Sunday, 14 April 2013

London Loves.....Johnny Marr

So, I’m at the Coachella festival out in the Californian desert this weekend and I got to meet and interview one of my all time heroes Johnny Marr. Which was nice. I even got him to talk about my hometown Wood Green, where the Smiths recorded the single ‘Panic’ in 1986. He was a very, very nice chap.

Here’s the interview in full:

London Loves: I don’t normally do this, interviewing my idols…
Johnny: It’s alright. I’m nice.

London Loves: I've been told I can ask two or three questions, so I've gotta pick good ones.
Johnny: Ok, I’ll give you good answers then.

London Loves: I’ll start off with a funny one…So, Margaret Thatcher’s dead. D’you reckon she listened to the Smiths?
Johnny: Errr….I don’t think she er…. [LAUGHS] I don’t know, she probably likes Barron Knights or someone like that.

London Loves: [Think she listens to] Beethoven…?
Johnny: Yeah..probably Beethoven over a Sunday roast

London Loves: …with Denis…
Johnny: My thoughts about her dying are that, when you see the word ‘Thatcherism’, nobody can convince me that word is anything other than very, very negative. No matter where you are on the political spectrum. And I thought that David Cameron’s statement that she made Britain great was not only disingenuous but it was a lie and an utter insult to a few generations of families in Wales, the north of England and many places around the UK who have had to deal with the effects of her legacy for thirty odd years. So I thought it was really distasteful that he did that and beyond jingoistic bullshit.

London Loves: I think you’re right, I was born in 1979 the year she was elected so when I was 17 was when Blair got into power, I won’t blow his trumpet now but it was so amazing when New Labour finally got into power in 1997 because my entire life until I was 17 was just Conservative government which is just weird.
Johnny: Right. Where was that then?

London Loves: What? Where?
Johnny: Yeah, where?

London Loves: Well that was my next question right..I grew up in Wood Green in North London, and I was gonna ask you do you remember…
Johnny: That’s where we did ‘Panic’

London Loves: [LAUGHS hugs Johnny] you do remember it?
Johnny: I do remember it yeah.

London Loves: The Livingstone Studios…
Johnny: Were you aware of it at the time?

London Loves: No, I didn’t realise until…I knew it was in the Chocolate Factory, in the Wood Green Cultural Quarter but I didn’t realise until I read that book, Songs That Saved Your Life, which was an amazing book…
Johnny: That was a good book yeah, that was the only [Smiths] book that I thought was any good.

London Loves: Yeah, Severed Alliance….I once won that book as a school prize
Johnny: Oh, just cynical nonsense.

London Loves: Terrible. But, Wood Green. Do you remember recording Panic there?

Johnny: Yeah, very well yeah. I went to Wood Green as well to record with Billy Bragg when we did Greetings To The New Brunette and the b side of Levi Stubbs ‘Tears’ had this spoken word thing that I played The Four Tops ‘Walk Away Renee’ on and they were both done in Livingstone as well.

London Loves: Was it a good studio?
Johnny: The studio was great, but the area was a little errr…. boring. The shopping centre right? [LAUGHS]. There’s a shopping centre nearby. I remember thinking ‘this is probably what Slough looks like’

London Loves: Slough’s worse.
Johnny: No you’re only saying that because you’re from Wood Green

London Loves: [LAUGHS] Wood Green’s fucking amazing. There’s a big Turkish community…
Johnny: I remember there were some good places to eat there…

London Loves: And you recorded Ask in Finsbury Park which is down the road. I’m an Arsenal fan. That sound in the background on Ask… Ask is my favourite pop song ever recorded. You don’t like it that much do you?
Johnny: Not particularly. I’m not crazy about it no.

London Loves: I absolutely adore it. And that chugga-chugga-chugga thing.
Johnny: Yeah it’s a harmonica.

London Loves: You playing a harmonica?
Johnny: Yeah, I like that bit because it’s just a sonic device that had nothing to do with clever musicianship or being commercial other than one of those… occasionally I get into a hook where it just goes [imitates the chugga-chugga sound] and it’s the same reason why I liked the thing that starts off ‘How Soon Is Now?’

London Loves: You played that SO well [here at Coachella]
Johnny: Yeah the band are really good

London Loves: Haven? Yeah I just saw them walk past.
Johnny: The rhythm section are great. The guitar player’s this guy called Doviak he’s like this mad scientist genius guy.

London Loves: So you knew him from back then?
Johnny: Doviak’s played with me since 2002 and Iwan played with me when I played Patti Smith’s Meltdown and then Jack I produced in Haven.

London Loves: So it feels good doing your solo project?
Johnny: Yeah, feels great. Especially as people like it. There’s nothing quite like people liking it to give you a bit of chutzpah.

London Loves: One final question, you know when you were in the Smiths you used to be physically sick from nerves before you went onstage, has that gone?
Johnny: Yeah I started to lose that around the end of The The it was just pressure and always being on a 100% hype out. It’s not good for you but now I do so many shows…

London Loves: Yeah you were throwing shapes…
Johnny: I never get too complacent before I go because I think about certain people in the audience and I think about them and it’s a fine line between getting yourself psyched up and making sure you sound good. If you’re too hyped out you don’t sound right, I don’t wanna fuck with my tunes.

London Loves: You feel confident now?
Johnny: Yeah still get the jitters but nothing like I used to.

And then he was gone. Oh, after I took the photo with him. The man is basically a god.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

London Loves.....Pocklington

The Breese Little gallery in Clerkenwell is another of London's many fascinating little artistic spaces providing an environment for emerging artists to exhibit their work.

Currently on display is a collection of enchanting crayon drawings by Freya Pocklington called Wolves Find Dogs Delicious. The dark, fairytale-like connotations of the title are reflected in the work. While on the surface they are dreamlike soft images of dogs, children, sausages - all very Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake-esque - there is some of the dark undertones of Roald Dahl's tales in the subject matter. One can never quite tell what is being implied, or even threatened, by the characters but always there is a sense of menace.

Scrawny arms and limbs may denote malnutrition, a scrawny hunch backed hyena with doe-like eyes stares out of the painting with an imploring expression. Scraps of meat, bones and sausages seem like they may be part of an elaborate trap, or simply there to mock and tease these bewildered beasts. In another image a child in a fox's costume looks at a forlorn, possibly drugged rabbit.

Wonderful scenes, but what do they all mean? I asked the artist herself...

London Loves: What do animals mean to you?

Freya Pocklington: I look at the relationship between humans and animals, using them as a symbol for our more animalistic side; the part of us which breaks away from conforming to society's demands. I also like the hilarity of them being pets, how we talk to them as if they are humans and how some owners shave their dogs to look like teenage mutant ninja turtles or a lion. Last week I heard a lady asking her dog in the park not to poo on the grass.

London Loves: Do you think humans can be judged/assessed according to their attitudes/affinity towards animals?

Freya Pocklington: I think that as a society we have become more distant from animals and thus nature. This can only be a bad thing as we are becoming more detached from where food comes from and what we are doing to the planet.

On the other hand I think that the idea of humanising animals is particularly interesting and sometimes obscene. I regularly search the trashy newspapers for animal stories as they choose the most out-there and silly stories. I read one story last week of a dog which had a very human face and a few months ago a story about a man who lives with wolves and eats raw meat with them.

London Loves: Do you have a particular fondness for dogs?

Freya Pocklington: Not as much as you would think! I have a particular fondness for other animals such as anteaters and servals. I have chosen dogs because they represent our obsession with trying to make things human which aren’t. I find the whole idea of pedigree dogs fairly upsetting due to the poor health and welfare issues. The ones that really interest me are stray dogs as they are fascinating to study and seem to have more personality and charisma than their more groomed counterparts. I lived with twelve rescued/stray dogs in Portugal for a while and studied the hierarchies and behaviour within the group. The truly gruesome and ugly one of the group was actually the kindest and had a lot of character.

London Loves: The title Wolves Find Dogs Delicious..where does it come from?

Freya Pocklington: I found it on a website stating ten facts about wolves. Wolves are cannibals and dogs were bred from the grey wolf. Chihuahuas are a long way from their ancestors but I like the fact that such a pampered pet came from such a creature.

London Loves: Anthropomorphism is something humans have been doing for a long long time. Do you think it is helpful and in a way, is it the reason animal lovers love animals? Narcissism?

Freya Pocklington: Some of my pieces mock anthropomorphism in that we place too many human traits on objects and animals. The title itself suggests that we forget where animals come from and their natural instincts.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories on stages of utopias intrigue me as he suggests we go through three stages; firstly free individuals, mostly solitary, then moving to a form of mixed existence with conflicting ideas on freedom, alongside the benefit of community, but finishing up, as Huxley describes in his book 'Brave New World', in a place which is purely social. I am looking at how we are trying to condition animals into social states. There are plenty of reports in the media about dogs and foxes biting people and reacting against humans who encroach on their world or try and make them tame. I think anthropomorphism is partly to blame as we are forgetting what an animals true state is. 'Fantastic Mr Fox' or 'The Wind in The Willows' make animals seem like cute and cuddly creatures.

On the other hand, animals can be a great way of communicating difficult subject matters. George Orwells ‘Animal Farm’ couldn’t have been told in any other way and Art Spiegelman's ‘Maus’ using animals in a comic book format to show his personal experience of the Holocaust using human faces, would have been too harrowing and inaccessible. We empathise with animals as they cannot tell us their feelings, they are unreadable and vulnerable and this can be a great tool for an artist or writer to emphasise a point.

London Loves: The works themselves have a kind of cartoony innocence in their aesthetics but closer inspection reveals kind of dark, troubling and uncertain images. Where do you think the inspiration for this combination comes from?

Freya Pocklington: From Walt Disney cartoons, Wizard of Oz with its scary talking bodiless heads and 'Orlando' ('The Marmalade Cat'). I am also a big fan of Armen Eloyan who paints rather cruel cartoons, almost angry deflated creatures from forgotten films or billboards. I like his dark humour and how he appears to see through the ‘cute’ and paint the absurdity of it.

London Loves: Tell me about the technique you've used. I'm particularly interested in the Conte crayon drawing technique and how you achieve the smooth almost dreamy effect...?

Freya Pocklington: I used to draw very neat large drawings in pencil, which took me months. I found it quite laborious and meant I could only work in my studio as I was worried they would get damaged. I moved to Italy for a bit and drew on location in museums, so my materials changed and I introduced colour and the pastels are so vibrant and easy to use. I create a surface by rubbing the pastel over paper and then draw very using the HB black. After I have introduced the coloured conte I get a big brush and wash various inks over the work. This is always scary as some works can get ruined this way! I then build up the drawings with more drawing and ink washes which is almost like painting.

London Loves: What are you working on next?

Freya Pocklington: I'm afraid I'm not much of a planner, but I have recently been studying female dominance in mammals and researching the hyena, which is a fascinating animal. I like to dispel anthropomorphic myths and this animal has such a history of a bad reputation. I am also currently planning a series of prints, which look at complex insect systems.

Wolves Find Dogs Delicious is on at the Breese Little, 30D Greatt Sutton Street, Clerkenwell

Freya Pocklington is giving an artist's Q&A session tonight Tuesday 19th Feburary at 6.30pm

Saturday, 5 January 2013

London Loves.....Adjani

                     'How To make Love To a Priest's Daughter' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

“I’ve lost a few friends because of my art” says Adjani Okpu-Egbe standing in the basement of the Mok Space gallery opposite the British Museum. “Girlfriends too. I didn’t have time to go out. It’s expensive, buying canvas and paint brushes. But I was so depressed that it was therapeutic.”

Okpu-Egbe’s determination to succeed is clear. His talent, too, is apparent. In the past year he has put on his first solo London exhibition (‘Letting Go’ at Mok Space), appeared on the BBC’s Diamond Jubilee coverage painting in front of millions, exhibited in New York and Los Angeles and now returns to London with a new show ‘Community Man’ at the Brick Box in Brixton market.

His remarkable journey as an artist is barely a year old. Self-taught, he only seriously began painting in earnest after a bad injury whilst on duty with the British Army in Kuwait in 2009 caused him to become physically immobilised and so depressed that painting was the only form of therapy that gave him purpose and happiness. “If it wasn’t for my art and my daughter I wouldn’t be here right now” he tells me while we chat about less profound but equally meaningful subjects (football and women). Football in fact is a big inspiration to his work and explains a lot about how and why he became an artist. Born in Cameroon his early dreams, like most, were to become a footballer. 

                                'Head of A British Commonwealth Soldier' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

“My father was a business man and wanted me to follow him but I was not interested in his lifestyle. He didn’t allow me to play football. I had an opportunity to play at an academy but my father chased the men away. I was forced to do Maths but I would just paint pictures of famous footballers. Maradona, Roger Milla, Gary Lineker…who's that other guy with the long hair…for Marseille…? ” After some deliberation I realise he is talking about ChrisWaddle. Some of Adjani’s friends went on to play for club sides in Cameroon and had trials in England. Meanwhile he was forced to stay in doing maths equations. If his father caught him painting pictures of footballers he would beat him. “Sometimes I wouldn’t have time to flip the page over [when I heard him coming] so I’d start doing my mathematics on top of my artwork. So if you look at every piece of work there’s a maths equation in it – straight from my childhood.”

Later, he moved to England and joined the British Army. Many of the pictures in his collection were painted in his tiny room on the military base at Abingdon in Oxfordshire while recovering from injuries sustained on duty. Two years ago, during the aftermath of the London riots he was painting in the street, trying to encourage youths and re-instil a sense of community togetherness when he was arrested by the police who alleged he had looted a t-shirt. He produced the receipt for the t-shirt he had in fact bought but they ignored his claims and he ended up on the cover of the Wandsworth Guardian. Ultimately, the attention may have helped him but the incident highlighted a disturbing trend in indiscriminate policing that followed those dark days of summer.

So, what does his art represent? “Social injustice really pisses me off” he says. “I can hear just a comment. Sometimes I eavesdrop. I can change direction, follow people, paint what they say. Most of the work is autobiographical and I’m very prolific. I can start painting whenever, if I’m pissed off and have nothing to paint on I will paint on your shoes.”

He’s not just saying this for effect, he’s wearing an outrageously colourful pair of converse painted beautifully in his usual acrylics. Later he posts on facebook pictures of his flat where he has spontaneously painted nearly every surface and door in the place. I wonder what the landlords will think of that…

                       'The Blackwhite Conundrum' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

How to describe his style? Basquiat meets Ofili meets Miro meets Matisse? His work is a (forgive the pun) riot of colour and distorted figures, warping into scenes that are at the same time familiar but twisted into something more surreal. The tube carriage, for example in The Blackwhite Conundrum, is recognisable with its handrails and seats, but the tiny seats (almost details) are drawn comically small, Lowry-esque, and occupied exclusively by white figures. In the foreground a veiled Muslim woman wearing a remembrance day Poppy and holding the hand of her child stares out of the canvas. Her body, the fabric of her hijab, frayed and torn appears to pour itself liquidly over the floor, as though she is melting inside, or being eroded away by chemicals. The child has her back to us, staring down the carriage as though down a vortex to another dimension. Above there is no roof to the tube, instead we seem to be looking up into the stars and swirls of the night skies. A Metro newspaper litters the ground, a beautifully depicted reference to that which binds London’s commuters together – ignorant tabloid free journalism. The piece is clearly a comment. But on what? My reading is that it speaks of the self-consciousness of the ‘other’ in London society. The minority figure who is as British as anybody in the tube carriage but feels a sense that they stand out, that they are awkward and are being looked at. Stared at even. The veiled woman stares at us pleadingly. It captures that moment we’ve all experienced in London when you make eye contact with a woman wearing a headscarf and she looks at you, clearly smiling unseen, and her eyes say “despite all appearances I’m just the same as you and everybody here.”

The slightly mangled, amorphous heads, eyes and images as well as the splashes of paint resembling bodily fluids like blood remind us of Francis Bacon’s dark brooding works – but in Okpu-Egbe’s images there is less of the darkness and more of a kind of buoyant confused disorientation. I sense this disorientation in his manner. He is a buzzing restless chap. You sense his brain is literally overflowing with ideas and that there’s not enough hours in the day to get them all down on canvas. 

                       'Barefooted Athletes, Pride of Africa' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

We see political messages and references to popular culture. Some of them are clearly jokes that have exited directly from the artist’s sub conscience with very little intervention of logic. Mario Balotelli’s Revelry features what looks like a Rastafarian girl with a bull terrier and a seal on her back. “I want Balotelli to buy it” he tells me. Maybe, just maybe.

Head Of A British Commonwealth Soldier is a beautiful Picasso inspired portrait of a soldier in primary colours. The veteran’s head is haunted and spooked by everything that surrounds him, even a tactically placed railway card – the tough journey back to civvy street?

Barefooted Athletes, Pride of Africa a richly blue background with a jet black figure takes me back to the Miro retrospective at the Tate in 2011. Adjani explains it thus: “when people want to become stars, Olympic athletes for example, all they see is the bright stars, they don’t see where they came from. They trained barefoot. A whole poem sits behind the picture telling the politicians [in Africa] to piss off basically. Politicians are intellectual gatecrashers. They do nothing to help the sports people in Africa to become the stars we see. It is also a celebration of black people’s endeavours. We make the best of something time and time again. Take Obama. How does a man come from an African background, an enslaved people, and become president? We have this resilience embedded in our DNA, it’s just some people don’t know how to use it.”

Adjani Okpu-Egbe’s himself is remarkably resilient. There’s nothing he can experience that’s going to keep him down. He’s discovered his latent talent and it’s about to explode onto the art scene. Mario, if you’re reading this, in your Cheshire mansion. I think your mansion could do with a splash of Cameroonian-London colour.

                                     'Mario Balotelli's revelry' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

'Community Man' his latest show is currently on at the Brick Box in Brixton until the 31st January.