and each track is an anthem in its own right.

Disasterpeace – FEZ (Original Soundtrack)
Videogame soundtracks don’t tend to register with most critics when considering their albums of the year, but Disasterpeace’s stirring soundtrack to the dimension-warping, cryptographic puzzler FEZ rates as one of the most accomplished videogame soundtracks of all time. With its layered chiptune melodies and stirring soundscapes, it’s both innovative and stunning.

Grizzly Bear – Shields

The fourth album from New York indie heroes Grizzly Bear marks something of a departure from their previous work. The album is much darker than previous offerings, and sees the band broaden their musical sound, with blues and jazz influences filtering through. Highlights include the wonderfully melodic ‘Yet Again’ and the soporific rhythm of ‘Gun-Shy’.

Actress – RIP
This is what happens when dance music is taken to the fringes of the genre; it is as if producer Darren Cunningham is standing over the mutilated corpse of house music and twisting its body parts into macabre constructions. You won’t hear Actress being played in a nightclub: the atmospheric compositions are fractured, ambient, and avant-garde in spirit.

Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
Mars Volta’s sixth album sees the band continue down the path of prog experimentation, but the excesses of their earlier albums have been reined in somewhat. There are still the moments of blistering intensity that have become synonymous with their sound, and the band have spent more time crafting great songs rather than indulging in free-form noise.

Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
Bobby Womack has always been an extraordinary vocal talent, but when it emerged that Womack was set to collaborate with produce Richard Russell, it was clear that something special was going to be made. His first album in over a decade sees Womack’s vocals set against minimalist electronica and sparce instrumentation.

Django Django – Django Django

There’s something quite irresistible about art-school indie songsmiths Django Django. It’s avant-garde music made palatable to a mainstream audience: there’s enough innovation in there to appease the musos among us, whilst retaining a charming pop sensibility. Django Django are continuing along the same musical path as The Beta Band and Super Furry Animals, but more in spirit than in sound.

Royal Thunder – CVI
If you like your metal to be brutal, your guitar riffs to shred, and your vocals to scream, wail or roar, this probably isn’t the album for you. Bewitching female vocals combine with a range of musical influences from the sludgy doom-laden tones of bands like Baroness and Cult of Luna, to the blues-tinged stoner-rock of Earth and Abdullah. This is a subtle and understated album.

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
This year’s Mercury winners will no doubt make it on to every music critic’s top albums list this year, but for good reason: the album is excellent. Tracks like the sumptuous ‘Tessellate’, the Philip Glass inspired ‘Something Good’ and the heartbreaking ‘Matilda’ show exactly why Alt-J are so deserving of the accolades they have received. Bizarre vocal harmonies, innovative fractured beats, and a keen sense for song-writing make this one the best albums of the year.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Music: Pissed Jeans - Bathroom Laughter review

Sludgy Philadelphia-based noise-core heroes Pissed Jeans return after almost four years with the blistering new song Bathroom Laughter as a preview to their long-awaited fourth album Honeys, set for release in February 2013.
Released on Sub Pop records, Bathroom Laughter is two and half minutes of pure noise punk brilliance that sees the band sounding a little less disjointed than they did on tracks like Human Upskirt and Dominate Yourself from their chaotic 2009 offering, King of Jeans. The band have employed the production talents of Fudgetunnel founder Alex Newport, whose sonic fingerprints are clearly felt.

What makes Bathroom Laughter so arresting is the unabashed frenzy of it all: urgent doom-laden guitars clash with unrelenting drums as vocalist Matt Korvette’s absurd sense of macho self-loathing is delivered with his usual aggression.

What sets Pissed Jeans apart from many of their noise-core contemporaries is the incongruous sense of humour in their lyrics that always seems slightly at odds with the music. “You're in the hallway screaming/ People try to get by, but you're screaming,” are quickly followed by an almost ear-piercing scream. I hope this is meant to be funny, because otherwise I’ve completely missed the point.

4 Stars.

This article was published by Leeds Music Scene and Alternative Music Press.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Art: Axisweb in Wales: Developing Critical Writing on the Contemporary Visual Arts 2012

In 2012 Axisweb in Wales ran Developing Critical Writing on the Contemporary Visual Arts - a programme for three aspiring writers in Wales. Jon Cronshaw catches up with the programme participants to find out more about it and ask them what's happened since they took part.

Entering the world of critical art writing can be a challenge for emerging writers. Between February and July 2012, Axisweb, supported by the Arts Council Wales and in partnership with ArtReview and This is Tomorrow, ran a programme of writing workshops and publication support for three emerging writers based in Wales.

The Critical Writing Programme consisted of writing workshops and professional mentoring by three established critics: JJ Charlesworth, Associate Editor of ArtReview; Cherry Smyth, who writes regularly for publication including Modern Painters, Art Monthly, and ArtReview; and Chris Sharratt, a freelance writer and editor.

“We wanted to develop a professional writing programme that took people away from an academic style, to one which engages a wider audience,” explains Project Coordinator Alicia Miller, “Bringing in professionals to give seminars and act as mentors is immensely valuable."

Three writers were selected in December 2011 to participate in this year’s project: artist Ciara Healy, filmmaker Rowan Lear, and artist Brychan Tudor.

They attended three half-day workshops which covered a range of subjects including: how to write for a specific audience; how to write to different guidelines and specifications, and conduct yourself as a professional writer; how to find your voice and style, and have the confidence to speak critically.

Ciara Healy’s review of Jonathan Anderson's exhibition ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen, was published by This is Tomorrow, and she has also had her work published in ArtReview.

“It’s completely changed my career, it’s fantastic!” Ciara says, “It has really given me confidence. I was always uncertain about writing poetically and critically and now I’ve developed my own style that I’m more confident about using. It’s my own voice that I finally feel as though I’m speaking in.”

Rowan Lear produced three pieces of writing which were published by This is Tomorrow, including a review of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition ‘Observation Point’ at Camden Arts Centre. Rowan saw the project as an extremely positive experience. "It gave me a real confidence boost with my writing. I learnt some really useful skills like how to write to guidelines and how to get work published.”

Brychan Tudor’s review of Singapore artist Zhao Renhui ‘The Institute of Critical Zoologists’ exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff featured on This is Tomorrow. "It was a chance to get a real feel the professionalism of writing. It wasn’t just meeting the writers - I also learnt a lot from the other participants.”

The experience was a positive one for all involved. Chris Sharratt, a mentor on the programme, was delighted that his advice and feedback proved useful. "I think you can sometimes take for granted the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, and working with writers who are still finding their feet is really rewarding.”

Cherry Smyth found that, “All the participants had particularly strong voices which made it very easy to identify their style and their interests. It really was a joy to do.”


This article was originally published by, with a truncated version appearing in Axis Notes, 2012.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Music: Interview with Bloodflower's Jonnie Owen

In the shadow of the Welsh Black Mountains, a new music project is coming to fruition. Bloodflower is a collaboration between singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonnie Owen and producer Tom Manning. I caught up with Jonnie to talk about his new project, and to see how things are going with their debut album.

Jon Cronshaw: How did Bloodflower come about as a project?

Jonnie Owen: It’s just me writing the music at the moment in collaboration with a long-term friend - a producer called Tom Manning. Tom found out that there was some free studio time at Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales; he gave me a call to see if we could do anything.

We just went into the studio without any expectations; we had a couple of ideas and it just snowballed from there. We realised quite quickly that I had a lot more than just a couple of ideas. It was really exciting: we had this free studio time, so we just threw caution to the wind. We worked really well together, and it’s now an album in progress, with the working title Circadian Clock.

JC: How does Bloodflower compare to your previous projects?

JO: It’s been really good fun, because it’s different to working with a band where you might go in with an idea and try and form something organically between five members bouncing off each other and jamming with an idea. It’s purely from what I’ve put on a computer and built it up from nothing; so some of the songs have been built up from maybe just a vocal line, or from just a beat.

Everything, apart from guitars, has been a big part of this project - I’m a singer, and my second instrument is the guitar. Tom suggested that I tried writing without using the guitar. It took me out of my comfort zone from the word go. So I started using drums, bass, keyboard, percussion, synthesisers, programmed beats – I found it very liberating.

Tom’s an amazing musician in his own right – he’s a multi-instrumentalist – so between us, we can pretty much play everything. He’s a really good drummer, and if I have trouble with a beat, he’ll get behind the kit and do it.

It’s very DIY – from my point of view it’s quite a punk approach to something that hasn’t been punk before.

JC: How would you define Bloodflower’s sound if a lazy music journalist wanted a quick sound-bite?

JO: I don’t know - I suppose people will have to listen to it and define it for themselves. That’s another thing about this project; we’ve not really given much away. We want people to take our music away and attach the meaning that they want to it.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the lyrics like I’ve done in the past, because it kind of spoils it - you know what you’re listening to before you’ve even listened to it – you know what the story is, you know what the conclusion is. It’s about letting the audience take it. As soon as we release it, it’s no longer mine. It’s the idea of releasing art and letting people take from it whatever they want.

I’m not purposefully trying to add mystique or mystery to it; it just gives people more ownership of the songs and enjoy them being part of their lives.

JC: What would you say Bloodflower’s main influences are?

JO: I could reel off a list of bands, but it might start pigeonholing the whole project. Because I’ve been doing a lot of work with bass, there’s this heavy 80s influence on it – bands like Talking Heads and The Clash. I’ve been listening to a lot of Arcade Fire – they’ve got this way of shouting music at you, and you just can’t get it out of your head. Also artists like Bjork, Nick Drake – so loads of different stuff really.

I’m studying Contemporary Fiction and Social History at university, so I’ve been really inspired by writers like Haruki Murakami, J G Ballard, Jeanette Winterson - there’s so many.

JC: With a project which so studio-based, do you intend to take the music to a live setting?

JO: We’re in the middle of recruiting musicians for the live show at the moment. Tom’s going to be performing the drums, I’m going to be predominantly singing, so I want to get other musicians in that I know and trust so that I can be free as front-man. I may do a bit of piano, or the odd hit of a drum machine just to make the show look a bit more interesting. We’ll be touring and gigging next year and I’m so excited; I can’t wait to hear how the music will sound live.

JC: With your last band, you toured the UK, Europe and America - do you have similar ambitions for Bloodflower?

JO: First of all, we’ve got the album which is well on target for being finished early next year, then touring up and down the country, head into Europe and eventually the States. The main goal at the moment is to get the project functioning as a live band, and just make it an amazing live show.

Bloodflower are scheduled to release their debut album early next year. You can find out more on Bloodflower’s Facebook page HERE. You can listen to the track Indigo below.


This article was published by Alternative Music Press.

Music: Why UB40's "Signing Off" Is Still a Reggae Classic

The Brummie band were much maligned over the years, but their debut album is a powerful, timeless record in protest of Thatcher's Britain...

UB40 have been responsible for some terrible crimes against music over the past three decades, but before they were moaning about a girl running off with their “colour TV” and their “CD collection of Bob Marley”, they were deeply engaged in political protest and shed a stark light onto Thatcher’s Britain.

Growing up on a council estate in Wolverhampton during the 1980s, the music of UB40 seemed part and parcel of everyday life, and particular songs would be perfect for any given social situation: ‘Kingston Town’ would always crop up at weddings; birthday parties might feature the 808 State remix of ‘One in Ten’; and Saturday night gatherings might include a drunken sing-along with their cover of ‘I Got You Babe’. Perhaps it was to do with the affinity that Midlanders had with their local heroes, or perhaps it was that UB40 sung about issues that that people living on the estate could related to: mass unemployment, the rise of Thatcherism, racism, alienation, and a feeling of anger at the injustices of the world around them.

Album-opener ‘Tyler’ tells of the alarming case of a 16 year-old American student who was returning home from school by bus in 1974 and was attacked by a mob of around 100 pro-segregationists. During the scuffle, a 13 year-old bystander was shot, and though no weapon was ever found, Tyler was sentenced to death for his murder (this has since been reduced to life). There is much inconsistency and controversy surrounding the case, which led to Amnesty International declaring Tyler’s incarceration as a racially-motivated miscarriage of justice, and the organisation have given Tyler the status of a political prisoner. In telling this tale, the music is mournful yet melodic, and Campbell’s vocals seem to burst with anger and frustration.

‘King’ - a song about the loss of Martin Luther King - is a rich, reverb-soaked reggae track that utilises pop melodies to speak about racial tension, and King’s followers’ loss of direction: “You had a dream of a promised land / People of all nations walking hand in hand / But they`re not ready to accept / That dream situation, yet”.

The politics are left aside during the instrumental track ’12 Bar’ with its dub-tinged echoic sounds, warm saxophone solos, and a bouncy bass-line. ‘Burden of Shame’ is held together by a dark, moody bass-line that seems to echo the tones of the guilt-ridden lyrics: “As a nation we`re following blindly / No-one stops to question why / Our money`s supporting an army / And a boy in Soweto dies / I`m a British subject, not proud of it / While I carry the burden of shame.” This might come across as rhetorically similar to Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, but the songs couldn’t be more different. Whereas ‘American Idiot’ is inspired by rebellion for its own sake, Campbell’s vocals are poignant and intelligently considered: these aren’t simply words to drive a pop song – this feeling of shame and powerlessness is genuine and heartbreaking.

Respite comes with the tracks that follow: the cheery instrumental ‘Adella’, with its bright chord changes, gentle Hank Marvin-esque guitar noodling, and a springy bass hook laid over reverb-soaked snare shots; ‘I Think it’s Going to Rain’, which is probably the softest song on the album, and points to their future direction that would come to fruition on Labour of Love; and the dubby instrumental ‘25%’ which has a saxophone solo that can’t help but bring to mind the theme music to Men Behaving Badly.

‘Food for Thought’ is littered with imagery of starvation and death, and called attention to the famine in Africa almost half a decade before Band Aid. The music is moody and atmospheric, and its lyrics are dark enough to have been dreamt up by Sylvia Plath: “Skin and bone is creeping, doesn’t know he`s dead / Ancient eyes are peeping, from his infant head / Politicians argue sharpening their knives / Drawing up their bargains, trading baby lives.” This theme is economic injustice and inequality continues with urgency on ‘Little by Little’, though its imagery is a little less subtle than on ‘Food for Thought’: “Poor boy sleeps on straw / The rich boy sleeps in bed / That fat boy fills his belly / My poor boy's dead.”

The album-closer of the original vinyl release, ‘Signing Off’, is another instrumental with a skanky bass hook that ends the record on a high. The album was repackaged with an extra three tracks in 1984, and features some of UB40’s best work. There is a dark and gloomy reggae reinterpretation of Abel Meeropol’s ‘Strange Fruit’, a song made most famous by Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition. ‘Reefer Madness’ is instrumental with an almost frenetic rhythm that seems to lean more towards the madness than the reefer.

The album closes with one of UB40’s most accomplished pieces of music. At almost 13 minutes in length, ‘Madame Medusa’ is a scathing attack on Margaret Thatcher: “From the tombs of ignorance / Of hate and greed and lies / Through the smoke of sacrifice / Watch her figure rise / The sick the poor the old / Basking in her radiance / Men of blood and gold.” Indeed, the final seven or so minutes of the record are more than a political diatribe, but are an actual call for arms: “Knock her right down / And then she bounce right back / She gone off her head / We've got to shoot her dead” – I’m sure this was meant metaphorically.

Signing Off provides a snap-shot of British social history that captures a sense of helpless frustration at “a world that doesn’t care” that feels only too poignant and relevant today. An excellent album.


This article was published by Sabotage Times.

Art: Axis @ 21: Being an Artist - Then and Now

Five artists on Axis - Dail Behennah, James Murray, Karen Knorr, John Plowman and Natalie Finnemore discuss how they started out and what's important to them right now.

Dail Behennah

Art was a second career for me. I have a Geography degree and I worked in local government and in the Health Service after graduation. Ideas about mapping and ecology are still important to me.

I learnt basketry and chair seating in evening classes, followed by a City and Guilds at the London College of Furniture.

There’s something about using a hard material and making a vessel that just clicked. When I finished, I received a Crafts Council ‘Setting Up’ grant. The money was helpful, but it was the fact they had faith in me that made me think, “Well, I can’t give up now. I’ve got to make this work.”

My work has become more sculptural, less vessel-based. I had an epiphany when I was 50. I suddenly thought, “Actually I can make anything I want.”

My repeat work sells at a lower price. It’s harder to sell the big pieces. Museums have bought my work, but of course they have no money for acquisitions any more. I’m finding it tough at the moment.

I’ve just had a solo exhibition in a Swedish museum and their regional government has bought a major piece for their permanent collection. So that’ll keep me going for a while!

My advice to younger artists is to be nice to everybody. Be interested and enthusiastic about your work. Small conversations may result in an opportunity years later. People are always the catalysts.

Axis has been really useful, because I’m still working on a website. Being on the directory makes me feel like an artist as well as a craftsperson. In some ways it’s an accident which route you take. As the sculptor Richard Deacon has said, “The handling of materials is an act of thinking.”

 James Murray

I come from a theatre background, so most of my work has a live element to it. I like to work with local folklore and the stories that people tell me.

At the moment I’m setting up a studio with my partner and juggling that alongside full-time employment as an art technician. That can be difficult, but living in London it’s pretty much impossible to survive without it.

I come home from my day job and then spend three or four hours working on my own practice. If you put enough effort in and you’re genuinely good enough, then it will be worth it. That’s what I try and keep in mind!

I’m not making any money out of my work. As soon as you mention performance to galleries or dealers, they switch off. The same goes for video. What I’m hoping to do over the next year, before starting an art post-grad, is to develop a balance between the live works and limited edition prints of documentation.

I was contacted through Axis by the curator of Motorcade/FlashParade and had a show there in March. It made me think that there might not be such a rush to go back to education. One thing I like about artist-led spaces is that there’s this real culture of learning and sharing.

I’ve made some good connections through just mailing people on Axis to say, “Hi, I like your work”. Then you’ve opened up a dialogue with that artist – it’s another person to draw inspiration from and share ideas with and that’s really cool.

Karen Knorr

When I started out in 1977, there was barely any fine art photography art market in the UK. Vintage photography was the main market; and to this day that’s how specialist galleries like Daniel Blau, James Hyman and Eric Franck make most of their money.

Now you have websites such as Getty, Corbis and Saatchi, which sell work by emerging artists in the £2K to £10K range. But the fine art photography market in England is still minuscule.

France was my saving grace. Centre Pompidou was the first to buy my work ‘Gentlemen’, probably the most groundbreaking work I’ve done. But the English establishment’s mentality hasn’t shifted. The moment the Royal Family begins to collect photography, then the whole of the gentry class will do it!

Unless you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right dealer, it’s very hard to earn a living doing fine art photography. I’ve always taught, and sold work. And I’ve had the best years of my career these last three years. But how long will it last? You constantly have to re-invent.

My advice to younger artists would be - diversify your portfolio, research the way the market works, find your niche and develop it. Don’t stand still. Keep on learning new technology. Update, update.

I think the Arts Council is a wonderful invention, because it supports artists that are uncommercial and ‘difficult’. That’s why I support Axis. That’s why I’m part of this community and encourage my students to join it.

John Plowman
I’m an ‘older generation’ artist and I’m very content where I am with my practice. But working in Higher Education, I’ve noticed that many people are returning to education – older people who are also ‘new’ artists. They find it difficult to get their foot in and that’s food for thought. Other artists’ issues seem to be get much more coverage.

Before the Internet Axis was a completely different beast: I remember you could access an Axis terminal in various places, for example the Building Centre in Store Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. It seems so antiquated now! The database could be accessed by exhibition organisers – at that time there wasn’t the term curator as we understand it now.

People today describe themselves with more labels: artist, writer, curator. Now all those roles have become areas that art practice encompasses, so there are artists who run spaces, curate exhibitions and write criticism.

I point post-graduates towards Axis for research and I’ve used it a lot myself for my curating activities. Over the years people have told me they saw my work on Axis. It increases the visibility of artists and gives them credibility.

My advice to younger artists is that you need to take risks and keep the faith. Don’t be afraid to speak to people – parents call it ‘pester power’. But if you’re pitching to galleries, really make sure you know who you’re pitching to. Don’t just take a standard approach.

Natalie Finnemore

I did my Foundation in Art and Design at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts and began my BA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam in 2008.

It’s quite difficult to focus in your first year at art school. It wasn’t until my third year, when I started taking photographs of buildings and architectural forms and using drawing and printmaking too, that my work really developed. The colours I use are often based on the photographs I take, which I usually enhance.

I’m really interested in the process of making. You’ll find that although the work looks clean and well polished, sometimes works are purposely left so the holes and screws are visible. I like Rachel Whiteread’s work, because of the way she uses drawing. I’m also influenced by artists such as Donald Judd, Joseph Albers, Thea Djordjadze and Shahin Afrassiabi.

In my final year I applied for the bursary programme at S1 Artspace and am now a permanent studio holder there. I work part-time and make art three days a week. Friends in London have found it virtually impossible to find an affordable studio space - it’s quite a luxury to have a studio in such a good community that attracts great press as well.

Recently I’ve been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries, which is very exciting. I’ve been in a miniature print exhibition in Canada, which I first saw on Axis, and I’m working on a future project with the curator at Vinyl Space in Birmingham, which came from Axis as well.

In future I’d aim to work on a bigger scale and use more expensive materials. I’d like to stay in Sheffield for a few more years. But who knows!


This article was published on and in Axis Notes 2012.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Art: Axis @ 21: John Plowman

As part of our 21st anniversary celebrations, we asked a selection of artists to reflect on the artistic landscape since Axisweb was founded.

On the art world:

The landscape has changed, especially in terms of the terminology that’s used. A lot of people today describe themselves with more labels: artist, writer, curator. There was a time when there was a clear distinction between the terms critic, exhibition organiser, artist and the institution, and now all those roles have become areas that art practice encompasses.

There are a lot of new graduates and emerging artists who are older. There doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer for that type of artist. There are people who are very good artists, who have returned to education that find it really difficult to get their foot in the door.

Memories of Axisweb:

I think the aim of Axis in the early days was to create a national database of artists and art works, which could be accessed by what was then called ‘exhibition organisers’ - at that time there wasn’t the term ‘curator’ as we understand it now. This was in the days before the internet: you could access a terminal in certain parts of the country, and get the information there. It seems so antiquated now.

Advice for emerging artists:
You need to take risks and you need to keep the faith. Taking risks is really important, and don’t be afraid to ask people, or speak to people. – parents call it pester power.

This article was featured on

Monday, 12 November 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.22: Beta Band - The Three EPs (1998)

One of the first CDs that I bought after going to university was the Beta Band’s Three EPs. When I first moved into halls I put an advert up in the students’ union advertising for a singer to write some songs with to eventually form a band. The first to respond was a singer and guitar player who professed to hating all female singers (I had been listening to quite a bit of PJ Harvey and Tori Amos in the summer before going to uni, and so found this to be a bit short-sighted), he was also a member of the university rugby team. I’ve never been into sports myself, but I’m not the type of person who will hold something against someone because they like different things to me. On Wednesday nights in the student union, I used to DJ the indie room, and one evening before I’d set up, I saw this guy in the union bar with the rugby team, dressed as they all were with shirts and matching ties. I went over to say hello and he completely blanked me. He didn’t just not recognise me, he acted as if I didn’t exist. I felt a bit embarrassed, said “fine”, and walked away. A few days later, he knocked on my door for a practice and he apologised for not speaking to me at the union and told me that he wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone who wasn’t in rugby team on a match day, or he’d have to do a forfeit – what an absolute bell-end. I made my excuses, saying I was on my way out and avoided him for the rest of the year.

The second guy who responded was a few years older than me and was studying for Masters’ degree in digital music technology. He had a degree in physics, but was a music lover through and through. His main instrument was the harmonica, which meant that all of the songs we wrote had to have harmonica solos, and we always ended up doing Bob Dylan covers. He had an immense collection of CDs, and introduced me to a lot of artists I had never heard of, or hadn’t really listened to: Ride, the Boo Radleys, and the Beta Band. I remember one day we were in his room chatting about music, and he had the second Beta Band EP of the Three EPs on vinyl. He played ‘Inner Meet Me’ and I just fell in love with it: it sounded a bit like Beck, but more psychedelic. The next time I went to the HMV in Hanley, I bought my own copy of the Three EPs and played it nonstop for about a fortnight. We never really got anywhere with the band; we did some DJ sets together and wrote some songs, but nothing ever really seemed to click musically.

The first EP, Champion Versions, opens with ‘Dry the Rain’ - arguably of the Beta Band’s finest moments: a transcendent folk song that builds to an uplifting crescendo, with layered vocals, glorious trumpets and an awesome bass-groove. The song is an anthem, and it’s impossible to hear this song and not sing along with the chorus: “If there is something inside that you want to say / say it ,alright, it will be okay / I will be your light / I will be your life” - simply brilliant. ‘Dog’s got a Bone’ is a laidback sleepy song with relaxed guitars and accordion. It doesn’t have the anthemic feel of ‘Dry the Rain’ - it is more inward looking and existential, but very good in very different ways. Opener to the second EP, The Patty Patty Sound, ‘Inner Meet Me’ is probably my favourite track on the collection. It has surreal lyrics that verge on the absurd (“Last night I dreamt somebody fell asleep between my knees / I couldn't help it all my thoughts were rejected by a boy called me”), an otherworldly sound, and the tune is just mind-blowing. ‘She’s the one for me’ treads similar musical ground as ‘Dry the Rain’ but throws in some high-pitched speeded-up vocals in the chorus, just to throw you off your guard. ‘Dr Baker’ from the third EP, Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos, is another highlight, with its walking piano and hypnotic vocals soaked in reverb and given space to breathe. It’s a great piece of music that I would recommend to any music lover.

Again, I am forced to keep another album, and another charity suffers because of my selfishness, but what can you do?

If you like what I do, please leave a comment. You can also recommend Keep or Cull on Facebook or share with friends on Twitter/Google+ (use the links below) or anywhere else. You can also follow me on Twitter @Jon_Cronshaw. Thank you.

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Live Review: Selflove @ Milo, Leeds, 6th November 2007

by Ben Smith

Milo was hosting Night Vision, an interesting mix of music and poetry.

Playing first, a three-piece who didn't give their name gave a short mix of covers including and an innovative re-working of Frou Frou's "Let Go" and a somewhat less innovative version of Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina" (maybe they should've done the 'classic' "This Is It"), as well as traditional Irish folk songs. The harmonies and violin over acoustic guitar worked well and showed that in time they could be a name worth looking out for on the Leeds music scene. Once they get one.

Despite a prolonged wait whilst a new PA was drafted in to replace the damaged original, Selflove aka Jon Cronshaw, quickly settled into his stride to produce a fine selection of his own material and a couple of clever covers.

Playing solo with an electro-acoustic guitar, he ripped through his set with urgency and displayed fine musicianship. "Holding Me Down" was delivered with the menace of Johnny Cash's "Personal Jesus" redux and "In Memoriam" was perhaps the highlight for me.

Defying the compere's request to finish one song earlier, he delivered a fitting end to the set with a rendition of Guns N Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine", complete with Axl Rose falsetto and yelps.

Answering questions about the somewhat murky origin of his band name, it was revealed that it had been chosen as the first word he saw when he opened the Bible. Whilst musing over the perhaps less memorable names that fate could've presented, the audience was left to digest a very well-crafted performance.

This is a review of a show I performed at in November 2007, article from Leeds Music Scene..

Art: Axis @ 21 - James Murray

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

I just love the face that you can just get lost in Axisweb, just trawling through the pages of curators and artists. One thing I really like is that on Axisweb there is this real culture of learning and sharing.

I’ve made some really good contacts and connections through just mailing people, saying “Hi, I like your work”, and then you’ve opened up a dialogue with that artist – it’s another person to draw inspiration from and share ideas with and that’s really cool. I really enjoy using Axisweb and I’m going to continue to use it.

Recently, I’ve noticed a new function, is ‘Activities.’ Since I’ve filled in a little bit about myself, I’ve been getting alerts about opportunities that are in keeping with my own work – that’s been a really good feature.

This was originally published by

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Art: Axis @ 21 - John Plowman

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

There is a lot of information out there now that artists can access, but Axisweb is meatier.

I’ve used Axis as an educational resource. If you’re teaching postgraduates, it’s a good place to point them to for research. I’ve used it a lot myself with my curating activities to research artists. As a tool, Axisweb is extremely useful.

I’ve had people over the years tell me that they saw my work on Axis, it increases the visibility of artists, and I think that is one of the main challenges for people that are just graduating, it’s getting that visibility on a credible or validated umbrella. I think that having work accepted onto the Axisweb database is a feather in their caps because it has that credibility, and I think that’s where its value is.

This testimonial was used by

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Music: Dark Horses - Black Music album review

As the nights draw in and the air gets colder, what better way to while away those cold, gloomy nights than in the company of some cold, gloomy music.

Brighton-based Dark Horses’ debut album Black Music is an LP that lives up to its name. Don’t expect catchy guitar riffs or sing-along vocals, this is an album full of anger, misery and self-indulgence and is probably best avoided if you’re looking for anything that doesn’t fit somewhere comfortably between either doom or gloom.

It’s quite obvious from the outset that producer Richard Fearless has had quite a hand in shaping Dark Horses’ sound. ‘Roses’, for example, with its droned bass dirge and gentle percussive thuds would fit comfortably on any Death in Vegas album.

‘Radio’ is one of the most accomplished songs on the album. Honeyed vocals drip melodically over shoegaze guitars and echoic tambourine splashes. This might be the result you’d get if My Bloody Valentine attempted some Motown covers. This is followed by the excellent ’Alone’: with its sleazy krautrock beats and driving bass-line, one is reminded of tracks like Primal Scream’s ‘Autobahn 66’ and Deerhunter’s ‘Nothing Ever Happened’.

It is after such a promising flurry of tracks that the album descends into derivativeness. There are some sporadic moments of note, but the album is so inconsistent that it is difficult to really invest in the songs in any meaningful way. Take for instance the country-tinged industrial dirge of ‘No Dice’, a song with dark booming percussion and desert dried guitar riffs that burst with potential but end up sounding lost and clumsy due to some questionable production choices.

The album dive-bombs further by the time we hit their cover of Talking Head’s ‘Road to Nowhere’. The song is stripped back, and everything that made the original so engaging is cast aside in favour of something twee and grating that will probably end up being used on some washing powder commercial. The last real song on the album, ‘Anna Minor’, manages to sound like something that PJ Harvey might have produced as a B-side in 1998.

The idiom of a dark horse conjures up images of mystery and potential - an underdog with hidden and unexpected talents. Unfortunately the metaphor doesn’t stretch as far as the band themselves who seem quite content with revisiting the same musical roads as acts like the Cocteau Twins, Howling Bells, and Death in Vegas. Black Music is an album of little remark that feels like it takes itself far too seriously. The sombre gloominess that Dark Horses seemed to be driving towards quickly veers off into mundane and incredibly dull territory that is as boring as it is derivative.

With the nights drawing in and the air getting colder, cold and gloomy music just doesn’t hit the spot and something more warming is in order – perhaps the musical equivalent of hot toddy sipped in front of a roaring coal fire.

This article was published by Sabotage Times, Leeds Music Scene and Alternative Music Press.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Photography: Sculpture Studies

These photos were taken in spring 2012 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Click on the images to enlarge.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Art: Developing critical writing on the contemporary visual arts

Entering the world of critical art writing can be challenging for emerging writers. Between February and July 2012, Axisweb, in partnership with Arts Council Wales, Art Review and This is Tomorrow, ran a programme of writing workshops and publication support for three emerging writers based in Wales.

The Critical Writing Programme comprised of writing workshops and professional mentoring by three established critics: JJ Charlesworth, associate editor of ArtReview; Cherry Smyth, who writes regularly for publication including Modern Painters, Art Monthly, and Art Review; and Chris Sharratt, editor of

“We wanted to develop a professional writing programme that took people away from an academic style, to one which is engaging to a wider audience,” explained Project Coordinator Alicia Miller, “bringing in professionals to give seminars and act as mentors is immensely valuable.”

Three writers were selected in December 2011 to participate in this year’s project: artist Ciara Healy, filmmaker Rowan Lear, and artist, Brychan Tudor. They participated in three half-day workshops which covered a range of subjects including: how to write to a specific audience and engage readers; how to write to different guidelines and specification, and conduct yourself as professional writers; how to find your voice and style, and have the confidence to speak critically.

Ciara Healy’s review of Jonathan Anderson exhibition ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen, was published by This is Tomorrow, and has also had her work published in Art Review. “It’s completely changed my career, it’s fantastic!” Ciara explained, “it has really given me the confidence to approach my writing. I was always uncertain about writing poetically and critically and now I’ve developed my own style that I’m more confident about using. It’s my voice that I finally feel as though I’m speaking.”

Rowan Lear produced three pieces of writing that were published by This is Tomorrow, including a review of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition ‘Observation Point’ at Camden Art Centre, London. Rowan saw the project as “a really positive experience. It gave me a real confidence boost with my writing. I learnt some really useful skills like how to write to guidelines and how to get work published.”

Brychan Tudor’s review of Singapore artist Zhao Renhui ‘The Institute of Critical Zoologists’ exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff was also published by This is Tomorrow. Brychan thought that “it was an incredible experience. It was a chance to get a real feel the professionalism of writing. It wasn’t just meeting the writers, but I learnt a lot from the other participants.”

The experience was a positive one for all involved. Chris Sharratt, a mentor on the programme, was delighted that his “advice and feedback was useful. I think you can sometimes take for granted the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, and working with writers who are still finding their feet is really rewarding.” Cherry Smyth explained that “all of the participants had particularly strong voices which made it very easy to identify their style and their interests. It was really a joy to do.”

There are plans to run the project again next year to help raise the profile of Welsh arts and emerging writers based in the region.

This article was featured in Axis Notes 2012.

Music: Keep or Cull No.22: Blind Boys of Alabama - Spirit of the Century (2001)

Regular readers will no doubt be aware that I live with visual impairment, and so you’d think that the Blind Men of Alabama would provide the perfect opportunity to talk a bit more about my experiences with the disability. Instead, I’m going to talk about one of the greatest TV shows ever made: The Wire.

The Wire ruined TV for me. Before watching The Wire I’d happily watch reality shows, soap operas and quiz shows without a second thought. Today, I hardly watch TV at all; there are so many poorly-made, badly-written, superficial shows that I don’t tend to waste my time. The Wire has turned me into a bit of a TV snob: it’s not that I care what anyone else watches, I just hate watching crap.

The Wire is a detective drama set in Baltimore, and weaves together a number of interlinking stories that highlight the corruption that exists in public life and on the streets. In simple terms, each series revolves around a major investigation which somehow involves wire-taps. As well as the usual motifs of police drama, The Wire strives to tell the story from all angles: the police, the drug dealers, the media, and the schools, to name a few.

For those who haven’t seen The Wire, I should warn you that it is not an easy show to watch: the storylines are sweeping in their scale and cutting in their social commentary; the characters are complex; there is a lot of ambiguity - you find yourself sympathising with the drug dealers; and it makes no concessions to the casual viewer. Indeed, each series has a different focus and a different key cast of characters who sometimes appear again, and sometimes not. Detective Jimmy McNulty, who is positioned as the main focal character in the first series, is sidelined in the second series. Nick Sobotka, a central character in the second series is never seen again. D'Angelo Barksdale, a mid-level drug dealer who has reservations about “the game”, is ultimately murdered and made to look like he’d done a Michael Hutchins because he’d turned his back on his crew. Perhaps most impressive is that the character you end up rooting for the most is Omar: an open homosexual who robs drug dealers. These are bold statements from its network and writers, especially when we consider that TV networks are ostensibly driven by the need for ratings and advertising revenue.

I realise that The Wire isn’t for everyone, and if you think that Deborah Morgan’s character in Dexter is complex and subtle, that The Shield is a carefully observed portrayal of law enforcement, or that the dialogue in Eastenders really captures what it’s like in East London, then The Wire probably isn’t for you.

When I watch TV now, I can’t help but compare it to The Wire - and when I do I usually end up turning the TV off. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some excellent dramas released in the past few years: Red Riding was astonishing; Mad Men was brilliant; Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica were very good; and I’m currently working my way through Breaking Bad. Is it so wrong of me to want something that’s good?

On the opening credits to The Wire, the song ‘Way Down in the Hole’ is performed, in each series by a different artist. In the first series it was the Blind Boys of Alabama who provided a version of the song, and I just had to buy the album. ...

Read the full article HERE.

Art: Axis @ 21 - Tony Stallard

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

After responding to an opportunity posted on Axisweb, sculptor Tony Stallard tells us about his recent commission ‘Ghost in the Machine’: a light-based sculpture to be permanently exhibited in the Playhouse Theatre, Harlow.

The piece, which was commissioned in November 2011, is a work which ‘plays with the nature of the theatre and its past’. Stallard explains that the work, which is constructed in steel with pulsating LED lights, will incorporate a depiction of a harlequin entering the Playhouse ‘in an ethereal way, as a reflection of the theatre and its relationship with its public - both now and of the past.’

The history of theatre and the history of the Playhouse have played a key role in informing Stallard’s latest work, noting that it ‘suggests the strange and almost surreal joining of the past and the present, and in particular the nature of the Playhouse and its contemporary environment.’ He hopes that the work will serve to highlight ’the theatrical legacy evolving from its ancestry (in every sense of the word) which is particularly important in Harlow and its roots in pantomime.’ Indeed, the audience’s metaphysical response to the work is key to the sculpture’s effect, with its pulsating lights suggesting a hidden, ethereal world. Stallard explains: ‘This is particularly true in this case as the work would seem to emanate from the back of the theatre and suggest a ghostly presence, or a kind of echo from the interior.’

‘Ghost in the Machine’ is currently being produced, with the aim of being installed by the end of 2012.

This article was produced for

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.21: Blur - Parklife (1994)

For Christmas in 1994, my parents bought me two CDs: Oasis’s Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife. These albums were pivotal in the development of the UK indie scene. I was a huge fan of both bands, and saw the whole media storm surrounding their rivalry as a bit contrived to say the least. A lot of it seemed to be more of a rivalry between the North and South that, as a Midlander, I could never really relate to. It reminded me of playground squabbles over whether Nintendo was better than Sega or Ultimate Warrior better than Hulk Hogan.

What I liked most about Parklife at the time was the fact that the inner sleeve included the guitar chords for many of the songs. I’d received a guitar for Christmas the previous year from my uncle, and there were very few ways back then of getting hold of guitar tab without spending a load of money on sheet music. A lot of the time I’d work stuff out by ear, or occasionally borrow tab books from Wolverhampton Central Library. One of the first songs I learnt to play from the album was End of a Century, a nice simple song that I used to impress a couple of girls I fancied at school during music lessons.

Read the full article HERE.

Comics: Die Plankton

Art: Curated Selection: Axis of Spooky

I was invited by Axisweb to create a curated selection of contemporary art from their database with a spooky theme for Halloween.

View the selection HERE.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.20: Björk - Vespertine (2001)

During my second and third years at Keele University, I lived in a shared house in Newcastle-under-Lyme. One of the people I lived with embodied a plethora of bizarre emotional and psychological issues. He was afraid of many things: alcohol, motorways, spiders, black people, and his mother (I’m not kidding). His issue with alcohol was that he once had a few drinks when he was 17, and when he got home he sat on the kitchen work surface – this terrible act caused his mother to be incredibly upset, and he vowed not only to never drink again, but also to preach about the horrors of drinking (he would always tell the kitchen counter story).

He had views that would make Richard Littlejohn feel uneasy. We were once sitting around watching the Brit Awards, and as the Sugababes were performing, he made comments like “they deserve to get raped for wearing clothes like that” and concluded that they were the reason that the teenage pregnancy rate was so high – we laid into him quite heavily for these comments, and he thought that we were simply bullying him.

What annoyed me the most about him was that he would only listen to three artists: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sigur Rós, and Björk. On an evening he would, for example, play Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute album three times in a row at considerable volume. What made matters worse was that he would always provide his own bass-guitar complement to the tracks, and boy did he love to play slap-bass. Before moving in with the guy, I had been a big fan of these three bands, but a combination of hearing them over and over and over again, and the association with him and his issues, has meant that I’ve not been able to bring myself to listen to anything by these artists since. ...

Read the full article HERE.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Music: Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man (2012) album review

The fancy dress costumes have been put away, and the haunting claustrophobia of Natasha Khan’s previous albums Fur and Gold and Two Suns have been traded in for a sound that is cinematic in scope and mature in outlook.

Haunted Man opens with 'Lillies', a song that draws from the same conceptual well as Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain. Khan’s ethereal voice hovers above disjointed electronic beats and warm synths that seem to swoop from the sparseness and fragility of the verse to a lush chorus of exquisitely detailed instrumentation.

'All Your Gold' and 'Horses of the Sun' are both songs whose foundation is in percussive rhythms rather than melodic patterns. All Your Gold takes its lead from Egyptian cadence, with its plucked guitar notes and clinking bottles emulating the sense of intense urgency you would find in some of PJ Harvey’s bluesier numbers. Horses in the Sun is built around deep syncopated Dhol drums, electronic jitters and backing vocals delivered in an Arabic magam. There is an uneasy and restless quality to this song that harkens back, at least conceptually, to some of the stranger tracks on Fur and Gold.

'Oh Yeah' takes a leaf out of M83’s playbook with its epic electronic soundscape dripping with layers of sampled choirs, trip-hop beats and gorgeous twinkling pianos. What is striking about this song is how crisp the production is: with a sound so echoic and vast, it’s remarkable that the individual instruments don’t get washed away in torrents of reverb.

'Laura' sounds like every angsty-girl-with-a-piano ballad that one could care to hear and seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the songs on the album. 'Winter Fields', in contrast, delivers frosty synths and atmospheric vocals to produce one of the most interesting and accomplished pieces of music on the album.

The titular 'The Haunted Man' is a song that could easily fit onto Björk’s Homogenic album, with its insect-click electronic ticks building to a crecendo of rolling snare drums and thundering bass. This is an exceptional piece of music that fosters an incredible sense of intrigue and wonder in the mind of the listener. 'Marilyn' is equally stunning, and echoes the magical feeling of 'The Haunted Man'. Hammering kick drums and electronic hand-claps shouldn’t be able to make such a fantastic sound – but they do, and it’s wonderful. Khan’s vocals in this song are particularly breathtaking, as she allows her voice to evoke raw feelings of emotion. It might not display the warbled vocal gymnastics that we have become accustomed to through shows like X-Factor, but this is soul music as it should be: real and honest.

In 'A Wall', Khan wears the influence of Kate Bush on her sleeve, seemingly drawing the song’s rhythm and tone from Bush’s 'The Big Sky', but with one important caveat: it does not sound derivative, but rather a subtle homage that acknowledges her musical influences and marks it as her own. Rest Your Head is another excellent piece of music with haunting synths and sparse electronic beats that would fit easily on any Timbaland record.

Album closer 'Deep Sea Dive' is a downbeat electronic offering with Khan’s vocals resonating beautifully over instrumentation that would fit easily on Disasterpeace’s awesome soundtrack to mind-bending cryptographic platform game FEZ, with its sweeping synths and dislocated beats.

The Haunted Man is Bat For Lashes’ most fully-realised album to date. The music has matured and as a result is subtle and surprising. This is a very good album that makes huge steps in securing Natasha Khan’s legacy as a unique vocalist and thought-provoking song-writer.

This post was originally published by Alternative Music Press and Leeds Music Scene.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Comics: Die Plankton

Art: Axis @ 21 - Hearther James

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

Heather James, a Cumbria-based still-life painter, has enthusiastically taken advantage of some the opportunities that Axis has to offer. Her work utilises the conventions of the European still-life tradition to consider contemporary attitudes towards beauty, and our relationships with each other.

‘I've had about nine exhibition opportunities through Axis, two have been in publicly-funded spaces, one an arts and culture centre in a major city, and the rest private galleries. Two of those were for their stands at art fairs, including one in Amsterdam. I don't have any other website, as I've found I don't need one.‘’

‘Shortly after being taken on by Axis after graduation in 2006, I was contacted by an art consultant who has bought one large piece, and then commissioned a further four large paintings, the last of which was sold last year to a luxury London hotel, (I see it mentioned in lots of style pages - the hotel that is).’

‘My work tends to take about two months at the very least for each large painting, and I've found the pressure is on from receiving the order for the commission to completing it in that time. On one occasion, the painting was moved whilst still not even touch dry - face out in its own empty and spotlessly clean van!’

‘The latest commission, which has just left the studio, was for a private collector who saw my work at the first show I was offered, and he keeps an eye on its progress via Axis, and wanted a work similar to one that had sold previously.’

This article was originally featured on

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.19: Battles - Mirrored (2007)

I don’t have the best eyesight in the world, in fact it’s pretty damn shoddy. I have a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which in simple terms means that I have no peripheral vision. This means I can’t see in the dark, I can’t catch, I bump into things like bollards and toddlers, and it takes my eyes ages to adjust when the light changes. I still have central vision which means I can still read (so long as the light’s good), I can still play video games (so long as it’s not a twitchy first-person-shooter), and I can still watch TV (not that there’s much on to enjoy).

In 2009 I received my first guide dog: a big black Labrador called Watson. Before I was allowed to take Watson home, I had to spend two weeks in a hotel in Wetherby training with him. It was a really strange experience; the only other visually impaired person I’ve ever known, or spent any considerable amount of time with is my granddad, who has the same condition as me. So when I had to spend a fortnight with a group of other visually impaired people, it made me more aware of my disability that I ever had been before.

There was a real mix of people on the residency, and although we would train in pairs during the day, we would all eat together during our breakfast and evening meal. There was also an older guy who irritated me from day one. He loved the sound of his own voice, and would regale us with stories of his HAM radio and his hobby of sitting in the woods and collecting bird sounds – a kind of audio bird watching. I have nothing against anyone’s geeky hobbies, I write reminiscent music reviews on the internet for God’s sake. But this guy just would not shut up. I’m not sure how he managed it, but every time one of the others would tell a story, he would manage to turn it round back to him. After spending over a week with him, I’d had enough. On some nights I got friends to come over from Leeds to go and get some chips at the Wetherby Whaler (a fine fish and chip establishment if ever there was one), just so I didn’t have to listen to him ramble on and on about bird noises and radio equipment.

Although we were taken out in pairs to be trained, most of the actual training was done on a one-on-one basis. And so I spent half the time during the day sitting in the trainer’s van waiting. On the first day I hadn’t prepared for sitting around for so long, so I sat twiddling my thumbs, trying to find something half-decent to listen to on the radio. After that, I always made sure that I took my MP3 player with me. One of the albums I really got into that week was Mirrored by Battles. ...

Read the full article HERE.

Art: Axis @ 21 - Chris Dunseath

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

Chris Dunseath, a Hinton St George-based sculptor, has reaped the benefits that Axisweb offers to its members. His work employs sculptural forms to explore the ideas and concepts of theoretical physics.

‘I received an Axisweb enquiry in January 2012 from a collector who had seen my work in an exhibition at the New Brewery Arts, Cirencester. She wanted to purchase a limited edition print titled ‘Spreading Oak’. I sold her the print in February and posted it to an address in the UK.’

‘The collector seemed to be using the Axis service as a way to make contact with me as the print she bought was not included in my Axis images. We were both pleased with the outcome.’

‘I was contacted by curators from the Start Gallery, London in 2009/10. They had seen my work on Axis and were planning an exhibition of artists whose work had a strong connection with science.’

Following considerable correspondence and a studio visit, several sculptures were selected for an exhibition titled ‘Beyond Ourselves’ at the Lace Market Gallery, Nottingham in 2010 and The Royal Society, London from April to June 2011. This is an example of Axis providing a valuable service to curators who are looking for particular types of work.

This article was produced for

Music: Keep or Cull No.18: Ian Brown - Unfinished Monkey Business (1998)

I first got into the Stone Roses when I was 15. A mate of mine bought the Complete Stone Roses from the second-hand section of the now long-defunct Mike Lloyd’s Records in Wolverhampton. Every weekend, my mates and I would go around each others’ houses, instruments in tow, and jam, often covering some of the easier-to-play Stone Roses songs like ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and ‘Made of Stone’ . We wrote our own songs which were sub-Manic Street Preachers teenage-angst fused with a guitar style that tried to emulate Bernard Butler and John Squire – we weren’t very good, but we always had fun. Every few weeks we’d go around a mate’s house who was more into video games and anime than music. He was fast-tracked through puberty at the age of 12, and was the only 15 year-old I knew with thick mutton-chops and real moustache. He was also the only 15 year old I knew who could get served alcohol – and so that’s what he did. His parents had split up, and he’d moved in with his dad who lived a free and easy bachelor lifestyle. His dad has some great music in his collection (New Order, Stone Roses, Primal Scream, etc.) and we’d always ended up listening to the Stone Roses and drinking really bad whiskey.

It was about this time when it was announced in Select magazine that Ian Brown was set to release a solo album and I remember feeling a triumphant rush of excitement. The first single from the album, ‘My Star’, was great. I was glad that Brown had departed from the Stone Roses’ trademark sound and produced an ambitious and catchy track that seemed perfect at the time. I remember how pleased I was that the single utilised the magic of CD-ROM technology and included the music video on the disc to play on my PC. The sound was crap and the picture was grainy and jerky, but at the time this was the coolest thing ever. This was the first single I’d owned where the music video was on the disc, and I loved the fact that I could watch it any time I wanted without having to wait for it to fortuitously come on MTV, or call one of those other music channels where you could choose what was played so long as you were willing to phone a premium-rate number – I wasn’t.

When the album was released, I made real effort to like it. On first listen I thought it was terrible, but as I listened to it more and skipped past some of the dodgier tracks, I realised that it was quite a good album. It was nowhere near as good as the Stone Roses, but it was still pretty decent. ...

Read the full article HERE.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Art: Jacob Epstein - a biographical sketch

Jacob Epstein was born of Russian-Polish Jewish immigrant parents in Hester Street on New York’s Lower East Side on November 10th 1880. Epstein recalled fondly his memories of childhood in his autobiography:
‘My earliest recollections are of the teeming East Side where I was born.

This Hester Street and its surrounding streets were the most densely populated of any city on earth, and looking back at it, I realise what I owe to its unique and crowded humanity. Its swarms of Russians, Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Chinese lived as much on the street as in the crowded tenements, and the sights, sounds, and smells had the vividness and sharp impact of an Oriental city.’ [1]

Epstein’s family had prospered in America; his father had owned a number of tenements. Epstein wrote that ‘we had Polish Christian servants’ who lived in the household ‘who still retained peasant habits’. [2] He wrote that, as a child, he spent many years sick at home, and during that time, spent hours alone reading and drawing, as he recalled:
‘My reading and drawing drew me away from ordinary interests, and I lived a great deal in the world of imagination feeding upon any book that fell into my hands. When I got hold of a really thick book like Hugo’s Les Misérables I was happy, and would go off into a corner and devour it.’ [3]

At school, Epstein was interested in Literature and History, but found Mathematics and Grammar to be a bore. Epstein enrolled in the Art Students’ League in New York, and took evening classes in life-drawing and began to learn how to sculpt under the instruction of George Gray Barnard, but noted that his ‘main studies remained in the quarter where [he] was born and brought up’, [4] explaining that: ‘Every type could be found here, and for the purpose of drawing, I would follow a character until his appearance sufficiently impressed itself upon my mind for me to make a drawing.’ [5]

By 1901, Epstein had decided to become a sculptor and set his sights on Paris under the romantic notion that Paris was the centre of the art world. Epstein turned down the offer of an apprenticeship with Thomas Eakins and accepted a commission to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood’s book, The Spirit of the Ghetto. Epstein’s illustrations cover what he perceived to be the everyday life of the Jewish quarter in the Lower East Side of New York. Epstein later wrote that:
‘The money I earned enabled me to get to Paris, but I went to Paris as a sculptor, and not as an illustrator or painter. What turned me from drawing to sculpture was the desire to see things in the round, and to study form in its different aspects from varying angles, and also the love of the purely physical side of sculpture. I felt here a full outlet for my energy, both physical and mental, that was far more satisfying to me than drawing.’ [6]

With the money he raised from this commission, Epstein set sail for Paris in 1902 where he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts only four days after his arrival. He remarked that he did not enjoy his time at the École des Beaux-Arts, explaining that he was treated with suspicion by other students because he was a foreigner. Epstein noted that: ‘The “foreigners” were few and unpopular, and it was not unusual for a French student to turn on a foreigner and ask him why he didn’t stay in his own country.’ [7] As well as the hostilities and occasional fights he would get into with his fellow students, Epstein found the teaching at the École des Beaux-Arts incredibly limiting. He remarked that most of his studies were spent modelling from life, drawing from casts of Michelangelo sculptures and carving copies of Italian Renaissance sculptures. Epstein felt that he was not being taught any new skills in his classes, stating that: ‘there was practically no instruction, and we were pretty well left alone to do what we pleased.’ [8] After six months at the École des Beaux-Arts, Epstein grew weary of the academic style of teaching and hierarchical nature of the institution, and after finding his work destroyed by a fellow student, he gathered up his clay and looked for another school with a less academic approach. Epstein remarked of the experience of academic art teaching, that it ‘was good training, although one learnt more from capable students than from the masters’, but he disliked the expressive limitations the academy placed upon an artist, writing that: ‘There are infinite modes of expression in the world of art, and to insist that only by one road can the artist attain his ends is to limit him. The academic mind violates this freedom of the artist to express himself as he knows best.’ [9] Soon after quitting the École des Beaux-Arts, Epstein enrolled into the Académie Julian which had fewer students than the École des Beaux-Arts. At first Epstein found the school to be an improvement in comparison with the rigid style of the École des Beaux-Arts. However, Epstein again grew weary of their style of teaching, especially the aspect where tutors would provide criticisms of each student’s work. Epstein wrote that:
‘After one or two criticisms from the master at Julian’s, I gave up taking criticism, and in my impatience always covered my figure when the master came in. He noticed me doing this one day and referred in an audible tone to “ce sauvage Américain”.’ [10]

In 1904, Epstein visited Florence and London and after seeing the British Museum decided to move to London. Epstein remarked that:
‘When thinking of leaving Paris, I determined to go to London, and see if I could settle down and work there. First impressions of the English were of a people with easy and natural manners, and great courtesy, and a visit to the British Museum settled the matter for me, as I felt like I would like to have a very good look round at leisure.’ [11]

It was also around this time that Epstein began to collect African art, with many of the works in his personal collection being purchased by the British Museum after his death.

It was on his first visit to London that Epstein met Margaret Dunlop, the woman he would soon marry and be Epstein’s wife and manager until her death in March, 1947. On his arrival to London, Epstein settled for a short time at 219 Stanhope Street in Camden Town. On impulse, he returned to New York, leaving after only a fortnight to return permanently to London.

Epstein set up studio in Fulham and worked over the next few years on honing his skills as a carver and modeller. Epstein wrote of the problems he faced while living in Fulham:
‘In these tumble-down studios in Fulham I was first made aware of the ludicrous snobbishness that artists were supposed to be free of. The other occupants of the studios were artists who were beginning their careers. [...] One day I heard that the landlady, who lived on the premises, had been requested by the artists to have me removed from the studios, as my clothes were somewhat too Bohemian for the place, not, in fact, respectable enough. [...] had it not been for the women artists in this beehive, who were all in my favour, I would have been given notice to quit “The Railway Accident”, as it was called.’ [12]

During this period Epstein acquainted himself with painter August John, draughtsman Muirhead Bone, painter Francis Dodd and the members of the New English Art Club. He produced the relief Mother and Child (1905-07), and portrait busts Italian Peasant Woman with a Shawl (1907) and Romily John (1907)

In 1907, Epstein was commissioned, through the suggestion of Francis Dodd, by architect Charles Holden to carve a series of eighteen over-life-size allegorical figures for the new British Medical Association headquarters, to be built on The Strand, London. It was working on these carvings that catapulted Epstein into the fray of controversy. From being known only to a close circle of friends, Epstein became the most famous sculptor in Britain, and remained so until his death in 1959.

On accepting the commission, Epstein moved to a larger studio on Cheyne Walk and set to work on the eighteen sculptures. His excitement and enthusiasm for the project led him later to say that: ‘I had been like a hound on a leash, and now I was suddenly set free’. [13] Epstein worked on the figures for fourteen months. He described the series to Arnold Haskell in The Sculptor Speaks, a recollection of conversations between Haskell and Epstein in 1931:
‘The figures Represent:
1. (At the East End of Strand front.) “Primal Energy”—man blowing the breath of life into an atom.
2. “Form Emerging from Chaos”—a man holding a mass of rock in the midst of which is vaguely shown the form of a child.
3. “Hygenia” [sic] [14] —the Goddess of Health, with a cup and a serpent.
4. “Chemical Research”—a man holding a retort.
5. “Academic Research”—a figure examining a scroll.
6. “The Brain”—a figure with a winged skull.
7. “Infancy”—an old woman holding an infant.
8. “Youth”—the figure of a young man with arms raised.
9. “Manliness”—a virile figure.
10. “Maternity”—a mother and child.
The other eight figures represent youth and maidenhood.’ [15]

As soon as the fourth statue was erected upon the building, the media storm began. Unluckily, or perhaps luckily for Epstein, housed directly opposite the British Medical Association Building was the National Vigilance Association, a group of self-styled moral guardians. It was the arrival of Maternity (1908) which sparked hostilities. Offended by the frank nudity of Maternity, the National Vigilance Association called in the Press and the police in an effort to get the work removed or censored. The Evening Standard began a campaign against the series, criticising Maternity for its indecency. Richard Cork, probably rightly, pointed out that: ‘Without The Evening Standard’s prompting, the probability is that nobody would have considered Epstein’s statues indecent at all.’ [16] A multitude of letters and articles were written, and protests were mounted from either side of the debate. Suffice to say, the sculptures remained in place until the building was sold to the Rhodesian government in 1934. The sculptures were subsequently mutilated on ‘safety grounds’ in 1937.

It was off the back of the controversy surrounding the British Medical Association Building statues that commissions for portraits started to be requested. His portraits, Euphemia Lamb (1908), Romily John (1909), Mrs Ambrose McEvoy (1909-10), Lady Gregory (1910) and Nan – The Dreamer (1911), were completed. Mrs Ambrose McEvoy was sold to Johannesburg art Gallery (the first of Epstein’s works to be purchased by a public collection) in 19110. Nan was purchased by the Tate Gallery a year later. During this same period, Epstein produced a number of uncommissioned allegorical carvings including Maternity (1910), Sun God (1910), Sun Goddess Crouching (1910) and Sun Worshipper (1910).

In 1910, Epstein was naturalised as a British citizen. During this year, he exhibited his work at the Allied Artists Association and at the Whitechapel Gallery. He became close friends with mason and stone carver Eric Gill, who was beginning to experiment with sculpture. During this period, Epstein and Gill made plans for an artists’ commune. The scheme would incorporate a temple and herald a new age of religious worship. Eric Gill wrote of the plan that: ‘Epstein & I have got a great scheme of doing some colossal figures together (as a contribution to the world), a sort of twentieth-century Stonehenge’. [17] This ‘great scheme’ never came to fruition due to the fact that Epstein and Gill lacked the funds for such a project.

During this period, Charles Holden commissioned Epstein for another grand work; this time, to carve the tomb for Oscar Wilde. Epstein wrote in his autobiography that:
‘I had only just finished the British Medical Association figures, and this important commission, following immediately after, was a matter of some excitement. It took some time to get started on the work. I made sketches and carried them out, I was dissatisfied and scrapped quite completed work. Finally I determined on the present design and I went to Derbyshire to the Hopton Wood stone quarries where I saw an immense block which had just been quarried preparatory to the cutting it up into thin slabs for wall-facings. I bought this monolith, weighing twenty tons, on the spot, and had it transported to my studio. I began work immediately and without hesitation continued to labour at it for nine months. I carved a flying demon-angel across the face, a symbolic work of combined simplicity and ornate decoration, and no doubt influenced by antique carving.’ [18]

It was during this period that Epstein’s relationship with Gill disintegrated and he became acquainted with poet and painter Wyndham Lewis, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and with the poets and critics Thomas Hulme and Ezra Pound. In 1912, the Tomb for Oscar Wilde was shipped to France to be placed in Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris. Epstein arrived in Paris shortly after the tomb’s arrival to find it covered with tarpaulin and kept under twenty-four hour guard. Although well received by the British Press, controversy had arisen in the French Press; the letter writers and protests began in earnest. The supporters of Epstein were again successful and the work was eventually unveiled in 1914 to a hostile reception. During the six months that Epstein spent in Paris, he met Picasso and Brancusi, and spent some time trying to find a studio to share with Modigliani. On his return to Britain, in November, he moved out of his London studio and moved to Pett Level, Sussex.

During 1913, Epstein worked between Pett Level and London on some of his most radical and forward-looking works: including Doves (1912-15), statues of Venus (1912-15), Mother and Child (1912-15), The Rock Drill (1913), and his figures in ‘Flenite’. Epstein also became involved in The London Group of artists.

In 1914, Epstein’s work featured in the Jewish section of the Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. During the same year, Epstein contributed drawings to the first issue of Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist publication, BLAST. Included within BLAST was the Vorticist manifesto, which was signed by a number of artists, many of them members of The London Group, with the notable exceptions of Jacob Epstein and painter David Bomberg.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Epstein continued working. In 1915, his friend and fellow sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in the trenches. Ezra Pound published a memorial to Gaudier. Epstein harboured resentment towards the way in which the merits of Gaudier’s work had been exaggerated after his death, later remarking that:
‘Lately, he has become a legend and when that happens, although a man’s work may increase in value from the sales-room point of view, its artistic importance is apt to be mis-stated. [...] Gaudier [is] beginning to be celebrated as the hero of an extraordinary romance, and known to thousands who have never seen his drawing or a piece of sculpture. I would not compare him as an artist either with Van Gogh or Gauguin, but the parallel of the legend exists. Gaudier did some very remarkable work in the short time allowed him, and would have certainly achieved something really big if he had not been killed. A great part of his life was spent finding himself artistically, and he was greatly influenced by all he saw. Chinese art in particular. He took to carving after admiring a work he saw in my studio one day and did some of his finest work in that medium. I knew him very well; the legend that has been created around him is a distorted one that does not show the man well.’ [19]

In the following year, Epstein produced portraits of T. E. Hulme (1915), Admiral Lord Fisher (1915), Mrs. Jacob Epstein with Earrings (1915), James Muirhead Bone (1915) and The Tin Hat (1915). It could be argued that his works the Tin Hat and Admiral Lord Fisher were an effort to lay the groundwork for Epstein to become an official war artist if he was ever enlisted.

In 1917, Epstein exhibited at the Leicester Galleries for the first time. The Leicester Galleries would remain Epstein’s primary dealer until after his death. During this year, Epstein began modelling The Risen Christ, work on which had to be postponed as he was enlisted to the 38th Jewish Battalion. Campaigns to keep Epstein out of the army altogether on the grounds of ‘national importance’ and campaigns for Epstein to be appointed as Official War Artist were both unsuccessful. The same year also saw the death of Epstein’s close friend and intellectual ally Thomas Hulme, who was killed in the trenches. It was at this point that Epstein turned his back on the abstraction and radicalism of the previous years, never creating abstract work again.

During this period, Epstein had an affair with actress Meum Lindsell, who became pregnant and bore his first child, Peggy Jean who was subsequently raised in the Epstein household, with Margaret acting as the child’s mother. During this year, Epstein produced his first modelled self-portrait Self-Portrait with a Storm Cap.

The following year, Epstein was stationed in Plymouth with the Army. The night before his regiment was to be shipped off to Palestine, Epstein went absent without leave. According to the reports, he was found wandering aimlessly around Dartmoor. Epstein was placed in a secure hospital and discharged in the July. During his time incarcerated, Epstein produced a number of portraits in clay and on paper of other soldiers and nurses at the facility. Upon being discharged from the Army, Epstein went back to work producing portraits of Meum Lindsell (Mask of Meum (1918) and Meum with a Fan (1918)). He also spent many hours producing portraits of Peggy Jean.

Epstein returned to public life in 1920 when he exhibited his completed The Risen Christ at the Leicester Galleries to much hostility and controversy. Epstein described the work as a complex war memorial:
‘It stands and accuses the world for its grossness, inhumanity, cruelness and beastliness, for the First World War. […] The Jew – the Galilean – condemns our wars, and warns us that “Shalom, Shalom”, must still be the watchword between man and man.’ [20]

Epstein also produced his second and final self-portrait, Self-Portrait with a Beard (1920). The work was in stark contrast to his Self-Portrait with a Storm Cap produced only three years previously. This year also saw the publication of the first monograph on Epstein’s work by musician and composer Bernard van Dieren.

The following year, Epstein was featured in Kineton Parkes’s book The Sculpture of To-Day and in Lorado Taft’s Modern Tendencies in Sculpture. Epstein began an affair with a young music student, Kathleen Garman, who after the death of Margaret Epstein in 1947 became Epstein’s second wife. Epstein and Kathleen remained in a relationship until Epstein’s death in 1959. In the same year, Epstein also met Henry Moore for the first time. During this period Epstein produced portraits of painter Jacob Kramer (1921), his First Portrait of Kathleen (1921) and continued to make portraits of his daughter Peggy Jean.

In 1922, Epstein was commissioned to produce a memorial in Hyde Park to the late naturalist W. H. Hudson. Over the next year, Epstein worked on a number of ideas for the project, finally settling of a depiction of Rima from Hudson’s book Green Mansions. Epstein was particularly interested in the moment of Rima’s death. Talking to Arnold Haskell he explained that:
‘The particular passage that appealed to me was the description of how Rima met her death:

“What a distance to fall, through burning leaves and smoke, like a white bird shot dead with a poisoned arrow, swift and straight into that sea of flame below.”

Although I read it and was moved by what I read, it is obviously impossible to give an illustration of the book in sculpture that would be generally pleasing to all its readers and at the same time good as sculpture.’ [21]

Rima was unveiled in 1925 by the Prime Minister and was the subject of the most hostile reception of any of Epstein’s works. Anti-Semitic letters were published in the Press and questions were raised in Parliament. An unsuccessful campaign was launched to have the work removed.

In 1924, Epstein produced a portrait of the author Joseph Conrad (1924) and was rejected as a candidate for the Chair of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. On July 1st, Kathleen Garman bore Epstein’s first son, Theodore.

In the following year, Epstein was introduced by painter Matthew Smith to the model Sunita. Epstein saw Sunita as ‘of that eternal Oriental type’ [22] upon whom he would base a number of works including Madonna and Child (1926-27) and Lucifer (1944-45). Epstein also produced a number of portrait busts and drawings of her.

In 1926, Epstein exhibited his work The Visitation (1926-27) under the rather ambiguous title of A Study in an effort to avoid any controversy. Epstein explained that: ‘When I exhibited the work at the Leicester Galleries, wishing to avoid controversy, I called it “A Study”. By this disguise I succeeded for once in evading the critics, always ready to bay and snap at a work.’ [23] His tactic was successful and the work was purchased by public subscription for the Tate Gallery. On August 25th, Kathleen gave birth to their second child, Kitty. It was during this year that Epstein produced his first Madonna and Child (1926-27), a work which he would exhibit in America a year later.

In 1927, Epstein visited New York for four months. During this time he exhibited a number of works including the aforementioned Madonna and Child (1926-27) at the Ferargil Gallery. The Madonna and Child was purchased by sculptor Sally Ryan and loaned to the Museum of Modern Art until it was donated to the Riverside Church in New York in 1959. During Epstein’s stay in New York, he executed a number of portraits including the musician Paul Robeson (1927). At the time of Epstein’s visit, he was called as an expert witness at the trial actioned by US customs to ascertain whether Brancusi’s Bird in Space was a work of art or whether it should be charged a customs charge on the basis that it was considered to be manufactured metal. The case was won by Brancusi.

Epstein returned to England in January 1928 and moved to a new studio at Hyde Park Gate, London, where he remained for the rest of his life. Shortly after returning to London, Epstein received news from Margaret, who had remained in New York to tie up any loose ends and clear out their rented apartment, that Peggy Jean had been temporarily blinded by some steel debris. On their return to England, Epstein produced another portrait of Peggy Jean, this time in her state of illness: The Sick Child (1928). Reginald Wilenski remarked in his book The Meaning of Modern Sculpture that: ‘The modern sculptors regard The Sick Child as a masterpiece but not as a work of sculpture. They regard it as a pictorial masterpiece of the character of a genre portrait by Rembrandt.’ [24] That year Epstein’s work was featured in Stanley Casson’s book, Some Modern Sculptors. Epstein was also commissioned by Charles Holden for a third time, this time to carve Night and Day as part of the ‘Temple of the Winds’ project on Holden’s London Underground Headquarters at St. James’s Park underground station.

In 1929, Epstein completed carving Genesis (1929) a work which Epstein described thus:
‘I felt the necessity for giving expression to the profoundly elemental in motherhood, the deep down instinctive female, without the trappings and charm of what is known as feminine; my feminine would be the eternal primeval feminine, the mother of the race. […] She is serene and majestic, an elemental force of nature. How a figure like this contrasts with our coquetries and fanciful erotic nudes of modern sculpture. At one blow generations of sculptors and sculpture are shattered and sent flying into the limbo of triviality, and my “Genesis”, with her fruitful womb, confronts our enfeebled generation. Within her, Man takes on new hope for the future. The generous earth gives herself up to us, meets of masculine desires, and says: “Rejoice, I am Fruitfulness, I am Plentitude.”’ [25]

Night and Day was unveiled to a mixed reception. Epstein’s drawings of his various models including Sunita were published with an introduction by Hubert Wellington in Jacob Epstein: Seventy-Five Drawings. Epstein also began a series of illustrations for the Old Testament which he completed in 1931.

During 1930, Epstein produced a number of portraits including his First Portrait of Lydia (1930), Betty (1930) and Israfel (Sunita) (1930). Epstein at this time agreed to Arnold Haskell chronicling their conversations for his forthcoming book on Epstein, The Sculptor Speaks.

In 1931, Genesis was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries to a hostile reception, making Genesis the most controversial of his non-commissioned carvings to date. Genesis was toured around the country by Alfred Bossom, M.P., to raise money for various charitable causes, much to the displeasure of Epstein who declared that: ‘I am not interested in being regarded as a benefactor of mankind. I am an artist, [...] The reference to charities does not concern me in the least.’ [26] Epstein returned to carving his relief Sun God (1910) and carved Primeval Gods (1931) on the reverse side of the panel. Epstein was discussed in Kineton Parkes’s book, The Art of Carved Sculpture, with a chapter dedicated to the Temple of the Winds project. Arnold Haskell’s The Sculptor Speaks was also published that year.

The following year, Epstein exhibited his series of illustrations for the Old Testament at the Redfern gallery, London to a mixed reception. L. B. Powell’s monograph Jacob Epstein was published and Epstein was featured throughout Reginald Wilenski’s The Meaning of Modern Sculpture. During the same year, Epstein carved Woman Possessed (1932) and Elemental (1932), and modelled two portraits of the aspiring artist Isobel Nicholas.

1933 saw Epstein return to his role as book illustrator, producing drawings for Muysheh Oyved’s The Book of Affinity. Epstein also modelled a portrait of Albert Einstein, which was exhibited along with over a hundred watercolours of Epping Forest at Tooth’s Gallery in London. Albert Einstein (1933), which was universally praised in the Press, was purchased for the Tate Gallery and featured in the 166th Royal Academy summer exhibition a year later. The critic of The Times remarked that:
‘We are inclined to think that this is one of his most successful heads, for reasons which bear upon the nature of his genius. Odd as it may sound, Mr. Epstein is not at his best with subjects who are naturally “sculptural” in type. He needs complete translation into forms of bronze. With its radiating halo of hair from off the forehead, and response between the upcurved mouth and forehead lines, the head is alive with expression and yet properly “stilled” as a work in sculpture.’ [27]

A critic writing in The Manchester Guardian noted that it was a work of ‘extraordinary vitality and vision, at once realistic and imaginative’. [28]

The following year, on January 24th, Isobel Nicholas gave birth to Epstein’s second son Jackie, who was raised, along with Peggy Jean, by the Epsteins as their own child (Theodore and Kitty remained with their mother, Kathleen). During Isobel’s pregnancy, Margaret wore a pillow underneath her clothes to give the illusion of pregnancy and lied about her age on Jackie’s birth certificate to give the impression that she was the child’s biological mother. That same year, Epstein began carving Ecce Homo, a large statue of Christ in white marble. Epstein described how challenging this carving was to produce:
‘This Subiaco block of marble, when I carved it, I found the toughest, most difficult piece of stone I had ever tackled. […] Because of the hardness of the material I treated the work in a large way, with a juxtaposition of flat planes, always with a view to retaining the impression of the original block.’ [29]

In 1935, Ecce Homo was exhibited to a mixed reception; the work was praised by the art critics and slammed by the religious Right. The statue remained unsold and stood in his studio until after his death; Ecce Homo now stands in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral.

Epstein’s statues for the British Medical Association Building again featured in the press after the Rhodesian government purchased the building and saw fit to mutilate the sculptures. Epstein protested to the Rhodesian High Commissioner, recalling the affair in his autobiography:
‘An acrimonious discussion broke out and the High Commissioner aggressively declared that as they had paid for the building, they could do as they pleased with the statues. This gentleman expressed surprise that I should object to this, as I had been paid for my work and the statues no longer belonged to me. I had pointed out the vandalism of removing from a building a decoration which was a part of its fabric and which would mean the ruin of the statues.’ [30]

By 1937, amid much public protest, the statues were all mutilated beyond repair. That same year, Epstein was featured, alongside Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, in a collection of essays by various authors, Great Contemporaries.

The following year Epstein carved Consummatum Est and produced a series of illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.

In 1938, Epstein began work on his monumental Adam (1938-39). He was awarded an honorary degree at Aberdeen University alongside Henry Moore. The exhibition of illustrations for Fleurs du Mal at Tooth’s Gallery in London was unsuccessful, producing very few sales.

In 1939, Epstein exhibited Adam along with a number of drawings of children in the Leicester Galleries. Adam was purchased by gold miner Charles Stafford and leased out to Lawrence Wright, a Blackpool showman. Adam was exhibited as a sideshow and was later sold to Louis Tussaud’s waxworks as a permanent exhibit, to be joined later by Consummatum Est, Jacob and the Angel and Genesis.

A year later, Epstein began carving Jacob and the Angel (1940), which he exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1942. During 1940, Epstein also published his autobiography, the arrogantly titled Let there be Sculpture!

In 1942, Epstein was part of a two-man show at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, along with painter Matthew Smith. Robert Black’s monograph on Epstein, The Art of Jacob Epstein was also published.

In 1944, Epstein began work on Lucifer (1944-45). Exhibited a year later at the Leicester Galleries, the work was refused as a gift by the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The work was eventually accepted by Birmingham City Art Gallery in 1947. Epstein remarked that, as regards ‘the large winged figure in bronze which I called “Lucifer”. I had worked on this with great concentration for the greater part of a year and showed it at an exhibition of my work at the Leicester Galleries where it remained unsold.’ [31]

In 1946, Epstein modelled his portrait of Winston Churchill (1946), a work about which he later wrote: ‘Unfortunately it was winter and the light was far from ideal and I felt that I had made no more than an interesting character study, but still hope to develop it should the opportunity arise.’ [32] In the following year, his wife Margaret died and he began carving Lazarus.

In 1949, Epstein was commissioned to produce Youth Advancing for the Festival of Britain. Epstein discussed the work’s conception in his autobiography, writing that: ‘I conceived the idea of making a figure that would embody youthful courage and resolution and the result was the over life-size bronze entitled “Youth Advancing”. The figure was gilded and placed over a sheet of water.’ [33] He also produced one of his most vivid and well-received portrait busts, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1949).

In 1950, Epstein was commissioned by architect Louis Osman to produce a Madonna and Child for the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus in Cavendish Square, London. Unveiled in 1953, Epstein said of the work:
‘No work of mine has brought so many tributes from so many diverse quarters. One which particularly pleased me by reason of its spontaneity was from a bus driver. Halting his bus as he passed the statue he suddenly saw me standing by and called out across the road, “Hi Governor, you’ve made a good job of it.’” [34]

In 1951, Epstein modelled a portrait of poet T. S. Eliot and his completed Lazarus was exhibited in Battersea Park. Epstein also travelled to Philadelphia to make plans for the commission Social Consciousness in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Completed in 1953, Social Consciousness was described by Richard Buckle as ‘Epstein’s answer to the Statue of Liberty’. [35] Epstein remarked on the commission in his autobiography:
‘I was asked by Fairmount Park Art Association of Philadelphia to make a work with the somewhat baffling title of “Social Consciousness”. In 1951, I went to Philadelphia to see the site and was greatly impressed by the fine natural surroundings of rocks and trees and river, and I realised that something on a heroic scale was called for. I planned a group of five figures, two of them thirteen feet in height, flanking a central figure with outstretched arms and upward glance “seated in the adamant of time”. The theme of the group of two figures on the right is the Healer succouring the down-fallen and on the left is the eternal Mother supporting future humanity.’ [36]

1952 saw a major retrospective of Epstein’s work at the Tate Gallery. The editor of The Times noted that in bringing together such an array of work it was possible to see that Epstein was not the most original or innovative of artists, and that there were other sculptors doing much finer work, and arguing that:
‘it is not only the passage of time, though this has certainly had its usual effect, which will make it difficult for many who visit the Tate Gallery to understand why he should have become such a focus of controversy. What he has done [...] is to remove the injustice often done to MR. EPSTEIN’S best work by his awkward reputation which had been thrust upon him.’ [37]

In the same year, Lazarus was also unveiled in New College Chapel at Oxford University, where a year later Epstein received an honorary doctorate.

In 1953, Epstein was commissioned to produce Christ in Majesty for Llandaff cathedral and a full-length portrait of Field Marshal Smuts in Parliament Square, a work which was criticised for appearing awkward and ungainly. In the same year, Epstein also turned down membership of the Royal Society of British Sculptors citing their indifference to his statues of the British Medical Association Building being mutilated as the reason for rejecting the invite.

In 1954, Epstein was knighted at the request of Winston Churchill. During the same year Epstein began work on Liverpool Resurgent for Lewis’s Store, a department store in Liverpool.

A year later, Epstein married his mistress Kathleen Garman, who would become Lady Epstein. Social Consciousness was unveiled in Philadelphia and Epstein received further public commissions for St. Michael and the Devil to be placed on the outer-wall of Basil Spence’s new Coventry Cathedral, and for the Trade Union’s Congress War Memorial. The same year, Epstein re-issued his autobiography, under the less arrogant title of An Autobiography. The contents of the book are exactly the same as in Let there be Sculpture! with added notes, a chapter called ‘My Place in Sculpture’ and a postscript summarising some major events since the first edition.

In 1956, Epstein was commissioned to produce a portrait of William Blake for Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of Blake’s birth. The same year, Liverpool Resurgent and Field Marshal Smuts were unveiled.

A year later, Christ in Majesty was unveiled at Llandaff Cathedral to universal praise. The same year Epstein and his studio became the subject of a book of photographs by Geoffrey Ireland, with an introduction by Laurie Lee, Jacob Epstein: A Camera Study of the Sculptor at Work.

In 1958, Epstein was commissioned to produce a portrait of H. R. H. Princess Margaret; he also began work on his final group, The Bowater House Group.

On August 19th, 1959, Epstein completed The Bowater House Group and died in his home later that day. He was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery, with a memorial service held at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 10th November.


1 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, (Hulton Press, 1955), p.1
2 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.1
3 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
4 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
5 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
6 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, (William Heinemann Limited, 1931), p.13
7 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.13
8 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.14
9 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.14
10 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.16
11 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.18
12 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.19
13 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.21
14 The name should be spelt ‘Hygieia’
15 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.17-18
16 Cork, Richard, ‘The British Medical Association Building’ in, Silber, Evelyn, and Friedman, Terry, Jacob Epstein Sculpture and Drawings, (The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), p.106
17 Eric Gill to William Rothenstein, September 25th, 1910. In, Shewing, Walter, (ed.), The Letters of Eric Gill, (London, 1947), pp.32-33
18 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.51
19 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.133-134
20 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.102
21 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.28-29
22 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.123
23 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.112
24 Wilenski, Reginald H., The Meaning of Modern Sculpture, (Faber and Faber, 1932), p.112
25 Epstein, An Autobiography, p.139
26 Anon., ‘Epstein Unappeased’ in, The Manchester Guardian, (16th December, 1931), p.9
27 Anon., ‘Art Exhibition: Mr. Jacob Epstein’ in, The Times, (December 8th, 1933), p.12
28 Anon., ‘Our London Correspondent’ in, The Manchester Guardian (January 12, 1934), p.8
29 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.145
30 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.30
31 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.231
32 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.230
33 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.234
34 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.236
35 Buckle, Richard, Jacob Epstein: Sculptor. (The World Publishing Company, 1963), p.368
36 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.237
37 Anon., ‘Mr. Epstein To-day’ in, The Times, (September 25th, 1952), p.7

This biographical sketch was originally published in my PhD thesis 'Carving a Legacy: The Identity of Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)' confirmed in March 2011.