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.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.17: The Bravery - The Bravery (2005)

In 2005 it seemed that the UK indie scene was running on all cylinders. Most Fridays I’d go to Leeds’ finest retro-geek-indie nightclub Fab Cafe, drink a few beers and dance like a tit. During this period, it was pretty much a guarantee that if you were the lead singer in a popular indie band, you had to have a stupid haircut. In the same way that wrestlers have a gimmick - something that makes their character stand out as larger-than-life - indie bands have their gimmicks: Franz Ferdinand were the pretentious art-school pricks; Futureheads were really really Jordie; and the Libertines liked the smack. I could never quite weigh up what the Bravery’s gimmick was: they dressed in black, and a couple of them had vaguely silly haircuts, but nore more silly than your average ‘cool guy’ in the office. I suppose this lack of cohesion and imagination in their image could be a metaphor for their debut album.

I first heard the Bravery while enjoying a night out at the aforementioned Fab Cafe in Leeds. ‘An Honest Mistake’ came on and I immediately mistook the intro for the opening phrases of Duran Duran’s ‘Planet Earth’, assuming that some young whipper-snapper who’d spent more time in Tony and Guy and on MySpace than honing their musical craft had needlessly covered one of Duran Duran’s finest tracks. I was wrong, but there is certainly a hint of Le Bon’s classic in there. Over the following months, I kept hearing the song everywhere, and it grew on me. It was a bit of a weird phase: I’d hear the song and then ask a friend or DJ what it was only to be given the same response over and over again. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the lameness of the band’s name (I hate bands named after abstract concepts), but I would keep forgetting their name. Today, Shazam would have alleviated the need to ask a DJ or converse with friends. Eventually I bought the album, and I have to say I was quite disappointed.

The Bravery’s eponymous debut is a classic bad album, and would easily rank alongside Jesus Jones’ Doubt as an album of shite held together by a couple of floor-fillers. ...

Read more HERE.